Dixie Darr

Archive for the ‘spirituality’ Category

Comfort and Joy

In Christmas, music, spirituality on December 4, 2017 at 10:03 am

My Secular Advent, Day Two

I’ve excised many activities from my Christmas calendar so I can focus on what’s truly meaningful, hope, peace, love, and joy. Gone are gifts and their attendant shopping, wrapping and mailing; parties, cookies and candy (well, I may make half a recipe of fudge. I’m not made of stone). What remains are my two four-foot Christmas trees and a few other simple decorations, about a dozen cards with my annual Christmas letter, Christmas Eve dinner at my brother’s, and the candlelight service at church.

And, of course, there’s the music. Every year I pick one concert of Christmas music to attend. When my friend Vera’s daughter Tricia sang in her high school choir I went to their Christmas program. She taught me that the correct lyrics were Deck the Hall, not Deck the Halls. When she graduated, I flailed for a few years, not from lack of choices.

For a few years, I sought out performances of bell choirs across the city. I do love bell choirs. Then I met Marla at church. She’s the musical director of the Arvada Chorale and also her own women’s chorus, Safonia, and enjoying their Christmas concerts has become my tradition.

Yesterday, they presented “Merry and Bright.” It was lovely and I’m sorry you missed it. You have another chance to catch Safonia performing with the Rocky Mountain Ringers on December 15. (http://www.rmringers.org/).

The program featured several traditional Christmas standards, including the most beautiful rendition of Jingle Bells I’ve ever heard. Yes, Jingle Bells. Even that little ditty sounds glorious when sung by 22 inspired women’s voices arranged and conducted by people who know what they’re doing. There were a couple of songs I didn’t know, which is fine. I like being introduced to new music, but I expect and appreciate hearing the familiar tunes and feeling them wrap me in their comfort and joy.

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Light Up Your Face

In Learning, music, spirituality on November 29, 2017 at 5:18 pm

I went out for breakfast this morning and sat in a booth next to two women and a baby. The baby looked at me and gave me that wide open smile that seems reserved for babies and other innocents. I couldn’t help but smile back.

It lifted my spirits all day.

While smiles are not as contagious as yawns, they are infectious. As the saying goes, “Smile and the world smiles with you.”Nobody really knows why we smile, apart from some nonsense speculation that it’s a perverted form of baring our teeth to scare off enemies. We do know it’s not learned behavior. Babies born blind who have never seen a smile, still respond the same as their sighted counterparts. Ain’t science grand? Furthermore, smiling is universal, occurring in all human groups and for the same reasons. We smile because we’re happy and also to make ourselves happy.

That’s right. If we put on a smile, whether we’re genuinely happy or not, our brains will interpret it as happiness and our mood will change accordingly.
And it turns out your mother knew what she was talking about when she told you it takes more muscles to frown than to smile. I hate it when that happens. She was also right that babies smile sometimes smile as a result of gas until 6-8 weeks old. After that, their smiles mean the same thing ours do. Unborn babies even smile in the womb. That’s understandable. What’s not to like in a natural environment designed just to keep them happy?

Here’s a song from Nat King Cole to bring a smile to your face. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TAjx0d-fda4)

Sing along, “Smile though your heart is aching, Smile even though it’s breaking” and tell me three things that make you smile.
Here’s my list: (1) Daffodils in the snow, (2) starting a new book by a favorite author, and (3) the full moon rising over a lagoon.

Thanksgiving–Gratitude Day 4

In solitude, spirituality on November 23, 2017 at 6:53 am

So many things to be thankful for today.

Books – You are what you read and I read a lot – 93 books and counting so far this year. I contain multitudes. Just ask me.

Libraries – Public libraries are our best institutions. Period. They allow me to read whatever my heart desires without depleting my finances or filling more bookshelves. God bless them every one.

Solitude – I’m lucky that I treasure solitude and like my own company.

Family and friends – I know this is supposed to be first on the list, but I am what’s now called an elder orphan, aging alone without kids. I also grew up without extended family and with a father who said we had moved to Colorado to get away from family, so those ties are weak at best. My only close family consists of my brother, his wife, two daughters, and two grandchildren. I love them all but hardly ever see them. Although I don’t spend holidays with my friends, a few of them have become like family to me, and I’m grateful to include them in my life.

Church – my church and church family are the center of my life. They bring me contact with younger people, good conversation, hugs, purpose, and validation. I’m eternally grateful that I happened upon Highlands United Methodist Church at exactly the right time.

Today, I’m also thankful for my favorite Thanksgiving traditions: Listening to Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant where you can get anything you want, reading Truman Capote’s The Thanksgiving Visitor, and, as God is my witness, watching the Turkey’s Away episode of WKRP in Cincinnati.

Finally, I thank the forces of the universe for bringing Jerry back into my life. My first boyfriend and now my last. He awakened something inside me that was so long dormant I thought it was dead. The best gift.

I Wasted Time, And Now Time Is Wasting Me – Gratitude Day 3

In Books, creativity, Learning, spirituality, work on November 22, 2017 at 6:15 am

Our most precious commodity these days isn’t money but time. When we’re young, time is on our side. Now we often wonder what we’d do if we could turn back time. I always valued time more than money, which explains my patchwork career of part-time, temporary “jobs” and also my lack of financial resources.

The most peculiar and familiar quality of time is its elasticity. We mark it off in equal minutes, hours, days and ignore the plain fact that one minute/hour/day is never equal to the next. Some days time drags its feet with the hours taking forever to pass. Other days flit by at a dizzying pace. The first happens when we are waiting interminable hours anticipating something good. The second when we engage in pleasant activities that we wish would last longer. I need less of the former and more of the latter.

I confess to sometimes taking a nap just to pass time. Yet even while I wish time would hurry up already, I’m aware that at age 69, I have a limited amount of time left, maybe less than I think. So the conundrum is always how to spend my hours wisely, enjoying and not wasting them, but not rushing them either.

Author Annie Dillard said, “How we spend our days is how we spend our lives.” I don’t want to spend my last days and years letting time slip through my fingers, wishing I’d done something else.

Crisis in Faith

In Church, spirituality on November 15, 2017 at 2:48 pm

I’ve never (yet) had a crisis of faith, maybe because I don’t really have much faith. I believe in God as a kind of superior, collective intelligence, not as a being separate from us. I believe Jesus and Buddha and Confucius were great teachers. That’s about it. Although I do pray, I don’t believe that God will take care of me or that everything happens according to some grand, if inscrutable plan.

A crisis of faith usually follows a crisis in life that causes you to seriously question whether what you believe is actually true. That can be a good thing, but it’s rarely pleasant.

I came to church because of a crisis, 9/11. After that horrific act played out on my TV screen that Tuesday morning, I needed something else in my life, something more. Blaise Pascal, the French mathematician, physicist, inventor, writer and Catholic theologian, said, “there is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every person and it cannot be filled by any created thing. It can only be filled by God.”

I think what we have in this country instead is faith in crisis. Organized religion in America may be experiencing a crisis because people can see with their very own eyes that some things churches insist they believe are things they know are plainly not true—like homosexuality is bad or women must obey their husbands or God favors the USA. Losing those beliefs would be a very good thing, but losing your religion and losing your faith are not necessarily the same thing.

At it’s simplest form, faith means having complete trust or confidence in someone or something. Attaching your faith to a certain religion or religious leader and letting them tell you what to believe is where danger exists.

I’ve heard that the Chinese character for crisis contains both the words danger and opportunity. Take the opportunity to explore what you really believe and how you really want to live your life. Have faith in yourself. That’s my grand plan.

Come As You Are

In Church, spirituality on November 13, 2017 at 6:06 am

One old woman I used to know would rant and rave about the jeans and shorts that people wore to her church. “It’s disrespectful,” she said and always wore her best clothes to worship. I never understood why she cared what anybody else wore. “Isn’t the fact that they come to church more important than what they wear?” I’d ask. Or I’d point out that not everybody can afford dressy clothes.

In the history room at my church are photos of the congregation at the middle of the last century with men in suits and women in hats, and while I know that’s still the case at some churches, things have changed at mine.

We still see one or two men in suits or jackets and ties and even an occasional woman in a hat, although that is less common. A few of the older women wear their Sunday best, but most of us are much more casual with jeans and t-shirts our normal uniform.

I think people should wear whatever makes them comfortable. What anybody else wears is none of our business. The others in our congregation must agree with me because in my almost sixteen years at Highlands UMC, I’ve never heard anybody speak disparagingly of the way someone else dresses.

The most frequent admonition I found in researching this topic was to never wear sandals in church, to which I reply, “Hmmm. Jesus wore sandals.” Our pastor frequently wears rainbow high tops. I love that.

To those who insist that dressing up shows that we respect and honor God, I think maybe dressing casually means we accept God as a part of our everyday lives. He’s always with us no matter what we’re doing or thinking or wearing, not just in church. That makes more sense to me than the idea of keeping Him secluded in a sanctuary.

Jesus said, “Anyone who comes to me, I will never drive away.” (John 6:37)

No dress code implied.

Friday Favorites

In creativity, Learning, music, spirituality on November 10, 2017 at 5:59 pm

I’ve enjoyed the thoughtful postings of Reverend John Pavlovitz on Facebook for the past year. Now his book, A Bigger Table: Building a Messy, Authentic, and Hopeful Spiritual Community offers a welcome progressive perspective on how religion can inspire the best in us even as we see only the negative aspects of fundamentalist evangelicals on the news media. No one likes to eat alone; to approach a table filled with people, only to be told that despite the open chairs there isn’t room for you. The rejection stings. It leaves a mark. Yet this is exactly what the church has been saying to far too many people for far too long.” At Pastor Pavlovitz’s table, everyone gets a seat.

I’ve been savoring the book slowly but need to speed it up because it’s due soon at the library. I may have to buy my own copy of this one.

James Altucher is an earnest and frequently irritating writer and interviewer. Nevertheless, his podcast is one of the best – Two excellent recent episodes featured HBO producer Sheila Nevins and musician and songwriter Mike Posner. Altucher also writes some of the most honest blog posts online and some useful books, including Choose Yourself, Reinvent Yourself, and Become An Idea Machine: Because Ideas Are The Currency Of The 21st Century. The little man with the wild hair has his finger on the pulse of our times.

You no doubt heard that scientists have discovered a previously unknown massive void in the Great Pyramid at Giza. Lying just above the Grand Gallery, it is 100 feet long, its purpose unknown. In honor of this discovery, I offer Paul Horn’s magnificent 1983 recording, Inside the Great Pyramid.

He later teamed with Native American flute player R. Carlos Nakai to produce Inside Canyon de Chelly and Inside Monument Valley (1999), all very peaceful and contemplative pieces in our troubled world.

If you miss my postings on Facebook, you can always catch up at my blog: https://constantlearner.wordpress.com/

Where is God in This?

In spirituality on November 7, 2017 at 6:24 am

That’s the question that arose as we gathered in the church office to talk about current events. Because the current events today seem uniformly horrible.

Maybe God has fled to Canada or Costa Rica as some of us consider doing, leaving this country to the rising influences of racism and misogyny and ignorance and violence.

We lament the unprovoked rage displayed by a man behind S in line at Walmart when all she wanted to do was buy a sweet potato pie.

The young mothers in our group wonder what kind of world they are giving to their children.

C pointed out that horrible things have always happened and that we are just more aware of them because of the constant looming presence of the 24/7 news cycle giving us the awful news from around the globe. It shows up in the non-stop news flashes on our phones and Kindles and on social media. It’s hard to avoid even when we try to stay out of its way by turning off our devices and focusing on family and friends.

If we can manage to pay attention to our immediate surroundings we can find many pleasures, including people we love and being warm and well-fed and books to read and meaningful work.

Jesus told us that where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”

As we prepare to leave, I look around at these earnest and dear faces and see maybe a little bit of God in our midst, a little bit of grace.

It helps to know that these people and others have my back as I go out into the cold night. These words from the Talmud echo in my mind, “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”

It helps.

Looking Back

In Church, Learning, spirituality, writing on October 24, 2017 at 1:12 pm

Many of you know that I spent part of the past year working to update our church history for our 125th anniversary celebration last Sunday. Ruth Wiberg, the well-known author of Rediscovering Northwest Denver and a member of Highlands United Methodist Church, wrote the story of our first 100 years, soon to be available as a PDF on our website.

Although I had eagerly volunteered for the assignment, I kept putting it off. Procrastination is one of my superpowers. I’m good at meeting deadlines, just not self-imposed ones. When Pastor Brad announced the date for the official celebration, I finally got down to business. I started by interviewing previous pastors, current staff, and longtime members about their memories of HUMC.

That was the fun part.

As they spoke of the warm and open congregation and how people pulled together through the hard times, I began to develop a deeper understanding of what it means to be part of a church family. In many ways, it’s like any other family with quirks and drama and frustration with an overlay of love for God and one another and the knowledge that we all pull together.

I think that’s why one new member was astonished that a church council meeting went so smoothly. Nobody has an agenda other than trying to do what’s right for the church. It’s never a tug of war because we’re all on the same side. Apparently, that’s not common.

When I started coming to Highlands, I thought going to church consisted of one hour on Sunday morning only to learn that it takes all of us working together to make things run smoothly (or at all). So, I finished the history of our last 25 years in time (barely) for the anniversary because I couldn’t bear to let anybody down and because it deserved to be written.

I could have done better. Some stories didn’t get told, but that’s okay. In the end, I did my job if I managed to convey in a small way how the people of Highlands UMC fulfill the promise of Galatians 5:22 that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness.”

Indian Summer (for Jerry)

In Learning, spirituality on October 12, 2017 at 10:04 am

Who doesn’t love Indian Summer, those warm days following a spell of cold weather or a good hard frost and an excellent reason to hope for an early snow like the one we had on Monday. No, fall isn’t over yet and winter hasn’t arrived. Now we just call it Indian Summer. Its fleeting nature makes us appreciate it more.

Officially, it should include hazy skies according to Wikipedia. If we get haze here, it will be drifting smoke from the dreadful California fires.

People have many theories about why we call it Indian Summer. The one thing they all agree on is that it refers to our Indians/Native Americans/First Nations, not the ones in Asia.

From The Old Farmer’s Almanac:

“The most probable origin of the term, in our view, goes back to the very early settlers in New England. Each year they would welcome the arrival of a cold wintry weather in late October when they could leave their stockades unarmed. But then came a time when it would suddenly turn warm again, and the Native Americans would decide to have one more go at the settlers. “Indian summer,” the settlers called it.”

That has the ring of truth.

John Greenleaf Whittier used the phrase, “The Indian Summer of the heart!” in his poem Memories. In this way, it refers to a metaphorical thawing or awakening of sentiment or sensuality after an emotional cold snap. This seems especially apropos for those of us in the so-called “autumn of our years.” For us, it’s a quiet time, rich still in possibility. A time to look back and appreciate the good times and also to look forward. We can’t yet see the finish line even though we know it’s there. We still have time to explore some unknown or long-hidden desires.

Let’s let Ol’ Blue Eyes have the last word:

“But now the days grow short
I’m in the autumn of the year
And now I think of my life as vintage wine
From fine old kegs
From the brim to the dregs
And it poured sweet and clear
It was a very good year”

Make it so.