Blessed are the Calm

Blessed are the Calm
the ones who keep their head
and assess the situation,
for they will be able to make a plan
where chaos reigns.

As the smell of baking bread
permeates the house,
so the aura of a calm person
can soothe those around them
in times of turmoil.


Man with a chain saw — photo by Anne LaBastille

Recently my brother-in-law had an unfortunate interaction with a chainsaw. He was cutting wood a short distance from his house when the chainsaw hit a knot and kicked back into his face.

Dazed, he walked back to the house. My sister-in-law looked out the window and saw him coming, his face buried in the crook of his arm. She saw the blood on his shirt and thought, “Oh dear, he has a bloody nose.”

Their daughter was outside.  She looked at her father and immediately called, “Mom! Come quick!”

My sister-in-law is a nurse and used to work in a NICU. She hurried down and asked her husband to take his hand away from his face so she could see what had happened. He did.

“Okay,” she said, and smiled sweetly. “Put your arm back up there,” she told him.

As she told the story to me, she added, “I knew it was important that I stay calm and upbeat. I didn’t let him know how terrible it looked.”

They called 9-1-1.

“Wouldn’t it have been faster for you to just drive him to the hospital?” I asked.

“I was worried he would go into shock,” she replied.

A calm head. A calm assessment. A calm plan.

A few days after the accident, they sent out an “after” picture — meaning after the reconstruction and the gazillion stitches. We passed the phone around the dinner table and looked at the photo, everyone having the same reaction — a nod, and a it’s-not-that-bad.

Bud asked to see the “before” picture, and his brother sent it to him.

When Bud got it, he asked me, “Do you want to see it?”

“Uh — no,” I told him. “You can’t unsee things.”

He looked at the photo.

“Good choice,” he said to me.

My sister-in-law stayed calm after seeing the “before.” It helped everyone, from her husband and daughter, to the volunteer ambulance crew.

Blessed indeed are the calm.

For Those Who Work Behind the Scenes

Blessed are those who work behind the scenes —

the dishwashers,
the line cooks,
and the sous chefs,

the delivery truck drivers,
and the shelf-stockers,

the shut-ins who pray,
but say, “I wish I could do more,”

the gardener who weeds
and weeds
and weeds,
making the garden beautiful
by removing the unsightly,
knowing most people will only notice
where he fails to do his job.

Blessed are the set-changers
and the prop placers,

the page-turner for the pianist,

the proof-readers,

the collaters
and assemblers,

the trash emptiers,

and the little man with the push broom
who sweeps the last of the refuse in the dust pan
before shutting off the light
and closing the door.

Each person
Each small act
Is seen
And noted
by the One who sees all.

All work can be an act of worship.

One of my mother’s gardens

Blessed are the Advocates

Blessed are the advocates
and the whistle-blowers
for their shaky-kneed courage.
They shall hear the words,
“Well done, good and faithful servant.”


A week or two ago, a friend posted an urgent prayer request. She had reported an abusive situation and was summoned to a meeting with the higher-ups of the organization.

She had posted her prayer request the previous night but I didn’t see it until early in the morning.  I had just finished my prayer and reading time so the Beatitudes were fresh in my mind.

I prayed for my friend, and for the abused and the abuser, for the meeting. I felt overwhelmed with emotion for what she had ahead of her that day.

In a comment to her post letting her know that I was praying, I wrote the beatitude above.  I knew that if I was in that situation I would need to be reminded why I’m doing what I’m doing. It’s so much easier not to stick your neck out.

But God calls us to care for the least of these and to advocate for the person who can’t advocate for themself.

I’m sure He will someday say to her, “Well done.”

Both the young and the old — and even some in between — need advocates.

 

Blessed Are the Daily Bloggers

Over eight years ago, I started writing in this little corner of the internet with nothing more than a silly name and a struggle to understand my mother’s dementia.

I wrote nearly every day. It was as if some unseen floodgate opened. A tidal wave of stored-up words poured out.

Three years later, at Laity Lodge, I shyly told a then-new-now-old friend about my blog.

“How often do you write?” she asked.

“Every day,” I replied.

Every day?!” she repeated.

I realized then that blogging every day isn’t normal. Or expected. I started giving myself more permission to skip days.

Over the years, though, I wrote about my mother’s decline, my father’s health struggles, my brother’s death, my mother’s death, my children, my grandchildren, my husband. I wrote about writing. I wrote about spiritual things. I wrote when I was angry, sad, confused, grieving, joyful, content, challenged.

It’s rare when I write these days. I have 255 drafts in my draft folder today.

I start. I stop. I think it’s all stupid. A few days pass, and I repeat the process. 255 times.

The exception to my lack of posting has been April’s A-to-Z Challenge. Give me a task and a schedule, and I’m much more likely to get something done.

Lately, in the mornings, I’ve been thinking on the Beatitudes (Matthew 5 — the Blessed-are-the’s). I’ve also been doing some local research.

Yesterday I picked up a copy of Cooperstown High School’s 1922 yearbook, called “The Pathfinder.” A graduating student had rewritten the Beatitudes for Cooperstown students:

I don’t know what a V.P. in deportment is and I don’t think the punctuality prize is awarded anymore. But the Ruggles Essay contest — where every student in the Junior class writes an essay on the topic of their choice and the top essays are read to the entire student body who votes on the winner — is still going on today. (The earliest account of the Ruggles’ Essay contest that I could find was 1896, but it could precede that date.)

My favorite of Emily’s Beatitudes was #6 — “Blessed are they who knowing nothing do not give you wordy evidence of the fact” — probably because it’s one of my biggest fears as a writer.

All this is to say that for June, I’ll be sharing an A-to-Z of beatitudes.

Or at least I’ll be trying.

Either my draft folder will expand to 281 or I’ll give you wordy evidence of the nothing I know.

Z is for Zen

Where there is carrion lying, meat-eating birds circle and descend. Life and death are two. The living attack the dead to their own profit. The dead lose nothing by it. They gain too, by being disposed of. Or they seem to, if you must think in terms of gain and loss. Do you approach the study of Zen with the idea that there is something to be gained by it?… Where there is a lot of fuss about “spirituality,” “enlightenment,” or just “turning on,” it is often because there are buzzards hovering around a corpse. This hovering, this circling, this descending, this celebration of victory, are not what is meant by the Study of Zen…

Zen enriches no one. There is no body to be found. The birds may come and circle for a while in the place where it is thought to be. But they soon go elsewhere. When they are gone, the “nothing,” the “no-body” that was there, suddenly appears. That is Zen. It was there all the time but the scavengers missed it, because it was not their kind of prey.

Thomas Merton, Zen and the Birds of Appetite



Circling, circling, circling — riding the currents high above the Frio River


More than any other quote, I struggled with this one — probably because I struggled with Merton’s interest in Zen and eastern mysticism. It seemed like a betrayal of Christ.

John Coleman, in his article “Thomas Merton and Dialogue with Buddhism“, said,

Merton who early on in his career showed a keen interest in dialogue with the religions of Asia (Hinduism, Sufism as well as Buddhism) tended to think such dialogue should, primarily, focus on practice and experience and less on doctrine or beliefs, as such.

Yes, that’s what I was hoping. As part of Thomas Merton’s search for contemplative experience, he stepped outside Christian tradition, but not Christian faith. It wasn’t about doctrine; it was about experience.

Goodreads said about Zen and the Birds of Appetite, “Never does one feel him losing his own faith in these pages; rather one feels that faith getting deeply clarified and affirmed. Just as the body of ‘Zen’ cannot be found by the scavengers, so too, Merton suggests, with the eternal truth of Christ.”

Below are two pages from Day of a Stranger, a book where Merton tries to describe a typical day in his hermitage. The book contains musings, thoughts, an imaginary conversation, and, best of all, some of his photographs. If you read these two pages, though, you’ll see that he doesn’t directly answer the questions regarding Zen — and it makes me think that, like the scavengers not finding the carrion because it wasn’t the right prey, perhaps we aren’t asking the right questions.

from Day of a Stranger by Thomas Merton
from Day of a Stranger by Thomas Merton

 

X is for eXactly

The monastic body is held together
not by human admirations and enthusiasms
which make men heroes and saints before their time
but on the sober truth
which accepts men
exactly
as they are
in order to help them become
what they ought to be.

Thomas Merton, The Silent Life


Can you imagine if we all lived like that — accepting people as they are, in order to help them become what they ought to be ?


from the Franciscan Monastery in Dubrovnik