Sunday the 4th: North Star

Posted on November 2, 2014. Filed under: Religion, sociology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

North Star

Lindale in Houston

This is not a class in astronomy; rather, it is a highlight to the fact that humans are communal creatures and that their basic characters are shaped, not by a single individual, but, the cumulative effect of numerous associations throughout those pre-adult years.

From cradle to rocking chair, the human psyche transitions through many phases.  The basics of our future selves are laid down, layer upon layer, within our memories in our developing years.  While this is an essential process in the maturation of SELF, it has a serious downside —

…this construction of an individual’s foundation is being overseen by a clueless kid who takes everything as fact — even the “wisdom” espoused by other clueless kids — and incorporates it, without modification, into the structure destined to become ADULT SELF.

Everyone is raised in some kind of culture, and the newbie human absorbs the tenets, practices, rituals, et cetera, of that culture at face value, never questioning the wisdom of the kids, adults, and authorities dispensing it all.  (My mother raised me in a religious environment where many adults of kindred mind instructed me for 18 years on the way I should go.  Between the secular education of public schools and the teachings of the Church, I had a full rucksack of certainties with which to set out on Life’s long road of UN-certainty.)

The young adult following the kid’s improv act will spend the first ten years of adulthood trying to appease the conflicts within as it struggles to reconcile all that old childhood stuff with all the new adult stuff being dealt with in real-time.  Somewhere around the age of 30, the ADULT SELF finally gets to take a lot of childhood stuff out of the attic and label it irrelevant; thusly, childhood gets chalked up to what it really is — a learning experience.

Still, like a hoarder, we hang on to some unresolved issues just because they feel good and, therefore, MUST be relevant.  That reasoning points a finger at the kid’s primary retention technique:  remember the impressions made by persons, events, and concepts rather than the circumstances or reasoning by which they came.  That lack of footnotes becomes the source of all that YOUNG ADULT angst.

In my case, I held on to a recurring impression for several decades.  The names, faces, and time frame of acquisition constituted the totality of those flashbacks.  Accompanying that was a conviction that the persons remembered were of special importance and that, by not remembering, I had lost something that I couldn’t even define.

Through what I consider a special blessing, I have recently had the opportunity to speak to one of those dim memories.

They were an adult couple who taught church youth, a duty they shared with many of the church adults.  One of the  youths they taught was exceedingly shy and shunned attention in any non-family gathering; that remained a social impediment until he was into his thirties.  This couple had been part of the kid’s church background for years, but he did not become aware of them until the later teen years.

The Memory with whom I spoke did not tell me any of that.  I pieced that together after our conversation.  Actually, she did not really remember me at first.  During our conversation, she asked me two unrelated questions which, later, explained one thing to me and caused me to realize another.  The questions and my answers were of no real importance to my enlightenment; what mattered was the seamless manner in which she navigated from my first answer to the second and unrelated question.

As with any adult, the years can take one far from the place and conditions of upbringing.  When encountering someone from “back then,” there is a brief exchange of catch-up questions.  One of them, often, is “Where do you go to church?”  I came to resent the question because my answer does not always please them, and I get the condescending “tut-tut” expressions or verbal disapproval as though they have been appointed my personal judges.

She asked THAT question, and I felt no offense in the slightest.

I answered truthfully, even though I knew she would disapprove of my answer.

Then, without comment or pause or a change in her tone, she changed the subject by asking that second, unrelated question.

  • She did not criticize…   yet I felt criticized;
  • she did not scold…   yet I felt scolded;
  • she did not judge…   yet I felt judged.

It seems that my unexplained Memory was, and continues to be, a superb counselor with the gift of teaching without teaching.

With that demonstration of conversational elan it is easy for me to see why that clueless kid labeled his impression of THIS couple “important.”  Shy and easily embarrassed, he favorably responded to the ease of their interactions:  they accepted him as is and he did not feel awkward in their presence.  To him, they were the same as family.  Exactly why, the kid didn’t know since his  MO was to simply accept things.

JUST HOW DOES ALL OF THIS RELATE TO A STAR?  The North Star is actually not a single star, but an association of several stars closely situated along an observer’s line of sight.  Though Polaris, the brightest one, gets all the press, it is their collective brilliance that has guided humans across this globe for untold centuries.

Likewise, an individual’s inner moral beacon, emanating from the past to illuminate today, does not have a single source; it is the cumulative result of many caring and attentive persons who have lent their efforts to teach us how to walk.  Though we will remember those who especially appeal to our specific needs, it is the combined influence of those mentors that powers a light strong enough to span the length of our lives.

My former — and, it seems, current — Counselor has coaxed the realization of that debt from a very recalcitrant memory.  It is knowledge that serves to deepen the magnitude of the losses that Time has imposed on mortals and is the impetus for these 4 “Sunday” articles concerning Naomi, Ruth, and the Prodigal, each of whom yielded to an inner beacon emanating from their pasts.

Thank you, Counselor, for being a prominent star in my personal sky of uncertainty.  I did not recognize your influence way back there, but, I am well aware of your illumination today.  I am also aware that you were not trying to instruct me, a stranger, in any way; you were simply being yourself, thereby benefitting this stranger just as you benefitted a shy kid long ago.

By the way, that kid never gave the slightest hint about your very charming regional accent.






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Sunday the 2nd: The Greatest of These

Posted on August 17, 2014. Filed under: Religion | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , |

Third rock from the Sun and older than dirt — we know it as Earth.  Humans and trillions of trillions of other entities make up the living fabric that encompasses this Earth and moves in seasonal and epochal rhythm to the pulse of Time’s passage.  In great migratory flow, life moves from scarcity to abundance, pauses to renew itself, and then obediently continues its endless journey across the lands and oceans of island Earth.

Though today’s humans are insulated from the awareness of their bondage to this ancient ebb and flow, it continues to be their lot since from time beyond memory; we are just as subject to the toll that Time exacts as is the wildebeest in its eternal migration across its own successions of Jordans.

Humans learned to scratch records of their own journeys into the substance of the universal mother, Earth, and in those records, the past can speak to us today.  Such written history gives us a glimpse at human resilience in the face of hardship.  Sometimes, those records also give us a look at the personal cost and individual triumph in the human experience.  One well-known account is a perfect illustration of this:

An aged and travel-weary woman espied the green band of trees off in the distance and knew it marked the river where the travelers awaited her.  She should reach it well before evening.  A cool, flat rock invited her to rest, for she was quite weary.  The stress of travel, however, was not nearly so heavy as the weight of the Eternity that she knew was closing in on her.

A light breeze teased the leaves of the few trees nearby, and the gentle coaxing relaxed her into a nostalgic reverie.  She began considering her life past, its blessings and its tragedies.  Her questions to God for answers were muted by her acceptance of His will regardless of her cost.  Thoughts of Elim, her only husband in life, warmed her soul and a door to yesterday was slightly opened.  Once again she smiled at Elim’s pride in completing the first pair of shoes he had ever made for a baby and smiling even broader at the memory of her oldest son taking his first steps in them.

Elim was a good provider and a loving husband and father, and, when living necessities became scarce in their homeland, he joined with a number of his neighbors and took his family to a land east of his home where resources were more plentiful.  During his efforts to restore his family to a comfortable life, he himself was stricken and died.  His widow, with the assistance of helpful neighbors, rose to the task and raised her boys as a single mother.  They grew into young men, providing for the household and bringing their new wives into the home.  But this woman, this scrappy  survivor of hardship, was brought to her knees once again, and her daughters-in-law became widows also.  Her husband and sons were gone, and, with them, her whole purpose in life also fled.

Conditions in her homeland had improved, and fellow ex-patriots began streaming back home.  She knew some members of a group passing her house and, after conversation, decided to go with them.  Since she would need a little time to gather her things and settle accounts, they agreed to wait for her at a river crossing one day’s march to the west.

Trading most of her possessions for a donkey, she laded it with necessary provisions and a few sacred mementoes from her life now gone; that was the easy part.  The hard part was convincing her daughters-in-law, who had packed and were ready for travel, that they were better off remaining here in their native land with kin and starting their lives over.  She herself had a very iffy future and she would not be able to provide for them.  After several false starts and repeated reasoning, she and the donkey left their home behind, heading alone toward uncertainty.

One of the rebuked daughters-in-law was not happy that she had given in to the matriarch’s demand.  Her husband’s mother had welcomed her into their home and shown her all the love a mother would give her child.  In return, she had abandoned that love in favor of a better life.  After a few hours of internal debate, she made her decision:  she would defy her mother-in-law’s wisdom, and, immediately set out to rejoin her.

At first the old woman thought the past was calling to her in the guise of the whispering breeze.  With a start, Naomi realized there was someone calling from along her track, and was horrified to see Ruth running to her and shouting, “Mother!  Mother, wait for me.”

From within their embrace, Naomi began to protest this child’s disobedience, but, her words were muffled by Ruth’s hand lightly, but, insistently, pressing against her mouth.  In a voice of soft resolution, Ruth commanded, “Hush, Mother.  Hush.”

For a moment they looked at each other and Naomi, tears streaming down her face, softly stroked her daughter’s cheek.  Ruth, her eyes closed for a moment and streaming her own tears, clasped Naomi’s hand and pressed it tight to her cheek before quietly saying, “You cannot make me go back, so do not try to keep me from following you.  Where you go, I will go…   where you sleep, I will sleep.  Your people shall be my people, your God my God.  Where you die, I will die and be buried there with you.  If I let anything but death separate me from you, may the Lord deal with me, even to taking my life.”

It is not recorded which possessed the most love for the other.

That third rock continues to spin and the restless fabric of life surges and ebbs across its surface.  Elements of the human story maintain a state of flux, while — for the human spirit — there are three enduring constants:

  • Hope – the perceived promise of fulfillment
  • Faith – the belief that the promise can be attained in spite of harsh realities
  • Love – the willingness to sacrifice all in the name of Faith to attain that Hope

Faith and Hope are intangibles, while Love is the real-world act that gives them life.  As the letter-writer Paul eloquently noted…






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