Archive for the ‘Spiritual Lessons from My Father’ Category

I have been listening to a sung Sanskrit prayer called the Gayatri for about a decade now as part of my daily spiritual practice. When my parents have visited, they have enjoyed being quiet with me as this most ancient of prayers plays in the background. . My Mom listens and says, “I understand that prayer – it means love” and my Dad would say “it means peace”. They often enjoyed disagreeing about things that didn’t much matter which made for great amusement in our family. We often told them they had high entertainment value.

One day, my father and my husband were working on installing a light near our spiral staircase. Chris was in the tiny knee-wall attic amidst the rafters and insulation, crawling on his knees, flashlight in hand, looking for the wires Dad was feeding through the wall. All of a sudden Dad stopped and the Gayatri started playing. (He had accidentally pushed the button on the nearby CD player). “What happened?” Chris shouted from within the attic. Dad said, “I don’t know but suddenly I feel very peaceful!”

Eventually the light fixture was installed but every night when we turn it on, we smile with the memory of Dad’s sudden peacefulness.

The following Christmas, the one thing Dad wanted was a CD of the Gayatri which I was pleased to give him along with a translation of the word’s meaning. Though the language was foreign and the source of the prayer more ancient than Judaism or Christianity, he recognized the oneness of truth that transcends our paltry attempts to know Divinity.

It is a fine line to walk: discerning what is true and what is human misunderstanding. As our world grows smaller through information overload, and we learn from the variety of experiences of holiness in this vast earthly population, I find that the test of what is true becomes clear to me when the peace of Christ shines brightly within my heart. And that comes with the daily practice of sitting quietly in God’s presence, and through the reading and memorizing scripture. May you know that peace today.

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My father was passionate about economic justice, and the belief that all people are worthly. His two political heros were Tommy Dougas (the greatest Canadian other than my husband in his eyes) and Harry Truman. About 6 months before he died, he was on one of his many expositions about Harry Truman. At one point I turned to Mom and said “I suppose we will miss these lectures when he is gone.” She rolled her eyes as only she can do and said “I suppose we will.” Yes, we do.

On the other hand, over the years Dad would have coffee or breakfast on a weekly basis at The Seven Dwarfs with many men with whom he disagreed. He didn’t give up on them. He volunteered at the hospital in transport and always sought to treat each patient with love and respect, and to go the extra mile for their benefit.

It seems that when he wasn’t lecturing “the choir” about his viewpoints, he was actually practicing peace with those with whom he disagreed. Perhaps it was his humility that empowered him to do this, or perhaps it was his way of showing compassion to those he thought had trouble being compassionate. Certainly he was practicing being Christ to them. Or maybe he just liked teasing them and joking around with the owner of Seven Dwarfs! I know for certain he engendered their love and respect. What a peaceful world this would be if we could all do the same.

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My Dad would probably tell me I was getting “high falutin’ ” by calling these observations of his life “Spiritual Practices.” These things were just the way he lived the Christian life. One of the delightful things he did was to call everyone in his church and additional friends and family on their birthday and he would sing Happy Birthday to them. Even when he was getting ready to go to the hospital to have knee surgery, he made those calls. The day before he died, at a time we weren’t quite sure of how aware he was, he sang his last Birthday song to his wife of nearly 64 years.
It wasn’t just his singing the song that touched so many people. There was something in the way he did it, and his commitment to each person that exuded joy. He sang in the choir and helped that group bond by his occasional silliness and antics with his best buddy Glen. He sang in the shower, and when he put the dishes in the dishwasher and when he mowed the lawn. I remember him leading the neighborhood men in singing “O Solo Mio” while they put a new roof on the house. You just couldn’t help but feel delighted by him at these times and to share in his joy of being alive.

A few years ago, I was driving my parents home from New York on a Sunday morning. Dad was missing being at church and singing in the choir. So we put on the radio and scanned for Christian stations that were playing music. We’d change the channel when the preaching began or when we were out of range. At one point we were delighted to hear the Hallelujah Chorus and together we sang our parts: Mom attempting to carry the soprano, Dad the bass and myself the alto. We were having a grand old time when suddenly the music stopped. We tried to get the station back on to no avail so just shut the thing off. A few minutes passed and suddenly we heard it again! It turned out to be my Dad’s cell phone. If you can’t laugh at yourself, there’s something wrong with you! Life lesson number one. Happy Birthday Dad.

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About 10 years ago, my parents noticed that their friends were getting older, many of them disabled or recently widowed and isolated. So they took it upon themselves to reach out to someone nearly everyday by either a visit or a phone call or a card. When Dad passed on last May, one might think that Mom would rightfully think of herself as one of those people. But no, within a few weeks she was back at it with cards she makes herself or phone calls made or rides given. Now she is 85 but it doesn’t often occur to her that she is older too. Although she is occasionally the recipient of other’s calling her, she still has a daily discipline of reaching out even when she doesn’t feel like it. It helps that Mom has never met a stranger. I well remember a phone call she got when I was about 8 years old, back in the day of one household phone with an extremely long cord on it. As she talked, she cleaned and talked and listened. Half an hour later, the caller realized she didn’t know my mother and had thought she had called her sisiter! Mom has made freinds everywhere she has gone and made many more over the internet. I don’t think she thinks of her caring as a discipline. It’s just who she is. But people notice. This past All Saint’s Day she was nominated by her Baptist church as a saint. And so she is and so we all can be.

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My Dad lived an ordinary life in extraordinary ways. At his memorial service, there were over 300 people whose lives he effected profundly. This is a brief and beginning list of Life Lessons he taught me. For those of you who knew him, feel free to add your own lessons you learned from him in the comment section!
1) Don’t take yourself too seriously. If you can’t laugh at yourself than there is something wrong with you.
2) Only yell at the television. They can’t hear you and it will help your frustration level.
3) People are a riot. Some are funnier than others but there is something to enjoy about every dad-blasted one of them.
4) Remember your education was paid for mostly by all taxpayers so be appreciative and don’t resent paying your fair share.
5) It’s a good life – don’t waste it.
6) Don’t consider yourself better than any one else and don’t think of anyone else as better than you. We all put our pants on the same way.
7) Call your mother or she will forget that you love her.
8) Exercise. Use it or lose it. (The day before he lost all ability to hold his own weight, exactly 5 days before he died, he mowed his lawn and that of my brothers. The day before he died, he watched the Cubs win)
9) Sing whenever possible. (More on that later)
10) Do your part. It’s your duty in life to do your part in whatever way possible in whatever organizations to which you belong.

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“Did anyone notice that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, not an Elephant?” (from my Democrat father)

“Chaos in life on the outside starts with chaos on the inside” (the Practical Mystic)

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