‘Get a Life, Amanda Groom’

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Sister Alma Rose Teaches Meditation


Sister Alma Rose is teaching me to meditate. Nothing could be easier, really… and there are many ways to meditate, including the labyrinth for people who can’t sit or lie still.

Medieval labyrinth

Medieval labyrinth

As you know, Sister Alma Rose sometimes does lying-down meditations, which are really, I think, screening her real purpose, which is to nap. But I could be wrong.

She has taught me to meditate in a position similar to that of the woman in the photo above, except I don’t have gorgeous collarbones as she does, nor do I want to sit in a puddle. Also, Sister Alma Rose would never instruct her students to hold their heads in that unnatural “heads back” position, but, rather, our necks are straight and held comfortably, chins tucked in just a bit.

Here is the point…

Me, Fanny McElroy

Me, Fanny McElroy

The body is a metaphor for the spirit. The position of the woman’s hands, extended, resting on her knees, indicates a willingness to freely accept God’s gifts, which are grace.

She is sitting with an “open heart,” her shoulders back, her heart exposed, concealing nothing and eager to enfold others, whether their hearts be whole or damaged.

The body scan

Sometimes Sister Alma Rose has me begin meditation with a body scan. You consciously relax every muscle, every bone, every organ, every cell in your body, beginning with the toes and working your way up to the “crown” — the top of the head.

When you do a body scan, you might find some areas of discomfort. Often, the pain will disappear in a few minutes just by your allowing your attention to rest in the uncomfortable areas.

happydancer1_istockAfter you are finished with the body scan and with your meditation, think about the areas of discomfort that you noticed. Discomfort and pain mean that your body is trying to tell you something.

The body doesn’t lie

For example,  Sister Alma Rose says that if your eyes are burning and itching, there is probably something going on in your life that you refuse to “see.”  If the pain is in your abdomen, you have a “gut feeling” about something… a decision you’ve made or a situation you’re in. “Go with your gut,” Sister Alma Rose almost always advises.

If you have a persistent headache, you could be overanalyzing something that might benefit from an intuitive approach. Not every problem can be solved solely by the intellect.

And — pardon me — if you are constipated, it might be because you are “holding in” feelings that need to be expressed. If you are angry with someone, it is best to express your feelings in a civil way. Don’t worry if the person you’re mad at doesn’t “change.” Don’t sigh and complain, “I tell him and I tell him, and it doesn’t do any good.” Of course it does some good, to bring your feelings out in the open instead of hiding them and letting them fester and forgetting about them until they turn on you in some awful way.

happydancer4_istockSomeone once said, “The only reason to tell someone what you feel is to tell someone what you feel.” You are giving information. What the other person does with that information is up to him or her.

Sometimes people can be annoying

Now — There will always be people in your life who irritate you and who offer you no way of escaping because THEY ARE YOUR RELATIVES. My own parents are perfect, but if I were to marry Pablo in ten years I would have to deal with his sister’s snide comments and his mother’s overprotectiveness. I’m sure Pablo’s mamacita would feel that anything I did for Pablo would be flawed because I would not be doing it HER way. (But anyway, I am never going to marry Pablo. He is just my best friend.)

Sister Alma Rose suggests two different way to deal with people who annoy you, if you can’t avoid them altogether:

(1) Stop focusing exclusively on the words or the actions of the irritating person. Instead see the whole person, and project love and light from your heart to that person. Breathe in, to capture the light that shines from above and is always around you. Breathe out, to embrace the other person in the light.

(2) Silently repeat this mantra:

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. —Psalm 51:10

happydancer3_istockIf the other person is at all toxic, this meditation will protect your heart from the other’s poison and will allow you to be clean and new, free of “baggage,” at any time you choose. Even before Sister Alma Rose began teaching me to meditate, I always liked to repeat this verse from Psalms to remind me to claim my innocence and state of grace. “Restore in me the joy of your salvation,” the Psalm goes on to say, “and uphold me with your free spirit.”

“Never,” says Sister Alma Rose, “never allow anyone to steal your joy.”

Sister Alma Rose Is Steamin’

Sister Alma Rose does not always practice what she preaches. Mrs. Groom, the wife of the Presbyterian pastor in Hilltop, appeared uninvited on Sister Alma Rose’s wonderful, spacious, grass-green porch one day, while Sister Alma Rose and Pablo and I were playing UNO, and she, Mrs. Groom, I mean, proceeded to lecture Sister Alma Rose about Portia, who is Cousin Dulcie’s daughter, which means, I think, that Portia is Sister Alma Rose’s first cousin once removed. In any case, there is no controlling Portia. She is part wood nymph, part bright redbird, and I have seen her fly, and I am not making that up. (I am almost sure she is one of the Ancients.)

pp_manwomanAfter listening calmly to Mrs. Groom for about five minutes, which was when Mrs. Groom ran out of breath, Sister Alma Rose poked her index finger, which is large, just like the rest of Sister Alma Rose, into the area of Mrs. Groom’s solar plexus, and Sister Alma Rose stood very close to her and said, “Amanda Groom, y’all are and always have been an interfering old busybody, and nobody in or around Hilltop has ever mended his or her ways because of y’all’s scolding, and Portia harms no one, and I want y’all off my property this minute or I shall call Sheriff Dunleavy and have y’all’s fat wiggly ass hauled to the county jail.”

Mrs. Groom stalked off the porch and down the drive, and she was about halfway to the road when Sister Alma Rose called after her: “Amanda Groom!”

Mrs. Groom turned and fixed a cold stare upon Sister Alma Rose.

“Amanda Groom,” Sister Alma Rose repeated, “get a life.”


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To the Soul

Journal of a Departed Friend, Part 1


An antique journal (Renaissance?)

Sister Alma Rose recently received part of a journal from the year 1985 that was bequeathed to her by an old friend. Here is an excerpt:


Loyalty to petrified opinion never yet broke a chain
or freed a human soul.
—Mark Twain

Blackeyed Susan growing wild along a country road

Blackeyed Susan growing wild along a country road

Where is it, then, this human soul 
(if, indeed, there is such a place,
a spring of pure motives and selfless love,
a sanctuary of rest from struggle and anxiety)?

“I can’t explain myself,
I’m afraid, sir,” said Alice,
“because I’m not myself, you see.”


I control what I wear and what I eat,
when I rake leaves and how I set my
house in order. The soul is a place of uncontrol (I believe) where yet is not chaos but cosmic arrangement. It is
a place of selflessness from which
emanates the genuine Self, and it is
THIS Self that I fear and that I
hide from, behind activity and blind
allegiances and alcohol and
organization and television… that I
bury and cover with the borrowed
skins of the souls of others,
calling them Identity.

Rainbow (photo source unknown)

Rainbow (photo source unknown)

But this Soul, this Self, will not be
denied; it draws one irresistibly. 
I have found demons and have
unmasked them, and at each turn I
wonder if there are more-fearsome
demons and angrier fiends. I have
seen the sun disarm them and the
rain dissolve them, and I believe a little
less in the strength of demons and
more in the power of the sun and the rain.

Glasswing butterfly

Glasswing butterfly

It doesn’t do any good to run away,
after all. It is like the man whose
suspenders are caught on the doorknob: The faster he runs, the suddener his return. “No matter where you go,” it is truly said, “there you are.” 




O, Power, embolden my encounter with the soul.


The Ancients, Part 1 — Daddy Pete

Goofier and Goofier

Every day, in every way, I am getting better and better. Emile Coué

The Day after Christmas 

Me, Fanny McElroy

Me, Fanny McElroy

Yesterday, on Christmas, after exchanging gifts and feasting on turkey and stuffing and mashed potatoes and gravy and homemade pie and an obscene amount of other food containing approximately 35,000 carbohydrate grams per cubic inch, Sister Alma Rose and I went to visit her friend Polly Ellen, who lives alone and whose parents and brothers and sisters live in some place like Latvia or else Lapland, though Polly Ellen was born and raised in Hilltop, and I don’t know why her family lives in Latvia or Lapland. Another thing I don’t understand is why she is called Polly Ellen, because her real name is Hilda, but I have known her all my life and she has always been Polly Ellen.

Oskar Karlin)

Lapporten Pass, Lapland (photo: Oskar Karlin)

Polly Ellen is as whimsical as her name. She doesn’t just walk; she pirouettes. She writes books, mostly silly children’s books with silly rhymes and silly made-up animals like hippiguanas. Sister Alma Rose says that Polly Ellen makes lots of money writing her books, but she is forever losing the checks from the publisher, which you would understand if you were to see her house, which used to be a chicken house, but now it is a cozy cottage with lots of windows and chintz and Battenburg lace, and it is very, very tidy, by which I mean there are tidy piles of paper everywhere and Polly Ellen has no idea what’s in them. Sometimes she finds a clump of checks, and then she cashes them and goes to Nicaragua or Morocco.

Polly Ellen

Polly Ellen

Just above the mirror in Polly Ellen’s gleaming white bathroom is a beautifully lettered and illustrated maxim, in an antique oval frame made out of oak, which says,

Every day, in every way, I am getting goofier and goofier

When Sister Alma Rose and Polly Ellen are talking about something uninteresting (last time it was The Economy, which, Polly Ellen says, is nothing but an Attitude and she doesn’t know what all the fuss is about), I amuse myself by looking through her collection of published books. She has written a series of “What-If Books,” which all start with questions such as, “What if our ears were on our feet instead of on our heads?” and, “What if people grew on vines, like grapes in summertime?”

James Dean

James Dean

So I think it’s safe to say that Polly Ellen is eccentric and that goofiness is essential to her profession, though she looks and acts perfectly normal most of the time, and she is actually rather pretty for someone her age, which is not-quite-50 and has been for several years. She has a boyfriend called Lyle who fixes cars. Actually, Sister Alma Rose says, Lyle is “a magician with cars.” Lyle works out and has impressive biceps, and he actually keeps a pack of Camel cigarettes in the rolled-up sleeve of his white T-shirt. Sister Alma Rose says, jokingly, that Lyle must have been James Dean in another life, and I have to look up “James Dean,” and I learn that he was terminally Hip back in the 1950s, before he was killed in 1955 in a two-car collision, and the driver of the other car, I am absolutely not making this up, was named Donald Turnupseed.

Polly Ellen’s encounter with God

Here is the thing about Polly Ellen: She always tells the truth, and sometimes it would be better if she didn’t, such as the afternoon at the Houghtons’ Annual Christmas Open House a few years ago, when Mr. Houghton had just started wearing a toupée and you could tell he was a little self-conscious about it, and Polly Ellen, after a few glasses of eggnog, went over to Mr. Houghton and yanked the toupée RIGHT OFF HIS HEAD and threw it in the trash compacter. “James,” she said to Mr. Houghton, “you look better bald,” which was perfectly true, but you could feel the level of Christmas Cheer sinking to subzero, and Polly Ellen has not been invited back to the Houghtons’.

Anyway, when she opened the door to greet us yesterday, Polly Ellen was positively aglow. I had feared that she might be a little down, because Lyle went to spend Christmas with his brother’s family in Jamaica, and Sister Alma Rose had invited Polly Ellen for Christmas dinner, but Polly Ellen had declined, saying that she still had a few Christmas presents she needed to make.

cinnamonsticks1We sat down on her tiny Victorian velvet chairs (which make Sister Alma Rose, who is large, look a bit like a grizzly bear sitting on a toadstool), and Polly Ellen got us cups of hot spiced apple cider with cinnamon sticks, and then she sat down and said, calmly, for Polly Ellen, “I just had an Encounter with God.”

“Oh!” I said.

“Ah,” said Sister Alma Rose.

“Yes,” said Polly Ellen, and then her words spilled out like water from a burst pipe. “It started out feeling scratchy, like when you’re cold and someone wraps you in an old green army blanket. My mom used to have one. I don’t know if soldiers sleep under scratchy green blankets any more.

“Then the scratchiness went away and the warmth crept in. Maybe I got used to the feel of rough wool against my skin, or maybe God slipped a soft white flannel sheet under the army blanket. I don’t know how God does these things. It’s best not to fret about it, I think.

John O'Neill)

Acres of tulips (photo: John O'Neill)

“Before the blanket, I felt raw and empty. I had just finished writing a prayer and making it into a little book with beautiful photographs of the sea, of acres of tulips, of the heart of a lily, of geese silhouetted against a sunrise. While I made my book, my face was hot, with enthusiasm and purpose, not with menopausal side effects, thank you, Jesus. Then the book was finished, and I was pleased with it, as God must have been at the time of Creation, when he finished a bit of the universe. Then the emptiness, because I didn’t know what to do with myself next.

“So the Lord picked me up and held me to his bosom and comforted me, whispering, ‘Just BE, Polly Ellen. Just BE.'”


I couldn’t help it. My shoulders started to shake and it took all my self-control to fend off a giggle attack — not because Polly Ellen had said anything funny, necessarily, although her narrative was highly entertaining, but because I was remembering how, before my growth spurt, Sister Alma Rose would hold me to her bosom when I needed comforting, and it usually worked wonders, because, after about forty-five seconds of being comforted, all I wanted was an Encounter with Air.

“And the Holy Spirit filled me up with love,” Polly Ellen was saying earnestly, “and my heart sang, ‘What can I do for the world today? What verse-flower can I plant? How can I share God’s grace, for it is overflowing in me?’”

At that point it was necessary for me to excuse myself unceremoniously, as if I were answering a particularly vicious Call of Nature. Polly Ellen had begun to sway and, worse yet, to Intone, like some of your cheesier televangelists, and it was just more than I could take after the bosom metaphor. I zipped into the bathroom, turned the faucet on as hard as it would go, and snarfled for a full two minutes before I could compose myself.

Sister Alma Rose never denigrates anybody’s religious practice or expression unless it’s truly harmful or coercive. Polly Ellen’s “verse-flowers” bloom joyously all over the world, and I even got what she said about the scratchy wool blanket. Whatever. As Sister Alma Rose and I walked back up the hill toward home, I could tell that she was amused.

St Anthony the Great (251–356), father of Christian Monasticism and early anchorite (Wikipedia)

St Anthony the Great (251–356), father of Christian Monasticism and early anchorite (Wikipedia)

“So, Miss Fanny,” she said companionably, “what did y’all think of our Polly Ellen’s Encounter with God?” I felt like Plato to Sister Alma Rose’s Socrates. I closed my eyes and collected my thoughts.

“It seems to me,” I ventured finally… “it’s like saying you had an Encounter with Air. I mean, encountering God is the rule and not the exception. It’s our default mode. If life is a party, then God is the host, so to speak, and we’re swimming in his pool and eating his canapés and drinking his cocktails and mingling in his rumpus room.”

I usually don’t speak of God anthropomorphically — Sister Alma Rose doesn’t encourage it — and I waited for a mild rebuke. But she just smiled her approval, and we walked in silence for a minute or two.

Then — “And just how often do y’all think about air,” she asked rhetorically, “except when your supply of it is cut off or contaminated? I think that Polly Ellen had an exceptional awareness, like y’all would if a couple of Angels from God strode into your living room.”

“So I’m not allowed to laugh,” I replied, “at the thought of the Lord holding Polly Ellen to his bosom and then setting her down, overflowing, so that she might plant verse-flowers?”

Bicyclists in Flanders

Bicyclists in Flanders

“Only if I’m allowed to laugh at the recollection of y’all, only last year. when y’all wanted to give away y’all’s earthly treasures and become an anchoress and live in a cell outside a medieval church in Flanders and spend all your waking hours, for the rest of y’all’s life, praying.”

“That was just a phase,” I muttered uncomfortably, and then burst out laughing. And Sister Alma Rose and I snarfled the rest of the way home. 

* * *

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