You Are Dirt. And You’re Going To Be Dirt.

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Repent and believe the gospel.”

That’s depressing as hell. “Happy Ash Wednesday!” Said no one, ever.

These words, at the heart of the Ash Wednesday liturgy, are abrupt and harsh. They force us to think about that which we normally spend time and energy avoiding—death. We don’t like being reminded that we’re mortal, that there’s this looming end for us, that our lives will cease to be.

Our fear of death leads us to find ways to mask our mortality. We pay for makeup, anti-aging creams, hair dyes, and medical procedures that we hope will make us look younger. We laugh at death when we joke about our age. Ha! This birthday I got an AARP card invitation in the mail. Time to use that senior discount! We entertain ourselves with sacry movies that are about out running death.

Ash Wednesday cuts through all that deflection and says, “You are dirt, and you are going to be dirt.”

But then the liturgy immediately offers more, “Repent and believe the gospel.”

“Repent” literally means “turn around and go the other way.” In this context (and really in every context), repent means to stop being afraid. You might associate repentance with sin and think that to repent means to stop sinning. But if you look deeper, you’ll find that fear is at the heart of all sin.

So repent, stop being afraid, and believe the gospel. What is the gospel?

See, I’ve already lost so many friends at this point in this post, because the post is just too churchy. So many people I know want nothing to do with Christianity, and rightfully so. The church, which claims to house the faith, has hurt them too long and too deeply for them to see words like “repent” or “sin” or “the gospel.” Frankly, I somewhat count myself among them.

It’s sad. Because if you strip away all of the religiosity and church trappings, “the gospel” simply means “love.”

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Repent and believe the gospel.”

Means…

“Yeah, you’re going to die. Stop being afraid of it and love instead.”

I’d much rather spend my life loving and being loved than being afraid. Wouldn’t you?

Happy Ash Wednesday, indeed.

Water

The water continues its relentless flow until… Is there an until? Isn’t water always moving, if not to the sea, then back to the sky? Don’t the hydrogen and oxygen molecules vibrate with movement together?

Relentless movement gives water the power to tear down and build up, to drown in death and nourish in life. But water doesn’t move on its own. Gravity constantly pulls down while wind and sun lift up.

Is water happiest when it’s settled or when it’s roaring? Would water rather be a still pond or a rolling wave? Frozen cold, shimmering liquid, or scalding steam?

Most likely, water just is and cares not at all.

Burn

My heart is the wick of a blown out candle. It once burned hot and cast warm light into the dark of night. Now it is cold and curled, bent over, burned, and covered with suet. A dark presence even in the light of day.

And yet, my heart exists. Is it waiting to host a flame again? Does it hold that memory? Dried as it is, just one spark would ignite and restore it.

Light the candle. Burn, baby. Burn.

Why Is Madonna Making Me Cry?

I mean, she’s good. I remember thinking when I first heard the album that she sounded richer, fuller, and the music was much more diverse and interesting compared to her previous pop offerings. But I’m not a music critic. The quality of the work isn’t what’s making me cry.

I have a friend who would say, “You’re in your feelin’s.”

On this lazy Sunday morning, I’ve got the time, so I’m going to take the time to figure out why I’m in my feelings, even if I have to put Ray of Light on repeat.

The album was released in America in March of 1998. Ruth was 1 1/2 years old. That makes Ben 3 1/2 and Sam 4 months shy of 6.

Those mathematical calculations may be completely off. I have always been terrible with dates and with nailing down the events associated with them. I rely on the kindness of others to correct me and set me straight. But if I’m right, in March of 1998 I was in the throes–IN THE THROES–of wrestling with my sexuality. I was living in fear, and I was scared to death. I was also excited at the prospect of joy.

Unpacking all of that is something for another post (or perhaps a book). But within it lies the answer to why Madonna is making me cry. 20 years later I feel the same way: I’m still afraid, and I’m still exited at the prospect of joy.

If I’m alive, I expect that 20 years from now I will still feel the same. The key is for there to be more joy than fear. When I compare now with 20 years ago, I can say with conviction and gratitude that there’s more joy than fear. While present fear brought to light by Madonna this morning may be the source of my tears, there’s also a healthy dose of joyful gratitude mixed in.

Nothing takes the past away
Like the future
Nothing makes the darkness go
Like the light
You’re shelter from the storm
Give me comfort in your arms
Nothing really matters
Love is all we need
Everything I give you
All comes back to me

–Madonna, “Nothing Really Matters”

Dear 2017

Dear 2017,

Welcome to the world! It is a marvelous time to be alive.You’re going to love it! Your siblings gave us all the time we needed to resolve our issues. 

We finally realized that possessions offered little long-lasting happiness. We saw that there were those among us who lived in excessive abundance while others could not meet their basic human needs. So we pulled way back from the failed experiment called capitalism and started sharing the resources meant for us all. This did wonders to help heal the earth, an additional benefit! 

When we stopped being so concerned about money, we had time to focus on relationships. We stopped thinking that people who are different are also less-than. Not long after that we came to understand that the differences between us were interesting and beautiful. We started listening to and learning from each other. Hearing one another, we confessed that some of us were:

racist, 
misogynistic, 
homophobic, 
transphobic, 
ageist, 
nationalistic.

Those of us with power equated that power with privilege. But we found a way to overcome that evil for everyone’s sake.

How? How did we do it? How did we let go of hate and fear? We started to love on purpose. We loved intentionally. We loved without judgment. We loved without condition. We loved without expecting anything in return. We loved freely and we loved often. 

2017, we are far from perfect. But we believe that every time we choose love we experience a moment of perfection. Loving is a joy! Our hope is that your arrival will bring with it unimagined opportunities to love and that we will choose love over and over again. 

2017, welcome to the world! You’re going to love it. 

Be love,
Ann

Sister Ann Wenita Morelove
The Valentine Nun

Of Dryers, Nests, and Falls

The husband complained that our dryer wasn’t doing the job and we’d need to buy a new one. “No way!” I thought. Our dryer is magical. It’s sixteen years old and has dried clothes for four children and two adults most of those years. There’s no reason for it to quit working now. “Let me take a look at it,” I replied.

I often find the lent trap filled to capacity, so I looked there first. To my surprise, it was empty. That post-it note I stuck above the controls that read, “Empty after every load” must have had its intended effect.

Not one to give up easily, I went out to the side of the house to check the vent on the outer wall. It’s on the second floor of the house, but I could see bits of dried grass and twings sticking out of it. “Aha!” Air flow. Maleficent winged creatures turned squatters had taken up residence in a spot that I would have thought was too hot for breeding.

I borrowed a friend’s ladder to pull out the nest. I didn’t set the ladder correctly on the ground, failing to extend its four legs beside the wall as I should. Instead, I leaned the ladder against the wall. When I pulled at the vent cover I lost my balance.

I knew in an instant I was going to fall. But in that instant I thought many things. I can’t get my legs under me in time to avoid twisting an ankle. I can’t break my fall with my arm for fear of also breaking my wrist. Hold your head up as you hit the ground our you’re going to get really hurt. Don’t land on your tailbone; those things are fragile. No, don’t grab for the ladder; it will only fall on top of you.

Somehow I managed to twist so I landed on my left buttocks cheek. I was OK. The vent cover was in my hand.

While successful, I thought, “This is how fifty-one-year-old men break a hip.”

I got up and climbed back up the ladder. I pulled about three feet of house finch nest out of that dryer vent. I imagine it was some sixteen years worth. Were they raising chicks all year round, having found a heated habitat even in the cold of winter?

It’s a wonder the plugged dryer vent hadn’t caught fire and burned down the house.

A week later, I checked the outside vent again. Yep. New nesting sticking out. The vent cover wasn’t closing properly, allowing the birds access. I’m smarter, or at least more stubborn, than these birds. On my way home from work, I stopped at Home Depot for a new cover.

Of course, I didn’t have the cover with me and there were multiple choices. A Home Depot employee saw me pondering in the aisle and asked if he could help me. I explained the situation, as if the story of the bird nest in the dryer vent would help us determine what replacement cover I would need.

“I had the same problem several years ago. Do you have access to an old pair of pantyhose?”

I instantly saw where he was going with this, and I was grateful. I nodded and said, “I bet I can find some.” Somehow I managed to keep a straight face and not tell him about Sister Ann Wenita Morelove, who owns plenty of drug store knee-highs. She’s a frugal one, that Sister Ann.

And so am I. I now have an old, fully functional dryer and an original, though malfunctioning, vent cover, improved with a repurposed knee-high in charcoal gray.

Hopefully the house finches have found another place to live. Part of me expects to look out at the feeder soon to see them sporting tiny knee-highs on their tiny legs, looking fabulous.

Walnut Street Haunting

My memory of Mrs. Jenkins* is that she was a kind old lady who always wore a smile on her face. She lived a few houses down the street from my childhood home, and I remember visiting her on more than one occasion with my mother. Every time we visited I wanted to explore her attic, but Mom always said, “No.” She said I was too young to go into the attic. I suspect she was trying to spare Mrs. Jenkins the inconvenience of having an inquisitive boy messing around with her stuff.

The idea of an attic fascinated me because we didn’t have one in our own home at the time. I imagined all kinds of interesting things in that attic. Mrs. Jenkins even told me that when I got old enough to go up the stairs she’d let me take something from it, or at least that’s how I remember it. At some point she gave to me a toy wooden circus wagon. Horses pulled the wagon and animals on wheels rode in it. I remember there being a giraffe. I don’t think I really ever got to go into the attic, but I remember the toy circus wagon coming from the attic. It’s funny how this memory makes total sense to me but most likely never happened.

At any rate, Mom repainted the wagon but she wouldn’t let me play with it.  She said it was an antique. Instead of impressing me, this designation made me like the wagon less. What good is a toy you can’t play with? I’m sure Mom still has that wagon.

Several years later,  Mrs. Jenkins died. I don’t know how she died, but the facts of her death didn’t matter to my friends and me. We made up a story that Mrs. Jenkins died in her house and that her house was haunted. It stayed empty for years (probably only months). Since I’d been in Mrs. Jenkins’ house and it had always been a pleasant experience, the story we made up about it being haunted didn’t scare me.

That’s why, on a hot summer day when we dared each other to break into Mrs. Jenkins’ empty house, I wasn’t afraid to do it.

In addition to an attic, Mrs. Jenkins’ house had a crawl space. With my friends egging me on, I pushed open the crawl space window and squeezed through. The only things I saw in the dark were the underside of the flooring above me, bone-dry dirt below me, and cobwebs in between.

Too synchronized not to be planned, I heard my friends scream in unison outside. I scrambled back out through the window to laugh along with them but they were long gone by the time I got out.

At that point I was a little spooked myself. I ran to an old shed on the edge of the property to hide. As my eyes adjusted to the gloom of the shed, I saw old tools, piles of junk, and some kind of mower. Back in the corner of the shed stood a man in overalls. Time stood still. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t move. And then the man moved, and all of a sudden I could move faster than I have before or since, more scared than I have ever been before or since.

I ran out of that shed and back home. I didn’t tell anybody what had happened. I didn’t think my friends would believe me and I thought I’d get in trouble if I told my parents what had happened.

Looking back on it, I’m pretty sure it was Mr. Parker* in that shed. Mr. Parker lived nearby and I don’t have any idea what he was doing in there. It wasn’t his shed. It could be he was borrowing a tool and when I came running in I surprised him and he hoped I wouldn’t see him. It could be he had a stash of whiskey in there. I’ll never know why he was there.

*The names of these long departed souls have been changed.