Thursday, April 28, 2011

the bitter poet

Several years ago, I came across a poem that had drawn me by its title,"April".By the time I was finished,I had tears streaming down my face.It ends this way:

...Not only underground are the brains of men
eaten by maggots
Life in itself
Is nothing,
An empty cup,a flight of uncarpeted stairs.
It is not enough that yearly,down this hill,
Comes like an idiot,babbling and strewing flowers."

This is a poem that stunned me with its bitterness.I laughed out loud at the cheek of it.I always wondered about this contrary artist and finally read of her in Nancy Milford's "Savage Beauty."This is,of course,about Edna St.Vincent Millay, a gifted, highly appreciated American poet.

What a grand girl she was,rising out of a poor,virtually parent less home in Maine,going to Vassar on scholarships.Older women took an interest in her,younger women and men threw themselves at her feet.She was thin,gamine like,with startling red hair and an elusiveness that was seductive.Her poetry helped to speak for the same generation that loved The Great Gatsby,F.Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda.

"The Blue Flag in the Bog" is one of my favorites.Her use of words just leaves me in awe of her gift.This small woman in a man's world took it by storm and lived by her own rules.She loved whoever she wanted for as long as she wanted.And when, twice, new life tried to come through her,she refused.A contemporary wrote:"Edna did exactly what she pleased,when she pleased and where she pleased.One must remember that about her..."

What Edna did was write poems and nothing got in the way of this satisfying,creative act.What she must have felt when she honed a poem into exactly what she wanted to say.I can see her cheeks flushed with contained joy.

As she aged, the poet's life kept turning as she willed, with drink,morphine,and attempts to rehab.Her work suffered as did her relationships.Milford wrote,"They(the drug journals of Edna and her husband)are among the most troubling and pitiful documents in American literary history."I think of Goethe's quote,"We are shaped by what we love ."Edna loved writing poetry.This is what sat on the throne of her life.

It is with great irony and sadness that I read that on October 19,1950,Edna died by falling down a "flight of uncarpeted stairs."Her neck was broken ,her gifts,gone.She was 58.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Can you see Him?

Looking for the gifts.Being open to really look and listen.Look Jane,look.See and exult at all the gifts of these next fifty days.

A great pleasure of mine is to find lovely photos or paintings of others and move them to my picture file.In spare moments, to stroll among them, waiting for a story ,a connection to unfold.Yesterday,it was colored Easter eggs, today, "The Women at the Tomb" by Maurice Denis,the French painter who died the year I was born.They stand there all in calm blue,waiting.They seem frozen.

Yes, this is how I must walk the Path,with great calm.With open eyes looking for what is there and then moving towards it.But,we cannot rush this journey to Christ.The written Word left to us should be our guide.Each time we read a passage again,it has a brightness and newness because we have changed and His message is what we need now.

The painting of the women is all blue and yellow.Some raise their hands, others, heads bowed down.And a young girl with them.In the background, I see a yellow figure.Is that the Lord?They don't seem to see him in their grief.They are distracted by what has happened and don't know what to think.Their grief is filling their minds leaving room for little else.But they were brought here,these women who were so highly regarded by this Lord.

And finally, they recognize him and His words are,"Peace,Be not afraid".Such golden,perfect words for those distracted by life things.Peace.

I am going to pray with this wonderful painting and smile as I see Him right there in the background waiting for our eyes to clear and focus on what is important.Which, of course,is the shining,bright yellow,holy, haloed peace bringer Himself.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter Night

It is getting late and I am so weary.The children and grands have left after a day of Frisbee playing,egg hunting, a huge pasta meal, and a son's reading aloud the story of the Easter gift from my German friend of her precious cross.Everyone was quiet and attentive as he read and my daughter had no words, just tears.Then the left-overs were distributed and the children headed to Auburn,Atlanta,and the Georgia mountains.It was a good family Easter and a blessing .

But there were other gifts from the Hand of God that I might not have recognized a few years ago.I transcribe them here so I won't forget.Perhaps you had your own.I would love to hear about it.

The first person to wish me a Happy Easter was walking in the neighborhood before we left for Mass;a young stranger, working out. But then his gift,"Happy Easter", with a smile.

Next to me at Mass was someone I had never seen before.I introduced myself and it seems that she and her husband were heading to Florida and found our Church on-line.She raved about the windows,the trees,the waterfall behind the altar and the friendly community.As she was leaving, she said that she loved being with us and would stop again.An unexpected,loving new friend.

With her pale yellow dress,curly brown hair and angelic smile, my godson's daughter's picture lit up Facebook today.A picture taken on the way home from Church, which pleases me no end.I am incapable of seeing her face without smiling.This is a girl of strength and character.She is three.

My sweet red headed eight year old grandson came up to me during the day and said that,"this was good Easter,Nana."Perhaps because he found the most eggs and dollar bills.Who knows but I'm glad it was a success for him.He took great interest in the old cross.

I shared some inspiring e-mail thoughts with two old friends and had a surprise visitor stop and comment on my blog.Her picture shows a beautiful young woman from England who celebrated her Easter joy with me.How neat is that ? She lives in Hertfordshire and my English ancestors came from there in 1638.Wow.

In my dotage, I have taken to collecting money that I find while walking.I have two hundred and fifty, run over and damaged,pennies.For some childlike reason, it gives me pleasure to drop them in my small jar.I was reminded today of something Annie Dillard wrote :

"There are many things to see,unwrapped gifts and free surprises.The world is fairly studded and strewn with pennies cast broadside by a generous hand.But-and this is the point-who gets excited by a mere penny ?......But if you cultivate a healthy poverty and simplicity,so that finding a penny will literally make your day,then, since the world is in fact planted in pennies,you have with your poverty bought a lifetime of days.It is that simple.What you see is what you get."

So what pennies came your way today?

Easter is every day

"He is risen as He said and ......I will never leave you orphan......I shall be with you always!!!

This is all that matters.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday

'He grew up like a shoot before him,
like a shoot growing from parched earth;
There was in him no stately bearing to make
us look at him
nor appearance that would attract us to him.
He was spurned and avoided by men,
a man of suffering ,accustomed to infirmity,
One of those from whom men hide their faces,
spurned,and we held him in no esteem.

Yet,it was our infirmities that he bore,
our sufferings that he endured, his strpes we were healed."Isaiah 53

How far can we run, where can we hide from such love?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

chasing Peter with a broom

The story of Peter's betrayal proves beyond a doubt that I do not have the mind of Christ.Peter is always James Farentino for me.He who played the saint in "Jesus of Nazareth."Tall, dark, curly hair,piercing eyes and a befuddled look.That's who I see as I chase him down Main Jonesboro with my broom.He can hear me shrieking,"After all I've done for you,you betray me three times."Whack on the backs of his legs.I go on,"I saved you from the drudgery of fishing and warned you but NO, you'd never betrayed me,you love me"Take that",whack.Poor man.

But that is not how the story goes;he comes sniveling back and is forgiven and then becomes Peter, the Rock upon whom the Church is built.But maybe this wasn't a reward,perhaps it was a punishment.Who would want that role? Can you imagine this motley group of men and a few women trying to carry on after Christ leaves.All egos and elbowing for important roles and trying to figure out what they are doing,what is the message,who really was this Christ that they wanted the world to know about ?What is to be written down,what is important,what does it mean ?And I have to lead this chaos?

The church I attend is named after an Italian saint,Philip Benizi.He was elected Pope back in the 1200s and headed for the mountains until they found someone else.History tells that he was so humble,he didn't feel worthy of the task; perhaps smart,too.

I think of Pope John Paul ll trying to pastor billions of Catholics and then for his pains being shot at close range several times,in Rome in 1981.My first thought after recovering would have been:"What am I doing here in Rome ?I love Poland and hiking.How can I get out of this?I've given enough and almost my life."

But the Christ mind would,with grace, seek God's glory in this terrible mess.So,in 1983,the Pope walked into the cell of Mehet Agca,the would be assassin ,called him brother and forgave him.Later, he was to befriend the Turkish man's whole family.Rumor has it that Agca wept bitterly when the Pope died.That miracle is what the Mind of God can do.I am far from it,but I pray for it.

Peter still has a hold on us.When I was in Rome in 2004,I twice visited Peter's tomb under the altar at St.Peter's Basilica.As I knelt the man next to me was weeping.Two different men,moved by Peter in some way.Maybe, he was the right choice.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Holy Thursday

When I was a child on Long Island,this Thursday was a day close to my heart.The altars in the Catholic Churches would be festooned with glorious flowers.Covered in fact were all surfaces with lilies,roses,lilacs,whites,yellows,purples;a feast for the eyes.There was a church on the South Shore,in Oceanside I think, that had cages with yellow canaries rejoicing with song that echoed off the ceilings.As a family we would go from church to church and soak up Spring's bounty.

I am thinking now that this overflowing beauty must have been in celebration of the Last Supper, the day we were left a sacrament of Love.

I don't know if this is still done in the North but here we celebrate something as beautiful,the washing of the feet.In recreating Christ's washing of his apostles'feet, priests,deacons,and altar servers all get on hands and knees and with buckets and towels,wash the feet of some of the congregation.It is so moving,this humbling servitude.

One year ,at the homeless shelter, Sister Pat and I offered to do this for anyone there that Holy Thursday.No one volunteered but the small staff said yes and so we proceeded to wash their feet with great gentleness.Every woman got up with tears in their eyes.Every time I went, after that ,one or another would thank me again.

I am thinking of a story that I read that took place in Rio de Janeiro,Brazil.A desperate man was walking the streets,head down ,muttering to himself.In his despair he was planning his suicide.As he passed a storefront, he saw a T.V. on and the screen revealed Mother Teresa in her humble blue and white garb.She was being interviewed about her work for the poor in India.She who picked up dying lepers and carried them to her House to be tended.In that instant, the man knew that God had not abandoned us.He left the street a different man.

This is what we will celebrate this Thursday, Christ's admonition and example of selfless, humble serving.It brings tears because somehow we know it is really God serving us and He is still here,has not left us alone.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

protection in Germany

The thin blond girl is curled up in her bed when it starts.As the bombs fall, the weeping girl stares up at the cross that hangs over her bed.Her father placed it there before he left to fight the Russians in 1939.He brushed the hair from her eyes when he first handed it to her and said,"This will protect you."She wishes he were here as the flashes from the bursts around her light up the room.She closes her eyes and waits for morning.It is February,1945 in Oettingen,Germany.

Morning comes and through that terrifying night, her stone house has crumbled around her.All that is left is the wall that the cross hangs on and the boards that hold her bed.Not a cinder,or piece of anything has landed on her bedspread.Her Mother calls her and the girl stumbles around the rubble to find her safe outside in the garden.

After the bombing ends ,people come out of hiding and stare in amazement at the wall with the cross hanging amid the destruction.They cross themselves and move on.

In my hand this April night, I hold a black and white picture.There are four girls standing against a low wall holding hands with huge trees in the background.There is only one blond child,the other girls have dark hair.The blond child on the end is Hildegarde, my friend who lives in Florida.The dark haired girl second from the right is Hellla who lived next door to my friend in Oettingen.On the night of that Allied bombing,little Hella was killed.I look at her small figure,hair done so beautifully, a light pinafore covering her knees;her round serious face unaccountably touches me.The two other girls are her sisters ,the Koch girls from Germany.

Hildegarde and her husband,an American GI, moved to Florida over twenty years ago and she is the wonderful neighbor who used to make Easter baskets for my children.She loved children and sadly had none of her own.My friendship with her actually bloomed after they moved, with flowers and loving,inspiring letters and stories exchanged.She is 76 years old now and the gift that came along with the picture is something I cannot speak about without getting choked up.Her cross, that cross from the War has now been given into my keeping.In her letter she wrote..."that cross means so much to me .I can think of no one that would give it a better home than you.Please take good care of it.It will protect you as it has me".I am touched beyond words.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

welcome home

The team is composed of eight members and every Thursday night for ten weeks we have met with those who are discerning whether they should return to the Catholic Church.There are nine people who we are accompanying on this journey and it has been a challenging time.Last week, we talked about the sex scandals in the church and the discussion was loud and unpleasant.The team's role was not to defend but to listen and it was difficult for me,as I love the Church.

Later, the discussion had me thinking of another tumultuous time in the Church in Georgia when it became known that our Arch-Bishop was involved with a young, and to my mind disturbed, member of a church near mine.He chose to resign,stay a priest and move to another state.Just when I had started to get over this, something else tumbled out into the press that really knock me for a loop.It was a sunny,Spring Sunday morning and before going to Mass,I opened the paper to find that another priest was leaving as he had been involved with her as well.I had met this priest and admired him.This was too much.He had gone back to Ireland and I went to Mass,heavy hearted.

This was not a crying time but I felt anger,confusion and great disappointment and I took that with me to church.After ,I waited for my husband in the foyer and out of the church doors came Linda,who is a Down's Syndrome child.She was eleven at the time,pudgy,brown hair and usually smiling.She walked straight to me and took me in her arms.Her hug was long and comforting.She released me,smiled and went on her way.Linda does not know me,has never met me and has not spoken to me since.

When I worked at BellSouth in the eighties, I had a friend,Nancy.I was her sponsor when she came into the church. so we had many spiritual discussions.I think of how often she would share a problem and say,"Why doesn't He fix it?".Then I would wait for her to laugh and I would join her.I would quietly say,"That's not His job" and we would laugh some more.

All that we are promised is this,which feels like small warm arms around me;"I will be with you........always."

Monday, April 11, 2011


The book's cover showed some wear;the scene was dreary,a black and white desert.It was "The Sands of Tamanrasset",published in 1961.I kept it for the longest time without reading it and one day,almost gave it back to Goodwill.Finally, I read the story about a Frenchman,Charles de Foucauld, who I knew nothing about.

He was a soldier,born in 1858 and a roue' by all accounts.Selfish,violent and sensual.Pictures show him to be slight of build,with piercing eyes and a mustache,always dressed in military garb.He was an adventurer,exploring Africa and the desert.Here he encountered the Muslim faith which intrigued him.He had left his Christian faith in his youth.Something stirred in that bleak,formless place,in the silence and the wind.Then, after going back to Paris to work on the travel book he was writing,this happened:

"One morning in late October ,1886,unable to sleep,he arose very early and sauntered aimlessly up the dawn-quiet Rue de Miromesnil.As he turned into the boulevard Haussman,his pace quickened and by the time he reached the Place Saint-Augustin,he knew that he was not wandering aimlessly at all.Ahead of him ,surmounting the three byzantine arches of the entry,was the great rose window of Saint-Augustin church."1

He found a priest and said,"I have no faith.I have come to ask you to teach me."The priest replied,"Kneel,confess your sins to God and you will believe."In that church, a humble knee was bent and in anguish, the wrongs of a lifetime poured out.As Charles stood up,he believed.And in that moment, Charles hoisted himself onto the Path that would lead him to martyrdom in Tunisia,in 1916.

Now a priest,in 1901,Charles went to the desert of Algeria to be a friend to all men and he was.Ministering to the poor Bedouins in his humble way,sharing his food and his kindness.He was joined by a priest or two but they never stayed in the desolation for long.His wish was to have others serve with him and to continue his work after his death but he died alone not making one convert to the faith.He had done what he believed was God's will for him.He had planted seeds,what would happen to them? That was out of his control.He said,"Have confidence that the destiny God has reserved for you will be the best for His Glory,for your soul,and for the souls of others."

Charles is in some way walking with me on this Lenten journey and I look at his last picture;his wonderful smile,his dusty,shabby monk's habit and I feel warm.Seeds....

Googling recently I found ,quite by accident ,that the solitary monk has left an indelible mark and has women and men following Christ in his footsteps all over the world and in the desert.I felt joy in this knowing.All of this came to mind today because I had told a dear friend that writing can be discouraging because I have no idea if anyone is reading what I blog.He said to keep on because I may never know who it will affect but it is what I should be doing.Bless you for saying that!

St.Francis, as he lay dying said to his brothers,"I have done what was mine to do,I pray you find what is yours and do it".What a blessed world if this was our goal.

1,"The Sands of Tamanrasset"by M.M. Preminger

Thursday, April 7, 2011

a penny for your thoughts

Photo by Kris

"They made a calf at Horeb
and worshiped a cast image.
They exchanged the glory of God
for the image of an ox that eats grass.
They forgot God, their Savior
who had done great things in Egypt."Ps 106:19-21

Well, that's a relief.Never have a made a statue and praised it as God.But wait,wait a minute,when have I put people and their approval or things and their acquisition ahead God?

Several years ago, when my kids were young teens,things were getting out of hand.They weren't helping with anything around our home and my husband and I were drained and exhausted.I called a family meeting and give each person around the table 24 pennies.We all set aside the hours/pennies for sleep,work and school and counted the ones left as our own time.There was some serious fudging going on but the point made at the end of this eye-opening exercise was that my husband didn't have even a half penny for himself.I don't know if things got better but he had my sympathy and support.Maybe the kids realized something.

I thought of that exercise as a worthwhile thing to do as I tout my love and service to God.'
How many hours and pennies do I spend in prayer,writing, serving,visiting the sick and home bound.The scriptures are pretty clear;I must love God with all my heart, soul and strength and my neighbor as myself.And this takes time.

At my age, time is my most treasured gift.What am I doing with it? The truth is in the pennies.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Do you want to be healed ?

photo by Kris

The lone pathetic looking man, matted hair in his eyes,sits on his green, nearly pulled apart mat, and waits as he always does in the portico by the sheep pool.No one notices him but all know him.The man who has been ill for 38 years and never can get to the pool in time to be healed.He is so weak that he is always beaten in the rush to the waters when they stir.Sad.

But the One notices and asks this mysterious question:"Do you want to be healed"?
John 5:6.Why ask that question?Wouldn't anyone?

When I was a teen-ager there was a popular movie about a young actress,"Marjorie Morningstar".In the movie, Gene Kelly played a talented,ambitious director.As the story unfolds we see the Kelly character time and again acting in a way that would guarantee his failure.I couldn't understand this self sabotage.Did he want to succeed?

In my early twenties my father,a chronic alcoholic who I believed had ruined my life, stopped drinking for good.One would think I could be found dancing witless in the streets.Yes, I was glad BUT a part of my was distinctly uneasy.It was a humbling grace that led me to understand just how much I had used his drinking to explain away my failures.Did I want him healed and myself to take responsibility?

And in all the times at the pool why did no one help this man ?Was he bitter and used his anger to keep people away?If he was healed, would he no longer have that strength that comes from anger?

And then there are the Jews who, not seeing the miracle ,noticed with sharp eyes and righteous hearts the carrying of a mat on the Sabbath.When I got to that part of the gospel I felt a deflation of my spirit that I always feel when someone close to me disparages a wonderful happening.Do I do that?

Lastly, who am I like in this story ?Do I not see the sad faces but notice that slight infraction against what I see as truth?Or am I a person who accepts the healing of Christ and his demand that I stop blaming others who don't take me to the water."Stand up! Pick up your mat and walk".John 5:8.Stop clutching to your pain and shame and let me heal you and then get moving towards a better life with Me.

Rich in questions,humble in knowing,lead me, Lord.

Sunday, April 3, 2011


Today,in the warmth of early April, I went into the woods behind our house.It was the least I could do,honor the changes going on back there by the swamp.No one sees the wild azalea high above the fallen leaves, pink buds opening,softest color pink. There are at least ten of these wild trees on the slope and it was worth the trip.Only one is bright orange and it blooms later.

Rue anemone, an endangered flower ,grows on the other slope.Small white and delicate, they could be easily missed if not for my son's finding of them.I sent him pictures of their slight beauty while he was in Australia.To him, they are home friends and he left in winter and didn't want to miss Spring.I am glad he is attached to Georgia and his found flowers.He'll stay nearby when he finally lights in one place.

This Spring seemed to jump out of nowhere.All of a sudden, colors instead of brown and grey.Pink dogwoods and a special Kwanzan Cherry in our back yard.When I was a kid, my friend Carol had one of these growing outside her bedroom window.I remember standing under it,the fluffy rich pink flowers framed by deep green leaves.I wonder if Carol knew what a fairy land,magic and something quite wonderful was out there.I was cherry tree magic deprived until we moved into this house.We planted one as soon as we moved in.It has so many holes from the lawn mower that I keep expecting it to dry up and expire but not this year.

If I keep writing about this, that Spring feeling will come once again,that deep longing mixed with tremendous excitement that I felt as a child on Long Island when we could wear shorts again,the ones with the strawberry print.I can remember running down the stairs from my room thinking I would burst with joy at the warm air and the freedom from galoshes and heavy coats and of friends coming out of winter hiding.

In the woods,in February,the first color is red, and when the setting sun hits the seed pods of the maples they look like brilliant rubies.The first time I noticed them, for some reason I thought of Helen Keller who grew up in Alabama but never saw these jeweled branches.I named them Helen's Rubies and by doing so shared the scene with her.

Today's gospel was about being blind and not seeing.About the healing of the blind man.The rich man was not blind when he passed the beggar Lazarus.He did not see him.We are back to focus again.Am I seeing what is important?The sadness in a friend's eyes?And then what?These scriptures are alive and penetrating.Thinking on this,I went into the woods.