Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Being with the Dying

A 90-year-old gifted me by sharing some of her impressions as she moves toward death. For her, it is a peaceful journey full of gratefulness and no regrets. Not all persons close to death are so fortunate, but all deserve the kind of attention Parker Palmer advocates.

He says when people sit with a dying person, they know they are doing more than taking up space. What is that “more”? Almost always they say something like, “I was simply being present.” We practice presence with a dying person, says Palmer, by honoring the soul and its destiny.
“. . . we bear witness to another person’s journey into solitude.”
What does practicing presence mean to the dying person? Palmer has a hunch that comes from his own experience.
When I went into a deadly darkness that I had to walk alone, called clinical depression, I took comfort and strength from those few people who neither fled from me nor tried to save me but were simply present to me.
     Their willingness to be present revealed their faith that I had the inner resources to make this treacherous trek—quietly bolstering my faltering faith that perhaps, in fact, I did.
     I do not know yet what a dying person experiences. But this I do know. I would sooner die in the presence of someone practicing simple presence than I would die alone.
     And I know this as well: we are all dying, all the time. So why wait for the last few hours before offering each other our presence? It is a gift we can give and receive right now, in a circle of trust.
I have a hunch that the community of sisters with whom I attend Mass in Sacred Heart Chapel practice presence a lot. The spirit this creates fills the chapel. It helps to explain why I return week after week.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Relief from Trump

Donald Trump’s vile words are no surprise. They unmask him as a sexual predator, but his predatory business dealings, also made public, should get equal attention. The predator turned presidential candidate disturbs me less than continued support given him.

I can get trapped into arguing against an irrational partisan who backs Trump, but it doesn’t help me or her or anyone else.

We all need to get away from the garbage. To cleanse our minds, I offer the words of Parker Palmer, a spiritual leader whom Krista Tippett likes to interview for On Being.
[W]hen I went to Union Theological Seminary in New York City for a year, . . . God spoke to me and said he wanted me to get the hell out of the church.   
Palmer does not trash religion or cling to religion. He recognizes its worth for some but knows that today he can awaken spiritual awareness in more people by not going through religion. He joined an intentional Quaker community where he was given the gift of understanding,
that the value of a person has absolutely nothing to do with status, power, income, leverage. . . . I made the exact same base salary as an 18-year-old coming to cook in the kitchen or work in the garden. . .
Parker sees each of us having to find our own way to our true self. He calls this self the soul.
And if the word “soul” doesn’t work for you, it’s “identity” and “integrity” in the language of secular humanism.
It’s the “spark of the divine,” in the language of Hasidic Judaism.
It’s “big self” or “no self” in the paradoxical language of Buddhism. Everybody has a name for it—different name—and nobody knows its true name.
I add that Christianity calls it the Christ within. I also call it the essential self and Higher Power.
Palmer’s book A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life captures my experience during what I call the womb/tomb period of my life, when I went back to the womb to be reborn, and spent time in a tomb to be resurrected. Palmer uses a different metaphor.
[T]he soul is like a wild animal. . . . it knows how to survive in hard places. I learned about these qualities during bouts of depression. In that deadly darkness, the faculties I had always depended on collapsed.

My intellect was useless; my emotions were dead; my will was impotent; my ego was shattered. But from time to time, deep in the thickets of my inner wildness, I could sense the presence of something that knew how to stay alive even when the rest of me wanted to die. That something was my tough and tenacious soul.
             Yet despite its toughness, the soul is also shy. Just like a wild animal, it seeks safety in the dense underbrush, especially when other people are around.
     If we want to see a wild animal, we know that the last thing we should do is go crashing through the woods yelling for it to come out. But if we walk quietly into the woods, sit patiently at the base of a tree, breathe with the earth, and fade into our surroundings, the wild creatures we seek might put in an appearance.
To allow the wild soul’s appearance, we can be facilitators for each other. And this requires listening.
no fixing, no saving, no advising, and no correcting . . . listen deeply to each other, . . . hear each other into speech. Which I think is another of the most critical tasks of our time. So many people unseen, unheard—they need to be heard into speech.
 So there are things we can do, but it’s a discipline.

Parker Palmer’s spiritual wisdom enters pleasingly into my ears. He finds the words for thoughts unutterable in straight prose. May we all practice the art of listening each other into awareness of the depth in our souls.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Hillary and Donald 2

I’m watching the campaign with fear that the United States might actually sink into the morass of Donald Trump as president. I confess my obsession with this. It’s hard to think about much else.
Marilyn wants me to tie my subjects of discussion to religion and spirituality. Very well. I observe my obsession as a personal challenge in spiritual maturation. I have to deal with it, and writing about it helps to dispel it.

I’m distressed by voters’ virulent dislike of Hillary. Why? Among the reasons apparent, I keep coming back to the one I gave before: Hillary’s false front.

Her falseness follows the model of many politicians. As a defense against criticism, they do away with transparency.
Early in the political game, Hillary was attacked by Arkansans who disliked the girl from Chicago because that proud, brainy professional didn’t look or act properly submissive as any wife should. Hillary Rodham didn’t even take the name of her husband. She was a partner in a prestigious law firm.
I started watching her when she got flak in Arkansas for not conforming to their idea of feminine. At the time I was waking up from my previous dismissal of feminists and becoming one myself.

The pattern for Hillary was set. The public didn’t like her real self; she developed a false self—took her husband’s name and acted housewifely, along with a hard shell of defensive secretiveness. This is the image that turns off voters. I don’t like it either. It doesn’t tell us who she really is.
People who know Hillary well say that, out of the public eye, while interacting with a small, comfortable group, she’s warm and funny, a joy to be with.

A segment I heard on NPR with an interviewer from Time magazine points to the problem between voters and Hillary. In a one-on-one conversation with the interviewer, Hillary told this story: 
When Chelsea left for college Mom missed her achingly. She went into Chelsea’s room, closed the door, sat on the bed, and quietly drank in her daughter’s presence. While Hillary was sitting there, the door opened, and Bill walked in. Each learned that the other had been doing this.

Eagerly the interviewer asked, “May I use this story?”

“Absolutely not,” was the answer. It revealed that Hillary is her own worst enemy. Here was a chance to show her human side. It’s exactly what voters want and don’t see in her.

Both Donald and Hillary are tough as nails, but one of them also has depth. Hillary Clinton is motivated by a sincere desire to improve the lives of others. Blacks support her because she has aligned with them for 40 years. It started when she was still Hillary Rodham. She gets it when marginalized people speak out about their oppression, and her policy-wonk mind goes to work searching for ways to help them.

Donald Trump is motivated by a sincere desire to improve life for himself. When Hillary in the debate charged, “. . . he didn’t pay any federal income tax,” Donald threw in, “That makes me smart.” 

Some on-the-fence voters were appalled. “That’s offensive. I pay taxes,” said one. “Another person would be in jail for that,” said another.

Hillary's flaws pale in comparison with Donald Trump’s adolescent bullying and bragging. I don’t see how anyone who watched and listened to the debate can possibly consider him presidential material. His face during the debate reminds me of a lost teenage boy, one who lashes out for reasons unknown to himself.

The only way I can understand support for Trump rests on this description I heard:
Trump comes with a baseball bat and whacks at people. His skill in trashing others acts as a magnet for people with resentments and fears unknown to themselves. He operates on the dictum, “Repeat a lie often enough and people will believe it.” Uninformed people believe his lies. In this campaign, the most malicious lie they believe is that Hillary Clinton is a crook.

The real crook is Donald Trump. There’s so much evidence of this, I decided not to try setting it out, at least in this post.

P.S. The really astonishing thing about Marilyn reading every single post in my blog is that she went online for the first time about a month ago. Her accomplishment is remarkable.

Thank you to all who responded to “Where have you been?” Here’s one of my favorites:
And here I thought my computer had eaten them somehow!
By the way, someday you should do a piece on one of my least favorite New Testament stories, The Woman Taken In Adultery. [Jn 8:1-11]  Really, adultery is a two-person sport.  Where is the man taken in adultery?  (I doubt it was a lesbian relationship either.)
Anyway, glad to see you're back.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Where have you been?

Marilyn from Phoenix called me. “Jeanette, where have you been? Start blogging again!” She informed me that it’s been six weeks since my last post and told me to begin again.

She seemed sincerely bereft so I offered, “You can read the posts in my blog index.”

“I’ve read every one of them.”

“I am impressed." But I didn't believe her. There are too many. "You couldn’t have!”

“I read every one of them, some of them several times.” As proof, she told me when I started the blog—2007. I was speechless. “They’re interesting, wonderful, illuminating, just wonderful. Why aren’t you writing more?”

After some stuttering, I listed the things that keep me busy. “Each post is an essay. It takes me a long time to write those, and I have so many other things to do.” Often a post I intend to dash off quickly turns into lengthy labor. I reminded her that I’m working on a memoir.
She asked me whether I was thinking of not doing any more blogging.  I confessed that I was.

“I hope I’m changing your mind.”

I said one thing keeping me from blogging is the political situation. I’m concerned that our beloved country will actually get Donald Trump as president. I asked how she would respond to some political posts.

“If they are connected with religion and spirituality.” But she liked “Hillary and Donald.”

What happens now I don’t know, but I decided to post this as a kind of pledge to Marilyn. Otherwise I might renege on my promise to continue blogging.

I’m trying to learn a new way of writing. My posts have been educational. They come from a teacher who is lecturing—sharing knowledge, drawing conclusions, and supporting those conclusions. In my memoir, by contrast, I’m trying to reveal insights through my own life story and trying to reach a less academic readership.

It’s even slower than writing essays, and delving into my own psyche springs surprises on me.

As I reflect on my past, I realize things about myself that I’d missed before—more revelations in my slow journey toward emotional maturity. Oh, the joys of growing up. Never-ending.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Hillary and Donald

Erase all the vitriol from Republicans, all the mindless bashing without substance, and we're left with a candidate who has no more flaws than almost all candidates for the office in history, including the greatest, such as Lincoln and FDR.  And we're left with credentials that may surpass those of any other candidate for the office in history.  

Hillary Clinton's tragic flaw is defensiveness; she is not naturally comfortable in the public eye but learned to be there for the sake of her work for people. She is not transparent.  It led to her few lies in public and her famous secretiveness, her refusal to disclose details, which makes her look slippery. That is a misunderstanding.  She only is too defensive, and she's not a good public speaker.  Her delivery sounds phony, insincere. I wish she had some of Bill's showmanship. 

But Hillary Clinton has the capacity to be an outstanding president.  I won't even begin to list her impressive accomplishments for the well-being of others, beginning with children and women, going on to other groups, and to the entire society.  One phrase sums her up well—a work horse, not a show horse.

Her opponent is a show horse, not a work horse. This is how I explain his popularity, otherwise inexplicable to me. He has name recognition, all that's necessary for uninformed voters. How else to explain support for such a man?
Oh, and he's fun to watch.  I often laugh at his adolescent remarks. I hope enough voters can grow up enough to make sure the man does not actually become president.  I dread the possibility.     In November, unfortunately after the election, Donald Trump is due to sit in a courtroom as a defendant in a civil trial accusing him of fraud.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Stephen Hawking's god

A recent PBS documentary on science, “Genius by Stephen Hawking” beckoned. Anything about genius and Stephen Hawking promised to be good. I hoped nothing would interrupt me when it was on TPT.

Hawking challenged volunteers to think like geniuses in finding answers to seemingly unanswerable questions. I expected to be intrigued. Volunteers saw plates suspended in the air and spinning. Magic?  No, it turned out to be magnets. We were to conclude that the laws of nature answer mysteries of the universe.

All mysteries? Some scientists thought so. Pierre-Simon LaPlace asserted: If we knew all facts of the universe, we would know everything that will happen in the future. He and others posited the clockwork universe of determinism, but I won’t get into that because I didn’t buy it and Hawking didn’t either.

In another puzzle that Hawking set up, a volunteer's head was wired up so that his brain was connected to a screen. When he moved his finger, something moved on the screen. A tiny moment before this change showed on the screen, electrical impulses indicated activity in his brain.

Conclusion? Hawking said that the brain made the decision to move his finger—not a thinking mind but a brain, that is, matter. In other words, we should believe that our decisions are determined by physical stuff, not by thought.
I saw clear signs of consciousness or thought operating in the demonstration, but Hawking and the volunteers never wondered what caused the brain activity before that brain activity caused bodily movement.

Hawking seemed intent on proving that no immaterial force exists. Apparently he is so mesmerized by the foolishness of belief in gods that he cannot grasp a more sophisticated concept of what is called “God.”

There were six episodes in the series shown in three evenings, two every evening. By the last evening I was bored. The admittedly ingenious scientific challenges Hawking set up for volunteers continued to engage their scientific minds.
But I'm no good at and not interested in solving math and science problems. I want to ponder the implications of scientific findings, the large questions of meaning. Hawking promised to address them, but I kept seeing promises broken.

He asked good questions: “Why are we here? Is free will an illusion? Can we take credit for our actions? How did the universe begin? How did life begin? Can we go backward in time?

To every question his answer was to show volunteers grappling with physical, scientific puzzles but never tackling the deeper issues. We saw evolution in process, how electrons befuddle experimenters, how old life is, where we fit in the universe, how unfathomably large it is, and more. We did not, however, see answers to ultimate questions posed in the experiments.

We did not see the origin of the universe demonstrated as Hawking had promised. One evening focused on life’s beginnings, purporting to show how we came to be. We saw amino acids + salt (sea water saw the first life forms) + glyceral + energy leading to life forms.
In all steps demonstrated that evening, the key ingredient was ENERGY—not a physical thing. Energy is non-material, therefore spiritual. Energy could be one synonym for “God,” but Hawking’s mind could not go there.

In another episode, blindfolded volunteers showed that the position of particles on the quantum level is unknowable. Hawking mentioned Werner Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, but he did not mention the most enigmatic part of it—that the outcome of every quantum experiment depends on the experimenter, on the decision of a human mind. The word “consciousness” came up but not its significance, the point where science meets spiritual reality.

The task Hawking seemed to set for himself in planning this series was to prove that God does not exist. To accomplish this, he tried to take the mystery out of physical phenomena, but he did not succeed. Instead Hawking revealed that his god is science, and physical science delineates the boundaries of his genius.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Israel & Palestine—facts

News widely reported in the U.S. the past few days.
Two Palestinian gunmen killed four Israelis in a Tel Aviv retail center. Israel reacted by banning Palestinians from visiting relatives in Israel, traveling to Jerusalem for Ramadan prayers or to Tel Aviv for travel out of the country. Since October Palestinian attacks have killed 33 Israelis.

News not reported in the US.
Since September 29, 2000,
Palestinians killed by Israelis—9,370 Palestinians, 2,112 of them children.
Israelis killed by Palestinians—1,224 Israelis,  133 of them children

More news not reported in the US:
Military aid from the U.S. going to Israel: $10.2 million per day!
Military aid from the U.S. going to Palestine:  0

Whenever Israel and Palestine are in the news I recommend
  If Americans Knew  or Jews for Justice for Palestinians or numerous other sites. I especially recommend this engaging video about Israeli atrocities in Palestine, which should be viewed by every American.

Apparently, many Jews in America disagree with the few rich Jews who keep Congress, the president, other politicians, and American media hostage to the one-sided view that Israel deserves unconditional support no matter what. Anyone who tells the truth is branded anti-Semitic. 

One day I was bored, too tired to read, and idly looking for entertainment on public television (I rarely watch commercial channels). I saw Risk Steves sympathetically listening to an Israeli man report an attack by Palestinian “terrorists” on settlers.  I could smell where this was going and didn’t keep watching to see whether we’d learn about the terrors committed by Israeli settlers who are stealing Palestinian land. I knew coverage of Israeli atrocities that provoke Palestinian “terrorism” was not forthcoming.

By the way, the government of Israel pays Israelis to settle on Palestinian land. Every once in a while the U.S. government protests but does nothing to stop the injustice. And the military dollars keep flowing.

When will this end?  When enough Americans get educated and pressure politicians to stop it.