Beauty Within and Outside

Beauty Within and Outside

2018.07.21

Pentecost 2018

 

Two years ago we delved into mythology during Pentecost and this is a reposting of one of those posts.  The ancient world used mythology to explain both their world and their curiosity.  Generally there were the villainous gods and goddesses but there were more those of goodness and beauty.  In all the mythologies there was a relatable aspect to each and every deity.  They served as a point of reference for understanding ourselves and our fellow man.  Perhaps when looking within our own beings to find that which is good and beautiful, we should reflect back on the mythologies of the past.

 

In Norse mythology we found ourselves almost in a comic book with their gods and goddesses reminiscent of action heroes.  With Celtic mythology, it was as if we had walked through a tome of literature with their wood nymphs and magical spirits reflecting the basis for the stories and movies of the “Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit”.  Greek and Roman mythology proudly proclaimed with great statues their mythologies, some of which still stand today as do columns from their great temples.

 

In the mythologies of the Far and Near East, you will be excused if you sometimes forget we are not walking through a lovely botanical garden.  I think these emphasized more than any others all of creation in explaining how nature played a most important role in their legends and admonitions for better living.  As we will learn, it is not unusual for one object such as a flower to have multiple meanings, depending of the myth or spirituality being discussed. 

 

The lotus flower is one such example.  Known officially as the “sacred lotus”, this aquatic plant holds a major place in the mythology of India.  Before we discuss its spiritual aspects, though, let’s discuss its physical ones for they also are something a bit magical.  The delicate white and pink flower grows on top of thick stems that look almost like stalks.  The roots of the lotus plant are firmly planted in the soil at the bottom of a fresh water pond or river.  Lotus plants usually grow to an average height of five feet, or about 150 centimeters, spreading horizontally to a little over three feet or one hundred and eighteen inches.  The leaves of the plant themselves can reach a span of over twenty-three inches or 60 centimeters while the blossoms can be up to almost eight inches in diameter or 20 centimeters.

 

Of greater interest to botanists is how the lotus plant seems to regulate its flower in spite of its environment. Researchers at the University of Adelaide in Australia discovered lotus flowers blooming in the Adelaide Botanic Garden maintained a constant temperature of 30-35 degrees Centigrade or 86-95 degrees Fahrenheit in spite of the ambient temperature of the surrounding environment dropping to 10 degrees Centigrade or 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

 

Nelumbo nucifera, the scientific name for the sacred lotus is also called the Indian lotus, or the Bean of India.  It plays, as mentioned before, an important role in the mythologies of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism.  Hindus worship the lotus in connection to the gods Vishnu, Brahma, and Kubera as well as the goddesses Lakshmi, and Saraswati.  Vishnu is often called the “Lotus-Eyed One” and used as an example of beauty and purity.  It is said that the lotus flower booms from the navel of Vishnu and uncovers the creator god Brahma in the lotus position of yoga.  The unfolding petals of the flower are symbolic of the expansion of one’s soul and the promise of potential.  The Hindu interpret the blossoming of such a pure white flower from the mud of its roots as a spiritual promise.  Brahma and Lakshmi are the spirits associated with potency and wealth and also have the lotus as their symbol. 

 

In Buddhism, the lotus flower is symbolic of creation and renewal as well as original purity.  It is mentioned in one of the sacred texts of the Bhagavad Gita:  “One who performs his duty without attachment, surrendering the results unto the Supreme Lord, is unaffected by sinful action, as the lotus is untouched by water.  Not surprisingly, the lotus is also connected with other Eastern spiritualities.  The Chinese scholar and student of Confucius Zhou Dunyi said: “I love the lotus because while growing from mud, it is unstained.”

 

The petals of a lotus blossom are said to have once numbered over a thousand and the thousand-petal lotus is a symbol of unending spiritual enlightenment.  It is more common to find an eight-petal lotus, although only five are original petals, the other three a modification from the stamen.  Considered one of the “eight auspicious signs” of Buddhism and Hinduism, the eight-petal lotus is also used in Buddhist mandalas.  [Mandalas were discussed in our Advent 2014 series and I hope you have been able to find some to view.  There are now coloring books for adults that feature mandalas and it is a most relaxing way to leave the real world and connect spiritually while relaxing and meditating.]

 

The eight petals of the lotus also relate to the Nobel Eightfold path of the Good Law of Hari Krishna and the eight petals of the white lotus correspond to the Noble Eightfold Path of the Good Law. This lotus is found at the heart of the Garbhadhatu Mandala, regarded as the womb or embryo of the world.  Many Deities of Asian Mythology are illustrated on a lotus flower.  According to some myths, everywhere the Gautama Buddha walked, lotus flowers appeared and blossomed. 

 

Hopefully today wherever we walk we will also leave a trail of beauty.  First, though, we must open our eyes to all that is around us and see the beauty within as well as portrayed by the outer appearance.  Each of us had the muddiness of a past but with faith and good deeds, we can blossom and leave the world a better place.  We all are a thing of great beauty in our being.

A World of Laughter, a World of Tears

A World of Laughter, a World of Tears

2018.07.20

Pentecost 134

 

“There is just one moon and one golden sun and a smile means friendship to everyone.  Though the mountains divide and the oceans are wide, it’s a small world after all.”  This second verse of one of Disney’s most recognizable songs worldwide really hit home to me yesterday.  The world of laughter and a somber world of tears came together as two friends and I realized just how small a world it really is.

 

A friend posted that a much loved spouse had returned home from a business trip to a small country halfway around the world.  After my first “Wow!”, I realized I knew someone in that small country so different from my own.  The population of this planet is growing.  At the turn of the century the population stood at 1.65 billion.  Today we are seven billion, seven hundred and forty-five million and growing.  Agriculture came into being around 8000 BCE and the world census was an estimated five million strong.  By the first year of the new common era (1 AD or ACE), the growth rate of people on earth was .05% per year.  Today it is 1.13% with over one million births expected during 2016.  In spite of all this, it is still a small world.  Insignificant me realized that I knew someone halfway around the world living in a small nation where another friend’s husband just spent a week – a connection between four people, four out of seven billion.  It is a small world.

 

Two years ago I wrote about the New York City Fire Department helping police investigate a suspected drug laboratory at a house in Yonkers.  Battalion Chief Michael Fahy led his men into the structure which exploded.  Michael Fahy was born and raised in New York City and became an attorney.  He had one brother and two sisters, one of whom was his twin.  They were not surprised when Michael left his law practice to answer what he described as a “higher calling” and became a NYC firefighter. This past week the world became aware of this heroic man who lived every day in an extraordinary way when he died in that explosion.  I became aware of Michael Fahy when a friend realized she had purchased her home last year from his parents. This friend lost her own mother two years ago due to a distracted driver who took his eyes off the road and stared at his mobile phone for just five seconds.  In that five seconds he took a life almost as quickly as the explosion from the illegal drug activity ended the life of Michael Fahy.  My friend is a college professor and native of Colorado but she knows too well the grief of losing a family member in an instant.  “A world of laughter, a world of tears’…It’s a small world after all.

 

It is election season in the United States and volunteers are trying to help register people to vote.  Few states automatically do this when people obtain driver’s licenses or state sponsored Identification cards and often people fail to make that extra trip to register.  A year ago another friend was helping register people and found himself volunteering to do so at a homeless shelter.  Suddenly he saw a familiar face, someone with whom he had worshipped.  This friend is a humanitarian and yet even he was surprised to realize that the theory of “Anyone can become homeless” was now a reality in this woman standing in front of him.

 

The world of economics is not just for a chosen few and the effects of financial woes can and do happen to anyone.  “It’s a world of hopes and a world of fears” and being unable to maintain a certain lifestyle will probably be experienced by many, especially those who are female in gender.  Until there is euity in payroll, it’s a small and unfair world after all for women.

 

“There’s so much that we share” the lyric goes but I wonder…Do we really share?  Are we really living with a thought making and seeing the connections we all have or do we simply go about our lives getting as much as we ourselves can personally garner?  “That it’s time we’re aware” is perhaps the most telling way to describe this past week for me.  I realized awareness that even though I myself have never traveled to some exotic locale, I know people in many such settings and we are connected.

 

Death, finances, and inequality are unfortunately a part of life.  “A world of laughter and a world of tears” describes one’s overall living for almost all of us.  What makes it extraordinary and even bearable is that we share both the good times and the bad.  We need to create connections in a positive way so that we make our living count for something. Whether someone is an attorney, a firefighter, or a volunteer, we all have the opportunity to make the ordinary process of living extraordinary.

 

Pentecost is called the “Ordinary Time” but it really is not so ordinary after all.  No single day is.  They may all blur into a sort of oneness or sameness but they shouldn’t.  We can make them count for something but showing kindness, concern, and realizing that “There’s so much that we share”.  We have the power to make these ordinary times spectacular and meaning and by doing that, we gain strength to get through the tough times.  We are in this thing called life together and we need to connect and help each other.  Community makes heroes out of all of us when we participate and honors those for whom life is a struggle they meet as best they can.

 

 

Happiness Found

Happiness Found

2018.07.19

Pentecost 2018

 

She went to nursing school, having grown up in western Pennsylvania.  The acceptable careers for women at the time were teacher and nurse and our woman of distinction for today went to nursing school.  She attended at the Pittsburgh Training School for Nurses at Pittsburgh Homeopathic Hospital, where she graduated in 1896.  In her words, the hospital was “all the tragedy of the world under one roof.”  She would go on to marry a doctor and have three sons.  Their affluent lifestyle did not last the Stock Market crash of 1903 so she began writing as a means of providing a supplemental income.

 

Our nurse turned writer penned 45 short stories during her 27th year and was quite popular with readers of the “Saturday Evening Post”.  In 1907 she had her first novel published which sold approximately 1.25 million copies and made Mary Roberts Rinehart a household name.  The family moved to Sewickley, Pennsylvania and later to Washington, DC when her husband was appointed to the Veteran’s Administration.  After his death, Rinehart moved to New York City and with her sons established the publishing house Farrar & Rinehart, serving as its director.

 

Mary Roberts Rinehart served as a war correspondent for The Saturday Evening Post at the Belgian front during World War I.   During her time in Belgium, she interviewed Albert I of Belgium, Winston Churchill and Mary of Teck, wife of King George V.  Twelve years after moving to Washington, DC, she survived a murder attempt by her chef of twenty-five years at the family vacation home in Maine.  She was rescued by her other servants and the following day the chef committed suicide. 

 

Mary Roberts Rinehart suffered from breast cancer and in 1947 underwent a radical mastectomy.  She went public with her story at a time when such things were seldom, if ever, discussed in public.  In an interview with “Ladies Home Journal”, Rinehart strongly encouraged all women to have breast examinations. 

 

Rinehart is credited with inventing the “Had-I-But-Known” mystery novel.  This type of mystery novel is one where the principal character (frequently female) does things in connection with a crime that have the effect of prolonging the action of the novel.  In her novel “The Door”, the villain and murderer is the butler and although the phrase never actually appeared in the novel, made famous the saying:  “The butler did it.”

 

Often called the American Agatha Christie, even though she was published fourteen years before Christie, Mary Roberts Rinehart wrote six travelogues, one essay, had over fifty film and television adaptations, and currently has over two hundred books listed on Goodreads.  Two of Roberts’ sons became book publishers while the third was a playwright and producer.  She was a woman both ahead of her time in many instances and a woman who lived within the confines of her gender for the times. 

 

Of all the many things this prolific writer penned, my favorite is this quote:  “To be kind to all, to like many and love a few, to be needed and wanted by those we love, is certainly the nearest we can come to happiness.”  Rinehart believed there was no mystery to finding happiness; it was quite simple:  Treat others as you wish to be treated.

A New Day, A New You

A New Day, A New You

2018.07.16

Pentecost 2018

 

Here I sit, thinking about the present and the future after having celebrated the first anniversary of the passing of my mother. The death of a family member brings not just grief but necessary action – all of the very real physical and legal requirements that accompany death.  Death was not on my calendar so my schedule required a detour in order to carry on and be proactive in the present. While the death of my mother impacted my living, it also made me think about not only today a year later but also about the future. Who am I today and who will I be tomorrow?  Who are you?

 

Today history will be written. Because of and in spite of the past, new stories will be created. Today we will not spend time in rehashing old living. Today is for living the here and now. It us, after all, the inly door to the future. Bold words, huh?  Perhaps they are also a little bit scary to you. Tomorrow life will return to its normal schedule but today….. today I am asking that you take time for the legend of you, the story of you that you yourself will write. Today I invite you to join me as we create our future.

 

The future is a blank canvas. Your story is yours to write. Interact with the world today and live!  Be the hero or heroine of your own wonderful, magical myth, the story of you today. How do you start?  Share a smile. Give a hug. Hold the door for someone, not just the elderly or infirmed. “One of the secrets in life is that all that is really worth doing is what we do for others.”  Lewis Carroll knew that each day we fall down the rabbit hole called life. He became the legend known as the author of many poems and the childten’s classic “Alice in Wonderland”.  Charles Lutwidge Dodgson famously penned: “I can’t go back to yesterday because I was a different person then.”  Yesterday he was Charles Dodgson. Today ge was Lewis Carroll.

 

Yes, I realize that Lewis Carroll is not a woman and this month is about women. Alice, his most famous character, is a female. At some time we all have felt, women and men, like we have fallen down the rabbit hole. Last year I certainly did when my mother passed away. She was almost one hundred years and it still seemed as if she had died too young.  She was a firm believer in living each day to the fullest and she encouraged me to step outside of my comfort zone whenever possible.

 

“Insist on yourself; never imitate. Your iwn gift you can oresent every moment wuth the cumulative force of a whole life’s cultivation; but of the adopted talent of another you have only an extemporaneous half pissession. That which each can do best, none but his/her Maker can teach him.”  Ralph Waldo Emerson knew the value of the individual. So did my mother.

 

Today write your own story. Maybe one day we will read it; maybe not. What matters is that you live the life you want. This is your day to become what you desire so travel down the road of life boldly. Today is for writing the story of you. Today the person making a difference is you.

A Mother’s Love

A Mother’s Love

2018.07.15

Pentecost 2018

 

We often think of “separation of church and state” as a means of keeping politics and religion separate.  Recently in India it has become a way of one faction’s campaign of lies being used to usurp power and gain control.  West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee tweeted on Thursday, July 12th, that the religious order founded by St. Teresa of Calcutta – more popularly known simply as Mother Teresa – is being targeted by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is affiliated with a Hindu nationalist group.  Although the state government is run by the BJP, the state has a large proportion of India’s marginalized tribal people, who exist outside of Hinduism’s traditional caste system, and many of them have become Christian as the Christian church has done much to improve their quality of live, standard of living, and educational opportunities.  Jharkhand has a Christian population double the national average.  The BJP has even gone so far as to accuse nuns of the Missions of Charity of illegal and wrong doing.

 

Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu was born August 26, 1910 was an Albanian-Indian descent in Skopje (now the capital of Macedonia), then part of the Kosovo Vilayet of the Ottoman.   After belonging to many different empires throughout history, Skopje today is the capital of an independent Madeconia.  After living in Macedonia for eighteen years Anjezë, then anme’s English equivalent being Agnes, moved to Ireland and then to India, where she lived for most of her life.

 

The youngest child in her family, Agnes’ father died when she was eight years old.  He had been involved in local politics but the young girl was fascinated by stories of the lives of missionaries and their service in Bengal.   She decided by age 12 that she should commit herself to religious life and this resolve strengthened in 1928 at the shrine of the Black Madonna of Vitina-Letnice, where she often went on pilgrimage.

 

Agnes left home in 1928 at age 18 to join the Sisters of Loreto at Loreto Abbey in Rathfarnham, Ireland, to learn English with the view of becoming a missionary. She never saw her mother or her sister again.  She arrived in India in 1929and began her novitiate in Darjeeling, in the lower Himalayas.   She learned Bengali and taught at St. Teresa’s School near her convent.   Teresa took her first religious vows on 24 May 1931. She chose to be named after Thérèse de Lisieux, the patron saint of missionaries, opting for its Spanish spelling (Teresa).

 

On 10 September 1946, Teresa experienced what she later described as “the call within the call” when she travelled by train to the Loreto convent in Darjeeling from Calcutta for her annual retreat. “I was to leave the convent and help the poor while living among them. It was an order. To fail would have been to break the faith.”  Joseph Langford later wrote, “Though no one knew it at the time, Sister Teresa had just become Mother Teresa.”

 

Teresa wrote in her diary that her first year was fraught with difficulty. With no income, she begged for food and supplies and experienced doubt, loneliness and the temptation to return to the comfort of convent life during these early months: “Our Lord wants me to be a free nun covered with the poverty of the cross. Today, I learned a good lesson. The poverty of the poor must be so hard for them. While looking for a home I walked and walked till my arms and legs ached. I thought how much they must ache in body and soul, looking for a home, food and health. Then, the comfort of Loreto [her former congregation] came to tempt me. “You have only to say the word and all that will be yours again”, the Tempter kept on saying … Of free choice, my God, and out of love for you, I desire to remain and do whatever be your Holy will in my regard. I did not let a single tear come.”

 

Teresa received permission to start her order from the Vatican in 1950.  In her words, it would care for “the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society, people that have become a burden to the society and are shunned by everyone”.[43] By 1997 the 13-member Calcutta congregation had grown to more than 4,000 sisters who managed orphanages, AIDS hospices and charity centres worldwide, caring for refugees, the blind, disabled, aged, alcoholics, the poor and homeless and victims of floods, epidemics and famine.[44]

In 1952, Teresa opened her first hospice with help from Calcutta officials. She converted an abandoned Hindu temple into the Kalighat Home for the Dying, free for the poor, and renamed it Kalighat, the Home of the Pure Heart (Nirmal Hriday). Those brought to the home received medical attention and the opportunity to die with dignity in accordance with their faith: Muslims were read the Quran, Hindus received water from the Ganges, and Catholics received extreme unction. “A beautiful death”, Teresa said, “is for people who lived like animals to die like angels—loved and wanted.”

 

She opened a hospice for those with leprosy, calling it Shanti Nagar (City of Peace).  The Missionaries of Charity established leprosy-outreach clinics throughout Calcutta, providing medication, dressings and food. The Missionaries of Charity took in an increasing number of homeless children; in 1955 Teresa opened Nirmala Shishu Bhavan, the Children’s Home of the Immaculate Heart, as a haven for orphans and homeless youth.

The congregation began to attract recruits and donations, and by the 1960s it had opened hospices, orphanages and leper houses throughout India. Teresa then expanded the congregation abroad, opening a house in Venezuela in 1965 with five sisters.  Houses followed in Italy (Rome), Tanzania and Austria in 1968, and during the 1970s the congregation opened houses and foundations in the United States and dozens of countries in Asia, Africa and Europe.

 

The Missionaries of Charity Brothers was founded in 1963, and a contemplative branch of the Sisters followed in 1976.  Lay Catholics and non-Catholics were enrolled in the Co-Workers of Mother Teresa, the Sick and Suffering Co-Workers, and the Lay Missionaries of Charity. Responding to requests by many priests, in 1981 Mother Teresa founded the Corpus Christi Movement for Priests and (with priest Joseph Langford) the Missionaries of Charity Fathers in 1984 to combine the vocational aims of the Missionaries of Charity with the resources of the priesthood. By 2007 the Missionaries of Charity numbered about 450 brothers and 5,000 sisters worldwide, operating 600 missions, schools and shelters in 120 countries.  In 1982, at the height of the Siege of Beirut, Teresa rescued 37 children trapped in a front-line hospital by brokering a temporary cease-fire between the Israeli army and Palestinian guerrillas.

 

A friend of mine from India told me of meeting Mother Teresa as a boy of eight years.  His class was on a school trip to one of the orphanages for which they had donated goods.  At one point during the tour, he said, he heard someone approach him from behind.  He thought it another student since the person was not much taller than he.  “I felt a hand on each shoulder,” he said “realized the strength and weight of those hands.  I thought surely it must be a giant because they were so strong.  I dared no move or squirm.  Suddenly a sweet voice spoke and I turned.”  Mother Teresa was standing with her hands on my young friend’s shoulders. It was over thirty-five years later that he told me this story and still, he assured me, he could feel the imprint of her hands on his shoulders.

 

Mother Teresa resigned as head of the Missionaries of Charity on March 13, 1997 due to her failing health and died on September 5th of the same year.  At the time of her death, the Missionaries of Charity had over 4,000 sisters and an associated brotherhood of 300 members operating 610 missions in 123 countries.  Teresa once said, “By blood, I am Albanian. By citizenship, an Indian. By faith, I am a Catholic nun. As to my calling, I belong to the world. As to my heart, I belong entirely to the Heart of Jesus.” According to former U.N. Secretary-General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar, “She is the United Nations. She is peace in the world.”

 

In the 19 years since Mother Teresa’s death, the Missionaries of Charity have not only grown in faith and service, but in numbers around the world.  Teresa of Calcutta once described the reason for her being to accomplish what she did:  “My secret…I pray!”

Turning Tragedy into Advocacy

Turning Tragedy into Advocacy

2018.07.14

Pentecost 2018

 

In her early school years she was the quiet one.  She had a sharp sense of humor and keen intelligence the few times she spoke but usually she just stayed to the side.  If asked who in the class was an introvert, her name would have been in the top three.  Life is funny, though, and sometimes it is in our darkest hours that we discover our voice and just how loud and effective our voice can be.

 

As the years passed, Cynthia became a teacher, excelling well in college and earning a master’s degree in education.  She spent thirty-five years with classroom experience working with early childhood and elementary classes.  Living in a large metropolitan area afforded her to chance to also teach at a local community college.  Her passion, besides her husband, was literature and her pets.

 

Like many of us, though, Cynthia’s life revolved around what she knew and she never really had any experience with the pets that were homeless, lost, or abandoned.  Never until one night left her feeling just as abandoned.  It was a fairly regular night like so many she had lovingly shared with her husband but it suddenly turned into a nightmare.  Her husband suffered a massive coronary.  Paramedics rushed him to the hospital where he passed away shortly thereafter.  Just that quickly Cynthia’s life changed.

 

Retiring just as she and her husband had always planned gave Cynthia a sense of somehow still having him in her life.  The reality was, though, she was lonely, even with family nearby and her two older cats.  She began writing for an internet publication, the Examiner.  Suddenly Cynthia became an advocate for animals about 6 years ago because of some rumors about a local animal shelter.  It started with the event with two dogs named Buck and Bill that led her curiosity to learning about her local animal shelter.  Cynthia explains:  “Bad events were getting some notice in the community and I decided to use my job with the Examiner back then to put this shelter in the spotlight.  The city paper refused to shine a light so I started to do it.” 

 

Most households in the United States have at least one pet. Studies have shown that the bond between people and their pets can increase fitness, lower stress, and bring happiness to their owners. Some of the health benefits of having a pet include decreased blood pressure, decreased cholesterol levels, decreased triglyceride levels, decreased feelings of loneliness, increased opportunities for exercise and outdoor activities, and increased opportunities for socialization. 

 

Half of all wives are widowed before age 60.  Cynthia became an unfortunate statistic in that Seven out of ten baby boomer wives are going to outlive their husbands.  Those are daunting statistics for women and men alike and few are prepared for the reality of life on their own.  That reality can be very overwhelming, especially in the beginning.

 

Life often throws us curveballs and how we react makes all the difference.  The unexpected death of her husband was a crushing blow to Cynthia.  Facilitating the local animal shelter in her area gave her a renewed sense of life.  “Helping these dogs in this shelter has been a huge blessing to me to keep me going as a widow.  The crowning event was looking into the eyes of an old German Shepard that was about to be euthanized and I said ‘Heck no they are not going to kill that dog.’  We found an adopter at the 11th hour.”

 

Cynthia today writes about children’s books as a reviewer as well as continuing her animal advocacy.  You can read her reviews at www.hubpages.com/cindyhewitt and I strongly recommend them to anyone involved with children.  She is a shining example of turning tragedy into a life of advocacy.  When we help others we often help ourselves.  Mahatma Gandhi once said “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”  For Cynthia, this is true when helping people and pets.  She is a great example of a woman making a difference!