Barack Obama’s inaugural address was followed immediately by Elizabeth Alexander’s stirring inaugural poem, “Praise Song for the Day”:
God is feeding me and what I’m praying for is an appetite.” – Flannery O’Connor
Just read a great blogpost (http://desertnuns.com/the-food-that-nourishes) on this topic; just as a little one needs to learn to eat what is good for her – not just for her sweet tooth – so we must work to cultivate a sincere appreciation of all the things that the Creator does for us – not just the sweet/gentle/desired/things. And as Flannery implies, it is often work.
Nurturing ones interior life, ones spiritual sight, of the twists, turns, obstacles to endure or work around along this pilgrims path is work. Difficult work for those whose eyes can see, and of course one’s eyes must first be open! My reaction to this food that is good for me (pain and fear, sorrow or disappointment) is often shock and disbelief, hurt and (I am pained to admit) an amount of sulking – an attitude of spiritual whining or pouting. Focusing on how I am dissatisfied with God’s will, permitting and, even more difficult to swallow, His ordaining will. And then, Anger. Anger is almost always present in my disappointment with God, whether I want to acknowledge it or not.
But I’ll take the cookie please!
I read once that Mother Teresa of Calcutta encouraged her sisters to receive all things as a gift, thanking God. All things. The problems, disappointments, pains as a gift from God. What a thing to think on and strive to do, always to thank God. Surely this is the action of a spiritually mature soul. I remember how my daughter would for a time refuse and even struggle when it came to eating. For a time we even had to place a tube through her nose into her stomach to give her nutrition – at every meal, until the doctors agreed to leave the tube in place. Then I gladly added sweet chocolate in her bottled formula to entice her to eat once she returned to eating by mouth.
How terrible to see my child refuse food her body needed to gain strength and grow. Inexpressible worry really. Pope Benedict XVI reminded us, so beautifully that “each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary.” Willed, loved, necessary. When I think of the Father’s sorrow when we turn away from what will strengthen and sustain us – the magnitude of that sorrow is unimaginable. (surely a pointed spur to offer my own love and thanksgiving to Him, having had even a glimmer of this anguish through my own, over one of my children)
We also have the message and example of the sister from Poland, St. Faustina. It is through her that our Lord again and so powerfully urges us to trust and rely on His Divine Mercy. Turn to Him and rely on Him, the Father. Trusting that He will supply, provide, that He is with and watching over each of His children as dearly and truly as any earthly father cares for his children.
Willed, love, necessary.
Each one of us.
I find it difficult to trust. Is it for everyone else? It is for me. I have and could easily continue to spend much reflection on why this might be … but now I decline to enter the labyrinth that is self-examination. Instead I seem to benefit more by turning to the One calling me to trust. Waiting for the grace that will come, maybe in drips or a trickle, at times in a silent rush of interior light. He is my Father, I will rely on Him with a grateful heart until he chooses to enlighten my mind. He is my Father and I know at the bottom of my soul – that place where I begin, and truly even in my bones, that God is good. Surely that is a gift so I can resist the urge to wander in the labyrinth of my small self.
In her diary St Faustina records a vision of including two priests:
When I steeped myself in a prayer of thanksgiving, I suddenly saw the Lord Jesus in a great brightness, just as He is painted, and at His feet I saw Father Andrasz and Father Sopocko. Both were holding pens in their hands, and flashes of light and fire, like lightning, were coming from the tips of their pens and striking a great crowd of people who were hurrying I know not where. Whoever was touched by the ray of light immediately turned his back on the crowd and held out his hands to Jesus. Some returned with great joy, others with great pain and compunction. Jesus was looking at both priests with great kindness. (St. Faustina’s Vision of Fr. Sopocko on 7th August 1936(Extract from Diary – No. 675))
Father Sopocko was her spiritual director and I found a bit of what he writes on Trust:
The decisive factor in obtaining God’s Mercy is trust. Trust is the expectation of someone’s help. It does not constitute a separate virtue, but is an essential condition of the virtue of hope, and an integral part of the virtues of fortitude and generosity. Because trust springs from faith, it strengthens hope and love …
“The expectation of someone’s help.” It is well worth practicing patience in my continual petition for authentic Trust and beginning, regardless of my lack of understanding or expected emotional sensibility, to trust. Choosing it … until it wells up in my heart. I am a thought of God. Willed. Loved. Necessary.
It is time for this finicky child to learn the lesson of what is good. (please God :) And again, Flannery is so right and now I pray for open seeing eyes and also for an appetite.
Jesus I trust in You.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta pray for us.
St. Faustina pray for us.
Flannery O’Connor, Requiescat in pace, and please pray for us too.
“Damaging selfie: Student breaks 19th century statue in Milan while taking pic of himself.”
These words caught my eye and, for just a moment, I may have stopped breathing. We live in the midwest, not a sculptural mecca, however we do have someone near and rather dear to us over in Italy right now – our son. A junior in college, he is fortunate enough to be studying in Italy this spring. Although he is based in Rome, my brain buzzed into overdrive trying to recall his schedule, when he was traveling, when were his free days and trying not to focus on that fact that we had lost track of him for nearly a week once already. Ignoring as well the unfortunately timed email I recently sent about, among other things, visiting Milan and encouraging him to take lots of photos! (a family friend had just talked about everything to see in Milan – you can walk to the top of the duomo you know and DaVinci’s ‘The Last Supper’ is in Milan …)
A mom giving her son a nudge to try new things, use ‘fresh eyes’ to see the beauty around him – architecture, paintings … sculpture. And as he is not one to take many pictures and rolls his eyes when I remind him that we want to see him in the pictures too ‘Selfies are a good thing sometimes!’ … I said to him in our last skyping visit.
Part of parenting is truly seeing your child’s individual personality, those traits that are emerging as well as those apparent from almost the moment of birth. And then working to round out and hopefully balance the disposition as they grow and learn how to be a fully responsible adult, a productive member of family and society. Kind of like trimming a young tree so that it grows strong and straight, producing the healthiest fruit possible – so it is when parenting a child. Raising children and raising plants – there are useful similes!
Our son was born with a serious countenance, big eyes that were solemn – there was the sense that he was sizing up everyone around him. This prompted his aunt to blurt out before he was even in my arms “what, were you worrying the whole time he was in there?” So yes, a serious little fellow, and he still leans that direction twenty one years later. Occasionally this maternal gardener feels the need to encourage him to stretch out of his comfort zone a bit. ‘Pay attention to the art that will surround you … please go ahead and take a selfie once in awhile – for me, alright?’
Another very maternal thing occurred soon after catching this news item online:
- a quick hail Mary for my son’s good sense, please God
- another hail Mary for whoever did this – am hoping that it was a moment of colossal bad judgement on the most terribly wrong statue (apparently it was already in need of repair) which can happen … right?
- and then Note to Self: next time use the pruning shears on my own tongue and let the child be!
Steadfastness is the indispensable quality of every man who one day does not wish to be obliged to say: “I have wasted my life.”
We surprised her with balloons when she woke up on her birthday :) a girl’s gotta celebrate!
St. Teresa of Jesus
Teresa Sánchez de Cepeda y Ahumada, (March 28, 1515 – October 4, 1582)
Mystic – Teacher of Prayer – Doctor of the
St. Teresa of Jesus, also known as St. Teresa of Avila,
lived in Spain during the 16th Century. Her life as a Carmelite, though far
removed from the mainstream of modern culture, still speaks powerfully to us
today, as we enter the third millennium.
St. Teresa of Jesus is a heroic figure in the history of the Church; and one of my patron saints. A reformer of the Carmelite order of contemplatives … thus the Discalced Carmelites. She established many new foundations , approximately 40 new religious houses of women and men as well. She was a mystic of the church and as often happens with mystics and reformers she came under criticism and suspicion, for three years she was restricted to seclusion in one of the monasteries until the process of inquisition against her was stopped and she was allowed to continue to spread her reformed Carmelite houses and continue her writings.
The Autobiography of a Soul
The Interior Castle
The Way of Perfection
These are perhaps her main writings, and give a mystics understanding of one’s relationship with God. I have always felt that her definition of prayer, contemplative prayer is a good one, maybe because it is simple enough for me to take in: “prayer is a conversation between close friends”. She was blessed with many spiritual gifts, but also history says she was a woman of strength and simplicity guided in all things by her love of Jesus.
Let nothing disturb you.
Nothing frighten you.
All things are passing.
God never changes.
Patient endurance attains all things.
Whom God possesses in nothing is wanting.
Alone God suffices.
~The bookmark of Teresa of Avila
St. Teresa of Jesus, pray for us this day; for my soul, my family, my Church, this nation and for peace in this world. Please Teresa, intercede for us before the throne God with whom you enjoyed such friendship while living and must only be joyously closer now in heaven.
Today I had the experience of having a second tier interview for a christian counseling position. I have been fully vetted by the organization for which I would be working and have known the president of this organization for nearly eight years. Love him. Admire his skill, committment and authenticity as a therapist. And, he apparently thinks well enough of my skills, that he is rearranging the organizational structure to fit me into the picture (convoluted story involving state regulations and professional standards) anyway, this is an individual that I admire as a skilled professional and would count myself fortunate to be supervised by him.
This organization works by partnering with area churches to provide skilled, credentialed and vetted professional therapists to serve the mental health needs of the congregation and the community at large; a benefit that not only serves the congregation, saves the pastor much time and also is a potential draw from the community to the church. What’s not to like?
Per the procedure of this agency, after initial contacts by the president and ceo of this organization have established interest with an area church, at the pastor’s bidding, the next step is to bring in the counselor to meet and discuss the role … an opportunity for the pastor to meet the counselor personally; which is entirely appropriate and essential in my opinion. As it turned out, it was a surreal experience for me, one that I am still processing (read: reeling)
The universe began to ever so slightly shift under my comfortable chair in his wonderfully comfortable office after sharing my credentials, (masters degree from the University of Michigan) and applicable work (inpatient psychiatric work; outpatient mental health counselor; director of community support program for chronically mentally ill clients, hospice social worker) volunteer experience (Foster Care Review Board, 6 years on the Board of Directors of support/training facility for adult disabled, serving as both VP and a year as Board President) and life experience. All of these strengths seemed to suddenly go out the window when sharing my faith background, it became quickly clear that this christian pastor was surprised/unsettled by the fact that I am a Catholic Christian.
Suddenly, polished but pointed questions about my ability to counsel the “christians” of his congregation given my catholic faith. (Excuse me? I have worked with psychotic individuals one of whom thought the devil was writing invisible words on his legs; have set with a group of adolescent girls having survived sexual abuse, trying to make some sense of it all; been at the bedside of more than one person in the process of dying … dealing with reality based christians? I’m comfortable giving it a try) But words like: legalistic hang ups, guilt issues and doctrinal differences such as defined in Vatican Two documents, began to be quite deftly and calmly brought into the conversation. I was even asked “do you read the Bible in your daily faith life?”. Hello. In Catholic circles this is a standard joke … but to have it posed as a serious concern, is quite another matter. This from a Christian pastor from a church advertising itself as nondenominational (who also took the time to explain what the word Protestant means …. have to say, I was having a difficult time keeping a pleasant look on my face at this point). I restated that I would not be providing pastoral counseling or spiritual direction, that any doctrinal issues would obviously be referred back to him as the Pastor, and that while not a Scripture scholar, I do – even though I am a fisheater – read the Bible regularly. (ok, I left out the fisheater part, darn)
I had not encountered overt anti catholic sentiment until I was an adult with children living in rural Iowa. When approached by this organization, one of the first issues I brought up was that I wondered/doubted/feared that some protestant churches in that area would have a negative bias towards a catholic counselor. But these two men, both protestants, couldn’t imagine such an issue as we are all christian and while the differences are indeed great, in my role, the broader family of Christianity was sufficient to quell any concern on their part.
It’s 2011. Oh my.
Iraqi Catholic Christians …. are there any Catholics, any Christians at all, left in Iraq these days?
“Karol Wojtyla taught that in making an ethical decision, a moral agent does not only give rise to a particular act, but he also contributes to the person he is becoming. Every time I perform a moral act, I am building up my character, and every time I perform an unethical act, I am compromising my character. A sufficient number of virtuous acts, in time, shapes me in such a way that I can predictably and reliably perform virtuously in the future, and a sufficient number of vicious acts can misshape me in such a way that I am typically incapable of choosing rightly in the future. This is not judgmentalism; it is a kind of spiritual/moral physics, an articulation of a basic law. We see the same principle at work in sports. If you swing the golf club the wrong way enough times, you become a bad golfer, that is to say, someone habitually incapable of hitting the ball straight and far. And if you swing the club correctly enough times, you become a good golfer, someone habitually given to hitting the ball straight and far. ”
The above is a quote of our former Holy Father found on www.wordonfire.org Fr. Robert Barron’s website. It is an essential principle to understand: our physical self cannot be separated from our spiritual/intellectual self. Our “character” is affected, formed, by the acts we choose to engage in.
Something for all of us to think on.
PS. to previous post on Walter Pigeon, Admiral in the Royal Navy, RIP.
To clarify, the old hound was not a coward – I once watched him race towards an invader into the back yard to defend his territory (meter reader whom I assumed Walter would not be bothered by, much to my surprise Walt went on what might be described as the attack, basset hound style). The fascinating thing, was to see Walter’s propensity for self-preservation struggle with his desire to protect his turf and you could see it in the way he raced, cringing (think army crawl) low, and oddly quiet towards the unknowing meter man, letting out a surprisingly vicious low growl when close to the poor guy. I saved the meter man that day from Walter Pigeon then showered him (Walt) with treats – no hypnosis needed.
Anyway, Walter was exceptionally brave in spite of his better instincts or mental calculations … and he was always calculating. :)
Oh a good dog he was.
Listening earlier today, as I tortured myself up a treadclimber, to a priest of whom I am a regular listener, he said in his weekly homily “we’ve been surrounded by death around here this week”…. and went on to count out the number of funerals in their parish, losses in his personal life etc.
I have been surrounded by death recently too. Won’t go into details, but I do want to say something about our basset hound Walter Pigeon (Admiral in the Royal Navy). He was 10 years old (yes, makes him 70 blah blah) and lived a dog’s life – as hounds do in their particular way; went from sleep to death while riding on the floor of our family van, as recounted in a previous post.
His eyes were velvety brown, deep and amazingly expressive … which you would know if you were ever on the receiving end of his hypnotic attempt to guide you with his eye gaze over to the treat jar, eventually resorting to turning and pointing his whole head if one wasn’t swift enough to pick up on his meaningful gaze. Or his feigning injury to fake out another dog in order to swoop in and snatch that poor beast’s treat; he was all about the treats by the way … not balls, toys, and certainly not a dumb stick. Not sure if it was because of his six-inch legs, but the diner was always open in Walter Pigeons world and food was never a need to be questioned or put off. Thus the well-practiced and almost hypnotic eye gaze to treat jar routine.
Thunderstorms were Walter Pigeon’s Achilles heel. He would wake you at night, politely, with a restrained woof as he sat on the floor next to the bed. Once all were up, he went through his regular routine of heading to the basement with person in tow, sometimes he went under a piece of furniture, other times he was satisfied with just having you next to him. My husband says it was because Walter knew that lightning would strike the tallest thing around, so if he laid next to an upright human …. well, surely he hadn’t thought it out that much. Another thing, Walter had an extraordinary sense of self-preservation. Trouble? RUN in the opposite direction, or more usually he would be seen crouching and trying to silently exit the area, while drawing as little attention to himself as possible. It was an amazing thing to see a dog exhibit such self-control. We had long decided that if we ever saw him heading out in his crouch position we should just go along with him and if Trouble occurred while we were sleeping we knew we’d be in trouble because Pigeon would be long gone.
I had a dream about Walter Pigeon last night: he was lying there on the floor as usual and I was so happy to see him that I woke up … then realized he was gone. I don’t care what anyone says, dogs are in heaven too. His ashes sit on my bedside table. Have thought about putting them under the table, you know, in case of thunder?
White tipped tale waving
Above the tall grass at me
Walt patrols the pond
We were preparing for this for well over a year. The first college visit our academically blessed son made was in the 9th grade. A state school had already picked him out and was trying to coax him to enter early, honors programs/housing/funding, etc. Quite exciting, but not for us. So on with the profusion of mailed and now emailed college info, invites, offers, etc. And on with the examination process … of colleges and universities; visiting campuses, informally as we tiptoed around on our own or escorted by amazingly congenial school reps, sometimes just hours and once for an extended stay; twice, a drive by alone was sufficient to rule out a candidate in spite of impressive websites and hallowed lists of recommendations. Finally a winning school was agreed upon, and fortunately the school agreed too. The boy is going to college.
As Life goes for all, we too we have had some unexpected events occur in the years leading up to this day – some cataclysmic, some sad, some screwball, you might say, thrown into the living: the slipping away of a big sister (words are inadequate until one reaches heaven); seismic job change (thank God a promotion, especially in this … no, no, – why go there:) and an uprooting relocation as a result … during the boy’s senior year of high school.
After 22 years planted in one small town (no we did not live in a cave, but yes, culture shock is an accurate phrase and not to be overused) we began looking for a house, and eventually moved from our so lovely small acreage to American Suburbia in a city nearly 100 times the size of where we had lived. Somehow, in the middle of all the changes, events and planning, I decided my only coping skill left was one foot in front of the other …. one day at a time. Literally.
Without warning really, the winding down of the senior year speeds up into an alarming amalgamation of endings, celebrations, ceremonies and the neccessary arranging, coordinating and planning; and all of this is aside from the emotional tsunami that is the norm for any graduating senior and his family. Our graduating senior and family added on the fairly mind-boggling tasks of finding temporary living quarters in our town, while simultaneously looking for a “new” home in the new city. Preparing for graduation for the first and only time, although inspiring and momentous, did devolve at times, only at times, into what can be called some fresh new level of hell ….. so much to do, coordinate, connect, and of course MAKE PERFECT (as if). Which makes one so grateful for the friends who helped navigate through what was for this mom the best and worst of times. (only at times :) Truly, words of gratitude or appreciation fall far short of the kindness, the invaluable help and amazing shrewdness of the moms who worked to pull this off. How does this happen every year to millions of graduates and Nobody prepared me? Oh my. And in retrospect, it was not all gnashing teeth and negotiating with what seemed uncannily like the devil again and again. There was also much laughter among the occasionally pursed lips, surprises – planned and unplanned, and then what eventually turned into a continuous stream of events: parties, awards, dinners, and finally The Ceremony. Then the rapid fire pace of diplomas and pictures, punch and cake, numbered cookies and beaucoup cupcakes, food upon food, endless photos snapped, gifts exciting to give, receive – even better to open, laughter and silliness among kids who’ve known each other as far back as they can remember, rock band, double stuffs and yes, even one cigar.
Joys really, if one (read Me) chooses to focus on the good and beautiful things flying around in the gale surrounding us on that day in a small southern Iowa town. And, it must be mentioned, the finding of a kindred soul that although living close we had passed unseeing for all these two decades. (which we finally agreed was perhaps safer for the entire town)
Graduation was a big day, a minor D Day in our family panorama. It was wonderful, and we are fortunate, grateful and so proud of the boy. Then, the next morning bright and early we loaded the last of our belongings and the boy and I moved to the new city finally reuniting with dad, leaving behind us the small Iowa home town and not least, the last marker of our girl.
Moving from 3+ acres to a lovely suburbia. With suburbia comes people and compared to living next to a pond on a little back road, suburbia means a lot of people. The proximity to strangers, the stimulation of city life and her advanced age all pointed to one place for our sweet, massive neopolitan mastiff, Magnolia Magnifique (an Italian princess, so she said). And it was a crappy place; we all agreed it was best, and all agreed it was really crappy. So now our girl’s marker is well guarded by the ashes of a magnificent, delightfully frightening, Italian princess.
We three went on along with 10 yo Walter Pigeon, basset hound extraordinaire and a scottish terrier, Lily MacDuff, Lover of Ponds – now in a home with barely a backyard. One day at a time. Weeks passed. We rescued a surprisingly snooty gray cat from the Nebraska Humane Society, but she fell in love with the boy which was terribly sweet so we incorporated Robiceaux into this house we try to call home. Too soon the day came to load and drive towards Virginia but first a couple of family stops.
Again the unexpected, screwball, fresh hell – whatever one might call it – arrived when we were about 2 hours into the trip.
Walter Pigeon, basset hound extraordinaire (did I mention he was an Admiral in the Royal Navy) died. Died. The old dog just DIED. In the van. At the feet of the boy. I was already asleep and propped up on coats when I heard the cries; once we realized the … reality…. of what had happened, we found a small town vet and after saying our goodbyes (tears, tissues, puking, moaning ….. we don’t lose the ones we love easily, even old hounds) we just had to drive on. (Again one ……. day at a time)
The remainder of our trip out to Virginia was comparatively uneventful. We saw family, celebrated birthdays, welcomed new members, hugged, laughed, ate too much and said good byes. Then the van turned east and we drove on to Virginia……
Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
A medley of extemporanea;
is a thing that can never go wrong;
And I am Marie of Roumania.
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C. S. Lewis
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“I measure God by everything I am not.”
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The Open Side of Jesus Crucified
Look at this remarkable painting of Jesus Crucified. The focus of the composition is the wound in His Sacred Side. An angel holding a chalice is hovering just beneath it to receive the outpouring of His Blood. There are also angels stationed beneath His wounded hands. A fourth angel stricken with astonishment and grief looks on.
Saint Francis of Assisi
At the foot of the Cross, close to the wounded feet of Jesus, kneels Saint Francis of Assisi, embracing the saving wood. Saint Francis is closest to the feet of Jesus because he was called to walk in lowliness, poverty, and humility, in imitation of the Son of Man who “had no where to lay His head” (Mt 8:20).
On the left is Saint Benedict with his hands crossed over his breast. This is the ritual gesture of the monk when, on the day of his profession, he sings the second part of the Suscipe me, Domine: “Let me not be confounded in my expectation” (Ps 118:116). Saint Benedict is gazing at the Face of the Crucified with an extraordinary intensity of compassion and love. One could draw a direct line from the Face of Jesus to the face of Saint Benedict. This is what he means when he says in his Rule that one desiring to become a monk must “truly seek God” (RB 58:7).
On the right one sees Saint Romuald, whose feast we celebrate today. He is seated — rather like Mary of Bethany in Luke 10:39 — with his hands hidden in the sleeves of his cowl. These are subtle allusions to the hidden life in which Saint Romuald sought the Heart of Jesus, not by much doing (the hidden hands) but, rather, in much listening (the “Marian” posture). You will notice that Saint Romuald is not looking at the Face of the Crucified; he is focused on the wound in Jesus’ Sacred Side. Therein he seeks to hide himself like the dove in the cleft of the rock.
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somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond any experience,your eyes have their silence: in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me, or which i cannot touch because they are too near your slightest look easily will unclose me though i have closed myself as fingers, you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens (touching skilfully,mysteriously)her first rose or if your wish be to close me, i and my life will shut very beautifully ,suddenly, as when the heart of this flower imagines the snow carefully everywhere descending; nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals the power of your intense fragility:whose texture compels me with the color of its countries, rendering death and forever with each breathing (i do not know what it is about you that closes and opens;only something in me understands the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses) nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands ee cummings the voice of your eyes is deeper than all the roses
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kudos to http://thecrescat.blogspot.com/
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Non nobis, non nobis Domine
Sed nomine tuo da gloriam.
(Not To Us O Lord Not To Us But To Your Name Give Glory)
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“Mother, now the bells of heaven are ringing,” said the child; “Mother, the sun is going to rise.”
She acknowledged the goodness of God, she acknowledged the duties she had to perform, and eagerly she returned home.
– Hans Christian Anderson 1859
i carry your heart with me
i carry your heart with me (i carry it in
my heart) i am never with out it (anywhere
i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)
i fear no fate ( for you are my fate, my sweet) i want
no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life, which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry you heart (i carry it in my heart)
When he shall die, take him and cut him out in little stars, and he shall make the face of heaven so fine that all the world will be in love with night and pay no worship to the garish sun. act III, scene II
Blessed be your God
for bringing you to us
When he shall die, take him and cut him out in little stars, and he shall make the face of heaven so fine that all the world will be in love with night and pay no worship to the garish sun. act III, scene II
mass was difficult for our family this week.
the first reading, old testament – the book of Wisdom
“God did not make death”
then from Mark’s gospel the story of Jesus bringing a dead girl back to life. He tells the mourners she is just sleeping, is promptly ridiculed then he shoos everyone out but her parents and those with Him. He goes in to her room and tells her to get up. which she does. then Jesus says among other things, and i love this so much, that someone should give her something to eat.
my 16 year old son, my husband and i were at a vigil mass yesterday. the reading of this particular gospel brought so much emotion to the surface as to have to leave the sanctuary. i have not seen my son as visibly shaken since we were all gathered around the bed of his beautiful sister as she lay dying. three months ago.
my son is tall and lean. (surely the grace of God in spite of his genetic code) he has large eyes that i have always thought see too much; there is a searching there as his constantly turning wheels are barely hidden behind his big dark eyes. in the last three months he has held up with a composure that does not come naturally at sixteen years of age. he was beside his sister as she died. he wanted to recite tennyson at her wake. he wanted to carry her casket, beside his cousins and uncles. he wants his mom and dad to be okay, not be sad.
it is such a lesson about this life when one learns that you cannot control, let alone even affect, so much that happens in it. in this life that is “yours.” i don’t think he has learned this lesson fully.
he is just 16 years old.
our daughter was beautiful, blessed with a sweet countenance from moments after her birth. could she get angry or upset? yes she could. but not often, or often enough, in my opinion.
the list of what she couldn’t do is long: she couldn’t speak, couldn’t eat by mouth, couldn’t swallow well, couldn’t grasp anything but my finger, at times, couldn’t walk or sit up, couldn’t even hold her own head up, and it took alot, alot to make her cry.
she was twenty years old.
she had seizures, she had breathing problems, she needed intervention to do the most basic of bodily functions, she got sick alot. alot.
five days before she passed into paradise, the stainless steel rods fused to her spine were breaking through her skin … leading to the surgery, leading to the “catastrophic event” (as one very good, and very kind, doctor in the intensive care unit slowly explained to me) that without warning ended Elizabeth’s journey on this earth.
she was twenty years old.
the first three months of her life were a delight. our first born sweet baby girl. between three and six months one tried not to see that something might be wrong. at six months we began seeing specialists and finally at nine months, after doctors in four states, we had our diagnosis: rare, life ending. not quite real to us all.
unreal or not, time passed.
days. weeks. years. a decade. then two.
we had home health care. we had doctors, we had nurses, we had therapy at home and away. we had medical suppliers, we had insurance, we had wheelchairs, vans, ramps, assistive devices, suction machines, oxygen concentrators, nebulizers, feeding pumps and on and on.
we had hospice care for one night.
it’s been three months without her.
my heart is broken. beyond caring about repair. i have known loss in my life, i thought i would have at least recognized this pain. but this comes as a complete stranger and empties the entire place when it strolls into the room.
she should not have lived past the age of two, we’ve literally had years of illness, struggle, fighting for her life to continue, so it is shocking to me that her loss should be so completely surprising. but what i know is this:
being without Elizabeth is much more difficult than the daily battle of her life.
for her dad.
and for her serious, seeing, sixteen year old brother.
“talitha koum” ” little girl, I say to you, arise“
i carry your heart with mei carry your heart with me (i carry it in my heart) i am never with out it (anywhere i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done by only me is your doing, my darling) i fear no fate ( for you are my fate, my sweet) i want no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true) and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant and whatever a sun will always sing is you here is the deepest secret nobody knows (here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud and the sky of the sky of a tree called life, which grows higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide) and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart) ee cummings
“Today marks the first apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1858 to fourteen-year-old Marie Bernade (St. Bernadette) Soubirous. Between February 11 and July 16, 1858, the Blessed Virgin appeared eighteen times, and showed herself to St. Bernadette in the hollow of the rock at Lourdes. On March 25 she said to the little shepherdess who was only fourteen years of age: “I am the Immaculate Conception.” Since then Lourdes has become a place of pilgrimage and many cures and conversions have taken place. The message of Lourdes is a call to personal conversion, prayer, and charity. ” http://www.catholicculture.org
In September of 1991 we went on a healing pilgrimage that included a three day visit to Lourdes. Thanks (so much, beyond words) to the Make a Wish foundation, a kind woman named Ann Lindley and St Mary’s parish here in Centerville, my husband and I traveled with our daughter to Bernadette’s grotto in Lourdes. Elizabeth was not quite three years old. We were first told she would not live to the age of two, then not to the age of seven … Elizabeth turned twenty last November.
We should all go to Lourdes. There, surrounded by so many many sick, disabled, dying people, the greatest mood was one of hope. It was palpable … and joy, strangely enough. It was amazing then and seems more strange to me as I recall that visit. I sometimes wonder if it was not a distant meager glimmer of what waits for us in the delight of heaven.
Fr. Barron is a priest out of Chicago that I have run across online. Here is his interesting take on the state of Catholic commentary in the public arena … where the legitimate voices for Church teaching might be focused. Personally, I put this priest in that company of articulate voices of authentic Catholic teaching and thought. Below is the youtube site for the video on this subject. (for those not inclined to read the following :)
The Task of the Next Generation of the Catholic Commentariat
By Rev. Robert Barron
This past year, we have witnessed the deaths of a number of prominent commentators on things Catholic. William F. Buckley, who died last spring, was, of course, primarily a political observer, but he also frequently and incisively weighed in on ecclesial and theological matters. Tim Unsworth, who passed away several months ago, was a long-time writer on religion for the left-leaning National Catholic Reporter. And within just the past few weeks, Cardinal Avery Dulles and Father Richard John Neuhaus—stalwarts on the Catholic right—went to their maker. The deaths of these major players in the religious commentariat prompts some reflections on the changing nature of the Catholic intellectual conversation in our country.
For the coterie of Catholics that is now fading from the scene, the dominant fact was the Second Vatican Council. That coming together of bishops, abbots, theologians, and members of the press was, as John O’Malley recently argued, “the greatest meeting of all time,” and historian Barbara Tuchman characterized it as the most significant event of the twentieth-century, surpassing in importance the two world wars and the dropping of the atomic bombs. It is not surprising in the least, therefore, that it preoccupied the minds and hearts of an entire generation of Catholic intellectuals. Vatican II has been described as the council of the church, for ecclesiology and liturgy were its major themes. How does the church worship? What is the nature and purpose of the church? How is the church governed and structured, and what is the correct manner of its relationship to the modern world? These were the central questions that beguiled the minds of the council fathers. Some have argued that Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae was even more determinative of the Catholic conversation than were the conciliar documents themselves, but discussions of that famous letter often turned on the fundamentally ecclesiological question of the range of the magisterium’s authority.
And so, in the wake of Vatican II, the commentariat turned with enthusiasm to a range of ad-intra questions: women’s ordination, the possibility of married priests, changes in the liturgy, developments in regard to the exercise of episcopal authority, sexual ethics, the nature of Catholic marriage, the adjustment of Catholic practices to modern styles, etc. To be sure, there were a variety of views on these matters, from hard left to hard right and every possibility in between, but the focus was on the household of the church. I remember these arguments well, since they dominated the years that I was coming of age. I recall the church of the late sixties and seventies as a community at war with itself, struggling to get its own affairs in order. But through all of this, the members of the Vatican II generation—whether on the left or the right—seemed to hold to the basic narrative of Catholic Christianity. There did not appear to be major disagreement in regard to God’s existence, the Trinity, the sacraments and the eucharist, redemption, Mary and the saints, eternal life. The center held.
But my growing conviction is that, as the Vatican II generation fought with itself over intra-ecclesial matters, the basic story became less and less convincing to the culture. As the commentariat bickered about the household of the church, they, perforce, spent little time presenting a compelling, coherent version of Catholicism to a world grown increasingly skeptical, secularized, and materialist. Mind you, I’m not suggesting for a moment that the questions they debated were unimportant or that they themselves were anything less than serious in their endeavors, but I am arguing that something extremely important was allowed to slip on their watch.
And therefore I believe that it is the task of the coming generation of Catholic intellectuals to offer a convincing apologetic for the basic narrative of the faith. To a scientific culture, we have to show how only a properly transcendent and intelligent cause can explain the contingencies and intelligibilities of the finite world. To a materialist culture, we have to show that, in the words of our present Pope, Logos is more metaphsyically basic than mere matter. To a skeptical culture, we have to show that belief in the resurrection of Jesus is intellectually coherent and historically defensible. To a bored culture, we have to demonstrate that life in the Spirit is a high adventure, corresponding to the deepest longing of the human heart. The new Catholic commentariat has to return, I believe, to the style of the first preachers and teachers of the faith, those who were trying to beguile the bored and materialist culture of their own time with the impossibly good news of a God who raised his son from the dead.
“In 1900 at the Universal Exposition in Paris, it is reported that Degas and Monet were approached by a newspaper reporter who asked who, in their opinion, would most likely be considered the greatest 19th century French artist in the year 2000. After a brief debate, both agreed on one man – William Bouguereau.” www.artrenewal.org
The Last Mourning: Wm Bouguereau (1825-1905)
Let me start by very loosely paraphrase from the writing of Jean-Jacques Rousseau when he said: ‘Artists are born free, but everywhere they are in chains.’ Whether we are talking about the chains of the conceptual,…or the dungeons of deconstruction….the leg irons of irony…. or the shackles of shock,…All “have been forged link by link and yard by yard,” …paying lip service to composition and design while long ago having Abandoned all of the parameters of fine art where paramount was the need to harmonize great subjects and themes with drawing, modeling, perspective, color, and tone, and expert manipulation of the paint. Subjects and themes which more often than not are a form of …dare I say the word out loud…”storytelling.” (quote from a speech presented by Fred Ross Keynote Address at the Oil Painters of America Meeting, May 5, 2006.)
Tuesday January 20, 2009
Each day we go about our business, walking past each other, catching each others’ eyes or not, about to speak or speaking. All about us is noise. All about us is noise and bramble, thorn and din, each one of our ancestors on our tongues. Someone is stitching up a hem, darning a hole in a uniform, patching a tire, repairing the things in need of repair.
Someone is trying to make music somewhere with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.
A woman and her son wait for the bus.
A farmer considers the changing sky; A teacher says, “Take out your pencils. Begin.”
We encounter each other in words, Words spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed; Words to consider, reconsider.
We cross dirt roads and highways that mark the will of someone and then others who said, “I need to see what’s on the other side; I know there’s something better down the road.”
We need to find a place where we are safe; We walk into that which we cannot yet see.
Say it plain, that many have died for this day. Sing the names of the dead who brought us here, who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges, picked the cotton and the lettuce, built brick by brick the glittering edifices they would then keep clean and work inside of.
Praise song for struggle; praise song for the day. Praise song for every hand-lettered sign; The figuring it out at kitchen tables.
Some live by “Love thy neighbor as thy self.”
Others by “first do no harm,” or “take no more than you need.”
What if the mightiest word is love, love beyond marital, filial, national. Love that casts a widening pool of light. Love with no need to preempt grievance.
In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air, anything can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp — praise song for walking forward in that light.
So …. whaddaya think? Me? I like it. The spareness of the prose, love the use of common objects to convey the universality of our connectedness (spare prose, right :) In all honesty, was hoping for something more soaring, grippingly inspirational … instead Ms. Alexander stealthily pushes towards the promise of the ordinary. No tingle factor, or monumental expression of the moment but I enjoyed it very much. (lukewarm praise? …. no, really I did like it)
Now that I have reread Ms. Alexander’s piece, several times, I take back the no tingle factor comment. I love the poem. Some favorite lines: “… each one of our ancestors on our tongue” “Praise song for every hand-lettered sign. The working it out at the kitchen table”. It is an anticipatory relish that slowly builds as one reads on in this piece – this a point of change, we’re moving forward into whatever future we make of it. A wonderful compliment to the occasion.
Belated kudos to Elizabeth Alexander from a slow reader.
Born: December 7, 521 Died: June 9, 597 Feast Day: June Patron Saint of: poets, Ireland
it is the duty of living to do so for them”
The truth is never taken
One carries it always
He shoved her body into a small half bathroom and shut the door, only a few feet from the entryway where her beaten, strangled, and stabbed mother now lay dead .
He goes upstairs to shower and pack his things, while the bodies lay downstairs. Once freshly showered, he comes back down the stairs and rifles through his mother’s purse taking money, credit cards, and car keys. He then calmly walked out to the garage, jumped into the family car and drove away; leaving the garage door up and the door open into the house. His stated plan was to drive down to Texas and visit friends. He made stops along the way, buying candy, pop, music cassettes; he stayed a few hours in a motel before getting back on the road. The Highway Patrol finally picked him up on the interstate within 24 hours of the killings. He didn’t hesitate to confess to the murders of his mother and little sister.
The sentence from the US criminal court system: 1st degree murder in the killing of his forty-three year old mother and “reckless” second degree murder for the death of a beautiful thirteen year old girl. He received 15 years to life for his mothers murder. 77 months for killing his sister. This man spent the first 10 years of his incarceration in a psychiatric penal system, a hospital setting as I understand. Much liberty was granted in his daily routine. He had at least one sexual relationship with an aide who worked on site … as did her husband and mother. This ended only after the aide was removed. In 2003 he was finally moved into the jurisdiction of the DOC (department of corrections) ie: prison. So he is now in his sixth year of incarceration in the prison system.
Fifteen years have passed. For the families of the victims, they first passed moment by agonizing moment, reality literally ticking by. Continually before the eyes of the family left behind are the beautiful daughter and big sister, the sweet grand daughter and dear niece …. as well as crime scene photos of swollen gray faces, broken bones, pools of black blood. In looking back, it seems as though time just slowed down and in a continual loop all of these events slowly scrolled by in front of one’s eyes. At some point time must have resumed a relatively normal pace, gradually the remaining family reentered their lives and began to walk through them. And eventually a new life was being lived, one where the abhorrent slaughter of their beautiful and beloved girls was just the neverending backdrop to daily life. It has never gone away for a single day – I’m tempted to say moment, but no one would believe that – unless they’ve lived through the murder of one they love.
And now there comes a new phase to this grotesque show of horrors. This man is eligible for parole. After only 15 years if he gets paroled his time will have been entirely served by the brutal murder of his mother.
So the concept of justice comes to be at the forefront of my thoughts all of a sudden…and all the while the smiling faces and wide eyes of two beautiful girls no more, blue eyes, strawberry blond hair , laughter, silly smiles all scroll incessantly along in the background though intermixed with visions of strangled swollen faces, puffed and gray, blood filling the floor, hair solid with blood … all of these images I see everyday as now when I contemplate what justice really means.
It is my duty.
Resolution defined as:
1. The state or quality of being resolute; firm determination.
2. A resolving to do something.
3. A course of action determined or decided on.
Better left unsaid :)
Most beautiful word in the english language: mother.
Some of my favorites: gossamer, twilight, golden, hush, lithe, ethereal, quintessential, epiphany.
“She could never be a saint but she thought she could be a martyr if they killed her quick”
– Flannery O’Connor
I have some thoughts to follow but for now offer this from www.dirtyharrysplace.com to which the only thing I could add is a “ditto” … thanks harry.
“It’s impossible not to be touched by the history that unfolded tonight. Just the vision of a President Obama, his First Lady and their two beautiful girls inhabiting the White House goes so far beyond politics I confess to looking forward to it, if only because of what it says about America.
Of course Barack Obama will be my President. And I wish him all the success in the world in bringing prosperity and security to America. Nothing would make me happier than for him to leave office remembered as one of our greatest Presidents.
When it comes to what’s best for this country, I will recognize when he does right, never celebrate his failures (much), and should he ever decide to put American men and women into a foreign conflict I consider unwise, that disagreement will become a cry for victory the moment boots hit ground.
I was sure the most difficult part of defeat tonight would be in knowing that haters like Keith Olbermann, Chris Matthews, Jeffrey Wells, Bill Maher, John Cusack and their ilk in the unholy HuffPo, liberal Hollywood, corrupt media crowd would have a good night. Even as I write this a gang of jerk-off college kids, flush with victory, are taunting President Bush in front of the White House. But when I watched the crowd celebrating in Chicago’s Grant Park, I realized most of Obama’s supporters are no different than me. As Vice President-elect Joe Biden might say, God love ‘em.
Certainly I’m disappointed by tonight’s outcome and tomorrow it’s game back on in the war of ideas. But for now I take a breath and recognize that the great and grand wisdom of the American people has spoken. There’s no doubt our history is about to lurch off in a new direction and if nothing else the ride promises to be an exciting one.
I recognize many of you are disappointed, some bitterly so. But I remind you that like all elections, 2008 is but a battle in an unending, bloodless war of passionate ideas. Sure, we lost this one. We lost in ‘64 and ‘76, as well. The other side lost in ‘02. In other words: comebacks are inevitable.
This is America. And I remain as excited and optimistic about the future as I was yesterday, and last year, and the year before that. This evening a center-right country gave a relatively unknown, liberal black man the keys to its future. Whether or not that was the right decision, time will tell. But what’s worthy of recognition tonight is what that decision reveals about the character of America.
All the passion, anger, frustration, anguish, hope, fear, and loathing that went into this election, and yet tonight power transferred without a drop of blood being spilled.
I love elections. Even when I lose them.” a la dirty harry’s place
one more bit of unapologetic plagarisim from www.rachellucas.com (how cute is this beast anyway and ms lucas’ thinking on the political state of things also resonates – hate that word – around here today)
that said, here are some other things to think on as we all go to the voting booth:
- Politics ought to be the part-time profession of every citizen who would protect the rights and privileges of free people and who would preserve what is good and fruitful in our national heritage. – Dwight D. Eisenhower
- I believe the states can best govern our home concerns and the federal government our foreign ones. – Thomas Jefferson
- A wise and frugal government which shall restrain men from injuring one another, which shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government. – Thomas Jefferson (1801)
- If you can cut the people off from their history, then they can be easily persuaded. – Karl Marx
- [On ancient Athens]: In the end, more than freedom, they wanted security. They wanted a comfortable life, and they lost it all – security, comfort, and freedom. When the Athenians finally wanted not to give to society but for society to give to them, when the freedom they wished for most was freedom from responsibility, then Athens ceased to be free and was never free again. – Edward Gibbon
- To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical. – Thomas Jefferson
- The national budget must be balanced. The public debt must be reduced; the arrogance of the authorities must be moderated and controlled. Payments to foreign governments must be reduced. If the nation doesn’t want to go bankrupt, people must again learn to work, instead of living on public assistance. – Marcus Tullius Cicero, 55 BC
- The broad masses of a population are more amenable to the appeal of rhetoric than to any other force. – Adolf Hitler
This election cycle is come to an end just as the rhetoric and reporting have turned to … well … just noise at this point. It’s tempting to question that anyone can see clearly through this fog of political promises, smoke and mirrors; so a parting thought on this Presidential Race of 2008:
“Hope is a thing with feathers, that perches in the soul”
– emily dickinson