Tuesday, December 30, 2008

I saw the funniest thing....

Sunday afternoon we were driving home from Ontario. Not far into our trip, along the mouth of Lake Ontario, one of the major skyway bridges was closed off due to extremely high winds. This meant a detour of four lanes of racing highway traffic onto a two-lane service road. Ok, no problem; I'd rather creep along for an hour than be blown into the angry waves of Lake Ontario.

When we actually got to the service road itself, we had a great view of the lake, and it was then that I saw the funniest thing. It was a seagull, flapping in the air for all it was worth, and essentially hovering in the air motionless. I mean, minus the wing-flapping part. It looked like an invisible hand was holding it while it tried in vain to get away. I wondered to myself if it was doing this for fun, for sport, or if this is the best survival technique birds have in the face of raging winds. Since we were nearly at a standstill ourselves, I had a few minutes to watch it and marvel at the sight.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

We See a New Beginning...

Oh come, let us adore Him
Christ the Lord

For as in Adam, all die
Even so in Christ shall all be made alive (1 Cor. 15:22)

Monday, December 22, 2008

Thank God for 5-HTP

And what is 5-HTP, you may ask. 5-Hydroxytryptophan is an amino acid that naturally occurs in plants and in the human body, and works to regulate serotonin levels in the brain. Low serotonin levels generally bring on problems like depression, insomnia, and sometimes mood-induced overeating.

Depression so insidious, and yet it need not be feared. I've lived with depression for probably as long as I can remember, although it was only in the last few years that I've been aware of it and taken my propensity for it seriously. Like high blood pressure, it is a medical condition that can be treated. And as is the case with high blood pressure, while there are lifestyle changes one should make to stay healthy, depression is not something one can "snap out of" simply by willing it.

I'm no doctor, and I don't play one on this blog, but I have to testify that 5-HTP works for me. Christmastime can trigger depression for many, and it is for this reason I wanted to pass on this information about this non-prescription, inexpensive and safe supplement that can help you back into balance. Talk to your ND about it, or talk to ours if you don't have one of your own.

Weather Extremes

Call it "personalization of the forecast," but one of the things I enjoy about blogs is checking out the weather conditions around the country and world.

So, for the record, I've experienced a personal first today. I have seen single digit temps in Steubenville. First time since moving here in 1997. I'm not claiming it has never gotten to the single digits, but I've never seen it before. Nine degrees. And frost inside our front windows.

But not a drop of snow.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Glory of God is Man Fully Alive

Last night my daughter and I managed to go to the Messiah to listen to the concert, rather than me singing in the chorus as I had originally planned. It really was a bit impressive, and I'm not just saying that. I wrote last year about how I was struck by "Oh Thou That Tellest Good Tidings to Zion" and how the text made me ponder the mysterious call that I have always felt to speak the "good tidings" to "Zion." I wrote last year how what stirred me was this command to speak, when I didn't really know what I was supposed to speak.

Listening to the exact same piece this year, the answer seemed so obvious to me. Let me see if I can say it as plainly as I felt it.

First, let me run those words past you again:

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.
The answer that has become obvious to me is that for me to fulfill this command to speak means for me to simply be myself.

Gloria Dei vivens homo: The glory of God is man fully alive. As far as I can tell, this quote first came from St. Irenaeus (from the 2nd century), but it was a favorite of Pope John Paul II, echoes in the writings of Vatican II, and is almost a summary essence of the heart of Fr. Giussani and the charism of CL. What does it mean? Glory is a very hard word to adequately define or fully paint, but it's not way off to say that the glory of God given on earth is the fulfillment of God's desire. When God is glorified, his purposes are being fulfilled.

When you take that view of glory and go back to these passages from Isaiah that Handel used, it becomes clear that they are Messianic texts. The light coming, the glory shining, the announcement to behold God -- they all point to a revelation of the Divine.

And after the fact, that is after the Messiah entered the world and the secret was out (that God's plan had been to reveal Himself through our very humanity by the Incarnation), Irenaeus was able to see it: This is what the glory of God is all about, man becoming fully alive. Jesus of course reveals the ultimate fully alive Man, and in Mary we see the seed of God's plan for the Church. This is the plan of the Trinity, accomplished through the Incarnation, the death and resurrection of Christ (and His ascension and the descent of the Holy Spirit). The plan is all about access to Divinity for every human person through the grace made available through the Church. The Church exists on earth so that every person may truly become fully alive, so that grace may work in our lives: soaking, healing, relieving, nourishing, reviving, as we together experience Him in our midst. Right here, right now, in this companionship, this family called the Church, this is where we meet Him and this is where the process begins. (And fortunately we're not doomed to have to complete all the soaking here on earth or be stuck forever! That's the glory of purgatory.)

So. What does God ask of me? What does He desire for my life? He wants me to be truly and fully alive. Giussani would say He wants me to be completely free -- to seek after the destiny, the precise purpose for which He made my life is making my life. That destiny is God Himself, ultimately. But how do I know the path to follow in this life, my vocation, my calling? In the most simple sense, the calling of each person is to be the person God has created them to be. God strongly desires us to be individuals! Not individualists, to be sure -- not Lone Rangers or self-made persons. I am neither a Rock nor an Island. But I am me, and this is what God wants. Being me is the service I am to render to God and to the world.

I came across a quote recently from Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete which goes like this: "When you are no longer afraid to be yourself in front of other people, then you are really free. Otherwise, others determine you." This resonates with me strongly, and to be it echoes Isaiah's words: "lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, and be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God!" When I live my life as under the judgment of Christ alone, not even subjecting myself to my own interior censors, but only to the objectivity of the gospel, that is when I am no longer afraid to be myself. That's when I don't change my behavior because I'm with a different group of people. That's when I am free. That's when the glory of God is revealed in me. That's when, without saying a word, or rather by saying whatever words the normal functioning of my life requires of me, I proclaim "Behold your God!"

I'm glad, though, that the grace of God can and does work through imperfect earthen vessels. God would really be up a creek frankly if grace only could work through those who had already been wholly perfected! To grasp this is to understand the teaching of purgatory as pure mercy.

What seems so marvelous to me in this realization is that God isn't asking us to buff up on some method, some program of communication, some evangelization curriculum that is exterior to us, like a big clunky overcoat. Essentially we need to repent, believe and follow when we meet Him in our midst. We will change if we just stick with Him. It is the change in us that results from being with Him that we need, and that the world needs to see in us.

P.S. Oddly, this post has become one receiving the most hits of any I've written. I am edified by that, and just want to add that I wrote this the day after miscarrying my last child. Also, I had no idea at the time that this had almost a prophetic importance to me, as just a few weeks after writing this, I entered into an entirely new spiritual odyssey through which I've discovered how much more "fully alive" I could be. To read about it, just keep reading forward from this date.

Saturday, December 20, 2008


This week has felt exceptionally long, to the point where things that happened last week almost seem to have happened a month or several months ago. But I am very thankful to live among circles of people who demonstrate their love and care in deeds, words, offers and prayer. Having the support of other people when going through something difficult literally makes all the difference in the world.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

What Can You Call a Post Like This...

A lot has happened since my last post.

Wednesday morning I figured I'd gulp deep and dip into my dwindling store of pregnancy tests I bought off ebay. Two lines! That means positive. Part of me, the intellectual, fact-based part, was not completely surprised. But the part that responds spontaneously to joyful news was completely shocked and unable to respond. I think my last go-around with two lines on a test had something to do with that. That and all the rest of my history of struggling with infertility.

By Wednesday afternoon I was starting to accept this reality, starting to really warm up to thinking about the personhood of this new life.

And then late in the afternoon I started bleeding. Just a bit.

So, blah blah blah, all that stuff about bleeding being common, no cause for alarm at least half the time, yada yada, all that again.

I woke up at 4:30 this morning, which gave me plenty of time to coordinate myself to get to my OB's for a blood draw. Of course, I don't get results until tomorrow, and they don't mean anything until I can compare them with another blood draw Saturday.

My children went to visit friends, and another friend arranged to bring dinner by. I napped. I woke up to cramping and a bit heavier bleeding.

An hour or so later, I finally started to believe that the test Wednesday morning had really been positive, and that I had been only lightly bleeding before that. I'm not sure what I believe now. Actually, to be honest of course I do. I believe that this baby too has died or will shortly.

At one point this afternoon, I asked Mary Olivia (baby previously lost) to pray for us. All at once I felt great peace, and I remembered: even though I had chosen the name Olivia after a relative who had recently died, I was later struck by its meaning -- peace. The olive branch of peace. And peace is what came into my life after the incredibly short sojourn of Mary Olivia. I had been very anxious to conceive again before that, but afterwards I began to know peace about it.

I told this baby about all the people longing to see her face, but that surely Mary Olivia would be willing to wait awhile to meet her.

But what can I do. I can state my desire, I can pray, but I can't know. Soon enough I will, and whether we keep the gift of sorrow or the gift of life, there's something there with great meaning, for what life is without it?

Just please pray for us so that for my children's sake we can celebrate the Nativity without me, or despite me being a hormonal mess.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Critical Comments and Human Limitations

I think it is probably a pretty good rule of thumb to follow that if I feel inclined to criticize someone (especially a semi-anonymous "someone") for how something is done, I should step up and try to do that something myself.

And then bear it when someone criticizes how it is done.

I find this to be especially helpful where music is concerned. This Friday I will be singing in a community choir's rendition of Handel's Messiah. This concert happens yearly, and I've attended the last several years, but this will be my first year in the choir. I wrote about last year's visit, and you'll note that I made mention that the performance was good, but not stunning. I don't know about you, but I feel like when I make some kind of value judgment statement like that, what I am really insinuating is that if I were involved, it would be better. Or at least if everyone would try as hard as I surely would, it could be better.

So this year, when the performance is good but not stunning, I will hold that evaluation quietly to myself and instead speak with awe about how difficult it is to sing these pieces well! And yes, I am trying hard to practice those painful alto runs (those several dozen notes on which one sings the word "born" in "For Unto Us a Child is Born," for example).

I think this is where forbearance comes from. I can look with sympathy on the weaknesses of others if I am well aware, and at peace with, my own weaknesses. If I think I'm just "super person," or if I know I'm not and I hate that fact, I am going to be mercilessly critical of the weaknesses of others. And then at the very least I will be of no help to anyone, and at worst I will be intolerable to be with.

But if I know my limitations and can still look with love at myself (knowing I am loved by Another), then maybe the Infinite finds a way to and through this frail pot of clay.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Grateful and Happy

Life has been full of good, rich, happy things, to the extent that I hardly seem to have a moment to write about them.

I am on high activity mode right now. Plenty often all I want to do is stay home, but lately I have been itching to be going and doing. Normally my children are just as excited to be going and doing. Tonight's trip to see a "light-up" at a local state park was a ho-hum for them, but we stopped for a Chinese snack on the way home and had some belly laughs over variations on the song "Do Your Ears Hang Low" that I won't get into here.... So, all's well that ends well.

It's after midnight, but Friday was the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. I was so struck at Mass (I keep wanting to say "today," but, well, you know what I mean) about how my understanding of Mary has undergone complete and radical change. I understand now that with a Protestant understanding of grace and what it does, the best you can ever see in Mary is a lovely person. Love of her and devotion to her not only makes no sense but looks like idolatry. But to see her as the ultimate work of God's grace, a showcase of the type of work God wishes to do in me and through me, well, that's just mind blowing. Consider that after she appeared in Mexico, seven million pagans (I think was the figure I heard in the homily) were converted and were baptized. It just makes me so happy to think of the marvelous things our God does.

And today (ok, yesterday) I am reminded to be thankful, to be grateful, and for the power of asking for grace and talking about things openly and honestly.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Oh, Craft...

My children love Christmas decorations. And they have a minor bone to pick with their liturgy-obsessing mother who strives to allow Advent be Advent and Christmas to start on December 25 and continue until Epiphany. Looking around our neighborhood at all the sparkly lights, they wonder why I insist on waiting for the feast of St. Lucy to turn on lights. Of course, it would help if we had a tree up, but that will come as well...

So for weeks now, my children have been asking to decorate with lights. Last week we got to the stage of pulling the lights out of boxes and testing them. Today temperatures reached the 50s. I knew it would be now or never that we pursue the whole decorating-with-lights thing. So this morning, we finished testing all the lights, and I picked out one survivor: an innocent enough looking string of white lights. I announced that either we could have a simple string of lights hanging somewhere on the porch, or we could make a very simple shape with it.

Maybe you are picking up a vibe here. Truth be told, I hate decorating. I have no talent for crafty things or pretty decorations, and I have even less interest in same. I would be fired on my first day as a preschool teacher. I just hate crafts.

My daughter wanted the lights to become a snowflake; my son wanted them to become Santa Claus. How do you expect this string of lights to turn into Santa Claus I barked, patience already dangerously thin. I offered that we could do either a bell or a star. We agreed upon a star.

Ok, so now I'm really snookered. I have a string of lights, and I've promised to turn it into a star. What was I thinking.

I am not a visual person. I cannot picture objects in my mind in a way that allows them to be reproduced in reality. So, I googled a picture of a star and called for cardboard. I had a rough idea of creating a star pattern and hanging lights on it. Only, it needed to be pretty big, so I would need to enlarge my template. This was getting ugly. I thought "protractor," and realized we haven't one (at hand at least). Then I thought "yardstick." Ditto. "Eraser." Ditto. What kind of a family doesn't have these basic tools laying around?!? I wondered. In the meantime, I told my son, "You know how much you like sitting down and doing multiplication problems? That's how much I like making crafts." I just don't. My mind does not work this way. Crafts and I are about as incongruous as a heavyweight wrestler in a tutu. This is not computing.

I'm thinking isosceles triangle, and trying to estimate the ratio of the straight lines in my template with the size of the chopped open cardboard box I'm working with. Patience is way gone. The careful geometric reproduction I've labored over comes out looking like a bloated spaceship.

What the heck, draw it freehand, I say, and in ten seconds it looks as decent as I can make it. I cut it out, and I think about why we bother with stars at Christmas time. Pontification to my children ensued: "You know, the star showed the wise men where to find Jesus. So, if we have a star, we are letting people know they can find Jesus here with us." My son laughed. "Yeah, right! They're not going to find Him sitting in our living room." "Maybe He'll be standing," I say, impatience making me feel sarcastic.

Later, as we added the lights, we all braced ourselves for the prospect of our craft looking ugly. "That's ok," I said out loud. "Sometimes that's pretty close to the way we make Jesus known, so at least it is realistic."

We finished it, and hung it in the hallway window so that elements wouldn't destroy it, but it would still be seen from outside. My son beamed from outside. "Mission accomplished!" he shouted. My daughter proclaimed it "so pretty."

Golly, was I glad to see my children's satisfied smiles. At one point during the conflagration, I had literally snarled at my son, "The only reason I'm doing this is that I love my children and I want them to be happy!!" As we finished up, he thanked me for my effort, despite hating doing it. "You're welcome" said I, feeling quite a need for a time-out to calm myself down.

And then there was the Jesse tree frame I made this morning as well...

Ok, I'll show you the pictures, and I give you permission to chuckle. Just don't do so audibly into my combox, please!

The star, inside view.

The Jesse Tree

Friday, December 05, 2008

Retreat Notes

Here's a transcription of my notes from the retreat, with a bit of embellishment from me to render it back into English. Compare with Suzanne's notes from the same event. It's a bit cryptic as notes go, even more cryptic if you have no context. Sorry. Normal communicative posting to return shortly.

We are called [in Advent] to recognize the depths.

What is faith? A way of knowing, a method.

In childhood we are all about belonging. Later, separation. We don't use reason the best way possible. We start to sense a distance between us and God. We try to "fix" the distance with liturgy, with prayer. But something else is needed.

If we love someone, we desire unity with that person. The prophets tell us "unity will come", and also speak of separation, because this is reality.

So what fixes the separation? God intervenes. "You want to be one with Me." It is not in our hands. God's answer is the Incarnation. Not a thought, an idea. The Incarnation meets our freedom, our reason, our affection.

Incarnation: the encounter with Christ becomes Life for me. There is more than what my eyes can see going on with Him. Think of the 10th cured leper. He uses his reason to see what happened. There is a profound connection between his healing and "That Man". Being healed is not enough; there is something in "That Man" that is vital for the leper's life.

Do you understand the link between current reality and your happiness, your destiny? We want more than this life. Who wants to live forever on this earth? No one. We want the truth of this life. Happiness comes through, not from.

Resurrection - linked to Incarnation. the body.

God is proposing something great right now.
If you see it, tell about it.
If you don't see what He proposes, say the Memorare to see it.

"I want to see" -- search. See what God proposes through somebody. Without recognizing somebody, we become slaves. We must use freedom and affection properly.

If there is a separation between reason and reality, the answer is the Incarnation. What enables us to see God in this Incarnational way? Purity of heart (Mt. 5:8).

Being human means that we have needs and desires. All desires come from God and they are the beginning of His answer to us. But we cannot stop too soon and think we have discovered what our desires point us toward. Thirst, when we have water, is paradise. We are continual desire which God meets with continual fulfillment.

When we don't recognize Christ, we complain. Or not even that, we just have no happiness. If I'm not happy it's because I"m not seeing the love of my life.

The gospels speak of the "Messianic secret," when Jesus tells the people "don't say it is me." He's not playing mind games; He is emphasizing that He bears witness to the Father. That is His mission, to reveal the Father and point us to Him.

Boredom is a problem of faith.
Getting the person out of the way to see Christ is the way of Martin Luther.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Downsize DC

Interested in yet another way to keep up-to-date on federal legislative issues? Check out this website: www.downsizedc.org Then go to the campaigns tab, and register, for a quick and easy format for contacting your Senators and Congressional representative about the issues that concern you the most. You can also subscribe to the Downsize DC newsletter.

We believe the federal government has grown too centralized, too intrusive, and too expensive. We believe in constitutional limits, smaller government, civil liberties, federalism, and low taxes. We want to end laws and programs that don't work, cause harm, and violate the Constitution. We want to restore the full force of the 9th and 10th amendments, which reserve most social functions to the people and the states.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

More Thoughts on that Advent Retreat

Saturday's retreat has helped me in so many ways. Here are just a few more of them. Some of them are more specific to following CL, but all of them also serve to simply make great sense out of life.

First, I understand what an abstraction is. And I see the difference between holding "God" as an abstraction on the one hand, and the acts of thinking, reasoning, pondering, and contemplating truths about God as I meet Him in my experience on the other hand. Big, huge difference. For some reason, I felt that what was being proposed was constant activity as the way to meet God, or at least constant social interaction. However, the use of my reason (because I am me and not someone else) requires a lot of time spent scrubbing floors, washing dishes and folding laundry. My mind generally requires this kind of activity of me for good thinking to kick in. But that has nothing to do with ignoring God who is in my reality and preferring instead abstract thoughts about Him with no connection to my lived reality at all.

Second, I understand the nature of how and why I have recoiled from the idea of meeting Christ in other people. I think this is big, because this goes way beyond my contact with CL and Fr. Giussani to my earliest days of contact with the Catholic Church. The Scripture where Jesus says "Inasmuch as you have done it to the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me" started to be a very big problem for me when I started attending Mass. I saw that Catholics took this very seriously, and I most certainly did not. I see that my Lord has been gently trying to coax forward my trust in Him on this point. I had no problem, after awhile, with the concept of seeing Christ in someone who is overwhelmingly holy, or innocent. But without being fully conscious of it, I have taken this idea of seeing Christ in others very literally. Too literally. Actually, I took it most literally before entering the Church, even though I would not have used these words to think about what I was doing. Here's my mistaken concept: If Jesus is my Lord and Master, and I meet Christ in others, then every person becomes my Lord and Master and my will, my freedom must be subjugated to them. Ouch. Really, the first mistake there is believing that God makes slaves out of us, rather than our ultimate freedom being found in pursuing complete unity with Him.

Third, I understand more that "happiness comes through, not from." (This is a quote from my notes from Fr. Roberto's talk. I'll transcribe them in another post for what it's worth.) There is a sacramental, an Incarnational principle at work when we speak of Jesus being present in others, or my meeting Him there. Missing that is a fruit of the misuse of reason. So, if someone tells me "Go jump in a lake," or "Why don't you shut up," I dare not take these commands at face value as the manifest will of God! But, I am called to see what need the speaker has, what desire. As misunderstood or as inappropriately expressed as it may be, there is some desire being expressed that God put there. God desires that this desire be well understood, well discerned, and met in a way that draws that person on to Him, to destiny. I, as God's servant and as one who loves with His love, wants this too. My call is to use my freedom, my intelligence, and my affection to respond to the meaning of that desire -- or at least in some way that acknowledges the truth about that person's unpleasantly-expressed desire.

See, instead I've always thought I was just truly supposed to "shut up" or "go away."

Fr. Roberto spoke of something very concrete for me, and I love this: boredom being a problem of faith, a lack of responding to God who proposes Himself to me. I've been thinking about this a lot. To live, to truly live, is to be one with Christ. And to be one with Him is to see Him active in my life. To see Jesus everyday, present, interacting, proposing, speaking, however you wish to phrase the "active" bit. This is to live in Him and hence in His love and grace. It reminds me of a song we used to sing at Risen Savior: "When you walk with the Lord, you don't get bored!" When, for whatever reason this dynamic stops -- courage fails, doubt overcomes, trust costs -- life, living, can degenerate into merely existing, mere biological operations. (This boredom of course needs to be differentiated from the physiological problem of depression.) As Father told us, when we complain, we are not recognizing Christ. When we are not happy we are not recognizing Christ. "If I'm not happy, it's because I'm not seeing the love of my life." Precisely.

The retreat has given me a grasp of what Advent is: a time when we look closely for the deeper realities in the things around us. A baby. A search for shelter. Visiting shepherds. Angels singing. What does it all mean? Is it all to just give Hallmark nice ideas for cards? What about the things in my life? My son's desire to do everything his own way. My aging eyesight. Wonder at colors. What do these things mean? I have always loved Advent (well, not always, but in recent years at least.) And I love to look for "deeper meanings." I realize this blog is primarily a means for me to carve out and share the deeper meanings I see as I encounter Christ in the every day. The glorious becomes commonplace, thereby requiring the commonplace to be glorious!

Monday, December 01, 2008

There is Much To Do

Are you prepared to allow Me to make you holy? Oh my. Another timely, piercing message...


On the first of every month, Our Lord gives Anne a new message about His
call to service.

December 1, 2008


My dear little apostles, there is so much to be done. You see the need to bring Me to others. You see your brothers and sisters struggling in darkness without Me. If the light is to be brought to them, it will be brought by you. When I say there is much to be done, I am telling you that the world needs your service, it is true. But I am also telling you that there are many things to be done in your soul. You must be committed to changing. Are you prepared to allow Me to make you holy? If you are not prepared to let go of those things that prevent you from progressing in holiness, then you will not advance. If you do not advance, you will move away from me. You will begin to resent Me for the crosses I send to you. You will begin to persuade yourself that perhaps there is an easier way for you, a way that calls for less sacrifice and less commitment. This will not be My plan but your plan. This will be your version of holiness, not Mine. I know that some of the services I ask from you are repugnant to you. I know this and yet I call you into these things anyway. If you reject parts of the work, you will be executing an incomplete plan. I have a big plan. I build on it each day. You are part of that. I need you to listen carefully for My directions and then serve exactly as I am asking. My dear friends, if I cannot instruct and direct you, then who will listen to Me? Who will trust Me to protect humanity? Where is the joy that comes from God's children when they trust their Father in heaven? I tell you that where joy is absent, trust is absent. When a person is humble, he will see that he needs greater trust and he will try to become smaller so that I can become bigger in his life and in his work. I am asking you to do that. Be humble. Allow Me, Jesus, to be your King. My kingdom was not of this world. Your Kingdom is not of this world. You will be rewarded in heaven, My beloved. For now, serve Me, your King, in the way I am asking. This will be the best plan for you and for the world.

2+2 = Infinity

I've been thinking about what I've been thinking about. Do you think it is because it recalls baptism that things always seem to "click" in the shower? Or is it just a meditative moment where thoughts can line up side by side. For whatever reason, I said to myself this morning, "Of course! Naru hodo!" The reason why I am so overwhelmed with beauty and joy at the reality of the lives of the saints is that it is a truth that Lutheranism says is impossible. Luther's understanding of salvation is of something that covers us. Jesus substitutes His holiness for our sin. His famous illustration is that we are the dung hill covered by snow. This is not the Catholic understanding of grace at all. The Church teaches that grace elevates nature, so that the participation we have with the life of God is real, lived, actual, and not merely positional or legal.

To be unable to be truly freed from sin in this life is to accept a life of misery. It is to accept a life that can merely be endured if one has a sense that the things of this world are fleeting and do not hold ultimate meaning. It is to accept that we are not made for anything great. It is to behold a God who is either impotent or uncaring. It is grossly irrational.

To "meet" a saint who all generations are calling blessed because of what God has done for her or him is to be hold a real, powerful, loving God. He knows me. He made me, He knows me, I have purpose, I have dignity that has been seriously messed with but which He restores. It isn't about brownie points or some silly earth-bound idea like that. God saves us to be His sons, His heirs, to participate in His very life. That is the promise, and that is the reality.

I still have some questions about the journey. The big one I have is about Reconciliation and its relationship to sanctity. If I bring my Lutheran mindset to the confessional, I end up needing to "confess" that I exist, basically, since "all our righteous acts are like filthy rags." I have even thought about the advice Luther was said to have received from his confessor: "Martin, don't come here with all these peccadillos. Go out and sin some great sin, and then come back and tell me about it." (And all you cradle Catholics thought you received lousy catechesis!)

As I have the chance, I have a small handful of other nuggets from the retreat I want to cook up and serve here. Good thing my daughter woke me extra early this morning.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Advent Retreat

As if yesterday morning's experience wasn't enough, yesterday afternoon was our CL Advent retreat.

I've had "moments" when this charism I've been following has made no sense to me or my experience of it simply left me feeling confused. This retreat was very much the opposite kind of experience. I was able to see this current moment in my life in a wider context of what I have been able to see God doing in course of my whole life. And it all fits. Even if I can't get all the meaning of all the nooks and crannies, I see that it is the same God, the same Love that has been calling me at every turn. It is the Lord. What else do I really need to know?

There was one particular moment in which I was struck in a way that is beyond putting into words. But I'll try. Fr. Roberto spoke of how the Church is a sacrament, the first sacrament. He spoke of how it is through the Church, therefore through Somebody (one of those great precise/imprecise CL words) that God reaches us. That is His methodology, the Incarnation. Fr. added, almost as an aside, that one cannot set aside the person (Somebody) to seek Christ. No, he said, "That is Martin Luther."

Now, realize that I was raised "at the breast" of Martin Luther. Realize that I have spent the last ten years grappling with my now adult understandings of where Martin Luther, and I following him, went very wrong. Understand that when someone speaks of an error of Luther's, my own soul goes on high alert.

I went off to the silent reflection time quickly finding a need to pace rather than kneel silently. As I paced, I formulated the question I wanted to ask Fr. Roberto about this during the assembly. And (I wonder, does anyone else do this?) I formulated what I thought his response would be. Which was, of course, my own response to my own question. I think I have the habit of this because I'm not accustomed to actually finding someone who can speak to the meanings of things. Regardless, it is a useful exercise for me. As I pondered over things Fr. had said about the Incarnation, about the Church, about knowing what God wants through this Somebody, I suddenly remembered a burning question I once put to my friend's friend who had been at Mass with me on that Christmas Eve in 1991 that was the climax of my conversion.

The question was about the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. I had always believed in the doctrine of the real presence, along the lines of how I had been taught it as a Lutheran. Consubstantiation is the technical theological term used; essentially Jesus is believed to be present in, with, and under the bread and wine. Various Scriptures told me that a merely symbolic belief about holy communion was incorrect. This was so important a tenet of faith to me that one of the tests of the charismatic fellowship I attended before becoming Catholic was that no one ever insisted on a symbolic belief, but rather just read the Scriptures about the Lord's Supper and left it at that.

But at that Christmas Eve Midnight Mass, I encountered something extremely different. This was not an idea, a doctrine, of the real presence, this was Jesus (pardon my familiarity) saying "Howdy!" from the altar, and from the people in whom He had tabernacled during the communion procession. This was not an idea of Jesus being present, I encountered Jesus. Present.

So, the pressing question I had for my friend's friend, Jeff. I needed to know just what they believed about how Jesus was present. A couple weeks later I asked him "if someone needed a blood transfusion, could I take the consecrated wine and give it to that person as a blood transfusion?" Immediately he answered, "No, of course not." I was relieved. "Ok," I said. "Then I can believe what you believe about the Real Presence."

I realized this has been parallel to something that I've rubbed up against in CL that has been likewise burning. If Jesus makes His appeal to me through the Church, through Somebody, then is that person sitting next to me in my pew literally Jesus? You see, when I hear "you cannot set aside the person to seek Christ," part of me starts to panic. Part of me thinks, ok, this person, any person, literally has claim to my life in such a way that I must lay down my life for that person's will, regardless of what it is or what it means for me. I have gotten over believing that God is arbitrary, capricious and selfish, and at the same time I have come to realize just how arbitrary, capricious and selfish people in general (self included) actually are! So please! Tell me that Jesus is not literally made manifest in any arbitrary, capricious or selfish desire expressed by any person who crosses my path!

The way I was thinking of it, I realize the answer is no. The Father is made known in the face of Jesus Christ. Jesus calls to me through Somebody, but He does not morph into somebody. I think some of my difficulty comes from imprecise Trinitarian thinking, to tell the truth.

I said this was hard to put into words, did not I.

So I actually asked Fr. Roberto in the Assembly to elaborate on this point. Not surprisingly, his response was nothing at all like my response to myself. He spoke of the history of the Reformation, and how Luther saw real moral violations. There were real problems, but Luther did not complain as a son, Fr. said. Instead, he broke off from the Someone who was causing him real problems, even committing real sin. This also spoke to me, from a different but just as vital angle. Fr. asked me to think about what happens when my children do something against me. Do I kill them? Of course not. I correct them. (And it really takes a lot of effort, creativity, patience, and energy to do so.) And what happens as a result? There is a greater bond that forms between us. I can verify from my experience that this is true. So when someone sins against me, it is necessary to speak a correction. This is a hard truth for me to hear. It is even harder to live, because correcting a child is hard enough. How does one correct a peer, perhaps where the relationship is not healthy to begin with, perhaps where there has been longstanding separation or pain or numbness?

I do know that love is always in season, and I can begin with my attitude. I can go further with my openness. And I can be honest that this is hard and painful work. I can be realistic in my expectations. I can trust God with results.

When I am actually able to meditate on the Incarnation I become weepy and weak-kneed. I have tasted the reality of the truth that the Incarnation means I am loved, I, in all my I-ness, in all my humanity, in all my createdness, all my limitation: I am loved. If ever I were able to grasp this love beyond a taste and make it my constant reality, and therefore be able to love another this way, another sinner just as annoying as myself... I wonder if I should be able to do this and still be alive on this earth. I would be so vastly different than I am today. To love another the way I am loved. Is it possible?

The Communion of Saints

Saturday morning I was able to experience so clearly why I love to worship at Franciscan University's Christ the King chapel, and particularly why I love Fr. Michael Scanlon.

The Mass that was celebrated was in memory of the various saints of the Franciscan order. Fr. Mike preached simply but with passion about the reality of our family in the Church, our ancestors, the saints. It is perhaps hard to convey how profoundly and how simply this truth completely changes, completely fulfills my heart.

Others can recount better than I the story Fr. Mike has told in his book Let the Fire Fall and in countless homilies, talks and conversations about his own biological family experience. What it boils down to for me is that there was pain, and an experience of failure of this basic human unit to bring blessing to life. His experience reminds me a bit of Pope John Paul II's youth, which was also a crucible of suffering during the Nazi era. The beauty, the glory, is that through their respective crucibles of suffering, God brought forth gold, meant to give hope and life to vast multitudes. Both men seem to me like forerunners, who were destined to understand the sufferings of those they were called to serve by experiencing it first hand.

Therefore, Fr. Mike is deeply aware, deeply conscious, of the pain many FUS students have experienced in their families. He speaks as one who knows the glorious antidote to the familiar pain. Parusia. Heaven. Sanctity. Resurrection. In Fr. Mike I see a tremendous witness to the reality of these things -- so much so that I really hardly see him at all. I just behold the fact that these realities are, well, real. I see St. Francis, St. Maximilian Kolbe, St. Cecelia, St. John, St. Francis Xavier, St. John of the Cross, St. Theresa of Avila, St. Bernard of Clairvaux -- all these folks who have touched my life. I think of December 27, 1991 when I stood in the Catholic bookstore, having just committed myself to following the Lord into the Catholic Church, and "meeting" St. Cecelia, patroness of music whose feast is my birthday. I remember the sense, more real than if I'd entered a room of flesh and blood people at the time (I have a tendency to "shut off" in groups of people, and this tendency was even stronger then) of welcome and meaning and fellowship and life, coming from the whole court of heaven. It was as if St. Cecelia had the job of introducing the whole extended family to me. And I finally knew I had a true home, and that my life had not been a mistake. Glory.

This is what I experienced yesterday morning with Fr. Mike. This is my family, the Church. This is my profound love.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

My Thought for the Day

Not surprisingly, my thoughts are set to music. I'm blogging on the technologically-inept fly, so you have to click the title to hear the tune! But here's the main thought:

When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
my grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
the flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Tale of the Amazing Glasses Lens (Or, Remember to Check Your Facts)

Here's a funny story, since I was just speaking of trust.

The other day I was at Mass with my children. During the homily, my son handed me his glasses, asking me to clean them. I saw the left lens was heavily fingerprinted, so I did the ol' breath-shine routine. The other one looked clean enough, so I handed them back to him.

He is not of the age to have made his first Holy Communion yet, so he stayed in the pew as my (even younger) daughter and I went forward. (Her constitution is rather heavy on the Velcro right now.) During the closing hymn my son, who had been laying under the pew (what, your kids never did that??) looked up at me with alarm and pointed out that one of the lenses was missing from his glasses.

Oh no. Not again.

Well, this will be easy, since you didn't move from this spot, and I just cleaned your glasses not 20 minutes ago. It must be right here.

We looked. The woman next to us looked. A neighbor who just happened to say hi stopped to look. We scoured under pews up to four rows behind us. We checked the office in case someone was hyper vigilant in turning it in to lost and found. I dug through my purse. I even persuaded my son to go into the bathroom and make sure it hadn't fallen in his clothing.


This was completely impossible. I was mystified. This defied reason.

We came home.

Imagine my surprise when I swept the floor yesterday and found the lens under the dinner table. My first thought? This lens has powers of bi-location!

But my son, apparently far more rational than myself, pointed out the obvious. "Mama, the reason you thought the other lens was clean was that it wasn't there!"

Come to think of it, I cleaned his glasses with my own glasses on, and my own glasses really only serve to completely mess up my vision right now. I can see perfectly without them as long as I don't need to see farther than five feet. With them on, I may as well be wearing two miniature opaque glass blocks.

The humorous thing is that I never once thought to mistrust my own senses, even knowing what I know about my vision, and even -- for a moment -- after finding the lens! It just goes to show that when reality appears irrational, there is some further testing of evidence that needs to happen.

A song, and a bit about my day

meee meee meee....

test, check. Can you hear me back there?

Ok, this is a sing-along. Here are the words. The tune is "If You're Happy and You Know It." Ready?

I'm a happy, happy backwater hick
I'm a happy, happy backwater hick
I'm a happy, happy, happy
I'm a happy, happy, happy
I'm a happy, happy backwater hick

Great! I really liked the swaying from side to side bit and the little extra twang I know you added to your voice.

Now, you'll want to know the source of my inspiration, I'm sure. If you must know, I spent the majority of today driving in and around Pittsburgh, which is the big city nearest my home. First, we survived with relative ease the Herculean task of finding a parking place downtown. It was relatively easy because it took us less than 30 minutes. However to get through this particular parking structure one needed to get one's vehicle through spaces leaving about 3 inches leeway on either side (and no, I'm not exaggerating).

Part of the fun was that I was driving using Google directions to places I'd never been. On the third major leg of the trip, imagine my delight when I met the actual locations described in the directions without a hitch. The only problem was that the supposed destination Google found for me ended up being a storage facility instead of the museum I hoped it would be. A kind and clear-speaking gentleman in a gas station gave me perfect directions to the real location I needed. (I, for the record, am rarely clear-speaking when giving anyone else directions. It takes a certain type of brain to do that well.) I was then able to wed those directions to the next set of directions my husband had given me some hours before, and we picked him up from work.

Then the real fun began: a traffic jam causing the 45 minute trip to last close to two hours. And the car in front of me didn't even provide me with any entertaining bumper stickers! But at least my family was all together. (I have to publicly applaud my children who were amazingly good troupers all day long.)

So, I'm happy to live in a place where "bad traffic" means that school has just let out and it takes us 7 minutes to get home from the grocery store instead of 5, or that my biggest frustration is that the driver in front of me is going 15 in a 25. Or that a parking problem means walking an extra 50 yards. I've lived in medium-sized cities and in huge cities, but I have to say if ever I live in one again, I want to do so without ever needing the use of a car. At least, never in Pittsburgh!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Meaning of Worship

At Mass on Wednesday, a memory was stirred up in me regarding the meaning of worship. During the Communion procession, we sang a song that repeated in the refrain "I worship, I worship You." As I meditated on this I remembered a whole slew of scenes.

In one of these I was an energetic, excited young charismatic, in my dining room listening to and singing (what are now really old) Hosanna! Integrity worship songs. I remember being struck with my own cluelessness about the connection between the resurrection of Christ and our worship of Him, other than that these were two "religious" things. "Worship" had heretofore meant something that happened when I went to church on Sunday. Now that I was "worshipping" at home on a weekday, I really had no idea what I was doing. I had to get out my Bible and figure out what really was so important about Jesus rising from the dead.

Throughout my pre-Catholic charismatic years I came to see worship as involving an intimate encounter with Jesus through prayer, usually done corporately, but not always. Worship meant allowing God's Holy Spirit to move my heart to reach out to God in prayer and praise and to allow God to meet me with His glory. And still, worshipping with my friends left this intense yearning in my heart. In another scene I remember walking from my apartment to my car one summer day with a yearning in my heart so painful that it absolutely could not be ignored. And yet, nothing I could offer God could satisfy it.

Just a few weeks before I finally took leave from Risen Savior Fellowship (my pre-Catholic church, or one of them) I attended a Sunday evening service with a guest preacher. He was an energetic one, a southern black gentleman who more or less sang his message. We had had, of course, the customary praise and worship at the beginning of the service, and in the small congregation it was not hard to pick out my voice, as I tend to sing with a lot of gusto. After his message, he invited those who wished to come forward for prayer. Nearly everyone but myself went forward. At the very last, this preacher called me forward. Now, I imagine that at least someone in the congregation was saying to himself "if you were truly a prophet, you would know what sort of woman this is!" Because you see, everyone knew I was leaving to become a Catholic. The preacher joyfully and loudly blessed my singing voice and told me that God sent me forth to worship Him and to teach others how to worship Him.

At the time I didn't think too much of what the preacher said, and in hindsight I still don't know that it was any inspired utterance. I haven't even thought about it in years. But I realized today that I hope this is one way that God is able to use me.

Today when I think of worship, I think of giving myself. I offer my life with Christ's offering of Himself on the altar to the Father. I make my daily offering of my duty, my joys, my sorrows, my labors, my prayers. I strive to live the Eucharistic giving throughout my day, whether it seems to be going well or not (that part doesn't matter, I think.) And best of all, I am fed. I am no longer left with this aching longing, for whose fulfillment I grope about in the dark. I am assured of Who fulfills this ache -- Jesus Himself, Whom I receive. The Eucharist is the pledge of heaven, the foretaste of the heavenly banquet, where we will gather, sing, fall down, and receive back the lives we have given away here in imitation of Him.

Doesn't it make you want to give your whole self away?!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Love Always, Trust As Possible

This morning while scrubbing a pan I had what I call a "naru hodo" moment. It's a moment when various factors that have long been with me suddenly converge in a way that makes me suddenly say to myself "Oh! Now, I see!"

This morning I was thinking about what Giussani says about verification and trusting witnesses. My mind ran through scenarios where certain individuals really could not, through no real fault of their own, be trusted to give me accurate information. But suddenly I saw something much bigger: People who are not trustworthy witnesses need not be feared or hated.

This may not be an astounding revelation to you, and actually I hope it isn't. I hope that others have not suffered through my difficulties with appropriately judging. However, in my life, I see that I have erroneously lumped love and trust together in a way that mandated they stay together, for good or for ill. Similarly I've lumped mistrust with either fear or hate, or some other expression which is actually a combination of those two, a word for which I can't produce right now. So I've had people I've loved but who have not been worthy of trust, and I've gotten burned by trusting them anyway. I've had other experiences of not even venturing trust and definitely not venturing love. I'm happy to say that both extremes of my experience are far back in my past. And yet, what of the subconscious effect of my previous "lumping" styles? I think this is what snapped into view today.

What is to be my attitude towards the person I cannot trust, or whom I cannot trust readily? Just like everyone else, when I am with them in mind or body, I stay aware of the reality of Christ. I stay aware of the presence of the Holy Spirit within me, allowing me to see Jesus present. Jesus is present in my pity, in my sympathy, for that person's need, and my own. That person has a need for Truth, for Beauty, for Goodness -- for Love -- for God, in other words, just as I have this need for Him.

I think the shock of this realization for me comes from the fact that I presumed, once, that hate was necessary, that making an enemy of the one I could not trust was necessary, out of self-defense. In my experience, particularly in my much younger days, people who proved untrustworthy also proved to usher in tremendous pain into my life. But because I found it impossible to express anything about this pain productively in the direction that I at least perceived it to belong, I instead lashed out against untrustworthy "categories" of people, like Catholics. It's strange, but true. Because I so strongly identified with my Protestant religion as "safe," my biggest target for vitriol was this amorphous entity I knew as "Catholics."

So of course God called me to become one of those, and one I've been for 15 years. And today while scrubbing a pan I saw this mental construct of mine as completely strange and defective. The truth is clear, and something I can now touch. Years ago, this would have hit me like a blast of dynamite: Love is for all people. My trust is not for all people to the same extent.

So how do you instill in a child that we Christians love all and trust as trust is earned? Other than, of course, modeling this behavior in our relationships, especially with our children? I think for me, the beginning of the answer to that lies in constantly beholding Christ, fixing my eyes on Him, and therefore being attracted, allowing the attraction, to everything that resonates with Him. What that is, and is not, becomes part of the joy of each day's discovery.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Sad, Sad State of College English

Confession: I have fallen off the Nablopomo wagon. I fell asleep with my daughter last night at a shockingly early 8:30 pm (my typical nodding off time is about 4.5 hours later), and though I opened my eyes again before midnight struck and immediately thought of it, the thought obviously was not rousing enough to plunge me into the icy night air to my computer to rescue my Nablopomo streak. Oh well.

I wanted to pass along this interesting article: "The sad, sad state of college English." I do not claim to have immaculate grammar, and yes I was an English major in college. I remember using the improper form of break/brake in an English paper in college and my professor having a minor panic attack in red ink. Apparently grammar errors no longer automatically cause paper grades to plummet. Odd. The article reinforces in my mind the importance of parents reading to kids and kids reading to themselves. When I was in 6th grade (I note from my crate of writing samples I have kept from that age upward) I used British spellings quite frequently. It must have been from all the words displayed in print on Monty Python. And the odd book here and there that I read.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

You Know You're at Our House...

... when the reason you are running late is that your coat is in the closet. The problem? The doorknob has fallen off, again, and you have to search the surrounding rooms to find it.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Blacky the Cat

I have been unbelievably delinquent to have not mentioned on this blog that we have a new addition to our household. For shame!

Blacky was a stray little kitten who literally followed my son into our family roughly a month ago. He was outside playing and came in with screams that he was being chased. I ran out to see a tiny black kitten bounding down the driveway after him. I am not particularly a softy when it comes to animals, but when I saw this kitten, my heart melted. How odd, when I had just mentioned to my husband not a week beforehand, after his confession that he did actually enjoy cats, that we should then get one.

Blacky, hours after we met.

I'm guestimating that Blacky was about two months old at that time. To me, it looks like she has already doubled in size. Eating will do that to you. She is extremely people-oriented, which I'm sure is why she sought us out to begin with. She makes a lovely lap blanket, and endures being carried by a doting three-year-old. She is also helpful in getting children to settle in to go to bed, hopping from one bed to the next as everyone nods off to sleep. Even my husband, supposedly allergic to cats, will find holding her a perfectly good excuse to take a nap. But she also serves as an alarm clock even if I don't want this service, as she will mistake a shifting body under blankets as a huge toy to be pounced upon and wrestled with.

We've all enjoyed her company. My daughter changes her name frequently, including: Barn Kitty, Blue and Red, Claire, Donkey and Brownie. She does actually look more and more brown, or slightly calico, with each passing day. And next we'll probably find out she's a he. But we're sure she's a cat.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Deo Gratias

Tonight's primary reason for thankfulness is that when the drunk driver smashed into Erol's van just as he was leaving work, no one was injured. Several witnesses called the police, having noted the guy's license plate number, and police caught him just a few streets away. It was pretty easy to find him, I guess, what with the front of his car all smashed up. Erol was a mite flustered, of course, but a replacement van arrived, finally, for him to pick up his waiting passengers and head home. One could consider for a moment just how much worse the whole scene could have been.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Adopting Children with Down's Syndrome

Tripp's voice still cracks when he recalls a line of poetry the couple chose for Jonny's birth announcement before knowing about the disability:
"God's gifts put man's best dreams to shame."

Read the whole account here.

Make sure to read this news article as well about a new proposed law to try to curb the insanely high abortion rate among mothers whose baby has been diagnosed with Down's and other conditions. A critic of the law states that allowing such children to be adopted would be "cruel" to potential parents.

Lord, have mercy.

Advent is Coming! Advent is Coming!

Pardon me while I feel a bit dragged out...

I don't really know if it is the flu, exactly, but I'm taking my Influenza remedy #26 just to be on the safe side.

And then my daughter reminded me this morning that it is almost the beginning of Advent. I love Advent. It is my very favorite liturgical season. But it always sneaks up on me! Even doing Nablopomo this month was supposed to remind me to get ready to get ready. So, I want to try to start facing that way. Just as soon as I can face some direction that isn't the ceiling, at least mentally. I like to empty out our living space a bit to slowly add in Adventy and Christmasy things. My brain is still so stuck in May or June.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Minoh Pictures

I'm cheating again.

But here are some pictures of Minoh City, Japan, where I lived for two years.

This is an aerial view of the city from the outdoor bathing area of a hotel. (No, I never stayed there, but it was near my apartment.) It was just a tad more crowded than my current town (!)

This is the famous waterfall that is at the top of the moutain about a mile from where I lived. Tourists pack this place in the fall, but it is beautiful all year long. I keep having a recurring dream about going to Japan to show my family this waterfall, but never quite getting there.

And this, I just learned this evening, is the flag of Minoh. I saw it all over, but I always thought it meant either "recycling" or that it was the emblem of the public sanitation department. Oops!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Discovery of Freedom

I have just finished this book by Rose Wilder Lane that I have mentioned in a few recent posts. I almost can't begin to find the words to talk about what reading this book has stirred up in my heart. One image that comes to mind is how Giussani says sometimes one needs to get a crane to lift an obstacle out of one's path. This book has been a crane lifting an obstacle of murky understanding of the nature of humanity out of my path. I really, really want to hear from other Catholics, especially other followers of CL, who read this book to analyze it together, and really rip it apart. Because if I am just sentimentally drawn to an interesting book, I want to be disabused of false notions of its value.

This book, written in 1943, is historical and political in nature, and yet for me it illuminates theology and a spiritual understanding of what a human being is. It talks consistently of the freedom of men, of humankind (no, she didn't say "humankind" in 1943, she said men), and yet there is no discussion of spiritual freedom in Christ. She is speaking of human freedom as lived on this earth. I see, because of my spiritual perspective, a goldmine of understanding that is left unstated, perhaps even unmeant, under her words. No matter, as far as I'm concerned.

This passage sums up for me a great deal of the book, and also speaks powerfully to my own history:

Human energy works to supply human needs and satisfy human desires, only when, and where, and precisely to the extent that men know they are free (p. 224).
Here is something of her discussion of God:

Abraham said that none of these [vindictive pagan gods, like the Greeks'] exist. He said that God is One Creator-and-Judge.

God is The Right, he said; Rightness creates the universe and judges men's acts. (As water judges a swimmer rightness in swimming, God judges rightness in living.) But God does not control any man, Abraham said: a man controls himself, he is free to do good or evil in the sight of God (p. 74).

This is clearly omitting any realization of God as Love, or God as Redeemer. The plan of salvation as revealed in Jesus Christ is not explicitly mentioned anywhere in the book. Rather, the effort is to delineate the nature of the true God vis a vis pagan gods who are thought to magically control people's lives, or hold them to some prescribed service or role in life.

This longer passage is from the opening pages:

The control of human energy is individual control. An individual's desire to achieve some aim is the stimulus that generates human energy. The individual controls that energy.

He always controls it in accordance with her personal view of the desirable, the good.

In other words: Every person acts on a basis of his religious faith....

Consciousness itself is an act of faith. No one can prove that he exists. No evidence of the senses, and no effort of logic, can demonstrate the existence of the element that everyone means when he says "I." I simply know that I exist.

In the same way, by faith, everyone knows that a standard of values exists. You can not know that you are cold, without having a standard of temperature. You can not like or dislike, or want or not want, anything, without having a standard of good. You can not generate energy to act, without desiring something that (to you) is good. You can not think, without faith that you exist and faith that a standard of value, a God, exists in the universe.

Of course millions do not believe... But it is impossible not to believe in God. The human mind will not work without a standard of value.

Anyone who imagines that he has no religious basis of thought and action is merely using another name for his god (xiii-xiv).
I go to the trouble of quoting these passages in order to point out that, even though she clearly is not starting her discourse from a fullness of revelation, neither is she contradicting revelation.

But perhaps the real value of this book for me, which apparently was written during a time when Lane was in the process of solidifying her Libertarian political beliefs, is this emphasis on freedom being that for which human beings were created, and that which calls them forth to act with the full human potential. When writing about the experiment of American government, barely 150 years old at the time, she does not gloss over the difficulties. She knows humans are not able to create a utopia. And yet, she sees the undebatable good that comes from human energies being freed to act, through a weak government and citizens' knowledge of their freedom. She also, writing in the midst of World War II, points out that those who try to crush human freedoms will do so using the very inventions produced by free men.

It is this realistic view of humanity that has really shaken me awake. In my younger days, I embraced (or was embraced by!) a severe passivity and sense of powerlessness. I have gradually experienced freedom as I have walked with Christ, which of necessity entails living in reality. I learned, for example, that when I needed a job, Jesus was not going to go fill out applications for me. I have also discovered, for example in marrying, that as I vow my life to Christ, I actually become freer. So for me, my knowledge of freedom absolutely is rooted in my experience of Christ. Lane speaks movingly in one passage of the religious faith of the American pioneers. Once in danger of arrest for meeting for worship or reading Scripture, in the frontier they did so without hindrance, but with deep gratitude for this freedom, and even gratitude to fight with each other to believe what they wanted. This resonates with me even as a Catholic, first because 25% of my ancestors were these type of folk, and because in another way it reminds me of the gratitude I have for my own conversion, and the freedom God has given me to love Him in His Church. Most of all, though, even though I know I am one limited person, I have a fuller realization that I am capable of acts, especially when done collectively as an expression of true unity, not coercion, that can alter the course of universe, the course of history, where God meets man. This does a complete, utter, total drop kick to the "stinkin' thinkin'" that has plagued me almost from day one.

I could probably ramble on about different aspects of this book for quite some time, and perhaps I shall. Tomorrow, however, it goes back to its home in the library (in Oklahoma, from whence it had to be special ordered for me!)

Monday, November 10, 2008

Music and Birthday Greetings

I am completely cheating to get in before midnight for NaBloPoMo. But here, courtesy of my friend Mike Bogdanovich, is a little movie of him wishing a mutual friend happy birthday and singing part of the song I mentioned in this blog post.

Sunday, November 09, 2008


The latest exercise my son's developmental optometrist has recommended for our whole family is to use a rebounder.
This is "rebounding Edna," by the way.

I've tried our neighbors' rebounder, and it really is fun and comfortable. This link lists some of the health benefits supposedly derived from rebounding including stimulating the lymphatic system, improving muscle-to-fat ratio, better oxygen circulation, improved resting metabolic rate and several others.

Actually, Edna does not have it quite the way Dr. Sobek instructed us to use it. He said the key is that one's feet should not leave the surface, but rather the legs should pump one up and down on it.

I freely admit that I hate to exercise in non-functional ways. I mean, I don't mind stretching while I scrub the floor, or running up the stairs an extra 10 times to get something, or walking to enjoy being outside, but the thought of doing exercise just because it's exercise is very difficult for me to accept. But I could see myself rebounding just for the fun of it. I'm still hunting for one to buy that still allows me to keep both arms and both legs. Which really isn't all that hard, but I also don't enjoy shopping. What I do is far more like deer hunting: find it, bag it, bring it home. Or better yet, buy it on line and have it delivered!

Friday, November 07, 2008

Freedom and Authority

The oddest things can spark me to pondering. Here's something that happened today.

I was at Mass, and as is becoming the standard around here, the announcements were read beforehand. It is common that the announcements end with these two: something to the effect of "calling all extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion", and something about people scooting together to make room for those still coming in. These are read by the lector.

Today the lector ended with the first standard, but not the second. So the leader of music ministry, who happened to have a working microphone in front of him, and who noticed that it was one of those full house days requiring this little reminder, spoke up and asked everyone to move to the center to free up room.

This little nondescript act, which has probably already been forgotten by the one who did it, has had me thinking all day. I find this a lovely illustration of freedom (as I wrote about the other day) and also something I am calling "ownership," but I'm sure there is a better term for it. One aspect of freedom is seeing a need and acting to fill the need, regardless of whose need it is. And it demonstrates ownership, or perhaps belonging is a better term, because the need is perceived as important, motivating, for me, even though the need does not affect my person. The music minister had his seat! But he saw the standers, saw the disorganized sitters, saw the extra space. So without worrying about protocol (that the music minister is not usually the one to say this) or something dorky like what people would think of him, he, just as naturally as scratching an itch, facilitated the situation.

I remembered a situation from my own experience. I was a mid-teen, and was in my (Lutheran) church narthex either for a Sunday service or some other event. I was standing near the guest register (why is it that Catholic churches don't have guest registers?) and noticed that the page was filled. The book used large ledger-type pages that slid into and out of a sort of frame that opened on the top and bottom. Not wanting any visitor to leave without signing, I removed the full page and placed it on the shelf below, revealing the next blank sheet. I vividly recall a person who was with me, who was significantly older than myself, looking about with a sense of embarrassment. This was not my property, it was the church's! What made me think I should go messing with the church's guest registery! Did anyone see you do that? What would the pastor say about this?

This response seems to typify a lack of freedom, or the paganism that Rose Wilder Lane talks about (in her book which I am shamelessly plugging every chance I get!) Freedom, as I am contemplating this term, tells me that that was my church, my desire for guests to be welcomed and reached out to, and as long as I was acting within reason (and not throwing the filled sheet in the garbage or hiding it) then I was acting out of my sense of being a member of this community. I was animated by Christ to care in this small way for the needs of my brothers and sisters.

I've been thinking about what a third option might look like. If there is freedom, expressed in service, and paganism expressed in fear of some Authority whose job it is to control our actions, turning them on and off, it would seem there is a third sort of way. I guess it is just a variation on paganism. This would be the person who feels s/he IS the Authority who controls other people, "allowing" them to serve in some capacity, or being the sole source of the good coming toward another. Ooh... I hadn't articulated this third option to myself until just now, but I see how tricky this one is, because this is precisely what many of us actually look for. It is how I see myself sometimes, especially when I think I will be giving a secure feeling to other people by acting this way. But you know, when you look at how the Church operates, her authority really doesn't have this flavor. She knows she is not the source of the good, she is the sacrament of the Good. She does not "allow," for example, people to be canonized or orders to be founded or private revelations to be followed, she discerns and acknowledges the work of God made evident. One of the biggest frustrations I had when I was new to the Catholic Church was the complete lack of authoritarian details for me to follow. I was convicted that the Church had divinely inspired authority to speak for Christ, but walking into the Church was like walking into a huge, open, cavernous.... freedom. It was a bit unnerving, emerging from the significantly more cramped quarters that I had previously known.

And try to put this to practice in parenting! Oy vey! Radical unschoolers (an even less defined subsection of the already definition-defying unschooling crowd) have as an ideal to eschew this form of authoritarianism with their children in every aspect of their lives together. As one who has lived experience of trying this, I can testify that the difficulties with it have far less to do with children and their behavior and far more to do with parents and their behavior. It is actually somewhat rare that even my children will attempt things that are truly dangerous, and if they do, they actually have a vested interest in their own safety. They will listen to reason. There are things that I tend to get all authoritarian over -- allowing or disallowing -- simply because of my irritation or impatience. As the radical unschoolers will say, imagine if it was your mother-in-law doing that thing which irritates you, instead of your child. How would you respond? How many of us believe we can control our mothers-in-law? How many of us believe it is our God-given duty to control our children?

This reminds me of a post I wrote a year and a half ago. The gist of this is that the true authority in my life is the one who loves my soul and my life most powerfully, not one who makes her life feel better by telling others what to do.

And if you had a day with your kids today like I had with mine, you know it is a very difficult sacrifice to give up just a few of those "ordering people around to make me feel better" occasions!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Too Much Information

I won't chronicle the exciting adventures of Head Cold Woman anymore, as exciting as I know that is. See, I've made this little commitment to myself to participate with Nablopomo this month (national "blog post every day for this month"), so I'm trying to stay with it. I like the idea because I find November a really fitting time for me to remember and review, what with Thanksgiving and the change of season and the fact that the month has my birthday in it. I haven't really hit my stride with this thing yet. Stay tuned.

I had somewhat of a naru hodo moment today. I had a realization of a dynamic that I am guilty of bringing upon other people, particularly the males who live under my roof. And that is that I have this tendency to always be "correcting." No, wait. The realization wasn't that I am always correcting; that's pretty old. The realization is of how someone feels when they are being corrected. I have come to realize that I do not generally interact with the world based on my emotions. I tend to live head first. But when something does grate on my emotions I tend to get really bothered really quickly. And recently, whether this has been happening in objective fact or whether this is just a special gift from God so that I can see how much I piss in other people's cornflakes, I'm not sure, I have felt the sting of having what I do "corrected." And I mean, corrected in such a way that no real consideration is expressed for the heart of what I have done, with the thoughts of the corrector on his/her correct-er information, and not on the emotional impact as I receive it. I'm thinking this really is a special gift from God, because I have been replaying tapes that happened to me in childhood (like the time I was in a gift store and my friend asked me what the things we were looking at were made out of, and I said "cast iron," and the sales clerk responded loudly as if I had just said the stupidest thing ever "they are PEWTER!"). I realize that getting corrected, or feeling corrected, makes me not want to talk with the corrector anymore. It's a great way to destroy communication and a relationship.

But I sympathize very much with, well, me -- because I love information. I love knowing. And sometimes, I love just a few tads too much being able to tell people what information I know better than they do. I guess that would be called making an idol out of information. There really and truly can be such a thing as giving someone "too much information," in more ways than one. But have you ever heard anyone complain of being loved too much -- when love really is love?

I can learn how to love, though. The other day my son asked me if rocks had cells, and I realized he fully expected me to just launch into all my scientific brilliance. (I can still bluff because he's only 7.) And that gave me a clue to just keep my answer yap shut and ask him questions instead. We happened to be heading to the library as this conversation ensued, so we were able to find books about cells and books about rocks, and he read some pertinent passages and concluded that what his friend told him had actually been right. (Come to think of it I know why I was inspired to keep my yap shut. My son said his proof to his friend with whom he debated whether rocks were composed of cells was the ever useful "My mom told me.")

It certainly wasn't for naught that Jesus spent a lot of time asking questions instead of pontificating.

For the grace to be free from idols, we pray -- Lord, hear our prayer!!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

About that Battle of Lepanto...

I have a cold that I'd been keeping at bay, but this evening it has exploded upon me. So, more than usual I am piecing my thoughts together as I say, or write, them. So, bear with me.

In my poking around the internet throughout the day (and since last night) I've found a variety of reactions to Obama's victory, as I'm sure you have too. The ones that concern me the most are the ones that express fear or despair or a certain sense about divine judgment. Let me just say up front that I understand what it feels like to work hard for a campaign or to be highly emotionally invested, and then lose. I know there is just so much a human body can take before wanting to just cry or moan or throw something or get depressed. As a temporary emotional or physiological reaction, I understand these things. And we do have cause to be very concerned about what could pass into law, particularly FOCA, with the Democrats controlling the entire federal government. And, as I heard Scott Hahn repeat so often in my grad school and employment days, God's judgment generally takes the form of allowing us to have what we ask for.

Here's my concern, if I can finally spit it out: "We the people" are in a bit of a mess, regardless of who sits in the Oval Office. The man in that chair can do a lot of bad, and probably can do some real good, too. But mostly I think the President reflects the nation, and the aspirations of the nation.

Wait, let me try this approach. You've heard, I suppose, about the battle of Lepanto. Kids in our neighborhood dressed as soldiers from the battle of Lepanto for Halloween. I've always heard it billed as the occasion when the meager number of Christian troops defeated the attacking Muslim invaders by means of praying the rosary. So, many have adapted this in praying for this election cycle, for example.

I'm not in the least against praying the rosary, praying for elections, praying for Muslims or praying for victory in spiritual battles. But. I read another account of this battle that has really got me thinking. It is from the book The Discovery of Freedom by Rose Wilder Lane. To summarize in a somewhat choppy, cold-befogged way, her rendering of this battle went like this: Islam, which had embraced the truth that man is free (i.e. created by and responsible unto God, but not under any dictatorship, human or divine) until about the 13th century, had recently (in 1571) become dominated by the Turks of the Ottoman Empire. The Turks, unlike the earlier Arab Muslims, had no concept of man being created for freedom. They held the "pagan" belief that the universe is a closed system, that creation is "finished," that change is impossible, and that God determines an exact role for man which is enforced by a some pagan representative and out of which man may not escape. Contrast this with the Christians involved in this battle. They, she holds, had a lived experience of freedom (primarily because of Saracen influence in Spain and Italy). And it was this the Turks were bent on stamping out. If you follow my rambling attempt to draw out this comparison, what I'm saying is the picture Lane gives is Lepanto was a battle of "Authority" against "Freedom" -- as she understands these terms. (Oh, go read the book for yourself. Please!)

Ok, here, really, is what I'm trying to say. Let us not live as pagans who believe the government is our master, or the answer for, or the menace to, our lives! We belong to Christ, who reveals to us the Father! We need order, yes. I'm not advocating anarchy. But brothers and sisters, human beings are free. What I understand that to mean as I say that right now is that God has created us and bids us live. But His proposal is so, so, so, infinitely more than winding up a clock and watching it go! He has revealed Himself. He has given His life for us to share. He is the Redeemer of the world, and we are there with Him. He sends forth His Spirit to recreate the face of the earth, and guess whom He sends it to and through?!?! We are not called to have our eyes fixed on some human thing, whimpering like a puppy and saying "Mother may I?" What saint do you know of who said "Oh dear, the government is not letting me be holy. Shucks, I'll just hide here for better days ahead, or run over there where I'll be safer." No. The saint lives with God here, now -- where and whatever here and now happen to entail.

If we are honest as we pray remembering the battle of Lepanto, the first thing we need to pray for is our own knowledge of what it means to be free, and what it means to be the agent of the God of Freedom. We need to purge from our hearts the paganism Lane describes.

Fifty points for everyone who made it to the end of this post. I feel like my head will explode. Sorry for the wordiness, but it gives me an excuse to come back and be more concise about this again later.