Ashes to Ashes and The Question of Heaven

When I was little, I remember going to see the Care Bears movie and thinking that Care Bear Land must be what heaven is like. Think about it. That place was basically a castle/playground in the clouds and the Care Bears got to fly around in little cars and peek through the clouds to see who needed their help before sweeping down to save the day. How could heaven (and angels for that matter) not be like that? I couldn’t imagine anything better. Frankly I still kind of hope heaven is like that.

To be honest, I’ve never been a big believer in heaven. For most of my life I’ve fallen squarely in the agnostic camp when it came to life after death. Maybe there is, maybe there isn’t. It never seemed particularly important to me – life now, here on earth, that was what was important and worth worrying about. Perhaps my anti-anxiety meds keep me from feeling all “angsty” about what comes next. But since we lost our boys, I find it matters more to me now.  [Read more...]

A Franciscan Benediction

May God bless us with discomfort
at easy answers, half-­‐truths, and superficial relationships,
so that we may live deep within our hearts.

May God bless us with anger
at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people,
so that we may work for justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless us with tears to shed
for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war,
so that we may reach out our hands to comfort them
and turn their pain into joy.

And may God bless us with enough foolishness
to believe that we can make a difference in this world,
so that we can do what others claim cannot be done.

Against Puking

I’m notorious for pushing things too far. Be it running, hiking, biking, lifting weights, or using the elliptical machine at the gym, I go too hard too fast. Take running, for example: I much prefer sprinting to jogging. Jogging is so boring. It’s painful. And slow. But,

sprinting … oh sprinting: fast, powerful, distance, movement, joy. Who doesn’t love sprinting? Or the gym. Why do the elliptical slow and steady when you can push it hard? Isn’t that the point of working out? To push yourself to your limits? To see how far and how fast you can go? No pain no gain, right? Right.

The problem is, when I push it too hard too fast, I puke. Every time. This leads to some unpleasant, and potentially awkward, moments. I, for one, do not find puking an enjoyable past time. The taste alone is enough to make me go to great lengths to avoid it. And, when you have to do it on a hiking trail when other people are passing by … awkward. When you routinely have to ask your personal trainer to give you a minute so you can go puke in the bathroom … embarrassing.

I like it hard and fast (we’re talking about exercise here, don’t be dirty), but I don’t like puking. I’ll grant you that the purged feeling that comes after is wonderful. Puke once and I’m good, I can keep going and do even more. And I like that I’ve pushed myself to the edge (and fallen over). It makes me feel like I’ve done all that I can – a good workout. That’s what working out is all about, right?

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Carrying The Weight

It’s amazing how quickly twenty extra pounds can become the new normal. I’ve been fortunate and frustrated that my weight has been constant ever since high school. A few pounds on here, a few pounds off there, but basically the same. Marriage added five pounds, for which I blame my husband completely, but otherwise, it stays the same.

Pregnancy, however, changed all that. When we lost our twin boys 19 weeks into the pregnancy I had already gained twenty pounds. (God only knows how much I would have weighed if we had been able to carry them to full term.) Having never been pregnant before, I figured that once I had given birth the weight would disappear. That only seemed fair. No babies, no baby weight. Anything else would go against my inherent belief in the karmic justice of the universe.

The universe failed me.

After the boys were born I had only lost five pounds. And, five months later, I’ve only lost a few more.

You would think that the death of twin boys and our grief surrounding that loss would be all-consuming. What is a few extra pounds in the face of such a loss? But, if I’m honest, on a day to day basis, it is the extra weight that bothers me the most. Maybe it is that the death of babies is too big to grasp most days, too big to carry around when the rest of life goes on. Or maybe it is simply that extra weight is the only thing that is tangibly different in my life now that we are no longer pregnant. Whatever the reason, the weight bothers me.

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To Ponder

I’m taking a class on spirituality this week and last night we talked about how one of the calls of discipleship is to ponder. Not ponder in the Greek sense of the word, to think deeply, but ponder in the Hebrew sense of the word, to hold tension and transform it.

Perhaps the most illusive example of this in the Bible is Mary. When Mary ponders the news that she will bear a child she does not think deeply (having the image here of Mary in the thinker position), she holds tension in her. Mary standing under the cross is not screaming about the injustice of her son being killed, she’s silent, but standing and strong.

The image that was used in the class was one of a water purifier. You hold the tension so as not to give it back -­‐ you transform it and give back something else, something better -­‐ or nothing at all if that is all you can muster at the moment. It’s not an excuse for abuse, but rather a way to give back good for evil -­‐ a way to make a difference on a small scale.

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Kathleen Norris calls it acedia. She writes, “I recognize in all of this the siege of what the desert monks termed the ‘noonday demon.’ It suggests that whatever I’m doing, indeed my entire life of “doings,” is not only meaningless but utterly useless. This plunge into the chill waters of pure realism is incapacitating, and the demon likes me this way. It suggests sleep when what I need most is to take a walk. It insists that I shut myself away when what I probably need is to be with other people. It mocks the rituals, routines, and work that normally fill my day; why do them, why do anything at all, it says, in the face of so vast an emptiness. Worst of all, even though I know that the ancient remedies – prayer, psalmody, scripture reading – would help to pull me out of the morass, I find myself incapable of acting on this knowledge. The exhaustion that I’m convinced lies behind most suicides finds its seeds in acedia; the rhythms of daily life, and of the universe itself, the everyday glory of sunrise and sunset and all the ‘present moments’ in between seem a disgusting repetition that stretches on forever. It would be all too easy to feel that one wants no part of it any more.”

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Failures of Imagination

It seems to me we frequently suffer from failures of imagination. I’m thinking about huge things like world visions of peace and an end to hunger, but I’m also specifically thinking of the little things. How frequently do we find ourselves in situations we just can’t imagine getting out of, at least not in a way that would be satisfying, let alone full of joy? Maybe it’s not true for you, but for me there seem to be so many.

I think about this week of midterms and papers and know that there are more moments than not when I just can’t imagine the week being over and everything being done. This is a complete failure of imagination – of course the week will end, and I know myself well enough to know that the work will be done. But there are moments when I just can’t imagine.

And if I fail at this little thing, this situation where I know the week will end, whether or not I can imagine it, is it any wonder that I fail at the bigger things? The situations where there are no concrete guarantees?

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