Category Archives: Faith

Decision

Sensory Overload (Interacting with Autism Project) from Miguel Jiron on Vimeo.

I worked with several kids with Asperger syndrome or other autism spectrum disorders during the course of my four years at Webster.

I adored those kids.

They don’t know it, but just by being part of my class, they gave Riggy a better mommy. That seems fair, since Scout gave them a better teacher. “The gift goes on,” as Sandi Patty says.

This video made me cry.

I am applying to grad school this week. For reasons.

Emily

Magic Mirror

To the thieves I am a bandit
The mothers think I’m a son
To the preachers I’m a sinner
Lord, I’m not the only one
— Leon Russell, “Magic Mirror”

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the notion of identity, and it occurs to me that there’s a huge disconnect between who we are and who we appear to be.

Our identity is God-given, a multifaceted thing, with a wide range of talents and interests and concerns and priorities, many of which we reveal only when the occasion warrants. We all express divinity, but we express it in different ways and to varying degrees, and it’s in those differences that we find our individuality. As Mary Baker Eddy puts it on page 477 of Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures:

Identity is the reflection of Spirit, the reflection in multifarious forms of the living Principle, Love.

The full range of that individuality is apparent to God, but in the human experience, our relationships tend to be context-driven, which means our perceptions of each other frequently present an incomplete picture.

Example: My guitar teacher, Zaphod, is one of my dearest friends. In the five years, we’ve known each other, we’ve worked together, laughed together, commiserated together, and weathered various crises together. He’s basically the big brother I never had, and I truly didn’t think anything that came out of my mouth could surprise him at this point.

I was mistaken.

Last week, I’d been dinking around with the chord chart for Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” and I mentioned it to Zaphod, who wasn’t familiar with the song and asked me to sing it so he could learn it. He was shocked to discover that I had a decent set of pipes, because he’d never heard me use them for anything but reprimanding unruly sophomores, icing down impertinent consultants, or raising questions in faculty meetings.

Zaphod knows me primarily as a teacher, beekeeper, and Route 66 enthusiast. Others know me in different contexts: To the journalists, I’m an editor; to the roadies, I’m an activist; to the vet, I’m Song and Riggy and Walter’s mommy. All of those are accurate descriptions, but none is a complete picture.

In “Magic Mirror,” Russell muses:

Magic mirror, if we only could
Try to see ourselves as others would

Seeing ourselves as others would can temper our words and actions and make us more compassionate. But I’d like to go a step further. One of the keys to healing is to see ourselves as God would: as complete, perfect expressions of divine Love. Once we see ourselves that way, it’s easier to act accordingly — and to see others with the same healing sense of wholeness and harmony.

Emily

Bless Me, Ultima

During my trip to New Mexico last weekend, I wandered over to Santa Rosa to see the public art installation honoring local author Rudolfo Anaya of Bless Me, Ultima fame. I was aware of the park and the statue of Anaya himself, but last Sunday was the first time I’d noticed the bronze plates embedded in the walkway around the fountain. Each one contains a handwritten quotation from Bless Me, Ultima, which you really must read if you haven’t already.

Here are a few images from the park:

ultima4

The Anaya statue.

ultima3

Instagram of the tablet in his hand. The text reads: “Love life, and if despair enters your heart, look for me in the evenings when the wind is gentle and the owls sing in the hills. I shall be with you.” When I die, I don’t want a funeral. I want to be cremated, and I want somebody to stand on Tucumcari Mountain and read this passage to whoever needs to hear it before turning my finely powdered butt loose to ride the New Mexico wind.

ultima2

Instagram of one of the bronze plates. This one says: “It is because good is always stronger than evil, always remember that, Antonio. The smallest bit of good can stand against all the power of evil in the world and it will emerge triumphant.” At some point in the not-too-distant future, we should probably discuss the metaphysics of that statement.

ultima1

And this one: “‘Bless me, Ultima–‘ Her hand touched my forehead and her last words were, ‘I bless you in the name of all that is good and strong and beautiful, Antonio. Always have the strength to live.”

I like how the words sort of depend on the dust from the llano to make them legible. I don’t know whether that was intentional, but it really fits, given the importance of setting in Anaya’s work.

Emily

Every human want?

Mary Baker Eddy assures us that “Divine Love (God) always has met and always will meet every human need.”

I’ve always loved that statement, but what really impresses me is when divine Love meets my human wants.

My life is not perfect. I fight with depression sometimes. I get frustrated. Sometimes I lose sight of my blessings. A healing is slow to appear, or plans fall through, or some unexpected crisis pops up and throws me for a loop.

But I’ve started to notice a pattern in my life: Conditions will seem unsettled for a while, and then out of nowhere, a completely frivolous gift will land in my lap, and within a few weeks, the bumps will smooth out and I’ll settle into some wonderful new adventure I never could have imagined on my own.

As I mentioned the other day, my life has been feeling rather unsettled in recent months.

I expect that feeling won’t last much longer.

Last week, I told Ron that I really wanted to learn to play acoustic guitar. This is not something I need to do; I’d just like to be able to play a few chords so I can accompany myself while I’m singing old folk songs. Ron said that would be fine, but given the pay cut I took when I left the classroom, I wasn’t sure shelling out money for an instrument and lessons was the most responsible idea I’d ever had, and I was a little hesitant about going through with it.

Yesterday afternoon, a friend I hadn’t talked to in several weeks called my cell phone, apropos of nothing. He said he was just worried about me, as I hadn’t seemed like my usual self the last couple of times we’d talked, and he wanted to make sure I was OK.

During the course of our conversation, we discovered that while I was thinking about buying a guitar and hiring somebody to teach me to play it, he was thinking about hiring somebody to edit his dissertation.

He has a spare guitar and has played for years. I have a degree in English and have edited copy for years. If all goes according to plan, a few months from now, he’ll have a Ph.D., and I’ll have a nice repertoire of Woody Guthrie covers I can bust out for tips at open mic nights.

Every human need … and a few wants, just for good measure.

Emily

I’ve gotta be me

I’ve been feeling out of sorts for several months, and for the longest time, I couldn’t figure out why. It finally clicked for me the other night:

I’ve forgotten how to be me.

From 1984 to 2008, my life pretty much revolved around journalism. Then a pink slip sent me into a tailspin, and I landed at the front of a sophomore English classroom. Teaching wasn’t quite as worn-out-Birkenstock-comfortable as journalism, but it appealed to my sense of social justice and felt important enough to be worth doing, so I dove in and let it permeate my life in ways you can’t imagine if you’ve never been there. Done right, teaching is a 24/7/365 job, and if you are not very careful, you can lose yourself in it.

I wasn’t very careful, and by the time I surfaced four years later, I realized that in becoming Ms. Priddy, I’d misplaced Emily, in all sorts of little ways that didn’t occur to me at the time.

I wasn’t too worried. I landed a new job and figured I’d find myself at work.

I didn’t.

My new job is fine, but I’ve been accustomed to having my identity inextricably tangled up in my profession, and PR just isn’t the sort of thing that absorbs your soul and penetrates your heart, so for the first time in my life, Who I Am and What I Do were not synonymous. It was a little disorienting.

The farther I’ve strayed from myself, the more my health — physical, mental, and especially spiritual — has suffered, and a few weeks ago, tired and adrift, I broke down and called a friend of mine who has the dual advantage of being both a Christian Science practitioner and an incorrigible hippie, which was precisely the combination I needed to talk some sense into me. I don’t remember her exact words, but they made me feel better, and I managed to wake up from a long evening of sobbing without the sinus headache that usually follows such indulgences. That may seem a small victory, but given the number of headaches I’ve endured over the past five years, it gave me reason for hope.

Since then, I’ve begun finding scraps of myself here and there, in little things that seem trivial in and of themselves but collectively are much more important than they appear: a trip to a plant nursery to lift my spirits on a cold, gray afternoon; a jar of alfalfa seeds sprouting on my kitchen counter; a conversation with a colleague about our mutual fondness for Neil Diamond; a stroll through the backyard to daydream about gardening projects I might try this spring.

I’m still missing some pieces. But I don’t think they’re lost; I’ve just mislaid them, and I’m kind of enjoying the process of rummaging through my thought to find them again.

Emily

Caesar vs. God

Anybody who has known me longer than about five minutes knows that I have exactly zero patience with people who try to mix religion and politics. What people may not know is why I feel so strongly about keeping my religion and my politics separate.

I am a Christian.

I am also a liberal.

These are not mutually exclusive terms — but way too many religious leaders have tried to convince me that they are. I have no time for these people. They are not interested in my spiritual growth. They are interested in using my faith to manipulate me into supporting political positions that they find personally advantageous.

I find it remarkable that so many of these demagogues recoil at the very mention of the phrase “separation of church and state.” (Try it sometime. Use those words in front of some politicking preacher, and see if he doesn’t look at you like you just dropped an f-bomb on his grandma.)

Contrary to popular belief, Thomas Jefferson did not come up with that concept. Jesus did.

Really.

The notoriously manipulative, sanctimonious Pharisees came to Jesus with a question meant to trap him in his words: Should a man of God pay taxes? If he said yes, they could accuse him of promoting idolatry by putting the government ahead of God, or some such nonsense; if he said no, they could accuse him of attempting to undermine the government.

Jesus wasn’t having ANY of it. He saw through their nonsense and offered an unimpeachable response: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and render to God the things that are God’s.” With that simple but profound statement, Jesus delineated the roles of religion and politics and made it clear that they are two distinct concepts that serve different purposes and have little bearing on each other.

I render to God when I live my life in a manner consistent with my understanding of His will for me. I render to Caesar when I participate in the political process and try to support others’ right to live their lives in a manner that is consistent with their understanding of God’s will for them.

If people have a problem with that, they can take it up with Jesus. He’s got way more patience with Pharisees than I do.

Emily

Stolen voices

“Jesus beheld in Science the perfect man, who appeared to him where sinning mortal man appears to mortals.”
— Mary Baker Eddy

The other night, Ron and I bought a copy of The Exorcist and watched it for the first time in 12 or 13 years. Something about it reminds me of The Little Mermaid.

Stay with me.

In The Exorcist, a hideous demon takes over the body of a young girl named Regan. In its confrontation with the priests brought in to cast it out, the demon pulls out all the stops: It snarls. It growls. It shakes Regan’s bed. It induces her to commit all sorts of repulsive acts. And perhaps most unsettlingly of all, it addresses one of the priests in the voice of his recently deceased mother.

In The Little Mermaid, a mermaid falls in love with a human prince and trades her voice to a conniving witch for the temporary use of a human body. If she can win the prince’s heart, she becomes human permanently; if she can’t, she becomes the witch’s prisoner. Predictably, the witch disguises herself as a human and uses the mermaid’s voice in an attempt to trick the prince into marrying her.

In both films, error speaks with a stolen voice, and its opponents can’t defeat it until they recognize the deception.

This is one of error’s favorite tricks. It might seduce you with an attractive voice. It might use a relative’s voice to paralyze you with guilt. Or it might commandeer a trusted mentor’s voice in an attempt to manipulate you.

Error does not care whose voice it steals. It has no shame, and it has no compunction about turning whatever (or whoever) happens to be handy into a weapon it can use to hurt you.

Both The Exorcist and The Little Mermaid make profound statements about the power of discernment. If the priests can’t see through the illusions that seem to be controlling Regan, she is lost — and humanity, perhaps, with her. Similarly, if the prince can’t see through the illusion that seems to be controlling the mermaid’s voice, then she, and he, and all of the ocean are lost.

In the real world, discernment is often the key to healing. It isn’t always easy to distinguish between a person and the error that seems to be gripping him, but it’s got to be done, or the patient is lost — and perhaps all of us with him.

Emily

One month and counting

So … today marks a month since I stopped eating animal products (aside from honey and the eggs my own chickens produce, of course).

It isn’t a permanent change. I’m just doing it as part of a marathon training program. But it’s going really well — much better than any of my previous forays into vegetarianism — and I think I know why.

In the past, I’ve focused all my attention on what I wasn’t eating, then tried to come up with synthetic substitutes. This time around, I’m enjoying vegetables on their own terms and having fun developing recipes that highlight their natural flavor. In other words, instead of focusing on what I can’t eat, I’m enjoying what I can eat.

There’s a good metaphysical reason this approach is working. (You knew that was coming, right?)

When you focus on what you don’t have, you feel a sense of lack. It’s hard to appreciate things when you’re busy wishing you had something else. But gratitude breeds contentment. As Mary Baker Eddy put it:

Are we truly grateful for the good already received? Then we shall avail ourselves of it, and thus be fitted to receive more.

What better way to show gratitude for food than to “avail ourselves of it” by enjoying it as-is instead of wishing it tasted like something else?

I’m not saying there’s nothing I miss. You know how I love a good cappuccino, and it’s downright painful to pass a taco truck without stopping for barbacoa. But I don’t dwell on that. Instead, I concentrate on gratitude and enjoyment of what I have. Oreo cookies, for instance, are 100 percent vegan. The Lebanese restaurant right across the street from my office serves terrific falafel. And in recent years, there’s been a proliferation of great restaurants whose entire focus is made-to-order meals, which means you can order a wholly vegan meal without tying up the line or causing a hassle for the kitchen.

All of those things are reasons for gratitude — and gratitude, regardless of your dietary choices, is the best seasoning there is.

Emily

Whatever blesses one

September 2007. I’m driving along, minding my own business, when a question flashes across my thought, in second person, as if it’s coming from somewhere outside my own consciousness: What would you say if I told you I wanted you back in the classroom?

“Let me get back to you on that,” I choke, and for three days, I wrestle with the idea, remembering how rough my first year was and why I swore I’d never teach again.

I finally come up with a less-than-reverent response: “I don’t know how you think you’re going to pull this off, but you’re the omnipotent one. I’m not helping you with this, but if you’re bound and determined to do it, you just knock yourself out.”

Never, ever dare God to do anything.

March 2008. I get pink-slipped from the best job I’ve ever had.

September 2008. After a series of job changes, chance encounters, and offhand conversations, I find myself back in a sophomore English classroom. This time around, I’m ready for it, and I love it more than I ever imagined possible.

November 2011. I still love teaching, and I adore my students, but the constant demands of the job are wearing me down, and I can feel myself starting to burn out.

February 2012. Once again, I’m driving along, minding my own business, when another thought flashes across my consciousness:

You’ve done what I needed you to do. You don’t have to teach next year if you don’t want to.

Lovely thought, but I don’t trust it. I don’t have to teach next year if I don’t want to? What the hell is that supposed to mean? This is not how I understand God to work. People do not just get permission to make completely selfish decisions because they are tired. I shrug it off.

April 2012. We get word that our building will lose four teaching positions due to funding cuts.

I do the math. I’ve got enough seniority to be safe. But the most vulnerable person in my department also happens to be one of the best teachers in the building. He’s gotten through to kids I couldn’t reach, and he’s pushed kids past their own self-imposed limitations and demanded that they reach the potential most of them don’t even realize they have. We can’t lose him to budget cuts! My kids need him!

You don’t have to teach again next year if you don’t want to.

Suddenly it makes sense. I don’t have permission to make a selfish decision. I have permission to make the right decision. I need a break, and my kids need my colleague. It’s a no-brainer. I turn in my resignation, effective at the close of the school year.

Mary Baker Eddy once wrote, “Whatever blesses one blesses all, … Spirit not matter, being the source of supply.”

She was right.

I will miss my kids, but I’ve already lined up an interesting new job, so in the end, I get a graceful exit from the classroom, a friend gets to keep a job he loves, and my kids get the teacher they need next year.

We are all blessed indeed.

Emily

Folk Thursday: Walela

I’m not right
You’re not wrong
We both know what this love of ours is built upon…
Each one thinks he
Has the answer
Each one believes
He can see the way, the only one
Truth lies waiting
Was always waiting
Like a love
A peaceful dove
Right there inside your soul
From another
Place and time
Moving into the circle of light

— Walela

I was driving the old alignment of Route 66 between San Jon and Glenrio the other day, praying to see healing in a situation involving a damaged friendship, when this song came floating out of my speakers and brought me to a halt.

I pulled over, turning the lyrics over in my thought, and stood on the terra cotta highway, inhaling the cool, clean breeze that rustled the desert sage along the shoulders of the road and basking in a sense of peace I haven’t felt in ages.

I can’t say that things are 100 percent normal between my friend and me just now. But they will be. The Father’s work is done, and we are cautiously but steadily “moving into the circle of light.”

Emily