Saturday, January 27, 2018

A kindred spirit

I listened to the "On Being" interview of Kristia Tippet with Mary Karr twice (so far), once in the "produced version" and once the "unedited version." Over and over, things that Mary Karr said made me chuckle in agreement. Although Karr lived -- and lives -- a very different life than mine, she is a kindred spirit. She says so many things that I think -- and says them so much better than I could. Listen to it. Please.

Some memorable moments
I guess all readerly people are seekers, aren't we?
Don't you love that word? Readerly.

When I first got sober I had this sort of — Virgil, this kind of spiritual guide through the hell of early sobriety who would say to me — when I would tell her something I was afraid of, she would say, “What is your source of information?” And 99 percent of the time it was, “I thought it up.”
It reminds me of Brene' Brown saying "What is the story you are making up?" What a good thing to ask yourself.
“And second, how did you get here?” “Well, I haven’t slept. I’m working full-time. I’ve got two kids. I haven’t eaten.” I was like, “Yeah, OK. Well, maybe have a sandwich,” you know? “I mean, maybe it’s time to have a sandwich.” But just, for me, the voice of God never gives me a long-term plan. It never helps me with any kind of lottery number or anything. But that voice that says, “You need to sit down and have something to eat, or it’s not going to be good to be you anymore.”
Imagine God saying "You need to have a sandwich." I like it, though, knowing "God never gives me a long-term plan."
...the problem with being judgmental, says one of the most judgmental people on the planet, is that the voice you use to criticize everybody else is the exact same voice you use to criticize yourself with.
There's something I wish I'd realized years and years ago.
MS. TIPPETT: [Sylvia Boorstein is] on the West Coast. And I did just some sitting with her, and she introduced this concept, which seemed so radical to me, which was about, not so much having a mantra or even following your breath, but about sitting and just kind of noticing, taking in the natural peace and ease of your mind.
DR. KARR: [laughs]
MS. TIPPETT: OK, I know, and that’s how I felt, right? Because… [laughs]
DR. KARR: [laughs] You’re like, “The natural peace and ease of my mind?”
MS. TIPPETT: Right. Well, so — and that was such a crazy — just is such a foreign idea to me. But then, if you think about it that way, like, if you think that all the noise and all the chaos actually is something you’re doing, that it wasn’t there, it was not preexistent, it doesn’t have to be that way.
Not only is what Karr and Tippett are saying full of insights, the way they laugh together is so cool. You could tell through the whole interview they were really listening to each other, and responding from the heart to each other. Mary Karr talked about being "astonished  by the human comedy," and how watching humans do ordinary, yet heroic things, was so "pretty." I thought the interaction between her and Krista Tippett was beautiful in that same way. Karr heard Tippett say "the natural peace and ease of your mind" and immediately burst into laughter. I think they are kindred spirits, too!
DR. KARR: Yeah. I love that. I mean, I love that thing Thomas Keating says about practicing mindfulness, and that it’s sort of like — there’s a bunch of water that has mud and silt in it, and the longer you practice, the more that just kind of settles to the bottom, and you don’t feel any peace. You might practice for days and weeks, and it’s just cloudy and noisy. And he says what you don’t realize is that healing is happening, that that stuff — by doing that, you are settling it, but you don’t notice it because it hasn’t settled yet. You have to just — how difficult just to keep sitting there.
MS. TIPPETT: Yeah. Yes. And unfamiliar, right?
DR. KARR: Oh, yeah. Right, ‘cause I would rather snort cocaine and make out with the FedEx guy. Yeah. [laughs]
"...'cause I would rather snort cocaine and make out with the FedEx guy." I do love people with "the mouth of a sailor."
I’d been meditating and praying for four or five years before my son came in in his little Spiderman pajamas and said, “I want to go to church.” And I said, darkly, “Why?” And he said, “To see if God’s there.” Which is kind of the only sentence he could have said that would have got me up off my butt away from The New York Times and that bagel and into a church somebody told me we could go to, you know?
"I want to go to church....To see if God's there." Takes my breath away. 

And in church:
...just people saying their prayers, people saying, “Please pray for my daughter who’s having surgery,” people bringing hope and terror into a public forum and saying, “I’m afraid, and I need these things to happen in order to go on.”
The beauty of people saying what they're afraid of, where they need help, and the church praying with them.
MS. TIPPETT: And talk about what you are thinking when you talk about sacred carnality in The Art of Memoir .
DR. KARR: What I liked about the Catholic church that I didn’t find, say, in the Protestant tradition, there’s a body on the cross.
DR. KARR: Even just being in mass that you stand up and kneel down, that you move in unison, that I know a lot of cradle Catholics complain about how sheep-like you feel, or they’re like dumb cattle or something like that, but I sort of found it — it’s like being in hip hop class. [laughs] When you move like everybody, you kind of feel like you are like them. And the idea that we’re hunks of meat incarnate — in meat, that it’s not metaphorical, the idea of Jesus and the Eucharist. It’s not a metaphor that you’re going to be renewed. It’s not a metaphor of his body or his “teaching,” quote-unquote, or his love or whatever. It’s his body. It’s so lurid.
And I remember looking at the body on the cross and saying to my son that — I don’t even remember whether I ever wrote about this or not — but I remember looking at it before we were baptized and saying, “I don’t get this whole crucifixion thing. It’s so awful. I mean, the suffering, beaten critter nailed up there is just so gross. Why don’t they just have you say the jump rope rhymes, and then you’re redeemed?” And my kid, who was young, like, maybe, I don’t know, 8 or 9 said, “Who would pay attention to that?”
MS. TIPPETT: [laughs] Right.
DR. KARR: And he said, “This is like Pulp Fiction.” My mother, the one time I left him with her, had let him watch Pulp Fiction when he was, like, 7 years old. And he said, “This is like Pulp Fiction. It’s just like — everybody is going to gawk at this.”
MS. TIPPETT: [laughs] Right.
DR. KARR: And then I suddenly thought, what else would we pay attention to as human beings but this grizzly, awful, morbid thing? You’re not going to look at that and say, “Oh, you don’t know about suffering. You’re God. What do you know about suffering?” You’re going to look and say, “Oh, you were a hunk of meat like me. Wow.” That’s a radical — that idea of descending theology of the spirit being in these hunks of flesh, it’s — wow. It’s a big deal.
Standing up and sitting down like a hip hop class. The "crucifixion thing" like Pulp Fiction. Surprising and so right, so true.
DR. KARR: I remember before I did The Ignatian exercises, which I did, like, probably around 2000, ‘98, it was all very metaphorical for me.
DR. KARR: It was all very groovy kind of new-agey. Resurrection was starting over in some kind of hippy-dippy way. And in Ignatian spirituality there’s a thing you do where you compose a scene with your body with all the senses that composes — the way St. Ignatius writes about it, it’s like, if you’re at the nativity, if you’re at the crucifixion, what can you smell? What do you touch? What does the cloth feel like on your skin? What do you hear? What do you feel? You try to put yourself bodily — using your senses into passages from the scripture.
It’s a very powerful practice to take a passage from a scripture and try to ask the Holy Spirit to put you somewhere, to place your mind and your senses in another place. I mean, it’s a very radical, dangerous kind of prayer to make, and I did this over 30 weeks and they give you a lot of different methods of prayer and somewhere in there all of the stuff that had been metaphorical became very actual for me. The idea of my sense of Jesus — I didn’t like Jesus when I became Catholic. I came in on the Holy Spirit.
And then I got that sense of Jesus that — I just noticed that the people who are always running the soup kitchens, and taking care of the babies from El Salvador, and bringing in orphans, doing all the good stuff, and who don’t seem really angry and crazy and kind of pissed off and really pious — they seem kind of realistic — always talked about Jesus all the time. So I thought, “I’ve got to get on this Jesus boat. I’ve got to get with this Jesus program.”
And somewhere in there, I just found that I was able to practice it. Do I doubt? All the time. Sure, there are days that I wake up — I mean, to me, being a Catholic is like any spiritual practice. It’s a practice. It’s not something you believe. It’s not doctrine. Doctrine has nothing to do with it. It’s a set of actions.
DR. KARR: Everybody talks about the doctrine. Do you believe in this? Do you believe in that? What do you do on a day? Do you get on your knees? Do you try to practice charity? Do you try to apologize for your mistakes? Are you trying to live a life that is less shameful than the one the day before? [laughs]
Religion, spirituality, faith, -- it's not doctrine - what we believe in. It's practice. It's doing.
...just watching the old lady with the walker on my way to the studio get off the bus in front of me, and just watching how it was just so heroic. I was just looking at it thinking, Homer wrote about this. I mean, just somebody struggling to move down the damn road with all this effort all by her little ancient self. Good for her, you know? It was just pretty to watch.
 "all by her little ancient self" I love that, and I often feel that sense of of heart-touching beauty when I see small acts by humans. A woman guiding her old friend or mother by the arm, bending down to listen to her. A father holding hands with his little boy, cocking his head and nodding to what the child has to say. A mother keeping her watch over one child outside the car while getting another out from the car seat. A woman responding to the mutterings and complaints of another with kindness and dignity. Two old friends joking and laughing. Those are what make me feel surprised by joy, filled with hope.

Friday, January 26, 2018

A returning, and always being there

Sometimes something strikes me in a pretty big way, then rolls around for days -- like something weighted to float around underwater -- and then it resurfaces periodically with new insights, questions or associations. A little while ago I wrote about my mind being blown by the thought that our soul is in Christ.

Earlier, the mind-blowing thought that my soul is in Christ, and so are the souls of many others, both before, during, and after life, suddenly resurfaced with the thought: Wait, that means while I'm living I am (or my soul is -- isn't that the same thing?) communing with others who are not living yet, or anymore. What does that mean? Talking to people who have died is not so strange then, right? And death isn't all about my soul leaving my body. My soul is already in Christ.

Today I listened to an interview of a man who survived a terrorist attack. He was on a train in Peru and a bomb went off in the luggage rack above him. People around him were killed and his body was torn apart, but he survived. As he talked about his truly near-death experience, you could tell he was struggling to describe it:
I went into whatever the tunnel of light is. I actually went into that, which was interesting - it really was a light of shades of gray, and the light at the end was a tiny light - really, not very big, but it was a light that was - it was like a returning, like I was returning and becoming some sort of liquid light. It was more like an ecstatic return, but ecstasy is not the right word. It was like a cellular becoming of something more powerful and beautiful than anything I've ever experienced. 
I don't think we have a word for it.

A returning. That fits right in, doesn't it? Our soul is in Christ even while we're living. Somehow we're already there, but during life, it's different. We don't feel there. And when we die, we return there.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Songs & music that remind

Today in church my mind wandered (not during the sermon, of course!!) when we sang "The Church's One Foundation." We sang that for my mom's funeral service because she wanted unity in the church so much. Unity everywhere, really. In her family, too. When we'd ask what she wanted for Mother's Day, she'd say, "One day where you kids don't fight all day." I doubt we ever succeeded at that. But we're all friends now!

Anyway, then I started thinking and listing songs that reminded me of someone or sometime or something. I'm listing them below, with links to the songs or music. Music is kind of like smells -- it brings you right back to the place you remember. I'd love to hear others'!

The Church's One Foundation - Mom
See above for reasons.

Hark the Herald Angels Sing - Luke
Back when our church had evening services -- "night church" -- we would alternate song leaders, and often the leader would ask the congregation for favorites. When Luke was small, his favorite was "Hark the Herald Angels Sing." Kids often get it right -- it's always a good time to celebrate Christ's birthday!

Trust and Obey - Dan
My brother Dan used to choose this one a lot when we were kids.

Seek ye first the kingdom of God - Ashley
Our family friend, Ashley, used to choose this one when we had our "choose your favorites" singing time at church. I wonder if she, like me, likes the descant part. It's one descant that I can actually sing.

Holy, Holy, Holy - Dan
Another family friend, who I was privileged to have in my first grade class way back in the day, Dan would pick "Holy, Holy, Holy" when I had the kids pick favorites.

Living for Jesus - Cadets
The boys' club in our church (and denomination) is called the Cadets. This was their theme song, sung on every "Cadet Sunday."

Blest Be the Tie - San Jose Christian School
An early principal of San Jose Christian, Ted Vander Ark, used to have the congregation sing "Blest Be the Tie That Binds" when he made his church visit rounds.

Silent Night - Candlelight services at San Jose CRC
It's still a tradition that at our candlelight service, usually Christmas Eve, we light our candles and sing this song. I'm sure many churches have this tradition. One year we all got into a big circle against the circular walls of our sanctuary. I still can picture all those points of light all around, singing together.

And Can it Be - Pastor Ebbers
Pastor Ebbers was the minister at San Jose CRC back when I moved to San Jose, and then when Randy came after we married during the first Christmas break. I was one of five new teachers at San Jose Christian that year, who all came to San Jose CRC (that was how it was then -- you looked it up in the CRC Yearbook and went to the closest CRC). At Christmas break we got married, and during the time in the service to introduce new people, I stood up and introduced "my new husband, Randy Moon." Pastor Ebbers kind of looked shocked and that was when I realized, oh, I probably should have told my pastor I was getting married. But he was very gracious and included us in the prayer. "And Can It Be That I Should Gain?" was one of his favorite hymns.

The Old Rugged Cross - Nate Moon
A soloist sang "The Old Rugged Cross" at Randy's dad's funeral. Now whenever I sing it, I think of him. Nate had cancer and knew the end was coming. He did not want a bunch of fancy stuff at his service. He chose a good hymn to be sung in a simple solo. One of my favorites is from Anne Murray's albums, "What  aWonderful World." Yes, I'm an old Anne Murray fan.

Pachelbel Canon in D - Calvin College church and my friend Cindy
My first memory when I hear Pachelbel Canon is church services at my alma mater, Calvin College, where it was often played as the prelude. While still in college, when we lived off-campus, my friend Cindy and I would plan Pachelbel Canon as a way to assuage our consciences if we skipped church. One year Cindy's brother asked her what she wanted for Christmas and she said an album with this song on it. Her brother went around to record stores asking for "Taco Bell Cannon." :)

On the Far Side Banks of Jordan - Dan
This song has a chorus that always makes me think of my brother Dan. I like Alison Krauss and in her Cox Family album they sing this song. In the chorus it says,
And I'll be waiting on the far side banks of Jordan
I'll be sitting drawing pictures in the sand
And when I see you coming, I will rise up with a shout
And come running through the shallow waters, reaching for your hand
I can just see Dan in my mind. I don't actually think he'd be "drawing pictures in the sand" -- that doesn't sound like him -- but I can see him looking up, seeing me, shouting, and running towards me. It makes my cry every time. But they're good tears.

Because He Lives, I Can Face Tomorrow - Dad
I know a lot of these have stories of funerals, or  people who have passed away. I guess it's natural that songs sung at those incredibly moving times become vital memories for us. When we were planning my dad's funeral, I asked for this hymn. It's not one sung very much in tradition. For me, it was the title and the chorus that made it come to mind:
Because He lives, I can face tomorrow
Because He lives, all fear is gone
Because I know He holds the future
And life is worth the living, just because He lives
I truly wondered how I would live without my dad in the world.

He Owns the Cattle on a Thousand Hills - Air Force Chapel
I grew up in the Air Force, where my dad was a chaplain. We, too, had services where we could pick our favorites. I often chose "He Owns the Cattle on a Thousand Hills." I guess it figures I'd like one with cows in it, even back then. I like the comfort of the words. They're a different way of saying the famous Abraham Kuyper quote, "There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!" And all those riches, he shares with me!

Let All Things Now Living - me
This is my favorite hymn. I sang it to the kids as a lullaby when they were babies. They all know it's my favorite. Some day I'm sure it'll be sung at my own funeral. When I brought Cori to Calvin, I was a basket case, crying for about 6 months before and 6 months after she left. As I told her, she was right where I wanted her to be, but I would miss her so much. At the parent's service during Passport, when parents and freshmen kids had a few days of orientation for college, the chaplain read a letter from his own daughter starting college that year. Everyone was crying -- men were weeping, too -- and -- wouldn't you know it? -- we sang this hymn. Totally did me in.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018


Whenever I see fog, it reminds me of my mom. When we were kids, she wrote up and posted the poem "Fog," by Carl Sandburg. I think she put it on the frig but I can't remember for sure. I have a vague memory she put up other poems, too. I think she must have been trying to expose us to poetry. This is the one I remember.


The fog comes 
on little cat feet. 

It sits looking 
over harbor and city 
on silent haunches 
and then moves on.

Good poem. Good mom.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Mind: Blown OR Mindblown

My spell check says “mindblown” is not a word – it suggests windblown. But it feels like the right word to describe my mind. And I like the other choice, “Mind: Blown.” Like a sort of survey or checklist:
  • Legs: Long
  • Arms: Weak
  • Tummy: Hungry
  • Heart: Open
  • Mind: Blown.
The other day I was listening to Paul VanderKlay , a minister at Living Stones Christian Reformed Church, and teacher in the Sierra Leadership Network, and what he said blew my mind. I can’t remember right now exactly what the original topic of discussion was, but I said something about the soul, and Paul said, “Let’s talk about that. What is the soul? Where is the soul?”

He told a story I have heard before of a scientist long ago wanting to “weigh” the soul, to prove that the soul is matter – real. He weighed some patients on a sensitive scale just prior to their death, and then weighed them again after.

Paul started talking about the concept of the soul being located somewhere. He brought up technology, how we have learned that where something or someone is matters less and less, and the way we speak of technology “in the cloud.” We can be together, "in the same space" while being in many different places. That’s when my mind began to blow. He went on to speak of verses that say we are “in Christ”. When I emailed him about it afterward, Paul wrote:
Why do we get stuck on this location thing? We can't help but think about ourselves with our body which is absolutely correct because we are embodied, but God is the maker of all of this. Isn't it right to say that our soul is in God just like it isn't right to say that our soul can be weighed in the body. Our soul is in some ways the inheritance that is kept safe by God awaiting the day of resurrection.
Do you see why my mind is blown? I didn’t really think the soul has weight like the scientist doing the experiment, but I did always think that somehow our soul is in our mind. Even if it’s just synapses or something, I still thought of the soul as somewhere in me. But this idea, this theory, says our soul is already NOT in us; our soul is in Christ.

It changes even the way we think about death, right? Rather than our soul leaving our body and going to be with Christ, there’s no change in the “location” of our soul at death. We are already in Christ.

I still can’t really wrap my head around the idea. I don’t know what it really means, what difference it would make it in my life – and death. I don’t even feel like I understand it enough to say confidently that I believe it is true. But it does make sense. Somehow it gives me joy, and as the Jesuits might say, consolation. It brings me closer to Christ.

Monday, January 1, 2018

An Invisible Infrastructure

In a blog I read (but cannot find at this point, of course), a woman wrote about going back to work after bereavement leave. As she got in her car, she realized her father was not thinking about her today. She'd never thought of that before, but now that it was gone, she realized what a blessing it was that her father thought about her every day.

I never thought of that before, either. My father and mother aren't here to think of me. Nor my brother. I did not make it to my grandma's funeral, but I heard that my dad, who officiated, said that every day my grandma prayed for all her kids, grandkids, and great grandkids. She had 8 children so that's a considerable amount of people! 

I have 3 kids rather than 8, and 3 grandkids so far, but I certainly do think of and pray for them every day. I'm sure my husband does, too. Those thoughts and prayers are like an invisible, supernatural infrastructure. Kind of amazing.

I've read some discussions lately asking, what good is prayer? That invisible infrastructure is one benefit I never thought of before.