Monday, December 21, 2020

"Shepherd's Pipe Carol" and My Journey to Bethlehem

 In yesterday’s (12/20/20) posting, I said that I hoped to explore how tonight’s “Christmas Star” might lead us all to Bethlehem: “each in our own way; each in our own time; each with our own story.” Early this morning, I began today’s post. When I found myself writing the 4,798th word, I realized that my thoughts were too many for my usual 600-word post. That many words suggested that, at another time, I might describe in a memoir my journey into the spirituality that has evolved within me over a period of eighty-four years. For now, I’ll simply summarize.


In 1969, I found a book, in a Minneapolis bookstore, that contained letters written by Rainer Maria Rilke to a young poet. One piece of advice he gave resonated with the Dee Ready who’d left the convent three years before and was searching for she didn’t know what. Rilke wrote:


Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart, and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Do not search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them.


And the point is to live everything. 


Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.


At that time, questions abounded within the dark labyrinth that was myself: Would I always be a misfit? Would I ever be loveable? Would I ever stop judging people? Was there some good I could do to justify my existence? Would I forever be needy? Was this loneliness peculiar to me or were others lonely too? And, one last question, the presence of which became like the breath I breathe, “What is the best way to love?”  


I began to wend my way through life. I had been raised a Roman Catholic, but as the years passed so, too, did my need for a belief in the Trinity, in the divinity of Jesus, in a personal God. Reflection on my own experience of life led me to let go of that which no longer spoke to me. Or nourished my spirit.


Slowly, ever so slowly, I began to live into answers. It was the beloved myth of the Christmas story that finally brought me to the spirituality that informs my life today. The “Shepherd’s Pipe Carol” by John Rutter is the Christmas carol that announced—like the dawning of a great light—the answer to my lifelong search. If you have time, please click below and listen to it.


Note that the carol is about a question. The shepherd boy is already “living” his way into an answer as he hurries to Bethlehem to see a baby nestled against his mother’s breast. Gathered there he will find shepherds—cold, hungry, homeless—and magi—educated, world travelers, wealthy—as well as the innkeeper and the animals who inhabit his stable.


The baby in that life-giving myth grew into a man. He, too, must have had questions, heartwishes. He, too, must have lived into answers. From my reading of the Christian gospels, I came to understand that he grew into a truth that envelopes us all: All that matters is inclusive love—love especially and always for the poor, the outcast, the “lowly. Moreover, if we are to give love, then we must include ourselves in the great Oneness—inclusivity—that binds us together, for time and for eternity.  


Love then became the theme of that man’s life. A theme born of his experience in a small Roman province called “Palestine.”


And that, my dear friends, became the answer to my questions also. Bethlehem for me is the answer to my deepest heartwish and my lifelong question: “How do we love best?”


The answer is there in the stable of each of our hearts: We love best by loving inclusively, by seeing ourselves as part of the Whole—each of us essential unto the other.


So simple and yet perhaps the hardest part of living: to live into the Oneness that awaits our questions. To live into the Oneness illustrated by those gathered in that stable.


We all have a lifelong heartwish or question; we are all on a journey to live into the answer. For me that journey, that question, that answer is the substance that is the myth of the Christmas story repeated throughout the ages. It is a necessary myth that assures me that if I am to find myself, I must live in the Holy Oneness of All Creation—all humanity and all creatures that inhabit the planet—donkeys, cows, sheep, and, oh, yes, cats! And dogs!


Well, I’ve now written not 600, but 827 words—a rather lengthy summary. It’s time to leave you in your own Bethlehem stable with your own questions that have become the heartwishes of your life. 


Peace, Merry Christmas, and Joyful Journey. 

Sunday, December 20, 2020

An Update and a Christmas Carol

Hello All, on this sunny day with both the birds and the squirrels at the feeder. In five days, we will celebrate the journey of a Jewish family and a group of shepherds to Bethlehem in Judaea. Tomorrow, we celebrate the winter solstice, a yearly promise of change in our natural world.

Shortly after sunset tomorrow, we here in Missouri will look at the southwest skies and see the wonder of the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn. My hope is that this “Christmas Star,” last seen here 800 years ago, may perhaps lead us all to Bethlehem: each in our own way; each in our own turn; each with our own story. Here’s an old carol, from long years ago, about what the friendly beasts found in Bethlehem.


Tomorrow, in another posting, I hope to share with you a modern carol about Bethlehem. That carol also prompts me to share with you my thoughts on how we are all going to Bethlehem and why.


But first today: It’s been a month since I last posted about Eliza, the grand-daughter of my heart, and Donna, a friend whose generosity knows no bounds. Both of them are accompanying me in my life-long journey to Bethlehem. Both are gifts whose lightness of spirit and embrace of all humanity have enriched these final years of my life. 

All of us, I suspect, understand that Elisa and Donna, whose lives in just three short months have been changed by cancer, are finding that life is fragile, fleeting, and finite. But . . . filled with the grace of Oneness.


Elisa is home now in Idaho. She’s had high dosage radiation on her brain tumor. It lasted for 55 minutes. She’s also completed the seven-day, 20-minute sessions of radiation on her spine. She will return to the Huntsman Cancer Institute in Salt Lake City every six weeks for an immunotherapy infusion. After each third infusion, her whole body will be scanned to observe the course of the cancerous tumors.


The oncologists and other doctors at the Huntsman have given her a prognosis of two years. The radiologist, however, told her, “If anyone can beat the odds, you can.” Everyone at Huntsman was somewhat astounded by her grit and determination, her indominable spirit and optimism, her gratitude for what has been and what will be.


Donna’s stage 2 breast cancer has been removed, and she begins radiation for three weeks in January. Her prognosis is reassuring: with radiation and the daily taking of a pill (not sure what it is) for five years, there is a 95% probability that the cancer will not return.


They both want me to thank you for sharing the past two months with them and for connecting with them through your own spiritual pathways. Both feel and know they have much for which to be grateful this Christmas. I want to thank you, too, for your response to my own health concerns. My concerns have been truly put in perspective when I think of what Elisa’s and Donna’s lives are right now and what they may be.


For the past month, Meniere’s Disease has held me in thrall, which, I hope, explains why I haven’t been posting anything more about Elisa and Donna. However, both are on Facebook (as I am) and whenever Elisa has posted, I have shared her post on my own Facebook page. A number of those who have “befriended” me there have responded to her stories. 

Many of her posts are funny; others poignant; still others, inspiring. And some illustrate Elisa’s way of drop-kicking this force called “cancer.” If you, too, use Facebook, her name there is Elisa Beth Magagna should you have a desire to read her own account of her journey with cancer.