I went to church today. It was the second time in five years that I went. I just realized that we did not recite the Nicene Creed before taking Communion. Maybe we did, and I just forgot about it — that seems unlikely though, because I’ve always had a problem with the Nicene Creed. It is not so much that I have problems with what it says; it is the history of the Creed that bothers me most. First written in 325, the writers had their own agenda and that agenda had more to do with power than the teachings of Jesus. Beginning with Paul, before there was a religion even called Christianity, right up to present day with the Pope and Evangelicals there was and continues to be a distortion of what Jesus taught. (Yes, I do believe that Jesus is part of God but so am I — if there is a God to be part of.) I remember taking a class in Buddhism in college about 40 years ago and felt a kinship right away. Sadly there are no Buddhist studies here in Southern Maryland.
I went to church today, the second time in three weeks, to help my thirty-seven year old son. He requested that I go with him. He is no more religious than I, but of my three grown children, he is the most spiritual. He is going through a rough time. I am going through a rough time too. I think going helped us both — just a little.
The church I have attended, maybe ten times in thirty-two years, is an Episcopal Church, almost 300 years old. I remember the first time I attended around 1980; back then, every pew was just about packed. Now, thirty-two years later, all of the old-timers have died off and other parishioners have left. Today, there were only a handful who attended.
As I sat there I looked up to the upper level pews which can only be reached by a steep and narrow crooked staircase hidden in the corner. This is where the slaves and later ‘negroes’ sat not so long ago before desegregation. Even further back, when this country was only a colony, farmers were required to bring a portion of their harvested tobacco crop as payment to the church.
So many changes. I think the best changes that have come about in nearly 300 years are the parishioners who have chosen to make this their church and the rector who has chosen to lead this church. This was clear to me as I listened to the rector’s interpretation of a harsh passage from the Old Testament. This is one of the many passages that my daughter points to when she defends her unshakable atheist certainty. Before hearing the pastor’s explanation, I would have told her that such passages provide only anthropological insight into the social/cultural norms of the time. However, the pastor’s interpretation of this passage provided more than the anthropological but apologetic explanation, which I would have given. I liked his interpretation — it was new, inclusive, and relevant.
I also liked taking Communion. Not for the reasons I did when I was very young. (When I was young I thought that Communion was magically protecting me — like one who crosses himself after stepping in front of a black cat.) Now, it is not just the familiarity of the ritual itself, which is comforting; I also feel comfort in the idea that this man called, Jesus and his band of followers, broke bread and drank wine, when all around them the world was going crazy.
I don’t know if it is me or just human nature to feel the need to reach for God and the heavens during the tough times. I have often thought that without troubled times I would never give this a thought. And so, tonight I am doing something unusual — I am thinking and I am wondering about the happy ending to my breast cancer scare. How much of the miraculous is involved when this body of mine is functioning just fine — when my cells do not crazily morph or divide? The suspicious ‘findings’ and scary changes were wonderfully benign. In less than a month I’ve had four mammograms, three sonogams, and one biopsy. It took all of this to convince me and my doctors that there is no breast cancer — yet of the existence of God, I am still not convinced. And if all the tests had proven otherwise, that the mass was cancer, would life be any less of a miracle? Cells changing, life changing, my life changing and I wonder if I have a soul within.
This is our dog Artimus. We call him Artie. Artie loves his ball. Artie is an Airedale. Airedale’s, unlike Retrievers, don’t like to retrieve. He wants me to retrieve.
Sometimes, Artie lets me get the ball.
I’m never able to throw the ball very far, but that’s okay, Artie is always able to impress me with how fast he is; he is always ready; he never misses my throw, not matter how bad my aim. I really feel like I’ve accomplished something. Good throw, Chris! Now, if I could just get him to bring the ball back to me!
Then the game starts all over again. Artie pretends that he’s not looking at his ball. He wants me to try to get it. I try and fail. “Stupid, dog! Forget it I’m not playing your game.” I start my walk away up the driveway and turn around.
Hey, Artie wants to play after all. He lets me get the ball. I throw the ball. “Fetch, Artie!” This could go on all day. I love dogs!
When bad things happen, we don’t instinctively feel happy and beautiful, but we don’t need to despair because life gets ugly sometimes. Joy and beauty are everywhere, in everything, in every one of us—no matter how we look, and no matter how we may hurt temporarily.Finding Beauty in Your Scars, Alexandra Heather Foss
Last Days of Summer
Sunday, September 10, 2012 has been one of those rare late summer days here in Southern Maryland where the temperature is maybe seventy-five degrees, low humidity, and a clear light blue sky. Just before this perfect day ended, I took a walk — the same walk I always like to take on such days; first up our drive, then the half mile up our curvy country road. On the return trip I walk my two closest neighbors’ long lanes. The Japanese cherry trees, always the first to bud, are also the first to lose their leaves. The tangled vines are already turning from green to yellow to spotted brown. On the ground the mix of fallen decayed leaves is growing thicker and the scent is sweet almost like hickory. Oh how I wish I could stop the days from getting shorter and the advance of winter!
Whenever I fall into a reflective mood the parade of people who used to be in my life begin marching through my thoughts like the ghosts of Christmas past…Michael Lipsey (via stoicmike)
An important date just ended. I have a tendency to forget important dates. Heidi just about always calls me and reminds me, and tonight wasn’t any different. ”So, Chris, did you remember the date today?” For some reason I always feel the same, like I’m taking a test and a confusing question has been thrown at me. My mind starts wondering, Oh god, I’ve forgotten something important again. What month is it? August, August what? My response is typical,”Gosh Heidi, is it August? You know me, I can’t remember the month much less the day.” Heidi then goes on to remind me that today is Mom’s birthday, August 8. Then she described her close encounter with Mom. Of course if any one were to have a close encounter with Mom it would be Heidi. Heidi and Mom were just about as close as a mother or daughter could ever be. As Heidi tells it she was cleaning and as she cleaned she wished Mom a happy birthday and then wished Mom would let her know that she was there. Mysteriously the overhead fan switched on all by itself. Heidi believes that this was Mom — Mom’s energy reaching out to her.
Part of me believed her. Who am I to scoff at such things? I wanted to believe her, while at the same time another thought went through my head. I guess I just didn’t have that special relationship with Mom to experience such things. And then, why don’t I experience such things?
Later tonight, I thought about it again and then I remembered something that had happened hours before Heidi’s phone call. I had gone upstairs to retrieve some bathroom cleaner, but for some reason found myself wandering into Mary’s bedroom. I walked straight to her shelf under her mirror and picked up the little note which I had framed over a decade ago — given to Mary on her 8th birthday, wishing her a happy birthday from her Nana. I picked it up read through it twice and wistfully thought about mom; longingly I missed her.
Happy birthday, Mom — I love having you with me on your birthday. You are with me not only on your birthday, but every day.