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.