Monday, March 30, 2009

Tea Partying

I haven't been pondering about here recently because I've been busy organizing the Steubenville Tax Day Tea Party. Please check in to this blog for updates, join us on Facebook, let me know you plan to come, and spread the word!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Prophets, and Those Who Reject Them

These portions of the readings at today's Mass struck me:

In those days, all the princes of Judah, the priests, and the people added infidelity to infidelity, practicing all the abominations of the nations and polluting the LORD's temple which he had consecrated in Jerusalem.

Early and often did the LORD, the God of their fathers, send his messengers to them, for he had compassion on his people and his dwelling place. But they mocked the messengers of God, despised his warnings, and scoffed at his prophets, until the anger of the LORD against his people was so inflamed that there was no remedy. (2 Chr. 36:14-16)

Brothers and sisters: God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ — by grace you have been saved —, raised us up with him, and seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast. For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them. (Eph. 2:4-10)

First, I was struck by the reality that faced those messengers of whom 2 Chronicles speaks. They were solitary voices. The people of power, the religious people, and the typical person on the street had broken faith and their lives proved it. The prophets were sent as God's communique to these people. God meant for their attention to be caught and their eyebrows to be raised by the lives and words of the prophets and their differentness. Why? Infidelity causes suffering and destroys peace and hope and God has compassion on this suffering. We hear how the people reacted -- they mock, despise and scoff. And how about those prophets? What strikes me is that they exit stage left and we don't hear more about them in this narrative. Did they feel angry? Frustrated? Overcome with sadness? Did they start to doubt the veracity of their message? To whom did they turn?

It is interesting to me that the text suggests the Lord's anger was inflamed not so much by the infidelity of His people or their abominations, but by their rejection of His advances towards them as he tries to make it clear within their lives what His will is by sending people, who are, and who speak, messages, to them. It is interesting to me also that even though the prophets have no control over how their message is received, God does not allow them and their memory to be disrespected forever, but takes their part.

That same compassion is evident in St. Paul's letter. God is always moved by His love. It is not about us, it is about Him. God has an intricate plan and has created a part for each one. We are not His workhorses or His grunts, however. As God's beloved creation, we truly find our freedom in doing that for which we are created. As we give our all to Him the gift we receive in return is the fullness of ourselves, and we are free in turn again to lose ourselves in God. The circularity of this is like God's embrace around us.

In the midst of this the message I took from Mass today was to love carefully. By this I understand the need to make an effort to look well to the details of how to make use of the opportunities that come my way, like an artist who looks for just the right precise detail to add to a painting, or a musician the precise finesse on a tone. Both seek to capture Beauty as it is reflected in the work he does. So too I want to seek to capture Beauty in loving -- not beauty that is done because anyone is likely to notice it, but because the execution of a work intrinsically demands it. Because it seeks Beauty. Love, seeking Beauty. Love, seeking Love. Love carefully.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Yes, yes, yes and YES!

There's something else I've discovered as I continue to unpack my experience of singing with my church choir. Maybe two something elses.

The first thing is a joyful relief at realizing that I am not in charge. It is hard for me to put into words the depth of this joy, but it is like the joy one should associate with childhood. I have always been an uber-responsible person, even when I lacked the specific know-how for the responsibilities that were mine. I think the type of responsibility I have carried has had a strong scent of carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders. For example, I remember one year when we had a big snowstorm here in Steubenville. After shoveling my sidewalk, I was heading out down the street to essentially shovel the entire street. Because if I wasn't going to do it, who would, you know? And where music is concerned, I have always felt that leading is a sacrifice, because I have no particular talent for leading others. But I did not realize how much of a strain I felt in this until I reflected on how much joy I get out of being part of a choir, led very competently by someone else. Because perhaps the only thing more stressful to me than leading is following someone with whom I find reason to internally critique.

It is just so wonderful that I can flub parts and still hear the director say, "Ok, that was pretty good" to the choir as a whole. I am relieved that the world does not come crashing down if I make a mistake. And it is even better to have mistakes that I am responsible for pointed out and corrected. I know that might be hard for some people to believe, but try going through life without any correction. I tell you, it is dreadful.

The other thing that I've been digging into is the realization that I have not sung in a church choir since becoming a Catholic, so not in the last 16 years or so. Longer than that, really, but it's the Catholic factor, not the time factor I'm thinking of now. There are a few reasons for that, but today I thought of this fact in light of one particular experience. Just after I was confirmed as a Catholic, I went to the Holy Land on pilgrimage with a group led by John Michael Talbot. I was convinced theologically of the truths of Catholicism, but life with Catholic folks was still foreign to me. I struggled hard with the emphasis on holy things and holy places and I was lonely for the world I understood, where everything spiritual was invisible. One night we prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, and I felt this loneliness terribly. I knew that somewhere, the Catholic Church was hiding great riches, great deep spiritual beauty, vibrant, breath-taking, wonderful life... but I didn't know how I was going to find it. As I agonized over this, the priest who was with our group announced it was time to leave, but before we did we could come and touch the rock where Jesus was said to have prayed. With tears I cried out in my heart to Jesus, "Lord, I don't want to touch some stupid rock! I want to touch YOU!"

I know now that the great riches, the beauty, the vibrant life is to be found in those who live the fullness of our Faith. We hold this treasure in earthen vessels. And I won't say that I've held myself back from parish life since that time. I made slow forays, and have had lots of other life adjustments to make with marriage and children. But I did not sing in a choir, even though I love music. There is a kind of holding back there, a sort of fear of having it all turn out to be a lie. But what I realized today is how I have finally opened myself to really verifying that the promise held out to me in entering the Catholic Church by opening myself up to these choir people, most of whom I didn't really know three months ago. Even the opportunity to do so is a gift from God, a gift that I needed others to help me see and embrace. This has been like a conscious, purposeful path of testing whether what God promises is true. And yes, yes, yes and YES -- it is. God is present in the Body of Christ, His people.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Love bids us, give it up

I'm thinking I'm going to completely give up my life of prostitution.

Ok, so now that I have your attention...

I went to the Thursday morning School of Community even though I've officially switched to the Saturday group. I was up, uh earlyenoughtogetthere and my children love to go with me, so off we went. Really, I feel like my life is exploding again in the way it did when I first was venturing into the Catholic Church. So much to process on levels that are not intellectual. And therefore I was just dying to be with my SoC friends this morning.

We talked about lots of things associated with our current text, since that's what we do there. And I was struck by someone's comment about how we meet others, how we meet random people we meet throughout the day, like the checker in the grocery store. As I was meditating on the whole exchange this morning, with this comment as the centerpiece, I thought about this: What is it like to go through life without our person, without our "I" engaged, and without engaging others as true selves, children of God, without that personal dignity that so constitutes what a human being is? In a way, we either act as if we are, or as if others are, or as if we all are, prostitutes. Do not we humans live so often as if the bottom line is self-preservation, which absolutely no one but ourselves is concerned for. Since all we have is ourselves, we have to use "it" as our currency, to exchange for whatever scraps we can get towards our goal of self-preservation. Other people are soulless things which we use for our purposes, for our goal of self-preservation. There is no joy in this kind of life, only maybe some relief when it seems for a moment that we have enough to breathe for awhile.

Right? How often is the checker in the grocery store just the thing which is responsible for letting me get my groceries paid for? Is there a huge difference when we use a self-checkout machine?

Now, I must say that I normally do have human consideration for the random stranger, or at least I have come to have more consideration in the last years. But I do frequently meet random strangers in settings like the grocery story whose actions betray that they are used to being treated as nothing more than objects for the use of others. I've intuited it, but I've not had the words to think about this intuition in these terms before.

This kind of "thing-life" is such a far cry from what Jesus offers us in the gospel, and what the heart cries out for. I am imagining that Jesus might have felt relieved talking with the prostitutes of his day, because at least they were in touch with what their life consisted of. I imagine it was the folks who used others and submitted to use by others, probably especially in the name of religion, that really gave Him the biggest cause to sigh. Or weep.

"Your Heavenly Father knows what you need before you ask!" We do not make ourselves, and God our Father cares deeply about all the minute facets of our lives, down to numbering our hairs. How could we forget that He cares for us this way? Maybe better yet, how can we know it? As Charlie Peacock says, we can only possess what we experience. We need those who have experienced the love of Christ to love us that way. (Thank you Fr. Giussani, naru hodo.)

Years ago I thought it was lame to say our mission as Christians was to love. I took that to mean a sort of "being nice," which in fact we discussed today as completely not the point of Christianity. Love is so different. Love acknowledges a person. Not a doer of services, not a giver of pleasure, but a person. A person created by God for relationship with the Infinite. In this way it seems the Good News is not hard to share, but indeed one of the hardest things for some people to believe is that they have this kind of value, this kind of meaning.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

An Incarnational Naru Hodo Moment

Just now, after noon Mass, my children and I went for a little stroll through the outdoor stations of the cross. As we strolled I stopped to genuflect in front of each station, quietly repeating the traditional prayer "We adore you O Christ, and we bless you, because by your holy cross You have redeemed the world." It is a gorgeous spring day here, blue sky, sunny, warm temperatures, and the daffodils have poked out of the ground, some with swelling buds. As we walked, I thought of The Secret Garden, which my son and I have just finished reading, and how "Magic" (aka God) makes everything come to life, even that which was long given up for dead. We pulled some dead leaves and branches off the emerging daffodils, eager to help life bloom. And each time I genuflected, I had wafts of thoughts of the Incarnation sweep over me. I thought of my significant conversion at the Christmas Eve Midnight Mass of 1991. I thought of Fr. Giussani and his insistence on Christ present with us in the Church. I thought of Jesus' suffering. About a third of the way through, my son began genuflecting along with me, and about three quarters of the way through, my daughter joined in, complete with complaints when my son was talking to her "when she was trying to pray." We arrived at the end where the Resurrection is proclaimed and beyond that where the rejoicing statue of Mary stands. I realized how much of Catholic theology is missed the more one intellectualizes it and the less one just approaches it through the common sense of a lived human life. What does Mary have to do with Christ crucified?! Isn't she detracting from the salvific work of Christ? Um, hello? She was there... she is His mother... she rejoiced at seeing God's plan fulfilled... she has a thing or two to teach us because SHE LIVED IT! My children had collected little beautiful tidbits as we walked: leaves, stones, sticks. We saw a heart shaped rock lodged at one station, and immediately my son picked up a rock and determined to carve a heart shape into it. As we left the stations area we passed the Nativity scene (also a permanent fixture there on campus). My daughter asked, could she go in the gate and give her gifts to baby Jesus? Sure. She went back a few times to give more gifts. My son was not finished carving his rock, but we made a plan to return tomorrow (with a picnic! I was getting hungry). On the way home we talked a lot about whether Jesus would like those gifts. I assured them both He loves them, not because they gave gifts, but because He loves them. But I also assured Him the gifts they gave or are giving truly make Him very happy. My son asked me several times, "Really?" as he wrestled this into his heart. Yes, really. I noticed in their very natural and unprompted actions the same pattern they use in Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. They see what God does, they make it theirs, and they find a way to say thank you. What could be more beautiful. Before we left, my daughter asked my son to make her a little person out of, um, worm castings. (This is a talent of his!) He did, but as he did, she took part of it and squished it flat. He did not like this one bit. I reminded him he was making it as a gift for her, implying that she was free to do with it what she wanted. I told him I understood his frustration though because the creator of something has an intent for his creation, a way he means for it to be, and sometimes the one to whom it is gifted doesn't accept the creator's intent, and wants to do something else with it. And then I went back to thinking about the Incarnation. Are there other models through which I can think about God's plan for my life? Are there other effective ways besides experience for me to learn things? Are there ways I like better sometimes? Yes. I could make all of life an intellectual endeavor and talk about the ideas of things, as comes naturally to me, and forget about the human, incarnational experience. But if I know my Creator, my Redeemer, why can't love simply prompt me to do things the way He likes to do them? Aha! It isn't a matter of "have to" or "it only works this way." It is a matter of "be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God" (Eph. 5:1-2) It is a matter of love drawing a little girl, this little girl, out of isolation into the playground of life, and thereby healing her.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Still Thinking About my Choir Experience

I've chronicled my experience thus far with singing in my parish's choir here and here. To summarize what I wrote, I was welcomed under very unusual circumstances with a rather intense welcome on the part of the other members. It was a pretty clearly fitting CL example of encountering Christ in His Church. And then I wrote about how, indeed, this following of Christ as I had met Him was having a definite impact on me. It was just hard for me to find the words to speak about it, or even think about it.

It's dawning on me, though.

It really isn't rocket science, but I think for me to really see it, I had to discover it myself and find the word for it. What I find in this choir is love: not some self-conscious plan of supporting one another, or an effort or a project of being a part of each other's lives, but an organic Christian love. I've been seeing it again and again and again in various interactions among different members, like folks with health issues being supported, others being congratulated on accomplishments, vacation news being warmly shared and welcomed, bad days being commiserated, tardiness being forgiven, lots of laughter, family members being introduced, and just all the little stuff of life on the part of everyone being honored and remembered. It all seems so normal, but really it amazes me. Being in the midst of this makes me realize what I often dislike about church activities or committees. That is, that this atmosphere of love is missing, and replaced either with plastic faces or with the kind of griping that reminds me of school. This griping is rooted in a belief that something external to us is forcing us to be together, and none of us really want to be where we are. Or both that and plastic faces.

We sang for the vigil Mass this evening. This experience really taught me something. As we began to practice half hour before Mass began our director, Joe, asked for a cantor. It seems he had forgotten to arrange for someone at practice the week before. As a few of the usual suspects were absent, it came down to one of the tenors or myself. As we hemmed and hawed, Joe stated emphatically but not without patience, "I need a cantor!" Now, when you come to recognize Christ speaking through the Body of Christ, it is an amazing thing to find oneself being literally called to duty like this. The tenor could not sight read music and the psalm was a bit tricky. So I became the obvious choice, most clearly obvious to the tenor and to Joe.

So there we are, practicing our other music, and in the last few minutes before Mass Joe ran me through the psalm and the gospel acclamation. As soon as I stepped up to the organ I found myself bursting with protestations: I don't have my new bifocals yet. This music is really high. I've never cantored at a choir Mass before. And then I sort of felt my spirit say "would you just shut up and get your thoughts off yourself?" If the Lord calls me to do something, am I going to be like one of those annoying prophets who comes up with all the excuses for myself?

A homily I heard recently discussed an image that captures what I'm grappling with here. It was imagery surrounding drinking the cup Christ gives us, specifically the three stages of picking up the cup, lifting up the cup, and drinking it. Picking it up speaks of facing all of what my life is, even the parts I don't like. Lifting it up speaks of acknowledging the gift of God, and letting one's light shine, so that God can bless others. Drinking the cup speaks of following through and doing, living out what God has given us to do. Essentially the point that spoke to me was the second, this thing of lifting up my life, of proclaiming the gift that God has given to me.

This is precisely where I'm struck right now. See, in my heart I might imagine myself saying "Sure, I'll cantor, no problem." But somewhere between my heart and my head I get this message that butts in and suggests that if I offer myself too readily I'm being too full of myself, too prideful, or just "too." Too intense. Too willing. Too goofy in love with the Lord to just do what He asks. Too. Like the kid in school who always knows the answer and everyone hates her for it. I want to look cool. I've practiced looking cool. And something tells me if I follow the Lord too intensely I don't look cool.

Then there was this other little exchange later on. We sang the Latin chant Agnus Dei, and I habitually always sing a certain harmony. Joe had a name for it, tegano I think. After Mass, Joe was quizzing around to find out who went off singing this harmony, and I was disclosed as the culprit. After discussing the technical nature of this harmony for a few moments, he nicely told me not to sing harmony during Lent. Oh, ok. I felt my face turning bright, hot red. Strictly habit, I assured him. We'd sing it later on, he assured me. Just don't sing harmony during Lent.

Was I upset by this? Oh my gosh, so to the contrary. First, it made me realize that when I sit in the congregation I can sing my little harmony until I pass out, and he would never, ever make a comment. But as part of the choir, I am different. I don't make up my own way of doing things because I belong with this group of people. I have a very strong streak of resisting conformity, and I hate just doing what others do because they do it. But this kind of belonging trumps that strong streak to the point of its being inconsequential. Belonging, this kind of belonging, is, as the CL lingo would put it, something that corresponds so deeply to the desires of my heart that I can effortlessly set aside singing this, my most favorite harmony in the world, because I prefer my belonging to my harmony. The thoughts running through my head as I left Mass were something to the effect that if Joe told me the altos had to levitate to sing their part, I would not only believe I could do it, but I would in fact do it. This is when I realized how real this business of following Christ in this choir actually is to me. Now, I know Joe wouldn't say that. But he has told us after a lousy pre-Mass rehearsal that a piece would be fine, and it was -- I think in part because of his confidence in us.

All pretty amazing stuff.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Contemplating my Husband

I struggled hard throughout my 20s with a desire to marry. It is not an exaggeration to say I dwelt on this desire every single day. And truly, I was a mess. There was so much I didn't know that I didn't know -- like, what it meant to love, for example. All I knew was that I desperately longed for someone to love me because instinctively I knew this would make my life better. Big caveat: I was terrified of people, and especially closed off to real human interaction with men. I just sort of expected it all to work out somehow.

I'll spare you all the stories of the initial steps toward healing through which I stumbled, and fast forward to my time in Japan. God was with me, poorly discerned as my decision to go there was. God rescued me from the inevitable intense emotional pain I was headed into, given my social prowess and my isolation in the country. Well, you know, maybe He didn't rescue me, if you think of a rescue as taking someone out of a scary situation. He didn't. He was with me. Where else could He have been?

You see, I pulled out and used my full arsenal of self-salvation. Working hard at my job failed (quickly!). Attempting to ditch my shyness and adapt a new personality failed. Being intensely religious failed. (And I had had such high hopes for that!) Isolating myself failed. Attaching myself to those more pathologically needy than myself failed. Reaching out to random strangers and random social settings failed. Many of these failures were of an incredible soul-rending intensity. When I prepared to return to the States I had a profoundly strong sense of myself as a complete failure in every dimension of my person. I went, believing I could save the world (or at least a small sector of it), and I returned feeling like vomited food.

One truth that this experience seared into me is that one human is about the same as the next. I knew there are no human saviors, and I felt cured of looking upon certain individuals with awe and being overly impressed. For the first time, this realization opened me up be able to relate to others as equals.

I haven't forgotten this post is about my husband.

Before I met Erol, every other romantic attraction of mine focused on my self-perceived ability or capacity to fix my other. I was always attracted to needy people. My husband was the first attraction where I had no compulsion -- not even the slightest interest -- in fixing. Instead, as we got to know each other, I found myself with my needs being met. I remember one moment of being overwhelmed with this realization. I choked out in a whisper "You make me feel like a princess!" And how did he respond? "You should feel like a princess!" Talk about a completely new paradigm for me.

Pre-hubby men had always been volatile in one way or another: unpredictable, hiding, angry. Erol is the perfect picture of loyalty and stability. I remember going out with his family and some friends when he graduated with his MBA. The restaurant had seriously flubbed some details with our reservation and getting us seated. I was riveted on Erol to see his reaction. He politely but assertively told the waiter the trouble and asked for the situation to be fixed. I was speechless! No tantrum, no swearing, no huffing and puffing, he just handled it. It's almost funny to me now that this made such an impression on me, but I was not used to this. Eleven years later, Erol has made me forget all about fearing being tossed about by moods and circumstances -- even my own.

We do have some differences which didn't seem so marvelous to me at first, but I realize now that my deeper needs are still being met in these dynamics, too. My Master's program was Theology, and I had thought it would be really wonderful to do lots of reading and debating of theological texts. Uh, sorry. No book discussions at our house. Doing a ministry together sounded very romantic to me. But I wanted to teach in RCIA, and he wanted to raise money for charity and serve people food. Honestly, I felt like idiots could raise money and serve food. While I went off to learn by experience that idiots could also teach in RCIA, Erol went about mastering his quiet fraternal service with the Knights of Columbus. I finally realize that the Knights as a lay vocation fits Erol very, very well. And I've gotten my intellectual head out of my intellectual rumpus enough to realize that Jesus sort of likes the service approach more than the "let me impress you with everything I know" approach.

Without my husband I wouldn't have a shred of the ability I do have to plan, to use my time, to have self-control. Without him I would not have pursued many of the hum-drum paths to self-mastery, though I might have read more about them in books and highlighted all the parts I admired the most.

The gift of a spouse is amazing, when you think about it. Do you suppose this is why St. Paul talks about marriage being like Christ and the Church? Not necessarily (just) to line up the man with Christ and the woman with the Church, but to think of how Christ's salvation comes to me through sticking with regular folk in the Church, and specifically sticking with this sacramental vocation to marriage with this one other person, sanctified for me. Marriage is about accepting all of who the spouse is, not going buffet style, serving myself some bits and leaving the rest. Doing this in faith is an amazing adventure.

Thank you, Erol, for sticking with me.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Political Ramblings

Something has been brewing within me for the last many months and has taken on a new life in this calendar year. And that something is a growing political awareness. Oh, my husband has been into politics since his childhood, and I could claim that my interest is all about having something to talk about with him, but really that's not true. If I had to characterize our respective interests in politics, I'd see his as more of a sport and mine as more of an artistic expression.

I strongly dislike partisan politics, and even though I am a registered Republican and even an officer of a Republican club, I do not have warm fuzzy feelings about the Republican party. I make great flirtatious overtures toward the Libertarians. Let's just say I'm deeply enamoured with Ron Paul. I am so grateful for his voice in our country right now.

Part of the reason I write about my political interest as a big deal has to do with experiencing the freedom to express my heart and my convictions. Let's see if I can explain why.

In the past I've felt like there were only two possible sides: current Republicans or current Democrats, and I felt compelled to take sides with "the good guys," as if standing for the right to life expunged all other lapses in judgment one might make. A few months ago I realized what a grave error that is, and how stupid I was to simply gulp down everything done by Republicans as good medicine. Part of the reason I was not always thinking critically about what was happening was out of fear of looking bad to my friends. What, am I 13? I made fun of people falling in "lock step" with a political view, but in fact I was doing it myself.

Because the right to life has always been so central in my political reasoning, I have usually thought only in terms of whether or not a candidate is pro-life in my consideration for voting. So, for example, I supported George Bush over Al Gore and John Kerry. However, let me whisper something in your ear. I actually believe that George Bush completely lost his mind by the end of his presidency, if he hadn't lost it significantly earlier. I had been very iffy on supporting the war and opposed it in my gut when it started. But I was willing to give GW the benefit of the doubt, which does not seem to have paid off well. His educational policy I never supported at all. His spending, with the final fiasco of the October bailout, was insane. I can see these things now and say them with much clearer judgment. Yes, Bush upheld and protected a lot of pro-life legislation, and that was good. But these other matters were not inconsequential little tidbits.

I need to keep learning and watching as reality unfolds before us. I need to speak and work from my passions and my intelligence, and not ignore reality or stuff my life under a bushel basket that I imagine someone else will take care of.

There are a lot of scary bills afoot and a lot of appointments being made of people with unpleasant records. This is reality. However, to view politics as my personal crusade against evil is a recipe for quick burnout and disillusionment. Surely, my best efforts can't save the world. I'm under no illusions that that's what my efforts are for. My efforts are about living in obedience to and love of my Lord and God, Jesus Christ. My efforts are to be acts of charity towards others who stand to be adversely affected by any given legislation. My efforts are to live as a human. Once efforts devolve into a political battle for power, said battle is lost. It must be about the good of individuals. Part of what is good for all of us as individuals is to use our minds, our humanity, and the rights our government still currently recognizes to do the best we can for each other.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Here am I; Send Me.

Thirty-one years ago tonight it was Lent, I was a 5th grader, and I was at my church for a mid-week church service. In a rather unusual turn of events for my church, the sermon was preempted by a group from the local Lutheran high school (from which I was later to graduate) which gave a slide presentation about its mission endeavor to Puerto Rico to teach Vacation Bible School the previous year. During the presentation they shared a simple gospel formula which they had shared with children during the mission: we are sinners, and God loves us and sent Jesus to die for our sins. No doubt there was something more to it than that, probably something about baptism, probably something about Jesus calling us to share the gospel with others. That part I don't remember.

What I do remember was that this was a life-changing event for me. We sang a hymn (I still remember, it was number 496) called Hark! The Voice of Jesus Crying, based on Isaiah 6:8. The hymn asked the question "Who will answer... here am I, send me?"

It was such a simple thing. I don't know that I had ever had the basic gospel proposition explained to me this way, especially not through the faces and voices of teenagers on a mission. To consider that the gospel proposed something personal to me, asked something of me, was new. And I remember that as I sang the verses of that hymn I was giving God a real answer. Here I am. Send me.

I should note that I was Lutheran, not Baptist, and no one ever encouraged me to mark down the date and the time that I gave my life to the Lord. It wasn't so formulaic to me at the time, but a year or two later I was able to think back and pinpoint a change that began happening to me starting then. I dug out a binder from the shelf of the church's cry room where all of the past bulletins were kept, and found the notice about the speakers from the mission trip, and that is how I discovered and remembered the date.

Does it seem odd to you, too, that what impacted me wasn't about finding forgiveness, or even finding love? It was about finding mission. There have since been profound times when my meditations on the gospels have found me in the shoes of the ones Jesus touches and heals. But I think my normal feel for the gospel has been in the shoes of one who walks with Jesus and tries to see how He does what He does. "How am I supposed to live?" has always been a cry of my heart.

Someone said to me recently that we are all walking questions, we are all walking needs. I find it beautiful that we, perhaps, are all slightly different questions. This is yet another way that the Lord calls us each by name.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Lent's Way of Reaching Me

Some people give up blogging or computer-related activities in general for Lent. I had considered writing a blog post about how, since blogging tends to be such a wonderful spiritual process for me that I would be making a concerted effort to "blog for Jesus" this Lent, you know, being mindful and more diligent to really explore the things that make His presence clearer in my life, blah blah blah.

I never did get around to writing that post, but the thought of it sure came to bite me in the conscience today. It's funny how God knows all and knows me and has this way of keeping me honest, despite my best protestations.


The other day my husband asked me what has been bothering me of late. Bothering me? Me? Whatever could he mean? After responding (by email of course; we don't have the luxury of uninterrupted conversation that often) that it wasn't much, maybe just a little tired, oh and maybe it has something to do with the new supplements I'm taking... I thought about it some more. Only, it wasn't really like a mental process whereby I came to a realization. It was much more an emotional process whereby I allowed something to emerge. I blurted it out, but assured him that I didn't even want to think about it let alone talk about it, for reasons that I know are obvious to him. It is sweet to have a spouse who understands.

In School of Community we read a section of the book on Hope about how life is a trial. This is the nature of life; it is a test. Hope is sure when and because the Great Presence in our lives is sure right now: Christ is with us, so we know Christ will remain with us, come what may. But the "come what may" is the nature of a trial. We don't know what will come, we can only know with Whom we will be, and the nature of that Whom. God is good, life has purpose, pain has purpose. But life is a trial.

I have a trial in my life and it is called infertility. It is difficult to describe the exact nature of this trial, because even for me it changes from season to season in my life. There was a time when my life was consumed by the desire to conceive a child, and this desire served me well and shaped my life, though not without long stretches of misstep and anguish. I have at times found myself completely unable to be in a room with pregnant women or small babies. And I have at times been very much at peace with it all, just sort of patiently bearing with the "maybe" and figuring in a few years (I'm 41) I can start giving away all of our baby accouterments.

Currently the hardest thing for me to face is what those trying to conceive call the "two week wait" when there is something unusual going on.

Welcome to my first week of Lent.

Last week I visited with my Naturopath and started on a new supplement, a chasteberry compound, and rededicated myself to faithfulness with the supplements I had been taking more and more haphazardly. The good news is I can feel a difference. When you deal with hormonal imbalances as long as I have you can feel the presence of progesterone in your body. The difficult thing, which I will explain for those who either aren't familiar or don't spend your life obsessing over these things, is that a rise in progesterone and concomitant feelings also happen when one has conceived. In general, I need progesterone supplementation both to conceive and to be healthy. I used to take HcG injections which essentially mimic the action of pregnancy in the body. Because of all this, I really can no longer trust my senses about things like "feeling pregnant." I can feel a hormonal shift, but I can't say what causes it. I used to say this with anguish; now I just say it as a fact. The last time I started brand new supplements with my ND I had wild and crazy pregnancy symptoms, but they were the estrogen-dominant type.

Let's add in to the mix that the last two positive pregnancy tests I had ended in miscarriage almost sooner than I could turn around.

I am helped by staying with the Great Presence right now, and His assurance that He holds life and death, my life and death, in His hand, despite seismic uncertainty. And I can't quite talk myself out of this being a seismic issue, as much as I'd like to put it more in the category of whether I make or miss the sale on asparagus. What comes tomorrow -- any energy I invest in imagination is really just energy I'd rather spend in what is right now.

But this is a trial. It is THE category of life that most draws me to cling to the cross. At Mass today I reflected on how Jesus handed over His body, placed the control over His sacred body, into the hands of sinners and was violently tortured. Like King David I can only say how much better to fall into the hands of God than the hands of violent men (2 Sam 24:14-15)! I entrust my body, which is given to me by God in the first place, to the One who sustains everything.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Of Shoes and Freedom

So, the poll has closed. Thanks for voting, everyone. Shoe-wearers, at least part-time, come in at 41% and non-shoe wearers come in at 58%. Where the other 1% fit, I don't know, but apparently no one wears shoes only when cold. I'm wondering now why I didn't respond that way, because that is closest to the truth for me. I personally wear shoes all day in the winter and otherwise cold weather, and during the summer I don't even wear shoes outside consistently.

So, what's the deal. The shoe issue has been for me one of those little cultural tiffs that come with the vocation to marriage. You know, one person's family's culturally ingrained truths butting up against her spouse's family's culturally ingrained truths.

For me, the issue really gets extremely pronounced when I am visiting someone. I believe this is something formed in me by my grandparents. During my childhood I often spent a week or two with my grandparents, which provided many deeply formative moments that I drank up like a dry sponge. I have always loved family stories, and once my grandmother told me of the great sacrifice that had to be made by her father, by no means a warm and cuddly figure, for her and her siblings to all have shoes. Grandma took shoes seriously. And the only time I saw my grandparents without shoes was before sleeping. I gathered from them that shoes had an emotional quality connected with human dignity.

Ok, then I did my time in Japan where I got desperately frustrated with needing to leave one's shoes outside, put on slippers to come in, and then change into different slippers to go to the bathroom. In my own apartment I eventually stopped feeling guilty for occasionally stepping on my tatami with shoes on (though it did take some effort).

But the kicker came when now-hubby and I went to visit my mother's cousin in the country during our engagement. My husband took off his shoes and left them near the door, and these relatives gave him every reassurance: "Go ahead, leave them on! No reason to take them off!" Subtext: "Because you are welcome here!" This gave expression to something I felt very deeply: if someone is welcome in my house, then all of them is welcome, including their shoes and the dirt on them. It is the depths of rudeness to ask a guest to remove his shoes.

There. Got that all sorted out.

But then, what do I do when I visit hubby's clan and discover they are non-shoe wearers, and a couple of them actually do ask people to remove their shoes? I swallow really, really hard, and I (sometimes grudgingly) take off my shoes. And I take several years to come to terms with this.

This is such a small thing, but to me it speaks of the issue of force, freedom, and charity. I've heard some people speak about differences like this. They say "I love these people, and I want to make them happy, so I just do what they want me to, out of love!" And I admire the sentiments of these Little Misses Sunshine. Perhaps I feel forced more easily than the average person. Or I react to feelings of force more strongly. I truly don't feel my problem is that I am snotty and selfish, unless perhaps my selfishness is in that I don't always articulate what I feel to others, especially when it is not something Little Miss Sunshine would say. I am ponderous and serious, and yes I take even things like why I wear shoes very seriously.

So, maybe the next time someone cheeses me off over some common place issue, out of charity I will expound with long oration all of my feelings about the subject. See, I guess at heart this is an issue of the fear of being looked at as if I had three heads. Don't normal people just acquiesce? So be it; I'm not "normal" then.

Or maybe I just need to find some of these in adult sizes:

We Are Pilgrims on a Journey

Isn't it easy to think it's always someone else who has the real problem?

March 1, 2009


My children, your work stretches out before you. How many serve? How many resist My will for them? When you consider others who do seem to be serving Me, I want you to turn your face away. I want you to consider only My will for you in a given moment. This will protect you from many temptations. You can answer Me with simplicity when I ask you at the end of the day, “Have you served Me well today?” You can simply say, “Yes, Lord. I have done My best.” Then you can lay down your worries and rest. Beloved apostles of God, do not be distracted by others. I know this is hard for you. I know that others can cause you upset. But if you consider how I have asked you to experience others, you will do better. I want you to view those around you as pilgrims journeying toward Me. That is what you are, after all. Can you deny others the need to move gradually to perfection when you, yourself are doing the same? You are involved in a process which means that you remain imperfect. Why would it be different for those around you? You have come to trust My loving compassion, My forgiveness and My uninterrupted affection. That is because you have come to know Me. If others do not know Me as well as you do, they will trust Me less. If they trust Me less, they will experience fear and this will cause them difficulty which moves out from the fear to greater and greater pain. If My apostles will accept that fear of being unloved is the source of great pain for others, My apostles will view the mistakes of others with compassion, as I do. Yes, the pain of humanity can only be remedied by loving compassion. This is why you are sent out by Me. You move into the world with heaven’s healing compassion. My apostles, perhaps you do not feel this compassion from others. Perhaps you feel that you are in need of compassion and find only condemnation. I make two remarks about this. One, please be willing to ask for understanding from other holy apostles and then accept what they offer to you in humility. Next, ask Me if I am judging you. Ask Me if I view you harshly. You know that I do not. I am pleased with whatever you offer Me in terms of fidelity and service. I am pleased with whatever you give to Me in terms of prayer and silence. I work so well in your little soul when you allow Me. I feel the greatest compassion for you. I am happy with your efforts to be holy and to love those around you. I rejoice in you. I rejoice in your commitment to Me. I urge you today in the most serious way to trust Me and trust in My plan for you.