The Long Thanksgiving Dinner 2021

The Long Thanksgiving Dinner Revisited

I thought I would repost this slightly revised piece. As for all of us, more loved ones have passed through the black curtain this year. Yet they will all be there, gathered together in spirit. I am greatful for them all.

Posted on November 19, 2020 by richp45198

In the past, I have written about Thornton Wilder’s beautiful one act play “The Long Christmas Dinner” in which the life cycle of a family is portrayed over an imagined dinner in which persons come in through a white birth curtain and leave through a black curtain.

For me, that table is set at Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday. I can see generations gathered about that table. Many have gone through the Black Curtain, some quite suddenly, some way too young.

One of my sisters never even makes it to the table. She comes to the table and leaves immediately through the Black Curtain. My other sister sits for only a moment, then also leaves.

But I also see many loved ones who sat at that table many times. My parents and my brother are there. Although she is aged, my Mom leaves the table quickly while my father takes a long slow walk to the Black Curtain.

I see old Aunt Margaret, she who was in Paris when Lindbergh landed. She who saw Babe Ruth play baseball (“Clumsiest man I ever saw!”). She who, in her 90s, gave me the finest anti-war sentiment I ever heard as she shook her head and said “So many young men.”

There are my Uncle Gaddy and Aunt Peg, my surrogate grandparents. I never sat at the table with my grandmothers. They had walked through the Black Curtain before I walked through the white one.. My grandfathers were also gone by the time I was 7. So these two wonderful people filled a great void — Gaddy with his burly Irish accent, the smell of cigars about him and Peg, maker of the World’s Greatest Peanut Butter cookies.

Aunt Mary is there, she who was schizophrenic, carrying on a constant patter of self-talk or reading romance novels.

I see too my Uncle Joe and Aunt Kathleen. She was sophisticated and helped John F. Kennedy carry the vote in Rhode Island. He was a veteran of the South Pacific, down-to-earth, smoking a cigarette as he was dying of lung cancer. Among many things, he helped me love the Redsox.

I see my Aunt Dorothy, my father’s only sibling. She who never married and the day after she retired, quit drinking, packed up and moved to California to be closer to my brother, leaving behind a stunning example of courage.

This year for many there will be more empty chairs. For some those absences will reflect the ravages of COVID. For others, absence will be due to restrictions such as closed borders. Even the numbers allowed at tables will officially be limited.

And yet, as I gather with my family, I will pause to be grateful for the many wonderful people, friends and family alike, who have gathered at my Thanksgiving table in person or in spirit. As always, others who were present in the past have slowly or quickly left the table for the black curtain. Yet all who grace and have graced that table will be present. We will join hands in gratitude and in hope, remembering especially this year the words from Shawshank Redemption: “Hope is a good thing. Maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies.”

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Fathers in Films

Following up on an earlier piece I wrote on Mothers in Movies, I thought a piece on fathers would be appropriate. I found it a little more challenging. Fathers are often portrayed as either extremely idealized, as buffoons, or as downright mean. Thankfully there are some beautiful exceptions.

In Friendly Persuasion, Gary Cooper portrays the head of a Quaker family facing the realities of the Civil War. His son struggles with the principles of his religion while his father strives to live those principles in the face of the temptation to set them aside. This scene portrays his confrontation not only with a Confederate sniper but with the temptation to set his beliefs aside.

In A River Runs Through It, Tom Skerrit beautifully portrays a father of principle. He is a minister — reserved, emotions under control. Occasionally his love of his sons peeks through with an affectionate gesture. Sadly, he becomes a father who must face the bad choices of one son — choices that lead to his son’s death. Yet even in that tragedy, he tries to find meaning, as seen in this scene where he draws upon his grief to offer some profound thoughts.

Personally I like the Dad in A Christmas Story. He is real. He cusses (“In the heat of battle my father wore a tapestry of obscenity that as far as we know is still hanging over Lake Michigan”). He works to take care of his family. He is seen as a disciplinarian (“Daddy’s gonna kill Ralphie!”) But he also brings the gift of enthusiasm to his family as reflected in the Major Award of a leg lamp but even moreso in the surprise he provides for his son Ralphie.

Finally there is the father who provided me with a role model when I became a young father at age 24. Atticus Finch may be a little idealized but for me he provided the possibility that a father could be a disciplinarian but could also be patient and loving. This scene with Scout reflects that delicate balance.

In my own journey, I related most to the film I Never Sang for My Father which portrays an imperfect relationship between an emotionally wounded father and a son who vacillates between wanting his father’s love and approval and being very angry at him. It is from this play and movie that I first heard the line “Death ends a life. But it does not end a relationship.” And I relate to the closing line: “But when I hear the word ‘father’ somehow it matters.”

Reflection: Are there any works of art, movie or otherwise, that you relate to regarding fathers?

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On Being Shanty Irish

Some years ago in a long-forgotten novel, I came across the term “Shanty Irish”. It referred to a certain discomfort one might have in the presence of wealth. Shanty Irish refers to those Irish immigrants who, in Ireland or in the States, lived in shanties. Up near Honesdale PA on a back road I once saw such a shanty. It was my great grandfather’s house upon his arrival here from Ireland. Similarly, in Scranton my roots lie in an area of Scranton once known as The Patch. This was an area where coal miners and their families lived. My grandfather was The Patch’s barber. He and two of my uncles were volunteer firemen in the Patch.

I was not poor growing up. But we were not rich either. I suppose we were lower middle class. All my relatives were blue collar workers. A fireman. A coal miner. A truck driver. My father worked as a claims adjuster at a trucking company. Before that, among other things, he had delivered milk. My other grandfather worked for the railroad. I believe there was only one friend who might have been “rich”.

A right of passage in that culture was not Confirmation or Bar Mitzvah. It was being allowed to sit with the men and drink. That happened to me at my cousin’s wedding. My uncle Gaddy (the fireman) asked me “Richie, go get me a whiskey.” Then he paused and said “Get yourself something to drink too.” And he didn’t mean soda! It was a big deal when I sat with my uncle and my father drinking. It meant they viewed me as a man.

I grew up with an expectation that I would work during summers and Christmas. As such, I had jobs working in a paint factory, working in a plastics factory, selling clothes (style and taste in clothing was definitely not one of my strengths!), working in a bar, and my personal favorite, being a mailman.

With these roots, I was never comfortable around people of wealth. Actually, my discomfort was around people who grew up wealthy. Years ago, my secretary came to me and said “There’s an old man out there who wants to talk to you. He says he’s a millionaire and is starting a new series of stores here in El Paso. I went to say hello and encountered an older man in shirtsleeves. He was down-to-earth and very personable. He said he ran a national string of stores and was starting a new one in El Paso. He made a point to tell me that he believed in doing the hard work himself and that’s why he was going around to businesses himself. The store he was promoting was Sam’s Club. His name was Sam Walton.

Here in El Paso I’ve known people of wealth with whom I am at ease. They are all people of “shanty Irish”-type backgrounds. Locally, their roots are not in coal towns but in Segundo Barrio, a poor part of El Paso. They rose up from the streets and, through effort and courage, became successful. Lawyers. Doctors. Architects. To a person, they have not forgotten their barrio roots and are not ashamed of those roots.

In time, I too have become proud of my Shanty Irish roots. Those roots and those people taught me the importance of family and providing for one’s family. They taught me the value of hard work. They taught me the power of dreams, which for some ranged from getting out of the mines and into a better job to sending one’s children to college. They did not feel entitled in any way and to a person had a great sense of gratitude for whatever they were able to earn.

I am grateful to them all, those men and women of simple background who worked hard and helped me get to where I am. I can now say with pride “Yes, I’m Shanty Irish from The Patch!”

Reflection: Do you have any types of experience similar to my Shanty Irish journey?

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On Grief

“I must go down to the seas again. . .” (John Masefield)

    Some years ago,  my Aunt Dorothy died during the middle of the night. She lived alone in Santa Monica but my brother lived in nearby Marina del Rey. My aunt was a person who lived a life of simplicity, who loved music, and who had a generous heart. I flew out to Los Angeles so that I could help my brother go through her things and clean out her apartment.

     Everyone at some time needs to inventory the belongings of a loved one who has died. There are objects without a story. My aunt, for instance, had letters and pictures from persons whom neither I nor my brother knew. There were objects which bring a lost connection back with an unexpected force. Hanging from my aunt’s ceiling was a Southwestern style bell we had given her the previous Christmas. And there are bits and pieces of things which give insight into a person’s character. My aunt had an impressive collection of Native American literature and was educated and sympathetic in this area long before it became fashionable. She also had her music.

     When someone dies as suddenly as my aunt did, those who follow find evidence of a life interrupted — books partially read, perhaps the one she was reading left open; a particular piece of music left in a tape player; a bill set out next to a checkbook. Projects never to be finished. It gives one pause. How often I set something out for tomorrow, all the while assuming I have a tomorrow?

     She wanted to be cremated and have her ashes scattered on the ocean. There was a time when Catholics were not allowed cremation. Too much like hell, I suppose. But then Catholic cemeteries started to fill up so the rule was changed. Somehow for my aunt it was more appropriate. It certainly was more catholic because she now has returned to the universe and is a part of its rhythms.

     When I went to Marina del Rey, I stayed at a motel about a mile from the beach. This meant that I would first run a good mile to get to the beach and a mile to get back. Once at the beach, I removed my running shoes and ran along the ocean’s edge. It is what I called my Homage to Chariots of Fire. After running a mile or two, I would stop then walk back the way I came, picking up a sockful of shells and, at some point, stopping to sit on a rock. It was at those moments that I sensed my aunt’s presence in the ocean’s rhythm. Something universal is in that sound and my aunt is a part of it.

     When I left California a few days later, I thought I had done all the correct things as far as grieving is concerned. I thought I was finished mourning. I now know better

     Grief like the ocean comes in waves and often, like a wave much larger than we thought, nearly knocks us off our feet. The initial anguish passes and we think we are done. Then a piece of music, a smell, a passing reference and the wave hits us again. In my case, the wave came from, of all things, the TV show Magnum P.I.

     You may remember that show and the fact that it had two final seasons. The first one appeared to end with Magnum’s death. The public outcry was so strong that a second final season was created with a much happier ending.

     In any case, I was watching the first final episode which included a John Denver song “Looking For Space”. Each time the song played, I felt a welling up of emotion. ‘This is crazy” I thought. But the emotion continued into the next day until I finally realized that my grief over Aunt Dorothy was not finished and that I had merely stuffed it away, only to have it triggered by John Denver and Thomas Magnum.

Four years after my aunt died, I was at the rock-perching meditation part of my run. I was thinking about my aunt and her music. It suddenly dawned on me that she had never heard my daughter play the French horn, something that would have been a source of great joy for her. That thought brought on an unexpected wave of grieving. Later I thought “It’s four years, for goodness sake.” But so it goes. Grieving never stops.

REFLECTION: What have you learned about grief?

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The Spiritual Side of PTSD

I was talking to a young combat veteran yesterday. When I asked him if he’d received any counseling he said “Well, I’ve been talking to my pastor.” This was a reminder to me of the spiritual side of PTSD as a factor in both cause and healing.

Many persons who suffer from PTSD suffer spiritually, a dimension of trauma that is not always addressed. The most obvious form of spiritual impact I have seen is with survivors of clergy abuse. These men and women put their trust in a religious professional only to have that trust twisted and shattered. Most (though not all) Catholic survivors of clergy abuse left the Church, feeling betrayed not only by the perpetrator but by other clergy who looked the other way. One man I dealt with had a deep resentment toward the cardinal of Boston who allowed a perpetrator to be transferred to El Paso where his abusive pattern just continued. Others simply couldn’t trust anyone in the church. A few rejected religion completely.

Three spiritual facets of trauma may be a part of a person’s struggle to heal. Those facets are forgiveness of self, survivor guilt, and anger with god.

I remember a veteran some years ago who was Catholic but did not believe he could attend Mass. When I asked why, he said quit simply “I have killed”. I tried to help him see that he could find forgiveness through the Mass and Eucharist. He responded “I can’t take Communion. I’ve sinned!”

I’ve heard similar thoughts from other survivors of trauma. One women had not attended Mass for years because she experienced some physical pleasure when being molested by a neighbor. Another felt she had sinned when she applauded upon hearing that a relative who had molested her had died.

Many survivors of trauma, then, need to find some way to forgive themselves, even if you or I believe they did nothing wrong.

Survivors of certain types of trauma survivors may feel guilt that they survived and someone else didn’t. I have dealt with survivors of car accidents, survivors of mass shootings, combat veterans and many others who lost a friend, battle buddy, or beloved family member in an event they survived. Some may ask “Why did God let me survive and not him/her?”

Finally, many survivors of trauma are left with the why question. Why did this happen? Why did God let this happen? As one woman who had survived severe physical and sexual abuse “Where was God when these things were happening?” Another said “Jesus supposedly loved children. Where the hell was he when my step-father was raping me?”

Unfortunately I have also heard some very bad spiritual advice such as “Well, God didn’t let him kill you” or the even more troublesome “God must have let you live for a reason” Still others have heard “Well, you just need to forgive the driver of the other car, the man who raped you, the person who set off that car bomb, etc., etc.” Sadly, I have heard of religious professionals advising someone (usually a woman) to stay in an abusive relationship because “God doesn’t permit divorce”.

And yet I have also sat with many, many survivors of trauma who found comfort and healing in their religious and spiritual beliefs. I think of a woman who lost her husband at the El Paso Walmart shootings and who finds great comfort at Mass. I think of a survivor of clergy abuse who turned to art to help himself heal. I have talked with persons who may not understand where God was at the time of the trauma but who feel strongly God’s presence in their efforts to heal. As one survivor of childhood abuse said, “I don’t know why God allowed that to happen but I know He is walking with me as I heal.” The faith of many survivors of trauma may not offer answers but definitely offers them a resource for healing and comfort.

I suppose it is no surprise that many of the trauma survivors I’ve known, whether religious or otherwise, find great comfort in the words penned by another survivor of trauma. David survived combat, the loss of a much loved friend, and the attacks of his former mentor. Thus, his words came from a heart that knew trauma:

“Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil for you are with me.” Amen to that.

Reflection: 1. What have your own experiences been, personal or otherwise, with the spiritual side of trauma.?

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Quiet Heroes

Hero has become a popular word these days, as it should be. It is being applied to front-line workers battling COVID, to police officers, to firefighters and EMTs, and to our warrior veterans. Indeed these are all people who suit up and show up to jobs that could make today their last.

I have been a practicing psychotherapist for a very long time. Sometimes people will ask “How do you do that? How do you sit for hour after hour listening to terrible stuff?” Well, first of all, I recall what one woman said to me one day when my stress level was apparent. She said “Hey! Us crazy people didn’t ask you to do this job!” Amen to that.

I do know that one thing that keeps me going is that I get to meet true heroes on a regular basis. These are not always people who have saved someone from a burning building or fought in a key battle in a war. These heroes get no medals. They are people who face life’s challenges quietly and with no self-pity. They conduct themselves with integrity. They are what I call quiet heroes.

I think of a woman who was battling cancer and who had also gone through a painful divorce. She was to pick her son up at a church function where the boy would be with his dad. This woman’s husband had remarried and his wife recently had a child. My friend went to the church hall and it was crowded. She saw her ex-husband at the other end of the hall. She took a deep breath and walked the length of the hall. She greeted her ex-husband who was holding the baby. She asked if she could pronounce a blessing over the baby which she did. She then exited from the hall with her son, head held high, and burst into tears when she got outside.

I think of a man at age 86 who came in to finally confront his experiences in the South Pacific in World War II. He believed he had been a coward when in fact all that happened was that he had been afraid. He was finally able to accept that he wasn’t the only one, something he had believed for 60 years.

I think of a young man suffering from agoraphobia who would challenge himself to go to Barnes and Noble each Saturday morning and simply walk around for 30 minutes. I ran into him there one Saturday. He was walking quickly with eyes to the ground. When he saw me, he seemed almost embarrasses and said “Doc, I’m trying!”

I think of several parents, including my own, who tried to go on living after losing a child.

I think of a man I met in a support group who was facing alcoholism at the age of 76, saying simply “I don’t want to die a drunk.”

You may also know some heroes and perhaps are one yourself. You may be one of the thousands I’ve met who try to face life’s challenges, hurts, and traumas. You may be one of thousands who try to heal, enduring great pain to do so. You may be someone who elects to face pain rather than take it out on others.

So, yes, I have known many heroes through my work (and, I might add, in my personal life.) They have taught me much. I am grateful.

Reflection: What quiet heroes have you known in your life?

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Encounters with the Holy

May be an image of deer and nature

Recently I was standing on a beach in Oregon with my son Matt. We were watching a beautiful sunset and I said to Matt ‘This is holy.”

A holy moment for me is not one of good behavior as I believed when I was young. In those days, we aspired to be holy and bemoaned our constant failures. Rather, it is an encounter with the numinous — that which lacks words and yet speaks of the presence of God. We seek words to describe the experience yet words elude us. These moments may also include emotion, often a sense of joy on the edge of tears.

As we left the house on the beach, I had another encounter with holiness, pictured above. The elk sat quietly and peacefully. I sensed a wise old presence.

Indeed many holy moments can happen in nature. When I was young, I remember at night in the Fall, I would hear the distant call of geese. I would look out in time to see their vee crossing before the full moon.

The only encounter with holiness involving a church occurred when I was taking a run through a wooded area in Ireland. I came upon a small seemingly abandoned chapel that had the smell of old books and perhaps incense.

The other association of the Holy with church is the smell of frankincense, the incense often used in older Catholic church rituals. Holiness can be encountered through all of our senses.

I have had encounters with the Holy through works of art. I was awe-struck at the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam yet experienced the Holy only when I saw his Starry Night in New York City. I have experienced the sacred through stage productions but encountered the Holy in a dramatic moment towards the end of the play “The Glass Menagerie”. I had performed in this play and seen many versions of it. Yet when I experienced my wife’s performance at the end of the third act after the Gentleman Call has left, it was an encounter with the Holy.

I have been often moved by scared music but encountered the Holy only when I heard Judy Colllins sing Amazing Grace a capella.

And, yes, reclusive introvert that I am, I have on occasion encountered the Holy through people. I think of the monet when a young woamn died and I sensed something Holy leaving her. I think of a lone policeman congratulating me for completing the New York City Marathon in 2001, setting aside his grief and shock to say a kind word to an exhausted runner. I think of a Viet Nam veteran embracing me.

I am grateful for these and other encounters with the Holy. They have sustained me in the midst of anger and doubt. These encounter with the Holy remind me of the words of Abraham Joshua Heschel: “It is not God who is obscure. It is man who conceals him.” When I encounter the Holy, I encounter the God whom I often conceal. I am grateful for those moments.

Reflections: What kind of encounters with the Holy have you experienced? How have they affected your spiritual journey?

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Larry Doby: An Unsung Hero

Just about everyone knows Jackie Robinson. This great courageous man was the first African American to play Major League baseball with the National League Brooklyn Dodgers. The same cannot be said for Larry Doby. Larry was the second African American player in the Major Leagues and the first in the American League. He has never received anywhere near the attention that Jackie Robinson has. In my opinion, he should.

Larry Doby was born in the South and so grew up amidst the racism of the time. He later moved to New Jersey where his path to greatness began as he excelled in high school athletics. As the only African American on the football team, however, he had early exposure to what he would later face. He excelled in spite of racial taunts but also began to turn inward. Nonetheless, his skills were noticed such that he was offered a basketball scholarship at Long Island University. He also had attracted the attention of the owners of the Newark Eagles, a powerful team of the Negro Leagues.

World War II interrupted his plans and he served in the Navy, again experiencing the racism of the time. Many African American sailors were only allowed to fill positions of servitude. Through baseball, however, Larry was able to avoid the service roles many African Americans were given in the Navy. As the war ended, word came of the signing of Jackie Robinson by the Brooklyn Dodgers. After returning home, Larry eventually signed with the Newark Eagles.

Larry’s play was so stellar the it attracted the attention of Bill Veeck, owner of the Cleveland Indians. Veeck was willing to take the step taken by Branch Rickey of the Dodgers and sign an African American. Larry Doby was that ballplayer.

Like Robinson, Larry was given the same set of expectations. He was not to react with anger or aggression in response to the inevitable racial taunting. Keep in mind that at that time, American and National League teams would only meet in the World Series so the other American League teams and fans had no exposure to players of color. Larry would be the first.

Unlike Robinson, Larry went directly to the majors and did not have a season to adjust in the minor leagues. His initial season was a disaster. He was a second baseman on a team that already had one and so he was told he would become an outfielder, a position he had never played. Beyond that, he was shunned by some teammates, subjected to second-rate hotels because of racism, and had no roommate with whom to commiserate. But he didn’t give up.

The season of 1948 was a different story. Larry led the Indians in hitting and became a stellar center fielder. Indians fans no longer taunted him and instead cheered him. In fact, he led Cleveland to a World Series title. In game 4, Larry won it on a home run. After the game, he and pitcher Steve Gromek embraced. The picture received national attention. Keep in mind that this was 1948 and so a picture of a white man and a black man joyfully embracing was stunning.

Steve Gromek and Larry Doby

In spite of being a World Series hero, Doby found it difficult to purchase a home back in New Jersey, often being turned away because of his color. He continued to endure second-rate hotels for several more years.

Jackie Robinson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. Larry had to wait 40 years to receive the same honor. Like Jackie Robinson, Larry Doby was a man of wonderful athletic skills who had the courage to persist in the face of unspeakable racism. He faced the same degrees of hatred and harassment that Robinson faced. But Larry Doby played as important a part in terms of opening doors for other great African American ballplayers to follow.

At the end of the included news piece, the commentator states his belief that, like Jackie Robinson’s number 42, Larry Doby’s number 14 should also be retired in recognition of him being a trail-blazer in the American League. I couldn’t agree more!

Reading: There is a biography out there about Larry Doby but I would instead recommend a recent book titled Our Team which focuses on the 1948 Cleveland Indians and goes into depth on the experiences of Larry Doby.

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The Gift of Enthusiasm

One of my favorite sportscasters was Jim McKay of ABC Sports. One of his duties over the years was to host Wide World of Sports on Saturdays. What impressed me about Jim was his capacity to be enthused about any sport. I remember once he was covering the world barrel jumping championship with genuine enthusiasm. His excitement as someone prepared to beat the world record for barrels jumped was real.

I don’t have the gift. I remember when I first realized that.

Back in 1984 I had been clean and sober for about a year, a gift for which I was and am deeply grateful. At that time, however, I felt my life was tepid. I realized that I lacked enthusiasm. I recalled a popular phrase in recovery circles: “Fake it til you make it”. In other words, perhaps I could act as if I were enthused and perhaps it would take.

But what to be enthused about? I felt it couldn’t be something too important like world peace. I felt that, for the experiment to work, it needed to be something less significant. At that time, I had just had a supporting role in a production of On Golden Pond. In that play the main character is a baseball fan, reading the newspaper and bemoaning the fate of the Detroit Tigers. That was it! I had been a baseball fan when I was young but had drifted away from following it.

But you can’t just be enthused about baseball. You have to root for a specific team. Who to root for? As much as I liked Mickey Mantle, it couldn’t be the Yankees. Nor was I drawn to either home state team from Philadelphia or Pittsburgh. Then it came to me. I’d grown up in Scranton PA which at that time had a Boston Redsox farm team. The first autograph I ever received was from a Redsox player named Jimmy Piersall. And my Uncle Joe whom I dearly loved was a Redsox fan. So There it was. I went out and got a Redsox hat and began checking the papers daily, cheering for a victory or cursing a defeat.

The experiment worked and actually had some unexpected additional benefits. It created something I could share with my four children and now is something I share with my grandchildren. To quote Jim McKay, I have experienced the thrill of victory (2004) and the agony of defeat (1986) and so has my family.

Enthusiasm comes from the Greek and translates roughly as possessed by God within and manifesting divine fervor. Thus, enthusiasm is a spiritual gift, a gift whereby we get a glimpse of God’s passionate relationship with all of creation.

I like the idea of an enthused God. It stands in meaningful contrast to the stern judgmental Old Testament God of my youth. A God that gets excited about Yosemite or Big Bend. A God that smiles when beholding a Van Gogh painting or listening to the New World Symphony. A God that laughs with a child. A God that celebrates faithful love-making. A God who sings. This too has been one of the blessings of my experiment with enthusiasm. It helped me meet the God of Enthusiasm.

Here then is one of the greatest moments of my journey of enthusiasm thanks to the Redsox.

Reflection: Where does enthusiasm fit in your spiritual world?

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Reading the Bible Yet Again!

I just finished reading the Bible again for the sixth or seventh time. Not sure. I remember the first time I read To Kill A Mockingbird. I enjoyed it so much that I immediately reread it. I would be dishonest if I were to say that I enjoyed the Bible that much. But I am indeed back in Genesis.

I am a very undisciplined person and so reading the Bible offers a degree of spiritual discipline in my life. It offers a way of showing up that does not feel like an obligation.

I do wonder how many so-called Christians really read the Bible. There is lots in there that is confusing. At times I am as bored as when I tried to ready The Ambassadors by Henry James or Portrait of the Artist by James Joyce. (Thanks be for Cliffs Notes!) There is of course great drama. The Book of Ester alone would make an amazing miniseries! There is bawdy humor (see David’s wife upset with him for flashing the family jewels as he danced his victory dance in public). There is payback. There is madness. There is a great deal of violence. And there are many different images of God.

The Bible has been quoted to justify all kinds of politically questionable activities to include war and financial inequities, as well segregation and child abuse. I have heard too many politicians quoting the Bible as part of their quests for power. For years, the New Testament was used to justify anti-Semitism.

Such free-wheeling interpretation and selective reading can reach an absurd level. Take Ezekiel’s vision, for example. This has long been quoted as “proof” of extra-terrestrials. Yesterday I read someone claiming that it was also proof that we have in fact been visited by space aliens!

The Bible poses some other types of challenges. What, for example, do I make of the Book of Revelations? Is it indeed some sort of prediction things to come? The results of someone’s vivid imagination? A highly symbolic portrayal of the Dark Night of the Soul?

Being a confirmed Doubter, I of course encounter many questions. Some are merely logical. (Where did Mrs. Cain come from?) Others are more substantive. Is it me or does God never really answer Job’s demand for an explanation? Still others are central to my journey. As I read the Gospels, what of Jesus’ teachings makes me uneasy?

I’ve learned that my experience of the Bible is enriched by what Jung called active imagination — putting oneself into a scene to discern some spiritual issue within. I may not always like what I see. If I put myself in Gethsemane, for example, sadly I can see that I too might have run away when Jesus was captured. I too might have passed the stranger by the side of the road. I too might have wanted to see His wounds so I could believe.

I’ve never attended a Bible study and I suppose I don’t really study the Bible. I just read it. It’s not that I don’t see value in studying aspects of the Bible. I do. I have been greatly enriched by studies such as Harold Kushner’s piece on the Book of Job. I know I have something to learn from such great minds and spirits. Yet I also believe that I am invited to figure out what the Bible says to me directly, not through someone else’s filter. I am invited to ponder. I am invited to question. I am invited to laugh (Balaam’s Donkey) and cry (St. Dismas).

So I find myself back on Noah’s Ark. (Did you ever try to imagine the smell?) I find myself amazed at Noah’s faith as well as his frailty. (After all, he does get drunk fairly quickly after the flood). I expect this time through, I’ll be struck by something I’d missed before or perhaps experience a story in a new way. I may even be surprised as I was the last time through when I found that I was not bored by Jeremiah and found him to be less negative than I originally thought.

The journey continues.

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