John Michael

Life Is a Sweet, Tender Bruise XXII

Bell player from the Cantigas de Santa Maria

John Michael continues his series Life Is a Sweet, Tender Bruise, reflecting on life and people encountered, with two new stories about bells and love.

 

Deepen the Quiet

I trace my history with bells back to my dad’s mom, Dorothy Johnson. I learned to love her over the years, but she never seemed to embrace or was comfortable with her femininity and was not grandmotherly in the traditional way. When we would visit, she would make us 7 Up or root beer floats and stare nervously at my brother and I as we stared nervously back at her while consuming our floats.

She was civic-minded and enjoyed baseball, she even worked or volunteered for our local Single A baseball team, the Broncs, and we would get some of their gear. She also played the bells in a group of bell players and I remember being delighted watching her play in the high school auditorium. Bell music may be a dying art, I imagine there is probably a group or two on the prairie somewhere, but I have not seen a performance since I was a kid.

My reintroduction to bells happened a couple, or maybe even several, summers ago when I was hoboing around a lot more than I have been lately. I was in a dumpster behind a department store at the mall, either JCPenney’s or Macy’s, when I came across a box that contained a small bell. When I got home, I attached it to a string and started wearing it around my neck.

People ask me about the bells around my neck all the time and I am never sure how to answer. I will say, all spiritual traditions, from Christianity to Buddhism to aboriginal groups, embrace the bell. I have since added a larger one to my altar and when I ring it, it seems to deepen the quiet somehow.

 

People ask me about the bells around my neck all the time and I am never sure how to answer. I will say, all spiritual traditions, from Christianity to Buddhism to aboriginal groups, embrace the bell.

 

We had a small pizza party in front of the ROC tonight, and there was some laughs and gratitude despite the wind and the cold. Thanks to all who contributed to the Christmas fundraiser. He may hate me singling him out but Craig Blake is a true Warrior and has done a wonderful job keeping people and property safe for those camping around the ROC.

When I was waiting around out in front of the pizza place smoking a cigarette, I will be damned if I did not find a Christmas bell laying right there on the concrete. I took it as a good sign.

I have cleared a lot of rage, shame, and guilt out of my sexuality over the years along with clearing up some heart wounds. So, I am more in tune with my natural body than ever, although I feel like there is a ton left to learn there. I have always associated winter with death and dormancy, but as Christ was born at this very time of year, I feel like something is being born (or born again) in me. It is like that Kindness I claim to be chasing, it is accumulating in my chest and may just burst out at any moment and take over the entire show.

As the Angels told the Shephard’s Glory to God in the highest and peace to his children here on earth as we work to find that peace and joy within ourselves. I love you with everything that I have.

 

Our Minds Carry

Our minds carry many characteristics and emotions that may have been protective somehow in the short run but are certainly maladaptive in our lives. The idea is to become aware of what they are and allow love to burn them away.

I am not sure when I became cynical. I think sometime around early high school. At some point, you realize most of the adults in your life don’t know any better about things than you do. It is a little scary, because you think you are on your own. Another thing, my early wounds got no attention at the time. So, I started carrying the idea around that things don’t work out in this world.

I woke up this afternoon, I have been working the overnight at the warming shelter, and I could feel that cynicism swimming all around me, but lighter somehow. I fought it off a little with the words: Things do work out and I love myself regardless.

 

Our minds carry many characteristics and emotions that may have been protective somehow in the short run but are certainly maladaptive in our lives. The idea is to become aware of what they are and allow love to burn them away.

 

Whenever I think of the man who attacked me, I always say a prayer for forgiveness. The thought of him usually comes from a certain amount of fear or dread still. I think I had a great deal of shame about being molested. When I thought of him today and the fear, I just started laughing in a way that made me even wonder why I was afraid in the first place.

The LHS Golden Voices gave a short concert tonight down at the library, warming up for their big concert. I felt my heart crack a little at a couple of those baby Jesus songs. To bring God’s love to a dark world and claim it supreme in the face of cynics and power managers everywhere. Christ is a brave soul indeed.

Well, at some point after that I thought, Love is real. It was the first time I had that thought and knew it was true, possibly ever. I have always been a believer and have had some profound healing in my life. But, at times you look at yourself and out at the world and think, Does God know what he is doing? How can love be real with all this tragedy?

Love is an experience that combines great joy and great peace, without a hint of fear. God and I together are working on removing the basket that shades my lantern. That may be a little shopworn, but still a lovely metaphor for what can happen when we let loose of control and allow Love to heal us. When we allow love into our hearts where it can do some good for others, so that fear and cynicism in ourselves and the world can burn away.

 

John Michael

Hello, good people. I am rarely sure how to describe myself. If I say I am a Christian, many things may arise in your mind that ain't necessarily so. I was homeless for seven years and learned more about myself in that stretch of time than in any other segment of my life. I read the Bible a lot out there and came across a passage in Proverbs that has shaped my approach to life: "A man's pursuit is his kindness." I am well educated with a Master of Social Work degree and have worked a wide variety of jobs in my 52 years. None have lasted too long however. When I was homeless, the beauty of Texas wildflowers made me decide to want to live again. Along with kindness, beauty, play, and self-expression are life-guiding ideas. My shadow contains things like feeling sorry for myself, a truckload of defiance, a desperate need to please women, and no small amount of cruelty. A quote from Luke also has had a lasting effect on me: "For God is kind to the ungrateful and the evil." When I read that I thought, "Hell, I have got a fighting chance." I am here to tell you, you have a fighting chance as well. Besides Christianity, practicing Buddhist and Shamanic techniques inform my relationship to God and the world.

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