Monday, December 30, 2013
Does a miracle have to be big?
It was a crisp Christmas Eve,cold and blustery and all the cards had been mailed.Packages were wrapped,warm chocolate chip cookies were in bags for neighbors.We had some time before driving North to my son's house .
On alternate weeks,my husband takes communion to Catholics in the nearby hospital.Every week, he visits a 90 year old man and shops for him.Today, we decided to take communion to three people that are either home bound or in nursing homes.The first stop would be a drab rehab facility in the next town.Billie,a church friend,has been there for more than a year.A few years ago,she contracted a deadly virus and was not supposed to live.She beat the odds and survived although her motor skills were severly damaged.She must have an inner strength and a deep love for her children that no one factored into the prognosis.
Usually,when I go,she blesses me with a lovely smile and we chat,joke and eat chocolate together.At other times,it is not like that and she seems to be in pain.I have checked and they give her all the meds they can and when she is suffering,it is heart breaking.When we entered her room, I could see that it was not a good day.She kept saying,"It hurts,it hurts."I asked if she wanted to receive communion and she just seemed distant .I started to leave,when my husband took her hand and asked if she wanted communion.
He began to pray and all became quiet.We said the Our Father together and he gave her communion and read the gospel for the day.Then we prayed in silence.When we left,she was at peace.That is the only way to describe it.
As we walked down the hall,I could tell that my husband was moved.I said,"You took her pain away."He replied that it was always like that,as if another Person was in the room.
In many ways and at many times,the truth of this has come to me.This is the Body of Christ. And this is all that matters.
Monday, December 23, 2013
I have wrestled with how to tell this ,about the dream ,and finally decided to lay it out before you on this page,come what may.It happened the other night while I was staying with my daughter who had had minor surgery.Her new bed was firm but strange and as I lay there,trying to sleep , I kept saying Emmanuel over and over until I drifted off.
Like a movie,this unfolded:My husband and a friend were getting ready for church and I was way behind in getting ready so they left without me.I struggled into a dress and could find no shoes to match so I put on Nikes and off I went.As I approached the doors, a man stopped me to complain about some theological item that concerned him .I brushed him off fearing I would miss the distribution of communion,which Catholics believe is actually Christ,as do I.As I entered the church,I knew that I had missed this most blessed part of the mass.In sorrow, I sat and then a young altar boy came by and said that he would be sure that I could partake and he left.His father came to me complaining about something to do with altar boys being required to do extra work and I turned away because I just wanted Jesus.Finally the priest came and gave communion to me and a few others A lady near me was sobbing in gratitude.I was content at that moment.
This was such a profound dream for me.It affirmed what I heard once , in a chapel ,when I gazed on the host in the monstrance on the altar:"This is all that matters." Yes, not the liberal /conservative divide in the church,not the horrendous scandals,this Christ who is at the heart of all we believe ,He is all that matters.This is my focus at the end of Advent.
Sunday, December 22, 2013
It seems hard to believe that the fourth Sunday of Advent is today.The rain is pouring and it is getting dark so early but the tree lights and the vanilla candle soothes.This year,along with an artificial tree for the inside, we bought a live Carolina Sapphire Cypress and it is relishing the rain down to its potted roots.In my mind, I see it in the yard as we start a new tradition,a Christmas tree forest.
I wasn't going to send cards this year but when I found some that I already had,I let fly with Christmas wishes to near and far.And how I love to get cards.This year, friends from the Camino,dear Christians from Indiana, sent us their picture from that hike.They mentioned that it is hard to keep the Camino spirit being back in the world.
Something happened at Kohl's the other day,that I now see was Camino spirit-like.John was buying my present at the jewelry counter where a young girl was struggling to help four or five people.She whispered to me that others were supposed to be there but they called in sick and she,who felt sick herself ,came in.As we took the box from her hand,I felt compelled to hug her and wish her a Merry Christmas.The folks around ah'ed in appreciation at the gesture, as she wished me the same back.I take no credit for this,He is the weaver,I am the thread.
I know that there is an effort in this country to remove the sanctity of Christmas from this holiday but it is not possible.It is like trying to step on mercury and stamp it out.It just squirts to a new place.God lives and is real and will not be destroyed.He cannot be and his Love just flows through and around us.Solzhenitsyn saw this in the utter depravity of the Russian gulags.In his accounts of these prisons ,"The Gulag Archipelagos", he witnessed the small lights and at great risk wrote about them.If the Light can shine there,it will shine here.Keep your eyes open.
Tuesday, December 17, 2013
I have never seen a bluer sky or a more welcomed sun.It is still cold but somehow seeing the sunshine on the bare tree limbs heartens.It is December 17th and I hear again in the readings,"Your light will come Jerusalem;The Lord will dawn on you in radiant beauty."
For some reason this takes me back to 1992 when I worked for BellSouth in Jonesboro,seven minutes from my house.This was a new job and a dream come true for me after 13 years as a service representative.But it was challenging as well with 15 employees of various dispositions to tend to.Mostly woman.It was Christmas and there seem to be alot of stress in the office.Maybe it was around the time that a much loved employee was going to be let go because of terrible attendance.I cannot recall but in the midst of the tension, young ,blond and very pretty Sue popped in for a visit.She had her small radio and earphones and she told me to listen.As she left,I turn on Michael W. Smith's "All Is Well" and let it come into me."All is well, all is well, angels and men rejoice.For tonight darkness fell into the dawn of love's light."The melody is peaceful and drifts along.My jaw relaxed,my shoulders fell and I knew that all was well.And that this temporary crisis which , even now I cannot recall ,would pass.
Sue's understanding that I needed this reminder, blesses me still and has for all these years.All is well.And Michael Smith didn't dream up these words,they were given to Julian of Norwich,an anchorite of the 14th century.This was the time in Europe of the Black Death that took the lives of a third of it's population."All is well," she was told in a vision."And all manner of things shall be well."How can this be ?
Perhaps the words of the song can help,"Lift up your voice and sing"....."Christ is come....angels and men rejoice."So there it is.To Julian's understanding,God brings good out of evil even sin and even though we don't see it,our calling is to rejoice anyway.And a rejoicing heart is well.
Sunday, December 15, 2013
The Isaiah readings for today are brilliant poetry:"The desert and the parched lands shall exult:the steppe will rejoice and bloom."The steppe,that barren ,frozen, hard land of the North.I picture it and shiver.I read a book once about a young Polish girl and her family who, being deemed"capitalist pigs" by the invading Soviet Union forces in 1941, were sent to the steppe,in Siberia.These are the words that come to her as she steps from the train onto the platform :"And beyond.Beyond was eternity.Flat,desolate ,treeless world without end."
"They will bloom with abundant flowers and rejoice with joyful song."Isaiah goes on.And here is why,"Here is your God,he comes to save you."
So we take the Word to heart and realize that we are not being told about a place but a state of being.One of gushing ,lavish joy and blooming spirits.This is what is guaranteed by our God.What must we do?This is my favorite line...."A highway will be there called the holy way,....and on it the redeemed will walk."
Being a visual person,this image has always spoken to me.I recall the day in 1971 when I became aware that there was such a road and in my mind I climbed up onto it and began my journey.And then another day when, years later ,I gave my heart to God and took his hand on the path.Surrender to the path and the Way.Perhaps this is why the Camino always called me.A path with an uncertain journey ahead.It has taken me along time to trust this journey and not know what lies ahead.No guarantees that I can see.
And so I get another visual.What does my inner landscape look like?Is it a desert of gloom and spiny plants,dried up pools,endless stretches of bitter salt flats and hopelessness.Do I know where I am going or am I stumbling between sand dunes.We actually have a choice.We have a choice.Rejoice !
I think of Corrie Ten Boom, living in a German concentration camp with great trust.These are her words:"never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God."
Saturday, December 14, 2013
Just the other day, I read a critique of the poetess Sylvia Plath;that she spent her whole life observing so that she had something to write about.Things did not end well for this poetess and I cannot judge why.As much as I love to write, I need a reason to do it.For me,this flows from paying attention to what is at work in the spirit realm.That is where the real action is.Watch,listen and ruminate.When the dots connect,joy.
This is a life long pursuit and patience is as important as pen.It took me five years to see the Hand in the group that supported me after my sister died.It requires solitude and rummaging around in the chest of memories
that hold my life.Think of all the nuggets I could sift through if I had kept a journal all those years.
The other day we had a birthday party for my 11 year old granddaughter and next to her at the table was her friend ,Roni.She is cute and short with brown hair pulled back and she beamed as she told me that keeps a journal and loves to write.Watch for her name in the future.
I wish I had come to this writing sooner but it never crossed my mind to write and no one I knew did.It is a great gift of this age.I have to tell you that when I first started my blog,a dear friend of 60 years ,told me that I was no Hemingway.I confess ,I have never read Ernest but I surmised that not being him was not what a writer would hope to hear.He also told me to put more of myself in my stories and perhaps I have overdone that a bit.Within the last year,my friend has said that he likes my writing more and more and I am getting as good as Ernest.That will keep me going for several more decades.This friend is not given to praise or gushy sentiments so I treasure his words.Thank you,friend ,for always reading my stuff.No one knows how many times I would have stopped but for you.
Keep your eyes open as you saunter through the woods.As you walk the aisles of Aldi.Be quick to step nearer to that person that you are being nudged to speak with.Not so one will have new things to write about but because magical things can happen that need to be shared.
I love this quote and wish I could write this beautifully but here's today's Advent gift:"It is necessary to write if the days are not to slip emptily by.How else,indeed, to clap the net over the butterfly of the moment".Vita
Friday, December 13, 2013
Today is sunny and very brisk and having learned my lesson from a trip to the tundra(Washinton D.C.)last month, where I was underclothed and caught a cold,I am well wrapped.I am headed out to Chik-fil-a to meet with a group of friends.We meet to find God in our lives and have for over 25 years.At least once a month.
As I drove the five miles, the weight of this day presssed.My sister passed away five years ago today,the feast of St.Lucy, and although I am not given to maudlin anniversary weeping,this day I am thoughtful.It seems impossible that we reconciled in those final days when I thought it would never happen.It was and remains a great joy to me.We had been estranged for four years.Within weeks of that happy coming back together,we were at her funeral mass.I recall the beauty of the descending snow that quickly coated the Connecticut countryside.And the peace that I knew now eneveloped her.And the Love.
When I returned to Georgia, it was time for our group to meet and there,in the silent gathering of friends,I found the Body of Christ.One member held my hand as I described holding my sister's hand for those joyful hours in the hospital.Sisters once again.The other women shed tears of sharing in my loss.This can only be described as the kingdom of God.
We have seen each other through spouse's deaths,children's pain, health issues and today I know as I have never known before that we are never alone.When we walk with Christ, trailing along behind and next to ,is the company of saints both here and there.That includes you ,Jeannine and Mom.I feel your hugs now.
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
It is mid afternoon and the sun slants to my left streaking the yard with tree trunk shade.It is Christmas coming time and the longing for it fills me.For the Good who we call God. For beauty.And the simple.
This seems to me to be a crazy time in our country where people are suing to add their "festivus" tree to traditional displays.Trees with beer cans hanging from them.Put in public places with Christmas trees and menorahs.Something about this tickles me, and saddens me at the same time.That seeing a stable with a babe could cause mental anguish enough that one would call a lawyer.Get that creche out of my sight,it offends me.There is a wave of this going on and I wonder where it will all end.Should we ban the movie,"It's A Wonderful Life" because there is an angel in it?
Again, I come back to the grey,lifeless buildings of that state that had nothing holy,the Soviet Union. The only poetry allowed was those that extolled the state.Will we change the names of San Francisco and Los Angeles?Will we stamp out our heritage along with religion?How anchorless we will be.Maybe that is the point.Because there is a point.These are not some random actions.It is a movement and it is not at all subtle.
On my wall is a picture of a church.It is a small white Methodist building that has been in the Spruceton valley in the Catskills since the 1800s.My sister is buried in a cemetery behind it.When you drive around the bend in the road, the steeple always seemed to say that all is well and you are almost home.It is unused now but cared for.Once a year, the valley folk hold a service there and we attend if we are there.We remember the people who went before who sang hymns in that church.And the recent members of the valley who died,the preacher's wife at 85 and the father of four who passed at 62.The church connects and when the autumn leaves turn, their brilliance is framed by the stark white.
The photo that I have is of the church at sunrise.The white winter sun is shining through the windows lighting the inside as if prayers were being said.This is not a building but a sign.
This is a simple church, a beautiful touchstone in the valley and I cannot picture a world without all that it says to me.
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
It is brisk and windy out there in the woods and the river is up and brown/tan from the rain.The sun has been gone for days now,hiding behind the whirling clouds of winter.It could be worse.I just read that NYC had its coldest night in 18 years.
I have so enjoyed the Advent readings this year and over and over I hear:"I shall dwell on the Lord's mountain,I shall dwell in His house."Comforting words to those on the Path.To know that at the end of the journey we will rest in His dwelling.Where exactly, is the Lord's house ?We don't have to die or travel.It is here,I believe, when we are aware of His Presence.When we dwell in it forever,we will be constantly aware of that Presence.It is not a dwelling but a state of mind.
Last night, I was in the dwelling.We were at Aldi's food store after checking out.As we put our purchases in a box that we had brought,I noticed a young Dad doing the same as his son sat in the cart.The boy,around four years old, had brown hair, a blue jacket and droopy eyes,a tired boy at 8:30 P.M.I smiled at him and he stared and then he reacted with a gorgeous grin.A connection.We smiled at each other for awhile until we left the store.At the cart stand,I saw him again and this time ,no smile.Maybe it was my crazy hat.But I was still beaming from the warmth of the encounter when I told the Dad about the boy's smile.As I left, he said,"Merry Christmas."Indeed.
Saturday, December 7, 2013
The last few days,have found me digging in my closet for winter pictures to put on the walls of my prayer room.It's the least a New York gal can do who is snow deprived in the South.The last good snow that we had here in Jonesboro, was 2010 and I spent glorious moments in the woods taking pictures. And listening.
The quiet that snow brought to Long Island was what I recall.Cars coming down Webster St. were few and footfalls were muted.The white sparkling snow coated the sentinel maple trees .Fairy land for kids.
Just the other day, I heard from my old friend of 60 years ,that she was enjoying snow in Tennessee.In an instant a scene came so clear to me.Rosemary coming up the sidewalk towards my house when we were kids.We were in the middle of a windy snow storm.As she came my way,she tumbled head over heels on the slick sidewalk.The hilarity that followed I can hear now.My sister was next to me and said that she meant to fall but nothing took away the joy of that moment or this memory.
I have another snow memory,more recent.It was that 2010 storm and when the snow stopped falling,I went down to the river bank.The solitude,the quiet was so soothing.There amid the white filegreed tree limbs, and frosted water near the bank, I stood and listened.I just took in all the beauty and felt such joy.Then to my right, I saw a lone tree limb waving .There was no wind,no other branch moved and no snow was tumbling and yet this branch kept swaying back and forth and then stopped.I knew,and know ,that this was a sign from an angel that I was not alone in the woods.A few weeks later,I came across a painting in the Salvation Army store and in the trees were angels smiling.I have that picture and treasure it.
This is,after all ,the season of angels.They came before to tell us that something grand was to happen and I believe they still are here trying to get our attention.Just try to ask your angel her/his name and see what happens.
Wednesday, December 4, 2013
The car slowly backs out of the driveway.Her silver hair is tucked behind her ears.She is slumped foward,back arched from age.The time of dread has come.Her neighbors have all gone now,no one to wave to as she leaves for the last time.
The gentle river sighs a good-bye,the turkeys turn their heads in question,the pines whisper her name,she who loved them so well.New people will till her rose and daylily garden and prune back the Carolina Jasmine that cascades over the grey, battered looking fence.The spot where the boys,sons and grandsons, used to play football will eventually be planted in trees,their voices long gone.
There is the place in the yard where she sat and played with the 14 surprise Christmas puppies.Whining and tumbling.A home was found for each one,those small happy little balls of fur.The room in front is where she watched the towers fall after her son called to tell her to put the T.V.on.The same room and T.V that saw the Iron Bowl fought and incredibly won by Auburn in 2013 ,so many years ago.Such happiness!
She has mentally prepared for this day for years and is determined to make it easy on the driver.She has never seen where she is going but they promised a room on the ground floor with trees out the window.She has always known that she is much too attached to the things of nature but she knows that she must have trees.On her lap is the builders drawing of the house she has loved,her pictures ,prayer book and Bible.In the box she holds are autumn leaves,pine cones,sweet gum pods,all picked by her son for a Thanksgiving arrangement.A small pillow that has Welcome Winter stitched on it and her compostella from Spain and another time.A coffee mug with two dogs that look like hers.She hopes she has not forgotten something that she will mourn over.A drawing of birds that her son did is in her bag.
She will not look back but forward to all that the new place will hold.
Monday, December 2, 2013
It was an overcast early summer day when my husband and our four children divided up between two canoes and started down the Etowa river in Georgia.Our youngest son was three and the others 8,10 and 12.Although we had life jackets on, I was feeling some trepidation.My husband and I were in the old green canoe with our youngest.
As we went down the rapids, we noticed a fork in the river. One branch of the river kept going and the other went through an old tunnel.My husband said that it was safe to choose that route if ,when looking through ,we saw light at the other end.If not,there was blockage of trees or something else and we might not get out.We saw light in the distance and off we went.In a quick minute ,I became terrified.If my son fell out,I would not be able to see him in the dark rushing water.We banged against the tunnel walls,slimy and wet and the canoe turn completely around in the rapids.The journey seemed to take forever.I kept watching the entrance as it got nearer and nearer and finally with tears streaming,we hit sunlight.Safe.From a scary, empty place to safety.
In Advent, we celebrate the journey from darkness to light.Two things come to mind.When I first came to be a Christian believer, in California in 1971.Filled with excitement, I thought,"Yes, I can see."What a difference.
The second remembrance happened when going through a very dark time in my life.A darkness that had me feeling as if an ant's belly was a higher thing than my self-worth.I went to counselling with a young priest and poured my soul onto the green carpet.He was our parish priest and a friend of the family.With his goatee,sparkling brown eyes and wicked sense of humor,many laughs have been shared.But in counselling, he was serious,supportive,a rock of sound judgment.After each session,I felt stronger.Once, after meeting, he motioned for me to come to his room and he asked advice about the kind of curtains he should buy.Big deal you say?
Let me tell you something:that few minutes was like a pump filling the flat tire of my self.He thought I was worthy enough,valuable enough to be asked my opinion.He never knew what that meant.A light shone in my darkness and it grew and grew.A coming.Advent.
Sunday, December 1, 2013
For those one of you that read my blog religiously,you know that this is my favorite season.I cannot say why,perhaps it has to do with simplicity.The woods I look out at have lost most of their color and the branches are bare awaiting the white sun that will glance off their greyness in a few hours.The leaves that are left are beige on the beeches and hardly noticed. These are the weeks before Christmas that the Church designates as Advent.A coming.
For me ,I belive that these four weeks are set aside to remind us of the seriousness of what happened on Christmas: we need to be focused on this-the miracle of incarnation.The candles on the Advent wreath are purple and pink not gold,red and green.And the Bible readings for this season are always about light shining in the darkness.And so I must be awake and aware and look for that light and be that light.
But first in my meditation,I think of darkness.With sadness, I see in my mind a shopper taking a stun gun to the store on Black Friday to ward off anyone else taking what they want.I hear the muffled scream of the employee on the Long Island Wal-Mart floor who is being trampled to death on the same day by shoppers.The baby in the stable weeps.Remember that old fashioned exhortation,"Love your neighbor as yourself?"
This is what the world looked like before the Coming that we wait for.But the Coming is an historical one and a personal one and we are in control of whether we let it happen.Let that baby in.The Christ."The people that walk in darkness"the prophet said.We are those people and the darkness is thick and frightening.
I saw that light in a story posted on Facebook on Thanksgiving about a woman in Chicago who years ago served coffee and donuts to commuters and a universe full of love with it.When this simple woman died those she had shone on wept openly.The world needs this so much.Do we have the time?
When young ,I worked in W.T.Grant's on Long Island.When I read this story about another young salesclerk it touched me with recognition.In another store on Christmas Eve, a young girl was watching the clock for closing time.Fifteen minutes before the door was to be locked, a disheveled lady walked in with a big list and hope in her eyes.The young girl pondered finding a way to slip out and let someone else help,she so wanted to go home, but something pushed her to walk up and offer.Years later, she would recall that those moments helping a stranger sing still in her heart.Christmas.Light.
Some may say I'm a dreamer and that life isn't like that.I am beyond grateful to say that I don't believe that.That anyone even with a stun gun can be transformed.That's is what incarnation is all about.So, today starts Advent and I am going to be on the look-out for the light that the darkness of even these times cannot overcome.