I’ve had several conversations lately about “Hope” and “Faith.” People ask me: are they different, or are they the same? I’ve given it a lot of thought; reflection from my seminary days. I’m going to write down some perspective I’ve had about it … mostly to clarify it in my own mind:
Faith is the element of knowing without seeing. It is the bedrock of my heart’s center, the knowing beyond understanding. We are born broken, and all long for redemption, for goodness, to finally believe we are lovable. Most of us are afraid to believe that, but it’s a critical piece on the journey to wholeness as the Father created us.
I know that my Creator’s Almighty fingerprints are all over me. I know that, in spite of my failure to always exercise “right use of will,” His plan is at work. When I feel alone, when I feel without hope, “hopeless,” it is I who have moved off center. The Creator – being truth and love – never yields, never moves. The truth is that my Father will be standing, arms outstretched, a beacon of Light, long after the noise of falsehood has collapsed under its own weight.
How can I declare this? How can I be so certain that these things are true? I have no explanation except … faith.
My parents did the best they could, but their profound brokenness saturated every thread of my childhood. Even so, it did not define it. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my childhood was defined by, and my heart was protected by, my faith.
I was born with it. In my earliest days I thought everybody was. I can remember even as a tiny girl, age two or three, looking up to the clouds, talking to the angels. No one told me they were there. I knew it. I could see them. And they saw me.
Growing up, Spirit surrounded me at some of the darkest points, when most would ask how a kid could make it through that. It was not remarkable to me. It was my “normal.” There were my parents. There was my faith. Faith was my trump card. It trumped everything. I always trusted it would be there.
And the best way I know to describe trust is, imagine a baby learning to walk. The Mama or the Daddy is right there, giving the toddler its freedom, but keeping watch in case the child starts to fall. She learns to trust that a parent will be there for her. Trust. Faith and trust. The baby is not “hoping” that someone will catch her. She moves forward on faith, “trusting” that protection is present.
Hope … hope springs eternal, but faithful hope in action is “trust.”
There are those who question the atrocities in this world, and ask how a loving God could allow such things. My answer is, we are human beings with free will, and we are each given a moral compass. Free will has a perfectly calculable algorithm called “cause and effect.” Do many people suffer from the actions of others? Without question. I believe that all the inhumanity in this world is the expression of people who are driven by their own brokenness. Happy, loving people do not have on their agenda the harming or destruction of others.
Men are not evil. Women are not suffered. We are all brokenhearted. Casting aspersions based on ANYthing – gender, race, religion, nationality … only causes us to further break our own hearts. Division helps nothing, heals nothing, takes us closer to nothing good. It carries us further into the darkness.
Satan is about separation. People often attempt to … “hope out a plan.” And I don’t think I’ve ever seen it work … in large part, because they had no faith that it would. This is a process of isolation and futility. Separation tells us to make a plan, and cross our fingers, but don’t count on it, ’cause people suck and shit happens. And with this approach, it probably will.
God is about connection. Hope-as-Trust is the fierce tangent of faith that gives us the fire to move forward smiling, in spite and in Light. When we are in sync with that Divine energy, we make plans, but remain open to the fact that it could all shift, and may even appear to fall apart so that other things can fall together. We are flexible, and willing, and openhearted. We believe that all things will work together for good.
In either case, everybody believes in something. And whatever we believe, we’re right.
The best, most radical thing we can do for ourselves and the world … is to strive to be exactly who God breathed life into at the moment of our birth. If we all, every person on the planet, would be our authentic selves for one hour, the transformation would be miraculous. Instantaneous. The world could never again return to its former state of being.
My advice, if I have any to give, is this: be brutally honest, and ultimately gentle with yourself. Let yourself have, and hold, the truths of who you are. Look deeply into your own eyes. Be tender with your own shattered places. Hold closely those parts you have a hard time embracing. Make that list of loving things you’d do for someone else, and do them for you. We love others in direct proportion to our love of the Self God created in us.
My prayer is that every person, everywhere, will ultimately bear witness to their own loveliness, their own lovability. We will discover that the peace we long for abides in us. And it’s been right there all the time.
My altar is secret. I don’t really even have one yet, but I’m getting ready.The things I have for it are tucked away in a box. It’s a shoebox. From Renberg’s. Christmas, 1959. My father’s slippers came in it. If I lower my nose to the box, I can still smell the leather from those slippers.
The box is in the bottom drawer with some other stuff—so that no one can tell it’s something special.
A picture of Susan Van Wyck is in there. Susan Van Wyck’s been on the cover of Seventeen magazine about twenty times. Some people tell me I look like Susan Van Wyck. But she’s so beautiful, it makes me shy to think about it; I can’t believe it. But I keep that picture to remind me.
Then there’s my scapular. I got it in first grade when I made my First Holy Communion. It’s faded and the silk straps are twisted, but it reminds me of the Holy Sacrament. I like to remember when I was seven, and believed everything they told me, without question. Sometimes I sleep with it on, because I need those feelings I had back then. Innocent. Faithful.
There’s a little rock from the time we went to Roman Nose State Park. It was the summer before first grade, and the only vacation we ever took. This stone makes me think of highways, and swimming pools, and places far away.
The four leaf clover is from my boyfriend. Rick gave it to me –or should I say he walked down the aisle at school and dropped it on my desk. That’s how I knew he was my boyfriend. We haven’t talked to each other or anything, but sometimes you just know.
The scrap of brown eyelet material is from Nanny. She taught me how to sew, starting when I was five. When I was ten, She taught me to use the treadle machine on her patio. We made doll clothes all summer that year. Nanny always said, “You can do anything you want to do. Just come up with an idea, then think backwards and you’ll know how to get there.” This piece of fabric reminds me that I can do anything.
The last thing in here is a crystal heart. Daddy gave it to me before the 8th grade dance. It’s the prettiest thing I’ve ever seen, and it makes my own heart squeeze when I look at it. When Daddy’s having a bad night and I can hear him through my door, I take the crystal heart out and put it under my pillow. It helps me remember who he really is.
Lately I’ve been wondering how much of me is left. I mean, when I think back, it seems like there have been at least a couple of incarnations in this one lifetime. I was someone’s kid in the first lifetime, and a sister. In the second lifetime I was someone’s wife, and mother. How much of me did that use up? By the time I became a wife, did I remember who that girl was? Was I still that person? Today I’m someone’s mother, someone’s mother in law, and someone’s grandmother. What about that kid? Is she still here? Does she know how old we are? Is she observing the relationship challenges, the unreached horizons that float in the mist, just ahead of wherever it is I am? Or is she the one driving me forward?
It’s funny. These days there’s a familiar authenticity inside my skin; is this what she felt then? Or is that dementia? Is that old age? I don’t know. But I can tell you this: I feel more on purpose than I’ve felt since I was five. Since I was the kid on that swing in the back yard at 1563 North Marion, crying because I couldn’t write a song like the ones on the radio. I don’t cry about that now. Today I’m grown up, and I write songs for a living. Does she know?
When I work on the various projects that keep my passions fired, I feel her here. She sits across the table, smiling at me, her chin resting on one dimpled hand.
I also feel her tears. When my Daddy — OUR Daddy — died earlier this year, she is the one who cried into my pillow. She’s also the one who took my sister’s face in her hands at the funeral home and told her everything was okay. In many ways I felt like I was watching her do that. I was the observer. Looking back at that weekend, I realize the girl of me led us through it with her broken heart wide open, loving everybody as big as she could.
Since then, she and I have hit a rough patch. One where healing and grief keep getting locked in hand to hand combat. It leaves me bone weary, and she’s trying to make sense of it all.
When I lie down and rest my head in the dark, I feel her there. She keeps watch through the night. Sometimes in that space between awake and asleep, I hear her whisper, “Daddy always believed in us.” The adult of we never thought so. The girl of we always knew.
There are those who would call me daft for seeing us as two separate people. Shrinks might tell me to “integrate.” I reject that clinical diagnosis. The adult mind lives on the surface where life appears steady, things are kept in tidy lines, and all rules apply. But the child mind is boundless; it explores below the surface. There are times I need to get hopelessly lost in her world of unseen wonder, secret caverns, mighty whirlwinds, and fragments of dreams unlived. This is where the thrill of excitement rides in on a sunbeam, where fragile hearts dive deep, shatter and heal, only to dive deep again.
Not breaking through the surface with her would pose a far greater risk to my Spirit. I cannot bear the thought of skimming the top, and never living the we of me at all.
If Daddy can see us, we know he’s proud.
There are countless books available that promote ways in which we can heal our Selves. Some books are dedicated to traditional medicine, some prescribe alternative or holistic treatment, some are based on a myriad of psychological approaches, and some reveal processes and rituals of ethnic or religious origin. Each of these practices holds at least an element of validity, and all share in a common goal: to bring us to holiness.
The word holiness takes many by surprise. It causes some to pull back in reaction to a word that has traditionally been tied to religion. But holiness actually means wholeness; being truly whole. Knowing the truth about who we are, feeling loving and gentle toward our authentic Selves. We can call it many things, but when we reach this place of wholeness we are, indeed, holy.
There is nothing sweeter than a new baby; in its presence our entire demeanor changes. We speak in hushed tones; we walk softly, we move slowly, touch gently. We feel a reverence for the newness, the sweetness, the innocence of this tiny being. We are in awe of its perfection. We are beholding a holy one. And we are remembering our own holiness.
We learn, very quickly, to “become” whatever the rules say we must. We are good little soldiers, good children …we follow directions, or not; but the world continues to shape us, and teaches us to lead with our acceptable “‘personas” − caricatures of who God created − that carry us far from the holy selves who arrived here in the beginning.
And now, during this season of holiday, “giving” is in full swing. We watch the children in our lives, and the child in each of us awakens. We are, once again, those newborns; we are those “holy ones.” We embrace the chance to participate in a tidal wave of open hearts, of tender thoughts, and of uplifted ideals. We are individuals, certainly; in addition, however, we are a collective of all the things we ever imagined, of our deepest held dreams. Our wildest sacred hopes take wing in the December air. Is it possible? Could it be? If only … just maybe .… this is the stuff we’re made of; it’s the stuff of miracles.
The world has taught us to forget this, but it is true. This season of remembering takes us home to that truth. How sweet, how holy a world it will be when we choose to stay awake; to stay connected with our “original truth.” For that is, after all, where our holiness resides.
Have you ever considered the pristine beauty, the mystical significance of an empty bowl? Or even the hands that created the bowl itself? I hadn’t, until this past weekend.
An empty bowl is an important symbol in Buddhism. The bowl points to the monk’s way of life; they go from the monastery into the village each morning, bowl in hand, and ask for alms from the lay people. Whatever they receive, food or alms, is prayed over with thanksgiving, and counted as “enough;” “plenty” for that day.
As a prompt during a writing class recently, we were asked what we would need to fill our bowl.
I sat with my hand holding a pen, suspended over the page. My mind was blank. Just when I thought, “This is not working,” I heard my father’s voice.
My dad used to say, “Your mother could feed a family of eight on a potato and an onion.” And looking back, I realize that’s exactly what she did. She’d dice them, and boil them in a large pot of water; season them, and leave them to simmer on the stove. She’d put small pieces of Velveeta on the collection of bread heels, and run them under the broiler just long enough for the cheese product to melt across the surfaces of the bread, and start charring around the edges.
We loved potato soup night. It came after meatloaf night, and was followed by fish stick night, which was always on Friday. There was also tomato soup and grilled cheese night. There was bean and cornbread night, which was followed by chili night, because the leftover beans went into the chili.
When I recite the menu − this litany of how my mother fed six children on my dad’s hard earned but meager income − I am struck by a couple of things:
Regardless of where she kept her heart, regardless of how disconnected she seemed from the rest of us, she got up every day and did what needed doing to keep the children fed.
The process of creating a meal is a spiritual act. It is a prayer. Just saying grace over two such ordinary things as a potato and an onion − trusting that these will become the loaves and fishes on your children’s plates − that is a mother’s hope. An act of faith.
And I will say that doing it once makes it an event − marks its significance above the commonplace. But through my years of growing up, sitting as I did at that table every night, I can tell you this: the miracle of plenty was ever present there.
So when I consider what will fill my empty bowl, I humbly request one potato, one onion, and the power of my mother’s prayer.