In Good Time . . .

Yesterday we moved our remaining belongings from storage into our home. The place is a mess as I begin, once again, the arduous task of unpacking and deciding where to put “things.” But this is different. This time there will be no saving of boxes “for next time.” This time we are really settling in. In good time I will paint the walls colors of our choosing. In good time the carpeting will be ripped up and natural, beautiful hard wood floors will take its place. In good time a porch will be screened in so that we can enjoy sitting outside for three seasons of the year. In good time trees will be planted and gardens laid out . . . vegetables and flowers. In good time . . . the place will take the shape of what we want in our home. Our place is a small bungalow which suits us perfectly. Having lived in numerous places over the years, we have come to realize that “big” and “material” is not so important as “home” and “meaning” in life. We are already creating community as we get to know people in the nearby synagogue, and our neighbors are becoming our friends. In good time this will truly be our home.

Our world looked quite different five or six years ago. Then Richard was unemployed and I had a part-time teaching position in a sweet little parochial school. I have fond memories of that school, the students and fellow teachers, the community we lived in, but the pay was extremely low and simply did not cover the bills. Richard had recently completed another degree in hopes of pursuing a new career, but the doors weren’t opening. We relied on food stamps and a local food bank for our food. Toward the end of our stay there, a friend had to pay our rent because we had literally run out of money. Our entire savings was gone. Who can get up and rebuild lives from a place as low as the one we had reached? Maybe if we were young and had many years ahead of us, but we were grandparents with a few years yet till retirement age. We still had to survive and furthermore we were competing with people half our ages, people younger than our children with far less knowledge and experience than Richard and me, for jobs that were becoming more specialized and more scarce. The picture was bleak to say the least.

But Richard did get a job, a good paying job. We moved and started over. We began rebuilding. There have been a couple more moves since that time, and another job. Life did not suddenly become easy as we picked ourselves up. We continued to live frugal lives, cutting back and paring down where we could. We worked hard, and still do. Even at our ages, we have rebuilt. We are now living in the community we dreamed of living in. Richard did rebuild an adequate retirement so that he can now do contract work and not rely on the whims of others to make a living. I am studying to become a professional counselor, something I only dreamed of years ago. And most surprising of all, we were able to buy a little bungalow to make our home. Who would have thunk five years ago? Even the headaches of home ownership (which one discovers very soon after taking possession of a house!) are experiences for which I am thankful.

Through the trials we have become stronger. Richard’s and my relationship has strengthened with each crisis we faced. We have discovered what is of value, and what is not, as we have walked this path together. At the center of who we are is a strong religious belief in a good and benevolent (mostly) Creator, and a commitment to a rigorous, practical spiritual practice every day, from the time we arise in the morning till the time we recline at night. Many is the night I wet my pillow with my tears. Doubts and fears have been my companions from time to time, but so has belief and trust. I am old enough, and experienced enough, to know that more trials await. The advantage of age is that we discover that life keeps moving forward, changes continue to mold us, and trials give way to victories, sadness to joy. In good time . . .

So, this morning as I sit amid the boxes and clutter of finally unpacking the remainder of our belongings and creating the nest we call our home, I am profoundly thankful for this good time, for the good man whom I married, and for the life we have lived that has brought us to this time and place.

The Urge to Create (via An Unexplored Wilderness)

A post I read this morning over at “An Unexplored Widerness.” I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did. Let me know what you think.

The Urge to Create Several months ago, my 95-year-old grandmother's older sister passed away. She was 97. My great-grandmother was also 97 when she passed. I told an acquaintance about these remarkable women and their advanced ages and he said he would be very sorry to live that long. The man, in his 60s, said he's lived long enough as it is, the he doesn't enjoy life and will be happy to be finished with it. It's been about six months since that conversation and I … Read More

via An Unexplored Wilderness

Mundane Holiness

Today is housecleaning day.  I am about to blog on putting my house in order.  Why do I do this?  Initially, it was to make the mundane stuff of my life sound interesting.  But YUUUUKKKKKK!  Why would you give one whit about whether or not I am going to clean my house today, or any day for that matter?  Well, because housecleaning and putting things in order is a holy endeavor and therefore worth noting.  No kidding.

I’ve been reading a book, Everyday Holiness, by Alan Morinis, that is changing my view on a lot of things, including housecleaning.  It seems that orderliness is one of many personal character traits we should cultivate for spiritual growth.  Simple enough.  When I think of character traits, however, I automatically think of  “the usual suspects” such  as patience, generosity, kindness, and perseverance.  I never thought of  “order” as a positive character trait imbued with spiritual meaning.  In my world, some people are orderly, some not.  No big deal.

Why is order so important?  What does order have to do with spirituality?  And where does housework fit into developing positive character traits?

Right off the cuff, order is important because life is easier and less stressful when we know where things are.  I have a place where I leave my keys every time I walk in the door. Why?  Because I mislaid my keys too often, and then I spent too much time hunting for them when I needed to go somewhere.  So, I created a “key” place and I always (99% of the time) place my keys in that spot.  Less stressful.  Simple example, but it certainly illustrates the point.

Another reason that order is important is because it is aesthetically pleasing to the eye, which then creates a higher level of serenity.  Think about it.  Walking into a room that is orderly, with everything in its proper place, is far more calming than walking into a chaotic mess.  Life generally functions better when things are in order and in sequence, which then creates more control in our lives..

There is a spiritual aspect to orderliness, too, that is not so often highlighted.  Reading Everyday Holiness, I came across the phrase, “the path to spiritual growth…is hidden right in front of us, right there within the ways of this world.”  The words seemed to jump off the page.  Like a bolt of lightning, it occurred to me that  leading a meaningful spiritual life is not something one does “out there.“  It is not even a “thing” that we attain, or acquire.  Rather, a meaningful spiritual life is created in the midst of our everyday living.  Living spiritually is grounded, it’s earthy.  Spirituality permeates our days in all that we think, say, and do.

Morinis goes on to say that the order we create “on our desk, in our car, with our clothes, our finances, our tools, in our kitchen, etc.  is not just good management, it is bona fide spiritual work.”  Order in our mundane, everyday lives reflects the level of order in our inner, spiritual lives.  Outward chaos equals inner chaos.  Outward order equals inner order.  Order brings peace of mind and spirit.  Of course, how we define order will vary person to person.  A young mother with children underfoot will not have the same order in her life that a middle-aged “empty nester” will have in his or hers.

This brings me to a note of caution:  as with anything, balance is key.  Orderliness is important to me because it is one trait that is a bit lacking in my life, especially when it comes to my house.  I am aware that I can attain a higher level of order at my present age than I could when I was raising children.  It‘s all relative (my apologies to all you physics purists out there.)  On the other hand, an overabundance of this trait can lead to rigidity, or becoming a control freak. I will be the first to say that ideally the goal is to find that balance between the extremes.

What a lesson for me!  Since reading Morinis, I’ve been motivated to do those things that in the past I’ve avoided as much as possible.  If you, like me, think of “holiness” as soft light, ethereal music, and lofty thoughts floating through one’s mind,  here’s a clue: we have got it all wrong.  More than navel gazing, hushed toned voices, living in an irritant-free world, holiness is in part found in making order out of our chaos.  So, today when I finish this blog, I plan to do some holy work and establish some order in this house!

So, what do you think?  This is definitely a work in progress.  How would you define order?  spirituality?  In what ways do you agree or disagree with this blog in regard to order and holiness?

I look forward to your comments.

Morning Rituals

For as long as I can remember, Mom would get up long before daybreak to begin her day.  She would brew a pot of coffee, pour a cup for herself and one for Dad, add two teaspoons of sugar per cup, then return to bed, coffee in hand, where she and Dad would sit quietly talking for a bit.  We kids were not allowed to bombard them with our demands until they had some time alone together.  This was their daily ritual, one that never changed in all the years I was growing up (except when camping, then the roles reversed.)  It is a most wonderful and intimate way to start one’s day, I imagine.  I remember being on the other side of their bedroom door and hearing their muffled voices.  We never knew what they were talking about, and at times wondered how two people could always have something to discuss every morning, day in and day out. But, they did, and to us this seemed perfectly normal.   I was in high school before learning that this morning ritual was an uncommon habit not practiced in the homes of my friends.     

 Another morning ritual–winter morning ritual– from when I was very young also brings fond memories…now.  Although we lived in Louisiana, winter could (once or twice a year at least) produce a “cold snap,“ with temperatures plummeting into the 20’s.  Central air was a rarity found in few homes at that time.  Rather, we had open flame gas heaters in every room.  That way we could heat the rooms in use, and close off the rooms not in use. At night we slept with no heat in our bedrooms because Mom was too fearful of blankets accidentally being tossed onto the flame. That meant that when bedtime came, we would have to crawl in between marble cold sheets. To say that this was no fun is an understatement, but once I crawled in and made a little cocoon for myself, the chill would quickly dissipate.  It helped that the bed was piled high with Momma Futch’s (Grandma) or Mom’s home-made quilts.  The next morning while it was still dark, after Mom put the coffee on to brew, she would come around to each of our rooms to light the heaters while we were still in bed.  When we arose, the room would still be chilly but not frigid.  Just as bad as crawling into bed at night between cold sheets is stepping into icy clothes in the morning when dressing for school.  So, time permitting, we would warm our clothes before putting them on by standing in front of the heater and literally holding our garments over the flame.   My three brothers and I would each claim a heater for this purpose while Mom was in the kitchen preparing breakfast.  It’s a wonder we didn’t burn the house down!  Speaking of breakfast, we had a variety of choices the entire time I lived at home: Quaker Oatmeal, Cream of Wheat, Ralston. Add to that  a piece of toast (no one makes toast as good as Mom does.  Ask my kids.  She takes a piece of bread, dots it with dollops of butter, sticks it in the oven to toast, then slathers it with plenty of homemade jelly) and a glass of powder milk and we were set for the day! There you have it; our winter morning ritual on cold Louisiana mornings!     

my piano
My Piano

 

Our move to Kentucky when I was fifteen years old changed some of our rituals.  No longer did we have the open flame heaters.  Now we had central air. Mom was no longer the “alarm clock” who woke us up and started us on our days.  I missed that.  But we still had an alarm clock to get the family up and going in the mornings.  Me.  I played piano, but as I began high school, finding practice time proved to be quite challenging.  Mom’s solution?  Practice first thing in the morning before going to school.  So, each morning around 5:00 (or 5:30 if I overslept) I would get up and practice the piano.  Since I had to do this, it wasn’t like this was my choice, I would begin by practicing a few scales–in fortissimo!  I am told (by my brothers, and a couple of cousins who lived with us for a few months) that I played so loudly the walls would shake.  A bit of an exaggeration, I assure you, but practice I must, and if that was the only time available, then the family had to endure this with me.  The truth of the matter is that playing the piano was seriously important to me. Throughout high school I found ways and places to practice (the school‘s chorus room during study hall, the church piano when no one else was around, etc.)  At one time in my life I was pretty good, good enough to win a small scholarship to begin college.  After a couple of years, however, I forfeited my scholarship by changing my academic major.  Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I had continued with music.  Today my piano is a living room ornament, a dust collector, but from time to time I still enjoy sitting down and plunking out a tune.  Much to Richard’s relief, I gave up those early morning practice sessions long before I met him.    

negel vasser
negel vasser

 

My rituals have changed over the years to reflect the changes I have gone through.   When I chose to become Jewish, I took on the rituals of the Jewish people.  Even so, some things don’t change.  Much like Mom, I, too, am an early riser.  Once awake, I find it impossible to stay in bed (most of the time…there are exceptions.)  When the last of the kids left home, my mornings became my quiet time.  For the past decade, my ritual has included more “thank you” time, more prayer time.  Before my feet touch the ground, I thank G-d for having kept me through the night, and giving me another day.  I then wash my hands, pouring cold water over one hand then the other a few times.  This is followed with blessings, prayer and thanksgiving.  Only then do I make myself a cup of coffee as I ease into my day.  Unlike me, my husband the scientist wakes up immediately ready to discuss some deep complicated physics problem, or a burning world issue, and he wants my opinion, even if it’s four o’clock  in the morning.  Fortunately, however, over the years he has learned that trying to engage me in anything resembling deep animated discussion before I’ve had my first cup of coffee is a dangerous proposition.    

Morning rituals create fond memories and foster feelings of security.  But they do more than that.  Rituals are the glue binding families together, and oftentimes bring us back together for various events and holidays throughout our lives. How often do you and your family fondly reminisce about some ritualized activity when gathered together for some event?  Rituals identify who we are and Whose we are.  Rituals mark momentous events reminding us that we are part of a bigger world. They help instill in us our value as individuals within a community, be it religious, familial, cultural or ethnic.  Our days are filled with rituals from arising in the morning to reclining at night.  They are important, for the seemingly small, insignificant rituals become the fiber of our lives.  For me, not only do these rituals provide mooring for my soul, but in addition to everything else I have written here, they create that connection which strengthen my relationship with G-d, and provide markers along the path to holy living.    

Memories of morning rituals from my youth are strong and vivid indicating their importance to me.  Morning rituals continue to be vital  to my spiritual, mental and emotional well-being.     

What are some memories of your morning rituals? What feelings do you have about those rituals (then and now)?  How have your rituals changed over the years?

LIFE: The Great Ordeal

In my readings this week I came across a statement that I found to be profound:  “Who are these robed in white, and where have they come from? . . . These are they who have come out of the great ordeal . . . . They will hunger no more, and thirst no more . . . For they will be guided to springs of the water of life, and every tear will be wiped from their eyes.”   These words are beautiful words indeed. I don’t know the context in which they were written.  Scholars ponder the particularities surrounding the writing of these words. Debate is intense, encompassing all camps from the conservative fundamentalist to the rational moderates to the radical liberals. It seems that when it comes to this book, the Revelation to John, most folk are pretty opinionated. I am not going to try to reveal the “original” meaning of these words. I am not going to try to interpret prophesies of which even the experts cannot agree. I am not going to talk about the civil or social history of the times. I don’t know what was happening in the first century c.e. The best any of us can do is offer up speculation based on someone else’s writings, or archeological digs, or whatever. However, I do know what is happening in this world today. I do know what is happening around the country, and in the lives of my friends–and enemies. I know what is happening in my family, and in my life. I do know that regardless of the author’s intentions, these words are rich in meaning for us today.

Life is an ordeal, isn’t it. It doesn’t take someone with a sharp analytical mind to figure that one out. We are hurting people. We are hungry for healing and wholeness regardless of our social or economic location. We may often wonder if we can possibly come out of this great ordeal called life. I am not a Matthew Fox fan, however, this priest/writer/spiritual guide and social activist put forth a theory in his work on creation spirituality that is worth noting. Basically, he contends that we are all oppressed, we are all hurting and in need of healing, we all need to be liberated from that which binds us. The wealthy and the comfortable among us need spiritual liberation, or we will forever hunger and thirst for things which never satisfy.  The poor, the most physically challenged among us need physical liberation in the form of food, adequate shelter and respect. We may be spiritually wealthy, but without physical necessities, we die. Wherever we are located along this spectrum, we each know in our own way what an ordeal life presents.

Years ago I had the opportunity to spend two weeks at a conference at Drew University. One evening a group of us took the train into New York City to see the sights. A resident of that city, a Korean woman, accompanied us as our guide. She took us into the Asian section, then we walked to the Empire State Building. We stopped along the way and did all the “touristy” things. That evening, she took us to the garment district where we ate at a Chinese restaurant/ cafeteria. We ordered our food at the counter, ate at long tables and sat in folding chairs. It wasn’t a fancy place, but the food was delicious, and, as is typical in Chinese restaurants, we had more than our fill. While we sat there laughing, talking and eating, a pregnant woman walked in. She appeared to be spaced out on drugs, even to our inexperienced eyes. She walked to one of the tables and picked up a bottle of Tabasco sauce which she proceeded to pour into a Styrofoam cup. On another counter sat a Bunn Coffee Maker from which she poured hot water into her cup, thus making a soup with the sauce. When asked, the waiter told us that this was her evening meal. We sat and we watched. Our bellies were filled.  But, our souls were famished for we thought we were helpless. Life is the great ordeal to both the filled and the unfilled.

While in Nicaragua, I learned of many other kinds of life ordeals. Poverty, hunger, war. That is a country where two thirds of the population are women and children under the age of 14. There are no role models. There are no teachers. Life is a great ordeal for the entire nation, as it is for two-thirds of the world.  I thought, “Those poor, poor folks.” But, I was brought up short by a woman I met in one of the base communities. This is the gist of what she said: We used to think of G!d as being in heaven. But now I know better. G!d is in our boat with us. G!d lives in each of us. So, when I look at you, I see a spark of the Divine. And I have faith…. We are in the storm, the great ordeal.  But G!d is with us.  And in the middle of the storm, the Divine spark within us brings peace. We are in this ordeal together. We are community, together. And if we are to know the calm, we must see the Divine light in each other.

We have a choice here. We can interpret these words to mean that in eternity, in the future, after this life has been lived, if we but persevere, G!d will take us to the promised land where all will be well with our souls. This is good.  But what about life on this side of the grave?

There is another way to look at this passage. G!d is here, now, today, working in this world, empowering us through the great ordeals and sorrows of life. What would these words mean, if, as the Nicaraguan peasant woman, we saw the image of G!d in all whom we encountered? What would these words mean in how we related with each other and with G!d? What would happen if we lived as if this were so? These words then offer the possibility of radical transformation. Living as if these words were being wrought in our lives in the here and now is actually mind boggling. To live as if we truly believed we were created in the image of G!d, that we reflect Divine light to others, would most certainly bring healing to our bodies, our souls, our nation, and all of creation.  Imagine what would happen! Wars would cease. We could only have compassion for those whom we now call our enemy. Poverty would be eradicated. Physical abuse would not be tolerated. Lines of demarcation which divide people, and oppress all of society, would become ways of valuing the diversity and differences, all of which reflects the depth and breadth of G!d.  To this, add your own dreams for a healed world.

You may be saying this is wishful thinking. And I would say, yes, you are right–except for that little voice
that keeps reminding me the beginning of transformation is within each one of us. For each of us, to believe that G!d will guide us to springs of the water of life is to believe that we will come through the great ordeal. G!d is guiding us when we are moved to call a friend in need, or when we call a friend when we are in need. G!d is guiding us when we pause to listen to a child’s chatter when we really have better things to do. G!d is guiding us when we periodically leave canned goods for the food pantry or gemach, for people we will never see or to whom we will never speak.  G!d is guiding us when we choose to walk in just ways through unjust situations.

With every mouth that is fed, with every thirst that is quenched, with every body that is adequately clothed and sheltered, with every soul that is nurtured, with every life that is birthed, with every death that is honored, within and without, individually and globally, G!d is guiding us to springs of the water of life where  our tears will be wiped away. Then sorrow will cease to hold sway over our being. Depression will give way to joy. Contentment will replace dissatisfaction and cynicism. All this, just for truly believing we are beings created in G!d’s image. “Who are these robed in white, and where have they come from? . . . These are they who have come out of the great ordeal. . . . They will hunger no more, and thirst no more . . . For they will be guided to springs of the water of life, and every tear will be wiped from their eyes.”