The Evil Eye

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I don’t know if Helene Friedman is alive anymore, but I do have fond memories.  About half of what she said was incomprehensibly Yiddish, but I found her antics generally entertaining.  She was quite old and feeble, and an infamous “cat-lady,” who always seemed to just “appear out of thin air” holding two cat carriers.  The few dollar bills she could produce were damp from inside her brassiere, and her glasses were literally taped together.  One thing that sticks with me, after 25 years, is her saying something about “Kinna Hurra,” which she said was so I would not get the evil eye.  It was all a bit of nonsense to me, reminiscent of the “stink eye” mentioned in the movie Juno, or that unpleasant leer Michelle Obama whips out sometimes.  But apparently that’s not at all what she was referring to.

My Rabbi client was in the other day and I mentioned this, and he smiled amusingly at me like my Spanish clients do when I make an attempt at saying something coherent in their language.

“You must mean, ‘Kein Ayin Hora,’ which is the Yiddish version of the Hebrew, ‘Bli Ayin Hara.'”

“Yes, of course that’s surely what I meant,” I smiled back, equally entertained at myself.

“What the heck does it mean?”

The good Rabbi gave me two explanations.

  1. The more traditional describes the “curse” placed on someone who succeeds or attains goals or wealth.  A less fortunate person would look with great jealousy (ayin hara) at his brother and pray to Almighty Gd, complaining of the inequity.  The “evil eye” has effectively placed a “hex.”  The would result in someone acting or showing less evidence of success to avoid such a curse.  Likewise, if complimented, he might say “Kinna Hurra,” or actually spit afterwards, to avoid the curse (apparently evil spirits don’t like spit).  And so when one observes something good happening, he then quickly follows up with this expression, so as not to “jinx” the apparent good outcome.  (I laughed out loud because I remembered Helene actually spitting after uttering her kinnahurra, and how taken back I was that she would do so in my exam room!)
  2. The explanation he said he liked better was deeper, and probably more meaningful to me, as a Christian.  “One of your ‘Catholic Books’ is called Tobit  (I nodded, because  I had recently read these 7 books tossed during the reformation, and remembered it pretty well).  Well Tobit, as well as Proverbs, refers to the concept of the ‘eye’ as a window, letting in light.”

But the ancients also thought of the eye another way, as lights shining interior light of the body.  Psalm 38 talks about ‘eyes as having lost their luster.’  Of course you are thinking in medical terms, Dr. Bill, but this isn’t scientific, or medical.  It’s the observation that someone’s eyes show their inner character.

I shared that Matthew and Luke both talk about the eyes showing light or darkness within.  The Rabbi smiled approvingly, and continued,

So, Matthew and Luke make more sense now – if the eye is generous, it is bright and the body is filled with interior light or goodness. But if the eye is set on cursing others, the body is full of darkness.

And so, my friend, the little old woman in your memory was not only wishing you well, but paying you the highest compliment.  She felt you were generous and had treated her kindly.

I thought of Helene recently, which is probably why this story was in my mind when the Rabbi came in.  I was on a bus at the North American Veterinary Conference, shuttling between the two meeting venues when I looked over to the other side of the road to see an elderly woman running with a hand-written cardboard sign.  In her other hand she held a pet carrier that she was swinging wildly.  This strange sight caught the attention of the bus-load full of veterinarians, until the cage door sprung open and her few clothes and possessions fell to the ground.  Many people in nearby cars seemed amused, smiling as they looked away, but my stomach fell to the floor, as I continued to watch.  She dropped the broken cage and started wiping her face, over and over again, as her tears continued to stream down her cheeks.  As she placed her glasses back on her face, I saw the tape holding them together.

As the light changed to green, my bus rolled away, and I smiled to see brake-lights of someone stopping to help her.

And so, the eyes are the window to the inner character, and perhaps the soul itself.

Do we look away with Ayin Hara, an evil eye of inner darkness, or do we look compassionately with Ken Ayin Hara, a generous eye shining with an inner light?

I’ll continue to fail miserably, I’m sure.  However, I am beginning to recognize Him along my own journey to Emmaus.  I’m reminded of a prayer shared with me by a Jesuit at Whitehouse Retreat in St. Louis:

Lord, keep me ever mindful, that we are always in your presence.

 

Image result for homeless woman with cat  Beautiful Eye

 

Christmas 2014, A Parable for Today

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A while back, I walked the Camino de Santiago as part of my grief healing process after losing my son.  I had been informed, and found it true, that the spirituality, the soul saving energy of the Holy Spirit was “so thick there that you could cut it with a knife.”  The love and fraternity penetrated every perigrino, the pilgrims there for so many reasons, with such affect and effect that even the social participants would be changed forever.  Especially during the evenings at the albergues, the Spanish hostels for pilgrims, where sharing, toasting and camaraderie were evident. It was truly one of the highlights of my life – so much so that I would return back to operate my own albergue along “the way.”

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And so, I saw myself working with such effort that I was exhausted each day.  We decided to operate our hostel for no set fee, the pilgrim would pay what they could afford, a tariff called “donitivo,” or simply, donation of what one feels is worthy.  At the beginning, it was like my first marathon – exhilarating at each day’s finish line, but so worth it that even my wife, who I pulled into this journey with me, felt this service fulfilling.  But this calling began to take its toll.  We certainly collected enough to pay our bills, as many donated much, much more than the 12 euro typical of most albergues with set fees.  But day after day, week after week, year after year we were worn down.

Much like the decades of veterinary medicine I practiced, I loved the calling, the connections I made, the love and brotherhood I shared.  I knew what I was doing was worthwhile, and made a difference in so many lives, but, still, after all the time, we were just weary.  Some days turned into most days that I wondered if people cared how much effort was involved in what I did for them.  And like the few that didn’t seem to appreciate my veterinary service, the traveler or two that didn’t express appreciation or even pay anything at all for the meal and bed that we provided began to hurt my feelings.

I grew indignant, such that I looked forward to the slow season, when fewer and fewer people would impose upon me.  I was just plain tired.  And so when November, and then December rolled around, I was so relieved.  Imagine my frustration when, at the end of December, more tour groups came through and kept me at capacity for day after day, and now weeks of exhaustion.  Every night, Sharon and I melted into our bed, only to be startled a few hours later to start it all over again.  Preparing their food, and changing the linens on the beds that the next nights refugees would so appreciate.

And so that night, ever so memorable, began just like every other.  It was cold, we were full, and the words came so easily – “sorry but we’re full – continue on to the next town,” where lodging might be available.  But this was different.  These travelers were so presumptuous, even inconsiderate.  It was well after ten, and they thought there were vacancies?  We had been full, and turning people away since 2 o’clock!  But what was most inconsiderate was not the hour, but the condition of these travelers.  He was old and clearly out of shape, and she was very pregnant.  What the heck were they thinking, doing the Camino at all, in their conditions, much less when it was so cold.  Their previous town had been well over 10 kilometers prior, how could he possibly expect her to make it here, and now … nothing for another 18 kilometers.  They could never continue on.

I reminisced back to that night, forever ago, when I trudged ahead on my own first Camino, so cold and tired, only to find the fee for lodging I so desperately needed to be “cash only,” and more than I had remaining in my pocket.  The tears were streaming down my cheeks as I was turned away, on to the next town, in the freezing driving rain.

This was precisely why I had no set fee – someone might need my help and not have whatever I wanted to charge.  A donation of the travelers’ choosing seemed so appropriate.  And this was, in fact, the tradition, a thousand years ago, when so many saints and sinners, including my favorite St Francis, had walked this Camino de Santiago.

It’s hard to put into words my appreciation, that first Camino, when just around the corner from where I had been turned away in that freezing rain, was a different albergue, one that wasn’t in the guidebook, that allowed me to stay for what I could afford.

Sharon startled me from those memories, when she whispered into my ear what I should have thought of myself as the weary couple turned and walked away in disappointment.  “We’ll make room somewhere, they can even stay in our room,  they’ll never make it to the next town.  Besides, they’re probably also full at this hour.”

“Wait!” I shouted as they disappeared in the dark, “If you want to, you can sleep in with the pups.”

To help pay the bills, we raised boxer dogs and had a litter almost ready to wean in what used to be the garage.  It was foul smelling of canine waste, and probably loud with whining and barking, but at least they would have a cover for the night.

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I was surprised that my wife wasn’t happy with me.  Apparently she was serious about giving up our own bed.  She was nuts, there was no way I was going to go without, because of someone else’s lack of planning. I was tired, and had worked hard.

My heart was full of chaos, I was exhausted, and I needed rest for tomorrow.  But there would never be another tomorrow.  My life would be demanded of me tonight.  And in my business, I had missed Him in our midst.  I’d prepared my entire life for this very night, and yet my own lamp was without oil.

I failed to recognize Joseph as my brother.

But I had given them shelter.  Wasn’t that good enough?  Was it?

I’d never killed anyone or robbed, or cheated, or told any big lies.  Wasn’t that good enough?

I had allowed the mother of my Lord to sleep with my dogs.  How could I possibly know she would have the child that night?  I hadn’t turned them away, had I?

Would you have?

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What if There is No God?

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Yeah, Yeah, I know lots of folks are pretty sure its all a “fairy tale,” and God doesn’t exist.  Although most of the people in “my bubble” are pretty convinced that there is a god, I’m well aware that many seemingly good, nice people do not believe.

In the Mayberry I grew up in, we all did.  And we were all Christians.  I met my first Jew when I was 12, at Camp Zoe – he was singing “If I Were a Rich Man,” from Fiddler on the roof, and I remember he had a box of candy under his pillow and was really funny, but must have been homesick, because he cried in bed every-night.  A few years later Pentecostal classmate accused me of not being a Christian when she discovered I was Catholic, and I didn’t really have a reply.  I was pretty dumbfounded that she could think such a thing.  But it urged me to do some research so I did have a reply when a similar remark was made at an Amy Grant Concert ten years later.  Only in a college “comparative religion” class was I really forced to consider other world religions, and even atheism.

I got an “A” in the oral argument/debate/logic half of the class, but barely passed the assignment effectively requiring us to “admit” the absence of any proof of god, and that all religions are effectively absurd.  (In fact he used that word).  I spent my thousand words explaining very logically how “absurd” it was to consider such a complicated world as this could exist without a creator directing the very beginning, and the course of nature – evolution, if you like.  I got a C on the thesis, with only a comment that it was a shame that I hadn’t paid any attention to him all year long.  (That kind of arrogance smacks of the recent movie, God’s Not Dead.

Anyway, I’m a big boy, and I realize lots of smart people think they have everything figured out, and so they have no proof for “God.”  I’ve sparred online lots of times, cause although I HATE big confrontations, I still like a well thought out and reasoned dialogue.  But I continue to be floored when someone looks me in the face, and tells me, in person, that they don’t believe in the existence of God.

So there I was last week, in surgery, where I solve most of the world’s problems, when someone (I’ll call her Sara) walks into the conversation I was having with someone else about theology (imagine that!), and matter-of-factly says she doesn’t believe in God.  Nope, she and her brother decided it – they were convinced that there is no God.

So, of course, I was more than a little surprised, and the room was eerily quiet sans life monitoring beeps from three machines.  Finally, my gay technician broke the silence, with an astonished, “REALLY???”  “So you consider yourself an atheist???!!!” She puffed her chest out and reiterated that she was quite sure.  He just stood there shaking his head, saying he wasn’t convinced we had all of Christ’s teachings just right, but he was positive there is a God, and that He helps him constantly.

The best I could come up with was, “So the fact that the existence of God hasn’t been objectively proven to you, is proof enough that there is NOT a god?”  Afraid that I was setting a trap, she hesitatingly said, “Yeah, I guess.”  My mind and my heart wanted to take her a hundred places, with a thousand experiences, seemingly revelations for me.  But in a right-brain/left-brain flash of a second, I realized these were personal revelations, and there would be no possible way any of this information could be useful, or convincing for her.  Pascal’s wager came to mind, but I realized that souls are never saved by winning an argument.  No, besides it was probably also inappropriate banter for an employee/employer type relationship.

She said lots of people have tried to show her the error in her thinking, but this apparently just seem to strengthen her resolve.  “Yeah, ha ha, I’ll probably get sent to hell, but I just don’t believe it.  When you die, its over.  That’s it.  Nothing after.”  I was horrified at the thought.  Really?  Nothing after?  Then what’s the point?  Indeed, there would be no point.

I told her, my own leanings were closer to, “we choose” to be in God’s presence, or to be away from Him, based on our beliefs and how we live our lives.  It seemed like a good starting place to begin, and end this conversation.  To plant a few seeds, and do my best to “act” like a Christian.  Isn’t that the best evangelizing?  So they’ll “know we are Christians by our love.”

But then Sara continued, “But why does everyone have to shove their religion down my throat?”  Glad that I, in fact, had elected not to do that, I mused.  But then I replied to her question.

“Suppose you and some others you really care about, your family, were all exposed to Ebola, and the cure had been discovered, and was available in Sikeston, MO, and free to anyone who got there in time.  Well you know where Sikeston is, because you have a map.  You’re convinced the map is accurate, and so, again, you are positive that you know how to get to Sikeston.  Isn’t it loving to tell your family how to get there?  In fact, wouldn’t you be a selfish jerk if you saw someone headed on the wrong road, towards Dallas, or New York?  They might be able to get to Sikeston via these other places, but isn’t it most loving and compassionate to share your knowledge with people you care about?”

Before she could doubt the accuracy of the map, I quickly added, “Whether or not it can be proven that the map is correct is irrelevant; you asked why someone might be compelled to ‘shove their religion down someone else’s throat.’  Even if they’re wrong, they’re doing it out of love.  They want to save someone else’s life, and they personally are positive they know where the cure is.  They might have even taken the same road, and even “gone to Dallas,” only to realize they were so fortunate to get a “do-over.”  Many don’t.  So it makes it a bit easier to “swallow” when we realize it’s really out of love that this is done, and that you’d be a bit of a jerk if you didn’t care enough to share.

Why not “live and let live,” and “coexist?”  Suppose you see your neighbor pull out of his driveway with his coffee-cup or phone on the roof of his car.  Don’t you care enough about him to wave and yell at him?

This conversation was “about a week ago,” and clearly I’m still thinking about it.  What exactly is our level of responsibility to our “neighbors?”  Do we let them head towards Dallas, when they may die of “the virus” before they realize there’s nothing there to save them?  Do we let the coffee cup smash to the ground?  And who, exactly is  my neighbor?

I read a FB post a few days ago condemning “imposing our religions” on our children.  “Let them wait until they’re adults, and can decide for themselves.”  I’m so thankful my parents did such a horrible thing to us, so I could in turn do so to my own.  I believe, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that “imposing my parent’s religion” saved my son Cullen’s eternal life.  Indeed, at the end of the day, at the end of our days, nothing else matters.  That’s the point.

But what makes me squirm, and probably why I’m sitting down on a Friday night with a couple of IPAs in front of the keyboard, is another question.  It’s nothing new, and I’ve read much more intelligent people than myself discourse about it.  What if someone could and did prove that there is no god.  How would that affect life?  Clearly I have no idea how others would respond, but how would I respond?

I mean, really – do I try my hardest to be a good person and to live a loving life only because Jesus of Nazareth was killed for telling me to do so?  Is His staying on the cross to bleedout and suffocate the epitome of self-sacrifice as an example that there is no greater love than to lay down one’s own life for those who hate?  Or what if the Discovery Channel’s special a few years ago really had opened a tomb and found Jesus’ bones?  Would this be “proof” that He did not resurrect and ascend?  Or what if Paulkovich is right and Jesus never even existed as a historical figure?

Clearly I’m convinced these are absurd assertions.  Paulkovich is an engineer, and probably reasonably intelligent, but from what I’ve read, no smarter than me, and definitely dwarfed by two thousand years of theologians who have devoted lifetimes to prove, and many attempted to disprove, this very thing.  And what of the thousands of early Christians, especially the apostles who were killed because they refused to recant the story.  Don’t you think even one would have if it had all just been a big lie?  And if even one did admit to the big lie, wouldn’t other religions of that day (and this day) have held them up as “proof?”

But again, let’s just, for argument sake, query this.  What if someone could and did prove that there is no god.  Is it a coincidence that every civilization and every culture has an idea of god?  Why is this so important to humans?  Is there this “space” inside each of us that only God can fill, and so we do our best to do so?  Is it relevant that Christianity is the only world religion based on a real historical person?

How would I respond?  How would you?  Is it even possible for someone of deep faith to imagine their world without?  And what is our responsibility to others?  Are we truly “in it alone?”  Or are we our brother’s keepers?

I always post all comments, but please be civil and respectful.

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Road to Emmaus

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Everyone who knows me, knows that I have a horrible memory.  Not just, “Where did I put my car keys?” or “Crap, I forgot why I came in here” type of bad memory, rather more like, “I could hide my own Easter eggs!”  I could watch the same movie ten times and be shocked each time at the ending!

So, I dread seeing clients in public.  As a veterinarian, I form personal relationships with my clients, and get to know them, their children, and their pets – often a very real part of their family.  People appreciate when you connect with them, and I do genuinely love my job and (most of) my clients and their “families.”  So when I greet them by name and remember their kids, and that their cat purrs on Grandpa’s lap and the dog digs up the daffodils and enjoys leg humping Uncle Donnie, and never left Maggies side when she had cancer surgery, I get to show them that I understand, and that I’m honored to also be included in their family’s story.  But remember, I have “crib notes” or “cheat sheets” called a medical chart.  I’ve not only read “Otis’s medical notes, but also the post-it notes attached that remind me of the personal stuff.  Please know that I am truly interested in you personally and your family, but frankly, I do well to remember my own Kayla’s swim meet this weekend, or that I agreed to pick up printer ink for Noah’s book report on my home tonight.

So that explains the “deer in the headlights” look in my eyes when I see you at the grocery store, as I cheerfully blurt out, “OH Hi!! How ARE you???!!!”  But, I really don’t have a clue who you are.  Now I do know you look familiar, and so you probably are a client, and I very much appreciate that you like me, and I truly do like you also.  Because I like everyone, or most people anyway.  And I really and truly DO wish I could remember stuff like that, because you really ARE important to me – and not just professionally, because you pay the bills.  No, much more so because I believe “we’re all in this together,” and I do enjoy your company and your stories.

But that’s the sort of stuff that settled into my mind as I listened to Luke’s gospel today about the two disciples on the road to Emmaus.  Apparently, these were two guys that were with Jesus daily, were His friends, and actually saw Him perform miracles.  The loved Him dearly as a friend, broke bread with Him, and actually heard Him say the words of everlasting life, that He would be resurrected and come back.  And yet these two disciples, who knew Him so well, didn’t know Him after all.  They didn’t recognize Him at all as they walked down the road for miles.  Only that night, when they again broke bread together did the light bulb go on.

Which is a pretty transparent segway to my own road.  Where is Emmaus anyway?  I guess none of us know exactly where this road will end, but I truly have learned that we encounter our Lord multiple times on this journey.

An therein lies my real dread.  When I don’t recognize Christ in those I encounter, I’ve lost that opportunity forever to impact that person’s life.  How many times have I walked on past my Lord, too busy to care, too focused on myself and my family, too forgetful to remember that I really do know this stranger.

As I begin my Camino de Santiago in 14 days, I’ll try to remember that those I’ll encounter are already friends.  And when I return, I can only hope that I will have learned some valuable lessons.  But most importantly, I desire a better ability to remember the one I’m actually looking for.

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