Sunday, December 30, 2007
Lest I sound completely batty, let me start again.
Christmas Eve is an extremely holy moment for me. I believe God has given me this special gift, like a loving Father who gives his little daughter who doesn't ask for much the thing that will make me glow. It's the Redemption of my life, really. To explain all that I'd have to explain the whole path of my Christian conversion, which I probably will at some point, but not right now.
I really, really want to meet God in my heart each Christmas Eve, and so God generally works it out for me. This year, I read our Jesse tree reading in the evening, the same reading that I memorized and recited for years as a child in our Christmas Eve Sunday School program: Luke 2. I was struck by how, when the shepherds heard the message from heaven, there was no question of whether they believed it was true. They had just seen angels -- of course it was true! They just said "Let's go to Bethlehem and see it!" The real God! Let's go see!
That was still burning in my heart when I arrived at Mass. I've been a stickler about finding a Midnight Mass each year, as a Midnight Mass was climactic in my conversion experience. So, this year our parish had a 10:30 Mass. It was still the Mass of midnight, so I sucked up my stickels, and at my pastor's suggestion I helped the evening's makeshift choir carol.
I sang my little lungs out. I felt a bit like the little drummer boy; I was the little singing girl. I don't have much to offer, but sing I could, and I probably looked like a fool, but I felt somehow I wanted to gift God and my brothers and sisters there present and not present with singing with all my might.
The readings and prayers are more piercing each year. I can feel these words in my bones: "The people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light.... every boot that tramped in battle, every cloak rolled in blood, will be burned as fuel for flames." I have walked in darkness. My boots tramped in battle against the Lord's peace. But the thoughts of these now only fuel the flames of my love for God.
Somehow, in the midst of this liturgy, I had a very, very clear glimpse (intellectual? spiritual?) of Mary. What I mean is, I suddenly realized that any looking upon her as anything less than the exemplar of holiness to which I am called is to diminish her. I can't just admire a beautiful saint as I would a nice work of art. She's not like a movie star, someone whose life is to be external to mine. And realized there is no expression of love for her that could ever be excessive, because human love for the work of God never fulfills the infinite level of indebtedness and awe and marvel due Him. All we can do is give all that we are. It is enough for us, never for Him.
I recall feeling on the way home that I was going to need something to tack me back to earth, lest I float away with the giddiness of these gifts.
I needn't have worried.
We had a beautiful Christmas day. It was a warm, loving family day. This also is Redemption. But, despite my plans of celebrating the 12 days of Christmas, as the week wore on I found myself yelling, arguing, vexed, and agitated. My son and I butted heads and lots of cross words were exchanged. I felt myself dragging through the mud. It was yucky.
Slowly, I remembered my thought on the way home from Mass. "I need something to tack me back on earth." I said it yesterday. I said it today at Mass, but I stopped quickly. "I need." Yes, that is exactly it, isn't it. I need. I desperately need God for my every breath, for every millisecond where I relate to another person, for my every thought, movement, responsibility, initiative. I am completely, totally, abjectly dependent on God. I am called to be like Mary, to union with the Trinity, but for this (I don't say for this too, because "this" equals all the rest I just litanied) I am dependent on God.
This also is Redemption.
I enjoy taking these little tests. The results generally tell me what I already know, but somehow having some widget give me feedback gives me a satisfaction....
|You Are 50% Left Brained, 50% Right Brained|
The right side of your brain is all about creativity and flexibility. Daring and intuitive, right brained people see the world in their unique way. If you're right brained, you likely have a talent for creative writing and art. Your right brain prefers day dreaming, philosophy, and sports.
|You Are An INTP|
You are analytical and logical - and on a quest to learn everything you can. Smart and complex, you always love a new intellectual challenge. Your biggest pet peeve is people who slow you down with trivial chit chat. A quiet maverick, you tend to ignore rules and authority whenever you feel like it.
In love, you are an easy person to fall for. But not an easy person to stay in love with. Although you are quite flexible, you often come off as aloof or argumentative.
At work, you are both a logical and creative thinker. You are great at solving problems. You would make an excellent mathematician, programmer, or professor.
How you see yourself: Creative, fair, and tough-minded.
When other people don't get you, they see you as: arrogant, cold, and robotic.
Hat tip to Rachel from whom I nabbed these tests.
Saturday, December 29, 2007
He isn't exactly my next-of-kin, but he is a member of the mystery family that I have been trying to ferret out of census records for the last few years. There is something about connecting a face to a name that make the genealogy pursuit take on a whole new realistic, personal dimension. I can imagine the brick Chicago home which served as backdrop for this picture still standing. I can look at the postmark and know that he had 32 years -- roughly half his years -- left to his life. Did he have any inkling that within five years he and his wife would divorce, and she would marry another man? (And did she have any inkling that the other man would be dead a year later?) And I wonder why, in the 25 words he penned to his brother, did he comment that his weight was 202 pounds? Were they in some sort of body building (or weight loss) competition?
My thanks to Marge and all those who rescue photos from antique shops. A word to the wise: even if you think there is no reason for it, please be sure to label all family photos with names and other identifying information! You never know who may be looking at them long after you leave them behind.
Monday, December 24, 2007
Friday, December 21, 2007
I was particularly stirred by the piece quoted in my title. It is based on Isaiah 40:9 and 60:1, and says:
O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion, get thee up into the high mountain; O thou that tellest good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, and be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God! Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.
It wasn't the gorgeous harmonies that stirred me, although that helped. It was the Word of God, living and active. Many years ago, various Scriptures that mention speaking began to grip me with a shocking power when I read them or heard them read. Perhaps you've had a similar experience of feeling a Holy Spirit finger pointed right into your chest and the words echoed hot and pounding inside. And these were often about people being called to speak, or otherwise to have a public role in proclaiming God's goodness. So tonight, again. Lift up thy voice/ with strength/ lift it up, and be not afraid. There is something in me that fears, although not in the way that perhaps I once felt just generic fear and awkwardness of speaking (I sometimes still feel that). Perhaps what I feel is more an awe. God tells us to address Zion, Jerusalem, Judah (which my theological training tells me represents the Church, not "the heathen") and to tell them, to tell the Church "Behold your God!" Isn't that astonishing? Arise! Shine! Your Light is come!
I can remember as a child, feeling this call to help Christians "get real". After a preliminary encounter with God at about age 10 (which for years I reckoned as the beginning of my Christian journey, especially during the time when I rejected the validity of infant Baptism) I realized that many people go to church services and call themselves Christians without experiencing Jesus. Can there be a greater tragedy?
Behold your God!
I think part of what makes my heart pound is something in the realization that God commands me to speak, but I don't really know what it is He wants me to say. And I'm thinking of the line attributed to St. Francis: Preach the gospel at all times, if necessary use words. The message, I realize, is made up of words that God will give to the extent that I am attentive to Him and "with" Him. And the message is also found in taking the graces He gives and living them out. He calls me to a union with Him that is to be lived for others, to call others to arise, to shine.
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Saturday, December 15, 2007
First, I am so happy that my husband was able to attend with me. We hardly have a chance to discuss household matters in person, let alone do something like a retreat day, so that was special. The main thing I came away with was my own need for freedom, freedom to be myself. When I went to confession the priest actually said "don't be afraid to be yourself." This kind of thing just makes me laugh with delight, at least in looking back on it by a few hours. I had never met this priest before and he had no sense of my journey beyond what I had told him in confession, and he repeats to me this key phrase which the Lord began telling me when He called me to the Catholic Church, and has been gently tutoring me in for years, and which has once again come front and center through encountering the writings of Fr. Giussani. I did a quick search on this blog and found any number of posts where I realize, over and over, that this is what God wants for me, and then this priest tells me exactly the same thing.
And I'm remembering a time in confession, probably six ago or so, when I felt the tip of something emerge of which I felt I received a much fuller understanding today. It was this sense that I have a "real" life that I live within me, and in certain contexts outside of me, but then I have this other life with which I interact with most other people in my life. Six years ago I had a sense of this, and it bothered me greatly, but I didn't understand why it was this way or what to do about it. Today I understood what this is, and I think this understanding will help me in the overcoming in the areas in which this is still a problem. Fr. Roberto talked about the "I", myself, as relationship with God, the Infinite. I am this relationship with God. And this is also how I need to understand other people, and how I need to relate to other people. And when I take this relationship to the Infinite out of the equation of relating to others, what I am left with is -- well here there were two metaphors, both helpful, striking, but different. I'm left with a political relationship. Every action is a reaction, calculated for what seems to bring me the most pleasing outcome. So I constantly have to read others, and make safe bets. The other metaphor, and perhaps I do see the correlation, is that in taking relationship to the Infinite out the the equation of how I see others, I am left a slave. Someone, something else is determining my life, and I am putting myself under that.
So, six years ago I saw that my real life is in my freedom of belonging to Christ. This is real. But I set a limit on that freedom; it ended where I had to interact with most people outside myself. No big wonder then that I tended to recoil from interaction, because I felt it automatically reduced me to just reacting to them, being their puppet, or even worse, being the puppeteer.
Why? Well, following the basic line of reasoning presented today, I felt this automatic reduction out of a fear, or at least a lack for some reason, of sharing my needs with others, or at the very least, being conscious of my needs while with others. This is also pretty much a no-brainer for me, because in times past I have felt myself an extremely needy person. I was pretty intense about it, too, in my 20s (when for months and months I would come to church with tons of Kleenex, knowing I would spend much of our 3 hour service crying). So I equated "need" with becoming a complete basket-case. Undiagnosed mild depression and hormonal imbalances in my 20s and 30s probably didn't help matters any. Infertility six years ago contributed greatly to this isolation: I felt I couldn't share my sorrow for fear of meeting a lack of understanding, lack of empathy. So, I tried to make a nice face, but inside I knew that I was just posturing.
To a degree I was only posturing with even my husband, and even myself. And I suppose I should add, especially with my Lord. I can say with certainty that I have emerged out of the veil of sorrow that I lived under almost all of my life. That doesn't mean that I don't ever struggle or feel sadness. But my reference point is not sorrow, it is life. Life, as in the Way, the Truth and the .... Life. I am just beginning to learn that needs are not big scary black holes destined to crush my existence. They are, rather, the roads for Christ to reach me. I can LOVE my needs, my neediness. God is there for me, and there is no true need that I have that He cannot meet the moment I bring it to Him, if not before.
I have a habitual struggle with expressing some basic needs to the people in my life, however, and this is something I must unlearn. I spent several days in Germany with my high school German class, including some days living with a family on my own. I nearly starved because every time they asked me if I were hungry I told them no, I was fine. That was my default "face" for the world. No needs here, I'm just fine! So what if I haven't eaten in 18 hours and have needed to use the WC for the last 10! While I'm a bit better now, if I were to rank felt needs from one to ten, I still personally act on only a five or over, and would hesitate to bother someone else for anything under a seven or eight level need.
But what happens if I can't express my neediness to others, or be conscious of it in relating to them? I think I'm starting to go around in circles here. Either I am reduced to reacting to them, or I reduce them to reacting to me, and we have either a political or a slave relationship. Christ is shoved to the back seat. Even if I know better, the relationship ceases to be with Christ as the focal. So, the big bugaboo which cause me to learn these bad habits is gone, but I'm left with the bad habits. Oh yeah, and there's that original sin thing of course. I really liked what Fr. Roberto had to say about sin: it cannot be the focus, Christ must be the focus. I cannot be about my failures, I must be about my desire to love, that desire that I am created for. So, I will use my bad habit of timidity about my needs to remind me of Christ, and then I am on a winning road, even in the midst of my failures, which will come.
It is all so good, and thanks be to God for His indescribable gift.
Friday, December 14, 2007
I do think parents of today find it harder to walk beside their children (which means they will consistently come across opportunities to struggle) versus forging a clear path in front of them. We are potentially over-achieving our children out of their own successful futures.
Quote from one of my discussion boards, made in reference to this thought-provoking article
To which I say, yes and Amen!
Thursday, December 13, 2007
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Monday, December 10, 2007
I suffer from the syndrome of things I think I should be doing. And for some reason, Advent really seems to kick this syndrome into high gear. I have never been one to get really festive (I think the festive gene skipped me), so I don't really obsess over baking, decorating (hah! what's that?!), crafting or any of those other lovely things that fill other homes with beauty. But think: If you knew that your life would be ending sometime within the next 15 days, would you have a strong desire to literally get your house in order? I mean, to get all those bits of paper, stray books, odd buttons, old mail, vitamin bottles and pens organized on that hutch shelf? If I were nervous, yeah, I suppose I could burn off some nervous energy that way. But if I were, say, me, my gravitation would be toward quiet time with my heart and my thoughts to prepare myself for such a great event.
So, that's why I'm blogging instead of making cookie dough or washing my floor.
Or, it could be because I'm lazy and/or tired out from taking care all day long.
It's hard to know the human heart precisely; at least it is for me and this human heart.
I am slowly getting out of the habit of living my life as an abstraction. Of thinking, Ok, it's Advent now, so time to hit the Advent button for a feeling, mood and productivity shift. I have this idea of what I "should be doing," and then this reality of what I actually do. The "should" idea is an abstraction. If I lived as a character in a novel somewhere, I would do xyz as a Catholic living Advent. I would have a house that didn't get re-messed, I would prepare a fridge full of food in advance of Christmas day (and the 12 thereafter) and wouldn't have to worry about meals before then, or space, or spoilage. All clutter would vanish and my home would suddenly look warm and festive, with candles that never got shorter, guests comfortably sipping warm cider or egg nog (not where I can see it, though, please), smiles on every face, prayer and peace in every heart. I would cook, bake and clean and never grow tired, and my children would not make noise or excessive demands. Oh, and my husband would be a character in this play as well -- who needs him to keep working and pay the bills, right?
It's a pretty picture, but that's all it is, of course. It looks absolutely nothing like our real life. And that is the life which the King of Kings desires to be born anew into, and it is the life we have to prepare.
So, I spend what feels like most of my waking hours preparing three meals for myself and my children (hubby shares in the last one, at least), I witness or assist my children in learning, or at least try to prevent them from seriously harming each other, I keep the shelves stocked with clean dishes and the drawers with clean clothes. On a good day, I might work a shower in for myself. I get to Mass, thanks be to God, daily, and we go out to our other errands. I say my prayers, I nurse, wipe noses and... other anatomy, I might sweep the floor, I put videos in the VCR and read instructions for computer games. In my mind, I wrestle with why certain evils exist in the world and what I can do in the face of these, I wonder about those persistent, cowlicky things about myself that weigh down my heart, I multi-task until I can't speak English anymore, and sometimes I scream in frustration.
And this is the life that really is living Advent. My real one.
I start my day every day with a daily offering, giving all of this to the Lord for the salvation of souls. I know that it matters not so much what I do as with Whom, through Whom, and for Whom I do it. The salvation of souls is not my work, but Jesus asks me to give Him my work so He can somehow use it to do His. So I know, I really do know, that there is immense value in what I do, or at least there can be. It seems lately I have gotten into this thinking that, yeah, that's all nice, but what about at least part of that "beautiful" picture. Part of it is the desire for God. Yes. I want Beauty, Truth and Goodness, in ways that I don't possess and that is good. But the problem is when I want to get there by not being me anymore. How tempting to think that grace is really a magic wand, and that God's plan is to transform my pumpkin of a life into a carriage. Transform he does, to be sure. But with real life changes, the little bits of newness for which I am to be on the look out, longing for daily, welcoming.
Like that Little Bit that came to Mary and grew under her heart for nine months and Whose Birth we are preparing to celebrate.
Sunday, December 09, 2007
Not a new song theme, of course. Just the other day I googled the lyrics for "Alone Again, Naturally", a song I thought I knew (of course, when I was a kid all we could do was try to decipher the lyrics from the radio, and at 7 or so I wasn't so good at that). But a key difference between these two songs is that the 70's version has the man wanting to kill himself because of doubts about God's goodness. Blunt makes no reference to God. Or does he?
I thought of the comment my friend Suzanne made on my post about joy a few weeks back. We discussed the relationship between the "cool" people of the world and the "nerdy joyful" (what labels!). In that context, she made this comment:
..They [people without joy] view them [people who have joy] as reclining on the bosom of Abraham way across an abyss, and they know it's useless to ask whether they would dip a finger into some water to wet their parched tongues.
That comment made me feel a helpless sense of pain for people in this position, and I know they exist. I know at least a couple of them. And it seems to me that the character Blunt portrays in his video is another. I wonder if this sentiment is not much more widely shared than any of us would like to believe.
A beauty that exists, that can be beheld, but whose delights seem destined to prove the torment of the one who desires them, rather than his joyful destination. And while observing all this, I feel like a most ineffectual minister of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:17-21). It doesn't have to be this way! Desiring beauty can lead to all manner of moral depravity, but it can also lead to exquisite holiness. Heightened sensitivity to beauty, to good and evil, and to life in general, can be a great cross, and artists have attested to this with their work and their lives for centuries. I feel I have a bit of the dark artist in me, but I also had the, um, gift? of a dull foundation of presumption which caused me to always assume God's presence in my life was real, albeit distant. We all travel towards the same Ultimate, whether or not we realize it, and regardless of the angle from which we approach the journey. I suppose this is why a lack of understanding among people is so tragic; even the most disparate of types have so much in common, if the eye could but see it.
Saturday, December 08, 2007
So, I've been contemplating a bit this whole reality of death and grief.
When I first learned that John had died, my thoughts went toward heaven, and the joy of going beyond the veil of this life to discover the next. I prayed for the happy repose of his soul...
One memory of John that sticks in my mind was that he happened to call the morning after I learned my father had passed away. I answered the phone all groggy and miserable sounding, I think, and he quickly and happily asked me if I was expecting. The question didn't really sink in, but I said "no, my father just died." I think he was so struck by how inappropriate his question sounded (really, it went right over my head) that he apologized profusely, had a Mass said for my father, had his wife bring me over brownies and invited me to visit on my own to return the pan. When we did eventually have children, John and his wife took a real liking to them and always brought little presents for them for the joy of it. Their home was the first place we took our son to visit after he moved to our house at age 8 months. We spent many a Sunday having a little visit at their house...
As I prayed for John, I also asked John to pray for us, and for my children who he seemed so fond of.
There is this whole other reality, though, in attending a funeral. John had been a sick man for quite a while, and had spent much of this year in and out of the hospital. Even so, the timing of his death came as a shock for his wife and family. Grief was palpable in the church, and I wept at the sight of others' weeping. Even the solemn act of driving in a caravan to the cemetery was a mysteriously moving experience, this moment of all present on the roads stopping for the proverbial hat tip of respect. He had been in the Army, so the honor guard played Taps at the cemetery, which in my estimation is just the most emotionally provocative series of little notes there is. I don't know how anyone who has absorbed American culture can hear those notes, especially when played in reference of a loved one, and not be overcome with grief.
Is it not a profoundly sacred thing, an experience that speaks of faith in the sacred dignity of the human, precisely rooted in the fact that we are more than a lump of biological matter -- this whole practice of honoring the dead? I realize that, despite the joy to contemplate of going to be with the Lord, a significant part of honoring the dead is sharing the sorrow of those who mourn. Perhaps this is not rocket science. But I am, I believe, in the process of reconstruction when it comes to considering these factors of human relationship: the dynamism of human interactions. The very real stuff you never know until you live it; the stuff books can't give you.
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
And yes, my house was clean as I wrote. :)
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
Monday, December 03, 2007
I enjoyed November's blog-a-rama and all the remembering. In December my focus needs to shift. I feel particularly called to make the preparation for Christmas tangible, to "incarnate" it if you will, and use my midnight oil to clean, and prepare festive things rather than write, for the most part.
And I'm saying that here to give me that accountability to myself, because I can say "well, I blogged it, so I'd better live it!"
But I'll try to check in with whatever seems appropriate to share. A Blessed Advent to one and all.
Saturday, December 01, 2007
December 1, 2007
We are a faith of waiting. You wait for Me to return to the world and I wait for souls to return to Me. You feel a longing for Me and for goodness that causes you pain at times. I feel a similar longing for souls in the world who have rejected Me and so suffer the pain of separation from Me. How they hurt. How their wounds disturb them and cause them to hurt others. My heart sighs with loneliness for them. I ache to comfort them and console them. I long to heal their wounds. You, My beloved apostles, comfort Me in this grief by sharing this experience with Me. I am comforted by your fidelity to Me which is reflected in your fidelity to the cause of your brothers and sisters. As I wait, so do you wait and as I suffer, so do you suffer. I speak to you today, though, to remind you of something. As I rejoice, so should you rejoice. Rejoice with Me at the return of many souls just as perhaps others rejoiced at your return. Rejoice with Me at the healing of many souls, just as perhaps others rejoiced at your healing. You will rejoice that others return to Me through your consistent and humble service. We are a faith of waiting, it is true, but we are also a faith of rejoicing. The Father’s goodness spreads out over the earth in this time in waves of kindness and benevolence. You, My beloved apostles, gently push these waves out with your commitment to My service. The great mercy of the Father draws souls to My heart, the heart that burns steadily, a furnace of divine compassion and love. We are waiting, yes. But while we are waiting, we are preparing. You prepare to receive your King and I prepare to receive the fruits of your service. Be at peace, My beloved friends. We serve together, we suffer together, and we rejoice together. Be assured that you are loved and that your loneliness is temporary. I am returning.