Lessons from the Vikings

Lessons from the Vikings

Detours in Life

Pentecost 90-98

Mega Post #4

 

 

When Jacqueline Kennedy referred to her husband’s tenure as a new Camelot, we understand that she meant it was a golden age, like that of King Arthur. When the Greek government dubbed a campaign to rescue ethnic Greeks from behind the walls of the Iron Curtain “Operation Golden Fleece,” we understood that they were invoking an ancient name to communicate that these people belonged to them. Each generation of storytellers adds another layer of fact and fiction to the myths, such that the themes and characters of myths are timeless, and endlessly relevant, as they are reinvented and reapplied to the lives of each new generation.  The purpose of these myths is to provide examples of how detours in life can be navigated.

 

Many today are spouting words of the hopeless.  Many feel the times in which we are living are bleak.  It would seem that mankind has lost its heart and that all feelings are cold and uncaring.  No one wants to listen; everyone just wants to scream their own opinions and fears, none based upon fact.  Let’s takes a moment and see if the stories of our history could shine some light and perhaps hope for us today.  Stories of the Vikings who lived in certain cold times and locations might just teach us something.

 

It was in 2013 that the lead character of the computer-animated musical fantasy “Frozen” sang the following:  “The snow glows white on the mountain.”  Like many films, this highly successful film was inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s tale “The Snow Queen”.  The nineteenth century Danish tale also served, many believe, as the premise for one of the characters in the twentieth century book by C. S. Lewis, “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe”. 

 

Andersen’s tale of seven stories depicting the story of the Snow Queen had its roots in Norse mythology.  Like many myths, the earliest ones of the Northern Germanic tribes that settled in Scandinavia, Denmark, Norway, Holland, and Iceland centered on creation.  The Norse myth of creation begins in the land between two celestial areas of contrasts.  The frozen land of Niflheim and the hot land of Muspell both portrayed the landscape of Iceland which has both frozen tundra and bubbling geysers. 

 

According to the legend, the heat of Muspell takes a toll on the frozen glaciers of Niflheim and as the ice begins to that and melt, an evil giant the Norse named Ymir appeared.  A cow of formed out of the melting snow and produces milk for the giant to drink.  As the heat continues, the giant Ymir sweats and from that sweat, two more giants are created.  The cow known as Audhumla licks the ice and another giant called Buri is freed from his frozen lair.  The giants rule the skies and the stars and one has a son which marries another’s daughter.  Ymir continues to be evil and is disliked.  He is later killed by the children of the god Bor and his body made to create the rest of the world.  From his skull, the Norse believed the sky was created; from his brains, the clouds.  Ymir’s bones became rocks on the earth and his blood the rivers and seas.  However, all but the god Bergelmir and his wife drown in the overflowing blood of Ymir.

 

One of the children of Buri, the god freed from the ice, is known as Odin. His brothers are Vili and Ve and the Norse believed these three could breathe life into inanimate objects.   When everyone else is drowned by the blood of Ymir, Odin, Vili, and Ve give the remaining children of Bergelmir a region in the east known as Urgard for their home.  The three brothers then use the last remaining part of Ymir, his eyebrows, to erect fortifications around their own home, Asgard.   The brothers were, according to the myths, out walking along the coastline one day and came upon tree trunks that had washed up on the shore.  They breathed life into them creating humans.  Odin is said to have given the trunks breath and life; vili, emotion and intelligence; Ve, the senses of sight and hearing.  In some of the myths, Ve also is said to have bestowed upon the humanoid shapes, expressive features, and the ability to speak.

 

From the lifeless tree trunks now transformed with new life as humans, came the first man and woman.  In Norse mythology they were called Ask and Embla.  Because they also needed a home, the creator gods as the brothers were called, created a new realm for the humans that was called Midgard or Middle Earth.  Between the realm of Odin, Vili and Ve known as Asgard and Midgard was a bridge.  This bridge was known as Bifrost and looked very much like the natural phenomenon we know as a rainbow.  Ask and Embla were given the responsibility of caring for their Middle Earth realm and for populating it with more of their kind.

 

Norse mythology often gets forgotten in its origins and most of us think of the exploits of later humans from the region which we know as of Vikings in thinking about tales from this region.  We think of the land of Wales from whence the writer of the most popular tales of Middle Earth came or the New Zealand landscape where the films were made when we think of Middle Earth.  Few realize that we live on the original Middle Earth.  Perhaps this is where the true beginnings of the heavens, earth, and hell trilogy came.

 

The readings we have of the more modern day religious tales bear witness to similar beginnings in part to the mythologies of mankind.  This should not be taken as evidence that such readings or scriptures are false.  The best stories incorporate what the listener knows as familiar with what is trying to be told or taught. 

 

Mythologies were the original lessons of life for ancient mankind.  J. Michael Straczynski explains:  “The point of mythology or myth is to point to the horizon and to point back to ourselves:  This is who we are; this is where we came from; and this is where we’re going.”  Straczynski feels we have lost our purpose in the last century and are merely wandering through life aimlessly. Perhaps that is the attraction of such modern day myths like the popular film series” Star Wars” and  the British television program that has run for the last forty-plus year, “Dr. Who”.

 

Mankind may indeed be hungry for heroes like Odin.  What we forget is that however life became breathed into our bodies, we do have life and we can become an integral part of that mythological struggle we know as life if we but place ourselves in it.  Too often we go through life reacting instead of creating.  The Viking warriors were present in their moment and lived, finding ways to overcome life’s detours.

 

While the events of the past two months have been frightening – nature seeming to attack and then man waging war upon innocents – there have been heroes.  People volunteered from all walks of life and location to help others.  In Las Vegas, when a call went out for blood donors, people stood in line for hours to donate.  One of the neatest things about a detour is that we often have the opportunity to gain a new perspective.  As long as we keep our faith and continue to do good, we will make strides on our journey of life.

 

 

Advertisements

Mapping the Deep

Mapping the Deep

Pentecost 43

 

French philosopher Gilles Deleuze once remarked that “Writing has nothing to do with meaning. It has to do with land surveying and cartography, including the mapping of countries yet to come.”  I love that quote because it speaks to the effects of what is written today on tomorrow.  I have mentioned in the past that these blog posts are a type of theological reflection with less emphasis on the theology and more on life itself.  The final step of such a reflection involves moving forward, living tomorrow based on how one has mapped out the reflection.

 

Maps have always been of interest to me and if I lived somewhere with enough wall space I would have a map in every room.   I marvel at the earliest cartographers, those explorers and artists that took the land they were standing on and turned it into a drawing with the highest importance and meaning. 

 

I marvel at their ability to take a path well known and walked and turn it into a one dimensional drawing that others can interpret and then travel.  Recently I threw in the recycle bin several paper maps,  They were out of date and yes, I have Google maps on several devices so I did not need them but still, tossing them out was difficult. 

 

I found the algorithms used by cosmologists and physicists fascinating in mapping outer space.  Their confidence in knowing what to be positive about and what to estimate (read guess) boggles my mind.  The most talented of cartographers, however, for me must be those that map out the ocean’s floor.  They not only tell us where we are but can also tell us where our world has been and what it looked like eons ago at the beginning.

 

When you read this, no matter where you are or when you read this, an earthquake will have occurred in the past twenty-four hours.  Hurricane Maria is still churning in the Atlantic while people in Houston recover from Hurricane Harvey and people in Florida and the Caribbean deal with the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.  The importance of these is understandable.  For people in the affected areas, it is an upheaval and often a matter of life and death.  For the rest of us, though, we tend to forget about them.  We should be ashamed of ourselves.

 

Earthquakes are the world’s biggest makeover show, a reality program by every definition possible.  Earthquakes have created and changed and created again much of the world we know today.  And yet, the Teutonic plates and their movement which create the earthquakes was never fully mapped out until the mid-1900’s and yes, it was co-mapped by a woman.

 

Maria Tharp first earned degrees in music and English before getting graduate degrees in geology and mathematics.  She was hired as a geologist and typical to members of her gender, given mostly desk work.  Hired at the Lamont Geological Observatory at Columbia University, Maria could not go out on ships to obtain the necessary data used in attempts to locate downed aircraft.  She worked with coworker Bruce Heezen using photographic data.  For the next eighteen years, Heezen would go out on a ship while Tharp stayed in the office.  Women were not allowed on the Observatory’s ship so Heezen collected the data and then Tharp would map it out.  This was the first systematic attempt to map the ocean floor.

 

Tharp’s maps gave much credence to theories that North and South America were once connected to Europe and Africa.  The mapping of Teutonic plates and the puzzle pieces of the continents that became one big continent based upon such oceanographic data has helped to explain the similarities of flora and fauna as well as bacteria found in differing parts of the western and eastern hemispheres.

 

In 2009 Maria Tharp’s Historical Map layer became a part of Ocean in Google Earth so you can check out her cartographic ability yourself.  It is simply fascinating.  Maria Tharp knew the importance of maps.  They represent our living, our past, and our future destinations. 

 

Detours take us off the beaten path.  They create a sense of chaos and inner turmoil because we find ourselves suddenly without a map for our living.  Maria Tharp knew how to navigate the detours caused by gender discrimination.  She made the best of her situation and navigated the world, creating the maps that we still use today, maps that help us navigate not only the familiar paths but also the detours.

 

Life is about doing just that.  Each of us will at some point find our life shaken to its core, an earthquake not of geological proportions but one of emotional or professional disorder and/or confusion.  At some time the tides of life will flood us to the point we doubt our ability to continue.  Life is a puzzle at times but we all have the power to solve and carry on.  Life is a journey, full of detours.  Where will you go today? 

Slipping Outside the Comfort Zone

Slipping Outside the Comfort Zone

Detours in Life

Pentecost 42

 

You can find a survey about most anything.  Facebook is certainly proof about that.  Still, I never thought I’d come across a survey like this.  It was entitled simply “Your Best Insult”.  One of the things I like best about writing this blog (Your comments and our discussions are numbers one and two, of course!) is the research I do for it.  I certainly don’t know everything; I admitted I was not perfect in yesterday’s post.  In the name of research I have read books I probably would have just passed by and attended gatherings I would have not shown up for because… well, because I am just like everyone else and varying from the norm is not a habit of mine.

 

The term “comfort zone” is simply a collection of behaviors that we continue to repeat.  It is not a location nor should it be our destination.  For most of us, our “comfort zone” is where we live, where we feel most comfortable.  It is what we do and continue to do… over and over again.  Our comfort zone is made up of those things that are common to us, familiar in their repetition.

 

None of us are born with a comfort zone, by the way.  We come into this world making the biggest leap of faith possible.  We leave a safe and protected environment and are immediately thrust into a world in which we must fend for ourselves.  We also suddenly are dependent upon others for everything.  We have no chance to develop a comfort zone because we are too busy learning and developing, acquiring new skills and trying new things.  It is called growing, surviving and thriving.

 

At some point, though, we do cultivate a comfort zone and it is often without even realizing it.  We settle in and get cozy in our comfort zone and then suddenly – BAM! An insult comes along and shatters our sense of security we have found within that comfort zone home.  Most of us try to avoid insults so why on earth, I thought to myself, would some create a survey entitled “Your best insult”, especially in an article about bettering one’s self?

 

The survey questions numbered twenty and I am not going to list them all here.  A few did catch my attention, however, so let’s discuss those.  First, what insult was said to you that you actually consider a compliment?  I remember once having my name mentioned as being the chairperson of an upcoming event.  Another stood up and said: “Not her!  She thinks life is just a collection of learning opportunities.”  The statement was said in a room of almost one hundred people and two hundred eyes instantly turned and looked at me to see how I was reacting.  A few close friends began to say something but I stood up and replied:  “I was going to protest but you know what?  She is absolutely right.  Thank you for noticing.”  I had never really thought of myself or life in that connotation but the statement was absolutely correct.  It not only became a compliment, it helped me define my approach to life.

 

More recently I received another such “insult”.  It would certainly answer the above insult survey question as well as this next one:  What so-called “insult” will you adopt as a life mantra?  It is no secret that I attend a church and, like many churches, this one has educational and self-growth opportunities.  One such retreat was being discussed when one of those talking suddenly turned to me and asked why I was not contributing to the conversation.  I replied I had not ever been to the retreat.  Her response was immediate:  “Oh, of course not.  You wouldn’t fit in!”  She then continued to try to talk the woman sitting right next to me into attending.

 

Let’s ignore that the purpose of a church is to share the “good news” of the faith.  Let’s ignore the fact that one of the admonitions given to those that believe is kindness and charity to all.  Let’s even forego the obvious insult in saying I was too….well, exactly what I am not certain.  While I sat there in my instant “OUCH!” reaction, which is how most of us first respond to insults, I suddenly realized just what a great compliment I had been given.

 

It is my fervent and constant belief that any faith-based group that is exclusive is more a social club than a faith-based group.  Whether they are called synagogues or churches, temples or shrines, they have doors and those doors are supposedly open to all who wish to believe.  Please reread that last sentence.  I did not say the doors were open to a select few, or those who shopped at certain stores.  They are not open only to those who know everything.  The doors are an opening through which all who wish to learn and believe can pass.

 

We can either let insults grow ourselves or we can let them be a pesticide that sucks the life out of us.  The survey concluded with some very intense questions:  At the last event you attended that included people you consider friends. Who approached you and shared a handshake or hug?  Who asked about how you were doing?  Who just talked about themselves without inquiring about you?  How do you define friendship?  How do you define yourself?

 

We often let insults define us.  We give into the pain they generally cause and let them motivate us into crawling deeper into our comfort zone.  The most recent event I attended was one in which I knew almost everyone.  Less than one tenth said hello to me, two approached me but none offered a hug or handshake and no one asked how I was.  The paragraph at the end of the Best Insult Survey advised that we need to survey our situations, not just ourselves.  At this event, people congregated in clichés, staying within their own comfort zone.  Two joined my group that only vaguely knew the others.  As one said, “My eyes know you because I have seen you around.” 

 

Surveying the situation led me to realize that my group was not a cliché and people felt comfortable stepping outside their comfort zone and joining such a group.  During the exercise, the group of strangers became a group of acquaintances, realizing those things held in common and supporting each other in those things that made them different.  A group that began with people who did not seemingly “fit in” became a group of believers and sharing, a group practicing their faith instead of just talking about it.

 

Certainly if people shy away from us we need to take stock and ask if we are subconsciously sabotaging ourselves.  Sometimes, though, maybe we need to look at the situation and not just ourselves.  We can all recognize an insult when one is given or acted out.  However, maybe we need to do a quick survey of said insult and ask ourselves if it is really painful or something for which to be thankful.  Sometimes that insult might just be the best compliment you have ever received and lead us on the best detour we’ve ever taken.  Why? You ask.  Because, taking a few steps outside our comfort zone might just be the best turn you ever make in life, a turn necessary for us to grow and thrive in this living for a better tomorrow.

Me, Myself, and…Who?

Me, Myself, and…Who?

Pentecost 41 

 

Recently, a friend sent a picture of two different detour signs.  One had the word written all in capital letters while the other used both upper and lower case letters.  They asked why I thought two different states had the word on their signage written differently.  Does this evoke different response?  Is one less stressful than the other? 

 

My question to you is this:  When you think of who you are, do YOU use capital letters?  Most of us do not.  Why?   Generally speaking, the greater part of mankind is not that confident; we lack the self-love to think of ourselves in capital letters.

 

If you were around in the 1960’s, you probably were identified by the type of music you played.  Elvis Presley had brought hip grinding rock and roll to the masses but there were still those who enjoyed the last of the Big Band sound.  The end of the decade and Woodstock brought about a plethora of rock bands and in the next twenty years, they evolved into hard rock, heavy metal, and yes, even the teeny bop culture which then led to the pop culture and rap music.

 

One of those bands of the 1960’s began life as a group known as The Detours.  A group of school chums who considered themselves misfits, music gave them an identity.  Their band name was much too similar to another group, Johnny and the Detours, though, so a new identity was needed.  The new name illustrated one of their most popular songs and gave an entire generation their identity.  We have The Who to thank for the essential theme of today’s post – Who are you?

 

“There’s a place where I know you walked; the love falls from the trees.  My heart is like a broken cup; I only feel right on my knees.”  Pete Townsend’s lyrics speak to all of us and they ask the same question I am asking you today.  “Who are you?”  More importantly, is your answer written in capital letters?

 

Someone once told me to live so that each night, when I washed my face, I was neither ashamed nor afraid to look in the mirror.  In other words, I should live so that I liked the reflection I saw in the mirror.  That is not always as easy for us as it should be.  Personal accountability can be a hard thing.  Life is not easy.

 

One of my favorite comments from last year was someone who stated they were descended from the Sami.  I liked it because first, they obviously had read the post that day because it discussed heritage.  Secondly, I liked it because it taught me something; it taught me who the Sami were.  Like many people, I did not know the first families or tribes of the area we call Norway.  Each December I enjoy the representations of reindeer and the elves that attend to them.  This past December I went with family members to see some actual reindeer, animals that are not common where I live.  I AM

 

The Sami people are the first indigenous culture of northern Scandinavia.  Once oppressed and their culture in danger of dying out completely, the Sami (who have also been called the Lapps) are now the strongest of all aboriginal cultures in the world.  Their original habitat includes countries we call Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia although they never really had their own sovereign state.  Most of the world’s first families do not believe they own the land; they believe they are the caretakers of it.

 

Similarly, we do not own ourselves.  Much like the Sami, we are merely the caretakers of our bodies and regretfully, some of us do not do very well with that.  Nonetheless, we are the gardeners of our souls.  It is up to us to develop and determine who we are.  The really neat thing about gardens is that crops need to be rotated in order to reap the best harvests.  We are not locked into being just one thing; we are a beautiful tapestry of many things woven into one life.

 

“Who are you; hu hu hu hu?  Who are you; hu hu hu hu?  I really wanna know.”  All too often we find ourselves detoured on our way to being that great adult we dreamed of as a child.  Suddenly we find ourselves living a life that is much different from that we had imagined. 

 

omewhere along the way, life threw us a detour.   Perhaps you changed your dreams to follow the path of the detour.  Perhaps you are simply waiting for the chance to get back on your way.  The best way to travel a detour is to go slowly but with determination.  In her book “The Single Woman: Life, Love and a Dash of Sass” Mandy Hale wrote: “Sometimes it takes a wrong turn to get you to the right place.”

Retreat, Detour or Both?

Retreat, Detour or Both?

Detours in Life

Pentecost 38

 

Someone asked if I “practiced” what I preached”.  In other words, they explained, did I pray?  The answer is a quick and resounding YES!!!  In fact, because I was engaged in a prayer retreat, this post is four days late and will be followed later today by two others… or possibly three.

 

The first definition of the word “retreat” is usually how it is used in a military setting.  By that I mean it is defined as a withdrawal or, to many, a running away.  Often such an action is seen as a sign of cowardice or a means of giving up.

 

Spiritual retreats decry that connotation.  Sometimes the most strategic moves we can make are those that require us to take a step back in order to gain a new perspective or to perhaps confirm and solidify what we already know. 

 

The musical retreat is played to alert troops that it is time to withdraw.  It is usually played once new information has been received and does not always signal a definite leaving or giving up.  It simply is an effective way to reach many and make them vigilant that conditions have changed which will require a new approach.

 

We often get such “alerts” ourselves.  Sometimes it is life that is preparing us for new things and sometimes it is our own body telling us to be vigilant to how we are responding to events we are encountering.  Often we ignore these but this time, I paid attention.  I try to plan a retreat during Advent because it is a very hectic time of year.  My purpose is not to withdraw from the festivities but to make certain I am celebrating for the right reasons in appropriate fashion.

 

A retreat in a spiritual sense means finding a place where one can get in touch with one’s inner being.  For the religious it is a way of affirming their faith and getting a chance for some stillness to listen.  In the midst of frivolity and the joyous noise of the season it can sometimes be hard to connect to our deity.  It is very easy to get caught up in the consumerism of the times rather than the spirit of benevolence that the holiday celebrates.

 

The University of Kansas includes steps for a group retreat on its online Community Tool Box page.  “Retreats can be useful for your staff, members, volunteers, or board of directors. Some of the benefits of retreats are that they can eliminate the outside distractions of your usual daily setting, build enthusiasm and commitment among your staff or members, cultivate an unceremonious, casual, unpressured mood, create a sense of shared experience and bonding to help people better work together, set aside some uninterrupted time to solve key problems, and allow you to step back and re-examine goals, objectives, and activities.”

 

These same goals can be achieved with an individual retreat.  Embarking on an individual retreat or taking part in such a retreat even with a group of friends can be very beneficial.  Generally, they involve a great deal of meditation.   With a major focus on intense meditation, mindfulness becomes the end result, a mindfulness that allows one to see without interruption how one responds to living.  By participating in such a retreat, we are able to realize how we respond and perhaps create difficulties in our living as well as experience a sense of freedom as we also celebrate our strengths and joys.

 

Franciscan Retreats are found worldwide and they have broken the practice of a retreat into several easy steps.  They have also made retreats an art form, simple and available to all.  Many retreat centers are free of charge, letting participants pay what they can as a donation.  No religious affiliation is necessary and all are welcome.

 

The Franciscan retreat format follows these basic steps.  The first is surrender, the surrendering of time, your busy life, and most of all, your own thoughts so that you are open to new revelations.  The next step is prayer.  It is this conversation of sorts that opens the door for everything that follows and so, the next step after prayer is silence.  After all, if we are doing all the talking, mentally and perhaps verbally, then we cannot fully listen.  The next two steps may seem unusual but they open the door for greater knowledge.  They are to read and then to write or journal your experiences.  The retreat centers also encourage the exploring of their grounds, communing with both nature and other people going through similar retreats.  The retreat concludes with a plan to return.  After all, life gives us each a new opportunity with the rising of each new day.  The knowledge we gained last year was important but the upcoming New Year will give us new chances for greater insight.  Making plans to return for another retreat is being prudent and planning for the future.

 

Sara Avant Stover is a female yogini who also teaches spiritual retreats.  On her website she explains how to do a personal retreat at home and you can reach that page with this link:   http://www.thewayofthehappywoman.com/my-journal/2014/07/stay-home-retreat.  Chances are, though, you might already have done a mini personal retreat at home without even knowing it.

 

Finding a special place or time for some personal time is important as we go through life.  We need to reconnect with ourselves, touch base with our own inner being.  Maybe you awaken a few minutes earlier than everyone and take that time for some relaxation before entering the hectic chaos of your busy day.  Many choose to read in the stillness of the night and then journal about their day.  Still others take a few minutes from their lunch hour to have a few minutes of prayer and meditation.

 

Quite a few years ago my day was scheduled down to the last second it seemed.  I was not only worn out, I was burned out.  Then a traffic snarl resulted in my taking a detour through a drive-in restaurant.  Realizing that none of us were going to get where we were going on time and that I was thirsty, I pulled into one of the ordering stalls and ordered some ice tea.  I spent fifteen minutes reading a paperback I found that had fallen out of my library book bag and was stuck partially under the passenger seat.  I finished the tea and the book’s chapter and realized I was much calmer.  I began to schedule fifteen minutes for going through the restaurant and having my tea as I read.  Life suddenly seemed much more manageable and I’m sure I was much more pleasant to be around.  I had thought I didn’t have a minute to spare but I found I did – fifteen minutes in fact every day.  Projects got done and were actually done easier and better.  Nothing was sacrificed and everything was gained.

 

If you have missed the blog posts the past four days, I do apologize.  Hopefully, we you reread some prior ones or maybe, you found your own fifteen minute retreat.  There is no point in having a season of good will if it makes us lose our own. 

 

I trained my puppy that whenever I am engaged in fiber arts, I will have to put things down before I can take him outside to do his business.  The code phrase to tell him I saw his signal but he needs to let me put my work down is this:  “Let me park my needle.”  Earlier this week I received an alert from my body telling me I was overworked and overstressed by life happenings.  So I gave myself permission to “park my post” and engage in a retreat of sorts. 

 

Today many are detouring their lives because of a natural disaster.  They are taking a nature- imposed retreat.  People have retreated to the homes of family or friends.  One group of friends is enjoying a reunion of sorts as a result of this detour called Hurricane Irma.  Several evacuated their home and accepted the hospitality of former college friends to visit.

 

All too often we think we having nothing else to give or time to take.  Just when we think we can’t spare anything, we can sometimes find everything.  All we have to do is retreat and then, in that retreat, we find that which we’ve been searching for and that which makes it all worth living.  Is a retreat a detour?  Yes it is, perhaps the most important type of detour we can ever take.  We think of detours as cumbersome and time-consuming.  Sometimes they show us what is really the most important aspects of our living.  After all, we need to enjoy the scenery as well as the destination in our living.

A Universal Plea

A Universal Appeal

Detours in Life

Pentecost 37

 

Prayer was our topic for a series of discussions during Advent 2015.   While we may think of prayer as a purely religious thing, history bears witness that it really is something else.  In its simplest definition, prayer is an entreaty, a plea, a request.  What makes it different from any other request is that a prayer has a level of earnestness associated with it.  Earnestness is not a word used much these days and yet, it is a word that is changing the course of history and has for thousands of years.

 

I remember getting a question just two days into that series:  Why discuss prayer during Advent?  The answer, like my decision on this topic, was not as easy as one might deduce.  After all, this blog is about thinking of ways we can better our living.  While I use the seasons of the liturgical calendar to organize these posts, this blog is not merely theological content nor does it eschew not support any one specific spirituality.

 

Calendars are organizational tools and the liturgical calendar is no different.  The Roman calendar eventually had twelve months in it, an evolution of other calendars tried throughout the history of the Roman Empire.  The Hebrew calendar has thirteen months in it.  The difference between the two is that the Roman calendar was based on the sun while the Hebrew calendar was based on the moon.  If one assumes a month is four weeks long, then a year of 52 weeks divides into thirteen months very easily.  Of course, the year being 365 days means that those 52 weeks are not going to encompass all the days.  That is why some months on the Roman calendar were longer than others and the decision of which months were longer was often based on politics.

 

The calendar I use for divisions of topics for this blog is based upon both the Roman and Hebrew calendars.  It relies on changes in both the moon and the sun.  Christmas, the date of December 25th, was determined based on the Winter Solstice.  During the earliest years of the Church, it occurred on December 25th.  It was considered the birth of the sun because, after the Winter Solstice, the days grow longer and the sun would appear to ancient man to grow.  For the early Christian Church, a group of Jewish believers who recognized the man known as Jesus of Nazareth as their Messiah and Christ, the son of God, the symbolism between the natural “sun” and the religious “son” was too good to ignore.  In more modern times the date of the Winter Solstice occurs between December 21-23 but is now beginning to move earlier to include December 20th.  Christmas, however, has remained a fixed date on December 25th.

 

There are remnants of the Hebrew calendar still evident in the modern calendar, however.  Easter is not a fixed date and changes every year.  The date for Easter is based upon the phases of the moon.  Easter is always the first Sunday after the first full moon of the Spring Vernal Equinox or Spring Solstice.  The Jewish festival of Passover is also celebrated during this time.

 

We all have our own uniqueness but we also all have a great deal in common.  I think we can all think of some time in our life where we needed help; maybe even a time when we really, really needed help.  It is those moments of request, earnest and heartfelt requesting that unite us.  We all get hungry, cold, scared, and even sick.  We also all are born with the ability to experience happiness and joy.  Regretfully, while we all experience the conditions of need, not everyone gets a chance to experience the conditions of positive emotion.

 

A prayer is not just a question for aid.  A prayer is not always in the form of a question at all.  At times, a prayer is a cry for help, earnest and immediate.  It can also be an exclamation of gratitude, although some would say such prayers are accompanied by hidden requests that such good times continue.  There are also prayers of remembrance and again one might say they carry a subconscious hope that the person praying is also remembered by the deity to whom the prayer is offered.

 

Prayer is the first reaction for most in those situations.  It is a universal response mankind has engaged in since the beginning of time.  We need to watch because we do not know what tomorrow holds, or even twelve hours from now.  We need to live goodness and mercy because we all at some point in our life feel we are stuck in a wilderness of sorts. 

 

Hurricane season is in full swing in the USA.  With Hurricane Harvey just having left, Hurrican Irma is in the new.  Next week we will be discussing Hurricanes Jose, Katia, and Lee, storm systems that have already formed with their own projections.  It is a time of great need – need for action, wise thinking, and prayer. 

 

Prayers are those earnest yearnings and the requests of our hearts.  Prayer is a universal plea, a universal need.  When fully recognized, prayer has universal appeal.   We all have hopes.  We all have dreams.  Far too often we go through life thinking about what we do not have instead of what we do.  Prayer is also about gratitude, a gratitude that lets us recognize our own potential.    It is something we have in common, the fact that we all have a time in which we will utter a universal plea to that which we feel but cannot fully see, something that we can feel but cannot create on our own.  This time of natural emergency created by the effects of nature coming together in a storm system threatening and affecting millions of people recognizes the human in all of us and the need for humanity in the world.

 

Today the universal pleas of those in Irma’s path are matched by those undergoing persecution for beliefs, their gender, their race or color.  The need for better living, for life itself is a universal plea.  It should not be determined by race, color, creed or socio-economic status.  May we all do our best to live productively, efficiently, wisely without harming others who are attempting to do the same.

 

The past several days have required a detour of life for many.  Evacuating one’s home is difficult; electing to remain is gut-wrenching and scary.  Life is not for the cowardly.  With faith, effort, and wise decisions, we can navigate the detours of life.  All it takes is one breathe, one prayers, one positive step.  Best of luck to all affected by life’s storms, whether they be natural or self-made.  We can do this thing called life!

 

 

Enjoying the Eclipse

Enjoying the Eclipse

Detours in Life

Pentecost 34

 

While eclipses occur almost every year in one form or another, today’s solar eclipse is the first total solar eclipse visible across the continental United States of America since 1979.  Over 12 million people live in the 70-mile-wide (113-km-wide), 2,500-mile-long (4,000-km-long) zone where the total eclipse will appear on Monday. Millions of others have traveled or are in route to spots along the route to view this celestial spectacular event.

 

News agencies are predicting this event will draw one of the largest crowds in human history, especially given that many media outlets will also be covering for those unable to witness the moon’s shadow passing directly in front of the sun, blotting out all but the halo-like solar corona in person.  From its beginning at 10:15 PDT (1715 GMT) in the area around Depoe Bay, Oregon to the close of the totality blockage of the sun by the moon at 2:49 EDT (1849 GMT) near Charleston, South Carolina, this event will unite the world and most certainly the USA. 

 

How one will “see” this event will depend upon location, more on that in my next post.  For now, we need to realize that, in spite of our many differences, there are things that can unite us.  While none of the over one million people living in its path will “see” the eclipse exactly the same, they will be united in experiencing its awe.  The skies will either darken or go into a quasi-twilight setting and some stars and one or two planets will be visible.

 

Of course “seeing” an eclipse is never done with the naked eye.  ISO-certified safety glasses are required or special box-lenses viewing contraptions can be used.  Even animals can sustain damage to their eyes so, if possible, keep all animals indoor homes or barns during the two and a half hour event.

 

An eclipse serves to remind me that what we see is seldom the complete story.  It is wise to remember that we need to take the time to prepare and explore our beliefs and opinions, just as people traveling to see the eclipse have done.  Enjoy today’s phenomenal event in the sky but remember, what you see is not the complete story.  We sometimes have to detour around the obvious to understand real events and see the truth.