Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Are We Now Guided by the Deprived Infant Within Us?

At the age of 66, novelist and poet May Sarton, was diagnosed with breast cancer, went through a mastectomy, ended a long time relationship, and suffered from depression.

Out of that she wrote one of her best books, Recovering: A Journal. She was obviously hurt and angry about all that had happened to her. But she was determined to understand what it meant and how she should respond. She struggled through every raw emotion in an attempt to remain human.

“We cannot withdraw love without damaging ourselves,” she wrote. “Rage,” she continued, “is the deprived infant in me but there is also a compassionate mother in me and she will come back with her healing powers in time.” 

It is a message of hope for the country.

There is so much cold anger today; so much unacknowledged hurt and pain. You see it everywhere. You feel it from people in traffic, at store counters, and certainly on social media platforms, especially Twitter and Facebook. Some things there are vicious and cruel.

We seem deeply estranged from one another, and from the best within each of us. We have taken sides in politics, in religion, in race, in class and social status. We are no longer interested in agreement, compromise, understanding or cooperation.

And we don’t just want to be right, and win; we want the other side to be proven wrong and to be shamefully defeated.

We must stop wounding one another, our country, and our world. We must find ways to “recover,” to get beyond our grimmest fears and our impulsive, careless anger.

Our children and grandchildren are growing up in bewilderment. They don’t know what to make of our incessant rage, our sniping and cutting remarks, our refusal to sensibly respond to people we strongly disagree with. They are watching. And they are learning all the wrong lessons from us.

Social critic and author, Frederic Brussat, has said, “Now more than ever we need a revival of courtesy practices to lubricate both private and public interactions between people.”

We seem completely uninterested in this as though being courteous to others, all others, even those we dislike and disagree with, somehow discredits us, makes us weak, leaves us vulnerable and defenseless.

Not so. Being courteous comes from inner strength, from thoughtfulness, consideration of others, and self-respect.

I find myself withering from the endless bitterness and resentment of people and from our leaders. Somehow we must find our inner decency, the mother in us with her healing powers, and a sense of the sacredness within ourselves, which as May Sarton wrote, “cannot be dirtied or smudged by wickedness or by anger, which no threat can touch.”

© 2017 Timothy Moody

Friday, March 3, 2017

There is So Much to Experience and Relish

Novelist and poet, Heather Sellers has written, "I think everyone has one day like this, and some people have more than one. It's the day of the accident, the midlife crisis, the breakdown, the meltdown, the walkout, the sellout, the giving up, giving away, or giving in. The day you stop drinking, or the day you start. The day you know things will never be the same again." 

The death of my brother Jim became one of those days for me. I knew his situation was deteriorating. I knew his body was shutting down. But when his daughter Natalie called and said he had just passed away, I suddenly felt I was floating off in some moment of bewilderment. Could he really be gone?

The past months had been difficult, watching his rapid decline. And yet, I had somehow become attached to that scene of him in his room in the nursing home. His big screen TV. The stack of videos on the counter beside it. The small serving tray at his side that held his reading glasses, the ever ready box of Kleenex, cotton swabs, his remote control and other items. And, him, resting quietly in bed with the thin cord of oxygen held in his nose and wrapped around his ears. His eyes watching me intently. His long legs pushing against the end of the bed. His voice, soft and calm.

He rarely complained and had learned to accept his illness as one of the mysteries of life. I wanted an explanation. I wanted God to offer an insight or at least acknowledge that Jim got a raw deal. Where were the caring angels with their songs of wisdom? I heard only silence. All I kept wondering was why are some good, sweet, kind people saddled with debilitating diseases, chronic pain, terrible cancers, crippling strokes and other dreadful afflictions while others sail through life unharmed by ill health and die peacefully in old age? The answers are never adequate.

It is the stubborn inevitability of death that strikes me now. The harsh truth that we are all of us so completely mortal, that this life we are given has an expiration date. None of us in the end will survive.

That is not intended to be a gloomy, morbid conclusion. It’s just the way things are. And most of us deny, and ignore, and push it to the back of our minds as long as we can. And yet, there it is, staring us each day in the face, our mortality, our inescapable end.

My friend, Ramiro Salazar, often reminds me of the importance of living out each day to the fullest. Draining it dry of its potential for joy, for laughter, for love, for fun and delight. We try to get together when he is in the city for golf or dinner or just drinks because as he says, time is short, let’s make the most of it.

And there is the other side of this reality, too. Taking time to contribute something substantial, to develop relationships that last, to cherish our spouse, our partner, our siblings, our parents, our children and grandchildren as well as our friends and companions. To be thoughtful. To go the second mile. To forgive. To care. To develop a depth to our thinking and feeling and our living. To learn how to meaningfully traverse this brief time we are given.

I know now what Robert Frost was expressing when he wrote,

"The rain to the wind said,
'You push and I'll pelt.'
They so smote the garden bed
That the flowers actually knelt,
And lay lodged -- though not dead.
I know how the flowers felt.” 

There is a distinct exhaustion in grief. It bleeds us of our energy. It holds us captive to the stark realities, to the unavoidable, and forces us to observe our destiny, to know in the end we are but dust.

Ultimately, if we process it wisely, grief moves us away from death and back to life. It pushes us to open our eyes, to be dazzled by all the beauty near us, to take in deep long breaths of goodness around us, to be generous with embraces, and to be aware, so aware of time’s fickle duration.

English writer George Eliot’s comment seems so appropriate now: “The golden moments in the stream of life rush past us, and we see nothing but sand; the angels come to visit us, and we only know them when they are gone.”

I see now how valuable each day and each person is. There is so much to experience and relish.

© 2017 Timothy Moody

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

A Eulogy

Note: This is the eulogy I delivered at my brother Jim's funeral, Tuesday, February 28, 2017

In Memoriam
Rev. James C. Moody
August 7, 1956 – February 24, 2017

Jim loved the movies. There was nothing he enjoyed more than sitting in a dark theater watching a great movie, with a bag of popcorn, a soda, some cheese nachos, a slice of pizza, a hot dog with chili and jalapeƱos, and a big candy bar.

Going to a movie was like a family reunion for him. It was a meal. An event. He didn’t just watch movies, he looked for insights from them, for life lessons that he carried into his ministry, his preaching, and his own living. That’s what movies are supposed to do—teach us, move us, transform us—take us out of our lives for a couple of hours and then put us back in them wiser and more human.  Come to think of it, that is what church is supposed to do, as well. Jim understood that.

We had a debate over the movie “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” It’s one of my favorites. Audrey Hepburn is adorable and beautiful in it. And George Peppard was brilliant. Jim and I were talking one day about movies and I mentioned that was one of my favorites. He said he didn’t like it. What? Why? He said it was boring, that he didn’t think he’d even seen all of it.

So next time I saw him I brought him a DVD of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” I said, “Here, watch it all the way through and then tell me if you don’t like it.” He laughed and said okay. Next time I saw him we were talking and I said, “Hey, did you watch Breakfast at Tiffany’s?" He said he had. And? He said it was okay. But he thought it was “cheesy,” sort of sappy and syrupy.

Here is one of the differences between Jim and me. I am a hopeless idealist and a sort of pathetic romantic. I love cheesy. I’m about 90% cheesy. Jim, on the other hand, was realistic. He didn’t have any use for anything that was shallow, bogus, or phony. He was more practical. He wanted the real thing.

Whether it was people in love, or someone’s faith, or people claiming certain rights, Jim wanted it real.

I think his illness made him that way. He didn’t have time for easy, superficial things. Plus, he knew how hard life can be, and that inner spiritual strength is often required of us.

Imagine living with a slowly progressive disease where day after day, year after year, you experience more and more weakness in your arms and legs, you sometimes have difficulty speaking or swallowing, your thoughts are fuzzy now and then with bouts of mild depression, all the while serving as a career minister, preaching, supervising an active congregation, taking care of the sick and dying, performing weddings and funerals. That was Jim’s life. And with everything that was against him physically, he did it professionally, courageously, and compassionately.

I told him he needed more cheesiness in his life. He just laughed. But the truth is, I needed his steady faith, his reasonableness, his tenacious relationship with reality.

He was in many ways a traditionalist. He loved the old Gospel; the story of the Cross; Jesus dying for our sins; the hope of eternal life.

I became this wild liberal in the family with stubborn questions and unorthodox ideas about God and Church and faith. Jim was a perfect balance to that for me. He stayed true to the historic beliefs. And that inspired and instructed me.

We had great times together. Vacations, golf outings, going to the movies, talking politics and theology, searching for the truth wherever we could find it.

For someone whose life had become so confined, his was still open to searching and learning and love.

Jim was a wonderful, gifted preacher and worship leader. He loved a good sermon whether it was his or someone else’s. He faithfully served four congregations over many years until he was no longer physically able to do it. And he would often talk of the people he knew and loved in those churches.

He was the best father he could be given all of his limitations. He fully supported Natalie and Jeff in everything they did. He cherished their love.

He would not have survived as long as he did without Natalie’s determined and loving care. Jim could sometimes be difficult. Sometimes he didn’t want to be cared for. That never stopped Natalie, thank goodness.

Daughters have this strange ability to win us dads over even when we don’t want them to. Natalie won every battle with Jim, even when he didn’t know it. We didn’t tell him.

We often think that suffering is some kind of gift, that only special people are chosen to endure it. But that’s not really true. We forget or ignore the terrible boredom and waste of suffering. Jim knew this well.

The poet, W.S. Merwin wrote,
“Send me out into another life, Lord,
Because this one is growing faint,
I do not think it goes all the way.”

It did not go all the way for Jim and there is nothing wrong in our admitting that and mourning it. His life should have gone on a lot further, whole and healthy for long years to come. That it didn’t was a tragedy for him and for all of us who loved him.

Jim joined the ranks of those who suffered long and endlessly and who with their courage and dignity and spirit have said, “Don’t pity us. Don’t treat us like victims. We are more than our hardships.”

Jim was always more than his illness.

There is that scene in the final movie of “The Lord of the Rings” Trilogy, “The Return of the King,” where the evil ORCS are about to breach the gates to murder and plunder the city. The wise leader Gandalf and the small Hobbit Pippen sit on stone steps realizing the end is near. They are bone weary, covered in blood and sweat and grime from the battle. Pippen looks at the large wooden gates where the only soldiers left are building a hopeless barricade.  Everything becomes strangely quiet and Pippen looks to Gandalf and wearily says, “I didn’t think it would end this way.” Gandalf looks gently at the small Hobbit and says, “End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path, one we all must take.” Pippen is still fearful. Gandalf looks into the distance in a kind of gaze and says, “The grey rain curtain of this world rolls back and all turns to silver glass…and then you see it.” His eyes are shining. And Pippen says, “What, Gandalf? What do we see?” Gandalf says, “White shores, and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.” Pippen says, “Well, that isn’t so bad.” “No,” says Gandalf, “No, it isn’t.”

We don’t really know what exists after we die. There is the speculation of philosophers. There are the warnings of gloomy prophets. There are the dreams of poets. There are the lovely visions in Scripture. We honestly don’t know for sure. But there is something instinctively human, or maybe it’s something divine inside me that tells me, whatever is beyond this life is good and beautiful and safe. And Jim is there.

Writer and journalist, Mary Elizabeth Williams, tells of a time not long after her grandfather’s death, when she and her husband and children took an extended vacation. At the end of it they stopped by the old home place and visited her grandfather’s grave. I think she expresses what we all feel today. She writes,

“So we marveled at spring flowers that Grandpa didn't get to see this year. We reminisced about trips past that he'd been part of. Sometimes, we were even happy enough to forget we were sad. And as is inevitably the case, when we got down to the last day, our dwindling time became increasingly bittersweet. We ate ice cream cones, savoring them until they dripped down our arms. We took a million pictures of our last sunset. We said goodbye. That's how it is at the end -- whether it's a trip greatly enjoyed or a life well lived. The pleasure of being there is infused with the sadness of leaving. We look back over a shoulder one last time, hoping to hang on to the memories forever. And we want to keep saying, again and again and again, enough to last to the end of our own lifetime-- "We loved you deeply, we loved you, we loved you."


Tuesday, February 21, 2017

An Opening to Your Depths

“If you can risk getting lost somewhere along the day you might stumble upon openings that link you to your depths.” ~ The Ancient Mystics

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Our Anguish and Our Praise

I visited with my brother Jim yesterday and, as always when I see him, I left deeply reflecting on life.

“The world,” Helen Keller once said, “is full of suffering; but also, the overcoming of it.”

It is difficult to watch the news and see the horror in the Middle East. There is so much suffering and death there. And yet, people somehow survive it. Refugees walk hundreds of miles, pile their families and a few belongings into small boats to cross treacherous waters in hope of finding safety. They enter strange countries where now they are often unwelcome, mistreated, harmed or sent back to the nightmare they fled. How do they do it? How do they go on? The human spirit, though fragile, often shocks us with its undeterred courage.

And here, in our country, minorities still struggle to be free. Free of discrimination, injustice, abuse, and hate. That our black friends still, after all these years, have to fight for basic rights is a stain on our democracy. Yet, they carry on, and do fight, and stand their ground with dignity and endurance. They keep showing us how small our prejudices make us.

That undocumented Latinos, endlessly waiting on a totally failed process of legalization, are still assumed criminal, seen as job stealers, as welfare beggars, and are threatened with deportation and the breakup of their families, betrays the notion that we are a Christian nation much less a humanitarian one. Yet, they continue to work long hard hours at thankless jobs with low pay and still manage to buy a home, build a solid family, and contribute to their surroundings.

That the LGBT community, after all they have achieved, are nevertheless still often dismissed by the prudish and the narrow-minded as somehow defective and unwanted in society, boggles the mind. How does a nation of thinking people parade such disregard? And yet, our gay friends disgrace those who oppose them by demonstrating determined self-respect, knowing they have nothing to be ashamed of, fully accepting their place in the human family, and making humanity better for their presence.

How do people suffering bigotry, violence, war, shame, cruelty, and hate, keep their sanity, somehow manage to persevere, and do good in the midst of so much bad? I thought of this as I sat with my brother Jim. His suffering is on a different level. But that he has endured it is a tribute to his own stouthearted spirit.

I have no way of knowing the deep hurts inside him, the feelings of loss, the frustration of being in a perpetual state of brokenness. I was given a healthy body by some chance roll of the dice. I cannot, in spite of my sincerest wishes, enter into his pain. And that is my suffering.

Life is so often a mystery. And, in many ways, that is what makes it beautiful. We feel deep anguish from all the heartache we see, here and around the world, and, in the people we love. And when we slow down enough to notice, we are also left breathless at the sheer determination of people to withstand their ordeals, their torments, and afflictions, and to outlast them to the end without bitterness or defeat.

That my brother Jim is in the last stages of an incurable disease has me kneeling before him. That he and so many others in the world suffer on and on, yet nobly, puts things in perspective for me. I bow my head in reverence and praise them.

© 2017 Timothy Moody

Thursday, February 9, 2017

We Need to Walk

“We need to walk to know sacred places, those around us and those within. We need to walk to remember the songs.” ~ Joseph Bruchac, Poet/Novelist

Friday, February 3, 2017

Actions Make a Difference

“We make progress in society only if we stop cursing and complaining about its shortcomings and have the courage to do something about them.” ~ Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, Physician/Author

Pictured here is Kikuko Shinjo, 89 years old, a survivor of the Hiroshima atomic bomb blast. As a 17-year old nursing student she helped nurse victims of the carnage back to health. Many of them died in her care. She says she holds no grudge against America and encourages interaction between the Japanese and Americans. She has devoted her life to peace, saying, “I want all the people around the world to be friends, and I want to make my country peaceful without fighting.” Today she makes colorful paper cranes and donates them to the Children’s Peace Monument at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park.