Many of you know my mom passed away this summer. No day will ever be quite the same for me, but especially this season of Christmas, will never be the same — Mom loved Christmas. In the first picture here is an ornament from one of my mother’s and our favorite places in the world (Winona Lake’s Warsaw Cut Glass). It has my mom’s earthly dates on it and this: “She loved Christmas and she loved us”. If you knew my mom, you would know that of course, the Season of Giving was her favorite time of year. I hope she is enjoying playing Broadway show tunes or Christmas songs on some big heavenly piano today as she often did on earth.
The second picture, from a Christmas my Mom spent here in CA with us — well thankfully, Mom is not seeing it, since she would not like how she looks, but it is a good reminder that with True Love, no one really cares how we look, do they? We enjoy very much this whole idea of little poor minority, Jewish baby Jesus in a stable, and then we forget that there were no kings and gifts then, (that we added on later), and there was only fear, and lack, and uncertainty, and ugliness, and nationalism, and loss, and grieving, and pain (childbirth not least among the pain). There was nothing — not even a home. But there was the most important thing. There was true and great Love. And there was Hope. And there was the kind of joy that is deeper than happiness, the kind of joy we like to think that angels sing about.
Oh, yes, this is a lovely season of remembering; not one story about one baby, but all of our stories about love in adversity and love in the good times, and joy in the very present moment. As both Jesus’ ancestors and future religious descendants would advise: “Remember”. “Never forget” “Store these things in your heart.” Remember so you can be present in this moment to the absolute joy that you are alive and have been loved and are loved.
So, as we wrap up a year, and it has been quite a year! — and as we wrap up our gifts for each other, and wrap our arms around each other, and wrap our minds around another year of uncertainty, and loss, and pain, and for so many, too much of nothing or sorrow or need — we need to be reminded — Remember! — that all that ever matters, all that ever remains, is the Love. Remember the love. Seek the love. Embrace the love. Be the love.
Be the hope for someone today. Be the joy for someone today. And above all–Be the love.
This is a wonderful season to remember that what we really care about are those we love, and to let the people we care about know it. “Taking Care” — that’s really what the whole Christmas story is about, isn’t it? It is a good season to remember that we humans long to worship something or Someone that takes care of us, even if we are naughty and not nice, even if our doubts overwhelm our faith, even if we have erred hugely in our relationships with others and ourselves, even if we, like the little drummer boy, have nothing to give in return . So the question is — if we long for that kind of care and love despite ourselves, and despite the other person, isn’t the message of Christmas about our deep need to give that care and love to others, even the ones we find it hard to love? Didn’t little baby Jesus eventually grow up to tell and live that story?
It’s a good time to remember that Baby Jesus was blessed enough to grow up to be a man, and a good time to read some of the stuff he said when he wasn’t a baby any more. It can rock your world. I’m trying more and more to let it rock mine, but I won’t kid you, it’s not easy, which is another thing we have to remember little baby Jesus the grown-up said. No, true love is not easy. But then, the great and true things in life are worth the price, aren’t they? Isn’t that what we are trying to symbolize with our crazy gift giving and decorating and feasting Holy-days — that Love is priceless? I know my mom believed that. I have read that is what Jesus thought, too.
My mom was a giddy crazy lady around Christmas time. Price tags were meaningless to her. And she had a horrible time waiting for anything. Unlike I, advent and anticipation did not bring her happiness. There was never too much — there was just so much to give! I once mentioned I liked nativity scenes and needed some ornaments for the tree — so Mom would send not one, but three nativity sets and keep sending ornaments and decorations, and yes, more nativity sets, every year. Putting them up this year made me cry those tears you get — you know the ones — where you cry because you are so sad and missing someone but you are sort of smiling and laughing and happy too because you feel so much love still warming up your insides from memories and thoughts of that person, who is also making you cry. Remember. And so it goes.
My kids and husband don’t know it yet, but I also got a little remembrance “thingy” to give them each this Christmas, that commemorates their grandparents, Raoul’s folks, Esther and Gaston Tawil. One year my dearly beloved father-in-law took me to Fedco or Feddies as he called it and we bought some special little fragile Christmas ornaments for the tree. Each year I put the ones that have survived on the tree and think of him. And our first Christmas with our first child, Justine, we flew to D.C. to spend with Gaston and Esty and Uncle Guy and I bought them ridiculous ugly Christmas sweatshirts with something along the lines of Proud Grandmother and Grandfather of Baby’s First Christmas. You can see below how delighted they were to wear those ugly sweaters, even though my mother-in-law had such style and beauty, she wore that ugly thing so proudly. Look at her face below looking at her new granddaughter. There was no one who could squeal with pleasure like Esty Mizrahi Tawil and Gaston would chuckle with delight as he spent time with each of his four dearly loved grandkids. Esty left us all far, far too soon and Gaston is with her and my mom now too. Ah, I miss them so very, very much. But what a lucky, lucky human I am to have such memories to store up in my heart. Never forget.
My mom’s and Raoul’s parents’ wonderful Christmas spirit lives on — especially in their grandkids, my children, who aren’t children any more, but who keep the traditions, keep the good things, do a great job of working on healing the bad things, are incredibly giving humans, and who each live lives that did make and would make their “Gram” and Papa Tawil and Grandma Esty proud.
So yeah, this year we sent a traditional Christmas “brag” letter, because when my mom was bragging about her own children and grandchildren she was happier than anything. I am proud of my husband and my kids, and I am working on being proud of myself. I am proud to be the play-it-forward carrier of my mom, my dad, my grandparents, and my parents-in-law. I miss them so much. I remember and I am here now and I will do my best to carry forward all the love. All the love.
So Merry Christmas and Happiest of New Years to you all. Hug your loved ones close, even if they squirm. Study something or listen to something that brings you both joy and growth. Find forgiveness for others and yourselves for everything. As a different but gloriously similar tradition to the one Jesus believed but which teaches truth as Christ’s many parables taught, let the negative seeds within you go unwatered and nurture the positive seeds that also lie within you so they may grow to the size of huge mustard plants — huge Christmas trees.
Remember the good and the love and let it grow within you, this season, and every day you are blessed to wake up. Whatever you celebrate, celebrate with abandoned joy in the very present precious moment. Take care of yourself. Take care of your loved ones. Take care of strangers. Take care of your enemies. Take care of the world and the planet.
When I was about ten or eleven, my mom moved her four kids to Monmouth, Illinois to be near our dad who had left us but we didn’t know it yet. And as I often say to Raoul, this could have been the beginning of my being a heroin addict or a serial killer, but instead I went into acting. Going into theater by way of getting an MFA, is the most expensive kind of psychotherapy a girl can get and it was worth every penny because today I am an ex-English teacher slash secretary slash waitress looking forward to someday having monthly Social Security checks in the high two figures. But then, I got to be a mom for a couple of decades, which is the hardest greatest best paid job in the world, so … Meh! to my dreams of sitting on the Tonight Show riffing about my latest accomplishments. Which brings me to the point – accomplishments.
This past week Raoul and I got to puppy-sit our only grandpuppy, Beni. Grand-paw and I have several adorable grand-cats but only one grandpuppy. And while this Grandmeow loves all her grandcritters equally, Grandpaw Raoul has fallen head-over-tails in love with Beni. Look at that face and you can see why we both are rather smitten (exhausted but smitten). And let me tell you something beneficial about loving one of God’s critters as opposed to loving one of God’s children. Loving an animal, especially a pet, especially a cute but naughty, tear-up-your-slippers, accident-on-the-floor, wake-you-at-an-unholy-hour, nip-at-your-calves little beastie –being in a relationship with a critter is a giant wake-up call to what I think God and Jesus and all other spiritually minded Beings mean when they try to teach us about “heaven on earth”. The reasons are many but here are a few I woke up to this morning, as my old girl Daisy and I adjusted to Beni being back home with his Mommy.
Why Animals “Get” Heaven on Earth More than People “Get” It:
Animals are very forgiving. They don’t spend any time at all stewing over past spankings or harsh words. They encourage their humans to do the same. If you are going to have an animal in your life, get ready to find forgiveness easy, which can be unsettling, because we really should find forgiveness and asking forgiveness much more easy with the people in our lives –like we do with our pets.
Many animals, but especially the dogs I have observed love everything that you share with them and that they can share with you. They love life. Everything is always new to a dog because it is a new moment to experience it. Same walk? “Let’s explore!” Bad smell, good smell, pee smell, food smell – “Mmmmgrrrr, I Love It!” The Mailman is at the door again– “ Who are you? WOOF! WOOF! Heeeelllllloooooooo!” Same ball thrown for the five-millionth time? – “This is so much fun! Here I brought it back to you, Mommy. Want to play tug-of-war again? Okay, throw it again! Isn’t this fun!!! Do it again! Again! Again!” Oh, if I could love living life in just this moment, like a dog does. That alone would bring me a heaven to earth.
Animals have a sure, secure, and content sense of who they are without having any ego at all. Name one animal you have met with an inflated sense of ego? (Well, okay, cats. Let’s just say, cats have an ego, but can we really say it is an inflated ego? I mean, maybe when kitty gives you that look, they really are trying to communicate to you: “Oh, foolish human, do you not yet recognize a goddess when you see one?”)
But back to the sense of self of animals (probably sans kitties).
On the flip side of animals having no egos, name one beast you have met that isn’t completely content and at peace with being who they are. It doesn’t matter one bit to your chihuahua that his isn’t as big as the Great Dane’s or to the alley cat on your street that the Siamese in the mansion has a more expensive fur on than hers. Animals exist in the absolute center of what psychologists and spiritual people call the “True Self”, not the “False Self”. And one thing I noticed about Raoul and I during our pup-sitting week, we became more our True Selves – more loving, more giving, but also more needing and more accepting – of the love we each shared together and individually with our grand-puppy. Granted, we would not sustain this if we had him for years instead of a week, and I know this because we have had dogs our whole family life and sustaining the kind of love we had with Beni this week is an impossibility, which brings me back to Thank God! our pets are so forgiving. Living in the kind of world we think of as a perfect world is hard work, just like taking care of a pet, but it is the kind of hard work whose greatest and perhaps only accomplishment is a loving relationship where I know myself as I am and accept you as someone you are and we both are at peace with who we are while also trying to be better together. If we took care of other humans as well as we do our pets, what a heaven on earth this would be. Maybe for a while we should think of The Golden Rule as saying, “Do unto others as you would have your pets do unto you.”
Finally (for today’s revelations) Animals help us think differently about Time. We didn’t “accomplish” much with Beni around, at least not as much as we could have if he weren’t around and that was wonderful –because we were with Beni –and today we will get to go back to accomplishing more and it will be a bit sad and depressing, and lonely and not as meaningful – because we aren’t with Beni.
And when I look at my life, so many of the truly meaningful parts were when I wasn’t really accomplishing all that much. I never did accomplish a great acting career, and yet, my theatre teachers, and my experiences when I was acting, were some of the critical ones that shaped and defined me in ways I am still unpacking.
And my memories of my children growing up? I don’t treasure all the things I “helped” them accomplish or the things we accomplished together, or the trophies or awards they got, nearly as much as I treasure the times we snuggled in the Big Bed reading or singing or just snuggling. Or the times I sat in the yard or by the pool and just listened to them play. Or talks around festival tables. Or traditions we shared. Or bike rides or walking dogs and picking up fallen leaves or pretty stones or shells on the beach. Or the times we splashed in mud puddles or laughed at silly jokes or took pre-technology-kid-coma-inducing long car trips, or….. we just were us together, accomplishing nothing. Nothing but relationship.
So my mom took us to Monmouth, Illinois to accomplish something with my dad, but it didn’t. It was always a great sorrow to her, which I only understood much later. You know, my mom passed this summer – I keep waking up or being startled at odd times during the day to realize that all over again – she is gone. wow. If you have someone in your life that you deeply loved that died, this year or fifty years ago, you know what I mean. Time changes forever when that person you loved so much is no longer in the same Time-plane that you are. I don’t know what Time-plane my mom is in now, or what any of my departed loved ones live in now that is a kind of “Heaven-Time”, but I think they must be in something like an Eternal Puppy Time; a Pet-Time when there is nothing more important to accomplish than loving everyone and everything around you. And smelling stuff. And snuggling.
When someone you love leaves, like Beni left us last night temporarily, and my mom left us this summer, less temporarily; then you realize that it sure didn’t always feel like heaven on earth when you were with them, but that you can, if you try, hang on to the heaven on earth moments that happen in all true relationships and in all True Selves. Because it was really heaven on earth when they were with you because heaven is just another word for Love—the kind of love that loves others with a sense that renewal and newness are in our power to create together, with enjoyment in doing the same things over and over, with the kind of love that forgives and asks to be forgiven knowing that soon you will both forget the bad thing ever even happened. Heaven on earth is simply loving what you are, not what you can do, and loving relationships more than accomplishments.
Heavenly love is the earthiest kind of love there is because we are all just critters of this amazing, wonderful Earth, full of smells and accidents to be cleaned up, and sounds, and the same people who can get on your last nerve but keep showing up, and an Earth rooted deep in Time and yet ever expanding, expanding just enough to keep holding on to each other and also allowing each other to run. We are all part of the Earth, revolving into days and nights and if we try hard enough to stop trying, part of the great DNA Dance of All Living Things, things and humans and beasts that can for a little while – maybe even a week — lose track of Time completely because we are caring for a puppy and we are in love and because of someone else, we are loving life so much that heaven is on earth.
Living like you are worthy of living in heaven forever is really just living like you are the most special person to the most special pet you have ever known. One of my husband’s favorite songs when he was growing up was one that Donny Osmond sang and the famous refrain was, “And they call it puppy love”.
Find your “puppy love” today, whether it is in an actual doggie pet, or kitty-goddess, or human man-child, or needy friend, or that other-you that needs you to love her today. Go into the world looking for the messes you can clean-up and the forgivness you can offer. Apologize for your wrongs to others as if you just kicked the dog who wasn’t doing anything other than being herself. Sniff things, and touch things, and enjoy your feed even if it is the same chow you had every day this week. Look into the eyes of the people you care about and let them know you need them and that also you are there for them when they need you. Take a nap when you are tired and don’t feel guilty about. Take a walk. Take lots of walks. And if love is something you are desperate for, like it was for my mom when she moved to try to find love with my father, but only finally found when she had grandchildren — if you want love — then don’t hang your tail and let your ears droop and give up. Never grow weary as you keep chasing and fetching and bringing love back to lay at the feet of Love. Just keep doing it. Just keep loving and asking for love. Keep the ball in play and you will find heaven on earth. Again, and again, and again.
On July 7, 2021, my greatest cheerleader, most enduring audience, loving critic, incomparable supporter, and most beloved mother, Jane Cook, passed away from this life. Life will never be the same. Writing will never be the same. The following are some pathetic attempts at thoughts on her passing, in the knowledge that words can never express what we feel with great loss and great love. As I wrote the following, I thought of others I loved who have passed and those I love now and foolishly hope will never die. Friends –Seize the Day and let those you love, know it – right now. Jane
#1 Your Love Is Still Here
A lot of people died today,
but only one was mine.
A lot of people passed away.
I wonder, which were Thine?
I know not what is at Life’s End.
A lot of people can pretend,
that Death is simply Heaven’s Bend;
but no one truly comprehends.
All that I know?– You were my friend.
And I shall strive to live the part,
Your love created in my heart.
And I will trust, through all my tears,
that your Love still is here.
#2 I Only Know Now
And do not say to me, “It will…”
I only know what is no longer now.
And do not tell me “It will get better…”
Today I can only live in this moment,
that this bleak Finality “is”.
My eschatology veered sharply from yours,
the moment that my Some\body died.
The End Times are upon me
and I will live with ashes on my soul
in a world that cannot bear the sight of
the ashes I long to wear on my head.
If only the world could see the black armband
constricting the muscles around my heart.
Some\body died today; Some\body who cared for
and was cared for by me;
that first and ultimate person,
who made the “I”, in “me”, a “We”;
that “We” is now forever and ever lost.
And like a limb lopped off of my being,
the ghost of remembrance of what used to be,
gives me no joy.
Encouragements of what I might be able to do someday
without my lost limb,
give me no comfort.
Loss is all. Loss is now.
You long to leap straight and with daring ease,
back to the past of memories,
or to the future, which you believe,
is free of sorrow and heavenly.
Be free in knowing,
I do not begrudge you, your need or your worldview.
But please do not offer it to me.
It is a poor substitution for my grief.
Death for me, has brought endless ending,
and Now, is only dross.
And in my loss,
the emptiness and lack of meaning,
is all I can hold on to.
I cannot see the shore, until I have drowned,
and all I can cling to
is what made me feel safe,
and gave Love its meaning
for me, for us.
I have lost the one voice that’s been inside,
my head, my heart, for all these years.
Please keep your platitudes and thoughts you mean to cheer me.
I will, however, grateful be, if you would silently,
endure with me my tears.
Time has finally condensed the story,
constricting like a deadly boa,
to Only Now.
The Now is the ache of the battering ram of emotions,
the unbidden memories that spell “no more”,
the gaping holes in my heart,
the “what ifs” and “shoulds” and “could haves, should haves, would haves”
… if only.
Oh yes, with time, wounds stop seeping,
and may, in time, become scars.
Yes, duties and needs will stop my weeping,
but for now, my strength is bleeding out.
And in these lost and mournful hours,
I can only know Now, in my heart.
For the You that was mine, and the life that was “ours”,
for me, in life-left, left me ever alone,
from the moment for me, we were finally apart.
Going forward tomorrow I do not know how,
and your memories are slicing me through.
For today, it is true I may only know Now,
Yet one thing I do know — you loved me,
and Oh! How I loved you.
I will always miss you Mom, and I wish I could tell you that again. I will always love you, Mom and I wish that I had told you that more.
First in a Series of Incremental Sight-Changes : How to Be Proud, Without Being Prideful
By Jane Tawel
May 8, 2021
About a year ago, I began to recognize this phrase I said to people I was close to, and that I said to them fairly often I think, as something that I assumed was true, but in actuality was an off-brand. The phrase is: “I am proud of you”, and I said it as something that seemed good but was, in fact a trued line that had gone slightly askew. So, I began to try to see how my use of this particular phrase, and my feelings of this particular sentiment, and my expression of this particular kind of love, could be examined more closely. And I have found, often to the chagrin of my pain-center and not as a boon to my pleasure-center, that one should never examine something closely if one is not willing to change and be changed. The cocoon can be such a safe, closed space to stay in, and emerging has always meant one of my wings gets dinged; sometimes rather badly.
My greatest learning curve in everything has been my relationship with my children, and so it has been with the idea of my “being proud” of them. But anyone can learn some of the things I call “incremental sight-changes” through other relationships. I have learned much, and examined with no small degree of pain from change, in many of my relationships — with my husband, my friends, my co-workers, my parents, teachers, and Carl and John, two unhoused men I have known, just to name a few. To examine means to learn. Sight must have an object to see. And love must have an object to love. And when you love someone, really, really love them, you try to see things through their eyes, hear things through their ears, feel things with their feelings, and walk, at least a little ways, alongside them in their journey. So, for the past, oh, about a year, I have been walking a ways with the idea of “being proud” and trying to shift my point of view closer to the Golden Mean of True Love.
I now have four adult children and it occurred to me, oh, maybe about half a year ago, that they don’t really want me to be proud of them. So I stopped. Or I tried to stop anyway. At least, I stopped saying or writing things in public forums like “I am so proud of _________(fill in blank with specific child’s name)_______. Because what I began to realize is that by saying I was proud of something they had done or had become, I was taking at least partial credit. By being proud I was saying “this thing about you, is because of something I have done, so I’m going to make it also about me by being ‘proud’”. And that just became a flawed way of thinking for me personally. It became, for me, wrong on so many levels. I suppose it would be just as flawed for me to say that I was “proud” of Carl or John, my unhoused, un-jobbed friends for spending their money a certain way or for the new sign they made to attract drivers to their cause.
One of the Great Revelations of all spiritual pursuits and worldview masters, is that we are all unique individuals, and also all part of each other. We are parts, and we are parts of The Whole. We may willingly and gleefully share in the pride of another individual, whether that is by clapping for someone we love, or posting a quote by someone we admire, but in reality, we also share as part of the Whole. We also take part, although often unwittingly, in the foibles and errors and sins and grievous bodily or mental harm done by “that other person” to other persons. Without that recognition of our part in the bad stuff that happens to others and the bad stuff people do to each other, and unless we empathize with all and take into ourselves the “otherness” of the other in all its spectrum of good and bad, we can’t honestly grapple with what it means to “take pride” and “take part” in someone else’s life. My examination of the idea of being proud without being prideful has taken me a tiny step closer to the sort of humble love that I think is true love — the True Love of humble and great people, saints and sinners alike; and the True Love of the Eternal, and the humble changing and Universal Cosmos; and the True Love of a humble Natural World and the Natural Order; and the True Love of the humble servant love of The God Who Sees.
I am learning not to be proud of my children. First of all, a sort of side note here that may seem like a sidetrack, but won’t be, I hope. When they were growing up, I got to home school my four kids for a long, long time in an environment where they could learn without being graded or judged for how well they learned. It was one of the greatest revelatory journeys of my own life, in personal, intellectual, emotional and spiritual ways, ways truly too deep to measure. And while very few parents and families are as privileged as I was to be able to afford home schooling their kids, and then trust that if a kid is learning, they don’t have to necessarily be compared to others in order to learn more, this attitude was something I tried to let effect my teaching later on in traditional school environments and also to encourage my children when they entered what we called “regular school”. And furthermore, even if I hadn’t home schooled I hope I could have eventually learned this important mindset change: What someone, especially one’s child, accomplishes should be first and foremost about what a person or that child FEELS from the accomplishment, not what a person, and especially a child GETS from the accomplishment. Which brings me to the first “Sin of Pride” — The first sin that pride leads us to commit is loving the praise from others and the products or promotions we get, rather than being present in the moment of learning and loving, and being completely immersed in how awe-some it feels to experience the journey of discovery. Feeling proud suddenly whisks us from the immediacy of joyful celebration in discovery to analysis and storage. We take pride and let it rush us to the exit door, where we can hoard the experience, trying to keep the awe-some feelings for a future rainy day. Feeling pride is like taking constant selfies in life, rather than seeing what is happening in your life, right in front of your eyes.
The second great sin of pride, maybe especially for me as a parent, is like a pyramid scheme. It is often, unbeknownst to victim and parental perpetrator, an act of sabotage to take upon oneself the glory for what one’s child has done. If you are not a parent, think about a time that you shared in a co-worker’s accomplishment, even though they did most of the hard work. Or if you can’t hark back to when you were a child, think about a time a boss took credit for something you did and then damned you with faint praise by saying something like, “I couldn’t have done it without Jane” (Darn right, you couldn’t!) As to the parental pride, we usually quite subconsciously and innocently do this. And sometimes, frankly, I think that “said-parent” does the “I am so proud of you, kid” thing in order to make “said parent” feel better about the job she or he has done as a parent. (I think spouses or partners do this with each other too, and that is a whole other ball of wax that can lead to a wonky relationship, but I will assume a reader can discern this by comparison and experience. I know I am.).
This kind of pride in a loved one’s accomplishments feels as if it should be good, but here’s the thing — I know all too well, that the yin of pride has a yang of regret. Everything I have felt proud of that I observe in my children, has an equally strong reversed feeling of regret at all the mistakes I have made. Mistakes that have saddled those same beloved ones with emotional baggage, or physical insecurities, or intellectual burdens, or spiritual quandaries. And when you get to be as old as I am, with as many wonderful and amazing adult children as I have, who still are as absolutely and completely human as I have ever been, you realize that even the mistakes you make with people you love (adore and love more than you do your own life) — your mistakes and sins are part of their lives, too. And those mistakes, ultimately, need forgiving. Your children need to be allowed to forgive you, just as much as you need to be allowed to forgive yourself. True love can’t exist only on the fumes of pride; it takes regret and forgiveness as well.
The flip side of the pride coin is the regret side, and any honest person in any kind of relationship will have to at various times admit to both. The fact that any one still loves me, and has retained enough “good” to be proud of from who we are together, is as miraculous as the fact that anyone has forgiven my errors and survived my sins against them. Now if I could love myself enough to replace my pride with forgiveness for my sins against others, self, God, and the world, that would be a way to see true Grace. The thing is, it is only Grace that has allowed my children, of all people, to retain the good things and the certain parts of them, that I am apt to be proud of.
It is helpful for my own growth as a seeking human being, to accept that just as it is the grace of God, or the incredible luck of a Universal Luck of the thrown dice, that my children have survived the world of woes and very, very scary, no good, bad stuff things that parents can’t protect them from or control in the world or in their children’s lives; my very lucky and grace-kissed children, have also survived me, and they have weathered and soldiered through their parent’s own brokenness, and sinfulness, and just plain “oopsy-so-sorry-about-that” mistakes. And if their surviving and even thriving despite my sins and my mistakes is a gift of God’s grace, then all the amazing wonderful things they are and have and do accomplish, are all also from that same source — God’s grace. And so it is with my boss. And your co-worker. And your friend. And my husband. Grace has gotten through the barriers of our pride and egos with a humble presence that defies our own pride in accomplishments. Grace is the glue that makes us all One. Grace is that which by appearing weak, becomes strong, and can be the mitigating force against false pride. Grace is the gift that keeps on giving without a hint of recognition. Grace is the open, welcoming arms of a God that asks us all to enter into their Circle.
So, the second sin of pride is this, not recognizing God’s Grace in everything. We Midwesterners used to say, “there but for the grace of God”; and I have tried to keep this as prayer whenever I am empathizing with someone else in pain or sorrow or need. It is God’s grace alone that I am me, and not that poor person, whether he is victim or perpetrator. Being grateful as opposed to proud, for something I have or am, means that the glory goes to others and to The Great Other. Being humbled and humble, means I am becoming more a part of the whole of humanity, more whole myself, and more “holy”; for holiness is above all, humble and humbled.
As Jesus said as recorded in Matthew 5:45, “the rain and the sun fall on the good and the evil”. I can thank God for all the many small mercies of grace in my children’s life, and also thank God that by grace, my children and my God will forgive me for all the errors, “sins known and unknown”, that have hurt others, and especially hurt the very people I love most in the world. And when someone hurts me, or hurts the planet, or hurts another human being, I can humbly say, “there but for the grace of God”. And when someone needs something, and I have much more than I could ever need, I can stop my pride from getting in the way of opening my own arms and hands, and without a hint of pride, give freely with a heart full of “there but for the grace of God”.
This humble acceptance of the grace of what we have been gifted and what we share in common, not in what sets us above and apart, this is what tempers pride. In that very same verse, Jesus says, that even if we don’t understand it, if we accept that God’s grace and Goodness are for all humans, all the Earth, all of us and each and every one of us, the “good, the bad, the ugly” (and the mean, the broken, the plain icky, and even the most trying, irritating people of all — the parents); if we can with humility accept that God’s grace is for all, then we can “show that we are children of Our Father, Who is in The Heavens” — and the God that also lives in each of us. God is beyond our pride, since He is beyond even our greatest ideas and understanding. In accepting Who God is, then I can also accept that everyone is, in a sense, also beyond my own petty pride and beyond my own greedy understanding. To put away, to “shoo off”, my need to understand God and yet, still love Him; and at the same time to try, not to understand, but simply, with humbled love, to “walk alongside” another human being from his or her point of view, in that place in my soul, is the beginning of freedom, and the beginning of wisdom; and in true freedom and wisdom, resides True Love. Letting go of the pride of understanding means I am humbled enough to be awed, rather than proud. And being awed, by God, the World, others, my partner, and for me, being awed by my children, is how I come closer to be a “child of The God Who Sees, and a part of the radically loving and Whole Kingdom of The Heavens”.
Whether parent or child, the Third Sin of Pride is the double-edged sword of “the sins of the ancestors” passed down versus the “the future belongs to our children” passed forward. We seldom want to see the bad “stuff” we have as being passed down, as Exodus 34:7 says, “to the third and fourth generations”. But we also often balk at giving credit to our ancestors for our healthy but random DNA or for the third or fourth generation hand-me-down virtues and character strengths. Four children later, and I have learned that those we influence, want to get their own credit for what they accomplish and that if I am claiming too much pride in them, then I am taking a percentage of their credit away. This is true for spouses, friends, bosses, students, partners, and true especially of our children. As a child it has been true of me, as I have explored those sins and virtues I know to have been passed down through blood, genes, personality traits, and the whole “nature versus nurture” gamut. Being proud for the good bits and foisting onto someone else the bad bits, is a great temptation, perhaps especially for those of us who have survived parenthood and are still clinging to the life-support of being a parent of adult children. This also makes one of the manifestations of the Sin of Pride #3 this: Being proud of someone else, takes away from having the right kind of pride in yourself.
Instead of saying to a student or a child or a friend, “I am so proud of you” (which secretly my whole being is when something wonderful happens for or in them); I am trying to remind myself to say instead, “I am proud to be ____ (Fill in blank with title, such as teacher, mom, friend, etc.)__________. For example, “I am proud to be the mom who got to be your mom”. Or “I am proud that I was privileged to be a teacher who taught you to like poetry”. Or “Hubby, my dear, I am proud that I was able to find the perfect gift for your birthday”. Speaking aloud this kind of pride, is like using a two-way mirror to see something just that little bit out of your range of sight. By being proud of something I was “privileged” or “gifted” to do or be part of, the other person gets to keep all their glow for themselves, and I find the true meaning of feeling good about myself — which is always most known in the act of giving myself away for another with no thought to what I get out of it.
We all deserve to feel that kind of pride that comes from giving a part of oneself to the Whole or the wholeness-making of another. Feeling the pride of doing and being what we do in love, shores up the glitchy defenses we have against the consistent onslaughts of anxiety and ego. That kind of being proud, will also, however, help ease the pain a bit, when a person has to take credit for something they should not be proud of and needs forgiveness for, by self or another. Knowing that we share responsibility for our lives together, and yet still are our own unique amalgam of good and bad, mistakes and sins, pleasures and pains, faults and miraculous wonders, are things we can together be proud of and glory in. These things are what make us as human beings, both communally and individually special, special in the Universe of Specially Created Beings. It is what makes us as humble human beings worthy of a God Who Sees us.
Pride was once considered one of the deadly sins, but in modern Western cultures at least, we have come to feel that not only is pride “okay”, but that it is desired. When the current generation of students was asked what they would most like to be, the number one choice wasn’t doctor, teacher, tailor, or book maker, but “famous”. We have somehow come to believe that being known by many for little, is more desirable than being known by few for much. We have replaced the long arc of holiness with the TikTok of fame. We idolize ourselves and others we take a pride in connecting to, whether that is child or political hack. And while we think of pride today as a deserved kudo and may cling to our right to feel pride in self and others, we are daily reminded by newspapers and personal acquaintances alike, that pride is still the cause of many, if not most downfalls. As the Proverb says, “Pride still goes before a fall” — and then it lays there in the rubble with us pretending to clear the way for us to use our excuses about our skinned and bloodied souls.
Pride leads to other less pretty sins, in the short or sometimes long run; sins like greediness, lies, even murder — whether real or the murder kept hidden in one’s thoughts. A list of the sins that pride opens the doors to, would take us into a tome of explanation and extraction, and hence, is a topic for both another day, and for spiritual masters, and seekers much more advanced than I will ever be. Instead, let me reiterate my personal explanation and explore. My recognition of how what felt good and seemed good — being proud of my children — was actually not such a good thing, has helped me understand what “deadly” sin means when it comes specifically to my pride. To be dead is to be “unconscious”, to be “unaware”. This idea of “deadness” versus “aliveness” is one of the great expanded and expansive metaphors in the Hebrew and Christian Bible. In the letters of the Apostle Paul in the Bible, there is much food for thought about what sin really is, not just the personal effects of “wrong choices” but the systemic, religious, state, and corporate sins of the world. As far as being “unconscious” of what our actions do to us and to others, and what they mean in a greater spiritual meaning, the following thoughts from Paul are paradigm shifting:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience — among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved — and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:1–10)
What a profound understanding of grace, Paul had; and also of the real consequences of our taking a false pride in our accomplishments and of deadening our souls with trespasses against humble love. Again, that is something everyone should explore in their own journey towards healing, loving truth and important relationships. It is the endless circle of exploration for rabbis, priests, gurus, and spiritual guides and theologians, who are much more able than I will ever be, to keep trying to illuminate. And while, I am aware that many may not agree with me on this idea of feeling pride in others, especially our children, let me suggest that my exploration of pride may at the very least hold a key for you to explore what sins, what “lesser things”, what outside influences, or what personal struggles, or “deadening remains from the past” make you feel “dead inside” or less than conscious of the moment, the person you are with, or your own most valuable feelings and actions and very own treasured “being”.
Pride may not be the word everyone thinks of when they think of what I am trying to describe. But for me, I have simply found the pride I sometimes (often!) have in my children to be my own little personal slippery slope. Once I feel pride in what they do well or right or who they are that is good or wonderful, it is a quick jaunt down the slope and I can find myself at the bottom of where I am judging them for what I consider is not right or not good and judging myself for what is unwell or unformed within me. And at that point, I can either blame them for what is not right or good, or I can blame myself for what I have done or been that has not been right or good, or I can let go of it all. See what I mean? I can’t have it both ways.
Pride goes before a fall, a tumble down the slippery slope of judgement, in this case. I know that this is often due to my great worries and anxieties for my beloved ones’ safety, health of mind, body, soul and spirit, worry about their happiness or relationships or — well, just the world of worry some of us folks carry with us like a constant pulse in the heart of our personhood. I worry without end that my beloveds will end up more like me than I would like — God forbid. And this type of worry is so obviously a deadening sin as well, is it not? And yet I keep picking at my worry like the age-old parental scab that it is.
My worry, like my false pride, is what takes me down the slippery slope of losing my faith in the existence of a God Who Sees or even really a god who cares all that much. My worry is a panicky feeling that the world and my world are on a fast-track to disaster, or that old insecurity that I am unworthy of love — God’s or anyone else’s. But what I have come to realize is that sometimes my pride is simply my worry taking a field trip. My pride is too often the spy in the camp of my fears.
The Sin of Pride works two ways for many of us, doesn’t it? My pride can lead me to a false sense of ego-security and a god-like judgement of others. Alas, it is also true that my pride can quickly lead me to fall down the rabbit hole of never seeing anything I do or “my people” do as wrong, or unhealthy, or at least not the best choice. By feeling pride in the “sinner”, I forget that they too are sinful and not just in need of my and God’s pride in them but my and God’s grace for them. (Side note: This kind of rampant often unrecognized pride is a great sin of individuals, but also of systems, nations, and organizations, perhaps none more glaring than the pride of religions gone wrong. To feel proud of one’s religion may be the ultimate “sin against the Holy Spirit”. See Thoughts of Jesus for more on this.) The flip side of not “judging” others, is not being discerning and truthful with others, or ourselves. This means my pride can be worn as a mask to hide my mistakes or transgressions against others, or ignore and justify my and my group’s self-justified sins against love and truth. Because pride can not only horribly mar and disfigure true love, but can tragically mar and disfigure love’s truth.
All of this does not take away from the fact that I hope my children know that I am bursting at the seams with joy in knowing and observing and listening to them, at what they have accomplished, who they are becoming, and how they are growing in character — I just don’t want to call it my pride anymore.
I was lucky to have a mother who always let me know she was proud of me (and still lovingly does). Not everyone is as lucky as I have been as a child with a proud mother, and that is a horrible burden that far too many children of all ages still have to carry throughout their lives, the burden of never feeling good enough, never feeling that the someone who should love you most, has never seen their worth. Perhaps those parents are too proud to give away their sense of entitled ego, even to their own children. What a tragedy that kind of pride is and I can only hope and pray that those children who have suffered that kind of ignorance and ignoring, will meet people, at least one person, who will say to them with love, “you are someone who can be proud of who you are and I am proud to be a part of your life”.
I can remember quite clearly, a time when my mostly absent father said he was proud of something I was doing. It was when I went to visit him and had taken up running. When I came back sweaty from my run in the Midwestern heat, a humid heat already on the rise in the early morning, my father, a man of few words, told me how impressed and proud he was that I had taken up running. It took me by surprise, and since he was not a runner, it was something I treasured as sincere gift of acknowledgement from him, about who I was. We remember and hold close those things that parents and teachers, mentors, and lovers say to us when they express a sense of pride in and for us, don’t we? Those times when a person, especially an influential adult, be it auntie or coach, special friend, or temporal co-worker, expresses a feeling of being proud of us can be life-changing. Words of praise given freely, given without any co-opting nor qualifiers, can shape our futures and heal our pasts. But we also remember the things we were made to feel we lacked, the times there was an “absence” of whatever we needed from the adults who were life-shapers, even if that “lack” was expressed in the same breath as pride; and so those of us who are in any position of influence, friend, parent, teacher, or partner, must carefully tread the path of pride we express in someone else.
And that brings me to the fourth and for now, final illumination I have had about the Sin of Pride. Pride is often felt about something done in the past not something in the present, and by claiming it, we rename it, and change its meaning and importance. Whether the thing that brings us a sense of pride is something done by one’s self or those we want to make appendages to our own pride, our “other people”, whether, partner, spouse, student, worker-underling, or child, the fact that it is something that occurred in the past or is something in our character that is a result of something from the past, gives the patina of pride the glow of Fool’s Gold, and not real, solid gold. And this is how several sins may sneak in among our good intentions, like weeds in the fields. Sins often sneak by without detection, by taking us out of the present moment, full of God’s Grace in the Now, and escort us back into the past or misguide us into the future life we can’t live in yet. Accomplishments depend on the past to keep breathing life into us, but so do mistakes depend on clinging to the dead corpses of our pasts. Both must be recognized as no longer belonging to the best that the present has to offer, whether my own present or my “other people’s” present “Nows”. The future can be full of hope, but also of fears. Pride can ruin both, past and future, by making us miss the moment at hand or be fearful we won’t accomplish tomorrow what we did yesterday.
The Torah and Bible, especially those books called the “books of wisdom”, have much, much, much to say about pride. To read the book of Proverbs, one cannot ignore that pride is contrasted over and over, and over again to both humility and the wisdom that comes from being humble. This, of course, is not to say that parents, children, non-parents, and all should seek the kind of false humility that is just a flipped over, flattened out, and disguised sort of pride. In fact, every spiritual guide and religion has a lot to say about pride. The word, “sin” may not work for all religions, so let’s call pride at least, an “inability to see true value”. Succinctly put, the Bible says that “the pride of your heart, deceives you” (Obadiah 1:3). Buddhism sees pride as a “distortion” and un-enlightenment, something based on transitory thoughts. It sees humility as empowering and lasting. This is in keeping with the truths of Judaism and Christianity as well. “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you” and “Love is patient and kind; it does not boast or envy; it is not arrogant”. (James 4:10 and I Corinthians 13:4). According to Islam, pride is a disease and the realm of evil. There is a Native American saying that goes something like this: “Greet each day humbly, and with all thanks for the Great Spirit above”. And in all of this, is something Universally true about pride, I think: Pride gets in the way of Spirit. Pride can masquerade as love, but true humility can never be disguised as hatred. And the ultimate shocking truth of all true religious or spiritual thought, is that even God never reveals Himself as proud. God has no need of pride; He just Is. God allows His Creation to speak for itself, and in His observation of who and what all are in their innermost being, God finds joy. This divine observance of life and of others’ lives, can also be ours as human beings created and creating in the image of the Divine. James 4: 5b and 6 reminds us to be humble because by God’s grace we are created to have a divine spirit dwell in us, not by anything we have done, but by God’s love for each of us. “God yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us. But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble’.”
My goal in this long exploration of the idea of pride is to explore my own false sense and faulty love of pride, not to take away that warm, fuzzy glow we feel in being a part of others’ accomplishments. And like any exploration that is imprisoned by words, it is faulty and flawed, lacking and incomplete, wrong and yet, maybe a little tiny bit illuminating. Our words merely try to crack open the doors of truth and enlightenment, and so I keep knocking on doors, and putting my foot in the door-crack to hold it open, and I keep peering through the small opening to see if I can see a little more of The Light.
Feeling that we have made a good difference in someone’s life, that we have done or been somehow “good enough” to counter all our foibles and sins, and let someone else — student, partner, friend, or child — have a better life, a stronger “shot at”, a deeper meaning, or a truer understanding of their own wonderful value — that feeling, those reflections, that comprehension of our own worth and value, makes us not separate from, but a part of others, and therefore a part of The Whole.
It is in recognizing that I am not apart from, standing on top looking down at, or riding on the coat-tails of others’ accomplishments and lives, but rather that I am a part of, standing alongside looking outwards and inwards, and riding humbly along God’s Waves of Grace, that lead me, and each of us who love, on towards a glory that we can only imagine. The Light of Truth and Love, embraced by humble presence, shows pride for what it is — a mere dim and cloudy reflected glow. Looking at others and myself with the humility of flawed human understanding but graciously divinely appointed love changes a temporal feeling of pride into a little of the eternal reality of joy.
Now, when I feel the warm glow of pride, in those I have been privileged to either walk alongside, or literally teach how to walk, I will try to grab on to its ultimate meaning before I speak aloud my sense of pride. I will try to grasp hold of that pride I may feel in someone else, to make me aware that we are all more than we appear to be on the outside, and that there is something in the human spirit that rises and rejoices with the Universal Urge to Be Utterly Amazing! When I feel pride, I will speak into that feeling, with a humility that God has granted me the grace to see yet another day on Planet Earth, a day to be better, do better, and to help any one I can help do and be better too. And my pride in others, especially my dearly loved children, will, I hope, train me to be present in the moment, when so much is being, not accomplished but Lived! And with the help of a humble heart, a desire for truth, and a hope in the power of love, I will work to be a part of and a presence in that which defies description, that which makes us whole.
Pride doesn’t have to go before a fall or be the gateway to other sins. Pride can be the mirror that reflects this truth: We are more than we appear to be and we are much more together, than we ever are alone. To be proud is also to be present in someone else’s journey, and I hope to let my pride be the silent prayer of my children’s lives; a prayer not of worry, not for their success, but a prayer for the hope of their future glory and their present glimpses of true joy, by the grace of God. This is how to be “proud”, without being prideful, by understanding that in God’s gracious love and care, we are all sinful, sinned against, but all also, oh, so very worthy of the love of God and of each other. Love given in the humility of knowing that all we have is a gift, and all whom we have been privileged to know and live with, are a part of everything good, past, present, and future; that Love, is always, both goal and Source. Being a part of the whole of everything and everyone, the good and the bad, the successes and the mistakes, the “otherness” and the “sameness”, this is how we find the balance between being proud of ourselves, but humble towards others. Giving up pride helps us to sincerely mourn and rejoice with others, to feel with them, to feel for them, to exalt that which is in all humans that is worthy of glory, and look truthfully at the pride that leads to those sins we all struggle with.
Jesus spoke many profound things to those who would desire to be better humans and more worthy of being called “divine”. Perhaps no words of The Christ’s are more applicable to so many things than these, found in Matthew 18:3: “Truly I tell you, that unless you change and become like a little child, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven”. The wisdom in these words are too numerous to ever be fully understood by anyone, but applicable to almost everything we as adults encounter. Have you ever seen a little child come towards an adult, crayoned drawing in hand, full of the scribbles of his imagination and with a look of utter pride on his face as he gives it to someone he loves: “I made dis for you, Mama”? Have you seen a little child make a mess out of mud and call it a castle: “Come see my castle!”? Or have you gazed at the face of a little girl who has just tied her first shoelace, or a little boy who carefully transplants a ladybug from his shoulder to a safe leafy resting place, proudly saving his first life? Can you recall the first stumbling but proud words from the mouth of the child who has read her first words, or have you tasted the “delicious” concoction that your darling little one has made with all the right ingredients for love, but not necessarily for the delicious treat she imagines you are tasting? Try to remember the first time that a little toddler garbled the sounds, but not the sense of who he is — “me is Goo-won!” Imagine the delight in self accomplishment, when one first realizes with joy, “Me is me-Me!” Imagine how a baby feels about himself when he first realizes, “I have these things called toes. Aren’t they fun to wiggle and tickle? I am so proud of being able to wiggle my toes!” Think about children and how proud they are in the moment, their joy in the present accomplishment, a type of pride felt, without a single thought of comparing it to someone or anything or any time else. Oh, that look of pride in that little child’s face is the purest and simplest form of pride there is because it is pure joy in the journey of living.
That childish pride, is the “good kind of pride” that our First Father and First Mother felt when they walked naked and unafraid in The Garden. The pride of a child is the pride we should relish. It is that sense of just being in the moment with what we can do, not because we are a better person than someone else, but because we are a created human being with skills to learn and a life to enjoy. We all should be aiming to get back to and move forwards toward that ineffable sense of being, something beyond pridefulness, but also something beyond feeling unworthy of that which we were created to be — beings, gloriously free and joyfully proud to be alive.
And while I am still an insecure, prideful mess of an adult, with a little grace, I am also still an evolving, changeable, glory-up-ahead, like-a-wobbly-arrow-aiming-at-the-divine, human being. As a partner, friend, spouse, and above all a mess of a mother, I am proud of myself, that bit by bit, I am giving up my false pride-fulness in what has been done, and I seem to making progress towards feeling proud of what I am holding right now in my small hands. What I have now and who I am now doesn’t have to be amazing, for me to be utterly amazed.
I am, bit by bit, replacing my pride in my beloveds and in my own self, with a child-like awe in who my children and my dearest loves are and then trying to expand that love to an amazement with every person I will encounter today. As a child of God, I am trying to look, and truly see with the eyes of The God Who Sees, The God who remains as joyfully, lovingly, curiously, and awesomely childlike today as He has always been. Today it is well with my soul to be as a proudly childlike as I possibly can and to trust, that I am okay, and I am enough, and my mud-castles and scribbled words are things to feel proud of, just as my children are people that I hold out to God with a mother’s childish pride –“Look, See, Enjoy — these are for You”. This is my day’s journey toward becoming someone I can be proud of, a creature who is loved as dearly as a little old humbled but divine child is — Me-me.
Whatever one’s belief system, this is historically a good weekend to meditate on what makes a belief “true”. If I say I believe something, but don’t in fact, myself, act in accordance with it, what is the meaning and purpose of my belief? If I say I believe Someone loves me enough to suffer for me (and some believe die for me), but I accept that Someone’s love only to make myself feel better, and not in order to love those others in the world in need of a belief in A Love Without Strings Attached, what does that say about what I truly believe about the quality of a Higher Love?
As we look to what we say we believe, we often get stuck in the childish questions, like, “How has it changed me? How am I better a person? How does my future look brighter?” But the real questions to ask myself that the events commemorated in this weekend ask, the grown-up questions of The Christ are: “How does what I believe make me want to change the World? How does The Divine make me a better human being? How do I bring the future Kingdom of God to earth — now, today, here, for all — as The Christ did?”
If we aren’t suffering with others on Friday, and mourning for the whole world, the whole Earth on Saturday, we will never truly know what it is to celebrate life and resurrection on Sunday. No matter what one claims to believe, this is a good weekend to ponder as the philosopher might ask, What do we owe each other? And as the prophets or saints might ask, What would happen if some of us began to really believe in Love?