Perfect

That’s a pretty high standard to set, but our 15 days in Switzerland met all my criteria for perfect. For a country without access to the sea (my usual preference), its rivers and lakes create gorgeous settings for cities and villages, and if you love mountains, it takes your breath away, figuratively and literally. It’s pristine, charming and dramatic, the trains are wonderful, and what’s not to love about cheese, chocolate, and their own chilled white wine with crepes. We visited wonderful old towns and sophisticated cities, ski resorts, the lake district and alpine meadows, rode in an open air gondola, a cog-wheel train and the Glacier Express, took boat rides and walked deep inside a glacier. It was difficult to choose one photo per visit day, but I settled for these, plus one picture from our side trip to the lovely French village of Annecy, near Geneva. 

I read recently that the Dali Lama believes we should live our lives on earth as tourists, with compassion for one another and deep respect for the environment we share. Switzerland seems to have a good understanding of that concept, and I loved being a tourist in their country. 

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Yard Art

This has nothing to do with me; we barely provide water. The previous owners planted these Hydrangeas, a surprise to us our first spring in the house, and I’ve been grateful ever since. One morning they appear… and in a few short days, in our heat, they’ll be curled up in a futile attempt to remain glorious. The purple blooming tree, which we planted as a small bush only two years ago, is a native Vitex which thrives in our area. I’m also very happy we’ve become acquainted.

Tiny but Mighty

Having heard that Pam was a gifted teacher, I waited in the church classroom for her arrival when she burst in to greet us with a hearty welcome. She was unexpectedly dressed in colorful exercise clothes instead of her priestly garb, and, as tiny as she was, she exuded a huge presence rounding the room, speaking to each student. And thus began a very special educational experience, and a deep friendship.

Pam was first a wife and mother, and from mid-life a seminarian and Episcopal priest. Her interests knew no boundaries, and she was as knowledgeable about Judaism and Buddhism as she was about Christianity. She could set the stage, fill in the background, bring ancient stories to current life, entertain, and listen. If you asked a question, it was the smartest question she ever heard. If you needed her attention, she had laser focus on you, no matter the distractions. Everyone she met thought they were her best friend. And she made you think: no platitudes, no doctrinal lectures, no fire and brimstone; just common sense, wisdom and humor. I kept lots of notes over the years which helped me sort out my own path, and laid a foundation for deepening faith.

A few of her contributions to my understanding of religion:

  • God meets us at our level of need and understanding. 
  • God is God of all the earth and of all people; God as my “personal Savior” is small thinking
  • Relationship with God doesn’t necessarily mean understanding; the feeling of having God near is oscillating
  • We have to consent to being drawn to God; it is an act of free will. “Call” is not to become “special” but to become “whole”
  • Language about the divine is symbolic, not literal; mystery can’t be described, but a sense of the sacred can be cultivated
  • Sin means missing the mark, a reliance on self-sufficiency rather than the inner experience of knowing who you are in God 
  • Biblical revelation is about awakening, not accomplishing
  • The Bible is a compilation of stories, written my many authors over time; it is about people forgetting what God has done and will do, about who they are and whose they are, about God being present in chaos. The question is not did it happen or did it happen this way, but what is the empowering meaning of the story
  • If we take the mystical from religion, church becomes a college classroom. Scripture can become a commodity – “tell me what to believe now”. Participating in ritual creates community; liturgy and scripture are powerful symbolic means to help evoke God’s promise and presence in a special way, through practice that attends to all senses. Sacramental mystery reminds us there is more than that which can be seen.

A few of her contributions to my understanding of life:

  • Life is capricious from our side of the tapestry; God works in darkness and light; it all comes together in God’s time, not clock time.
  • Other people’s lives are none of my business except to take to God in prayer
  • There may not be a cure, but there will always be healing
  • There is soul transformation throughout life, often in conflict with the ego’s attempt to redirect path; wrestling for understanding requires humility
  • If you want to spiritually grow and change, above all know that you are loved as you are, in spite of human fallibility.

Pam left this life suddenly, but her legacy has been embedded in those who had the privilege of studying with her, and sharing her friendship. I cannot imagine her resting in peace; I suspect she has a full classroom gathered round already, taking notes and hoping to emulate her mighty spirit.

We are missing her mighty spirit here on earth.

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Wake Up Calls

A recent feature reported by Susan Spencer on CBS Sunday Morning entitled “Can Money Buy Happiness” included mention of a 2002 New Yorker cartoon by Eric Lewis. It shows an old man on his deathbed, saying to his about to be bereaved, “I should have bought more crap.” It made me laugh, as I am once again in the unpleasant process of attempting to pare down, at least a little.

It also made me think about how I am currently spending much of my time, and as I pack for eBay shipments, I’ve been considering my personal cartoon captions:

I should have…

posted more

pinned more

tweeted more

followed more

taken more selfies

driven better stats

complained more

watched more news

The possibility for ludicrous (but eye-opening) memes is endless. While writing this, another cartoon by Eric Lewis, published in the New Yorker in 2013, caught my attention: it shows the grim reaper knocking on a front door, saying “Take a wild guess, butter boy.”

I do hope life continues to be entertaining. 

Mexico on my Mind

Mexico has received some exceptionally bad reviews recently, with areas of the country now named by the U.S. State Department as places to avoid. I find that news disheartening, not that I don’t believe the reports, but because danger hasn’t been part of any sense I’ve engaged in country. I have loved what I’ve seen of Mexico, and my impressions have been heightened and sharpened by every visit. If you appreciate color, culture, pageantry, the aromas of food and flowers, and mornings begun with church bells and roosters, I encourage you to find a Mexican destination, and immerse yourself in it. You might find you love it too.

Betrayal and Blessing

Betrayal is a shame-filled word, laden with pain. My faith tradition tells us that Judas betrayed Jesus following a dinner of friends, remembered today, several thousand years later, as both an ending and a beginning. The word betrayal is used and felt when relationships have been close and meaningful, when there is consciousness of wrong behavior, when repair seems impossible.

Today, when tradition commemorates betrayal, it seems appropriate to also remember and respect friendship. To have a friend with whom one can share good and bad, celebrations and suffering, is to be renewed and repaired with each encounter. We are blessed by friendships, and Jesus showed us how easy (and difficult) it is to honor them: through love, service, and forgiveness.

Happy Easter!

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Lent, a Hare, and Good Stories

We are in the season some call Lent, which the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines as “the 40 weekdays from Ash Wednesday to Easter observed by the Roman Catholic, Eastern, and some Protestant churches as a period of penitence and fasting”. As a child, I gave up chocolate as a way to pretend I was being pentinent (which wasn’t very difficult since chocolate wasn’t a staple around the house). I hadn’t a clue what pentinent meant, or what Lent was supposed to represent; I just knew that the weeks before Easter were dreary, and the Easter Bunny would soon bring relief.

So how and when did a rabbit become a symbol of Easter, carrying a basket of eggs, when a rabbit doesn’t even lay eggs? According to German Lutheran tradition from the 1600s, the Easter hare was a kind of Santa Claus who dispensed eggs to children who had been good. Rabbits were certainly active in the spring and their talents did not go unnoticed among signs of seasonal awakening. Wikipedia also explains that Orthodox churches had a custom of abstaining from eating eggs during Lent, boiling them to preserve for the end of the fast. Perhaps this is the source of their appearance in Easter baskets, but it still requires a lot of imagination to connect eggs to a hare. We adopted these symbols after Europeans left their homelands in the 1800s, bringing their traditions to America with them.

Enjoying the arrival of spring is a universal pleasure, and there’s nothing wrong with a good story to support festivities. My preference, however, is for the much older story that celebrates renewed life following a period of darkness and distance, after a Lent observed as a remembrance of Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness. I hope that story of rebirth and resurrection is still being shared with children, and isn’t entirely lost in commercialism and chocolate and cuteness. It has a great deal more staying power, and its source continues to send endless means through which to see the world with refreshed vision. I found renewal at the Arboretum this week, where the message was loud and clear. Hope Springs Eternal. And it is stunningly beautiful.