Mother God

Marriage_at_Cana_by_Giotto

The Marriage at Cana, by Giotto

Sister Alma Rose Prays the Rosary and Other Snarfles of Information about Sister Alma Rose

I have decided to be Sister Alma Rose’s Boswell. Please do not snicker, it will make me very cross. Sister Alma Rose is an Exceedingly Remarkable Human Being, and almost everything she does is memorable, probably when she trims her nose hairs it is memorable, although (a) I do not know whether or not Sister Alma Rose has renegade nose hairs, and (b) if she does, I am not present when she trims or plucks or however one extracts nose hairs, and (c) I do not at all like the direction we are going here, enough about nose hairs.

Sister Alma Rose prays to Mary the Mother of Jesus

Rosary

Image via Wikipedia

Sister Alma Rose is not a Roman Catholic but she uses the Rosary in prayer, although not in the approved Roman Catholic fashion, which is very complicated and involves Mysteries (Joyful, Sorrowful, Glorious, and Luminous). My friend Pablo is a Roman Catholic, and he goes to Confession as often as he needs to, even when he has ordinary sinful thoughts, such as, “I could just kill Yolanda,” who is his older sister, and who is so annoying that there are times when I could cheerfully strangle her with her own Rosary, though I believe that that is not an approved Roman Catholic use of the Rosary, and anyway, I only think about it, I would never do it, so how can it be so wrong?

Confessional

Confessional; image by celesteh via Flickr

I have asked God in my prayers to heal me of my antipathy toward Yolanda, who floats around in a miasma of piety and has been known to wear as many as three Rosaries and has consigned Pablo to hell for (a) saying “shit,” (b) refusing to make and serve lemonade for Yolanda and her equally annoying boy friend, Hans, (c) and so forth; but, as I have said, Pablo goes to Confession, and the priest, who undoubtedly knows Yolanda and sympathizes with Pablo, gives him, I don’t know, ten Hail Marys and ten Our Fathers as his penance, and Pablo, who knows more than the priest does of the depth of his loathing for Yolanda, doubles it.

Pablo and I suspect that Hans and Yolanda have had Carnal Knowledge of one another and we wonder if she has been forthcoming of this particular sin in Confession; I say no, Pablo says yes.

Hail, Mary, Full of Grace

An Our Father is the Lord’s Prayer, truncated; Catholics use trespasses instead of debts, and then they quit and start over, if they are praying the Rosary.

A Hail Mary is as follows:

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen

Madonna and Child, Pompeo Batoni, 1742

Madonna and Child, Pompeo Batoni, 1742

Sister Alma Rose prays the Our Father and the Hail Mary when she prays the Rosary, but the resemblance to Roman Catholic tradition ends there. As we all know, Sister Alma Rose’s spirituality is somewhat eclectic, and her praying of the Rosary includes a litany of her own devising. If there were any who dared criticize Sister Alma Rose, they would be strict and solemn religionists and Sister Alma Rose would not care.

Me, Fanny McElroy

Me, Fanny McElroy

Yolanda has been heard muttering words to the effect that Sister Alma Rose is profaning the Rosary, which is silly, because there are no Rosaries in the Bible and a Rosary is an inanimate object with only so much power as the pray-er invests it with.

Sister Alma Rose Q & A

Pablo and I sat with Sister Alma Rose on her wonderful porch one Saturday afternoon in October, drinking Mr. Truman LaFollette’s delectable dark chocolate cocoa with marshmallows because it was a bit cool for lemonade. I had my notepad and a Rollerball pen in turquoise, and I asked Sister Alma Rose some questions and she answered them.

Me: Why do you pray to Mary the Mother of Jesus?

Sister Alma Rose: Well, Miss Fanny, one of the reasons that the Roman Catholic Church has elevated Mary the Mother of Jesus almost to divine status is that many of the peoples whom the Church was trying to convert in the early days practiced goddess worship, often associating the goddess with the earth—and even today we speak of “Mother Nature.” Those long-ago Christian missionaries knew that the better they could weave pagan and Christian traditions, the more likely the pagans were to accept Christianity.

Pablo — consigned to Hell?

Pablo — consigned to Hell?

I believe that women, in particular, need a feminine presence to pray to, one who represents the feminine attributes of our Father-Mother God. Some people are reluctant to pray to God the Creator; he is too big, he is unknowable. So they pray to saints and angels, who have been blessed with intimate knowledge of God and who will carry the people’s prayers to heaven.

Me: Thank you, Sister Alma Rose. Now then, how do you use the Rosary in a way that is different from how Catholics use the Rosary?

Sister Alma Rose: Well, Miss Fanny, as you know, I pray Hail Marys and Our Fathers using the Rosary. The circle of beads and the repetitive prayers are a form of meditation, the Our Father or Hail Mary being a mantra.

I would not say that I go into a trance, precisely, but rather that I let go of everything, worries and regrets and anxieties, until I feel purified and made ready to present my prayers to God. Then each bead becomes a prayer, first of praise and thanksgiving, then of petition or intercession—prayers for individuals who are sick, who are in torment, who grieve for loved ones, et cetera—and for myself, to ask God that my endeavors be not willful or prideful but loving and pure. And then I offer prayers of thanksgiving, that God has answered my prayers, knowing my need even before it was presented to him.

Me: Do you feel that you are using the Rosary inappropriately?

Sister Alma Rose: Prayer is never inappropriate.

And thus endeth my interview with Sister Alma Rose, and she proceeds to place two packs of cards on the table because she has promised to teach us to play bridge, because Pablo’s parents and mine play bridge together, and we think it is very grown-up, and it must be fascinating and intense because during bridge is the only time my father smokes cigarettes and takes the Lord’s Name In Vain.

Miscellaneous Playing Cards

Image by incurable_hippie via Flickr

 

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Instant Tranquilizer

Ground Yourself

Miss Haggarty

Miss Haggarty

Miss Haggarty was in the hospital with spinal meningitis, and Miss Price was not coping well. I didn’t blame her. Miss Haggarty was unconscious and was breathing with the aid of a ventilator. Dr. Deirdre Barstow had told Miss Price that Miss Haggarty’s condition was “dangerous” and that, if she survived, she might be deaf or she might have brain damage. Dr. Deirdre Barstow doesn’t pull her punches.

Miss Price

Miss Price

As I believe I have already said, Miss Haggarty and Miss Price have been together for more than thirty years. Miss Haggarty is calm and rather quiet and very kind, and Miss Price, even though she makes the best cinnamon rolls in the entire world, is something of a bulldozer. Sister Alma Rose says that Miss Price is “all butter inside” and that her tough exterior isn’t her real self, it’s just a tool she uses to get her way, partly because Miss Haggarty is “a marshmallow” and Miss Price thinks she has to take care of her, Miss Haggarty, or she’d be “squished like a bug,” although Sister Alma Rose believes that Miss Haggarty actually is the stronger of the two.

Miss Price had not eaten or slept for two days — she’d been at Miss Haggarty’s bedside ever since Miss Haggarty was admitted to the hospital. She told Dr. Deirdre Barstow that she couldn’t possibly go home, and she refused to take any medicine to calm her down or help her sleep. Finally Dr. Deirdre Barstow told her that her being at the hospital, as agitated as she was, was hurting Miss Haggarty more than it was helping her, and she, Dr. Deirdre Barstow, ORDERED Miss Price to pack a suitcase and stay with Sister Alma Rose while Miss Haggarty was in the hospital.

The Wild Turkey River at sunset

The Wild Turkey River at sunset

Miss Price and Miss Haggarty have known each other all their lives.  Miss Price grew up on the farm that is adjacent to ours on the north, stretching all the way down to the Wild Turkey River, and now the land is farmed by her brother’s family. Miss Haggarty was an only child whose daddy had owned the old Farmer’s State Bank. Her mama and daddy had taken a train trip to some famous canyon in Mexico — it was supposed to be their second honeymoon — and the train had gone off the tracks and just rolled down the mountain and everybody died who was in that train. Miss Price and Miss Haggarty were both in graduate school then, and Miss Price started taking care of Miss Haggarty, and she’s been taking care of her ever since.

The pull of the land

After they earned their master’s degrees, they could have gone anywhere to teach school — certainly at a much higher salary than teachers were paid in Hilltop — but Miss Price said she couldn’t live anywhere else. “It’s the pull of the land,” she would say with a smile when anyone asked why they had come back to this tiny out-of-the-way community, where everybody knew everybody else’s business and where there had been, at one time, a great deal of whispering about Miss Haggarty and Miss Price. But the town had quickly embraced them — they were irresistibly delightful, and besides, they were very fine teachers — and the whispering stopped.

lemons_in_strainerAnd now here was crusty Miss Price on Sister Alma Rose’s grass-green porch, almost hysterical from worry and lack of sleep. It was a splendid evening in mid-June and the sun hadn’t even set when the full moon rose like a huge platter in the eastern sky. I was sitting on the steps and beginning to wonder if I ought to go home and leave Miss Price and Sister Alma Rose alone, but then Mr. Truman LaFollette, obeying whatever telepathy he and Sister Alma Rose use to communicate, brought me a large tumbler of lemonade with fresh lemon slices floating in it and placed glasses of iced tea with lemon slices on the grass-green wicker table in front of both Sister Alma Rose and Miss Price.

Valeriana officinalis (photo by Kurt Stueber)

Valeriana officinalis (photo by Kurt Stueber)

I had heard of “gnashing of teeth and wringing of hands,” but I’d never actually seen anyone do those things until now. I’m sure there were calming herbs in the iced tea — chamomile, certainly, perhaps valerian, and I don’t know what else — because after a bit Miss Price calmed down enough to sob, thoroughly and loudly, but at least she was sitting still and had ceased to gnash.

Cosmos in Sister Alma Rose's flower garden

Cosmos in Sister Alma Rose's flower garden

Finally Sister Alma Rose stood and walked around the table to Miss Price and put her large, gentle hands high on Miss Price’s back, unobtrusively massaging away the tightness of Miss Price’s neck and shoulder muscles. “Lavinia,” she said — “Lavinia” is Miss Price’s first name — “come with me for a minute. I want to show y’all something in the garden before it gets dark.”

I looked at Sister Alma Rose with a question in my eyes, and she nodded slightly, which I understood to be her way of saying that I should follow at a discreet distance. My relationship with Sister Alma Rose has never been easy to explain, but on this particular evening I felt, as I have at other times, that it was in part a sort of apprenticeship and, furthermore, that somehow I became invisible to the people who came to pour their hearts out to Sister Alma Rose.

The beating of the heart of Mother Earth

Hollyhock flowers

Hollyhock flowers

Miss Price had her face buried in her hands, and she shook her head slightly, but Sister Alma Rose has a way of insisting against which there is no defense. Miss Price rose unsteadily out of her chair and, leaning heavily on Sister Alma Rose, allowed herself to be guided to the lovely flower garden in the back of the house.

In the rays of the setting sun, the flowers were neon-bright, and even Miss Price was momentarily awed by the spectacle of wild roses, hollyhocks, chrysanthemums, bachelor’s buttons, and other varieties I couldn’t name. The light breeze carried the sweet scent of honeysuckle that tumbled over the arched trellis. But the sight and scent of such beauty seemed to make Miss Price even more emotional, and her ample torso was soon heaving with sobs again.

Honeysuckle

Honeysuckle

Sister Alma Rose steered Miss Price to a small raised bed of violets that encircled an ancient cottonwood. There they rested, and I plopped down on the ground nearby. Miss Price sat in what we used to call Indian style, though I’m not sure if it’s polite to use that expression any more. Miss Price was wearing immaculate khaki pants. She leaned back against the smooth, wide trunk of the cottonwood, and sighed enormously.

Sister Alma Rose was muttering something — prayers, I thought — but she didn’t seem to care if Miss Price could hear her or not. Miss Price sat very still, with her eyes closed, supported by the earth and the tree, and she seemed almost to melt into them and take root herself. There was enchantment in the night air; the moon shone on Miss Price as if to ease away the worry lines on her face.

It was so peaceful. Only crickets broke the silence, and maybe the odd field mouse. I couldn’t think of anything I wanted to do or of anywhere I’d rather be than sitting on the grass, between the night sky and the cool ground alongside Sister Alma Rose’s fragrant garden. 

“Do y’all hear it?” asked Sister Alma Rose softly after a bit. Miss Price opened her eyes and nodded and smiled.

“What is it?” I asked. “What do you hear?”

Miss Price seemed to notice me for the first time, and she smiled again.

Me, Fanny McElroy

Me, Fanny McElroy

“Why, Fanny, it’s one of the things we can’t teach you in school.” Her voice was low and soft, but it carried easily through the darkness. “It’s the heartbeat of Mother Earth.”

__________________

 “Gounding yourself” before meditating, or as a meditation on its own, can bring instant relief from panic or anxiety. You don’t have to be sitting on the actual GROUND. Sit or lie anywhere that allows you to feel connected to the earth. It’s a little more difficult if you’re in a high-rise penthouse, but it can be done.

Be conscious of how Mother Earth supports you. Relax every muscle and sink into whatever surface you’re sitting or lying on. Many meditators visualize a golden cord that originates high, high above, passes through the body, and pushes itself through to the center of the earth.

On a nice day, in your own yard or in a park, find a tree to lean against and enjoy the sensation of being grounded and supported by the earth. This is an excellent way to “collect yourself” when your thoughts and worries break their restraints and lead you into a fruitless and exhausting cycle of “what ifs” and “if onlys.”

Some meditators let the light from above course through them and “push” their worries and their woes into the ground, where they become compost.

Find a link for grounding meditation on the Zero Gravity website.

Recommended reading

Section 27: A Century on a Family Farm
by Mil Penner
From Amazon.com product review: Smack in the middle of Kansas, Section 27 in McPherson County has been occupied by the Penner family since 1874. Although few of the area’s residents have direct ties to the past, Mil Penner still farms the land that his family has worked for over 125 years. His account of daily life on a Mennonite family farm near Inman. Kansas, retells a universal story of the American heartland sharpened by personal accounts of one family’s enduring relationship to the land.

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I’m Walkin’

fatsdomino1992concertfrancerolandgodefroyphotog

Fats Domino, performing in Normandy, 1992; photo by Roland Godefroy

Walking Meditation and a Little Bit of Rock-and-Roll History 

Do y’all remember Fats Domino’s 1957 hit “I’m Walkin'”?* No, of course y’all don’t. Y’all are ages younger than Sister Alma Rose… though there was a revival of interest in the song, and the singer, when 2005’s Hurricane Katrina destroyed Fats Domino’s house in New Orleans.

Here’s a priceless and poignant video of an “I’m Walkin'” duet featuring Fats Domino and Ricky Nelson

…poignant, in that this was one of Nelson’s last recorded performances. He was killed in a 1985 plane crash at age 45. (There’s no truth to the rumor that a fire in the cabin, supposedly ignited by Nelson and others while freebasing, caused the crash.) And poignant, in that Nelson’s cover of Domino’s “I’m Walkin'” was Nelson’s debut single. **

The young Nelson family, late 1940s (top to bottom -- Ozzie, Harriet, David, and Ricky)

The young Nelson family, late 1940s (top to bottom -- Ozzie, Harriet, David, and Ricky)

(Notice, in the video, how Nelson vocally defers to Domino. Ricky’s just singing harmony. His voice and his body language are both saying, this is Fats Domino’s song.)

Making a virtue of necessity

Sister Alma Rose ran out of baking soda this morning. She was mildly annoyed, on account of she was baking, and baking soda was needed for both the baking and the cleaning-up afterward.

Normally, Sister Alma Rose enjoys walking to the town of Hilltop and back up to Hilltop Farm, but it was cold this morning and the sky was spitting and there was no one to go with her for company, Cousin Dulcie being away and Fanny McElroy at school. Sister Alma Rose, however, always endeavors to make a virtue of necessity, and so she decided to undertake her trek as a Walking Meditation, in which “each footprint is an impression of the peace and love you feel for the universe.”

Before she begins a walking meditation, Sister Alma Rose prays fervently for several people she knows who’d gleefully give up all their worldly goods for the ability to walk at all, even to Hilltop and back in the wind and sleet.

WalkingThe way Sister Alma Rose practices walking meditation is much like the way she does breathing meditation, except that she focuses on the sensation of encountering the edge of the earth with the soles of her feet. (For you chakra aficionados, this can be a form of grounding meditation in that one foot or the other is always on the ground, Mother Earth nourishing the root chakra.) It is the repetitive, rhythmic intersection of self and surface that induces the meditative state, rather than the cycle of inhaling and exhaling… with the additional benefit of motion. Y’all are headed toward a destination, though the place is irrelevant and should not be allowed to intrude on the meditation.

Some folks do their walking meditation in a pastoral or parklike setting, with acute awareness of birdcalls and flowers and foliage. Others let these external stimuli float in and out of their awareness, returning their focus always to the metrical sensation of walking… of the tangent of physical body with physical planet.

Elvis Presley, early in his career

Elvis Presley, early in his career

Sister Alma Rose would offer y’all two cautions if y’all are beginning a walking meditation:

  1. Leave space in y’all’s outer awareness for some of the more aggressive “external stimuli” — automobiles, rampaging elephants, and the like.
  2. Don’t forget to buy the baking soda.

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* Sister Alma Rose heard, on the public-radio program American Routes (November 28, 2007), an account of the transition from rhythm & blues, once called “black music” or “race music,” to rock & roll — an amalgamation of gospel, folk music, country music, blues (especially jump blues), swing, boogie-woogie, and, of course, R&B, according to Wikipedia. Prominent performers during and after this transition were Bo DiddleyBuddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, and Little Richard — among many others.

During the mid-1950s, entrepreneurial music pioneers saw a vast potential audience for a slightly blander variety of “black music” among white teenagers. There was a particularly fascinating bit of audio in the American Routes broadcast in which Little Richard is being coached to alter the signature R&B syncopation by singing on the down beat (I think the song was “Lucille“… or it might have been “Slippin’ and Slidin’“) — dumbing the music down, in a sense, so that white kids could dance to it. The segment was brief — but long enough to capture a few false starts on Little Richard’s part before he got the hang of it.

It was a pivotal time in the evolution of American popular music, when white performers (most notably Elvis Presley) emulated black musicians, and black performers (the great gospel artist Sam Cooke among them) were being urged to sing “whiter,” and crooners such as Frank Sinatra and onetime barber Perry Como still managed to churn out a few hits. During the 1960s, the Rolling Stones would be among the British bands to revive “black music’s” blues rhythms in the U.S., helping pave the way for the raw vocals of Aretha Franklin and James Brown.

Sam Cooke (photo by Frank Driggs) was only 33 when he was shot and killed, under mysterious circumstances, in 1964

Sam Cooke (photo by Frank Driggs) was only 33 when he was shot and killed, under mysterious circumstances, in 1964

** Ricky Nelson became a “teen idol” when he started singing and playing the guitar on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, featuring his real-life parents, Ozzie and Harriet Nelson, and his brother, David. Ozzie Nelson was best known as a bandleader in the 1930s and 1940s. The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet aired on the radio from 1944 to 1954 and on television from 1952 to 1966.

Serious critics underestimated Ricky’s musicianship, as they had Elvis Presley’s, from the first. It seems that when a singer or a band is enormously popular (as was true of the Everly Brothers, the Beach Boys, and the BeeGees), their innovations and other contributions to the genre are ignored, except in retrospect. Ricky Nelson, influenced by Carl Perkins, eventually found his niche in rockabilly, after his “chart career came to a dramatic halt in the wake of the British Invasion…. In the mid-1960s, Nelson began to move toward country music, becoming a pioneer in the country-rock genre. He was one of the early influences of the so-called California Sound (which would include singers like Jackson Browne and Linda Ronstadt and bands like the Eagles). Yet Nelson himself did not reach the Top 40 again until 1970, when he recorded Bob Dylan‘s ‘She Belongs to Me’ with the Stone Canyon Band.” —Wikipedia

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