Reflections on a Life

Reflections on a Life

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Lifting My Eyes

I will lift up my eyes unto the hills, from whence comes my help.  My help comes from the Lord.
~ Psalms 121

The words of this Psalm have always been to me mysterious and beautiful and never more so than when I was recently hiking with friends in the Rocky Mountains - specifically Pike's Peak.

The plan was to climb half-way up the first day, then on to the top and back to the camp on day 2, descending to the base on the third day.  I was excited about this climb and had been preparing for months - years actually. 

And there we were at the foot of the trail leading up the mountain, everything and everyone as ready as we could possibly be.  The cameras came out and pictures documenting the first steps of this journey were taken.  The adventure had begun.

And I was scared.  Really, really scared. 

Had I done enough to get ready?  Did I bring enough water?  Would I be able to manage the altitude as well as the additional 30+ pounds I was carrying in the pack on my back?  Would I have any trouble breathing, even though my asthma was well controlled and hadn't been a problem for years?  Would I hold back the rest of the group?  Would I disappoint anyone? Would I disappoint myself??

Fifteen years earlier I had been at the foot of another trail in the Rocky Mountains wondering whether I should try walking up a trail marked 'Moderate Difficulty' and determined then and there never to wonder again whether I could take on a physical challenge and miss the opportunity of splendor and the feeling of great accomplishment.

So there I was, facing the largest physical challenge of my life and once again wondering if I could make it.  And then we started.

Step after step, breath after breath, I made my way with the words of this Psalm ringing in my ears - the music, actually, as arranged by the inimitable John Rutter.  I would look up at the path ahead of me and see incredible beauty.  I often cried at the blue of the sky, or the sound of the wind in the trees or the ever increasing distance of the town I had eaten breakfast in only that morning.  I was doing this thing! 

And I would look up and see the obstacles.  A path that I knew still had miles and miles to walk. Huge mounds of rocks that needed to be got around.  Seemingly lots and lots of obstacles.  These sometimes seemed overwhelming.

So I looked back down.  And took one more step.  And another.

It occurred to me that we are always told to keep our eyes up, focused on our goal, when often times the best strategy is to take the next step, then the next, focused on the task immediately at hand.  What we have set out to accomplish will be more confidently done and more completely appreciated if we just keep focusing on this moment, now.

I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills from whence cometh my strength.

My help - my strength - comes from the Lord.  In this hour.  In this minute.  In this moment.

And in the taking of the next step.

I made it to the top, by the way.  And back again.  One step at a time.

Monday, April 18, 2011


A lot of years ago there was a collection of post-apocalyptic movies with the main character 'Mad Max' played by a much younger Mel Gibson.  At the time, a phrase was used over and over again that I thought was just stupid - so stupid it was funny.  And I repeated it sometimes as proof that sometimes things were just inane.

That phrase? "Wherever you go, there you are."

Since those long-ago days I have done a lot more reading and even more 'questing' in the ways of the spirit and have since realized that this seemingly inane phrase is actually ancient spiritual wisdom that tells a profound and inescapable truth. 

Wherever you go, there you are

For a lot of the years of my life I thought that if I changed my address or my job or my relationship (or my weight or hair color or style or clothes, etc., etc., etc.,) then somehow everything would magically get better or more interesting or successful.  Not doing well in a class?  Drop it or change schools.  Job isn't going well, find another one.  Marriage not working out?  Just go, already!

But.  Wherever you go, there you are.

It didn't matter how far I ran or how many times I twisted and turned trying to get away from something or someone or to something (or someone) else, wherever 'I' went, there 'I', ultimately, still was. 

If I wanted something to change in my life I first had to change me. Transformation from the inside out, I began to understand, was the only true path to happiness.  So I set about getting the kind of help and mentoring and advice and wise teaching that hopefully would help me to become the person I actually wanted to take along on the trip, wherever it was I was going.  And, thank God, the teachers that came my way and the help I got made huge changes to my heart.

One example.... my husband and I had decided several years ago that our 'no divorce decrees, only death certificates' unofficial promise we made on our wedding day just wasn't working for us anymore and we decided that once the children were all graduated, we would 'move on' and call it finished.  I tearfully shared this news with my work team at the time.  When we made this decision, we had about 18 months of wait time before the kids were all out of the roost, and the idea of just spinning wheels for 18 months seemed like a total waste of a life, so I decided 'why not work on me' in the meantime. 

Thank God.  Because that made all the difference.  Instead of divorcing at 24 years of marriage, we will be celebrating 29 years soon.  When I announced to that same work group that we had just celebrated our 25th anniversary, the question was asked 'what did you do?'  And I answered, softly, 'I changed my heart.'  

Then my colleague restated his question 'No, Ruth, what did you DO for your anniversary?!' After laughing until the tears flowed - that being a classic Ruth moment - I let them know we went out for a lovely dinner.

So, transformation that resulted in a changed heart and a saved marriage.  And two very happy people.

Then, recently I heard a sermon on a Latin phrase that put a new and interesting twist on the previous phrase that I had come to respect and repeat to others.  This 'new' Latin phrase is:

at que non
Deus aderit

The translation is, simply, 'Bidden or not Bidden, God is present'.  And there I was with another epiphany, goosebumps-up-and-down-my-arm moment. 

Wherever I go, there You are!

In the air that I breath.  In the coming and going moments of every day and every night.  In my joy and in my sorrow.  In my victory and in my defeat.  In my proud moments as well as every one of my shameful moments.  In my private time and when I am surrounded by people - friendly or not.  Wherever I go, there YOU are!

And if I can't go anywhere without You, then You can't go anywhere without me. 

We are stuck with each other. 

My own, personal God.

My One, personal God.

And that is the ultimate transformation!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

So, How About a Picture?

It worked!  So, how about if I include a picture?

Technology is Wonderful!

My first raw experience with computers gave me the impression of more work and longer days.  The promise was for increased efficiency and more productivity, but the real draw for companies was the ability to hold people closer and expect quicker response and turn around. 

And then they gave out Blackberries, and 24/7 became a standard concept.  Remember when once upon a time, if someone got back to you within 24 hours on an email, you were impressed?  No, I don't, either.

And most everyone that knows me intimately has heard of my 'going postal' on a printer that was guilty only of requiring to be hand-fed paper one piece at a time.  Not really a problem when all you wanted was one copy at a time.  But I had to print a report that was 100 pages long.  I met my deadline and the printer met my office floor.  Several times. 

But I am discovering that technology CAN by my friend. 

Since social networking, I have regained a world of friends that were lost to me once upon a graduation almost 40 years ago.  (That number is positively scary and moderated only by the fact that I feel more alive now than I ever did once upon that time!) We have reconnected, rediscovered the joys of the town where we grew up, and started gathering with just the mention of someone coming in to town.  With this 'new' old group of friends I have found people interested in camping and sailing and dancing and making pancakes at 4:00 in the morning and canoeing and walking and just being together.

And then there is Facebook, which opened up the world even more - beyond high school classes - and into the wider world of global contacts.  At first my impression of Facebook was random updates going into the ether and wondering why, really, anyone would care? 

And then I learned that ministries come in all forms and can even be fitted in to 420 characters at a time. 

And now? I discover that I can write and email and post to my blog - which is my attempt to discipline myself into writing which will lead me eventually to me dream of writing a book.  How wonderful!  And this email is my first experiment with doing just that.

I hope it works.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Breathing God?

I am just beginning to read The Naked Now by Richard Rohr and am struck by some very simple yet profound thoughts.  The Jewish name for God, YHWH, was considered unspeakable.  It wasn't that it was a 'taboo' to speak the name of God, as I always believed, but that it was literally not something that could be shaped or spoken by the human mouth.

But it gets even more interesting.  The word wasn't spoken..... because it could only be breathed!  The thinking goes that the proper 'pronunciation' for YHWH is actual the sound of inhaling, then exhaling.

Imagine!  The thing we do naturally from the moment of birth to the moment we leave this earth - from womb to tomb as the boys used to say - is breathe.  And in so doing, we say/pray the name of God every moment of every day, sleeping and awake, in our torment or despair as well as during our bliss.  God is available to everyone in every moment.

This author went on to say something - not really 'new' but stated in such a simple way - that it made me laugh out loud! There is no Christian or Jewish or Muslim or Hindu way of breathing.  There is no American or English or African or Chinese way of breathing.  There is no wealthy or poor way of breathing.  We all breathe the same way, the same air, for the same reason for the same moments of our lives.

Not long ago I listened to a lecture that beautifully overlaps with this line of thought.   It was suggested that the word for 'heaven' in the ancient text actually means 'the air that we breathe', so that when we pray the Universal Christian 'Our Father',  we are actually identifying 'our Father' as the air that we breathe.  All around us, all the time, inescapable except in death.  And even then?

"And isn't it wonderful that breath, wind, spirit and air are precisely nothing - and yet everything?"

"Just keep breathing consciously in this way and you will know that you are connected to humanity from cavemen to cosmonauts, to the entire animal world, and even to the trees and the plants.  And we are now told that the atoms we breathe are physically the same as the stardust fro the original Big Bang.  Oneness is no longer merely a vague mystical notion, but a scientific fact."

Breathing God.  Breathing God!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Missing Rib

There is a story that God made man from the dust of the earth and woman from a rib removed from man's side.  The idea is that man was made first and woman was an afterthought..... the missing rib that caused man pain from the moment of creation.  I am well aware that there are a lot of men who still think this is an apt analogy. 

I was thrilled to find a venue in the form of World Pulse that allowed women from all over the world to tell their stories of courage and strength and with their words dispel any thought of second-class world citizenship.  When the invitation came to write about personal heroes in honor of the 100th anniversary International Women's Day I was excited and then stumped.  What one woman is my hero?  There are so many women I admire and cherish and want to emulate.  My mother prayed me into existence and nurtured my dreams and inspired me to reach for the stars.  Many teachers nourished my mind and my hopes and aspirations. Friends throughout the years have encouraged me and cheered me on and held me when I hurt or stumbled and fell.  My daughter inspires me every day to continue to want to make the world a better, kinder place for her.

But choosing just one has been problematic.

And then it occurred to me that it is all of the women of the world - the mothers and teachers, sisters and friends, grandmothers and aunts - that inspire me and give me the hope of a dream that this world can be lovely and kind and compassionate and fair.  

It is the women of this world who are caring for the children orphaned by disease and war.  It is the women who bake the food that goes into homes of families that are wailing with grief over a lost loved one. It is the women who rock their hungry children to sleep at night, listening to stomachs rumbling while they sing the lullabies that help their babies forget.  Women are there when friends are sick or troubled and need a shoulder to lean on.  Or cry on.

It is said that the women of the world do two-thirds of the world's work,  grow 1/2 of the world's food while earning 10% of the world's income and owning only 1% of the world's property.   Startling and impressive statistics that make a person truly think. 

And I have always believed it would be women who eventually said 'no' to war and violence and hunger and greed.  It is the women who have delivered cherished babies in blood and pain that know life is precious and not to be wasted on the battlefields or in the violence of the streets.  No woman sends a son or daughter into the killing fields of any battle without something dying inside of her.

A friend of mine recently wrote a poem about the idea of women holding up half the sky.  The imagery of the metaphor is haunting and beautiful.  The other, equal half is held up by our men who we love and want and need to walk with us through all our lifetimes.

And still, the half that is held up by women will be better for the living out loud, raising our voices and expressing our ideas and dreams and asking - expecting - to be heard and included and admitted and deferred to when what we say makes more sense.

So I have to thank the women of today, of days gone by as well as days to come for their courage and wisdom and love to keep holding up their half of the sky while keeping most of the world running underneath it.

And, if the story is true, I have to thank that man for giving up his rib so that we could do it all together. 

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Be Thou My Vision

One of the most beautiful hymns I know is Be Thou My Vision.  Countless times I have stood in a congregation on Sunday morning feeling a little dis-sorted or un-something and then this hymn is listed as one to sing, the organ starts playing, the congregation stands and I am in humbled and thankful awe, once again, for the blessings of God Moments and serendipity and community and small miracles.

Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art.
Thou my best thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

Be Thou my Wisdom, Be Thou my true Word;
Be Thou ever with me and I with thee, Lord;
Be Thou my great Father and I thy true son;
Be Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.

Be Thou my breast plate, my sword for the fight,
Be Thou my dignity, Thou my delight.
Thou my soul's shelter, Thou my high tower.
Raise Thou me heavenward, Great Power of my power.

Riches I heed not, nor man's empty praise,
Be Thou mine inheritance, now and always:
Be Thou and Thou only, the first in my heart,
Thou Sovereign of heaven, my Treasure Thou art.

High King of heaven, my victory won,
May I reach heaven's joys, O bright heav'ns Son!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be Thou my vision, O ruler of all.

Amen.  Amen.  Again and again. Amen.