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She leaned over me and said, “Oh it’s so good to see you. How are you?”

Even though her white mask covered most of her face, I could still see the edges of her eyes crinkling up and so I knew she was smiling.

I smiled back. “So good to see you! I can see your eyes smiling.” I said, to let her know I knew.

Ah, what a good, needed, warm, crucial experience. Human contact. I have never before been so glad to see my dentist!

Pandemic isolation has so limited our eye-to-eye, face-to-face, skin-on-skin relationships that we are starving for the physical presence of others. A voice on the phone, a face on a screen is good, a privilege, but it is not the same as soft skin close or eyes so near you can see the gleam, the warm brown or beautiful green or soft blues of life.

It reminds me how important our relationships are. My dentist isn’t just my dentist. She has done high quality dental work for my wife and I and my daughters for years. She took special care of my daughters, so patient with all of us and gentle. She called me on a weekend recently on her way in to work to check on me.

After the pandemic is over the governments of the world will be judged on how well they helped people. The same question might be asked of any of us. Probably no one will ask, but we could ask ourselves? How much was I there for other people during the pandemic?

I‘ve been wondering how I might help other people during this time? A text, a call, a smile for someone behind a counter, a gift to a family member, an expression of appreciation for services rendered, a donation to an organization providing food, a volunteer role, a helpful blog post.

I love the care my dentist recently gave me. I wonder if through the pandemic and after someone might say about me. “I love the care he gave me.”

Today, beset by a disabling and chronic pain, I could hardly get out of bed, hardly walk, but the few times that I could, I made it to the backyard in my pajamas. I made it to sunshine, to blue skies, to flowers — to my lovelies.

I made it to fluttering Swallowtail butterflies, to corolla-sipping, hover-darting hummingbirds, to downy post-nest, fledgling mockingbirds. I watched them taking bugs on my fence top from their continually returning mother.

On one of my very short outdoor excursions, I found our box turtle, Celine Dion, sitting in her water dish. The dish is buried in the beautiful little habitat that we made for her. It includes a whole raft of flowers, rich soil teaming with worms, a gurgling solar powered fountain, a small pond and plenty of shade. There Celine was, in the shade of a blue blooming plumbago, soaking up the algae green water, cooling down, enjoying respite.

I enjoyed her —in an exquisite, brief, recherche moment — but then feckless, pain-wracked and literally pain-crushed, I was forced back inside, there for much of the day, lying in bed, my lovelies, our turtle, my mockers, my coreopsis, our passion vines, nasturtiums, Cape honeysuckles, gulf fritillaries and anise swallowtails just out of pain’s reach.

I thought of Tantalus, a mythological Greek, made to stand in a pool of water beneath a fruit tree with low branches, the tree’s fruit ever eluding his grasp, the water ever receding before he can drink.

We can all identify with Tantalus, that Greek symbol of dilemma, of life’s teasing and tantalizing, something we all face to different degrees in different times of life — something beautiful and satisfying, frustratingly out of reach.

Experience — what a mixed beauty-ugly bio-bag. And in these days, for so many of us, our worldwide pandemic has put so much just out of reach. And worse, it’s taken lives.

Oh life!

Great beauty; great suffering. Great love; great loss. Within reach; just out. Bacchus; Tantalus.

What to do?

Pray that we can survive those Stygian segments of suffering, deprivation and loss.

Offer gratitude to the divine, all his sentient angels, and the vast cloud of witnesses for the existential moments when we blunder-follow into the sun’s warmth, or into the water dish, into a flower’s corolla, those concise cut-a-ways from dullness and torpor when we blink, pause and sip from the languid, liquid loveliness of life.

We all love things that glow — comet NEOWISE now visible in our northern skies, the moon, glitter paths on the water, bright baby eyes, the sun on a yellow flower.

This morning we looked out the back patio door and there were three very slender, usually small mockingbirds running along the top of our backyard fence.

They were babies!

Against the bright blue sky, in the sun, they jumped up on the fence’s stucco support pillars, wings all aflutter. They bopped and bounced with the motions of newbies and neophytes. One saw a bug circling its head, started to make a jump at it, and then thought better of it. Not fast enough yet.

Then wings flashing they followed their mother to a tree nearby.

Bright things.

Later in the morning my wife and I did a special study online on lemurs. Fascinating! The mouse lemurs, so tiny and fluffy and big eyed and big eared. Some of the lemurs exhibit a phenomenon called eye shine.

More bright things.

What is eye shine? Glowing eyes! In eye shine the tapetum lucidum, a layer of tissue in the eyes, reflects light and creates night glow in the eyes. Lying immediately behind the retina, the tapetum lucidum is called a retroreflector. It reflects visible light back through the retina, increasing the light available to the photoreceptors. You may have seen this in cats at night, those two bright yellow glows in the dark.

Gleam, glow, glint, glimmer, sparkle, twinkle, flicker, glitter, glisten, shimmer, flash, dazzle, beam, flare — exciting!

God made a bright world.

Radiance, illumination, luminescence, luminosity, incandescence, phosphorescence, fluorescence — beautiful!

Bright things.

What did you see that was bright today?

Celebrate it!

Brother David Steindl-Rast, Benedictine monk and well-known speaker on gratefulness as spiritual practice, teaches that there is a direct link between joy and gratefulness.

He has written that “the root of joy is gratefulness … It is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful.”

And David goes on to add, “We are never more than one grateful thought away from peace of heart.”

To practice gratitude or appreciative discernment, call to mind your appreciation for someone you know, a family member or a friend. Or think of a trip you took, a time when you had the privilege of being generous, a place in nature.

Today I’m grateful for you, my friends, my connected ones who follow my blog and take heart from my posts. It is my delight that we are connected in this way. My goal is to serve you tasty word meals. I enjoy knowing that you, like me feast on truth.

Today’s post is your amuse bouche, your bite-sized hors d’œuvre served gratis and according to me, your truth chef.

Eat up, chomp down on your appreciation for the good in your life.

Then breathe in and out your gratefulness to God.

Yesterday was a good day! I gardened, mowed the grass, and changed the oil in the lawnmower, something I haven’t done in ages. I painted a door, and I made dinner. In between I read and wrote a little. I drove our census over to the post office and then took a nice drive through the neighborhood. In the evening I watched TV with my wife. I am at my best, busy!

Today is different. It’s a beautiful day here in sunny California and the sun is shining, but I woke up in pain and haven’t been able to get away from it. It’s a beautiful day but I’m having trouble enjoying it. I’m taking medication and lying down. Life is up, and then life is down.

Yesterday on the phone with a friend we talked about wanting to live in the bubble. I want to live in the middle-class bubble, life safe, life resourced, life on vacation, life fun, life the way I like it, life that I control.

And I have. Many Americans have. We have gotten a good deal of that. But not every day, and not every season. Right now, during the coronavirus isolation, struggling with pain, life is up-and-down for us.

Sometimes the bubble pops. Dysbiosis. What do we do with that? We live it. We live it all. We live what we can control, and we live we can’t control. Welcome to reality! This is pretty much everybody’s reality. We don’t get everything we want. Some people hardly get anything they want.

We are headed into a season where many people are and will experience losses, the loss of loved ones, the loss of health, the loss of finances, the loss of careers, the loss of homes.

I don’t like this. No one does. So what still stands when all around things are lost? What still stands in all the world is full of fear? Despite our difficulties, two things haven’t changed. Two salient callings come to mind today: Love the Lord your God with all your heart soul and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. Neither a virus, nor the status of my body changes those two great ethical commandments for me. Discomfort doesn’t change those wisest of priorities.

Question: do we still love when we don’t get what we want? Do we love God? Do we love our neighbor? Do we maintain entente? These questions challenge me. Sometimes I fail in love — for God and my neighbor.

But yesterday my wife shipped my daughter and her husband two masks. My daughter is pregnant. We want her safe. Love.

And yesterday and today I worked on forming an online reading group to better connect with friends as we practice social distancing. Love.

Today so far I am holding my tongue and guarding my heart. It’s hard to hurt. I want to be healed, but I’m working on not being offended when I’m not. I’m not okay with pain, but I am working on not blaming anyone for it. This is life, part of life, and even compromised I am not off the hook to love. That’s hard. That’s love. Love doesn’t insist upon its own way. Love exists outside the bubble of what I want.

Last night at dinner we prayed for everyone who is suffering loss right now. We thanked God for the good things in our lives. Love.

Whether we’re on the mountaintop or in the ditch, in the bubble or watching it pop, the highest calling on our lives hasn’t changed.

Yet love.

This morning a hummingbird came to my backyard pond. It hovered in front of my pond fountain — a silver column of water surging into the air about a foot high — and took some sips. Standing on air, sipping sustenance — pure magic.

And the column of water? It’s powered by a pump connected to a solar panel. The sun moves the water up into nicely reachable space for the hummingbird. Sun moving water — pure magic

This morning I saw one of the dark grey and black fence lizards that lives in my backyard run straight down the vertical wall of my chimney to the ground. Running headfirst down a vertical wall — pure magic!

All around us we see things doing what they were made to do, things that we can’t do, but things that we can marvel at and appreciate and enjoy.

And that’s the question: what were you made to do? it may be a thing that the lizard can’t do and the sun can’t do and the hummingbird can’t do. It is most likely something you do easily, without thinking much about it, like breathing or eating.

Think about it. What do you love to do? Do that! Overcome fear, apathy, negativity and do something that you know is in you to do, something that might help someone else, something that might give you meaning, something that you’ve always wanted to do but perhaps been afraid to try.

Capitalization learning involves getting good at something by building on the strengths that we are naturally given

Do what you can capitalize on, what — given your personality and strengths — you feel nudged to do, something with the potential for you to perfect — pure magic!

Just do it.

Drill down, ensoul, innovate.

Today.

For God did not give us a spirit of fear but a spirit of power love and self-control.

2 Timothy 1:7

The coronavirus and the fall of the stock market, the cancelling of public events, the social distancing, people’s panic and their hoarding behaviors — these now conspire to create fear in us.

How do we manage fear?

First, think of fear as gear, as normal equipment that is a powerful and helpful part of your nervous system, able to sometimes keep you safe, making you cautious when you need to be. It’s your WiFi. It sends info to you concerning danger.

In this way fear is your friend. So sit with fear, don’t reject it. It makes us feel vulnerable but then sometimes we are vulnerable and that’s OK. We do know one thing, that threats often pass and the feelings of fear pass on to. I love Oscar Wilde’s comment, “The chief charm of moods is that they don’t last.”

Another thought for how to handle fear. Take the long view. And sometimes take the short view. I have felt fear lately due to some chronic pain I’m experiencing. What if I don’t get well? It’s annoying. Its angering. It’s fear producing. I am afraid when I think it may always be with me. But I need to take the long view. This pain will probably morph over time and if it doesn’t go away I will become more adept at handling it. The same with disease and financial ups and downs. We will experience financial losses, and we will experience financial gains. The long view will tell us that life will always be up and down and things will come and go. But I also take the short view at times, creating equipoise, and I live for the day and the day always has some good moments in it.

The Bible addresses fear often because it is a wise book and it knows that fear is built into our system. We are told to fear God which means to respect him and honor him and please him. We see in this advice that there is a need to be aware of power when it’s there and to give it due regard. The Bible normalizes fear. Even when it tells us not to be afraid because God is with us it is acknowledging that we will be fearful, that fear is something that we will always have to work on.

What to do?

Avoid living according to the Nudge Theory, the premise that people will often choose what is easiest, what they are nudged toward, over what is wisest. So in crisis they hide and horde and obsess on the news and rashly move assets. But in the face of fear don’t be nudged; be wise, not washed away by other’s panic.

Let’s not let fear stop us from normal living. We can show courage and flex some fear-crushing power by carrying on, doing the next thing we need to do, want to do or should do — such as workout, even if it is at home, clean, work, play, call friends, cook, laugh, eat good food. I’ve been building muscles with stretchy bands while I lay on my bed thus in one small way I am preparing for usefulness. I am avoiding Victor Frankel’s existential vacuum that anticipates no future.

Now let’s talk money. With the crash of the stock market and the loss of business many of us fear more financial loss. But again the Bible is smart here. It is always advising us to be generous (“Give…” says Jesus) and by deduction we might say then that it is advising us to fear falling into selfish, stingy and ungenerous living. We should fear being selfish more than we should fear not having enough. Selfishness is as damaging as lack. It withers our very souls!

One thing I’ve done lately is to continue to be generous to the charities I give to. My wife and I refuse to let fear become a force majeure in our lives, gorgonizing us snd keeping us from our social contract. I have been giving extra money and time to family and friends in need. I am trying to live by the philosophy of plenty, not scarcity. I refuse to be fearful-stingy. I am warming up my relationships and my own heart by taking care of others. I love myself better when I am generous. I also, by doing this, am trusting that God will take care of me as he takes care of the birds and the flowers and all of the transient things.

We had some family and friends over on Saturday for my daughter’s baby shower. We took careful cautionary measures, (anyone who we suspected to be of any risk because of age or exposure or low immunity was lovingly told to stay home) but we didn’t stop being social with safe loved ones. Baby showers are like Indian potlatches. We shower the parents with gifts and thus redistribute the wealth.

Don’t give me wrong. We all do feel afraid of the coronavirus and of a recession, of not having enough, but sometime we can get powerful and respond to fears with opposite action. We do the opposite of what fear tells us to do. Then we are furiously legitimate and robustly authentic by loving — because that is who we are. We show our bona fides, our legitimacy by doing the opposite of what anxiety suggests. We shun unwarranted hoarding and over-protecting.

Lastly, it occurs to me today that we are helped when we are fearful by talking to others. It’s the talking cure. We ask what they think we should do, we look to others for a model. For the baby shower, my brother was advised by myself, his wife and by his sons not to come. His immunity is compromised. We also advised that my 92-year-old dad not come. This advice helped them to feel that they weren’t letting us down. We told them that we wanted them safe because we loved them and they were able to stay home and not feel guilty about not coming. Here again we see that fear was a friend, guiding us to do the good thing.

When facing fear, we need each other. We need each other‘s perspectives. When we are fearful we should talk about this with trusted others, seek council and do as we are advised.

There are many other things to do when fearful. Perhaps you could make your own list. Remember you are powerful. Your body is powerful. Your brain is capable of managing your reactions. Give this some thought.

I love you.

Be safe.

But also be generous and loving and in these fearful times, engage in an abundance of wise, safe activity that creates a sense of well-being in you and your loved ones.

Recently, watching the news I saw disturbing images — children dug from earthquake rubble, reports of missing people, an arrested wife murderer, political infighting and name calling, failed governmental processes, corrupt, greedy leaders. I saw pictures of people with contagious diseases and images of terrible auto accidents.

I find that somewhere inside of me I want to reject there parts of our world, to get away from them, even deny them at times. Instead I want Isaiah’s peaceable kingdom. I want the wolf to lay down with the lamb. I want no more tears. I want no more harm.

Of course this is completely understandable, and of course there is the validity in longing for safety and reform and justice and newness, but rejection of our current world is not the answer. Rejection of people is not the answer; rejection of harm is not the answer. People will do wrong. There will be harm. The truth is that in this life we can’t get away from all of that.

This is a huge issue for us. we want aponia, the Greek ideal of the absence of pain. I love the absence of pain. But life has pain; it comes to us, and we don’t welcome it.

This tendency toward rejection of pain and difficulty isn’t just limited to our world. We also tend toward rejecting our own selves, our bodies, our own souls, our own emotions, our experience, our own behaviors, any parts of theses we don’t like.

We get sick, our teeth decay, we experience pain, our bodies change sizes, we need surgeries. In these hardships we don’t like how we feel. We don’t like how our bodies look or how they smell. Then there is the same response as to what we don’t like in our world. We reject the unseemly parts of our bodies and of ourselves.

We become separated from parts of ourselves, de-integrated, fragmented. We experience a mind-body division, perhaps our soul rejects our emotions. This can happen when we reject painful memories, when we reject our painful or damaged body parts, our sexuality, our physicality — our long nose, our thin hair, our bulging tummy, our aging face, our short legs, our scars, our wrinkles, our sadness, our depression, our seeming failures, our loneliness.

But this rejection will not work for us. We need integration and congruency with our world and with our bodies. We need to belong. We need integration. We need everybody who we have rejected and everything we have rejected to come home. We need a united kingdom, on earth and within ourselves.

How do we do this?

We do this by saying to our world and saying to our bodies, “I do not reject you. I am aware that you are part of me and I am a part of you.”

To those parts of our world of our body that we have rejected we say, “I welcome you back. I invite you home.”

We don’t invite evil, but we realize that we too are evil and not so different from the ones that we want to reject. We do not invite harm, but we recognize that we too harm and are harmed. Our souls and our bodies are harmed and we reach out to them and touch them and accept them, ragged, raddled and frayed as they are.

We take our direction from Jesus in doing this. In one of his most famous sayings, he said that he “did not come into the world to condemn the world but that the world through him might be saved.” Rescue came through him, in him, absorbed within him. And in his sacrifice Jesus engaged everything. Everyone.

Apply this. We are not in the world to condemn the world. Neither are we here to condemn our bodies. The dynamic, healing and therapeutic power for good comes not from rejection or condemnation. It comes from acceptance and from love.

But you might say that the Apostle John taught us to reject the world. He did not. He taught us to reject sin, harming others — evil, greed, pride, selfishness. John’s main teaching was that “God is love” and that anyone who does not love his neighbor does not love God. Love is the ultimate form of acceptance.

Place your hands on the people of the world that you have a tendency to reject and tell them you love them. If you can’t touch them still tell them that you love them. Seek complementarity. Tell yourself every day that you care for the whole earth. Place your hands on the parts of your body that you tend to reject and tell those parts that you love them.

This is the way. The way is not in rejection. The way is found in acceptance, forgiveness and love.

I heard a fiery sermon this morning. The preacher was good. Made some excellent points. The crowd laughed, and clapped. At the end speaker shouting. I got a feeling people were duly impressed.

Me, I just felt guilt. The text was Philippians 4:12-13.

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

Great text. I’ve memorized it. It’s in my most recent journal. The point of the message given by the pastor was that it if you aren’t content and full of joy in hard times, in the storm, then you’re not an authentic Christian. You’re a fair weather Christian. If you’re only content in good times, prosperous times, times when you have nice stuff, times when things are going well, then you aren’t for real.

He ended shouting “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus!”

The whole thing made me feel somehow in adequate. I think it was because it felt like the pressure was all on me to do something to be more authentic. I know that in Corinthian’s Paul spoke of dispairing of “even life itself.” Nobody is up, positive, content all the time. That’s just not reality. 

I wanted to know more. I was left with questions?

I don’t tend to feel content in storms. How do I draw on that strength that comes from Jesus? Is there something I have to do? My efforts to be content in Jesus during storms don’t seem to work that well. On the other hand, I know I try to he authentic in my faith.

Thoughts: Looks like Paul’s strength was from Jesus, not from himself. Paul’s secret was that it was Christ strengthening him. Paul wasn’t strong. Jesus was. This distinction is important. Paul was quick to know his weakness in other places in Scripture. So what we make of all this?

Being content isn’t something we do, but something Christ does in us when he gives us strength. Paul learned that the strength wasn’t from him. He learned that we can’t make ourselves more content in hard times. Christ is the one who makes us content to suffer through the storm.

I suppose you could assert that we have to have the faith, but the Bible says even faith is a gift of God.

I think what helps me here is to see that this text is more about God being authentic than Paul or me. I’m pretty dodgy. Paul himself didn’t always have it together. But Jesus, he’s authentic, and he can do what we can’t do.

His strength that he brings to me by his initiative is what can get me through the storm.

So my, our, humble, broken Philippians 4 prayer might be, “God we seem to lack the power to do the very thing we want to do, be content with hardship. So it’s up to you. Christ be strength! Christ be the one who gives us even the faith that your strength is there for us. Jesus, it is you, not me, so be you in me.”

So in a sense I’m off the authentic making hook. Jesus is on the hook for me. He’s the one that is going to come through.

Thank God for that!

“I’m open. Christ be my contentment, Christ be strength in me.”