80 Years in Eight Days — Day Number Eight: 10 Inspirational Instructions

This is the end — the last day of the year, the last installment of my mother’s birthday project, and the last entry on this blog for 2014.  My mother is 80 years old today.  Here is a list of 10 Inspirational Instructions that she has embodied throughout her life.  They are also serving as my New Year’s Resolutions for 2015.  My mom is indeed an inspiration, and I hope she’ll keep breathing life in for many more years.

1)Trust God, but do your homework.”  This quote she always attributed to her own mother.  I think it’s a great motto to pass on from generation to generation.  In essence, it acknowledges our humility but does not absolve us from responsibility.  We are not in control of all things, but we are in control of some.  When you’re able to dance on that line with grace, you’re living wisely.

2) Regularly make the effort to right-size and divest.  This comes from her organizational practice, and it’s a great reminder at the end of every year.  I’ve watched mom go through “weeding out” stages my whole life.  She systematically keeps her possessions under control: clothes, books, papers, housewares, pantry stock, music, everything.  Steve & I are furiously reducing inventory at the book business now.  Part of the fun is putting those things you divest into the hands of someone who will use and appreciate them.  Recycle generously!

3) Gather experiences, not things.  I remember my mother answering all inquiries about what she wanted for a gift with some version of this philosophy.  She wanted something to live, not something to dust.  I hope she gets lots of what she wants for a long time. 

photo by Josh

photo by Josh

4) “Look wider still.”  This is a Girl Scout challenge from International Thinking Day… “and when you think you’re looking wide, look wider still.”  My mother loves this slogan.  It applies so well to being broad-minded, tolerant, open and forever learning.  It’s a big world.  Even after 80 years, there’s a wider view to see.

5) “Only connect.”  This phrase became the name of a BBC quiz show in 2008.  It is derived from E. M. Forster’s novel Howard’s End, where a character says, “Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. Only connect, and the beast and the monk, robbed of the isolation that is life to either, will die.”  The phrase has also been used to describe the liberal education, which celebrates and nurtures human freedom.  I just learned these references from Google.  From mom, I learned that rush of joy, that flush of understanding and the pure delight of living that shows in her face when she utters this phrase at the end of a stimulating discussion.  That I learned years ago.  

6) Don’t disown your own.  “Only connect” applies to people, too, even and especially those near and dear who have a greater capacity to disappoint us.  Looking wider than our expectations and our attachments allows us to see that we do not exist in isolation except by our own dogmatic choosing.  Long after I learned this from watching mom, I heard it echoed in the writing of Thich Nhat Hahn.  “We inter-are,” he says.  The cosmos is held together in inter-being.  Acting as though we’re separate and separating in judgment is an act of violence against the Universe.  Peace is understanding there is no duality. 

photo by Josh

photo by Josh

7) Let go; let God.  My mother has always had the capacity for anxiety.  She likes to do things “the right way”, she pays attention to details, and she fears the usual things from failure to death.  So do I.  Face it, we live in a pretty neurotic culture.  Mom showed me by her example how to recognize this in yourself and then to strive to be a “non-anxious presence”.  That doesn’t mean she was good at it.  It means she practiced.  That’s inspiring.

8) “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger.”  This one comes straight out of the Bible (Ephesians), and it was a practice that she and my father adopted religiously.  Every night, I’d hear them from behind their bedroom door, talking in low voices and then praying in unison.  Taking responsibility for your emotions and communicating them is another inspiring example.  Own your anger; it is about you.  Talk about your anger to someone else.  Then you are re-connected and at peace.  It’s not magic; it’s useful. 

9) “Underneath are the Everlasting Arms.”  This also comes straight out of the Bible (Deuteronomy), but in the very next line, those arms are thrusting out against enemies and doing violence.   The everlasting arms that my mother referred to were supportive.  They were secure and safe.  If I am to grow out of my neuroses at all, I think I need to begin to trust that the World is a good place.  I belong here.  Even though I myself and everyone I know will die, we end up right here.  That’s the way it is, and there’s nothing wrong. 

10) “Let nothing disturb thee, nothing affright thee.  All things are passing; God never changeth.  Patient endurance attaineth to all things.  Who God possesseth in nothing is wanting.  Alone God sufficeth. ”  Teresa of Avila, translated by Longfellow.  Mom had these words written up in her small hand and pasted on the inside of her desk cubbyhole door.  It was like a secret she showed me when we were worried about something.  All things are passing.  This fear, this problem, this moment.  Patience.  Change and movement is how Life is, and it is well.  I really believe that and strive to remember it.  I think that all of Life is embraced in that dynamic, including God.

All things are passing, year into year, life into life, microscopically and macroscopically.  We are so fortunate to be aware of our experience of it!  I am ever grateful to my mother for sharing her life and her awareness and so many of her experiences with me.  I look forward to more! 

mom laughing

photo by Josh

 

May each of you be happy and at peace in this year’s ending and in the continuation of Life in the New Year!

Prepare Ye: The Way and The Wilderness

There are many different definitions of the word ‘prepare’, and all of them are about acting decisively, with a will. Make, create, be willing…take responsibility. And there are as many ways of doing that as there are people on earth, I’m sure. The ‘how’ of preparation can be accompanied by a range of attitudes.

The Boy Scout metaphor describes one point on the spectrum. “Be Prepared” is their well-known motto. What that looks like conjures an exact check list of supplies – a camping list designed to meet any foreseeable outcome. Snake bite kit? Check. Flotation device? Check. Sunscreen and thermal underwear? Check and double check. This preparation is fueled by a desire to be in control, it seems. The responses are prescribed, preferred outcomes already decided upon. “I do not want to be cold, wet, sunburned or in pain, and I am taking action now to ensure that.” That is one attitude of preparation.

room tentAnother attitude might be illustrated by The Dancer metaphor. A dancer prepares for a pirouette by checking her starting position, aligning her hips and shoulders in a grounded plié  – but not staying in that position so long that it causes her to lose momentum. What really prepares her to execute a graceful turn is years and years of practice leading up to the moment of action. That seems to me to be a distinctly different attitude of preparation.

Of course, we can embody more than one attitude of preparation at a time. We can be both Boy Scouts and Dancers, among other things, and this helps us be better prepared for the unforeseen, mysterious, dynamic journey that is Life and better prepared for ventures in the Wilderness.

I recently attended a conference celebrating the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Wilderness Act into law in the U.S. These preserved areas of natural lands and waters maintain a special character, “untrammeled” by man and distinctly autonomous. The wilderness is what it is. You cannot predict what will happen there, and you must rely on your own preparation when you visit. By law, there will not be any man-made structures, services, or systems that will provide for you or take responsibility for you. And the experience that you have as solitary and self-reliant can change your life. It is a deeply spiritual endeavor to go into the wilderness and learn from it.

wilderness threshold

Wilderness asks you two important questions: Are you willing to go there? Are you prepared? I think that the Way – whether that be Christian, Buddhist, or any other spiritual path – asks you the same questions. May your willing preparation and practice be a life-giving process, bringing you much happiness. Peace! – Priscilla

© 2014, essay and photographs, Priscilla Galasso, All rights reserved

Advent Day #23 – Peace

Peace On Earth

It is Day #23 in the December countdown.  Today’s gift is Peace.  Ahh, peace.  Take a deep breath.  Relax the muscles around your skull; feel  your ears and eyebrows pull backward; close your eyes and roll your head. Do you feel a sense of well-being?  Julian of Norwich claims that God himself spoke these often quoted words to her, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”  Do you believe that’s true?  Do you believe that’s possible?  I do, although I don’t always act as though I do. I forget.

Wikipedia uses these phrases to define peace:  “safety, welfare, prosperity, security, fortune,  friendliness… a relationship between any people characterized by respect, justice and goodwill… calm, serenity, a meditative approach”.  Where does peace come from?  Buddha, the Dalai Lama and many others will tell you that peace comes from within, not without.

“The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the souls of people when they realize their relationship, their oneness with the universe and all its powers, and when they realize that at the center of the universe dwells the Great Spirit, and that this center is really everywhere, it is within each of us.” – Black Elk

But perhaps, there are things outside of you that will remind you of the peace which dwells within you.

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.” – John Muir

Do you feel peace in your mind and body and soul all at once?  Do you descend into peace from your head down?

“I do not want the peace which passeth understanding, I want the understanding which bringeth peace.” – Helen Keller

I suppose each of us must find his/her own journey into peace.  Anxieties and conflicts are particular and personal.  Facing each one head on is not a passive task.  Making peace is not for the weak of heart.  “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.”  Is God about making peace?  Is making peace the work of the Universe?  Is it perhaps that joyful effort that gives life meaning?

“Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.”  – Martin Luther King, Jr.

If we can make peace between ourselves and God, ourselves and Nature, can we then make peace between ourselves and others?

“If we are peaceful, if we are happy, we can smile and blossom like a flower, and everyone in our family, our entire society, will benefit from our peace.” – Thich Nhat Hahn

“What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family.” – Mother Theresa

Steve constantly reminds me that in every situation, especially in those that cause anxiety and conflict to arise, I have 3 choices.  I can hide/run away.  I can try to change the situation.  I can change myself.  The first option doesn’t exactly make peace; it simply avoids confrontation.  You can hide away all day long and still feel the fear of whatever it is that scared you.  So, why do I often employ that choice?  Because I lack courage and I’m lazy.  I sometimes pick that choice first to give me time to screw up my will and motivation.  I don’t want to get stuck there, though.

Trying to change the situation requires engagement.  Making peace with hunger, poverty, sickness, and distress this way requires an understanding of  causes and effects on all different levels.  It requires negotiation, and it requires cooperation.  You don’t always get all that is required to change a situation.  Not all situations can be changed.  Death is the big one that comes to mind here.  You can’t hide or run away from it, and you can’t change the situation so that you don’t have to experience it.  Now what?

Change yourself.  Sometimes the only way to make peace with something is to change your thinking, your belief, your approach, your attachment, your aversion, your ignorance or some other aspect of yourself.  “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!” is the simplistic way to say it.  If you’d “rather fight than switch” (old cigarette commercial – pop philosophy at its finest), then you have chosen to fight, not to make peace.  Our egos make it really tough to change ourselves.  Sometimes we’d rather fight, sometimes we’d rather die, sometimes we’d rather do anything than change ourselves.  You have to ask yourself very seriously what your ultimate goal is to get past this one.  Is your goal to keep your ego intact or is your goal to make peace?   I’ve come across a lot of phrases that address this ego dilemma: “take up your cross”, “turn the other cheek”, “deny yourself”, “die to self”.  I think that dogma is probably more an ego thing than a peace thing.   If you can’t let go of your religious beliefs in the interest of peace, then your religion is more about yourself than it is about God, in my humble opinion.   I love the part of the movie “Gandhi” where he counsels a Hindu man who is distraught at having murdered a Muslim child.  “Raise a Muslim child and make sure you raise him as a Muslim, not as a Hindu. This is the only way you can purge your sins.”  This is true wisdom about peace.

Give peace a chance. It requires your will, it requires your strength, and it requires you to lay aside will & strength.  I am looking forward to enjoying the peace that my family and I have created.  We are still creating it, and will be our whole lives long.

Re-inventing Advent

Two years ago, when I first started blogging, I ran a series of posts every day in the month of December.  This series was in lieu of an Advent calendar, which had been a big tradition of my family.  Back then, I had only a handful of faithful blog followers, instead of more than 400.  So, I intend to re-gift these entries.  After all, I am in the resale business! (Check out Scholar & Poet Books – there’s  a link in the side bar.) For my family and for Helen (God bless you!), these will be repeats.  For the rest of you, I hope you enjoy opening your daily presents!

‘Tis A Season

When I was a kid, I always had an Advent calendar to count down the days from the first of December until Christmas Eve.  I had the same tradition with my own kids.  The secrets hidden behind each door were often Scripture verses.  It was important to tell the story of Jesus’ birth and make sure my kids knew that was “the reason for the season”.   There are other little treasures we could open each day, though.  When my son was taking German in high school, they sold Advent calendars with chocolates in them.   My father used to make us calendars out of magazine pictures and various old rotogravures with fortune cookie strips for the daily message.  We made our own calendars for each other, too, with simple crayon symbols behind the cut out doors.   The season has multiple images in my mind, and now I’m trying to figure out what it means to me at this point in my life.

I will always have respect for Jesus and the Christian story.  They were supremely important in my life for many years.  My spirituality was formed around them.  I think it is good to examine and re-examine beliefs, though, and strive for genuine and authentic expressions of experience.  My experience is expanding as I age, and I want to include more of those experiences in my belief system.  I want to include respect for other cultures, other religions, other parts of the planet and the universe.  I have a sister who is Sikh, a son who identifies with Buddhism and Native American spirit stories and a father who once taught science.  There is a lot going on all over the world in this season.  What do I want to acknowledge or celebrate?

My youngest daughter has always loved this season.  She used to go to the local Hallmark store in the middle of the summer to look at the Christmas village set up there.  What was that about?  Sparkly, pretty, cozy, homey, yummy expectations of treats?  Possibly.  Peace, love, joy?  Possibly.  Emotions?  Definitely.  Why not focus on pleasurable human senses and emotions?  Up in the northern hemisphere, we are spinning away from the sun and plunging into a cold, dark time.  Light becomes more precious, warmth becomes holy, food is life itself.  Why not celebrate that dependence?  We are sustained by the sun and the producers of this planet that make food from its energy.  Evergreen trees remind us of that.  Gifts remind us that we receive from the producers; we are consumers.  Gratitude is the attitude of the season.  Giving is the action that sustains us.

Vernon Marsh, sunset (click to enlarge)

I sent a text message to each of my kids this morning saying that the gift for Day #1 this season is sunshine.  The sun is shining here, showering us with Vitamin D and all kinds of other goodies we need to be healthy and happy.   We are blessed, saved, sustained, given life in this universe by an amazing set of circumstances that we did not originate.   However you acknowledge that and whoever taught you to acknowledge that deserves attention.  May you be happy as you think and act in awareness of this.

Weekly Photo Challenge: The Hue of You

I have always identified with autumn colors.  My eyes are brown and green, flecked with gold.  My hair is a sort of light brown with golden strands that catch the sunlight.  I was a true blonde until my late teens when I began to shun the California sun for indoor time with my studies.  My sister nicknamed me “Golden Girl”.  I have never colored my hair and have only one gray one (which I pluck when it gets more than an inch long!).  I love to stroll the green spaces where I live, and I get a little uneasy in a plane when all I see below are dusty expanses.  Green is my go-to color.  My mother never liked green and made pronouncements about why it was “bad” for a kitchen, for clothing, for just about everything except plants.  I grew up revering my parents’ opinions, and learning to develop my own style is something I’ve come into rather late, I think.  Sorry, Mom.  I WILL wear green and decorate my indoor space with it liberally!  This picture reflects a wonderful tapestry of fall colors, with a blue sky for background and a towering church which seems like it is being overtaken by vegetation.  This is also me: my monumental Christianity is slowly being eclipsed and colored by a more prominent display of natural life.  This is the hue of me:

Holy Hill

Holy Hill

Winter Holy Days

The world did not end yesterday. We are in a new cycle, heading closer to the Sun once more.

In years past, I would have spent this day at an Episcopal church, practicing with the choir, ushering my children through the Christmas pageant, greeting friends, and sneaking private moments in the candlelit darkness whispering devotions to Jesus and His Father. I would have sent more than a hundred letters through the mail to people far and wide with Scriptural messages and personal anecdotes illustrating the great salvific actions of the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer of the world. I would have asked for and promised prayers for numerous specific ailments and misfortunes. I would have spoken and written my heartfelt greetings using words like “blessings”, “gifts”, “faith”, “Emmanuel” and “Savior”.

 This year is different.

 I have no tree; I have no gifts wrapped and waiting; I have not sung a hymn or carol; I have no creche with empty manger awaiting the figure of a baby. I am the same person, though, with the same heart and breath and life blood. I use a different language now to try to express my deepest hope for peace and love to rule my life and the lives of those with whom I share this planet. I no longer profess to know a single Truth; I no longer presume to belong to a select portion of humanity; I no longer pretend that the concepts in my brain adequately reflect very much at all of reality.

 The posture I hope to adopt is openness. To face the world, the people in it, the marvel of change and mystery beyond my control, without hiding behind a mask or label or system, is a severe challenge. Had I not already buried a husband, fledged a flock of four, sold a home I had for 20 years, and left employment, I might not believe that I could live without clinging to conventional structure. I test my ability to be flexible, graceful, alive and aware every day. I hope to learn. I hope to grow. I hope to love the world (and myself) more genuinely as I do. This is my holy quest, and every day is a holiday. I celebrate the mingling of material and spirit, the incarnation of life in the substances of Earth. I will eat and drink and hug the bodies of people I love with festive joy as before – but differently.

 I include the entire Universe in this celebration. Yes, this means you! Peace to you all. Love, joy, humility and grace be with us all together….scillagrace.

front porch view

The Village People

Today was my first day as one of “The Village People” at Old World Wisconsin.  I interpret St. Peter’s Church, built in 1839 as Milwaukee’s very first Roman Catholic chapel and cathedral.  Only 7 years after the cornerstone was laid, the parish had grown from 20 members to 100 families and they began to construct a new cathedral to accommodate the growing population of Catholic immigrants.  St. Peter’s was preserved and used for Sunday school, meetings, and a boys’ school (in the basement).  It was also moved around (3 times), added to, and then restored to its original design.  We acquired it in 1975 and restored it to its 1889 appearance.  The wood stove is no longer used for heat; since we store some of our collections artifacts in the basement, we’ve updated to central heating.  Still, it was chilly and damp today.  Here’s the interior and a close up of the altar.  The framed pieces are the Missal (service prayers) in Latin.

 

I hang out at the back of the church, stitching my pin cushion for the Christmas Bazaar or playing the pump organ.  I am getting used to pumping with my feet, adding volume and overtones with my knees, and keeping all ten fingers busy on the keyboard.  The organ is placed underneath one of fourteen Stations of the Cross displaying the German woodwork of that time.

Of course, I sit on that little chair and play while in costume, complete with corset and bustle.

Tomorrow is the 5K Bustle Hustle, a run/walk event for all ages (children can do a 1K route).  I will be cheering the participants on before taking my place in the church.  So tonight, I am turning in early!  Before I close, though, I have to share a photo of the most handsome man of The Village People standing outside The Wagon Shop. 

I said, “Young man! There’s a place you can go…”