Archive | December, 2013

Blessed Are The….

29 Dec

I have Hollywood friends who would probably gag if I mentioned that I loved the film, “Philomena.” After all, a movie about an Irish woman trying to find her grown son fifty years after he was sold to an American family by Catholic nuns isn’t as hip or sexy as “American Hustle.” Whatever.

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My producer and writer friends would however approve of dame Judi Dench, the brilliant actress who plays Philomena in the new Stephen Frears movie. Based on the true and remarkable story of Philomena Lee’s 50 year-long search for her son captured in Martin Sixsmith’s book, The Lost Child of Philomena Lee, I am reminded that truth is stranger than fiction. As a journalist and previous political adviser, Sixsmith assisted Philomena in eventually piecing together her son’s story.

Spoiler alert: Martin discovers that Philomena’s son was adopted and became a high-ranking official in the Reagan administration. He was also gay and died of Aids.

While the story itself is remarkable enough, what pulled the rug out from under me was Philomena’s forgiveness of those who wrenched her son from her for a profit, tormented her for unwed sex and kept her from re-uniting with him despite the fact that both mother and son were searching for each other.

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At thirteen years of age, I broke my own mother’s heart by refusing to be confirmed in the Catholic church. I didn’t understand Christianity (or hypocrisy) and wanted nothing to do with religion. I mistakenly thought that Jesus’ command to love one another and turn the other cheek meant we must all lie down and be doormats. I thought that to be a Christian one must be an idiot and that passivity was colluding with evil.

A few critics have claimed “Philomena” an anti-Catholic polemic because it exposes abuses in the church. I don’t see it that way at all. If anything it is a tribute to the Gospels and a profound example of faith and forgiveness.

I don’t think there is anything more difficult than to forgive grave betrayals and transgressions. When the heart has been bludgeoned and the soul violated, it is important to protect ourselves against recurrent hurts. To forgive requires deep maturity and processing of feelings and an ability to almost pity the perpetrator. Forgiveness is an active choice, not a passive one and being Christian a courageous decision vs. allowing oneself to be spineless.

Seeing “Philomena” reminded me today that:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

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This is not a simple philosophy and it’s definitely not hip or sexy. It is a counter-narrative yet it is the only true freedom I have known.

It Came Upon A Midnight Clear

23 Dec

There was a time when I hated Christmas. I’m sure I’m not alone in this sentiment.

As a child, Christmas filled me with wonder. It was a happy time in my family and occasionally, there would be the excursion to my grandparent’s house in the Midwest where the experience was straight out of the current Apple commercial. A modern tableau lifted from Currier and Ives.

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But then the serpent force fed me the apple from the Tree of Knowledge and I experienced the Fall.

By the time I was an adult the holiday brought only torment. Did I call my dad despite being estranged from him? Did I visit my mother in jail and have to bear seeing her in an orange jump suit and her terribly sad eyes? I hated waking up alone in a house with no husband or children of my own and trying to figure out whose family I could insert myself into. And I hated what seemed to me an obnoxious display of American materialism.

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But then it came upon a midnight clear… That week my mom took her life.

Suddenly the heavens pierced through my darkness, stunning me with its Light.

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And I knew without a shred of doubt that Jesus had gathered my mother and myself in his arms.

“Peace on the earth, good will to men, from heaven’s all-gracious King.”
The world in solemn stillness lay, to hear the angels sing.

This time of year can be one of profound anguish. Without a doubt this life can be hell on earth.

Til He appear’d and the soul felt its worth.

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A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! O hear the angel voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born;
O night divine, O night, O night Divine.

E.T. Phone Home

14 Dec

When I was a little girl, like Gertie, I fell hopelessly in love with E.T.

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Although I was a little older than the Drew Barrymore character when I saw the film, I remember being mesmerized by key scenes: Elliot luring E.T. to the house by leaving a trail of Reese’s Pieces, E.T. hiding in the children’s closet as he blends in with all the toys and stuffed animals so that the mother wouldn’t discover him, and most of all, E.T.’s sad voice when saying, “E.T. phone home,” while pointing his finger in the direction of his planet.

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I didn’t cognitively understand that E.T. is a love story depicting how an entire family hurting from divorce heals through their relationship with the extra-terrestrial but I did viscerally. More than the cuteness of E.T. and the brilliance of the story concept, I was responding to the heart dimension that was beautifully symbolized anytime E.T.’s heart light shone like a saint’s heart of fire depicted in religious paintings. I felt the burning that is love.

As we enter the season in which the Word became flesh I think about this childhood movie from long ago. E.T. came from another world. He was not human but came to our planet and took on some of dimensions of human experience. He missed his loved ones and felt lonely yet also had a mission to fulfill. When it was done he was able to board the space ship and go back home.

Now of course I’m not saying E.T. is a stand in for the Messiah. But as the countdown to Christmas draws near, I can’t help but think of all the brokenness on our planet and the various ways we are all sitting in the dark. The other day I was thinking that Sunday would have been my mother’s 67th birthday if she hadn’t taken her own life. The reality is I lost my mother long before her suicide and yet there I was, sitting in a hotel bathroom missing my physical home and feeling like a five year old wanting her mommy. Do we ever really grow up? And then I felt her spirit reaching out to me lightly touching my skin like when E.T.s finger used to glow.

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Being in a human body is at times delightful but incarnation can also be incredibly painful. C.S. Lewis once stated that, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” I have longed for that other world most my life.

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Yet at this time of year I recall that on one night, that other world reached out to this one. And this intersection left an indelible mark. If I just tune in to the other-worldly wave link, I can feel the Light that pierced the dark and take solace in the fact that the darkness couldn’t overcome it.

The Courage To Deconstruct

10 Dec

Confession: All my life I’ve wanted to be perfect despite the fact that this reflects an utterly delusional desire. The reality is, no one is. We’re all f’d up to some degree. As if to drive this point home, I saw a photo on FB yesterday summarizing the main points of a lecture on enlightenment. The notes read:

STATES OF ENLIGHTENMENT

1) I am fine
2) I am not fine because other people are so f’d up
3) I’m f’d up, ok, and I’m burdening others. I’m so sorry.
4) We are all f’ed up, in a beautiful human way, which is why life is always a bit disturbing.

And yes, the grand poobah who theorized all of this has a PhD from Yale.

So what do we do when we nonetheless remain in the delusional desire to be perfect?

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I personally read The Velveteen Rabbit. The book is about a brand new stuffed bunny that longs to become real after hearing that toys loved by their owners eventually become so.

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One day, the rabbit’s owner becomes quite sick so the boy’s nanny gives him the stuffed bunny for comfort. The bunny then gets the honor of sleeping with the little boy throughout his illness. The animal gets rolled on and squished and eventually becomes quite shabby. Yet by the story’s end, the bunny becomes real.

The ultimate irony in all of this is that in order to be real, we have to be willing to get messed up. And the more authentic we are, the more we are loved. Go figure. Why then are thousands wasting their money on botox?

For some of us, every time we risk being real and out there, it feels like we’re deconstructing because perhaps at some point, being accepted was a matter of life and death. If we didn’t measure up somehow, love was denied. But the only way to be real is to allow ourselves to deconstruct over and over for there is always death in transformation.

Years ago I had an acting teacher tell me that I would never be a professional actor because I was too afraid to fail. And that the only way to get over this barrier was to truly not care and say f-it.

Well, personally, I think the only way out of this dilemma is to realize that one has innate worth in all the imperfection and decomposing of self, body, ego, etc. For me personally, I only experience that freedom when I turn my eyes to God and feel his beloved gaze. It is then that I realize, I AM REAL. And I am made in the image of God. More important than being perfect, I AM LOVED.

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Operation Slow Down!

4 Dec

In California, a yellow traffic light has come to mean one can still cross the intersection. Because after all, MY schedule, MY life and MY agenda are above the rules even if it means I end up running a red and killing someone in the process.

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A yellow light used to be a warning to slow down. It told you to down-shift, if you were driving a stick and to ease to a stop because the light would soon turn red.

I’m just as guilty. I’ve been known to press hard on the gas when I see yellow instead of starting to brake.

How many other yellows are we not paying attention to?

This time of year always prompts me to SLOW DOWN. Advent and winter’s solstice scream at me to curb my speed in the traffic of life. The sign might come in the form of a cold or exhaustion or deep nostalgia and sometimes grief but regardless, the cosmos signals. And I actually heed.

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While the holidays are typically a time where social life accelerates, I nonetheless think this is the most critical time of the year for reflection. The short days and cold weather (we do actually have cold weather here in CA) are great excuses to hunker down at home and to sit still. As I take this week to back off on coffee, writing, goals and activity, I feel my system literally de-toxing the year. Not that it was a bad year – but it was one of constant stimuli and lots of green lights.

Here’s to the season of waiting. Of being. Of sitting in the dark and seeing the light.

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