Like Mother, Like Daughter

Empty Bench Near WaterLike most women I know, I've gone through several phases in my relationship with my Mom. There were rebellious times when I didn’t want to be anything like her; there were grateful times when I recognized that some of her qualities are unmistakably a part of me, and there was everything in between.

Today, I feel a deeper connection to her 3 ½ years after her death and I wish so much that I could talk with her about that of which we never spoke.  Things like how she prayed, the ways she experienced God, how her volunteerism was connected with her faith, what she gave up by being a stay-at-home Mom, what she would change about her choices if she could, what she would do exactly the same. 

Six months after she died, I was at annual district church meeting called Synod Assembly. During the opening worship, we sang 3 of her favorite hymns. I could see her in my mind's eye, standing near the heavenly throne singing with me in her full beautiful voice. Quite suddenly, I saw a window into heaven that slid open from the inside and an awareness came over me that said, "your Mom had a call to ministry." 

I stopped singing and sat down to process the gift of this awareness, while worship continued around me. I thought about all of the activities my Mom had done throughout her life and of course, so much of it was ministry: running our girl scout troop, writing the church newsletter, managing the hospital gift shop, leading suburban women's education, hosting parties and great fellowship events, and the list goes on. Had she been this vibrant woman today, her pastor would have encouraged her to go to seminary. And I thought I was the family weirdo who is the first and only pastor in my extended family.

Accepting with gratitude that I am more like her than not, came over me again a couple of weeks ago when my sisters and I went through her worldly possessions with the daunting task of deciding what to keep and what to give. We first tackled her dozens and dozens of cookbooks – we took pictures of the recipes she had marked in the books we gave away, and found more recipes tucked in the pages of many of them. But in one cookbook, I found a hand-written sheet of paper on which she had written a reflection about Silence. I had written the reflection about The Gift of Nothingness (which I posted last week, and you can read below on my blog or link to here) just a few months before. The language and the sentiments are remarkably similar. Here are her words:

     Silence – the chance to eliminate all sounds so the blood which beats in your pulses

     become the only conscious awareness you have

     A quiet and peace return as you begin to relax and your blood pulsing begins once again to recede and be natural.

     The quiet becomes manifest and your being fades into the stillness of the moment –

     be it dawn, high noon, dusk or midnight.

     Dawn – a new beginning, a chance to be aware, to feel, to experience, to begin new thoughts and ideas; 

     to re-establish the positive of yesterdays, 

     but keep open to the gifts and newness of today

     High noon – bright day time, highlighting motives, thoughts, ideas

     no shadows- no hiding

     dealing with what is visible, what blossoms open.

It looks like she started a reflection similar to praying the hours throughout the day, but she didn't have a chance to finish writing on the silence that comes at dusk and midnight.

We'll have a lot to discuss when it's my turn to join her in the choir around throne of God. Until then, I'm glad that death has not stopped me from learning more about her and loving her more deeply.

 

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Reflection-The Gift of Nothingness

Why do migraines and headaches haunt me daily?Cloudless Blue Sky

    Why do ailments, stress and anxiety accompany many of us?

What does our mind and body and soul desire

     in our 140-character, sound-bite, tech-drenched world?

 

Perhaps our inner self wants nothing - the gift of nothing.

What if my body had nothing to do; how would it feel?

    Just resting, being upheld by the bed of creation and relaxing into the weight of it.

All dis-ease and impurities can crumble to the bottom of my being

    and slide out the open chakra at the bottom of my feet.

 

How deeply can I let my body do nothing, need nothing, feel nothing?

Can I allow my body and soul to be in suspense without need or urgency,

    just present to the void, the space, the emptiness?

What can nothing release?

What can nothing regenerate?

 

How can I give my mind the gift of nothing?

I spend my devotions reading spiritual sages, poetry, assurances of the presence of God;

    I imagine meadows or beaches in the mind of my Spirit to see God's presence;

I rattle off questions about what I am to do today and in life

    with a spiritual list of clarifying inquiries that demand immediate answers.

But what if my mind and spiritual imagination desire the gift of nothing?

    Nothing to imagine as God's presence, but just to be.

Nothing to read about peace, just the absence of thoughts, needs, directions, questions, insights.

 

When I can give my mind and soul the gift of nothing, perhas the urgent pain will recede.

I can listen to my own body functioning -

    the high-pitched buzz of my nervous system,

    the pulsing of blood

    the steady thump of my heart.

 

Maybe my mind doesn't want more medicine, it wants more of nothing;

A presence to everything, the absence of everything, the presence of nothing -

Can nothing lower the sound of the inner buzz, slow the pulsing, breathing that is me

    And enter into the void that is God?

The constant presence of sacred energy that is not managed, just noticed?

 

Nothing is the place of creation -

    the void before atoms collide,

    the darkness of the soul buried in the ground,

    the dropping of the grain into air, earth

    the chrysalis hiding in the dark,

    the tomb of the 2nd day.

 

Perhaps only when we enter nothing do we become fully present.

Only when we enter the gift of nothingness

    do we become the void where God creates newness of life

    without our assistance.

 

Nothingness is freedom.

St. Ignatius of Loyola beckons me to see God in everything

    and be attached to nothing,

To see God as fully present in every molecule

    and myself as fully present in nothingness.

 

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What I Didn't Know About My Mom

Book Cover of My Mom's Memories - From Booties to BootsMy two sisters, Pam and Julie and I gathered over Labor Day weekend to go through all of our Mom's worldly possessions (she died in January, 2012 at the age of 76).  My dad wanted her belongings used - either by us or someone else through donations. The closets, dressers, cupboards and bookshelves were filled with the stuff of life that she loved and used over the years.  It's been touching to find pieces of jewelry she wore in the 70's, favorite recipes flagged in her dozens of cookbooks, the linens she used for entertaining and dinner parties, and her collections of angels, bunnies, and travel souvenirs.  

But even more momentous than these familiar items, is what we're learning about her that we never knew - that even our Dad never knew! We found a box full of coins that she collected which my dad had never seen.  We found out that she had thought about being a physical therapist, especially for children - a dream she never pursued while raising her own four children while her husband traveled for work.  We found books on writing and becoming published.  Our mom wrote her own cookbook in the last decade of her life and she loved to write poems for Christmas cards and scrapbooks, but I didn't know she wanted to go into Creative Writing in high school, and that as an adult, she wanted to be published. We found a notebook full of journal-entries written at the end of December as a summary of what had happened over the previous year.  These summaries included travel, time with family, holiday celebrations, her children's milestones, and "purchases for the home."

In addition to these journal entries, her writing was the most treasured gift she left us for  we found a book she wrote after graduating from high school that told her life story in 12 chapters complete with pictures we had never seen.  It's called, "Booties to Boots" (since she was 2 years old, her nickname was "Boots" - a name given to her by her dad whose big galoshes she loved to wear when he came home from work). The pages are type-written and taped to large sheets of black construction paper.  We found out that she spent the first 3 weeks of her life in the hospital, that she and her brother received live bunnies for Easter one year (thus explaining her figurine bunny collection which I never quite understood!); we discovered that she was a cheerleader in middle-school and she and her friends called themselves "The 7 Dwarfs". We saw pictures of all 8 houses she lived in while growing up and moving with her dad's job. During her high school years, she had a group of 17 friends and we saw a picture of her on a double date with Dad and another couple who are still married!  Mom wrote a whole chapter on "My God and Me" which described in detail, her experience of being Confirmed at the Bethany Lutheran Church in Lakefield, MN. This deeply spiritual side of my Mom is something I perceived and glimpsed at times, but it was not something she easily talked about.  Her spirituality came through in her books, in her jewelry (crosses and angels), her many years as an active volunteer, the sacred way she wrote about relationships and church activities, and her fierce loyalty to many friends across the country who spanned every stage of her lifetime. 

I'm grateful that we waited this long to go through her things.  Because we were not  racked by immediate grief, or under time-pressure to get it done for an impending move, we could take our time, savor memories, laugh and cry. I am left feeling more awed than ever at what a remarkable, faithful, amazing, smart and generous woman my Mom was and still is to me. The melancholy I feel over the parts of her I didn't know well, is balanced by gratitude for the chance to know her more fully and more deeply than I ever have before. She is still influencing me, shaping me and helping me grow up in how she reveals herself in what she left behind. I am closer to her than I ever have been and she continues to love generously and fiercely. St. Paul's words in 1 Corinthians make more and more sense; of course love never ends.

 

 

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The River

Photo of a Wide River with a TreeThis will be my last post from the reflective, spiritual writing workshop I went to this year (see Well-come and A Conversation with Myself). The second day of the workshop, we focused on the water image of a river. The river evokes many nuances and directions: the image of movement and journey, many streams feeding into a river, the varied ways rivers flow due to rocks and plant life, different speeds like rapids or gently moving. In addition, all rivers flow toward unity with the ocean - another lovely image for God. We were given a list of sentences as prompts. I have been struggling with chronic migraines for a year, so I adpated one of their prompts to form this question, "Where is the current of migraines taking me?" What follows is my response to this reflective prompt: 

When I resist migraines with a mighty effort, the pain worsens, the process lengthens. The body wants relief, rest, release – to flow with ease down the River of God rather than being assaulted by every stone, tree, log, or boulder. Can I just float past these obstacles and distractions? Can I acknowledge they exist, but feel no need to pick them, take them into my raft, my heart and soul? I am not the Source; all belongs to the River. I am a drop with an over-blown sense of responsibility for what does not belong to me. "Give back what belongs to me," the River beckons, "and float along your merry way." I am no one else's life raft. When I get caught on someone else's snag, I might miss what is in store for me – joyful rapids, swirling fun, splashing play, and oneness with the great ocean of God. I keep my hands and mind to myself, tending to my own raft, embracing God's river dance for me.

 Photo taken on my phone.

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Linda Anderson-Little

Quotation of the Week

The church does not have a mission in the world, God's mission has a church in the world.

 

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