Archive for January, 2012

The presence of ashes

January 2, 2012

On New Year’s Eve, nearly all of my material belongings burned to ashes.

I am still wondering how I feel about that.

My 54-years of selected items were stored in a friend’s barn. He was storing them for free to help me regain my financial well-being after the housing market crashed and burned (metaphorically, no pun intended) back in 2008 and I had to sell a condo at a loss. I am living with a limited amount of space right now and have done quite well without those items for the past two years. There was nothing of great monetary value. The value was in their memories and my history: photos of my family, a butcher block a dying friend gave me, a dresser that was 60 years old, dishes from my defunct marriage (not at all teary over that), my granddaughter’s Dora the Explorer dollhouse, my oldest daughter’s Sylvanian families animal doll set, a painting of the ocean by one of my sisters.

Curiously, this incident occurred at the same time I was writing my prayer for the new year (see “The presence of prayer”). I don’t believe for an instant that God said “Hey! I know! Let’s send her the towering inferno!” I think the fire would have happened regardless of my writing. The larger message is that everything is temporary and transitory. All of those items were made from the dust and elements of the earth and now they are returned. Perhaps I no longer need them at all.

It was not the only fire in my life that day. We had set the oven to clean on New Year’s Eve and awoke to the sound of smoke alarms at about 2:30 a.m. The oil in the oven had caught fire. Fortunately, the fire was contained inside the oven and it is now pretty darn clean. Lesson learned: clean the oven more often.

Part of me feels relieved of the worry about my stuff or having to pay someone to move it for me. I did not lose everything. I have some specific special items here with me: my meditation table and items, my books, a few pictures of my daughters, my vacuum (don’t ask), some kitchen items, and my bed.

Fire is nature’s way of removing the old and the dead. It sets the stage for new life to begin. There are some seeds in nature that require fire so they can burst open. The cones of young jack pines require intense heat in order to split apart and free their seeds. An endangered songbird (the Kirtland’s warbler) will nest only in these pines and the pines only grow in recently burned forests. (Go to “PBS”.)

I am sorry for my friend who lost a huge part of his investment in his farm. He truly lost something hundreds of times more valuable than my stuff and was at danger of losing several more buildings on his property. I am grateful there were no horses or humans in that barn and only hope the mice escaped into the wilderness.

I am more keenly aware of not becoming too attached to material things because in an instant, they can all be gone. The same is true for the living beings I love. Yet, I vow to remain attached to my love for them because that is the way I know I will find them in the next iteration of my existence.

I am one of those people who wander around finding meaning in all of life’s incidents. It is what I do as a human. Otherwise, life is meaningless and empty. Okay – life is meaningless and empty to begin with. We are the ones who fill it up with meaning. The meaning I find here today is to be grateful for what I do have: my essential belongings, the memories of my former life, the people who are still around, and the gift of knowing what is important.

©2012 by Barbara L. Kass

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The presence of prayer

January 1, 2012

The only way for human beings to change is for them to conquer their inner darkness and rediscover the eternal dignity within their own lives. Cultivating the noble spirit with which all people are endowed will directly lead to a change in the destiny of humankind. -Daisaku Ikeda (www.sharingbuddhism.com)

In reading God Has No Religion (by Frances Sheridan Goulart), I came across this passage about how one can become the prayer that is prayed. By making the prayer a mantra that is repeated several times a day, a person eventually becomes “transformed into the prayer itself and begins to reflect to others the compassion, love, and nonviolence of Jesus, Buddha, or the spirit who is invoked.” Goulart is obviously indicating that the prayer translates into compassion, love, and nonviolence (as opposed to “please, God, let me win the lottery!” I am not sure how that prayer would be translated into personhood).

This is the same idea as the notion that our thoughts create our lives (which is not really a notion, but becoming more of an irrefutable fact). Self-awareness can be a real beast sometimes. I am painfully aware that I am not living the prayers I pray.

It could be that I don’t have a good working definition of what a prayer is. It could be that I don’t pray long enough or often enough. It could be I am not praying the right words. It could be that I am not pointing my prayers in the right direction.

I was taught early in my Catholicism that we could pray to God, Jesus, the Virgin Mary, the Holy Spirit, and an array of saints, all of whom have a specific function in prayer world, such as St. Jude being the Patron Saint of Lost Causes. A prayer to St. Jude is a prayer of desperation and, in my view, there are a lot of desperate people so he must be overloaded with requests. Mostly, my prayers go to the nebulous God who I define as the universal consciousness – the energy that we are all a part of.

I had always thought that a prayer is an asking, a desire for something specific – an outcome, an item, a direction. I have prayed for strength and wisdom. It has never occurred to me to pray in seeking my noble spirit. If I pray to “rediscover the eternal dignity within” my life, exactly how will that prayer be answered? Does it matter if I fulfill my own prayer or must that gift be bestowed upon me? Will God swoop down and suddenly gift me with eternal insight? Probably not. God’s swooping and bestowing days of a Biblical nature are the products of fairy tales and wishful thinking. I think what will probably happen is that God (i.e., life) will place opportunities for me to witness my eternal dignity.

The answer to every prayer is its intent. It is simply up to me to open my eyes, my heart, my soul, my mind to the presence of God in everyone and everything I encounter.

What right do I have to pray for someone else? Is it right for me to wish for an outcome that might not be the one that person desires? What if someone wants me to pray for something that I know is not good for that person? Like everyone else, I view the world from my own need to survive. I project my hopes, passions, desires, needs, wants believing that my way is the right way, the best way for me, and if it is good for me, isn’t it good for everyone else?

Maybe. Maybe not. I might never know. But I believe that prayer is a powerful way to move the universe.

My friend, Laurie, at Speaking from the Heart sent me a wonderful prayer for this New Year: that my every dream comes true; that I find myself surrounded by friends, laughter, and good times; that my every cup runneth over financially, romantically, spiritually, and creatively; that good health be my faithful companion, peace my guarded ally, and love my perpetual guide. My noble spirit stirs at the thought that I can become the living transformation of this prayer.

How can I go wrong with that?

©2012 Barbara L. Kass