Friday, December 30, 2016

Is It a New Year?

We have a clean slate, an unwritten story or is it a continuation of an old one?  The calendar may say it's new. Our lives may not. As with December 25th, New Year's Day is a man-made date, a designation on a calendar, merely a way of marking the passage of time. Isn't it?

Our minds are geared to think in absolutes, in finite numbers. Science has proven we cannot remain sane when deprived of a method of marking time, as knowing night from day. We then count the days, the weeks, the months and years. Every culture has a method of marking time.

We currently use the Gregorian, switching from the earlier Julian calendar. Both use celestial events in their calculations. However, the Gregorian is the more accurate when adding in a leap year, which is necessary to keep the calendar in alignment with the earth's rotation around the sun. This rotation is the basis for our year.

It took three hundred years to switch from the Julian Calendar to the Gregorian. The first countries to change were in Europe and did so in 1582. The last country to adopt the calendar for civil use was Turkey in 1927. Only a few countries do not use this calendar: Afghanistan and Iran, which use the Persian calendar, Saudia Arabia, which uses the Islamic calendar, and Ethiopia which uses its own calendar. Other countries use the Gregorian as their official calendar in conjunction with their own, such as China.

Some other calendars are the Revised Julian, Jewish, Islamic, Persian, Mayan, Chinese, and Roman.

The year the Gregorian was implemented, ten days were removed from the calendar. For countries waiting longer, some lost as much as thirteen days from their old calendars. This reduction in days brought them into conjunction with the equinoxes.

Thus, we can say, by using the earth's rotation, along with lunar months, equinoxes, and seasons, we have a new year, fixed by physical, celestial events, not just a thought or attitude.

I raise a toast to this New Year. I hope yours is filled with blessings and enough challenges to keep you from being bored, but not enough to overwhelm you.

Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Oh Holy Night

Although many scholars point to another time of year for the birth of God's Son, this night still has a reverence, a specialness unlike the rest of the year. The world doesn't change, we do.

Our hearts enlarge and fill with God's joy. Even during struggles, this night evokes hope of better things to come.

 "For God so loved the world he sent his only begotten Son."

Our sins are forgiven, ensuring we will one day share in God's eternal life.

I have been fortunate to experience a divine encounter. Nothing in this world can compare to the joy of being face to face with a God who loves us as we are, flawed and imperfect. All he asks in return is our unconditional love and total trust. It doesn't matter how many times we fail, only how hard we try. It is our effort that counts.

With God as the center of our existence, all earthly struggles fall into place. Either God will provide all the things we need to continue in this life, or he will take us home to him. Either way, we win.

Merry Christmas. Love and joy to men of goodwill.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Christmas Past, Present, and Future

This time of year means different things, depending on the person and their situation. My family focused on the religious aspect growing up. My parents wanted my sister and me to concentrate on Christmas Mass, and so we opened gifts Christmas Eve.

Later, with my own family, we changed that tradition to Midnight Mass Christmas Eve and opened presents on Christmas Day.

In later years, after the loss of my husband and with both sons out on their own, my daughter and I struggled to keep traditions. They brought a mixed set of emotions. The first year after my husband passed away, I waited too long to buy a tree. Not a single lot had a tree I could afford. I brought three accent trees home from the flower shop. They weren’t Christmas trees, more of a bonsai Sequoia. We laughed every time we looked at them, turning our melancholy joyful.  

After my daughter married and left home, Christmas became another holiday to endure with memories of what was. After my husband’s passing, we stopped the big family gatherings, the gift giving, and almost all the traditions. They were too painful those first few years.

I eventually remarried. My daughter and sons had families of their own and their own traditions. We still yearn for those remarkable Christmases of the past, those big joyous celebrations with twenty people for dinner, a whole department store wrapped under the tree, grandparents drinking coffee and watching the kids with their presents. Perhaps my children can recapture some of that with their families.

My holidays are much quieter, simpler, particularly Christmas. We exchange phone calls rather than gifts. I spend more time reflecting, meditating, praying. I am thankful for my husband and our quiet celebrations. Life changes and moves on.

My husband and I will share dinner with close friends and their family rather than try a large gathering with my family since snowy, icy roads, and long distances, prevent travel at Christmas. We did manage to all gather in my hometown this past Thanksgiving for the first time in ten years. With luck, it won’t be ten years before the next gathering, holiday or not.

I am acutely aware of how precious those times are. My parents won’t be with us much longer. My dad is eighty-seven, and my mother is eighty-two. My children are in their middle ages, and I’m counting decades I thought were a lot further away.

However, putting those thoughts aside, at the moment, snow is falling outside, covering everything in white. The fire is on, Christmas Carols are playing, a cup of coffee sets on the table next to me. My husband and I will put up our tree this afternoon even though no one will see it except us. We plan on a special Christmas Eve dinner for the two of us. I’ll attend Mass Christmas day alone. There will be the phone calls, the good wishes, and photos.

Melancholy doesn’t rule the season even though it does promote reminiscing. Contentment is the word I would choose, a slowing down from the hectic former years, a quiet time for reflection and praise-giving for past blessings, current blessings, and future blessings.

I hope your season is filled with peace and joy however you spend the holidays. If you are alone, my prayers are with you. Remember, we are never really alone. God is there in every situation, every season, every holiday.  

Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Pollyanna Had It Right

Neuropsychologists recently confirmed an optimistic viewpoint leads to a healthier and happier life. The Psalms have said the same thing for centuries. 

One of the most well known, Psalm 27: “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? The Lord is the protector of my life, of whom shall I be afraid? I believe to see the good things of the Lord in the land of the living. Expect the Lord, do manfully, and let thy heart take courage, and wait for the Lord.” Verses 1, 13-14.

It’s a choice. If we believe, then we’ll see. Before performing a miracle, Jesus asked if the recipient believed in his ability to grant their request. Faith is as much a choice as optimism. 

If we look for hate, we’ll find it. If we look for good, we’ll find that too. That doesn’t mean we won’t encounter the bad regardless of our mindset. God has guaranteed we will see trouble in this world, yet he still asks that we look beyond it. 

I have had my share of trouble, like everyone else. However, God stepped in during the blackest moments with promises and encouragement. Psalm 27 is one of many that lifted my eyes from my personal tragedies toward the good that still existed. It might be a beautiful sunrise or sunset, a smile from a friend, a child’s giggle, or a hug when we need one the most. It may also be a personal scripture promising we will see the good things of the Lord in the land of the living. It’s our choice.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Set Aside Prayer

It seems AA has many wonderful steps to recovery. I have of course heard of the Twelve Step Program, but not this little prayer until now. My devotional, Living Faith, mentioned the prayer in conjunction with Luke 10:21: “…although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike.”

Jesus is asking us to let go of our preconceptions, our deceptions, and our play acting, to let our walls and barriers down. He asks us to trust him in all things, to listen, and to learn as a child with eagerness and openness.

As adults we so often stay locked in our judgments, unable to open up and see the truth about others and ourselves. We become distant in order to avoid pain, to avoid feeling, and we lose out, big time. By blocking out the unpleasant emotions, we also eliminate the pleasant. 

The Set Aside Prayer asks God for help to open our minds, changing our perceptions and thus our pre-judgments. 

“Dear God, please set aside everything I think I know (about myself …. [insert any addiction or undesirable behavior] and all spiritual terms, and especially about you, God) so I may have an open mind and a new experience (with all these things). Please help me see the Truth. Amen.”

I have edited the portion regarding the alcoholic’s addictions from the original prayer, but we all have them in some form. Perhaps not as devastating as alcoholism, but enough to influence our lives, particularly the tendency to pre-judge others based on flawed preconceptions. 

This prayer, coupled with the prayer of St. Francis, is the perfect step toward moving us away from our self-centered view of the world. The timing is perfect for the beginning of Advent, the joyful season. 

Experts say the best remedy for melancholy is to do something for someone else, ties right in with the gift-giving season. After all, a gift doesn’t have to be some kind of merchandise. One of the best gifts is the gift of self, caring for another in need whether it is a phone call, a visit, performing a task, or just being there without judgements or preconceptions, keeping our minds and heart open to another’s joy or pain. 

Yes Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. 

“The wolf shall dwell with the lamb: and the leopard shall lied down with the kid: the calf and the lion, and the sheep shall abide together, and a little child shall lead them.” Isaiah 11:6

Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Only Thing We Have to Fear is Fear Itself

Franklin Roosevelt spoke those famous words during his inaugural address in 1933. Going back even further, in April of 1816, Thomas Jefferson stated in a letter to John Adams, “There are indeed... gloomy & hypochondriac minds... disgusted with the present, & despairing of the future; always counting that the worst will happen, because it may happen. To these I say how much pain have cost us the evils which have never happened!”

Fear steals our present happiness. For the most part, very few of those disasters we obsess about, happen. Those that did, we obviously survived. But if we don’t, our Christian faith says we will enter Paradise. Yet knowing that, I still cling to the things of this earth as if there were nothing more. I succumb to wringing my hands and sleepless nights. 

An offhand comment during a recent conversation with my dad ignited another bout of anxiety. Evidently the state that pays my husband’s retirement is facing a financial disaster. I know from experience my dad has a history of seeing the worst. Is he reporting accurately, or is it another case of the sky is falling? 
I once told a friend going through a crisis, “Hard times are like staying one night in a bad hotel. They pass, and we move on.” She told me later that thought carried her through a divorce, and cancer. Several years later, a few weeks before her death, she told me Jesus stood at the foot of her bed, and said, “Do not be afraid.” 

So, why do we fear? 
Scripture tells us to fear only those things that can rob our souls of our chance for eternal life: hate, lack of forgiveness, doubt, and unbelief.

Once again, I pray the Prayer of Saint Francis. I cling to scriptural promises of God’s love and compassion. I strive to do my best, an hour at a time if need be, to make the world a better place where I am right now, not in some future time. 

In return, I won’t live in fear. After all, the troubles for today are enough, and God has them, and me, in his hands.