God’s Love

My guess is that

God’s love better resembles a stack of pancakes with

slathered butter, and soaking in Aunt Jemima’s syrup,

than it does the

the horrible slaughter of his own daughter by Jephtha*,

or God’s allowing the ten children of Job to die,

just to win a bet. **

Pass the strawberry jam, please.

*Judges 11: 30-40

**Job 1

Consider the lilies..

A mind-rattling, consciousness-caressing gift was handed to me today. It is so good that I want to share it right away because it could- I think- make a difference in your world, too, beginning right now.

It is one of those insights born within our language; it is a way of thinking that moves me from two-dimensional thinking (the easy, flat kind of thinking) to three, four, even five dimensional thinking- the kind of thinking that causes green and lively shoots of new questions to suddenly and profusely appear. Here it is:

See vs. Consider..

Do I see a person? Or do I consider that person?

When I see a person, I normally make a rush to judgement. I take the visual data before me, run it quickly through the sieve of my own preconceptions, develop a cursory evaluation and move on. I’m in a hurry, after all: there are more people, more things, more places to see. Why take time to linger when I’ve got all the information necessary to momentarily sate my well-defined and hungry ego? Now I have more to see!

But, when I consider the stranger standing in the line at the grocery store, or the friend who is in front of me speaking- when I consider that person, and not merely see him or her, then their multi-dimensionality begins to be revealed.  Their faces, the tilting of their heads, and the movements of their hands became the introductory sentences of a whole narrative that is begging to be read. The strand of curly hair hanging over the young girl’s left eye, or the blurred tattoo over the old man’s right hand knuckles are not mere visual data anymore. Considered, they become colors that give depth to the feelings behind words; they make more resonant the music of a person’s being.

To consider someone is to stop and to experience them. It is to stop the timer in my mind that is always clanging, “Move on!” It is to search (albeit, most of the time, in an unobtrusive manner) for the pain and the joy, the happiness and the suffering that all humans experience in a multitude of ways. It is to seek, because now I must, the tangible and outward evidence of that which is most often hidden and quiet.

To consider a person also involves something else- and in fairness I must warn you about this.  It is also draws me toward that person’s life. It causes me to want to know more, reflect on what I learn, and to begin to make the innumerable connections between myself and that person which are possible between all of us and everyone else.  It makes love very real, and always possible. And sometimes my heart- I can’t speak for yours- but sometimes my heart just doesn’t feel like it can stretch anymore than it already has.

It’s worth the risk, anyway.

Consider, after all, the alternative.

The Pieta

Step 10 of the 12 Steps of AA:

“Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.”

We talked about this step last night at a meeting. Step 10 speaks of the necessity for the recovering addict (or anyone for that matter) to periodically step back from themselves, and examine which of the old habits, ideas, or self-misunderstandings which got them into trouble in the first place, may be re-forming themselves. Which of those old, easily-defaulted-to behaviors or thoughts might be ready to reach out and grab whatever weak link in one’s recovery might be revealing itself anew? It’s a good thing, obviously, to know about, and a group of like-minded others can help one to more ably do that.

Some of us were remembering incidents in which we were confronted by someone or something outside ourselves in a way that was self-revealing, sometimes jarringly so. I remembered two pieces of art, both seen when I was only 17-18 years old, that did that for me in a way that I can still remember. Michaelangelo’s Pieta, and Picasso’s Guernica shook my understandings of how the world might be perceived in ways that I had not known it was possible to perceive the world. They were both doors of discovery that I could not stop myself from entering, nor that I could make practical sense of once I had entered.

pieta

The Pieta, Michaelangelo, 1498-99, St.Peter’s Basilica, Rome

I saw this in the Vatican with a tour group in 1967. I was one of a few teenagers in a group of adult construction company owners and their wives who had gotten free trips to Europe for buying backhoes from a particular implement dealer in Ohio. Since 1972, the Pieta has been on display behind bullet-proof glass and must be viewed from twenty feet away, because of a hammer attack that year by a crazed man, Laszlo Toth. But in 1967, there was no protective glass, and the Pieta was there- ten feet in front of us.

I saw it and forgot who I was. It was not a spiritual experience in the sense that I was overwhelmed by Mary’s sorrow or Jesus’ death. It was an experience of encountering Beauty in a form I had not known was possible. This was marble, caressed into fingernails and upper lips. This was rock, tapped gently into folds of cloth, and pressed-upon skin. This was cold stone, fashioned into eyes brimming with tears, freshly pierced wounds, and pulsing veins.

The tour group continued on to whatever-it-was that was next be seen. I stayed because I had no choice. I saw tonnage that was ethereal and floating. I traced the edges of Mary’s robe with my eyes until I could see the cloth moving in her shudders. My eyes filled with tears that I didn’t understand and knew I would not be able to explain or share with anyone. (Not that I wanted to, anyway; this was the kind of brand new emotional reaction that I worked to hide even as I could not.)

It was a personal inventory that was forced upon me- a realization of something about myself that I have never (thank God) stopped getting used to. I learned that it is not the tour group that needs kept up with, it is what I am seeing and experiencing, right here and right now, that is the most important thing. It’s taken me all of the forty years since then to put that revelation into words, and I could regret those decades of inarticulation. Instead, I choose to be thankful for finally being able to understand why, in retrospect, I always felt apart from the crowd up ahead, and wanting- all the time- to know more, more, more about (it seems) everything I ever saw that reminded me of the way Michalengelo was able to make marble sing.

Tomorrow: Guernica

God

If I give in to my first and oldest thoughts on the subject, here’s what I believe about God:

1. He’s vaguely shaped like me- he walked around in the Garden of Eden, after all. (Genesis 3:8) And Moses got a glimpse of his backside. (Exodus 33:23)

2. He is a he.

3. He is jealous, easily angered, arbitrary, vengeful, violent, and holds grudges. But..

4. God is love.

That’s enough to begin. These thoughts were all formed early on, during my childhood, from numerous Sunday School handouts, a voracious appetite for every tract, magazine, and some bizarre little books I would find at my grandparent’s home. (I wish I remembered what they were; I only remember the covers on them would often have pictures of beautiful angels and lascivious devils. Yes, I was weird.) I also, even as a kid, would watch TV preachers. This was the mid- 50s, so it was Oral Roberts on a folding chair in a tent at noon on Sundays, and, at 6 p.m. everyday, just after “The Little Rascals,” “Suppertime,” a locally produced show starring the lesser known brother of Rex Humbard, Clement, and his family. (wife Priscilla, and daughters Rebecca and Delilah.  See? I told you I was weird!)

Together, all of that data ran together in my 7 to 12 year old mind, and God the walking, talking, prissy and pissed god, emerged. But he loved me, somehow. I can’t make that elementary version of him go away, not completely, no matter how hard I try. It is one of those childhood-formed chunks of misinformation that has concretized in my mind to the point that I will still, incredibly, default to it at times. (Here’s another example of that kind of information which I apparently hold dear, because it won’t leave me: somewhere along that time, I got the idea in my head that goats and sheep were the same species. All the goats were male, and all the sheep were female. On first glance at either kind of animal, that is still my first thought.)

I mention all of this because, I have found, many adults also carry with them some anthropomorphic ideas about God that were forged in the halcyon days of childhood, when new information about the world was flooding our minds, and the cognitive means of evaluating/rejecting/accepting that information were not yet fully formed. It doesn’t matter, at that age, that the information doesn’t fit together that we are absorbing; it finds a place to take up (apparently) a permanent lodging place  in our minds, anyway.

When that information, right or wrong, is an ingrained part of the culture we grow up in, it becomes important and life-affecting. When it concerns goats and sheep, it is only a minor and very occasional irritation. It is easy to see, therefore, that the God of my childhood still enjoys a well-tended residence in the minds of many, many people. It is an idea that is nurtured and fertilized, and so satisfying (again, apparently) to so many people that it affects how they vote, how they say it’s important for other people to believe, and how they raise their children.

Thinking critically about God- rather, about that image of God I’ve had in my head for waaaay too long- is a never  ending process. I don’t want God to be as small as my imagination, and I sure don’t want God  to be as small as the authors and artists of those tracts and books tried to make God out to be. I want to both understand the metaphors for God used by the biblical writers in the context of their time, and to think about new metaphors for God in the context of our time. I want to reconcile the stories of God’s bloody and horrific vengeance on persons other than Jews (Deut 20:16-18, et.al., et.al.) with the statement, “God is love.” (1John 4: 8), if they can be reconciled. I want to get by the saccharine nonsense that God dusted the heavens with stars for human pleasure, and the maudlin idea that God allows babies to die because of God’s selfish need for flowers in heavenly gardens.

I want to know God better, even as I know I will not even come close to knowing God fully.  I want the goofy image of God I have stuck in my brain to be put to pasture with the he-goats and she-sheep.

Update- A New Year of Alzheimer’s

The post below needs an addendum, because things have changed. Not the world, not Mom, not her prognosis. It’s me. Having written what I wrote, I got some advice from someone who’s been through a similar parental illness, and it has made a world of difference. I share it here for two reasons:

1. So you don’t have to worry about me going insane.

2. So, in case someone reading this might be going through a similar situation, you can perhaps benefit from my own mind-shift.

I’ve given lip-service and lip-service only (I now realize) to the fact that Mom will never get better- not in the remainder of her life, not for a single day. There may be moments when her sense of humor or sensory abilities are better than other moments, but- overall- there is a decline in her physical brain and that will continue.

My own frustrations with that situation were born, I know now, from my stubbornness in letting her go. I wanted, if I could, to keep her the way she was, in whatever small ways I thought there were to do that. Thus, I would get upset at her for her continual accusations that staff people in the home are stealing her refrigerator goodies. I’d tear down her hand-written sign of the day, warning them to stop taking stuff, and tell her upsettedly to stop that nonsense!

I’ve been doing that for two months now and it hasn’t helped at all, nor will it ever help at all! Therefore, my advisor suggested, I might try just going along with where my mom’s mind is, instead of trying to push and and pull it back to where I want it to be. And, that attitude has worked for me for three days in a row!

On Wednesday, I put the sign which I had torn off on Tuesday, back up on the refrigerator (as I was filling it with more goodies). “If they take these yogurts, tell me, so I can replace them,” I told her. She was smiling as she promised to do that. So was I.

Her complaining about ears and eyes? “Let’s talk to the Doctor about that the next time we go there,” is my now already-much-practiced response. Instead of trying to prove to her again, to no avail, that we have been to both ear and eye doctors very recently, I’m simply allowing her brain- as it exists this day, in these moments- to be that to which I respond. I’m not trying logic anymore with the mother I used to know, in order to get her step forward from some “hiding place.”

There is no such hiding place, of course. Mom is not making a conscious decision to be suspicious, forgetful, frustrated, or weird. That’s her brain. And there’s not a thing I can do about it other than humoring her, agreeing about everything with her, and keeping her supplied with shelter, food, medications, and my..

daily presence. You read that right- I’ve been there daily for the last three days, and have left each visit in a good mood, not feeling frustrated, and with at least a little hope for myself. I had been losing that, as I knew I was losing her.

So, I’ll be supplying Mom and the entire county (if that’s what she thinks) with snacks for as long as she is able to go the refrigerator and get them. I’ll put more flowers in her room, and more of the halfway-pleasant me back in her life.

I’ll let you know how it continues to go, as a way of saying “thank you” to those who could see what I wasn’t seeing.

A New Year of Alzheimer’s

More on the continuing progress (regress?) of Alzheimer’s into my Mom’s brain, and her being. Previous posts are here and here.

mom photo

Father, forgive me for I have sinned. This was the first trip to my Mom’s since Christmas Day. There are no excuses- she only lives two miles away- except one: it feels to me like more and more of a chore to go see her.

And it is.

Once she recognizes me when I come through the door, she is glad to see me. But there is no conversation possible anymore. The three events which she can hold in her mind at a time, are simply repeated over and over. (Did I already tell you about….? Yes, you did. But then she tells me about ‘it’ again anyway.) Each of the three events “happened” yesterday, no matter when they happened. Here, for your edification and enlightenment are the very shortened versions of those events:

* A woman with whom Mom eats, eats very slowly. The ‘young girls’ who work in the dining room want the woman to hurry, so they can go home and go their parties. Yesterday, they made the slow-eating woman cry.

*They– the “they” with no faces, no names, and no visibility- are taking the yogurt I bring to Mom from her refrigerator. Mom makes signs for the refrigerator door: “No More Freebies.” I tear them up and tell her to stop it. But, yesterday, they were at it again, so up went another sign.

*Her hearing aid doesn’t work- “Can’t we get a different one?” She needs new glasses- “I can’t see anything anymore.” I remind her, with pictures that I took, that we have been to audiologist and an ophthalmologist. She can’t see the pictures or hear what I’m saying.

In fact, she is voicing what is the god-damnedest problem about Alzheimer’s that I hadn’t known about, and which is, in fact, horrible. Just as her brain has less and less capacity to remember, her brain also has less and less capacity to make sense of what she is hearing and seeing (and tasting, feeling, and smelling). She can see and hear, but what she sees and hears is not being translated by her brain into anything coherent or understandable. So she thinks she is simply not hearing and not seeing, and those maladies, to her, should be fixable.

One of her relatives in Ohio called the home administrator to make sure my wife and I were telling the relatives the truth about Mom’s condition. These relatives are well-meaning, of course: they love the woman Mom was, too. But the woman Mom was, is not the woman Mom is! 90% of the time, that woman they knew is gone! One of them tells me they will be praying for a healing from God for Mom. My increasing bitterness over the disease actually tempted me to point out that out of the 30 million prayers for the healing of Alzheimer’s patients prayed so far, not a single one has been answered. It actually makes me want to wrench what hope may exist in another person’s heart, out of that heart! And that worries me, about myself!

I’m open for suggestions. I’ve looked around some of the Alzheimer discussion boards and I find no real hope for any better tomorrows. Worse, I find some of the same cliches that I used to get tired of hearing in AA meetings: “One day at a Time” and “Let Go, Let God.”

I can’t even cry anymore. And while I might sound angry, I’m not. I’ve just become passive to Mom, almost neutral in my feelings toward her.

And I’d rather be crying, or angry. I hate what this disease is doing to Mom. But I don’t like what it is doing to me, either.