Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Follow The Star to The Inner Child

As a child of the 1930's Great Depression many of my memories of Christmas are colored by the number of people who died in those days before antibiotics. Pneumonia, scarlet fever, whooping cough, measles, all took their toll and the toll included good friends with whom I went to school and played with. In my book, BITTER HERBS OF MEMORY, I tell of one of these friends, Cecil Holmes. Cecil and I, as children, used to have long conversations concerning things we knew nothing about but which helped to seal our friendship. Cecil was a whiz at Arithmetic and many a time he slipped me the answers to the problems we were working on. I would tell him how awful I felt being dumb at Arithmetic. During the winter of 1935-36, an especially hard winter weather wise and disease wise, Cecil and I talked about things we would like to get for Christmas and Cecil said he would like to have a puppy more than anything. One morning our teacher, Miss Goerlitz, had all of us bow our heads to say a prayer for Cecil's family because Cecil had died during the night of scarlet fever.

In the late summer and early fall a bright star appears in the heavens just ahead of the rising morning sun. That star is Alpha Canis Majoris, the Dog Star, Sirius. It is 23 times brighter than the sun. Sometimes today I look at Sirius in the night sky and I wonder if Cecil had his wish, if he himself rises in the heavens every morning and for no other reason than just for the joy of doing it, works a few Arithmetic problems along in his descent to the horizon just to show his brilliance as he goes soaring high above us 'dumb' earthbound watchers.

And the Star in the East that led to Bethlehem? Could that have been Cecil in his yet-to-be human life? How many of us are led every day to new victories, to new adventures, to new discoveries, because we follow a star that enriches and enobles? I like to think so. I look up into the night sky illuminated by something that thrills me even thought I can't define it. It is a part of the mystery and the miracle of life on earth.
And so, with Tiny Tim, and just maybe with Cecil, I say, "May God bless us everyone."

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Come Out to Play, Inner Child

One morning in late summer, once upon a time, I was getting ready to walk down to my office just a few blocks away. In these daily walks I sometimes passed a house where a little boy could be seen outside mostly just killing time as far as I could tell. I usually spoke to him and now and then I could see a woman whom I assumed was the boy's mother. On this particular day as I was about to leave the house the doorbell rang. When I opened the door and then the outer storm door there stood this little boy. He was holding a bat, glove and ball. When I opened the outer door he said, "Can you come out and play?" It took me all of 5 seconds to answer, "Absolutely! Give me 1 minute."

It took me less time than that to put on jeans and a T-shirt and to go out. The boy and I, his name was Sam, crossed the street in front of my house, and went onto a vacant lot. For the good part of an hour I pitched the ball to him as he became adept at hitting. When I had worn myself out chasing balls hit over my head I told him I needed to get to work but that he could come again and I'd play with him. We did that several times before he started to school in the first grade.

One day when I walked past his house his mother was there. She said to me, "I want to thank you for playing with Sam, his father isn't here anymore and he doesn't have any brothers, he gets lonesome. He told me you had said he might very well play for the Cardinals some day. He was very excited."

"Coming out to play" doesn't have to mean hitting a ball or kicking one around. It can mean letting someone help us with our loneliness or getting rid of old prejudices. It can mean pitching out of our psyche troubling resentments and jealousies that thrive in all of us. It can mean letting out for useful purposes positive, helpful, healing attitudes and acts.

Tell you what! Why don't you get up now from wherever you're seated, during this second week of Advent. Go to the door, open it, and with your very best imagination and playfulness, envision another little boy, having come straight from his house in Nazareth standing there saying to you, "Can you come out and play?"

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Light of The Inner Child Shines

At different times in the past I've been able to attend one or more of the 8 days of Hanukkah in a Jewish synagogue. Hanukkah is celebrated by Jewish people usually coinciding with the early days of the Christian Advent Season.

Today on this 11th day of Advent Hanukkah begins at sundown. Hanukkah, the Feast of Dedication or Feast of Lights, celebrates the rededication of the temple at Jerusalem in 165 BCE. The temple had been razed by Antiochus Epiphanes IV as a part of his effort to wipe out the Jewish Faith. During the 8 days of Hanukkah there is much in parallel with the celebration of Advent, or Christmas. It is a time for the exchange of gifts, the playing of games, and the singing of songs. One of the familiar songs sung especially by Jewish children is "O, Chanukah, O, Chanukah." Among the verses in this exuberant song are these, translated from Hebrew to English:

O, Chanukah, O, Chanukah, come light the Menorah,
Let's have a party, we'll all dance the Horah

Spin the whirling dreidels, all week long
Eating the sizzling latkes, sing a happy song.

Now light them tonight then, the candles all in a row,
We'll tell the wondrous story, of G_d in all His glory,
The wonders of long ago.

I hear this singing about dancing, having a party, spinning, happy songs, and I think, of all the people who have ever graced this earth the Jewish people have the least reason to sing and dance. Persecution has never been absent from their personal and national life. I remember Psalm 137 as the Jewish captives being led away into slavery cry out when commanded to sing by their captors, "How shall we sing the songs of the Lord in this strange land?" Indeed, how can any of us celebrate life in the midst of personal grief, defeat or uncertainty? I think the celebrants of Hanukkah know a thing or two and it's given to us in Psalm 18. "O God, thou dost light my lamp" (the Menorah), "thou dost lighten the darkness" (the end of the Holocaust, 1945), "and by my God I can leap over a wall" (badly burned Glen Cunningham breaking the 4 minute mile).

Hanukkah/Advent/Christmas is about light after darkness, breaking barriers, overcoming obstacles, letting this little light of mine shine, shine, shine!

Gotta do it! It's in us, waiting for just the right moment to come out and sing and dance and play.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Happy Holidays: Welcome Back, Inner Child

About the middle of November each year The Child in me becomes restless, wanting to come out and play. He emerges from the secret place where's he's been hiding in my innermost being for the past year. The Child waits to see if I'll take his hand and let him lead me. He reminds me it is time to think about Thanksgiving and then to Advent and on to Christmas further down the line. I welcome The Child with joy after so long an absence. We frolic around the house, play games like Cheat-the-Devil and Fox and Geese, if there's snow outside of course. He and I laugh and sing songs and make fools of ourselves and long before either of us is tired of the antics Christmas becomes fixed in my mind and I warn the Child not to go too far away because great and wonderful things are coming down the pike, just over the horizon.

It takes me a while to grow accustomed to this change of seasons but The Child takes the lead. Before I know it I'm thinking pumpkin pie and cranberry sauce and the first Sunday in Advent and after that the journey to refuge far from Herod. Such thoughts take me back each year to my own childhood, to years past. I remember the richness of memory, wonderful things happening, a few defeats, more victories, gains and losses, and those times then when something so magical, so mysterious even, brought tears to my eyes. There was birth and death, pain and healing from pain, so much joy it sometimes nearly smothered me. My need to love often overwhelms me, love for that child next door who is being shuffled around between separated parents, the Thanksgiving dinner for folks at the Salvation Army, the birds that sing so cheerfully in the cold.

My Inner Child is like Christopher Robin in disguise. I hear Christopher Robin say to Pooh, "Promise me you'll always remember, you're braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think."

The Inner Child that's hidden away in each of us is restless to break out from the long year's confinement. We can make room for him/her and while That Child waits for us to take him by the hand to go out to play we can read the opening lines on page 74 of WHIRLWINDS AND SMALL VOICES, www.wordplay.ca, Robbins/McConkey.

So, come now, Child, let's you and I go tearing down the path into the woods. Why? Because we're both children, that's why, and because that's what children do.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A Remembrance

There are times in life when we pause as a reminder to ourselves – a reminder that in spite of the daily grind and routine, there are moments that call out, asking us to mark them in some special way. This blog entry represents just such a moment - it is a tribute to two special people whose lives intersected with mine over 60 years ago.

With never “a murmur nor repine” we went gaily off to war together from the Grainfield, Kansas railroad station, Henry, Loren and I. Henry and I came home with our gaiety diminished by one. Loren was buried at sea after Saipan. He had been a gift from the fertile earth, a child of the land, dust and furrows, seeds in springtime, the birthing of piglets, the crowing of cocks and the currying of favors from the unpredictable seasons. No form or
logic can account for such a terrestrial child lying down to abide peacefully in the immensities of Poseidon’s immersing embrace.

Except, perhaps as Mother Earth and Poseidon together agreed to give back in equal measure what had been lost at Saipan. Henry became surrogate for the missing Loren. In seedtime and harvest, sun and rain, calm and storm, Henry took up Loren’s stewardship of the land, herder of herds, shepherd of lambs, mender of fences. Henry gave away his gaiety on the islands of the Pacific. There is a completion to things, a time of seasons, interconnectedness, stretching all the way from Grainfield, Kansas to Saipan to Iwo Jima and islands beyond. This completion is a gathering convocation of three small-town boys guided through the somberness of war by the cheer of peace.

This is written in memory of Loren Ikenberry and Henry Doxon and our lost fraternity.

Photo above: (From left), Henry, Loren and Clarence, Grainfield Train Station, September 20, 1943, awaiting the train to take them to Marine base in San Diego.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Joy of Blogging

I got to wondering the other day why the word "blog" is so loosely defined in the nomenclature of internet language. We know what an email is, we know what 'Send' means and we know precisely how to Spell Check. What we don't seem to know is how to define "blog" except to say it is an exercise in opionating (which is a word not found in my dictionary so that's consistent with the nebulous nature of "blogging."). All this has to do, if indeed it has to do with anything, with getting something off our chests (which hasn't anything to do with chests but with our brains because that's where ideas are). I like to think there's something really profound back of all this, but for the life of me I can't think of what it is.

That's the joy of blogging you see, a blog can mean whatever the blogger wants it to mean and whatever the reader of the blog thinks it means. One thing I do know, it's what's written on page 42 of WHIRLWINDS AND SMALL VOICES, (Robbins-McConkey; Wordplay.ca, 2008:
Waters of mountains, waters of God
Cleanse us, renew us, so shabbily shod
Rios de Chile, streams of burnt snow
Melt us, toe us, beyond friend or foe.
Currents so fast, pools deep and clear
Tune us, quiet our hearts still to hear
Lord of the River, God of the Stream
Teach us your song, our dryness redeem.
-Carla Piette

My love for you, Sister Piette, is saddened by your death by drowning in El Salvador while rescuing a political prisoner.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Music–Divine Therapy for Inner Harmony

My music calendar shows me that this is the 218th anniversary of the premier of Mozart's "The Magic Flute" in Vienna, with Mozart himself furnishing the background music from the harpsichord. After 218 years the music from this opera, however many times we've heard it, still inspires, thrills and even sometimes brings tears of laughter and sadness to our eyes. Music does this, poetry does this, a good book can do this and certainly love can do this. I like to think that music that "hath charms to soothe the savage breast" is something that comes directly from God as a part of faith's consolation and therapy. My daughter Amy and I will be speaking at a conference in Scottsdale, Arizona over the weekend and one of the things I want to say in my "brief hour on the stage" is music was created in the heavenly realm to compensate for our inability, or refusal, to hear the Divine Voice in any other way, such as through art, literature or the wisdom of children.

I think Mozart knew a thing or two about God that we, who are less than he himself or Beethoven or John Denver, have trouble hearing. A child born deaf or who loses hearing through a childhood disease may very well hear celestial things hidden from those of us who have “normal hearing." In our book Whirlwinds and Small Voices, Amy and I write of ways in which the Creator/creating God uses music to do the soothing of our distresses. As the troubled Saul looked to the singing of David for rest and peace so in like manner can we use such divine therapy for our own inner harmony. It works; try it! Sing, hum, whistle, croak it out, make a sound, the whole world will hear you and thank you. Perhaps you’ll share with us a way that music has led you to an inner harmony.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Happy Monday... remember Tuesday, too

I've often had the thought that there must have been something clever (Godlike?) about the way life is fixed so we automatically pass from one day to the next. If a day didn't pass, actually end, until we had done everything we needed to do, did the forgiving we needed to do, the loving we needed to do, the getting over our mistakes we needed to do, most of us would still be on the first Monday of our lives. Thanks be to God we're going to be given Tuesday however we might have messed up Monday. Tuesday is often a better time to straighten up Monday than if we tried to do it on Monday. I personally like the last line of the poem, “New Every Morning” on page 15 of WHIRLWINDS AND SMALL VOICES (Wordplay.ca):

Every day is a fresh beginning
Listen, my soul, to the glad refrain,
And in spite of old sorrows
And older sinning
Troubles forecasted
And possible pain,
Take heart with the day and begin again.
- Susan Coolidge

"Take heart with the day and begin again." See what a new day can do? I was supposed to write this blog yesterday but I blew it. Now there is opportunity to do it in a new day. What a blast! Today I may even forgive those bunnies out there eating away at my garden. Yesterday I wasn't ready to do that, today I am., AMAZING! Who have you forgiven today now that you've had time to sleep on it? I'm going to get out of here and go bake a bunch of peanut butter cookies and take them down to my shut-in neighbor. Wanna come with me? Just send me your affirmative and good for you! Onward Christian soldiers, going as to war with peanut butter cookies!!!

Monday, September 21, 2009

What’s Your Secret Recipe for Vital Balance?

Don't we sometimes take on the weight of the world without having to do so? We say, "If I just had more time," when all the while we've had all the time there is, 24 hours a day just like everybody else, no more, no less. God didn't invent an eight-day work week, friends. Haven't we sometimes thought we ought to get up early in the day to help the sun rise when what we ought to have done was to get up to see the sun rise. This is one of the themes Amy and I will be discussing in our keynote address at the upcoming conference, “Investing in Family Support,” October 4 in Scottsdale, Arizona.

How many times have we wished for an extra day or just a few more minutes in the day? It's a natural instinct. Learning the nature of the Vital Balance (a term coined by the legendary Dr. Karl Menninger) is what counts, measuring our commitment to our work by our commitment to our own personal growth and enrichment of our spirit.

You agree? Disagree? Maybe you have a secret recipe for achieving Vital Balance in life and work. Share it with us. Perhaps it could inspire someone else.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Can't Give What We Don't Have

That’s as true for parents, clergy, therapists and educators as it is for the Salvation Army when it has run out of money. Parents can't teach their children to be good citizens with those parents speeding 70 miles an hour in a 35 mph zone. Doctors who hold an MRI film up to the light and see a trip to Paris will never have a patient thank him/her for caring. In working with children with special needs, the heart of our new book, the worker/parent/therapist/clergy person/educator is reminded that a child recognizes instantly sham, pretense, and false caring.

Have you experienced this when interacting with a child, either in an educational or conversational setting?

What about the little boy in the restaurant whose parents ordered broiled fish and broccoli for themselves, and when the waitress asked him what he wanted, he replied, “I’d like a hamburger.” His dad jumped in “Oh no, he doesn’t. He’ll have broiled fish.” The waitress replied to the young boy, “And what will you have on your hamburger?” The boy turned to his parents and said, “See….she thinks I’m a real person.” What parent hasn’t reacted in a way that unintentionally denies his child’s status as a “real person?”

Getting in touch with who we are as “real persons”, or as A. Lincoln said, “the better angels of our nature,” makes us all more authentic - whatever we are and who we would like the children to think we are. Daughter Amy and I will be speaking on topics related to recognizing children as real persons, burnout and the “vital balance” when we present the keynote address at the Investing In Family Support conference in Scottsdale next month. You can find more information at: http://www.infanthearing.org/events/ifsc_agenda.html.