There is only one area of my life where I exhibit OCD tendencies. My kitchen table is semi-covered with a cloth (so the cat wouldn’t slip off) and miscellaneous notes and magazines. My study is a study in my “file by pile” method. But when it comes to books, once I find an author I love, I’ll stick with her/him and find everything they ever wrote. Which is how I came to read Abide With Me by Elizabeth Strout.http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/03/16/AR2006031601632.html
I loved Olive Kitteridge and The Burgess Boys. But in this story she has entered a new realm. I’ve always wanted to have faith, to believe that everything has been planned for us and all we have to do is pray. But my early lapse from a severe Catholic upbringing, coupled with a conversion to Judaism so my children would be raised in a faith, has left me adrift in a spiritual mumbo jumbo, a limbo of grace deferred. So it was a rare pleasure to lose my doubting/Thomas/self in a young minister’s life.
I’d recommend this book particularly at this time of year. It’s about loss, and fathers and daughters, and so much more. It’s about a marriage that was probably a mistake, a New England community filled with gossip and judgement. The protagonist preacher, Tyler, thinks about what Catholic saints and German Protestant ministers jailed during the Holocaust would do in certain situations. He is suffering because his wife has died.
One of my favorite Buddhists is Pema Chodron. She shares her breathing contemplation/meditation to relieve that little sense of discontent we all experience from time to time. Suffering is inevitable, “Everybody dies” as Bob likes to remind me. Pema tells us to take six deep breaths and open our hearts to the pain, even the everyday disappointments:
“When you breathe in, you can recognize that all over the world — right now and in the past and in the future — people are going to feel exactly what you’re feeling now. A feeling of being rejected. The feeling of being unloved. The feeling of insecurity. The feeling of fear. Rage.” Chödrön says. “Human beings have always felt this and always will. And so you breathe in for everyone that they could welcome it, that they could say, ‘I haven’t done anything wrong.’ Embrace it.”
Pema calls this practice “Compassionate Abiding.” We accept our fear, our pain, our feelings and we learn to incorporate them, not to resist, in order to forge our spirit. What a beautiful concept, this is, in a way, prayer. It’s saying the rosary after confessing your sins; but without the beads and the dark priest’s closet. And the shame. It’s forgiving yourself.