(Per usual, hit the jump to recipe button above if you want to skip over all this chit-chat and head straight for the vegan quinoa pilaf!)
I know I’ve done an awful lot of talking about my gramma since she passed in February (here and here), but there’s just so much I could share. So many posthumous lessons she’s taught me that I think are relevant in really important ways. Lessons in courage and love; lessons in strength and faith. And as hard as I try to move on, here I am and back again, with more grandmotherly reminders from the beyond.
When I was growing up, my mom had a religiously religious friend; the kind of person who peppered the entire conversation with Praise Jesus and quoted scripture. It wasn’t something I was used to, and consequently, it made me moderately uncomfortable. But unfamiliarity wasn’t the only thing that had me questioning the sincerity of her truly walking in the footsteps of Jesus. There was also the fact that I knew her family, was friends with one of her children, and had more than a little bit of the “inside scoop.”
I knew that she favored one daughter over another. That one was the golden child and rarely punished (despite wrongdoings), while one was more meek in nature and bore the brunt of the discipline. I had heard her yell (loud and a lot). And sometimes behave in ways that weren’t at all nice (read that as un-Jesus-like). So honestly, the holy praises seemed more than a little hypocritical to my young and impressionable mind. I mean, it’s one thing to appear devout and another thing entirely to live that way.
And then I grew up and understood a little bit more about life. I learned that she had demons of her own, and really, she was just doing the very best she could. In fact, I’m friends with her now and think of her only with fondness and love (and now relish hearing God peppered into the conversation). But unfortunately, the seed had already been planted long ago; the seed of distrust in those I deemed “overly” religious. Even more unfortunate than the planting was the watering that tiny seed got through the years until even now, after much conscious effort to eradicate it, I still see it crop up in my thoughts.
It’s only in little ways, like when my finger pauses over the follow button on a blog post loaded with scripture. Or when a really vocal Christian follows me on Instagram and I know it’s only a matter of time before the subsequent unfollow. The yup, I thought so, when she disappears from sight. Granted, maybe she just didn’t like me, and that’s perfectly fine. But no matter the suspected reason, my reaction is still the same. My judging frown of disapproval because all I see is that we both love God. And Jesus. And all they see is my Indian guru and the use of a feminine pronoun.
Because of this resilient seed, I rarely brought up God in conversation. Virtually never, actually. My faith was quiet and undisturbed. My faith was mine, and I had no interest in defending my beliefs or questioning yours. I don’t really regret that because it gave me space to grow spiritually and beyond the confines of any particular dogma, but in retrospect, I imagine I missed out on some deep and wonderful conversations.
One of those conversations would have been with my grandmother.
What I Learned
I knew my gramma’s faith was also of the quiet variety; I knew that she believed in God, but it was never the topic of any discussion that I can recall. I’d often spot a Bible resting on her coffee table, and that was pretty much the extent of my knowledge regarding her religious foundation. But going through her papers while writing the story of her life revealed a steady and trusting belief in the Divine. It comforted me to think that in her last moments she had that steady rock of faith to lean on. Because at our last breath, isn’t that all we truly have?
I learned that at one point in time, she had been a Sunday school teacher.
I learned that after she fell and broke her hip while in Russia (and once the gravity of the situation really sunk in), this is what she had to say, With no telephone at my bedside, no friends or family nearby, no Russian language skills, and flat on my back, I knew this could be a difficult challenge. So I did what I have always done when times were tough–I turned it over to the Guy Upstairs.
I learned that when asked, What is the most important lesson, message or advice you have learned that you would like to pass on to others?, this was her reply: All things are possible. Believe in yourself. Never give up. Trust in God.
I learned she had several bibles gifted to her throughout the years. One of them is now tucked away safely in my bookcase.
Steady & Quiet
Even in her personal writings, I found that hers never seemed to be a loud and vocal faith, but more of a steady and quiet one. And now, having pulled together so many of the pieces of her life–the burdens that she carried and the losses that she endured–I really (really) wish I could ask her how her god sustained her. How did He help her to deal with the death of her twenty-three-year-old son back in 1972 (a soldier killed in training)? Did she blame God or accept it as Divine will?
What about when a cherished family member committed suicide–where did her faith take her then? To comfort or to fear?
And children conceived out of wedlock. What did that mean in the eyes of the god that she loved?
I imagine she went through periods where her faith was tested–most of us do. What did she lean on in those dark moments? Scripture? Trust? Or just a deep-rooted knowing that He was always by her side?
But I didn’t ask, would never have asked, because of that seed. Steadily watered by raping priests, money-hungry ministers, and fervent church-goers who lived a life of hypocrisy, all while “protected” under the robes of Jesus. I’ll keep my beliefs, thanks, and you can keep yours…way over there, please. (What can I say? The seed was mighty.)
But I found out other (equally interesting) things as I moved through her belongings, things that would have made it “safe” to ask those really important questions. To have those deep (and interesting) conversations. And then these findings triggered memories and made me realize that she was probably open to me all along. But unfortunately, my seed had grown into a plant taller than I, one nearly impossible to see past.
Three days before she died, my gramma had her cards read. Yup, as in Tarot cards predicting upcoming events. Whether simply as a form of entertainment or as a means of seeking guidance, she’d gone on more than one occasion. She asked a lot of questions and got a lot of answers (some deadly accurate). This would have parted some of those thick branches on my seed tree had I known. Not because I knew anything about the cards or had any particular fondness for them, but because it would have told me that she was less rigid than I feared. Open to other thoughts and views. And openness is what I crave.
This little paper with scrawled predictions, in turn, triggered a memory: One time years ago, I was reading Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth while sitting in her living room (the book that started my spiritual journey). She walked by, looked at the title and said, Oh, I read that years ago. I shot her a look of disbelief, not because I thought the idea was so unbelievable, but because the book was newly released. She laughed and said something along the lines of not looking so surprised; there were a lot of things I didn’t know about her (I had no idea how true this was). In retrospect, I imagine she thought the book had to do with Meister Eckhart, a German philosopher and mystic. Yet another clue to the willingness of her mind to allow in all teachers.
On one of her last visits to my home before she had to retire her precious VW Beetle forever, she pushed herself up from the table on her way to the bathroom. She spotted my wall of SRF gurus and made a point to ask who these handsome fellows were. I laughed and then promptly glossed over my answer, as is my typical response. (Most people aren’t really open to hearing my answers.) But now I really (really) wish I’d answered because she probably honestly did want to know. But I refused to let her in. What would she have had to say if I’d introduced her to my guru? Would she have wondered why Jesus was also part of my kitchen-wall shrine? Unfortunately, that decades-old tree seed meant that the opportunity was lost to me forever.
I’ve had this post idea in mind for weeks now, just germinating (unintentional seed pun). I finally started working on two Mondays ago, but then watched it stall as my week took a completely unexpected turn (or twenty). I had a heavy-duty (not meant disrespectfully) Christian unfollow me on Instagram. (Which is actually kind of funny if you think about it, in light of what I was struggling with.)
I had someone tell me about a Christian tarot group that a friend belongs to (these things exist?).
Then I had a conversation with a friend about certain families that, on the basis of their religious beliefs, have them denying the truth of their own child.
I received a message telling me that “my” god isn’t the God of the Bible. (On the heels of a post about love. And for the record, I believe there’s only one God who appears in a myriad of ways–ways relevant to our lives, culture, and norms. And I also believe that God is a-okay with this; in fact, it’s part of the design. Just His/Her way of reaching humans around the globe.)
Food For The Soul
But my biggest “derailer” was that I found myself in the midst of one of the deepest conversations of my life. An honest talk about God, faith, and dark nights. Message after message about a benevolent God versus one to be feared. A journey through love, through hate, and back through love again. A conversation that had me falling into bed at the end of the day, exhausted from all of the mental strain, while at the same time food for the hungry soul.
Just one thing after another was hurled at me, all in the same vein as this post. And many of them wanted to water that seed tree of mine; they made a concerted effort to repair all of those branches that I’ve been so diligently chopping off. They wanted to put up walls when all I’m interested in doing is tearing them down. And here I am once again, staring rigid, righteous religion dead in the face. And knowing, for myself, that me-versus-them was never what Jesus had in mind.
Brick By Brick
So what exactly are they all trying to tell me? Because there are far, far too many to ignore. I’ve typed up this whole post and here I am sitting here, still puzzling out the lesson. And all is see at the end of this very long page is a choice.
It would be so easy to water the seed; so many of the happenings over the past week or so ticked me off, quite frankly. But if I busy myself with giving that seed a good long drink, then I’ll likely miss out on really important conversations. Conversations like the one I never got to have with my grandmother, and the one that I was recently blessed to be having with my favorite girl. I could either water that seed and put up “just” one more wall in a world already overflowing with suffocating boundaries…
…or I could choose love. (Doesn’t it always come back to this?) I can choose to love those at any and every place in their journey–both the rigid and the wide-open seekers. I can choose to rest in my hard-earned faith and get back to the business of tearing down all of these freaking walls–brick by ugly brick. Love thy neighbor can become my mantra, no matter how impossible some try to make it. Instead of concerning myself with the hypocrisy of others (real or imagined), I can busy myself with me, because God knows (literally) that there’s much, much work to be done.
I can choose to hide under this tree–forever, if I want to–because it puts me at a safe distance from the ones so quick to judge me. (And also those I’m so quick to judge.) But wouldn’t it be better to ask myself the honest question of whether or not I’m walking the walk? Because as I see it, hiding is stagnant, while walking is obviously not. I can fool myself if I want to because the shade is really nice, but God’s always watching. So what would be the point?
Tell Me A Story
I’d like to have my gramma back, just for a couple of hours, and ask her so many things. Mainly, I want to have her tell me the story of her god. I want to know how God worked Himself into her life and by doing so, understand things just a little bit better. Understand both Gramma and God just a little bit better. And then I want to tell her the story of my journey with the exact same god. And share the tale of my guru and all the countless ways that he’s helped me. About all the blessings that have come my way and all of the lessons that I’ve learned, so many of them from her.
And then I want to tell her one last story. The story of me looking an awful lot like Jack, axe in hand, chopping down my beanstalk. Letting giants fall where they will. And maybe singing some praise Jesus hymn while I do. I get the feeling she might like it, she might even want to take a vigorous swing or two. And then, once I’m done, maybe just maybe she’ll suggest we go and get our cards read…
- 1 cup quinoa (soaked, drained & rinsed)
- 1 medium onion (diced)
- 2 cups broccoli florets
- 1 medium carrot (sliced)
- 2 teaspoons parsley (dried)
- 1 teaspoon basil (dried)
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
1. Soak the quinoa overnight. (By morning my quinoa is sprouted, making for easier digestion.)
2. Drain and rinse the soaked quinoa. Add it to a saucepan along with 3 cups of water (up this to 4 cups if skipping the soaking stage), parsley, basil, cumin, and sea salt. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 20 minutes or until the water is mostly absorbed. Let the quinoa rest, uncovered, for 10-15 minutes before fluffing with a fork.
3. Sauté the onion in 1 tablespoon of oil until soft and golden.
4. Steam the broccoli and carrots until tender, 8-10 minutes.
5. Gently fold the cooked vegetables into the cooked quinoa. Serve warm or cold.
Hope that your week is a happy one.
Sending much love & light ~ Melinda