I didn’t read Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Eat Pray Lovewhen it was a bestseller. I waited ten years.
When I finally read the book this summer, I was interested in the conversations Gilbert had with God -- or something -- by writing out her pain, anger, depression. And something told her hand what to write in reply.
Psychics might call it “automatic writing”; charismatic Christians might call it “writing in the Spirit.” Whatever it is, it gave Gilbert the assurance that she was okay, she was loved, she mattered.
One day, I didn’t want to do anything. I had a “to-do” list about a page long. But I felt utterly unmotivated.
I wondered what would happen if I applied Gilbert’s process myself. I started by typing, “I’ve wasted the whole day.”
Almost immediately my alter ego, or something, interrupted: “ What do you mean, wasted?”
I’ve done nothing today.
What DID you do?
I got up, and the dog seemed to want out.
I guess so. But she didn’t need to poop. She had already done that in the house.
And you cleaned it up?
Then you haven’t done nothing after all, have you? That’s two things already.
Three -- I walked her after lunch too.
Was there no email today?
Yes, there was a request from a reader for a column he said I had written about Haiti. In the last year or two, he said.
Did you remember it?
No. So I asked him for more details. Pretty clearly it was about Sister Joan starting up her school and orphanage for crippled children in Port au Prince, but I didn’t remember writing it as a column.
Well, with the additional information, I found it. I had written it eight years ago.
I sent it to him.
Then that’s four things you’ve done today. It hasn’t been a wasted day after all.
Dammit, I hate your logic. I haven’t actually DONE anything. I haven’t put the compost pile through the mulcher to produce humus for next year’s garden. I haven’t trimmed the long grass around the edges of the lawn. I haven’t waterproofed the hot tub enclosure. I haven’t thinned the carrots. I haven’t changed the oil in my car. I haven’t written any new poems. I haven’t developed any ideas for columns...
Would you be a better person is you had done all of those things?
Probably not. But I wouldn’t feel I had let someone down by not doing them.
Let WHO down?
Myself, I guess.
So you’re upset that you failed to measure up to goals that you set for yourself when you didn’thave anything better to do than to make lists of things you thought you should do?
Oh, shut up and go away!
I felt so frustrated with the voice that kept poking holes in my pretensions that I closed my computer, went out to the garden, and picked the raspberries. Then I fired up the gas trimmer, and went around the yard tidying the lawn edges. And I did a first draft of this column.
Having a good stiff talk with myself seems to work, after all.
Copyright © 2019 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups, and links from other blogs, welcomed; all other rights reserved.
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Last week I wrote about apoptosis, our cells’ way of knowing when to die.
Rachel Pritchard found a parallel in the Star Trek series: “If you are not already familiar with it, you may find Star Trek the Next Generation ‘Half a Life’ (Season 4 Episode 22) really interesting in the light of your observations on prolonging life indefinitely. I first watched it many years ago and it has come back to haunt me time and again, including today as I read your column.”
Isabel Gibson corrected my terminology. I had written about the population explosion, “it’s not just because more humans are having more babies; it’s also because humans are dying less.”
Hardly so, Isabel responded: “We're not dying less (there still being a one-to-one correspondence between births and deaths), we're living longer, like the cancer cells. Unlike the cancer cells, though, living longer at *our* margins doesn't mean we reproduce more, although for sure it means more humans on the planet.”
Isabel also picked on another quote from me: “Maybe we should re-think our incessant urge to prolong life indefinitely.”
Isabel commented, “I don't like the idea of encouraging deaths either, and reject that totally. But I think more seniors are starting to think about their own quality of life, and how hard to fight to stay alive past, say, 75, or 80. Refusing certain treatments (chemo, radiation, radical surgery, or even drugs with nasty side-effects) is a first step on this path. Refusing diagnostic tests if you'd refuse the resulting treatment is the next, I guess.
“I'm not sure we're wired to go gently into that good night -- the drive to live is biological and ‘that age past which I will refuse extraordinary measures’ can end up being always 5 or 10 years older than I am now -- but maybe we can do better if we think earlier and more often about life and death and what we want from both.”
In an earlier column, I quoted 12 things that writer Anne Lamott was “absolutely sure of.” Lamott’s 12th thing was “Death – you’re not supposed to get over it.”
Margaret Carr also noted that sentence about re-thinking our desire to prolong life indefinitely. “Recently I had a heart attack and was sent by ambulance to Regina for a pacemaker to be implanted. My daughter followed the ambulance up and I was surprised to see my #3 daughter In Regina that night as well. I learned after I got home that the doctor in our local hospital had told Becky and the ambulance staff that he didn’t think I would make it to Regina, and if I went ‘flat’ on the way (a 2-hr drive) they were to do nothing but turn around and take me back home. That explained my other daughter coming to be with Becky and me. I have a ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ order that my local doctor, the local Hospital , ome care and my 4 daughters are aware of and agree with. Before the Regina dcotor implanted the pacemaker he asked if I would rescind my DNR order as he could not help but resuscitate me while putting in the pacemaker. I agreed for that day only. Now I am home again and doing well but I still have a DNR.”
Frank Martens agreed about not extending life indefinitely, and went on, “As I’ve mentioned before, both my wife and I have signed end of life agreements with our physicians. We have asked not to be resuscitated if our condition gets to the point where we have to have medication that is meant only to keep us alive.
“We have also asked our physicians that at our request when we feel that we can no longer have an expectation to continue to live in reasonable health or are no longer cogent, that we would like to be euthanized. I don’t understand why people who have a terminal illness continue to get medication that simply prolongs the agony of the individual as well as those people close to them. We don’t do this with animals that we love and I don’t understand why we would do this with our loved ones.”
“Your column left room for lots of questions,” Bob Rollwagen wrote. “Centuries ago, a family needed to reproduce to survive, to handle the work required to eat. Life only had value within the family and life was a privilege. It seems that the value of life has changed to being entitled to live for the benefit of self, and excess is a right. Those of privilege can plunder the planet and deny entry to those that are not already members of the upper club.”
Peter Scott simply wrote, “AMEN.”
Wesley White sent my column to his daughter, a cancer researcher who calls herself “a big nerdy apoptosis scientist. She wrote back to him, “What a delightful foray into apoptosis. I wonder if he would like the concept of "death qi" as cited in an excellent Wilderness Urgency blog post. One quibble: Bcl-2 is anti-apoptotic; CLL cells overexpress it in order to stave off apoptosis, they don't ignore it. Nobody but an apoptosis scientist would know that, but it does make the read a little confusing the first time through if you happen to carry that info around.”
The Psalm reading for August 18 is Psalm 80:1-2, 8-19. When I looked it up, I found that I didn’t like the paraphrases I had done back in the 1990s, and so I did a new one – a little more radical than most of the paraphrases in my book, Everyday Psalms.
Hey! You! God!
You claim to have created this messy reality
that we call sub-atomic physics.
Before we knew there were such things,
you created protons and elections, quarks and leptons, bosons and photons.
You set them spinning and whirling in Shiva’s intricate dance
of life, and death, and renewal.
Everything we are, everything we can be
depends on these invisible dancers.
But your score has hit some sour notes.
Some of us have used your quantum packets of energy
to destroy others
to poison environments
to threaten the survival of entire species.
Come back! Tweak your creation back on track!
Close off the destructive dead ends,
and keep us out of scientific cul-de-sacs.
Just because we can doesn’t mean we should.
Set us on the straight and narrow again,
and we will not stray off your path.
For paraphrases of mostof the psalms used by the Revised Common Lectionary, you can order my book Everyday Psalmsfrom Wood Lake Publishing, email@example.com.
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Ralph Milton’s latest project is a kind of Festival of Faith, a retelling of key biblical stories by skilled storytellers like Linnea Good and Donald Schmidt, designed to get people talking about their own faith experience. It’s a series of videos available on Youtube. I suggest you start with his introductory section: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7u6qRclYAa8
Ralph’s “Sing Hallelujah” -- the world’s first video hymnal -- is still available. It consists of 100 popular hymns, both new and old, on five DVDs that can be played using a standard DVD player and TV screen, for use in congregations who lack skilled musicians to play piano or organ. The original website has been closed down, but you can still order the DVD set through Wood Lake Publications, info@woodlake,com
Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTcaHe’s also relatively inexpensive!
I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom. She also has lots of beautiful photos.
Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom or twatsonATsentexDOTnet
ALVA WOOD’S ARCHIVE
I have acquired (don’t ask how) the complete archive of the late Alva Wood’s collection of satiric and sometimes wildly funny columns about a mythical village’s misadventures. I’ve put them on my website: http://quixotic.ca/Alva-Wood-Archive. You’re welcome to browse. No charge.