The One with The Shepherd

Sheep are completely defenseless. They have no sharp teeth, or fierce claws, or fast legs to get away. When under attack by an enemy, a sheep has two choices; stay in a group or flee. Predators attack the ones separated from the flock – the old, the weak, the ill, and especially the young. In the group with the shepherd, the sheep are protected. The shepherd provides that protection. The rod and the staff are the shepherd’s tools to protect the sheep. — The Writing Sisters

The Best Prayer is “Thank You”

Anne Lamott writes in her book Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith that the best prayers she knows are, “Help me, help me, help me” and “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

I don’t argue too much with Lamott. About anything.

It took a little child to show me, however, just how true the concept of simplicity in prayer can be. I was raised in the Presbyterian Church and had my child baptized there. While I grew up with many beautiful and meaningful family traditions around spiritual observance, I admit I have been less than focused on how I want those traditions to be passed on to my child. I knew I wanted to begin introducing her to the idea that she can talk with God, that building that relationship between her soul and something bigger than the meanness of this world is very important.

But like many in my generation, I can be a tad jaded. We’ve lived and worked in more than one community. We’ve seen in living color the downfalls and moral failings of “holy” institutions and church leaders. We’ve pondered the dark side of many things once taken for granted as the good. Simply put, we struggle with how to help our children embrace faith without blindly following the absolutely certain failures of humanity.

Can you see how hard I like to make things?

They really aren’t that hard. We need to do more to let our children lead us sometimes.

My child recently announced we would be praying together before each meal. “Hands in your lap,” she says. We dutifully put our hands in our laps. “Now raise them up, slowly, like this,” she says as she directs us in assuming the traditional prayer hand press. “Now say this with me: God made the sun. God made the sea. God made the fishes, and God made me. Thank you for the sun, thank you for the sea, thank you for the fishes, and thank you for me. Amen.” There are little hand motions that go with each image of sun, fish, sea, and self.

Sun, fish, sea, and self. The hands of God nurturing you through the basic elements of the world, if you will only let it happen.

You know, I should have probably said, “Help me” a little sooner. Today, I say, “Thank you.”

(This piece first appeared on January 16, 2013, on The Mommyhood, a blog of The Charleston Daily Mail.)


Waking Up, Upside Down: A Prayer of Sorts for the Big Guy

This is one of my stranger late-night/half-asleep “visions” in some time.  (Visions sounds more profound than delusions.)

I woke up at 2:30 a.m. to hear my child crying in distress from her room.  I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter, a la ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, and when I entered the room I found her completely turned around in her bed, with her little head at the foot board and her toes at the top.  Nearly unconscious herself, she was confused and scared and had no idea how to right herself.  Her eyes were closed the whole time.

While I worried that maybe she would be up for hours after this, all it took was me gently repositioning her and covering her up with her quilt.  She immediately snuggled back to sleep without a word, tears still bright on her cheeks.   Back where she belonged, all was right with the world in a matter of seconds.

So this event is not the weird part.

The weird part is as I staggered back to my own bed I suddenly had complete clarity that I should pray for the former Governor of California and his family.  But mostly for him as an individual.  In that wee hour of the morning, walking away from my confused child who was easily comforted, my brain went to one of the — allegedly — most invulnerable men in the world.

When I say pray for him, that was beyond my capacity.  It still is in the truest sense of the word pray.  But I did make an effort as I was falling back asleep to think kind thoughts about his suffering, and to wish him some telepathic comfort.

I seriously wonder sometimes how much we change from childhood to adulthood.  One of the reasons I created Essays on Childhood is I am convinced that so much of who we are and what we need as children stays with us in formative ways throughout our lives.

I’ve been negative on Arnold and his whole proverbial show for a long time; yet now I see him as a child who woke up upside down and had no idea what to do next.  This 10 year delay in telling his wife about his son with another woman is totally bizarre, unless you imagine a child’s mind that found itself somewhere it had no intention of going.  It’s like he was waiting this whole decade for someone else to turn him around.

Now I know, he is not a child.  He made conscious choices and a lot of people are paying an awful price.  The man is accountable.  He was not a sleeping kid.  I suppose it is possible that he is a horrible human being who is much more flawed than anyone else and that he deserves no empathy from anyone.  Believe me, I generally feel a lot of righteous anger when I rant about how disrespectful, narcissistic and unpleasant he is.  How he represents the qualities I find most retch-inducing in humanity and how if I have to see his jerko face one more time I’m going to scream.

I still sort of prayed for him.  For some strange reason, it felt right.

Image credit:  i am the closet geek

Growing Up Blind – John Warren (part 4, Born Again)

This is part 4 of a 5 part essay for the Essays on a WV Childhood project.  To go to the beginning of the essay and start with part 1, click here.

Growing Up Blind (part 4, Born Again)

Things became more complicated in the middle of my senior year of high school when I became a born-again Christian.  I had gone to church all my life, but mainly because my parents required me to do so.  At a church service on New Year’s Eve of 1985 I decided that I wasn’t doing a very good job of running my life and that I should surrender it to Jesus and let him have control.  At the time I didn’t know that many Christians considered a homosexual lifestyle to be sinful.

My senior year passed quickly, and in the fall of 1986 I began my freshman year at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Indiana.  I quickly became actively involved in a campus Christian fellowship, and I made a lot of great new friends.

Being a seven-hour drive away from home seems to have helped me finally to admit the truth to myself and others.  Just two weeks into my freshman year, I told Mark, an upperclassman from the Christian group, about my sexuality.  I wrote,  “We had a really good talk.  I told him all about my past.”  I had finally told someone, but I wasn’t ready to admit the truth to my journal yet.

Through conversations with Mark and other Christians I became convinced that having homosexual desires was not sinful, but acting on them would be.  I felt horrible feelings of guilt and shame when I allowed myself to entertain sexual thoughts; I began praying that God would help me to change, or at the very least, to have the strength to resist sexual temptation.  I read all the information I could find on the subject, and over the course of my freshman year I wrote more and more openly about my struggle with homosexual desires.  

At one point, Mark introduced me to a woman he knew who was similarly conflicted about her sexuality.  It was a huge event in my life: For the first time I knew another person who was like me.  Despite our similar circumstances, I never became very close with her.  I didn’t have a car, and she lived off-campus.  I suspect I would have put more effort into the relationship if Mark’s friend had been a man.  

By the beginning of my sophomore year, I had come out to my parents and many of my college friends.  In September of 1987 I wrote, “Something I’ve meant to do recently is to make a list of people ‘who know,’ if you know what I mean.  It’s no big secret if you’ve been keeping up on the past few month’s [entries].”  I went on to list 14 people that I had explicitly told about my sexuality and 16 others that I thought probably suspected the truth.  I was careful about who I told, but there was not a single person I told during college who rejected me (and most of these guys were conservative Midwesterners).

Tomorrow, part 5 and the conclusion of Growing Up Blind – After College.

Image credit: John Warren

The “Don’t Share” Button

An older woman in my family once told me a story about her time at a church-affiliated southern college that I’ve never been able to forget.  It surfaces for me whenever there is inappropriate public talk about private grief.  Like pornography, it’s difficult to define but easy to know it when you see it.

When she was a student, this woman joined a student-led group of Christian women who would meet regularly for prayer circles.  Sounding benign enough, it soon proved to be anything but.  The young women would gather around, close their eyes, and offer up “prayers” for others at their school.  The “prayers” tended to go something like this:  Heavenly Father, we ask for your grace and blessing on Leigh Anne.  Leigh Anne spent the night with David, Lord, after the formal last weekend.  Lord, we just ask that you help Leigh Anne ask for your forgiveness for her sin…………Oh Lord, Todd is drinking whisky after breakfast in the commons.  He thinks that we do not see, but we know oh God your mighty eye sees all.  Please help Todd………

Gossip as false prayer has to be one of the most agregious abuses of group talk there is.  Even if not a formal prayer, too often in our ultra-connected world we have the opportunity to make public things that are private under the auspices of concern and just letting everyone know what’s going on.

The thing is, everyone does not need to know what’s going on.  Everyone wants to know what is going on, which is not the same.

Sometimes prayer and concern just isn’t.  It really is still OK not to share everything all the time, despite the fact we have been given an actual “share” button in social media.  As much as I enjoy electronic networking, private conversation is a wonderful thing. 

Sometimes it’s the only real way to show someone that you care.