Category Archives: faith

The Voice That Whispers In My Ear


All yesterday afternoon, I smelled something that had the aroma of a dead mouse.  Considering we live a quarter mile from an expanse of fields, it is common for us to hear and even see mice scampering in our house and around our yard.  Sometimes, our traps catch them.  We then follow our noses to the carcasses, and we have to take them outside to the garbage.  This time, however, was different.

The smell permeated the house and I could not pinpoint the source of the malodorous stench. At about 9:30 PM, watching television, something suddenly said, “Go check the stove.”  Without thinking I got up, and there on the far right face of the stove was one knob turned slightly to the left.  The gas had been on all afternoon in a house with two smokers.  Thankfully, we don’t smoke in the house.  Thankfully, we regularly keep the doors open to get cross-ventilation and to let Diego, our dog, wander in and out.  Thankfully, there was not enough gas escaping through the patio door to cause an explosion when we lit a cigarette on the lanai.  Thankfully, we hadn’t closed up the house for bed yet to go to sleep.  Thankfully, the three of us didn’t die last night.

What inspired me to check the stove?  Not one time during the day had I even considered that what I smelled was gas.  David had stopped smelling it completely, which is scary enough to think about. The truth is that if I had not gotten up to check in the kitchen, we could have just as easily closed the patio and bedroom doors to the outside, turned off the lights, and slept with the gas filling our house all night long. We have great neighbors, so I know that when they hadn’t heard or seen us for a couple of days, they would have called the police.  Likely, had the cell phone or home phone rung, they wouldn’t have had a question as to where we were; our house may have gone up like a nuclear explosion.  David, Diego, and I would have been nothing but a memory.

As often happens to many of us, there was a wee voice that whispered in my ear that pushed the alarm button and sent me to the right place to avoid tragedy.  Many parents can relate the experience of “knowing something is wrong with my child.”  The experiences have no basis in knowledge, though.  They are our intuitive leaps that keep us connected to our loved ones.  Perhaps, they are the voices of those who have left our planet who act as our guardian angels protecting us, whispering to us to keep us safe.  In this case, it feels like my mother guided me to get out of my comfortable bed to find the source of danger.  Her voice alone would get me to do what I did not want to otherwise do.

Some may say that I am being melodramatic in the “what if” contemplation of yesterday’s alternative events.  They may be right; however, we read about events just like this in the news.  Could this morning have been very different for our family and friends?

The voices we hear, whether we believe that they are our family members from beyond the grave, our astute intuition, or simply our active imagination, are often the source of life-changing opportunities to alter the future.  This was just such an example.  Once again, I have an opportunity to express my gratitude for another day of loving and living, and that my family continues to be well.  I have learned over the years to listen to that small voice and yesterday was a testament to that fact.  Without reckoning the reasonability of my actions, I got up to check the stove, and my family is now alive to tell the story.

Once, 30 years ago, my former wife was sleeping in the living room with my children, taking a nap in the middle of a hot day with the air conditioning running.  I arrived home from work to an horrific smell in the house.  For some reason, I immediately recognized the smell as gas.  I went to the kitchen, turned off the stove, and revived my wife and children.  They had likely passed out from the gas since my ex-wife has no sense of smell.  They awoke feeling “weird.”  Within a few weeks, we had completely changed over to all electric appliances.

I believe everything is for a reason, even if it is simply the reason we give it.  The purpose I see in this event reminds me that I am still connected with those I love who have gone before me to find their place in the larger Universal order.  I recall that I must remain focused on my journey here to serve those who need me.  Finally, I must live in gratitude to God for my life, always looking forward, because without warning, it could all just end.

Are We Moving Toward a Theorepublic?


According to Dictionary.com, a theocracy is defined as:

 “A form of government in which God or a deity is recognized as the supreme civil ruler, 

the God’s or deity’s laws being interpreted by the ecclesiastical authorities.”

A republic, on the other hand, is identified in that same source as:

“A state in which the supreme power rests in the body of citizens entitled to vote and is 

exercised by representatives chosen directly or indirectly by them.”

What would one call a government that is elected by the people, but is governed by the tenets of religiosity? Might it be a theorepublic or a theodemocracy? 

The orthodoxy of this particular form of government relegates the beliefs of nonbelievers or those who believe differently to second class citizenship under this rule, and would force everyone to live under the governmental belief system as the rulers and their religious advisors divine as appropriate.  The United States thankfully does not fall under this category… yet.  

There are those who would invite us to live according to Christian dogma and patterns because the believers are convinced that through governmental intervention, citizens will be saved from their sins and go to heaven.  Because they are called to minister to those nonbelievers, their intention is to create a society that reflects these healing and saving traditions. It is clear that their intentions are good. The challenge is that these well-intended people are missing a basic American conviction that the laws of the land are meant to serve all people, of every race, creed, and tradition with respect and freedom, without regard at the legislative level to any religious beliefs.

In the Middle East, several forms of this religious-based legal system are in place.  In Turkey, Mali, and Kazakhstan, Islamic religious leaders are welcomed to guide the legislators in the development of their sharia-based laws. In places like Afghanistan, Morocco, and Malaysia, sharia law takes a larger, but blended role.  In Saudi Arabia and Iran, sharia law is the strict foundation of the governmental and legal systems. 

Israel, although not a true theocracy, has many of the trappings of this type of government, including granting automatic citizenship only to Jewish individuals, and ensuring this system has many halakhic qualities.

Roman Catholics have Vatican City, a city-state ruled by the pope.  Even in America, Catholic priests were threatening excommunication of legislators that voted against church teachings regarding abortion, marriage equality, and the death penalty. Geneva was a near-theocracy with Lutheranism leading its government.  The exiled Tibetan government is overseen by the Dalai Lama. Even in United States history, the region from Colorado to the California Coast was identified as the State of Deseret by the Mormons until that area was incorporated into the United States by the Treaty of Hidalgo.

The concept of theorepublicanism or theodemocracy is not new.  We can certainly see the revisitation of this concept today in our campaigns.  A quality has developed to the language of those desirous of elected office to couch their beliefs in more acceptable terms; however, let there be no misunderstanding: In the same way as when “those people” were not welcome to move into the neighborhood, or when segregated areas were identified for individuals who did not meet certain standards of color, religion, or tradition, we are seeing an upsurge in exclusionary focus. This cannot be healthy or wise for the United States.  We must look to people who are inclusive, both in language and action, to lead us forward. Intelligence, wisdom, and strength must be the only qualities that guide us.

When one hears individuals such as Barack Obama and Rudolph Giuliani, and others of their quality speaking to all the people in the country, regardless of identification, one has hope that we will see the light of day with our drive toward a theorepublic.

James Madison offered a speech in 1789 regarding the developing Bill of Rights, one of which was intended to secure the rights of all Americans in practicing their religion or not practicing any religion.  In that speech, Madisons said:

“The civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established, nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience be in any manner, or on any pretext, infringed.”   

Inasmuch as an individual has the freedom and right to espouse, speak about, and act on their beliefs in their own lives, we also have the responsibility, based on our Constitution, to ensure that no one group dictates the religious beliefs or practices of another American citizen.  A theodemocracy is antithetical to the very structure of our government and anyone who suggests it should be otherwise should be seen as misunderstanding our way of American life.  We must depend on those leaders who ask the question, “What did our founding fathers intend for our people,” rather than, “What does my religion require me to do?”  For those who practice a strong orthodoxy, this is admittedly a terrific challenge; however, to hold an elected office, there can only be one answer that will truly benefit the American people.  After all, they were elected to uphold our Constitution, not our holy books. 

It’s Not Michelle Bachmann’s Fault


This may surprise my readers who know that I lean toward the political left in my social and economic belief system, but the popularity of Representative Michelle Bachmann, and others of her ilk, is not her fault.  She is not responsible for the voice she has gained on the national stage.  The responsibility rests in our hands.

As Americans, we choose to whom we listen.  We have selective hearing when it comes to national candidates.  We buy newspapers that have her name on them.  We listen to the news when commentators discuss her politics. We click on the links to her interviews.  We are wholly in the driver’s seat of giving Bachmann a sounding board on the national stage.

If we are unhappy that this candidate has free rein to blather on that evolution and global warming are in dispute, or that she would rather not discuss the ability to cure gay folks of their disorder of homosexuality after she wrote about it in her book, then we must stop paying attention.  If the only people who listen are the relatively tiny number of Tea Party supporters, she will never win an election; but listen we continue to do.

I happen to believe in evolution and that it was the process through which God created the world.  I am aware that scientists have been wrong in the past and that they speak the most accurate truth they have available to them today. I believe that there are differences in cultures and that all cultures are equal and valid. I also believe that polarity does not make either side wholly correct or wrong.  I believe that knowledge and wisdom will direct us toward a middle path.

When Ross Perot ran as an Independent for President of the United States in 1992 and 1996, he was considered by many to be too “out there” for the mass consciousness; however, he did garner 29% of the vote.  He had radical, but workable ideas for the economy and understood the machinations of government.  In contrast, Bachmann, and all the Bachmann-lights that have appeared on our political landscape are contenders for our highest office in a major party.  These individuals have a similar level of scientific understanding as the members of the Flat Earth Society, yet they continue to flourish.  How is this even possible?

When they look back on this era, what will historians write about our politics?  Will we have had Michelle Bachmann as the 45th President of the United States?  Will the medical research laboratories in America shut down because she wouldn’t fund research that didn’t fit through the narrow filter of extremist right wing beliefs?  Will people say of us the same thing they say about the German population who followed Adolf Hitler during the 1930s and ’40s: that we just didn’t choose to see what was ahead, or were too afraid to have our voices heard?

The truth is that we are giving credence to an ignoramus who does not understand history, economics, and science.  She is not an ignoramus because of her beliefs, but because she chooses not to learn what every person who inhabits the White House should know; that she represents all Americans, not just a select few.  We are validating her presence on the national stage whenever we do not turn off the television when she is on.  Viewership is money in the hands of the media.  When the dollars disappear, so does Michelle Bachmann.

Michelle Bachmann spoke this direct quote, “I just take the Bible for what it is, I guess, and recognize I’m not a scientist, not trained to be a scientist.  I’m not a deep thinker on all of this.  I wish I was.  I wish I was more knowledgeable, but I’m not a scientist.”

If I’ve learned nothing else in my life, I’ve learned to believe what people tell me about themselves.  I don’t listen to people who admit they don’t know.  I don’t trust people who tell me they have a history of being untrustworthy.  I don’t spend time with people who show me they do not respect me. I turn off the television and don’t click on online links when Michelle Bachmann is the topic.  It’s that simple.

So, if we find Mrs. Bachmann in the White House, who should we turn to when American’s can’t feed themselves even though they’re working, because Bachmann believes that “if we took away the minimum wage – if conceivably it was gone – we could potentially virtually wipe out unemployment completely because we would be able to offer jobs at whatever level,” and racial inequality grows under her administration because she believes that “not all cultures are equal?” We must look in our own mirrors to find the responsible parties, as we do after every election.  That is why this will be my last word on Michelle Bachmann.  I choose not to give any more of my time or energy toward her presence in the political whirlpool.

If we find her in our White House, it won’t be Michelle Bachmann’s fault, it will be our own.

Two Sides to Every Story


Over the years, as I’ve developed an understanding of my faith in God, I have regularly been confronted by fundamental religion as an extreme.  Whether it be the Christian, Muslim, Jewish, or other faith, orthodoxy has alluded me.  The question that regularly rises to my mind is, “How can anyone be so sure of anything?”  I now find myself on the other end of the question, “How can anyone be so sure God doesn’t exists?”

A young man, who is like a nephew to me, recently became an atheist chaplain at a major metropolitan teaching hospital. Although this may seem like an oxymoron at first blush, after discussion with him, I, along with the head of the department for chaplains, realized this makes perfect sense. His belief in science and free-thinking is as strong as that of the orthodox individuals I know.  The fascinating part for me is that I am now the one with the belief in a god that someone else cannot imagine exists.  Agnosticism, at least, allows for the possibility for a god, as long as there is proof that this entity exists.  Atheism, however, offers no possibility for the existence of a supreme deity, and thereby a relationship with that deity is not an option.  His belief system is not my belief system; however, it is one with which I am extremely familiar.  My father was an atheist most of the time, or an agnostic, depending on when you spoke with him.  Dad and I had many animated, sometimes vitriolic, conversations about God.

As I look to my nephew, I see a peacefulness about him that I cannot understand.  To my spirit, I cannot help but question how it is possible for someone to believe in nothing smaller than a quark or lepton, neither of which I understand at all, and nothing bigger than the universe.  The only thing I know is that I love this young fellow and know that if this is the path he’s chosen, then it necessarily must be right for him. Although they never push their belief systems on me, I know my friends look at me with perplexed wonder at how a person reared as a Roman Catholic could have such an omni denominational faith.  Inasmuch as my loving fundamental Christian friends would rejoice if I said I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal savior, I know I would be happy if Noel would find a faith in something larger than space. Perhaps, though, this might not be all together true.  Would I want for him what he doesn’t want or feel he needs for himself?  No.

The spiritual universe I sense informs my awareness that we are each responsible for our own lives, accountable only to ourselves and to our creator, whomever that may be… if any, given the belief system.  So, how could I ask him to believe differently than his ethical and moral system tells him is right?  I can’t.  What I do know is that as he pursues his chaplaincy, he will encounter other systems of belief and faith that are not consistent with his own.  That is why I gave him my thanatological research regarding death and dying in many traditions to supplement his already wide breadth of knowledge.  The gifts he has as a vital part of a support system and as loving human being in the benefit of other people will be best illuminated by his knowledge of others’ traditions; even those he doesn’t espouse.  He then can speak their language while remaining true to his own convictions.  This is compassion. This in intelligence used on a personal level.  This is my nephew.

I am very proud of this bright, joyful young man.  He is a unique and very funny individual who brings rich laughter and deep thought wherever he goes.  I know those he counsels, the individuals who are ill and dying, and their families, will benefit from his presence in unimaginable ways.  They will remember his tender heart and brilliant mind, and the comfort he brings, long after their difficult journeys have passed.

Good luck, Noel.  I am very proud of you!

Which Door?


Since I was a young boy, I have always questioned my faith.  I was reared Roman Catholic, playing the organ and singing in the choir, and devoutly serving as an altar boy.  I always loved my Catholicism; however, I also wondered what else was out there.  I innately knew there were many doors available, and that others chose some of the myriad doors.  This awareness was enhanced by my father who was a former Catholic and thereafter an agnostic.  My challenge is that I am finding it increasingly difficult to hear people speak of their traditions as exclusively correct, not just for them, but for others as well.

In the 1960s, my mother taught me that other religions were not the right ones for us.  How she knew that, I never fully understood until I was older and realized that this was what the church taught us to believe.  Even as I became an adult and realized that there was no room for me as I was, in my fullness as a whole human being, I never stopped loving the church; I just could not go back. Today, we are told that as gay people, we can participate in the church, but that we must confess our sins and promise to abstain from the activities with those we love specified by the church. Certainly, that is not consistent with what I know of God, so I had to move forward in my search.

Christianity is the predominate overarching faith in the United States.  That is not true in other regions such as Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and the Near East.  They believe in other traditions that, to them, are just as valid as Christianity is to the majority of Americans.  In fact, there are more people worldwide who believe in their various Eastern and folk religions than believe in Judaism, the founding tradition of the Abrahamic religions, including Christianity and Islam, the largest groups of faith on the planet [1].  Some researchers indicate that Islam has overtaken Catholicism as the number one specific religion in the world [2].

I have meandered my way through Eastern religions, New Age philosophies, ancient religions, native traditions, and other belief systems.  I have read, discussed, meditated, and prayed my way to this moment.  All I know for certain is that there is a Greater Spirit, one that has many, many names. This spirit connects us all in love and unity.  I believe that sin and hell do not exist.  I believe that we live in the constant light of God.  I believe our fears cause us to choose to turn our backs on the light; to ignore that radiance eternally emanating through the door before, during, and after this human existence.  This is why we sometimes perceive evil and live in the shadows.  I believe that all paths lead to God, because God has given us every opportunity to remember who we truly are in unity with the Universe. We learn by example and we learn by contrast.  I believe we have many teachers and that all our teachers are sent from God, even the ones that scare us the most.  Perhaps, the ones that scare us or bring up anger in us are our best teachers, because like pain from an injury, they call us to focus on where our fears exist.

These beliefs are mine and mine alone.  I do not expect anyone else, let alone everyone else, to believe what I believe.  If others condemn me for my faith, they can contemplate why they do so. That is not my job.  If others feel joy or growth through my awareness of my faith, all the better.  I have accepted that I will always question the structure of my faith, but I suspect that my faith itself will be everlasting.

Perhaps in my questioning, I have walked through the door that was meant for me, the door of a seeker of knowledge and wisdom.  I believe everyone has a job to do on this planet, and one of my jobs is to ask questions out loud.  I can’t possibly have the answers for anyone else, but that is fine with me because I am not walking another person’s path.  I can only find my peace, my truth, and my unity with others in my own way, celebrating others’ light along the way.  To me, that is consistent with my faith and the God I believe in.

So, I offer my little prayer of thanksgiving to those who have been my teachers, friends and challengers alike, for they have given me opportunities to find happiness.  I am grateful to not tolerate, but celebrate the paths of my brothers- and sisters-in-light.  I continue to welcome new thought, new wisdom into my life, brought by generous souls, whether they are aware of the gifts they bring or not.  I remain aware that I still have an inconceivably long journey ahead of me to understand God. These are the gifts I receive from God for which I am so very thankful.  For those who insist on others believing as they do, I ask you this: How did you choose your door?

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[1] Wikipedia (2011) “Major Religious Groups” Wikipedia. Retrieved July 15, 2011 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Major_religious_groups

[2] Rizzo, Allesandra (2008, March 31) “Muslims ‘overtake’ Catholics, become world’s largest religion.” National Geographic. Retrieved July 15, 2011 from  http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/03/080331-AP-islam-largest.html

When Enough Feels Like Abundance


For the first time in my life, I feel as though I have enough.  It’s a very strange feeling.  I have enough things.  I have enough love.  I have enough attention.  I have enough.  I don’t think I feel as though I lack anything, but that can’t be completely true it appears.  There must have been some low-grade dissatisfaction that gurgled underneath my conscious surface. 

This new, complete sense of abundance and fulfillment begs the question, why do I feel this way?  Is it because all my dreams have come true?  Not really.  I still would love to go to Italy for a month.  I’d love to have time to finish writing my books.  Having a huge family reunion is still on my list.  If I won the nearly-$300 million in MegaMillions, I wouldn’t complain.  So, I still have goals and wishes toward which I work.  It must be something else.

Is my life perfect?  I suppose one might say it’s perfect for me, but it is far from perfect.  There remains suffering in my family and in the families of my friends.  My heart is in pain for them and for me as well.  Our global family has not found complete peace.  No, life is not ideal at all.

So, what is it?  What could bring this feeling to my doorstep?  I think I know.

Over the years I’ve been taught to say, “Thank you,” for everything I receive.  My parents reminded me that no one owes me anything, and every gift I accept is given voluntarily and lovingly.  I am not entitled to anything just because I’m James.  This is a lesson I’ve tried to incorporate at the deepest level, even to the point that I am grateful for heartache because I know it will move me toward greater compassion for others. 

The answer to the reason for my happiness is gratitude.  I am grateful for everyone and everything in my life.  My brothers and sisters with whom I walk this planet have taken my hand with generosity of spirit and union.  Of course I’m grateful for them.  The material gifts I’ve received are there so that I may better serve others.  I try to keep that foremost in my mind.  I am in service first.  Serving others inspires gratitude on my part for the opportunity to share in their lives.  As I think about it, this is the foundation of my faith: recognizing  and being grateful for the gifts offered because they all come from the same place; that omnipresent spirit that transcends our life here on Earth.  Call it God, Jehovah, Allah, Divine Spirit, Grandfather, or just Love.  It’s all the same to me. 

"Humble Gratitude" by James C. Glica-Hernandez 2007

Don’t get me wrong,  I have no illusions of my own piety or grandeur.  I’m just another schmuck trudging through my life just like everyone else.  We’re doing the best we can with what we have.  I just happen to remember today that I am very fortunate to have the people and things around me that I do.  So to our Great Spirit and to my family and friends, I offer my most sincere and humble gratitude. 

Thank you with the entirety of my spirit, heart, and mind.

The Newborn Jesus


On the day Jesus was born, he was a human baby for all intents and purposes.  His birth was announced by Gabriel to Mary, Mother of Jesus.  His divinity was clear; however, the moment he was born, he arrived as every other child had manifested in all of history at that time.

As we ponder His birth today, most likely not the actual birthday of Jesus, we must remember why He was born to a human mother.

As with all of us who have arrived on this planet, Jesus had a path to follow that was His alone.  He had a message to share that eventually became a religion and a source of faith for many men and women over the last 2,000 years.

As a Jewish child, he was destined to be circumcized.  There are some who state that if shedding His blood for our sins was the act that would redeem our souls, the blood that came from that circumcision was all that it would have taken.  If that is true, then why did He have to live beyond that moment?

It was because His learning, His teaching, and His living had a greater purpose.  His death had a purpose.

As we light our Christmas trees and open our presents, those who ascribe to Christians beliefs must remember the significance of the birth of Jesus in the first place and take from that birth our own lessons.

Each one of us has a purpose on this planet.  Each one of us, as defined in the Bible, are children of God.  Each one of us has a place in Heaven if we so choose.  Our lives are our messages, just as Jesus Christ taught us.

The writers of the Gospels often attempted to teach us lessons in their writing.  The words of Jesus Christ, however, consistently taught a message of truth, faith, love, and welcome.  As with most people, we have chosen to cull from the biblical teachings those things that work for us and cast off those that don’t.

If we reflect on Jesus’ words alone, compare them within the scope of the various texts offered as sacred, we would find that His desire for our growth in love alone was all He taught.  There was not one word about hating your enemy.  There was not one word about judging another.  There was not one word about killing in His name.

In the Gnostic Gospels, those found in Nag Hammadi, written in the Second and Third Centuries, we find other words that are written closer to the time of Jesus than some of those found in the Bible, and that suggest that we have the light of God within us.  We have direct access to our God and that when Jesus said that through Him we could find God, He may have shared with us that through His awareness of His own relationship with God, we could learn to hear the voice of God ourselves.  We are His brothers and sisters, after all.

The intimacy we have with God is the lesson we have yet to learn on a global level.  Whatever we call God, the Divine Creator lives within each one of us.

So, on the day we celebrate the birth of Christ Jesus, let us reflect on the true teaching of His life.  We are all created in God’s image, the image of spirit and light and unconditional love.  Our only job is to remember that and to share those commonalities with our brothers and sisters in unity, humility, gratitude, and joy.

These qualities transcend Christianity and are taught in a huge number of traditions around the world.

While one star may shine brighter than others, each star adds to the light in the night sky.  The clearer the air, the brighter the stars are above.  The fewer sources of false light on the ground, the brighter the stars are above.   The darker the night, the brighter the stars are above.

So, when we wish “Merry Christmas,” to our brothers and sisters in spirit, let us remember what those words truly mean.  Be happy in the celebration of the lessons taught to us by Jesus Christ.

Merry Christmas everyone.

Songs of Winter, Songs of the Heart


When it is cold, people spend more time indoors.  As they gather, music seems to play a vital role in their quiet time, celebrations, and family cultures.  As Chanukah has passed and Christmas approaches, I’ve thought about this quite a bit.   My question is, why is music so important to many of us at this time of year?

Higher level animals make sounds as part of their communication systems.   These emanations are warnings, calls to their families and potential mates, and serve as locators.  Human beings developed the ability to create organized sounds through speech, and the rhythms became an important part of their communication process as well.  There must have been something intensely satisfying to the first humanoids to insist on recreating these sounds. 

Take a moment to close your eyes.  Breathe deeply.  Now, hum a little bit.  Do you feel it rumble in your chest, right near your heart?  Now, hum your favorite song for a few bars.  Are you transported to a higher level of happiness as you do this?  Most of us are.  These sounds surround our heart, fill our chests, and heighten our minds awareness.  They cause our bodies to produce a chemical reaction that gives us pleasure.

When we join together to sing or listen to music, the collective happiness grows exponentially.  Our voices, hearts, and ears are working together to unite us and remind us of the precious gifts we have.  If we do the same things we did earlier, only together, we will see how much better it can be.  Take someone you love, hold them, close your eyes, and hum a song you like together.  The intimacy is intense; the joy fulfilling. 

During the holidays, we raise our voices together in celebration of God’s promise and His gifts.  As the Festival of Lights shows us, we are sustained here on Earth through the miracles of resources we never imagined possible.  In Christmas, we find the birth of unimaginable love.   In one another, we are reminded of the same gifts.

So, this holiday season, join together to sing or listen to music.  Remember the hum of your heart and spirit as the music envelopes you.  May God bless you and keep you and your loved ones happy and safe this holiday season and throughout the coming new year.

Last Few Minutes of the Game


Texas Longhorn receiver, Quan Cosby in last seconds of the game.Whenever we see a sporting event or theatrical production, the last few minutes of the experience are so powerful.  The teams are battling for supremecy, the last push is thrashed for the big win, or the 11:oo o’clock song is sung.  It’s the finale, so everyone expects things to be big, dramatic, and utterly memorable.

Life is like that, too.  When we are closing in on the final days or minutes of our lives, our life experiences become phenomenally intense.

In the month preceeding my father’s suicide, he began scurrying all over California, trying to find a place to call home where he felt safe.  His mental illness and paranoia was taking over and we, as his family, had to make decisions that would protect him and those around him, including my mother.  There were battles and accusations, pleas and vitriol spewed everywhere as we tried to resolve these issues.

Ultimately, Dad decided how things were going to go and killed himself  in the back of his truck using carbon monoxide from the exhaust pipe.

When Mama was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer six years later, she seemed fairly resigned to her fate.  She was, after all, 83 years old and ready to be with my father. 

The strange thing is that the night before she died, she grew very impatient and angry.  She wasn’t able to communicate because her lungs had filled up with fluid from the cancer and she was incredibly weak because she hadn’t be able to eat for four weeks.  I gave her some medication to calm her down and she went to sleep.  I will never know what it was she was trying to communicate because she died during the night.

When my son and grandbaby were lost to miscarriages, the intensity was overwhelming for everyone.  With my son, my then-girlfriend and I were 15 years old, far too young to be parents.  With my grandchild, my daughter’s grandmother had died only days before.  In both instances, the turmoil surrounding the pregnancies carried dynamics that these precious children couldn’t bear. 

Even my former mother-in-law asked a fascinating question as she lie dying in her hospital bed.  She and I were unusually close, considering that my ex-wife and I had been divorced for 22 years.  She asked, “Jim, what do you think it’s like after we die?”

This amazingly strong woman was 71 years old and was asking me this question.  It was a profoundly powerful moment of intimacy between us. 

“I think that there is an afterlife and it is whatever we believe it will be.  I believe it will be loving and joyful if that’s where our hearts are.  It will be cold and lonely if that’s how we view our lives.”

“How do we know when we’re going to die?” she queried.

“When we are free from fear and ready.” I responded.

As she pondered what I had said, I saw her looking around her hospital room into the faces of her loving daughters and granddaughters. 

“I’m ready.  Let’s pray.” she said.  So, we all joined hands and began praying out loud.  Then, the room grew silent.  After nearly ten minutes, Mother-in-law-dearest, which is what I always called her, opened her eyes.

“I’m still here?”  We all broke out into ribald laughter.

The next morning, quietly and peacefully, she joined those who had gone before her.

One of my former students, who lost her life at 21 years old in an automobile accident, knew at her inner most level, if not consciously, that she was not long for this lifestream.  Her poetry, music, and prayers all were clear pictures of that truth.  We all missed the messages because we either weren’t ready to hear them or we weren’t supposed to hear them.  The preparation experience apparently was for her alone.

There are times when we do see it coming. 

When my brother, my family, and I were sitting around the table eating the day my mother died, after a discussion about his alcoholism and desire to be alone, my family and I knew that David would be gone within the year.  Sadly, it only took him four months to transition into his new existence.  The signs were there.  His awareness was there.  He was clearly ready.  We were simply able to see it.  Even with that clarity, there was nothing we could do to prevent him dying from his alcoholism.

Life is intense and full of meaning.  Death is no different. 

Our fears and our joys are amplified as we approach our final time.  It’s remarkable how many times one has heard, “He said he loved me in a way that was so much more intimate the night before he died.”   There had been no warning or omen.  There had been no disease or chronic illness.  He was just aware at his spiritual core that he had to say good-bye and mean it.

As I watched my cousin deal with his own demise this week, I realized that his battle has only begun, although it is likely to last only a few more weeks.  Like my mother, his aunt, he is dying of pancreatic cancer.  He is only 50 years old.

His children and girlfriend are also trying to make sense of what makes no sense at all. 

I hope they all find peace in this process and can say good-bye in a loving, healthy way, as a unified family.  It will make a difference to all of them, my cousin included. 

I’ve experienced 46 deaths of people close to me in my lifetime.  Each of their lives have changed who I am.  They have made a difference.  My cousin has made a difference in my life.  The weight of their absence is great.  The silence of their voices nearly painful.  Yet, the love they’ve given and the love they’ve let me share is what I hold onto now.  It’s all I have left.

Now, as your shot clock winds down, as the last few pages of your score are sung, I wish you “Good journey!” Joe.  Bravo, Cousin, for a life fully lived.  I love you.  I will miss you.  Thank you for changing my life with your love.

__________________________________

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Tulips Spring to Life


My father’s favorite flowers were tulips.  Every year he would dig up the three tiers of soil in our hillside front yard and plants hundreds of bulbs.  His heart would never seem quite so full than when he was working toward that day when his tulip garden was resplendent in yellow and orange and red and white.   

He did this into his sixties.  He said he loved the colors and that each one reminded him of the warming season.  I loved to see my father amonst his tulips.   One of the hardest parts of his death was the untended yard the Spring after he was gone, overflowing with ivy and inattention. 

I heard from a friend of my late brother’s recently.  David and his friend, Zack, were really close growing up.  Along with Brian and Nicky, and several others, David had a cadre of buddies with whom he hung out, got into trouble, and, I know, laughed constantly. 

These young fellows would find their way around our mountain village in far-northern California on dirt bikes, skis, on foot, and by car, leaving their mark on every corner of this town of 2,400 people. 

When David died in 2006, I thought these young people would be lost forever to me.  I was saddened by that because it felt as though David’s memory would be diminished by the scattering to the wind of his friends.

Within the last year, I’ve heard from Brian, Nicky, and now Zack.  They have sent photos and memories via electronic mail of their time together.  They have each expressed a loving memory of my brother that has brought comfort and a sense of envelopment to me as the last remaining member of our four-person core family.

Today, I got a message from Zack informing me that he has a newborn baby.  In the same way I felt upon the birth of my first grandchild in 1993, I felt a newness wash over me.  It was intimate and poignant.  With all the loss I’ve experienced in the last ten years, this moment brought me a sense of joyful future. 

I sent my warmest wishes to Zack on his growing family.  Part of those wishes, I think, were because he brought me some emotional tulips, like the ones my father grew.  He showed me, once again, that Spring was here and new life was repeating its pattern.

It also reminded me of my recent visit to see my cousin, Joe, who was in the hospital with cancer.  I had this amazing sense of healing and until today, I wasn’t sure why that was.  Above his bed, on the top of his cabinet, was a vase full of white tulips… and hope.

Spring is all around me right now and I am, for the first time in many years, fully aware of its beauty and power.  This has to be a good sign; a sign not unlike the first hint of excited green stalk poking through the recently cold soil over a tulip bulb.