Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Sense Nonsense

Recently my friend Mike Aquilina sent me a copy of a manuscript entitled Sense Nonsense by his friend Francisco J. Garcia-Julve. I've been reading it over the last several days. It is a unique sort of book, made up entirely of short sayings, bits of wisdom, and thought-provoking one-liners. These sayings are intended to get you to think, or,  as the book's website suggests, to "rethink everything you've ever known."

If you like stuff that makes you think you'll love this. Sometimes the pithiness of the sayings makes me wish the author would develop a whole thought further so that I could know his mind on the subject more deeply rather than leaving that for me to do. But of course that is exactly the point. I kept thinking how some of these would make great starters for bloggers, novelists or human interest writers, or perhaps even preachers, who need something to set their minds on a new path. Here are a random two that could easily inspire creative writing projects: "Pride turns qualities into defects." "Acceptance turns failure into triumph." 

Topics of these proverbs range from political theory to social interaction to science and one's response to grace and the call of Christ. In other words, no area of human life is left without some prodding. There's a lot of word play involved ("If you ever find everything all right, you should wonder what may be going wrong for everything to go so right."). Somehow I think this would be a perfect book to read when traveling by plane. I don't know about you, but I can't focus on reading for long when flying, but this is perfectly suited to reading for a while, pausing to stare out the window and think, and then read a bit more.

You can get yours here.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Why Record a CD?

(This blog post originally appeared on my website,, where you can buy the CD in question.)

Recently someone asked me why I made this CD. I think there’s a story worth telling here, because everyone has phases when discerning one’s way through life is an all-consuming need. Reading nitty-gritty testimonies of someone else’s journey can help.

 On Christmas Day of 2010 I stood in my kitchen chatting with a friend who mentioned that a local recording studio could digitize cassette recordings. My mind shot to my beloved 1986 cassette version of “Daughter” (Track 8) that had already survived a 2003 toddler attack. Had to get that preserved before it was lost forever.

So, to the studio I went. I reminisced a bit with the tech about recordings I’d done in college and found myself wondering out loud to him what all it might take for me to do some real recording now.

That wondering followed me home and I prayed about it frequently. As I prayed, the wondering became a demanding question. Marie, will you record again? Will you make a CD?

Simultaneously, I had begun spending more time than usual playing guitar. Circumstances gave me a couple of hours a month to play alone in a church. This was exactly how I had spent hours and hours during college (except that now, the church had the Blessed Sacrament in residence; then I was in what had been a convent chapel, with only the memory of the Blessed Sacrament there!) That winter I began writing the song “Deep Inside” which took me months to complete. It literally grew along with me as I discerned, the only song I’ve ever written explicitly as a studio song.

January passed and February came, and I wrestled with The Question. My greatest practical concern was financial cost. However, the far more powerful question in my heart was the “Why bother?” My songs had a certain importance to me, but I couldn’t justify spending all the money to record and share them. The world had so many songs in it already. While I found buried in my heart a spark of a desire to proceed with it, try as I might I could not surmount the “Why bother?” question.

Then came one of the strangest days in my recent memory. Waiting for Mass to being at Franciscan University’s Christ the King Chapel, I prayed fretful and fuming prayers. The Question was ringing in my heart like a gong, and frankly I was annoyed with God and weary of myself. Suddenly I remembered an event from a year earlier. I had felt divinely compelled to invite a certain visiting priest to our house for dinner, despite this feeling silly to me. Long story short, I finally obeyed the prompting, talked to the priest, we played phone tag (which is mortifyingly difficult for me), and eventually he left town and never did come for dinner. So, as I prayed that day, I reminded God of that escapade. “What ever came of that, huh, Lord? I did what I felt like you wanted me to do then, and all that came of it was me feeling stupid! What about that?”

That Mass began, and in walks that same priest. I’d not seen nor thought of him in a year. My fuming came to an embarrassed and confused silence, and I “came to” about the time this priest read the gospel of the day. It involved Jesus rebuking the disciples for their lack of faith and asking them “Do you still not understand?”

All I could say was, No Lord. I don’t understand. At all.

Back at home about two hours later, I was still reeling from the impact of what had just happened. My son burst through the door, demanding I come with him immediately. A block away, he had witnessed a woman who had been walking her dog in a field behind an abandoned building collapse and begin seizing.

What happened next is hard to explain. In a complete internal daze, I found the woman, dialed 911, and proceeded to wait with her for the paramedics. A neighbor came and spoke soothingly to her.  A nun who lived down the street came running, cradled the woman and scrambled to help the paramedics when they arrived. The woman’s adult son arrived.

And all the while I stood there, completely silent and motionless inside and out, feeling as removed from the situation as if I were waiting for a bus. When she was taken care of, neighbors congratulated my son on his quick reaction that probably saved the woman’s life. Everyone took a sigh of relief and went back to their day.

I, however, could not.

Hours later as I told my husband the episode, my delayed reaction brewed – something erupting from a deeper level than emotion or stress. My response to the woman felt both natural for me, and yet wrong, wounded, broken. And somehow, I felt I’d entered into a mysterious cloud from which God was responding to my complaints about The Question.

That night after choir practice I began to tell a friend about the woman. But as I described “just standing there” something broke open in me. I started to cry, shake and hyperventilate and I ran out of the church. I made it home with great difficulty and for hours I continued in this state, hyperventilating, crying and shaking violently. It seemed my body was reliving traumas to which I had long since turned off my ability to feel.

The next day, feeling like I’d had my stuffing knocked out, I again turned to the Lord in prayer. Without any process of analysis I understood that the “bother” was not about the world needing eight more songs or another CD. The “bother” was about my need to surrender my soul to God, to obey, to follow, to give. The God who has given me so much was calling me to stop counting what it costs and to be freed to pour myself out. And what I found in my hand to fulfill this calling was the music that comes from my heart.

But it would take money, so I told God if this were really His idea, He’d have to provide some. The very next day we got a notice that we’d get a $600 reimbursement on some car repairs because a recall. Sadly, it was my sister’s death just after I began recording that provided the “more than enough” that God is famous for. My sister was musical, and she was always generous to a fault. When I received an unexpected share of her savings, I realized that God holds all of our lives in His hands.

This is only the story of how the CD got started. When I finally finished the project, I realized everything I’ve learned has only just begun. What God has done “deep inside” my heart (Track 4), I now need to take a live out “deliberately” (Track 5). Thanks be to God, each day of life gives each of us a new opportunity to surrender to God, to obey Him, to follow Him, to give ourselves to Him and to the world at His directive. Let’s all pray for the grace to do these things to the fullest possible extent in everything we do.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Give Alms from What You Have

Some years ago, during a lapse in my better judgment, I was engaged to an artist. I lived in Japan, he spoke English, blah, blah blah. I had this sickness at the time, which I probably still have to some degree (come to think), whereby I thought that if I just tried sincerely enough to enter into his world, that he would do the same towards me, grow up, stop living in a fantasy world, and become a stable person with whom life would not be a total disaster.

Well, that didn't work.

But, I did glean at least one positive from my attempt. One day during Lent, I drew a picture as my Lenten meditation. I can't really draw worth (bleep), but it sure made that meditation stick with me. The particular verse I landed on was "give alms from what you have" which I think was being drawn from Luke 11:41, from the Jerusalem Bible. That particular phrase pierced me then, and it is piercing me again.

Since my first encounters with the Catholic Church, whenever I have heard someone talk about "the poor" or "giving to the poor," I've always had a puzzling reaction deep inside me. Almost without fail, these references have been to nameless, faceless "other people" that the speaker and the listeners are presumed to neither be, nor be like. Sometimes they have been specific other people, such a the beneficiaries of a special collection or some such. Maybe I am too poetic, but this has always rubbed me the wrong way.

Yes, I know that people have concrete physical needs for food, clothing and shelter, and that one need not live in a third-world country to experience that need. Yes, I know that monetary donations are an efficient way to get those needs met by apostolates and organizations that specialize in this.

But what about Western poverty? Remember Mother Teresa's claim that the West has the deepest poverty of all? If we are right in the thick of the world's worst poverty -- made of up loneliness, emptiness, of feeling unloved and unwanted, of lacking a living relationship with God, which is all that can fill these needs -- doesn't it seem that someone should at least mention it?

Today I stopped in a certain business, and an employee there was complaining loudly of her depressed and anxious state caused by one of her favorite characters on a certain TV show dying off. She went on to talk about how terrified she was of zombies, and how she had an escape plan for herself and her cats, should there be a zombie invasion. She appeared neither mentally imbalanced, nor to be joking. I would like with all my heart to believe that she was joking. But I left feeling I was witnessing a most painful poverty. I recognized the yearning for connection, as if it were scrounging through the scrap heaps for something of value there. And I was reminded again "give alms from what you have."

Jesus directed those words in Luke 11 to Pharisees who were so concerned with their religious observance that the real needs of others escaped them. But I think perhaps the real reason those needs escaped them is that they did not, could not feel their own poverty. They couldn't feel their own need, their own longing, their own desire for Love that the Messiah could have filled, had they recognized Him in their midst.

Giving alms seems to boil down to opening one's heart to another's need. To be "comfortable" with need, you have to get close enough to your own that you don't run away from it in fear, avoiding the mere thought of not being 100% self-sufficient. When I get close enough to my own need, I either collapse in despair, desperately try to cover it up and avoid it, or call out with faith to God and ask for grace and help.

Having received grace and help, God then calls me to give toward the needs of others. Giving alms as a Christian is about that. It is a witness to a living hope, one that has reached me and is now reaching beyond me.

It's not just about dropping $5 in a collection for nameless people so that I can pat myself on the back with a feeling that I've balanced some sort of world disparity. That's a fine place to start, though. To "give alms from what I have" I need to look constantly at what is in my own heart, my own hands. How can I incarnate that love today? And can I share it as a gift, without strings, never forgetting my own need?

artwork from

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

The Difficulty in Receiving Gifts

Today again my children and I attended a Lenten gathering called "Drawing Down Divine Mercy." The first we attended was on Ash Wednesday. I wrote about what struck me then in the post "Sentenced to Life."

Today what struck me was a discussion of gifts, as in presents. Because Jesus emphasized to St. Faustina in his communications to her about Divine Mercy that to receive mercy, we must approach Him as little children would, we talked about how children think about gifts. Having my kids there was quite helpful to all of us. They helped us realize their sense of expectation about getting a gift, their joy in being chosen to get something, how they search their hearts to share with those able to give gifts just exactly what it is they desire, and then also their willingness to share with others what they receive, because most of the joy is simply in receiving something, not really about being attached to what they get. All this was facilitated by the leaders drawing names from a basket for four people to have the chance to take a gift from the "mercy table" replete with little religious goodies. My daughter's name was drawn, and a Sister whose name was also drawn gave the gift she received to my son.

All of this had me thinking about my attitude toward gifts. When the leader of the group asked us to do an initial word association, to be honest, what came to my mind was that giving a gift was a chance to off-load some junk on someone. Now, I admit that I am not a "gifty" person. Some people really like to buy gifts or make gifts or receive gifts, and I'm not really one of them. Ain't my "love language." Yet, the more I thought about my initial reaction as I meditated on mercy as a gift from God, I realized that this negative connotation is sitting like a bit of rot in my soul. Even if it is not my love language, giving a gift is most definitely an act of love -- or can be at least. For God it most certainly is. Once shortly after my marriage, a friend had a china hutch she had to move out of a rental house she owned, and she asked if we needed one, which we did. As it was unloaded at our house, I recall, in my very artless way, saying to her "Gee, I figured if you were giving this to us, it would be some ugly thing, but this is really nice!"

I'm not sure where it comes from that I figure gifts given to me are just someone trying to get rid of their junk. Maybe it is because when I give someone something, I'm just getting rid of my junk. What I actually like is beautiful, empty space. Maybe gifts feel like burdens, like something I now have to work into my routine of taking care of. Maybe it bespeaks my laziness. Maybe it bespeaks my lack of trust in the purity of the intention of love on the part of other people. I've often thought that if someone really loved me, they would know exactly what makes me happy. My husband reminds me that he does not read minds. I know I don't read my children's minds. Maybe I am afraid to face the intensity of my desire, for fear of disappointment.

In human relations, all of these responses retain some degree of reasonableness. But what about when I face God and think about His gifts? Do I even know what my heart desires from Him? Do I know how to say it to Him? Will the disparity between my heart-felt desire and His perfect will serve to humble me or irritate me?

These are all things given to me today to ponder ... as a gift.