31 December 2005

Happy New Year

A quiet day of reflection, listening to the rain fall here in Southern California.

So many things to be grateful for this year... not least, the opportunity to get to know the thoughts of so many congenial people here in the blogging community.

So many things yet to pray for.

- - - - - - -

On the 27th, Penni over at Martha, Martha tagged me with a meme which she was passing on from yurodivi: five resolutions for the new liturgical year.

1. Stick my nose inside a church.
2. More consciously let God guide my life.
3. Refrain from uncharitable thought and comment about certain members of the Church hierarchy.
4. Contribute to certain charities which mean a lot to me.
5. Continue to build my routines and focus on what I need to do.

I've already done the first. Thanks for the nudge. I'll post about that later on.

Happy 2006, everybody!

24 December 2005

Prayers for you at Christmas

This post is for you because I cannot be with you in person to embrace you as we greet each other with "Merry Christmas!" I just wanted to let you know I am thinking of you as you prepare for tomorrow's celebration.

I pray for you that you will have whatever is best for you this season. I do not know what that is; it is between you, and God. He is watching over you, eager to give you good gifts.

May your blessings include peace and patience. I've been through my share of stressful Christmases. This promises to be a quiet one for me, so I shall spend it praying for you, that you will feel His whispered encouragement when you need it most.

For you I pray for the gift of gratitude, that it may well up in your heart as you count your blessings and enjoy the gifts of beauty and inspiration which are the cherished inward gifts of this season.

I hope that your Christmas will include the chance to look into the eyes of ones you love, even if only in memory. Should those memories bring tears, may you be comforted in whatever way makes sense to your soul.

For me, when sorrow closes in, I run to Mary. She was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit. She bore God's child. How much she must have loved that baby! Yet, in her woman's heart, she must have sensed that trouble lay ahead. After all, God, who created his son's body by inexplicable holy mystery, arranged for him to be brought forth in a dark stable.

All too soon, she was to hear, "This child is destined to be a sign that will be rejected; and you too will be pierced to the heart." She knows what it means to love, and lose. She knows what it means to have a shadow over your heart even in the midst of joy. She knows what it's like to sit helplessly beside the dearest person on earth and watch him die. She knows. Go to her.

She is not God, but she is the one he chose to mother his very own son. Far from the saccharine-sweet saint portrayed as gazing fondly, even somewhat vacuously, on the child in the manger, she was a young woman of deep faith and steely resolve who voluntarily gave her body and life to God, mothered the Word made flesh, lived with the certain knowledge that his earthly life was doomed, and watched his crucifixion.

You do not have to ask her to pray for you, if that thought is foreign to your religious understanding. But I pray that, if you are grieving, the recollection of her, as you contemplate Jesus' birth, will bring you the grace to rejoice even in the face of certain sorrow.

May angels, like those the shepherds saw, guide you this Christmas, protecting your travels, watching over your celebration, and guiding your thoughts to God in the midst of whatever you experience during this holy time.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

The same was in the beginning with God.

All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.

In him was life; and the life was the light of men.

And the light shineth in darkess; and the darkness comprehended it not.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.

The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe.

He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.

That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.

He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.

He came unto his own, and his own received him not.

But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on this name:

Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. - John 1:1-14

May God bless us, every one.

Merry Christmas!

I've started early and had the most perfect Christmas Eve church service ever, courtesy of American Public Radio. It was "A Festival of Nine Lessons" broadcast from King's College in Cambridge, England.

The nine lessons were read from the King James Version of the Bible, with clear and fluent diction, so as to be heard in the echoes of the church. After each, the choir sang pieces which were reflective of the reading, and a real aid in meditation on the sacred words. Sometimes there were hymns which the congregation sang. The only (rare) accompaniment was from the organ.

The service finished with a traditional prayer from the Book of Common Prayer, and the two traditional carols, O Come All Ye Faithful and Hark the Herald Angels Sing.

It was beautiful, reverent, solemn, and joyful. One could imagine the earliest Christians having such a service, repeating the words to one another, and singing hymns between the readings.

I do not say it's the only way. I don't mean to tout it over anyone else's worship on this holy eve of the great beginning feast of the Church year. All I know is that it was perfect for me, and I take it as a gift, one of those [there-are-no] coincidences that leave me feeling like my soul has been hugged by the One Who created and redeemed it.

May your Christmas include such a private, perfect gift from God.

What my sister's Labrador Retriever taught me

Thanks to Rachel Swenson Balducci for reminding me of this one:

If a dog was the teacher you would learn stuff like:
• When loved ones come home, always run to greet them.

• Never pass up the opportunity to go for a joyride.

• Allow the experience of fresh air and the wind in your face to be pure ecstasy.

• When it's in your best interest, practice obedience.

• Let others know when they've invaded your territory.

• Take naps.

• Stretch before rising.

• Run, romp, and play daily.

• Thrive on attention and let people touch you.

• Avoid biting when a simple growl will do.

• On warm days, stop to lie on your back in the grass.

• On hot days, drink lots of water and lie under a shady tree.

• When you're happy, dance around and wag your entire body.

• No matter how often you're scolded, don't buy into the guilt thing and pout.

• Run right back and make friends.

• Delight in the simple joy of a long walk.

• Eat with gusto and enthusiasm.

• Stop when you have had enough.

• Be loyal.

• Never pretend to be something you're not.

• If what you want lies buried, dig until you find it.

• When someone is having a bad day, be silent, sit close by and nuzzle them gently.

09 December 2005

Love and memory

The Anchoress comments on and links to an absorbing post by neo-neocon which looks at the story of Clive Wearing, who lost his long-term memory to a bout with encephalitis. His wife left him for a time, then returned:
I realised that we are not just brain and processes. Clive had lost all that and yet he was still Clive. Even when we didn’t see one another, when we were six months apart and only spoke on the telephone, nothing had changed. Even when he was at his worst, most acute state, he still had that huge overwhelming love … for me. That was what survived when everything else was taken away.

The Anchoress says,
Read the whole thing and marvel in the miracle of love. And think about how for the world, “marriage” has become less a sacrament and more of a social contract. And yet “the two shall become one flesh…”

Sometimes people ask me why the Catholic church allows annullment - it all seems like a “pay as you exit” scheme to them. But there is a supernatural element, completely spiritual, that should exist within marriage, and if it is not being admitted into the marriage (or not being entered into by the couple) well, perhaps then the marriage itself never did “exist,” except on paper.

Somethings truly are in the stars.

A feast for the eyes

A colleague recently returned from Italy, enjoying it the perfect way, as the guest of a friend who lives there. He treated me to a slide show of his many, many images of the area where he was visiting. He is an accomplished artist, the city where he stayed is breathtakingly beautiful, and he had a good digital camera. The results were astounding. I usually find myself yawning about the third snapshot in, but the images he captured transported me into the place they so skillfully depicted.

He was there for three weeks. For thirty minutes he let me forget all about the work on my desk and revel in the unstudied, unplanned beauty of ancient neighborhoods, beautiful architecture, and vistas which look exactly the same as they did when painted centuries ago.

It was a wonderful gift, and one which I needed, as you may have guessed from previous posts. ;)

In the moment

There is a saying, "be in the moment." Someone who's been through addiction, whether as participant, codependent, or exasperated onlooker, knows exactly what's meant by that. At some point, all civilized human beings have to apply rationalization or skirt reality in order to apply charity and tolerance. "He's just tired." "She's under stress." "I was behaving like a child... no wonder he came off on me." But, sometimes, it gets to be an obsession... a life skill... an art form. One loses the awareness of making a conscious effort to get around the discomfort. Instead, you start jollying yourself into believing Everything is Just Fine. We forbid ourselves and others to feel otherwise. No matter how much our stomach hurts from anxiety or the tears want to fall, we smile and calmly say, "it's all right" or "it's not so bad."

It takes a long time to overcome that. One way is to concentrate on simple, accessible experiences: the fragrance of a rose, the beauty of a landscape, or a beautiful melody. Not just the nose, eyes or ears, but the brain and the emotions, the memory and the soul. It took me a long time to learn to do that. To this day, it is still a conscious decision.

Of late ... many years down the road of recovery ... I've noticed that the willingness to be in the moment has not been limited to just the good stuff. I am willing to feel my pain.

This is not a maudlin exercise, though if I'm tired I might retire early with a box of tissues and cry myself to sleep. (I spent decades without shedding a tear, so that's really an improvement.) It is, for me, a quiet acknowledgement that life hurts, and I can feel that hurt, understand and acknowledge it, and honor my sorrow and my pain - and life is really sweeter when I do.

I don't recommend wallowing in pain. I don't allow myself to do so. If it gets too bad, I go for a walk, have a hot bath, take my vitamins, and get some sleep. But, sometimes, I honor myself and what I have lived through by acknowledging the scope of what I have lost and endured.

It hurts, yes, but it's nothing compared to what Jesus endured. If I open my soul to him, I sense him drawing near. "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death..." I know that valley. I've crossed it a few times. I know how dank and cold and dark it gets. There are things to fear in there, things you cannot identify but whose reality your soul knows, and wants to run from.

He is with us in those moments.

I have a lot of beauty in my life. I have love, and so many good things. Still, I feel like it's part of my healing that sometimes I can sit and open the dark side of my soul. I find I can look at the horror without flinching because Jesus is looking at it with me. Together we open the hidden place. Together we hear the cruel words again, or feel the awful horror of a moment of loss so deep that I knew my life would never be the same. I look at the moment, and hand it off to him. I don't know what he does with it. Sometimes I think I hear the echo of nails being driven, or the soft drip of something heavier than water onto the ground.

I don't want it to be that way. I don't want my pain to be his, too. But he lets me know somehow that his part already happened. It's done. He knew what I would experience, and he took it on himself that day. Part of what he suffered was for me. There were my sins, and there were those of the ones whose sin complicated my life. It doesn't matter. They all got dealt with then.

They got dealt with so that I could heal, today; so that I could look at the pain and let it go, into the hands of one who let evil do its worst, yet rose again. And that's what he points me to, now. I don't understand why what happened to me had to happen. I've been given the grace to let go of that need to know. The Sun is rising, making all things new. My soul is different and new, too. The pain isn't gone, but it has no power to hurt me, now. He took it from me.

I am still wounded. I am still maimed. The life that was so easy for others ... meet, marry, know, love ... was never mine, although I yearned for it so deeply. My blunders led to a barren existence in an emotional wilderness. Now I can quit hiding from the pain. Instead of annihilating me, the sorrow has led me to be closer to God than ever before in my life. He has let me share an infinitesimal bit of what he knew on the cross. I have been taken into his confidence. The only difference is, he understood why, and I never will. There are no explanations. There is only the promise of company and support if you surrender.

In a Carmelite cell, there is a bare cross on the wall. It is bare because it is a destination.

06 December 2005


Sometimes the ones that mean the most are the ones I don't have.

Driving home tonight, I turned on the radio, and heard "Isn't she lovely..." As I listened to the words of a father celebrating his delight in his baby daughter, I recalled the image of a snapshot I saw a couple of years ago. It was a blurry image, taken on a sunny day, of a young dad and his toddler daughter. The sun made his hair red-gold and made her look like a cherub.

It was many years ago.

Not my memory.

The little girl is a married woman now. Her dad loves her so much.

The man is not my husband. Other women have known him in that way; not I. His daughter has no clue who I am.

But she is lovely, and dearly loved.

As difficult as this is - not having certain memories of people I love - it has been the best thing ever for my understanding of God.

So many of us met him when we were young, and fell in love with him. We were tempted, distracted, or lured from his side. People lied to us, saying that he was no good for us, that he wanted just to make us unhappy. Entranced, we agreed. Our love did not fight back nor argue. We had the information; we made our choice. We left him behind and went with our seductive new friends who denied us nothing, except closeness, intimacy, self-respect, and affection.

God never forgot us. He never hated us for leaving him. He missed us terribly and wanted what was best for us. Because he loves us, He lets us decide what that is. It would not be love if He forced it on us.

It is the liars who force things on us. They say they love us, but they call us demeaning names, reject our advances, or turn away when we need emotional shelter, responding with exasperated annoyance every time we ask for something which is appropriate given our role in their lives. And yet we believe them when they say that this is love.

When we are ready to see through the lies, Love will still be there. If we are never ready, we are still Loved. God does not stop loving us because we're frightened, make stupid decisions, or cling to people who shame and demean us.

I have learned this, not because I am good like God, but because I love, and can do no more than write about it. I understand why God must wait and not intervene. I know why it takes so long for us to give up on trying to make people give us love.

Lord, have mercy on those who feel compelled to spend their lives trying to keep someone from getting angry with them. Help us comprehend that, just because someone wants to shame us, that doesn't mean what they say is true. Give us the grace to discern true love, and to choose it. Support us and forgive us when we're too scared to break free. Never give up on us, dear Lord. Do not abandon us to our captors. Inoculate us against their lies by showing us the truth about love. Send us encouragers and people we can trust. Help us to grasp that people who treat us lovingly and respectfully are not lying, and people who say they love us while shaming and demeaning us are not telling the truth.

04 December 2005

Permission to mess up

Owen over at luminousmiseries has a wonderful post for artists, which I found linked over at Alicia's. Even if you're not an artist or a writer... go check it out.

02 December 2005

Thoughts on vows, vocations, and visibility

On MS-NBC's website yesterday in "The Week in Pictures," there was a photo gallery which includes a picture of two nuns playing with the children of a parochial school during some unseasonably warm weather in White Bear Lake, Minnesota.

I looked 'em up - here they are.

If you follow that link, you will notice something quite unusual about the sisters in the photo on the website.

1. Their habits are beautiful.

2. The order would appear to be attracting vocations.

The sisters are attached to St. Ann's Church, which is run by the FSSP. They are traditional in their religious life and worship.

And MS-NBC included a picture of these unprogressive gals on its website photos for the week.

Just interesting, that's all.