Prayers and Saving Grace

I saw the movie “Benediction” last night. The beautiful and historic period piece was intriguing. Siegfried Sassoon, the English poet most known for his moving poetry about World War I wrote a letter after the Battle of Somme, declining further service. He was saved from Court Marshal and a death sentence through political and family connections, spending time instead at a psychiatric hospital. He formed very deep connections with his doctor and a fellow patient.

The film is worth seeing, but in my mind had some very loose ends that could have been more accurately and effectively tied. The movie softly jumps from one to another of Sassoon’s repeated efforts to reconcile the horror of war with a productive, meaningful life. There is a brief scene of his intention to become Catholic as an elderly man, and it looks like one more futile attempt to “save” himself.

A man who has previously had many affairs with other men, Sassoon marries a young woman, Hester Gatty, telling her that his whole future could depend on her. With Hester he has a son, and announces to party guests that this child is his future. She makes a comment that he said that once of her, hinting at the breakdown of the marriage.

It is not mentioned in the movie, but in the late 1950s he began to correspond with Mother Margaret Mary McFarlin of the Convent of the Assumption in Kensington. He introduced his niece Jessica to the nun, and she became Catholic. Jessica became a nun herself after his death. I’d like to think that he did find redemption in a belief system that gives meaning to life, to suffering, to difficulties, to attempts to find happiness in the flesh, to betrayals, even to horror.

Sassoon lived amongst famous writers, musicians, poets and royalty. His mother is portrayed in the movie by Geraldine James. She was actually an artist herself, a member of the famous Thornycroft family of sculptors. In James she exudes a sad peace, quiet and steadfast, beautiful and pained. Her younger son Hami is killed in the war.

Sassoon wrote a poem about her, To My Mother.

I watch you in your constant way,

In selfless duty long grown grey;

And to myself I say

That I have lived my life to learn

How lives like you unasking earn

Aureoles that guide, and burn

In heart’s remembrance when the proud

Who snared the suffrage of the crowd

Are dumb and dusty browed…

For you live onward in my thought

Because you have not sought

Rewards that can be bought.

And so when I remember you

I think of all things rich and true

That I have reaped and wrought.

Siegfried Sassoon

Late in life, yet not in the movie, another close relationship formed with a Benedictine, Dame Felicitas Corrigan. After his death she published a book about their friendship, including his correspondence with her. He wrote to her before his death:

All I know is that my pilgrimage has ended as a man before a crucifix finding sanctuary.”

As I see it, four women were “key to his future.” Mother Margaret Mary, Dame Felicitas, Hester, and his Mother each directed him toward the peace that passes all understanding.

Fungal Lessons

Maybe the title sounds odd. Lessons from fungus? In a previous post I related a few concepts, including tree root systems which utilize fungal pathways, to an idea of quantum entanglement. Here, I ponder something different.

I was speaking to a close friend the other day, and though we have different viewpoints, we stimulate each other to think about our opinions. We were talking about the polarization of our country, specifically in regard to politics. I’ve been thinking about it ever since. I strongly believe that if we try to understand what fuels someone’s belief system then we can avoid hatred and even polarization. It may not solve the immediate problem, but it can keep us on a more positive path and perhaps a more influential one.

After my friend and I had this deep discussion, I spoke with two other women, spiritual giants in there own ways. I also spoke with my husband, who is very balanced and also quite brilliant. What was their take on the polarization of this country? Three themes emerged:

1) Political division is not the problem, it is one symptom of the problem.

2) The jump that humans take to hatred toward one group or another is not the highest version of ourselves, and

3) The problems in our country (polarization being one) are not due to politics but of a culture of fear rather than love.

Fear fuels selfishness. Fear fuels hatred. Fear fuels corruption. When fear fuels our responses it becomes a twisted mess in which no one solution fixes the problem. Extreme actions often lead to “throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”

There is so much division in this country, in this world. Technology helps to connect, but it can also cause some to retreat and isolate. Human beings are meant for community. Some may of course feel less inclined to be “social,” and some may be physically unable to connect with others, but the optimal state of human life is in connection.

Interestingly enough, city planners in Japan used slime mold networks to double-check subway routes to determine their efficiency. The mold worked together to solve a problem. If fungi, if molds, if primitive life, exist in connection with each other, can’t we? And not just within our families, neighborhoods, cultures and political groups, but with all humanity. What is our network, our pathway to connection? Is it a spiritual one? Is it sending energy? Is it prayer? It certainly comes from a choice to move past fear to love.

Photo by Shane Rounce on Unsplash

Bucket List

The Bucket List, with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman was entertaining and moving. As we approach our “golden years” we may regret what we have not accomplished. We wonder why we didn’t do these things earlier, perhaps when we were stronger or sharper or more able. We may feel led to attempt them now.

A friend of mine has become a painter after age 50 and her work is beautiful and selling well. Along with online tutorials and purchased lesson subscriptions, others have exercised their hidden talents, surprising and delighting themselves! I am in awe of my sister-in-law’s ink and watercolor cityscapes. My brother, in his 60s, is building furniture. A few of my friends have visited the Holy Lands and others completed the Camino de Santiago, each saying that their lives have been changed profoundly.

For others, it could be the decision to retire. To relax. The “Bucket List” does not have to involve a lot of money. In the case of retirement or reducing work hours to focus on what feels more important, it may mean quite the opposite.

I do know this feeling, growing in the last ten years, of a change in my once “live forever” outlook. I certainly would never ride horses the way I did then. I once almost bungie-jumped on a date, but would not consider it now. I’d break. Greater is the sense that I have fewer remaining years. At first it seemed sad, but it is reality. My choice is to either become overwhelmingly sad about it, or to rejoice that I have made it this far! I have friends who tragically died younger than I am now. Each day is a gift.

Morning walk with my two oldest sons

My Bucket List included many of the things we did on the farm. I’d always wanted dairy cows. I had them for a few years until I realized I’d developed an allergy. I was so disheartened as the allergy grew worse and they had to be sold. But I had those years with them. I bought a bagpipe chanter, the recorder-like instrument one learns to play on. That process is a slow one, as the family laments my dying-duck attempts. I wrote a screenplay and entered it into a competition. I didn’t win, but took solace that neither did a few thousand other folks. I did it! I am having a children’s book published at the moment, working through marketing details. It was a self-publishing venture with Westbow Press, a division of Thomas Nelson & Zondervan. Self-published but — I’m doing it! I’ll include details later as it is launched, and insert a link.

An illustration from “Wendel the Windmill” by my daughter Marie Wiedefeld

Develop your list. Perhaps “Bucket” is not a hopeful-sounding a term, with the image of eventually kicking a rusty tin pail. Consider your dreams, your aspirations, your calling. Acknowledge that we are all creative beings in some way or another. We are all here to make a difference, small as that might seem. I would posit that it will not only fulfill your dreams, but change the lives of others.

Juniper berries by the river, fruit of an aging cedar tree

Wither into Truth

Days of youth pass into memory

Though leaves are many, the root is one

Through all the lying days of my youth I swayed my leaves and flowers in the sun

Now I may wither into the truth. 

W.B. Yeats

Wisdom is attributed to the old for good reason. Our life experiences are numerous and our perspective deepens despite our weakened physical appearance. We “wither into the truth.”

Though we age, we are often called upon to continue physically caring for others. We must seek a balance in order to remain strong for those we love. Self-sacrifice that is all-draining renders us exhausted and unable to help anyone.

We are reminded of Jesus’ example but must remember that he did take time to sleep. I imagine that he ate healthy food and cared for his health, enabling him to care better for others. When the time was right and not too soon, he gave all. Most of us will not be in the position of sacrificing our lives, but we are all called to self-donation, to giving, and to some form of self-sacrifice.

Life is a juggle of self-care without self-centeredness, of self-sacrifice without self-destruction. It is at times difficult and even counterintuitive.

And then loss occurs. Tragedies visit more often or earlier in life for some: loss of health, of a partner, of a loved one, of abilities, of home, of youth…

I search for a better concept of loss. If inevitable, how does one best deal with it? I truly think it is with gratitude and acceptance. Pleasurable life experiences are easy to accept and be grateful for, but I am striving to be thankful even for premature losses and for tragedies. Certainly not that they occurred and hurt myself and others, but that life continued and God was there to comfort us with loved ones, with future life experiences, with a “peace that passes all understanding.”

It does seem counterintuitive. I have lost a dear husband early in life. It was tragic. Many people still feel the effects of the loss of him though over 20 years have passed. And yet, had he not died, Bruce and I would not have found each other, and our six children and four grandchildren would not have been born. I stagger in the profundity of emotional pain and of God’s grace.

I search to find meaning in physical pain, so hard to bear, so hard to witness. I do not believe that it is in vain. I ponder why some suffer so greatly, and feel that there is truth in the belief that their prayers and influence are profoundly powerful.

We are called to be generative in old age and thus if we are physically feeble, perhaps this is accomplished in our words, or modeling peace, or praying, or just loving. If cared for by others we become the means for their gain in grace.

“Now I may wither into the truth.”

Yeats contemplates the beguilement of his youth, and reveals to us that as we wither physically and surrender control, we have the greatest opportunity to gain in wisdom, influence and love.

Happy Holidays

Like many women who are approaching six decades of age, I have many different and unique friends. I truly wish that I had all the time that I wanted with each, but that is not to be in life. Covid 19 has added an additional dimension, causing much suffering not only from the illness, but from loss and seclusion. At least where I live, there have been easing of some mandates, but all is not back to “normal.” Will it ever be? Perhaps we need to make the best of “the new normal.”

Each year the lead-up to Christmas (many of us celebrate Advent) plods along, and then Christmas is quite suddenly over. Or is it? In some churches Christmas continues until Epiphany (the celebration of the Baptism of Jesus) on January 6. I like this for many reasons and I admit that one of them is that I leave all the decorations up.

Some of my friends do not celebrate Christmas. Some celebrate Hanukkah, some celebrate Kwanza, and some do no seasonal celebrations. Some are quite alone and for them I pray the hardest. Some friends are experiencing the first December without their loved one. It can be a sad time. We cannot serve all of the needs of others, but we can serve some. We can try.

Meg Hunter-Kilmer was a high school teacher to some of my children. Meg heard God’s call to leave her job and set out in her clunker vehicle across the United States to spread the Word of Christ. She has since traveled the world. She began blogging at the beginning of her travels and I recommend checking it out. She is published and has recently written her first children’s book. One of her latest posts on social media was about Christmas and perhaps what is the true message and joy of it.

Happy Holidays to you! Here is to the coming New Year 2022, full of hope.

Autumn and Life

Yesterday was the Autumnal Equinox and wow, did it deliver the perfect weather here. My favorite cool, sunny weather continues into today. A woman I passed this morning said that she would always wish to live in a place with all four seasons. While I love the fresh colors of Spring and the lush green of Summer, the deciduous trees are in their glory in the early Fall.

I have always lived in this latitude of North America. The cyclical four seasons truly become a part of you. Perhaps being acclimated to these cycles prepares one to navigate the changing seasons of life. When I was young I would hear the “old people” talk about how fast life has gone. At that time I looked so forward to being an adult. I could not imagine that it would arrive so swiftly, and along with it so many responsibilities. Parenthood or career consumes us and in a moment decades have passed. Retirement looms, maybe even disability and great losses. Our children grow up and move on independently with their own busy lives. The “young” co-workers become in-charge of the business. Even some of our physicians look as young as teenagers.

The biggest difference with these seasons of life, however, is that they are not cyclical but linear. We do age and, God-willing, we grow old. As Autumn, Winter, Spring and Summer hold their negative bits like wind, ice, days inside when it is either too frigid or too hot, aging has its challenges and losses.

Like these first crisp days of Autumn, focusing on the beautiful things in our lives, the laughter, and the blessings will keep us more positive, more productive, generative, and most healthy. Like it or not we affect others. While working on ourselves, honoring grief and healing from our challenges and losses, our example speaks to others. Our thoughts and prayers become mighty.

Some of life’s seasons are more pleasant than others, but each day holds the potential of grace, of gift.

Pig

Movie reviews laud Nicholas Cage’s performance as his finest, in the newly released movie “Pig.” Heavy-handed treatments of deep, emotional events caused me to feel that the movie fell short of what it could have accomplished. I am, however, glad that I saw it. Without spoiling the story, Nicholas Cage’s character has found a peaceful existence in the ultimately depressing and hopeless world where “nothing matters.”

And yet, his journey shows us that perhaps some things really do.

Embedded in his existential angst and hopelessness there exists a truth indicating just the opposite. Think of the “Titanic” scene in which the lower class mother trapped below decks, peacefully tucks her children into bed and continues their precious and loving routine. Consider inspirational, historic persons, some of whom I have written about previously, slaves and prisoners who strove to make life sweeter for others in the face of hopelessness and tragic inhumanity.

Even in the face of an unknown future, loving intent, service and selflessness matter.

Mindset

My children talk to me about what they encounter on the internet. We’ve set the parental controls that we know of, and try to limit time on devices. I check most of their devices, as well, and respect friends who don’t even allow them. Truly. I gave in somewhat compared to others. My kids think I’m overly strict so I must be somewhere within the right wavelength of parental involvement.

Most of the time what videos they show me and stuff they discuss is fun and entertaining, but when it gets close to disturbing they know we will discuss it. “Disturbing” includes YouTubers who post depressing and negative views about life or politics, the state of world culture or social view. I really prefer to help them to understand where the poster came from, what must be informing their experience and opinions. I really dislike it when my kids talk down about a person or viewpoint. A difference of opinion is fine but I tell them I’d rather hear them express dismay and a lack of understanding about a viewpoint they are offended by or disagree with — rather than talk down about that person.

It is a learning process. I am not perfect and they know that. So, more discussion.

Recently a friend posted a pretty depressing meme expressing something unfair within their worldview of politics. I counter the negative vibes by reminding myself that there has been inequity since humanity existed. We’ll keep dialoguing and working out solutions, but, like the viral sensation Nightbirde has wisely expressed, “You can’t wait until life isn’t hard anymore before you decide to be happy.” Nightbirde has lived for the last few years battling cancer, at one point she had a 2% chance of surviving. Her husband left her, she moved halfway across the United States and yet she found spiritual healing. Her blog posts are poetic and moving and beautifully written. She says that she makes music and art out of what she has been handed and it is redemption for her.

There will always be inequities and tragedies and we must work as a society to right them. But even if we cannot see the end of it, even if we feel powerless we can choose to see what is good and beautiful in the world, and choose joy.

Loki Brain

I can’t be more excited that there is now a series focused on Loki from the Marvel Universe. Well I’d be more so if a seventh season of Downton Abbey were announced, but do check out the Disney channel if you are a Tom Hiddleston fan.

Loki is a “God,” or at least he believes himself to be one. Without spoiling too much, he has quite the wake-up call in Episode One. He has many issues. This will be apparent by the end. Wow, it is so well-done! His mind is spinning.

I have written about Dr. Caroline Leaf and her books. I have finished a couple of 21-day cycles which in her original book Switch on Your Brain she calls a “detox.” In later books I think she calls it “Neurocycling” as that is the name of the app which I use to go through the process. Her latest book is entitled Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess, and that’s the segue from Loki.

In the original book, she discusses that science and research support ancient and Biblical beliefs and writings about living a healthy life. It is very interesting. I have never felt (as a science major and nursing professional) that science disproved God; rather, quite the opposite. But regardless of whether you are religious or not, I would recommend her books, then recommend the Neurocycle App. Are there naysayers about her work? Sure, but you know what? Ignore them.

I am a person much like you, I’m sure, who has suffered traumas, sadnesses, abuse, disappointment, confusion, manipulation and other ravages of life. None of us seem unscathed, the more I meet and talk with people. If you think that you are the worst, or if you are the least affected, you are probably not accurate. Does everyone need to sort out messed-up thinking? No, many are blessed with excellent parental and other role models growing up, and few if any tragedies. But take a look at Dr. Leaf’s work, even if it is to help someone else.

I am better. I have never felt as healthy as I do now. Will more losses and traumas come in life? Inevitably and sadly, they will. I just wish I had known long ago, these supporting truths about brain health and how I can work out my thoughts and emotions successfully.

Memories are not just some mysterious electrical impulses in our brain, but are actually physical structures on our dendrites (nerve cells). They are constructed, and can be deconstructed and reconstructed in a way that helps us to move on in a healthy way from trauma. Dr. Leaf performed much scientific research and also worked for decades with patients with traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). She has statistical data on how this process improves lives.

I’m one more living example. I wish I could explain better; I think you just need to get one of her books. By the way, I have no advertising on my blog and no benefits from any recommendations.

It is a Wednesday, and I’m off to watch how Loki sorts out his mental mess in Episode 2…

Cheers!

In Celebration of Women

The fight for women’s rights in the United States may have officially begun in the early 1900s with the Suffragette Movement, but women have longed for better treatment throughout history in most every culture. Consider what you have read about the past, consider reports of the treatment of women in other cultures than your own and I would imagine you can think of examples. Think of stories from the Old Testament up through the New Testament of the Bible.

The story of the potential stoning of the woman caught in adultery by the crowd of men strikes most of us as hypocritical at best. The man she had been with was not being stoned. This behavior was acceptable for men but worthy of a cruel death for the woman? Thankfully, that example was set straight. Sadly, inequities and oppression toward women have continued for millennia since Jesus’ admonition.

I remember an assignment in Anthropology to read an interview with a woman, written about 1970. She had been a wife and mother for decades and had not gone to college. She cooked all of the meals, raised the children, sewed clothing, and knitted sweaters. The interviewer said to her a few times that she had accomplished a great amount in her life. She laughed and denied it. Why, she commented, she hadn’t more than an eighth grade education, and all she’d done was to raise half a dozen kids and kept the house. “Anyone could do that. No, I haven’t done anything great.”

What had our culture done to her or failed to do, that kept her from seeing the monumental and self-sacrificial work which she had indeed accomplished?

We have rightfully applauded women who made great and heroic accomplishments. Harriet Tubman, Mother Teresa, the female mathematicians at NASA in the “Hidden Figures” movie, the inventions of Hedy Lamar, the contributions of Eleanor Roosevelt, Condoleezza Rice, and the women who have recently run for the highest political offices of the United States including our first female Vice President Kamala Harris. Have we applauded the other women, famous or not, mothers or not, who have been the backbone of our country, of our world?

Pope John Paul II described the wonderful gifts of women as the Feminine Genius. Not referring to intellect, it celebrates the unique contributions of each and every woman by virtue of genetics, biology, spirit, strength and more. Edith Stein wrote prolifically about women and their gifts before the second World War. Philosopher Alice von Hildebrand continued the work of her husband and added more in celebration of women.

Despite injustices and oppression it is woman who has kept the human race thriving. This is certainly something to ponder.