Sunday, December 25, 2005

The Light of the World

It is Christmas morning, and I am the only one awake. Rain is falling outside, and the candles on the little altar in my office are flickering softly in the darkness.

Christmas is a holy day for Christians, but it is particularly holy for me. The image of Christ crucified on a cross cannot move me in the same way as the image of a newborn, nursing peacefully at his mother’s breast, does. I nursed my own babies for years, and I remember how holy that act felt—the way little eyes gazed so trustingly into mine, little fingers gently patting the much-beloved breast. Those early morning moments, when the rest of the world was still sleeping, are fixed in my memories as times when God seemed very close.

And so, for me, the idea that God would come as a baby suddenly seems less outlandish. It is that image—Jesus as this vulnerable baby, born into the world to bring the good news that God loves us and wants to know us—that grips my heart.

My favorite Christmas hymn of all is “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”:

God rest ye merry, gentlemen

Let nothing you dismay

Remember, Christ, our Saviour

Was born on Christmas Day

To save us all from Satan's power

When we were gone astray

O tidings of comfort and joy,

Comfort and joy

O tidings of comfort and joy

The story of Jesus challenges my reason and my intellect, but ultimately it brings comfort and joy. God in human form, sweet baby smell, soft baby head. Love abounding in the dark of night. Light bravely making its way into the world. Alleluia.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Please stand by....

Apparently I have been suffering from technical difficulties all along. But since I have been reading and writing the blog using Netscape, I didn't know it.

I got my first spambot comment today, which is what alerted me to all the extraneous coding in my posts.

When I tried to delete the stupid thing, I couldn't find the icon for deleting comments. Blogger's oh-so-helpful instructions suggested that I try another browser.

Now you have to understand that my ardent love affair with Netscape is my pathetic little way of flipping the bird at Microsoft. You see, like most everyone else who has resisted the allure of Apple, I use Microsoft products. All my clients use Microsoft Word (with the exception of the Federal budget Nazis, who inexplicably prefer the even-worse WordPerfect), so I am professionally indebted to Mr. Gates and his team of monopolists.

But that doesn't mean I have to like it. So I embraced Netscape and never looked back.

I had no idea that meant my blog was essentially unreadable. (And I mean from an aesthetic standpoint, not because of the drivel I occcasionally spill here.)

When I finally decided to try Microsoft IE (cue Psycho music) , I discovered that my handful of readers has had to wade through a bunch of unintelligible computer-ese to read my scribblings.

Mea culpa.

I still can't locate the damned trash can icon. Some days I think I should just find a cave to live in.

Since I can't figure out how to erase spam comments, I decided to move to moderated comments. Please don't let that throw you off. I've already had one intrepid commenter today, and he made my day. Now it's your turn....

Southern Baptist Wedding

It’s been a long time since I went to a wedding outside of the Episcopal Church. Our weddings are pretty formal affairs. They are dictated by the Book of Common Prayer, and one doesn’t get a lot of extemporaneous speeches or prayers.

But yesterday I went to a good, old-fashioned Southern Baptist wedding.

I tried to be good, truly I did. I bit the inside of my cheek every time I wanted to laugh or scream. Today the inside of my right cheek is sore.

We had to sing not one, not two, but four verses of “Great is Thy Faithfulness” during the middle of the service. And I thought Episcopalians were bad about forcing you to sing too many verses!

For some reason, the theology of that particular choice bothered me too. I’m not quite sure why, but I’m always uncomfortable with the notion that the couple is not only marrying each other, but they are marrying God too. It sounds far too much like a ménage-a-trois for my taste. (Which just goes to show you what a crappy Christian I am. But you knew that already.)

Thankfully, the bride did not have to promise to obey the groom. I kept waiting for that to come, and I was able to breathe a sigh of relief when it didn’t.

There was, however, a lot of discussion about how the groom needed to be a good provider, and how she needed to be tender and supportive. No mention of children, though. Since the bride is all of 22, this surprised me. (If I were in charge, it would be illegal to get married before you are 30.)

At the reception, the groom smashed cake into the bride’s face. She was clearly shocked, as was I. I cannot think of anything more humiliating and disrespectful to do to your spouse in front of a roomful of people. If I were her, I would have gone to the minister and said “Don’t bother filing the marriage certificate. I’m done with that asshole.”

Alas, she did not. She just smashed cake in his face.

Ah, family values.

The Writer Who Couldn't Write

I ask myself why I’ve posted so few entries to this blog. I claim to be a writer, so what gives?

Part of the issue is that I write for a living. In any given day, I write letters, memos, e-mails, speeches, manuals, reports, etc. I actually write all the time—-just not for myself.

I feel privileged to do the work I do. My clients are people I like and admire, and I make good money. My schedule is largely my own, and I can work in my pajamas if I feel like it. It’s kind of the American dream, I suppose—-minus any benefits, but you can’t have everything.

But the truth is that writing is difficult for me---even the paid stuff. I believe so strongly in the power of words that I am often paralyzed at the thought of putting them on paper. In my world, words still mean something, and the thought that I will choose the wrong ones, or that my writing will be unclear, wordy, or pedantic fills me with dread.

I try to do more editing than writing. Editing to me is fun and easy. I get a charge out of taking someone else’s words and making them better. I’m fortunate in that my clients have learned to trust my judgment, and nobody gets huffy when I fix something. Everyone wins—-I have fun and get paid, and they get what they need to communicate their ideas.

But when it’s time to sit down and write, suddenly I need to rearrange the supply closet or run an errand. Only deadlines can force me to sit down and do it.

There are no deadlines on a blog.

There is also the issue of privacy. I started this blog thinking that I wouldn’t tell a soul about it—-that it would essentially be my online journal, and no one would know who I was.

Of course, the writer’s Achilles heel is the desire for others to read her work. I couldn’t help myself. I told a small handful of folks about the blog, and now I’m afraid to write to it.

So much of what I want to write about now has to do with this strange situation in which I find myself—-I believe it’s known as “middle age.” I feel angry, sad, bitter, and hopeless some days, and—of course—those are the days I want to write about. I want to talk about how disappointing my life feels right now and see if I can figure a way through the malaise.

But it all feels so self-indulgent. Not to mention that the things I might write about my spouse, my kids, etc. would not always be complimentary. How would you feel if you discovered that your spouse was lusting for someone else through her blog? Or that your mother had days on which being single and child-free looked mighty attractive?

I know all bloggers have this dilemma. How much information is TMI? And should you bare your soul to any Tom, Dick, or Harriet who wends his or her way to your blog? (Of course, chances are that if you are reading this blog, you already know who I am. I doubt I get much traffic from any other source.) Prudence suggests not. As so many have discovered, there is no such thing as anonymity anymore.

But what do you do when your mind needs clearing, and corners of your soul need to be swept out? Therapy would seem the obvious solution—-but it isn’t feasible right now. If I were Catholic, I would go to confession—-but I’m not sure that would help a lot either. I’d end up confessing the same damned things over and over again.

This is really depressing.

On the plus side, I finally wrote a blog entry.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

The New Oz

My book club just finished Gregory Maguire's book Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. Great book--I highly recommend it.

And then a friend sent this to me today:

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Eye of the Beholder

I remember the year my mother turned 35. I was 15, and even in my teenaged self-absorption, I recognized that my mother was depressed. I would catch her staring in the mirror, her face alternating between sadness and anger.

My mother had made some pretty bad life choices. At that time, she was still recovering from her second divorce, from a man who abused her, me, and my sister. She was undoubtedly feeling fragile about her place in the world, and the changing of her face must have seemed a frightening sign that the thing she had always used to her advantage—her beauty—might suddenly be on the verge of failing her.

I did not understand my mother then. I thought her vain and shallow, and I laughed at her sudden allergy to birthdays. Thirty-five seemed old to me, of course, but I could not comprehend her depression or her fear of aging. Even then, I had taken as my motto “Every birthday spent above ground is a good one.” I could afford to be glib because I didn’t know a damned thing about what it meant to face yourself in the mirror and know that your days as an attractive woman were numbered.

I was never the kind of woman that men flocked to. I wasn’t beautiful like my mother—“cute” was probably the most generous thing you could have said of me. The men who did find me attractive were generally the ones who took the time to get to know me—but even I had my share of admirers.

Since I didn’t meet the cultural standard of beauty, however, I never put much stock in my looks—or thought I didn't. I convinced myself that my personality and my brains were the important things. I rarely dressed up, wore makeup, or fussed with my hair. To paraphrase a popular country song, I was casual before casual was cool.

I made it to 35 with no major psychological crises (unless you count my divorce, but that is another post). I can remember thinking to myself that I had reached the age that had so depressed my mother, and I felt nothing negative at all.

And then, one day recently, I looked in the mirror—and I didn’t recognize the woman staring back at me. “Who is that old woman?” I asked myself. And was horrified when that brief second of incomprehension lifted, and I saw my 41-year-old self looking back at me. A small voice in the back of my head said “Look at yourself—this is the best you are ever going to look. Tomorrow you won’t look as good as you do today, and the day after that will be worse.”

It had taken me an additional 6 years, but I finally understood why my mother stood in front of that mirror and looked so unhappy.

I cannot say for sure what my mother was thinking then, but I can report that my own awakening was more than a simple mourning of the aging of my face and body. I experienced that image of myself as the death of possibility and the slow disintegration of myself as a sexual being.

The reality is that time is closing doors for me—as she does for everyone. The possibilities I took for granted at 15—and even at 35—have either died long since, or are fading slowly, but inexorably, into the coming twilight of my life. My face was only registering a truth I had long avoided. The truth is that I am mortal, and that time is consuming me in the same way she devours everyone.

Now that is a trite realization, I know—but it was mine. And it shook me in ways I couldn’t have predicted when I was 15 and making silent fun of my mother. I don’t know if it’s largely an American thing, but we in this culture are so conditioned by the notion that we can be anything—or anybody—that we want to be. It comes as an unwelcome realization that this is a lie. And always was.

They say that 50 is the new 40, and I can believe that. We don’t age the way we used to—good medical and dental care keeps us looking, and feeling, younger. Economics help too—middle class women don’t age the way that poor women do, and I have the luxury of being able to afford all the anti-aging cream that I can carry home from the mall.

But, assuming that I have an average life expectancy, I am definitely at the half-way mark of my life. I have done everything I am supposed to do—college, grad school, marriage, motherhood, and home ownership. I have traveled, studied a foreign language and the violin, and started my own business. I have loved, been loved, probably broken a heart or two, and had my own smashed into tiny pieces.

But I have never been beautiful, and now it is too late.

I am already becoming invisible. Young men look at me and see their mothers. I still get the occasional glance from older men, and—feminist though I am—I confess that this gratifies me in some small way. I had not realized how important it was to feel desirable—and the hard thing about that image in the mirror was that, in a flash, I realized that what little desirability I have possessed is fast diminishing and I will never be able to get it back. Soon I will fade completely into the woodwork. I will have to live with the fact that I will never again feel the little surge of adrenaline you get from an admiring glance. In some ways, it seems such a silly little thing, and yet...and yet it wounds.

I thought my mother was vain and shallow—and maybe she was. But I understand her now. I stand in front of my own mirror and mourn both what is, and what will never be. And the mirror silently stares back at me, reflecting the truth I didn’t want to know.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

The Need to Believe

I’m a post-Enlightenment child. That means I was reared on a diet of logic, critical thinking, and skepticism. There is no reason on this earth that I should believe God exists, or that Jesus was God Incarnate.

But I do.

I have to.

I struggle with my faith every day of my life, largely because—in the light of each day—it seems so ridiculous to have faith at all. There are always the problems of evil and free will to get past, if you believe in a loving God. Tsunamis and cancer and child molesters all shake my faith.

And then there’s just the sheer improbability of it all—that a God who created this gigantic, and ever-expanding, universe would be the least bit interested in what insignificant little humans are doing on this one speck of dust in the cosmos.

But there is something….something that calls to me. It is not rational.

I have certain irrational fears—I’m guessing everyone does. When I was a child, I was convinced a monster would eat me if I left a hand hanging over the edge of the mattress. I’m 41 years old now and I still cannot go to sleep with my hand hanging over the side of the bed.

God is my irrational hope.

I’ve never been able to shake my belief in God—and Lord knows, I’ve tried. God is like some pesky little dog that follows me everywhere and worries the life out of me. Over time, I’ve grown quite fond of him, even if he is a nuisance.

It’s Jesus who’s been the problem.

The claims for Jesus are so fantastic that no truly rational person could accept them. God Incarnate. Savior of the world. Yeah, right.

I’ve remained a faithful member of the church because of my irrational hope in God, but I’ve struggled every week to make it through the Nicene Creed. My Enlightenment mind has rebelled mightily at the thought that God would come to Earth in ignorant human form. Why? What could possibly make the omnipotent, omniscient Creator of the Universe want to come down here? Make him willing to live the limited life of a human being and suffer all the indignity and pain that go along with being human?

I didn’t even realize that I did believe those things until I was reading Harold Kushner’s book When Children ask about God : A Guide for Parents Who Don't Always Have All the Answers. I was finding his description of God to be strangely off-putting—and then I realized why. Jews don’t believe in the Incarnation.

The Incarnation is the Whole Enchilada for me. Without a belief that God understands what it means to be human, I might as well be an atheist.

So I need to believe that Jesus was the Son of God. That, somehow, he was able to translate the human experience back to God, and that this has enabled God to love me like a daughter instead of like a created object.

There is no rationality here. Just a deep, abiding hunger to be understood and loved. To feel that this life matters in some way, and to know that God himself feels our pain and sorrow as if it were his own.

Lord, I believe. Help thou mine unbelief.

The Stench of Decay

In this week of Epiphany, I had an epiphany myself—and it wasn’t a happy one.

I was watching CNN earlier this week—watching footage of the tsunami’s destruction in southeast Asia. Bloated, rotting bodies were everywhere.

And then the commercial came on. It was an ad for Glade air fresheners—the kind you plug in the wall. This one has a little fan to circulate whatever fresh scent you choose more effectively.

I wonder if those little air fresheners could mask the scent of rotting bodies?

And I wonder what kind of culture spends money on such trinkets, while people starve and suffer and die for want of a few pennies a day?

People would have you believe that gay marriage and abortion are the moral issues that are sending this country to rack and ruin. Me, I think Glade air fresheners with fans are the sign that we have completely lost our way.