Looking For The Ocean

There’s a story attributed Anthony de Mello that he would share at spiritual retreats. It goes something like this:

A fish was swimming frantically from side to side in the ocean. Another fish asked, “What are you doing?” He answered, “I’m looking for the ocean.” The other fish said, “You’re in the ocean.”

This is my dilemma. I am the fish swimming from side to side. Covid-19 has come as a silent invader. It has crept in and robbed people that I know of their health, their livelihood and in some cases, even their life. I am looking for the ocean. I am looking for that safe place, where I know that life will return as I remember. And I feel frantic and weary because I can’t find that place.

I am the fish swimming from side to side. And I need to be reminded that I’m in the ocean. It’s my inability to recognize that I am surrounded by everything I need that is exhausting. Because I don’t focus long enough to see what I have, my spirit is sapped. Because I can’t stop frantically searching, my joy is gone; my hope is lost.

And then someone or something reminds me. Sometimes it’s like a flash of light! Suddenly I am keenly aware of all that surrounds me. I AM IN THE OCEAN! All the love and understanding and compassion that I need is here. In me. With me. Around me. Other times it seeps in slowly. I begin to faintly reckon that I am where I belong. It’s a flicker of light. A gentle wave of consciousness. I am serenely in the ocean. Surrounded by love. In me. With me. Around me.

The Corona Virus is awful and it is life-changing but I am determined to stay prayerful and be grateful for what I have. I will cherish what I have now because I know that it is not guaranteed to last.

And when I am with my loved ones, with my friends and my family, I know that I am in the ocean. Our presence is prayer. And God is with us.

Peace,

Denis

Putting Life On Hold

We’ve all experienced the frustration of calling a doctor’s office or bank or billing department or any government agency and being put ‘on-hold’. Those minutes can seem like hours and usually the ‘on-hold’ music makes the experience even more intolerable.

Covid-19 has put our lives on hold. Work has been interrupted or completely stopped. Schools are closed. Graduations, weddings, and family reunions have been postponed or cancelled. Even more heart-breaking are funerals that have been restricted to only a handful of family members with a promise of a memorial at “a later date”.

As I watch the number of Corona Virus cases continue to climb and the death toll surpass 60,000 people in the U.S. alone, I feel hopeless and weary. When will it end? Will our lives ever return to normal? So much is unknown and so much information seems to be inaccurate or downright misleading. Should I watch and listen to media “health experts”? Can I trust any politicians? Do I listen to well-meaning friends and family members? Often it all seems like so much “hold music” interrupted every now and then with a “please continue to hold” thrown in for good measure.

When will this incessant ‘on-hold’ ever end?

I for one, have decided to hang up on the hold call. Instead of focusing on the health scare, financial uncertainty and forced isolation, I’m trying to take this time to be more prayerful, more attentive to my wife (after all we’re stuck in this together) and more grateful for the many blessings in my life. I’m thankful for friends and family members with whom we have safely stayed connected via social networking and technology. I’m thankful for an employer who has allowed me (so far) to work from home. I’m thankful for schools and teachers who have supported our grandchildren in their efforts to learn-at-home. I’m thankful for the health care professionals who are striving to keep my dad safe and healthy at his assisted-living residence. I’m thankful for the countless numbers of people I encounter who are wearing masks in an effort to mitigate the transmission of this deadly pandemic.

And I’ve found some joy: The laughter of our younger granddaughters responding to my silliness via FaceTime: the willingness of our grandson and his older sister to continue to do their school work before they go out and play each day; that same granddaughter who has decided to write letters and send small gifts to residents of a local care facility in her community; the text exchange between our oldest granddaughter, where she confirmed that I would likely look like Santa by the time our quarantine ends (I’m sure she was referring to the beard I’m growing and not my ever-expanding waistline); the more frequent phone calls from our younger son who says he’s “just checking in” (but even if he’s just bored or lonely, it’s great to hear his voice).

So, life is ‘on-hold’. But I hope when we return to normal or to our new normal some of these ‘on-hold’ measures remain: Siblings happily spending time together; families slowing down enough to cherish one another; parents learning by teaching their youngsters; friends staying connected; phone calls from our sweet boy.

I’m still not happy to be ‘on-hold’ and I haven’t turned a blind eye to the suffering and loss in our world. I’m not expecting someone to “flip a switch” and magically take this all away. I’m not looking for a panacea or a miracle cure. What I hope for is courage and patience. What I pray for is compassion, understanding and continued faith in my fellow man.

May you all stay safe and healthy.

Peace,

Denis

Easter Season

On Easter the Alleluia returned! But for many of us it was a muted alleluia.

Usually Easter Mass is exultant, but not this year. If the bells tolled and the organ played but no one was there, did it still make a sound? Virtual was not actual. iPads and televisions were poor substitutes for the true sights and sounds and smells of Easter Vigil.

I for one missed the ‘carnival atmosphere’ of Easter Sunday morning services, too. My version of heaven is filled with wiggles, giggles, and jelly-bean breath. I missed seeing kids stuffed full of Easter candy, wearing itchy new clothes, packed into an overcrowded church, and expected to sit quietly for over an hour. You can’t get that kind of entertainment on TV.

This year was different. This year we must be smart. We must be safe. We must stay healthy.

So perhaps this was not my favorite Easter. In fact, this was the worst Easter I can ever remember, and my 93-year-old father says it’s the saddest Easter of his life. But our inconvenience and our disappointment are small prices to pay for protecting our loved ones and our neighbors from this pandemic.

Why do you search for the living among the dead? He is not here. He is risen!

I’m reminded that the first Easter was a pretty quiet affair, and the group was smaller than 10 persons. Still, our salvation is secure. Without fanfare. Without cymbals. Without trumpets. We are saved.

Let’s have a joyous Easter season and remain a grateful people!

(And maybe next year we can have that Easter Parade and you can wear your bonnet with all the frills upon it)

Peace,

Denis

Good Grief, It’s Good Friday!

Hard to believe that today is Good Friday. I thought that the saying was “time flies when you’re having fun”. Nothing seems like too much fun right now. And here it is – Good Friday. Another year has gone by.

I’m on a bit of an emotional roller coaster. Today marks one year since our Mom passed away. Holy Week was important to her and to our family. Watching Holy Thursday Mass yesterday on my i-Pad just didn’t feel quite right. I’m grateful for the technology and I wouldn’t want to put anyone at risk by attending Triduum services, but still…

So I’m grieving today. Missing Mom. Missing Holy Week. Missing our friends. Missing my family, especially our children and grandchildren. Worried about our Dads in their isolation.

I’m grieving for friends and family that have recently lost loved ones. There can be no funerals. No gatherings. No holding on to one another. Just plans for memorials “in the future”. I’m grieving today for the nearly 100,000 victims of COVID-19 worldwide. Many of these souls will remain faceless, nameless statistics. God help us. God be with us.

Lucy (of Peanuts fame) often would exclaim, “Good grief!”. Her ire was always reserved for poor hapless Charlie Brown. After she would shout at him, his response was often an exasperated, “Good grief” in return.

Good grief – what a funny expression. What is good about grief?

I’ve been struggling with this and praying about it. I’ve come to the conclusion that grief indeed can be a good thing. It can be healing. It can be cleansing. Certainly no one wants to grieve. Surely no one wants to deal with loss. But grief allows us to own our feelings. Grief allows us to love beyond death. And everyone must grieve in their own way; in their own time.

I suppose Good Friday is a good day to grieve. If we’re Christians we can grieve the suffering of our Savior today.

Regardless of our belief traditions, it’s okay to cry. It’s okay to breakdown a little. It’s normal to want to hold on to those whom we love. It’s human to feel the pain when we know that we must let go. But we can also be assured that death is not the end. Our loved ones remain with us in spirit. We see them in the sunrise and the sunset. We see them in the stars at night and in the clouds by day. We hear them in the songs of birds and the rustling of leaves. We feel them in gentle breezes and the warmth of the sun on our skin.

And if remembering and loving them until it hurts is grief, then I suppose it is good.

Peace,

Denis

Letting Go

Have you ever had to retrace your steps?

Maybe it’s a senior moment because it happens more often as I get older. I start to walk into a room for some reason and then almost immediately I can’t remember why. So I stop and return to where I started, hoping to trigger whatever thought it was that made me enter into that room to begin with. I suppose it’s good exercise but not really all that productive . Or perhaps I’ve lost something and I return to where I remember last seeing it. I literally retrace my steps to see if I might discover where the item was misplaced. “Where did I put my glasses?” is a common theme for me.

It’s human nature, I suppose, to want to hang on to those necessary thoughts and those necessary things. I need to know where I’m going and why. And I need my glasses to see whatever it is I’m going to be doing when I get there.

But Jesus asks us to let go. Lent is a usually thought of as time to give up something. This year, during this pandemic, even more so. What I really need to give up is my need for control. This is easier said than done. As I am struggling to wrap my head around Covid-19 and all of the repercussions of this deadly virus, I feel that I need whatever control I have left. During a normal Lenten Season surrendering to God’s plan is challenging. This year it is downright frightening. What is happening??!! Jesus, how can I let go??!!

In his book, “How Big Is Your God?”, Paul Coutinho writes “a consequence of my life with God is essentially a dying, a giving up, and a self-emptying.” He goes on to say, “Jesus promised to give us inner freedom, joy, and happiness that no one and nothing can take away from us, even in the midst of tremendous pain, suffering, sickness, and death.”

What holds me back? The challenge is thinking about what I need to leave behind.

Is it comfort? Is it fear? Is it pride? Is it hate? Is it anger? Is it anxiety? Is it my need for perfection? Is it my self-righteousness?

The frightening part is the actual leaving behind.

The strain of having to distance myself from my loved ones. Worry for our son who has lost his job in the restaurant industry. The constant concern for my 93 year-old father and 88 year-old father-in-law who are both at high risk. Dealing with the disappointment of cancelled events. Frustration with the lack of leadership in our state and in our nation. Struggling with the uncertainty of my employment. Trying to ignore the foreboding feeling of “who might be next?”. The nearly constant reassurances of “we’ll be fine”, that I both give and receive, which seem grossly inadequate.

And yet, I have to let it go. I have to leave it all behind. How else can I empty myself and wholly embrace the desert experience?

This is exactly why I need Lent. Especially this year. Maybe my journey is meant to be a struggle. A challenge. A reminder that God loves me as I am: worried; woefully unprepared; hopeless; helpless; vulnerable.

We are made in God’s image, but our humanity requires that we accept and even embrace our limitations and our sinfulness. We must accept the fact that because we have free will, we can choose to love God or not. Faith is a choice. Lent should be an opportunity not a burden.

Coutinho talks about how once we let go we are then free to swim in the ‘River of the Divine’. I love these words but I struggle to put this into action. Most days I feel pretty distant from anything divine.

Making sacrifices during Lent is not a bad thing. Giving to charity and serving others is certainly admirable. I read somewhere recently that we will need a “Letter of Recommendation” from the poor in order to get into heaven. I can pray for others during my isolation. Kindness costs nothing. Doing something positive can help combat these feelings of futility. If this time of trial helps me to get to the “desert” I should be thankful. Only there can I face my temptations and acknowledge my weaknesses. Then after I empty myself of pride, I can retrace my steps, jump into that ‘River of the Divine’ and be healed once more.

Peace,

Denis

When Doing Nothing Is Doing Something

These are strange times we’re living in. COVID-19 (the corona virus) has changed our world. For most of us there is a feeling of utter helplessness. Compound that with fear and anxiety about what is yet to come and a steady dose of misinformation and it’s a real recipe for disaster.

What can I do? What should I do? How long will this last? Is this just the beginning? What about my older friends and relatives? What about my kids and grandkids? Hell, what about me!!??

Depending on your news source, the information you receive may differ from your neighbor’s. Depending on your job and employer, you may be without work or you may be working remotely. Depending on your age and general physical condition, you may or may not be a serious health risk. But no one seems to know exactly what to do/who to believe/what to expect.

Here’s what we know:

  • Wash your hands.
  • Social distance – keep six feet apart from any other person.
  • Avoid being in groups greater than ten.
  • Stay home (if you can).
  • Be patient.

We also know:

  • Healthcare workers are our heroes.
  • Law enforcement and first responders CANNOT work from home.
  • Many people will be unemployed for an unforeseeable future.
  • Prayer helps (even if we’re just praying for patience).

I jokingly told my daughter earlier today that I’m in ‘Day Three’ of my captivity. And that’s really kind of how it feels. I’m more about action than contemplation. I’m restless and I need to be doing something. But right now doing nothing is doing something. I’m potentially saving lives by restricting my activities.

“hero of [covad-19]” Maxim Fomenko 2020 – Germany

There has been a tremendous amount of caring and love and creativity in our world during this pandemic. Folks are posting positive messages on social media to lighten our moods. Local grocery stores have established “seniors only” shopping hours to reduce traffic in their stores. Virtual prayer groups are being formed. Artists are creating works to honor heroes and provide beauty and light amidst our bleakness. Nothing can erase the heartache of those who have lost loved ones as a result of this deadly virus. No amount of good cheer and patience will completely relieve the suffering of those who are struggling with poor heath or financial disaster. And yet, kindness, compassion, and gentleness will ease the pain of those who are suffering.

Each of us can do something by doing nothing. Stay home. Stay healthy. Stay hopeful.

And when your self-imposed exile starts driving you a bit batty, read a book, write a letter, make a phone call, post a blog.

Peace,

Denis

Judging

I’ve heard friends say, “don’t judge me!” when they’re involved in some questionable activity or embarrassing behavior. Or I’m sometimes scolded with “stop judging others!” when I feel the need to assert my superiority/intelligence/breeding/better fashion sense over someone else.

The assumption here of course is that my opinion matters. Not likely.

Judgment, in and of itself, is not necessarily a bad thing. I’m certain that judgment has saved me from a possible mugging or an obnoxious salesperson on occasion. God gave me reason for a reason. I try to know my surroundings, understand who I’m dealing with, and steer clear of dangerous situations or unwanted circumstances. But that’s not the kind of judgment that gets me into trouble.

I judge people who I perceive don’t share my views on politics, culture, religion, art, child-rearing, personal hygiene, etc. If folks would just realize that I’m pretty good at everything and smarter than the average person, life would be much easier. I know a lot and I like being in charge. And most of the time, I don’t even have to hear one word from the “judged”, I can judge them by what they look like, how old they are, the way they dress, the car they drive, where they live, what they eat and where they worship. I am really good at this!

I’m particularly good at judging myself. That voice in my head is often saying,“that was a stupid idea” or “you’re too old, too tired, too fat”. And don’t forget regret. Regret is the ‘Ghost of Judgment Past’. “What were you thinking when you bought that Pinto in 1977?” “Why didn’t you apply yourself in school?” “Why aren’t you better prepared for retirement? “Why weren’t you kinder, more loving, more everything?”

My beautiful wife Debbie often reminds me, “Judge not, lest ye be judged” or something like that from her Southern Baptist upbringing. Then I feel ashamed – which is sort of like self-judgment on steroids.

But here’s what I’ve learned (also from my beautiful wife): LOVE IS THE ANSWER. Love mitigates judgment. Love makes it possible to accept someone as they are. Love allows me to accept my own imperfections. Love allows me to be loved.

Deb, Jesus and others keep giving me second chances. Everyday I have new opportunities to be more loving and less judgmental. Every encounter is a new chance to be a reconciling presence in this world. Okay, so maybe I’m not really the smartest guy out there but I am loved. And that’s a good place to start.

Peace,

Denis