Monday, August 12, 2013

With A Million Stars All Around

Well, it has been a while since I have added anything to this site.   I haven’t felt particularly moved to express anything until this morning.  
As I write this, events are happening in the sky above my home - - and likely yours as well - -  but you may not be witnessing  them.  In fact, if you are not retired, you probably are sleeping at this moment.  But there are meteor showers predicted, and indeed some of my friends on social media have reported seeing them already, with the best viewing times yet to come.
I have been out already - -  a couple of times - - the last time, spreading a beach towel on the ground in my back yard and lying back, gazing at the sky above.   As I did so, several things came to mind, things that made me realize I didn’t need to see the actual meteor shower.     I’ve seen them before.   No, other  messages came to mind that I think may have been the real reason I was led outdoors instead of to my bed to sleep.   If you will permit me, I’ll share these with you here.
First of all, there was a haziness to the viewing at first.   Initially, I interpreted it as cloudiness, as we have had some rain this weekend.   But the longer I was outside, the clearer the sky seemed and the more defined the stars seemed in that sky.   I was reminded of the passage in I Corinthians about seeing in a mirror dimly but then face to face.   Now, our understanding is blurred; but eventually, it will all be clear.   Or, in the more recent words of Dan Fogelberg, “one day, we’ll all understand.”
My first reverie was rudely interrupted by the sudden appearance of a bat, flying about a foot from my face.   I had to scramble to ensure that it did not find its way inside my dwelling where my beautiful aging canine was sweetly sleeping.   But a few minutes later, I was back outside.
I was then reminded that John used to wake me up to come outside and witness meteor showers.   It used to irritate me a little, particularly if I had to work the next day, but he kept up with such events.   I find myself doing it now, and tonight it made me feel a sense of his being near that I have not experienced in a while.   It was a comfortable feeling, and one for which I am thankful.    This is a lasting gift he has given me!
I was aware of the sounds of the country.  Nights in rural areas are loud; not with sounds of sirens and horns so much, or even human voices, but insects doing the various things they do that make noise.   Bats fly around.   Breezes in the trees rustle the leaves.  Most animals are sleeping, but one hears an occasional twig snap in the woods…  It could be deafening for those not accustomed to it.    As I lay there, I realized that this ground on which I was reclining, these trees that were inhibiting somewhat my view of the sky and this house looming above me to my side are, for this point in time, mine.   This is my home.   I do not know that I have ever felt this connected to this place, that it is so much a part of me, or I a part of it.
As I lay there on that silly, thin, little beach towel, relishing the firm, cool ground beneath my head and back, I gazed up at the myriad of stars above me, and realized that in other states, maybe even other countries, there were others similarly situated, looking up at these same heavenly bodies.   In that moment, we were all connected!  We ARE all connected!   Knowing that certain of these people happen to be friends of mine made that fact so much more comforting because in that moment, I felt as if they were lying next to me on the ground, gazing skyward and experiencing the same sense of awe and wonder as was I.
And in that moment, with a million stars all around, the world felt just a little less lonely.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy Valentine's Day

Like you, I have been aware of this designated day of love for most of my life. This is my first Valentine’s Day as a widow. I find myself telling many friends and family members to enjoy this day, and that I love them - - and I do - - and yet, something feels just a little bit off. It is not just because I am no longer married on this earth. It is something else. There is something about the meaning of this day of which I am not really a part this year, or at least, I did not think so.

Until this year, I never particularly cared how the observance got started, or why it has become such an expression of romance and love. Is this some centuries old tradition or an invention by florists, candy makers and greeting card manufacturers to sell merchandise? I was a tiny bit surprised at what I found just by looking on the website called Wikipedia. (I am drawing my descriptions of a few of the legends from that website.) As one might expect, there are a number of explanations - - all of them quite old.

It would seem that at least one legend goes back to third century Rome, when Claudius II decided that single men were better in battle than married men, so he outlawed marriage for young men. A priest named Valentine decided that this was an unjust mandate, and began performing secret marriages for these young lovers. When it was discovered, this Valentine was put to death.

Another story regarding the death of Valentine was that he assisted Christians in escaping prison, where they were beaten and tortured. He himself was thrown into jail. It is reported that he personally sent the first “valentine” when he signed a letter to the object of his affection, purported to be the jailor’s daughter, as “from your Valentine” just before he was martyred.

These are legends, of course. But apparently, this Valentine was known to be a sympathetic, heroic and ultimately romantic, figure - - one who literally acted out of, and for romantic love. He was reported to have been put to death on or around the 14th of February in the year 270.

As with many of our Christian celebrations, it is also thought that our St. Valentine’s Day is a “Christianization” of a pagan fertility festival called Lupercalia, occurring in mid-February. The Luperci was an order of Roman priests. They would gather at the cave where the founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus, were supposedly raised from infanthood by she-wolves.  They would then sacrifice a goat for fertility and a dog for purification. After killing the animals, they would cut the goat’s hide into strips, dip them in the blood of the sacrificed animals and gently slap them against women as well as in the fields to engender increased fertility in both. Subsequent to this morning activity, the women would gather in the center of the town and place their names in a large urn. Young men would step forward and draw these names from the urn and thus, men and women would be paired. These pairings often resulted in marriage. And children.

Lupercalia initially survived the onset of Christianity, but was outlawed as “un-Christian” at the end of the 5th century. February 14th was designated as Valentine’s Day by Pope Gelasius. It was not until much later that it came to be definitively associated with love. In the Middle Ages, in England and France, it was thought that the mating season for birds began on or around the ides, or middle, of February, so that is another explanation of the timing of Valentine’s Day.

So, legends abound, and the day has long been associated with romantic love. Present day merchants are not totally to blame for this one… Not totally.

I’ve been very fortunate. Since my teens, there have been relatively few years that I have marked a Valentine’s Day outside of a romantic relationship of some sort. Certainly, this is the first in the last twenty years. Yet, I am not sad or feeling deprived of love this year! In fact, just to the contrary!

When “hosting” and “serving” a Valentine’s Dinner at my church earlier this week, I wanted to honor my love for, and marriage to, my late husband in some way. I did not want to feel sad or weepy; I wanted to enjoy the fellowship that such an evening could bring by serving others. (He had rarely attended these dinners due to his schedule and health concerns, yet I always knew he was at home waiting for me.) Thanks to my recent diet and exercise activities, I was able to wear the same outfit that I had worn to the rehearsal dinner on the night before our wedding in 1993. I put on the engagement ring John had given me, as I wore it that night 19 years ago, and wore also the emerald and diamond ring that he gave me to replace a marquis-shaped birthstone emerald class ring from college that got lost some years ago. My sister-in-law had given me a framed snapshot taken of us the night of the rehearsal where John was hugging me. I took that picture and placed it on the registration table at our Valentine’s Dinner. No matter what I was doing during the evening, I felt that John was there with me, in spirit, as he always had been in our life together. I remembered how happy and hopeful we were that night in 1993, anticipating the years we would have together, and by doing so, I was buoyed and joyous throughout an evening that perhaps some others were finding to be sad and empty.  

This year, I did not need the flowers and since I am not supposed to be eating candy anyway, did not miss the chocolate! I have plenty of cards he had given me throughout our relationship. All I have to do is read them, or just look around to see the memories of the love he and I shared, and the life we built over the years in this house; whether through furnishings, the dogs we adopted, or pictures of us. I know that he loved me, and he knew that I loved him. We said so every day, multiple times, and managed to find ways of expressing it in other ways, too. I have not stopped feeling love for him, nor him for me, just because he has passed on to life with God in Heaven. As we held hands and he breathed his last on that day seven months ago, my final words to him were that I had and would always love him; and I always have and will.

As children of the living God, all of us are called to love each other. Love is action, not just an emotion. Love is putting the benefit of others before that of self. In the case of romantic love which today celebrates, the actions and demonstrations are more specific in nature, and generally support procreation activities. They have since the beginning of humanity, and are gifts from God, no matter how they have been perverted over the years for evil purposes.  It is a gift worth celebrating!

If you are in a romantic relationship right now, celebrate it! Do those things for your beloved that tell that person how important he or she is to you! If you are “alone” physically due to the passing on of your beloved, remember with joy what you shared and celebrate! If you are between relationships, remember with joy those good times you have had, trust that God has something so very special in mind for you, and be open to it!  And celebrate!  

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Fullness of Emptiness

The Apostle Paul wrote in one of his letters that the Christ emptied Himself of His divinity to become a human being named Jesus and to live among other humans on earth. We talk of glasses being half empty or half full when describing how we view the situations in which we find ourselves. Those who are widowed speak of a profound loneliness felt even while in the midst of a crowd of friends and relatives. And ministers and other writers struggle with those vast, blank pages or screens when deadlines are looming and the words simply will not come.

I have become familiar with all but the first of these examples of emptiness. I have experienced it more in the last six months than I ever have even imagined before. There have been far too many days that were full of chores to be done, but no energy, interest or drive emerged to get them completed. In some cases, no energy, interest or drive emerged even to get them started! I have spent far too long in the land of “why bother and what’s the point”. I have been choosing to live in the past, dredging up memories - - good ones and not so good ones - - in part to smile, but often to feel pain. Feeling pain is an indication that I still have the capacity for feeling; that I did not die with John back in July. I have thought of the future as a nightmare I have yet to dream.

I have been looking at my life as I would a piece of paper that has been crumpled into a ball and discarded, only to be retrieved and pressed back out; with worn places where words have been written and erased, no longer fresh, clean and crisp; but soft, worn in some places, torn in others and generally wrinkled. And few words remain. All of the terms that previously identified my life are faded, with some eradicated completely. The page is empty, devoid of what it once held. I’ve been mourning for this almost as much as I have been grieving the loss of my husband. I wonder who I am now, and who I am to be. There is a drained, cavernous feeling within my soul.

And yet, I realize that this very abyss is spacious enough for such potential! As I have crossed the meridian into middle age, retirement and widowhood, the bonds that previously described my life have loosened. This life, this canvas, much like a priceless painting that had been covered over then subsequently restored, may well yet hold a masterpiece that the Artist painted years before my birth. As I struggled in my early life, I awkwardly and pitifully painted over God’s purpose even as I searched for it, placing there instead a youthful and inexperienced representation of what my life could be. In places, I think I stumbled onto pieces of my destiny. But as a student tries to learn a skill without consulting a trained professional or at least without sufficient practice, my attempts at life have been ill informed and would have benefitted greatly from some additional instruction and apprenticeship. I hope to not make the same mistakes again.

As I raise the burning candle of my faith and peer into the darkness of the future, my hand trembles, sending the melting wax dripping down on my fingers, but I am not burned by regrets or guilt. It is not a tremor based in fear, but one of awe. It is the excitement of knowing that in a real sense, I can start over from here, knowing what I know and having lived what I lived! Yes, I have already lived longer than I likely have ahead of me, so those worn places are apt to permanently absorb the ink with which the rest of my life will be written, so I need to get it right. I have a limited amount of time - - the exact duration known only to God - - to live the life He planned for me. Where I go from here, and what I am able to accomplish is taking on a higher sense of urgency.

I have written previously about feeling as if my little boat were stranded on some boulders in the middle of the river. I think I am experiencing a shifting of its position, and I am tentatively picking up the oars again to see if they will reach the water this time. I am emptying the boat of that which once threatened to swamp it, and with much hope, it is time to rejoin the current moving downstream.

May the Peace of Christ - - the One who experienced the most profound emptiness in order to live with us - - be with you!