Tag Archive | Edward Hays

A Roundtable Discussion that Makes My Day

roundtableImagine starting your day almost every morning in a roundtable discussion with six other people plus yourself. In my case, the people are Joan Chittister, Henri Nouwen, God, Jimmy Carter, Christine Dallman, and M. J. Ryan – and, of course, myself. Wow! Quite a group of seven we are. Usually, everyone speaks up in the order listed. We spend about half an hour talking about whatever is on each person’s mind.

Joan Chittister

Joan Chittister

Occasionally the participants of the roundtable discussion change, but for the past four years, three participants have been constant – Joan Chittister (speaking through her monthly pamphlet, “The Monastic Way”), God (communicating through the daily readings of the Revised Common Lectionary – as listed in the daily devotional booklet, “Christ in Our Home”), and me.

Last year Henri Nouwen (“Bread for the Journey”) hadn’t joined us yet, but Edward Hays (“Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim” and “A Book of Wonders”) was in his place. Jimmy Carter (“Through the Year with Jimmy Carter”) is a newcomer this year, too. Christine Dallman (“The Personal Daily Prayer Book”) is also new this year, and she always prays about something a little different every day.

M. J. Ryan (“Attitudes of Gratitude”) just joined the group a couple weeks ago, and she plans to stay for only a couple months. She keeps telling us inspiring stories of people who exhibit a heart-warming attitude of gratitude. Her stories are really helpful in giving us a down-to-earth perspective on life. Pretty soon she’s planning to leave the group, and someone else will come along to join us as a short-termer. Debbie Macomber has often joined us as the floater. She’s the one who got me into the habit of having a special word for each year instead of doing New Year’s resolutions.

I’ll admit that some mornings the seven of us have an amazing discussion and I can’t help but think about it all day long. Other times, even though we had a great discussion, I don’t think about it at all throughout the day.

Usually I don’t say much in these discussions – I just listen and ponder what’s being said. But I discipline myself about once a week to speak up. Sometimes I transcribe these thoughts for my blog.

Henri Nouwen

Henri Nouwen

A couple days ago, Joan Chittister talked about something Albert Einstein once said about being careful that we don’t limit God by trying to define God. Henri Nouwen said that we need to be careful that we don’t become too legalistic in defining what we claim to be God’s nature. God then spoke up about how helpful the image of Jesus being the Good Shepherd can be to us, and how important it is for us to demonstrate the love and care that shepherds give their flocks.

Then Jimmy Carter wrapped it all up saying how important it is to remember that God is all about showing love and always being kind. He said that his favorite Bible verse is Ephesians 4:32, “Be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” [New Living Translation] I spoke up when I heard him say that. I said, “That’s my favorite verse, too!” Jimmy Carter and I have something in common beside politics! I didn’t know anyone shared my favorite Bible verse!

Jimmy Carter 2It was Christine Dallman’s turn to speak up next. She prayed, “O God, make us children of quietness ….” I smiled at that. I like to be quiet. Then she encouraged us to “Take time to unwind, time to be silent, time to reflect, and time to pray…” Imagine her saying that, just when I’m in the middle of spending two weeks by myself at our Christmas Mountain timeshare with plenty of time to be quiet – time to read, write, think, and pray.

As usual, M. J. Ryan ended our discussion by telling another story about gratitude. She told us about a woman who had suffered a stroke and had lost her ability to speak. She had been a great communicator and had been able to speak five languages. Now she struggled to find words to simply talk with her adult children. The children tried to help her by suggesting words that she might be trying to say, and the experience for everyone was just frustrating. A therapist, trying to help the family, suggested that when they are frustrated by her inability to express herself verbally, they should focus on her attempts to communicate by touch. This opened up a whole new world of opportunity to communicate the love they felt for each other that they had never been able to express in words.

Ryan went on to say that “the trick is to use a source of frustration as a trigger to cultivate an attitude of gratitude.” Then she gave a personal example.

For me it’s standing in line. I absolutely hate to ‘waste’ time; I live my life at a frenetic pace and don’t want anything to get in my way of doing all I have to get done in a day. Until recently, I was the person in the line huffing and rolling my eyes at the wait, jiggling and looking at my watch every few seconds. And when I finally made it to the counter, I was too aggravated from having to wait to be pleasant to the person on the other side of the counter. But since life is full of lines, I finally decided to change my approach. Instead of being annoyed, I decided to see waiting in line as a wonderful opportunity to slow down, to take a few conscious breaths, become aware of my body, and release as much muscle tension as I could. The waits are as long as ever – but now I am grateful for the chance to stop.

Hmmm. That made me think about some of the little aggravations in life that frustrate me… Is there some way I can change those moments into triggers of gratitude? Something to think about…

I’m truly grateful for this roundtable discussion every morning. What an inspiring way to begin my day!

roundtable of books

The Worst Sin of All according to Floey

Floey sittingMy new dog Floey and I are still getting to know each other. Christmas Day will mark the one month anniversary of Floey’s adoption date. Mim and I and all of our 93-year-olds are so happy that she joined our family. Floey loves all of us, but it’s clear that I am her favorite. She follows me everywhere. Right now, I’m sitting at my desk, and she’s sitting close beside me.

One day last week as I was reading my daily devotional book, A Book of Wonders, by Edward Hays, I decided to ask Floey what she thought about what he said. The title of the reading was “The Absolutely Worst of All Sins.” He said that in our culture, we tend to think of sexual sins as the worst sins of all. Then he added, “Yet among preliterate hunting and gathering cultures, like the Native Americans, children were taught that the worst of vices was stinginess. Not sex, but greed in all forms, was abhorred.”

I knew that Floey had been born on an Indian Reservation in northern Minnesota. I wondered if any of their early Native American moral code had rubbed off on her. I asked Floey what she thought was the worst sin of all.

“That’s easy,” she replied. “Stinginess.”

“That’s amazing,” I said. “You didn’t hesitate at all with your answer. Why is stinginess worse than murder, or rape, or anything else?”

“Just think about it, Mom. You know that love is the greatest gift anyone can give, right?”

“Yes,” I replied, and she continued, “What is the opposite of being loving? It’s being stingy, right?”

“Floey, you’re really smart for a pup who’s not even a year old yet.”

Floey sitting - profile“Tomorrow, December 24, I’ll be 11 months old, but I’ve lived and learned an awful lot in those 11 months, and I’ve done a lot of thinking about what’s good and what’s bad in life. When people, and all other creatures, as well, are kind and loving and generous, the world is a better place for everyone.  But whenever someone is stingy, they’re looking out only for themselves, and the world is a little less good for everyone – including the stingy one. They start worrying about getting and protecting their fair share rather than contributing to the good of everyone.”

“Wow, Floey. You’ve really done a lot of serious thinking for a pup so young! Since we’re having such a good conversation, let’s change subjects and talk about something I’ve been thinking about lately – the commercialization of Christmas. What do you think about that?”

“You’re not really changing subjects with that, Mom. The commercialization of Christmas is the best thing to happen to temper the sin of stinginess.”

“How’s that?” I asked.

“What do you think about when you go Christmas shopping?”

“I guess I think about what each person on my list would like to get, and where I might find that gift for them.”

“That’s all about being generous, not being stingy, right?”

“I guess so…”

“Think back to your earliest memories of Christmas shopping. Tell me about them.”

“Those are good memories. Let me start with some background. It seems that every year in December we get some foggy days. Farmers call it ‘case weather.’ We just had some foggy days last week. Remember?”

“Yeah. I remember. But what does that have to do with Christmas shopping?” Floey asked.

“I’m getting to it. I grew up on a small farm. We had about 20 cows and between 300 and 400 chickens. My dad supplemented the milk and egg income with a cash crop – tobacco. Raising tobacco was somewhat controversial because my parents were opposed to smoking, but tobacco was the most lucrative crop we could raise. Essentially, tobacco is what paid for all the “extras” in our lives, like new clothes, piano and organ lessons, and when we were older, college tuition.”

My family history with raising tobacco goes way back. This picture shows my great uncle Fletcher (2nd from right) taking a break from stripping tobacco with his buddies.

My family history with raising tobacco goes way back. This photo from 1898 shows my great uncle Fletcher (the handsome one – 2nd from right) taking a break from stripping tobacco with his buddies.

“Raising tobacco was a lot of work, from planting it in the spring to harvesting it in the fall to stripping it in the winter. That’s where ‘case weather’ came into the picture. When tobacco was harvested in September, six to eight stalks were strung onto a lath. A lath is like a thick yard stick that’s about five feet long instead of three feet. The laths were then hung in a tobacco shed, the tobacco plants hanging upside down, to dry out. In December when we got several days of foggy weather (case weather), the dried tobacco was moistened from the fog. My dad took the laths of tobacco down from the shed and brought them into the barn. The barn was warm and humid from all the cows living in it. My brother and I had the job of stripping the tobacco leaves off the stalk, leaf by leaf, and laying the tobacco leaves into a press that bundled the leaves into bales of about 40 pounds. Every evening and every Saturday during case weather Danny and I spent many hours in the barn stripping tobacco for two cents a lath. That’s how I earned money for Christmas shopping.”

“Okay, Mom, now I see you’re getting to the point.”

“I worked really hard stripping tobacco the couple weeks before Christmas every year, and I usually earned between five and ten dollars. I felt rich! When I knew how much money I’d earned, I made out my shopping list. Usually, it included Old Spice After Shave for my dad, pretty candles for  my mom, stationery for my sister, and a model car for my brother. If I’d earned enough money, I might get everyone some candy or nuts, too. I always spent all my money on presents for them. It never occurred to me to be stingy and keep anything for myself.”

My family - everyone I bought Christmas presents for when I was a kid.

My family – everyone I bought Christmas presents for when I was a kid.

“That’s exactly what I mean, Mom. The commercialization of Christmas isn’t all bad. It reminds us to be generous to the people we love.”

“I guess you’re right, Floey. I’ll try to think of that when I see all those commercials on TV telling us to shop, just like I think of stripping tobacco for Christmas shopping money whenever I see fog in December. In both cases, I can remember that God wants us be loving and generous – and not be stingy.”

“You’ve got it, Mom. See why I’m proud of my Native American heritage. I see I have a lot to teach you. But that’s enough for today. I think it’s time for another walk. Can we run around the pond again? That’s so much fun!”

Floey standing

De-Adult Me, Please

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Remake me as an awe-fascinated primitive,
de-adult me so as to wonder like a child …
[from Edward Hays, A BOOK OF WONDERS, p. 336]

The picture above is my great niece, Katie. I snapped the picture at our family Christmas celebration in 2001. Katie is in high school now. I hope she keeps her sense of awe and wonder forever.

snow on bushesIt snowed last week for the first time this season. And for the first time in my life, I wasn’t delighted by it. Well, maybe for a split second I noticed the beauty of the fluffy white blanket on the bushes outside my bedroom window. But that tiny moment of delight was quickly replaced with feelings of, “Oh no, not already!”

For the last forty years or so I’ve been adult enough to not appreciate snow – at least not publicly. But privately, I’ve always thought snow is beautiful – whether it’s coming to earth in giant snowflakes or it’s silently covering everything outside with a pure white blanket of sparkly fluff. The first snowfall of the season has always given me childlike delight.

Always. Until this year. What happened? Do I need a new coat? A new pair of boots? New tires on my car? Or, do I need to bring out my Christmas music to get me in the mood?

I really don’t know what’s wrong this year. Have I finally become an adult completely? If so, I think I want to pray to become “de-adulted” as Edward Hays suggests.

After all, JOY is my special word for 2014. If I’ve become too much of an adult to experience JOY at the season’s first snowfall, I really need some serious “de-adulting.”

Megabyte was the first dog Mim and I adopted. She always loved to play in the snow. For Meg, every day was filled with many, many moments of joy.

 

The 3 Heroes in my Life

Roy Rogers record coverThe earliest hero in my life was Roy Rogers. I wanted to be just like him – ride a horse like Trigger, have a dog like Bullet, and wear a white cowboy hat on my head and two six-guns in a holster at my waist. I wanted to always stand up for what was right, and always win.

The best day of my childhood was the day Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, Trigger, and Bullet came to the Wisconsin State Fair. It was a rare day that my dad got someone else to do the evening milking so the whole family could go to Milwaukee (60 miles away) and spend all day at the fair – including the evening show featuring Roy Rogers and his cohorts in person.

Nancy, Danny, and me dressed up to go to church.

Nancy, Danny, and me dressed up to go to church.

My big sister Nancy was my second hero. She was 11 years older than me and was just about perfect. She was smart (salutatorian of her high school class); she played the piano, organ, and trombone well; and she liked having a little sister. (She probably liked having a little brother, too, although I don’t know for sure. I didn’t notice.)

I missed Nancy so much when she went away to college, I could hardly wait for her to come home during school holidays. I wrote her lots of letters, and sometimes I even enclosed a dollar bill that I’d saved up from my allowance so she could buy herself a special treat.

I loved Nancy so much, I wanted to grow up to be just like her.

As I got older and older and older I gradually realized that my real hero was my mom. She was the kindest and most generous person I’ve ever known. Mom was always doing something thoughtful for someone – like driving an elderly person to Madison for a doctor appointment, or planning a party for her Sunday School class of first graders, or freezing vegetables from her garden for Mim and me.

Mom sending flowers from her garden home with me to Chicago

Mom sending flowers from her garden home with me to Chicago

Mom knew what she believed to be right and she wasn’t afraid to express herself. She told me about several conversations she’d had with her boss, the senior pastor at the Presbyterian Student Center at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. (Mom was financial secretary of Pres House.) Dr. Jondrow just didn’t understand and believe enough of the Bible, and she wasn’t afraid to tell him so.

Mom was my lifetime hero. I still strive to be just like her in many ways.

So, why am I talking about my heroes today?

I must give credit to Edward Hays and his book, A BOOK OF WONDERS, again. In talking about heroes, Hays quoted a Yiddish proverb, “If I try to be like him [my hero], who will be like me?” Hays continues,

Read that proverb again slowly. Let it be a bugle sounding the call for you to be as fully as possible who you are, a one-and-only person, unique in all of human history… A learned and holy rabbi once told his disciples, “When I get to heaven God isn’t going to ask me, ‘Rabbi Yosef, why weren’t you more like Moses?’ No, God will ask me, ‘Rabbi Yosef, why weren’t you more like the Yosef whom I created?’”

Well, I guess I really don’t want to be exactly like my mom, or my sister, or Roy Rogers. I still want to develop some of the qualities I’ve admired so much in all three of my heroes. And then I want to combine those qualities with the unique characteristics and opportunities God has given me. Maybe I really can grow into the person God intends for me to be.

Thank goodness God is patient and has provided me with good coaches – both in the form of good people in my life and of good books to read.

Marian w curls and cowboy hat

As a child, I was always happiest with a cowboy hat on my head – even during those few years when my mom tried to curl my hair.

 

Thank God I’m Sick! Really?

cough syrupFor the past three weeks I’ve been coaxing my immune system to get busy and fix me.  I think it’s been ignoring its job. The day I came home from our mini-vacation at Christmas Mountain I felt like I might be getting a cold. The next day I had a high fever and was mad I’d gotten sick. I rested as much as I could, and by the third day, I was better, but not well.  I was down to a low-grade fever and an annoying, non-productive cough. Despite lots of orange juice, lots of rest, and three bottles of cough syrup in three weeks, I can’t seem to get back to normal. Mim finally bought me a big bottle of cough syrup instead of another little one. The cough is what’s most annoying.

I think I finally figured out why my immune system is ignoring its job. It wants to encourage me to learn something about illness instead of just pouting and complaining about it.

Last Friday, Edward Hays gave me a clue about this in the daily reading from A Book of Wonders.

Edward Hays picIllness in Islam is viewed as a blessing and so should always be borne without complaint. When a Muslim inquires about another’s health, the customary reply is, “All praise belongs to God,” even if that person is sick. A devout Muslim believes that a sickness is a blessing as it is an occasion to cleanse oneself of past sins and because purification is the purpose of existence. Sickness as a blessing is balanced by seeing good health as an equal blessing, because it is a cause of joy and gratitude. We non-Muslims can adopt their response of praising God in sickness or health, in good times or bad, as a healthy habit.

In case I wasn’t paying attention on Friday, Hays’ reflection for Saturday was on the same theme.

In Budhism as in Islam, suffering is generally not seen as a failure of health or as a punishment, but as purification. The followers of Buddha compare suffering with a mystical broom that sweeps away past mistakes and failings. Yet how does being sick with the flu (or worse, afflicted with cancer) act like a broom? One possibility is that illness can sweep away our favorite illusion of being invulnerable and in control. Health, being a precarious gift, should call forth mini-prayers of gratitude every day.

hot spiced wine 3Now, do I really believe that?

One of the blessings of being sick is feeling free to take all the time I want to sit back and read a favorite book. Or play some fun music on the piano. Or watch an old movie on TV. Or drink another cup of hot spiced wine. And daydream. I guess that’s part of the purification process – kind of like pressing the reset button. Thank God for the blessing of being sick for a little while – providing the opportunity for the 3 Rs – Rest, Relaxation, and Reflection. I guess that’s what I really needed.

I don’t know how long I’ll be coughing. So far, today is better than yesterday. But regardless, I think I’m learning “All praise belongs to God.”

 

 

What Do I Really Do?

Sears Tower

In the 1980s Northwest Industries took up the 62nd and 63rd floors of the Sears Tower – about halfway to the top.

Last week I heard from some voices in my past thanks to social media. A couple colleagues from the late 1970s-early 1980s when I worked for Northwest Industries in Chicago emailed me through LinkedIn, the professional networking site. Then I heard from a coworker at TDS in Madison where I worked in the mid-1990s, and then a couple clients from my Cambridge-based consulting practice from the early 2000s.

What prompted all these emails is my “Experience Timeline” on the LinkedIn social networking site.  September of 2012 is when I got serious about completing and publishing my two books, Listening for God: 52 Reflections on Everyday Life and Come, Lord Jesus, Be Our Guest: Adventures in Hospitality. I added an entry on my timeline for September 2012 of being a “Self-Employed Author.” This week LinkedIn announced my 2-year anniversary of being Self-Employed, which prompted the emails from some of my connections.

I haven’t seen Jerry and Jan in almost 30 years. Jerry was Assistant Treasurer at Northwest Industries. Jerry and I never worked closely together and we were never close friends, but there was mutual respect. Jerry must be pushing 80 by now, and he still does some financial consulting. Jan was a Disaster Recovery Consultant in the Information Technology Department. Jan and I traveled together a lot to work with a battery company in Pennsylvania that Northwest Industries owned. When Northwest Industries was acquired and most of the corporate staff lost their jobs, Jerry, Jan, and I, along with several other colleagues each formed our own consulting practices. It was an exciting time in our professional lives.

During that time, Jan and I collaborated on writing a book, The Virus Handbook. In the mid-1980s, computer viruses were just beginning to be recognized as a potentially serious problem. As a Disaster Recovery Consultant, Jan wanted to publish a manual of guidelines to minimize the risk of being infected by a computer virus, but he didn’t want to write it. We spent many hours together with Jan teaching me everything he knew about computer viruses. I tried to structure that information into a useful format and we copyrighted it. I wonder if the copy we sent to the Library of Congress is still sitting on their shelves… We sold a few copies, but the best part of our collaboration was the time we spent working together. We were a great encouragement to each other as we built our own businesses.

cat chemist heliumThose emails prompted me to reflect on the strange path my career has taken over the years – English teacher, editorial researcher for World Book Encyclopedia, systems analyst and eventually systems manager for a large corporation, independent business consultant, B&B owner, church organist, real estate broker, caregiver, and author. I guess that’s a rather strange progression of jobs. Not a typical career path. It’s no wonder I left high school thinking I would become a chemist. I had no idea what I would become. The closest I ever came to chemistry in my career was a consulting assignment I did for a pharmaceutical company in Chicago. I’m sure when I was in high school there’s no way I could conceive of the twists and turns my career would take.

An old concept that I’ve been thinking about seriously for the first time this year is the idea that my life, day by day, should be viewed as a pilgrimage back to God. This idea comes up frequently in the prayers I’m reading in Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim by Edward Hays. Here’s an excerpt from one of the morning prayers for summer:

Prayers for a Planetary PilgrimWhatever this summer day holds for me,
may I find, among its many events,
signs to confirm and direct me
in my primary vocation of pilgrimhood.
May I be eager to assist my sister and brother pilgrims in their journeys.
May I do nothing by word or deed
that will detour them on their homeward path to you.
May I burn with the fire of the sun in loving all the Earth
and all members of your sacred family.
I bow before you, Divine Father, Holy Mother,
Eternal Source of my existence.
Your heart is my home,
from you I have come
and to you I journey this day.

I’m still not sure what the right answer is for the blank for “Occupation” I need to fill out on my tax returns. I’m afraid “pilgrim” might be a red flag. But I guess that’s what my real vocation is. All the other occupations I’ve had along my path just add flavor and spice to my true calling.

Pilgrim Cat

A Pat on the Back

Abbey Profile 2This morning I looked at my beautiful old dog Abbey and said, “Hey, Abbey. Come over here a minute. I want to give you a pat on the back – not just a few pats on the head, a real pat on the back.”

“Okay, Mom. Just a minute while I coax my legs to stand up. They’re not moving very fast any more,” she replied. She slowly stood up and hobbled over to me. Then she eased herself down to a laying position again.

“Abbey, I’ve been thinking about how much you have befriended all of our 93-year-olds. You have become one of their best friends, for each one of them, just as you have for almost everyone who has lived with us. I’m particularly surprised at how much our latest resident has come to love you. I didn’t think she could love again. But you won her over. How did you do it?”

“Oh, Mom.  That wasn’t so hard. She was just hurting a lot, and she took her frustration out on all of us.”

“Yes, but at first I thought she was a little mean to you. I was afraid she might try to push you with her walker to get you to move when she wanted to walk where you happened to be lying on the floor.”

“Oh, she never hit me, Mom. And she was in so much pain. I got out of her way whenever I saw her coming, but when she sat down, I went to sit beside her. She needed to feel that someone loved her. I could do that. Eventually, she even started to pet me. Now sometimes she leaves me some crusts of bread on her plate, and tells you to be sure to give it to me, right?”

Abbey looking up colorized 2“That’s right, Abbey. You have definitely won her over. You know what she told me the other day? She said that you really like her, that you even lay down outside her door sometimes when we’re out. She is so happy that you have become her friend.”

“I’m glad to hear that, Mom. And, you know what? I’m glad that she’s become one of my friends, too. Just like it said in the book you’re reading. You may not know it, but sometimes I look over your shoulder in the morning while you’re reading. On Sunday morning you were reading from that Edward Hays book again, A Book of Wonders. He’s a smart writer. He said,

The best way to remain fully and vitally alive all the way up to the moment of your last and final breath is to constantly strive to be sensitive to other’s needs and suffering, responding to their unspoken cries for help.

“That’s all I’m trying to do, Mom. And in the process, I’m gaining more and more friends. I’m the luckiest dog in the world. I may not be able to get out as much as I used to, but I really appreciate all the new friends you bring in to live with us. Like I said before, it’s great having an endless supply of grandmas.”

“And it’s great having such a loving dog as you, Abbey.”

Thanks, Mom!

Thanks, Mom!