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Archive for April, 2011

overhead, waiting

Waiting
by Dorothy Walters
The jeweled cloud sways overhead,
waiting.
Meanwhile, our cells are turning to air,
finer and finer arrangements of light.
painting by James Naughton
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My dearest friend Janet sent me an incredibly inspiring e-mail about perfection. I have spent many years, and many Lenten and Advent seasons, considering my own pursuit of perfection. It’s paralyzing.

I call my closest friends, the ones I trust the most, “ugly cupcake friends.” I went through a period in my life that when I made a made-from-scratch cake, if it didn’t come out absolutely perfectly, I would throw the entire thing away. No matter how good it smelled, or tasted, or how much joy it might have brought those around me.

I’m embarrassed to admit this, now.  Now, I know better; I know that people love cake, especially homemade cake, and I have never heard anyone say in the face of fresh, warm cake, “Oh, this is kind of ugly.”

When I admitted this practice–throwing away imperfect cake–my friends Nick and Kim were aghast. They chided me hard, reminding me that people don’t like me for my cake. _They like me for me._

(There’s a related story where Nick had to also remind me that I am not my grades, “You are not your fucking grades!” on a churchyard after the summa cum laude awards were given. I have good friends.)

I came up with the concept of “ugly cupcake friends” to describe how, for some friends, I feel comfortable enough to give them misshapen baked goods, things I would have otherwise thrown away for fear of being judged.  Over time, I have grown more and more comfortable with myself, and with the understanding that people like me for me, not anything I make or do.

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Janet wrote,

‘Mistakes and shortcomings are part of the package of claiming Earth as an address.’
I’m victim of trying to do it all, do it all perfectly and do it all perfectly with a smile & act like it was nothing at all. Whew.  That’s really, really difficult and exhausting.  No, impossible and just plain crazy.  I need to let go of the notion of perfection.  God is the only One who can claim perfection as an attribute.  God is honored when we give it our all and strive for excellence.  I need to remember that:  give it my all, but not demand perfection of myself and everyone around me.
I crazy clean my house, crazy organize my house, crazy give myself elaborate tasks like making birthday goodie bags & homemade cupcakes for Olivia’s classroom, crazy think if our condo had a new shower head it might actually sell…so I bought and installed a new shower head (go me, I’m a plumber but hellloooo, that’s nutty behavior!)”
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I am thankful to hear Janet’s voice reminding me that I’m not alone in giving myself elaborate tasks and that it is good practice to let go of the [deceptive and impossible] pursuit of perfection.
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God, on this Good Friday, help me remember that while you are honored when I give it all, I am not expected to be perfect. Help me remember to be more accepting of myself, and to trust love and acceptance from you and from my friends. Thank you for these glimmers of reassurance: for those who love me, ugly cupcakes are fine.”

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I got this message today from my Aunt Karen. I’ve had a hard week at work, it did my heart good to read her words, to hear her learning and perspective.  I thank God for the wisdom of loved ones.

“‘Life is a journey, Love is the destination.’
Victoria Marshall

I think I am probably in the ‘slow learner’ category.  About life; that is.

I have a memory from elementary school days.  Not a very clear one, but I can FEEL it.  The memory is about the awakening and realization that the world didn’t revolve around me.  In my mind I thought of everyone around me as ‘puppets’ with no life if I wasn’t around.

A concept to be sure, but at the time it felt like I suddenly knew something that everyone else had certainly figured out long before me because it was so obvious.  Life continues to give me ‘a ha’ moments when I figure out what life/love means.

The journey of a life is a spiritual one.  Some are awakened to that at an early age and then some never are.
I was probably always on my journey, but maybe more like sleep walking.  Again, in more recent years as I have left behind that feeling of invulnerability that gets us through our youth and most of our lives and started to see the end of my journey here more clearly.  I see losses that I have endured that I caused myself.  I see threads that I have dropped along the way that I need to reconsider and pick up again to re-weave into my life.

At 60 I started to make my beach glass jewelry.  It has been a wonderful vehicle for my creativeness.  It is working to open my heart to the power of the Great Creator.  To reach out and touch everyone around me and let go of fears that keep me from loving myself as well as others.”

God, I pray today that I can let go of fears that keep me from loving myself and others. I pray that I understand that even as I feel myself being woven into something powerful, to trust that I am not the sole weaver.

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from “Study of the Object,” by Zbigniew Herbert:

“now you have 
empty space
more beautiful than the object
more beautiful than the place it leaves
it is the pre-world
a white paradise 
of all possibilities”

I found this snippet in an Oprah magazine, while reading in the bath. I love deep, hot baths. I love how my body looks, how leisurely and purposeful books feel.  I love turning over, and feeling my back cool off and my front submerge, then float.

I’m not an “empty space” kind of person. I love patterns, and textures, riotous colors and mismatched china. More is more.  I was struck by the idea of “empty space” as a “pre-world.” I kind of imagined God taking an initial deep breath… a pause before creation.

Then, I read the entire poem here.

I am so struck by again, that feeling of God taking a huge portentous breath: “a simple dirge/for the beautiful absence,” and “now/all space/swells like an ocean.”  “An” ocean… coming born so new unnamed. A dirge for the absence that is quickly being filled, “…everywhere/slovenly green hair.”

Part 6 of the poem pretty much takes my breath away.  All of those images, “beautiful and useless,” the crumpled fabric, the chair, the space… the plea for something more substantial.  I feel like crying, a pressure in my chest, but it’s hard to explain why.

I am reminded that my brother-in-law Andrew wrote a few days ago that he hopes his poetry students don’t try to “beat the answer” out of the poem.  He writes, riffing on Billy Collins’ “Introduction to Poetry,”  “I like the poem because it talks about how to approach poetry. In fact there are six metaphors in the poem about poetry or how to read poetry. The first five are how he would like his students to approach a poem.

  1. Reading poetry = holding a color slide up to the light
  2. Poetry = buzz (bees in a hive)
  3. Poetry = a maze (to find your way out, follow the mouse)
  4. Poetry = a darkened room (fumble for the light switch
  5. Reading poetry = waterskiing

But the students, the speaker says, always want to ‘torture a confession out of it.’ (#6).”

I love Part 6 of “Study of an Object” so much that I really don’t want to explicate more.  I just want to keep it.

“6

extract
from the shadow of the object 
which does not exist
from polar space
from the stern reveries of the inner eye 
a chair

 beautiful and useless
like a cathedral in the wilderness

 place on the chair 
a crumpled tablecloth 
add to the idea of order 
the idea of adventure

 let it be a confession of faith
before the vertical struggling with the horizontal

 let it be 
quieter than angels 
prouder than kings
more substantial than a whale 
let it have the face of the last things

 we ask reveal o chair 
the depths of the inner eye 
the iris of necessity 
the pupil of death”

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“The Bible is full of people who don’t know what to believe, who change their minds, and start and stop believing.  When you read the Bible with your mind not made up, you find real people in there, people you can learn from. But you have to read their stories without your mind made up, or else all you’ll learn is what you already believe.

Prayer

Dear God, let me live today without my mind made up about every last little thing.  Amen.”

Christina Villa

 

Oh, Lord, this is a good one for me. I love knowing it all, being the right one, and being in charge.

Even in prayer, I swing back and forth between, “Oh, God, please grant me x… but Oh, I know God, you are in charge, and I want to follow your Will… but I really think, I really want, could you please… Oh I know God that you are almighty and love me and have my best interests….but please please please…”  I’m such a child sometimes.

I have learned, as I’ve gotten older, to be willing to not know.

When I first went to Europe, my best friends in the world sent me off, and my friend (and eventual bridesmaid) Kim and I made a deal that I at least wouldn’t wear a watch (or keep to a schedule) until Paris.  That last semester of school, I had myself so rigorously, desperately scheduled that I was skipping one night of sleep a week to get everything done.

It was uncomfortable being without that watch at first. We had 48 hours in Paris, and Kim knew where everything was, so I followed her all over the city, boggling at the beauty and grand-ness.

At one point, we fell asleep in the green grass beneath the Eiffel Tower. I woke up, and immediately looked at my wrist: no watch. Lying there, dazed, green around me, monument gridding the blue sky above me, foreign language filtering through the breeze in the trees… I had no idea what time it was. And I was perfectly content.

I want to live today without my mind made up about every last thing, and without needing to know how every little last thing will turn out.

I want to trust the universe (to use Kim’s language) that it’s possible for me to find fresh air and contentment, freely given to me, without my having to plan it all–or know it all–myself.

 

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