Follow by Email

Spring Trillium

Spring Trillium
remember beauty in our world

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

FAILING ADVENT, DAY 9

I am starting to keep a log of the multitudinous ways in which I am an Advent Fail.  I will be posting every several days but not each day.

I thought I was prepared for Advent this year.  I bought a cute, marginally expensive little gathering of fake greens and decorations at Michael's and hung it on our red front door.  I got out my old Advent booklets by Joyce Rupp, Richard Rohr, and Daniel Harrigan S.J.  Holy, every damn one of them. They make a nice, festive pile by my side of the bed.

I dusted off my kneeler, prepared to spend mega painful-to-knees amounts of time praying.  My "yes" to God would be like Mary's "yes" to God over 2000 years ago, except that my assent doesn't include: a holy pregnancy, a jolting ride on a donkey, giving birth in a stable or perhaps a cave with a serious lack of hygiene and no midwife in sight, and--oh, yes--fleeing with my husband and babe to avoid the insane Herod.

I got out the Advent wreath and inserted the requisite number of candles (no animals were hurt in their making) in the proper colors--three purple and one pink for Gaudette Sunday.

Except, except, my ADD brain WANTS to be holy and observant, but that ain't how it works.  Here's evening of Day 8 in Failing Advent:

I am waiting to see Gronkowski race out onto the field in San Diego where the Patriots are playing the Chargers, a difficult and challenging game my husband assures me. (I won't mention my son and his wife and their membership in a football betting pool in L.I. which has already yielded some cash.  My Dad, who hustled rich kids by playing bridge at Yale to pay for his education, would be so proud.)

I am waiting to see if Jonas Grey is allowed to play this game by the ferocious and don't-mess-with-me Bill Belichick, coach of the Patriots, a man never seen to smile in my memory.  Ah, he is, thank the Lord.  Time to be grateful!

I suspect this is not what the Church meant when speaking about Holy Waiting, anticipating the birth of the Christ Child.  But honestly, for today--failed saint that I am--I live in restless anticipation, waiting to see if the Patriots can pull off a win against the San Diego Chargers.  I might have to eat substantial quantities of pretzels and quaff some beer to endure this time. Surely beer is holy?

Ah, my waiting has been rewarded.  I was faithful, after all.  The Pats won and now I can go to sleep, secure in the knowledge that I practiced both "waiting" and "anticipation," but not quite in the way the church proscribes.  Maybe I need to wear a purple robe next time, or burn some incense?

Saturday, October 4, 2014

MIDWIVES AT THE END OF LIFE

As I enter the category of aging broad, I notice that I am visiting my doctor more frequently than I would like.  It's not for serious things like congestive heart failure or crumbling spine.  It's more annoyances of the corpus:  Baker's Cyst (so named for the poor men who stood all day baking and developed little pockets of synovial fluid behind their knees); a meniscus torn when I was exercising my ass off; worsening GERD (perhaps two glasses of wine nightly is NOT a good idea?); and weird feet.

All of this reminded me of my two pregnancies when I started out seeing my midwife every six weeks, then once a month, every two weeks, and once weekly as my delivery date approached.  I loved hefting my bulk onto the examining couch and having the midwife listen to the baby's heartbeat and feel her position; have her check my own heartbeat and blood pressure; and make sure all was well.  I felt so taken care of, so safe.

Now as I am in the final quarter of my life, I feel like that long ago pregnant woman trundling into the doctor's office to get checked.  Except now I limp.  I am being assessed to make sure my body is still functioning reasonably well.  Note I use the word "reasonably," but not "fabulously," nor "amazingly well."  Those days are gone, and that's okay.  I am grateful to be still upright and cogent, and relieved to have medical personnel who accompany me on this journey.

I am also grateful to my spiritual companions--priests, pastors, and friends with whom I talk about theology, God, angels, human evil, the random and unexpected nature of things, and the beauty and precision of the universe.  Sometimes we even quote Aquinas--but not easily.  Sometimes we talk of my favorite Franciscan, Richard Rohr, and the luminescent Barbara Brown Taylor, all wise people who know what it is like to sit in the last car of the mortal train.

Like someone looking through the back window of the caboose, I find myself remembering in ways I haven't before: camping out in a sweet meadow and watching for shooting starts; listening to my dad read "Half-Magic" to us before bed; putting marshmallows into the fire until they were a tasty, charred black;  getting married under the butternut tree at my parents' house; nursing my babies and feeling perfect contentment; recalling so many sweet stops on this journey--love, laughter, tears, and the warm clasp of hands as someone I loved said goodbye.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

LOVE THINE ENEMIES--DAMN IT!

I purely hate this line from the readings for today from Matthew 5:44.  Frankly, it asks too much of my whiny, intractable self.  I mean, I KNOW that I should pray for the deceased Saddam Hussein, the butcher Assad, the men in Boko Haram--which I am having a really, really hard time doing--Eric Cantor and the Tea Party, and people who cut off my marvelous self on the highway.  I know it, but can I do it?

I think of myself as essentially a "nice" person-someone who likes to meet with people, evangelize over cups of coffee, and send money to help build wells in Africa.  But that's not "messy charity."  Money is easy.  Love is not.

The way I entered into "loving" Saddam Hussein was when I saw a picture of him after his capture when he looked utterly disheveled, broken down, with a head full of lice.  I know all about lice.  Both my "kids" had them as late adolescents, and I cannot tell you how much time I spent combing nits out of my daughter's very thick, very long hair, and my son's curly locks.  Abominable. (Don't think about the genocide of the Kurds, just don't, not right now when you are practicing being more loving.)  For a moment I saw this man's vulnerability, despite his crimes, and it allowed a very small, wavering tendril of love to reach out to him.

Ok, let's try Eric Cantor, obstructionist politician who used to be Republican Majority Leader in the House.  I confess to a whoop of joy and several fist pumps when he lost his position.  He deserved to lose it, I said, the way he went up against President Obama at every opportunity, creating gridlock in Congress....wait, wait, stop it, my better self said.

This is the first thing I realized about the "loving my enemies" command.  I don't have to FEEL the love as an emotion, as a kind of affection; all I have to do (that ALL is tough) is stop repeating the litany of his sins and let myself see him as a person--someone with the spark of the divine within, just like me.  If I can build on that, then maybe I can make a stab at loving my enemies.  Notice the use of the threatening word "stab." Clearly, this is going to take some work.

Fr. Robert Barron defines love as "willing the good of the other as other."  We need to peel off the octopus arms of our expectations, our hopes for the person, our disappointments and hurts, and our need to have them love us back.  This is a challenge.  It is going to require some serious prayer on my knees at my prie dieu.

It's just not easy being a Christian adult.  Probably learning gymnastics at the ripe age of 68 and balancing on the high beam would be easier for me than loving people I find totally unworthy of my love.  Whoops, there I go again.  I don't get to judge them.  That's not my job.  Just--hold them in a compassionate space for as long as I can bear it.  Imagine them looking in the mirror and being shocked at how life has changed them and let them down.  Remember they have souls too.

After two cups of strong espresso and some dark chocolate, I think I might be able to manage this.  Of course, after ingesting these goodies I will be so jacked that kneeling in prayer on my prie dieu will be nearly impossible.  But I'm going to try.  That is all God asks of me.  Maybe I'll practice on Ayn Rand next.

Friday, May 9, 2014

DIGITAL WORKS OF MERCY--ARE THEY POSSIBLE?

Being a writer, I sit at my desk far too much, check my email far too often, and scan through FB postings for anything remotely amusing and/or religious.  Even better if humor is combined with theology, as is often the case with the great Pope John XXIII, now a saint.

But, as Christians and as Catholics, we are called to both do the Spiritual Works of Mercy and the Corporal Works of Mercy.  It seems like a cruel anomaly to use the internet to try and help people in their bodily forms, but I wonder if it can be done?

Nothing, of course, can take the place of working in a homeless shelter, dishing out food at a Soup Kitchen, visiting people in prison, or going to a nursing home to visit an aged resident.  But if my driveway is blocked with snow--a common occurrence this past, dire winter--and I cannot get out of the house, can I still be faithful to this command to reach out to the most vulnerable?

Here are some thoughts which may be useful to those of you who sometimes are unable to do the physical Works of Mercy but who want to help people in need.

1/ Contribute to "www.nothingbutnets.com", an organization which provides nets soaked in insect repellant to people living in malaria-ridden areas to protect them from mosquitos at night.

2/ GIVE DRINK TO THE THIRSTY: Global Ministries has a variety of missions which you can send money to.  I like choosing a particular area or population, as I did when I sent money to help dig wells in Africa.  Providing clean drinking water is a huge challenge for many today, and definitely a Work of Mercy.

3/  FEED THE HUNGRY:  If the snow is flying outside or the rain pouring down, cook up several meals to take to a local homeless shelter and put them in your freezer until you can deliver them.  I like cooking burritos, pots of soup (corn chowder is a favorite), a big batch of spaghetti sauce, loaves of homemade bread, and whatever else you like to cook that will freeze easily.

4/ CLOTHE THE NAKED:  Sort through your closets to find clothes in good repair which you can take to a Hospice Shop or Goodwill store.  I have a multitude of tops and sweaters, all just fine, which I am contributing.

5/ Have your kids, if you have them, go on a coin hunt and start a mason jar by the door to put the coins in.  Judaism has a good name for this, "Tikkun Olam," healing the world.  Have the kids pull out couch cushions, search beneath, look under the edges of carpets, go through pocket books, and check the coats in the closet.  Car doors yield a surprising amount of cash.  Then you can talk as a family about what you want to do with the money collected.

6/ VISIT THE PRISONERS:  Get a name from your parish of someone in prison who could use a visit and contact with someone on the "outside."  Again, if you can't physically visit, start a correspondence and include drawings your kids have done or other colorful things which might cheer someone in prison.  Note: Contact the nearby prison to find out what things are acceptable and can be safely sent. You also could contact Amnesty International and find out if they need people to write letters in support of various prisoners.

7/ SHELTER THE HOMELESS:  Call a local homeless shelter and ask what they need:  clothing, furniture, food, and/or money?  Although this puts you somewhat at a distance from this Corporal Work of Mercy, the shelter will welcome any donations!

8/ Some things you really cannot do digitally, i.e.--Bury the Dead (even with the best of intentions this is not possible), and Visit the Sick.  Although you could call your parish and ask who on the Parish Prayer line needs prayers and a card.  Also, you could contribute financially to burying an indigent person in your parish.  Call the parish office to find out more information on this.

Then--on a day when winter has retreated to the cave it hides in and the rainstorms have departed--you can actually go to the homeless shelter, serve your thawed meals at the soup kitchen, visit a prisoner in person, and show up for our most vulnerable citizens.

And when you meet God at last and She asks what you have done for the littlest of these, you can wave the stubs of your bank checks or more likely, the printed records of your internet donations; show the correspondence you sent to prisoners and the sick; and feel that you made a small start in helping the needy.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

UH-OH, IT'S THAT TIME OF YEAR AGAIN--LENT!

For many of us who profess to be Christians (often a dangerous journey), Lent looms at the end of a cold winter before anything green has sprung above the icy snow gripping my meadow and gardens.  It seems cruel to think about giving up anything when the whole experience of winter is basically--giving things up: being warm, going for long walks with your dog, sitting on your deck sipping crisp wine, all of those things which make being human such a festive occasion.

Instead, 7-8 pounds heavier than I was in October, possibly drinking two glasses of wine per night instead of one, and inhabiting a snarky space with my spouse which is bad for my soul, I hit Lent.  Like a car going up an already rocky road, suddenly I hit the pothole that is Lent.  The car shudders.  I shudder with it.

"Give something up?  You must be kidding!"  What happened to checking into a Day Spa instead, sending around for gourmet take-out, and having people come for in-house massages?  What happened to a religion which professed THAT as a spiritual practice?  I could really get behind that.

Instead, we are faced with the giving-up thingy--be it chocolate, books from Amazon.com, criticizing our friends, gossiping, indulging in retail therapy, whatever is your particular drug of choice to get through winter.  I have taken on a rather large deprivation for the next 6 (six! my mind screams) weeks--no wine drinking.  Period.  Take the money I spend per week on wine and give it to the Survival Center.  Sounds good, right?  That could buy a lot of diapers and baby formula.

By untying myself from this attachment to delicious white wines (sigh), I think and hope to tie myself more closely to the God I worship.  I hope that my small effort to peel away something that is truly not needed in my life in order to give out more to people who truly are in need, I will be following The Way.  Just a little bit more.

I'll let you know how this goes.  Self-discipline is not something I shine at. I do love my wine, but think it is time to be more disciplined about the whole thing.  At the end of 6 weeks (6 weeks!) I shall be thinner, possibly purer, maybe closer to God, and definitely, certainly more cranky.

Monday, February 10, 2014

CHRIST'S TOENAILS


This has a decidedly medieval tone to it, don't you think?  The Medievals lived in a world that was, in some ways, far more interesting than ours.  It was so vital, so carnal, and religion permeated society in ways we have forgotten.  You could take all parts of Christ's body and his Father in creative and inventive exclamations.  And if you think cursing and religion don't go together, consider these words of the inestimable G.K. Chesterton:  "Blasphemy itself could not survive religion; anyone doubts that let him try to blaspheme Odin." Here are some of my favorites:

--"God's wounds," which became S'wounds or later, Sounds!

--"God's blood," which got transmuted into "bloody hell" in modern Britain, a phrase that polite people still avoid.  I like it because it connects me intimately to our past.  Some scholars think that it was "by our lady" which morphed into "bloody."

--"God's toenails."  I may be making this up, but I don't think so.  If you're going to swear on parts of God's body, this could be a good one. I recommend using it with toddlers so they won't learn the more common and vulgar profanities of our age.

--"God's bones."  This brings up rather horrible yet sacred images of Jesus' bones being broken while he hung on the cross, but maybe that's not such a bad thing to be reminded of.  This would be a good swear for times in traffic when you are stuck behind a Mack truck or stopped in rush hour traffic.  Other people will be flipping the bird and shouting at their windshields, and you will be calling on the bones of our savior.

--"God's teeth" is another useful swear.  You can imagine situations when this would be appropriate, but I am reserving it for the dentist's chair when the doctor probes my mouth with sharp instruments, asking me about a recent holiday.  "God's teeth, woman!" I shall mumble with feeling.  "Cease asking."

I leave it to you to make up more creative swears based on God's incarnate body.  Feel free to include His wrists, arms, legs, hair, eyes, ears, whatever.  This may feel a bit sacrilegious at first, but I think it was one of the ways our ancestors wove Christ into their daily speech and everyday lives.  I like that.  I feel we've become too separated from God's presence in our lives, and these exclamations can keep us grounded in Who we come from and Who created us--with delight, mercy, patience, and I suspect, forgiveness for our occasional exclamations about His miraculous body.

Friday, November 22, 2013

DEATH CLUBS & VIAGRA MALLS

Isn't that a fabulous title?  Don't you wish you had thought of it?  The other title I had was, "Recent Head-Snappers" which was also fun but not quite as inviting, I think.  Death clubs and Viagra just seem to go together.

So this is my morning ritual, which involves copious cups of Dark Magic coffee (with some attendant nervous mutterings about how un-ecological it all is) and reading my various faith books.  It is a time of spiritual renewal, sort of like a religious shower, and the way I always start my day.

But every now and then the world invades my pious, caffeinated time with something so strange and warped that I spill my coffee and shout to my husband (I have started shouting due to his hearing loss, and will he consider a hearing aid?  Nooo...), "Did you read about the Death Clubs, honey?"

"Death pubs" he said in a considering kind of voice, perhaps the way Piglet pronounced the sign, "Trespassers Will."

"No, that would be too good, actually.  DEATH CLUBS!" I repeated loudly, "for people who have no religion or faith life but are desperate to talk about things that matter.  Like death."

"Why don't they just talk about sex instead?" he replied.  "Much more interesting I should think, not such a downer."

"Apparently not.  People need to talk about death, how they feel about it, what their plans are for it..."  I subsided, taking a sip of my cooling coffee.  Clearly I had been talking too much, and my coffee was objecting and getting stroppy.

I felt sad for these people, even though I understood and applauded their courage.  Sad because I am so fervently and deeply religious, actually believing in most of what the Gospels say, as in: The Raising of Lazarus, the Resurrection, the Grilling of Fish on the Beach, the Ascension, and the Shroud of Turin which is not in the Gospels.  But it should be.  Because where I live and my spirit with me (and also with you), I don't need to go to a Death Club to talk about my last days.  My religion pretty much maps it out for me, and I trust in that.  It's not that I am not completely without fear regarding my personal ending; I would just as soon God gave me a special dispensation to live for--oh, another century or so, but only if I get to keep my teeth.  But that would be violating the natural law, and I have some fondness for said law.

So what do I expect to happen in those final days?  It's a mystery, of course.  And there's no guarantee that I'll have a "good ending," as they say.  We pray to St. Joseph for "a good death," and I plan on starting that real soon.  I could, of course, like my darling Aunt Lucy descend into Alzheimer's, with the last light in my eyes disappearing so that they appeared to be windows with the shades drawn down.  I would prefer to die by cancer than by that slow, insidious withdrawal of cognition and memory.

I expect to see darkness.  I expect to see light blooming in that darkness, a warm and glorious shining I shall head towards.  I hope to be wrapped in that light and drawn in with the unspoken words, "My, you made some messes in your life, Annie, and we'll figure that out, but oh, how I love you. Welcome home, baby!"

That's my hope and why I don't need to attend a Death Club.  Oh, and the other recent head-snapper, the Viagra mall, seen in my spam folder?  (Where else would it be?)  I think I will wait for another time to address that one, because frankly, the mind boggles.