Old Words, new understanding

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In my last post I talked a little bit about prayer, and what many historically call the “Lord’s prayer” (in Christian tradition).  My thoughts were generated by the “group recitation” of those words at the funeral of Queen Elizabeth 2; the crowd quietly repeating them raised a question in my mind as to how much they really had thought about their meaning – and then, considering what they mean to me. I decided it was time to share about that here, and it leaves me feeling – vulnerable, inadequate and nonqualified! As I approach 65, with a lot of life changes in my last few years and more than one reminder recently that life is unpredictable, I am more aware than ever that we can never know the answers to many questions that individuals and societies have asked throughout history.  But being raised in what, back in the 60’s, in a “conservative” church, the lessons of Sunday school, and later Bible studies, continue to resonate in my memory and to color much of how I see our world, and my life, and our place in it.  They are a part of my tapestry of life, and those colors still are vibrant, and the harmonies still echo. 

I don’t know how to write about spiritual matters; I don’t have a theological background.  I would never pretend to be certain about anything, or to try to defend my own precariously balanced beliefs through debate; there are people I love in my life who think and feel very differently on many issues, and I treasure them and our relationships much more than “being right”. Perhaps that guiding principle is one we need to seek more in this time of divide, and yet … I feel like somehow, sharing my reflections on what is, for many “people of faith” who follow Christian tenets, is foundational scripture … is worth expressing.  So … this is very much just “me”, ahead.  Just what comes into my heart when there is quiet, or when I try to find some sense of order and hope in all the jumble of a life that seems to be constantly shifting.  Lately, that is happening more than I would like.

A point of reference – I use the word “God”, and the “He/His” pronouns, primarily because that is what I was raised with – but I realize there are many words, many names and that gender is just another frame of reference with many cultural implications.  I would hope that the reader would be kind and overlook differences they may have with this approach, because ultimately, it’s not those words are not what we should be focused on but, individually or together, seeking truths our hearts can acknowledge. Truths that lead to a better life for us, and for those we love. My reflections will be segmented in the way that makes sense to me; I see four major components to the prayer – Identity; relationship; entreaty; and praise. 

“Our father, who art in heaven; hallowed be thy name.  Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. 

The prayer begins not with focusing on what we want, but a recognition, a statement of overriding truth – that there is a Creator, and that our relationship with Him is likened to a parent and child – one based in love. These few words comprise a foundational acknowledgement that there is something greater than my understanding, known by many names, that brought me and all of us into being.  Admitting this includes turning to that source of life with reverence, and in worship. Following this statement of faith, is another acknowledgement – that seeking His kingdom is meant to be a focus in our life – but what is the Kingdom of God? So many have claimed that their vision of the “kingdom of God” justifies war, hatred, exclusion – but if we just look at this as a whole, I see a different perspective. The “kingdom” of God on this earth is not one made of buildings, or systems, or churches or corporations or cults; it is our spirits, which we choose to surrender, ongoing, as we seek our way through life. To let that kingdom “come”, to have His “will be done”, is each of us making a choice – to give that loving source of life our acceptance, our broken, tender and lost little hearts, as best we can, and sharing it with others while we are able. To give God, as we understand God, that authority in our life daily, is the closest to heaven on earth that we can, for now, experience and offer one another.  For His kingdom on earth to be realized, His will to be accomplished, requires our choice to be His agents; to give Him our hearts, and to let them be used as channels of that greater Life.  A firm declaration of God’s nature, and our place in His kingdom.

Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors

After this statement, an acknowledgment of God’s identity, comes an admission, an acceptance of our relationship to Him.   First – we will always be dependent on our Creator for our needs.  We are not and never were in control; we can only work towards what we are able but there will always be a gap between our hopes and our realities, and it is to God we must turn, in faith, to bridge that gap. It is a daily hunger, it is a daily need, it is a daily journey, one step at a time. It is a willingness to say, yes, this is my way of life; in a culture that elevates knowledge and certainty and self-sufficiency, this is a daring refutation, a defiant reshaping of our thinking and expectations – that our relationship with our Creator is fundamentally walking in trust without answers and dependence instead of strength.  As to how we relate to those who enter our lives in many ways – we must recognize and live out the truth that our relationship with others requires forgiveness, from us, and to us.  We need one another, and only with forgiveness can we create the world we long for; only by acknowledging our imperfect, often failing, humanity, can we turn to one another and together build anew.  Receiving forgiveness, in wholeness, requires our sharing it freely as well; our standing in love and trust with that source of life, cannot be complete without offering it to one another. Can there be a greater challenge to our ego than to admit I have failed, and to accept that others have failed me?  It is the deepest forgiveness that comes at the highest price, but that we yearn for. In two simple phrases, filled with powerful truths, we are challenged to live in dependence and trust towards a Creator beyond our fully knowing – and to give others forgiveness without demanding more, in order to know that grace ourselves fully.

And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.

Finally, after acknowledging, confessing truths that may not fit what we were taught, or represent the dreams and wishes we desire – it is time to ask. I like the word “entreaty”; it is defined as an earnest and humble request. It’s more than a hope, or a wish; it is a plea, one that acknowledges we need help. How odd that we should have to ask God to NOT lead us into temptations; after all the shaming and lecturing and moralizing about our evil natures, for centuries this phrases has challenged our understanding.  Funny, in a way, because when you sit down and go honestly through most of the narrative stories in what is called our Bible, there are so many instances of God defying expectation, seemingly even delighting is disappointing hopes, in refusing to be predictable and yet, demanding faith.  Why on earth would we need to ask God to not lead us into temptation?  I cannot say with certainty, and apparently neither can the recent announcement by the Pope that this should be rephrased (you can find more about this here).  But experts in those ancient texts are adamant that this is exactly what it says – please, God, don’t tempt me.  Perhaps the best I can take from this is some comfort in knowing, as it says elsewhere in scripture, that temptation is (gasp) normal; failure to be perfect is pretty much standard (No!); that my weakness is a fact of life that God’s love is big enough to overlook. Perhaps it somehow makes a difference as we struggle with our weaknesses to acknowledge that daily, to admit I need help. As far as deliverance from evil – historically, evil has done pretty well on this planet, and again sometimes I have to admit I am a part of that – with anger, with selfishness, with bitterness. I find myself asking – could it be that this plea for “deliverance” is not one of “save me from someone else’s evil towards me”, but … “free me from that within me that seeks to commit evil, and help me to be a greater agent of Your love despite my imperfect heart”?  In short – these few, mysterious words acknowledge that I need help to find my way – I need light in the darkness.  Right now, that seems truer than ever, for us all.  We seek that light in many different ways, but there is one ultimate source….

For Thine is the Kingdom, and the Glory, and the Power, Forever – Amen. 

And so we close with a final, full statement of the ultimate authority and power of our Creator, as best we can know Him and His will. Apparently, this is considered by some to be “added on” doxology.  Perhaps so!  Perhaps someone who thought they were doing good felt it added an exclamation point of sorts for dramatic effect.  It sure makes for a crescendo in that closing hymn arrangement!  I’ll never know – but it speaks to me.  It is a towering, overriding exclamation of faith – one that says let go of trying to have it all, because He already does.  He holds the keys to the kingdom, He has the answers.  Sure, for some, that can be seen as an easy “cop out” – just give up.  But I see it as an act of worship and faith – acknowledging that whatever greater Power is out there, by whatever name we might best understand it, endures, and that a purpose which we may never know is working in us, through us, loving us and one another beyond.   All the things that I often am drawn to strive for, to worry about, to bicker over, fade away when bathed in the brilliant light I just need to stop and look up to realize surrounds it, and us, all.  This final statement is one of undiluted, unlimited, and honest praise.   

One final observation, for now …. As I pointed out, there is really only one “ask” in this prayer. It’s not about wish fulfillment or the kindly old grandpa in the stars granting requests of the pious. Of course, there are many times in Christian scripture where people of faith asked for more specific needs, but … perhaps prayer isn’t really about asking for something as much as it is trying to connect with that source which is itself, the only answer we really long for? And … did you notice that, outside of the references to God, the Divine, the Creator – everything else isn’t “me”, it isn’t “I” – but us. OUR father; give US this day OUR daily bread; forgive US; WE forgive OTHERS. Prayer is as much of an acknowledgement that we exist together in community, we seek answers together, we struggle together – not alone. Again, we need one another.

Friends, remember this – faith only really matters when you have doubts without “proof”, questions without certainly. There are, as with any matter of faith, countless perspectives on whether the individual we call Jesus said these words, or which words, or to whom and when. All valid questions, that cannot be answered with factual documentation, really; out of the four “gospels” which have different histories and inconsistencies of many events of Christ, only two have the prayer, one at the crowds attending the “Sermon on the Mount” and another at a gathering of Christ with only his disciples. The two have differing phrases, the “original Greek” texts are inconsistent (and were themselves hardly contemporary), the Catholics and Protestants of course have their own versions, and of course there are numerous translations of the Bible. Talk about a multiverse, Marvel does not have the only claim to different representations of reality!  Here is a link to a 1988 article about doubts as to veracity of just about everything I just commented on – https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1988-10-18-mn-4561-story.html

For your reference and perhaps edification, or to raise even more questions that evade simple answers, I am providing links to two resources – first, a “comparative” presentation of different Bible “translations” of these passages – you can download the pdf here …. https://wartburgproject.org/mdocs-posts/the-lords-prayer-in-five-versions/

And, a fascinating history of the “evolution” of translations over the centuries … food for thought, or perhaps evidence that there is ultimately no final “right” answers … https://www.csdirectory.com/biblestudy/lords-prayer.pdf

For now – as I write, tomorrow is Thanksgiving. Just as we sometimes rush through a day that, at least in someone’s original intent, was to take time to remember our blessings – setting that aside to check the upcoming sales, and plan for social events – it is far too easy to avoid thinking about issues that raise hard questions; disappointments and bitterness with teachings that didn’t seem to fit reality; pain from the loss of love that we had held dear, and regrets for choices that we thought would make dreams come true.  It is hard to be thankful when our challenges engulf us.  Perhaps, it is now, we need to pray the most.  I hope my simple reflections perhaps raise questions, even tough ones, that ultimately you can choose to face and work through – or, to ignore. Choices are what create our own, ultimately personal, truths – our lives are our prayers, lived out, shared, or hoarded and kept shut away. Ultimately prayer has the power to change our hearts, and through us, to give hope and love to others seeking the same.

I will write more soon about my own battles with prayer, with faith; my own unanswered cries and beyond that, my choices to continue to shape and define me. Until then …. thank you for sitting a while with me, wherever, whenever you are; I hope you never give up seeking answers, and finding those that help you share just a little bit more of whatever light you find. I’ll be looking alongside you.

Bouquets to Art at the De Young

It’s with a special kind of joy that I can write about what we used to take for granted – a trip to the museum. Mask free (although, I admit, here in San Francisco many are still opting in). But even with a mask, there is a sense of freedom about events, gatherings, and yes – even the return of the Pride parade and celebration next week. So, at last, I can resume posting occasionally about our local attractions and history, as well as enjoying it in person!

When my husband and I learned that the De Young museum in Golden Gate Park was welcoming back their unique annual tradition of floral arrangements coordinated with all kinds of works of art throughout history, we jumped on the chance to buy tickets. Words cannot describe the magic of seeing something so delicate (and short lived) as the amazing variety of flowers, plant and organic materials selected carefully to compliment, coordinate or echo the works of traditional artists around the world, and over the centuries, in the many galleries of this beautiful museum. And so, words will be minimal here, with the focus (forgive the pun) on my strictly amateur iPhone pics from our adventure last week. But, if you would like more, there will be a link at the end for further exploration – and, as always, some observations.

One “guidebook” note, for those not familiar with the De Young and it’s amazing variety of artists works and special exhibits – it is well worth a visit annually. Golden Gate Park is truly a jewel, not just in our city or state, but for the country; and it is a truly international representation of creativity and beauty. With that, here we go!

I really admired this “Black and white” arrangement with similar graphic works!

Niagra falls – in 2, and 3 dimensions.

A stunning juxtaposition with this large wall panel. Breathtaking!

You may have noticed other observers of these amazing creations, which come from floral designers of all backgrounds through a very competitive submission process. It is of course a fund raiser for the museum, and a huge draw – for just 5 days. We went fairly early on day 3, a Thursday – and it was increasingly difficult to enjoy the displays without someone popping into “our space”. Still, I got a big kick out of one fellow visitor, who, after studying the floral arrangement, seemed to be equally if not more puzzled by the adjacent art it emulated!

Because, of course, what is great art is extremely subjective (for the most part). Personally, I love landscapes – and I just don’t “get” a lot of a lot of the less traditional approaches (which is why I don’t enjoy the Museum of Modern Art nearly as much!). I have no idea what goes through the minds of most artists as they create – but it is in the act of creating we have a chance to express something deeper that we wish to offer one another. Finding something within, and letting it come forth, to be shared.

I am struck by the fleeting nature of these botanical works – they literally become landfill within days of their debut – and they require incredible skill, a vast knowledge and, I wager, a deep devotion to this unique craft. Most of what we create, work towards, fret over, in life – in time, fades. What we don’t forget ourselves, ultimately is lost to time. Yet there is something timeless in our drive to accomplish – whether through traditional “art” or other pursuits. It is in our nature to want to leave something behind; to be remembered by. Perhaps we all can see, shimmering behind the beauty of what stands on display in the museum, the deeper creativity that we all carry within, that longs to be expressed, shared, celebrated – and be just a little inspired to reach beyond what we have tried before, whatever our personal “creations” may be. I hope this little journey gives you, like me, the opportunity to consider what we might have, uniquely, to create – and contribute – anew. After all, in the traditional text of Genesis, to create is the most divine attribute which we share with whatever source brought all of this into being.

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Pexels.com

For further – and much better quality – images of this amazing exhibit, I direct you to the website of another artist – Ron Henggler. His reports on so many aspects of our history and community are always eye openers – I highly recommend you explore his other offerings, but you can click here for a link to his report on Bouquets to Art 2022!

Finally – GET OUT! It’s time! Explore – learn – share – discover – and treasure the beauty we have missed for so long. For those who cannot reach San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park to visit the De Young in person, here is a pleasant little video tour I found to inspire YOU to enjoy that which remains waiting in your neighborhood – and around our wonderful world.

That’s it for this tour, friends!! As always, I welcome your feedback – and hey, maybe even suggestions of what you’d like me to visit in the days to come. There will be more adventures – I hope you have enjoyed being alongside today, and see you next time!

Me and my hubby – without masks and loving life!

The chairman of the Board, and the melodies that linger

This week, we got to attend our wonderful San Francisco Symphony again for the first time in more than two years – it was an unforgettable evening of joy.  And our second concert is coming up Wednesday – a holiday musical tribute to the artistry of two giants – Frank Sinatra, and Ella Fitzgerald.  I’ve been reflecting on the power of music, universal in its ability to provide a sort of magical ticket away from the daily stresses and rebirth joy – perhaps through remembered moments, perhaps by unearthing some lesser explored part of our hearts, setting energies free to sing and dance, even if only to ourselves.  I listen to music constantly – rediscovering songs I had forgotten through streaming services, along with new artists, new voices. It lifts us, it can inspire, infuriate, renew and reveal – artists vocal and instrumental, composers and lyricists whose names deserve more recognition than the performers.  Some – a few – are timeless; we can form bonds with music that last a lifetime, that become the soundtrack to our history. 

My Mom loved music too – and as we look forward to hearing the Sinatra tribute this week, I realize how much his music meant to her throughout her lifetime. My memories of her are many, but they all have a common thread –  she suffered from debilitating pain throughout her time on earth.  Born in 1926, having me as her second child in 1958, she was already developing problems from rheumatoid arthritis after my brother’s birth 3 years prior.   She had health problems from childhood, multiple surgeries and hospitalizations, and by the time I was five, separated from my Dad, disabled and raising two boys on minimal child support and alimony.   As the years and the deterioration of her muscle strength progressed, she had to have special shoes made for her feet and became dependent on pain treatments that today’s patients happily can avoid. I remember the many nights when she would try to take care of things around the house, pushing through the pain, and the sounds of her distress and discomfort were not easily ignored – nor easily forgotten, decades later. 

This is not the “Mom” I knew – but in her day, she was quite the “pin up” girl from So Cal!

But music could somehow transform, or at least diminish, her distress into joy, in moments.  She had a pretty large collection of 78’s – big, bulky, scratched, in these sort of cardboard folio albums – along with later LP’s.  She also had held onto an upright piano, gifted from her mother who passed before my entry on the scene – and encouraged me to take piano lessons, which I did for years.  She also would occasionally peck at the keys a bit, but more often just turn on the radio.  As a teen, I remember digging through the record cabinet, wondering at the names – some I knew, many were unknown.  She didn’t listen to 70’s artists; I think her most contemporary albums were by Jack Jones and Rod McKuen (no Beatles, and certainly no rock!) – but there were many scratched 78’s and several 50’s/60’s albums by Frank Sinatra – the “Chairman of the Board”, “The Voice”, the emblem of a generation.  

It wasn’t until my 40’s, when she entered a long term care facility and I took on the years long task of cleaning and repairing her home, and the many boxes of her life that remained unopened for decades, that I began to see how much Sinatra had been part of her life.  By this time, I had become more familiar with the music of that era – certainly loving many of the songs he made popular, especially later when I started enjoying karaoke at the bars in Palm Springs.   Frank himself had passed by then – I’d seen some movies and knew a little of his history from the tributes and television coverage.  So, when I came across the boxes of photos, and the magazines, and programs – it was like a time capsule of my Mom’s love affair with his songs.  

The 1943 Hollywood Bowl program – the first “popular” artist to perform there.

It was during those years, the final few of her life, that she began to share some of her memories of the 40’s in LA – before meeting my Dad, before the ravages of health gnarled her hands and distorted her feet, keeping her in a physical prison and to a degree an emotional one as well.  Seeing pictures of her as a glamour teen, in a bathing suit, were kind of astonishing – this was not the woman who had raised me, to my eyes at least.  Growing up in Long Beach and working in that area, she had made friends with ties to Hollywood, somehow – after all, as a teenager at the outset of World War II, with so many young men leaving to fight for freedom, young women were exploring new ways of living that their parents never imagined.  She had gone on a bowling double date with Mickey Rooney, had lunch at the Paramount studios commissary with Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth one table over, and visited the home of Errol Flynn – a young woman bursting with life, and dreams and hopes of romance.  All influenced by the crooner that ruled the radio, and in time movies as well – Frank. 

A signed drawing by my Mom, clearly copied (with love) from a publicity photo.

She told me how her father took her to the Hollywood Bowl in 1943 to see Frank break with long held tradition there – somewhat controversially – performing “popular song” instead of the usual classical fare.  Years later, visiting the Bowl Museum, I heard a recording of his comments that night – it was the beginning of many ups and downs in his career, but a pinnacle for the scrawny kid from Hoboken.  My uncle, a few years her senior, was in England building glider planes for the Allies – he told me later how much all the enlisted men hated Sinatra for staying home, getting all the attention from the screaming fans.  It surprised me to see on display at the museum the same program I had found in her belongings, carefully preserved.  

A recording of Frank Sinatra’s 1943 Hollywood Bowl appearance … almost 80 years ago. You can even hear the screaming, swooning fans …. including my Mom (but probably not my Grandpa!)

She even shared how, as the president of a chapter of the Sinatra Fan Club, she had attended some of the earlier west coast radio feeds earlier in his career, from LA for the Major Bowes Amateur hour – a few of which I share here – with notations for the timing of the breaks, and songs, on the I imagine now rare scripts.  Thinking of her in Los Angeles, occasionally getting to ask for his autograph, long before the realities of life brought her elsewhere with two sons and no husband or job or car – I began to understand her life from a different perspective. 

As I enjoy the recordings of Frank today – and have retained the photos and magazines and other items, despite my brothers encouragement to sell them since at the time of his passing they had more value – I also remember the joy that those songs brought my Mom, a kind of healing, at least for a moment, a respite of sorts for her spirit.  Perhaps, when she sang along with those records, or played the radio for a special song while struggling to keep up with the responsibilities that lay on her alone, she was carried back to those moments – those hopes and dreams.  But my Mom never expressed regret that things did not work out as she had imagined – she focused on the challenges of the day, caring for us, and trying to sort through the choices we all have to make, in whatever circumstances we face.  

Unlike Mom, I never saw Sinatra perform live – at least, not that Sinatra.  After my Mom’s passing, a friend and I drove to see his son, Frank Jr., perform in Orange County – sitting a few seats away, his daughter Nancy (without her boots), knowing and reliving their own memories of their father through song.  The upcoming symphony performance is nearly sold out – a remarkable testimony to the legacy of Sinatra and Ella, the composers and artists, and the power of music to give us life.  Over two years ago, we enjoyed a similar tribute to my own favorite vocalist, Nat King Cole, and Aretha Franklin there – voices that remind us that our humanity is shared, our desires are not so different, and our yearnings unchanged from generations prior.   I am glad we can again be gathered together, celebrating not only the season, but the timelessness of music – and of the hopes that it nourishes.  My heart will sing along; I will smile, thinking, just maybe, Mom will be listening, too.  

The smallest of Mom’s signed pics – and yet, somehow, my favorite.

Wherever your week takes you – I hope you find some joy. It’s there, for the discovery – and the sharing. Until next time – thanks for stopping by to visit. You are always welcome!

It’s the season of giving – at least, it is when I post this! But, whenever you may read this, subscriptions to new posts is still a bargain – at nothing! Worth every cent and more … hopefully!