Comforting Words: 09/2005

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Walk Good

this is an audio post - click to play

Sunday, September 18, 2005

My Life, My Story: Upside Down

When I started the series My Life, My Story, My Gifts, I told you it was a story that started taking written form some years ago. I also told you that it is an unfinished tale.

This week as my Comforting Words, I share "Upside Down," the final written portion of my story. You might need to re-read the first part of this story, Naked Before God,and also "The Tender Years," which is part two.

Over the next few months, I will continue the story, writing it from my memories and sharing it with you as it comes along.

In the meantime, I invite you to pick up where we left off last week and along with quotations for Sacred Words and Words from the Heart, allow these words to open your heart to your own story. It is my hope that one day some of you might share your stories with me, joining those who already have, either in person or here at Comforting Words.

Welcome to first time visitors. You are invited to become a member of the Comforting Words community by simply clicking on the “Join Our Mailing List” feature at the right of your screen and follow the prompts. Scroll down until you find the red box to the right and be sure to be kept abreast of happenings in the Comforting Words community.

Your ‘membership’ gives you a chance to receive one of the monthly surprises! The next draw will be on September 30, 2005, so make sure you are among those eligible to receive this gift.

The obligations for being a member of this community are few. In fact, there is only one – a desire to live authentically.

As the host of this Blog and the Comforting Words Community, I willingly open myself to you. I am here to support you as I am able to, whenever and however needed. You may contact me via email or you can join the continuing conversation at the InComfort Discussion Forum. If needs be, I will call you, if you provide a telephone number or you can call me - members have access to my telephone number.

Sacred Words
(By using Sacred Words to describe the quotations that I chose to use in this section, my intention is to share with you words from a variety of sources that are dedicated to Truth and to what is holy in our experiences as human beings.)

From "Women's Words: The Columbia Book of Quotations by Women" compiled and edited by Mary Biggs:
"...Suffering does not ennoble. It destroys. To resist destruction, self-hatred, or lifelong hopelessness, we have to throw off the conditioning of being despised, the fear of becoming the they that is talked about so dismissively, to refuse lying myths and easy moralities, to see ourselves as human, flawed, and extraordinary. All of us - extraordinary." Dorothy Allison (b. 1949, U.S. author and lesbian feminist)

"...Money trials are not the hardest, and somehow or the other, they are always overcome." Amelia E. Barr (1831 - 1919, U.S. author)

Words of Comfort

Mama's marriage was falling apart.

From the little I understood at the time, the problem stemmed from her husband's inability to keep a job and bring home a steady income. He had many income-generating ideas, including using our home as the venue for what was then called 'paid sessions'. Not to be confused with psychotherapy, these sessions, although therapeutic in their own ways, had nothing to do with deep analysis.

Music and enjoying life is at the being of every Jamaican and Mr. H decided to capitalize on this in our community. Our house became the monthly venue for a dance session, with patrons paying to enter our 'yard' and living room to party the night away.

Loud playing speakers, a room lit only by a low-watt blue bulb and couples in close embrace against the walls, Mama at the back of the house selling beers, malt, rum punch and other hard liquor, plated meals of curried goat meat on a bed of hot, white rice and Mr. H at the turntable, disc jockey for the night, was the scene at my house one Saturday night every month.

This too passed, however, when the landlord got wind of what was going on at his property, particularly the fact of the frequent brawls and breaking of bottles when somebody's lover got a little too plastered.

With this 'career' ended, Mr. H would later, with a loan from Mama's savings and from what he managed to scrape together, become an 'agricultural marketer' of sorts. He journeyed weekly to his home town, in St. Thomas, which is a dry and seemingly barren parish in eastern Jamaica.

St. Thomas was most popular for the power and potency of its obeah men. Obeah or vodoo (as it is called in Haiti) was and still is practised in Jamaica and many balm yards can be found across the island. However, Mr. H's trip to St. Thomas was for a different purpose. He bought pig meat and other agricultural products including yams, potatoes and pumpkins and brought them to Kingston and sold them to families in the community and at his former workplace.

This venture also brought some food to our own table and for this my mother was happy and grateful. You knew Mama was happy when she was singing certain songs and serving Mr. H the choice cuts of the meat, baked potatoes, rice and peas and vegetable salad - all in the best serving dishes and bowls. I always wondered why Mama only set the table and laid out a spread for Mr. H. I was later to learn that that is how a woman should treat her man, showing respect if not love.

All the singing and merriment soon ended. To me, it seemed as if a whirlwind had hit our house and took with it all the songs, pig meat, set table and Mama's good dishes.

Mama was sick and admitted to the Spanish Town Hospital - in a private room of course. I overheard the adults saying she was going to have a "growth cut out." Children were not allowed in the ward or so the explanation went why I could not visit but this was fine with me as I got to stay with a close friend of my mother's and her family.

Glory day came when my Daddy turned up, with his wife and took me to visit Mama. Until that day, I had not known he was in touch with Mama, worse yet that "the woman," as Mama referred to her, actually lived and breathed. The day turned out to be even more glorious when I got to the hospital and Mama was served her dinner and I got to eat the imported grapes and jello!

I told everyone who would listen about my visit - not seeing Mama but the food I ate and the television in the room. No one could convince me that I had not visited heaven. Someone had to explain though why a few weeks later, I arrived home for lunch to find an empty house.

I always considered myself lucky living a stone's throw away from school. I did not have to rise with the chickens to get ready for school in the mornings nor did I have to journey too far to get my lunch. On that fateful day, however, I wished my house was somewhere else than on the main access street to Pembroke Hall Primary School.

The school bell had rung some thirty minutes or so earlier but for some reason unbeknownst to me now, I delayed leaving the compound for lunch that day. I casually passed through the main chain-link gates of the school, not feeling overly anxious to get home and even stranger feeling of gloom overcame me. My intuitiveness was alive from those days, it would however take years for me to learn to be aware of and assess those sensations I would have about a person or situation.

Kicking a pebble, I exited the compound and with my head hanging down, I slowly passed the vendors on the sidewalks totally uninterested in their wares. As I made my way up Potosi Avenue, two girls approached me coming from the opposite direction.

I recognised one of them as being in my class. Her name was Sharon and she was a short, fair-skinned girl with waist-long, black, straight hair. She was of East Indian descent and to most children in my class that fact, coupled with her skin colour, made her special.

"Claudette, you moving?" she shouted to me from across the way.


"But me see a moving truck a' your house, " she informed me.

I did not want to hear any more. I was no athlete and the sport was not my favourite, but somehow I made the fifteen-minutes distance in probably five seconds and surely enough there was a big open back truck, laden with our furniture pulling away out of the driveway.

"Mama, Mama!" I was shouting as I entered the front door, which was swinging in the wake of whoever had just exited. Were we robbed? Had Mama moved out and left me? But why?

These were the questions filling up my head, as I wandered through the two bedroom house, noting that the television set was missing. The Phillips radio, the stove, the refridgerator, the sofa set and anything large and of value were gone. Only the two beds and the wardrobes were left.

"Mamaaa!" I wailed. No response.

I was trembling uncontrollably, worse than the time Dr. Jone's nurse gave me the wrong injection for the chicken pox.

"Mamaa, Missa H!" I screamed. No answer.

Choking now on my coughs and screams, I huddled in a corner with my knees pulled up to my chin and waited.

How long I sat there God alone knows but when my eyes opened, puffy and hurting, I heard Mama's voice. "Mama," I shouted.

"Cutie, you inside?" she called back to me. "Come here child."

My mother's embrace never felt warmer and I would have stayed there until the frightening day was over. "Me think you gone lef' me," I said to her.

"You crazy pickni'," she admonished. "Me come and realise what happen and go back out through the door and didn't realise you in the bedroom."

"So where is the furniture?" I asked, still clutching her legs, not wanting to let go, scared that she might go missing too.

"Mister W sent bailiff pon' me," she explained. "Them take the furniture dem' until me clear off the how much month back rent."

This was all way above my head and as if sensing this, Mama filled me in. "H nuh pay di' rent from before me go into hospital," she informed me. "Is over seven months rent nuh pay."

According to her, her business started to slow down long before she fell ill and she was planning to close the shop, with the hopes that "the worthless man would help out." She was relating this story to me as if she would to one of her woman friends. "I know that we were behind, but never realise that a so much owe!" she told me with tears of embarrassment flowing down her cheeks. Her next words had me joining in her crying.

"H eat out the money and gone. Him lef' me!"

That was how I was informed that Mr. H was out of our lives and a show down in the divorce courts was pending. It was also the first stage in our downward spiral.

(To be continued)

Words from the Heart

Momma Welfare Roll
Maya Angelou

Her arms semaphore fat triangles.
Pudgy hands bunched on layered hips.
Where bones idle under years of fatback
And lima beans.
Her jowls shiver in accusation
Of crimes cliched by
Repetition. Her children, strangers
To childhood's toys, play
Best the games of darkened doorways.
Rooftop tag, and know the slick fell of
Other people's property.

Top fat to whore,
Too mad to work,
Searches her dreams for the
Lucky sign and walks bare-handed
Into a den of bureaucrats for
Her portion.
"They don't give me welfare.
I take it."

Blessings, until the next audiopost.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Get Closer To You

this is an audio post - click to play

Monday, September 12, 2005

The Tender Years

My Life, My Story, My Gifts continues this week with "The Tender Years" as my Comforting Words.

Typing this portion of my story took me back to memories I had re-buried and as I typed the words written some years ago, I was transported to another time and place. Pulling away from the original and re-reading what was before me on the screen, how far I have come and how much of innocence, trust and childhood fervour I have lost.

Writing this portion of my story, along with the quotations for Sacred Words and Words from the Heart, I realise how important it is to spend some time retrieving our stories - the good and the bad of it all.

I invite you to share this portion of my story and I pray that it might awaken something in you to share some of your own, either with me and the community here at Comforting Words or with someone you trust.

If this is your first time here, welcome. You might need to read the Introduction to my story and the post, Naked Before God, that begins this tale.

You are also invited to become a member of the Comforting Words community by simply clicking on the “Join Our Mailing List” feature at the right of your screen and follow the prompts. Your ‘membership’ gives you a chance to receive one of the monthly surprises! We had our first “surprise” draw August 31, 2005 from the Mailing List and the winner was a citizen of Jamaica! She received a copy of Iyanla Vanzant's "Living Through the Meantime."

The obligations for being a member of this community are few. In fact, there is only one – a desire to live authentically. As the host of this Blog and the Comforting Words Community, I willingly open myself to you. I am here to support you as I am able to, whenever and however needed.

You may contact me via email or you can join the continuing conversation at the InComfort Discussion Forum. If needs be, I will call you, if you provide a telephone number or you can call me - members have access to a number to me.

Sacred Words

(By using Sacred Words to describe the quotations that I chose to use in this section, my intention is to share with you words from a variety of sources that are dedicated to Truth and to what is holy in our experiences as human beings.)

"I had NO IDEA that mothering my own child would be so healing to my own sadness from my childhood."
Susie Bright (b. 1958)
"The events of childhood do not pass, but repeat themselves like seasons of the year."
Eleanor Farjeon (1881 - 1965

Words of Comfort

I have absolutely no recollection of when, how and where Mama met her first husband. Totally blank. I have had no interest in knowing and so I have never asked.

He just appeared.

What I do recall is the sickening, green feeling that arose at the back of my throat, announcing that I was on the verge of vomiting as Mama introduced him to me as her husband. Few are my early memories but this one I will never forget. I must have been about three years old but my dislike and distrust for this tall, slightly plump, dark skin man was immediate.

There must have been a wedding ceremony, a reception, cake, wine and gifts. Mama was too proud a woman not to have had the pomp and pageantry. Maybe I was very much the centre piece and quite possibly I was in a white frilly dress as she loved to display her possessions and I certainly was one.

I simply do not remember and the years to follow would give me good cause.
We were now a family - husband, wife and child - and we needed to move to bigger quarters. Mama and I were living in Pembroke Hall, not very far from where my father continued to live for several years until his own marriage. We lived on Rosehall Avenue, which was a slgiht more upscale than where my paternal grandparents lived.

Mama married Mr. H, as I would call him for all the years we spent together, and it was soon after the wedding that we moved to the house across from Miss Gardner's shop. This was to be the first of many moves I was to make with my mother.

For a while, life progressed as any other family's did. Mr. H left for work everyday ( he was some sort of salesman) and Mama had started her own small business after she left the J.O.S. She would leave home early each morning to open the doors of her little shop on Spanish Town Road, which in those days was a bustling commercial area.

Mama was always proud to tell people how my formal education started at a very tender age. However, it was out of pure necessity rather than any insight on her part that she had a genius on her hand that I would be taken to Miss Thomas Basic School on her way to work. It was here that I publicly peed myself for the first time.

I started attending Miss Thomas' School at a much younger age than most children. Mama said that at three, I displayed an eagerness to learn. Frankly, I believe it was more as a result of not knowing what to do with me during the days and being unable to find or afford reliable household help.

Up until my enrollment at basic school, we always had an household helper. I was later to understand the truth behind the change of our housedhold arrangements. Money had started to be a problem - slow in coming in and Mama did not want another woman in the house with her relatively new husband. She had seen what had happened in other houses.

Whatever her reasons, my formal education started in a class and school with children twice my age. This spelt trouble, at least for me. It was at this school where I saw sex in action and got a whipping for my troubles.

The school consisted of one large and dark hall, which was divided by chalk boards. The spaces between the fancy brickwork in the concrete walls and the doorless entrances provided both light and ventilation. Being a teacher in those days required having a strong, loud voice that could carry over the din. It was as if you were attending several concerts simultaneously, when all the children in their various classes started chanting, some screaming, the multiplication tables.

Coming out of what was not unlike the hull of a slave ship, no wonder recess was a joyous time and some children got carried away.

I can remember that eventful day when my neighbhour, Orville, a boy with bushy hair to match his wild temperament decided to demonstrate what he had seen his much older siblings do, with a girl behind the toilet stalls. It now seems as if the entire basic school was gathered behind those stalls, piling up on each other in the narrow space separating the school yard from the bedroom windows of the neighbouring house.

Guess who was in the front row, mouth wide open, eyes bulging and gasping for air?

So engrossed was I that although Miss Thomas was a buxom, heavy-set woman, she might as well have been one of those warriors capable of cat walking, as the only sense I had of her approach was the burning bad of heat I felt on my skin as her leather strap fell on my behind. It was then I peed myself and ran through the gates for about a mile home, non stop, in my wet drawers.

It would be three years more before I was able to leave Miss Thomas for 'big' school - Pembroke Hall Primary. Many were my lessons at basic school though, lessons that prepared me for the next stage of my educational and social development or shaped my views about the world. It was at basic school that I learnt to fear injection needles and the nurses who used them, for example, as we lined up to receive our annual immunization shots. In fact, it was on one of these occasions that I peed myself for the second time in public - the day of the measles shots!

Basic school also taught me how to protect my property, particularly lunch, from those who ate faster than I did. We all received a bowl of hot rice, which was so moist you could hear it plop off the cook's huge serving spoon. We called it 'bolo slush' and it was dished out with some kind of meat or chicken, usually the latter which was less expensive as it was reared at the back of the school hall in a two level fowl coop, the stench from which rivalled the one from the toilet stalls.

The lesson of independence started at basic school and the most vivid is probably the day I was finally allowed to walk home from school with the neighbourhood children - with no adults. More importantly, my prince charming, Orville was (the same one who I peed myself over) carrying my bag.

Truth is, after and inspite of that incident, he was to be my 'boyfriend' during my basic school years and, being my next door neighbour, our 'relationship' extended beyond the confines of school to the cardboard playhouse Mr. H built for me under the sour-sop tree in our backyard.

Orville, his younger sister Maxine and I were to become a family in that cardboard house. Obviously, he ws the father, I the mother and Maxine our sweet offspring. Looking back, I can see now that we were acting out our deepest wishes being children of 'broken' marriages, Orville and Maxine were living with their granparents and I was living in a home that was increasingly becoming known for the noise and violent displays that spilled over into the public domain.

We were doing more than that however. We were acting out what we witnessed in our homes. One day Orville decided to consumate our 'marriage'. It was the day we divorced. He soon re-married to G., the tom-boy who lived on the other side of his house.

In spite of our divorce, life on the avenue continued with G., Orville's new 'wife', and I becoming very close friends. We would all gather after school bneath the huge tree at G's house to plan and execute our missions to wreck havoc on the avenue. We all atended different schools, depending on where parents worked or did not work for that matter, but most of us went to Pembroke Hall Primary by that time. G was one of those who went to a different school - one where her mother worked. She was to become the leader of our 'gang', with her dictates dutifully followed by the rest of us.

My main purpose in this band of noisemakers was to secure provision, either from Mama's well-stocked 'fridge' or from Miss Gardner's shop. By then, our tastes had graduated beyond the Hostess cakes to meat loaves - a warm, oven baked dough filled with spicy minced beef. These were far more expensive than the cakes, and I was allowed to charge only one per day. This posed a problem, as it was difficult to split this pea-shaped delight between four to six pairs of grubby and grabbing hands.

We got up to many antics, ranging from the unauthorised reaping of fruits from our neighbour's trees, throwing pebbles onto the roofs of those who took offense at our assistance with harvesting to teasing and chasing the neighbours' dogs and, as we got older, we hiked to a nearby hill and explored the caves. Life was simple, at least when I was with my friends.

At home, it was a different story.

(To be continued)

Words from the Heart

This Prayer For Our Children, written by Marianne Williamson, is one I hold dear and hope that every mother, mine included even though I am now 40 years, would say for their daughters.

Dear God,
There are no words for the depth of my love for this child.
I pray for her care and her protection.
I surrender her into Your hands.
Please, dear God, send Your angels to bless and surround her always.
May she always be protected from the darkness of our times.
May she always see You as the centre of her life.
May her heart grow strong,
To love You and serve You.
I surrender, dear God, my parenthood to You.
Make me the parent You want me to be.
Show me how to love most patiently, to be there for her most fully,
To understand profoundly who she is and what she needs.
May this family be a blessing unto her now and forever.
May she learn here values and principles of love and righteousness.
May she learn from me kindness.
May she learn from me strength.
May she learn from me the lessons fo power;
That she has it and must surrender it to You, to be used for Your
purposes throughout her life
For thus shall You be gladdedned,
And thus shall she be free,
To live most fully and love most deeply.
That is my wish.
That is my prayer for her and for me forever.

Blessings, until the next audiopost.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Season of Change

this is an audio post - click to play

Monday, September 05, 2005

Tell The People To Move Forward

The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina has been so disturbing that the idea of continuing to share with you My Life, My Story, My Gifts seems inappropriate.
Most certainly, the story will continue but not this week. It behoves each and every one of us to spend some time reflecting on the tragedy which unfolded before the world in the great United States of America.

In wanting to live peacefully and without conflict, many of us shy away from politics and even religion. While I admit that this is a tempting prospect, I know it is impossible to totally avoid both subjects.

Thomas Moore, author of Care of the Soul, in one of his books - the name of which excapes me now - suggests that we cannot separate our religious, spiritual and political lives. Everything we do and all that we are impact the community, whether our action is in the spiritual, political, business or cultural realm. We are integrated.

One of the objectives of this, the Comforting Words, community is to highlight that integration, to show that each of us, including gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgendered people, is part of the whole. In fact, the concern of this community is not focused only on LGBT people but extends to women, children and young adults who experience challenges in life and are living in difficult circumstances due to race, gender, ethnic background or economic status.

You can therefore understand the pain, shock and even anger that I felt watching the tragedy unfold in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana - more so in New Orleans.

While it is not my intention to delve in the United States politics, history or culture, this week along with Sacred Words and the Words from the Heart, I invite you to explore a few of the issues that one could hear expressed among the survivors of Hurricane Katrina, the displaced and now homeless, the bureaucrats, the 'celebrities' and the religious.

As I sat in church this past Sunday, one of the biblical passages read and the sermon, though in a different context, of the guest minister rung so true for me that I decided to borrow the title for this week's Comforting Words - "Tell The People To Move Forward."

I also invite you to become a member of the Comforting Words community by simply clicking on the “Join Our Mailing List” feature at the right of your screen and follow the prompts. Your ‘membership’ gives you a chance to receive one of the monthly surprises! We had our first “surprise” draw August 31, 2005 from the Mailing List and the winner was a citizen of Jamaica! She received a copy of Iyanla Vanzant's "Living Through the Meantime."

The obligations for being a member of this community are few. In fact, there is only one – a desire to live authentically. As the host of this Blog and the Comforting Words Community, I willingly open myself to you. I am here to support you as I am able to, whenever and however needed.

You may contact me via email or you can join the continuing conversation at the InComfort Discussion Forum. If needs be, I will call you, if you provide a telephone number or you can call me - members have access to a number to me.

Sacred Words
(By using Sacred Words to describe the quotations that I chose to use in this section, my intention is to share with you words from a variety of sources that are dedicated to Truth and to what is holy in our experiences as human beings.)

From Christian Scripture - Exodus 14:15
"Then the Lord said to Moses, 'Why do you cry out to me? Tell the Israelites to go forward.'"

From Mary Bigg’s Women’s Words: The Columbia Book of Quotations by Women, 305, 422, 318
"The arrogance of race prejudice is an arrogance which defines what is scientifically known of human races." Ruth Benedict (1887 - 1948, U.S Anthropologist.)

". . . the meanest life, the poorest existence, is attributed to God's will, but as human beings become more affluent, as their living standard and style begin to ascend the material scale, God descends the scale of responsibility at a commensurate speed."
Maya Angelou (b. 1928, African-American poet, autobiographer and performer)
Words of Comfort
Quite frankly, I have always had serious challenges believing that a loving God, who created this universe with such detail and precision would deliberately cause disasters such as the tsunami which occurred last year and the recent Hurricane Katrina as punishment for human sin.

Once I personally accepted the legitimacy of my question about the kindess of a deity who would 'behave' in such a revengeful and downright mean-spirited fashion, my quest for answers began in earnest.

Living as I did in the 'hurricane belt', on the island of Jamaica, for twenty-eight of my forty years on this earth, I have heard first hand accounts of Hurricane Charley and witnessed the devastation that even a tropical storm can cause.

Though I have fond memories of missing school and being home feasting on a meal of codfish and fried dumplings (johnny cakes), with steaming hot chocolate tea, my recollection of the damage and destruction to homes and properties, the loss of life and income and the total dismantling of any semblance of order is as vivid.

Why would God do this? If God is loving, gentle, merciful and kind, how could He allow people to suffer and even die - especially the poor - in storms, earthquakes, hurricane, floodings?

Mary McCarthy, the author of "Memories of a Catholic Girlhood," expressed sentiments about this kind of God that I shared and continue to share:

". . . I do not mind if I lose my soul for eternity. If the kind of God exists who would damn me for not working out a deal with Him, then that is unfortunate. I should care not to spend eternity in the company of such a person."

Think about it. If God would destroy what He/She created, kill thousands of people because they are not Christians, Caucasian, Muslims, rich or any other factor such as these, then that God must be evil.

As I watched the images of death, destruction and the mayhem in New Orleans in the aftermath of the hurricane and as I listened to some of the people ask after God, I knew that platitudes of any kind will not heal the spritual and emotional wounds that natural disasters cause.

Continuing to watch the news reports of the aftermath of the hurricance, images started to emerge of the animals caught in the midst of this natural disaster, displaced from their natural homes, separated from families who for years provided them with shelter, food and loving care. Human beings and animal (beings) alike were joined in this grim scenario, however, it was the pain of the former that was highlighted.

One of the first courses I took at theological college was Theological Anthropology and it could have been either the first or second lecture when the professor made a comment which had me reeling. My reaction to his comment that man is the pinnacle of the universe, of God's creation, set the tone of our future relationship as I politely, I think, asked him where does he get off with such a notion.

"That is pure arrogance and intellectual ignorance," I remarked. Fortunately, he was to some extent open-minded enough not to kick me out of the class, in which I was one of very few women and the only person of African descent.

The religious types and the theological scholars would probably describe my brand of theology as syncretism, which the Chambers' Twentieth Century dictionary defines as "an attempt to reconcile different systems of beliefs, especially of different forms of Christianity; fusion or blending of religions."

However one wishes to describe it, understanding that we all have our paths to God and that no one is the one true way to a relationship with the Divine therefore I must not only respect, but honour each person's journey has been a freeing experience for me. It has also made my faith life, my walk along the Jesus way and my relationship with the Sacred that more rich and meaningful.

An important aspect of my syncretistic approach to religion and spirituality is the belief that human beings share this universe equally with the animal and plant kingdoms. Granted, my habits in relation to how I use and exploit the plant kingdom, as an example, could be greatly improved and I am working on it.

The point, however, is that due to my growing respect and deepening reverence for the Sacred in all life - human, animal and plant - it is hard for me to sit still when comments such as the one made by the professor are uttered.

The thought that human beings are the pinnacle of creation and the behaviour that goes along with it, the indiscriminate use and exploitation of natural resources, plant and animal, has led us to this place. Not for a moment would I claim any scientific or environmental expertise, but one's head would have to be buried very deep in the sand to not realise the connections between how mankind have made use of nature, our rape of the environment and the increasing numbers of natural disasters and climate changes.

It is my belief that we live in an ordered and ordering Universe. What do I mean by this?

Among the many theorists, some people believe that God created the intracacies of the Universe, including placing man at its pinnacle, and left it. The clockmaker theory. There are others who believe in the Big Bang theory - that the world as we know it developed and will continue to develop out of physical constants or energies which arise for the Big Bang. The Universe, some of these thinkers posit, will evolve mechanically in accordance with these initial energies.

Then there are the process thinkers, who reject this latter theory. Although they seemingly agree with the notion of a Big Bang, they see a Deity that lures or persuades the Universe into being long before this event. This "Force" will continue to do so, encouraging more complex living beings into existence, however the forms of these beings are not pre-determined but will be affected/shaped according to free will, chance and prevailing situations.

My personal line of thinking falls somewhere within process philosophy and theology. I 'see' the hands of a God, a Force, Something Bigger Than Myself in Creation. Deep in my heart, I feel that we all, animals, plants and humans alike, are being urged "to life, to live well and to live better," to borrow a phrase from process theoology. Bishop Spong says it best - "to be all that we can be and to love wastefully."

Is there evil in the world? Is there death and destruction from natural disasters? Indeed there are. Is God responsible for this?

I have had to look deep within to come to what for me is a 'reasonable' response to this question. There is a saying, "No pain, no gain," one which has been used to urge athletes in particular to peak performance and is relevant to this conversation.

I remember when my baby girl was getting her first tooth. Try as I might, there was nothing that I could do to totally eliminate the pain of that wonderful 'tool', the one that would help her to process the nutrition that she would need for further growth.

Since that time and after much reflection, I have come to certain 'truths,' namely that life it seems is very much like that - a constant process of tooth bursting the gum. There is no way we can avoid or eliminate the physical pain. If we are to grow, if we are to move on to the next level, if we are to become all that we can be and make a way for the next generation, there will be pain and, because we are humans - thinking beings - there will be suffering.

It therefore means that, in a sense, God has something to do with that process. Some would say that God is part of the process right along with Creation - feeling our pain and maybe experiencing our suffering.

Recently, I heard someone make a distinction between pain and suffering -- he said that pain is what we experience on the physical level. Suffering is an emotional and spiritual experience.

Whether you agree with that is up to you. When I examine my own life challenges, I can understand where he is coming from. For example, when I fell and broke my leg at age 33, there was serious physical pain, but it was more bearable than the suffering that I underwent, just prior to the incident, of being underpaid, feeling exploited by a chauvinistic employer and unable to pay my bills.

Breaking my leg was a blessing in disguise, in fact it was a turning point. Ordered to rest and after four weeks of lying in bed, prayerfully I came to some decisions and the windows of opportunity opened. Within a couple weeks of having the cast taken off, I was offered a job that would pay me three times what I was earning and had me travelling across the Caribbean.

God was not being unkind or evil to the Hebrews when he asked Moses, "Why do you cry out to me?" God was doing what God does in any situation, whether your leg has been broken, you lost your job or a hurricane sweep over your town and totally changes your life. "Tell the Israelites to go forward," is a command to do what we were 'designed' to do - keep moving, keep growing.

Does the fact that God is always luring us to growth and to love eliminate life's pain and the suffering we experience? This is where my syncretism kicks in. I honestly do not belive that God punishes us for wrong doings (or being members of the 'wrong' or no church) by causing death and destruction. Neither do I believe that God is distant and that the Universe is completely mechanical.

Indeed there is an order to life and that order includes, for example, the fact that rivers rise when there are heavy rains, wherever is the world you may live. When I heard people complaining about the destruction caused by the hurricanes in Florida last year (2004). It was hard for me not to scream at the television, "Hello people, you live in the 'hurricane belt' and they come along every year, so either you permanently move if you cannot withstand the physical and emotional stress or evacuate until the winds pass!"

We are going to feel pain - it is simply part of this physical life, it is part of growing. If you fall, there will be pain. Coming into your womanhood, there will be the pain of menstruation. If you drink and drive and have an accident, you will be in serious pain. We cannot completely drug ourselves from feeling pain.

Pain is simply a fact of life that no amount of Tylenol or Prozac will eliminate. If hurricane winds blow down your house with you in it, you will be in pain. You will feel pain if you are hungry and thirsty.

Suffering, on the other hand, I honestly believe can be reduced and in some instances just does not have to be part of the experience. What some of the people in New Orleans experienced this past week is what I would describe as avoidable suffering.

The suffering that New Orleanans endured, particularly those of colour, was not only avoidable but inexcusable and intolerable anywhere in the world. It is a state of suffering that, unfortunately, people of colour, the poor and women across the world have been undergoing on a daily basis.

This suffering is not because of God or even natural disasters. This suffering is the result of evil, perpetuated not by God but by humans against each other and humans against the rest of creation.

A related question was posed to Dr. John B. Cobb of the Centre for Process Studies about evil and suffering and God's role in this and his response succintly summs up what I have been discussing and even to a large extent what happened in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina:

"Turning away from the call of the divine to live, to live well and to live better in community. My point in all this is that although at the human level there are willful acts of disobedience to what we believe is right, these are not the main source of human evil. The increase of evil at the human level in comparison with other creatures is partly a matter of our heightened capacity for suffering and partly our increased capacity -- and disposition -- to inflict it. We [process thinkers] believe that God lures us away from unnecessary violence toward one another, and that as we grow more sensitive to that lure, we will contribute more to one another's happiness and less to one another's suffering. But there is no way that complex creatures such as ourselves could come into being and exist without an increase of suffering in the world."

As America seeks to 'learn the lessons' from this experience, let us join that nation in prayers and in growing and becoming more sensitive to each other, as we obey the Divine call to "move forward," in community and in love.

Words from the Heart

When Things Go Wrong
"Your Needs Met" by Jack & Cornelia Addington

"Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths." Proverbs 3:5

Things may seem to go wrong. Our plans may change but nothing has changed with God; nothing has gone wrong with the Spirit within us, nothing can happen to the Power of God that is right where we are. It makes no difference what may seem to happen, what may be man's opinion, there is only one Power, the Power of God and It is the same yesterday, today and forever.

Nothing can interfere with the prefect right action of God Almighty within us. Weh we stand firm in this knowing, conditions right themselves and the very thing that seemed to go wrong it is only in disguise. When things seem to go wrong it is only the challenge, the challenge to trust in the Power of God within us, around us, everywhere present.

Trust in the divine Law of Life with all your heart, your whole feeling nature; trust in the Law of infinite Goodness and know that it will direct your path as you move through life from glory to glory, from one good experience to another. As we accept nothing but good, all things work together for good to them that love good.
And so it is.

Blessings, until the next audiopost.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Change and Congratulations

this is an audio post - click to play