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Looking for Halos

Affirmations:  I see the holiness of people when I pay close attention to their loving spirits.

It is said Saint Francis of Assisi taught, “Preach the gospel at all times and when needed use worlds.” I am fond of this quote.  It means I don’t have to go around evangelizing the world, or at least my world, in order to promote my faith.  It relieves me of any anxiety I might feel because I am not a preacher and I’m not someone who likes to push their ideas on others, or am I?  Is it simply a matter of what I feel is safe?  Certainly, if I found the greatest shoe store ever or the best place online to order cute clothes, I’d share that without hesitation.  But, sharing my faith seems so different.  What’s the saying about never discussing religion or politics?

At the Ignited by Truth Catholic Conference this April, Scott Hahn talked about St. Francis’ teaching but he took it one step further.  He asked the two-thousand people attending, “How many people have you met who are so holy, their lives exemplify their faith.”  How holy is my life?  Is it so holy that when people see me or interact with me, they are thinking, “Wow, I need to go check out Jean’s belief system.”?

I’ve inventoried my life and made a list of all those things I do to build my faith and to contribute to society.  I think it looks pretty good.  I’m not comparing it to anyone else’s accomplishments for that is always a fatalistic exercise.  I’m simply saying that for a someone with my background and imperfections, I’ve made and continue to make a concerted effort to make the world, mine and the world in general, a better place.  As I compiled my list I wondered if God would be pleased?

My deceased friend and healer, Valerie Kelly, could see auras and the chakra colors.  When I walked in for a massage session with her, she immediately knew how I was feeling.  I never questioned whether she had that gift or not because she always gave me such comfort with her care.  I felt healed when I left her presence and part of that was when she would tell me one of my chakras, especially my heart chakra had opened and was an inviting green color.  Sometime, she would stand at the end of the table and be quiet for a minute and then say, “Good!  Your energy is flowing evenly and freely from your toes up through the crown of your head.”  I always left there feeling like I was glowing.  It was such a gracious and glorious gift.

I can’t see auras and I can’t see chakra colors.  I don’t see energy flowing through people bodies but lately, I think I can see halos.  In fact, this weekend, I saw halos everywhere.  I saw people who were so holy, they didn’t need to preach.  I have no idea what religious traditions they follow but they dedicate their lives to the betterment of society and I was in awe.  I spent the weekend at the Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor events.  On Friday there were a series of lectures and informal presentations from the scientists, physicians, staff and patients associated with the program.  On Sunday the Angels Among Us Walk was held.  It was it’s 20th year and there were 5000+ people present and they raises $2,015,000 for brain tumor research.  Both my father, Frank Grolimund and Sandy’s father, Joseph Costa died from glioblastomas.  We are very invested in the eradication of brain cancer if not all cancer.

The dedication and commitment of the people I listened to and met with is phenomenal.  The brain tumor center at Duke is the premier center in the world.  This is where Senator Ted Kennedy came to be treated.  He’s not the only well know person.  It is not uncommon for the influential and well-to-do to eventually arrive at the door of the Tisch Brain Tumor Center.  The research alone is enough to give one hope.  Recently, they have begun successfully injecting the polio virus with unparalleled success into qualified tumors.  I could see a few halos as theses dedicated Duke people shared the miracles they’ve seen.  The brightest halos however, were the ones hanging over some of the patients and their caregivers.

They shared stories of walks taken, bake sales given, basketball games played, and bike rides across the state or even the country.  They shared stories of reaching out to others even when they were in the depths of personal crises.  They were husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers.  They were neighbors and fellow parishioners.  They were friends and they were community.  They had faced death in an upfront and very personal way and many had emerged with the strength and courage of an angel.  One of my favorite stories was told by Tony McEachern.  He’s been battling brain cancer for almost ten years, a rare length of success.  He has begun the Team Tony Foundation.  He is a “lifelong jock” and now he has re-channeled his energy to focus on reaching out to other cancer patients.  Tony teases that the only place he isn’t asked about his bad hair-do is at the brain tumor clinic.  He has many challenges as a result of his struggle but like so many I met this weekend, he is more concerned with bringing comfort and strength to others than he is with his own struggle.  I am sure I could see his halo.

You don’t have to go to the Angels Among Us event to see halos.  I’ve decided they are everywhere.  There are so many amazing people who shine brightly because of their caring, generous, loving spirits.  I think the reason I haven’t seen many halos before now is because I wasn’t looking closely enough.  There are so many, thank God, who never need to use words.  Yes, preaching the bible can be a powerful exercise but I think St. Francis was righ-on when he encouraged us to lead by example, regardless of our religious preferences.  We can be be the light of God in this world if we choose to focus on others with a loving heart and maybe even form our own personal halos.

The Fragile Ego

Affirmation:  I have a childlike ego.
The yoga teacher took us from Warrior II into Side Angle.  The pose requires you to bend your front leg and lean over it and rest your forearm on your thigh.  Normally, your palm is faced downward.  “Turn your palm up” she said, “pretend you are holding something fragile, perhaps your ego.”  I laughed out loud.  This is why I practice yoga.  I look everywhere for those messages that will enrich my life.  I search every day for those insights that will enable me to know myself better so that I may live a fuller, more meaningful existence.  This day, it came to me from my teacher, Karin Johnson, at Rex Wellness here in Cary, NC.  How fragile is my ego?

One day while attending a class we were encouraged to go into an asana known as Crow.  In this pose you squat down with your feet and knees wide and your palms between your legs, flat on the ground.  You are then suppose to raise up onto your palms while balancing your thighs against your upper arms.  I’ve done this pose.  It’s not easy and requires upper body strength as well as balance.  Another reason I practice yoga is to take me out of my comfort zone.  When I attempt a pose that I know does not come easily, it makes me feel brave.  It’s brave with a small “b” but it empowers me when I’m out in the world to be brave, sometimes even “Brave.”  I took the position and slowly raised up onto my palms and then fell straight over onto my nose.  I fell with a very loud “whack!”  This particular yoga class had about thirty people in it and I know everyone of them heard the sound of my flop.  I hoped they were so involved in trying their own pose that they didn’t look up but I was sure everyone was looking at me, if just to make sure I was still alive.

 “Yoga is not a competitive sport.”  I start most of my classes with that statement.  “Bring you attention to your mat, into your body.”  The purpose of yoga is to unite the mind and the body.  I usually add, “and the spirit.”  I believe when we only focus on the physical aspect of the practice, we deny ourselves the real essence of yoga.  When we practice we are called to be present, to stay in the moment.  That’s the reason the ancient yogis initially came up with all these contortions.  It’s almost impossible to stand on one leg with your hands high in the air, Tree pose, and to be thinking about anything other than what you are doing in that moment.  You are fully present.  It’s a gift.  It’s the main lesson of the practice, stay in the here and the now.  Once you learn to do that on your mat, it too is something you can take out into the world and practice in your everyday life.  

I was lucky and my fall didn’t result in a broken or bloody nose but it did result in a dented ego.  Most of the class knows I am a Registered Yoga Teacher and I pride myself on my ability to do some of the more advanced positions and there was my lesson.  I was prideful.  I am always telling people, “Anyone can do yoga.”  But, the response I usually get is that they are not flexible enough.  What they are really saying is unless I’m already good at something, I am not willing to try it.  Our egos have become the wall that keeps us imprisoned in our small comfortable space.  Whenever I think of that fall while attempting the Crow pose, I laugh.  It was a wonderful lesson.  It was humbling and it was exactly what I needed to learn from that day’s practice.  

Recently I attended the NC Senior Follies.  One of my fiddle buddies, Constance Belton, is the teacher and choreographer of the line dancing team, The Cary Cure Alls.  She and six other women did a mock strip tease to the song Fever.  They came out in scrubs and white coats with caps on their heads, surgical gloves and wearing stethoscopes and began to remove one item at a time while they tap danced.  (Look them up on YouTube.) They won one of the Gold Medals and were the overall champions.  There were about a dozen different acts.  Some of the seniors sang, some played musical instruments and one group call themselves The Shakers.  They are the Senior Game cheerleaders.  The event was pure fun.  

After being told to “hold my fragile ego gently in my palm.” I began to think of all those other times when my ego prevented me from fully experiencing life.  I wondered when did that begin?  Certainly, as a child I wasn’t afraid to try new things.  If that were true, one would never learn to walk or to talk.  One would never learn anything!  Those amazing seniors had put away their egos in order to go onto the stage and share their skills.  That’s another secret to a full, rich, fun filled life; hold your ego gently and don’t let it prevent you from trying something new, something at which you might not be good, something at which you might be terrible but who cares!  Life is too short not to experience it all.  Gently place your ego down and live life like a child whose is first exploring their world.

I heard a story about an older successful executive who was with a group of people when the topic turned to, “What have you always wanted to do that you haven’t yet done.”  He told the group he always wanted to try tap dancing.  That evening he looked up dance studios in his area and the next day he began his lessons.  He loved it!  For all I know, he’s out there somewhere competing in his local Senior Follies.  For me, well maybe I’ll try standing on my head in my next yoga class, maybe!    

Life is a Banquet

Affirmation:  “The world is an amazing place and the more I learn about it and its inhabitants, the more I learn about myself.”

If you’ve ever been to Disney Land or Disney World you’ve probably been to the Small World ride that plays the song “It’s a Small World After All”, over and over and over.  My children always seemed to enjoy the ride but after going on it just once, I found the song to be very disturbing.

While traveling out of the country I began to think about living in a small world.  I had a tour guide hand me extra passes to the Pope’s Wednesday morning audience and say “You never know who you’ll meet.  It’s a small world, especially in Rome.”  In this instance, even with a million people there I didn’t meet anyone I knew.  I must admit I have been very far from home when I’ve been stunned to meet someone from my local area. But, for the most part, I rarely meet an acquaintance when traveling.  Mind you I meet a lot of new acquaintances, just not a lot of old ones.  And, isn’t that one of the reasons to travel? 

I traveled with Owen, my thirteen year old grandson to London to visit with my adult daughter Ellen and her fiancé, Adam.  Then Ellen, Owen and I headed to Rome.  Two years ago I took the same trip with my granddaughter, Isabelle.  She too was thirteen at the time.  After visiting London on that trip we then headed to Paris.  Yes, I feel blessed to be able to share the world with them.  I feel blessed that they want to come with me.  As Isabelle and I deplaned in Raleigh and were heading towards customs, she asked me where we were going next.  “We need to go through customs, Honey.”  “Oh no, Grandma, that’s not what I meant.”  And she smiled.  Throughout this trip, Owen has suggested I adopt a “travel buddy.”  He has suggested himself. 

When Ellen, Owen and I were in Rome, the tour guide mentioned in passing that one corner shop had “the best gelato in Rome” and that “the line for the gelato is sometimes longer than the line to enter the Vatican.”  When we finished our Vatican tour I was ready to find our way back to our hotel and rest for a while but that wasn’t Ellen’s plan.  She whipped out her trusty iPhone and located that shop.  We walked this way and that way and what did we find, the best gelato shop in Rome. So there we stood in line with a group of nuns from Albania who had also discovered the shop.  When they told us where they were from, Ellen surprised them by announcing she’d been to Albania.  The nun told her to come visit the next time she had a reason to go there.  We would have missed out on that whole experience if it wasn’t for her desire to experience it all and to have the “the best gelato in Rome.”

I have friends who have traveled all over the world.  They aren’t the least bit concerned with safety or even worse, Montezuma’s revenge and if they are concerned, well too bad, the adventure is more important than the worry.  I think of them as having a huge appetite for life.  They want to experience it all.  They don’t care if they encounter challenges along the way.  In fact, they relish the challenges.  Remember the movie Auntie Mame with Rosalind Russell? She says, “Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.”  I don’t want to starve to death.  I too want feast from the banquet of life.

What happens when one travels?  Your world becomes larger.  It’s true, life is a banquet.  There is such diversity, so many delightful flavors.  I think that’s why the Amazing Race is one of my favorite TV shows.  In it a dozen or more people travel around the world engaging in the local traditions and customs of the country they are visiting. What is of the greatest interest is not what they see or do and I certainly don’t recommend racing through any worthwhile experience.  What is of the greatest interest is what happens to one’s thinking when one steps outside of their box.  It’s what happens inside us that’s so amazing.
We get to choose whether or not we want to live inside a tiny little box, the known world or expand the box.  The world can be a scary place but at some point we will no longer be a part of it.  While we are here we should embrace the concept of living in a big space, of learning about our planet and its people and therefore, about ourselves.  It’s too easy to stay safe and comfortable and to let our world shrink to our size.  Maybe one doesn’t really need to hop a plane or a train in order to stay green and growing.  I see how small our world can become every time I visit an assisted living facility.  We get to choose if we want to eat from a buffet or have the same food over and over.  If travel is beyond your means, go to the library, go to the theatre, and borrow some travel videos.  There is no reason in this day and age to miss out on all that’s available in the world that can nourish our minds, hearts and our souls and help us to live a life of abundance and adventure, even if we’re confined physically by old age, illness or finances.

Because of Ellen’s sense of adventure we got to meet Albanian nuns.  How many people outside of Albania can claim that?  Because of my sense of adventure we got to go to Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica and view the Pieta and see Pope Francis.  Owen’s interests took us to see some of Banksy’s London street art.  Each of us journeyed to a new place.  We discovered new people, new visions, and new appreciations and therefore, we discovered more about both our outer and most important, about our inner worlds.  I’m pleased my grandchildren and I have had the opportunity to travel together.  This trip certainly wasn’t the first but the trip to Europe was the farthest, not however, the longest. The longest journey is the one we take to know ourselves better, the one within and by spending time together, especially in a foreign location, we learned a great deal about each other and about ourselves.  We not only created some amazing shared memories but we ate from the banquet of life and it was great!

Seeking a Better Life

For four nights
during the week before Holy Week, Father Jim Sichko from Texas spoke to over
1000 people in my church of St. Michael the Archangel in Cary, NC.  We have a very large parish, over 16,000
people. The church has daily mass, Saturday evening mass and five masses every
Sunday.  Our services are blessed with
the gift of an amazing music minister, Wayne Cushner and a very dedicated group
of choir members.  I love going to mass. I’ve
gone my whole life and I love the ritual. 
I find it comforting.  I am also
grateful for the gift of the Eucharist. 
I’ve seen my church’s faults and I’ve chosen to stay and work at change
from the inside out. I’m blessed to feel this way. I know not everyone can
understand. I am one of the lucky ones. I was born into this faith in which I
feel so at home.  

Mass is an
obligation for Catholics.  We are told
that if we miss Mass without a legitimate reason, we have sinned.  Father Sichko began his introduction to the
parishioners by telling them they were welcome to leave if they were at the
Mass because of obligation and not because they wanted to attend.  I’m not sure if he had the church’s blessing
on that direction but I understood what he was saying; don’t show up without an
attitude of gratitude, embrace the gift, embrace the mystery.

How many times in
our lives have we simply shown up physically to some event but didn’t commit
emotionally?  What we invest in our
experience is directly proportional to what we receive from it.  How about school for an example to which we
can all relate?  Everyone knows the
amount of time and effort one puts into their education directly affects what
one learns.  Yes it is easier for some
than for others but that isn’t the point. 
If we aren’t fully invested in the process we miss out regardless of
whether or not the learning comes easily. 
We may not only miss out on how much and what we learn from the classes
but from our teachers, peers and the environment.

Catholic Mass is
not an entertainment form.  Regardless of
the music or the priest’s personality, it is a very traditional ritual.  We stand, sit, and kneel, over and over.  I’ve heard it called “Catholic
aerobics.” The readings change and the hymns are different weekly but the
words are always the same.  I can go to
Mass anywhere in the world, and I have, and regardless of the language, I know
most of what the priest is saying.  I
tell you this because I understand how other, more contemporary fun services
can attract people.  I can understand why
some people come to mass out of obligation and not out of want and it is
obvious when a church is filled with people who really would like to be
somewhere else.  Many won’t be singing,
they vie for seats in the back of the church; they don’t bother to say the
prayers and they leave as soon as Communion is distributed.  I understand why Father Sichko gave
permission to those unappreciative Catholics to leave. 

The people
attending the mission were there because they wanted to be.  How could I tell?  People came early.  A half hour before the mission began, the
church was almost full.  Everyone sang,
they were still singing after Father Sichko had walked out of the service.  It was an awesome sound.  I stopped singing for a short time to just
listen.  It was like the Mormon
Tabernacle Choir!  All those people
singing a joyful sound.  Why, I wondered
did so many people choose to spend four evenings here in this church?  What was of such value that they made an
effort to attend?  Certainly, this is not
the first event of its type.

I’ve never
attended a traveling preacher’s event. 
Even living here in the heart of the Bible Belt, I’ve never gone to hear
Billy Graham speak or Joel Osteen who regularly visits our area.  My only revival experience is from watching
the movie Elmer Gantry with Burt Lancaster a “hundred” years
ago.  I would hope that’s not a good
representation.  From the little I
remember he was not a very upright person. 
But, I can understand how one can get caught up in the experience.  I guess it is like the Super Bowl of
faith.  It’s exciting, all these people
gathered in one place with a similar outlook, rooting for the same team.  My question is why are they here?  What is everyone looking for?  What do they hope to gain? People seem to be
seeking something most of us cannot seem to find alone.

 

My mother was a
great fan of Robert Schuler and the Crystal Cathedral.  Thousands of people attended his services and
millions watched every Sunday.  Joel
Osteen is very popular now.  His church is
a former basketball stadium and holds over 18,000 people.  It is full every week and millions more watch
his service from home.  You don’t have to
look to the media for popular preachers or venues.  Here in Cary alone we have other churches
that attract large throngs of people each week. 
It’s the same throughout the rest of the country.  They represent every denomination:
Protestant, Mormon, Jewish, Non-denominational, Muslim, etc.  Why? 
Why are people coming together? 
Is it simply for community or are they looking for something else?  And, why do they continue to return week
after week, year after year?  Why did
over 1000 people come to St. Michael the Archangel every night for four nights
the week before Holy Week?   Was it
because it was free?  Maybe they had
nothing better to do?  No, I believe it
was because we are all looking for something beyond ourselves, beyond our
understanding, beyond our wildest imagination. 
We are looking for that which will complete us.  We are looking for God. 

People came
hoping.  They were hoping they would hear
something that would inspire them to lead richer, fuller lives.  They wanted to know more about their faith
with the hope that that would lead them to lives of more value.  They wanted to know what knowledge their
faith has gathered over the last 2000 years that would bless them and their
loved ones today and in the future.  Did
they get that?  Did they enrich their
lives and their faith?  Father Sichko had
a very direct message, a simple one but not an easy one.  He told us to “live the
gospel.”  Have you read the
gospels?  Have you read the words of
Jesus Christ?  His lessons are very
clear; care for the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, the suffering of this
world.  Love at all costs, all the
time.  Don’t be attached to your material
possessions and trust that God is always here to care for you.  Simple, but challenging mandates.  Father Sichko repeated these directives.  He was able to weave them around some very
entertaining stories, some very humbling stories and at the end of the fourth
night, he received a standing ovation. 
His message seemed to reach everyone there.  It was a very inspirational experience.  The energy in the church was palpable.  It was exciting! I knew I was in a holy place
with others who chose to be there.  No
one I believed was there because of an obligation but solely because they
wanted to be there. 

One of my newer
affirmations is “I read something inspirational every night and
motivational every morning.”  For
the four nights of Father’s presentation I was inspired.  Listening to him was even better than doing
my reading.  It was the difference
between looking at a photo of a bowl of my favorite ice cream and actually
being able to eat it.  I came looking for
a way to enrich my life and to add to the blessings of my family and friends
and perhaps some part of the world and I found it.  I found it in Father’s reminder to “go
live the gospel.”  I know I’ll need
reminding.  I’m sure to find a reminder
in my daily evening reading of the New Testament.  That, along with Father Sichko’s lessons will
sustain me, I hope for quite a while to come. 
I only wish, and hope that some of those non-appreciative Catholics did
show up on a night or two and they too were inspired, inspired to the point
where they find themselves wanting to come to mass, not just showing up because
they think they need to in order to escape the everlasting fires of hell but
because something magical happened, something mystical and the veil that had
hidden the blessings of their faith from them was pulled back and they can
finally see the beauty, the gift of the Mass and especially of the
Eucharist.