Easter Forty-Two

Easter Forty-Two
May 31, 2014

Prayer: What do we really mean?

A prayer is a request, an asking to a higher being for something desired. Whether or not it is a monologue would depend on your beliefs and how you live them but prayer is a conversation. The most often connotation of the word prayer is in the Christian setting. The number of times the word appears, in one form or another, in the Bible depends on the version one is reading. The word “prayer” occurs one hundred and fourteen times, although revised versions have reduced that number to sixty-three. The word “pray” can be found three hundred and thirteen times, the word “prayed” sixty-five times”, and the word “praying” twenty times. One might deduce from these numbers that we are admonished how to pray three hundred and thirteen times and then that told in what form with actual reference to doing it one hundred and fourteen times. Evidence of doing it comes in at sixty-five times with the act of doing it at only twenty times. I would imagine that in real life, we pray many more times than is indicated by Biblical text.

It is commonly accepted that there are four types of prayer – adoration; thanksgiving; confession; supplication. How one prays also depends upon your beliefs and how you live. Hindus ere credited with the first use of prayer beads but the Roman Catholic Church has used rosaries in prayer for centuries and religious icons were very prominent in Asian cultures and the Middle East. It is an often over-looked similarity that most belief systems involve prayer of some sort.

Prayer connects us to the higher being upon which our belief systems are based but it also connects us to each other. Prayer groups or prayer chains are very common and there are established religious orders and groups whose sole purpose is intercessory prayers given for others. Prayer not only makes us feel a part of a greater system, it enhances the system we have here on earth among mankind.

But what happens when our prayers seemingly go unanswered or don’t result in what we wanted? How strong is our faith then? Do we really believe the petitions of a few in the present can affect the future? Recently a mother asked for prayers for her suddenly ill pre-teenage daughter. The child was immediately hospitalized and placed under excellent care but succumbed to her illness and died. The mother was angry and felt the prayers were either not given or fell on the deaf ears of an uncaring deity.

What does science say about prayer? That would depend upon what moves the universe, what created it, and our place in it. After all, if everything happens by chance, then a conversation with an invisible being will not make much difference. It is simply more hot air containing carbon dioxide, putting forth more molecules into the environment to effect greater change. How we came to be really has little effect on the effectiveness of prayer since people tend to believe what they want. [Personally, I could not care more for my beliefs if it was suddenly proven that I was the result of an atomic explosion or the offspring of an ancient fish that found itself lacking water or in water too cold to sustain life so it learned to live on the land resulting from low water levels. I would also not care less.] I believe our plane in the universe to be that of a nurturing caretaker so, to me, prayer is a kindness and faith.

A butterfly begins its life in a cocoon. Seemingly it sees nothing of the world outside and so it knows only itself. Chaos theory says that when the butterfly flaps its wings in Montana, it can affect a change in Spain, the wind currents caused by such fluttering being carried around the world and, gathering speed and joining others, becoming a part of a new reality for those in the Mediterranean country bordering an ocean that the butterfly in Montana can never imagine or will ever see. String theory links the forces of gravity and Einstein’s’ theory of relativity and relates the essence of the butterfly, how it came to be – DNA and all, and how it is effected by the rest of the world. [Understand that these explanations are very, very simplistic!]

The fact of the matter for me is that prayer breaks us out of our cocoon. What does the butterfly see when it first emerges? Is it happy or was it expecting something else? Prayer is like that for me. Sometimes my prayers seem to be answered but other times it would appear that they are not. I do realize though that maybe my prayers have been answered and I just don’t realize it yet. The mother wanted healing for her child and regrettably, the healing was an ultimate healing, a healing that ensured the child would never again feel pain.

Prayer to me takes the chaos of the world and helps me connect ot it. I realize that many people will not agree with my metaphor of the butterfly with chaos theory or string theory and that is okay with me. I welcome your comments but more importantly, I welcome the fact that you are thinking about it. Prayer makes us think and then engage in a dialogue. Dialogue? Wait – didn’t you begin by saying prayer was a monologue? Believing in prayer as a process makes it a dialogue. When we connect outside of our own mind, our own cocoon, then we engage our beliefs and live our faith. Prayer is an action and it will be answered when we live our faith.

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Easter Forty-One

Easter Forty-One
May 30, 2014

Primary Time In America:
Legos, Idle Talk, and Faith

It is political primary time in many parts of the country. Listen to the rhetoric and you might believe that only one party has the faithful, the believers, and the religious in this country known for its freedom of religion. How can that be? Has the right to worship as you please meant that at least half or nearly half of the voting constituents are without religion?

Listening to a recent advertisement, a great deal was made of the politician’s ties to a supposed anti-American that somehow got elected and served in a rather high-ranking position in the state government. Said ranking elected official supposedly was under a cloud of suspicion and several investigations but for what was never mentioned. Neither was the candidate that the people paying for the commercial were actually supporting.

What about that party that prides itself on its conservative ties and its religious zeal? Interestingly enough, the words most often translated into talk or talking are “leros”, “matiologia”, and “morologia”. They translate literally into Foolish talk or nonsense, vain talking, and the talk of fools, respectively. Maybe there is a rightful connection between politicians and such religious propaganda. Apparently, it is nothing new.

The phrase “Talk is cheap” is often used to describe people who have little reluctance in uttering opinions or words but seldom back them up with action. Reportedly, the LA Times published an article in 198 stating “Talk is cheap but it takes votes to win an election.” An earlier article in the 1850’s quotes PT Barnum using the phrase regarding the need for a lengthy litigation regarding a failed business venture.

When it comes to politicians, is their talk cheap? Many contribute to political campaigns, hoping it helps their candidate reach the voters. They might be better off questioning how those voters are reached. The Times Picayune newspaper in New Orleans, LA ran a series of articles and found that from the years 2009-2012, politicians spent more than forty thousand dollars at jewelry stores as part of their campaigning. Florists’ shops and other businesses also received such monies.

This is not a problem faced only by the United States of America. India’s election of 2014 is estimated to come in at a cost of over five billion dollars, still under the cost of the 2012 US presidential election. IN a nation where poverty is the greatest killer and people are malnourished, one might ask why the need for such elaborate campaigning. We might also ask Americans the same thing.

At a time where many Americans feel disenfranchised from their elected officials, perhaps it would be wise for those officials to return to their supposed religious roots and learn from the Bible about “talk”. After all, it is the one exercise politicians from both parties and several minor parties engaged in every day. The fact that talking only burns an average of forty-six calories an hour might account for the girth of the average politician but then so might the habits of the current speaker of the house who, on late night television, boasted about being a smoker and having at least one glass of hard liquor every evening. (I won’t remind you this man is currently fighting to reduce the nutritional value of school lunches. Who’s surprised at his lack of either knowledge or caring about health?)

Politicians of old met their constituents. They braved brutal train and bus rides, stood on street corners, and shook thousands of pairs of hands, even endured kissing slobbery, food-stained cheeks of cherubic and often wailing babies in order to do so. They lived amongst the voters and saw their duties as a mission, not a get-rich-quick scheme. They were surrounded by the average American and not the upper echelons of the upper class and CEO’s. When the voter talked, they listened.

The voter of today needs to be the one listening. Then they need to let their politician know that talk is not cheap. Advertising costs skyrocketed during the 2012 campaigns and are thought to be ever higher in 2016 while local and state campaigns may set new records in 2014. Political campaigns rely heavily on media advertisements and direct mail. What could those dollars purchase if used somewhere else? Three months before elections, the Republican Party raised one hundred and one million dollars for its candidate. If that money had been spent to purchase mosquito nets for African families, then ten million, one hundred thousand families would have been spared from malaria. An average of forty million lives would have been directly and immediately affected whereas, in the election campaigning, many, many less paid attention and only fifty-eight percent of registered voters actually voted.

“There are many unruly and vain talkers.” (Titus 1:10). Talk is only forty-six calories per hour and the cost, though available at twenty-seven dollars per minute in some venues, usually costs upwards of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Talk is definitely not cheap but the real cost is our lack of listening and paying attention. We need to listen, think, and then hold those talking accountable. After all, we are more than little Lego figures living in little boxes.

Easter Forty

Easter Forty
May 29, 2014

20/20 Vision

The word appears seventy-nine times in the Bible, King James version. In Ezekiel, “chazon” was a way of communicating divine messages and in Proverbs meant the message itself. The message, its meaning, and the manner by which the message was received all became the “chazon”. As the verb “chazah”, it meant to see, to behold, ot select for ones’ self. In the New Testament, “horama” or “horao” was a spectacle or sight and “optasia” referred to things coming into sight. The word appears in seventy-three scriptures and is often prefaced or accompanied by “And it shall come to pass” or “It came to pass”.

What is your vision? What is the vision others have of you? Our perception of our visions often drives our very actions, our choices, or responses. We see someone and instantly decide whether they are friend or foe. We seek the focus of the group approaching us to determine if they are dangerous or not. We make career choices based upon the vision we have for ourselves, in selecting what will best help ourselves accomplish that which we hope to come to pass.

She grew up in a city that should have given her opportunities. The reality was that hers was a hard life. She became an unwed mother, typical for those with similar appearance, and married without it lasting. For a number of years she was a statistic but then she lived her vision. She dances with acclaimed dance companies, was applauded for her stage presence and her vocal messages. She exceeded the vision the community had of her and became the vision she dreamed of for herself. That vision was named Maya Angelou.

Walk down any street in any town in any country and you will see diversity. The trees, the rocks, the grass, the birds the flowers or cacti are all part of nature’s diversity. What color is the house two streets over from yours? Is it the same color? Even houses that look alike on the outside are different inside because they reflect the people living there.

As a species, mankind is not so dissimilar. In the animal kingdom there are elephants and snails. In the plant kingdom, even something like the squash can vary from one pound to one thousand pounds. Man, however, is within three feet of a height variance, and less than a ton in weight variance. There are approximately seven basic skin hues but those are all in the same color family. Yet, because of our vision, because of what we see and how we perceive it, people are killed, wars are waged, and mankind turns against itself.

Where is our vision for the future? How does the killing of our own help us achieve having a future? Maya Angelou wrote about vision: “One isn’t necessarily born with courage, but one is born with potential. Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can’t be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest.” Our vision for ourselves and our world needs to be courageous. We need to see the goodness in the group approaching and react with kindness and mercy. We need to have enough confidence in ourselves to trust others. “Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud.”

As little kids we often envision what we would like to do when we grow up. Maya Angelou became the first female street car driver in San Francisco. It is unlikely that her childhood dreams included street cars or driving them but, once she had the opportunity, she embraced it and made it her vision. We are not always walking in the light; sometimes we stumble around in a fog or darkness. Faith is the light that gives us strength. Beliefs are the guiderail for our visions and making them our reality.

Maya Angelou danced, drove, and sang her way into the hearts of many but her greatest vision was that of a writer. She never went to college and her education was marginal at best due to the vision others had of her but she prevailed and succeeded. She worked her vision and made it come into focus. She serves as a role model for us all. Her acceptance of seeming defeat but refusal to be defeated led her to new and exciting opportunities and experiences. She never closed her eyes to the vision of being herself.

We all need to live such a life, to encapsulate the vision our Creator has for each of us. We need to see the beauty of our brother and sister. Maya Angelou encouraged us to “try to be a rainbow in some else’s cloud.” She reminded us through her life and works that everything we see becomes part of the way to make our vision happen. And she left us with the best advice of all: “Nothing can dim the light which shines from within.”

Easter Thirty-Nine

Easter Thirty-Nine
May 28, 2014

Maya Angelou

This morning a brilliant soul passed. Whether you believe she went to her Maker, whether you feel she has been transformed to a better being, whether you feel her spirit is no longer, the fact remains that her vibrant voice will no longer grace our ears except via recordings.

Her writings, though, will last through eternity and her truth will forever be proven with the birth of yet another glorious soul, with the living of earth’s inhabitants, the passing of time, and the remnants of each culture. She saw both reality and dreams. She was an original and we were blessed to have lived while she lived.

In her own words:

“When I think of death, and of late the idea has come with alarming frequency, I seem at peace with the idea that a day will dawn when I will no longer be among those living in this valley of strange humors.
I can accept the idea of my own demise, but I am unable to accept the death of anyone else.
I find it impossible to let a friend or relative go into that country of no return.
Disbelief becomes my close companion, and anger follows in its wake.
I answer the heroic question ‘Death, where is thy sting? ‘ with ‘ it is here in my heart and mind and memories.’

I pray you rest in peace and joy, Ms Angelou. May light perpetual shine upon you and may we relish your talent and learn from your words. Thank you.

Easter Thirty-Eight

Easter Thirty-Eight
May 27, 2014

Footprints: a veggie, a fruit, a game and a recipe!

It has both male and female. The offspring of one of the world’s oldest things, it is considered a vegetable although botanists classify it as a pepo or berry. It can be as small as 1.6 inches or 4 centimeters and as large as 911.2 kilograms or 2009 pounds. The present-day genus is found only in the New World, appearing in the Americas before humans did and its domestication dates back eight thousand to ten thousand years ago. They come in varying colors and some are round while others are straight and long. There are some with varying colors, good only for decoration, and some have crooked necks. Some seeds were carried on ocean currents to Asia and became water containers, their use becoming popular in the Middle Eastern desert climates. Some even speculate that these seeds did not originate in the Western Hemisphere but traveled to the New World at the end of the ice age by travelers that would become known as American Indians.

So what is this thing of many types, many colors, many purposes, many lands that still stumps historians and biologists? It is the happy or scary decoration placed on a front porch in the autumn. It is the musical holder of seeds known as the maracas. In India, one form is strung with gut and played as a guitar. In some Carribean countries, one version is worked, painted, and carried as a purse and in other countries, it is used as a float when teaching swimming. It is a food source of many vitamins and other nutrients and found in dishes all over the world. In early 2014, it was decided that perhaps its origin was from Africa, from a region known to theologians as the supposed home of the Garden of Eden.

Although the scientific name is Cucurbita, we all know this item of many forms and uses by the Narragansett Indians’ name – squash. Technically, the Rhode Island tribe called askútasquash, but the noted Roger Williams found the later syllable more pleasing to the colonists’ language.
Of particular interest is that the squash has both summer and winter forms. It has adapted well to its environment with some forms needing very little water while others are the typical garden variety that likes a weekly watering. The squash has uses for most every country and every aspect of life – health, medicinal, decoration, clothing, and the arts. It relies heavily on the insect world for pollination but can survive without it. It is hot and cold, social and independent, practical and aesthetic, varied in color, healthy and, in some forms, toxic.

Man has a great deal in common with the lowly squash. First of all, its medicinal properties and health benefits aid greatly in our quality of life. Used as the basis for some cocktails and energy drinks, it lends itself well to casseroles, features quite prominently when used as filler for things such as lasagna and meat pies and when fried the quash can be an appetizer. In each case, it adds to the nutritional value of the meal or dish in which it is featured or is used as a compliment. People in the southern Americas have used the gourd form of the Cucurbita and turned it into an art form as well as the basis for many Latin instruments used in music. Additionally, Hindu and other eastern religions and spiritualities incorporate the gourd into their services and meditations. Shoes have been made from gourds as well as handbags and carrying cases. While its presence goes largely unnoticed, the Cucurbita has been a major influence in the world and in man’s survival. And yet, most of us take it for granted.

What color eyes does your mail carrier have? How about the bank teller that cashed your paycheck? When did you last pay respect to the fast food worker that gave you your order as you hurried to work to the train or public transportation worker that ensured your safety as you hurried to your next appointment? They, like the squash, come in all types, sizes, shapes, and colors. They each have qualities that enhance and ensure our livelihood and yet, we often take them for granted, assume that because they earn a salary, that is the only thanks they need.

No Cucurbita plant grows alone. It needs a host environment, pollination, water, sunshine or light, and the chance to grow. Mainly it needs the chance to grow. Yesterday we honored those who had sacrificed their lives for the cause of our lives. Yesterday, in the town where I live, someone died. Most towns experienced someone dying since dying is also a part of the cycle of life and yes, even for the squash. The squash is not a perennial plant; it dies when the temperature reaches freezing. However, it does produce seeds that can be saved and planted for the next growing season. So while it’s cycle of life is for one growing season, it leaves behind the chance for new life.

People leave their footprints on our souls when they pass through our lives. Many times, whether that footprint is positive or negative will depend on us, not them. When we give them a chance to grow, when we respect them, they will enhance our lives. Life is a lot like the game of squash, a game played by two or four on a racquet in which players take turn hitting a ball. The key thing is that the players take turns and the best attribute for playing squash is agility.

Life requires agility as well as respect. When we stop putting people into specific categories, we give them the chance to become agile, to grow. Usually we think of squashing someone as limiting them but maybe we need to start thinking in terms of the squash – a multi-faceted plant that has grown in usage and location….and survived. When we treat each other with respect and let each other grow, then mankind will survive. We can make a difference with out footprints!

Recipe: Pasta Cucurbita – Hot or Cold!

1 ½ cups sliced red onion 1 cup sliced mushrooms
2 cloves garlic, crushed ¼ cup chopped cilantro
2 cups of sliced summer squash 2 cups of sliced winter squash
1 ½ cup sliced tomatoes 3 teaspoons olive oil
1 teaspoon butter ½ cup lemon juice or the juice of one large lemon.
2 cups cooked angel hair pasta or cappellini

Heat olive oil and butter in a skillet on medium-high heat and add onions, mushrooms. Stir for three to five minutes over medium high heat. Reduce heat to medium and add squash, garlic, and tomatoes, stirring occasionally for five minutes. Add cilantro and remove from heat and cover. Combine with drained pasta and return to heat for three minutes. Serve warm, adding grated parmesan cheese if desired. This also works as a cold salad when used as a left-over.

Easter Thirty-Seven

Easter Thirty-Seven
May 26, 2014

Memorial Day

Honor

It is called Arlington Cemetery. It is American. One is black, another Jewish. The next is Christian, the next Muslim. One lived in a city, another on a farm. A general lies beside a corporal, a Marine alongside an Airman. Some were never found and some lay where they fell.

Americans have traveled the world and beyond. They have also died around the world and beyond. A simple belief united them all – freedom.

Their sacrifices say it all and there are no words I could write to truly honor them except….

Thank you.

Easter Thirty-Six

Easter Thirty-Six
May 25, 2014

Memorial Day Weekend – Sun

A dream

Why do they do it, these people who go off to die? Do they have a death wish? Why bother to go to a strange land and risk everything for strangers? Are they busybodies? Is it all about politics or is it a mission for them? Why did they do it?

It began with a dream, the thought that man and woman had purpose, had value. It began a war, that dream did. A simple thought that gave birth to a nation. It became a fever, contagious and spreading to people in other lands. They needed help to make it happen just as the first had and so they went. They gave help because someone had helped them. Because, in spite of the passage of time and the advancements of medicine, science, and technology, aptly recorded in the arts, man still needed help in proving he had value. (Women are still not quite there yet in having their value recognized universally.)

Why did they die? Because others still want to stomp on the dream. And yet they go and they know they may never return. They believe in the dream, the thought of freedom for all. The believe that all people have value, regardless of color, race, creed, religion, beliefs, social or economic status.
They believe in a declaration of independence. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

They are Americans and it is what we do – fight and die for freedom. May the souls of these heroes rest in peace.