Endings, a Sort of a Poem

 

I wouldn’t mind being eaten

     by a grizzly bear, tiger or shark

As long as I’m dead first.

 

I wouldn’t mind electrocution

     Or turning to ash in fire,

As long as I’m dead first.

 

Death is such a long time.

     We fall, generation on generation,

Over the rock face of time.

 

The beautiful, the ugly,

     Rich, poor, smart, slow,

Drift one by one into the great whodunit.

 

Do we survive? Live in Elysian Fields,

     Heaven perhaps or Sheol?

Since life began, no one has cracked a clue.

At the Water’s Edge: God’s Grace in Everyday Life

At the Water's Edge, Vol. 1 by Joan Uda

At the Water’s Edge, Vol. 1 by Joan Uda

More than nine years ago, I was suffering from congestive heart failure because of a genetic problem whose name I still don’t know. Long story made short, when I first got to a cardiologist, he recommended open heart surgery as soon as I could get on the schedule. Feb. 10, 2005, I had my first open heart surgery because my aortic valve had blown open.

During more than six hours on the operating table, and in the following days of medically induced coma, with who knows what chemicals flowing through my system, I met God–God as absolute, utter peace, God as a presence so loving that to remember that time brings tears to my eyes because what I learned is that God’s promises are true–though no one really knows how they will manifest. Our job is to love and trust God. So simple. To say. But I had no doubt that I was in God’s presence. There was no gold, no throne, no angels of any type, just this incredibly peaceful and loving darkness in which I was utterly content.

This first volume of At the Water’s Edge, taken from the old hymn and now a praise song, Come to the Water, or For Those Tears I Died, consists of my earlier newspaper columns written out of my most joyful experiences and the person they made me.

Pockets

Everywhere a person looks there are pockets. Pita pockets, traffic pockets, even–yuk–pockets of pus.

Except, these days, in much women’s clothing. I actually have jeans without pockets. Heresy! Craziness of the “what are they thinking’ variety. I asked one of my daughters why no pockets these days. She thinks clothing designers don’t like pockets because we women stuff too many things in them, a thimble, say, or a tissue, and these giant objects destroy the lines of the clothing. Well phooey, I say. I guess I’m too pragmatic to enjoy the designers’ wisdom. They can hang their creations on models and I’ll keep truckin’ on wanting pockets.

When I was growing up pockets were even in skirts, which we wore a lot of then.  Pockets are where you carry stuff when your hands are full of other stuff, like babies or puppies. I’ve even been known to put a full glass of water in an apron pocket–can’t remember why I thought that was a good idea–and yes of course I spilled it.

I wear glasses for reading, commonly called “cheaters” around here, and where would I carry them if not in pockets? Besides, if your hands are cold, as mine often are, where would you put them for a little extra warmth–I feel silly walking around with my hands  in my armpits to warm them up.

Pockets are a joy. Pockets are necessary in my life. Pockets seem to me essential. Maybe I’ll try a one-woman boycott of women’s clothing without pockets.

Spiritual & Religious

Just now I heard yet another writer eulogizing “spirituality” and dismissing “religion” with a little sneer, and once again I found myself gritting my teeth. Like the other writings of this type I’ve encountered, this writer doesn’t bother to define terms: neither “spirituality” or “religion.” Spirituality, apparently, is wonderful in some vague, sometimes rather fluffy-sounding way, whereas religion is–well, reading these writers, I couldn’t glean what religion actually is. 

One simple way to talk about religion is simply that it is an outward practice developed to embody a particular spirituality, sometimes with lots of doctrine or dogma and sometimes not. My religion is Christianity, meaning most simply that I am the follower of the Jesus of the Gospels. In other words, I try do things the compassionate way Jesus taught and the compassionate way he did them. I try to be kind to everybody I encounter, and bear malice toward no one, and forgive myself and others for our failings. In my particular belief system, my charge is to love God, and to love others as I love myself. (That “Love myself” has at times been a bit of a hurdle.)

The problem with adopting spirituality and rejecting religion, is that religion without spirituality is religion without spirit–essentially dead–and spirituality without religion, which is to say without some kind of outward practice, is that it can too easily become intensely egocentric–all about me, instead of others–or it lacks the inner passion and commitment that is the mark of spiritually mature persons.

I also believe that everybody has to come to a belief system that makes sense to her or him. That’s why my brand of Christianity is Methodism, which has historically rested on a four-legged stool, Scripture, Tradition, Experience, Reason:

•  Scripture is essential, meaning primarily the Bible, but I’ve also found scriptures from other faiths helpful.

•  Tradition has to do with the traditions people have developed to live out their faith: church traditions; worship traditions; practices that have become traditional, and so on.

•  Experience, most simply, is about what has happened to generation upon generation of human beings, including me.

•  Reason is each person’s ability to make sense of one’s experience, and the Imagespiritual and religious beliefs and practices in one’s own life, including, in my view, how to understand my own life in light of the Biblical narrative.

Just one way to look at these things. 

So Often Silent

So many times I come on this blog with ideas banging around my head of things I want to write about.

Then I’m here and I think, So many words–What do they matter? Go into the clear night

Away from cities, Away from noise, Where shadows can be just a bit

                                                                                                                            Frightening

Where universes stretch beyond comprehension

And words

             for a short while

                          mean nothing.

 

Presidential Politics

I hear various people–not to mention political commentators–saying that their criticisms of our current President, Barack Obama, are not racially based. I’m not saying that Mr. Obama hasn’t done anything that might merit criticism–critiquing our political leaders is a prime sport in any country that elects its leaders. What I object to are the criticisms that are clearly dipped in the acid of race-based dislike, and I think plenty of the criticisms of Mr. Obama have been so dipped.

Years ago I taught Civics and American History to what were then called Junior High Students. Later I taught American History to high school juniors, and eventually literature, English, and some related subjects to college students. I tried so hard to help my students understand that it’s important for all of us in our evolving world to learn to see beyond what I then called “accidents of birth”–the things we’re born into such as skin color, eye shape, overall health, nationality, overall health, genetic gifts and deficits–

At the time I thought this was much easier than I now perceive it to be. It seemed so simple and obvious then. Now I think that overcoming fear of the stranger, people who are different, whose understandings of almost everything are different, whose cultures, customs, food, dress, are different, takes spiritual work. It requires first understanding that I have attitudes and ideas that are not congruent with who I believe I am, or who I want to be. Then I have to dig those out, examine them, and decide if I really want to change them, overcome them, whatever. And then work at it. I don’t claim it’s easy, just that it’s worth the effort. 

On the other side of that process is seeing differently: seeing the ways in which people are all similar, and then learning to love our wonderful variety, eventually seeing the beauty in all kinds of us. It’s a gentler, more peaceful world, with far less fear and anger.

I’ve been told that this is a Pollyanna attitude–actually by a seminary professor, who should have known better. As a religious person who happens to be Christian, I believe we are all made in God’s image. All our wonderful variety is part of God. Our First Family is God’s gift to us, with plenty of meaning to be found in recognizing the grace in that gift.