The need for watchfulness

“Be on your guard so that the day I come again will not surprise you. Be careful that your wits are not dulled from partying or worrying about the problems of this life. That day will come to all who live on this earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may be given the strength to get through all that is to happen so that you may stand in my presence.”

Jesus went to the Temple complex to teach during the day, and the crowds would come early in the morning to listen to him. In the evening he would go to the Mount of Olives to rest.

LK 21:34-38

Thoughts on haircovering 6-7-2015

There’s something amazing about covering my head. It forces me to look down. This thing that I do to show honor to God forces me to look at God’s creation and God’s creatures. It makes me bow my head in humility and at the same time point me towards that which I must serve in order to truly show honor to God.

I don’t know if that is the point of head wrapping. I don’t know if that is intentional, or just an amazing coincidence. It seems that because of the pressure that it has on my head and maybe how I am wrapping, I feel that if I lean my head back, the scarf will slowly over the course of the day inch further back and eventually need to be retied or it will fall off or look more like a beret that a head wrap. Even with a velvet headband I don’t feel that it is going to slip off, but I do feel that it forces my gaze downward.

Also, I wonder why do I find it important that I show a little hair so that people don’t think I have cancer? Or that I wear cross so people know that I’m Christian? When I cover my hair, people could think it’s for any reason. They could think it’s because I don’t want to style my hair that day. Perhaps even worse, they might think that I don’t want to wash it that day. They could think that I have converted to a different faith such Muslim for instance. For some reason they would never ever think that I had converted to Judaism. For them it would be a step backwards. But so many people don’t understand that there are sections of Christianity that also cover their hair as a sign of modesty and humility before God. This is especially true if they are married women.

This is the South after all, and there is very little variety here. I’m at a disadvantage because of it. I really stick out. But why is it so important to me that I explain to them what I’m not without having to explain to them with words? I want to allay fears or concerns, but why do I care what they think? I’m not doing this for them.

I don’t want to bother people. I don’t want to call attention to myself. This defeats the idea of being modest. It also makes people feel uncomfortable. But seeing so much of exposed skin on people makes me uncomfortable. I don’t want to see cleavage and butts while at work or the grocery store. That is for home or the pool. Western society has no taboo about having hair uncovered – everything is uncovered. I wear long skirts – the highest is two inches above my ankle – not two inches above my knees like many people. I wear short sleeve shirts, and show nothing of my chest. My clothing is not tight. The shape of my body is not for the world to see. I am not a product. I am not my body.

Some feminists think that women who cover their bodies are repressed. In actuality, if it is the choice of the woman to do this, it means that we are not objectified. We are not seen as objects. People have to look at us, as people, and not as packages.

Knowing people spend the majority of their days in mindless pursuits such as Facebook, playing video games, and watching movies and “reality TV” makes me uncomfortable. Knowing people are so mindless that they eat terribly, don’t exercise, and then are surprised when they get sick with chronic or terminal diseases makes me uncomfortable.

I don’t want to be like everybody else. They scare me. I want to be awake, and mindful. If wearing a headcovering helps me do this, then so be it. Maybe it will be just the sign to others that they need to be mindful about their lives and how they spend them.

Human / Animal

The first test for humans was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We were told “Don’t eat this, it is bad for you.” We failed that test. God gave us our minds for reason and wants us to exercise self-control. This is what God was testing – were we humans or were we animals.

Self-control is the mark of a human versus an animal. Delayed gratification and restraint are the hallmarks of a human being – not just someone who is in the shape of the human but someone who actually is able to act like one. Saving versus spending, planning ahead – these are hallmarks of a mature human.

Yet God didn’t abandon us there when we failed that test. God stuck with us. God keeps giving us chances. God says “I set before you a blessing and a curse.” We have a choice about how we spend our time, our money, and our energy. We can use them for ourselves or for others. We can waste or use wisely.

Sure we have free will. But we also will experience the consequences of our choices too. If we choose to go against God’s commands, we will suffer. God doesn’t punish us because of our bad actions, we do.

It is like being told “Don’t touch the stove – it is hot.” When a child touches it anyway and burns her fingers, it isn’t the parent who his punishing her with her burned fingers. She did it to herself. The parent knows better, knows that this otherwise safe item, usually cool to touch, isn’t safe right now and warns the child. The child has a choice. She isn’t being forced to obey. If she chooses well then she has proven she is mature. God gives us these same kinds of choices.

People blame God for their heart disease and diabetes when they are the result of their unhealthy life choices such as eating salty fried processed food and not exercising. The problem is that they blame God for their own bad choices. They don’t take personal responsibility for their actions. They are acting like animals and not like humans.

Poem – Tea house

tea garden

The Tea garden
isn’t a garden
but a path.
It is how you get to the
Tea house
for the
Tea ceremony.

Why not have the Tea room closer?
Why a garden?
Why a path?

Because you aren’t ready.
You need that time,
that space,
to take off your
everyday self
and to welcome
the stillness
and attention
that is the Tea ceremony.

You need that compressed walk
to the hermit’s hut
at the base of the mountain.
You need to pass through gates
real and hinted at.
You need to sit
on a low bench, sheltered with bamboo
long enough to shake off
the dust of the outside.

Why not have that experience all the time?
Why not be that cleansed,
that alert
that awake
always ready to welcome
everything
as a message
from God, the Creator, the Infinite?

Are there jobs that pay for
that kind of bliss?
Are there relatives who won’t
call the authorities,
worried you are out of your mind
when in reality
you are the only sane one?

By giving up your Self
and merging with
the All
you have truly
Remembered.

Poem – What if AIDS is a WMD?

What if AIDS is
A weapon of mass destruction?
What if it is a created thing,
a biological weapon?
What if it was created
to destroy the world,
one person at a time?

What greater way to
destroy
us than to use one of our
basic impulses
– sex?

But it isn’t done to us.
We do it.
We have control,
right?
It isn’t caused by a gas in the air,
poison in our food.
We know the risk and yet,
and yet.

How else are we destroying ourselves
though impulses
– food?
Certainly.
We are like animals.

Diabetes, heart attacks,
obesity that renders
a person
immobile, incapable,
impotent
in more ways than one,
powerless.

Mindlessly
with our habits, unthinking
we are killing ourselves,
never really alive
in the first place.
If all we do
is have sex
and eat
and nothing more,
we are no better than worms.

With our mindless habits,
we become
food
for them.

Homemade

I just realized something. I didn’t even know I was missing these pieces, this peace. I had dinner at a friend’s house and got a little overwhelmed. She invited us over for a home-cooked meal and it nourished me in my soul as well as my body.

We’ve been meeting with these friends like this once a month or so for about a year or so. Sometimes it is planned and sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes we are lucky to get 24 hours notice that we are invited. I feel a bit awkward that it isn’t reciprocal, these invitations.

Our house is small and messy. Sometimes there isn’t enough room for even two in our house. I bought the house when I was single thinking I’d stay that way. One of the people helping me move ended up moving in. He was the one I’d been waiting for but I didn’t realize it.

While I love him, I don’t love his stuff and it gets in the way of my neatnik tendencies. In short, I’m embarrassed to have people over without a huge push to relocate a lot of stuff. I’m grateful our friends understand and we try to even things out by bringing over food if we can -cooked vegetables, salad fixings, dessert. It never seems like enough. It never seems that we are equal in our contributions. They almost always provide the main dish. They almost always provide more than we are able to. In part it is because of the very impromptu nature of these invitations.

A whim, a new recipe, a realization for a desire for company – whatever the reason, we sometimes don’t have time to prepare something special for four. That, coupled with the fact that these gatherings almost never happen at our house make the relationship a bit lopsided in terms of reciprocity. They clean their house for company, and we can’t.

I felt overwhelmed this evening eating homemade chicken marsala made from scratch. Everything we had was from scratch, like usual. I noticed I was being filled in an unexpected way. It was more than my stomach that was being satisfied – it was my soul as well.

My Mom didn’t cook from scratch unless company came over – and that happened about as often as holidays. It didn’t happen on holidays mind you. This is just to say it was rare to see anyone at the table other than my parents and my brother. Therefore it was rare to see homemade food at the table as well.

Our meals usually were from the freezer, not from scratch. Our basic needs were being met like that – basically. We got enough to get by. Even the environment the food was cooked in was less than ideal when I was growing up. Both my parents smoked two packs of cigarettes a day. That, coupled with the fact that our dog was paper trained – and the papers were in the kitchen – created a less than ideal environment for healthy food production. Secondhand smoke and dog poop aren’t the smells you want wafting in the air intermingling with your dinner entrée.

I realized tonight that I was having a piece of me restored and I didn’t even know I was missing. I’d grown up minus this part I needed without even realizing it.

I was missing the simple honesty of a meal cooked and offered with love. Rather than a meal cooked to fill a need, this meal was extra. It filled more than my daily requirement of the USDA suggested amounts of protein, carbohydrates, and vitamin C. There is no place in the nutritional requirements label for love.

Maybe that was the problem. All those meals from boxes were cooked following the instructions but there was no instruction for love. My Mom didn’t learn to put in that ingredient because it wasn’t in the box. And I didn’t know that I grown up deficient in that basic building block. It is like I had rickets or scurvy but it wasn’t vitamin D or C I was missing.

Homemade, made not just in a house but in a home makes the difference. And what makes a home a home? Intention, focus, individuality, being awake are starters. Sure, frozen pizza can be “homemade” with awareness and mindfulness. Add some shredded Parmesan cheese and some Italian herbs and yours is uniquely yours and not the same as every other box pizza. And even “homemade” can be blasé if made without feeling or focus. We have to put a little extra into our food and into everything if we want them to be real.

In Hebrew the word is kavanah, which is a bit like focus, a bit like intention. We need to pray with kavanah at a minimum but really we need to live with it. And that’s part of it. With kavanah, the meal becomes a vehicle for nourishment of the soul. With kavanah, the prayer becomes a vehicle for transforming not just the self but also the world.

Watch it.

There is a difference between living and being alive.

watch1

My mother-in-law had at least 20 different watches that we have found after she died. Some were separated from their wristbands. She still had them, along with the pins that would have held them together.

None of them were working.

watch2

All these watches to keep the time, and she wasn’t mindful of it. All these watches to keep time, and she still wasted it.

Her obituary was sad. It was almost shorter than the dash between her birth and death dates. The list of who survived her was longer than the list of her accomplishments. The fact that she outlasted the doctor’s estimate for her to die was prominent.

So she was alive, but what did she do with her life?

This piece speaks to my frustration with her having 70 years of life and nothing to show for it. This piece speaks to my anger that my parents died young and didn’t have time to enjoy the life of retirement. This piece speaks to my doubling-up of my activities so I don’t waste time.

I’m mindful of how short life is.

Too many people these days seem to think there is a “reset” button on life, and there isn’t. They seem to think that life is like the seasons – that there will be a spring after the winter. While I’m part of a faith tradition that believes in the afterlife, I’d like to not find out I’m wrong. I want to have a life before the afterlife.

This is why I write, and create. This is why I wake up early. This is why I take classes that are hard and read books to learn how to help. I don’t want to just have been alive, taking up space. I don’t want to wait until I retire to live.

These watches remind me to be watchful.

The artwork is made using an 11×14 canvas, acrylic paint, matte medium, decoupage glue, five watches, and 11 color copied images of watches, all from the collection of my mother-in-law.