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A Place for Mystery

Affirmation: I let Mystery have a place in me.
Terry Gross of NPR’s Fresh Air was interviewing Bart Ehrman, a
professor of religious studies at UNC, Chapel Hill.  He had just written another book.  This one is called How Jesus Became God.  I had a feeling I knew where this interview
was going but I love to learn about anything to do with religion, any religion
and I love talk radio, so I stayed tuned in.
NPR had this introduction on their web site, “When Bart
Ehrman was a young Evangelical Christian, he wanted to know how God became a
man, but now, as an agnostic and historian of early Christianity, he wants to
know how a man became God.
When and why did Jesus’ followers start saying “Jesus as
God” and what did they mean by that? His new book is called How Jesus
Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee.
‘In this book I actually do not take a stand on either the
question of whether Jesus was God, or whether he was actually raised from the
dead,” Ehrman tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross. “I leave open both
questions because those are theological questions based on religious beliefs
and I’m writing the book as a historian.'”
I gave up doubt for this year’s Lent this Easter Season.  For me, it’s easy to doubt.  It seems to me that our egos are so involved
in our identity that most of us believe we need to be able to understand
everything.  If we can’t understand it,
it must not be true.  But, over the years
I’ve discovered I actually understand very little.  There is so much that is simply unknown.  I could list all the questions I have about
life and the Universe but I’m sure that you have many of your own.  The simple question about what happens to us
after we die is one very prominent unknown. 
One of life’s greatest mysteries. 
I was surprised by my reaction to Professor Ehrman’s interview.  I know I have only that segment on which to
base my response to his theories but his words left me feeling very sad. 
I did listen carefully. 
Certainly his research was very factual.  There didn’t seem to be much one could
dispute.  He had gathered his facts very
carefully.  His research confirmed his
beliefs.  Like the web site stated, he
had gone from being an Evangelical Christian to an atheist. It appears the New
Testament gospel stories about what immediately took place after Jesus died is
fictitious.  Oh yes, Jesus was tortured,
humiliated and crucified but there was no way he was then taken down from the
cross after his death, placed in a tomb and rose three days later.  According to Roman tradition, that’s just not
how things were done back then.  Back
then?  As far as I know that’s not how
things are done now.  Rising from the
dead sure isn’t the norm even in today’s world. 
Father Alapati of St. Michael’s Catholic Church here in Cary
recently told a joke as part of his homily. 
It appears a gentleman rose one morning to find his obituary in the
paper.  He was shocked and immediately
called his friend and said, “Did you see my obituary in today’s
paper?” His friend responded, “Yes, but where are you calling from
heaven or hell?” 
Facts supporting the Resurrection would be lovely.  The Apostle Thomas seemed to feel the same
way.  “But he said unto them, Except
I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the
print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
(John 20: 25) I’ve always been fascinated by the Apostles.  So afraid, so timid, so uneducated hiding
away in a room somewhere, waiting for those angry crowds to come and pull them
off to the same torture and death their leader just endured.  I can feel the fear.  I can almost taste it.  We’ve seen what angry crowds do.  We’re watching it now in all parts of the
world.  I would be terrified.  What happened to change them so?  What facts can be gathered to explain why they
would leave that room and go out into the crowds and begin to preach the Good
News?  These men (and let’s hope a woman
or two) left their safe space and changed the world forever.  How does one explain that?  It’s a mystery.
My fellow yoga teacher, friend and mentor, Nancy Hannah, shared
with me a saying with which her mother, Bunny Stone, would guide her.  “Let mystery have its place In
you.”  According to Nancy, her mom
was a remarkable woman who made amazing in-roads and created life changing
programs here in North Carolina.  In
Rachel Remen’s The Will to Live and Other Mysteries she writes about the
fact that our western culture is more a culture of mastery than mystery but
life is more about mystery than mastery. Most of us, however, refuse to
recognize the mystery that permeates our lives. 
We need to understand all things because by understanding we believe we
are in control.  It’s a fallacy.  After controlling our thought process, there
is very little else of which we are in control. 
How our egos interfere in the really important values of our
lives: peace, hope, love, gratitude, compassion and yes, faith.  What facts are available to prove these
qualities exist?  Can we ask to place our
hands into them, our fingers?  Here is
where faith must triumph over facts. 
Faith, trust on steroids, is believing in something so completely
irrational because one has let go of their ego. 
The test here is to decide to believe and to let God work within and
through us.  This is when we are called
upon to let mystery have its place in us. 
I find comfort in my faith.  I
find peace.  I like resting in the
mystery and not trying to figure it all out. 
We might not be able to hold the proof in our hands but if we choose, we
can hold it in our hearts.

Just Breathe

Affirmation:  When I
focus on my breath, I feel calmer and when I am very attentive to it, I
recognize I am connecting to the Divine.
 
Jill Sockman led the class. 
It was at the third annual Yoga Fest in Raleigh, NC.  This was Howie Shareff’s inspiration.  He heads an organization called “You
Call This Yoga” and his organization was sponsoring this event. There were
over 500 people attending the day long workshop and I had been “called”
to be one of them.  I hadn’t felt any
inclination to attend either of the first two but the message had come through
to me loud and clear that I was supposed to be at his year’s Yoga Fest.  I didn’t know anyone else who was attending
and I had a trip the next day for which I needed to pack but that interior
voice was screaming at me, “Go, you need to go” and so, I did.
I would be taking four classes over the course of the day and I
didn’t know one teacher from the other. 
They all looked interesting and I know I can always learn something new
from any experience so it didn’t really matter to me which class I took.  I decided to trust that whichever class in
which I found myself it would be exactly the class I was supposed to take.  
The first class was good, very good.  The room was packed and I learned a breathing
technique I had not consistently applied to my practice.  Nice! 
The next class was titled “Finding Your Edge.”  I wasn’t really sure I wanted to participate
in a dynamic flow class, which is what I assumed this class would be but I was
signed up for it and following my own advice, I decided to stay for it.  It was not very good, it was
inspirational.  Jill was a master
teacher.  She was young and wispy and
confident and all that is nice but those are not the qualities not that make a
teacher a master.  She was wise and she
clearly imparted her wisdom in a concise, universal language.  This, I knew was why I had been led to come
to Yoga Fest.  Where was my
recorder? 
Jill began by reminding us to take a full deep breath and to fill
our lungs and chest and a deliberate exhale with a reminder to draw in our
belly buttons to our spine and engage our Mula Bandha (the pelvic floor).  We then went on with some Kapalahbati
breathing, she incorporated several series of Ohms and she then ended with
another round of Kapalahbati.  I felt an
internal shift take place.  I
“returned” to Kripalu, the home of my training and a place where I
had absorbed the positive, calming energy of the yoga practice. 
The breath is the foundation of life.  We begin life with our first inhale and we
end life with our last exhale and yet, how many times during our day do we even
notice our breathing?  A dear friend gave
me a plaque one day that said, “Things I need to do today,
Breathe.”  One of the most important
yogic tools is the breath.  There are
dozens of different types of breathing, some are slow and deep, others are more
like panting and some require one to hold one nostril closed and alternate
between the two.  Yoga is not just a
series of poses or asanas.  The ancient
writings of Patanjali, the father of yoga, describes eight limbs or disciplines
involved in the practice of yoga.  The
breathing or Pranayama is one of them. 
They all interweave with each other. 
When you unite your breath with your movements, you unite your mind with
your body and with your spirit.  It’s a
very powerful tool.  I like to start my
yoga classes by inviting the practitioners to watch their breath.  “Watch the rise and the fall, the in and
the out, the up and the down. Do not judge. There’s no right or wrong, no good
or bad.  Just notice.”  Calm penetrates the atmosphere of the
room.  It’s palpable.  I decided I was at Jill’s class to be
reminded of how powerful life can be when I choose to focus on my breath. 
In the ten week course on Mindful Meditation at Duke’s
Integrative Medicine, the main teaching is how to calm the mind and therefore
the body by simply sitting quietly and watching the breath.  The basic teaching is to “watch” the
breath and when thoughts come along, which they always do, notice them, release
them and go back to watching your breath. 
Most meditation practices focus on the breath.  Many practices also invite you to create a
mantra, a word that you can repeat over and over.  I’d like to claim to be a devoted meditating
but I am not.  I pray, I journal but I
have only meditated sporadically, not religiously, even though I truly believe
it’s one of the best paths to optimal mental and physical health.  When I have meditated and searched for a
mantra, I found myself focusing on the word, “Jesus.”  My inhale led me to “Jees” and my
exhale to “us.”  Then I
realized that even if I’m not in a meditative state, I’m always breathing and I
could use my mantra any time I stopped and took a deep breath.  “Jesus”  It was a short prayer, a short prayer that
brought me home to my God.  Now, all I
needed to do was to put the exercise into practice, to make a conscious choice
to take that deep breath whenever I possibly could, whenever I would think to
do so.
The focus of my daily reading during the month of February in Spiritual
Insights
is on meditation.  Actually,
any of the self-help books I’ve ever picked up have at least one section
devoted to meditation.  I am presently
reading Richard Rohr’s, The Naked Now
He too speaks about the breath. 
He explains that the Hebrew term for God, Yahweh, is believed to be
derived from four sounds, Yod Hay Vov Hay. 
The sound of breathing.  It was
such a sacred sound, the name of God, that the Hebrews rarely spoke it.  They didn’t need to speak it, they honored
God, brought God to them, into them with every breath.  The breath is the life giving force which
sustains us and which, if we choose, can keep us connected to the Divine. 
I think I’ve figured out that I was “called” to Yoga
Fest for several reasons, some of which I may not even know just yet but one of
the reasons I believe was to help me refocus on the importance of paying
attention to my breathing.  I’ve had a
really rough start in 2014 and I’d lost touch with my breathing practice.  It was a wonderful gift to receive from Jill
and the other yoga instructors.  It’s
interesting to me how often my yoga practice helps me to strengthen my faith
and helps me to reconnect with my God. 
It’s amazing that something so simple, breathing, can be so complex and
so very powerful.  Join me, “Take a
deep breath, and exhale fully. Again. One more time.” When I focus
on my breath, I feel calmer and when I am very attentive to it, I recognize I
am connecting to the Divine.

A Secret Ingredient

Affirmation: Even when I am doing little things of service, I
include a large amount of love.
What’s your favorite food? 
Everyone has a favorite.  It’s a
great question to start a conversation or to open a group discussion because it
seems as if most people have an immediate answer.  My favorite food has always been my mother’s
chocolate chip cookies.  Her cookies were
probably the reason I could never lose those extra five pounds I’ve always
wanted to lose.  She’s told me it’s
simply the recipe on the back of the Toll House Chocolate Chip package but I
don’t believe her.  I think there’s a
secret ingredient, perhaps one of which she’s not even aware.  It’s a mystery!  I’m not the only one who loved her chocolate
chip cookies.  They were a favorite for
the whole family, especially my son Joey. 
For years she baked him a special batch. 
“Those are only for Joey.” 
I think he was one of her favorite grandsons.  Recently, I’ve had other people tell me she
baked special batches of cookies for them too. 
“She told me, these were only for me.”
I have many friends who like to bake.  It’s a gift to be a baker.  It runs in our family.  My mother passed on her love and skill to
both my youngest daughter, Ellen, my sister’s daughter, Samantha and to my
brother’s daughter, Stacy.  The food
doesn’t just taste good but it looks yummy. I was stunned when during one of my
visits to Ellen; she asked me if I’d like to see her journal.  I couldn’t even imagine where this offer was
leading.  Was she going to confess some
deep dark secret or worse yet have one of those mother-daughter “come to
Jesus” conversations?  Then she
pulled out her baking journal.  It was
beautiful. She had all the recipes she’d been trying and the adjustments
recorded to make them more to her liking and photos of the cookies and cakes.  I was honored to have her share her passion
with me. 
It seems to me the thing about baking is that most bakers want to
share their treats with their friends, family and whomever they think would
enjoy them.  I watched my mom and I’ve
watched other bakers go about giving away their cookies to whomever they wanted
to grace. It didn’t need to be a special occasion.  It might just be because someone needed a
pick-me-up or perhaps it was a way to say “thank you.”  My mom would give her yummy cookies to the
hair dresser, the auto mechanic, the nurse and doctors she frequented, to an
ailing friend or perhaps to her friend’s caregiver.  They were always warmly and graciously
received.  Many times our Christmas
presents to her were fancy “cookie” boxes with her initials on them
or several cookie tins with varying designs. 
She even began saving some of the small used plastic containers from the
grocery so she could package up just two or three cookies and present
them.  I envy people who like to
bake.  I too would like to be seen as a
warm, generous person who says “thank you” with a tangible yummy
treat but, I don’t like to bake, especially cookies.  So, I wondered what I could share in a
similar manner.
I’ve decided there is no substitute.  There is nothing as heartwarming as a
homemade treat.  Let’s face it even if you’re
not eating sugar or can’t eat sugar, the gift still warms your heart.  You know someone really cares and they’ve
taken the time and the energy necessary to let you know.  Perhaps sharing food in any way brings those
same warm feelings.  I’ve been to many
events where people showed up with food as a form of love and support.  My experience of living in the Midwest and
now here in the South affirms that belief. 
If someone has a tragedy or is going through a difficult time, people
bring meals.  During my many months of
cancer treatment we were supported with some of the best meals I’ve ever eaten
and on the flip side, I’ve dropped off meals whenever the opportunity presented
itself.  I usually make dinner and include
some sort of chocolate candy.  I don’t
bake.  I do, however, make every effort
to be affable and caring on a daily basis. 
As I go through my day, I readily share a smile.  I have found it uplifts not only my spirits
but usually the recipient too.  I’m an
avid hugger.  I learned that skill from
my husband, Sandy and my mother-in-law, Yolanda.  I know not everyone wants to be hugged.  If I’m not sure I open my arms and
hesitate.  It’s usually fairly obvious if
it’s not welcomed.  That doesn’t happen
very often.  I love to send snail-mail birthday
cards with a blessing over them and a few loving words inside.  I know these small gestures do not hold a
candle to a good chocolate chip cookie but it’s my way of letting people know
they are loved; they are an important part of my life.  I value them and their relationship. 
My mom, Margaret Grolimund, passed away this week.  We included in her obituary the fact that she
was famous for her chocolate chip cookies. 
When I spoke to the presided of her Requiem Mass, Father Doug Reed, I
shared her notoriety and he wanted to know her recipe.  I told him what she said that it was simply
the recipe on the back of the Toll House Chocolate Chip package.  I, however, knew she was not sharing the
secret ingredient.  Now, I know why.  I don’t think she was aware of it.  It was magical!  Her secret ingredient was her love.  She made those cookies, cakes and pies with a
heart filled with love.  We all show love
in different ways.  This was my Mom’s way
and she did it marvelously. Love is the secret ingredient in every special gift
we share with another.  It’s that one
thing that tells someone, “These are only for you.” I love you.