Time of Reflection: Goodness

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Hear no evil; speak no evil; see no evil.

Last week I reflected on kindness, and as I move to my reflection on goodness, I need to identify how they are different. Both are inner qualities, a part of our character and personality; but both are also woven into our relationships. Is kindness balanced more towards the outward relationships and goodness more toward the inner landscape?

Christians are told that when we allow the Holy Spirit to enter into us, we will be filled with goodness. What does it feel like to be filled with goodness? As with many of life’s riddles and complexities, I find if I turn the question around, search for understanding from another perspective, I gain clarity.

I can definitely tell when I’m not filled with goodness. I feel edgy-mean inside, like there are dark grey storm clouds rolling around. This edginess is hard to contain, spilling out in very subtle ways, with a dull sharpness. I can wound people while laughing. My introversion becomes a cold shoulder or neglect or crossing the street to avoid speaking.

As I move around those parts of my mind where goodness is absent, I discover memories of shame. Does the lack of goodness come from shame? In my distant past I carried some heavy burdens of shame, formed when I was too young to realize that acts committed against me didn’t make me ugly. But shame is very controlling and doesn’t like being exposed. It is so much easier to live our controlled, hidden lives that keeps others at a distance than to risk having them see our ugliness, our brokenness, our shame.

Christian doctrine tells me that Jesus died so I don’t have to carry shame. But knowing this in my head doesn’t always help my emotional understanding. The paradox is that it was people who looked into my eyes, who didn’t care what they saw, who only wanted to love me… they were the ones who taught me how to face my shame and love myself. I didn’t want these people to see the damaged me, but they were the ones who taught me that forgiveness is possible, both of self and others. They helped me shed the cloak of shame. It was only as the shame dissipated and I was able to hold my head high that I began to feel goodness warm my soul. Before that I had to pretend goodness, hold a mask of goodness over the cloak of shame. Real goodness is light and almost effortless.

Hear no Evil:

I enjoy this real goodness that resides within me, but I have to guard and protect it so it doesn’t become tainted. I have to be careful of what I listen to. If I listen to hatred I become sour; I begin to hate the spewers of hate; I become like them. Hearing beauty restores my sense of goodness – the sounds of birds and waves, of laughter and truth, of lilting music and prose. I experience goodness when I hear passionate words spoken from truth and with hope, when I hear tears shed as a shared ceremony of healing.

Speak no Evil:

I must also guard against speaking evil. Goodness cannot thrive when I lead others down false paths with words of deception, when my words bring shame or loss of hope. Sometimes we see truth and the truth isn’t pretty, is even ugly, and we have to speak out. Speaking truth can be softened, however, with love and caring, making it easier for others to hear these truths. I spend my time with people who seek goodness and try to speak truths. J is a good man, and he frequently calls me out when my speaking is evil. I trust him, I listen and appreciate his way of hushing my destructive voice and keeping evil from creeping into our lives.

See no Evil:

How can I see no evil when there is evil around me? When do I stick my head in the sand and when do I look into the eyes of evil? Do I need to protect myself from seeing evil so my goodness can flourish? I was a therapist in another lifetime so I saw a lot of evil that resulted in human suffering. I chose to see this, but refuse to see movies that are brutal. I know how to respond to human suffering without letting it pull me down; I don’t know how to watch movie brutality without feeling brutal. I need to see evil that is close to home, but become overwhelmed when I see too much evil that is too far away. When I see too much evil, I begin to shut down to protect myself from the pain of helpless. I am thankful for my capacity to not see more than I am able to cope with, but sometimes not seeing erodes the goodness within me. I need to see and name evil when I have the capacity to speak against it, to heal it. It seems like my criterion for what I allow myself to see is if, through seeing, I find some redemptive goodness and hope.

My wish for you, on this Good Friday, is that you continue on your journey to goodness. It is a personal journey that takes courage, the courage to face your private demons that block the way. It takes time, energy and thought, and a willingness to expose the secrets hidden under layers of false beliefs. It requires a trust in God and a few good people who can hold your hand along the way. And I hope you will take hold of someone else’s hand, someone who needs you, so they can find their own spirit of goodness by experiencing your goodness.

 

Coming Home

Michigan Barn, Fall 2013

Michigan Barn, Fall 2013

We drove north this week, from the southern tip of Florida to southern Michigan. It was fun seeing a time-laps of spring, in reverse. The dogwood, among the thousand shades of new green, was beautiful in Alabama and as we went through Tennessee and Kentucky the redbud colored the landscape that was whizzing past my window. There were also some beautiful azaleas along the way. Eventually this reverse time-lapse displayed barren trees against the yellow/orange of sunset. There was even a little dusting of snow where the sun hadn’t reached.

Most exciting was seeing the wooden barns in Tennessee and places north. They don’t exist in Florida and I missed them – a lot. I am eager to do one of our dirt-road photo safaris to see if I can find images of early spring and a few barns. It will have to warm up a bit more because my blood that is used to 80+ temps is not dealing well with the frigid wind. Until I get out, this barn from last fall brings a smile to my heart. As I am dealing with unpacking and a thousand little now-that-I-am-home tasks, the symmetry of this landscape in thirds gives me a sense of order and stability.

It is good to be home.

Time of Reflection: Kindness

Big Cypress National Preserve, Loop Road, Florida

Big Cypress National Preserve, Loop Road, Florida

I started this series of self-reflections at the beginning of Lent – the time in the Christian calendar leading up to Easter. I am structuring my reflection on the Fruit of the Spirit: Love Peace Joy Patience Goodness Faithfulness Gentleness Self-Control… and this post on Kindness.

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My motivation was somewhat foggy, in the beginning, but I seem to be discovering my underlying need as I proceed on my journey. I will pass over the threshold into my 8th decade in August. The something-0 birthdays, like 70, usually get me thinking about what I want to do with my life as I become a decade older, like the next decade after 69. More than the other shifts to previous decades, I seem to be thinking about what I want to be like instead of what I want to do in the future. I believe I started down this path of reflection as a way to define the kind of person I want to be, that is pleasing to God, as I transition into old age.

I found a definition of kindness: being friendly, generous, and considerate. As a child I wanted to be kind and good, but I was born an introvert and introverts have a hard time with friendly. At school I always felt like I was on the edge of the “friend’s circle” – by choice. As a young adult I was told several times that people thought I was arrogant, when they first met me, but once they got to know me I was really friendly.

Great Egret nesting. Venice Rookery, Florida

Great Egret nesting. Venice Rookery, Florida

A few years ago I decided I needed to be more friendly. I set the goal of learning how to do small talk – by forcing myself to talk with people when waiting in line at Polly’s, our local grocery. It worked; I actually enjoy these shared smiles, comments, laughter. Maybe this can be my gift of kindness to people who are in mind-numbing jobs, or whose work involves being harassed and berated, or who are detached because of the stress of a too-busy day. Maybe kindness is acknowledging all those invisible people I encounter as I move through my world.

The considerate part of kindness seems a lot like “playing nice.” The sentence I wanted to write next involved pointing fingers at all of you who don’t play nice; but probably anyone who reads my blog is nice. But consideration does seem to be a two-way street. I have had a hard time being assertive with people who are not considerate of me, when I feel like I’m doing all the giving. I even had a student, on a course evaluation, tell me to stop being so nice.

This is about the kindness in relationships, about the give and take that is needed. J & I weren’t always considerate of each other – especially when maintaining our relationship and keeping our household afloat required a whole lot more giving than taking. As I look back, it seems like we became snarky when there was more work than the two of us could accomplish, and neither of us felt appreciated. Both of us were giving a lot, but neither of us seemed able to recognize the different currencies we used. I didn’t recognize how stressful it was for J to be the only provider, and he didn’t seem to appreciated how hard I worked to care for our home and children. We weren’t always considerate of each other – and sometimes we didn’t play nice.

Anhinga caring for chicks. Venice Rookery

Anhinga caring for chicks. Venice Rookery

Life is easier now that we are both retired – from paid work and child rearing. However, we still have to consider the needs of the other while taking care of our own needs. We have learned to speak up, with honesty and compassion. Most important, we have learned to let the other know when s/he is being naughty – with humor and gentleness instead of meanness.

Our greatest challenge now is being considerate of the physical changes that are taking place in our aging bodies. We remember when we were young and swift and agile and firm and slim and constantly horny. We remember when we could remember things. Now we need to be considerate of how the bodies we are living in don’t allow us to do all that we used to do. We are gentle with each other, and ourselves, because we understand that the changes taking place are inevitable and scary.

Black Vultures watching us from high in a tree. Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida

Black Vultures watching us from high in a tree. Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida

Generosity is the last part of the definition of kindness. J & I engage in playful games around being generous – every time we decide on the tip after a meal out. J says I’m too generous, and I gently prod him to pull out more from his wallet. I say he is too generous in always grabbing the check instead of letting everyone pay for their own meal.

There are many ways of being generous but money is such a big issue in families. We have always pooled our money and have been very considerate of family needs over our personal needs. Now, J & I feel a strong need to support and take care of young people who are working hard to make it – struggling like we struggled. We struggle with how much to help.

Looking into our crystal ball.

Looking into our crystal ball.

Our issue is that we need to make sure we have enough money to support ourselves until we die. It is a big adjustment when employment stops, when we can no longer say we will work a little harder to make a little more. We now have to rely on what we have – the income from our investments and the money we saved. We don’t know how long we will live and what healthcare costs we will incur. I would love to give it all away but that doesn’t seem responsible. J agrees. We are learning new ways of understanding generosity, together and with kindness.

I have spent a good deal of time reflecting on kindness, how to be friendly, courteous, and generous; and this is what I now understand:

When kindness is a part of my spirit, from God, there are no random acts; kindness is evident in everything I do.

 

Floral Friday: Lotus Pond

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One of my favorite places in the Naples Botanical Garden are the Lotus Ponds. There are many reasons why I keep returning and spend a lot of time, but probably the greatest motivation is my desire to “really” capture the beauty. I have a good number of macro photos I like but I am still trying to capture the big picture – the landscape of it all. This one is okay – but I know I’ll do better next year. While I think about how to do it, here are my latest macro shots.

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