07 January 2014

Shifts and Balance

Winter Sky at Stonehaven - 7 January 2014
I awoke this morning with a small canine paw gently pressed on my right arm...the one nearest the edge of the bed.  As I emerged into consciousness, I gazed into the face of our Schnoodle.  She is a Schnauzer/Poodle mix, who has been an integral part of our family for the past 16 years.  She is standing on her hind legs, braced against the edge of the bed, with her right paw resting on my arm.  Her gaze is intense but very trusting and sincere.  This is something of a ritual.  Today, however, is a bit different.  I have what I think is a sinus infection, and I am medicated with Benedryl.  It seems strangely quiet in the dark room.

Further emergence into consciousness causes me to remember that my wife is not on the other side of the bed.  Of course (I now get clarity), she is in New York City visiting our elder daughter for a few days.  That provides another reason that I feel sluggish.  We had arisen at 3:30am yesterday to get her to the airport for an early flight...and I had a busy day afterward.  I now sit up -- eyes adjusting to the darkened surroundings.  It is 5:25am.  Nothing unusual.  The Duchess (our dog) does this every morning around the same time.  Today, however, I do not want to climb out of the warm bed.

I hear the wind outside.  Our townhome condominium is very well built.  If I hear the wind, that means more than a stiff breeze.  I retrieve my smartphone, activate it and access the weather app.  Local temperature:  38 degrees; winds from the NNE at 12mph with gusts to 25mph.  The radar shows that it has been raining, but the band of showers is moving south and east.  What's this?!  There is a band of pink with the greens and yellows of the radar....sleet in Central Florida.  It is always colder inland than it is on the coast.  Damn.

I slide out, exit the bedroom and pad down the stairs...Duchess leading the way with a rapid descent that sounds more like a group of animals than one 20 lb. canine.  She is really enthusiastic about the early morning routine.  I take my time...still groggy...and ease into my Gortex storm jacket and Crocs; retrieve the leash; attach Duchess and open the front door.  I am met with the whirling wind on our front alcove.  Now I am fully awake, as the chill slaps me in the face.

True, I am an native Floridian...having grown up 130 miles east/northeast of here...in Central Florida.  But my years in Scotland, Wisconsin, northern Indiana and west Missouri conditioned me for the cold, ice and snow of winter.  It was nothing as bad as what is now being experienced in those climes, but there were some quite harsh storms in that aggregate of 25 years.  I shoveled a lot of snow, scraped a lot of ice and experienced the kind of cold that burned exposed skin.  It is one reason we returned to Florida and settled on the west coast in what is known as Subtropical Florida.  After nearly 21 months here, 38 degrees with a windchill of 22 degrees seems harsh at 5:30am.  What the hell.  Come on Duchess, let's get this job done.

Back inside, I give Duchess her morning arthritis supplement (a chewy nugget which she anticipates eagerly).  Instead of making coffee, I head back upstairs to see if more sleep can happen.  I am just about to lose consciousness when, to my utter surprise, a canine paw pulls at my arm...again.  I open my eyes, and stare into the eager face of the Duchess.  "We just did this!" I say.  She doesn't hear well, so I am really saying this to myself.  I have been back in bed for only about 10 minutes.  I quickly come to the conclusion that this night of sleep is done.  Duchess is often the sentinel for me needing to be about the business of contemplative prayer time.  Early morning is most often that time of day when I am most able to center and listen for the "still, small voice" of The One who called me to my vocation and gives clarity...when I can park the chatty ego.

The coffee is good.  The beans are roasted by a dear friend of mine in San Francisco.  Actually, he is more like a brother than a friend.  We are six months apart in age.  He is a Ph.D. theologian, professor turned entrepreneur with a coffee roasting business called HelioRoast....roasting energy using solar power.  I may be biased, but I think his coffee is the best.  I receive a pound each month....about three days after roasting.  I grind the beans as needed for a single dripped cup or a brewed pot.  Sipping a cup of coffee in what has become known as the "prayer area" of our downstairs, having contemplative and Daily Office time (formal ritual prayers and reading of my tradition), and sipping a second cup with spousal conversation in the living room is the normal routine.  Today, it is me and Duchess, who, now confident her job is done, curls up on the rug at my feet. Her light snoring and the sound of the wind outside being the only noises in my environment

Today, I have been reminded of my ancestors.  Why does this "bubble up" in the quiet darkness of contemplation?  The mind part of me begins to take part.  Seven generations......going back seven generations, starting with my two parents, there have been 128 people who have contributed directly to the DNA that composes my physical being and makes it possible for me to be present to this moment.  Through the choices made for each father and mother to enter a relationship and produce a child; and raise that child into an adult who would chose a spouse and produce a child.....ultimately, the seeming random meeting of my mother and father and their choice to enter a relationship and produce a child.  In addition, each of those had other children, who followed the same patterns that created each generation of what we call siblings and cousins.

But, today, I am aware of Self -- the uniqueness of being that has made me a conscious person in this moment.  My chance meeting with the person who would become my spouse and the two daughters we produced, raised and sent into the world as young adults fills me with awe on this morning.

As I grow deeper in my own spiritual journey, the term "random" seems less appropriate.  My concept for this is "informed choice."  Love, ultimately, cannot be driven by ego consciousness.  We may choose to manipulate our environment (and most often do), but there are ramifications for such hubris...not always good ones.  We call the negative ramifications "suffering."  When our own suffering happens, it is easy...and convenient...to blame it on someone or something else.  Biblical literature mentions the ramifications of hubris-driven choices being visited upon even the seventh generation.  I think that is why that many generations of my own ancestors came to me in the pre-dawn hours of this morning.  (see, Some Principles of Moral Theology, by Kenneth Kirk, 1920...a classic Anglican moral theologian; professor at Magdalene College, Oxford and later Bishop of Oxford)*

I cannot change my DNA, but I know that the gene pool carries the energy and and consequences of those 128 persons that preceded me for seven generations ... and all the way back. (see Generation to Generation:  Family Process in Church and Synagogue, by Edwin Friedman, 1985...the chapters dealing with Family of Origin)*

My soul is the unique energy and character of my True Self.  I have a reason for being for the sake of creation.  This is precisely true for every human born into life...for whatever length of time we have.  The greatest gift we have been given is the ability to consciously participate in creation that does not depend solely on bio-physical responses or simple response to stimuli for survival.  We can actually make decisions and choose.  At the very heart of this is the choice:  Do I choose a Self born in love? Or, Do I choose the emotional and visceral response to stimuli that will gratify the moment for my benefit?

Kenneth Kirk suggested that both of those questions in our grounded choice are combined to produce a balance called the "informed conscience."  If I am working out of Love in Self, I will choose (for instance) the kind of lifestyle that will provide the greatest benefit for physical, emotional and relational health.  When Jesus said, "my yoke is easy and my burden light," I think he had this balance in mind.

My journey thus far has brought me to a place of shift.  It is a relationship that I have known "in moments" throughout my life, but which is now becoming more constant.  It is that "still, small voice" that is not my ego, but one that is driven by Love.  It is the Divine...who is, for me, manifested in the person of Jesus.  "Are you sure this is the best choice you could make?"  Sometimes, "Don't do that, it will not go well."  Sometimes, it is just a gesture or a pointing in a direction.

Today, I am at peace with my ancestral heritage and gene pool.  I am grateful for the choices that makes it possible to be me and here in the moment.  I am grateful for the choices made in, or driven by, Love.  And, yes, I am even grateful for the choices made in the shallowness of ego-self.  It is out of the suffering produced by those choices that I have grown...the "glass darkly" that gets clearer as I go deeper into true-Self.

Folks, we are all on this same journey.  I am blessed to have a dog who wakes me up to remind me to take time to allow shift to happen and balance to be maintained.   The pattern is now deeply enough set that, when her time of departure arrives, I will know instinctively that I need to get up and be about living life in a sacred manner.



*I had the honor and privilege of studying for eight years with the late Dr. Edwin Friedman, before his death in 1996. His work and his ongoing "Post-Graduate Seminars in Family Process" did much to shape both my vocational and personal journey.   My major work in graduate school (seminary) was sacramental theology and pastoral care.  In the latter discipline, I focused on the moral and pastoral theological reflections of Kenneth Kirk and Robert Mortimer...along with a number of other major scholars.  Those two early twentieth century scholars, however, were foundational for my own vocational development.

02 January 2014

New Again?

Here we are at the beginning of a new cycle of life.  Celebrating the New Year has become a cultural marker for saying farewell to life events and the business of the immediate past twelve months and launching new endeavors.  It includes the long tradition of creating "resolutions"... statements of intention that are supposed to enhance our well-being on a number of levels:  health, employment, family, use of time, and resetting our internal clocks being among many options.

I agree with my sister-in-law, Toni, who reflected that she quit making New Year's resolutions years ago.  I have also abandoned the practice of resolution-making.  A resolve really does not carry the depth of commitment that will enact the hoped-for change that is intended.  A recent study indicated that the average New Year resolution lasts about 45 days.  Most often, a resolution lacks the resources necessary to engage life on the levels needed to drive the shifts and changes that bring about permanent results.

My brother-in-law, Frank, believes that the first day of the New Year would be best served by engaging the world rather than having a holiday.  I had not thought about this until our conversation just two days ago.  The problem with beginning a new cycle by trying to overcome the indulgences of the day and evening before does seem counter-productive.  We wake up to the new year feeling hung-over, bloated, tired and lethargic from all the ways we have engaged our "one last fling" in the concluding cycle.  What would happen if we shifted our celebration and made it a "new beginnings" party?  Then, on 1 January we re-engaged our lives on a level of activity commensurate with our intentions?

Reflective Mode

1.  This year, life has been a shade different than experiences of the past.  I did not begin 2013 with the intention of undertaking a journey to rebalance my body so that Type II Diabetes would essentially go "under the radar" of physical health.  There were a number of encounters and events that called for changes in plans and re-ordering of priorities.

The one planned journey was the two-week trip to South Dakota and the Black Hills area this past June.  The plans I had tried to meticulously make simply fell apart...literally the day after I arrived.  One part of me wondered why I was there at all, since what I envisioned as a research/learning event had become something very different.  Every interview went from ritual and cultural topics to conversations about health and wellness.  That...I thought at the time...had nothing to do with my project.  Plus, I was not feeling well for reasons that would only much later be identified.

On the flights home from Rapid City, SD  I became very despondent.  I suddenly realized that those conversations were ways that my True Self (the one connected with the Divine) was working to get my attention.  I was, in fact, killing myself...literally.  Within a month of returning, after careful planning with my primary care and cardiology physicians, I was engaged in a journey that literally changed the way I relate to food and my body.  At this point, it is quite probable that my death will not be from the affects of Type II Diabetes.  The lifestyle is becoming ingrained.

2.  I have had a love-hate relationship with social media for a quite some time now.  Love and hate are strong words and probably, in the final analysis, really don't apply to how I relate to the several levels of electronic and digital connections.  Whatever terms might be applied, suffice it to say that I enjoy being connected to family, friends, colleagues and folks who have been and continue to be important in my life journey.  However, the shear volume of information via Facebook, Twitter, Linked-In, G-Mail and marketing sources can literally "take over" one's life.  This is researchable, but my strong sense is that more and more folks are shifting self-identity to social media definitions.

The fact that every thought one has can be immediately digitalized and shared with potentially millions of other folks can create addictive processes that are both neurological and psychological.  I am not researching this and, therefore, have no data to support my observations.  There is no doubt, however, that "ego projection" is a major content producer for social media.  If one is not face-to-face with his/her intended recipient, it is easy to discharge all the anger, pain, frustration, fear, and presumed knowledge (shaped as opinions) while not being accountable for the impact and results of what has been discharged into cyberspace.

Somewhere in late August, I realized my own contribution to all of what I just shared.  I also realized that commercial (read: cable) news media and social media had lost an edge of ethical integrity that made digging for the truth less exciting that simply ranting with sensationalized hyperbole.  This isn't simply an ethical issue for me.  It is a deeply moral issue.  So, I backed away from cable news and generally stopped reading anything that smacked of "Constitutional Rights" or other issues.  Since 90+% of what is shared comes from emotionally charged and unresearched information...or information from only one ideological source...I began reading and researching via those whose life-work is committed to these issues (e.g. economists, historians, constitutional scholars).  I read and research widely...refusing to be "pigeon-holed" into some ideological slot.

3.  I began 2013 with two planned trips...two weeks of being among the Lakota and doing research in SW South Dakota; and a six day Christmas trip to South Bend, IN, where our younger daughter and her husband, would host our Christmas gathering.  By the end of the year, we had made five trips, and I had flown five different airlines to accomplish four of those trips.

Late in the summer, I hit upon the idea of taking my wife to Belize as part of her sixtieth birthday celebration.  It turned out to be an eight day trip in late October/early November that was a delight for both of us on several levels.

In September, we received an invitation to participate in the 100th anniversary celebration of St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, MO that would take place the week before Thanksgiving.  This is the parish from which I retired, after being the Rector for 7.5 years.  Financial misgivings for making the trip were dissolved when a dear friend gifted us with round trip tickets to Kansas City.    It was a deeply moving and wonderful re-connection with a faith community for whom I care deep within my heart.  We also reconnected with dear friends outside the parish during those six days.

It is always a joy beyond words to  have time with our daughters and the extended families that happen through marriage.  Christmas in South Bend was white...and it was not the beach sand of Siesta Key.  It was 71 degrees in Sarasota, when our flight departed early afternoon on 23 December.  It was 5 degrees with snow flurries, when we landed in South Bend, IN early that evening.  We were prepared for this, but our twenty years of living in the Midwest had "worn off" in the 20 months of living in SW Florida.  It was an adjustment -- but one that was ameliorated  by the warmth and love we shared in those days.  We are separated by a lot of miles (South Bend, IN and NYC are not close to Sarasota), but here, social media is truly helpful.

I had two great Christmas gifts.  I will share one of them.  The day after Christmas, I was able to spend an entire afternoon with my son-in-law, Dean.  After lunch with the four of us, Madie and Denise went to shop for baby things (more on this momentarily).  Dean and I did some things neither of us do with any regularity.  First, we went to an indoor shooting range.  We rented a SigSauer 9mm P226 (Navy) pistol...identical to the one I own.  I have not fired a pistol in three years, due to issues with my right shoulder.  I was a marksman with a .45 in the Navy, but that was 40 years ago.  I still had that status with a 9mm, but the shoulder replacement and resulting change in physiology had me nervous about firing a weapon.  We each took 25 rounds of ammunition and took turns firing at a "torso target".  To my utter amazement, 23 of the 25 rounds were in the central rings of the target...at 50 and 75 feet.  Dean was also well in those rings with his target.   The "old man" still has it, it seems.

We went from the shooting range to a cigar store and sat for an hour in the store's lounge with a cigar each and some of the most wonderful conversation I could imagine.  I love Dean, but we have not had much time to talk in-depth over the past two years.  This was pure gift, and one that I will always treasure.  But, that wasn't all.  We went from the cigar store to a downtown South Bend, upscale lounge and sipped a very good rye whiskey with some crafted beer.  More wonderful conversation and reflection.  The evening culminated with the four of us back together for dinner.  Yep, an amazing gift.

Our fifth trip just ended.  Denise's Uncle Richard died early Christmas morning in Panama City, FL...her hometown.  He had been ill a long while and was receiving Hospice care.  We returned home from South Bend on 28 December and drove the eight hours to Panama City after I finished a preaching obligation at St. Boniface on 29 December.  It was a blessed reunion with a portion of Denise's family and childhood friends...folks I have come to know and love over the past 32 years.  We spent a quiet New Year's Eve...eating ice cream, watching old television sitcoms, and appreciating each other.  We spent a good portion of New Year's Day driving the eight hours back to Sarasota.  With this trip, there was a bonus.  Our dog, Duchess got to travel with us.  No kennels this time (the sight of suitcases creates one of the most forlorn looks I have ever seen on a dog).

3.  Transitions hallmark our lives.  They are icons that tell stories of our choices and mark the anniversaries of significant events.  For an Episcopal Priest (or any ordained person), the ordinations to the Transitional Diaconate and Priesthood are signal moments for vocation and life-long covenanted vows.  In the midst of other events already described, I marked the 35th year of ordination to the Diaconate on 29 June 2013 and the Priesthood on 29 December 2013.  I am not sure why 35 seemed like a significant number to me, but I think that, in retirement, those dates say more about being who I am rather than marking years of active career-oriented work.  Ordination is a sacrament, and, as such is permanent -- or as the theological level applies it, indelible.  I will never not be a priest.  This past year has been marked with a deep pondering on what God may want me to do with this vocation in this stage of life.

I retired early...completely within eligibility for full retirement...at the age of 60.5.  I am now one month into being 63.  That number seemed unusually significant to me this year.  Again, in itself, it is not special, but there are transitional elements at work within me that create a sort of platform for an emergent use of both the "senior" years and the accumulated  vocational knowledge and experience.

Future Mode

1.  When I began this essay, I stated that I gave up resolutions some years ago.  What has replaced them is something akin to a plan or schema that provides direction and into which can be inserted attainable goals.  "Letting go" does not mean forgetting.  It means neutralizing past events in such ways that one is not carrying emotional baggage.  Most of our current reality and future actions are based on events and experiences that are hugely charged with emotional content.  My sense of beginning a new cycle (or simply beginning anew) is to entrust past actions...both successes and failures...to the Grace of inner healing.  They cannot be replayed or changed; but they can become the soil out of which a new, stronger and more resilient Self can emerge.

2.  I have a colleague who has been retired for some years and is now in his late 70s.  I will identify him no further than to say that I run into him with some regularity.  He has, indeed, had a number of experiences, in addition to being a priest, that shaped a wonderful career and for which he received numerous awards and commendations.  My total career experiences are not as colorful, but, for me, they are significant.  My colleague, when asked to introduce himself, will, literally, begin at the beginning and cite all the events and accolades which, for him, give substance to his identity.  I happen to open a locked door for him on Sunday, and, as if I were there only for that reason (I was vested for a liturgy at which I was preaching), he looked straight ahead and muttered, "Thank you, my boy."  It is an ego struggling to hold on to identity continuing to be lived out of the past.

At that moment, what happened in me was interesting (upon later reflection).  My own ego wanted to make a comment that would have been both cutting and unsettling for him...one came to me immediately.  Yet, something deeper inside simply smiled and, I said, "Merry Christmas and Joyous New Year."  My hope is that he will, one day, be able to live in the present moment rather than in past perceived glory.  My hope is that I continue to grow, shift and experience newness.

3.  My plan for this year includes two ... and only two ... components.  I have been edging toward writing a book.  In November, something opened up inside, and I shifted my entire sense of what this book might be.  There may be a visit to the Haskell Library (part of Haskell Indian Nations University) in Lawrence, KS for some archival research, and another visit to locations in SW South Dakota, where I have been working, studying and experiencing Lakota ritual since 2007.  This seems to want to be the "year of the book."

The other component wraps around our younger daughter, Madeline, giving birth to her first child...our first grandchild...in the latter part of May. We now know for a fact that it will be a boy.  We plan to be in South Bend at the time of the birth.  So, this is definitely the "year of the grandparent" for us

Other than that, I plan to live each moment at it comes with an open mind and heart...no campaigns, agendas or issues.  My plan is to make each day count and let what is be that which speaks the Eternal Truth.  Emmanuel means "God With Us."  God realization in the moment defines Life, and that's where I want to be.

Love and Blessings in this New Year!