God is All in All

I just had a wonderful meeting with my “spiritual companion.” After much relaxed conversation, empathetic interchange and lots of laughter, he said, “Geez! We get together and talk about food and so many other things, and never seem to get to the spiritual stuff.” To which I replied, “I think God is IN all these things!”

I really do believe that…God IS present in all circumstances, but not necessarily in the way we would like that to be! As human beings we tend to think in terms of either/or, this vs. that. We can’t conceive of a God who is all-powerful AND all-loving. We have a tough time reconciling the matters of justice and mercy. The questions I often ask myself are, “Is my mind too small to comprehend God?” or “Do I try to make God small enough to fit my understanding?” To both questions I vehemently respond, “YES!”

In the historical record there are thousands of labels and stories humankind has used to try to explain the encounter with the unexplainable. Billions of people have come to understand that there are experiences beyond words and beyond current science. Because humankind has been given the gift of reason, those experiences prompt theories, explanations, dogmas, and doctrines that are then used, by those same humans, for good or evil, as a springboard for heroic service and sacrifice or self-aggrandizement (erroneously labeled as righteousness).

I doubt any of my atheist friends invest any time in reading this blog, but if they happen to be checking in, I know they would admit that there are observations beyond scientific explanation. Those friends and acquaintances would be quick to add the word “yet” because their “god,” (though they would never admit it) is science. They rely on the belief that someday, our human experiences will all find empirical explanation through scientific discovery (if we don’t destroy ourselves first). Interestingly, I too believe that all knowledge will someday be revealed. However, I believe that revelation will take place on the day I die, when I am face-to-face with my Creator.

The debate that often stirs around these beliefs, was beautifully and lovingly discussed by Rabbi Harold S.Kushner in his book When Bad Things Happen to Good People. The answers he poses are touching and faith-filled. If you’ve never read that book, it really is user-friendly and worth your time. Because I am a Christian, and a Catholic, I have some additional theories and answers to those quandaries. Those remedies are centered on the person of Jesus Christ, His example in life, death, and resurrection (whatever that may mean) and His living-presence in my life today.

Let me admit, I lean toward “theology of incarnation” and have my own uncertainties regarding “redemptive theology,” but many very deep thinkers throughout history have debated those questions, so I am happy to leave the nuances of those arguments to them. All I can say is the curtain will not close on that discussion until one shuffles off this mortal coil. I can only speak from my experience, and much of that has left me without adequate words.

The God I believe I have come to know throughout my life has given me free will to be inside or outside of a relationship. As with anyone or anything I have come to love, sometimes their actions have left me frustrated, angry or confused. Sometimes I think I have the solutions to every dilemma and can’t figure out why “the other” seems unaware or uncaring. Still, the deeper I become connected through my earthly relationships, the more I understand and am open to being overwhelmed by a deeper understanding, delight, wonder, and overflowing love. There have been times, when all was said and done, I even came to realize I was completely wrong. The perseverance in and resolution of the struggle made the endeavor all the more sweet. I believe the same is true for my relationship to God.

My experience of parenthood has also given me a tremendous, though still very limited, understanding of myself as God’s daughter. My grown children don’t always choose paths I would have chosen. Ironically, sometimes they even make decisions counter to what I believe I taught them. Still, they are adults and I loved them enough to relinquish control of their lives. I’m sure they love me dearly, but there are also times I’m sure they don’t truly understand me or my motivation. There are times my heart breaks because I want to protect them from some tragedy, but life happens! One thing they can always count on is that when times are tough, I will be beside them as soon as I can to offer any comfort and all assistance humanly possible, and we are simple finite beings, I can only scratch the surface in understanding the love of God.

No matter what I face in this world of free will, foolish choices, and downright evil intentions, I know, from experience, I have been put on this world for relationship. As Neil Diamond said, in Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show, when someone is troubled I have to reach out my one hand because “that’s what it’s there for” and when my “heart is troubled,” I reach up my other hand in prayer and, when I am still and listen, there is an all-encompassing comfort and, as an old spiritual said, “blessed assurance.”

Call me a fool, if you have the need or desire, I will not be false to my experience. This earthly life may pose many questions and predicaments, pain may be extreme and, all too often, I do not live up to my potential. There are times I question my own beliefs and the doctrines of my faith- heritage, but somehow, just then, beyond my human comprehension, I am granted a glimpse of radiance and feel an all-encompassing love drawing me and accepting me, with all my faults and foibles, while simultaneously urging my honest response.

When I am conscious of this relationship-beyond-mere-existence, every moment becomes spiritual. The sharing of a recipe, the frustrations expressed because of human interactions, expectations, and shortcomings, the sunshine or rain, sorrows and joys, a relaxed laugh or understanding word, pleasure and pain, all take place in the loving concern and embrace of that which permeates and animates all creation.

Maybe, if we all recognized that Love was the glue and Life Dynamic at the heart of all existence, we would treat ourselves, each other, and all creation with greater reverence, empathy, gentleness, and compassion.

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Auntie Roberta’s Rhubarb Crunch

At this time of year, my rhubarb crop is just about ready for harvesting. This activity always brings delightful memories for me and my family.

In 1982, I was 30 years old and the mother of three, but I had never tasted rhubarb.  Then I attended a party at a dear friend’s home and was introduced to a delicacy beyond compare. It was the perfect balance of tart and sweet, with a crispy crust and lusciously creamy center. For my husband, it brought back memories of his grandma’s farm in Iowa and her delicious rhubarb pie. So I asked Roberta for the recipe.

Fast forward twenty years or so, when our eldest son invited us to a birthday celebration for our first granddaughter. In typical Midwestern fashion, I asked what food I could bring to the feast. He replied, “Is your rhubarb ready? Could you bring Auntie Roberta’s Rhubarb Crunch?” It was at that moment I realized this recipe had become a true “family favorite.”

It is important to know that “Auntie Roberta” is not a blood relative. She is a friend who had become as close as a sister, and my children became very comfortable referring to her by that appellation. My husband and I firmly believe that the term “extended family” has nothing to do with pedigree.

Making rhubarb crunch has taught me many deeper life lessons. Some years my rhubarb “is ready” in early June. Other years the plants don’t mature until later in the month. The experience has taught me patience. When the weather cooperates and the harvest is plenty, the recipe is truly “rhubarb” crunch. When the harvest has been sparse, I have added strawberries to fill the pan and Rhubarb-Strawberry Crunch is equally yummy. This was a lesson in flexibility. I have recently read that apples are another very tasty complement to rhubarb desserts. The lesson is, always be willing to learn something new! I may give that a try this year. I will let you know how it turns out!

For now, here is the original recipe, a picture of my “sister from another mister,” and the recipe (adjusted for a larger batch). The original was in a 9 x 9 pan. I increase the amounts by half and make it in a 9 x 13 pan.

 

Butter stains are a sure sign of a family favorite!

Auntie Roberta’s Rhubarb Crunch

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

1 1/2 cups sifted flour

3/4 cup melted butter

1 1/8 cup rolled oats (oatmeal)

1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1 1/2 cups brown sugar

Mix all together and press half into a 9 x 13 pan. Save other half for topping.

Pour 6 cups rhubarb (cut into 3/4 inch chunks) over pressed crust. You may also mix in strawberries to make the 6 cups if you don’t have that much rhubarb.

In a medium saucepan mix together

1 1/2 cups water

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 1/2 tsp. vanilla

3 Tbsp. corn starch

Cook until bubbly and thick. Pour over the rhubarb. Then sprinkle remaining oat mixture over the top and pat down gently. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour until bubbly and lightly brown. Serve hot or cold with whipped cream or ice cream on top.

This, Too, Shall Pass!

This morning finds me bewildered. I am sure that I am not alone and many others are finding themselves mystified by the recent interpersonal climate in the United States and on the world stage.

There are many articles being written about the anger and animosity being displayed in our U.S. political arena as well as social media. Our nation’s reputation for being a world leader and bastion of freedom, especially in regard to religious freedoms, is tenuous. Countries around the world are struggling economically and global strife fills the news.

The solutions to these challenges, no matter where you fit on the political continuum, are always too simplistic. We’ve all read or heard the opposing opinions, curtail immigration and close the borders/support immigration amnesty, redefine marriage/stand up for a specific definition of marriage, increase the minimum wage/eliminate pensions and benefits, increase welfare assistance/decrease public services, tax the rich/pass a flat tax, bomb ISIS/let foreign countries fight their own battles, expand our military/cut military spending, limit unions/buy American, support gun control/pass concealed carry laws, eliminate religious privileges/advance religious principles.

Of course, it is somewhat comforting to propose a simple solution and state pious platitudes. That is certainly easier than actually dealing with the real source of all strife, my self-centered personal desires and expectations. People are slow to admit that anger, greed, jealousy, envy, gluttony, pride, and laziness, are the vices which fuel many of today’s troubles. In other words, it is much easier to point at the speck in someone else’s eye than to focus on my own near-sightedness or outright blindness.

There is no doubt we are in a time of great change, which can be viewed as both a blessing and a curse! Yet as the adage reminds us, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” Some will choose to wring their hands and spread predictions of terror and annihilation. Others will choose to face the future with gratitude for and trust in the resilience of the human person. Still others will find courage by connecting to the awesome power found at the heart of all life.

My family history is dotted with several deaths from tuberculosis, survivors of the Great Depression, an uncle who was a prisoner of war during WWII, a grandmother who died of heart failure at age 32, and women who survived the loss of multiple children. It takes more than questionable presidential candidates to make me tremble. The riots at the 1968 Democratic Convention, numerous assassinations and attempted assassinations, gas rationing, 17.5% mortgage rates, Watergate, and the Iran-Contra hearings have all happened in my lifetime. So it is common for me to roll my eyes, sigh deeply, and say, “This, too, shall pass!”

Every era has its challenges, successes, and failures and, as they say, hindsight is always 20/20. In this third stage of life, I am more aware of the many things I don’t know and presently I am not certain whether violence has ever advanced any culture. When faced with the atrocities of the various wars throughout history, I do feel a responsibility to defend the downtrodden. I am grateful for our veterans, and their families, who make untold sacrifices on a daily basis, but I also believe that governments have often used young men as “cannon fodder” to promote strictly economic agendas.

In recent years, it has become more important to focus on my own attitudes and interpersonal relationships, which are ultimately my only arenas of influence. I have found that I am trying to remain connected to and supported by an interior peace and positivity that resides at the center of all being. From that core, I am inspired to reach out to those who are in need, first in my immediate family, then to my surrounding community, and finally to the people who I may never meet, but who are living in circumstances I could never begin to imagine. This then extends to a concern and care for all the life and wonders of this remarkable planet.

My mother used to say, “You should always leave a place in better condition than when you arrived.” When I realized that there were more years behind me than ahead, that advice became particularly pressing. I have been blessed with good health, so right now applying this principle can be as simple as spending time with my children and grandchildren, doing small repairs for seniors who are struggling to stay in their homes, contributing to organizations that provide clean water and medical care around the globe, drinking water from a reusable container, and planting a garden. These little acts help to clear my head and calm my soul!