Thursday, November 28, 2013

a cold cell on Thanksgiving

Today, the blessings are so near.They come from the hand of two people  who have stories to tell.They appeared on Facebook yesterday and created a warmth that is with me still.I will tell you about the first one now.

When my kids were in middle school they ran with other kids,The Tara Turtles, they were called.Younger neighbor kids ran with them and a brother and sister stood out because they were so cute,dark hair, dark eyelashes and eyes and always smiling.Time passed ,my kids went off to college and we lost touch with the other "turtles." We did hear through the runner grapevine about the younger of the two siblings:that he had been living foolishly as young men do, but had paid a huge price and was now incarcerated. Years passed , prayers were said for him and his family and then his loving sister announced on Facebook that he was coming home.From that time until now, the molding hands of the Lover of us all has had a grip on this young man's heart.

I want  to share what he wrote today about Thanksgiving:
-I am grateful that I did not wake up in a cold cell with loneliness surrounding me.
-I have been blessed today with a sober mind and a choice to remain that way.

A cold cell.I thought of the many prison cells that have kept me enclosed,locked out.Fear of failure,worry about the future.We can be hemmed in and stifled by past grievances,bitter thoughts.Addictions to food,drink,the Internet can narrow our lives to a pinpoint.Everything ,our lives, can depend on our focus.It can make or break a life.

This is the last of his list:"I am grateful for the Blood of the Cross.If it weren't for this,I would not know how to be thankful."

I see it all clearly.The cold dark cell ,the dank misery of being caught and alone.Then,a golden key is offered .It is in the outstretched palm of my little friend who is now 6'4".Who runs still ,with a glory in his soul.This is what salvation looks like.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

a book found on the path...

It is very quiet in this early morning hour.The only sound is the heat coming on sporadically.The squirrels are chasing each other over the last of the corn my husband put out.It is still, so few leaves are falling .My husband is giving communion to Catholics at the hospital.I love this peace and solitude.This is the space where  thoughts come together for one who loves to write.

When I was far away from the church and living in California in the 70s,I came across a book called "The Quantity of a Hazelnut" and thought it's title quite odd.I have no doubt at all that this book of essays was gently laid in my path as I wandered further and further from God.As I read it, I remember distinctly what I thought:"This is an intelligent woman who is also a believer."My heart stirred ever so slightly and my slow journey back home began.I still have that book ,the cover damaged from my constant retreating back to its wisdom.

The title refers to a vision given to Julian of Norwich, a mystic, centuries ago.In her vision she sees a small, tiny thing in the palm of her hand and it is no bigger than a hazelnut.It seems so small that it will fall and disappear but she is reassured with this answer:"This is all that is made and it lasts and ever shall last because God loves it ,and so hath all-thing its being through the love of God."

The author,Fae Malania, was an assistant to the editor of Mademoiselle and I regret that I never found a way to tell her how her book was used to reorient my soul towards the things that last.

The curious thing is that this all started when I bought a small book of meditations for a friend's birthday.Some of "The Quantity...." essays were in it and that's how I came to find the writer and her book.The friend and I lost touch, as people do, but in talking to her recently she brought up the small book and said she still keeps it on the table by her bed.

I recently bought a new copy of this book for a gift and came across a quote that speaks to me with such force.It is a quote from Fae:"Leo(her husband)always said that I was most alive when I was writing".Yes.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

step into the flame...

The woods are muted yellow and dark brown now,a different place and changing still.This cold of mine lingers and has kept me inside.Having a third window in my prayer room lets me see what I cannot walk in and brings in light that cheers me as I blow my red nose for the billionth time. 

I finally cleared my desk when we came back from Spain and the only item here is a framed picture of a statue of the Sacred Heart taken in a grave yard by a friend.He is an artist in many modes and he sent it to me after I closed a letter telling him that I was praying for him after cancer surgery and suggesting that he cling to the Sacred Heart.I had never said that to anyone before and it seemed right.He has refused chemotherapy with a strength that most don't have and treats his body with great respect.He inspires me and so far is healthy on his terms.

The Christ in the picture on my desk has closed eyes and the great heart is outside His body, framed by a star burst representing divine light.Devotion to Christ in this form has its roots in the apparitions of St.Margaret Mary,a French nun,which occured from 1673 through 1675.

I can recall many occasions when I have taken that image of Christ into my heart in prayer and felt His presence.So, the picture is there and I gaze often and try to imagine the great love that we cannot see or touch but that has been promised to us through Scripture and the mystics who attest to it.He promised never to leave us orphaned or alone and that He will be with us 'til the end of time.I believe this.

Many years ago ,I went through a horrible,hurtful time and, before it happened, heard words in my heart that prepared me for it.They could only have come from the One who sees all things,past,present and future.It was a tiny light in the darkness.A person who I love dearly is going through a time like this and my prayer today is that he steps into the flamimg heart whose warmth we will never understand,here.

One need not believe me to do this.It would be a leap of imagination but what other things have we tried that have brought us nothing ?
"It is too good to be true,that's how we know it's Him."Fr.Patrick Dooling

Sunday, November 17, 2013

beauty will save the world....

It seems hard to believe that almost a month has passed since my blog was visited with a story.I think that perhaps politics has edged out any creative fire that may have burned after the Camino.And now I have a cold.

I usually don't muse about politics on this blog but something has been roiling and I must let it out.There is a breeze blowing in this country, a movement,under the radar, to remove all religion from the public arena.A group in the North is suing to keep school children from trying to help a Christian group gather toys for poor kids at Christmas.There are "secular" churches springing up that have me wondering.A woman who attended a service there explained that she loved the music and the preaching in the Church and wanted the same thing each Sunday but without the God part.
This has me scratching my head and I think of Steve Martin's bluegrass song,"Atheists Don't Have Songs."

Church is about praise and thanksgiving so who do you praise?The words preached are about guidance but if not from God, then who?The first time I heard Handel's "Messiah",I thought my heart with burst with joy.I try to envision a world with no sacred music,no chant and I ponder how those musical expressions inspire. And then there is the Body of Christ.

I have no problem with a secular church but why must the religious presence that we have be pushed out and marginalized?That which has brought so much to so many.Why not, as the bumper sticker says,"coexist."There is something else going on here.

All of this came to mind after a trip to D.C. to see my cousin,a retired priest.Before leaving I saw some pictures on T.V. of housing that was built in the former Soviet Union.Those grey,utilitarian blocks of apartments and government buildings.So drab and uniniviting,with no spirit.We have all seen these and the only color in the secular Soviet country seemed to be the onion shaped domes of the Orthodox churches.

In the villa of the retirement house is a small chapel.It is white with blonde oak pews and a few lush plants by the altar.There are flickering candles and a shiny communion cup near a tattered Bible.The cross above the altar is multi-colored  with small pictures of Mary and St.John to the side.Spare and beautiful.Most of what I know of beauty comes from the sights,scents and sounds of church.Holy Thursday: whitelilies and altar clothes.Canaries in white cages, incense, chant.I once had a nun tell me that singing Gregorian chant was the closest we would get to heaven.I experienced what she said while in choir in grammar school.Stained glass windows created by believers a thousand years ago made my jaw drop in Spain.Beauty.

I try to envision a secular church and how the decorations would look.Perhaps scenes from nature which would surely be beautiful.But when I saw the Grand Canyon ,my first thought was "thank you".I think that one of the saddest things about a secular world would be that instinct, thwarted.I don't think that one need be a believer to be a good person but I do wonder about beauty.

Anyway, I am grateful for the beauty in my life:lilacs,turkeys,babies toes,great art, music, smooth pages in a journal, books.Words like celestial,
symphony,chapels,silence,prayer,giving,tenderness,forgiveness.And I take comfort in the words of the Russian master writer,Dostoyevsky,"Beauty will save the world."