Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Crowded Life We Lead

as i sit in the quiet of the morning on this cool morning, i feel a sense of tiredness, of being overwhelmed with the responsibilities of my two part-time jobs and my life at home. deadlines of upcoming symphony concerts that i will be pushed to meet despite weeks of working to get everything done in advance to avoid the crush of too much work/too little time weigh on me. the relentless demands of planning and preparing for church services constantly nag at me. i am anxious because home responsibilities are being pushed aside in order to take care of these other demands on my time.

as i ponder how to resolve these pressures, i realize that i must order my priorities, i must take care of my own mental and physical well being before i can take care of other matters. i have let go of my habit of daily exercise, and much of my mental state has resulted from ignoring my physical needs. the two are closely connected, and i am missing the joy of moving because i want to move. a lingering sense of guilt has taken over; my inner critic is saying, "Shame on you! You should be doing this or that," and i've forgotten that exercise is something i do because i enjoy it, not because i "should" be doing it.

here's my plan: first, i'll spend less time at the ipad and the computer doing things that are not contributing to my enjoyment of life. second, i'll put getting up and moving for the sheer fun of it at the top of my list of priorities for the day, along with meditation, because i can do both simultaneously. third, i'll budget the time spent on taking care of the demands of my jobs, realizing that if it all doesn't get done, it's because others have failed to take care of their responsibilities in a timely fashion, thus delaying my ability to get my work done on time. finally, i'll use the time i would have spent on the time-wasting electronic gadgets to help more around the house.

simply setting down a plan makes me feel less stressed, and i realize that i've allowed myself to be swallowed up by the expectations of others, that i've replaced joyfully doing things with a guilt-motivated schedule that ignores my own most basic needs. my prayer for myself and for you, if some of this sounds familiar to your situation, is that i am reminded frequently of how my intention affects my actions and that i take time to examine my view of what's truly important.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

As with a Mother's Tender Hand

were she still living, my mother would have celebrated her 94th birtday a few days ago. she died of pancreatic cancer almost twenty years ago, but i had a vivid dream recently that she was still living, and when i awakened and recalled the dream, i was so grateful for it. as i reflected on what i should write for my next post, memories of my mother were foremost in my mind, and i determined to describe her and some of what i learned from her.

as if thought more, i began to wonder why my mother, my two grandmothers, and my mother's grandmother made such a great impression on me, while my father and grandfathers seem passing figures in my mind. i wonder if other men have this same experience. how universal is this reverence for the women who shaped us and this distance from the male family members that preceeded us? maybe that's a subject for another post.

one of my earliest recollections of my mother is from the time she was expecting my sister. i recall vividly seeing her in the maternity outfits that women wore in the mid-1950s. my parents had not discussed the impending birth of another child into our family with me. i already had one sibling, a brother who is five years younger than me. at the time my mother was carrying my sister, i was nine. one evening as my parents returned home--i don't remember where they'd been--i ran from the house and grabbed my mother's hand. i looked up at her and said, "you look like you're going to have a baby." she chuckled and looked down at me, then she confimed that i was right. this was the first time she had spoken to me at all about the coming birth of another child into our family. to this day, i'm still somewhat angry that there was no discussion with me about this new addition to the family. perhaps, my parents didn't bring it up because they didn't want to have to answers the questions a nine-year-old boy would have about the "facts of life." i knew that, since i was the one to bring up the subject, that no questions should be asked, and so that was the end of any discussion about the matter.

i remember how beautiful my mother looked to me that night and when i think of her, she is always beautiful. i don't recall ever seeing her when her hair was not styled--she never looked as if she had just gotten up. one of my treasures is a small framed picture of my mother and me when i was five. it was taken by a professional photographer. one of the features of my childhood was the periodic trip to see mrs. price, a photographer in a nearby town who took wonderful pictures of children, and my childhood was documented by a collection of pictures taken by mrs. price. in the picture that is my favorite, only the torsos of my mother and me are visible. i am snuggled up next to her, and my face has an expression of both delight and peace; it is easy to see that i was completely confident about my place in my mother's heart. her expression is identical to mine, and, despite the difference in our ages, gender, and even hair color, we appear to be one unit rather than two distinct individuals.

two other impressions of my mother that i must speak of is her gentle but consistent discipline and her voracious reading. she was a very tolerant person, always permitting me to be my own person, never insisting that i conform to any preconceived notion of what she wanted me to be. yet, she expected that i behave and learn when it was appropriate to be a rowdy, lively little boy and when it was appropriate to exercise self-control. i don't remember her ever striking me, but a "stop that" was all i needed to know that my behavior was not acceptable, and the offending behavior immediately stopped.

my mother worked hard at home. we were prosperous enough to have a "cleaning woman" come in a couple of days each week, but even with that help, keeping our home running with two, later three, small children was a big job. we didn't have a washer or dryer, and in those days there were no disposable diapers. i remember huge pots of boiling water filled with cloth diapers sitting on the cook stove in our kitchen with my mother standing over them, pushing the diapers around with a large wooden spoon to make certain they were completely sterilized. this was in the days before air conditioning was common, and meal preparation was a hot job. Diaper sterilization was all but intolerable, especially in the summer. Despite her arduous labors to keep the house clean, meals prepared, and clothes washed, my mother still found time to read book after book. whenever she could find a quiet moment in her day, she had a book in her hand, and she instilled in me the joy of reading.

one of the last things my mother said to me as she lay dying in the hospital was that she had only one regret in her life. that was her failure to see so many of the world's wonders about which she had read. i can still hear her tell me and my wife, "go when you have the chance. see everything you can while you are able, because you never know when you will lose the opportunity." this is a lesson we have taken to heart. we spend much of our time either traveling or planning the next trip. even when we can't afford it, we find the money somewhere and we go.

my prayer this morning is that each of us has someone in our memory like my mother, one who is eternally beautiful, kind, and wise, one who is the embodiment of everything that is best about humanity, and that we take a few moments each day to honor and reverence that person by holding in our hearts a deep gratitude for how that person shaped our lives.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Right Intention

this past sunday, i began playing the service with some fearfulness and anxiety in my heart. i got through the first part of the service without any major difficulties, but as i moved from the organ to take my seat with the choir for the lessons and sermon, that unease continued. during the sermon, i sensed the reassuring presence of God, reminding me that my playing should be a joyful offering to God and my fear arose from what others would think of me if i made a major blunder. in my heart, God told me that i had nothing to fear because God is a forgiving God and when my intention is right, i have no need to fear what others may think. God reminded me that i had come to each practice in preparing for the service with the right intention, so i was adequately prepared and that now my only task was to offer the remainder of the service to God. when i returned to the organ bench, my mind was at ease, and the opening words of psalm 139, which was the first thing we sang after sitting back down on the bench, spoke to me with new meaning.

as i sit in the quiet of the morning and reflect on that psalm once more, i am grateful that in every circumstance, God is present. God is always with me because i am God's creation and there is "that of God" within me and in every part of God's creation. i think, too, of the noble eightfold path and am reminded that right view, right intention, right mindfulness, and right concentration are half of the path. my prayer for myself and for others this morning it that we will remember that our busy minds cloud the reality of what truly is, that silence is a great blessing, that God is always present if we stop to listen, and that failure to take right action because of fear of making a mistake which causes condemnation by others is a sign that our intentions are not the right intentions.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

All the Things That Really Matter

during the last several days, we've had a couple of catastrophes at our house. first, a hand-painted lamp that i gave my wife for christmas over thrity years ago was knocked over, and the upper shade was shattered. next, our son's little dog knocked over a brand new christmas gift and broke it. the startling thing for me was that i felt little emotional upheaval at these two accidents, though i was sorry that both items had been broken. perhaps, it is that advancing age causes me to put less stock in "things," but i believe that a subtle change has come in what i value. as i relfect back on the damage that was done, i discover that in the grand scheme of things, these material objects, though valuable from a sentimental point-of-view, are transitory. inevitably, these kinds of "treasures" are going to break, but we still have the memory of the whole object and the reasons that object was valuable to us, which has more to do with values that are seperate from the object itself.

i remember when i was around twelve, my younger brother and i were helping our mother clean up the living room. my brother, who was probably eight or nine, knocked over a plate and broke it. i can still see the hurt in my mother's eyes at its loss. she had few valuable pieces of home decor, and this plate was a beautiful family heirloom. my heart still aches because of the hurt she felt at its loss, but her love for my brother was stronger than any love she had for the plate. she didn't lash out at him in anger over his clumsiness, but simply sat and talked tearfully about the plate's origins, all the while hugging my distraught brother.

people are always more important that material possessions. the idea of a thing is always more valuable than the thing itself. we rejoice in the pleasure a material object brings us, and when it is gone, we are reminded of the transitory nature of life. all things change, and we must learn to value what is truly important. my prayer for each of us this day is that we love life itself and share that love with others, remember that even life is transitory, and all too soon the life we are living will come to an end. when it does, we will pass into another existence that will reflect what we valued most during the life we lost.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Be Thou Our Joy and Thou Our Rest.

it is the time of taking down the christmas decorations in our home, and that always brings a certain sadness for me. my wife loves to decorate for christmas, and our home is filled with garlands, wreaths, candles, and all sorts of christmas decor. putting it all away is a chore, just as getting it all out is, and packing it up is a way for us to bring our lives back to "normal," to the every day routines that we follow during the rest of the year.

during the christmas season, especially the week before and the week following christmas, those daily routines are set aside. the regular weekly meetings and activities in which we are involved don't take place, preparing the traditional christmas meals and goodies takes up much of our time, and we focus on the big day of our family gathering when we eat together, play christmas games, and exchange gifts. it is as if our usual day-to-day schedule is set aside and we live in a completely different world for those few days.

with the coming of new year's day, we are jolted back to our regular responsibilities. we begin playing catch-up, feverisly plunging back into taking care of those things that needed doing but were set aside for the christmas celebrations. the packing-up of the christmas decorations that fill our home symbolizes that return to normalcy and the attendant obligations that are a part of that "normalcy."

as i began my morning mediation/prayer time today, my mind was racing through the things that were needful: taking care of music for three upcoming symphony concerts, planning a month's-worth of music at church along with practice for the upcoming sunday, helping my wife with the "unhanging of the greens" around our house. i sensed that God was saying to me, "all in good time--take your life one step at a time and offer each task as a joyful offering to Me. it will all get done but not all at once." with those thoughts in my heart, i realized that things would fall into place, my regular routine would return, i would look back on this christmas as a time of great joy when i stepped out of that regular routine for a time of festivity that brings the year to it's proper close, and fretting over how to get it all done was a waste of energy.

my prayer for myself and you today is that we take time to stop and enjoy the sweetness of christmas and other festivals that take us from our normal lives for a brief time and that we return to those normal lives remembering the magic of those few days of celebration, easing back into our usual routines and responsibilities confident that each day is a gift that is pefect in its own way.