Saturday, December 26, 2009


Courtesy of my four-year-old daughter, here is a Christmas Eve video (snippet!) of our choir singing one of my favorite Christmas pieces: Gaudete. This song has special significance for me. Last year during the Advent and the Christmas seasons I was particularly drawn to this song on a CD I had, and I listened to it repeatedly. That day when I found myself invited to sing with the choir (it was Ephiphany), this was one of the songs we sang. So there was that quality of entering into something brand new that I somehow knew of already.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


Yesterday I had a very valuable conversation with my son. I'm going to be circumspect here, so as to respect the privacy of that conversation and my son's trust, but it was one of those exchanges that we have ever so often where I find myself giving myself just the spiritual counsel I need to hear by responding to what he says to me. The cry of his heart really is just the same as the cry of my heart. The only difference is that our hearts are of different maturities. The need is the same, however.

He is of an age (namely, 8) where learning is taking a curve in his life. He is thinking a lot about his purpose in life and the desires in his heart. As we talked it became clear that he has a very strong and very dear desire in his heart that faces a certain danger. His desire currently is stuck in a cloak of impossibility. I don't use the word impossibility in the sense of "extreme difficulty or extreme unlikelihood," I mean flat out impossible. His very real desire is stuck inside something that just cannot be. I was able to impress on him that this impossible something was actually a symbol of something that is possible in many ways, and I know that it is one of those ways that his soul is waiting to discover. I emphasized this because I saw he felt pressure to abandon his desire, focusing on the impossibility instead of on the ultimate meaning his heart was really yearning for, and settling for some kind of a "managed" existence with desire mutated or rooted out. No way, I told him. You hold on to that desire with all you've got.

I can relate so strongly. I could sometimes ask right along with him "Why does God give me these desires in my heart if they are so impossible?" And I know that just as I told him, I have to keep asking God "If this desire is impossible to fulfill in the way I am thinking of it, then what does it really mean? What is Your desire that is being expressed in my heart? How do I understand it, and what do I do about it? How do I stay with you and with this desire?"

These are our pressing Advent questions. We can know, trust and believe that Emmanuel will come to us, but we can't foresee exactly all of the details, all of the proceedings of how He comes. We can long. We can watch. We can wait, looking, even hurting with the anticipation. Somehow it is this that prepares us to welcome, to see, the revelation when He comes.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

Tuesday, December 08, 2009


I have a confession to make. I'm afraid of making phone calls. It isn't really like I live with this fear at my side 24/7; it's much more like I have arranged my life in such a way, rather without realizing it, to simply avoid phone calls or to convince myself quite effectively that I don't need to make them. And, oh, this phobia really only applies to people that I know. I don't have any problem calling businesses or government agencies and the like, as long as I know exactly what I need to ask or what piece of information I need to give. There are also a few friends I manage to call without too much trepidation, but normally I only call with some cut and dried business matter. And often these are motivated by something I need for my children. I rarely even call my husband at work with anything but information relay. My approach reminds me of the Jonah character in the Veggie Tales movie when he is psyching himself up to go to Ninevah: "Go in, give the message, get out. Go in, give the message, get out."

This last weekend not once but twice I found myself faced with a phone call I didn't want to avoid. Five hours after the first round I still could not calm down. Saturday afternoon when I made the next call my heart went right back up to racing full speed again. Here it is Monday almost at midnight and I'm still trying to land with my feet on the ground.

I could come up with many reasons why this is so for me. Telephones have played sort of a traumatic role in my life in more than one relationship. But these have always been with me on the receiving end. So, why is it not traumatic for me to answer phones? For some strange reason, answering phones has never really been a problem for me. Perhaps I am deeply aware of how someone who makes phone calls can sort of take on the role of a terrorist, and while I have learned to handle "taking it," the horrific thought of filling that terrorist role is just too much for me to bear.

But why, I wondered to myself, when God has brought so much healing into my life, am I left with this particular difficulty? Fr. Pietro at the Advent retreat yesterday talked about how we need to keep open the wound that we are. I don't believe this means we need to wound ourselves or forsake or reject God's healing. But we will always be in need of some healing, and our task is to not forsake or reject our need. So if I still have this particular struggle it is because the need it shows me still needs embracing.

Hopefully my steps are starting on that path. After this episode this weekend I realized that first I need to act with some tenderness for my own need. Often I just force myself to do things that are hard for me. "Buck up" becomes my motto, and nothing is going to deter me from facing my difficulty. There's some value in this, because often the only way out is through. But I looked at my situation this weekend and realized that if I just asked this friend for his email, it would save me a lot of grief and it would be no big deal. (One down, one to go.) The thought had even occurred to me quite some time ago, but somehow having tenderness of my own need also entails treating it seriously enough to make it known to someone else. I have been Queen of not taking my need seriously. I think the step towards doing so shows me that what I wrote about freedom back in June has really taken root in my life.

Another thing I've realized is that in one way it is no exaggeration to say that I would take natural, drug-free childbirth any day over psychological pain: anxiety, depression, agitation of various sorts. I have long thought this (well, I didn't use the childbirth example before I experienced it, of course), but I have an insight now about why I feel this way. Physical pain is hard, and can be frightening in the sense of not knowing when it will end and if it will keep getting stronger or not. But psychological pain is far more frightening to me because it changes my ability to feel connected to people. Physical pain brings me inside myself, but I'm still aware of the love and concern and connection with people around me. Psychological pain is like experiencing a giant eraser over my relationships, and it requires a firm act of my intellect to recall that I once knew I experienced them. Like a tiny baby playing peekaboo (so they tell me, my daughter disproved this at 3 months) the emotional memory, the feeling, of friendship vanishes from me. Even my children can just seem like noisy little machines next to me, but not tiny souls who are deeply connected to me.

So, my need. Concretely, I know I absolutely must care for my health in the best way I know how, because while I cannot eliminate stresses from my life completely, I can do much better if my body is getting everything it needs. Also, I need to cut myself a little bit of slack, have consciousness of what I struggle with, ask for help as needed instead of forcing myself unnecessarily, and instead of avoiding life's interactions because of that stupid telephone, realize what other options might work just as well. Probably the biggest need is for me to accept that I really, really, really do need my friends. To all have working email accounts!

Monday, December 07, 2009

All I Really Want to Do

I am juxtaposing lighthearted with serious here big time, but some days I really just need to see Jim McGuinn staring over his granny glasses. Today is one of them.

What the Work of Forgiveness Looks Like

I found and shared this on Facebook a couple of months ago, and because a friend just reminded me of it, I thought it would be worth an encore here.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

When Christ is Silent

This afternoon I participated in the local Communion and Liberation Advent retreat. Fr. Pietro's talk was extremely affirming to me, in the sense of how it is so helpful to see someone looking at the same reality I look at and describing it in ways that resonate instantly with my own experience. That assures me that that which I experience is real, and not just invented in my mind.

There was one image that he mentioned which I contemplated when I was pregnant with my daughter, and that was of Mary just after St. Gabriel left her after the Annunciation. There she was, alone in her house. She had given her yes to God through the angel. Eventually, she would be able to physically know the baby Jesus with her, but just then? The most glorious moment of salvation history to date had just transpired, and now she was back to weaving or washing the dishes or whatever it was. The glory of God is completely comfortable taking up residence within our lives next to what to us feels mundane. When the proverbial dust settles and God is done wowing us with something amazing and we are again alone, there is Christ. Silent, still, small. But present. It is not the trumpet blast nor the noisy crowd nor any thing of beauty which makes Christ present; these are only ways we respond to the One who comes among us. And sometimes, as He is just here, quietly, He bids us sit with Him, quietly, alone. Open, in awe, awaiting.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

How shall I that am grass touch with my hand the fire of Thy divinity?

Today I was at Franciscan for Mass and was privileged to hear Cardinal DiNardo of Galveston preach. He talked about the Feast of Epiphany, and how the gospel readings for the first part of Advent are all epiphany moments of Christ: light shining into the world and allowing that to be seen which only God can make visible. Just typing this makes me pause again and reflect that everything we can know is a gift from God. In His light, we see light.

Cardinal DiNardo mentioned an ancient hymn used for the Feast of Epiphany which puts these words into the mouth of John the Baptist: How shall I that am grass touch with my hand the fire of Thy divinity? The reference is to the prophet Isaiah, who says that all flesh is like grass, and of course when grass touches fire it is consumed by that fire. And yet, God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. The fire does not come to destroy, but to transform. And He transforms us as a people, just as He did with Israel of old. And yet, the encounter is personal: it is my hand that touches Christ's divinity.

This really struck a chord with me in light of something I was meditating on earlier today. Let me see if I can grab this and throw it out into words. What I saw is that within love, there is death. What I mean is this: If my heart is drawn out in love to someone, it is true that I am responding to a true and real, flesh and blood person, circumstance, situation. That is undeniable. However, it is also just as true, because of the Incarnation, that I am being drawn out by God through the sign of this true and real, flesh and blood person. The ultimate meaning of every quiver of love in my heart is that God calls me to Himself. He is my ultimate destiny. If I love my friend, it is true that my relationship with my friend has deep meaning, but it is finite. It is a sign. Not "just" a sign, as if humans are meaningless pawns through which God manipulates our lives. But the real meaning of our lives carries an even greater meaning, as a sign of God's love. When I see the sign, I remember I am made for eternity, for the infinite. As the old Farrell and Farrell song said: "The things of earth can never satisfy/only the bread of life can fill a man inside."

So, what I saw is that the stirring of love in my heart reminds me that I will die, and come to my ultimate destiny. Is this sad? No, not really. The emotion that comes more readily into my heart is trepidation. No one controls the moment of his death. The ultimate things we need for utter fulfillment are simply not within our control. I do not fulfill myself. Yet, what I need for fulfillment is so freely given, so richly, abundantly, tumultuously poured forth upon us by the Blessed Trinity that the trepidation that instinctively arises in me is not from fear of abandonment but a fear of coming completely undone. A fear of "losing it" in the most glorious sense of the world -- losing all of the shackles, all of what binds, blinds, hinders, frightens and thwarts us. It is a sort of fear of that which the heart actually desires and longs for more than anything, or rather, of the only thing the heart is really longing for within every other attraction.

The fear of God... being enveloped in awe of Him... being given the vision of myself as I am, and God as He is... Come, Lord Jesus come. I cannot bear the glory of your presence, but only say the Word and my soul shall be healed...

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Of Needing and Being Needed

Last night I sang with the "City Choir" for our diocesan Mass to celebrate the Year of the Priest. "City Choir" is the default name of my parish choir plus a few other people who turn out to sing for these special diocesan events. For this liturgy we were joined by several Franciscan University students, as it was held at the University's fieldhouse; the only place big enough to fit everyone for an event of this size.

It was a very rich experience. In particular, I'm contemplating the experience of needing and being needed...

We sang quite a bit of course, but one of the two pieces we sang as a choir (there's a better adjective for that, but what?) was Palestrina's Sicut Cervus, which I've mentioned on this blog several times over the last few months. This is by far the most difficult piece we've attempted, and it has been the focus of our efforts for some time. Almost as soon as choir ended for the summer I found a CD with the Sicut on it that I have endlessly renewed from the library since then. (I love libraries!) It would not be an exaggeration to say I've listened to this piece over a thousand times since then. Some days, I would simply plug this song into my CD player, hit repeat, and listen to it waft through the house all day long. (In an effort to bolster my sense of personal normality I must state that I am not the only choir member to have done this!) As a result I've developed a pretty good sense of the timing of the piece and where each voice comes in, etc.

It didn't soak in just how my minor obsession with this piece affected my fellow altos until last night. When we practiced in the past, people would say to me "Ok, Marie, just sing in my ear; I need to hear you" and the like, but I really didn't know how to take this. When we practiced just before the Mass, I realized that people were making serious comments to each other -- women with far more experience and stronger voices than myself -- about how they needed to see my mouth or hear me. I realized that listening to a polyphonic piece a thousand times leaves a mark. Also, when we began to practice, the tenors were ten feet away from the altos, and the whole thing completely fell apart. We absolutely needed to be next to each other as we were used to in order to get it right.

When we sang the piece the altos did in fact split into two camps towards the end, and I knew it. I didn't think to turn my body to try to signal in those behind me that we'd gotten off (now I realize it -- that would have been a good idea!). But fortunately it was a short time and there was a section at the ending where I heard the basses cue the altos and I cut in with it and we ended correctly. So, it was all fine.

I guess usually when I hear someone talking about needing someone, I think the person is speaking out of some weird sense of self-deprecation or something else embarrassing from which is it better to avert one's gaze. In this choral context I really understood that an admission of need is not an admission of weakness or abnormality, but it is an expression of a desire to be one's best. It is really a strong form of self-love in the best sense of the word. This is just yet another example of how participating in a choir is such a humanizing experience for me.

The shoe was on the other foot when we sang a communion hymn in parts that I don't ever recall even looking at in the past. I would have floundered a good long time had not the same women behind me come in strong with the alto line. I was able to hear it, and follow. The closing hymn was to a tune for which I have known the alto part from the womb (it feels like), so with no music for it, I belted it out. And I heard the same voices behind me doing the same. It was so much fun -- like finding someone from your hometown in a crowd.

I'm contemplating this and other moments of the evening that brought me this same message, this same window into my humanity and that of others. God blesses me so and I do not wish to drop a crumb of what He gives me (even though I know I've already dropped bushel baskets). I'm also heeding what I can only call the Lord's call to me this Advent: to come to Him in a more focused way. To soak in His Word, especially in its organic context of the liturgy. To listen not for echos, but for His original voice. To allow that voice to reach down into my soul, where only He can touch. To hear Him say again that He is with me, and so to experience Him.

United, not Separate

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

December 1, 2009


My dear apostle, you must remember that we are not separated. Sometimes, in your weariness, you pray and seek understanding of the situations in your life. When you do this, please remember that I am with you. You are not separated from Me when your thoughts seek to provide you with answers. If you remind your self that I am not separate from you, you will search for truth more calmly and with more confidence that there is an answer to your many dilemmas. Please do not concern yourself if you are distracted in prayer. Use these times of distraction to talk to Me. Tell me what is distracting you and we will talk about it together. We are together, after all, so I am there. If a certain pattern of sin is troubling you, ask Me how I feel about it. Ask for My observations. You, my beloved apostle, are a studier of Me and how I treated others. Because of your desire to know me, you have a familiarity with My heart that others lack. I will give you the answers you seek, both in terms of your spiritual condition and in terms of the holiest way to conduct yourself in each situation you confront. We are not separate. We are together. Worries of major proportion would only be problematic for you if you were being asked to assure a holy outcome alone or if you were being asked to travel through the period without Me. I promise you that I will be with you and that the outcomes occurring around you will be consistent with My will. I cannot promise you that in your humanity you will always rejoice in My will, especially when there is pain. But I can promise you that the greatest amount of mercy will be obtained through your commitment to remaining with Me, united in the life that is yours. All is well. I am with you. I will be generous to My beloved apostles in this holy time of Advent. Be acutely aware of My presence. When you look at all around you, look with My eyes. This will give you the understanding that will insure peace for you. All is well. The infant returns through your heart, as the King.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Curly Girl Update: After Two Years

This update on the Curly Girl routine is about year overdue. I'm on my second year with this approach now, and I recommend that anyone with curly or wavy hair give it a try. I think what attracted me, other than the promise that I could have the type of hair I've always wanted to have but never thought I could, was that the approach is so different from conventional hair wisdom. I'm always ready to give the unconventional idea a listen.

The book Curly Girl by Lorraine Massey is not one that I personally would invest money in buying. A turn at it from the library should be all you need. It is mostly inspirational for people who need emotional therapy after years of fighting with their hair as if their fitting in with the human race depended on it. Here's the book in a nutshell: Give up shampoo (except perhaps for once a week for folks like me whose hair is more wavy than super-curly), wash instead with conditioner that isn't primarily chemical goo. Get moderately frequent cuts; don't brush, especially when it is wet; some tips and tricks for drying and for sprucing up curls on a bad day.

I got my hair cut today, and finally the last vestiges of the really bad haircut I got just two months before starting the Curly Girl routine were left on the beauty shop floor. Finding someone who can cut your hair decently is half the battle. I've really never been the sort of person to care much about things like this, but I realize that this is why I have always been dissatisfied with having either short curly hair, or long bushy hair. I've always wanted long, curly hair but lost hope that it was possible. It is possible, but sometimes one has to step out of conventional wisdom to find the way.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Advent Approaches!

Today I had a rare chance to attend Mass by myself. In his homily, Fr. Dominic (the younger) talked about the false expectations some Christians have that after conversion to Christ, life will be a rose garden where everything fits into an image of a perfect Catholic dreamworld, variously defined. But this, he said, is not what Christ promises. Christ in fact assures is that in this world we will have tribulation, and that the hope we have in Him is primarily an eschatological hope. In other words, as important as it is to build a civilization of love on earth, our hope is not in how "successfully" grace operates in our lives to change this world. Our hope always points us to our ultimate destiny in eternity.

We are within the last 24 hours of the liturgical year and Advent is right around the corner. I am really hungry for Advent this year. When I think about what Fr. Dominic preached about today, I hear what he means. We cannot replace the path Christ calls us to with a beautiful but fake religious picture that pleases us. We cannot be so hung up on our own desire to contribute, or control, that we start to imagine supposed fruits of our ministry in every beat of our neighbor's eyelashes or, conversely, get upset at the apparent lack of fruit. All of this is wood, hay and stubble that will be burnt in fire. We need to simply follow what is given, always asking for the grace to be as obedient as possible to God's every directive for our lives.

The kicker to me is that as we focus on our ultimate destiny, and live Advent this way, we are suddenly met by Him, our ultimate destiny, right here and right now. Bam. Emmanuel. This is the surprise that I hope I never live long enough to get over -- the Christmas Eve Surprise of meeting Christ as He is suddenly and powerfully present right before me. Faith, gift that it is, gives me the eyes to see that there He is: look, the Lamb of God! The kicker is that the eschaton is already here, and to see it, to behold Him, is to desire nothing else, for what else compares?

There are so many waves and layers of paradox in contemplating Advent and I need to be immersed again. Come, Lord Jesus. Maranatha!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Random Blatherings of an INTP Woman

One of the topics I love reading about is personality types, especially the Myers-Briggs types. I consistently test as an INTP. Not-so-oddly-enough, I have discovered that a couple people who tend to read this blog, and whose blogs I tend to read, are also INTPs. But I have found it estimated that only somewhere between 1-4% of the population fall in this particular type, so there must be some sort of gravitational pull factor going on there.

Last night I was perusing a few websites on the subject which I had not read previously and found once again that all of the examples given of famous INTPs were men. Funny, that. I remember as a kid -- a Protestant kid at that -- thinking that I would really like to be a monk, or at least live with monks. Now, I believe I have actually gotten very comfortable with the fact that I am indeed a woman, but in some ways my brain still resonates a bit more happily with most men than with many women. Funny, that.

So today I watched the movie Daddy Daycare with my son at his request. It's the one where a non-swearing Eddie Murphy and his friends open a daycare after losing a job. It's filled with stereotypical the-way-men-parent-in-the-21st-century scenarios, and it's a cute movie and all. Throughout the day I couldn't help thinking of several ways that I could relate to these Daddies in my own parenting journey. It was cute how they gave copies of their mission statement to 3-and 4-year-olds on their first day of business, and sat down to go over it point by point (asking for a volunteer to read). It's pretty lame, but in spirit at least I could actually relate.

Anyway, I am grateful for the work of Katharine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers. It really and truly fascinates me to see how people differ in basic personality hard wiring. What an amazing idea God had to create one human race with so much variation in the details. Sometimes we are drawn by the ways someone else is just like us; we feel understood. Sometimes we are fascinated by someone who is quite opposite us in some way; we feel completed. It is interesting to me to notice temperament differences within my family and to learn more about people this way.

Yeah, ok, so you can tell I am an introverted thinker, huh? Some people like browsing through craft stores to look for pretty decorative ideas. (This would be my daughter.) I prefer browsing through lovely ideas and picking out the ones that I think I could really do something with!

The Holy Family and Poverty of Spirit

This morning as my children and I headed out for daily Mass, my daughter was having what is traditionally known as a conniption fit over the footwear she selected by default. As a result, upon arriving at church, my son proceeded to the church proper while she and I sat on the big comfy couch in the foyer where she nuzzled and calmed herself down. (Thank goodness for a functional sound system and a church designed with families in mind.)

I, meanwhile, found myself face to face with a statue of the Holy Family (our parish's namesake) not entirely unlike this one:

This sacramental earned its keep by me this morning. Contemplating these figures I was struck by the poverty of spirit that Our Lord engenders in His followers. What do you mean by that, you might ask. When I say poverty of spirit I am thinking of the virtue of receiving something from the Lord, yet not grasping, possessing, reckoning oneself as the controller or owner of that which God gives. It is holding God's gift with an open hand. It is always being ready to honor God and His purposes and not imposing our own schemes and designs upon what God gives. It is acknowledging God's gift as His gift, given to me, and held by me with a spirit of worship, which is all about the act of self-giving, of freedom, of sacrificial love.

I looked at Mary, holding baby Jesus. She was given the most amazing, unique vocation as the Mother of God, the Mother of the Savior, the Messiah. I think of the incredible urge for a mother to hold tight to her beloved child, and yet Scripture shows us Mary being called from the very beginning to open her motherhood, and not to just anyone: shepherds, uncouth and unkempt; wild-eyed prophets in the temple; Magi and Egyptian neighbors. Mary knew this Child was the Mystery her whole life had to bow before. Although she was given a mother's authority over Him, I can only imagine how her life was molded and sanctified by exercising that authority.

Then there's Joseph. Contemplating him made me grab my copy of Guardian of the Redeemer off my bookshelf this afternoon. Joseph has no recorded words in Scripture, and doesn't that seem fitting? What can you possibly say when you realize your vocation is to father the Son of God and be husband to the Immaculate Virgin? I sure couldn't think of any appropriate words. John Paul II's aforementioned Apostolic Exhortation makes it clear that before Jesus was conceived, the legal portion of Mary and Joseph's wedding had already taken place. Theologically speaking, it is also pretty clear from GR and from Scripture that Mary's words to the angel "how can this be since I do not know man" indicate that her consecration to the virginal life was certain at the time of the Annunciation. It isn't completely clear, to me at least, whether Joseph was as certain of this arrangement. I hope those of deeper theological persuasion than myself aren't offended if I say that I wonder if some of the popular piety about St. Joseph scrubs this issue just a bit: was he really the old man who knew he was "just" a legal figure in a divine drama? But whenever it happened, it did indeed transpire that Joseph surrendered to God, in an act of self-giving, the whole reality of a normally consummated marriage with Mary. And he accepted what any sane man would run from: ultimate responsibility for the human formation of the Son of God. Why? Because this was what God placed into Joseph's open hand.

Think about what the marriage of Joseph and Mary must have been like. Jesus was not the product of some dysfunctional family. This was the Holy Family. (By the way, I am keenly, sharply aware of the difference in contemplating these things as a Catholic Christian. Mere textual analysis here is like eating flour instead of freshly baked bread.) And Jesus, Mary and Joseph being the Holy Family requires three persons' humanity fully and completely open to the power of the Holy Spirit. I cannot accept Mary and Joseph as automatons or neutered beings who lived in the same household as if they were each married to a cardboard cut-out. Guardian of the Redeemer points out that Joseph's love for Mary was molded to perfection by the Holy Spirit, yet, I'm sure, with all the more effect due to the graces given this couple for their exceptional vocation. Theirs was a true exclusive gift of self one to another, a true image of the communitarian life of the Trinity, fully human, fully spousal, yet virginal. Upon their relationship the reality of the Church is based, She who is Virgin and Mother. Did I mention really, fully human? This is poverty of spirit, receiving indescribably rich gifts from God and yet holding them with an open hand, offering them back to God for His purposes. If this seems too amazing to believe, I think it is because you have the collision of two "impossibilities": God made flesh, and grace elevating and transforming, not abolishing, nature.

And what of Mary at the foot of the cross? Did she not need Joseph then? Why could Joseph not have lived to see the public ministry for which Jesus came? Poverty of spirit does not make the calls of or arrangements for what we need and what we deserve. It accepts a plan which doesn't feel good. It accepts death when death comes, change when change comes, and always looks to God for meaning.

And He never fails in supplying and revealing that meaning!
Regina caeli, laetare, alleluia:
Quia quem meruisti portare. alleluia,
Resurrexit, sicut dixit, alleluia,
Ora pro nobis Deum, alleluia.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

St. Cecilia, Pray for Us!

St. Cecilia at the Organ by Carlo Dolci.

It's my birthday!

I've been thinking a lot lately about one of my most dear patron saints, St. Cecilia. There's a story about how we first met.

The primary turning point of my conversion to Catholicism came at a Christmas Eve midnight Mass in 1991. I was there with my friend Keith and a handful of his friends, and before Mass began one of them asked me when my birthday was, and I answered November 22. They all tried to remember whose feast was celebrated that day, but none could remember. On the morning of the 27th, having surrendered my heart to the Lord's presence that I experienced that night at Mass just the evening before (after two whole days of trying desperately to ignore what His presence meant to me), I entered a Catholic bookstore. I was seeking a breviary, because one of Keith's friends had given me a magazine that contained an article about lay people praying the Liturgy of the Hours. I thought it was incredible to have a book with which I could pray in union with Catholics everywhere every day. But after locating what I came for, I was drawn to a corner of the store that held all sorts of saint stuff. At that moment, the Communion of Saints was one of the most difficult Catholic doctrines for me to stomach. I just really didn't understand how honoring human beings did not detract from the worship of God. Everything had taught me to think these two were mutually exclusive. But I remembered what Keith's friends were trying to remember about the saint whose feast was on my birthday, and I found some sort of a saint-of-the-day book, and began to search November. I found November 22, and read St. Cecilia, Patroness of musicians. I was overcome. For the first time in my life I had this sense, deep down in my soul, that my life, my coming into existence, had not been a mistake, an error, a goof. It was as if St. Cecilia said to me "Welcome! I've been praying for you for a long time. And I have so many people to introduce you to!" It was the beginning of a whole new way of looking at relationships for me within the Body of Christ.

So, even though we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King today, I wish all of you also a happy feast of St. Cecilia.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Medical Child Abuse

The Epidemic Of 'Medical Child Abuse'
And What Can Be Done
Dana Ullman

Opening remarks…
The primary purpose of this article is to encourage a stronger commitment from doctors and parents to consider using safer medical care for infants and children FIRST before resorting to more dangerous treatments. One would hope and assume that doctors and parents would have a natural inclination to make the safety of these young human souls a significant and sincere priority, but sadly, the power and propaganda of Big Pharma has inappropriately turned this equation around and made it seem that doctors and parents are putting their children at risk if they don’t prescribe powerful drugs first. I personally disagree with this assumption and sincerely hope that people consider this health issue to be of primary importance today.
I certainly realize that the evidence that I present below on the epidemic proportions of “medical child abuse” is somewhat inflammatory, but due to the fact that this issue is presently being ignored by so many doctors and parents, a little “inflammation” may be a necessary symptom that will lead to great attention to this problem and perhaps to some concrete solutions to it.
Although many people consider American health care to be “the best in the world,” the World Health Organization has ranked the United States to be the 37th (!) in the world in the “performance of the overall health system” and 72nd (!!) in “overall level of health” (of the 191 member countries). American health care may be the most expensive, but there is no evidence to prove that increased expense leads to improved health status.

When one looks at the countries where health status and overall health scores the highest, they are countries in which there are a significant number of physicians and other health care practitioners who use herbal medicines, homeopathic remedies, acupuncture and nutritional treatments. Perhaps American doctors and patients would benefit from a significant change in health care practices that are not only considerably safer than modern medical treatments, but that also seem to create better health care status.

A newly published review of the six leading medical journals uncovered a truly shocking observation: “No information on severe adverse events and withdrawal of patients owing to an adverse event was given in 27.1% and 47.4% of articles, respectively.”[1] When one considers that this review only analyzed the “best” medical journals, we can and should seriously worry about the safety of many drugs that are used today, and we should express real indignation when doctors prescribe two or more together (unless they were formally tested together) or when doctors prescribe them for conditions for which they have not been tested (called “off-label”).
Ultimately, although physicians assume that they are practicing “scientific medicine,” most drugs today are not tested on infants or children, and most children and adults are prescribed more than one drug at a time (and drugs are very rarely tested for efficacy or safety when used in combination with other drugs). These common practices lead one to assume that modern medicine is not adequately scientific, and these practices may be part of the explanation for the poor health status of Americans.

The Very Real Problem…

We all know people who have children who have benefited from conventional medical care, but sadly, we all also know people whose children have been harmed by it. The most famous words of the father of medicine, Hippocrates, are “First, do no harm.” This dictum was directed at doctors, but it is as appropriate for parents. Sadly, however, our children are being put in front of harm’s way with our present, almost callous overuse of powerful drugs for our young ones.
The bottom line is that too many physicians and parents are giving drugs to children that have not been proven to be either safe or effective for them. It is important for parents to know and to remind doctors that it is widely acknowledged that drugs act differently on the bodies of infants and children than on adults. And yet, it is extremely common for doctors to prescribe powerful drugs to infants and children and even prescribe more than one drug at a time, despite the fact that drugs are very rarely evaluated scientifically in combination with other drugs.
The FDA recently withdrew from the marketplace many popular cold and cough drugs that were marketed for infants and children,[2] but the problem of doctors over-prescribing other more dangerous and unproven drugs for children and the inappropriate overuse of over-the-counter drugs in children by parents is a very significant health problem. One must wonder if the increase in psychiatric disorders, immune dysfunction, autism and various other chronic diseases result from the use of the drugs that have not yet been proven to be either safe or effective for our infants and children.

Most consumers do not know that many drugs commonly prescribed for children today are not tested on them.[3] A 2002 survey in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) found that almost one-half of children were prescribed a drug that was “unlicensed” or “off-label” prescriptions for children.[4] A 2007 study of over 350,000 children found that a shocking 78.7% of children in hospitals are prescribed drugs that the FDA has not approved for use in children.[5] If this isn’t shocking enough, it is seriously problematic to report that a survey in England found that 90% of infants were prescribed drugs that were not tested for safety or efficacy in infants.[6]
If the off-label use for drugs was not found to be dangerous, it would not be a problem. However, the use of off-label drug use is significantly associated with adverse drug reactions. In fact, there is almost a 350% increase in adverse drug reactions in children prescribed an off-label drug than children who were prescribed a drug that had been tested for safety and efficacy.[7] The use of drugs for infants and children that have not been proven to be safe constitutes a type of “medical child abuse.”

Despite some significant gaps in research and knowledge about the safety and efficacy of drugs for children, the number of drugs prescribed for children has jumped significantly in recent years. In the U.S., the number of prescription drugs for children with asthma increased 46.5% from 2002 to 2005. In this same time, the number of prescription drugs for children with ADD/ADHD increased 40.5%, and even the number of prescription drugs for lowering cholesterol in children increased by 15%.[8]

In 2007, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reported significant increases in childhood chronic diseases.[9] Since 1960, there has been a 280% (!) increase in the “limitation of activity due to a health condition of more than 3 months’ duration.” This article also noted a shadow side of increased vaccination usually ignored by physicians and the media: “decreased exposure to viral infections in early childhood…may provide less and less normal stimulation of the immune system with more susceptibility to allergies in later years.”

Read more at:

What can be done and what is being done…

First and foremost, physicians have to STOP prescribing as many drugs as they are prescribing, and must significantly reduce the number of off-label prescribing of drugs for infants and children. I am not suggesting that they stop the use of all off-label prescribing, but that they work to significantly reduce these more risky prescriptions.

Because they sometimes feel pressure from patients who want drugs (or something) to help their infant or child, doctors need to warn parents that many drugs have not yet been adequately tested for safety and efficacy for children. Doctors need to become better educators so that parents can better decide which risks they wish to take either with conventional drugs or various safer alternatives.

Doctors also need to begin learning about safer treatment methods. Although some “alternative” methods may not yet be adequately tested for efficacy (usually because Big Pharma cannot make as much money making and selling these treatments), natural therapies certainly have a much better safety profile, and there is a body of experience historically and internationally to suggest that many (not all) natural treatments can aid in the healing of many pediatric ailments. In honor of the Hippocratic dictum, “first, do no harm,” doctors need to explore and even exhaust safer methods before resorting to the highly risky treatment modalities.

Because the FDA recently withdrew from the marketplace many popular cold and cough medicines, more parents and physicians should explore safer homeopathic and botanical alternatives. One of the books that I co-authored with Stephen Cummings, MD, Everybody’s Guide to Homeopathic Medicines, has been the most popular guidebook to using homeopathic medicine. Besides explaining how to choose a homeopathic medicine that fits the sick person’s unique syndrome of symptoms, this book is also widely appreciated because it provides detailed guidelines that define when it is medically safe to use a safer alternative treatment or when medical supervision is recommended.

Another useful, though more technical resource was just published by Oxford University Press (OUP), one of the most highly respected publishers of medical textbooks and medical journals. OUP has begun to publish a series of textbooks on “integrative medicine,” which is the emerging field of utilizing the best of the various natural treatment modalities and the best of conventional medicine. OUP just published an Integrative Pediatrics (edited by two pediatricians, Timothy Culbert, MD, and Karen Olness, MD).

Nowadays, virtually every leading conventional medical school in America has a course in “integrative medicine” (or alternative and complementary medicine).[10] Although these courses are generally just an overview and introduction to the various “alternative therapies,” they provide good seeds for the medical students to determine which treatments should be a part of the medical care they will later provide. One way to predict the future of medicine is to ask medical students what interests them.

In 2008, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) published a position paper acknowledging the widespread use of alternative and complementary therapies for children and encouraging doctors to discuss options with parents.[11] An AAP survey found that 54% of pediatricians in the US agreed that “pediatricians should consider the use of all potential therapies, not just those of mainstream medicine.”

Doctors, however, need to understand that alternative therapies are not just a different “treatment,” but also a different approach to understanding and treating whole person health care. Acupuncture, ayurveda, and homeopathic medicines provide time-tested and historically verified benefits that deserve the investigation of doctors and parents everywhere who want to use safer methods before resorting to more risky treatments. And there is a small but significant (and growing) body of research to confirm the efficacy of these systems of medicine, despite the strong tendency for skeptics to ignore this body of evidence.

Parents have to START asking their doctors if the drugs they are prescribing for their children have formally been found to be safe for them. If more than one drug is recommended, parents should ask for the evidence that these two drugs, taken together, are safe and effective. Parents will benefit from learning when some type of medical treatment is truly necessary because many common ailments do not require medical attention, therefore safer home treatment methods can and should be considered.

The bottom line is that there is increasing interest in alternative and complementary treatments for children. A survey in Canada published in Pediatrics (2007) found that more than half of the children who visited a university-affiliated hospital had received alternative and complementary medicines.[12] Homeopathic medicine was by far the most popular treatment, used by 39% of the families.

In 2002, the British Medical Journal (BMJ) reported that 75% of Germans have used complementary or natural medicine.[13] They also reported that 5,700 doctors received specialized training in natural medicine, with this number doubling to 10,800 by 2000. Homeopathic medicine is practiced by 4,500 medical doctors in Germany, almost twice as many as did so in 1994. The German government conducted this survey, discovering a 33% reduction in sick days if people used natural therapies, especially homeopathy or acupuncture.
Although homeopathic medicine is not well known in the U.S., homeopathy has maintained a unique international presence that has included appreciation and advocacy for many of the most respected cultural heroes of the past 200 years, including 11 U.S. Presidents and scores of world leaders (ranging from Gandhi to Tony Blair), six popes, numerous European royalty, literary greats, sports superstars, corporate leaders, as well as a wide range of first class physicians and scientists.[14]

In reference to homeopathy, it is common for skeptics of homeopathy to purposefully misinform others that “there is no research that proves that homeopathy works.” Such misinformation is typical of Big Pharma shills and closed-minded skeptics who revel in confusing the public.
In fact, one of the most serious public health problems in the developing world today is diarrhea, a condition that claims the lives of several million kids each year as a result of dehydration. Three double-blind and placebo-controlled trials have shown efficacy of treatment from homeopathic care.[15] The number one reason that children in the U.S. seek medical treatment is for ear infections, and the American Academy of Pediatrics has sought to discourage doctors from prescribing antibiotics due to their questionable efficacy and potential problems. There is some good evidence that homeopathic medicines are effective for this common ailment.[16] There have also been several trials showing efficacy of homeopathic treatment for children with ADD/ADHD.[17]

Ultimately, both doctors and parents need to educate themselves about safer methods of treatment for the short-term as well as long-term health of our blessed young ones.

(Dana Ullman, MPH, is America's leading spokesperson for homeopathy and is the founder of He is the author of 10 books, including his bestseller, Everybody's Guide To Homeopathic Medicines His most recent book is, The Homeopathic Revolution: Why Famous People and Cultural Heroes Choose. Dana lives, practices, and writes from Berkeley, California. )


[1] Pitrou I, Boutron I, Ahmad N, Ravaud P. Reporting of Safety Results in Published Reports of Randomized Controlled Trials. Arch Intern Med. 2009;169(19)
[2] Aguilera L. Pediatric OTC Cough and Cold Product Safety. US Pharmacist 2009;34(7):39-
[3] Australian Parliament’s Committee on Children and Young People—Inquiry into the Use of Prescription Drugs and Over-the-counter Medications in Children and Young People.Report 11/52. May 2002.
[4] Jong GW, Eland IA, Sturkenboom MCJM, van den Anker JN, and Stricker BHC. Unlicensed and off label prescription of drugs to children: population based cohort study. BMJ. 2002 June 1; 324(7349): 1313–1314.
[5] Shah SS, Hall M, Goodman DM, et al. Off-label Drug Use in Hospitalized Children. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2007;161(
[6] Conroy S, McIntyre J, Choonara I. Unlicensed and off label drug use in neonates. Archives of Disease in Childhood - Fetal and Neonatal Edition 1999;80:F142-
F145. doi:10.1136/fn.80.2.F142
[7] Horen B, Montastruc JL, and Lapeyre-mestre M. Adverse drug reactions and off-label drug use in paediatric outpatients. Br J Clin Pharmacol. 54(6); Dec 2002, 665–670. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-
[8] Cox ER, Halloran DR, Homan SM, Welliver S, and Mager DE. Trends in the Prevalence of Chronic Medication Use in Children: 2002–2005. Pediatrics. 122,5 November 2008, e1053-e1061. doi:10.1542/
[9] Perrin JM, Bloom SR, Gortmaker SL. The Increase of Childhood Chronic Conditions in the United States. JAMA. 2007;297:
[10] Consortium of Academic Health Centers for Integrative Medicine.
[11] Kemper KJ, Vohra S, Walls R. The Use of Complementary and Alternative Medicine in Pediatrics. Pediatrics 2008;122;1374-
1386. DOI: 10.1542/peds.2008-2173.
[12] Jean D, Cyr C. Use of complementary and alternative medicine in a general pediatric clinic. Pediatrics. July 2007; 120 (1):e138-e141.
[13] Tuffs, Annette, Three out of Four Germans Have Used Complementary or Natural Remedies, BMJ, November 2 2002;325:990.
[14] Ullman, Dana. The Homeopathic Revolution: Why Famous People and Cultural Heroes Choose Homeopathy. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 2007.
[15] Jacobs J, Jonas WB, Jimenez-Perez M, Crothers D. Homeopathy for childhood diarrhoea: combined results and meta-analysis from three randomized, controlled clinical trials. Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal 2003; 22: 229-234.
[16] Jacobs J, Springer DA, Crothers D. Homeopathic treatment of acute otitis media in children: a preliminary randomized placebo-controlled trial. Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal 2001; 20: 177­183.
[17] Frei, H, Everts R, von Ammon K, Kaufmann F, Walther D, Hsu-Schmitz SF, Collenberg M, Fuhrer K, Hassink R, Steinlin M, Thurneysen A. Homeopathic treatment of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: a randomised, double blind, placebo controlled crossover trial. Eur J Pediatr., July 27,2005164:758-

Read more at:

Monday, November 09, 2009


Today I was an assistant in my son's Catechesis of the Good Shepherd atrium. In the course of the opening time of singing, we happened to sing the song "Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary/pure and holy/tried and true/with thanksgiving/I want to be a living/sanctuary for you." My friend Jeff, who was also assisting today, happened to ask the children what a sanctuary was. In less than a second, my brain checked out from this vocabulary review as the image and words sprang to my mind: sanctuary = holy place; ok... next? But there was my son with his hand up, and he responded "A sanctuary is a place where you go to be safe."


It was one of those ripping the needle off the record album moments for me. Sanctuary. A place of safety. Hmmm. Holiness. Safety. Hmmm.

In the God-vocabulary recesses of my mind, the word holiness/sanctuary and the song itself (which I learned many years ago) conjured up images of being clean, scrubbed, no junk, "picture perfect," flawless, immaculate. These certainly are not evil associations, but I realized that these also suggest to me the idea of effort, striving, and -- especially -- great potential for loss. When my son mentioned this concept of sanctuary as a place of safety, entirely different images come to mind: love, comfort, peace, acceptance, freedom, relaxation, fullness, joy. These associations suggest to me that this is a gift, not something I have to struggle to maintain or earn. And there might even be a scrap or two of junk lying about.

Somehow the idea of safety brought my mind to my friend Joe. He has been, in ways simultaneously great and small, a catalyst in my life this year both just as himself and as our parish choir director. But there is an interesting twist for me with this concept of safety as I think about this friend. Now, I think of my husband as one who gives my life its solid foundation. He is a steady-Eddy, and the face of loyalty and security themselves. I am blessed to have a husband with whom I don't have any concerns of volatility or that leaves-you-guessing sort of sense. He is the face of Christ giving me certainty, constancy, hope. But when I think of Joe I think of a dynamic that is understandably very different. Actually, the image that came to mind right away was of the taxi ride to the top of the Mount of Transfiguration. If you have ever taken that trip, you cannot forget it. The roads are far too narrow for tour buses to climb, so they all park at the bottom of Mt. Tabor, and tiny little taxis pack in the pilgrims while grinning cabbies take hairpin turns at what seem like horrendous speeds, and deposit the pilgrims at the top of the mountain, where I'm sure many stumble out with racing hearts and prayers of thanks on their lips. They are safe. The drivers know it all along, but the passengers aren't always so sure. Joe is like this face of Christ, grinning at me reassuringly while I soar with exhilaration (but not without questioning whether I'm actually about to die).

Singing in and of itself is not really something that I feel takes a great deal of courage, but singing either with a choir or cantoring with an organ requires a certain kind of unity, a tiny kind of death to oneself. I have always been used to singing any which way I feel like in church; inventing harmonies, switching octaves, etc. But the kind of singing I do now calls for the sort of courage that is not about standing in front of others and being heard (yawn), but the courage to contribute what is mine in coordination with someone else, and not as a freestylist. Maybe you can grasp how this is requires an act of courage for me. The other people involved become important to me, and I to them. I, who have had such a habit of living in a solitary way, even among people. It just brings me a sense of wonder again and again. And I've found many implications for my broader life, well beyond music, but born within this meaning: politics, interior life, relationships. Singing doesn't generally make me question if I'm so close to the edge that I'm about to plummet to my death, but these other things sure do!

So, I look at Joe, and I see Christ telling me I am safe. I am in a sanctuary, a safe place. It is a gift to me, this love, comfort, peace, acceptance, freedom, relaxation, fullness, joy. It is given to me not as an end in itself, but so that I face the challenges of life with courage and thereby make it possible for others to find a sanctuary as well.

And I wonder... maybe this is what holiness is actually all about after all.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Marshall Fritz, pray for us

For the better part of this year as I pray each morning I have included among those whose intercession I ask, this man, Marshall Fritz, who passed away one year ago today.

Marshall Fritz 1943-2008

I never met Marshall, but I know his daughter Annie from our mutual membership in a Catholic email forum. When Marshall was nearing the end of his life and Annie was asking for our prayers, I was moved by the deep affection she expressed for her father, whom she mentioned had been active in political efforts surrounding homeschooling. Some time later, after his death, I was reading through the various House floor addresses of Congressman Ron Paul, and saw that he had paid tribute to Marshall Fritz as a champion of the liberty movement. Suddenly it clicked in my mind that the man Ron Paul was praising and my friend's father were one and the same person. And I realized how modest Annie was being when speaking of him.

Marshall was the author of the famous World's Smallest Political Quiz. He was the founder of Advocates for Self-Government and the Alliance for the Separation of School and State. But beyond these accomplishments, what has moved me to ask for his intercession daily is the testimony of his daughter, and of another friend of his whom I have met, Jim Babka.

In late March of this year when I found myself scrambling to put together the Steubenville Tax Day Tea Party, I called everyone I could think of who might be able to suggest a speaker for me, including Annie. We spoke about her father, and I was struck with how the paschal mystery of Christ was evident in his life. That alone motivated me to seek the intercession of someone who, it seemed, certainly understood the challenges I was facing.

The speaker I did secure was Jim Babka. While we ate dinner after the Tea Party, I mentioned that I knew Marshall Fritz' daughter, and she thought maybe she knew of Jim. When I mentioned Marshall's name, a visible change came over Jim's face, as if he were in the presence of the Sacred. He told me the stories of his encounters with Marshall, which I have serendipitously found he also blogged, almost verbatim as he told them to me. Here is an except, but please go read the whole thing:

I’d first met Marshall in person back in 1999, but it was only in passing at a mutual friend’s house. We were re-introduced in 2004 when he was looking for someone to do some writing and other consulting for him. One thing led to another, and I was on a project that required me to meet him at a conference of 16,000 people in Indianapolis. We arrived at the convention knowing what we wanted to accomplish, but unsure just how we would do it, starting with how to get into all the events. Marshall paused as we passed the press room.

He had an idea.

Marshall pulled out his organization’s newsletter, which hadn’t been published in months, and like the boy who shouts, “Eureka!” he declared, “We’ll get press passes. I’m a member of the media. I’m a newsletter editor. And now you’re my reporter.”

“Marshall,” I protested, “I’m not a reporter. And that newsletter doesn’t make you a member of the media.”

“Sure, you can be a reporter. Aren’t you planning on writing a report for my donors describing why I brought you here and what we accomplished?”

“Well, yeah,” I replied uncertainly, while realizing there was some logic to his point.

“And as far as whether or not this newsletter makes me a member of the media, shouldn’t we let them decide that? After all, it can’t hurt to ask.” With Marshall, it never hurt to ask. In fact, it might hurt if he hadn’t asked.

I followed him into that media room, but stayed a few paces back, perhaps somewhat out of embarrassment, as he approached the attractive secretary at the desk. She greeted him. He greeted her. Now Marshall was always interested in where you came from. He told me that it helped him remember people better. And so he found out where this young lady was from. But then he struck pay dirt.

He found out that she used to work in Fresno — and that was where Marshall was from. And he knew someone from Fresno that he thought she might know — a man named Phil. It turned out she did know Phil, though it had been a few years since she’d seen him. Marshall whipped out his phone, ran down his speed dial, told Phil who he had sitting in front of him, and the secretary caught up with Phil for five minutes right there on Marshall’s phone.

Then Marshall asked her if she knew a particular clergyman. It turned out that he had been her pastor. Marshall opened his phone again, slid down the speed dial, and told the Pastor who was sitting in front of him. Just like before, she caught up with an old acquaintance.

And it was only then that Marshall told her he needed her help. She was thrilled to be of assistance. We got those press passes, along with access to the press lounge which had free books, adequate space to sit and write on your laptop, Internet connectivity, and free beverages (donuts at times too).

What was striking in Jim's telling of this story was not so much that Marshall was able to procure what they needed, but that his attitude towards life was one of being a connector of people. And that's putting it blandly. He and Annie both emphasized that there simply was no one like Marshall. Like this: "No, you don't see what I mean. I mean literally -- you have NEVER met anyone anything like him."

I have heard it claimed that Libertarianism is inconsistent with Catholicism because it lacks a component of solidarity. I think that for anyone knowing Marshall, who was an ardent Catholic and to many, the face of the Libertarian movement, one could not even think that. It seemed he was solidarity personified, and he inspired it in others. (One could just as easily dismiss Catholicism as nothing but a bunch of legalistic rules and practices -- certainly one would think that if one had only met Catholics who lived that way. All mere ideologies fail; truths are for being lived.)

Marshall had a website which celebrated his impending death. It states: "I'm terminal. So are you. We need to sort out what's important and get it done."

I ask for Marshall's prayers because I desire to be a truly free person who is invested in others, not bound by societal dictates and petty fears, but by truth. As Annie's email signature line says:

Seek the truth. Conform your life to it. -- Marshall Fritz.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The Way Things Are

Being with the way things are calls for an expansion of ourselves. We start from what is, not from what should be; we encompass contradictions, painful feelings, fears, and imaginings, and -- without fleeing, blaming, or attempting correction -- we learn to soar, like the far-seeing hawk, over the whole landscape. The practice of being with the way things are allows us to alight in a place of openness, where "the truth" readies us for the next step, and the sky opens up.

Rosamund Zander and Benjamin Zander, The Art of Possibility, p. 111.

Monday, November 02, 2009

The Wet Man in the Desert

When I attended the CL Spiritual Exercises this May at St. Meinrad Abbey, Fr. Alex told this story to describe an encounter with Christ in another person.

Imagine you are in the desert. Now think, what happens to you in the desert. If you have no water, you die, right? You could have all sorts of other things with you, but if you have no water you will eventually die. Now imagine that suddenly you see, walking by you, a man who is saturated, dripping from head to toe, in water. What is the truly human response to seeing him? You run. You have one goal. You run to this man and you say "You have something that I need, that I desperately need so that I can live. Where did you get this water? Show me! Can you take me there?"

This is the truly human response, the truly holy response. But are there not many other responses possible?

One can truly be in the desert but not realize the danger of the desert. One can convince oneself that being parched, being hot, being listless, is all part of the normal course of things, because, after all, this is the way everyone around me seems, too. Human beings can adapt tremendously and endure all sorts of hardship and learn to just suck it up. Who needs water?

One can see the wet man and be interested, but think "Well, I guess he's just one of life's fortunate ones. I'm not like those people. Things don't go well for me. Look -- he's got water, I don't. Poor me." One could, I suppose, hate the person who has been to the water, approach him and kill him if self-pity morphs into hatred.

One could see the wet man and think, "Wow. He has water. I wish I had that. That's amazing. I wonder when I'll find water." It could be fear, passivity, self-hatred, or some other factor that that keeps his heart closed to approaching the other.

One could run to the wet man and say "Just let me lick you! Let me wring out your clothes... give me everything you have!" But this is so unreasonable, for certainly the small amount that is evident on this man is nothing compares to what has filled him and what the other needs, and even less compared to the source that was able to drench and quench him so.

No, the only thing to do is to take the human need seriously enough, and to understand human limitations well enough, to have the courage and humility to go to the wet man and ask to be taken straight to the source.

Now, what can the wet man say? He might be an idiot who doesn't realize he is wet and that the desert is hot. He may have a short memory that he's been somewhere wet. He may simply live among drenched people and not get out much, not realize that there are people out in the desert who are dying. He may be a proud man who assumes the dying man's need is all about him. He may then be scared off by the man's desperation and struggle with his inadequacy to meet his need. But what needs to happen is that he knows the irreplaceable value the water source is to his life and to everyone else's. He needs to simply say "Come. I'll show you."

When I think of how God has established His kingdom to be dependent upon our cooperation with His grace, it seriously boggles my mind.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Wounds melt away when they are exposed to love

November 1, 2009


My dearest apostle, how pleased I am with your efforts. Shall I tell you all that pleases Me? I am pleased that you accept My words and welcome them into your heart. I am pleased because as you welcome My words into your heart, you welcome My graces into your life. Many come and go in My service. But you do not do this. You remain in My service. It will take eternity for Me to show you My gratitude. When I say service, you no doubt think practically. You think of work, of heaven’s work, which includes the tasks that you complete for Me and for others in My name. This is good. I so badly need those who are willing to work for Me. But when I say service, I want you to also think of love. You see, we need bridges built that will transport God’s children safely into My heart. But the invitation to cross the bridge from isolation to the love of God will be extended through your love, through My presence in your heart. My love will flow out from you to others and they will find out that the wounds they suffer are vulnerable to love. Wounds melt away when they are exposed to love. Love, rooted in Me, is always selfless. It is quiet rather than boisterous. It waits patiently, willing to accept suffering for the greater good of the soul in front of it. The greater good will always be reconciliation with Me but this reconciliation between the Creator and the created is deeply personal and takes place in the privacy of the soul. Dearest children of God, you have been chosen to accept My love and to use that love to draw others back to Me. I am watching closely as you struggle for greater holiness. I am watching closely as you advance. I am with you in your own suffering and I allow loneliness for every serving apostle because it is only through this loneliness that you understand how badly you need Me. Your loneliness then becomes a heavenly port in a storm of activity through which you draw graces down into the world. You see that you suffer. When you return to Me forever, you will see that your suffering, accepted in My name, advanced not only My intentions, but yours. Be at peace, little apostle. I am involved in all that occurs in your life. I am with you. I will not leave you.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Sympathy for the Humanity Within Me

"To meet Christ we must first formulate our human problem seriously." ... Precisely because Christ took my human problem seriously, I can look it in the face -- now, yes, because I am no longer afraid of it -- and truly begin to formulate my human problem. It is not because I have become a philosopher... but... because He brought out into the open that need that was confused.... [T]he encounter (with Christ) does not close the human problem; on the contrary, it is precisely here that the adventure truly begins.
Looking on the Humanity Within Us with Sympathy, Notes from the synthesis by Julian Carron at the CL University Central Equipe, Feb., 2007, quoting from Luigi Giussani's The Religious Sense.
The adventure truly begins.

I am attempting to draw into writing a synthesis I am experiencing. Writing usually helps me to understand, if I am really doing the work of writing. We'll see.

The article from which I quoted is found in its entirety here. Reading it again shows me that the thoughts Carron was sharing nearly three years ago are in many ways the same things he is repeating to us now in the movement of Communion and Liberation.

What strikes me from the article is this: a prerequisite for meeting Christ is to formulate our human problem seriously. I want to help people meet Christ. In Him is all the riches, all the everything, that any person needs, wants, desires. If I love people, if I have the slightest regard for them, what I want for them is Christ.

But what good is my desire for others if what I perceive in them is a disinterest in Christ, or in going deeper in Christ, or in even being open to the possibility that there is more to a relationship with Christ than they already know? (Is there anything more discouraging than to hear a Christian say they already have all the Christ they are interested in, thank you very much?)

Carron tell us that if we desire to meet Christ, we must "look on the humanity within us with sympathy." He goes on to say that we do this by "taking seriously everything we experience, to discover every aspect, to seek the complete meaning."

Now, this man speaks my language, because I am all geared toward digging out complete meaning and taking things seriously. In the last year, though, I've benefited most from turning this tendency toward my experience, because I have exercised my "gear" more comfortably on an intellectual level. I think that in the past I have spent more time avoiding the pain I expected to find (and therefore, generally did) in my experience. I use the term "experience" as it seems to me, that is, inseparable from relationships and interactions with people, an area about which I have been admittedly guarded and hesitant. This year has been an experience of stumbling over guardedness and hesitance and tremblingly seeing about having this sympathetic look on my humanity.

What I'm learning, I think, is that there is but one humanity. There is this thing, this essence, that we call humanity, and it is within me and within you. This is what we mean when we say we are "all children of God." Some children of God live an enmity with Him, and eternity apart from Him is a clear option for all, but these are still His creation, and in this sense, His children. What I think I have grasped is that as long as there is another person upon whom I can look and say "I hate this person, s/he makes me so infuriated that I wish s/he would burn in hell; s/he is a worthless, rotten slimebag," there is a degree to which I myself cannot look at myself, at my humanity, with true sympathy. I actually loathe myself as well.

Conversely, if I have learned to have sympathy for the humanity within me, it is only because I have met Someone who is filled with compassion for me. God in Christ has given Himself to me in such a way that I become human. I am redeemed. I am shown the value with which I was created. I discover God's original intent for me, which is my happiness. And at some point, I begin to look at myself with this same sympathy, born of the compassion I have experienced through Christ, through the Body of Christ.

I'll tell a story of something which has been happening for me over the last many months, even though I thought I was too old for it. I have been reminded of my father. In being reminded of my father, who was a very problematic figure in my life, I was faced with reconsidering some very foundational assumptions I had made about myself. There is a way in which we are enveloped in our generative past that is automatic and effortless and even at times seemingly against our conscious desires, like the way standing near a fire causes one to smell like smoke, even after moving far away from it. The reason I thought I was too old for all this was that I'd already run the gamut of responses one can have to an alcoholic parent: hatred, blame, disdain, avoidance, shame... but then also by God's grace, forgiveness and an attempt at reconciliation as well. This was all many years ago. But this year, I've been wondering at and pondering over a person I know, who sort of sparked this memory of my father in me, and this pondering has been part of a graced chain of changes in me.

I'll tell a different story to illustrate this story. When I was 19, I had a friend named Mary with whom I met to pray occasionally because I was desperate for someone to pray with. (Why would be another story, but I can only handle so many stories with a story.) One day I arrived at Mary's apartment and after Mary greeted me, her 3-year-old daughter Tina, a bubbly and outgoing little girl, came to greet me, too. She grabbed my legs and hugged them. I will never forget my response, nor hers. I stood stiff as a board, unmoved, looking down at her and wondering what in the world just happened. What was this little thing doing to me, and how was I supposed to respond? I had no clue whatsoever. I was frozen. I remember Tina's laughing, happy smile dropping off her face and her mouth going agape just a bit, and her eyes going big. She slowly backed away from me, I think truly frightened. She did not know what to make of an adult that acted this way. In contemplating that exchange, I can see that Tina's reaction to me allowed me to see the dire state of my heart. In contemplating what she exuded, and how she recoiled, I glimpsed what I lacked.

So this person that has become a part of my life has been like Tina for me, except our exchanges are far more subtle, and on-going instead of a one-time thing. In the process one specific area of change in me has to do with allowing the grace of God to supersede some of those smoky-residue-like problematic things. Like, for example, how if I had a physical need for food, water, a restroom, etc., I would judge that it wasn't important because, after all, it's only me. Honestly, what do my needs matter. Demanding, or even thinking about, justice for myself seemed wrong, arrogant. But I have sensed the Lord teaching me that these attitudes about myself have to go, out of obedience to Him and His law of love. That this law of love has to extend to myself.

As I embraced that truth, I saw something else that amazed me. I saw that as I struggled to do the best I knew how in relationship with this person, I found myself recognizing in my own behavior some things I had feared and judged harshly in my father. Only suddenly, I could imagine what it felt like to have been in his shoes, and instead of fear and judgment, I was overcome with compassion, and an awareness that my judgment had been wrong. I saw that my father's humanity and my humanity are one and the same. In order to truly look on myself, my humanity, with sympathy, it seems I had to have this experience of both justice and mercy (which are inseparable).

Now, this metamorphosis has ramifications for all of life, even political life. Sympathy, fear, justice, self-loathing, love, mercy, myself, others. It is too simple to just slap a Jesus bumper sticker over it all and say "let's all love one another and be like Jesus." I think there is nothing more sickening than turning what is to be a deep, inner, personal, passionate experience and turning it into a niceness slogan. No. We have to start with our guts. What rips apart your guts? What makes you feel like the raw, aching need that you are -- that we all are? I need to experience Christ taking my human problem seriously so that I am no longer afraid to look it in the face. Then the adventure can begin.

Quemadmodum desiderat cervus ad fontes aquarum, ita desiderat anima mea ad te, Deus.

As a post script, I encourage you to take 20 minutes to watch this short film. I watched it while I was in the midst of writing this post. It is the story of my redemption, just like yours.

Friday, October 16, 2009

A Different Gift

Tonight I had a most unusual experience. We were at an event at our parish, and afterwards a friend who is pregnant and I got chatting. She reviewed for me the history of her ebb and flow of fertility; times when she conceived easily, times when she couldn't conceive at all, when she miscarried, when she never expected to become pregnant again. It was the whole nine yards of conversation. I could almost hear the unspoken thoughts coming through: "So, you never know, Marie, despite the number of years -- the same thing might happen to you!"

I could very easily imagine a day when my heart would have started beating fast and I would have broken out into a sweat. Or worse, broken down into tears, these words pummeling at me like bricks falling on my already bruised and aching body.

But tonight, it was just a chat about her experience, and appreciating that she was exuberant about an unexpected turn in her life.

And I know I've had an unexpected turn in my life, too.

It was just over a year ago the last time I found it necessary to run out the back door at a baby shower. Too much baby talk, too many pregnant women, too much pain in my heart. A complete inability to face it.

One of the transformations that has happened for me this year has been peace about our family size. I don't know why it should be, but it is true: infertility just doesn't weigh on me anymore. I realized this somewhere in the late Spring. Today sure confirmed it.

Infertility is a strange kind of mourning because it is mourning the absence of something, like the loss of something that never was there. So it is hard to articulate being free of an absence. I guess it is just called contentment. It, too is a gift of God, just like the yearning is. It's just... different.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Anatomy of a Naru Hodo Moment

I've just had an insight, a naru hodo moment, that I must try to capture in words here.

This came about through an experience that has happened to me many times in my life, and of course it all happened while I was doing dishes and making food, which squeaks in just ahead of the shower for my naru hodo moment settings. I was grappling in my thoughts with something that was feeling like a difficulty, a blockage, in my life right now. But suddenly a metaphor came to mind of how this blockage could be dislodged. It felt very insistent. I began to imagine how this metaphor could actually come to pass in reality, and how I would take it in, how it would strike me, how I would respond to it. As I went through this mental exercise, the power of that metaphor really penetrated my heart, and I actually felt different.

I realized that it was all "imaginary." I have had this sticking point sometimes with the charism I follow, of Communion and Liberation, that real-life experience is emphasized as the way we encounter Christ. So, was this a real-life experience that happened in my imagination? Or was it just an intellectual or emotional head trip? Or just a fantasy world?

I thought of a woman who was 39 weeks pregnant and grappling with fear over childbirth. I pictured her going through a visualization of labor, and encountering her fears, and seeing herself able to go ahead, anyway. Then I imagined her saying "Oh, what a relief. That's all taken care of!" Of course, not exactly. She had faced her fears, and she no longer felt paralyzed by them. But she would still need to go through childbirth. There is no guarantee that what she visualized would be anything like the actual experience of her child's birth. But in this moment, she was prepared in a way she hadn't been before. Prepared for facing the moment when it came.

Was my mental exercise a real experience? Yes, and no. It opened me up to the possibility of facing this blockage and believing it could be overcome. (And I just wrote about my struggles to do this in my last post!) And more than that -- for me today it was not just the sense that I could over come this, but that I will. It was like a promise, a deposit guaranteeing that which is to come, though not of my orchestration. It was a very real preparation, even though it happened in my head. But it was not the real experience of resolution, just like visualizing labor does not produce a baby. I realize, though, that sometimes simply being able to believe seems so powerful to me that I forgo the actual experience. I remember the Lord impressing on me, maybe 15 years ago these words: "Don't disappoint Me by going half way and then turning back!" I didn't really understand that at the time, but perhaps now I will be able to. I am able to do so very little that is spontaneous unless I am in this place of meditation at my sink or stove, but alas, that isn't where I live my whole life, and it isn't where I interact with others. I am always warmed by what feels like God's mercy for me being just the way I am: introverted, cerebral, intuitive. This little gift today, and the feeling of making sense out of the way I experience the world, extends my ability to delight in all God's works, and to know He is the Master Designer.

And it just makes me happy.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Gotta Wrestle this Specter to the Ground

It's late, and I should be in bed, but it is also quiet in my house now, something that seems to never happen these days when I'm awake. So, I'm going to write. Write first, think about it later.

Awhile back I wrote this post about a song I was going to play on guitar with my church choir. The last comment dangling there in my combox was left unanswered, at least publicly: How did it go? That question in my own mind has been eating a hole in me ever since, and I think it is time I wrestle it to the ground. Isn't that what this blog is for, anyway?

Last Saturday evening after Mass my friend who does the cantor scheduling nabbed me and told me what a wonderful job I did with the song the week before. I don't hang on compliments as a rule, but I wanted to take that one and mentally frame it and look at it several times. It didn't really make that much of a difference, but at least it gave someone else's perception of reality to think about.

There was something very deeply strange about this experience of playing my guitar that Sunday. I was shaking, but it wasn't from nervousness. I've played in church, at Masses, in front of people, on stages, at concerts, in all sorts of settings -- for years. Like 30 of them. I started playing guitar when I was 11. No, the strange thing was how I brought that guitar into this context that has been so strangely powerful and meaningful in my life this year. When I showed up for choir practice the Tuesday before that Sunday (the day I wrote the aforementioned blog post) I actually left my guitar in the car at first, until Joe (the director) pointed out that it seemed I'd forgotten something. I joked about how, upon my arrival, I was only able to remember how badly I needed to use the restroom, so I'd left the guitar behind. But I knew that wasn't actually true. I needed the reassurance that he was serious about this proposition, and in fact I had almost left it at home out of disbelief. It was only a conversation, a casual request, after all. There was no, you know, blood pact or anything.

So, after rehearsal I stammered out to Joe something to the effect of "So, I assume I brought this thing here for some reason?" He invited me to let him hear it. The song, that is. Images flash through my mind: me and Gail, me and Marcia, me and Lothair, me and Joe Glatzel.... about 20 years worth of "listen to this song." But this is not "listen to this song," it is "let me hear it." This is not a cowardly demand from me, it is an invitation from him. My mind was fluttering like a butterfly trying to get outside through a solid pane of glass. Joe was fine with my honestly pitiful attempt at the picking of this song. I'm guessing he doesn't play guitar and therefore doesn't realize what it sounds like to me. We spend most of the time debating what key to play it in, all because I'm assuming he plans to play it the way he talked about hearing it -- with piano.

In a day or two I calm down and realize I don't know how to do the introduction, nor do I know exactly how to follow a piano. I realize I need to call Joe and ask him about this, but my strange case of phone phobia overtakes me. I put it off as long as I can, until Saturday morning. At which time I learn he expects me to do it alone, leading the choir and the congregation. I hang up the phone, and the more I think about it, the more I think he is nuts. I had arranged to meet him briefly after the Saturday Mass, and I try to suggest a change of plans. Does not fly. At all.

So Sunday arrives, and I can see my heart beating through my dress. My other choir pals assure me it will be fine. We never run through the introduction, and I'm cringing inside. Joe sits down to his prelude and assures me "you'll be just fine." Generally I believe him, but this time I knew he just had no idea what he was saying. At least, not to me.

The offertory came, and I played what I knew to be the introduction. I was the only one who knew that's what it was, just as I knew would happen. Oh, and I did completely fumble several chords, like fingers on the wrong fret fumble. When the choir was not cued in, I repeated the same chord for a couple of measures while seeing if I could taser Joe with my eyeballs. For some reason he didn't fall to the ground writhing in pain. He cued, we sang the song, and that was it.

But that was just what was visible and audible on the outside. What was going on inside me was screaming so loudly and rumbling so violently, and yet it took me several days to grasp it.

I can use this metaphor for how God has brought about healing and transformation in my life by the vehicle of this choir this year: It is like going through a photo album. I'm going about my business, and then God picks out a snapshot of my past, of my heart and holds it up for me to see. He asks me to look at it, and then to look at the reality around me. Then He asks me "Marie, is the reality you see now anything like this snapshot of the past?" And I eventually have to say, "No, Lord, it isn't." And I come to know and realize more deeply that the Lord is my Redeemer. This whole process doesn't happen in moments. It's more like weeks or months.

But that Sunday, it wasn't just a photo I was being shown. There was a real live artifact right there with me, AND I was singing a song I had learned back when I was a teenager. Double blast-from-the-past whammy. Somehow that experience dredged up not the image of me in music ministry at Franciscan University or at Risen Savior Fellowship, and not the memory of me with my friends, but the memory of a much more difficult reality. For many years, my guitar was my primary escape from emotional misery, sadness, depression, despair, isolation. I poured out my heart in songs that I wrote when I did not know how to speak to people. I wrote prayers when I did not know how to make any connection between Jesus and the Body of Christ, His Church, real people. For far longer than I care to think about I was very much like Simon and Garfunkel's I am a Rock: I've built walls/A fortress deep and mighty/That none may penetrate/I have no need of friendship; friendship causes pain/Its laughter and its loving I disdain.

And the truth was, when this "photo" was held before me to examine, it frightened me more than all the others I'd seen combined. That question: "Marie, is the reality you see now anything like this snapshot of the past?" frightened me. I did not see... I almost feel I should say I do not see, or am just seeing, that walls are something I build, or something I render flat. I determine admission to my fortress. Maybe friendship does cause pain, but living like a Rock causes all feeling to cease. It causes numbness. It causes walking death. I have tremendous need of friendship. I have tremendous friends. Like Joe often tells us in choir: you have the notes, you just need to believe that you have them! But at that moment, and in the aftermath of playing that song that Sunday, I could not believe. The question arose before me like the most frightening specter. And all I could see was my former self, holding that guitar, being alone. Like it was the only possibility for my life.

But the only way that specter could be true is if I could simultaneously deny how I came to be standing there that day with that $*#&! guitar in the first place! Sometimes I just cannot process reality that quickly. And sometimes it is simply very hard for me to accept happy things. I'm pretty good at gritting my teeth and weathering the icy wind ripping into me, but to simply feel the sunshine on my face and smile can cause me to get weepy.

So, my friends, do me this little favor. Help this recovering Rock and Island. Laugh with me for the joy of friendship.

But don't laugh at mistakes I make on the guitar or I shall hit you with it.