Awareness

I have been mulling over this next topic. Based on the conclusion of my last post, the word sin was going to be my reflection. In order for this journal to be more consistent with the times of the world right now, I felt that awareness was actually a more accurate reflection.

Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome.

Booker T. Washington
Photo: Tara Bartal

I would not say that I am a huge fan of spiders. I do find them a little fascinating due to their ability to weave their magnificent webs. I will be honest in sharing that I have often wondered how angry spiders must get when their webs get destroyed in a spontaneous instant. All the work, all the effort and all the use of fine silky stuff, wasted. Yet, they move on. Tenacious eight-legged buggers. Where one web is destroyed another will be weaved. The weaver does not give up but, figures on the next space for a meticulously crafted pattern of seizing the next victim for dinner. This is daily life for the spider.

Daily life. As a human, this can seem fun and exciting some days, wholly mundane on others and for some it can be a daily matter of survival. For every single human, daily life is different. For example, someone surviving an illness or disease may see daily life as an absolutely amazing event. In some way, that survivor has experienced a heightened level of awareness. That survivor may see each moment as an opportunity to experience living and being alive. What would happen to every human if every human would be more conscious of daily life? Carpe diem?

Honestly, it doesn’t have to be a major event or undertaking that would grant an experience of consciousness that makes an impact. Years ago I worked as a graphic designer for the yellow pages. I was working in an office that maintained a sales force. My job was to create speculative advertising for the sales team in order for them to be able to display what would look like an existing advertising. All day I would do ads ranging from carpet cleaning to lawn services to oral care to, well, name any type of licensed business and it was almost critical for them to advertise in a local phone book; back in the dark ages of paper printed advertising.

I don’t remember the name of the company and I am not sure if I can remember the sales reps name but, on an average day at the office, I did a speculative piece of work for a moving company. This was a new company so, they didn’t even have a logo yet. The rep really wanted to impress them so she ordered a full page size ad. She listed bullet points and all the necessary, pertinent business information for me on a spec form and I went to work.

At this juncture of my life, I had been attending a predominately African-American church. I am a white female. Without getting into too much detail, sharing the experience of worship in a community that was, well, not like me, was enlightening. I was with that church for four years before I felt to move on. I moved on because my beliefs started to differ, significantly, from that church’s beliefs or doctrinal behaviors which, I won’t get into in this post. Like I stated earlier, I don’t want to digress into details that aren’t integral to my point of awareness. The point, I let myself experience something that was not familiar and the experience raised my awareness. I learned a lot from that experience.

Back to the yellow page ad. I made a conscious decision while designing the ad. I searched through the photo database and pulled photos of people of different ethnic backgrounds. I had one photo of a moving van, gotta have that pic, but, I also sourced three other photos of a African-American couple smiling and happy in front of their new home as well as one that showed a white person packing/unpacking a box and a Latino couple signing documents. I will admit, it was hard to find more culturally diverse photos of people moving. While searching through photos, I kept thinking how EVERYBODY moves. If people live life long enough, no matter what the color of their skin, they are going to pack and unpack boxes and suitcases to move to a new location. It really made me aware of the limited range of models used for our stock photography database.

After a couple of weeks, I had already forgotten about the ad and was not aware if the sales rep made the sale. Then she came to me one afternoon and told me how impressed the owners, a husband and wife team, of the moving company were with the ad. She specifically said that the wife made a comment that she really liked that the ad was ethnically diverse. It just so happened that the couple who owned the moving company were African-American. They bought the design with no changes. It made my day to hear that! Not just that the ad sold with no design changes but, the choices I made meant a lot to someone. Also, the fact that I am a white chick makes it all the more impactful.

That ad doesn’t exist anymore. It didn’t change the world. It didn’t demand a protest but, instead it changed four people in an experience of awareness. It changed me forever and I hope that the couple who owned that moving company can remember the experience as something that is possible in everyday life. It is possible. It is a daily possibility.

In my last post, I mentioned how there was a lot in our world that could stand a good WASH. Yes. There is still a road that must be traveled. Much of that road may still be unpaved but, with daily perseverance and attention, I think it is possible to evolve into a more conscious society reconciling with diversity. Or maybe I am just an idealist.

Now, back to the spider. What web are we developing, designing, focusing on today?

Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when we first practice to deceive!

Sir Walter Scott

Sometimes I think it is the unwritten codes of conduct and law that actually do more damage than the written ones. When people work together they stick together in order to cover each other, right? What happens when someone on the team is doing wrong? Keep your mouth shut or bad things will start to happen to you. This is a very real, everyday, scenario. If one is in a position to create change for the sake of the greater good then create it. If one is in a position of power to effect change in a system then use that power. It will take individual courage to create change in mindsets. Some moments of courage have cost people their lives.

I end with the great and wise Solomon, for even in his day there was wickedness.

Moreover I saw under the sun that in the place of justice, wickedness was there, and in the place of righteousness, wickedness was there as well.

Ecclesiastes 3:16 NRSV

Wash

About three months ago I shared with my spiritual director that I was writing a blog, or well, a journal of sorts. I shared with my director that I wanted to record my journey. I used to write in traditional paper journals and I got tired of the standard format of pen and paper (I make a lot of mistakes so, the pages are full of strikethroughs). Thus began an online journal that I figure no one is looking at anyway so, I can just have fun and let loose. Of course not with the intention of becoming a drunken, sporadic explosion of emotions kind of journal but, using an exploratory and experimental method. My spiritual director suggested an idea of using one word and then reflecting on that one word. That sounded good to me so, here we are in June and I did not come up with a word until this paragraph.

The Eastertide season came and went with online services and Zoom presentations. I viewed churches from a few different areas including my hometown church. There was one service that stood out to me because of the homily. It was a simple service of Morning Prayer that was held on the morning of Good Friday. Within the short sermon, the priest spoke of washing feet and what it meant that Jesus washed the feet of the disciples and, he said, “Jesus also washed the feet of Judas.”

Washing the feet of the enemy struck a nerve. I would not seek out my enemy. If anything, I would avoid my enemy. In many cases, I would discern that as a wise choice or decision. The machinations of people do not require for one to seek out the enemy. The intrigues will bring the enemy to the table.

“You never walk alone. Even the devil is the lord of flies.”

― Gilles Deleuze

As I reflect on this word, wash, for this moment in time, I can get a sense of other words predicating its further usage. Wash hatred, wash injustice, wash bullying, wash anger, wash jealously, wash fear, wash anxiety, wash envy, wash greed, wash violence, wash ignorance, wash stupidity, wash arrogance …. wash sin.

So, I return to the washing of feet and what the act of the washing of feet symbolizes. Servitude and cleanliness. The cleanliness is not literal, of course. There was one who ate at the table with Jesus, had his feet washed and did not walk away clean. As a matter of fact, he walked away more dirty than when he had arrived. Is this what happens to our enemies? Is this what happens when we demonstrate love instead of hate? I am not moralizing. I am really pondering.

Truly, love does have the upper hand even if it seems hard to do. Practice makes perfect. I still have some practicing to do as do my enemies.

The drops of rain make a hole in the stone, not by violence, but by oft falling.

Lucretius

I am currently reading, Thomas Merton’s, “The Seven Storey Mountain.” I am almost done. I should finish before the end of this week. It has taken me awhile to focus on this book. I think I needed some time in isolation and stillness in order to fully engage in this book. Merton is an excellent writer but, notes are usually a good idea in order to keep in memory all that is being presented and with Merton, there are a lot of notes.

…there is no positive power in sin, only negation, only annihilation: and perhaps that is why it is so destructive, it is a nothingness, and where it is, there is nothing left – a blank, a moral vacuum (p 128).”

Merton, Thomas. Seven Storey Mountain, the: Thomas Merton. Harcourt-Brace Jovanovich, 1978.

Sin is the moment of separation from God or the turning away from God. Sin has been defined by people in all kinds of forms. I most certainly don’t agree with all the rules and I have lost some Christian friends because I don’t carry certain Fundamentalist ideals and theologies. Don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t have sex, don’t use profanity, don’t listen to secular music, don’t hang out with heathens or gay people or anyone who sins, don’t slouch, don’t be late, don’t breathe … then you’ll be ok. Not that going wild and becoming an anarchist is the answer either. Don’t get me wrong. There is much in this world that could use a good wash. I think the word, sin, might be my next reflection.

I will end with a bit more from Merton. This is just too good not to cite.

People seem to think that it is in some way a proof that no merciful God exists, if we have so many wars. On the contrary, consider how in spite of centuries of sin and greed and lust and cruelty and hatred and avarice and oppression and injustice, spawned and bred by the free wills of men, the human race can still recover, each time, and can produce men and women who overcome evil with good, hatred with love, greed with charity, lust and cruelty with sanctity. How could this be possible without the merciful love of God, pouring out His grace upon us (p 128)?”

Merton, Thomas. Seven Storey Mountain, the: Thomas Merton. Harcourt-Brace Jovanovich, 1978.

Anxiety

Our anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, but only empties today of its strengths.”

C.H. Spurgeon

This photo was taken in 2006 while I was living in Casselberry, Florida. One evening after getting home from work I noticed that it started getting very dark outside. When I looked at the sky, these ominous clouds were moving in and covering all the clear blue.

The photo above is such an essence to what I am feeling much of these days. Trying to stay positive with the coronavirus all over the news and impacting so many lives all over the world. I am still going to work. Trying to stay safe during the work hours and keeping myself at home on the weekends with the exception of going for walks along the nature trails.

I know all to well that I am not alone in this anxiety prone event. As a matter of fact, I feel for many who are struggling in so many different ways. I do feel fortunate that my situation is pretty comfortable compared to others. I am thankful to have my health right now. I am thankful to have my cat, my apartment, the bird feeder outside on my deck and the beautiful nature trails not too far from where I live. I am thankful that the refrigerator is full and the bills are paid. Come to think of it, I have a lot to be thankful for.

Have you ever stood at the edge of a cliff? And let’s say over that cliff was nothing you could see. Black. Pitch-black. And let’s say that you were making the choice to jump but, you didn’t know where you would land or if you would land safely. This is my anxiety. I don’t know what is going to happen next. There are things I can control and things that I cannot. It is more than a simple process of getting things done but, having to wait for a process that entails counting on things happening beyond my control.

Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit
the righteous to be moved.

~ Psalm 55:22

I have a bird feeder, actually, two bird feeders hanging along my deck along with a small bird bath that is a ceramic piece of two hands cupped to hold water or seed for the birds. I saw this piece in a drug store and I fell in love with it. It is not very big so, it really doesn’t hold enough water to really be considered a bird bath but, the birds and squirrels use it to drink from. What I fell in love with were the hands. It is the image of the hands being cupped in a form that displays care. The hands are caring for the two ceramic birds perched at the top. Cupped hands also symbolize holding something or maybe waiting to be filled.

Feeding the birds is also a form of prayer.

~Pope Pius XII

I have often heard the term, “lay your burdens down at the feet of Jesus” or “lay your burdens down at the foot of the cross.” Once I attended a church service where the congregation was given the instructions to write on a piece of paper what burden they were carrying. Then people were directed to a cross in the church and told to place their piece of paper at the base. Later those pieces of paper were prayed over and then burned. I didn’t write anything on that piece of paper. I had a burden I was carrying but, I did not write it down. Why? Because the image of the cross does not give me the peace that it may give to others. I see sacrifice at the cross. I don’t lay my burdens there. This has always been an obstacle for me. This is going to seem a bit comedic and, in a way, it is. One minute I am being preached to that I need to pick up my cross and carry it and the next minute I am being told to lay my burdens down at the very same place. Well, which one is it? If I am being told to pick up my cross doesn’t that mean carrying the burden or at least part of it? I find the imagery and analogy confusing although, there could be a really good joke there. 😉

We do need a place to lay our burdens down and especially our anxieties. I know I do. When I look at the hands cupped holding water for the birds, I feel peace. That image works for me. It reminds me of provision. Gods hands providing for the birds and me. I’ve been reflecting on those hands a lot lately. I’ve been watching the birds a lot lately. That in itself has been meditation for me.

As I look at the storm around me and the ominous clouds that it brings, I am trying to keep my focus on the good. Trying not to fear, panic, or become overly obsessed with the fact that I don’t have control. Not having control is like sitting in the center of a tornado and waiting for the moment when the cycle of the wind’s edge grabs you to spin you around and toss you to “wherever land” which, could mean death or perhaps, better or worse, a new and different life.

Anxiety is harmful. It messes with my faith, it messes with my hope and it makes me doubt all the positive things I would say to someone experiencing anxiety. I am getting through only in daily perseverance. From what I have come to understand, at this point in my life, is that daily perseverance is really the only way to survive and overcome my anxiety. The meltdowns still happen but, once the tears dry, I get up again and face another day and get on with running the race as St. Paul would surely advise.

In November of 2019, I was taking a history class where I was studying the Renaissance and Reformation periods. I had to write a short essay on the Bubonic Plague. I opened that essay file again to re-read what I wrote. It would seem that every age in history has had its battles with illness, disease and viruses.

I am keeping this whole world in my prayers. I also keep close to my heart and spirit that God has the whole world in His hands and it will all, eventually, be ok.

Below is my brief essay.


Tara Bartal

HIS-374-Q2431: The Renaissance/Reformation 19EW2

November 3, 2019

The Black Death of the Fourteenth Century destabilized European society by creating an imbalance in population and creating a mindset that no longer operated with flourishing society. The Bubonic Plague permeated life in Europe from 1347 through 1350. There were more casualties resulting from the spread of the plague in later years and there are still cases today.[1] The initial spread is speculated to have been due to heavy trading from the sea of Asov and the Black Sea to many Mediterranean areas.[2] Regardless of the precise cause of the contagion, it spread and spread ferociously quick. The rapid infection took over crews on cargo ships within a matter of a week with victims arriving to port either dead or having clear visible signs of being sick. For a deadly illness to cause a mortality rate at the speed of one week would create a frightening situation that would eventually cause a heavily populated area to take note and feel the effects of in a short period of time. This creates a mass devastation to population which, in turn, effects all aspects of everyday life. Not only were there physical responses to the plague but, psychological.

“…the greater picture of ruined Europe in light of the plague, and the social order that crumbled because of the Black Death. The impact is mass trauma and anarchy that had been considered by scholars of that period as doomsday.”[3]

The impact and destabilization of great loss of life, estimated at 20 million, generates a self-preservation attitude and dilemma for survivors. The Black Death created a different outlook on life with its storming presence. It made people question their faith and it dissipated the normally held moral values. Dissociation is endemic to people under severe trauma. “…and nobody wept no matter what his loss because almost everyone expected death…”[4]

            In coming to a point of believing in the end of all things, a rational person might otherwise become irrational. Imagine living in times like those. It is a departure from any kind of good and thriving quality of life. This is mass destruction at its most powerful moment because it seizes hope and destroys it. It is the prevalence of war.


[1] The Disastrous 14th Century. Accessed November 3, 2019. https://web.archive.org/web/20170608171047/https://www.uwgb.edu/dutchs/WestTech/x14thc.htm/

[2] Ditrich, Hans. 2017. “The Transmission of the Black Death to Western Europe: A Critical Review of the Existing Evidence.” Mediterranean Historical Review 32 (1): 25. doi:10.1080/09518967.2017.1314920.

[3] Ben, Ezra, Menachem. 2011. “Traumatic Reactions from Antiquity to the 16th Century: Was There a Common Denominator?” Stress & Health: Journal of the International Society for the Investigation of Stress 27 (3): 223–40. doi:10.1002/smi.1338.

[4] The Disastrous 14th Century. Accessed November 3, 2019. https://web.archive.org/web/20170608171047/https://www.uwgb.edu/dutchs/WestTech/x14thc.htm/

Prayer

Recently, I took a trip to Tennessee. I was on a mountain, in a place called Sewanee. There, in a remote community, is the campus site of a school called The University of the South and it is a liberal arts school with a School of Theology. The school has a long history and I will share more about that in other posts but, for now, I just want to collect some thoughts on methods of prayer. During my short stay, I had some time to visit St. Mary’s Sewanee retreat center and walk their outdoor labyrinth. The only labyrinth that I have walked, up to this point, has been at my local church. I was first introduced to labyrinth walking prayer through my church which, houses one in the center of their sanctuary.

While walking St. Mary’s labyrinth, it was cold outside and the wind was piercing sporadic gusts so, my desire to have a nice, relaxed time of prayer ended up being more like an express sprint. I did manage to take enough time at the center to notice that there were little rocks piled in the middle. It appeared that whoever had walked before had placed a rock they collected in the center. I thought that was meaningful and carried some depth to the journey. Bring whatever you have gathered or perhaps whatever burden you may have been carrying and lay it down where you meet with God. I don’t know if that is what was intended but, it felt like a worthwhile gesture. It helped me to think about what I would lay down on that particular journey.

I have spent twenty years learning how to pray and I don’t think I am done and I don’t think I ever will be. I think back to my Christian conversion and how I started to pray. I was given instructions to thank Jesus over and over again. I was told to start by praising God and then direct my prayer towards my supplications. I was told to make sure I used specific scripture to resonate with whatever I was praying for. Jesus told us how to pray in Luke 11 with the model prayer.

“When you pray say:
Our Father in Heaven,
Hallowed be Your Name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us day by day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins,
For we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one.”

Luke 11:2-4 New King James Version

The methods I was originally taught somewhat follow the structure of this prayer. In one bible study class I had to write a prayer based on this structure. I don’t have that prayer anymore but, I wrote an invocation opening that I liked well enough to keep. “Dear God, creator of heaven and earth, creator of all things, by your power and for your glory.” I find that sometimes I don’t have my words all figured out and I don’t know what to pray. This little intro seems to give me that initial breath to go into the full invocation and supplication of my prayer.

“We do not want to be beginners. But let us be convinced of the fact that we will never be anything else but beginners, all our life!”

― Thomas Merton, Contemplative Prayer

One thing I have felt compelled to notice is how prayer is different every time I pray. Of course, my mood is never the same and as I have learned, mood doesn’t count. Then what does? The words? If I use those big intellectual words or deep theological phrases, does that make it good and worthy? Will it be heard or lost among the shuffle of millions? How do I make it special so it will get top ranking?

Cain and Abel come to my mind as I am writing this. This is actually something I would not have chosen to use as a reflection on prayer. Meditating on the message of the story, what I understand is that because one received more favor, the other got jealous. Sounds a lot like people today but, I digress. Another reflection is that one gave from the heart and with reverence and the other did not. Perhaps this will continually evolve for me and shed more light into what prayer actually is and what it means to spend time in prayer.

Peter Paul Rubens / Public domain

Over the years, I have found that going into a time of prayer doesn’t always mean being on my knees and doing prayer in the formal way that most people know. I have prayed while drawing, writing an icon, walking a labyrinth and I have a special space set aside with a candle and Anglican Rosary for my more formal times of prayer.

Prayer has become one of the most integral pieces of my daily life. I will continue my reflection on prayer in different forms and methods. I like walking a labyrinth as a form of prayer because of its focused intention within a specific space. There is a mystical feel that I get when I walk the unicursal path of a labyrinth. Perhaps the sacred geometry has an impact on me being able to be focused in the method of walking prayer. Whatever the case, even in the midst of gusty winds and cold temperatures, a single moment can make what seems uneventful and routine, rise to a higher level of being present.

The Season of Lent

“The boa digests slowly. The habit digests slowly.”

(Le boa digère lentement. – L’habitude digère lentement.)
― Charles de Leusse

It is that time of year again. Every year I try to do something different for the Lenten Season. I’ve been creative and sketched through Lent and I’ve tried reading specific Lenten studies and meditations. To me, it’s all good because it is all intentional towards an awareness. This sacred season makes me stop and think about sacrifice, self-examination and coming from dust and going back to dust. It envelops a deep presence when I come to the staunch recognition that my entire life is merely a whisper in the wind.

This year I decided to do something I have done before but, it’s been a few years. I gave up coffee and started drinking tea. Tea is not the same. It is just not the same. The caffeine level is not the same and the taste is definitely not the same. What kind of reflection does this provide for me? For one, I see my own limitations through my habitual nature. I come to realize how much I rely on this thing, a drink, for my daily survival. It also makes me realize that I am capable of change and adjusting to that change no matter how hard it may seem. The first few days are hard and uncomfortable because I am changing a daily ritual. The day after Ash Wednesday I had to fly out of town. I worked till lunch, went to the airport, got patted down by security because the piece of metal in my foot, left over from foot surgery years ago, always sets off the signal of potential danger, arrived at my destination, rented a car, drove for 40 minutes, arrived at the hotel and ……. no tea in the room, just coffee. UGH!

It is amazing how the world begins to change through the eyes of a cup of coffee.

Donna A. Favors – Member of the Board of Directors of the Montgomery Institute, 1955

I was good. I did not drink the coffee although it was very tempting. What does this teach me? Other than I have an emotional and physical love for coffee, it teaches me about my limitations. There is a lot of criticism that this sort of suffering through Lent is silly and superficial. Sometimes, I agree, and then I put myself through an actual seemingly minor change. When I wake up in the morning, making coffee is the first item on the agenda. When I changed that routine it made my comfortable daily living, uncomfortable. I think Lent should be a little uncomfortable. Self-examination is uncomfortable, if you are doing it right.

Lent is what we make it. It can be a spiritually invigorating experience or something we eagerly wait to be over so we can get on with “normal” habitual life. I am going through some big changes in my life this year. These changes will alter the path of my life. Everything I have known up to now will be transfigured in many varied degrees. So, I gave up something that made me comfortable in order to disrupt what I knew as comfortable. I feel that was a fitting choice for this Lenten Season 2020.

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ But he answered, ‘It is written, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” ’

Matthew 4:1-4 NRSV (New Revised Standard Version)

The Pigeon Reflects

For the times they are a-changin’.

— Bob Dylan.

I am just one week away from completing my BA degree and then I am moving on to a Masters of Divinity. This last term has been the hardest to get through. The past two years have been a long stretch of constant, hurried homework. This last term was filled with math like I haven’t done in years and it taught me all the ridiculous and amazing things that I don’t know, and some, I will probably never use. I am relieved, excited and anxious to see the end. Most of all, I am tired and I am so ready to move on.

This blog has been in the planning since I started a discernment process and now that I am going to another chapter of my process, I want to journal my experiences. I have always kept journals and I used them to revisit certain times of the year and particular events. What is interesting is how I feel within a moment and then the moment passes and I find that with every experience of moments, I am changed.

The Pigeon Reflects is titled based on a photograph I took about 10 years ago in Lake Eola Park, Orlando, Florida. I remember the moment I took this picture. It was kind of strange how this pigeon was sitting by itself just looking out on the water. As I tip-toed closer to it, I realized it wasn’t stirring. I got pretty close to this pigeon and it did not move. I framed the shot and the landscape of colors within the rocks, water and the little green sprig of whatever was almost poetic. It seemed like this bird was reflecting on its life in the bird-world. This photo has been one that I have kept looking at over the years and remembering the stillness of that moment.

This blog anticipates to be metaphorically like the photograph.