Quickie

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AlexanderEmpire334-323BCE

The Empire of Alexander the Great, 4th century BCE; Jerusalem is shown just ENE of Gaza, lower right "corner" of the Mediterranean Sea; via Wikipedia

Civilizing the Nations

EVERYONE OF ANY OR NO RELIGION should listen to this free audio — fascinating and compelling, and the single most educational hour of my adult life. Click HERE

INCLUDES THIS, FROM JOHN ADAMS:

WorldPerfect230x150I will insist the Hebrews have [contributed] more to civilize men than any other nation. If I was an atheist and believed in blind eternal fate, I should still believe that fate had ordained the Jews to be the most essential instrument for civilizing the nations … They are the most glorious nation that ever inhabited this Earth. The Romans and their empire were but a bubble in comparison to the Jews. They have given religion to three-quarters of the globe and have influenced the affairs of mankind more and more happily than any other nation, ancient or modern.

…OR buy the book WorldPerfect: The Jewish Impact on Civilization, by Rabbi Ken Spiro.

There are many gems like Rabbi Spiro’s free audio on the SimpleToRemember website. Check it out!

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The Eloise Cure

Sample blogs on a gazillion topics at Alpha Inventions

Isn't she lovely?

Isn't she lovely?

Praise God for all the people who spread kindness
quietly, who every day make
sweeter by a note, a call — What does it
take to do the things you’ve always meant to
do but never took the time; too busy,
overladen with responsibility, with
this committee, that event, the social
whirl; but aren’t we meant to feed His sheep?

Small kindnesses can save
the world. Thank God for them. Amen
Anonymous

Tea with Eloise

tea_roomYesterday, Sister Alma Rose and I had tea with Eloise. We met at the Hilltop Tea Room, which is very sophisticated for Hilltop, which is to say that all the plants are real and not plastic. The tablecloth fabrics are different colorful French Provincial prints, the dishes are unmatching white china, very beautiful, and for ambient music the owner, Mrs. Fern Feeney (really, that is her name), plays Beethoven and Mozart rather than sanitized versions of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and “Strawberry Fields Forever” performed by the Orchestra of All Our Music Sounds the Same.

tearoom_ouytdoor_diningIt was a beautiful morning, and we decided to have our tea and scones on the patio, where there are a tinkly fountain and enormous potted plants filled with daisies and moss rose and petunias and asparagus ferns and begonias, and that stringy stuff, moss, or something.

French provincial-style drape

French provincial-style drape

I always, always, always thank God, up close and personal, for Eloise. If I were on my deathbed, bleeding from all orifices, with a temperature of a hundred and ten, delirious and retching — and Sister Alma Rose said, “Fanny McElroy, let’s go have tea with Eloise,” I would be instantly cured. I would “rise, pick up [my] bed, and walk,” as Jesus told the paralytic, but I’m sure the paralytic’s bed did not have an antique carved-oak headboard and footboard and two mattresses, so I am speaking figuratively, not literally.

frenchch_provincial_tea_thingsHere is what I love about Eloise: She is truly, genuinely, deep-down kind. If you need something, she is right there, whether the “something” is a kidney donation or $10 to get your eyebrows waxed.

Eloise got married in her mid-30s, for the first (and last) time, to the guy (Duncan) who is tied for Second Most Wonderful Man in the World (first most wonderful is my dad), who is 10 years younger than Eloise (Duncan, not my dad), and when Eloise was creeping up on 40, she and Duncan had a baby boy and, a few years later, a baby girl, who are adorable,

Me, Fanny McElroy

Me, Fanny McElroy

smart, funny kids, and Duncan and Eloise do not ask me to baby-sit as often as they could, even though I wouldn’t let them pay me because I love the kids and I also love Duncan and Eloise’s unpretentious 90-year-old house with oak floors and enormous double-hung windows, the kind where the rope is always breaking in the guts of the window frame, where you can’t get to it, so you have to prop the window up with a tire iron or something.

PattiLabelle1A number of years ago, Eloise and her family, including her grandparents, Ellen and Rick, were dining in some swank Kansas City hotel when Patti Labelle slipped into the room. Eloise said, quietly, to the assembled family, “Patti Labelle just walked in.”

Ellen, thrilled but not, unfortunately, beyond words, bellowed to Rick, who was hard of hearing, “Look, Rick! It’s Patti O’Dell!”

Who?” Rick bellowed back.

“PAT-tee O-DELL!” Ellen screeched, an octave higher and eighty decibels louder, in tones Patti might have envied, were she a lesser person.

Eloise’s dark side?

I have a story on Eloise, something she did when she was five years old and had to stay home from kindergarten because she was sick, so she was sitting on the front porch watching all the other kids walk home from school, and she was very crabby, and a little girl from Eloise’s kindergarten class walked by, and Eloise yelled at that little girl, at the top of her (Eloise’s) lungs, the absolutely most inventive bit of profanity you can think of.

An elegant spittoon

An elegant spittoon

But I am not going to tell you what it was, except to say that, based on that oh-so-cleverly articulated word alone, you would think that Eloise would have taken the Wrong Path and would have grown up to be a sniper-terrorist-Nazi-Satanist instead of the smart, generous, beautiful, delightful woman that she is.

Here is proof of Eloise’s wonderfulness: She has only one auntie, and every few weeks she takes her auntie to coffee, and her auntie, whose name is Augusta, hates the world because she, Augusta, has ugly warts, and she chews tobacco and curses loudly and is always scratching her private places, where there are, no doubt, fleas or something worse, I don’t want to know, and she rarely smiles, which is a good thing, because, when she does, there are bits of chewing tobacco between her teeth, of which there are seven (I counted) and they (Augusta’s teeth) resemble kidney beans, and when she wants the waitress, she yells, “Girlie!” really loud, and when the waitress refills Augusta’s coffee cup, Augusta always says, “leave room for my medicine, Girlie,” and then she pours something vile and alcoholic from the flask she always carries… and Eloise loves her anyway.

pie_cupboard

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    ‘Absolutely’

    A Meeting of Spirits

    'Alexandra'

    'Alexandra'

    Sister Alma Rose and I flew (on an airplane) to a wedding last week. Sister Alma Rose said it was okay for me to write about it as long as I didn’t use people’s real names. I don’t know why; it wasn’t like it was supposed to be a SECRET or anything. I mean, they sent out scores of wedding invitations, and the invitations didn’t say, “You’re invited to a wedding, here’s the place, here’s the time, but we can’t tell you who the bride and groom are. It will be a SURPRISE!”

    'Lance'

    'Lance'

    Sister Alma Rose, however, usually has a good reason for saying what she says and doing what she does, so I will use pseudonyms for everyone as she requested.

    The groom, “Lance” (not his real name), is Sister Alma Rose’s godson. Lance and his bride, “Alexandra,” had lived together for four years with their beautiful son, “Rex.” Sister Alma Rose did not understand why they waited so long to get married — Sister Alma Rose is a big fan of marriage, plus she absolutely adores Alexandra, as evidenced by paying her the highest possible compliment of allowing her (Alexandra) to marry her (Sister Alma Rose’s) godson — but anyway, Lance said that now they can put a big tattoo on Rex’s forehead that says LEGITIMATE. That Lance, he is such a jokester.

    'Rex' (spring 2008)

    'Rex' (spring 2008)

    Lance and Alexandra had a secular wedding. Sister Alma Rose doesn’t know the meaning of secular. She considers practically everything to be sacred — picking your nose, cleaning the oven, whatever — and she told me that when two people pay thousands of dollars to make a commitment in the presence of their friends and families to become married, and, with their son and any subsequent children, to be a family… and then immediately celebrate that union by eating dolled-up chicken breasts and sweet little salads with pansy petals in them, drinking inordinate amounts of wine, and dancing endlessly to music played by a cornball deejay who made sly, unfunny witticisms about “the wedding night,” and so forth… there is no way that that ceremony and that celebration are not sacred.

    'Claire' and 'Rex'

    'Claire' and 'Rex'

    But, Sister Alma Rose goes on to say, every true friendship, sometimes even a chance encounter, can be “a meeting of spirits” and therefore sacred.

    In any event, the marriage took place in a lovely garden and the reception was in the adjacent ballroom. I guess a lot of people get married there, because there were two efficient “wedding planners” at the rehearsal, which was the night before the wedding, and the wedding planners were telling everybody when to walk down the aisle and where to sit, and nobody was paying attention because everyone had temporarily reverted to seventh grade, and we all assumed that something would go wrong anyway, which, if it doesn’t, it’s not a real wedding and there’s nothing to talk about for years and years afterward, and besides, there was going to be a lavish party involving lots of food, beer, and wine immediately after the rehearsal, so let’s get this over with, was the prevailing attitude.

    'Christine,' 'Max,' and 'Claire'

    'Christine,' 'Max,' and 'Claire'

    The lavish party was at Lance’s “Aunt Amelia” and “Uncle César’s” lavish house, about which I remember nothing except that it was lavish and there seemed to be a lot of gorgeous marble everywhere. The reason I don’t remember much about the house is that it was so full of happy people, each one kinder and more gracious than the next, which was a miracle in and of itself, because in a gathering of that type you can expect an assortment of ex-spouses and current spouses and significant others and “blended families” and so forth. But everyone seemed to have left his or her baggage at the door, because, as Sister Alma Rose said, (1) no one wanted to mar the occasion for Lance and Alexandra, (2) all the current and former couples are, for the most part, mature adults (except on solemn occasions like weddings and funerals) and get along pretty well anyway, and (3) the bride and groom and the hosts set the tone for the party, the tone being, as Sister Alma Rose put it, “generosity of spirit.” The hosts were Lance’s dad, “Ken,” and Ken’s wife, Tomoko (and that IS her real name because I can’t think of any other Japanese women’s names at the moment), Lance’s “Aunt Savannah” and “Uncle George,” and, of course, Aunt Amelia and Uncle César.

    The groomsmen — 'Jeremy,' 'Max,' and 'Tom'

    Men in black: groomsmen 'Jeremy,' 'Max,' and 'Tom'

    After the party, the glowing bride-to-be and her friend “Christine” took Christine’s daughter, “Claire,” and Rex to the hotel where they had a room. Claire’s dad is Lance’s brother, “Max,” who stayed at Lance and Alexandra’s house with his sweetie, “Justine,” and their one-year-old son, “little Max.” Are you following along here? Sister Alma Rose and I stayed there, too, along with several other delightful people, and it was just… well, delightful. Even the day of the wedding was pretty relaxed, until everyone realized how late it had gotten and all dove for the shower at once because we were supposed to be at the wedding place by 4:30 for “pictures,” which, of course, took ages and consisted mostly of waiting and trying to not sweat.

    'Lance' and his new father-in-law, 'Mike'

    'Lance' and his new father-in-law, 'Mike'

    Lance’s mom’s name is “Peggy” (not really). For the actual wedding, Lance escorted her to the front row to sit next to Ken and Tomoko. Then Lance went and stood at the “altar,” so to speak, so handsome and grown up in his pinstripe suit, and Peggy broke into heaving sobs, and of course, although Peggy and Ken have a cordial relationship for two people who used to be married and haven’t seen each other for ten years, she couldn’t very well bury her face in Ken’s shoulder. Sister Alma Rose was about to go up and sit next to Peggy (“Every groom’s mom needs a shoulder to sob on,” she whispered to me) when there was a pleasant distraction.

    'Claire' and 'Rex'

    'Claire' and 'Rex'

    Lance’s irrepressible best man, “Tom,” entered with Alexandra’s sister “Jeanne” on his arm, and Tom is such a goof, and I mean that in the nicest possible way because I adore Tom, that he had talked Jeanne into walking down the aisle in that kind of step-touch, step-touch way of walking that I don’t think anybody does any more, not even in church processionals or at graduations, so Tom and Jeanne cracked everybody up and Peggy stopped sobbing.

    She got a little weepy again when her grandchildren Rex and Claire, both age 4, ringbearer and flower girl respectively, ambled down the aisle. Claire apparently forgot that she was supposed to be scattering flower petals until she got to the front, so she just sort of poured them into a little pile by Peggy’s feet and went over to sit with her mom.

    Grandpa 'Ken,' 'Max Jr.' and Grandma Tomoko

    Grandpa 'Ken,' 'Max Jr.' and Grandma Tomoko

    The officiant — I guess that’s what you call the person who performs the marriage ceremony if he or she is not a minister — was wearing a toupee, which was not very well affixed, and it sort of slid precariously around on his head, looking like a wandering tribe of spiders, and Sister Alma Rose and I got the giggles, and the officiant talked on and on about nothing, which, if it’s not a religious ceremony, what is there to talk about anyway? And we’d think he was just about done secularly sermonizing, and he’d take a deep breath and go off in another direction, and he kept stuttering, and I thought that Sister Alma Rose was going to cause herself grievous bodily harm, she was trying so hard not to laugh out loud, but she just coughed a lot instead, as though she were trying to dislodge an entire yam from her throat.

    'Tom,' 'Alexandra,' and 'Celeste'

    'Tom,' 'Alexandra,' and 'Celeste'

    AT LONG LAST, when the officiant asked Lance the usual wedding questions, such as, do you, Lance, take Alexandra, blah, blah, Lance answered, “ABSOLUTELY,” in no uncertain terms. Alexandra gave the more conventional “I DO,” but just as loudly, so that nobody present, or within a radius of three blocks, was left in doubt of their commitment, which was sealed with a very lavish kiss.

    But the best was yet to come — the dinner, the champagne toasts, the wedding cake, and the dancing. Even though the deejay was a complete dweeb, as I have said, he was really into being a deejay, and at one point all the dancing stopped and the deejay, along with Alexandra’s other sister, “Felicia,” and the three groomsmen, did this choreographed skit to music from the movie Grease, completely unrehearsed and very silly and fun.

    Alexandra danced all night, and she was stunning. I’m not intuitive the way Sister Alma Rose is — she sees auras and stuff — but I turned to Sister Alma Rose at one point and said, “There’s so much love in here you could cut it with a knife.” And Sister Alma Rose agreed.
    Me, Fanny McElroy

    Me, Fanny McElroy

    Emotional boot camp

    Sister Alma Rose mostly talked to Peggy, who was still in shock brought on by seeing both of her sons in pinstripe suits.

    'Alexandra's' sister 'Jeanne'

    'Alexandra's' sister 'Jeanne'

    “For ten years,” Peggy said with a sigh, “I had a sweet-natured daughter and wondered what all the fuss was about when it came to parenting. Then I had Max, and eighteen months later I had Lance, and the very first time I put Lance into his playpen, Max dropped one of those big Tonka dump trucks onto Lance’s head, and I should have seen it as a harbinger [except she pronounced it “hairbringer”] of things to come [which is, of course, redundant]. When the boys were teenagers and the phone rang in the middle of the night and I picked it up and a voice said, ‘Is this Mrs. Jones?’ [not her real last name], I would say, ‘That depends,’ or, ‘Who wants to know?’ I spent so much time in courtrooms and principals’ offices and teacher conferences that I bought a couple of modest Amish-looking dark-colored dresses with white Peter Pan collars and referred to them as my ‘mother-of-the-felon’ wardrobe.

    'Max Jr.'

    'Max Jr.'

    “Raising children,” Peggy told Sister Alma Rose, “is like emotional boot camp. I don’t think that most people, before they become parents, have any idea how far they can stretch without breaking… or that, if they DO break, God puts the pieces back together.

    “Of all the things I’ve done in my life, though,” Peggy said wistfully, “being a mom is the best, and I’d gladly do it all again, except without Tonka trucks.”

    We took an early-morning flight home, and Sister Alma Rose was so tired that she fell asleep several times right there in her seat on the plane and woke herself up saying something that related to whatever she was dreaming about while she slept. The first time, she said, loudly, “It’s TEN dollars, not THIRTY dollars,” and the second time, she sat up very straight and announced, “I am NEVER going to go into REAL estate.”

    Now we are home, and I am missing Lance and Alexandra and Rex a whole lot, and so I went outside and made a big chalk arrow on the sidewalk and then under it I wrote, “This way to Lance and Alexandra and Rex’s house,” and for now it’s enough just to know that we’re all on the same planet.

    wedding_b4_ava

    The Ancients, Part 1 — Daddy Pete

    The Ancients, Part 1 — Daddy Pete

     

    Demon Lady Number Two

    Little Lea, C. S. Lewis's childhood home

    Little Lea, C. S. Lewis's childhood home

    If we really want to learn how to forgive, perhaps we had better start with something easier than the Gestapo.C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

    I thought such awful thoughts that I cannot even say them out loud because they would make Jesus want to drink gin straight out of the cat dish. —Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith

    The Gospel According to Mrs. May Belle Mortimer, the Banker’s Widow

    Some people just have way too much time on their hands, Sister Alma Rose is always saying. 

    Sister Alma Rose is so full of love that it spills out of her like a tumble of wild roses on a venerable trellis. I don’t claim to be able to see people’s auras — though I wish I could, and angels, too — but Sister Alma Rose simply shines. She even glows in the dark — not like a ghost, or a firefly, or something radioactive… more like a wisp of cloud as it slides past the moon.

    wild_roses_istock

    Not that she’s a pushover. I’ve seen her good and mad a couple of times, such as when she and Cousin Dulcie were making plans to steal Janet, who is now Sister Alma Rose’s yellow labrador, and, further, to put the fear of God into the old drunk who used to beat her (Janet, I  mean, not Sister Alma Rose). But then, after Janet was safe, she (Sister Alma Rose, I mean, not Janet) prayed for that pathetic old man.

    Janet

    Janet

    My third-grade teacher was so mean I called her Demon Lady. Now I can’t even remember her real name. Let’s say it’s Mrs. Pflug (it was one of those names that always make me think of sinus drainage). She hated children, and she especially hated me, and I wondered why someone who was practically allergic to kids became a schoolteacher. She always called me “Frannie” because, she said, “Fanny” was “a hideous and nasty name.” And when we had square-dancing on Wednesdays, if there were more girls than boys (which there almost always were), she’d make me sit out, every time, without fail.

    Me, Fanny McElroy

    Me, Fanny McElroy

    Well, the Demon Lady was Troubled, and, as troubled people in Hilltop usually do, she made her way up the hill to talk to Sister Alma Rose. And the next time I plopped down on one of Sister Alma Rose’s grass-green wicker chairs on her grass-green porch and started complaining about the Demon Lady, Sister Alma Rose put up a hand to stop me.

    “I know I can trust y’all, Fanny, to keep this to yourself,” she said. “That poor woman had two daughters, and she was driving them somewhere and ran a red light, and a truck smashed into her car and killed one of those little girls and the other one was brain-damaged and paralyzed and lives in the nursing home in La Mesa. Y’all remind her of the daughter who died, Fanny. She told me that.”

    I just sat there, with one tear dribbling down my face, feeling sad and guilty. Sister Alma Rose took my hand and squeezed it so tight I thought I’d faint. Sister Alma Rose doesn’t know her own strength.

    “There’s a lesson here, Miss Fanny,” she said, mercifully letting go of my hand, which had gone numb. “Don’t never take nothing personal. Shine love and light on the person who wrongs you. Everyone has a story.”

    Meddling in the name of the Lord

    I tried to remember that advice when Miss Price and Miss Haggarty almost got fired from teaching, though, technically, it was Miss Price and Miss Haggarty who had cause for grievance, not me. As everyone knows, Miss Price and Miss Haggarty have been together for thirty years, and they are Beloved in Hilltop, which has a sort of don’t-ask-don’t-tell attitude toward these dear and generous women, though anybody who doesn’t have beet paste for brains knows that they’re not just a couple of old-maid schoolteachers who happen to live together for convenience, but Hilltop folks don’t think much, any more, about their intimate personal lives. They are very much a part of the mainstream in Hilltop, where almost everybody is good-hearted and chooses to see Miss Price and Miss Haggarty as a couple of grown-up Girl Scouts rather than Deviants Living in Sin…

    Miss Price

    Miss Price

    …except for Mrs. May Belle Mortimer, the banker’s widow, Demon Lady Number Two, who is just plain mean-spirited, even Sister Alma Rose says so. She didn’t have time to do much mischief when Mr. Bert Mortimer was alive and they had children at home, identical twins, Maureen and Darla, who were nice girls in spite of their mother’s unrelenting attempts to turn them into May-Belle-Mortimer clones. Probably in self-defense, Maureen and Darla married men who lived in New Zealand — I am perfectly serious — and then Mr. Bert Mortimer died, and May Belle grieved for about forty-five minutes and then turned her attention to Cleansing Hilltop of Sin.

    Miss Haggarty

    Miss Haggarty

    Unfortunately, Mrs. May Belle Mortimer was on the school board and had a particular animosity toward Miss Price and Miss Haggarty. The lavish parties she used to give when Mr. Mortimer was alive were the only parties in Hilltop to which Miss Price and Miss Haggarty were never invited. If Maureen or Darla was assigned to one of their classes, May Belle would try to get them transferred to different classes, until Maureen and Darla put their collective feet down and refused to budge.

    Gotcha

    About ten miles south of Hilltop there is a lovely golf course and park on a small lake — big enough for sailboats, but not so big that you couldn’t walk all the way around it in a couple of hours. As cruel fate would have it, May Belle was driving to her A-frame cabin, which she always referred to, with haughty ostentation, as “Mortimer Cottage,” one Saturday morning in April — the first warm, glittery, delicious-smelling spring day of the year — when she spotted Miss Price and Miss Haggarty walking along the lake path, holding hands.

    Spirea in full bloom (photo by Moja, GFDL)

    Spirea in full bloom (photo by Moja, GFDL)

    I can only imagine how ecstatic May Belle must have been as she pulled into the Bathhouse parking lot (tucking her petal-pink Town Car behind a clump of spirea), grabbed her fancy-schmancy camera with the telephoto lens, and surreptitiously, as if she were Sherlock-Frigging-Holmes, who never used a camera as far as I know, but anyway, May Belle took a slew of photographs of two kindhearted women, without a care in the world, walking hand-in-hand on a gorgeous spring morning; and naturally she presented these photographs at the next school-board meeting, announcing that the photos proved that Miss Price and Miss Haggarty were Perverts Consigned to Hell “and should be dismissed from their teaching positions before they can infect our daughters with their insidious lechery.”

    Nobody said a word, though a couple of school-board members laughed out loud, according to what Mr. Archie Appleby, president of the school board, told Sister Alma Rose. May Belle continued to loom triumphantly in the silence, until she looked around and saw that everyone had sort of inched away from her, lest they become infected by May Belle’s insidious spitefulness.

    “I move that we fire these practitioners of base depravity — immediately,” May Belle said in defiant rage. No one seconded the motion.

    “Well,” she said, perching a little unsteadily on the nearest chair, “I guess I’ll have to take this matter to the state department of education.”

    “Why don’t you just do that, May Belle,” said Mr. Appleby with quiet menace. “But first — May Belle, you got your camera with you?”

    May Belle said that her camera was in the car and Mr. Appleby asked her to please go get it, so she did, and when she came back in, all the other school-board members, the teachers and principals who were in attendance, and the newspaper reporter who always came to the school-board meetings, were standing in a circle holding hands — men with men, men with women, women with women.

    “If you’re going to the state department of education,” said Mr. Appleby, “you might as well not have to make two trips.” Mrs. May Belle Mortimer just stood there like a statue, Mr. Appleby told Sister Alma Rose, for what seemed like half an hour. He said, chuckling, that he had been afraid he would have to kiss Kevin O’Hara, the reporter, on the lips to break through May Belle’s paralysis, but eventually she just turned on her heel and walked out of the room.

    Heart beams

    I wish I could say that the incident cured May Belle’s homophobia and that she and Miss Price and Miss Haggarty became fast friends, but that isn’t what happened. Had May Belle shown any kindness or remorse, she would have been forgiven and welcomed back into the fold. As it was, she closed up her house and “Mortimer Cottage” and went to New Zealand “indefinitely.”

    Sister Alma Rose believes that there are some people, or more likely, she says, they are androids or extraterrestrials (like the slimy giant cockroach from Men in Black), who are evil through and through, without souls. “Mrs. May Belle Mortimer is not one of those beings,” Sister Alma Rose told me, “but I think she’s going to need a few more lifetimes to scrape the crust off her heart. There’s a lot of bad karma that’ll need redemption.”

    And Sister Alma Rose and I prayed for Mrs. May Belle Mortimer. I was a little worried that our warm, loving thoughts wouldn’t make it all the way to New Zealand, especially mine, which were tepid rather than warm, and if they weren’t precisely loving, at least I no longer wished that May Belle would be stricken with an agonizing and fatal disease involving flesh-eating bacteria.

    “Our prayers and compassion will be carried on angels’ wings, wherever they need to be received,” said Sister Alma Rose… and the glow of the setting sun seemed to cling to Sister Alma Rose for a long, long time after dusk became dark and the crickets began their evening litany.

    Milford Sound, New Zealand

    Milford Sound, New Zealand

     

    The Ancients, Part 1 — Daddy Pete

    The Ancients, Part 1 — Daddy Pete

    Sister Alma Rose’s Daily Prayer

    Sample blogs on a gazillion topics at Alpha Inventions

    450px-dordogne_2

    We Are Healers and Disciples

    Prayer… is the conduit through which God’s power, grace, and light are released into a dark world. Long ago, Chinese theologian Watchman Nee said, “Our prayers lay the track down on which God’s power can come. Like a mighty locomotive, his power is irresistible, but it cannot reach us without rails….” Prayer forms the bridge between earth’s need and heaven’s unending supply of grace. A Busy Woman’s Guide to Prayer: Forget the Guilt and Find the Gift, by Cheri Fuller

    Father-Mother God Almighty, you have
    shaped for us so wonderful a place, and
    grasshopper_in_buttercupyet we war for every inch, this acre,
    this enchanted space, as though we had, our-
    selves, created it out of the ether.

    Once you made me; make me once again, a
    new creation, every morning new, that
    I might shine with your reflected grace, and,
    too, no longer burdened with the weight of
    karmic retribution, spread my wings and
    fly among the planets and the stars.

    O, Father-Mother, send me to embrace with
    healing light my brothers and my sisters.
    Send me to them now and I shall kiss each
    brow, and sprinkle lavender and pearls, and
    they will feel the cure, a gentle sting, no
    more than that — for surely, God, once shriven,
    I am naught but pure and holy love, a
    moment only, living unencumbered,
    free of gravity — a ray of sun.

    enchanted_shore Your
    love is weightless; one might bear it blithely,
    just as driftwood rises to the surface
    of the sea. Direct me, Mother-Father,
    to the sons and daughters, restless in the
    night from pain or grieving. You can hear them,
    God, though they complain in solitude. But
    here, I see that you have summoned angels —
    guards, companions, watchers, whom I know fromwaterfall_mountains
    other nations, other lives. God, bless our
    going and returning. All you’ve taught to
    us of healing or of letting go; of
    being merciful or saying no; of
    finding the divinity in all — the
    learning’s etched upon our spirits, for we
    are your children, healers and disciples;
    joyfully we undertake to serve in
    all the paths you take and bid us follow.

    ____________

    All photos © Luc Viatour GFDL/CC

    ____________

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    Desperation Meditation

    An Airbus 340-600 on final approach

    An Airbus 340-600 on final approach

    Sister Alma Rose has received numerous requests to print “the Meditation of Not Being in a Plummeting Aircraft,” to which she refers, now and again, when y’all write to her with “problems” that are, in fact, no such thing, at least not when compared with one’s Impending Fiery Demise.

    Sister Alma Rose has no fear of flying. In a speeding passenger jet, she feels as safe as a baby in a cradle — as long as the jet is not speeding in a vertical downward direction, something that Sister Alma Rose has not experienced, and she does not anticipate ever doing so.
    Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner (copyright Warner Brothers)

    Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner (copyright Warner Brothers)

     

    The Meditation of Not Being in a Plummeting Aircraft…

    …originated with the following bit of verse, by Anon E. Mouse.

    crisis-144x1351I am ashen-faced, my pulse is racing
    like a rabbit, as the sleek airliner
    in which I’m a passenger is streaking
    through the bright, blue sky. The flight attendants
    serve my choice of beverage, obscenely
    alcoholic; all the other passengers,
    insouciant, are chatting, reading, dozing;
    yet I know I am about to die. I
    know, moreover, planes can’t really fly — the
    one I’m in will any moment realize the
    speciousness of all aerodynamic
    principles, and plummet, just like
    Wile
    E. Coyote
    , to the seething desert
    floor. So I implore the God Whom, up to
    now, I mostly have ignored, and ask to
    be delivered safely to my desti-
    nation; and I vow to never take for
    granted anything henceforth. I promise
    I will always be contented once this
    mortal peril I am in no longer
    threatens.

    I think of my small discontents, the day-to-
    day annoyances disturbing my
    serenity, and see them as not merely
    trivial but absolutely radiant, the
    jigsaw-puzzle pieces of my life, which,
    now that I’m about to lose it, gleams with
    incandescent loveliness. How fine a
    thing it was to take a breath and know that
    I could take another and another,
    practically forever.
    Apparently you have to be about to
    die to see your life as burnished, jeweled,
    precious; to be grateful thoroughly for
    all things great and small — for people, family and
    friends, but also chicken-noodle soup, and
    watermelon; bookends, blankets, tennis
    shoes, a vintage flick; the symphony, to
    which you never go, but will — oh, yes, at
    least four times a year if you survive; and
    every single dance recital, soccer
    game, and Christmas program featuring
    your grandchildren you shall attend.

    watermelon_steve_evans2Then the engine noises change; the plane
    descends; you send your promises to God on
    angel wings, express delivery; you
    shiver. Are we meant to fall so fast? Is
    this the End? Or will you live to see
    tomorrow? Fear gives way to sorrow, that you
    didn’t say “I love you” oftener. How
    softened are the grievances that made you
    bitter and unkind. God willing, you shall
    overlook the little things and leave your
    pettiness behind, white contrails in an
    azure sky, forevermore.

    For surely leeds_bradford_international_airport_david-benbennick1God is gracious; you arrive, and
    do so — can it be? Yes — quite on time!

    I write this
    to remind myself to practice grati-
    tude, and grant the world more latitude to
    fall amiss of my exacting expec-
    tations. There are only to be cele-
    brations, for entitlement is left in
    outer space. God’s grace is mani-
    fest. And with a few forgivable o-
    missions, once I knelt and kissed the
    tarmac, I have (so far) honored all I
    pledged at twenty thousand feet, and dwelt up-
    on my blessings, praising God un-
    ceasingly since he delivered me, with
    generosity divinely tendered,
    not as toast, nor as a smoking cinder,
    yesterday.  

    The Earth at night, a composite of DMSP-OLS ground illumination data on simulated nighttime image of the world (NASA)
    The Earth at night, a composite of DMSP-OLS ground illumination data on simulated nighttime image of the world (NASA)

    Sweet, ripe watermelon at roadside stand in India, photo by Steve Evans
    Leeds-Bradford International Airport, photo by David Benbennick

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    The Mysteries

    jesus_6th_c_mosaic

    A 6th-century mosaic of Jesus

    When asked which is the “greatest” of God’s commandments, Jesus replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”Matthew 22:37-39

    Who Is Jesus?

    Sister Alma Rose prays to Jesus. I have heard her. “O Jesus, have mercy!” she’ll say when there’s a calamity. But if you ask her if she’s Jewish, she says yes, she is, which is also what she answers when asked if she is a Buddhist, which I know because I was with her at Polly Ellen’s when she quoted from the Gospel of Buddha

    Painting of the Buddha at the Deer Park (photo by Kay Ess)

    Painting of the Buddha at the Deer Park (photo by Kay Ess)

    The deva said,

    What is the greatest gain?

    What is the greatest loss?

    Which armour is invulnerable?

    What is the best weapon?

    The Blessed One replied,

    The greatest gain is to give to others;

    the greatest loss is to greedily receive without gratitude;

    an invulnerable armor is patience;

    the best weapon is wisdom.

    …and Polly Ellen said, “Sister Alma Rose, are you a Buddhist?” and Sister Alma Rose said she was.

    “But I thought you were a Christian,” Polly Ellen said.

    “I am,” said Sister Alma Rose serenely.

    Polly Ellen turned to me and said, “Fanny, do you know Jesus?”

    I never know quite what to say when people ask me if I “know Jesus” or if I have “been saved.” The short answer is Yes, but I don’t think we’re having the same conversation.  I mean, I don’t think my “yes” means what the other person thinks it means.

    I was sure that Polly Ellen and I weren’t having the same conversation when she asked me to give my “testimony.”

    “Why don’t you go first,” I suggested, and could have bit my tongue off. Sister Alma Rose just smiled and settled a little farther back in her chair.

    Polly Ellen’s testimony

    Me, Fanny McElroy

    Me, Fanny McElroy

    Don’t worry if there are things you don’t understand about Jesus. I have been learning about who Jesus is all my life, and I still don’t understand. It is one of the mysteries, and that’s okay. Mysteries are exciting. Someday, all the mysteries will be explained. I don’t mind waiting.

    Polly Ellen

    Polly Ellen

    When I was a little girl, I didn’t like Jesus very much. In fact, I was quite afraid of him. Most of what I knew about Jesus I learned in Sunday school. I went to Sunday school every week because I was a very serious little girl and I wanted very seriously to be good.

    Even after my family stopped going to church, I kept going to Sunday school to learn how to be good. I asked my brother why we had stopped going to church as a family, and he said it was because Mom and Dad thought the minister at our church was a big poophead. This is not a word I think you should use. I’m just telling you what my brother said.

    The Sermon on the Mount, painted by Carl Heinrich Bloch (d.1890)

    The Sermon on the Mount, painted by Carl Heinrich Bloch (d.1890)

    At Sunday school, the teachers would have us memorize a little piece of the Bible, and it usually was about something Jesus wanted us to do that wasn’t fun. “Give all your stuff to the poor and follow me.” “Love your enemies.” “Do good to those who hate you.” These verses were from the part of the Bible called the Gospel, which means “good news.” But I couldn’t figure out what was so good about it.

    The Sunday school teachers said that Jesus didn’t want me to be selfish and that I should care more for other people, ALL the other people in the world, than I cared about myself. This was hard for me to understand, because I knew these Sunday school teachers, and they all lived in big fancy houses and had expensive cars, and also, they wouldn’t let black people come to our church.

    Cupola painting depicting Heaven and Hell, Il Duomo (begun in 1296), Florence, Italy

    Cupola painting depicting Heaven and Hell, Il Duomo (begun in 1296), Florence, Italy

    But still, I grew up feeling more or less guilty most of the time because I was selfish. The only good thing about it was that I was always nice to everybody, even geeks and nerds and people who smelled bad, and so I got to be Homecoming Queen because geeks and nerds vote too.

    A starving Biafran child in the late 1960s

    A starving Biafran child in the late 1960s

    By the time I was a grownup, I was sure that I was a horrible person and that God couldn’t possibly love me enough to want me with him in heaven. Sometimes I would start to feel happy, but then I would catch myself and remember that I wasn’t supposed to be happy, not as long as there was a single person in the world who was poor or sick or suffering in any way.

    Now I am almost always happy. And I will tell you why.

    Many years ago, I met a very wise woman named Margaret, who read Jesus’ words to me out of the Bible. She read from the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 22, verse 39: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

    Jesus at the Marriage at Cana, fresco by Giotto (Giotta de Bondone), early 1300s
    Jesus at the Marriage at Cana, fresco by Giotto (Giotto di Bondone), early 1300s

    “Jesus doesn’t want you to love your neighbor instead of yourself,” Margaret said. “He wants you to love yourself too. If you let him, he will fill you full of love — enough for yourself and the whole rest of the world.”

    Then she read to me from Matthew, chapter 6, where Jesus says, “Do not worry.”

    “Pray, and give your worries to God,” Margaret said.

    And so I think that the Good News, which Jesus taught, is that you don’t have to be perfect. In fact, any time you want to, you can give your mistakes and your fears and your worries to God, and God will put love in the place where your fears and worries used to be, and God will guide you in the way that you should go, because God loves you and wants you to be happy. That’s why God made you in the first place.

    * * *

    By the time Polly Ellen finished her testimony, tears were rolling down my face — tears of pity, thinking of Polly Ellen making herself so unhappy all those years because she thought she needed to carry the weight of the world… tears of joy, because the Polly Ellen I have always known is like a merry sprite, shining and humming and dancing through life.

    When Polly Ellen walked with us out onto her porch to say goodbye, I gave her a big hug. “I am so grateful for you, Polly Ellen,” I said, and she held me tight and a little bit extra long, and when Sister Alma Rose and I were walking up the hill toward home, Sister Alma Rose handed me her clean, ancient floral hankie, which had been very neatly mended in several places, and I wondered if Sister Alma Rose is the only person in the world who still mends raggedy old hankies and darns her socks.

    * * *

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    Forever Pregnant

    The Unselfish Automobile and the Good Christian

    Detail from "Views of a Fetus in the Womb," da Vinci

    Detail from "Views of a Fetus in the Womb," da Vinci

    When I was a child in Presbyterian Sunday school, I was taught that being a good Christian means being unselfish. Somehow I interpreted this to mean that my wants and needs were unimportant… that I had been put on earth exclusively to Serve Others.

    This was a troubling concept, but it didn’t cause much of a problem until I was out of my teens. During one’s adolescence, it’s almost impossible not to be self-centered and self-aware. I think it’s a hormonal thing.

    By the time I was twenty, I was married with an infant. Self-abnegation is a poor basis for marriage and motherhood. I was a slave to my husband and my baby. I was unhappy – but wasn’t that okay, since God wanted me to Serve Others and to be Unselfish?

    At that time I owned a 1960 Mercury Comet. Like me, my Mercury had been created to serve. It was unselfish. But in order to serve, its basic needs had to be met. It needed fuel. It had a hydraulic clutch (or something) that needed to be filled from time to time. It needed regular oil changes. It required maintenance and occasional repairs.

    Eventually I learned that I too required maintenance and occasional repairs. Without receiving, I became unable to give.

    Over the years, I have found that giving and receiving are inseparable. Think of a lake that has an outlet — a stream flowing out of it — but no source of fresh water. Soon the lake will dry up. It will no longer be able to sustain fish or waterfowl. It will have no beauty to be enjoyed. It will be unable to cool and entertain swimmers on hot summer days.

    When I discovered that I, like the Mercury Comet and the lake, had needs that could not be ignored, I learned a great deal about myself and about how the world works. Knowing myself better, I took better care of myself. I made wiser choices. I was happier, and so were the people around me.

    I now believe that people — women and men alike — should always treat themselves as if they are pregnant. Caring for oneself beautifully and wisely during pregnancy is, as it happens, the best way to care for one’s developing fetus. And I believe that there is a sense in which we are all, always, “pregnant” with our future selves. We carry inside us the embryo of what we will become.

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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?