Sunday, March 25, 2012

Pre Schooled in Prayer

Max has been a difficult child. 
     People who know him well might guess that there were some obvious reasons for that. Those with some child development classes under their belt would say it was because he was four years old. All reasons considered, it was about as much as I could take.
Last summer, I went from working full time to being a full time grandparent to Max, his 3 year old sister and seven year old brother. This would have been a challenge regardless of Max’s temperament. Going from being a “Fun” grandparent to one actively involved in their upbringing is a tough one for a grandparent to make.
My daughter’s separation from their father was rough on all three of my grandchildren, but Max soon became sullen and angry much of the time, stubborn all of the time. 
To be honest, it was rough on my wife and me as well. Just a few months from a retirement we had expected to be relatively carefree, we were suddenly plunged back into the world of parenting. In addition to the logistics of getting kids dressed and fed each morning, getting the oldest one to school on time, planning and serving dinners that we could eat as a family when my daughter got home from work, there was discipline. 
Discipline is easy when you are babysitting but critical when you’re with children for 40 or 50 hours a week. With Max it seemed impossible.
For months, everything was a battle. Getting him to dress was a battle, getting him in the car on the days he had pre-school was a battle, getting him to stop hitting anybody and everybody was a battle. The mayhem he was able to create seemed to keep us from getting anything accomplished.
What was more unsettling than the anger I saw in Max, was the anger I saw in myself. By the fall, I was constantly losing my patience. Neither of us was having a lot of fun. 
I was surprised at myself. I have spent half my life raising my own children and my whole career working with high school students, all with very little frustration or anger. Suddenly, a four year old seemed to have the better of me.
 Baffled, I turned to the only resource I could think of. I turned to prayer.
I hear other Catholics talking about having a prayer life. I’m not even sure what people mean by that, I just knew that I didn’t have one. Sure, I say the Rosary and the occasional Novena, but I’ve never been sure how to go about the deep, direct sort of prayer called for when you are troubled.
I do know enough about prayer to avoid asking God to affect a specific outcome. God doesn’t need my advice about how to solve a problem. Besides, God has a sense of humor, giving you exactly what you asked for in ways you least expected. 
I prayed for myself. I prayed for wisdom, understanding and patience. (If you’re asking, ask for something big!) I prayed for Max. I prayed for his wellbeing (Although it was tempting to pray for a list of behaviors I would like to see changed).
About a week or two into the prayer cycle, things started to change. Max suddenly became more cooperative and more polite. He started addressing me as Grandpa rather than “Chicken head” or “Monkey brain”. Pleases and thank you’s are now spontaneous. He is not yet an angel but he is at least window shopping for wings.
For my part, I have learned to be more relaxed. I am starting to get the hang of actually being with small children, rather than thinking about what else I need to be doing. I have gotten much better at being firm and clear without being emotional. I’m starting to get the hang of the “parent”  part of grandparenting.
People who know Max might guess that there were some obvious reasons for his turnaround. Those with some child development classes under their belt would say it was because he is now five. 
I know prayer was a factor as well. 
Over the past few weeks, Max and I have both come to a greater appreciation of our lives and of each other. I can think of no better answer to my prayers.
Does that mean I can cut back on prayer? Oh no. Lily turns four any day now.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Saint Patrick's Day Music - Carrickfergus

There is nothing happier or sadder than a drunken Irishman. This song is proof of the latter. 
Perhaps the second saddest Irish song of all time.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Saint Patrick's Day Music - Whiskey in the Jar

A double play today. Since this song is a classic in both the Irish folk and light metal genres, we offer one of each. First, the traditional take on the song by The Dubliners.

Next, since this song is also a rock staple, here are Irish rockers Gary Moore and Eric Bell, both formerly of Thin Lizzy performing a version based on that band's interpretation of the song from the early 70's.

Monday, March 12, 2012

St. Patrick's Day Music - Star of the County Down

Over the weekend, Craig over at Huron County Extract posted a couple of tunes from the BBC series The Transatlantic Sessions. He hasn't said as much, but I suspect he is developing a St. Patrick's day theme. I intend to take him on post for post.
Today's entry is from one of my "desert island" albums, Irish Heartbeat, by Van Morrison and the Chieftains.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

O'Connor for Lent Vol II - A Good Man is (still) Hard to Find

“A good man is hard to find” Red Sammy said. “Everything is getting terrible. I remember the day you could go off and leave your screen door unlatched. Not no more” 
Red Sammy was sharing his observation about this faithless generation almost sixty years ago in Flannery O’Connors story, A Good Man is Hard to Find.  He made these remarks to “the grandmother” who was traveling with her son and his family. They had stopped at Red Sammy’s Barbecue on their vacation trip from Atlanta down to Florida. (A route that seems to be favored by O’Connor’s characters)
     The grandmother didn’t want to go to Florida, she tried to convince her son that Tennessee would be a more appropriate vacation destination since the paper was full of stories of “The Misfit” who had escaped from the Federal penitentiary and was thought to be headed to Florida as well. She told her son, “I wouldn't take my children in any direction with a criminal like that aloose in it. I couldn’t answer my conscience if I did.”
Shortly after leaving the barbecue stand, an unforeseen series of events leads them to be stranded on a deserted dirt road and brings her face to face with The Misfit.
     The grandmother’s confrontation with The Misfit and the incredible darkness of the story's ending made a huge impact on me when if first read it over 40 years ago. In my most recent re-reading of the story for Lent, something struck me that did not occur to me the first time I read it. (I was 14 at the time, I wasn’t paying close attention)
  The Misfit was a deeply wicked man, but it was the grandmother’s sinful (if seemingly minor) acts that brought her to him.
Her first misdeed was to smuggle a basket containing Pitty Sing, her cat, into the car. She did this because she knew her son Bailey would not allow the cat to come along.
Later in the trip, she tried to convince Bailey to turn off the highway onto a dirt road that led to a plantation she had visited as a child. Knowing that her son was unwilling to take the detour, she manipulated her grandchildren;
“There’s a secret panel in this house” she said, not telling the truth, but wishing we were."And  the story went that all the family silver was hidden in it when Sherman came through, but he never found it…"
The children, John Wesley and June Star, begged and pleaded until Bailey finally agreed to turn off onto the dirt road.
After a few miles on the dirt road, the grandmother suddenly realized that this was not the road to the plantation. That road was back in Georgia. They were already in Tennessee. She was so startled at the thought, she kicked the basket containing the cat. The basket became uncovered and Pitty Sing, in a state of panic, leaped out of the basket and onto Bailey’s head. This caused Bailey to lose control of the car. It is then that The Misfit and his two sidekicks appear.
Even after it was clear to her that her son and his family had been escorted into the woods and shot, her selfishness continues as she begs The Misfit to spare her life.
“Jesus” The old lady cried, “ I know you wouldn’t shoot a lady! You come from nice people! Pray! Jesus, you ought not to shoot a lady. I’ll give you all the money I’ve got!”
To which The Misfit replies, “Lady, there never was a body that gave the undertaker a tip”
 The grandmother thought of herself as a good woman, but she wasn't. She cared more about what she wanted than the happiness of those around her. Her behavior seemed harmless on the surface, but brings death to herself and her family. Even The Misfit seems more miserable for having met her.
The chilling part of the story is that the grandmother is like us. We are all guilty of putting our own wants before the good of others and before God. The story provides a great Lenten reflection because Lent is the perfect time to reflect on the toxic nature of our own selfishness.
By the way,  the grandmother got everything she wanted. The cat came along for the ride, they took the detour she wanted and the family vacation ended in Tennessee.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Life as a Prayer

You could spend a lifetime meditating on the meaning of The Lord’s Prayer. Indeed, you could spend a good part of your life meditating on the phrase, give us this day our daily bread. I got a brief glimpse of one of the many things that phrase means today.
As Debbie and I were finishing lunch with two of our three grandchildren (the eldest being in school), I remarked on the wind outside. Debbie said “Oh, great! Let’s go outside and fly a kite!”. “Good idea.” I replied. (While thinking, “Did I actually say that?”).
Five minutes later, I was assembling the 99 cent kite that had been sitting on our dining room table for the last week. Ten minutes later the four of us were out in the street learning to fly a kite, learning how to untangle the tail from a tree, and learning how to free the kite from the telephone wires above us.

Forty minutes of kite flying was followed by a few piggyback and horseyback rides. (There is a difference, you know) After that, the four of us sat down and played a game of Uno Roboto. Teaching an almost four and almost five year old how to play Uno is easier said than done. After that, we had about a half hour of “Grandpa school”. We did a craft project on the letter of the week….Q.
Sounds like another day in the life of a grandparent. It was. What was different was that I was actually able to relax and enjoy the experience. For the last 30 years, much of my time with my kids or grandkids was clouded by a preoccupation with work or other responsibilities. Even in the first eight months of my retirement, while watching the grandkids or playing with them, I was still in the habit of thinking about what else needed be done, what was next on the agenda. 

You would think that spending hours on end with very young children would come naturally to someone who has already raised three children. The truth is that it has taken a while to adapt. Today was a breakthrough of sorts.
So what does this have to do with The Lord's Prayer or our daily bread?
I assume that when we ask this, we are not just asking to be fed physically, but mentally, socially and emotionally as well. I also assume that “our daily bread”  is not just given in a one-way transaction. Bread needs to be seen (or recognized), broken and shared to fulfill its promise.
In living this line, one needs to recognize gifts when they are given and share them with those around you. The gift may be as simple as a mild breeze occurring on the day you happen to have a new kite sitting around or as profound as seeing a young child flying a kite for the first time. 
Could something this simple be part of our daily bread? As Mr. Dylan once said, “The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.”

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Lex Communis - Review of Lord of the World by Robert Hugh Benson

I read Lord of the World a couple of years ago and found it chilling.
Check out Peter Sean Bradley's review on Lex Communis

Idolatry at the Surly Temple

     Father Robert Barron's most recent YouTube commentary is on the subject of idolatry.
As Father Barron frames it, the subject is both a fitting Lenten reflection and hits upon the overarching theme of this blog as well.
     He begins by suggesting that we would do well to pay more attention to the first three commandments than most people do. Placing God in the forefront of our lives not only makes it easier to heed the remaining seven commandments, but is the key to living a meaningful life. Idolatry in modern life often takes the form of placing undue importance on money, power, sex, food etc. Lent is the perfect time to focus on those things in life that we may love a bit too much, that may be taking our focus away from God. Lent can help us get back in line with commandments one through three.
     Toward the end he reflects on the notion that our bodies are temples of The Holy Spirit.
    First, Father Barron reminds us that when St. Paul tells us that our bodies are temples of The Holy Spirit, his notion of the body refers to one's whole being, not just the physical body. Just as a physical temple is a place to honor God, present sacrifice and observe the sabbath, our lives are intended to serve the same purpose.