Sunday, March 28, 2010

New Age Stuff

Three years ago, when I was excitedly beginning the part of my journey living much of the year in northern New Mexico, a couple of older fellow Episcopalians—both educated and experienced—gave voice to their perceptions of the spiritual reputation of Santa Fe. After we finished lunch (they were in Santa Fe to visit her brother), she advised, “Don’t let yourself get caught up in any of this new age stuff.” Or something like that. I don’t think she said ,“woo-woo”. I think about this once in a while, especially since I decided a year ago that the church-going path I was on at the time, and had been for most of my adult life, was just not resonating for me.

There had been times along the way that I got caught up in moments of my religious and worship journey, but something clearly was missing from the spin I was putting on how all of this mattered to my life. I don’t think I had ever been unclear on what I consider the heart of the message of the man from whom the whole Christian epic began 2000 years ago. But what to do with this message was for me incomplete and tampered with. Such is the lot of many Christians for these two millennia since Jesus of Nazareth walked this earth.

This past week I had an opportunity to hear Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson deliver a sermon here in Texas. When I saw that he was going to be in Dallas, I immediately seized the idea of driving the 165 miles to hear him, although I didn’t know he was preaching. I thought he would be talking on his memoir. But it was a church service, although not in the Episcopal Church, fully complemented with an orchestra, chorus, featured vocal ensemble, communion, readings from the scriptures and sermon—and two collections of offerings.

In fairness to the circumstances and the sermon, I was more than a little excited to hear Bishop Robinson, and though his sermon centered on the importance of gay and lesbian folk claiming their rightful place among God’s own, it was a sermon. As I make baby steps toward growing beyond the standard message of much of the Christian tradition, that of sin and redemption, that of how we fall short, and move into the true message of Jesus, the great teacher, healer and mystic—a message centered on love, worthiness and equality in God’s eyes—I find it harder and harder to sit for the message that I’ve heard all of these years. When it came time for communion, I had retreated to the back of the worship space and stood next to one of the large limestone pillars that mark the entrance to the seating area. Do I go for communion, I asked myself. If I do, what does it mean? Am I compromising where I find myself trying to walk these days—not judging, not feeling unworthy, not feeling wrong and fallen short? Although the confession which I have been accustomed to for four decades was not part of this worship, we were reminded that evening that we are all equally unworthy in God’s eyes.

“Almighty God,
Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
maker of all things, judge of all men:
We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness,
which we from time to time most grievously have committed,
by thought, word, and deed, against thy divine Majesty,
provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us.
We do earnestly repent,
and are heartily sorry for these our misdoings;
the remembrance of them is grievous unto us,
the burden of them is intolerable.
Have mercy upon us,
have mercy upon us, most merciful Father;
for thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake,
forgive us all that is past;
and grant that we may ever hereafter
serve and please thee in newness of life,
to the honor and glory of thy Name;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” (“Book of Common Prayer,” Rite I)

I’ve been learning a new message over the last year—that we are all worthy in God’s eyes, that we are all loved equally by God, that we are all expressions of God, of the Divine, the Spirit. I am learning that the world is abundant—even though through the manipulation of human kind heart-breaking deprivation exists all over the world, including here in America where wealth achieves mind boggling and disgusting statistics. While it remains hard for me to say that I am god, even though I trust that the one God, the Divine, the Spirit, dwells in me, even though I know that God is in everyone and everything, I am learning. To be reminded, as I was last Wednesday night, that in the traditional Christian view we are all equally unworthy—regardless of our sexuality, race, intelligence, economic birthright or achievement—seems more and more irrelevant to me.

The teachable moment is always at hand for each of us. A few years ago I attended a worship service at the Episcopal Cathedral in Houston. The young priest preaching that day talked about the work and writing of Verna Dozier, who at the time was in her 80s. An African American, Ms. Dozier was retired from a long, accomplished career as a public school teacher. For many years she had been an active leader in the Episcopal Church. What the priest spoke about was from Ms. Dozier’s book, “The Dream of God.” The message from Verna Dozier: Do you want to follow Jesus? Or, or you just content to worship him? In her eyes, the church chose centuries ago to worship Jesus, rather than to follow his teachings. We can all do our own homework about that history.

Each time I go to the center in Santa Fe where I meet with others for spiritual nurturing and growth, my God consciousness increases. Each time I hear from the podium about our relationship with God, the Divine, the Spirit, I smile. Each Wednesday night, we sing the words:

“I am an expression of the spirit, of the spirit
A beautiful expression of the spirit, of the spirit
Magnificent expression of the spirit, of the spirit

A unique, un-repeatable expression of God”
(Robert D. Anderson)

As much as I love all of the traditional hymns I have sung in worship over the years, oh, how I prefer to hear—rather than that I am an unworthy wretch who has been saved—I prefer to hear that “I am free, I am free/Everyday of my life, I am free-free-free-free-free. I am love, I am love/Every day of my life, I am love-love-love-love-love. I am blessed, I am blessed/Everyday of my life, I am blessed-blessed-blessed-blessed-blessed. When I wake up in the morning, ‘til I lay my head to rest, I am blessed, I am blessed.” In spite of my ego that gets in the way oh so often, I stand in gratitude knowing that I am an expression of the Divine, and that sometimes I even measure up to the responsibility that goes along with that expression. Even at my worst, I am worthy.

New Age Stuff—Normangee, Texas (March 28, 2010)
R. Harold Hollis

Friday, March 19, 2010

A Simple Scratch

This afternoon I scratched my left forearm against a virburnum shrub as I continued working down my mulch pile. The five yards I had delivered over a week ago is almost a memory. I noticed the burning sensation on my arm as I pushed the wheelbarrow away, but it was only after I had gone back for another load of mulch that I noticed the heavy collection of blood pooling around the scratch. “Oh,” I thought, “I’ll clean that off after I finish this load.” Shortly, I came into the house, and rinsed off my arm at the bathroom sink. I couldn’t locate the triple antibiotic, so I doused the scratch with tea tree oil, and then went outside to continue working. A smaller pool of blood continued collecting around the scratch.

When I called it an afternoon for spreading mulch—I’ve been piddling with this since my first big push on the day the mulch arrived—I went back into the house to wash the wound. A folder paper towel lying by the kitchen sink served handily as a pad to fold further and soak in water for daubing the blood. As I cleaned my wound, looking at my arm, an image of my daddy wiping a scratch on his arm in the very same way flashed through my mind. As he got older, the skin on his forearms became more vulnerable and minor trauma to the skin—a frequent occurrence working around the yard—became common. In spite of hard-earned resilience, which apparently applies only at the soul level, physically we tear and break more easily as we grow older. Tomorrow it will be 29 years that he died.

Just the other day, my oldest sister, Joan, and I were talking about how much Daddy loved the two-story barn that became my home 10 years ago. When our parents bought this place in 1973, the barn housed farm equipment, tack (although there were no horses to ride at this point), hay upstairs, and in the cool hallway, Daddy’s workshop. The bunkhouse that ran the 50-foot length of the northwest side of the building was a place for family and friends visiting Mother and Daddy in the country to spend a night or two.

Along with our middle sister, Sue, last week we went to see the man who does some investing for us, just as he did for our mother the last few years of her life. That day Sue pointed out places healing on her arm where she had scratched herself in the normal course of working around the house. She’s been taking cortisone, and I remember that Daddy took cortisone off and on. Alas, we get older.

They say that as people get older, they become more interested in where they came from. I don’t know this to be so true for the relatives from my parents and grandparents’ generation. Our mother loved to talk about her Texas German family roots—a group that landed at Galveston in 1866, when my great grandmother Louisa was only 1 year old, and settled northwest of Houston, what is now part of the great Houston octopus. Daddy didn’t know much about his family, and neither did his siblings, although they loved Hollis family get-togethers. They were a close family.

Our cousin, Marilyn, daughter of Daddy’s youngest sister, is working away on the genealogy of both our grandpa Hollis, who died in 1941—a couple of years before I was born—and our Mamaw Hollis’s family. Last October, a cousin on the Hollis side—the youngest daughter of Daddy’s youngest uncle—found me on the Internet, and we’ve been corresponding about her impressive work on the Hollis family. She’s traced us all the way back to pre-Revolutionary times in North Carolina. Our branch—going back to great-great grandfather Isaac—made their way to Alabama before the Civil War.

When our parents bought this land in Leon County Texas almost 40 years ago, we discovered a Hollis street in the nearby town of Normangee. After I moved up here 10 years ago from Houston, I found that there were Hollises in a nearby cemetery in Madison County, and through the wonders of technology and the Handbook of Texas online, found out that they had come from Cannon County Tennessee. Their youngest son (born 1834 in Tennessee) had raised his family here in Leon County, and several of their family members are buried in the historic cemetery just down the road. Yesterday, cousin Martha figured out the connection. Based on information I had given her, she connected that the ancestor father of this Madison County Texas group was the brother of my great-great-great grandfather, William C. Hollis, who was born in North Carolina.

I smile knowing that we can trace our Hollis roots back to the early 18th century American colonies. Our branch made its way from Alabama to east Texas by train just before the turn of the 19th century. Mother’s family landed here in Texas on November 26, 1866, only 17 months after news of emancipation reached Texas. Both of these historic events—one obviously much more personal to our family— occurred in Galveston.

It’s amazing, isn’t it, how a simple scratch in the garden—doing something that my daddy and mother enjoyed immensely—can connect so brilliantly (in my humble opinion) to a minor celebration of family. We live on in memory at the cellular level. We are blessed to know and to care and to connect the dots of our family, our humanity. On the eve of the 29th anniversary and celebration of our daddy’s life, what could be better than working in the garden, a garden no doubt upon which Tena and Russell Hollis are smiling on the first day of spring, 2010. And so it is.

A Simple Scratch—Normangee, Texas (March 20, 2010)
R. Harold Hollis

Saturday, March 13, 2010

That Moment of Silence

I have been feeling sad and out of tune lately. I think I understand the source of my blues. I feel overwhelmed. I have to remind myself that all of this comes from inside and it comes from my own doing or my lack or my lack of doing. Even though I know that the best medicine for the blues is to stop, sit quietly, breathe and go to my source, I can’t always get to a place where I feel the sense of peace and harmony that I—that we all—long for. But sometimes in the clamberings and confusion, sometimes in the simply putting one foot in front of the other as we make our way, we remember what we always know deep inside, even if only a glimpse.

Before daybreak today I went out to my car to get the book that has lately been a part of my morning readings. As I made my way in the dark, no flashlight to guide my steps, the morning air reminded me that we are not quite to spring. My two sisters and I went on a mission in my car yesterday, and I didn’t remember where I had stowed this little paperback titled “Irresistible Revolution”. But when I opened the back door on the driver’s side, there it lay, in the very position where it landed when I hurriedly tossed it out of the way. Gratefully, I retrieved it and headed back to my front door.

As I made my way, the last sliver of the moon hung in the sky, and the sound of the fountain in my garden made whisper in the quiet. It was too early for the morning chorus of birds in this rural sanctuary. All was waiting. I felt that moment of silence, and I smiled.

Normangee, Texas (March 13, 2010)
R. Harold Hollis

Thursday, March 11, 2010

About Getting Things Done

Casey, the Blue Heeler who came to live with us in the country in January 2000, celebrated her 11th birthday in November. I don’t remember her birth date because she was a rescue from an organization in suburban Houston that was founded to provide shelter for lost, abandoned and neglected canines. Although she was born with pedigree, she was traveling without papers, as it were. At the time I found out about her through a colleague at work, Casey was living in a kennel at the clinic of the veterinarian for this organization. Alas, she had been unseated from the vet’s family to make way for a Chihuahua. As I recall, the family already had a poodle of some sort. Her original family, I am told, had bought Casey as a puppy, a Christmas gift for their two little girls. By nature, Blue Heelers, are rambunctious, ever ready to romp and perform. They are herders. Casey was just too much for these little girls.

When Casey joined us in the country, she was 15 months old, and indeed, she was full of fire. For the first two weeks, I didn’t let her run loose, but walked her on a leash. She loved going out to the county road and following the two-mile course defined by the gravel and dirt byway. She was alert and totally accustomed to being on a leash.

Because I was traveling between Houston, where I lived and worked, and this place here in Leon County, Casey was left alone during the week. I built a temporary pen with cow panels a little to the east side of front of my barn home. Here Casey had to stay during the week. Our neighbor Jake brought her dry food and water every day, and a young gelding named Bart, who made his home in the trap by the barn, became Casey’s best friend. After a couple of weeks, I decided to let Casey run, which was great, but when it came time to go back to Houston, I couldn’t catch her to put her in the pen. So she was left to her own defenses. Jake told me later that had it not been for Bart, he thought Casey would have tried to find her way back to Houston, some 125 miles to the southeast.

Well, Casey stayed. She has grown old. Her right ear no longer stands up, the result of surgery for a hematoma. She’s arthritic, her days of instinctively plying her heritage, herding cows, horses, donkeys, and anything else that can be herded, including human beings, is behind her. These days Casey mostly hangs out around the shed where the horse and donkey take their meals, nestled in the leafy flowerbeds that abound here, or sunning anywhere she pleases. Since arriving back here in Leon County Texas for a two-month visit, I hear Casey barking at the evening sounds. She is still the self-appointed sentinel on the graveyard shift.

Spring is taking hold in this part of Texas. My middle sister Sue, who lives less than an hour west of the great Houston sprawl, commented yesterday that just like always we’re moving quickly from winter to summer. It’s the heater one night, and by a day or so later, it’s time for the ceiling fans. The days of air conditioning are almost upon us. If I had Casey’s instincts, I’d worry a lot less about pruning and mulching and getting the brush pile taken care of while the ground is plenty wet and the first green shoots of spring grass help inhibit the spread of fire. When I used to call Casey, she would answer, if just to find out what’s going on. Earlier this afternoon, she just raised her head, as the donkey nosed the ground nearby. Napping in the sunshine makes a lot more sense to her.

Meanwhile, I’m trying to stay focused on the long list here that never seems to get shorter, in spite of my genuine efforts. Last night a friend reminded me that I’m getting older, when I complained of a back that insists on slowing me down and a foot injury from a hiking event almost a year ago joins the aggravation. Even though it’s really not my habit anyway, it’s still a little cool and the ground a little too wet for spreading a blanket and considering the vastness of the sky while on my back. I don’t know what Casey has on her mind, but I can rest assured that she’s not working any list. Her body has told her to take it easy, and that’s just what she does.

About Getting Things Done—Normangee, Texas (March 11, 2010)
R. Harold Hollis