This is an inner journey. A journey of the spiritual and mundane and about being human. An imperfect journey. My journey.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

We Need A Little Christmas...Now

Haul out the holly

Put up the tree 

Before my spirit 

falls again...
Fill up the stocking
I may be rushing things
But-!Deck the Halls 
again now...
From the Broadway musical 'Mame',composed by Jerry Herman,1966

I start checking the calendar for the date of the first Sunday in Advent by Thanksgiving. If you aren't familiar with it, Advent is the season of waiting when Christians prepare spiritually for the birth of the Christ Child. The word
Advent means " the arrival of something important", according to Websters Dictionary.

So... for the four Sundays in Advent, we in the interfaith community wait for the Divine Child ( the name changes according to personal spiritual practice: for some it's Jesus, for others it's Sol Invictus (the Invincible Sun), for others it's Mithra...or we wait for an occasion: the Winter Solstice,Yule, the Wild Hunt, a visit from Father Christmas or Santa Claus. There are many reasons for the season, because there are many days of celebration.
Celebrations such as Festivus, Saturnalia, Misrule, Yuletide, Wintertide...and a few I know I've forgotten.

We do it mainly to wind up the end of the old year and ring in the new, right up through New Year's Eve smack dab in the middle, and continue for six more days until the 12th day of Christmas or the Epiphany.

I'm no longer considered a Christian in mainstream religious circles. Technically, I'm a neo-Pagan. I still believe the teachings of Jesus have deep moral and ethical meaning, but I also ascribe to the wisdom of the Torah,and the Buddha. I am comforted in the compassion of the Dalai Lama; I find strength in the teachings of many ancient religions, including the Celtic spirituality of my ancestors. Because I have integrated all of this into a devotional practice that is tailor-made for me, I can still celebrate Christmas comfortably to a point. To be perfectly honest, I do it to honor where I came from- to remember Christmases past- and as a way of staying connected to my roots.

 I don't rush right from Halloween into Christmas the way the marketing folks would like; I take a last leisurely moment to enjoy Autumn and celebrate Thanksgiving for its own merits. Most years there is a few days between Thanksgiving and the first Sunday of Advent; that's when I start to slowly decorate, building anticipation for the season. I haul out my table-top tree and carefully unpack ornaments I've collected or been given as presents over the years; some of these came from my childhood and belonged to my grandparents.

My tree top angel is one of them. She's white molded plastic with clear wings, a relic from the mid-century: a bulb used to fit in her back, but now I tuck the first light of the string into the hole, and she lights up just fine. The Angel has sat on many Christmas trees throughout my lifetime- those in my grandparent's house where I grew up, and all of the places I've lived since then. She's seen the child's wonder in my eyes when I got a certain doll I wanted, and witnessed the years when my grandparents had volatile arguments over my Grandmother's drinking.
She was there for my first Christmas in my first apartment since college, when Tinker the Cat and I were housebound due to a snow storm that dumped three feet of snow on the town where I moved across the state. She spent a couple of Christmases packed in a box with all the other ornaments in a friend's basement when I was homeless, but she triumphantly returned to her rightful place when I rented a room in a house in North Carolina. Today, she rests atop my little tree, that is grandly displayed in the triple window of my new apartment, which sits half way up a hillside. The whole town can see my tree and electric candles-and the Angel who serenely crowns it.

Meanwhile, I am baking fruitcake and cookies on Christmas Day because I was busy making a little money to pay my utility bills as a paid bell ringer for the Salvation Army. ( Yes, I do know they ascribe to a theology that does not accept the LBGT community. And yes, I do  disagree very much with that because I think all of us are God's Children and that the interpretation of the Scripture used to justify that thinking is flawed and misunderstood. But I also understand that in this area of Appalachia, the Salvation Army is more often than not the only charitable organization that genuinely benefits the poor of the community and those in need...and it is the only place that would hire me because of my disability when I needed to make money to survive through this winter. There isn't many places to choose from when seeking employment-and I was desparate.
 Working in the charitable branch of the organization is not supporting their religious beliefs. That's not rationalization, it's logic...and I have learned the hard way that I cannot eat my idealism. That's another story for later).

Today has been been bittersweet. There are memories of times with friends and loved ones who are still dear to me- some whom I spoke with on the phone this evening. I remember others who have stepped across the Veil to the place where people go when we leave this life.

Christmas is also a time for children, and since I have none of my own, the childhood memories I have are mine. Not all of them are endearing. I can call up particular moments of feeling very cherished by my grandparents...and times when I thought ( and still believe) I wasn't very loved at all. Mornings when all the neighbors came over to celebrate the holiday and marvel at all the presents my grandparents gave me because they " wouldn't take a million dollars for me"( did anyone ever offer them a million dollars for me?), where I was the center of attention and the joy of their very existence...and the time after company left that I was told not to play with a certain toy and not take it out of the box.

Years later, during one of Mom's drunken  tirades, I learned that those toys were returned to the store so my grandparents could get their money back. We were simply too poor to afford the more expensive ones, but our family had to save face in front of our friends and neighbors, so I was gifted with a pretension of gifts purely for show. Pop couldn't live with the thought of others thinking he couldn't provide for his family; he was, in fact, a very good provider. We never went hungry, the bills were paid. We just ate cheaper cuts of meat and spent less. We were poor, but when I was a child-especially at Christmas-I never knew it until years after he died. Now, as I struggle with making a living on my own as an adult, I am saddened at the thought of those years, but I understand the reasons behind what was done. The memories hurt, and I ache for myself and for Mom and Pop, but the years have given me a compassionate understanding of the reasons behind why things were the was they were. The true gift that has come out of all those years is forgiveness.

I'm glad Christmas is 12 days because you can't fit all of the celebration into one day. These days it's not so much Christmas as it is Yuletide for me. I mainly celebrate the Solstice,and the return of the Light. The Light, as I see it, is the spark of life that rekindles the spirit and guides the soul in the cold winter months. The Light is hope. It is the justification for my believing that to the darkest days, the Light will return. We will always have the fact, we need it. We need darkness to rest and restore our life force, just as a bulb planted in the cold,dark earth in the Autumn will grow and burst through the ground into the light in the Spring. Humans are like that,too. We need one last celebration, to haul out the holly, put up the tree, throw on the glitz, feast and make merry before we get down to the serious business of growing in the light of the new year. Today, I need a little Christmas...and maybe tomorrow, too, and the next day, and the next...

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

And Now....

It's been a long time since I've posted to this blog. The big news is that I have a new home. Well, not so new actually...I moved nearly six months ago to that little mountain town I mentioned. The area is vast and remote. If you check a 'flat Earth' map, just beyond where the ocean drops off the edge and the caption reads "There be dragons", that's where I moved. It's a  joke I like to tell to describe my new home to friends.
There is a bit of irony in it...and a lot of truth.

The area of Southwestern Virginia/West Virginia is divided by the rest of the region by the Appalachian Mountains, which essentially isolates it. In 1965, the Appalachian Regional Commission was formed to study economic development. Appalachia was then-and still is - one of the poorest parts of America. The Commission designated the area as economically distressed and endangered-and rightly so: it continues to grapple with poverty and population loss.  This is traditionally coal mining and logging country. In the little town where I live, coal mining dwindled out right about the time I was born in the mid-fifties. Little economic development occurs here now and a majority of the townsfolk make a living at minimum wage jobs. A sign at the edge of my new hometown places the official population at 300; it is, if you count all the cats, dogs and pigeons. The population of the cemetery is higher than the current number of residents. It includes 114 miners and laborers killed during an infamous explosion in a nearby mine. Both are on the National Registry of Historic Places. They filmed a Maxwell House Coffee commercial here once, and a movie 20 years ago. Since then the place has gone to ruin and boasts a mind-boggling number of abandoned buildings. Sic transit gloria mundi.

By now you're probably wondering why I moved here. On the darkest of nights, it's a question I ask myself.
The quickest answer is that I wanted to get out of a bad situation. The best answer is because I could find affordable housing easily so I could reclaim my independence. The life I left feels like time in a vacuum. The place I left felt more like home than where I spent the first 50 years of my life. The friends I left were more family than family, and now that the holidays are approaching, I find myself missing them more and more. Not that I haven't made friends here because I have: it's just that those relationships are so new that they haven't had time to develop the depth and richness of those in North Carolina. I know that will come in the passing months and years, but right now I have moments of intense lonesomeness. I'm not lonely, mind you...I just feel the distance between those I'd come to know and love and myself. I miss their presence and constancy. I miss intellectual discussions on Sunday afternoons over coffee, and sharing a spiritual practice with them. I miss the feeling of coming into my own among peers. When I moved I knew that wouldn't actually end because there are ways of staying in contact through phone calls and the Internet, but I do miss the face time none the less.

The mood is not all melancholy, however. There is still a feeling of civic pride that is easy to get swept up in: Forth of July fireworks, Harvest Festivals unique to the area, parades on Labor Day, Veterans Day and Christmas...Scarecrows and Christmas wreaths hung on the light poles in the main section of town. Everything is within walking distance: the tiny library, Post Office, a nice park with picnic tables, a thrift shop that benefits the Christian Action organization supported by all the churches in the area.

About those churches: you cannot throw a rock in any direction without hitting a church dedicated to a mainstream denomination. The Community Church has become a community center, and the synagogue is closed. I wish it weren't. I love the serenity of the Jewish Sabbath, and it would have been nice to have had a Rabbi in town to have religious debates on Scripture. I've already test driven a couple of the churches in town and had discussions with the pastors. Both are men of the Christian faith-one Episcopalian and the other Methodist. The first attended the same seminary as I did, and was ordained under similar circumstances, so we have an instant history...and he's the spiritual advisor of the local paranormal group. That elicited a big smile from me over the lunch we had one day. The second is a man of unshakable faith. I don't always and entirely agree with his views, but I have to admit....he's one hell of a preacher. I am envious of his ability to preach and pray extemporaneously. Both of these men have hearts as big as all outdoors and would agree to disagree within their chosen faith traditions, and yet they do agree one one thing: they believe this town is in its death throes. I don't want to yet believe this, because if or when I come to this decision on my own, it will be time to leave...and I just got here, damn it. I have an inkling there is a kernel of truth in their sincere assessment that the problem with this town is the attitude of its people. They've both been here long enough to know...but I am still yet an optimist. Perhaps because because I am new and have a different perspective, I can overlook the infighting and apathy and still see the beauty and potential of this place that's so steeped in history. My ability to dream has yet to be taken away, and right now I have faith and believe it can rise again. Maybe not to the level of it's glory days, but to a place of a sustainable existence. It will take a lot of elbow grease...or maybe just a lot of turn the page before the book closes forever.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Reflections on Father's Day

As I sipped at my first cup of coffee this morning and scrolled through Facebook reading all the wonderful Father's Day memories and tributes and memories, I was struck by the fact that my own connection to a patriarchal figure was tenuous at best. I am the result of a one night stand between my biological father and mother who were divorced at the time. Times being what they were in the 1950's, a hurried shotgun wedding was undertaken to legitimize my legal status and satisfy both my mother's father and the Roman Catholic Church. An equally rapid divorce followed, and I was shipped off to be raised by my mother's parents for the next 18 years.

Both of my parents remarried. After my father was discharged from the Army, he married a wonderful older Creole woman of color and was immediately shunned by my mother's side of the family for good. My mother, or the other hand, continued to make marriage into a past time, marrying two more times  (for a total of five marriages, with numerous hook-ups in between). To be brutal about it, some people just aren't cut out to be parents.

My father visited me at Christmas and on the birthday we share up until the time I was thirteen. He had been a cook in the Army ( like my maternal grandfather), specifically a baker. After the military, he went to work in an upscale boutique dessert shop making cakes and candies; he smelled of chocolate when he stopped by to leave the child support check with my grandparents. On our too few visits together he taught me to decorate cakes and hand-dip chocolates. ( The result is that today, I make wicked-good butter creams from scratch.) The last time I saw him was when I was in the hospital after having my tonsils removed. My last memory of him was as a shadowy figure with a nimbus of light around him as he stood in the doorway to my room. I was still too drugged-up from the surgery to remember anything other than he said he loved me.  After that  night, I never saw him again.

My mother's parents raised me in a modest home. Pop was the local fire chief; Mom was a homemaker whose hobbies included crochet and alcohol. Unlike friends my age, there are virtually no childhood photographs of me after the age of five. I suspect it's because I have my father's features: my step-brother and I look exactly like him. More to the point, I do not look like anyone on my mother's side of the family which have very obviously Sicilian. Most of my formative years were spent staying out of the way or hiding from my grandparents to avoid being in the line of fire during one of their epic arguments; saying their relationship was volatile would be a kindness and an understatement. On those rare occasions when Pop took an interest in me-usually during one of Mom's lengthy drinking binges, I would accompany him on one of his side jobs doing general contracting, or we'd spend time in the kitchen. Pop had been a cook in the Army, and it was something he was particularly good at because he'd received an excellent education at the Cooks and Bakers School at Fort Dix. He taught both Mom and I to cook. Our time in the kitchen is my most positive snap shot memory of him, and all the other miserable crap from my childhood falls away when I think of it.

After both my father and grandfather died, two wonderful men were introduced into my life and became my Dads of Choice. Forest and George were both accomplished in their chosen professions, and well respected in the community. They were the fathers of grown biological children when they came into my life, and quite frankly, they redeemed all other males in my eyes. To qualify that statement, I am keenly aware of their faults, but some how that just made them that much more genuine.

I can add my friend John Denver to those who have been influential and gave me insight to the complexity of what it is to be a man. A side from his long, illustrious career as a renowned entertainer, he was the best example I can think of in how to turn fame into stewardship. He was just as much a humanitarian as anything else and he cared-he suffered-for the world. His greatest joy, however, was being a father. Being a father is what drove his desire to preserve the natural resources of our planet, it was behind nearly every charitable endeavor he involved himself in: ending hunger, worldwide environmental causes, serving the disenfranchised, space exploration. His fame became a stepping stone into all of these areas, and he participated not for himself, but for generations to come.

We honor our fathers- whether of blood or choice- on this day which is set aside to give thanks for their support and nurture. I believe it's a day out of time when we should sit back and think about all the things that make a man a Father, and exactly what parenting is.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Good For The Soul: Venting and Rants

               "Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom."~ Thomas Jefferson

I am a little ashamed that I've neglected this blog; it's not that I stopped meditating and making self-examination. Just the opposite; self-examination is never ending and it takes a lot of time.
I confess that I've been writing for my other blog, the one my esoteric alter ego finds fun and which allows be to be somewhat anonymous, because I at times find it difficult to write when I'm the subject.   I'm still fighting that part of my upbringing that whispers in my ear late at night that people who write about themselves are egotistical and narcissistic. Those who know and abide by the rules of etiquette reserve the opportunity to speak up when they have been prompted. Nice girls don't bring attention to themselves, ever, unless they've done something to earn the admiration and praise of others.

Occasionally I need to throw out the conventional, ignore the rules and force myself to have feelings I don't want to face and say things that make me (and others) uncomfortable. Now might be one of those times.

Editing this entry a little while ago made me wonder if I didn't sound just a teensy bit more angry than the situation warranted. The simple truth is that I wasn't angry at all, I was more exasperated than anything else...Since I'm convinced that indulging in venting and rants are good for the soul, here are some of my current pet peeves for you to relate to as they apply and which I suspect you share too:

  • I am tired of being a "good girl". I did not choose to be stereotyped as a paragon of propriety, it came with the job. Although I believe being a member of the clergy has a certain debt of expectation to the public ( and I believe I do try to hold up my end when needed), I am an imperfect, complex being with a lot of quirks. There are quite a few chinks in my armor. I was a human being before I was ordained - and by the grace of the God of Understanding, I will retain that gift. Humans aren't always nice to one another or to themselves. My clerical collar is not tattooed on or nailed into place. It comes off during my private time, and yes, I do have private moments. There are days when I don't feel like putting on my game face  and today has been one of them.

  • I am sick of being diplomatic when faced with the overt stupidity and blissful ignorance of others. There are days I can barely hold my tongue and want to choke the life out of some people with my bare hands.

  • At 200 pounds I am hardly demure and coquettish, so I will skip that pretense on the days my acting skills are limited. Stop trying to guilt me about being fat by pretending you're concerned about my health; we both know it's only to validate  the perverted idea of perfection touted by the media that you've bought into. Don't try to make it about me, when it's actually about you and your unresolved weight issues. Humans come in all shapes and sizes and none of us actually look like supermodels or rock stars without the intervention of a plastic surgeon. Let's just enjoy being together for who we are and drop it, shall we?

  • Ditto to all of you who think that being a vegetarian or vegan makes you a superior and nobler member of the species. No one is going to give you a medal for your dietary choices. Live and let live and stop giving the rest of us unsolicited advice about our food choices. You aren't going to change my mind or my eating habits by being smarmy. ( Note: I have been blessed by the friendship of several fine individuals who are one or the other, and none of them feel compelled to inflict their personal control issues about food on the rest of our little circle of acquaintances.)

  • I am finding that more and more often I can no longer manage a beatific Mona Lisa smile when someone who should really know better asks me how I managed to get myself gang raped, or how I ended up in a homeless shelter when I could no longer cope with the PTSD from the experience. Instead of conspiratorially whispering about my perceived character flaws or the state of my mental health (which no doubt lead to my circumstances, at least according to the gossip and active imagination of a few at coffee hour.)  Try asking if there is anything you can do to be supportive or helpful toward improving my lot in life. Just because most of you are members of the Care Committee does not mean you are caring. This kind of mean-spirited behavior is probably a contributing factor as to why your children live on the other side of the country and seldom visit.

  • I want to fix the person who so casually asks why I'm still dealing with depression when, it's "obvious to them" that I have nothing to be depressed about with a stare that will instantly vaporize them. And yes, there are  still days when I am feeling worthless and have so little hope for the future that I am still considering stepping off the curb in front of a truck. I don't want your pity, but I don't need your lack of sensitivity, either.

  • There have been days when I have wanted to be anything but professional and scream at the people who think they are so much more cool, clever and elite  than I am to knock it off and stop acting like conceited assholes. There are no awards for being overbearingly obnoxious, no matter how cute or important you think are. Not everyone thinks you are as irresistibly awesome  and adorable as you do. Try to get over yourself before someone else with even less tolerance for fools comes along and forcibly helps you to do so.

  • Like Tartar Sauce the Grumpy Cat,  I want to look at those of you who are insufferably perky and just say "NO". Bombarding everyone around you with warm fuzzies and quoting Oprah does not not make you credible, so wipe that insipid smile off your face. Some times life sucks, so deal with it.

For those of you who have read this and have come to the conclusion that I'm the biggest bitch you've ever imagined, you're probably right...and I'm not apologizing for it...because I am owning it. And  I'll tell you something else...facing all of your faults and hurts and confronting your own shadow is probably the most healing thing you will ever do in your life. It's a matter of faith to be able to look at yourself  and acknowledge that some parts of you aren't so nice and rosy. Life is messy and dealing with your personal baggage is no picnic in the park, because it's not supposed to be. It's a constant battle to sort out what's authentic and to keep your integrity intact. Honesty is not pretty. You may not always like what I have to say, but you will be able to trust me. I have learned that embracing my crap isn't necessarily a bad thing. It's sad that we've been brained washed (again, by the media and pop culture) into thinking confrontation is always negative, when in fact, conflict might be just what's needed to remove the obstacles to your journey.  I don't know about you, but I want to feel and experience my life-even the bad stuff.  I need  the ups and downs, the good and not-so-good to believe in humanity and embrace living authentically. You have to get your hands dirty to plant a garden. You have to dig deep and get muddy before you can put out the seeds of things that will eventually blossom and ultimately nourish your soul.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

What No Longer Serves

Every once in awhile, my feelings about things change and I have to adjust my life accordingly. Of course Life in general is eternally in constant change, there is no way of holding that back-nor would I want to. It's an adventure and a journey that I don't want to miss. However, sometimes when I'm in a reflective mood -or I'm forced to examine a particular activity-I come to terms with the fact  that things that no longer serve my growth, enrich my spirit or feed my soul need to go. Things left to molder eventually become more emotionally hurtful and harmful to my psyche. I have had enough of that in the past and have learned when it's time to cut those things loose for the moorings. It's the only way I'm going to be healthy and survive all the other crap that Life throws at me. It's about priorities.

We all need to interact with others; we are by nature social beings. It's a human trait that we  want to belong and be a part of something with the hope that whatever it is, it will be personally satisfying and enriching. That's changed for me over the last few weeks, and I'm no longer in the 'group' mindset because I have found that I can still do many of those things by myself and in solitary practice and it is just as rewarding...and I am happier. So this week I have decided to leave several groups on Facebook because I  find them no longer satisfying, to limit my interaction with other fans of my RockStar Muse because I just don't want to be sucked into the never-ending drama, jealousy and one up-manship, and turn down a call to minister at a church because the philosophy feels more wrong than right to me. Which will leave me with more time to read, study and generally be inside my own head. Unlike the majority of folks, I am more than reasonably comfortable inside my own skin. That  has mostly been a painstaking process, but the end result is that I can live with who I am with very few regrets. That wasn't always the case. Life changes exponentially when you choose to take responsibility and control of your actions and reaction to the everyday business of existence. Within reason and not meant to be a narcissistic statement, I like who I have become. I try to keep the self-doubt to a minimum by not second-guessing my decisions ( but remaining flexible). And I try not to worry what others think about me, because really...Does it matter? Junior High was a long time ago and I'd like to think that it's no longer necessary for Life to be a petty popularity contest. I have little tolerance for the pretensions of others because I have no use for it, those who pretend to be something they definitely are not have no place in my life...and I have an excellent pair of bullshit antennae.

Everything we encounter is influenced by our thoughts and feelings. You don't just see the world through your eyes, but with your heart as well. We become so preoccupied with what we must do in Life that we very often forget what we like to do. There are many more things I want to accomplish and a limited amount of time daily and weekly allotted for me to do them. Casting off things that no longer serve me gives me the precious gift of more time. I will take all that I can so I can continue working on who I am and want to be in the future.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Shine On

First and foremost, life is a fragile. We forget this because of our tendency to rush head-long from one thing to the other, to fall down and get right back up, ignore the bruises, because it's what's expected of us by society. We create a membrane of steel around ourselves,that will deflect the bad things. Mostly we just carry on.

Life is an exciting, wonderful adventure full of Mystery. We never really know what's going to happen next, but we never expect it to be more than we can handle. We don't look too closely or make eye contact. It's better that way. We're less likely to get hurt by Life.

A few hours ago, I found out someone in my congregation died. She was a physically and spiritually beautiful soul who possessed a spirit open to whatever the world would bring. She was tragically killed in a traffic accident. We have questions about the circumstances, for which we may never have answers. Today would have been her 27th birthday.

We believe with our hearts that this life will go on forever, even when we know in our heads that it won't. Dying is the natural cycle of things; we are born and we die. What we do between those points is called living, and we burn with a light from a flame within. Some of us achieve great accomplishments the span of a lifetime; others only burn brightly for a few short years, but the people their light shines on are left feeling warm and good.

Shine on, Sister. Shine on.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Thoughtful New Year

In 2012 nature and the mad nature of some human beings caused us to wonder how can we go on. From super storm Sandy to the Colorado movie house shooting and the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, we have been pressed to find some answers to the question, why, me why us, why now? As we come into 2013, we bring with us the need to find answers and the hope to find what can we do to prevent the recurrence of these despairing occurrences. I think we must commit to a commitment to all human beings and a decision to accept our responsibility to nature's outpouring and human misbehavior. I wish that we could say with Horace Mann that each of us should be "ashamed to die until you have won some victory for mankind." I think we must surrender the despair of unexpected cruelty and extend the wonder of unexpected kindnesses to ourselves and to each other. 2013 can bring us the chance to be kind to each other and kind to ourselves. We deserve each other and each other's generosity.

This appeared on my Facebook page tonight. I can add nothing more other than...Amen. So Mote It Be.