Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Let Us Bow Our Heads

Blessed be the Lord, my strength, who teaches my hands to war, and my fingers to fight. - Psalms 1:44

On my last trip out West, before his death, I took Big Bro to Breakfast one morning while Dad was at the doctor. Not feeling so good, he wasn't sure about going, but he went, if only to please me.  Before we dug into our plates we prayed. As we bowed our heads, the entrance door opened,with a waft of cold air and light arriving with the murmur of pouring rain. I looked up. I noticed the people at the next table were not looking at the door, but rather, at our table, either the gun on the hip of my dark blue pants, or our prayer. They seemed more intent on our action of prayer.

I was born to a Catholic mother. It was only this year I got my birth certificate unsealed and found out her identity and that of my biological father. I'd always assumed I came from foster care with my brother, as my parents always talked about their bringing us home at the same time, but that was not the case.  My biological Mother, 17 when she became pregnant with me, was of English descent, an avid huntress, descended from one of the first settlers in America, my biological father, a civil engineer, born of German immigrants who fled Europe after WWI to farm in Texas. They are both gone, and my two siblings (for they later married after they finished their education) wish no contact with me so that, as they say, is that. The family tree though, is as unique as it is interesting, our being descended from one of the first settlers in the US, and I'm apparently sixth cousin to Bill Gates, though I doubt he would be any more interested in meeting me than they are.

But in looking back, it was for the best, as I gained a family, though not related by blood, that shaped me in ways I'd not have known otherwise.  I grew up in a small logging town populated with the descendants of recent immigrants who came to our country at the turn of the last century to work the logging trade. Mom's and Dad's ancestors came west via Minnesota and North Dakota and Indiana after arriving in America, both of their parents originally homesteading in Montana. My Mom's mother was from Sweden, her Dad from Norway, so the Lutheran church is what we were raised in. And so, I spent my early early years with the stories of Lutheran Basement Church Women, creamed peas and toast, and that bastardized offspring of a can of cream of mushroom soup and leftovers, the Lutheran Supper Hot Dish.
We didn't have the Saints of my birth, but in a Scandinavian town we had stories of the Nordic Gods as told through books and stories-Frigidaire- god of ice fishing, Lesfse, the goddess of unseasoned food, and Inclement, the god of school closures due to all the snow you betcha. The homes were warm, and full of the scent of coffee cake. On our kitchen walls were brightly painted plaques with sayings in Swedish that probably translated to "Keep making fun of the lutefisk and we'll ship Socialism over there".

It was a good place to grow up, community both inside, and outside of the church. I remember Sunday service, the Communion cup glinting like a newly minted coin, the people around me that loved me like my own family, as from above, the bloodied and life sized Christ crowned with thorns looked down on us with forgiving eyes that had seen too much, his face, smooth and impenetrable. I'd take a sip of the cup, taking in the blood that contained an indomitable spirit which came from the fire that exists in us all, looking up at Jesus there on the cross with a conspiratorial nod and a silent thanks, having no other words.
I was raised with meals taken as a whole family, except for one night a week that we ate on TV Trays,  in front of the TV, a special treat on Friday if we'd behaved and performed well in school that week. It was always the same meal. A small piece of steak (from the steer we'd butcher each year), oven baked french fries, buttered toast, green beans and milk and a few slices of orange for dessert. I'm not really sure why we always had buttered white toast with our steak, but it would have seemed wrong if it was missing.

Even for those meals, as we set about to watch cowboys or spies save the world, we said Grace.

"Why pray?", someone asked me not too many years ago, "you did, and look at everything bad that's happened to you, people you loved whose days were numbered too few?" Can I say I never questioned God, in anger, wishing that he felt the same pain that I did, shoving my fury into the sky like a fist?
I married too young, to a Catholic, returning to my roots, I guess, and remember studying the many Saints, St.Wulfric, St. Fina, St Barbara. I looked St. Barbara up and it said that after her father whom she had loved and trusted had tortured and killed her, he'd been struck down by lightning. That likely explained why she became the patron saint of artillery and the protectress against sudden death. Years later, watching my then  husbands business fail yet again through inattention and excess and sporting bruises that hopefully did not show, I prayed to St. Barbara for some lightning, but my pleas went unheeded.

When I go back to my hometown now, I return to that same church I was raised in, with my Dad.  The people who loved me as a child, for the most part, are still there, though elderly. My piano teacher, in a nursing home now, but always open for a visit, my childhood best friend's Mom, now widowed, another woman who sat by my Step mom's bed for days with Dad and I as she struggled in her last days, the people that drive my Dad to his doctor's appointments when we can not. There's comfort there in that community of saints.
As I sit in the pew, I look at my Dad, who has lived a life of total love, service and honor, sensing how his heart will soon fail him. It's a strong heart, a good heart, a railway station of life and blood, blue lines in and red lines out, switching tracks flawlessly for nine decades until one day there will be a derailment and the tracks will be silenced. He sees me looking at him and puts his hand on mine as we bow our head in the silence that is not silence but is innumerable.

Is that fair? Yet, he's had nine decades more than his first daughter, born in extraordinary perfection, simply too early and too small, the awful perfect prayer of his firstborn, who breathed only days, my mom rendered barren from the travail of the birth. Yet from that death came life, adopting children no one wanted, and soon the table was filled, with small hands, small hearts and much laughter.  "Bless us, O Lord, for these Thy gifts. " and ""Mom he took my garlic bread!" and "May I please be excused?"

Had my parents closed off their hearts in that original loss, that table would have been silent.
I  believe that the Divine, force and free will are all intertwined. I have to bite my tongue when I hear of someone speaking of one who left us by other than natural causes, "it's so bad the Lord took him early" when all I can think is "you know, if he hadn't intentionally busted several laws of the State and physics he'd still be here, the Lord notwithstanding".  I don't dare say such things out loud but it makes me remember why Darwin was not made a Saint. God may watch over us, but he doesn't direct our every single thought and move. nor protect us from them.  We make choices through our own  free will, the bad ones we get through and carry with regret, hopefully still intact. God did not force those choices, he simply forgives them.

I've certainly had to ask for that forgiveness in my talks with God. For I talk to Him regularly, in the woods, when the light has a weary quality to it, like a backwater pool of light lying low, winter's light is crisp, clean, illuminating everything so clearly.  The words are less than wishes and more than regrets, and even if I didn't state them out loud,  I could hear them with my breathing as they gathered within the intent of breath and came forth in a rush of cold air, invisible words going up to an invisible God.
Sometimes He and I  talk as I'm sitting in a vehicle in the middle of a scene of dark desolation, ash in my hair, red smeared on my boots, as bold as if painted on a door frame, a sign, that for tonight, I was to be spared.  Perhaps this one time I did not save His sparrow which He perhaps neglected to mark, but I am here to reconcile the remains. It's just talk, but it's still a prayer; prayer being more than the order of words, the conscious calling of the mind that is speaking, or the sound of the voice praying. I do not expect to hear anything back, the communication between us tongued with fire beyond the blaze that is dying next to me. But it's comforting, words spoken into the void, penitence and belief, as all around hope is falling into embers. He may not respond, but He is there, Never and Always.
So I do not care if someone looks at me oddly if I bow my head. I only smile when someone says, how can you do that with all that you've seen, the pain and harm that man can inflict on one another?

But I can, for I have come to realize that the same God that seemed to sit silently while hearts ceased beating, also blew life into everyone else around me that I love deeply, now shaping their strong hands and putting spark in their vision. So it is, I don't clench my hands in anger in all that I've witnessed, have borne, but simply give thanks. God writes death on all our hearts, just as he writes life, our story penned as much by our actions as His creation, our heart a journal that only we keep, it's entries scribed by both man and God, it's ending as much as a mystery as we are.

I, for one, am thankful for the words.

This Good Friday will be two years since my brother left me, the few precious things he left me, on the shelves with other treasured things where I can see them when I wake up each morning.  Small, simple things - powerful things. I look at the table on which rests my pistol, sitting quietly, waiting to protect me and others, when higher powers can not. I am blessed that I live in a country where my God given right to have that protection is recognized. But then again, I am blessed in so many ways.

I think tonight, I'll cook up a little steak and some toast and eat off a TV tray, watching  a DVD of an old Western on the computer screen, some old show I would have watched with my brother on the Friday nights we had the treat of eating in the family room.  With the meal I will say a prayer, of thanks for that and many things. For my brother and his brave heart. For those that prayed for me over the years, even when I didn't deserve it. For forgiveness of sin, for the blessing of the one that love mes, even in my imperfections.

Bless us oh Lord for these thy gifts. . . .

21 comments:

  1. Fire is to steel what adversity is to people. It tempers, or destroys.

    You were tempered.

    Merle

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  2. I enjoyed today's post so much as it brought me back to my Danish Lutheran, mid-western roots. I will be visiting your blog more often.

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  3. You try to Do---What is Just-What is Right and What is Good.

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    1. Thank you. That means a lot to me today.

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  4. That was beautiful. It reminded me so much of my childhood and my brother, the dinners around the table and the fun times we had. Thank you.

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  5. sometimes a good sermon is all in the prayer.

    thanks B. Just what I needed today.

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  6. Revelation 21:4 says that, in Heaven, "He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever."

    Our Lord knows that our earthly lives are often touched by sadness, and has done two things: He comforts us, and gives us the strength to go on - if we'll let Him. And He promises to erase those sad memories away, when we go to live with Him.

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  7. "...and my two siblings (for they later married after they finished their education) wish no contact with me"
    Short-sighted b*******! :-)
    If they only knew!
    Prayer is a reminder to me that I am powerless over 'x', that my life is unmanageable.
    And that someone else is in charge.
    Regardless of your beginnings, you and your family are fine people. That's what I say to God every day when I ask him to bless you.
    Remember the good times...

    gfa

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  8. Thank You Ms B.
    You brought 50 years ago of my life right back to the present with this post. We prayed around the table at every evening meal.

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  9. You write so well and eloquently. I've been reading your posts for some time now...but this one made me comment.

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  10. Personally, I am a big hot mess in regards to spirituality. But, at the core of that hot mess, is my steadfast belief, that, somewhere, out there, my creator is listening, aptly, to my prayers. And if that listening is in fact happening, well, there you go, my solace..........

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  11. Your prayer was beautiful, Brigid. Thank you.

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  12. Thank you- this is beautiful and true. The bible says all of our days are written in His book. I believe you grew up where He wrote you, as He sees " the end from the beginning." You and your posts are a blessing to us.

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  13. And my thoughts and prayers are with you and yours today and throughout this Easter week-end, my friend.

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  14. Dammit! Gotta change those air filters again!

    Thank you for sharing this. G-d Bless You!

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  15. Beautiful post as always. Your writing never fails to get me to think. Bless you and your family.

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I started this blog so the child I gave up for adoption could get to know me, and in turn, her children, as well as share stories for a family that lives too far away. So please keep it friendly and kid safe. Posts that are only a link or include an ad for an unknown business automatically to to SPAM..