Morning Star

February 27th, 2022

We’re tired.

Asher has been having some rough nights. He’s teething and his gums hurt him. So, he wakes up frequently, and Karin usually wakes up with him. Sometimes I do too. The end result is that all three of us are lacking sleep, and we are all a little grumpy.

Asher is fifteen months old. He’s mobile now, officially a toddler. He careens around the house at breakneck speed, usually yelling something. He tends to get ahead of himself. That often results in Asher tumbling over his own feet. Then there is a moment of tears followed immediately by another attempt to run before he can competently walk. My sister-in-law, Gabi, once described toddlers as “little drunk people”. That is pretty accurate.

It seems likely that Karin and I will become Asher’s legal guardians. This change in status is not a surprise, and it really doesn’t make much difference in our day-to-day activities. Childrens Court wants “permanency” for our grandson, and that would require that somebody take full responsibility for the boy. That “somebody” is us. Karin and I really don’t want to be Asher’s guardians. We would much prefer to revert back to our original role as parttime grandparents. However, in order to keep Asher in the family, we need to take on this open-ended commitment. Asher is a blessing to us. He is also a lot of work.

I spent Friday afternoon with a friend of mine from work. We are both retired now, and we meet up once in a while to share our experiences. As usual, our conversation drifted toward memories of events at our old workplace. Danny and I shared stories about coworkers that we knew. It struck me that at least half of the people we mentioned are dead. We spoke of them in the past tense, and that was a bit disturbing to me. It reminded me of the fact that at some point, perhaps soon, Danny and I will also be just memories for someone else.

I mention this discussion with Danny because Karin and I are acutely aware of our mortality. The prospect of becoming Asher’s guardians is daunting simply because if one or both of us die, there is currently nobody to care for Asher. Even if one of us is temporarily incapacitated, our ability to raise the lad becomes a struggle. We have outside support, but not enough to handle the situation if Karin and/or I are gone.

Our goal is to live to see Asher become an adult. When Asher turns eighteen, Karin will be 83 and I will be 80. That’s an iffy proposition.

People pooh pooh my concerns, and say, “Lots of people live to be eighty!”

That’s true. Many people do live that long. Some don’t. Danny and I talked about the folks that don’t while we sat at his kitchen table and sipped beer. We are at any age where anything can happen. Our overall health is also a concern to Karin and me. We may in fact survive until Asher grows up, but will we be functioning well enough to help him along the way? We are healthy now. Tomorrow we might not be.

Generally, we don’t worry too much about the future. This is because we are too damn busy dealing with the present. Asher keeps us very active. I don’t see us ever being bored. As the boy grows and develops, he will make sure that we are alert and aware of the world around us. That is a good thing.

I get up before dawn almost every day. I want to be prepared when Asher rouses himself. He wakes up ready for action. I have to be ready too.

Our patio door faces to the southeast. When the skies are clear, I can see Venus shining brightly above the horizon. It glows like a jewel suspended in space. The morning star enchants and inspires me. I thank God for that diamond in the sky, and I thank God for giving me a new day.

I might not have a tomorrow, but I have a today, and I can spend it with Asher.

All According to Plan

February 24th, 2022

“There are some (places) you go into-in this line of work-that you know will be heavy. The details don’t matter. All you know, for sure, is that your brain starts humming with brutal vibes as you approach the front door. Something wild and evil is about to happen, and it’s going to involve you.”

from “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” but Hunter S. Thompson

“Nobody panics when things go “according to plan”. Even if the plan is horrifying!”
― The Joker – Heath Ledger

When I was a senior at West Point, I took a two-semester course called “The History of the Military Art”. The class offered a panoramic view of the evolution of warfare from the ancient Greeks until the Vietnam War. I enjoyed the class. I was fascinated by the characters involved in these conflicts between peoples. I learned about various battles, most of which are now forgotten (anybody remember Cannae?). Some of the campaigns were swift and glorious, like Napoleon at Austerlitz. Others were hideous slugfests, like the Battle of Verdun in the First World War. One thing that struck me during the course was how often things did not turn out as planned.

Once I became an Army officer, I got practical lessons concerning how quickly and thoroughly things could screw up. I learned that planning was essential to any military operation, but it was also somehow superfluous. I remember doing extensive planning and organizing, but when it came time to execute the OPORD, there was always at least one “what the fuck” moment. The potential for chaos was always there. Even during peace time (I’m a Cold Warrior), events can turn really scary really quick. My understanding is that in an actual war the craziness is exponentially greater.

In the months prior to our country’s most recent conflict in Iraq, I spent many evenings demonstrating against the imminent start of the war. My motivation for demonstrating against the invasion was primarily selfish. I did not want my son, Hans, to go to war. Hans was sixteen at the time. Everybody seemed to think at the time that a fight with Saddam would be a slam dunk for the U.S. Later, George W. Bush stood smiling in front of a banner that said, “Mission Accomplished”. I guess not. In 2011 Hans was in Iraq fighting and killing people there. The war did not quite go as planned.

More recently, the United States left Afghanistan rather hastily after having been in the country for twenty years. When we invaded Afghanistan shortly after 9/11, did we ever imagine that we would handing the country back to the Taliban? That war did not go as planned either.

Now it’s Putin’s turn. He has just invaded Ukraine, and I’m sure he has a plan. It might be a good one. It is certainly a horrifying plan.

I hope he has a high tolerance for chaos.

Ironworkers and Freemasons

February 13th, 2022

Our son, Stefan, is an Ironworker. What is an Ironworker?

Per Wikipedia, an “ironworker” is as follows:

“An ironworker is a tradesman who works in the iron-working industry. Ironworkers assemble the structural framework in accordance with engineered drawings and install the metal support pieces for new buildings. They also repair and renovate old structures using reinforced concrete and steel.”

As a definition of the term, it is sufficient in a generic sort of way, but it doesn’t fully explain what Stefan does for a living. It certainly does not address the ironworker culture. Yes, they have one.

I capitalize the word “ironworker” for Stefan, because he is a member of the Ironworker Union. Being part of the union gives a totally different dimension to the term. Stefan is not simply an employee of a company, to be used and discarded at the whim of management. Stefan is a member of an organization with a certain amount of economic power. That clout gives Stefan and the other Ironworkers some basic rights with regards to their working conditions and benefits. In short, Stefan is part of a brotherhood in a very real sense.

Jacob Bronowski, the mathematician, wrote about the medieval masons in his book, “The Ascent of Man”. These were the men who built the cathedrals that still reach for the heavens throughout northern Europe. In describing the masons he said,

“The masons carried in their heads a stock, not so much of patterns as of ideas, that grew by experience as they went from one site to the next. They also carried with them a kit of light tools.”

Stefan and his coworkers follow in the tradition of these masons. Stefan learns a bit more at each construction site. He carries with him his own kit of tools for the job, although they could not be described as “light”. Ironworkers generally have a tool in box in their pickup truck that weighs several hundred pounds.

Bronowski goes on to say, “The wandering builders were an intellectual aristocracy (like the watchmakers five hundred years later) and could move all over Europe, sure of a job and a welcome; they called themselves freemasons as early as the fourteenth century. The skill they carried in their hands and their heads seemed to be as much a mystery as a tradition, a secret fund of knowledge stood outside the dreary formalism of pulpit learning that the universities taught.”

Stefan has told me that his training over the past three and a half years is the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree. Certainly, in monetary terms that is true. Once Stefan becomes a journeyman in the next few weeks, he will be earning $40 an hour straight time. How many college graduates will start working at that pay scale?

Stefan is an expert welder. He earns good money because his skills are worth it. It is probably an exaggeration to say that Stefan is part of an “intellectual aristocracy” like the freemasons of old, but he can do things that hardly anyone else can do. Most of his fellow Ironworkers are like that too. They are valuable because they have the knowledge, and the courage, to build skyscrapers.

Stefan, once he is a journeyman, can move all over the country, and he can expect to be “sure of a job and a welcome.” Most Ironworkers settle down somewhere, but others wander the country just like those masons did hundreds of years ago. A skilled tradesman is not tied to a particular corporation. He or she is mobile.

Stefan has never built a cathedral. He probably never will. However, he has built banks, like the BMO Tower in downtown Milwaukee. It a country like ours, where the Almighty Dollar is worshipped, that tower is the spiritual equivalent of a medieval cathedral.

The Ironworkers are a rough crowd, often rude and crude. They walk on top of steel beams one hundred feet above the ground and laugh about it. They enjoy the adrenalin rush that comes with doing dangerous and difficult work. They love to point to a tall building or a graceful bridge and say, “I built that.” I guess they have to be that way. Other, more reasonable, people would never do that kind of work.

I feel certain that the freemasons (the original version) were also like that. They were independent thinkers and just a little crazy.

They left us a glorious legacy.

Stefan will too.

Russians

February 7th, 2022

“We share the same biology
Regardless of ideology
Believe me when I say to you
I hope the Russians love their children too”

from the song “Russians” by Sting (1985)

Every day I read something about the Russians and their “imminent” invasion of the Ukraine. The news stories remind me of the Cold War days when I was an Army captain in West Germany. Back then, it felt like the hated Reds would blast through the Fulda Gap at any moment. Our unit was always on alert, which actually meant we were never really on alert. It was impossible to maintain a constant state of readiness. Eventually, most people slid into an “eat, drink, and merry, for tomorrow we die” attitude. I certainly did. It was kind of schizophrenic. We knew that we could be at war on any given day, but somehow, we never believed it would happen.

I was deployed in West Germany in the early 1980’s. Many years after I left the Army, I met a man at a party who was from the Ukraine. Vladimir was with me at a gathering of Zen Buddhists. No good reason for both of us to be there, other than some very weird karma. Vladimir and I struck up a conversation, and I found out that he had served in the Soviet Army in the late 1980’s. He had been stationed with an Air Defense Artillery unit in East Germany. We had a long talk about the bad old days. I told him about how I flew helicopters, and he told me about how he was trained to shoot them down. We had never faced each other across the Iron Curtain, but we had been on opposing teams.

That was the first and only time that I ever spoke with one of the “enemy”. When I was in the Army, we never thought of the Soviets as “people”. They were always the OPFOR, or the Reds, or Ivan. It did not occur to any of us that the guys on the other side of the fence were, well, just guys. After I met Vladimir, it dawned on me that he was a lot like me. If the balloon had gone up back in the 80’s, we would never have had our discussion. One or both of us would have been dead.

It might be worthwhile to consider the fact the Russian soldiers are, in many ways, just like the Ukrainians, or just like us. They have spouses and parents and siblings. They have hopes and fears similar to our own.

The Russians love their children too.

One Year

February 4th, 2022

My wife and I have been the primary caregivers for our 14-month-old grandson, Asher, for an entire year. February 2nd was the anniversary date. I’m not sure that this is a reason for celebration. It is simply a fact.

It has been an exciting year. Becoming Asher’s kinship caregivers, and later his foster parents, has changed our lives significantly. Karin and I used to look for things to do. That is no longer the case. We always have something to do.

In think that we have learned a lot during the last twelve months. I know that I have. Raising a small child at our age is an exercise of both discovery and of recollection. With Asher some things are strange and new. Other things feel very familiar. It is rare that a person gets to be a “new parent” twice in life, however Karin and I having that experience.

So, what have we learned?

First, we have learned that Asher is not our child. We are not his father and mother, although in many ways we act in the role of parents. We are only Asher’s caregivers. The goal is for Asher to one day be completely reunited with his mother. Asher and his mother have a strong bond, and the boy definitely knows who his mama is. Asher does not know his father, and I doubt that he ever will. Karin and I are not Asher’s parents. We do not have that kind of relationship, and we don’t want it. We are only his grandparents, although in a much closer way than is common in most families. We will be deeply involved with Asher’s life until we die. That is for certain.

We have learned that Asher is constantly growing and developing. Every morning when he wakes up, he is a slightly different child. Asher is a moving target. Karin and I have to constantly change with him. Every day his capabilities improve. Every day his needs are altered. He is teething now. He is starting to walk on his own. He can play with the dogs. He wants a variety of foods. Each day I meet a new little boy is named Asher.

We have learned how intrusive the government can be. For better or worse, the state of Wisconsin has taken an active interest in Asher’s welfare. That is probably a good thing. However, this has made our lives more complicated. Karin and I have to follow specific guidelines for raising Asher, and we have people checking up on us. There is a bureaucracy involved, and it inhibits some of our choices. For instance, Karin and I cannot travel wherever we want to go, unless we get permission from Asher’s case manager. Currently, it is nearly impossible for us to visit our other grandchildren in Texas. If a person wants to keep their personal freedoms and maintain their privacy, they should never become a foster parent.

Karin and I have learned to work as a team, more than we have ever done before in our thirty-seven years of marriage. We have been forced to work together more closely in order to properly care for the little guy. We have become less selfish out of pure necessity. This is a good development. Love does not have much to do with feelings. It has everything to do with actions. In our love for Asher, we have learned to love each other more.

We have learned that Asher is a pure blessing in our lives. Sure, the little boy is a lot of work, but he has brought an enormous amount of joy into our lives. Asher has given us purpose. Sometimes, retirees flounder about in their new state of life. They wonder what to make of all their time. We never wonder what to do. We don’t even think about it. We just do.

Thank God for Asher.

Hustling for Loose Change

February 3rd, 2022

It was cold and windy yesterday as I drove west on Locust Street. Locust Street is a main thoroughfare on the north side of Milwaukee. On the eastern edge of town, near Lake Michigan and UWM, the street is bordered by big, old, well-kept homes. A couple miles to the west, the street is bordered by big, old, rundown homes. It doesn’t take long at all for the neighborhood to change radically for the worse. On the lakefront, the buildings belong to people with deep pockets. Further west, near 7th Street, the houses are inhabited by people who struggle to make ends meet.

Just to west of the 7th Street, Locust crosses over I-43. At the far end of the bridge is an onramp to the freeway. There is almost always a panhandler standing next to the traffic light at the entrance to the onramp. Even when the weather is bitterly cold, like it was yesterday, somebody is standing there trying to hustle some cash. It is never the same person at the light. Every time I drive to that onramp, I see somebody new. Sometimes it’s a black individual, sometimes the person is white. Sometimes I see a woman, sometimes a man. They might be dressed shabbily, or they might have decent clothes. The only common denominator is that the person always holds a cardboard sign with some kind of hastily scrawled message like: “Homeless. Need money”, or “Anything will help”.

Yesterday the person on duty was a young, white woman in a blue quilted coat. She had it bundled up all the way over her mouth and nose. Between her knit cap and the turned-up collar of her jacket, I could only make out her eyes.

The light at the on ramp had just turned red. I stopped and rolled down my window. I motioned to the girl to come closer to my car. I handed her a twenty, and I asked her,

“What’s your name?”

There was a muffled reply.

I said, “I couldn’t hear you. What’s your name again?”

She spoke more distinctly, “Amber.”

“Hi Amber. I’m Frank. Are you doing okay?”

She replied, “I’m fine.”

“Fine” can mean a lot of things. I was told once that “FINE” was an acronym for “Fucked up, Insecure, Neurotic, and Evasive”.

Amber pocketed the bill and told me, “Drive safely, and have a good evening.”

The light turned green, and I drove away.

As I merged into the freeway traffic, I thought about Amber. Why was she standing there? I know that she was trying to make some money, but there are easier ways to do that. I worked in the cold for years, and I know from experience that standing in an Arctic wind is not a good deal. She seemed like an intelligent young woman. Why was she panhandling in freezing weather?

Why does anybody stand by that traffic light to hustle loose change from surly commuters? It’s not a good gig. In the present economy a person can get a job almost instantly. Why not work steady?

When I give a person cash at that onramp, I always ask them their name, and how they are. I want to connect with them on a human level, even if it is only for a moment. Some of the panhandlers don’t care. Some of them light up like Christmas trees when I take the time to talk with them. A few of them ask me how I am. A few of them try to tell me their entire life story in the time it takes for the traffic light to change. Some just smile and give me their blessing.

I don’t know why Amber was there yesterday. I don’t know why any of those people were there on any given day. I try not to judge. Are some of them lazy? Probably. Are some of them addicts? Probably. Are some of them simply incapable of holding a job? I’m sure of that. I have met people who can’t stay employed no matter how hard they try.

I truly believe that none of these individuals wanted to be standing on that piece of concrete near the onramp. Nobody wants to do that. Each of them was there because of desperation. Somehow, they thought that begging strangers for money was the best, and perhaps, only choice left to them. All I know is that each panhandler was in need: in need of money, and in need of compassion.

I tried to give them a bit of both.

What Use Are They?

January 27th, 2022

“Sir, what is the use of a newborn baby?” -Benjamin Franklin, while he was in Paris in 1783

I love to watch Asher play. Our grandson is a little over one-year-old now, and his play is his work. I am fascinated at how he concentrates so intently on what he’s doing. He takes a small, smooth stone and he tries to place into the bed of a tiny toy dump truck. He uses his delicate fingers to turn the rock this way and that, until he finally gets it to fit into the truck. Sometimes his face shows signs of frustration as he struggles to maneuver the little stone. Finally, when he has it sitting how he wants, Asher looks upon his finished task with a smile of satisfaction.

What is the use of a newborn baby? What is the use of a toddler, for that matter?

I spoke with my son, Stefan, a couple days ago. We were talking about work. I am retired now, but Stefan is starting his career as a journeyman welder in the Iron Workers Union. Stefan said this to me about his time in school,

“They don’t teach you to think in school. Why would they want to do that? They just want you to fit into the system. The economy needs workers. The schools provide the workers for the corporations.”

Stefan is correct to a large degree. Our society resembles that of an ant colony. We need workers and soldiers to keep things running. The education system supplies the people that our economy and government demand. Many teachers work very hard to develop the minds of their students, but the system itself is designed to feed the needs of an insatiable machine.

Stefan went on, “And don’t get hurt on the job. Once you’re not making a profit for somebody, you’re done.”

Stefan is right there too. I had my leg crushed by a forklift at work back in 2009. I still have six screws and a plate in my right foot and ankle. I healed well enough to return to work. I knew other employees who were not so fortunate. Their backs and shoulders were ruined from decades of physical labor, but some of them could never prove that to the satisfaction of workers comp. So, they were discarded.

What use is a man or woman who is no longer “productive”? What is the use of worker who can’t work?

I used to visit patients in the psych ward of the local VA Hospital. Despite their physical and mental health issues, they often listened to me. They helped me to understand the experiences my son, Hans, had when he was deployed to Iraq.

What is the use of a veteran whose mind and spirit have been broken on the wheel of war? What is the use of a soldier who can no longer fight?

My grandmother lived into her nineties. Toward the end of her life, she was crippled by arthritis and nearly blind. When I would visit her, she seldom complained. If she did say anything, it was to protest the fact that she could not work to earn her keep. She found it hard to accept the idea that her experience and wisdom were helping me more than anything else she could have done.

What use is an old person whose body or mind has failed them?

I know a man who did sixteen years in prison for shooting at a cop. He served his time, and now he runs a soup kitchen. He also works to help ex-prisoners to find a place in a new world. This man is making a difference. Others like him find it too difficult to make it on the outside. The transition is too hard.

What use is an ex-prisoner who can’t adapt?

We live in a disposable culture. We easily throw away things. We also throw away people.

I go back to the question posed by Benjamin Franklin centuries ago. In a utilitarian sense, a baby has no practical use. A baby requires none. A baby simply needs to be a baby. The same goes for everyone else I have mentioned. Each individual has an intrinsic value. Each person has dignity as a human being. By virtue of their very existence, every person is of use.

Asher is a child of God, and a source of wonder. So is everyone else.

Cold

January 20th, 2022

It’s 5:00 AM and it’s four degrees Fahrenheit outside. That’s brutal. The sun isn’t up yet, so it will probably get even colder. I don’t plan on going outside very much today.

Our son, Stefan, came over to our house yesterday. His Iron Worker crew was putting up a new bank building in southeast Milwaukee. They quit early because of the strong winds. Stefan and the other guys were using a crane to move the structural beams, but the gusts were too wild to keep the steel from twisting in the breeze. The lengths of steel were going to hit something or somebody, so they gave it up.

Stefan told us that it was also intensely cold at the construction site. The wind chill just made it worse. He could see white clouds billowing from some nearby smokestacks, and those streams of vapor were moving horizontally in the stiff breeze. Stefan had worn all his padded, insulated clothing to the job yesterday, and his hands were still going numb by the time he quit working.

I worked in the cold for many years. I know from experience that sometimes it is impossible to wear enough clothing to keep sufficiently warm. A person can only bundle up so much. Protective clothing may keep a person comfortable for a few hours, but not for an entire shift. I could never work outside for ten or twelve hours straight. I had to take breaks to warm up inside the office, at least for a few minutes.

I supervised a third shift dock operation at a trucking company. I opened up the facility every Monday at about 1:00 AM. In winter the concrete dock was dark and cold. On especially frigid nights, I would turn on the overhead lights on the dock and watch them flicker for a while. The fluorescent lights would struggle dimly until the ballasts warmed up a bit. The bitter cold was unpleasant, but the gloom of the dock was unnerving.

Nothing wanted to move on the really cold nights. Forklifts would not start (even if they had been plugged in). Overhead doors and dock plates were stiff and unwieldly. Both men and machines worked grudgingly. We would bring in a driver to do nothing but start up reluctant tractors for his entire shift.

When I ran that shift, I longed for daybreak. The darkness made the freezing weather somehow more unbearable. The sunrise didn’t really cause the temperature to increase. It gave the illusion of warmth, and sometimes that was good enough.

Dawn on a bitterly cold day is a strange thing. The air is clearer than usual, and objects in the distance have a sharp edge to them. The sun comes over the horizon like an orange ball of flame, but it gives no heat with its light. It is like a frozen fire.

I retired six years ago. One of the main reasons for quitting my job was to avoid working outside during another winter. Working in the cold drains the energy from a person’s body. At the end of a shift, I would go home, eat supper, take a shower, and go directly to bed. A few hours later, I would wake up and do it all over again. The winters wore me out.

I can see the same thing happening with Stefan. He is young, but the cold takes a visible toll on him. Eventually, he will be worn out too. There is no avoiding it.

Tight Dharma

January 20th, 2022

I just put Asher down for a nap. Our thirteen-month-old grandson is taking a well-deserved break. So am I. When Asher rests, I rest.

A couple weeks ago, the Zen sangha began the annual period of “Heart Kyol Che.” What is “Heart Kyol Che”? I’ll let our abbot, Peter, explain:

“Kyol Che is a traditional Korean Zen retreat. The name means “tight dharma” or “coming together.” In Korea, it is the three-month winter and summer periods when monks and nuns do intensive sitting practice in the mountain temples.


The Heart Kyol Che is an opportunity for students who cannot sit the traditional Kyol Che, or who can sit only part of it, to participate by doing extra practice at home and doing together practice as they are able. This will run concurrently with the traditional Kyol Che. By doing this Heart Kyol Che together, we will strengthen our own practice, and provide support to our fellow students who are able to sit the traditional Kyol Che. We in turn can draw inspiration and energy from their commitment.”

Heart Kyol Che is a struggle for me. I would like to do sitting meditation. I would like to chant sometimes. It just doesn’t happen. I wrote an email to the other member of the Zen group about my concerns. Here it is (slightly redacted):

“I just put Asher down for a nap. I am keeping an ear open in case he rouses himself. Even when he sleeps, I need to be wary.


Anyway, I briefly attended the opening for Heart Kyol Che yesterday morning. It was a similar situation. Asher was asleep, and then he wasn’t. 


I was interested in the comments about committing to doing extra practice. They made me smile. How can I commit to doing anything more than what I am doing now? I got up at 5:00 this morning to get ready for Asher, and I have been watching him ever since he woke up dark and early. (Karin is asleep. She needs it.) When Asher is up again, I will be right back at it: feeding, carrying, and cleaning him. I guess holding a toddler’s hand for a couple hours qualifies as walking meditation. 


The point is that all of the standard practice that we do is currently not possible for me. I haven’t sat on a cushion in well over a year, and I don’t see that happening any time in the near future. My focus is solely on our little blond sumo wrestler. There is nothing else that can take priority over Asher. Nothing. 
We are supposed to gain enlightenment and save all sentient beings. Well, Asher is my path to enlightenment. He keeps me in the moment, and he constantly shows me how I can help. I love him when he smiles. I love him when he plays with his toy trucks. I love him when he shits his diaper.” 

I received several responses to my message. They were generally supportive, or at least understanding. Peter’s message was wise and reassuring:

“For sure, your practice now is Asher practice! I liked what Zen Master Dae Kwang said in his talk about Heart Kyol Che is all about intentions. (I think you may have dropped off to do Asher practice by then.) Anyway, I don’t think anyone is expecting you to do any practice other than Asher practice. That is your practice now.


We sometimes have the mistaken view that “practice” is something special, out of our normal life. This is not the case, quite the opposite. Yes, we have some additional practice forms that people can do, but practice for me is just waking up to each moment and being present to life and how we are living it.


As you know, we do have some different formal practice forms that can help us in achieving this wakeup, which can be as simple as reciting Kwan Seum Bosal on a male (much like rosary practice), or just sitting for a few minutes while Asher sleeps. These little practice tidbits have helped me in the past when our kids were young, and I didn’t have much extra time. But I think the best practice is just being present with Asher, Karin, and your family now.”

Other people from the sangha told me similar things. As Peter mentioned, “practice” is part of everyday life. It has to be. Otherwise, all the meditation and chanting and bowing that are typically aspects of Zen are just sterile exercises.

It is the same with other spiritual traditions. As a Catholic, I engage in a number of rituals (e.g., attending Mass). The sacraments of the Catholic Church are there to bring a person closer to God. Being closer to God means becoming more compassionate and loving. From what I have experienced, the prayers and rituals of the Jewish tradition exist for a similar reason.

Religious exercises need to have a litmus test in the physical world. If my “practice”, whatever it may be, does not help me to better love God and my neighbor, then I am wasting my time.

Prayer in Action

January 18th, 2021

“See how these Christians love one another.”- Tertullian

Jeanine brought us dinner on Sunday evening. She carried into our house a large pot of chicken soup, along with some bread, fruit, and gelato. Karin was thrilled that Jeanine gave us all this.

She told Jeanine, “Oh, thank you so much! This is a lifesaver!”

Karin may have exaggerated, but not by much. Getting a home cooked meal from somebody is a big deal for us. We don’t hardly ever cook. We care for our toddler grandson, Asher, 24/7. It is difficult for us to find time to sit down and eat a meal, much less find the time to prepare one. We get takeout sometimes, but mostly we just grab a bite to eat when Asher is napping.

Jeanine didn’t have to cook for us. She didn’t have to drive half an hour to our home to deliver the food. She knew that we are continually focused on Asher, and she wanted to help us. She wanted to care for us as we care for Asher.

Jeanine and her husband, Kevin, are members of our church. They go to the same Mass that we do each Sunday. Karin used to sing in the choir with Jeanine in the days before Asher came into our lives. They are good friends.

Karin and I always bring Asher with us to Mass. Well, we have to do that. We certainly can’t leave a one-year-old at home by himself. Jeanine greets Asher when she comes into the church. She smiles at the boy, and he smiles back.

Jeanine told us, “We love Asher. He brings us such joy!”

Jeanine wasn’t just being nice. She meant what she said. Asher is exceedingly popular at Mass. He really does bring joy to the members of the congregation.

One woman said to us, “You do such a good job with him. He is so well-behaved.”

I don’t know how to respond to that. The kid is only thirteen months old. Can a child that age act “well-behaved” in any meaningful sense? He is who he is. Asher isn’t doing anything. He is just being Asher, and he is loved for that reason alone.

People at our church say that they pray for us. We are grateful for that. Quite often they do more than just pray. They ask us how we are. They call or write to us. They give us things for Asher. Sometimes, like Jeanine, they feed us.

Prayer, if authentic, motivates the pray-er to do something. Prayer leads to words, which lead to action. If I sincerely pray for a person, I will reach out to them. I will help them as best I can. I may not be able to solve their problems. I may not be able to ease their suffering. However, I will ensure that they are not forgotten.

Prayer and love are intimately related. Christians are supposed to love each other and pray for each other. Sometimes we pray, but we don’t really love. If that is the case, then our prayers are sterile and dead.

Many Christians have gone out of their way to help Karin, Asher, and myself. I have to note that we have also received prayers and assistance from our friends who are Jewish, Buddhist, and Muslim. Christians do not have a monopoly on love and compassion, not by any means.

We are grateful to all of these people. We only hope that we can pray for them and render them aid when they need us. We want our prayers to be more than just good intentions.