Archive for May, 2010

Today we remember.

Whatever our personal opinions or political ideologies may be, today we put them aside — and we remember.  Today belongs to the men and women who answer the call to arms in the name of defending our freedom.

We remember those dear to us, family members and friends, who rose to serve and never returned.  We remember those we never met and those who remain unidentified who gave their lives to protect our own.

We remember those whose lives have been forever altered by their days in combat, who lost their friends but not their courage, who left pieces of themselves on the battlefield and carry with them the profound memories of their fallen comrades.

We remember today the young men and women who serve right now, barely grown and suddenly soldiers, far from home and family and proud to safeguard the land and the people they love.  We remember their families who persevere during their absence and wait and pray for their safe return.

Most of all, as we remember today, we pray for the end to war.  We pray for peace.

Amen.

“Tears are the summer showers to the soul”

— Alfred Austin

Last winter was a snowy one.  As Spring arrived, the rain was no less plentiful, and there were several times when I was caught unprepared and found myself pelted by cold rain that soaked me and made me shiver until I could retreat to the warmth of my house and some dry clothes.  I don’t like being cold, and I don’t like being drenched by cold rain only to have matters made worse by the chill of the wind.

The other day, I had gone to chat with my neighbor while she waited for the arrival of the school bus and the beginning of her afternoon routine with her children.  We have had hot, muggy days this week, and temperatures were in the high 80’s.  As we sat and visited, the clouds began to gather.  By the time the bus arrived and ended our visit, I found myself scanning the skies and wondering whether I would make it home before the rain began.  My question soon was answered as huge raindrops began to splatter all around me. These were not the tiny and wind-whipped raindrops that I’ve been accustomed to this Spring.  Instead, they fell gently and made a slapping sound on the ground.

My feet moved faster as I thought of the clammy feeling I’d experienced in the last sudden downpour, and I made a beeline for home and shelter.  It was then that I noticed that this was not the kind of rain that had sent me home shivering.  The drops that fell were heavy and warm, and as each one hit my face, it became the source of a small stream that found its way down to my chin before it dropped and left its mark on my shirt below.  I stopped hurrying and stood in my backyard, just letting the pleasant rain wash over me on its way to the earth.  It was a pleasant sort of cleansing; and soon I stood, arms extended and face turned toward the heavens, just letting the rain wash away all the memories of snow and wind and cold.

There are seasons in our lives as well as in the cycle of the year; and some are bitter and cold, some bring tears that sting and bite and make us shiver.  Then there are the summer showers — the tears that leave us feeling cleansed, resolved, and renewed.  I am certain that Alfred Austin must have stood as I did in a summer shower, with his arms outstretched and his face turned upward, embracing the gift of warm, cleansing rain.

Tomorrow we will remember so many who have lived and died as our representatives in battles fought to preserve our freedom.  For those whose loss is new, the tears may still be cold and bitter.  Let us embrace them through their grief and loss and bring them to a Memorial Day when the summer rain can fall gently and bring relief to their souls.

“Peace is a daily, a weekly, a monthly process, gradually changing opinions, slowly eroding old barriers, quietly building new structures.”

— John Fitzgerald Kennedy

How fitting that the Memorial Day weekend should begin with the birthday of JFK.  How many people can you think of who are so well-known that their initials alone bring recognition?  Had he not fallen victim to an assassin’s bullet, JFK might be 93 today.  For those of us who carry with us a frozen moment in time — the moment we heard that the president had been shot — it still is hard to imagine that the handsome young leader with strong ideals and a thirst for peace in the world could die such a violent death.  JFK is remembered as someone who served his country in the military and as someone who led his country during tense days of balancing world power and trying to negotiate peaceful coexistence on earth.

Let us remember as we move toward the day when we will recognize the memory and the service of the men and women who lost their lives defending the ideals of our country, that the real goal their sacrifice pursued is peace.  Let us honor their memory by making it a daily, weekly, and monthly goal to speak the words of peace that might gradually touch the minds of those we battle.  Let us listen as well and hear the way others envision a peaceful world.  Let’s tear down the barriers that divide us and learn to see each man and woman we meet as human — just like us.  Only when the barriers have been undone can we hope to build something new.  Let’s not be discouraged, but let us begin today in our own small interactions to lay the foundation of peace.

Yesterday was a hot, muggy day in Pennsylvania.  In an effort to beat the heat, I decided to mow the lawn before the morning sun had a chance to make my work intolerable.  I headed toward the shed at the back of the yard to retrieve the lawnmower.  As I came around the ancient arbor vitae — more tree than shrub after many decades — I heard a noise.  “Tink!  Tink, tink!”  What on earth that could be was beyond my imagination, so I followed it around the tree and saw a male cardinal perched on the outside mirror of Moby, our great white van.

Mr. Cardinal didn’t even flinch as I rounded the corner, so I kept my distance and waited quietly to see what he was doing.  As he became comfortable with my presence, he suddenly turned, leaned toward the glass of the passenger window and the mirror, and left his perch.

He grabbed the frame of the window and I soon saw that the sound I had heard was his beak against the glass as he attacked his reflections in the mirror and the window glass.

He clung to that van for the longest time, defending his turf against his own reflection.  I felt so sorry for him as I watched him beat his beak against the unyielding surfaces in the name of protecting his nest.  After a few minutes, he returned to the top of the mirror.

In a flash of red, he took off for his hidden nesting place in the top branches of the tree.

Throughout the day, my feathered friend would return again and again to do what cardinals do.  They are programmed to defend their territory, and he was both valiant and persistent in trying to chase away the intruding birds who refused to leave his comfort zone.  I found myself wishing that there were a way to put his mind at ease, a way to explain to him that he was only fighting his own reflection and that the enemy was not real.

How often do we shadow box with our own imagined enemies?  How often do the reflections of past hurts seem so very real and present that we find ourselves defending against something that is only a memory or an illusion?  As I watched the cardinal pecking at the mirror bird, I could see myself doing the same kind of thing at the times when lingering past would intrude on my present and stir up old hurts and fears.  ‘How birdbrained of me,’ I thought, ‘to treat an old feeling as something current and tangible.’    Sometimes it takes a flash of color and the painful sound of beak against glass to help me see just how futile it is to shadow box with things that belong in another time and place.  Thank you, Mr. Cardinal, for the lesson in shadow boxing.

Today I will cover the mirror with a cloth and end the fruitless battle.

“You wake up in the morning, and your purse is magically filled with twenty-four hours of un-manufactured tissue of the universe of your life! It is yours. It is the most precious of possessions. No one can take it from you. And no one receives either more or less than you receive.”

— Arnold Bennett

Wow!  Does that sound exciting, or what?  For the first time in a week, I opened my eyes before the alarm clock nudged me, so I’m thinking that recuperation is being replaced by rebuilding.  Have you ever noticed how the whole world seems fresh and new at the end of an illness?  The sky seems more blue today and the grass is greener than it was a few days ago.  Today is a wonderful day to finally transplant the vegetables to the garden; and I’m confident that Jack Frost will leave them alone for the rest of the summer.

As I head outside to mow the lawn, I will carry with me a sense of excitement.   I have awakened with twenty-four hours of raw material at hand, and all I need to do is make something of my day.  There will be other days when I will feel less aware of this remarkable gift, so I want to acknowledge it now and try to hold onto the sense of freedom that dances in my soul this morning.  We begin each day with a blank canvas before us.  As night falls, we leave behind the mark we have made that records how we have chosen to paint our life.

Rejoice and be grateful today, because you have been given twenty-four hours of the un-manufactured tissue of your own life!  Make your mark count!

“With time and patience, the mulberry leaf becomes a silk gown.”

— Chinese Proverb

I was thinking this morning about patience.  It has now been a week since I’ve felt well enough to take my morning walk, and I must admit that my patience is wearing thin.  Taking that jaunt in the early morning hours is one of the greatest delights in my life; and the silent time I spend alone surrounded by the beauty of nature has a way of centering me before my interactions with the rest of the world begin.  I like to take the time to really see the beautiful contributions of each leaf and flower to the big picture that makes up the landscape painting of each new day.  My own contribution is part of that painting as well; and, although I might not be as colorful as a flower or as radiant as the rising sun or as sparkling as the drop of dew that sits on a blade of grass, what I bring to the day will be a part of the picture.

I’ve always considered myself a patient person.  Well, maybe it isn’t true to say, “always,” but in close to forty years of motherhood, I’ve made an effort to cultivate patience so that I might bring kindness to the world and especially to those I love most dearly.  There are those who would tell you that simply being an active parent for such a long time requires patience — or maybe it is endurance.  When I think of patience, the first thing that comes to my mind is the day when I learned that my son had learning disabilities.  That day began a journey in patience that has continued to the present, as I have been blessed with a whole family of dyslexic learners.  I remember in the beginning, with my favorite-little-redheaded-boy, Daniel, feeling less patient and more desperate when I would try to help him understand how to read and write.  As time passed, my own need to succeed was replaced by my desire to do whatever my child needed — and patience was born.  Patience doesn’t tap its foot while it waits for someone to get ready.  Patience doesn’t click a pen open and shut, open and shut, in the name of waiting.

Patience sits quietly and looks with love on the obstacle in the path.  When the time is right, it finds its way to the other side.  Today, as I’m recuperating from being ill, I feel well enough to wish I were taking my walk but not healthy enough to expend the energy.  Why is it that I find myself tapping my foot and clicking my virtual pen?  I’m thinking that it’s a lot easier to be patient with other people than it is to be patient with myself.  I’m feeling very much like a mulberry leaf, and I’d rather be a silk gown.

My mother always used to tell me that charity begins at home.  I thought she meant to be nice to my family, but maybe it’s even more intimate than that.  Maybe we need to take it a notch closer and say that we need to love ourselves the same way we love other people.  Today I will be kind to myself and find the patience that allows my body to heal completely without some foot-tapping, pen-clicking taskmaster sending it out to use energy that is needed for healing.  I will think of my little boy, struggling to figure out how a letter could be connected to a sound.  I will remember the love and patience I felt while watching him find his way, and I will learn to treat myself just as kindly.  My guess is that I will learn something more today about patience.

“Health is the greatest gift, contentment the greatest wealth, faithfulness the best relationship.”

— Buddha

It has been about six years since I’ve been sick.  Sniffles and aches have come and gone, but not in a way that disrupted my life to the point where I needed to stop and regroup.  All that changed last week when an unwelcome germ decided to take up residence in my left tonsil.  Some six days later, after many doses of antibiotics for infection and steroids for swelling, I am feeling like I’ve returned to the land of the living.  I would be happy to wait another six years for this sort of reminder to appreciate each day we live free of disease and free of pain.

Good health is, indeed, the greatest gift, and today I am more than aware that this is true.  It is sad that in a week or two, when the memory of illness fades, I will once again allow the wonder of being healthy to fade into the background and will take for granted that I awake in the morning free of disease.  After all, I have no desire to hold onto the painful feelings of being sick and carry them forward into the days ahead.

Instead, what i would hope to do is to hold on to the appreciation I feel this morning and spend a moment each day renewing my gratitude for another day of healthy living.  Give thanks today for your own good health, in whatever portion you enjoy it.  Care for yourself in body, mind, and spirit so that you might find the balance that sends you into life feeling content with what you have rather than pining for more.  Contentment is wealth, after all.

And if faithfulness is the best relationship, find that in the way that you care for yourself.  Be as disciplined in looking after your own well-being as you are in caring for others.  Health is, indeed, the greatest gift!  May we cherish it, guard it, and nurture it so that we appreciate each day the abundance that is ours simply because we are alive.


“The whole value of solitude depends upon one’s self; it may be a sanctuary or a prison, a haven of repose or a place of punishment, a heaven or a hell, as we ourselves make it.”

— John Lubbock

Sanctuary

*

In the sacred depths of being

Dwells a well of Light and Peace

A holy place where Soul is whole

And Truth is known, with no forgetting.

*

Set aside the heavy burdens

Of the world and misery

Come away to new beginnings

Rest in brief Eternity

*

Life, it’s said, is to be lived

And, as we Journey, this is true;

But, step inside, take flight and Live

The wholeness of created you.

*

Be still and listen; hear the music

That your Soul was born to play

Accept the gift of this, your birthright

Carry it upon your way.

*

Silent, in my Sanctuary,

There within my holy space

I gaze into the Peaceful water

And, in that moment, see my Face.

*

©Pamela Stead Jones 2010

“Walking uplifts the spirit.  Breathe out the poisons of tension, stress, and worry; breathe in the power of God.  Send forth little silent prayers of goodwill toward those you meet.  Walk with a sense of being a part of a vast universe.  Consider the thousands of miles of earth beneath your feet; think of the limitless expanse of space above your head.  Walk in awe, wonder, and humility.  Walk at all times of day.  In the early morning when the world is just waking up.  Late at night under the stars.  Along a busy city street at noontime.”

— Wilferd A. Peterson

One of the best things about leaving my younger years behind has been reaching the point where jogging quickly has become a thing of the past.  My knees appreciate the fact that I no longer require them to absorb the impact that now would make them swell and ache.  Now, I walk.  My walking habit began as a poor substitute for the more strenuous activities that I resented leaving behind; and in the beginning, it felt like a concession to the truth that I was no longer part of the younger generation.  Over time, my walking has evolved into something that only could be appreciated at its slower pace.  When I walk, each piece of the world meets me face-to-face rather than whizzing by as I turn my head from side to side and try to take it all in.  I no longer move only across the ground, but my eyes take in the sky and the sounds and the subtle fragrances of the world that can be lost in the breeze when you run.

When I read Wilferd Peterson’s words about walking, my whole being responded with a resounding, “Yes!”  There is something healing and centering and celebratory about the act of walking, as though it represents the greater journey that is our time on this earth.  Today is a great day for a walk; and I intend to take several of them with my eyes, my heart, and my spirit wide open to all the possibilities that lie in my path.  And tonight, when I look up into the starlit sky, I will hope once again to experience the feeling that maybe I, too, am a small point of light that shines in the midst of the darkness.


“Joy is not in things; it is in us.”

— Richard Wagner

The great composer, Richard Wagner, produced music that has continued to bring joy to lovers of opera for more than 100 years.  Whether or not you are an opera buff, there is little chance that you have managed to make it to adulthood without hearing his powerful music.  When I read what he had to say about joy, it made me wonder whether my own emotional response to hearing great music might simply be a matter of one man’s joy finding its way through a composition to the joy that resides in another.

We are living in times that many people find frightening.  As the stock market rises and falls like a stormy ocean, a society that has become dependent on external pleasures for entertainment is feeling frightened and desperate as the means to buy happiness becomes less and less available.  We have lost touch with our personal sense of joy and have come to rely on an ever-evolving array of newer, better, and shinier things to bring us amusement that lasts for a moment and then is tossed aside.

C. S. Lewis, author of the Chronicles of Narnia and many other writings has this to say:  “I sometimes wonder whether all pleasures are not substitutes for joy.”   We have learned to keep our true sense of joy locked away in favor of seeking entertainment in the external world.  We are embarrassed to have others see us respond with emotion to the transmitted joy of another person that touches that place in us as well.

I hear people every day remarking that we live in desperate times.  Why are we feeling desperate?  Most of us have our basic needs well met and with enough excess to see that the needs of others are managed as well.  We have created for ourselves a sense of desperation that I think may originate in our misguided attempts to convince ourselves that the pleasure of the day can substitute for the joy that lies buried under the heap of artificial happiness that hides it from our awareness.

The time is now to liberate our joy — the true joy that lies within us — and to express it openly to a world that seeks joy in all the wrong places.  When you see a piece of artwork or hear music or read a story that carries the artist’s joy  so that it touches your own, let your joy overflow!  Express the joy that lies deep inside and let it touch others so that they, too, can discover the truth that joy is not something to be bought or sold.  Once you have found the joy that lies within, it will spill all over your world and make it a wonderful place to be.