Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Big Three on Christmas Day

Faith. Hope. Love.

Did you think I meant the American car companies?

In all traditions, religious or not, the top three spiritual values are faith, hope and love. St. Paul tries to tell us that the greatest of these is love, but I think they are a trinity, co-existent and interdependent and of equal value although one may predominate from time to time according to your personal situation.

The time of transformation and hope for something new to be born is central to all faith, to all people. Christians at Christmas see this at the birth of Jesus, Godde as little baby—hard not to love. (Well, there's chronic colic. Hard not to care for anyway.)

Faith, hope and love are called spiritual because humanity can't control them, only be open to them, experience them, and be grateful. Ever try to make yourself love someone you don't? Or make someone love you? Ever try to give faith to someone, or hope? You can't. (It's worse than trying to get your loved one to stop smoking. In that case you let go and pray for a triple dose of all three.)

I wish you my blog readers and colleagues the joy of love, the wealth of faith, and the inner serenity of hope at Christmas and beyond— in equal measure.

Hopes and Fears

"The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight." So goes a line of the old Christmas carol, "O Little Town of Bethlehem."

Hopes and fears. Where, how will they meet? Where is Bethlehem this year?

I feel stretched thin on the rack of hopes and fears right now. It's a messy mix to have swirling around mind and heart together. Neither one edges out the other completely; both are true.

I remember when my labor started for my first child I cried in fear anticipating the pain to come. I wanted it to stop, even prayed for that I think. At the same time I hoped almost to assurance that a little child would push its way with me through me out into the light. She did, a beautiful, hirsute, squawling baby girl, now 45 and still beautiful.

But I'd wanted to separate the fear from the hope, the labor from its fruit. I wanted to have one without the other. I still try for that.

I have labored over a manuscript— my vocational story of becoming a priest, my story of getting to know and love Godde and myself, my story of how I came to know that what happens to Godde happens to me.

I've labored. I wait. I labor to find a publisher. I fear my story is too insignificant and my timing lousy. I still hope for a publisher or some attractive alternative. Hope and fear together. I let them wrestle, watch my seesaw mood soar and plummet daily (no I'm not bipolar!—yet) Where and how will they meet?

The meeting of these two apparent emotional enemies comes for me in tears, tears that melt the tension.

When I began my labor I was afraid to be a "baby" and cry in fear. When I admitted this to my husband he gave me a hug and luckily didn't tell me how terrified he was.

When a friend recently wrote that somewhere out there there is a publisher who wants me I wept. Even a tired old cliche can be holy.

When hopes and fear come together and vulnerability is born I know the Holy is around, something new will be born.

Godde only knows what, who or when.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

MIssed Calls

Imagine: You stroll through a cemetery near your home, not because you have a morbid fascination with death but because you are lonely, the moon lights your way, and the stars like a crowd, move with you. Suddenly you hear a little tune. You stop, look around, hear it again. It's perky, friendly. It's calling you. Not easily frightened you now feel the hair on your neck bristle. No one is around. Are there such things as fairies and elves? You follow the sound to the ground. Yes, it's coming from one of the graves. You put your ear close to the ground and hear the faint tinkle again. Familiar. Yes, it's on the menu of cell phone ring tones. You almost chose it.

How far can technology go? Is this the latest way seances are accomplished? You're spooked?

So was I when I read the December 16th online report from MSNBC on burying people with their cell phones by their side. Activated! Mourners say it brings them comfort, like burying Granny with her precious dog's old collar or favorite recipe. I suppose if your dad or mother spent so much time with their ear attached to a bluetooth or a cell phone you might think they couldn't die without it. One woman buried her husband with his phone equipped with new batteries. She is still paying the monthly fee for the phone.

Is this madness or deep spiritual need? Surely it's a sign to take seriously. It's a symbol. Many people today are so strung out you can pluck them. They'd vibrate but make no music. Is the little cell tune music to their ears, music to salve their fear of disconnection, death?

Or is this something to laugh about as a friend did when she quipped, "I'd rather have them bury the phones than bring them into the restaurant where I'm having lunch."

As a Christian I think of the Holy Spirit as the Great Connector, the one who has no fear, who enters even the darkest corners of human need to bring faith, hope or love. The one whose signal never cuts out or breaks up.

A little boy goes off to kindergarten for the first time. He's scared. His mother gives him hugs and whispers sweet words into his ear. He goes alone into the classroom. Sometime during the morning the child feels the same fear he felt when he left home. Maybe the teacher frowned or another child shoved him. The boy just then remembers his mother's embrace of the morning. He feels the warmth in his body and hears her words in his inner ear, although mom isn't present. His fear is replaced— by love enough to know he is good, faith enough to know he is capable, and hope enough to know his mother will reappear in the flesh soon. He'll take it with him when he dies.

That's the work of the Great Connector. It's spiritual work. Cell phones feel like like hugs and sweet words in a busy world I admit, but get a hug anyway—just in case your battery runs out or you can't afford your monthlies.

I love my cell phone but I'm not taking it with me.

Friday, December 12, 2008


December 13th. St. Lucy's Day.

Lucy is know as the patron saint of people with poor or no eyesight. Her name means "light." Little is known historically about Lucy except that she died for her refusal to deny her Christian faith. Details include her defiance of an arranged marriage which inspired her angry proposed husband-to-be to betray her Christian faith to the authorities during the Diocletian persecutions.

You could call it martyrdom on Lucy' part, submitting to death for her ideals, or you could call it what else is new in the world of violence against women? Women are injured, abused, oppressed and, yes, killed, for their politics, religious beliefs or just plain femaleness. How dare we exist!

Perhaps Lucy saw beyond promises and assurance and obedience to the ways of her time. Perhaps she saw beyond what the physical eye could see into a spiritual death worse than biological death.

All Lucy wanted to do was give her money to the poor and her life to the service of Godde, a deity who created her free and worthy as a woman.

What I admire in Lucy is her courage to stand up and be counted at dire risk.

I think of Lucy's day as one of our personal family saint days, a day when three years ago, thanks to the courage of telling and hearing the truth in love, something transformative happened, something saving.

I think of a granddaughter Lucia (LuLu or Luci) who has bright eyes and the chutzpah to go with it. You know when she is around. She's only four and not afraid to be.

I think of a friend named Christie who is legally blind and has been able to design, implement, and raise money to support a day program for senior citizens she cares for and can't see.

Christie prays for the strengthening of her third eye AND the restoration of her actual vision which has been declared a medical impossibility. It takes guts to stand up and be counted before Godde with your honest desires. No fudging. No goody goody prayers like: It would be nice if I could see, but other people have it much worse off, and look at all the blessings I have; besides Godde has greater concerns and work than little old me.

Truth in prayer is as essential (not to outcomes but to the strengthening of your relationship with the divine) in prayertalk as it is in peopletalk. Lucy and all those we see as holy on church calendars and in our personal lives did that. It's why there are revered.

Thank you St. Lucy, Christie, Lucia and all of you who have sight beyond sight and are brave enough to tell it like it is even without hard visual evidence and guarantees.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Stop the World

Stop the world I want to get on!
In this hectic season and violent-crazed world most people want to get off. I'm tempted.
However, I don't want to be left behind, unless of course it's the biblical Rapture in which case I assert myself as a child of heaven-on-earth.
I'll go down not up.
I'm trying to keep up with the technological revolution. I'm wired for print and paper, not cyber-paper and electronic non-books. I'm wired for slow and steady not swift and simultaneous. It's a sea change.
I must be getting better (or worse) because I get impatient when my computer is out of date and responds like a tortoise not a hare.
But I need to understand the computer and its language for my vocation as a writer. And I want to get my memoir published at a time when publishing is in as much disarray as the auto industry.
Also I want to be able to understand my grandchildren's lingo, to stay technologically intelligent enough not to be shelved.
My twelve year old granddaughter has the lead role in her school play "Annie" this weekend and I want to "text" her, because "texting" is how she communicates. Even email isn't accessible and immediate enough. (As evolution goes, in generations thumbs will be long and thin instead of short and stubby. Thumbs for digital agility as well as for prehensile grasp.)
And young Will wants Grammy to play his latest video game with him. What about Wii? My eye/hand coordination is too slow. I'm grateful for the ones four and under whose games are Chutes and Ladders, Calico Critters or Peek-a-Boo.
Studies show that too much screen time can damage developing brains so I worry. But my brain probably needs the stimulation of new learning to forestall the damage of age.
That's my rant for the day. Any suggestions? Let me know. In the meantime I'm on board.

Friday, December 5, 2008

The Grand Charlotte

Charlotte is 94 years old today. I saw her yesterday in the nursing home and forgot to say Happy Birthday Charlotte. So ... Happy Birthday Charlotte.
Yesterday Charlotte said something extraordinary to me. In talking about a friend who lives in the retirement community where Charlotte lives and to which she hopes to return after her post-surgical recuperating time in the nursing home, she told me that her friend had "pretty much given up," then added, "You know you just can't do that, give up like that. It ruins everyone else's life."
Today most of us think that "giving up" would ruin our own quality of life, but Charlotte in her famously blunt, matter-of-fact way is quite firm that such an attitude would ruin every else's life. How grand is that! How holy is that in a world gone so crazy with self-interest that it can't see its own worth and beauty let alone that of anyone else.
It's not that Charlotte has had a rose garden life, and it's not that her friend is older and in worse shape than Charlotte so we might justify her giving up. I don't know how people turn out like Charlotte. The usual rationales don't work. You know the ones like growing up all loved, having had advantages in life, one solid mutually loving, death-do-us-part marriage, successful kids, plenty of money, basic good health, on and on. Some of these things Charlotte has had and some not.
And, BTW ( that means "by the way" in email-ese) Charlotte's not one who slathers pink icing all over everything. Her patience isn't sterling; she mostly blurts out what's on her mind, political correctness be damned; she has physical limitations, cancer, tempers and moods, a gruff voice and a sharp wit you wouldn't call corny or sweet. There are days she feels like giving up too. But she doesn't—for your sake and mine.
I pray I can age with as much grace.

Monday, December 1, 2008

It's Safer in Church!

We went to the mall over the Thanksgiving weekend. It was a sanity test we failed, proving ourselves insane. We did find a parking space less than a two mile hike from the mall scene; we did remember to stop at 5 p.m. and put our name in at the new PF Changs where there was only a 2-hour wait; and no one died of anything but boredom. Still, I suffered a case of mall hypnosis, similar to highway hypnosis. After a while everything looked the same and every store sold the same merchandise, all of it essential to your wellbeing and all of it glittering.
We had just read the tragic story of the young man at a Walmart store in upstate New York who was crushed to death by crowds. It used to be that you could get crowd-crushed by sports mobs, then rock concert mobs, and now it's shopping mobs.

We knew about desperate shoppers, killer shoppers, even about inadequate secirity measures in retail stores, so what were we thinking of? Our granddaughters, 12 and 9, eager to visit Icing to examine and beg for the latest bauble or gee-gaw. At least we resisted their sweet shopper-dazed eyes and said NO, which made us feel a little sane, but not really because we could excuse our penury with "Christmas is coming." But we know we won't go back to Icing or any other mall store ever to get anything for anyone.
Are we too old? Or is it our affection for the beauty and new life offered by the Christian nativity story that is mocked by commercialization? We are almost-but-not-quite immune to the sound of Christmas carols, all muzaked in at the same brisk march tempo. Nuance is not a mall feature.
I conclude: You are safer in church. There you will not, at least in most mainline Christian churches in New England, encounter large frantic crowds; you will not be squished; you will find a seat; you will hear lovely choral and organ music, both traditional and not; you may tune in or out at will; you do not have to be a believer to join your personal experience to the Christmas story, whether you feel this year like an infant, a magus, an unwed pregnant young girl, her worried fiance, or just one of the onlooking stable animals. You may even hear some wise words from the bible or a preacher whose homily is concise, clear and ten minutes long. Last but not least you will not have to discern among millions of attractively packaged buying options. There's only one product and it's free.