Will Guilt Make You Good?

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Human nature
cannot be studied
in cities except
at a disadvantage —
a village is the place.
There you can
know your man
inside and out–
in a city you but
know his crust;
and his crust is
usually a lie
Mark Twain, 1883

I guess a
small-town
mayor is
sort of like a
community organizer
,”
except that
you have
actual
responsibilities

Sarah Palin, 2008

Your hometown
is where they
can’t figure out
how you did
as well as you
did
—Source unknown

What’s So Bad about Feeling Good? Part 1

My Hometown

From Canadian TV series MY HOMETOWN, Filmwest Associates

HILLTOP, U.S.A. — A lovely place. A peaceful place, as I have said. The fact that I am peeved at Eloise Mary Shea because her birthday-party invitation said to come in costume, and I went wrapped in alumninum foil, as a baked potato, you know, and no one else was in costume because she, Eloise Mary Shea…

…who, I happen to know, wears the same pair of underwear two days in a row, turning it wrong-side-out for the second day…

Eloise Mary Shea, third from left; I, Fanny, am taking the photograph

Eloise Mary Shea, third from left; I, Fanny, am taking the photograph

…had informed everyone personally that she’d changed her mind about costumes, but she “forgot” to tell me — anyway, I understand that my trifling I’ll-be-over-it-by-Thursday SNIT does, to some degree, send negative vibrations into the ether and thereby delays the dawning of the Age of Universal Peace and Love just that much more, but it doesn’t seem to have done much to the spiritual frequencies in Hilltop, because Hilltop is under a Peace Spell, like a soft blanket, which was probably doing its job of comforting and safe-keeping even during the silly Battle of the Barbers, which, after all, ended happily, with Mr. Henry now busier than bees on lilacs because, unlike Mr. Bill, who knew how to cut crew cuts, period, Mr. Henry’s not a one-haircut guy, plus Mr. Henry’s hands don’t shake so alarmingly that his customers are afraid he’s going to pierce an eardrum with his scissors, as they feared re Mr. Bill in the latter years.

Sedona at sunset; photo by Joseph Plotz

Sedona at sunset; photo by Joseph Plotz

‘Make love, not war’

I, Fanny

I, Fanny

Now, just because Hilltop is peaceful and somewhat out of the way, I would not want you to think that we are all self-delusional or backward, like those people residing in really isolated parts of Appalachia who misbelieve that the War Between the States is still a-ragin’. Let me make one thing perfectly clear: We do not marry our first cousins. Well, not any more. Not since Lettie and Bobby Lee Wallace and their six unbridled hellions — children, I meant to say — Jimmy Lee, Tommy Lee, Alice Lee, Maribel Lee, Robert E. Lee, and Curtis Lee. True story.

Earnest Fort House, Green County, Tennessee, 1780s; photo by Brian Stansberry

Appalachia: Earnest Fort House, Green County, Tennessee, 1780s; photo by Brian Stansberry

No. We are well informed, we are hip, and we are diverse.

The Vietnam War era, as recalled by Sister Alma Rose

According to Sister Alma Rose, in the 1960s and 1970s, when the young people of Hilltop went away to school (some to LaMesa State College, but as many to institutions such as Brown, William and Mary, Georgetown, Oberlin, and so forth), a number of them wandered off after graduation and forgot to call home to let their parents know they’d be late.

Did they prostrate themselves before their parents, kissing their feet and adoringly, gratefully, or even sneeringly saying, “Thank you, Mother and Father, for spending skillions of dollars to provide me with…

Healy Hall, Georgetown University; photo by Patrick Neil

Healy Hall, Georgetown University; photo by Patrick Neil

“(a) a fascist education devised to indoctrinate my cohort and me with propaganda about the history and government of the United States, which is an evil capitalist empire bent on world domination; or

“(b) a highly practical education that taught me to despise you and everything you stand for and through which I learned how to make pipe bombs and orate against capitalist materialism outside the White House, the United Nations, and the 1968 Democratic National Convention?”

NO,
THEY DID
NOT

Crim Dell Bridge, William & Mary

Crim Dell Bridge, William & Mary

If they wrote at all, they sent surly letters asking for rent money or travelers’ checks for a sojourn in Tibet, or perhaps Canada (who could blame them?). Eventually, many of them drifted back… sometimes contrite and in need of treatment for various addictions; sometimes pregnant or toting actual babies, who might be any of a variety of colors characteristic of humans (not green, like Kermit, though that would have been okay too).

Sister Alma Rose recalls that all the parents “killed the fatted calf” and welcomed their prodigals with open arms. She knows of only one instance in which the chastened young adults, their children, and any spouses or life partners who might have tagged along, were not forgiven, cherished, cared for, and put to work as soon as possible. The exception involved the sister of a boy who had been killed in Vietnam. The sister, Jeannette, who had changed her name to “Peace Feather,” and who, mystifyingly, wore a war bonnet and painted multicolored stripes across her face for all occasions, had been contemptuous of the Vietnam G.I.’s and had heaped abuse, at every opportunity, against the veterans. Even in her parents’ home, on their dime, she was unrepentant; and she was asked to leave, and nobody cared, except for possibly Peace Feather herself, though we hear that she has done well in Sedona, where she grooms cats and balances their chakras, but she still wears her war bonnet all the time, which is kind of sad, but, oh, well.

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Return of the Prodigal Son

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Return of the Prodigal Son

Also in the late 1960s, all the kindly old ministers who patted you on the head and called you “Susie,” and who had baptized your grandparents, died, kind of in a clump. And the young ministers who took their places preached the Gospel of Social Justice. For these warriors against racism, ageism, classism, sexismhomophobiaxenophobia, speciesism, and whatever other phobias and –isms I’m forgetting…

…GUILT

was the weapon of choice (except in the case of Father Dooley, who was and still is a cupcake).

Astronaut John Bennett Harrington is an enrolled member of the Chickasaw nation

Astronaut John Bennett Herrington is an enrolled member of the Chickasaw nation

These clergymen (no women, yet, back then) were opposed to the war (like Sister Alma Rose); they supported racial and gender equality (like Sister Alma Rose). They wanted to Integrate Hilltop, I don’t know, import people in from Miami or something — until the new ministers looked around, says Sister Alma Rose, and saw that

all together, there were (and still are) more Asians, Indians (both kinds), black folks, brown folks (many being refugees from Central America), and combinations thereof, than there were and are white folks in Hilltop….

This “demographic,” says Sister Alma Rose, is unexpected in a town the size of Hilltop, and located where we are, and given the fact that there are no big companies headquartered here and luring folks with jobs. I, Fanny, think that our good fortune has something to do with The Ancients, but I always believe that The Ancients are involved when I can’t think of another explanation.

Crow warbonnet

Back to guilt. Sister Alma Rose does not believe in guilt. No, that’s not true at all. Guilt, she says, is “like sticking y’all’s foot in the fire. Oh, hell, that stuff’s HOT! Y’all pull your foot out, repair the damage as well as y’all can, and then let it heal. Y’all don’t poke and prod at it every ten minutes to see if it still hurts.”

Sister Alma Rose on guilt…
‘Guilt is a bad reason to do good’

…because it wastes so much energy. Guilt is uncomfortable, so most folks try to get rid of it, like they’d dig out a tick. How can y’all do the work of the Lord, or even empty the trash, if y’all are tuckered out from grappling with guilt?

Adultery

Adultery

Guilt trip, Type A

If y’all feel guilty because y’all did something wrong, and if y’all can fix it — like if y’all stole money, say — y’all can (1) pay it back with interest and (2) apologize. Maybe y’all won’t even have to (3) spend a few days in jail (well, unless you stole a WHOLE LOT of money; let’s just say you didn’t). (4) Resolve not to steal again, and (5) stick to your resolution. Then, by the grace of God, there’s no reason to feel guilty any more, is there?

Guilt trip, Type B

Now, if y’all feel guilty because y’all did something wrong and it can’t be undone — like a spot of adultery, say — then y’all should (1) quit, cold turkey; (2) resolve not to commit adultery again, and stick to your resolution. (3) As to whether y’all should confess your transgression to your spouse and ask for forgiveness, that’s between y’all and God. But (4) once y’all have established that y’all not only can refrain from adultery but can love and cherish your spouse, and live in mutual trust, then (5) there’s nothing to feel guilty about. (6) If guilt sticks to y’all anyway, unstick it off yourself and give it to God.

Parents: 'Where did we go wrong?'

Bad Lot: 'Where did we go wrong?'

Guilt trip, Type C

The hardest to get rid of is the kind of guilt that y’all do nothing to deserve in the first place — like if, in spite of y’all’s being the best parent y’all know how to be, one of y’all’s kids grows up to be a ne’er-do-well. Y’all will undoubtedly relive every moment of this kid’s childhood, and y’all will find mistakes because y’all are human, and y’all did not have Mary Poppins living at y’all’s house.

Y’all will have tried to fix the kid or paid lots of money for “professionals” to fix him, and then y’all tried to help him out and discovered that, omigosh, y’all were “enabling” him.

Y’all will have tried “tough love,” which is a breeding ground for parental guilt, and “tough love” won’t have done any good either, because Dad’s sticking to the program but Mom is slipping the kid Dutch apple pies, or worse…. Eventually the kid ends up in jail or disappears, or gets struck by lightning and goes to medical school and becomes a top proctologist. Who knows?

I know a nice married couple who raised four kids: two model daughters and a saintly son and a Bad Lot, addicted to cocaine, committing armed robbery, constantly pestering Mom and Dad for money, stealing from them. They moved across the country and didn’t offer a forwarding address to the Bad Lot. Sure, they felt guilty….

The Hague: Actors in a play about teenage angst

The Hague: Actors in a play about teenage angst

This kind of guilt is really sticky, and y’all might have to peel it off and give it over to God a whole slew of times, and rejoice in y’all’s new freedom, a whole slew of more times. The guilt tries to creep in through the back door, and it starts by whispering in y’all’s ear, “If only y’all had….” Well, y’all didn’t. In fact, y’all probably did better than y’all remember, but that’s beside the point. Just hand over to God this fresh batch of guilt, because it’s not like he has his hands full, or anything….

Sister Alma Rose believes that Freedom from Guilt is a gift of grace and is pretty much the whole point of the New Testament; it’s the Good News, the occasion for gratitude, the reason for joy, the excuse for a party; and it’s not just for Christians! Buddhists and people in other religious traditions (not that Buddhism is, strictly speaking, religious) know how to let the vast, intelligent universe redeem their guilt.

Take Judaism, for example. King David, or whoever authored Psalm 103, wrote this heartening, lyrical promise:

As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgression from us (Ps. 103:12)

Russian icon of St. David, the Prophet and King, 18th century (Iconostasis of Kizhi monastery, Karelia, Russia)

The Gospel of Guilt, which most of Hilltop’s ministers in the 1960s and 1970s preached, is one of a bunch of reasons that Sister Alma Rose started worshiping in her own chapel, the one Daddy Pete built so long ago. At first it was just her and Mr. Truman LaFollette and a few neighbors, but now, on Sunday mornings, several dozen people might show up for worship at Hilltop Farm.

Not that Sister Alma Rose is sticking her head in the sand. She helps. No one has any idea, because she doesn’t advertise the good works she does.

“I do what I’m called to do,” she says, “what best uses my talents and gives me the greatest satisfaction. So will y’all someday.”

Guilt rides again

When Elizabeth Anna Stratton, Sister Alma Rose’s good friend since she, Elizabeth Anna, was a little girl, came back to Hilltop for a visit last month, and Elizabeth Anna asked Sister Alma Rose and me to go with her to the 7:30 a.m. Sunday service at the Presbyterian church, I thought, how bad can it be?

Child in  Darfur refugee camp, www.columbia.edu

Child in Darfur refugee camp, http://www.columbia.edu

Well, as Sister Alma Rose put it, “We got a us generous dose of the Gospel of Guilt,” to the point that I came out of that service feeling depressed and ashamed and ready to get on the next boat to Sudan or the next train to Chicago, where I’m sure, if I looked hard enough, I could find young people, and older people as well, using dangerous, addictive drugs, and I would say, “Stop that right now,” because, what do I know, I’m just a kid, and they would shoot me, or at least take my nice catalog clothes and my travelers’ checks, and it would be no more than I deserve. Because what right do I have, living in the bosom of a loving family, in a nice house with oak floors and central heating and a microwave, for God’s sake, eating plenty of wholesome food and probably throwing some of it away! and wearing nice clothes from the catalog when God knows there are rags aplenty, or I might consider a hairshirt — all this in a world where — according to the vituperative sermon given by the Reverend Ms. O’Donnell and directed at the “complacent middle class,” which is pretty much all of Hilltop —

The reality of drug addiction, www.outoftheherd.com

The reality of drug addiction, http://www.outoftheherd.com

…families are being driven from their homes and living in filthy camps where children starve, and little boys are being abducted to fight in revolutions they don’t understand, and young men and women are smoking crack cocaine, and mothers are selling their daughters into prostitution in exchange for money to feed their addictions, and I think that I have a right to want anything at all and to be happy in a world of suffering?

A word about the Reverend Ms.O’Donnell

This is a woman who, by all appearances, ingests quite a bit more than “plenty of wholesome food,” in fact, a surplus, one might infer, which she evidently carries with her, dromedary-style, in case of a sudden and tragic potato-chip shortage; and who, according to Elizabeth Anna, was wearing a chichi suit from Lord & Taylor… and who also, after the service and the Coffee Fellowship, hopped into her classic T-Bird convertible, which, and my mother doesn’t even like cars, Mama would cheerfully exchange her own children for.

1957 Thunderbird convertible; photo, nminow via Wikipedia

1957 Thunderbird convertible; photo, nminow via Wikipedia

So much, I thought, for self-denial.

To be continued…

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Hair Wars II

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The Healing Power of Touch

The Healing Power of Touch

In harmony with GodWe are continually amazed and delighted that God will talk to us, that He loves us, that the guiding Intelligence of the universe really cares for our small concerns. His lavishness overwhelms us and his humility humbles us….

On the days when I am in harmony with God, who is love, all things both great and small seem to work together for my good. My work is done easily and with power and my decisions are quick and unerring…. But when I fall into annoyance and irritation, nothing “clicks.” I work slowly, make careless decisions, and waste time generally….

The healing touch of God through us — [If I am in harmony with God, I can] help people directly, face to face and often with my hands upon them…. It is a natural impulse to hold the fevered hand… to pat the fretful child…. In so doing, we convey the power of love one to another, not through the understanding of the mind but through the tenderness of the heart,… [which is] from everlasting to everlasting and in touching it we have touched immortality. Agnes Sanford, The Healing Light

Me, Fanny McElroy

Me, Fanny McElroy

The Battle of the Barbers, continued…

(Read “The Battle of the Barbers,” Part 1)

Here is a mystical story about the Ancients from Sister Alma Rose’s childhood.

The cast of characters is large for such a small story:

The person telling the story (the “I”) is, of course, Sister Alma Rose. Calista and Merrily and Lorelei are Sister Alma Rose’s little sisters, and Vincent and Colleen are the couple who lived in the big farmhouse, where Sister Alma Rose lives today, and helped take care of the children, the household, and the farm after Sister Alma Rose’s mama died; and Daddy Pete is… well, Daddy Pete is who he is….

Eastern garter snake

Eastern garter snake

‘They Have Much to Teach You’

When Colleen and Vincent and Daddy Pete tucked us in at bedtime, Calista was still cross. She turned her face sideways when Daddy Pete and Vincent tried to kiss her, and she pushed Colleen away when she sat down next to Calista on the bed.

“Calista,” said Colleen very seriously, “garter snakes are protected by the Ancients. Would you want one of the Ancients coming into your room at midnight to find Greenie and take him back outside where he belongs?”

Vincent looked startled. It wasn’t like Colleen to try to frighten children into obedience, and he opened his mouth to say something, but Daddy Pete put a hand on Vincent’s arm and shook his head.

“Pooh!” said Calista, who was five and didn’t believe in fairy tales. “The Ancients are just made up. Our mama said so.”

“Oh, no, Darling,” said Colleen. “The Ancients are all around us. They are kind and they would never harm you, but they would not allow you to keep Greenie in the house with you.”

“Colleen,” I asked drowsily, “have you ever seen one of the Ancients?”

“Why, I suppose I have,” she said, “though I might not have known it.”

“But aren’t they terribly old?”

“Very old indeed—hundreds and hundreds of years old—but some have been born into new bodies.

Some say the Ancients live in these mystical mountains

Some say the Ancients live in these mystical mountains

“All the Ancients used to live high in the mountains,” Colleen said, in her storytelling voice, “so high that they walked with God, and they rarely let themselves be seen by lowlanders. Some are still there, but not nearly as many as in my grandmother’s day.”

“Where did they go?” I asked breathlessly, at the same time Merrily asked, “Why did they leave?”

Colleen laughed at our eagerness. “Well, for one thing, with so many people in the world, it’s harder to stay hidden. That’s one reason, but there’s another, and it’s more important.

“The Ancients know things that no scholar or scientist could even imagine. They have developed their senses so that they can see and hear things that happen miles away. And they have discovered other senses, which all people possess but are not aware of. They can see angels. They can understand the language of growing plants and trees. They know how to heal body and mind. They can read patterns in the universe that tell them of things that happened long ago, and they have ways of knowing what is yet to be. Some of them can fly without wings and, I’ve been told, can move from place to place without going between. And in their wisdom, they use their abilities for good, never for evil.

“So God scattered the Ancients throughout this troubled world, to bring peace and healing. Some came down from the hills just as they were, but the oldest he caused to be born again, as babies. Have you never heard someone say of a new infant that she is an ‘old soul’?”

This man lives near Ouidah, Benin. We think he is one of the Ancients who came down from the hills

One of the Ancients who came down from the hills, this man lives near Ouidah, Benin

“How do you recognize them?” Calista asked, having forgotten that she was angry at Colleen for giving Greenie his freedom. “Do you know an Ancient when you see one?”

“There is a sign,” said Colleen, “but only the Ancients themselves know what it is. I can only guess—when I look into someone’s eyes and I can see to the end of the universe; or when they have a certain serenity and purity, or they are wise beyond their years; or when they seem to attract miracles; and most of all, when I feel completely safe and loved by someone the moment we meet—not like Vincent and I love each other, but more like a mama’s or daddy’s love—then I am almost certain I have been in the presence of one of the Ancients.”

We were all quiet for a moment, thinking of the people we knew and wondering…. Then Merrily, the skeptic, turned to Daddy Pete and said, “Daddy Pete, is this true, or is it just made up like ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’?”

Daddy Pete reached over and gently tugged a lock of Merrily’s hair. “Oh, it’s true, Little One. Of course, even ‘made-up’ stories, like the ones about King Arthur and the Holy Grail, and Queen Guinevere and Sir Lancelot, have sprung from true things. There is a great deal that happens in the world, and the part we know about is just a tiny dot. Never doubt the Ancients, girls. They have much to teach you, if you can find them.”

Source: Daddy Pete, by Mary Campbell

Queen Guinevere's Maying, by John Collier, 1900

Queen Guinevere's Maying*, by John Collier, 1900

Sister Alma Rose Tames the Barbers of Hilltop

I wanted to give this story sort of a dramatic title because it was, as it turned out, a rather dramatic event, and you have to know something about the Ancients to understand it, because Sister Alma Rose is one of them (the Ancients), I suspect, though when I ask her straight out, “Sister Alma Rose, are you one of the Ancients?” she only smiles and bakes bread, or something, she is always doing something useful, and even when she is relaxing on her wonderful porch, doing nothing, she is crocheting, which she has been doing for at least a hundred years, maybe a thousand, if she is one of the Ancients.

Mama and Daddy know, I think, but when I ask them, they just say, “Well, it’s certainly possible.”

A woman churning butter in a barrel churn, by W. H. Pyne, 1805

A woman churning butter in a barrel churn, by W. H. Pyne, 1805

Here is why I think she is one of the Ancients: In the stories she tells of her childhood, she is always churning butter or skimming the cream off fresh milk, or embroidering a sampler, or the like, and there is no mention of a car or a refrigerator, and Daddy Pete goes everywhere in a horse-drawn wagon.

But more than that, it is the way she is — not exactly magical, but just sort of charmed, if you see what I mean, in the way she knows things, in the way she is wise and untroubled, in the way she calms people who are in a state of panic because their husband is fooling around with the babysitter, for heaven’s sake, and when people are sick, she tucks them into bed in her lovely pink attic bedroom, which, Mama and I agree, is like being a bee in a poppy, and they always, always get well under Sister Alma Rose’s care.

Fanny Mendelssohn

Fanny Mendelssohn

And here is the real giveaway, I think: Mama and Daddy let me spend as much time as I want with Sister Alma Rose instead of making me babysit for my brothers, Johannes and Arcangelo, whom we call Angelo, so as you can see, we are all named after musicians, Mama’s favorite composers, although Daddy put his foot down when Mama proposed “Wolfgang” for Johannes, which I wish he had done (put his foot down) when Mama said she wanted to name me after Fanny Mendelssohn.

Sister Alma Rose can hold energy in her hands
through the power of the Holy Spirit, she says, and I have felt the warmth of it. She can heal with her hands, and she says that, by the grace of God, anyone can do what she does.

“I have been given a few gifts,” she says modestly, “and I thank God every day that I have useful work that I love to do and that I am able to do it. For instance, do y’all know anyone who makes better barley bread than mine?” she asks, her eyes twinkling. “Do ya’ll want me to teach you to make barley bread, Miss Fanny?”

Photo by Klaus Höpfner

Photo by Klaus Höpfner

“Well, yes, I do, actually,” I say.

“Life is so good,” she says with a look of wonder. “Sometimes I almost burst with gratitude, and I would burst, too, if I didn’t use the gifts God has given me. And then I would lose them.  Y’all remember that, Fanny McElroy, because y’all have been given much, and much will be expected of y’all in time.”

I sometimes think that I am supposed to be something like Sister Alma Rose’s apprentice, sort of, because she takes me almost everywhere she goes, and she says, “Y’all remember that” a lot, but I’m not sure I do remember what I’ve learned, though it’s quite a bit, I believe, and I ought to go make a list, but not now, because today, at the mayor’s special meeting, I expect that Sister Alma Rose is going to use her unusual gifts to heal the town of Hilltop and reconcile the barbers, Bill and his son Henry. I’m just not sure how….

To be continued…

Poppies, from Quiet Garden on Bing

Poppies, from Quiet Garden on Bing

* Queen Guinevere’s Maying

Maying means “celebrating May Day.” Traditional English May Day rites and celebrations include Morris dancing, crowning a May Queen, and celebrations involving a Maypole. Much of this tradition derives from the pagan Anglo-Saxon customs held during “Þrimilci-mōnaþ” (the Old English name for the month of May meaning “Month of Three Milkings”).

May Day has been a traditional day of festivities throughout the centuries. With Christianity came agricultural feasts such as Plough Sunday (the first Sunday in January), Rogationtide, Harvest Festival, and May Day. It is most associated with towns and villages celebrating springtime fertility and revelry with village fetes and community gatherings.

Since May 1st is the Feast of St Philip & St James, they became the patron saints of workers. Seeding has been completed by this date and it was convenient to give farm labourers a day off. Perhaps the most significant of the traditions is the Maypole, around which traditional dancers circle with ribbons. —Wikipedia

Photo by Michael Maggs

Photo by Michael Maggs


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Flame in the Heart

prayer_candles_istock

Prayer candles

Your true light, alone, O God, burns

to illuminate and not

devour, and such as we would find in

it is everlasting.
—Sister Alma Rose

Once upon a time, we believed in miracles — spiritual miracles. When we were ill, injured, or afflicted with any sort of… [problem], we made appeals to God. We turned to our spiritual guides — our holy men, our priestly purveyors of prayer therapies. We recited prayers prescribed by the church. We turned to healers, medicine men, saints, and the somehow spiritually charged symbols of faith: icons, statues, pictures, and medals. We looked for signs that prayer, faith, religion, belief, and God could heal us. And we found them. Often, they worked wondrously.

Then along came medical science — biology, pharmacology, radiology, and modern surgical practices. Suddenly, we had a pill, a treatment, or an operation for everything that could be cured — scientific miracles. And prayer and faith were shunted to the side, their incredible power forgotten. Never mind that some people got well without science and medicine. Never mind that some people got well even when the treatments and pills failed…. Faith was dismissed as superstition, dismissed with contempt.

Now, everyone has stopped laughing. Now, the very science that they trust is proving what we hoped, what we prayed was true all along. Somehow, for some reason, prayer, faith, and healing work.

Experiment after experiment is showing the connections, raising possibilities, and suggesting that God not only exists and answers prayers, that prayerful “intentions” not only influence physical reality but that prayer, religion, and faith are good for us — good for our health, good for our outlooks, good for our communities, good for our overall physical and mental well-being. The connections are clear. More than two hundred studies prove it. —Kenneth Winston Caine and Brian Paul Kaufman, Prayer, Faith, and Healing: Cure Your Body, Heal Your Mind, and Restore Your Soul

* * * 

The Flame That Is Your Living Soul

fire_in_fireplace_istockWhen Sister Alma Rose was a girl, Daddy Pete would pile logs in the big fireplace of an evening, and Sister Alma Rose and her sisters, Calista, Merrily, and Lorelei, and Vincent and Colleen — who lived with Sister Alma Rose’s family on Hilltop Farm — and their babies, Grace and Henry John and George, would gather by the fire, and Daddy Pete would sometimes, usually, thank God out loud for the peace and abundance and love and health in the home at Hilltop Farm. He always did that in his heart, Sister Alma Rose is certain, and when he spoke the prayer, it was with a voice full of love, and Sister Alma Rose don’t know if Daddy Pete was aware he was talking.

prayer_candles_boxedAnd then everybody would just set quiet and content, even the babies would be silent till they fell asleep, and all those nights the fire would teach lessons without anyone realizing they was learning from that fire.

When Sister Alma Rose was growed up, she set one night by the fire with Cousin Dulcie, and Cousin Dulcie says, softlike, “Look how the flames come together and get stronger.” And Sister Alma Rose looks, and she sees two little flames jump into one flame that’s bigger than the two was when they was separate.

From that day to this, Sister Alma Rose has prayed with candles. She has a little votive in a glass jar for each person she’s praying special for, or sometimes she uses floating candles in great glass bowls.

prayercandlebookShe lights a long taper, and she says, “God, thou art the fuel for the candle that burns in every heart,” and then, one by one, she lights the little candles, and each time she says the person’s name she’s praying for, and she says, “May the candle in thy heart burn brighter, because it is joined by mine, kept alive by the one Source which is our loving God.” And then she prays some more, for their hurts, and when she puts the candles out (she has a pretty brass candle snuffer, she don’t blow them out like on a birthday cake), she says, “God blesses thee, for the flame that is thy living soul burns forever.”

And then she says, “Amen,” and because praying makes her hungry, she goes and fixes herself a little snack.

* * *

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Why Sister Alma Rose Doesn’t Go to Church

God in Heaven, light my path today. Amen

Sister Alma Rose and Mr. Truman LaFollette and Cousin Dulcie, when she was visiting, had Sunday-morning services in the chapel in Sister Alma Rose’s big old farmhouse. Sometimes Daddy and I worshiped with them. Mama liked to go, too, but she was the choir director at the Presbyterian church, so mostly she was there, at the church, with her singers on Sunday morning. The choir director before Mama only used songs from the Presbyterian Hymnal, especially “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God, Almighty,” but Mama’s choir sang works by Tallis and Bach and other classical composers, and the retired director told Pastor Scott that Mama was “uppity” because she made the choir sing in “furren languages!”

There are six churches in and around Hilltop, and I didn’t know why Sister Alma Rose didn’t go to any of them. So one Sunday morning I just asked her. “Sister Alma Rose,” I said, “how come you don’t go to Mama’s church, or the Lutheran church?” I loved the Lutheran church because it had a real bell with a rope and a bellringer and everything.

“Miss Fanny,” she said, “how many roads do y’all think there are to Heaven?” I opened my mouth to answer, but she just went on. “There’s ’bout as many as there are people,” she said, “and parsons are people just like everybody else. So these parsons are on their various roads, and they can’t see around the corners any more’n the rest of us can. But the roads they’re on, these parsons feel like they’re good roads, the right roads, and maybe they is and maybe they ain’t. So when the parsons get up to preach, they preach their own journeys and act like we all ought to go the same way as them, even if we’re starting in different places. If  there was to be a great gathering in Peoria, Illinois, that the whole world was going to, and you and I are starting out in Hilltop and some other folks is coming from Boise, Idaho, does it make sense for us to say to those folks, ‘Hey, y’all need to go this way’?”

“Well, it might,” I said, “if they were headed toward Walla Walla.” Sister Alma Rose laughed and twisted my nose.

Now I’ve told you [Sister Alma Rose went on] that Daddy Pete was a praying man, but we never went to church after Ma died. He knew that everybody in the county was looking out for a wife for him, an’ there weren’t no place more likely to find folks parading these prospective brides around than at church.

But there was something else, too. Daddy Pete didn’t take to Pastor Stuart, never liked him from the start. Thought he was too pious an’ spoke his sermons too somber. In fact, I’ll tell you exactly what he called Pastor Stuart: “A hoity-toity hypocrite and a sanctimonious gasbag.”

It prob’ly weren’t right, but Daddy Pete used to ape Pastor Stuart’s preaching on the way home from church and Ma would start out protesting and end up laughing so hard she told Daddy Pete to quiet up or she’d pee right there on the path.

“The Lord GAWD WEEPS for Y’ALL, my brethren,” Daddy Pete would say in Pastor Stuart’s rumbling, righteous tones. “The Lord GAWD KNOWS y’all’s transgressions, even y’all’s DEEP, DARK THOUGHTS, that bubble up in y’all from the BOWELS of HELL brought by SATAN HISSELF… [here Daddy Pete would pause and belch a great big belch like something that might bubble up from the bowels of hell]… which you believe are hidden.” He’d say these last few words real soft-like, so’s you could hardly hear. Then, all of a sudden…

“HIDDEN! WHAT, in your in-CORR-igible arrogance, do y’all deceive yourselfs can be HIDDEN from the Lord GAWD Almighty? WHITHER can y’all flee from GAWD to hide y’all’s JEALOUSY, y’all’s GREED… and… y’all’s … LUST?” He said it like “LUSSSSST,” like he was the serpent hisself.

What really got under Daddy Pete’s skin, though, was that when church was over and Pastor Stuart shook hands with the members of the congregation, he would look straight into every man’s eyes like he could see through to his soul and discover the jealousy an’ the greed an’ the lusssst a-lurking there. But the women he shook hands with, especially the young ones, he didn’t even see their faces; he was always looking at their bosoms, trance-like. Daddy Pete said he’d swear on a Bible that runnels of spit would actually escape from Pastor Stuart’s tight-lipped smile and roll down his chin, what there was of it, which wasn’t much.

We had the little chapel here at the house, and we stopped going to the Presbyterian church and started going to the Daddy Pete church. He didn’t give no sermon or nothing, he just read from the scriptures and prayed his plain-spoken prayers. Daddy Pete had been ordained as an Elder so he served communion every Sunday.

Aunt Daisy thought it was right silly to take a perfectly good loaf o’ bread and pinch pieces off it wouldn’t feed a ant, so for communion we got big homemade cinnamon rolls dripping with butter, and we washed those rolls down with fresh cold milk. “Jesus an’ them at the Last Supper, they didn’t have no puny pinch of bread and one bitty little sip o’ wine,” she’d say. “Why, you’re right as rain, Daisy,” Daddy Pete agreed.

Adapted from Daddy Pete, by Mary Campbell
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How to Be in Love

Sister Alma Rose Prays for ‘Heartbroken’ to Grow Up

Q. Sister Alma Rose, will you pray for my boyfriend to fall in love with me again? –Heartbroken in the Hebrides

A. No. But Sister Alma Rose prays, here and now, for your happiness. She prays for your eyes to be opened. She prays for you to see that the entire universe, every bloomin’ atom and each and every spirit, is in love with you.

Now you just lie down, close your eyes, inhale and exhale deeply from your abdomen, and feel how good it is to breathe, and be grateful to your Creator for giving you air and lungs.

Y’all are struggling

That’s a bad sign. The McKinneys down the road was always struggling. Elmer McKinney had to have a clean cup for his coffee. Every time he had a cup of coffee, he took a new cup out of the cupboard, and he drank about fifteen cups of coffee a day, and he’d just leave the cups lying around. One evening, Marcella McKinney gathered up all them cups in a paper sack, took the sack outside, and throwed them china cups, one by one, at Elmer’s pickup truck. I think she would of throwed them at his head, except she couldn’t stomach the sight of blood.

Sure, relationships take work. But, like Sister Alma Rose’s Daddy Pete always says, struggle and work ain’t the same thing. Relationships need patience, he says. They need grownups.

Grownups don’t struggle

They communicate. They learn and adapt to the other’s way of communicating. They don’t try to remake or to fix each other. Yet when something’s bothering them, they say so—not to change the other person, just to make themselves understood.

That way they don’t need to go out and buy new coffee cups.

Grownups understand…

… that it often seems like they’re giving more than they’re getting. Yet they also open their arms and embrace what they DO get. Elmer McKinney always bought a big bouquet of flowers for Marcella on her birthday. You know what she’d say when she got them? “How come you never bring me an orchid corsage on Mother’s Day like Chester O’Dell gives Daisy?” Or she’d say, “What am I supposed to do with these flowers? What we need is a new sump pump. These flowers ain’t gonna drain the water out of the basement, are they?”

Grownups don’t think that love has to be earned

They know that love is a gift from God.

Louanne Enright, who teaches third grade at Hilltop Elementary, is a sweet thing, and pretty, too, and smart as they come, except it always bothered her that she had skinny legs and bony knees. When Jeff Enright, who owns Hilltop Drug & Sundries, hired a lady pharmacist with curvy legs and little bitty ankles, Louanne ‘bout went out of her mind. She’d go into the store every day after school to see if the lady pharmacist, whose name was Deborah, was wearing a short skirt, and if she was, Louanne wouldn’t speak to Jeff for the whole evening.

One night Jeff didn’t come home after work. He called Louanne and told her he was at her (Louanne’s) mother’s house and he was gonna stay at Louanne’s mother’s house until Louanne came to her senses and realized that he, Jeff, loved her (Louanne) not because of her knees but because he just DID, except she (Louanne) was driving him crazy, and he wasn’t about to fire Deborah, who was a very fine pharmacist, just so he could get some conversation and dinner, and maybe a little kissy-kissy, when he went home to Louanne at night, and besides, Jeff told Louanne, Deborah had B.O.

Grownups do not need a mate in order to feel complete

Yet grownups can love fully without fearing rejection. “Human affection is not poured forth vainly, even though it meet no return. Love enriches the nature, enlarging, purifying, and elevating it.” (Mary Baker Eddy)

Grownups don’t need drama in their relationships

If they need drama, they take up acting, or skydiving. They don’t do like Toby Lee, who was engaged to Franny Tarkis, the EMT, who had about all the drama in her job that a body could stand, but she always had a warm smile and a hot meal for Toby when he came by, and he loved her plenty, but he liked to stir things up, so he’d guzzle Southern Comfort down at the Town Tap and then he’d make googoo eyes at Shirley Trout, the bartender, or steal a smooch from her sister Lurlene, and make sure Franny found out about it, from her uncle, Kit Crowell, who owned the Town Tap, and then Franny would throw her diamond engagement ring at Toby, but she always took him back after he mooned around awhile and sent her candy and flowers, until she got fed up with the whole thing, and she up and married Marcus Ranney, the city clerk, who collected butterflies, and it turned out she would have married Marcus years earlier but she didn’t want to be Franny Ranney, so in the end she decided to do that hyphenated-name thing and now she’s Franny Tarkis-Ranney and he’s Marcus Tarkis-Ranney, which ain’t much better, but it seems to suit the two of them (actually, now the three of them) and that’s all that counts, ain’t it?