Choice and Families

Choice and Families – Pentecost #155-158

Pentecost 155 – Choices

Today is All Hallow’s Eve, a holiday which has its roots in Celtic mythology.  While In America the custom of children wearing costumes and going door to door to receive treats only dates back about one hundred years, those customs and the holiday dates back to at least the sixteenth century in Great Britain and Ireland.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania loves to brag (and rightly so!) about its Mummer’s Day Parade.  Mobile, Alabama and New Orleans, Louisiana have their costumes and joyful Mardi Gras festivities.  Rio de Janeiro draws the world with its glorious Carnival.  Clearly mankind loves a party!  Halloween, the more common name for All Hallow’s Eve, or Samhain or Calan Gaeaf were all much more than simply excuses to dress up for a party.  Ancient Celts believed in Aos Si, the spirits of the dead who could, at this liminal time, return to earth.   These spirits were presented food or drink left as an offering and it was believed that dressing up as these spirits would protect one from harm.

In the ninth century A.C.E., the Christian church made November 1st a church holiday.  November 1st was named All Saints Day (originally All Hallows Day, “hallow being a synonym for saintly’).  In the fifteenth century the custom of sharing “soul cakes” was instituted. This custom was even incorporated by William Shakespeare into the action of his play “The Two Gentleman from Verona”.

Many use Halloween as a chance to step out of their everyday persona.  The term “trick or treat” is only about seventy years old, although the concept was evident in Wales in the seventeenth century.  AS a child I remember towns and municipalities offering an extra school holiday if the youth of the area restrained themselves from trickery or malfeasance.  It really boils down to a matter of choices, doesn’t it?

In Nigeria, there is a culture known as the Yoruba.  The Yoruba believe that a person’s success in life is based solely upon the choices made – not in life but in heaven before one is born.  The Yoruba word for choice is “ayanmo” and the road to achieving one’s choice is thought by the Yoruba to be ….patience.  The Yoruba name for their supreme deity for this matter is “Ori” which translates as “head” or “mind”.  Everyone has a choice.  Those who choose a wise head will have success and a life of relative ease.  Those who make foolish choices will not find success.

The Yoruba believe that even their gods need Ori to help guide them through life.  Thus Ori is both a personal and a collective concept.  Holidays are also both personal and collective.  Hopefully, if you celebrate today, you will do so by making wide choices.  And I also hope your choices in living will help you be a better person.  We all need to make better choices and the world can always use another person who is trying to be better.

Pentecost #156 – And Then ….

The Yoruba also believe that each of us is really a part of a trinity.  They believe in the “emi”.  The word translates as “breath” but refers to the spirit of each of us.  The emi lives in one’s heart and lungs and is fed by air breathed in through our nostrils.  The emi is the very core of a person, that which is responsible for our very living, our actions, our thoughts, our loving.

This wonderful culture also has a myth of the second part of a person, the “ojiji”.  The ojiji follows a person and is the shadow or shade of a person.  When we die, the Yoruba believe our ojiji will wait in heaven for our return.  [I confess I found this such a lovely thought.  We are never truly alone; we always have our shadow, even when we cannot see it.]

The Nigerian tribe of the Yoruba gave the third spirit of the trinity the name “eleda”, although some call it “ori”.  These names are translated as “guardian soul”.  It is believed that those who have died will return to the tribe as infants.

One never really escapes one’s past in these myths yet there is a chance for retribution and confession.  We all have made choices that left us wondering “What was I thinking?” and left others if we were thinking at all.  The nice thing is that there is usually always a chance for “and then…”.  All we have to do is find the strength to start again.  It is not easy but life is always worth it.  So, by the way, are you.

Pentecost 157 – Liongo

We talked about the Kamba culture of Kenya earlier this week.  Like most African countries, Kenya is a land rich in diversity and many cultures.  The Swahili and Pokomo people live in eastern Kenya and one of their mythical heroes is the poet Liongo.  There are seven cities which claim to be the birthplace of Liongo; no one known which claim is true.  He was described as being as tall as a giant and very, very strong.  Legend tells that Liongo could not be wounded by any weapon but, like Achilles in the Greek myths, Liongo did have his vulnerable spot.  We, like Liongo, all have our weak areas.  Not everyone can be an expert or authority is all matters.  We all make mistakes; hopefully, we learn something from them.

Liongo is not really remembered just for his might or the fact the he was the king of Ozi and Ungwana in the Tana Delta and of the Shanga on Faze or Pate Island.  There are a great many songs and gungu dances whose lyrics are poems attributed to Liongo and written in Swahili.  This is fitting because, with the introduction of Islam and the change in succession from mother to father, Liongo found himself arrested.  He escaped his shackles during a loud and celebratory song sung by a nearby crowd outside the prison.  The myths of Liongo open chapter of his tale with a song.

Liongo eventually was killed by his son who knew that a needle driven into his navel would prove deadly.  There is an old adage about choosing one’s confidants wisely and Liongo’s death testifies to this adage.  Of greater importance is making sure we not only are aware of our weaknesses but respectful of them and those of others.  On this day when so many are celebrating, we need to remember to be good stewards of our fun.  The real thing to fear is ignoring the wisdom in living a healthy and safe life.

#158 – The Family Tree

Trees in Africa are tantamount to life.  It is understandable that many tribes and clans have given themselves names that include trees.  Without trees, man would not have wood for fire and food would quickly spoil without the ability to cook it.  In areas where grass is hard to find, goats climb trees to eat the green leaves.  Other animals use trees as perches before capturing their meal.  Trees are where bees make their hives in Africa and those hives provide honey.

African mythology tells that each tree has a spirit and some have more than a few.  It has been a long-ensuing debate as to whether trees are spirits or are just inhabited by them.  Regardless of where you stand on that topic, the spirit is recognized and all seek to hear its voice.

Together, trees create a family.  Forests are just large tree families and continue to be revered and respected.  Drums in Africa are made from wood and the carver works very carefully to preserve the voice of the spirit of the tree.  The boat-maker also works to keep the spirit of the wood happy.  Otherwise it is believed that an unhappy spirit will sink a boat.

Namibia has a tree that is said to open its branches and swallow people whole.  In Zaire there is a myth about the man who married a tree.  His children, born of the tree, were said to have learned the secrets of the forest spirits and grew up to become respected herbalists.

We may not instantly think of a tree when we think of the word family and yet, an illustrated genealogy is called a “family tree”. Interesting, huh?  The popular song from the 1970’s “We Are Family” is singing through my mind right now.  I live near a wooded area and, given that we are in the middle of a light rain which is the precursor to a promised storm due later today, the trees and their spirits seem to be singing.

We are a long way away from Arbor Day, six months for those of us in the United States of America.  Yet, every day is a day to respect the trees.  Every day is also a good day to respect family – yours, mine, and the family of mankind.  After all, we really are family.

Bump in the Night

Bump in the Night

Pentecost 54

We’ve all heard them. Those mysterious sounds that go “bump in the night” and frighten us. IN an anthology of poems, Walter de la Mare published an old Scottish saying: “”From ghoulies and ghosties and long-legged beasties, good Lord deliver us.”

The poets of the past are the ones who have fed us the mythologies of our ancestors. Homer with his “Iliad” and “Odyssey”, Virgil with “The Aeneid” and Ovid with his “Metamorphoses” and “Fasti” all left a legacy of Greek and Roman deities which still delight us today and continue the immortality of these characters.

It should be noted, however, that what was once a deity has, in some instances, become something else. Today the phoenix is no longer a self-eating monster but a symbol of resurrection. The phoenix dined on the very things used to preserve the dead. It would nest high atop the mountains at the highest point of a tree and, in time, be consumed by the sun. Allegorical interpretation was that the phoenix illustrated the sin of gluttony.

Perhaps the phoenix should represent to us that which we like that often becomes an all-consuming love. One small ounce of wine or other alcohol seldom harms anyone. Try purchasing two ounces of wine – one for you and one for a companion. It simply is not sold that way. Once home with the bottle, it is easy to justify drinking it…and drinking more…and purchasing more… and the cycle of drinking has begun.

One elusive beast of antiquity was the prized one-horned quadruped, perhaps a distant relative of the rhinoceros or giraffe. This animal, long sought after by hunters throughout time, was described by Pliny the Roman naturalist in ancient texts as “a very ferocious beast, similar in the rest of its body to a horse, with the head of a deer, the feet of an elephant, the tail of a boar, a deep bellowing voice, and a single black horn, two cubits in length, standing out in the middle of its forehead.” Others believed that if an attempt to capture it ensued, the creature simply leapt from tall cliffs, using its horn to propel itself from rock to rock, much like a pole vaulter uses his/her pole to cross the high bar. It doesn’t really sound like the cute, sweet-faced unicorn of fairy tales, does it?

We all have fears and psychologists advise four basic ways in dealing with them. The first is to analyze your fears and mythology is a great way to do this. The next step is to control your fears. Story telling is a great tool in doing this as it allows us to put someone else in the main character’s role and gives us a vantage point from the outside. The third way to is change the way we think about the specific fear. Someone afraid of heights, for instance, might change their thinking from the perilous perch of an upper rock plateau to imagining it the palace of a lovely god or goddess. The last way to manage fear is to acknowledge it and give it a place in your life.

Mythology gives fear a place in our life and goes one step further by giving it a purpose. Some fears are beneficial. A fear of snakes means you probably will not try to kiss a rattler on the face and get bitten. Others are debilitating and need professional guidance to overcome.

It is important that with each day we live, we write the story of our own lives. Former US President Franklin D Roosevelt is famous for having said: “There only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” With one sentence he summarized the mythologies of most of the world. A more modern update to that quote might be: “The only thing we have to fear is ourselves.”

Living our beliefs takes courage. It means standing up for the unpopular at times. It means not being fashionable or realizing that different is not something to fear but to respect. Today I hope you face your fears instead of running from them. Use them as our ancestors used their myths and learn from those things that can bump in our minds. Follow the words of Plato in facing today and writing a great story of your life today: “We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.”

Pentecost 75

Pentecost 75
My Psalm 75

Uh…gulp…Stress!!!

When Pentecost began, I had just completed a theology course which included a brief discussion about the psalms. During the four year program I discovered that many people thought David, the boy who faced a giant and won and later became king, wrote all one hundred and fifty of them. Historians, Linguists, and theologians do not believe that to be true. In fact, it is estimated that the composition of the psalms, songs of prayer and praise as well as supplication, were written over a span of five centuries.

What really amazed me during the four years of hearing people discuss the psalms was the general agreement in the various translations of the Torah and Holy Bible containing them despite a great deal of dissension among readers and my classmates regarding what they really mean. It seemed that experts agreed but readers did not. Some of the psalms were written after great battles; some preceded them. Similarly, in class some psalms caused total agreement while others complete differences of opinion. And people would become a bit worked up over their interpretations!

I have read all of the psalms via my chosen religious denominational service countless times over but had I really read them, really thought about them? Sadly, I confess that the answer was no. So during Pentecost I thought I would not only read each psalm but write my own, using updated language and thoughts. There are many formulas for writing a psalm but I wanted mine to simply be verses – verses of praise, question, and adoration. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

There are, in case you did not know, one hundred and fifty psalms. I like poetry and I like writing it. I completely understand those poets who communicated solely in haiku or iambic pentameter. After all, we all have our own accents based on where we have lived or our ethnic backgrounds, rhythmic patterns of speech that help people recognize our voices. The thing is….When you commit to writing one hundred and fifty psalms, you need to write one hundred and fifty psalms. And that is daily. Talk about stress!

As I sat wondering why I had put myself through this stress, I realized two things: First, I was already half-way through my goal. Secondly, did I know exactly what stress was that made it so bad? You see, while it has been stressing at times, I actually admit to being a bit pleased at this challenge. At times I feel a bit guilty not following the formulas but then again, I’m not sure David and his helpers always did either. I think the most important thing is that you say whatever you say from the heart and with sincerity. I also learned I did not particularly like all of the psalms. They are all beautiful but some are full of negativity. Were the writers stressed? Probably!

So what exactly is stress? According to the national Institute of Mental Health, a part of the National Institutes of Health, “stress is the body’s response to a demand”. Say what? That’s it? Stress is a response? Turns out that is exactly what it is and there is good stress as well as the bad stress we all have experienced. The fight or flight response we’ve discussed here is one way the body handles stress and it can save your life. Chronic stress, though, can be harmful to your health – physical, emotional, and mental.

There are three types of stress. Routine stress is that which we associate with our daily lives, those pressures of work, family, and other normal and daily responsibilities. Stress brought about by change, a sudden unexpected negative event, is the second type of stress. This includes losing a job, divorce, or illness. Traumatic stress is the third type and is just what the name describes – a major accident or natural diasater. War is also considered a traumatic stress.

So which type of stress was my writing one hundred and fifty psalms? Other than the mental exercise, which was really a good type of stress, it really has not been that stressful. Once I got over a lack of faith I could do it and just did it, it wasn’t that bad. By the grace of the Eternal Spirit and Creator, words have flowed. By your kindness and grace, they appear to have been somewhat accepted for what they are and in spite of my needing to edit and re-edit at times!

The psalms were a type of song back in David’s day. A warrior in training who dared to put his faith in action, the psalms were his way of relaxing, of praying, of meditating. All of those are great ways to cope with stress! I have found writing my own daunting but also helpful, not stressful.

Many people today have taken up journaling and for a great many, writing a blog is a digital journal. I tend to pose more questions than answer them and that is intentional. I want to think and expand my thinking and I am inviting you to join me in doing so. Writing a psalm a day has helped me do that. More importantly, I have realized that, while the clothing and lifestyles are very different, the basic concerns and confusions of David are the same as those of us who are living today. We have leaders who are distrustful. We have episodes of complete joy. We have times of fear. We are subject to hatred by some. We want to live a life of faith. We sing glory to our Maker.

The psalms overall are a way to give thanks for our wonderful world. Writing a thank you note sometimes seems a bit daunting but really, all we have to do is let our heart speak. When we write a psalm and begin by describing God, we are not telling Him who He is but reminding ourselves.

Writing these psalms has been a reminder for me of the wonderful world that exists and the beauty of the people that are in it. This of course includes you, my followers. You are a rainbow of ethnicities and professions, locations, and beliefs. “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you”. (Philippians 1:3)

My Psalm 75

To you, O Heavenly Father, do I give thanks.
For myself, family, friends, and life, I say thank you.
You alone know me well, very well.
For all you have given me,
In spite of myself at times,
I give you thanks.
There are those who dislike me;
Your love makes the hurt dissolve.
Thank you, dear Lord, for all the mercies of this life
And the promises of the next.
You alone are the Most High.
Thank you, my God.

Pentecost 1

Pentecost 1
June 8, 2014

Get the Party Started!
My Psalm 1

I collect magazines. Actually, I don’t. What I do like to collect is reference material and I always have. Long before I decided to write for myself, I was writing for nonprofits and state agencies, marketing materials, grant proposals, poetry, and little stories to amuse myself. I liked being able to open my closet and find a magazine that might have a story about something I could use and so, I ended up collecting magazines. Yesterday, in an effort to get my spring cleaning done before the year 2525, I thought about going through a bookcase to reduce the clutter. The first thing I touched was an older magazine. I opened it and – boom – saw the lead into today’s piece. (Needless to say, magazine did not get tossed! Oh well, spring cleaning will give me something to do tomorrow. Ha!)

Back to the here and now…The magazine, “Self”, featured a quote from Julianne Hough: “Never be afraid to get the dance party started.” Whether you are Christian and celebrate today as the Feast of Pentecost or maybe you are Buddhist or Muslim or …well, any number of a few thousand spiritualities and or religions, we need to dance in our beliefs. In other words, if we’re gonna talk the talk, we really need to walk the walk and while we’re at it, celebrate!

During Pentecost, I will write a psalm to coincide with the 150 psalms attributed to David. Mine will be humble attempts but really, everyone should try to write a psalm. There are several websites that will help you write a psalm. Originally, the psalms were songs but more than anything they are poems about the life and faith of the ancient Jewish culture. They express joy, hardship, despair, and devotion. Unlike some forms of poetry, they do not have to rhyme. Some feel a psalm should contain a simile or metaphor but again, you can use your own style. Mostly, a psalm is a written feeling with perhaps a prayer added.

You might have caught the fact that there are more than one hundred and fifty days in Pentecost. The other twenty-five I thought we might reference other faiths rather than Christianity or the Jewish faith. It is on those days that we will also have a recipe. After all, Pentecost is the season in which we celebrate the truth being said in many different ways and languages. It truly is a season of diversity and that is definitely something to celebrate! And now, here is my version of Psalm 1 which describes the joy in following the way of conscious good.

I seek to honor you, O God
My soul sings the glorify my love for you;
In vain efforts I will select the best of my efforts to bring;
Celebrating in the goodness of life and not the evil.

I give thanks to you, O Lord,
I glorify your name in all that I do;
I will follow your teachings as I walk my path,
My life is a daily sacrifice to your love.

Blessed is the lamb who follows the Great Shepherd,
The soul that listens and follows thy law is blessed by angels;
Mournful is the gardener who tills only scorched soil.
The ear that is deaf walks alone in unproductive misery among men.

O God, the creator of the earth and those that live upon it,
The Great Shepherd and He who gives all things life;
Help us to flourish and follow the path of righteousness
And not stumble blindly along the misconstrued paths of man.

Please feel free to repost this but please also remember that all of my posts are copyrighted so proper authorship must be noted. One other note – The numbering of these posts during Pentecost will be ordinal numerals since Pentecost is also called the Ordinary Time. Thanks and Blessed Pentecost!

Easter Twenty-Four

Easter Twenty-Four
May 13, 2014

Layers: Tuesday Treats

During the summer I hope to discuss the psalms but first I thought we might talk about poetry because it really is a wonderful art form. David is given credit for writing most of the Book of Psalms, although that is in dispute by many if not most theologians and historians. A warrior even before he fought the giant Goliath, David learned the art of communication and it is through his poems or psalms that we are able to realize just what poetry is and how effective it can be.

Americans have really achieved a great deal in the fine art of poetry. In 1650 a reluctant immigrant named Anne Bradstreet became America’s first poet of note. There followed a group of early American poets who used poetry to extol the virtues of everything from Captain John Smith to American Indian women to the weather in the new colonies. While the American version of the art form declined a bit into drinking songs, Anne Bradstreet’s poetry had religion and classical themes as its themes. The slave Phyllis Wheatley was published as well in the late 1700’s, proving that poetry was not only for the elite but for anyone with a desire. Poetry has never lacked for an audience.

It would not be until a hundred years later than American stopped emulating English poets and found their own voice. Then the true definition of poetry immersed itself in the language of the new country and both regional and religious influences framed the poem.

Poetry is, according to poetry.org: “an art form in which human language is used for its aesthetic qualities in addition to, or instead of, its notional and semantic content. It consists largely of oral or literary works in which language is used in a manner that is felt by its user and audience to differ from ordinary prose.” For me, poetry is the beating of the heart put on paper.

Take the words “dust”, “coat, “trying”, and gentleman and you get a rather stuffy sentence. In the poetry of southern poet John Crow Ransom it becomes: “I am a gentleman in a dustcoat trying to make you hear.” The lyrical quality opens up our imagination to the visual which is felt in the soul. Ransom has many compatriots in the American poetic field.

Wallace Stevens, for instance, is called an imaginative force in modern poetry. His “Anecdote of a Jar” takes a simple act and elevates it into an adventure while at the same time complimenting his home state of Tennessee. You would never guess, by reading his beautiful poems, that he was an insurance salesman by day and even once got into a fistfight with the legendary Earnest Hemingway.

Poetry helps us see what lies beneath the surface. It can take an ordinary day and turn it into a beautiful experience. It takes the pain of unrequited love and makes it a song of the heart. Like David, poets are still warriors, fighting for the recognition that all things have layers, just like people. We need to value each layer and find the beauty beneath.

Today poetry encompasses all ages. We all feel and we all are poets, whether if only in our minds or if published or spoken. Explore your world and give voice to the poetry within you. We all have layers and we have feel.

I promised a recipe each Tuesday in Easter so today I will give you one which always reminds me of Robert Burns. It is my favorite kind of cookie and has only a trinity of ingredients. Find a great book of poems at your local library and read while enjoying these delectable yet simple cookies. In fact, since this week is Children’s Book Week, get a book of children’s poems and enjoy the cookies with a young friend. Bon Appetite!

Shortbread Cookies:
1 cup butter 2 ¼ cups sifted flour
¾ cup brown sugar

Cream the butter and sugar together and work in the flour. Chill dough for about an hour. Roll out about ¼ inch thick on a lightly floured board. Cut with a pastry wheel, cookie cutters, or simply cut into diamonds. Bake in a 325-degree-F oven until golden brown. This recipe makes about 70 cookies.