The Year of the Cat :)

To the reader: One picture is slightly adult and immodest in content. This is your warning. :)

Exactly one year ago, I received a phone call at 6:30 in the morning from a young women in Ellsworth named Jane. Her call was the culmination of six months of advice and was to change my life a little bit more than I expected... because she brought Morianna into my life.

When I lived in Vegas, I used to do a lot of volunteer work for a an animal shelter called the Ark. It was a pretty large shelter and dealt with the majority of strays that were caught in the city limits. I thoroughly enjoyed some of the new skills that I learns and I was soon one of the leaders in training stray cat to become 'smooshable' - a skill that is needed for many people to choose them for a pet. It was a fun place to volunteer, where I saw some awful and sad things, but I also gained great friends, some of the most wonderful companions that I was to know over the last decade or so, and some neat skills that I figured I wouldn't use again after moving to Maine. (I also gained some wonderful rabbits for my grandfather and a few fun hamsters as well.) A few years ago when I had some spare time and my life was beginning its horrible upheaval, the 'local' shelter in Maine started a thrift store in Blue Hill to raise money and I happily joined its volunteer staff. I tagged items, sold them, and tried to help move items quickly to get as much money as I could thinking of the animals that would benefit by my service since the shelter itself was so far away. At one point a woman waked in and told me about some stray cats that lived behind the Riverside cafe and expressed her concern about their future lives and what could be done. I gave her advice on how to catch them- the slow but almost always successful way- and agreed to pick them up and get them to the shelter after she had been successful.

Six months later, I received a call saying she would try the next day and success! She caught a very terrified gray Persian covered with mattes... and eyes the six of dinner plates (maybe about six months old). Twelve hours later, I picked up my trap full with two slightly younger cats of clear mixed heritage... the spitting image of each other in markings though not color. I happily called the local shelter (also called the Ark) and was very distressed to learn a few hard facts. One is that while the Ark in Cherryfield, Maine is a shelter, they are very selective in the animals that they select- only animals that are healthy and appear easily adoptable as accepted with a donation. As I looked through the resources that I had I found that there is no really good funded organization for strays in this state and so the cats only options became clear. I dealt with them or they would be put to sleep. So I realized that all the cats that so many of us as volunteers and as shoppers thought we were supporting were not the lonely hurt strays we imagined. I still love the idea of the Ark and while think it serves a very useful purpose, I think that my energy needs to be more towards the smaller, less known, and less funded organizations that actually help the most needy and vulnerable... the feral population.

That didn't change my current situation however. I now had three stray cats in various stages of ill health and not even a real roof over my head. I needed to deal with the difficulties of introducing Brock to them slowly and trying to find them homes. In the end, one year later I still have all three of them and they have been one of the biggest blessings that I have gotten in the last year. The first thing I did was set all three of them up in a large dog crate. Their great fear of me was very apparent and I started in on some of the small things that I used to do to gain trust or at least less fear. I waited for a breakthrough and the breakthroughs can be slow (and usually are.) Stray cats that are older than a few weeks have usually had a few really bad experiences, bad nutrition as well as difficulties in their gestation and early weeks. All of these difficulties can cause brain damage, birth defects, disease, etc...

One of the youngest cracked in two days. She is a beautiful black and white female and around 1am she began to wail. Her fear, sorrow and confusion were very evident and I jumped out of bed and fought past the other two cats to clutch her in my hand. With the recklessness of past experience and the joy of the blessing, I held her softly against my bare skin (yes, I don't wear much to sleep) and crooned a hymn with some clicking and slow notes. For an hour I prayed and held her singing and talking softly and soon I was able to hold her and get dressed without a
great deal of fear from her. By morning, I could sit against the wall, warm and well dressed with a still slightly scared animal, but one who was open to learning about me. She became Morianna, my great companion, who would jump onto the bed for a few pats and would happily act kitteny one minute and feral the next. Over the last year, I have discovered a few things. Her health, while sound has been severely affected. She will never be a full size cat and may always be trapped in a 'teenage' body... slightly small and thin. She is not the sharpest cookie that I have ever had and her enthusiasm for fun and adventure can cause her great trouble as she makes the same mistakes over and over again, not learning the lesson the first time.... or the tenth time. :) Her relationship with Maximilian Robespierre
(my gerbil) has grown over time as he has consistently lured her over to the cage and then bitten her. Over time, Robespierre has gotten tired of biting her (or maybe he feels sorry for her or understands her mental limitations) because he now longer bites her and so he will stand up on his hind feet and throw shavings at her or use his hind feet to kick them in her face. Over the year, she has finally learned to sit close... but not too close! Her fear is almost gone... not quite gone, but has disappeared for the most part. But a few days ago, I walked into the kitchen and she did something that no cat that have ever been feral has done to me before....

Just awesome! She is not the smoochiest cat I have ever had, but the blessings she has given me have become more obvious over time. Caring for her and her 'siblings' has allowed me to use my underused skills and has given me some feelings of success in the rest of the failure in my life. When things have become too much, knowing that these guys depended on me for their very lives would push and motivate me to continue forward. When I get off of work, I am excited to come home and say hello to every one. Her brothers are moving forward much more slowly. The gray Persian I have named Smoke for his ability to appear to dissolve into thin air. He has a few problems. Smoke is also trapped in a stunned body and will probably always look like a teenager. He is thin but with his thick hair, he hides it well... He has problems with digestion, but boy, his reflexes are awesome. Give him a few empty studs with no walls and he can get up, jump, and climb up them in 3 seconds tops.
Egg (or Enigma) is blessed with the perfect kitty size. He is the right adult size now and holds his weight well. The only obvious problem that he has is his eyesight. It is poor and his eyes are a bit infected.... not much I can do about it as I can't hold him down three times a day to put ointment in them. All three look forward to my return every day and have even started to play with my hands or feet when I am supine and haven't moved for a while. I am hopeful in the next few years I will have three great companions. They are truly the blessing I didn't expect at the time. :)

What blessings have you gotten in the form of trouble or difficulty? Anything as 'purry' as mine...? :D


2012 Poetry Corner # 9 : 'Beauty in Time'

The Beauty of Time

How do you see the darkness disappear?
Have you watched the dawn return?
I watch the darkness start to fade
and the light slowly seep in...
One long blink and the sky is awash
with color and brightness and clarity
For a new day has begun.

How does the darkness engulf the day?
Have you watched the night close in?
As the sun appears to move away
and the darkness rumbles in...
For a long moment the light will struggle
Soon, its gone
For the night has returned.

Time moves on, slowly yet sure
Until the moment that we change
Enjoy the beauty, breathe in the joy
For you never know when it will be gone.


A Baby Step Forward

So… I have a new place to live! No more tents or cars or anything half baked. I have an actual apartment with a kitchen and *gasp* a bathroom too. : ) I am still moving in and will be for a few weeks, but I am slowly trying to figure out the new routine in my life. Some parts feel so strange and unreal. And I am very much on an emotional roller coaster. I suspect that will continue even as I finish moving the few belongings that I have left into the apartment.

There have been many blessings in this move. One is that I haven’t really had a way to cook really healthy food for a long time. Not having a set kitchen has made things pretty difficult. But I have a kitchen now and some friends have made sure that kitchen wise I am all set! I know have all the needed dishes and I have been spoiled with a hand blender as well as a few other appliances. I have bowls and pans and so now I need to change my old mindset…. as I can cook again! I have gotten in the habit of I can’t cook so why bother and I think that habit has taught me to skip meals like mad – gotta stop doing that too. Another blessing is the opportunity to be able to actually spend time with my cats. My ex is in a bit of a hurry for me to get on my way and so he has been very helpful in giving of his time, energy - and today his blood- to get my stray friends boxed and to the vet for neutering and then pills and flea treatments. They are comfortably resting in the ‘extra’ bedroom in my apartment. (I feel a little ‘wealthy’ and wasteful to have a room for my cats… doesn’t that sound so ridiculous. : ) They will have a bit of storage in their room for a while and as they seem to like using the storage as forts that seems very doable. I don’t have any furniture with the exception of two chairs and a book case, but that seems like a good start. A part of me is starting to feel excited about my new opportunities.

One hardship that I am trying to figure out is the idea of living alone. I have realized as I have thought about it over the last few days that I really have never lived alone. I am not sure that I even really know how to do so. I will hear noises in the night and sit up, confused and frightened… listening and then finally able to go back to sleep. I find myself trying to fill the quiet and even a little bored as I look around wondering what I should do next. (I think putting myself on a schedule will be a bit important to stop that… I don’t think that’s a good habit to start.) I can have horrible dreams- many of which I can’t really fathom how to interpret so I find them not only terrifying but confusing and perplexing as well. So I no longer have any one to disturb if I can’t sleep or I am struggling, but that seems to make the struggle seem more difficult as it becomes even more obvious that I am all alone. I have the freedom to do whatever I want and so, in theory, that should be a benefit. But I guess I haven’t really ever learned to be alone and so I feel it keenly sometimes and I find it very difficult to not just lay down and cry. I find myself starting at the fridge and feeling relief and a little joy that I have food and a fridge and then think… but why bother… no one to eat with. How ridiculous is that? I think in some ways I have become a fresh adult ready and moved out from the parent’s home… I need to learn all the things that I never learned and I need to develop the wish/need to care for myself again. Scheduling, coping, all that stuff.

But I have made a good step forward. I have a safe place to stay and even though I am not sure I want to plants any real ‘roots,’ I can rest and try to figure out what I want to do with the rest of my life. I feel a little like my apartment- mostly empty but with good things and ready to accept them. Bug also enjoyed his visit today and I was able to really enjoy his company and we were both comfortable…. a wonderful experience. So I will see what I can do… and what other steps I can make…. : )


On Children and Rodents...

I had a fairly neat experience the other day. I forget sometimes that not everyone gets the same experiences that I had in my childhood…. And I will admit many parents would probably find my need and almost obsession for a rodent to play with to be at best, bizarre. So having a hamster or mouse to hold and feed and play with is something that I not only enjoy, but I almost do not feel ok without one. (That’s a little hard to explain and many people will not understand so I apologize… but those who do understand will nod and know exactly what I am talking about.)

My current friend is named Maximilian Robespierre. He was a gift from one of my CPR classes- repeat customers are awesome because they remember the things that you like. :) I have never had a gerbil before and he has been quite a new experience for me. For one thing, he is much quicker than a hamster, but not as quick as a mouse. He also has a personality that is pretty hardy and amazing. He loves people and has never bitten anyone; well, except the cats who have tried in the past to figure out how to remove him from his cage. I never knew whether to laugh or cry when I came home and found a cat crying and whining with a hurt paw or nose… and my small white gerbil looking pleased with a bloody face. It is such a bizarre and yet powerful example that my Robespierre has given me over the last year.

So I’m packing and moving and so it was with slight trepidation that I took my current ‘rodent-in-residence’ and strapped him into the front seat of the car. The trepidation is that rodents easily die if they become too frightened or stressed… and he isn’t really young, ya know… I shouldn’t have worried though. He climbed up to his pink penthouse and just watched out the window the whole drive. I couldn’t ever really tell what he was thinking but he made the trip safe and sound to a friend’s house for a few days visit while I get the apartment set up. She has four children who have never had a pet before so Robespierre was quite popular… wasn’t in the house long at all before they figured out he was there. And so in the evening I had the opportunity to sit down on the floor with all four of them and Robespierre. I could answer questions and watch their reactions to him. Claire, who is two, was a little afraid and very excited. She would move closer and then get close enough to see his nose twitch… and then she would scream! (Lucky, he clearly doesn’t stress easily huh. ;) Finn and Ian would pet him and were clearly excited but also had lots of questions such as why he doesn’t have a ‘kitchen in his cage’… that one was really hard to answer! Alia showed a slight amount of fear, but was willing to pet him and ask some pretty intuitive questions about his eating and grooming habits…

So we sat on the floor all together for about five minutes… letting Robespierre be petting or run around and burrow in my lap or even hop in and out of my pocket. I guess I sort of take the joy and wonder of rodents for granted now. Personalities change and they can all have different hobbies or quirks, but I have never met a rodent that I haven’t liked. It was such a fun experience to be able to introduce a pet and friend of mine to others who clearly saw him with a multitude of emotions including excitement and wonder. My life feels so full of negative stuff right now and to be surrounded by happy children who not only wanted my attention but really wanted to enjoy something that I enjoy as well was absolutely priceless. A true blessing and one that I that I was able to repeat before getting him to the new place yesterday. I wish him and his fan club fun in the future ... :)


A Temple Day

… and one that was amazing I might add! I am so excited to share it!

So last Saturday was set for a branch temple trip. A day that so many people were going to come down and watch a wonderful couple get their endowments and then the whole family would get their sealing. I agreed to come and watch children at the nearby church so that whole families could come and other couples could actually do endowments with each other instead of the more usual (one person stays home watching their children and the other gets to go to the temple.) When I agreed several weeks ago, I didn't really have any idea of the full emotional challenges that I would be hit with this week, but I actually should have known... any trip to the temple is usually preceded by challenges so that I have to really actively and painfully force myself forward and those challenges do not end until I get to the temple... or at least a few hours into the drive. This week was no exception... although I think that the challenges I have faced this week were a bit more than I have ever experienced and they never were truly able to be left behind this visit.

So after some initial difficulty of getting into the church building we got all the children in and set in the nursery and the gym. A few Kindles were passed around and my computer was happily enjoyed for a few games of 'Plants vs Zombies.' The younger ones came into the nursery and we found many toys and fun. I got to officially meet a new member of the ward and for the next few hours I lost myself in the task of watching several children – I think eleven at the highest count. Helpers came and went , but the children were a constant and they gave me so many laughs and so much joy. A few things really stick out about this time.

1. At one point early in the day I was asked a question by one of the sisters that I answered honestly, but with great difficulty. I was able to turn away to hide my distress and I think that I managed to actually hide most of it (I'm not foolish enough to think I hid all of it... I think that sometimes my pain seeps through my pores and is always visible no matter how much I try to smile) The second I turned and closed my eyes I was tackled by a beautiful child named Claire. She wrapped her arms around me in a big hug and gave me a kiss..... and then went back to what she had been doing. I am not sure why she did it, but it meant the world to me. I felt this outpouring of love and care that pushed the tears down brought a genuine smile to my face. I felt more confident and just took a deep breath and dived into the work with most of my soul and not just my body.

2. One of the younger girls asked me to help her use the bathroom. I walked to the bathroom with her and stood outside while she completed her business and when I walked into the room to help her finish, she gave me one of the most wonderful lessons I have ever received from a child. She carefully explained that some boys may look like girls... they might have long hair or wear earrings, but she knew a sure fire way to tell the different. See, girls ALWAYS use toilet paper when they use the toilet, but boys will only use toilet paper when they poop. So, she explained, if I am ever in doubt as to whether someone is a boy or girl... I can follow them to the bathroom and spy to find my answer. (I am still laughing about this!)

3. At one point , I was reading a book called “The Tawny, Scrawny Lion' out loud to a room full of children and one of them came and leaned up close. Her name is Kess and she was so interested and was leaning so close I thought she might climb into my lap at one point. I have never really spent any time with her before so it was nice to get to know her a little better on this trip.

After 2pm, I was able to head up to the temple and do baptisms. And to my surprise, even though I was over 1/2 an hour late and wasn't even sure I could sneak in... they were just starting! So I was able to change and join the group. This was the first time that Kess and her mother had ever been to the temple to do baptisms and I earned something really, really quickly... I am not the only person with severe sensory problems in my branch. The idea of total immersion was clearly fearful and terribly uncomfortable for them both. Both of them managed to do one baptism each and it was an amazing experience to view these brave women, struggling so hard to do something that other people find easy or take for granted. Baptisms used to be very uncomfortable for me with my sensory problems and I have really had to work with my body to make them something I can do and still feel the spirit. At one point when Kess was trying so hard to figure out how to do the baptism through her fear, I realized that I was praying and begging so hard for her to be able to conquer her fear for the few seconds it would take.... and I realized that everyone else was too. All the people waiting in the chapel were standing at the window watching, the men around the font, and the rest of us.... just silently pleading with the Father to help her. And she did it! She managed to do it and I am so grateful to have witnessed such a wonderful and brave act. I was so blessed to be there and I am so grateful for the examples that so many wonderful people give me.

After the baptisms and confirmations we started home. I was riding with some friends and they gave me a tour of Kittery and also took me to see a beautiful lighthouse... (I thought of you, Carolyn, as I looked at it. It was soo beautiful and so familiar... I realized it must be a very famous lighthouse because I think I have seen it on cards and some calendars as well.) Then I stayed over at their house in a wonderful cozy bed and slept better than I have in ages. All in all, an amazing day! Thanks for letting me share it. :)



Church has been such a challenge for so long. I feel so uncomfortable and saddened to write that sentence. The words feel harsh and yet they also feel so vague and non descriptive that they seem unmeaningful. Funny that…. But even as I write those words, my spirit rebels… for I do not want to think of church as a challenge. I don’t want attendance or thinking positively at church to be a challenge at all. A good friend this week told me that “church is supposed to be a sanctuary, a place of relief…. a place of respite.” Church has not been that way for me for a little over a decade now and I desperately want to find that again for myself.

So I have been trying. I have thrown myself into my calling. I have used my creativity and my extra resources to get more materials for the library, to add activities and to work to get more members involved in using the library. I have pushed myself to 100% attendance at Sacrament meeting and to keep coming… no matter what. I have tried to reach out and make some new friends and to find friends in those that I didn’t really have the opportunity to really get to know in the past. And I feel like these attempts have really helped. I no longer long to stay home and it no longer feels right to do so. I have some really wonderful friends- ones that I want to trust…. that I feel in my heart that I should trust…and I hear the Lord whisper that I need to learn to trust people again and that these friends are good and strong and love me…. that they are worthy of my trust. The very real possibility of moving out of the branch now feels extremely painful and the opportunity for even more loss in my life. In some ways, it feels like the only thing that I haven’t lost… a gift that I have cultivated and has become a real family. You know, a real family… with members you love that are friends as well, that are strong and will be there no matter what… and those who have hurt you and you can’t truly reconcile with, but they are family and so you try to love and help them anyway. And knowing how much Heavenly Father loves them- as well as his love for you- makes the betrayal and the pain they have caused seem lessened and, in some ways, less personal.

So I was truly determined to get to church today and I was going to do three things. I was going to sit in Sacrament meeting no matter what and I was going to sit with someone and not just find a bench to ‘hide’ in…. I was going to make the library’s hours more regular and go to class. And lastly, I was determined to not allow anything to phase me today. I was going to look at everything with a wide angle lens and remember the important reasons for coming to church. In anticipation of that, I took medication to make sure I slept the night before and had a large meal…... Unfortunately, it didn’t work. I was totally broadsided by something today that I didn’t expect and I wouldn’t even have known how to prepare for. That’s the bad news…

But here’s the good news! I was able to sit through the whole meeting. I was able to find a way to sit and really listen and they were some great things in the meeting. A few lines of some of the talks felt so pertinent that I wrote them down. They have been running through my head all afternoon… so I thought I would share them. Maybe someone else can enjoy them or find them useful as well…..

“We can choose happiness over bitterness…” – Isn’t that really true… I recognize that it is hard (Boy, do I recognize that!), but we really can make that conscious choice and fight to make that a part of our reality. I really want that for myself. What do you think of this thought?

“We should prepare now to live in a better world” – Everyday is a preparation for the world to come… for a place that we as human beings cannot really comprehend even as we make choices that will lead us bit by bit towards the future world. Every choice can lead us closer or farther… or even find us sitting by the side of the path, foot sore and forlorn. I found myself wondering if I am one of those sitting by the side of the road, weary and desperate for a ride… even as I know that I have to walk the path and that a ride isn’t possible or even a good idea. What am I doing to prepare...? What specifically are you doing?

“Bad situations can wear down even good people” – I felt like this statement really reverbated through my soul. One of the things that so many lessons and scriptures tell us over and over is to keep ourselves in safe ways. They suggest that staying away from temptation is so much easier if we never put ourselves in the situation that the temptation is possible. Seems true enough. But this statement seems to cause my brain to focus on the awful situation that I am mired in and my feeble attempts to crawl out of it… and I realized that I feel too tired to do it. Could I have kept myself out of this situation? I don’t really know… What I do know is that doing the right thing is becoming harder to do… in some ways even harder to comprehend doing. I feel like I can safely testify that at least for me, a bad situation is really bringing me down to a place I never imagined I would find myself in. I still do not know how to avoid it in the future, but the lessons I have learned will help avoid some of the situations I have recently found myself in and I intend to protect myself a little better than I have in the past. What do you think about this statement? Do you think it is applicable to you?

May next Sunday be another step towards a brighter future for all of us! :)


I'm Back... :D

Gosh, I've missed blogging. It's so funny, but I miss writing and I miss the satisfaction that I get out of it. I've also missed the brief snatches of conversation and new people that I have encountered in this process....

So I am going to make a very valiant effort to begin again. This seems like a good time as so many other parts of my life are changing and I am starting to focus in new directions and paths. A few paths that I have decided to take are roads that I have traveled before and I feel a small amount of refreshing joy to return to them. Some choices I have come to gradually as I rule out other paths that look so attractive but don't feel like a great choice right now. But rejoining my own tiny part of the blogger-sphere seems good right now.

So here I am... As I begin to write again and focus on topics that are prescient in my life or on subjects that give me joy or pause, I also make a request for my friends and readers. If you have a subject or a need that you wish to know more about but do not have to dig deeply into the large tomes of information, feel free to ask if it would be a topic that would interest me to research for you. I am hoping to find new and and wonderful things to write about. That sounds like a pleasure indeed. :)



Today I am thankful for...

… my breath
… my heart
… love
… good thoughts
… sustenance
… friendship
… surprises
… warmth
… beauty
… clarity

What are you thankful for? :)


A Sabbath Experience...

Wow. I have so many adjectives to describe today in my mind, but this Sabbath cannot fairly be described as restful or a 'day of rest'. It's funny, but if you attend any church I cannot imagine that you have much rest at all. If you have children, then there is no possibility that the Sabbath is a day of rest. And for those of us with callings at church, those callings-even when enjoyable and fun- are learning experiences and as such are often work.

I will admit that Sundays for the last few years have always been a great deal of work. Taking Bug to church, getting us through the day and home along with the joys and responsibility of helping my friend Sarah Drew left me fairly wiped out. The pressure and work load was intense and after some Sundays of carrying 40+ pounds on my shoulders for two hours plus helping Sarah I will admit that I didn't really feel the spirit much at all. The struggle was just too great. And the weariness was manifested in almost everyday of my life as I would struggle and fight to stay awake any time I was at all stationary-while driving, while eating... even while driving a car.

In so many ways, Sundays have changed over the last year. I no longer have a best friend to sit with and I no longer have the struggle with Bug. I come to the building an hour before church and I open the library. I copy the programs and the inserts. I choose the items to change and put up front for checkout – the DVD's, new books, etc... I prepare the Sacrament kits and help people get what they need for their lessons. When the meeting starts, I close up and get up the courage to join into the group in the chapel... to reconcile myself to learning, to listening... to feeling alone in the crowd. If needed I also give of the time and my energy to help others with their children... to hug them, distract them, to quiet them... and to love them. That is my average typical Sunday. The work is different and is less physically exhausting than I used to do, but I would be lying if I didn't suggest that it isn't work. The secrets I bring and the burden and emotion and pain are just as much of a struggle in many ways. Heck, sometimes the weight of the pain and emotions and my silence feels somehow heavier than the weight of my son riding along on my shoulders for the hours on end as I bounced him quietly and tried to keep him silent in the past.

In some ways, this Sunday was no different. I had all of these tasks as well as my burdens, but one of my choices and circumstances today very much added to the stress of the day. One circumstance was that my phone broke and so I didn't arrive as early as I usually do... so I lost track of time and was only about 1/2 an hour early. When I arrived, I found that things were actually a bit chaotic and so I started my work by trying to hunt down the program and then racing to the supermarket to buy gluten free bread after it was discovered ten minutes before the meeting started that there was none to be found. I was back in twelve minutes (a record I think) and was only three minutes late for the start of the meeting... a stunning achievement, but I will admit not very spiritual. So it was with a relieved heart that I sat down in the foyer on the couch to catch my breath, to think and to try and bring myself back to be ready for the spirit.

However, my choice to sit in the foyer was a big mistake. While well intentioned, I discovered that I then had the difficulty of trying to listen to the talks in Sacrament with the members of one family walking back and forth every few minutes checking the foyer. It was very clear immediately that these members were no willing to enter the meeting, but were also not willing to sit in the foyer while I was sitting there... so they kept checking to see if I had left. The behavior was so obvious that another sister who came out of the meeting to sit in the foyer commented that I really need to apologize for offending these members as I surely must have done for this behavior to continue.... it was so clear to her what their purpose was. I tried to smile and just bite my tongue to continue to keep my silence. And so every time I saw one of them come to check, I would think of getting up to go into the meeting. Not because I felt comfortable or able to do so, but because I felt hounded and hunted and pressed to do so. So I tried to breath deeply and continue to sit... fighting the feelings of fear and anger welling inside and tried to listen. It was almost impossible to glean anything from the talks because it would take me a few minutes to really get myself refocused... and then they were back to see if I had gotten the 'hint' yet.... and the fragile peace in my head was shattered. It is hard to sit through this behavior and not feel like I have done something awful and deserve it... to remember that I have not only done all I can but have bent over backwards to try and make the situation manageable... to remember that in many ways I am the one who was wronged and now struggle to deal with the reality that her choices have helped create for me in my life. So I sat... and I sat... and the meeting finally ended.

I tried to deal with the library and some things there, but when I heard shouting a few minutes later in the foyer, I gave up and walked out. There I found one of the sisters yelling at the missionaries to force the child playing the organ in the chapel to stop- it was apparently inappropriate. (Frankly, yelling at the missionaries and in the church was inappropriate, but I digress. ; ) So I went into the chapel to see one of my favorite summer visitors happily playing the piano and celebrating song and church. Adam is a beautiful child with so many difficulties and disabilities and his joy was as obvious as his father's slight embarrassment. So he can't actually play music that we recognize and the composition is his own. Doesn't that make it an even greater gift to the Father? Soon he was distracted and came with me to the library for crackers and I gave him one of my very favorite books. Off to class he headed with his dad, satisfied and ready. And I picked up my stuff, left a message for the branch president, and took off hoping to steal an hour or two of silence for myself.

So many people say that I am strong- my branch president, friends, family... but I don't tend to feel that way. I feel like I am walking on a fragile cord struggling to keep my balance and hoping the cord won't break and send me crashing to the ground. Still, after all this time.... I am not sure about much, but I think I need a redefining of myself and my life. I need a new focus... a way to feel strong. But until then... I guess I keep going. :)


2012 Poetry Corner # 8 - Bug :)




I love him very much. He is a joy and one of the biggest blessings in my life!


Short Views on Biocentric History and its Early Adherents

This post is about biocentric history and its important past American historians. I also spent some time writing about the philosophy of transcendentalism. I found this topic fascinating and fun to study. I hope you enjoy!

Biocentric history is most easily defined as history compiled from the point of view of nature. However, collecting or 'doing' this form of history is quite difficult. It requires the historian to try to rid themselves of some basic unconscious biases that most human beings have. The historian must step back and recognize that humans are not the center of all things and that the world was not created solely for our benefit and use. The understanding that we as a species are not separate from other species and that all species are equal in importance and depend on each other for survival is also key. This is not an easy thing to ask of anyone I suspect. Certainly as a human I tend to anthropomorphize animals and plants and while a part of my brain considers other species to be equal to humanity, I can't really believe that if I am willing to eat meat (I think... I might need to think more on this.) Henry David Thoreau was considered a pretty good biocentric historian and in his writings and work he recorded activities of any animal he saw (be it bird, fish, insect, etc...). He tracked the life cycles of several species throughout the year and he tried to figure out how the activities of different animals and plants were connected to each other.... and to us.

In 1988, historian Robert K. McGregor wrote about Henry David Thoreau and his work and studies on nature... in particular, the red fox. He makes the point that while many people would not see the writings and nature studies completed by Thoreau as history in the traditional sense, they are an important part of a historical record in a few ways. One way is that the descriptions of all the animals that were seen as so precise that they give a clear record of all forms of life – plant and animal- that Thoreau encountered in that area. (A rare primary source indeed.) It gives a record of interactions between the different species and these interactions are describes over long periods of time in minute detail. Mr. McGregor makes it clear through his studies of Thoreau that the later certainly qualifies as a biocentric historian due to the writer's ability to try and discover the truth of nature and not simply create it around himself. Even when using his skills as a scientific man or as a believing transcendentalist, Thoreau worked to keep the work pure and didn't try to make any particular discovery in the sense that he recorded and tried to learn, but tried to not have any preconceived notion about what 'truth' he might find.

The word transcendentalism describes a philosophical movement or way of viewing the world that developed around the 1840's in response to the strong Puritan thinking of the day. Someone who was a transcendentalist usually had characteristics of many different fields of thought including philosophers, psychologists, intelligentsia, naturalists, etc.... There are quite a few well known individuals who were known as transcendentalists, but two of the most important were Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Both of these men were writers and intellectuals. Henry David Thoreau took his thoughts and desires and acted upon them...living and writing in nature. He wrote about the strength that nature gives us as individuals and felt that human beings needed to find a balance between nature and civilization to survive and thrive. Thoreau believes that the wilderness was the raw materials of life and the farther we as human beings get from it, the less intelligent and understanding we are. He also believed that to truly understand nature you had to study it in its natural environment... you can't just remove a piece to study and think that you will understand the whole. Ralph Waldo Emerson believed in many of the same ideas but came to them in different ways. He also wrote about humans and their ideal relationship with nature which was not that nature was simply a commodity or something to exploit. He also felt that humans should enjoy the technology that they developed but not to allow the technology to take over their lives or to remove them from enjoying and understanding nature. (Boy, I think in many ways I have failed in that regard and I don't think that I am alone!) Lastly, Emerson believed in the concept of the 'oversoul'- the idea that we as individuals can be one with others and to not see the world in different parts... but as one component that we are part of. And the only way to find our 'oversoul' is to look at and understand nature. These men are great examples of people who believed and tried to teach and live the concept of transcendentalism.

Many American artists of this time belonged to a movement called the Hudson River School. While this sounds like a physical place, it was truly an almost intangible movement that was started and embodied by several American landscape painters during the nineteenth century. These artists completed many portraits of the area and surrounding land of the Hudson River valley.... and later on other areas of the midwest. Many of the paintings from these artists (which included the acknowledged founder Thomas Cole, Asher B. Durand, Thomas Doughty as well as later artists Albert Bierstadt, Frederic Edwin Church, and Thomas Moran) were themed on the idea that human beings and nature could and should coexist peacefully. This movement tends to be viewed in three stages. The first stage is known as 'the Wild' and the landscapes and paintings tended to attempt to represent nature and wilderness untamed... The second stage is known as 'the pastoral' where farms and people are shown side to side with nature and wilderness. The third stage is known as 'the urban' and these paintings tended to focus on the views of nature trampled and tamed under the weight of factories and cities and railroads.

The idea and motivation behind this movement was the artist's attempts to capture their thoughts of nature and its crash course with people and civilization. By studying these artists and their works... as well as watching the changes of the works over time, we can study not only what these people thought at the time about the clash of environment and civilization, but we can also see what they thought the future looked like from their viewpoint. The views are not entirely accurate in the sense that the artists tended to take a very romanticized view of nature. It was thought that to understand spiritual truths we must understand them through our intuition and emotions that are evoked by our experiences and understanding of nature. These views tended to cause the artists to pour out their yearnings for the spirituality that they were unable to get from the current Protestant revivalism or the large industrial cities. In a way, these men were creating their spirituality and their religion from their thoughts/fantasies and which were spread and drawn onto the canvases through their brushes. (It is no mistake that these artists were nicknamed “priests of the natural church” by art historian Barbara Novak.) And as very converted and zealous believes, the artists did tend to leave out of their painting real images that they didn't want to display. So nature was tranquil and peaceful and beautiful and the paintings never tending to show the reality of what had happened to much of the land that was being painted... the burned over fields, pollution in the lands and the streams, and other signs of the destruction of wildlife and human activity were rarely added to the portraits.

This movement is important as it helps us to understand the world that these paintings were produced in. We are able to see what they had hoped for and as time went on what they saw the future of nature and wildlife becoming... or maybe disappearing is more appropriate. We can also see how our current views of nature and civilization have merged and been formed through not only the beliefs and images of these men, but the beliefs of the society that surrounded them.

Another great painter of this time was George Catlin. He was a painter who was fascinated with Native Americans and their culture. It is not entirely known how his fascination developed to a point that he dedicated his life to their study, but it is known that his mother told him stories of her life as an Indian captive when she was younger and he also enjoyed the experience and inspiration of a visiting Indian delegation to Philadelphia where he was working as a young man. He was quite alarmed at how quickly civilization and other people were rapidly disappearing the differing groups and so he resolved to spend his life painting them in their 'natural habitat' before both the Indians and their natural habitat were gone. He was also a strong advocate of the idea of a national park in the hopes of saving both the vanishing Indian and the wilderness that was rapidly disappearing as well. His idea of a national park would be a place that both Indians and animals could live “in all the wild[ness] and freshness of their nature's beauty.” His work was seen as important because his works helps draw the parallel between the disappearance of pristine wilderness and the Native American. He also tried through his artwork to show others a picture into the daily lives of many Native Americans.... their tasks, work, clothes, relationships, etc.... It was his hope that a national park could potentially save both the Indians and the wilderness. It is with sadness that we know that his idea did not work and in fact, when national parks were developed, Indians who lived in its boundaries were then forcibly removed to make the areas safe and beautiful for white Americans.

So what are your thoughts? How is nature part of your worship or spirituality? Are the images of nature in your head rather fanciful and romantic? Do you think of nature and the wilderness as tamed and found in parks or other countries... Is it mysterious or a true part of you.....



This is a summary of a talk that I gave in sacrament meeting a few weeks ago. I hope this summary might be helpful for someone out there. Preparing this talk was very helpful for me. :)

What exactly is hope? Hope is the word that we use to describe an emotional state or attitude in which we hold the belief and wish for a positive outcome in our circumstances. In many cases, we tend to treat hope as a noun... a simple object... easily described and dissected. Therefore, the idea of hope in our lives tends to become simplistic... almost wishful as in “I hope I pass my test” or “I hope it doesn’t rain.” In this way, hope can almost be described as an irresponsible or fickle friend... the friend who follows through on agreements sometimes or not at all. If we view hope through this lens, there can be very little wonder as to why the word has become trite and trivial in the majority of ways that it is used in our lives.

When I was asked to give this talk and was given my topic, I will admit that I didn’t want it. I have been having a really hard time feeling hopeful about much over the last few months. Trying to look at my uncertain and unknown future has felt more appropriately fearful than hopeful. And doing random 'scripture opening' for inspiration was no help at all – do you have any idea how many verses in the Bible contain the words 'there is no hope' or 'hope is lost?' It wasn't funny the first few times it happened, but as time has moved closer towards the date that I must present something, I have started to find it pretty funny.

So, instead of using the scriptures to start.... I tried to stand back and think about what hope means to me in my life. And I found something a little extraordinary. The first clear thought that I had is that hope is a verb... very active. When I have truly felt that I understood hope, it has been when I have been busy doing good things. When I conjure up an image of hope in my mind, it reminds me more of a cheerful, quickly moving beam of light the color of the clearest blue. Quick moving, but not frantic. Purposeful and kind. So to understand hope, we must truly understand that hope has three important aspects for true understanding.

First - hope is a voluntary and changing mindset. To feel positive and hopeful towards the experience that you are living through and to believe in good for your future, you must actively cultivate the aspects of faith and gratitude in your life. Good thoughts, optimism and true joy are things that we must work to gain and do not necessarily come from doing the right things. It has been my experience that some of the most faithful and charity-filled members that I know can also be the most depressed and find the challenge of negative thoughts to be one of the strongest wars that they have had to fight in their minds and their lives. So to be hopeful is truly an active process. Elder Wilford has stated clearly that “Hope, with its attendant blessings of peace and joy, dos not depend upon circumstance.” It is a constant awareness and recalculation of our thinking and or emotions... an unending process where we must actively through our circumstances seek to cultivate an environment where hope can feel welcome and can thrive. I will not pretend that this is an easy process and it is truly easier said than accomplished.

C.S. Lewis once said, “Hope is one of the theological virtues. This means that a continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do.”

Second – is that Hope is a call to caring and to active work. Hope asks us to care... and to care intensely! Yet also asks us to understand that things may not always be the same so we should not care too much. Hope tells us and pushes us to work because there is much to work for... even though what we are working for may sometimes be unseen or elusive to our understanding. However, hope also calls us to play and to celebrate... to be active in our joys as well as our tasks. Hope is not passive.

2 Nephi 31:20 - Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.

Close your eyes and think about the verbs in your mind and the images they create.

'ye must press'

Can any of these words been seen as passive... easy... weak? All require action on our parts.

Third – it must be stated that hope is an action that we are asked to give others. This is one of the only times that the word should be treated as a noun. It is by our actions towards others that we can give hope to people whose trials have overwhelmed their ability to actively cultivate hope. It is through the actions of love and charity that we are able to share the burdens of others and bring them the small but exquisite and beautiful pearl of hope. We cannot provide hope to those who struggle with a small pat of our hand and our 'hope that tings will get better for them'... it is provided through active work – thought, prayer, and service. In this sense, we are able to be hope for someone else and to give them the temporary ability to be buoyed up in hope so that they can again commence the personal work of creating their own foundation in hope.

Elder Neal Maxwell stated, “Genuine hope is urgently needed in order to be more loving even as the love of many waxes cold; more merciful, even when misunderstood or misrepresented; more holy, even as the world ripens in iniquity; more courteous and patient in a coarsening and curt world; and more full of heart felt hope, even when other men's hearts fail them. Whatever our particular furrow, we are to 'plow in hope' without looking back or letting yesterday hold tomorrow hostage.”

My brothers and sisters, may we be inspired to do the work necessary to cultivate hope in our minds and our lives and to give hope to others. May we allow the things that we hope for to lead us to a greater faith in Christ and our Father and that the things that we find hope will lead us firmly towards charity and love. I saw these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.


2012 Poetry Corner # 7 : Duo Haiku

My heart feel so full
love, grief, confusion, need, hope
May today be well

Hope springs eternal
love wells upwards inside me
May the day be blessed


2012 Poetry Corner # 6 : 'Smile'

... for a new day is here.

... for a life renewed.

... for the goodness within you.

... for I love you!


A Day at the Temple

Yesterday was such a blessing. When I heard a week ago that a spontaneous temple trip was developing within my local Relief Society, I felt really impressed that I needed to go. There were so many reasons to not go. For one, my week is so full and busy that Saturday is my only day for any rest whatsoever. In fact, the last few Saturdays I have found that staying in bed for most of the day has been really necessary to give me energy and motivation to get to church and through the next week. Last Saturday in fact, I got up and did some things and in the late morning I sat down on the bed... and fell asleep for almost four hours! I must have needed it. :) Another reason is that Saturday is the only day that I get a lot of time to spend with Bug and get everything done and prepared for the coming week. The idea of not seeing Bug was extremely painful. But the idea took hold and I immediately called and booked myself a seat in one of the cars for the trip. The next week passed pretty much uneventfully with only slight problems with anxiety about it until yesterday morning.

And what a day! I wasn't sure when I started out why I felt prompted to come. And with everything going on in my life a trip to the temple frankly seemed a little foolish. When I left yesterday, I had pretty much decided that I was going to the temple to do something for myself and because I thought I should. But this has turned out to be a day to remember. The five hour drive down to Boston was spent with some other members that I didn't know terribly well and I feel a lot more comfortable with them now. I feel like I know them better now and I feel a little less shy. When I got to the temple, a small group of people asked if we would help with photos and so I enjoyed some talk and banter while taking photos for them. When I went into the temple and presented my recommend, I found that I was lucky enough to be able to join a group from Connecticut who were performing baptisms. (I don't know how it is for some members in larger areas, but to do baptisms in the temple in Boston, you must have a group, several priesthood leaders and an appointment... which usually must be made at least eight months in advance. So I was aware of the real possibility that I might arrive at the temple and spend the full time in the visitor's room or walking around the outer grounds... it has happened before.) But I was whisked into the baptistry and given clothing and joined the tail end of the group. My mind was already a bit full with my thoughts and I found a line from a song constantly playing over and over in my mind as I sat and waited to do confirmations. I tried to focus on the list of women in my hand; what were they like, were they happy I was there, would they accept the work and was I truly worthy to help them when my life feels like it is in tatters. But I found a feeling of comfort and peace as I performed the ordinances and a feeling that suggested that my life is about to begin anew... and I have a fresh start. I felt impressed that this time in my life is my opportunity to take the time to do some things that I have wanted and needed to do and haven't been able to accomplish in my life so far.

I was able to do two sessions with two different groups – one from Lincoln, Maine. I felt so blessed and was treated like a valued guest by the Lincoln group and I didn't feel awkward joining at all. I also attended a spontaneous talk and testimony meeting in the temple set up by my branch president and his wife. I should technically have missed it by attending the second session, but as I walked out to head upstairs I found that a member was just walking into the baptistry to get me to make sure I was able to attend... another blessing of the day. There were so many blessings that I received today. I received a few small promptings and thoughts that I really needed. I found some peace and some moments that I felt simply fine and calm... I didn't feel like I was dealing with the problems that I am or that my trials are so large. For a brief moment of time, I simply felt peaceful and enjoyed the ability and opportunity to provide service for someone else. I can't express how grateful I am that I came today. My cup is very full and I am almost sorry to leave and head back to the life I know I must continue to live and grow in.

One aspect of yesterday that I enjoyed was that I found a few of the names and individuals on my cards stick with me throughout the day. And so I arrived home, tired but well, and ready for bed. But before I tuck in, I thought I would take some time to research and present to you the two women whose names have stayed in my mind and who seemed to reach out to touch me today. I am grateful that I helped many more than these two, but as these women have stayed in my mind, I will take a few moments to try and discover a few pieces of their lives to know for myself and to share with you. I am thankful for the opportunities that they gave me today.

Clara Elizabeth Collins was born on July 23, 1890 in North Carolina. Her parents were Joseph Collins and Ann Rebecca Gupton and she was one of ten children... born in her parents later years. She had six older brothers and one older sister and when she was old enough, she fell in love and married Augustus Adolphus Drake. She lived with him until his death and bore him four children: three girls and a boy. She passed away on April 30th, 1978 in Nashville, North Carolina. She would have come to adulthood around the time of World War I.... lived through the Great Depression and the second World War, and having to deal with and understand the racial divisions that were slowly trying to unravel in the south.

Anne de Fayolle was born in 1532 in Francia. She was born the year of the union of the land of France and Brittany... lands that are still unified today. Born in the aftermath of the Hundred Years War, she would have grown up learning and living in a culture consciously separating itself as a nation and as a people from England. The House of Valois was in power and she would have lived during the reigns of Henry II and Francis II. This time was a period of change and she would not have failed to have noticed and even have been affected by it. The Medieval period of time was ending and people in general were questioning the Catholic church and monarchy in general. During the reign of Henry II, the Protestant religion became an important it minor religion... important enough that as the strength of the monarchy declined the last decades of her life and after would be filled with violence between the Catholic church and other Protestant groups.

I didn't find much, and I truly wish I had found more. I feel like I only got a small taste of what these women might be like, but its time to go to church so I should head off. Happy Sabbath. :)


2012 Poetry Corner #5 : Wishes, Dreams, and Prayer

A wish is but a dream
Given voice and breath
A dream is but a prayer
Given thought and space

So what is a prayer
Except simply pure love
The voice and yearning
Of our very souls...

The pleading of a child
To an adored parent
The struggle to bridge the gap

How do you reach across the void
The chasm of living silence
To bring your thoughts in line with God
To make your day complete

It is a struggle, so truly hard
To put my will aside
To recognize my lack of power
In the face of the divine

And yet the struggle becomes a breeze
When my heart is truly open
And I feel the spirit and the peace
The brightness of the mind

So I find my hope in wishes
And refuge in my dreams
Joy within my being
And awe in my solitude

It will be well….


My Daily Paradoxes

I am really struggling to find a way to say what is in my head and have been for two weeks... so I apologize if I sound confusing or silly. I feel like everything in my life is such a paradox – and I can not pretend that I understand it. I am wondering it maybe trying to write it down will help me understand any of it. I guess I don't know how much of the paradoxes in my life are really there or are really just my perception.... how I see things.

Some are easy to see and in some ways understand. The gospel for instance... very little of the gospel isn't a paradox. We gain life by the Savior's death and through our own. We get when we give. Suffering brings strength and joy, etc.... Those are paradoxes that I have understood for so long... or at least thought that I did... so I do not find them confusing. But I am am surrounded by some really confusing things right now.

I have so much to be grateful for. I am so blessed.... so why do I sometimes feel so keenly what I do not have? Why do look at my blessings and feel so much gratitude for so much and yet sorrow for my loses? Here are some other questions that I am dealing with....

Why do I feel so weak and so unable.... when others tell me that I am so strong? That they wish they had my strength....

Why can I feel so happy and so sad at the same time?

Why does my husband treat me so much better and is so happy to see me... when we will be divorced soon?

There was a time when I would have given anything to have good friends at church and to know that someone really cared. But I never felt really lonely. Now I feel alone even with friends. I want so much to be cared for and noticed... but I cringe at the idea that anyone might notice me... How crazy is that?

I should have more time than I did even a year ago... yet I feel like instead I have even more work and instead of revolving my life around an intact family... I need to revolve my life around the family that has left me but still do all of my new responsibilities. Instead of more freedom, I have less.

These are questions that I am really struggling with right now. I can't find easy answers or ways to understand the paradoxes they create in any way that makes sense. I feel like I almost travel in the world with a continuous mask on as I try to pretend I'm making it and I'm not tired and I don't need help and I'm not sad. And I hate depending on people for some of the things that I have agreed to so that I can keep myself going. I think that's just pride in the sense that I want to be the giver and not the one who needs right now. I don't know... my head doesn't feel much clearer. :)

Well, maybe I should end by mentioning a few things I am sure of. I am sure that Heavenly Father is not only away of my circumstances, but he is dipping his hand into the angry waters of my trials to help keep my head above the waves of my trials. He has provided me with a few people who I can trust and who depend on me and who I feel care about me in ways that I can't totally understand but I am so grateful for. I am so grateful for my new job. Quite a few people seem really happy to work with me and seem disappointed when I change positions and no longer work side by side with them... that feels wonderful! I am grateful for the family members who talked to me and encouraged me to start a blog. Sometimes when I see so many things going wrong and I feel like a failure, I can find it easy to decide that I can't do anything right. But even though I think a blog is supposed to be mostly personal and mine clearly isn't- almost everything I have ever written about have been on something other than myself- there is no doubt in my mind from the blog statistics and comments that I might be darn successful at that! I know that I have a talent with animals that many others do not have and I can not adequately explain the feelings of joy and satisfaction to see a feral, frightened and stunted animal slowly change to become wary... then slightly willing and then totally loving and joyful. (One of my greatest blessings is the past feral puss that I have named Morianna... she has been with me less but gives me as much love and joy as I can handle.) Even the ability to see near one without moving and watch one of the cats just observe me-you can almost sense the disbelief and confusion about me and what I might want... its a great feeling. I am sure that I am loved. And lastly, I am sure that someday I will understand so much more than I do right now. I just need to keep putting one foot in front of the other and doing what's right. So... I'll keep going I think. :)


Holy Wars and Religious Intolerance in Medieval Europe

This post will discuss some brief points on a few different aspects of politics and religion in medieval Europe during the eleventh and twelfth century. It was during this time frame that the Fourth and Fifth Crusades were launched and the Catholic Church was still growing in strength and power. Heretics still abounded and the Church still felt that there was a good chance of ridding the world of them and creating a world for Christendom.... and only Christendom. This post will discuss some of the people behind the politics and the Catholic religion which would struggle and fight until they created the Great Schism of the church. Enjoy! :)

The Spanish Reconquest (Reconquista) is the name given to a long period of war (500+ years) in which several European countries successfully fought to regain the areas of the Iberian peninsula that had come under the control of 'Muslim' leaders – in a sense, this is a very nice name for a long and arduous crusade or holy war between the European Christians and their leaders and the Muslim strongholds in the lands of Spain and Portugal. Another complication that must be mentioned is that these areas were also home to other Christian sects such as the Albigensians that were not accepted by the Catholic church- one thing has been clear throughout history and that is... that the Catholic church was not tolerant against any kind of difference in belief- whether it was a matter of doctrine (like the Arians) or a matter of the whole faith (like the Muslims), there was no acceptance that was considered for any of these groups.... all were wrong and should be stamped out, period. It was during the time of the High Middle Ages, that the 'fight' for this peninsula became linked with other Crusades and the fight for 'Christendom'. This fight for the Catholic church, for Christianity, and for conformity of belief would become evidenced in the future Spanish Inquisition as well as future pogroms and massacres of Moors and Jews in these areas.

One truly interesting group of people were the Albigensians. They were groups of individuals who believed in certain set of tenets of Christianity that were labeled 'heresy' by the Catholic Church. One of the heretical doctrines that the Arians believed in was dualism – the idea that there are two gods; a good God and a bad God that are constantly at war over the souls of men. Other beliefs are that the resurrection of the body wouldn't happen as the nature of flesh is evil, that earth is hell and a place of punishment that cannot last as the soul is divine and must eventually be released from punishment.... and that war or acts of aggression that follow the Mosaic code such as eye for an eye or capital punishment were absolutely unacceptable. They also believed that material possessions were equated with the 'evil' god and so most members of this belief system led relatively ascetic lives absent of marriage and children... which suggest that this movement may have died out by itself if it had been left alone. Also called the Cathars, Albigensians were found mostly in regions of Italy and Southern France. They were eventually targeted- the lucky devils- by the Catholic church due to the rising popularity of their movement. Pope Innocent III proclaimed a crusade against this movement in 1209 and by the fourteenth century, the movement was pretty much extinguished.

The Investiture Controversy is a great example of the struggle that was happening between these secular rulers and religious leaders during this period. The term investiture means to install a person into an 'office'- in this case, a religious office. In the past, the pope had been appointed by secular leadership (The Holy Roman Emperor). But as the papacy began to develop (or attempt to develop) into its own political power and attempt to create the kingdom of 'Christendom', this power in the hands of a secular leader was not considered acceptable by reformers inside the church. In a nutshell, the controversy was really based on who truly had the power to appoint the clergymen in the 'high' church positions. Secular rulers still had the power to appoint some high clergy such as bishops, archbishops, etc... in their territories, but the appointment of the pope was a 'prize' that the Holy Roman emperor didn't like losing. Pope Gregory VII then passed a papal decree that all high church offices would be given only by the appointment of other high clergy – keeping it 'in the church' so to speak. This particular directive was not just an inconvenience to secular rulers- it directly threatened the power of all secular rulers to have some control over the church in their territories. When the Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV complained, the pope excommunicated him- the first time this punishment had been given to an active secular ruler and it had huge political ramifications. King Henry's vassals and nobles no longer had to abide by their oaths of loyalty to him... and were actively encouraged to rebel against him. To save his kingdom, King Henry had to submit to the pope to have his excommunication lifted, but the disagreement wasn't really over and an actual confrontation was planned as Henry IV along with some of his loyal nobility marched on Rome to fight and depose Pope Gregory... who died while trying to escape. However, the death of the pope didn't end the controversy which would continue to crop up over the next several decades... and even was the topic of a meeting with the elders of the church and secular leaders to try to discuss and solve the problem in 1122.

Pope Innocent III was quite an active man and took his 'job' of persecuting heretics very seriously. Disappointed by the results of the 3rd and 4th Crusade, he was determined to have another Crusade that was better planned and had more Papal involvement in the process. He also wanted to have more guidelines and an understanding of how to deal with the heretics in the holy lands and in Christian Europe. So the issuance of a papal bull by Pope Innocent III in April 1213 had the effect of gathering individuals together for what would be known as the Fourth Lateran Council. This council gathered together in November of 1215 and the pope presented seventy decrees on what he felt were the most important points of Catholic dogma that were then altered or agreed upon (mostly agreed upon). Then, measures and definitive points at which discipline were called for were developed and accepted to deal with the heretics in the Christian lands... and finally, the conditions and goals of the next Crusade (5th) were laid out and regulated. And so the beginnings of another Crusade were laid out.

One of the most confusing and divisive 'wars' that the Catholic church participated in (and certainly underlines how political and powerful the leadership position in the church was) was an internal conflict called the Great Schism. This is a term used to describe a several decade long break in the Catholic Church due to secular politics and other factors. Philip IV of France was quite a cruel and ruthless leader. His greed caused him to look for possible ways to increase the amount of money in his treasury and in 1297, Philip IV started a tax on the clergy... which was not well received by Pope Boniface VIII. These leaders ended up in a fight in which the Pope excommunicated King Philip... who then tried to have the pope arrested. When Pope Boniface died, he was replaced by a French cardinal who became Clement V. This man was very much under King Philip's control and as a result of this, the french king moved the pope to Avignon from the traditional place of Rome. This action is seen by some to be the beginning of the Great Schism. This 'event' occurred between the years of 1378 and 1415 and was the culmination of the struggle between the European kings and the Popes to gain the most political power. As monarchs in both England and France became stronger, the power that the Popes had in those kingdoms was weakened. In 1302, the pope's response was to issue a Papal Decree called the 'Unam Sanctum'. This degree declared that the authority of all secular rulers was subject to the spiritual and political authority of the pope. The French King Philip IV didn't accept this 'decree' and he sent an army to fight and capture the pope. Philip did defeat Pope Boniface, but Boniface died soon after and a new Pope was chosen. This pope, Clement V, was easily controlled by King Philip and the Papacy was moved to Avignon from 1309- 1377. Other European leaders were not happy with this move and felt that the Pope was virtually a 'prisoner' of the French king. In 1378, the papacy moved back to Rome under the direction of Pope Urban VI. This didn't really solve the original problem that had caused the break in the first place... so it comes as no surprise that this is not the end of the story. :) Pope Urban VI thought that many of the high church officials were corrupt and put a lot of pressure on these individuals to change as well as changing some of the rules. Some French cardinals were not happy with this pressure and the difficulty that they were getting so they went to the current king of France to ask for his support in moving the papacy back to Avignon. This discussion with the French king, as both the cardinals and the King recognized that the Pope would not be budged, simply came up with a different solution. The French cardinals picked a new pope, Clement VII... and placed that pope in Avignon. This act effectively split the church into two great and differing sides. If you lived in England or anywhere in the Holy Roman Empire, then chances were you supported Pope Urban VI in Rome. If you lived in France or in territories held by France's allies, then chances are you supported the new Pope Clement VII. After a time other church officials tried to solve the problem by calling the two 'current' popes deposed and picking a third pope... surprise, the problem increased as now there were THREE popes to deal with. Anyone in the 'common population' must have found this situation to be at best, confusing... and at worse, laughable and not very 'holy'. This horrible situation was only resolved with a church meeting in Switzerland held in the years 1414-1415 which is called the Council of Constance. At this gathering, it was decided that the third pope in Pisa would be gotten rid of and pressure was placed on the Roman pope and the Avignon pope to step down which they finally did. The council then selected a new pope – Martin V- and that pope was placed in Rome. It was decided that Rome was the best place for the pope to be because that is where the apostle Peter built the first church so the symbolism was quite powerful. Even with this situation now resolved, the consequences of the Great Schism would live on for some time. Secular leaders had now been giving the opportunity and success of controlling religious matters in their territories and not a single one was willing to give that control back to Rome. This problem with the numerous popes destroyed the international political power that the papacy had gained over the last several years and the pope's prestige had been very badly tarnished. Also, other religious movements were to crop up with tended to focus on a person's relationship with God- a direct relationship... rather than the relationship that had been focused on in the Catholic church (your relationship with the priests and the pope who then opened your relationship to God.)

The Catholic church never seemed to gain its strength or power back fully after the Great Schism. Many popes tried to consolidate and create more power and there were more Crusades and pogroms against different groups deemed as heretics by the church. And the society around it was slowly coming closer to openly question the Catholic church, what makes a relationship with God, hierarchy, etc.... Those are questions that we as a people still struggle with today. We still do not have easy answers and we have our own way of dealing with heretics in our lives- luckily, they tend to be more discriminatory than violent... a small blessing but shows we have a long way to go as a race. What are your thoughts on these questions?