31 July 2005

Gardeners always find each other

Dropped by the Bookish Gardener today (link on right) and found this humble natterspot on her blogroll. I think perhaps it's the first ... and so undeserved. But it reminds me to get out and water the garden, especially since it's been quite warm this weekend.

I've a large garden (through no fault of my own - the house just came with it, ten years ago) and no sprinklers (also through no fault of my own, but we won't discuss whose) and so I must water it all by hand. That takes Quite a While.

Two years ago or so, I was quite resentful about the time needed to water my poor plants. Now I find it to be soothing and pleasant. Just shows how much things can change.

Nothing's blooming at the moment, except for a few agapanthus. They are dear to me because they remind me of my maternal grandfather, who insisted on calling them "Aggie's Panties," much to my grandmother's (amused) dismay.

But they're thirsty, and it's late, so I'd better go spritz 'em.

What I miss at Mass

I miss the capital-M Mystery.

When the new Mass is poorly performed (I cringe every time I see that word), it loses all mystery. And, let's face it, folks: once that's gone, there's nothing left. It's not like there's great preaching or wonderful music. The English translations are the verbal equivalent of Frankenstein lumbering around, the music is execrable, and there often is no teaching. The mysticism is so gone.

I yearn for it because I found my way to the faith as a teenager by way of the Carmelite mystics. It made perfect sense to me that the Lord romances our souls. He woos and persuades us. He wants us to invite Him into our very selves. The Song of Songs, the Gospel of John, the writings of St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, and St. Therese of Lisieux are full of ardent, courageous, self-forgetting romance. All depict Jesus as a passionate, resourceful, persistent and devoted Lover of our souls.

"Have I ever told you, Mother, how fond I am of snow?... I wanted to see nature clad like myself, in white, on my Clothing Day, but I had almost given up hope because it was so warm the day before that it might have been Spring... I gave up my childish desire as impossible of realization...

"The moment I sent foot in the cloister [after the ceremony], my eyes fell upon my little statue of the Child Jesus smiling at me from the midst of flowers and lights. I turned towards the quadrangle and--I saw that it was completely covered in snow! What delicacy on the part of Jesus! To gratify His little bride's every desire, He had sent her snow! What mortal man could ever cause one flake to fall from the sky to charm the one he loves?" -- St. Thérèse

"O my Divine Master, is it only your Justice that shall find atoning victims? Surely Your Merciful Love has need of victims too? It is rejected and ignored on every side, the hearts on which You long to lavish it turn towards earthly creatures, seeking their happiness in a momentary affection instead of running to Your arms to be consumed in the enrapturing furnace of Your Infinite Love..." -- St. Thérèse

"The spiritual passion of the Dark Night exceeds the passion of earthly love as the fire of the sun, the fire of a candle. Life is love passionate and intense. Only in such love is reality touched--the rest is deception, bondage, and spiritual death. Such love draws upwards, ever more persistently, to the mountain peaks. The fulfilled passion of St. John passes into the peace of perfect satisfaction, its energy spent in ecstatic absorption rather than in sporadic desire. In this mystic marriage are fulfilled all knowledge and all art, all striving, all desire, all love, and all life. This spousal union is the limitless Being of God eternally filling the virginal emptiness of the soul. It is harmony without striving, love without longing, yes without no, and life without death." --William McNamara, OCD, in Mystical Passion, the Art of Christian Loving, writing about St. John of the Cross

"Open to me, my sister, my dearest, my dove, my perfect one; for my head is drenched with dew, my locks with the moisture of the night." --the Beloved, in the Song of Songs, 5:2

Incense. The ringing of the bells.


Relationship - or communion?

Came across this and found it very thought-provoking:

"...poverty is a state where...we have no further resources of our own while remaining dependent on our Creator. Theoretically or theologically there is nothing very special about that. The lived experience of it, however, is cataclysmic. It is knowing who we are. It is being simply realistic. Poverty of spirit is almost another term for reality. When we are genuinely poor we can see ourselves, our life and relationships in a bright, clear light. However, we resist this poverty instinctively and a kind of gravitational force pulls us away from it because we prefer the illusion of ourselves as being independent of our Creator. In that false light of independent status we develop the Luciferian, egotistical notion of having a relationship with God as a relationship of equals. We lose the humble realism of understanding that because of [God's] (sic) utter generosity we have communion with [God], which is something much greater than relationship. We live and move and have our being in [God]. The illusion of independence costs us the reality of the freedom of being a child of God.

--From Light Within by Laurence Freeman, quoted in A Daily Guide for Prayer for All God's People by Rueben P. Job and Norman Shawchuck, Upper Room Books

The concept of appropriate roles comes to mind. Aren't we being rather immature to insist that God be our Friend, instead of allowing him to be God? We are not God, but His children. I would rather be His child than His pal.

29 July 2005

Today's craze for tacky church architecture - a likely source

A friend's research on computer keyboards led to a website with a collection of fascinating links. One deals with architecture, and how a previously artistic society went "drab" with a vengeance in the 60s, putting up wholly uninteresting buildings - Russia.

Read about it at artlebedev.com, in "They were Expendable."

This spiritual anhedonia infiltrated American culture via the universities. Afterwards, it went out into the world, came up against reality, and was promptly dropped for the delights of the 80's. The Catholic Church, however, is still busily throwing up bland church-boxes with felt banners and lousy acoustics for guitars. Why? I think just because of its monolithic size. It cannot turn on a dime - and pop culture is nothing if not evanescent. Folk music was part of the scene in the late 60s and 70s; now it's as archaic in its own way as Latin!

To be hip, the liturgical writers need to issue new music every MONTH, not every century. To be truly "relevant", communion hymns should be in smooth jazz, and rap or hip-hop for the responsorial psalm. That's why the Church's attempts to be trendy are doomed to ignominious failure. It's as embarrassing as when one's parents adopted polyester leisure suits and affected long hair and gold chains in the late 70s... remember?

The Roman Catholic Church can do many admirable, impressive, beautiful, wonderful things, but we need to quit trying so hard to be cool. At this rate, in 2030 we'll be trying to be 'bad'. In 2050 the GIRM will be 'phat.' It's a losing proposition.

We need to just be who we are.

23 July 2005


Someone asked me today if I'm going on vacation. I do have some days next month; but I'm not going away. I want to stay at home.

Today I spent some time working on my house, doing things which have been on my to-do list for three years.

FlyLady has been one of those who has helped me on the long, slow road to reclaiming my ability to live a full life. Step by tiny step, I am learning how to care for my house, and myself, in ways which are natural, pleasant and fun. I do very small bits; but they stay done. This is not something I've experienced before, ever. It is an amazing feeling to be able to teach myself the skills which some people seem to know from the moment they take their first steps, and do it without haste, and self-loathing, and self-recrimination.

In doing this, I am very slowly taking apart a monster which has sat on my life since I was a child. With each square inch of surface decluttered, each box of give-aways filled, I feel better and more confident.

My goal is Thanksgiving: I want to have the house in good enough shape to have my sister and her husband over this year. Haven't mentioned it to them yet; I might not make it in time. But today I did some work, 15 minutes at a time, and it was fun to succeed.

There are so many women who regularly feel hatred of themselves, constantly pressured, martyred, and unhappy. The housework is a constant bone of contention; the family's joy is stifled by the fighting that breaks out over the simplest chores. Parties are unimaginably exhausting due to the crash cleaning that goes on ahead of time, and the emotional outbursts along with it.

That was my experience. I was unaware of another way.

It takes a long time to overcome those old habits, but it can be done, with gentle encouragement, a willingness to let go (of a lot of stuff, both things and thoughts), and a plan.

It's just remarkable that a woman would give of her time to use the Internet to supply the help and hints and encouragement and love which so many simply never understood, or even had. I'm grateful to her.

04 July 2005

Avoiding busyness to get things done

This article, which I found my way to via a couple of links starting at Amy's Humble Musings, really struck a chord with me.

During my darkest times, I was afflicted with that 80s thing whereby all the new gadgets were coming into use, and people were vying to look Important. Mary Baker Eddy once wrote, "Rushing around smartly is no proof of accomplishing much," and she was right - but I got caught up in it, anyway.

I got so exhausted and depressed I could barely function.

These days the pendulum has swung the other way for me. I spend far too much time avidly reading blogs, writing, and paying absolutely no attention to my house or a myriad of other things I should be doing. Although I cannot justify such a use of time, I refuse to call it a waste of time. This is a huge time of catching up for me. I am incredibly hungry to know how people think, what they're writing about, and how they're managing their family life. Blogs are wonderful for that. I am learning so much, and it has made a huge difference in my level of confidence and my overall emotional health. Thank you, dear blogging friends!

I will come back to center eventually. I actually am. I do so much more of "normal life" than I ever did before, it's wonderful. But I confess: this three-day weekend has been an absolute, non-stop, playtime for me. I've had a wonderful vacation and feel renewed and ready for the week ahead.

How to do a successful blog

Written as a what else.

I guess this art form is truly maturing, if we have to be told how to do it. ;)

Though there are as many reasons for blogging as there are for anything, and if you're blogging for business, I can see why you'd be anxious about the number of readers you had.

So far, I'm just doin' it to be doin' it. I always write every day, anyway.

Good thoughts on suffering

... from Brother Sebastian, here.
So what type of suffering is profitable, then? I think that metanoia requires suffering. Again, not that pain itself is somehow profitable. Instead, I believe that the change of the nous requires some neurological changes that produce pain from the organismic level. As a therapist, I believe that we adapt to the crazy patchwork-quilt of conditional love that we encounter through our life, that we adapt in our bodies, including neurologically. Change at the organism level requires letting go of those adaptions that have shaped my internal tensions and neurological filters that "make" me "feel" safe. Thus, change leaves me anxious and hurting as I fear for my own survival: the more radical change, the more severe the pain.

That fear can keep one in a prison of indecision. When there is no sense of trust that others care for us, our close relationships become ordered around pleasing the other person, without reference to ourselves at all. We don't love ourselves because the others don't love us; they want only their own way. This is typical of codependency. One forgets oneself, not in the good sense, but in the sense of self-denial or self-annihilation.

Once one accepts God as good - not as easy as one might think, particularly if one's never experienced unconditional love or a good father figure - one is able to back off from control and allow Him to work in one's life. The idea of allowing suffering - being quiet before God, letting Him do what He's gotta do - has always been so helpful to me. But it took a long time before I understood that I needed to let go in order to let Him come in. Until we have a sense of His power and presence and love, letting go is out of the question; we lose all control and open ourselves to unspeakable emotional, and sometimes physical, harm.
I think this is why Jesus had to come to save me. I cannot change enough on my own, regardless of whatever method of "salvation" I choose, because I am too afraid of death.

This echoes what Steve Jobs said (quoted below). And it's true. In our culture today, sex is everywhere, but death is the Great Unmentionable. If I hear one more of those "Forest Lawn" ads - "Celebrate a Life" - I'm gonna ... well, never mind.
...I embrace the Passion and the Cross because they are the only hope I have of escaping the pain that I have taken on in hope of feeling loved. (emphasis added)

Bingo! That was it - that's what I was trying to accomplish all those years.
So I seek those things that increase my "suffering"--the monastic ascetical practices that help sweep the house clean of distraction, for example--so that it becomes more radically like Jesus' suffering.

No surprise that what brought me into the Church originally was an intense desire to join the order of Discalced Carmelites. Their asceticism is not extreme, but it does involve strict silence and absolute poverty. In my current situation, I consciously practice a great deal of both silence and extreme frugality. It's very freeing.
Kinda makes me want to pray for more people "in" purgatory, since the whole concept focuses on purgation of what is "unclean" of me and in me.

I can see why the Protestants reject the concept of purgatory. I do not. I think that it is the counter-weight to "...only by the sweat of your brow will you win your bread until you return to the earth." (Genesis 3:19a) At some point it must be a logical construct, and God is able to abrogate it as He sees fit; but I have thought of Purgatory as a very hopeful place, a place of progress and peace. No matter how good we are when we die, there are bound to be some attachments, some ties to this world which cloud our vision of God and keep us from understanding Him. I see Purgatory as the cleaning of the windows of the soul, so that we can gaze directly into the eyes of the Beautiful One, and know we are home.

Another perspective

...from the Caelum et Terra blog, on "the swift collapse" that happened in the 70s.

More affirmation about following one's passion

I've been enjoying following Saintos' journey at luminous miseries. After my earlier post today, imagine my feelings upon coming across this in his post:

When I hear it said by 'leadership' that getting to do things like the dramatic reading or some artwork is the creative thing refreshes and rejuvenates amidst what I normally do I blanch because they can say this and not see the irony of another often touted truth that we should be working in our area of passion; if our job or ministry does not find a full expression for our God given passion then we should quit and find another...

That is how bloggers minister to one another. It's impossible to spend enough time with people these days to have this kind of conversation, but we need it so badly. It helps me to know I'm not the only one feeling my way through to a more (and I hate this term, by the way) authentic life. But even as I cringe at the term because it's so overused, it's also accurate. Because the way I was living for all of those years was so often pretense or lies.

In his commencement address at Stanford last month (and it's really worth reading the whole thing), Steven Jobs said this:
When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: "If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you'll most certainly be right." It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart...

Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of other's opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

In times past in Catholic spirituality, it was not uncommon for people to meditate upon death, using thoughts like Jobs', above, to refocus their attention from the nonsense of the world to the eternal truths. It is not morbid to do so. On the contrary, it is essential if one is to truly, fully live.

I'm not the only one ...

... who thinks there's something Really Seriously Wrong in some places of the church. Clayton sees it, too, and writes about it here.

"The best way I can describe the situation is this: being a Catholic in the archdiocese of Los Angeles is like being a child of an addict. There are a number of correspondences between the family of an addict and the archdiocese of Los Angeles:

  • the addict is an opportunist who engages in a systematic campaign of denial and cover-up

  • the addict is a law unto himself

  • the addict forms alliances outside of the family in order to sustain the toxic fiction of well-being

  • when confronted with the fallout of his toxic behavior, he asks for forgiveness without being thoroughly contrite (ready to make amends); he is unable or unwilling to make a sustained, thorough-going apology for what he has done and for the consequences of his behavior on family life

  • he surrounds himself with enablers and peacemakers (e.g. Todd Tamberg and Mike Nelson)

  • he scapegoats his victims

  • his children suffer from a particularly intense form of neglect, a neglect that would be less severe if he were physically absent; as it is, his presence continually makes present the reality, 'you are not loved for your own sake'"

  • The rest of the post is very thoughtful.

    The behavior of the laity in response to the church's sudden and bewildering about-face of the last few decades is typical of kids when their parent(s) begin to hit the bottle: some leave outright; some leave but come back only for holidays, gritting their teeth through the shenanigans around the table, then split as soon as they can; others stay and pick fights with the parents and each other and contribute greatly to the discord; there's a whole group that quietly puts up with it all, cleaning up the messes and trying to keep up a front of normalcy; and then there's always the faction which defends the drinkers and does all they can to please and protect them, to the point of attacking anyone who would presume to suggest that Mom is not behaving properly. It's disloyal, you see...

    The Bookish Gardener

    This blog, written by Chan Stroman, is one of my great favorites. Today's post on music, and yesterday's on colors in the garden give me a strong sense of having just shared a lovely cup of tea with a Renaissance woman. She shares interesting links as well as her own reflections ("...Beethoven's music is all him—joyful, stormy, playful, profound, and, yes, sometimes clumsy and intemperate, too—but I don't think it's all about him...") which sometimes reveal her artist's soul. ("Just before the sun sets, the duskglow of the garden takes on a sepia-toned cast from the sodden, humid air, like a historical flashback in an artsy movie, or a fugue state. Pinks, yellows, reds, grays and blues buzz through the haze like old neon light fixtures.")

    That kind of whole life is very much what I aspire to, even as I know it's impossible. I'm nowhere near sufficiently disciplined. I also tend to flit from one subject to another in my studies, so I end up unable to hold all the pieces together in my head at one time. Finally, although I am so visually-oriented that I must store virtually everything out in sight unless it's in a place so familiar I can find it in the dark, I don't easily come up with beautiful, accurate descriptions like hers.

    Yet. :)

    My life has been about scurrying and scrambling so much of the time, reacting to emergency after emergency, stopping dead for a while to recoup my energies, then scurrying off again. It's not how I'm built; those kinds of rhythms tend to leave me upset and frazzled, which lead to exhaustion and migraine, which puts me out for a few days so that I have to scramble to catch up.

    When I was a child, I was not taught to respect my own time. My life and activities and even thoughts were to be instantly submitted to those around me - my mother and grandmother, mostly, two very strong women with Ideas of How Things Should Be. The normal stage of growth and separation which most teens go through was thwarted by the loss of my dear one and my mother's alcoholism, which made me feel I needed to stay at home while my much younger sister got through school. I started working in the offices of a locally-based corporation. It was a good job, as office jobs go, but the kind of work was exactly wrong for my scrupulous nature. My work has always been extremely stressful to me, and it's not a career in the usual sense. I consider my main accomplishment to be staying employed, getting consistently good reviews, throughout epic family crises... and most of that just God's kindness in placing me in environments where people were supportive and forgiving.

    So, when I read The Bookish Gardener's musings, I know that I am reading the output of a mind which has been disciplined and organized and allowed and encouraged to do the kind of work which was agreeable and meaningful, and all fitted into place to make a whole: family, garden, books, work, music. If you were to ask me what "wealth" is like, I would point exactly to that. It has nothing to do with bank accounts, or the size of one's house, and everything to do with the command of one's time.

    My dear sister has been lovingly but firmly working on me for years now to get me to live in line with my artistic and intellectual passions. She is an artist who practices her craft constantly, even while helping her husband start a company, which is something you can only do if you're passionate about the product you're creating and putting out there for people, and he is. My sister wants me to re-form my life to honor my art, instead of snatching little wisps of time between other stuff. I've always imagined it involved leisure, but that's not true. Living a whole life is a challenge of the first order. It takes planning and organization and commitment. It has to be a project unto itself.

    Before now, I've always imagined that retirement would be the time for me to cultivate my life like that. I realize now that not only do I not need to wait for retirement, I must not. There are no guarantees. I do not want to exit this mortal plane with my life and house and affairs as they are; that is not how I want people to remember me. It is humbling to think that, if I drop dead and people come into the house and it is clean and tidy, they will be unknowingly witnessing a triumph; my scattered approach to life shows up in my surroundings. Just learning to control the way I use and store my possessions is a complex and absorbing task.

    My tendency to get down on myself is no help, either. No matter what I've done, I always look at what's not done. I must consciously recall my accomplishments: losing 30 pounds two years ago and keeping it off; slowly but permanently gaining control of areas of my house, starting with the kitchens and bathrooms; achieving order and a sense of purpose at work, instead of always reacting to emergencies each day. I used to hate project management at work; now I'm eagerly learning it, because I'll use those skills when I start to write in earnest. The process of writing down goals, making plans, and checking off milestones seems so incredibly obvious, but, believe me, it's a learned skill which requires lots and lots of practice to become automatic. To this day, when I sit down at my desk at the office, I'm overwhelmed with dread. If I have a straightforward to-do list and a reasonable expectation of no disruption, it feels very strange. I am used to having terrible things happen. I'm accustomed to emergencies. I'm habituated to it. I'm on edge and tense just opening my email. It's always been like that for me - well, except the part about the email. Fairly recent invention, that. ;)

    It's been only in the last few years that I've consciously worked my way into jobs that fit my skills and enthusiasms. Of late I've been working on the documentation for a database system and managing a project of conversion and implementation for another database. Days spent focused on either of those tasks are days when I leave the office with a sense of real satisfaction. I've had to train myself carefully to accept that feeling and consciously enjoy it. My first impulse is to shame myself for thinking that way, when I make such stupid mistakes and so much else needs to be done.

    So, obviously, the project I must first succeed at is that of rebuilding my life. For starters, I need to quit waiting and start doing. When I was in school I got used to the idea of waiting - waiting for the term to be over, waiting to graduate. I enjoyed some of my classes, but particularly in elementary school, for reasons unrelated to the subjects, it was a horrible ordeal just to get up and through each day. That's not a good way to feel when you're only in fifth grade.

    As I grew older, the times when I could focus and enjoy my work and my life were fewer and farther between. At the time when most persons are settling into families, I was caring for my grandmother, mother and sister as best I could, in the mistaken idea that it was my duty and that I could make a difference. My mother and grandmother strongly encouraged me to live a life in line with my tastes and talents, performing and writing. When it came right down to it, however, I faced strenuous objections to any serious attempt to get out on my own. In particular, I remember one time when I wanted to move out and live with a friend of mine; I was subjected to an amazing barrage at home, of tears, terrible words, accusations, etc. At that time of my life, I had not yet learned the skills I have today; it simply never occurred to me to just laugh and pack and go. I caved in. Now I see it exactly for what it was; but it's 30 years later, now, and I've worn the twelve steps smooth over the years.

    Last night I composed and sent an email to that friend. I've looked for her over the years, and finally found her through classmates.com and some other searches. Over the weekend, I had the clear thought that Now Was The Time; I was finally ready to offer my friendship again. I hunted down the church where she and her husband are active, and at the bottom of this month's publication, her email address is published. It'll be fun to see if she replies and where she's at in her walk of life. And, for me, it's yet another reclaiming.

    All that was torn from me in those years - my dear, dear friends, my independence, my art - all of it God has, in His boundless mercy, allowed me to reclaim in some fashion. I am beginning to feel a bit superstitious about it, however. It's all happening in an orderly chain, backwards; with this last contact I'm back to the mid-70s. If the rewind is a literal count, that means I need to get cracking; I have only about 15 more years. Not that I'm worried. If the trend continues, my last few years will be spent in a cozy mediterranean style house with a lovely, sheltered garden, following an entirely enjoyable regimen of play, meals, baths and naps. I can hardly wait. :)

    03 July 2005

    I had no idea...

    who Heather Armstrong was. I'd read just last week about "being Dooced" from a job, and filed it away, but then today was traveling through the blogosphere, following my nose, and found my way to Intellectuelle (wonderful site, btw) and from there linked to dooce.com.

    Oh, my goodness. I laughed until I cried.

    Still, I was not surprised to read of Heather's struggles with depression. My mother had the same incredibly wonderful hilarious sense of humor, the same huge talent, brains, beauty - and the same kinds of monsters.

    Heather's way ahead of it, though. She knows when she needs help, and she has a wonderful husband and one of the cutest babies ever, ever, ever.

    God bless Heather and all those out there who struggle with depression, and the ones who love them.


    Saw a note about this posted on Julie D.'s blog - a woman named Carol lost her husband recently. I read some of Carol's recent posts to have a better sense of how to pray for her, and, thanks to her honesty, I know.

    But, in a sense, there is only one kind of prayer that works for any of us, especially in that situation: intercession. The kind where you get still before God, and lift up the person and their dear ones to Him, trusting Him to guard them from fear and the ploys of the deceiver, and enfold them in His love - even when they, in their fear and misery, can't even believe He's real.

    I've mentioned the loss of my mother many years ago. Spiritually, it was like being knocked down and dragged for miles over rough ground. I'd dreaded her death for years. If Carol stops by and reads this, she'll recognize the same stubbornness in refusing to notice purple feet and swollen ankles, and trying to keep going without medical care. It clouds your sympathy and compassion because you're angry, dammit. Furious. Especially when their pig-headedness ends up costing you so much in so many ways! Grrr.

    The good that came out of it (and there always IS good, as impossible as it may be to see at the time) was twofold, spiritual and physical. I waited with my sister in a quiet room at the hospital while our mom had a terrible, invasive operation which was ultimately without purpose as it addressed a comparatively minor something. (Neither the doctors nor we were aware of the underlying problem at that time.) Anyway, I sat there with a copy of the Life Application Bible, NSRV version open on my lap (betcha didn't know it was ever published in that version - well, it was) and just let God... just let Him. Surrendered. Gave up. Quit fighting. Allowed Him to rampage all over my life, if that's what He needed to do. He didn't - not in that moment. She survived the operation and stayed alive another month or so. My sister and I were at her side as she died. I was never the same after that. I was much stronger, because I'd learned how to be weak, letting God be the strong One in my life.

    The other good thing is my sister and I never allow the other one, or anyone close to us, to get out of taking care of ourselves. Screenings, scans, preventive care, good nutrition, exercise, all of it - we make pests of ourselves. But it's a Cause, dammit. Not only do we not want to give up all that our mom did without due to her stubbornness, we don't want to worry those who love us.

    I still have that Bible. It's bristling with Post-It Notes, underlined, marked, the gilt worn off, beat up - but, when I'm dealing with that sense of the black beyond, it is my tool, my shield, my nourishment, my staff to lean upon. With its help, I came to know God as I'd never known Him before. And I know for absolute certain that, if He had not gotten me into that corner where my only option was to surrender to His Will, I'd still be wandering heedlessly, flinching at each tiny threat to my happiness. Now one of the things people notice about me is my calm. Trust me, it's not me; it's Him. More specifically, knowing that He is there and in control, no matter what's going on. Just reach out. He'll hear you. It may be better for you that you don't sense His presence; just trust that He's there. My favorite prayer from those times: "Thank You, God, for the good we cannot yet see."

    02 July 2005

    What have we got?

    Amy has a good, thought-provoking post here.

    Faced with a person of obvious holiness, we don't even ask, for a second, to ask them to "prove" what they believe is true, or try to convince them that what they profess is false or wrong-headed...

    We ask, "Where does your joy come from? Who gave it to you? Can I meet that person, too?"

    While the reflections and observations of my fellow-travelers are indispensable to me, I think that we need to be balanced, and realize that there are people reading our blogs who are going to be turned off by the holier-than-thou tone we end up adopting by default when pointing up the errors of our brethren.

    In my town, there is a mega-church. It is a conservative evangelical congregation. They are open to various kinds of Christian expression (one of the only evangelical churches I've ever known with kneelers in the pews - designed that way!). I have great respect for them and have spent many happy hours in their services. And you know what's attractive about them? Their joy. The congregation is full of joy. They help one another and have a thriving round of classes and small groups, music, ministries. They don't do political stuff. They don't inveigh against others' sins, even though there is no question where they stand on pro-life, pro-family issues; they just say, and model, it positively. And when they feel led to meet a need in the congregation or the city, they do it - quietly, modestly, unobtrusively - and with great love and joy.

    Amy is right: joy is attractive. Not sniping.

    I would like to challenge myself and my fellow bloggers to balance the hand-wringing and trenchant observations with writing which conveys the deep joy which our faith brings us.