Friday, January 27, 2012

My prayer cheat sheet

“How do you pray?”   she asked me.

I wanted to say, whoa!  That’s like asking Mitt Romney or Newt Gingerich for their tax returns.  How I pray is my business.  Personal, private,  not open to inspection.

I plunged in and told her my morning routine for my quiet time before I plunge into the day, if “plunge”  can be used to describe my often  slow start to the day. It takes a while for all  muscles and bones, and even my  brain,  to fully cooperate. They  need a little encouragement. 

But she wanted more detail.  So I showed her the template I use for prayer many mornings.  I have typed out  an outline for prayer attached to a piece of cardboard so it won’t get lost in the maze of papers and files on my desk.

“So you have a cheat sheet!”  she pronounced gleefully. 

A cheat sheet?  I hadn’t thought of it that way.  And why not? When I was teaching I sometimes told students they could bring in a cheat sheet the size of a postcard, or,  if I was feeling magnanimous,   the size of two postcards, or even more.  By organizing their information in miniscule writing, they were probably studying harder than usual.

My prayer cheat sheet is  letterhead-size.  When the page becomes too messy with handwritten changes, I make corrections on my computer and print out a new one. 

I like my cheat sheet.  I don’t think God minds that I need a little help those  mornings when my mind is wandering or time is limited. 

I start  with “Good morning,  God almighty. Good morning, Jesus the Christ. Good morning, Holy Spirit.”  By using the words “Good morning”  I’m starting a conversation.  I say “Good morning” to the desk clerk or the parking valet, never “How are you?”,  those empty words tossed into the atmosphere that don’t expect a reply anyway.

I speak first to God. “Almighty God, I worship you as Creator, Sustainer, Ruler, Organizer.” Some people pray only to Jesus.  I include the Godhead.

Next I address   Jesus as “ the risen Christ,  Redeemer, Conqueror of evil, sin and death.” I admit my cheat sheet reveals my theology.  Then,  on to the Holy Spirit, often forgotten, whom I address as “the source of all wisdom and power, as the one who gives me strength, who makes me holy” – when I am holy-- who “guides me into all truth, who empowers me, who prays for me.”

Next  I turn to each member of the Trinity for specific requests.   I want to be aware of God’s presence throughout the day.  I move through my cheat sheet,  adding details,  omitting  items as the  Spirit moves.

I try to mention each child and grandchild by name.  My mother told me once she remembered every grandchild's name (all 18) by praying for them daily.   I never want to forget one of mine.  

Why do I do this?  Because my inner life is nourished  through  these quiet moments, my regular reading of devotional literature  and Scripture.  Because prayer is a way of living with hope. 

People my age tend to give up hope too soon as if life, when you’re bent, out of shape and feel forgotten,  no longer has something to offer. To pray means that this day has promise.  This day can bring God’s strength and joy into my life. Hope is what it is all about when you are an octogenarian.  

Every once in a while I reread Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning to set my inner life on course once again. His words once gave me hope after my husband died suddenly leaving me with four  young children to support and raise. 

Frankl  points out that  he noticed that when he was a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II those fellow prisoners who  chose to live in the past, believing life no longer had anything to offer them,  were the first to die.  When prisoners gave up hope in those most dismal circumstances where  everything was decided for them – when to get up, what to wear, what to eat, what work to do – they soon let go. When they realized that life still expected something of them in this hell-hole – the responsibility of deciding their attitude toward what was going on – they had more chances of hanging on.

So my cheat sheet gives me a path through the sometimes waylessness of life. I don’t think God minds. It's not perfect, but it helps.

Good morning, God almighty.  Good morning, Jesus the Christ.  Good morning, Holy Spirit.  Sometimes just those few words are  enough to set me on track for the day. 

Monday, January 16, 2012

OLD -- and proud of it!

My journal entries tell me that in January 1994 I visited my mother for the last time in Edmonton before her death  that same year a little while later  at age 99.  I was the sister assigned  to move her from the hospital where she had been for a few days to a rehabilitation center to be “rehabilitated,”  a task I readily accepted. She had traveled her life’s journey from a lowly upbringing in one of the Mennonite colonies in the Ukraine to Canada with strength  and dignity.  Always a real Mensch! 

 I didn’t know what to expect in this new facility, but it was what the government  agency had decided was best for her.  The admitting person asked her where she wanted to go when she was finished with the  rehabilitation. 

 “To be with the Lord,” was her calm answer. She was finished with life. She didn’t plan to return to her little apartment. It was time to take the next step. 

The model of aging employed at the time was that when you were finished with the  hospital, the next stage was a rehab center where you learned to cook and such stuff so that you could take care of  yourself  again. It apparently applied to all older adults, even people Mother’s age.  Mother  hadn’t cooked for herself for a long time. My sister Anne brought her food which she just warmed up.   At close to the century mark, she was sure  her life was ending.  But the government decreed otherwise.  It had a model of aging that applied to everyone – no exceptions. 

Models of aging change over the generations. Believe me.

In the Ukraine where my parents grew up, old men in the village sat on benches in front of the house and “neighbored,” that wonderful Low German word that dares translation.  Old women puttered and checked  gardens and flower beds.

In the Slavic community in Saskatchewan where I grew up,  my father accommodated the old men of the village by providing them with benches in front of his store where they could  sun themselves, reminisce,  argue, and chew sunflower seeds by the bushel with skills learned over years of practice.  This front-bench resting was an  acceptable model of aging in that  small town, a holdover from the Old Country.

When Dad retired he thought he would follow that model. “I want to rest,” he told me a number of times. He had spent his energies managing a store which included lugging sacks of flour and sugar out the door to waiting wagons and trucks. At age 70 he thought he deserved to rest.  He was tired. But he didn’t expect to rest for the next twenty years.  

The resting  model no longer worked, especially when he and mother moved to a city without benches in front of the stores.  Resting alone on the sofa didn’t measure up.  He learned his adopted country  demanded  a new model  that required planning for old age—financial resources, goals, living arrangements – and the aggressiveness to find his own front benches if society didn’t  provide them. 

Unfortunately old age cannot be eradicated like small pox or some of the other vicious communicable diseases.  With better health care, better sanitation, and   higher living standards people are living longer and hopefully better.

But, and there is a but, a big one.  Today’s culture keeps reminding me that at my age I should hide the wrinkles, mask my white hair, leave the cane behind if possible, joke about memory lapses,  use euphemisms for death – in effect, be ashamed of being an old person.  As if “old” is a four-letter word, a disease.  Old people with strong signs of aging shouldn’t be sitting on front benches  where everyone can see them.

It bothers me that people watch the elderly like they watch toddlers, only in reverse.  Hey, she’s still walking.  He is using a cane. Now a three-pronged one.   Wheelchair coming up!  We are warned that we will all end up warehoused – lots of empty shells stacked in memory care  homes because of some form of dementia.  

Aging is a mystery compounded of joy, sorrow, pain,  confidence,  indefiniteness, and sometimes fear.  It has  few specific  answers.

I listened to Barbara Ehrenreich, author and columnist,  encourage jobless people living on a lower standard than before  to be proud and poor.  Poor was nothing to  be ashamed of.  

The words rang a bell with me.  Proud and old.  OLD AND PROUD!

Proud whether striding, tottering,  articulate or forgetting names.

Proud whether having to lean on someone for support or walking marathons.

Proud  because this time is still my time.   I am  still someone made in the image of God.             

Friday, January 6, 2012

My heart leaps up when . . . .

I nodded my head in agreement as I read the letter in the local newspaper by a man mourning the departure  of handwritten letters from our culture.  At his mother’s death, he had found among her effects a box of mementos, including a letter written by his father to her years ago which she had treasured to her dying day.

 I, too, mourn the departure of handwritten letters, not for business matters, or day-to-day concerns, but for what goes on in the spirit.

Years ago, when my parents were living, it was their custom to place letters we children had written to them in the basket on the coffee table for any of us who were visiting to read.  Mother and Dad  also read these letters again and again, squeezing all possible meaning out of them. They were their lifeline to the family.  I wrote my parents once a week for years, prompting Dad to write, “You are the best letter writer.”  By then I was typing the letters, however, to make it easier for them to read.  

Mother never wrote many letters. Her excuse was that Dad had so few things to do in his retirement, she left this task to him, so he sent off short missives to each child when he had some news.  Sometimes they were not more than twenty words, but they were his way  of keeping the family connected.  “Jack and Joyce visited us.  Mother made green bean soup for dinner.”   He made  sure his end of the connection was intact.

When he wrote letters to Mother’s relatives in the Soviet Union,  they complained that his letters were too short. Letters to a foreign country, far away, should be long, very long. I have a file of his longer letters to me in which he discussed a topic he was concerned about, but they were the exception rather than the rule.

I read recently that some schools are discontinuing teaching cursive writing, a useless skill in a computerized age.  I grieve, for I recall when I worked in my father’s store  in the 1930s watching illiterate immigrants from  Slavic countries bring a check to him and endorse it with an X,  above which Dad would write “His sign” and sign his own name. 

What a tragedy when someone cannot read or write even their own name.  What a tragedy when someone finds writing (or typing) more than a sentence a chore.

A letter is an artifact that I can pick up in my hands and touch with more than just my eyes.  A letter is something I can hang on to.  Mother kept all my letters to her. As I reread them I cringe as I see the person I once was but I also  utter a  “bravo” to some bold words and accounts of acts.  How will today’s technology  preserve our computerized letters in easily accessible form?  I already have a box of tapes, discs, and so forth not accessible to me on this computer.  Are they lost forever?

My heart leaps up when I behold a rainbow in the sky. My heart leaps up when I receive a handwritten note  or  letter, handwritten or typed. It is communication with a  human being.

 I grew up with coal and wood stoves, hand-powered washers, manual typewriters, and radios with static reception.  We melted snow for water in winter and hauled it from the well in summer. I would not want to return to any of this. I appreciate modern appliances and the swifter methods of communication.  On Christmas Day I received greetings from a friend in India and a relative in Moscow. But the faster I run to keep up with modern technology, the farther it moves ahead of me.   Yet I believe that staying in touch is most important in any form. Here's to more letters in the New Year!