Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Body

I feel slightly guilty about abandoning Thomas Merton. I have yet to finish Sign of Jonas, though I am halfway through.

It's not his fault. I could laze about in his paragraphs for hours on end. It's just that I've had to put him aside in favor of a recently acquired part-time job and -- of course, ever-present -- my Anatomy & Physiology text.

I love the body. It's gruesome and magical, frightening and miraculous. I'm probably the most exhausted I've been in a while, having issues with sleeping and anxiety, and the feeling of always having something pressing to do. But I don't find myself so tired that I can't work up excitement over what makes

The kids have all these questions. They hear things in school about God making us, our bodies and minds, as if from waving a magic wand, and they look to me for confirmation. Which I give, in some vague way that leaves me unsettled and dissatisfied. Not Adam and Eve, and all that, as comfortingly simple as it all sounds. I stumble and stammer, mostly because I don't even begin to know what I believe, much less be able to explain it in some coherent way.

My text is like a bible of the body, and it's impossible not to see the intricate soulfulness of our creation, however it all came to be.

From the continued contraction of the striated muscle of the heart, to the ability of cells to effectively rid our bodies of toxins, to the nerve impulses that all work together to maintain homeostasis. To maintain. To be effective. For our bodies to work.

It's not that I don't see the hand of God in it all. I do. I just don't feel comfortable trying to elucidate on how. I wish I could tell my girls that with some kind of eloquence, especially when they look at me with their big eyes, wanting to be right. Yes, God made us. End of story. Sort of. Because that story is long and varied with twists and turns.

I've brought up the general concept of evolution with them, how we can trace our ancestors back, but that's about it. I think they'd find the fact of Australopithecus Afarensis a bit suspect. I'll leave that to their future science teachers.

I wonder what Merton would think of it all. He writes little about the human body, except for his relatively poor health and the way illness spread through the monastery like a fire through parched woods. I wonder what he thought of creation and evolution, or where he found the intersection of science and faith, if at all.

I do know he'd believe, no matter our source, that we weren't made for ourselves alone.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

This Country is Giving Me a Nervous Breakdown

Hi Jesus,


Am I pissed off or what?

You know who I'm mad at?

Well, America. Pretty much ALL of America.

I'm tired of living amongst a wishy-washy populace, who can vote one year for sweeping change, and then pretty much vote to fund none of it two years later. People who swallow the lie that their taxes have gone up, when in fact they've gone down. People who are misinformed, incurious, hateful and racist.

I'm tired of the tea party, which I pretty much believe to be a sham. A complete sham. Masquerading as a populist movement, when they throw their entire support to a party that's just as much about big government as the other: it's just a big government with different priorities, and you can bet your butt I don't think their priorities are sound. Not one bit.

My husband told me yesterday that he heard BP is already turning a profit. Only here can a corporation responsible for the death of millions of creatures and miles and miles and miles of coastlines, not to mention entire industries and livelihoods, turn the page that quickly.

I understand that people are hurting. I understand that people want change quicker than it's being dispensed. But turning to the party that actually sought to block the continuation of unemployment benefits? That's the answer? A party that calls not allowing insurance companies to deny people coverage because they're ill socialism?

Once I saw someone driving a truck that had two bumper stickers on it. One read I'm pro-life and I vote. The other said Why should I pay for your health insurance?

And it's a sight I will carry with me, pretty much FOREVER. Because in it lies the juxtaposition that so many people seem to carry as a philosophy, and it tears at my heart. I say to that guy in the pick-up truck, 'You can't be both.' You can't place yourself into a tent that's labeled pro-life (pro-life!) if you have no interest in seeing any of your tax dollars go to keep a mother who gives birth to her child insured, able to go to prenatal appointments so her baby is healthy, and able to give birth and then bring her child in for well visits.

Ah, whatever. I can pretty much tell you he doesn't give a shit. And he's probably more than a little bit misogynistic.

I'm feeling crummy today, Jesus. I'm not so certain that the Democrats walk your path either, so don't mistake my grumblings for that kind of pride.

I ask you to help turn my general bitchiness, anger and sadness into something constructive. Help me to do your work, whether or not I feel our government is helping or hindering. Help me to show compassion for all, even those with whom I disagree virulently. Help me to not want to throw rotten tomatoes at John Boehner's head. The same goes for Mitch McConnell, Eric Cantor, Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin.

With love,


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

My Own Gethsemani

I'm reading The Sign of Jonas right now. Merton has let me into his journal, and I get to see life in Gethsemani.

This is an old book, maybe around since the 60s, and the jacket is frayed along the edges. The front and back inside covers have a black and white photograph of Merton walking through what I presume to be the Kentucky woods. His back is sort of diagonally to the camera, his right foot raised in mid-stride. Have you ever wanted to enter a picture?

Yes, it's like that.

Wait! Wait for me!
That's my feeling when I see it.

Sometimes I wonder if the restlessness I feel is actually a good thing. If the mild and vague sense of dissatisfaction is merely a sign of things to come. That life on earth can only get so good, and it's what comes after that is the true kick-ass part.

Please don't take vague dissatisfaction the wrong way. I'm mostly happy, mostly content, able to experience and witness and store away these lovely moments, generally with family and friends. But I don't know...there is this undercurrent, always an undercurrent, of wanting and needing more.

And I'm not sure if the undercurrent is God, or a sign from God, or the lingering dysthymia that never completely leaves me alone. What's funny is that I crave contemplation, aloneness -- or, at least, I think I do -- but the whole truth is that I wouldn't know what to do with myself there.

I'm not a still person. Sometimes I have to force myself to stop during those moments when the kids are taking their sweet time, and usually it's because they've noticed something, taken note of something in their surroundings that really requires stop and looking. All this is a good thing, but I get far ahead and have to double back, and I have to pull in that ingrained need to keep moving.

I wouldn't know what to do with still and silent. I wonder if that is something that can be learned. But then again, young children and a vocation for nursing aren't exactly leading me in that general direction, either. My life isn't quite chaos, but it isn't hand signals in dim light by the altar, either.

In the book, Merton writes about wondering if he's in the right place with the Trappists, or if he'd have been better suited for the Carthusians. Apparently, the Cistercians weren't silent enough. (And they're monks! Using sign language!)

Of course, Merton stays. He's chosen his particular version of stillness, and decided that that's exactly where God wants him. I have to believe that this is where God wants me, in the slight insanity of family life with my husband and children, moving among throngs of students, reading and writing, and yes, praying. It's a different form of contemplation, for sure. But every bit as valid and needed.

At least, that's what I tell myself as I put Lillian in time-out for the 80th time in an afternoon.


Do you know what I just reread on page 35? "The simplest and most effective way to sanctity is to disappear into the background of ordinary everyday routine."

I think I'm being told to go finish the dishes.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Crossfire of Heaven and Hell

This morning, I put a new pair of socks on Lillian's feet.

"Wow, these are soooooo soft," I told her, as she thrust her feet up in my face.

"Oooooh," she said back. "Are these Hannah's?"

"No," I told her. "They belong to your piggies, and your piggies alone."

She smiled and turned her head sideways, burying it in the couch cushion. This was a moment to absorb and keep and hold. Socks. Strange.

It's been a weird morning, punctuated by news stories that wound and weird dreams and news of upheaval. I took my migraine medication with my Italian roast, but my neck remains stiff and unwieldy.

I took Lillian to school and one of her classmates told me she was going camping this weekend. Everyone in her class was invited because they were 'her family.'

"When are you coming to pick me up?" I asked her.

"In one minute," she said.

"I'd better start packing then. I'll bring the marshmallows." The kids giggled and looked at me, expecting me to continue. Another moment. Gold among the gray.

I really want to go to church this morning. Masses are too early for me to make, but I know a room that's open always and filled with candles and maybe I can sneak into the back pew, if the church door is open there. I need to say 'thank you' and I need to say 'I'm sad, horribly sad.'

And I need to kneel there among the still flames cupped by glass and ask to be steadied. And I need to ask, 'what can I do, Lord, with my sadness, with my anger?'

I don't know what the reply will be.


The title of this post comes out of the lyrics to a song by The Killers frontman Brandon Flowers' new solo single "Crossfire." Just saying.

Friday, September 24, 2010


Merton before dawn.
A single light, rare quiet.
I try to make the

body feel what it
doesn't. The brain, register.
Something's amiss. I

reach for it, attempt
to lasso and pull the word
of God. Last night, me

and Judah, Ben-Hur
on the television, Christ
dying and lepers

healed. Judah crushes
his mother and sister to
him, their skin clean, whole.

I cry, always with
the quake, bloody puddles that
drip from the cross, light

flashing across the
wounded sky. Esther gasps, sees,
touches faces and

hands. Judah echoes
Christ: "I felt his voice take the
sword out of my hand."

Monday, September 20, 2010

When Lillian was a baby, I tried to bargain with God.

It was, I suppose, a version of prayer, called in by the desperation of a bedraggled and insanely weary mother.

On a mild November day, I had put my infant daughter in her stroller and taken her for a walk. Fully anticipating her normal routine of screeching after being placed ANYWHERE, I was pleasantly surprised when she feel asleep.

As I went around the block and all over my little neighborhood, bumping along the sidewalk, crunching the fallen leaves, I asked God if he could relieve me a bit, maybe have Lillian take to a bottle; or maybe not breastfeed 50 times a day; or maybe sleep longer that 45-minute stretches at night; or maybe entertain being put in a swing, carseat, stroller; or maybe allow her own father to hold her.

I walked around all day carrying her, her head nestled between my neck and shoulder, and I pretty much ignored the 2-year old I already had by necessity. No one else could pick her up. Her screams signaled that she was actively being wounded, not being held by the father who helped create her.

Things....they were not going well, and I needed a bit of assistance.

It turns out the particular answer to that prayer was no. Or, at least, that's how I heard it. Lillian continued to nurse very frequently, continued to require constant holding (by me only, of course), and continued to have the sleep patterns of someone addicted to speed.

Eventually I just gave up, taking things minute by minute if I needed to.

Somehow we got through, and perhaps that's where I'm wrong about my prayer. Perhaps it's in the strength I still don't think I possessed back then. Perhaps it's in our survival. Perhaps it's in the fact that she did turn a corner...even if it was 6 months later.

(Also, she turned into this....that's a hard face to be irritated with!)

I've been thinking about prayer a lot. I've been thinking about my approach to it. Wondering how to make it more of a part of my life.

Not too long ago, I was trying to find someone a birthday present at the mall. I sat on a bench people watching for a bit, and watched a woman make a loop around me with a rosary dangling from her left hand. Her fingers, of course, at their particular spot on the beads. I watched her mouth move and no sound come out. I know someone was listening, though. me out. What do you do? Do you have a favorite prayer you say daily? Do you attend daily Mass? I'm not sure my schedule will ever allow that, but I wish that it would. Do you say the rosary? Download homilies to your iPod?

How do you actively weave prayer into the fabric of each day?

Friday, August 27, 2010

A post where I become just as judgmental as the people I accuse of judging

I keep seeing things on my Facebook homepage that are annoying the ever-living crap out of me.

Friends with things they like that make my nose bleed.

Friends that like If I need to be drug-tested for my job, than you need to be drug-tested for welfare, or

If you can afford alcohol and cigarettes, you shouldn't be on welfare, or

I have a stick up my ass when it comes to government-sponsored safety nets, and where's my hand-out?

(Okay, I made that last one up.)

And my eyes kind of glaze over and I want to punch something.

Look, I know there are people who abuse the system. But I also know there are people trying to make it. And I can only think of these things in oversimplified terms, much like those Facebook 'likes' that I despise so much, because I don't know what the answer is.

I have zero idea -- how we can make our economy productive and provide jobs with benefits that pay a decent wage or how to make parents do their job or how to ensure that people have good food to eat or a safe place to live. Zero idea. How to turn blight into beauty or garbage-strewn empty lots into gardens where flowers don't get stolen.

But I also kind of just think in my head, would you want to trade places? You have to pee in a cup but that guy collecting doesn't. Time to turn that into status update!

I think that's one of the myriad of reasons I loved the book Take This Bread. The food pantry the author started fed everyone. Even the people who were probably cheating, even the people who inevitably took more than their share, even the loud and belligerent and drunk and high. Everyone.

The other is that it just fits my idea of Communion. A loud, messy, imperfect table, full of personalities and flaws, but always the power of love and redemption accompanying the chaos.

It wasn't some kind of feel-good venture. It was hard work. And it constantly tested, this concept that we help all who show up. Tempers flared, angry arguments were had, people were frightened and uncomfortable. This business wasn't for the faint of heart.

And I just want to ask these friends, why do you begrudge? Why? Why take a crazy complex economical and sociological problem and turn it into some kind of flip statement that makes you sound borderline envious?

Because I know that things aren't always right and fair and equitable. But I also know who has and maintains a greater share, of everything. And it's most certainly not the poor.

Friday, August 13, 2010

A Grave Sin?

Dear Jesus,

I'm exhausted. This, of course, coincides with two things: the ending of summer session and the renewing of my blessed fertility cycle. (Do you see how lovingly I painted that last thing? Because I really did not want to paint it so lovingly. I am currently a horrid wretch, thanks to a boatload of hormones swimming about like Dana Torres on steroids.)

Right now the kids are having a tea party, leaving me with a moment of silence. Or, relative silence, because they are singing Paramore songs at the breakfast table while drinking lemonade from ceramic cups. But it's downstairs, and not right next to my ears, so...relative silence.

This morning, since I didn't have to open a chemistry text, I opened the latest issue of the National Catholic Reporter, and it fired me up. I wonder when was the last time my church actually resembled your ministry. I know there are parishes here and there that do. I know there are women religious and priests and lay people across the world who do your good work hourly, with hearts bent on equality and justice.

And of course, it's mostly Rome that angers me. You know, putting the attempted ordination of women in the same league as child abuse. Heaven forbid we let those crazy women in, those who feel called to serve you in the same capacity as their brothers. A 'grave sin,' supposedly.

Bullshit, I say to that.

And I quote: "Women, and those who attempt to ordain them, were classified as committing crimes against the sacraments. Such crimes are metaphysically serious in that they constitute any action that desecrates the Eucharist. Not only can God not work through the body of a woman; now, it seems, women's bodies actually defile the Eucharist....

"The latest act of codified violence against women leads me to ask: Why shouldn't Catholic women allow God to act to God's fullest potential in them? Why shouldn't they seek ordination or create lay-led Eucharistic communities that will truly nurture anyone who seeks the peace, community, sacramental nourishment, and social justice that is sorely lacking both in our society and in our church?"

And Jesus, you don't even have to come down and answer that for me. You don't need to make the wind whisper it to me or send me a letter from heaven. I know the answer: because it takes the power away from men.

Mercy Sr. Teresa Cane had an editorial in the paper that illustrated just this point. She writes, "A group of sisters in the Midwest were having their community assembly. Out of courtesy, they invited the bishop....the bishop wrote back and said it must be in a parish church and not at the motherhouse, you must have altar boys come in to assist me, and no sister may carry the cross in the procession. They prayed about it and decided not to have the liturgy."

Gee, I wonder why. Talk about a party pooper.

I don't mean to be flip. I'm just not really sure what else to do with my anger.

Keeping women from the fullest displays of their worship strikes me as about as outdated and patriarchal as not allowing us to vote. Women not being allowed to carry the cross? We do it every single day all over the world.

A while ago, a friend wrote a blog post about religion, and wrote that she believed Catholicism struck her as a bit cultish, with so many people who disagreed with the church being unable to completely leave it. I responded that there were many, many people who were actively trying to change the church. But also that for many, Catholicism is like their cultural heritage. Sometimes, I feel like I can no more shed it than I can my genes from Calabria. (Not that I'd want to Grandma, don't worry!) I'm Italian, Irish and decidedly Catholic.

But I don't know what to do with myself. So many reasons to to run!

Jesus, I know you don't wear Prada. The particularly brilliant red of the Pontiff's shoes reminded me of the red doors of the Episcopal Church. It's not perfect, but it's a start.

Or a breakaway church? But how to find one of those? I'm afraid there is no listing in the yellow pages for Alternative Catholic Churches.

I've entertained attending services across the street. They fly the rainbow flag.

I'll pray about it. Now that I don't have to memorize equations, I'll have more time.

Thanks for listening.



Friday, July 23, 2010

I felt ridiculously better after Mass last Sunday.

This, despite 3 cell phones going off. Let me break down for you how this sounds.

1. You hear the muffled ringing, in someone's pocket or purse.

2. You hear the flustered fumbling of that person trying to get their phone out.

3. You hear the suddenly amplified and amazingly shrill sound fill the entire building, as the ringing reaches up to the painted heavens on the domed church ceiling.

I'm not sure how better to translate the 'please turn off all electronic devices' entreaty prior to the beginning of Mass.

Somehow, though, the Holy Spirit managed to weave its way around my annoyance and find a point of entry. Somehow we've managed to hang together this entire week. And it feels good.

I loved the Gospel reading, but I'm uncertain of its meaning. Martha and her sister Mary, welcoming Jesus. Martha, the workhorse, sweating in the kitchen, gets pissed when she sees Mary just chilling by the feet of Jesus. Why isn't she helping me? Martha thinks? Why is she just sitting there?

When Martha questions this, and brings Jesus into it, he tells her that her sister has chosen the better path. Listening has trumped service. Contemplation has trumped dinner prep.

I admit to being confused by this. On one hand, I can understand how contemplation has to be part of the spiritual life of a person. On the other hand, I wonder what the lesson is, exactly. Should Martha have taken her seat on the floor? Let her anxiety go about feeding someone whom she loves greatly?

As someone who enjoys having company, I could feel her stress. If I don't do it, who will prepare the meal? But Jesus essentially told her she was fretting about all the wrong things.

I admit to feeling bad for her.

So ultimately, I'm not sure the moral. We serve others. We contemplate. But we're supposed to know which is preferable when? Should Martha have trusted that somehow the meal would get made?

Can you help elucidate this for me?

Friday, July 16, 2010

If I were smart, I'd have gone to church this morning. 8AM Mass, dragging the kids and all. It would have been just us and a few elderly folks, I'm certain. If I really could pick, I'd only take Hannah with me. Lillian likes to test me. Last Sunday, she kept kicking her feet on the wood to make noises, and also kept lounging about on the pew like it was a poolside chaise lounge. I know she's four and I can't expect too much. But still, the reading and homily was about the Good Samaritan, and I like to focus. (Even though the focus sometimes is a stark reminder of how much I suck.) Case in point...difficult people. Jesus instructs us to love our neighbor, to show them mercy as the Samaritan does to the man who's been beaten and robbed and left for dead. I don't know how to apply this to difficult people.

I mean, I know how I'm supposed to apply this. I know I'm supposed to be kind to them anyway, even though they might drive me absolutely batty, that I'm supposed to show them love and mercy even when they are complete a-holes. This, my friends...exceedingly hard.

Anyway, a digression there, but a worthwhile one. I'm all upset. The class I'm taking is ridiculously hard, an advanced science course condensed into a nightmare 6-weeks long. I'm stuck and not getting these concepts. That's bad enough. Add to that the notion of being forgotten by the online community I've been writing with for almost 6 years? I'm feeling rather lost and sad, and singularly self-focused. Church is good for ridding oneself of this.

I have to pass this course.

I don't have to blog.

I want to be a nurse.

Is there a Patron Saint of Chemistry? Because I'm going to ask a favor, that you invoke this person and their brain, that they may take pity on me, suffering through my last chemistry class. I'm in tears for many reasons this morning, and sitting in front of my online homework problems certainly is not helping, because I have zero idea on how to complete these problems.

I wish I could shower in holy water.

I also need to go home. Like it's a drug, I need to go home and get some wide-open air in my veins. I need to sit by the pond and play with my nephew and see my parents. I think it's because I feel like such a kid right now, helpless and lonely.

Pray for me, okay? I don't need an A. I need to pass with a C for the credit to ultimately transfer. I got an 87 on my first test, but my optimistic bubble was burst when I saw the difficulty (and calculus-laden) quality of kinetics and equilibrium constants. I never took calculus. For good reason.

Anyway, I should have gone to church this morning.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Please help out and vote

It's been a ridiculously long time since I've posted. Summer is hectic, and chemistry is even more hectic. I knew I'd be losing my mind, so things are going as expected.

In the meantime, could you do me a favor and vote for Blessed Sarnelli Community on Facebook? My in-laws occasionally work with Fr. Kevin, who does really good work with Philadelphia's homeless community, by, you know, actually feeding them.

If they remain one of the top 200 vote-getters through Chase Community Giving, they will receive $20,000, which is a HUGE deal.

If you're on Facebook, it takes a second. Please help out! Just search for Blessed Sarnelli Community, located in Phila, PA, on the Chase Community Giving Facebook page. Thank you!!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

I've been praying a lot for patience.

I can tell you, without a doubt, I am a better parent when I attend Mass regularly. Because that's when I sit and ask God for the ability to recognize my awesome charge, and to not screw it up too much.

My children are generally a delight. They are the kind of children you wouldn't mind if I brought over to your house. Because THERE ARE children that you would mind coming over to your house.

My girls tend to use manners and help clean up (even if that requires multiple requests) and aren't troublemakers. (Okay, my 4-year old has been known to start a controversy, but still, that's fairly rare.)

It's when I have them, alone, that's the issue. More often than not, they do not get along. More often than not, they end up fighting over things that make me scratch my head. This morning, at breakfast, it was because Lillian was teasing Hannah about not liking blackberries.

And I was like, you've got to be kidding. All these tears over blackberries?

And I try to be calm and think back to when I was younger, and I know somewhere along the way I got angry or irritated over something not worth a second of my time.

But then I get all like, oh my Lord, we're talking fruit, here. Is this really a punishable offense?

Life. Life. Life. Those kids drive me crazy, and make me crazy with love.

At night I've been falling asleep before asking for forgiveness. I do, however, get in the heartfelt request for patience and a list of things I've been thankful for.

The other day, it was thanks for the sight of my girls swinging. Lily can pump her legs now, allowing me the unique position to observe them both. Their long hair blows with their movement. Suddenly, they're all legs and smiles. Last night, I gave thanks for the grace that found me in my kitchen, stunned with Hannah's sudden maturity. I was setting up a picnic for them with a neighbor's granddaughter in our backyard. I suggested we use a plaid flannel sheet used for camping. "I'll get it Hannah," I said. "It's in the basement."

"Don't worry, Mom. I'll can get it." And before I knew it, she was bounding down the basement stairs, and back up again, emerging with the sheet, only to run back outside again. So many things she can get on her own now. It is both exhilarating and heartbreaking.

Tonight I'll give thanks for Lillian coming downstairs this morning, still sleepy in her pajamas, but wearing sunglasses. It was a random thing, and it made me smile.

They drive me crazy, and I ask for calm. They make me crazy with love. So many things to be grateful for. So many things to thank God for.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Come to my assistance in this great need....

I'm completely and totally sick of these headaches. Not that I was ever really down with them to begin with. I was fairly gleeful of late to find that I wasn't getting them with my usual frequency and ferociousness, which I ascribed to a regular workout schedule. I still believe in this, that working my muscles and heart has benefited my head. For the month of May, however, I've been feeling like my body was hell-bent on giving me a headache.

And this, perhaps, might be the source of my feeling depressed, which I wrote about at my heathen blog.

The neurological effects of migraines are interesting. I've felt shaky, nauseated, sensitive to light, really sad. I've had trouble sleeping. And my medicine isn't working. I get 6 pills a month covered by insurance. Since Sunday, I've taken three. No luck.

So I don't know what this means. I guess it just means I'm due for pain. I've had my respite, and now I'm due.

I took the girls to a parish carnival a few weekends ago. On our way back to our car, I showed them the room near the back of the church that has all the candles. You can light one and say a prayer, surrounded by statues of Mary and Jesus and Joseph, and yeah, who's that guy back there? Oh, that's St. Jude.

Patron Saint of Hopeless Cases. Patron Saint of Unending Head Pain. Patron Saint of Sad People.

Or, that cool guy with the flame on his head.

Don't you wish you could walk around like that sometimes? Decked out in a spectacular flame? And you could answer people like this. Yes, why yes. Of course I've been touched by the Holy Spirit.

I'm doing a novena to St. Jude now, but it has nothing to do with my headaches. I've learned, since being diagnosed with migraines, that there is actually something called Chronic Daily Headaches. So while I may feel desperate and like a hopeless case in the midst of this pain, I've been informed that it could be worse. Like, every day worse. That would suck.

Maybe I'll write about the novena specifics some day. Probably not.

I remember, when I was younger, the area I lived in had a weekly circular called The Penny Saver. It advertised garage sales and appliances and estate sales and pets for sale and all manner of things. There were personals in there, and tucked within the personal were spaces dedicated to St. Jude, prayers and thanks for answers received. I used to read them, even though most said exactly the same thing, and wondered why someone had to take out an ad. Multiple ads. Multiple people. All saying the same thing.

I understand now. If my novena is answered with a yes, I think I might have to rent a billboard.

If it's a no, though, I get it. I would get the reasons why.

Still, I might just have to start another one. I wonder if a saint can be worn down, if they're like, Jesus...again? That woman is tenacious!

St. Jude, Patron Saint of Hopeless Cases Who Are Still Plucky and Determined Despite Being Sad and Headachey. I do believe that has an interesting ring to it.

Friday, May 14, 2010

This Day Will Not Come Again

When am I going to learn that 'vigil' means the night prior? I missed the Feast of the Ascension, and mass for two weekends in a row, and I'm feeling rather aimless, like I'm floating in the ocean, wearing only swimmies.

Very unprepared. And drifting.

I checked my parish's website and found that all the morning masses were -- surprise -- ones that I couldn't attend.

Did I tell you that the last time I attended mass, the celebrant used a decent amount of Latin? Also not good. And I feel bad about saying that, because there once was a time everything was in Latin and then there was a huge sea change, and I bet the old-schoolers felt out of it and unhappy. Something beloved was different. I know how hard that is to swallow. There is something restorative in the cadence of words we know by heart. Words we could recite in our sleep.

The new translations are coming. Can I tell you how bereft I am that I'll have to give up Lord I am not worthy to receive you? It's going to be replaced with something like Lord I am not worthy to welcome you under my roof. That's not it exactly, but the gist is there. And although both statements are completely true, I have a fondness for the one I've said forever.

Some people have said that because the words are so familiar, people tend to zone out while saying them, and that maybe a change will bring new life to mass. I'm going to have an open mind, though I say that with a grumpy look on my face and defiantly crossed arms.

Since I'm scattered and feeling apart right now, I'm going to close with some Thomas Merton. I began thumbing through Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander last night, and was a bit dismayed to find that a lot of it is esoteric. He's quoting this philosopher or this theologian. It will take some work to read it. But there are some brief parts where Merton is describing his surroundings at Gethsemani, and it's like taking a coffee break while listening to a lengthy talk on foreign policy.

A sweet summer afternoon. Cool breezes and a clear sky. This day will not come again. The young bulls lie under a tree in the corner of their field. Quiet afternoon. Blue hills. Day lilies nod in the wind. This day will not come again.

Friday, April 23, 2010

I Heard the Bells

I love a conversion story, whether it details the shift from absence of belief to the embracing of it, or perhaps a faith that isn't drawn upon or remembered, and suddenly something happens to jolt one into a new awareness.

I could read an entire book of conversion stories, and never grow weary of them. I stuck with Thomas Merton throughout his, and wasn't disappointed, as he transitioned from a college student swayed mostly by debauchery to newly baptized Catholic to a Trappist monk. And yes, that's quite a transition.

My own story is brief, and for some reason, or a myriad of reasons, I cannot share it in detail. Sometimes I feel like if I do, then I chip away at its meaning for me. Sometimes I feel like if I think about it too much, I start questioning its authenticity. When it comes to manifestations of God, I've always been more like Agent Mulder rather than Agent Scully. Agent Mulder believed in aliens, and not much else. Agent Scully believed in God, and always had a scientifically based rebuttal to Mulder's beliefs. (Oh, X-Files, I miss you!)

Unlike Agent Mulder, I do believe in God, but I always have questions. I don't embrace and believe as often as I'd like. So I worry that the more I examine my experience, the more likely I am to pick it apart, and chalk it up to coincidence or some other earthly reason. Additionally, there is the nagging suspicion that I am simply not worthy of God's voice. Why would He talk to me?

But He did. And, at least, that's the story I'm sticking to for now.

Sometimes when I think of the particular prayer I had said the night before my moment, and what I had asked for, I get this little chill. Goosebumps, I think, and laugh about it, like there's a bit of the Holy Spirit left in my memory of things, and it rises through firing neurons to manifest on my skin. To manifest in the remembering.

I think of my child -- who, at the time, was 3 years, 4 months old -- and how she answered my prayer the next morning. How she spoke of the concern I whispered in the dark of my room, as she slept. How she gave voice to wisdom way beyond her years in a single sentence.

Anne Lamott once wrote that she wished we could hear bells to announce the coming of grace in our daily lives, so we could embrace it more, and be aware of it. A celestial ding-dong to help us survive and deal.

I heard the bells, or rather felt them, but after, not before, when my eyes became ridiculously watery sitting across from my child, realizing at that moment God was talking to me. Me. And He was using my child to do it.

I wasn't faithless at the time. I was starting to re-explore, reading out of curiosity and starting to attend Mass again. So while perhaps my experience isn't exactly a conversion, I kind of view it as a divine kick in the pants. And I'm grateful for it.

Not worthy. But grateful.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Can Drunk People Be Sacred? Why, Yes!

I've been feeling rather spent, blog-wise.'s busy, and I guess that's a good thing.

My most gigantic goal ever is trying to find the sacred in the every day, and sacred simply equals good. It doesn't entail rosy, watercolored angels coming down from the heavens, preceeded by the sound of church bells to announce their arrival.

I forget this ALL THE TIME. All the time. Especially when I tend toward the curmudgeon. I like to grumble. It's my way of dealing with stress. The problem, however, is that the grumbling can kind of take over, and become my go-to stance on viewing the world.

This past weekend, my husband and I were at a wedding. Lots of time for witnessing the sacred there, from vows being spoken out loud and shared to drunken revelry at the basement bar way past everyone's bedtime. Sometimes, it feels so good to gather with friends and be crazy. So a vodka tonic isn't nearly the same thing as bread and wine. It still felt like a Communion of sorts, with each person bringing their joy and messiness to the table.

In the morning, Dave and I had coffee by the beach, alone. Being the shore pre-season, there blessedly weren't too many people out and about. But the ones that jogged or walked past our bench nodded their greetings. I loved that, too. It's easy to love everything with the sound of vast amounts of water hitting the sand.

On our way back to the hotel, to try and wake our sleeping, hungover friends for breakfast, we saw some movement in the back of the pick-up truck belonging to one of them. Knocking on the window, we see our friend P sit-up and stretch.

"Dude, what are you doing sleeping in your truck?" we say, opening the door.

"J was being such a jerk last night, telling me to turn down the TV, turn off the lights. Mean drunk, that guy. I was like, screw this, I ain't sharing a room with you. So I came out here."

"That had to be comfortable," I said.

"Guarantee, he won't remember a thing of this," P said.

"Let's go wake his ass up."

And so we did, and we all had breakfast at Uncle Bill's Pancake House, with hash fries and orange juice and pancakes and eggs.

It was a sort of profane sacred, not the kind truly cut out for a blog post, but the kind I wanted to share, regardless.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Happy Are Those Who Are Called To Share His Supper

When David and I were engaged, we knew we'd be getting married at my parents' parish in New York. To do this, we had to get permission from our own parish priest at the time. In our dealings with him, it was revealed that we were co-habitating, sharing the same apartment next to the insanely noisy R5 Regional Rail line. We were in love, getting married, and still clearly in violation of Church rules. He told us flat out that we shouldn't take Communion until we had moved into different apartments and confessed the sin of sharing the same bed. As David and I walked back to our apartment, I howled and railed at his audacity. "Fine," I said. "I get that there are 'rules' and he's obligated to inform us of them, but to say we can't receive the body and blood of Christ? Do you think Jesus would deny us a seat at his table?" Eventually I had to just let it go, but I didn't stop taking Communion. As soon as I was sure that letter was sent, we stopped attending that church.


I just finished reading a book called Take This Bread, and I really wanted to share a passage of it with whomever happens to read this. The book follows the conversion of a woman who was raised in an atheist family. On a whim one day, she walks into a local Episcopal church and takes communion. As her faith and knowledge grow, she feels called to heed the teachings of Jesus and feed the hungry. And so she does so, in a big way, starting a food pantry at St. Gregory's (her new church), and with some help from her community, is able to start food pantries in other locations nearby to feed to skyrocketing number of people who are unable to afford basic groceries.

It's an amazing spiritual memoir, and the author, Sara Miles, does a good job questioning why churches put up barriers to Communion.

Since this is Holy Thursday, and we celebrate the Last Supper, where Jesus broke bread and drank wine with saints and sinners -- both a man who'd deny knowledge of him three times and a man who'd betray him with a kiss -- I thought it appropriate to offer a meditation, via Sara Miles, on Communion.

"The entire and contradictory package of Christianity was present in the Eucharist. A sign of unconditional acceptance and forgiveness, it was doled out and rationed to insiders; a sign of unity, it divided people; a sign of the most common and ordinary human reality, it was rarefied and theorized nearly to death. And yet that meal remained, through all the centuries, more powerful than any attempts to manage it. It reconciled, if for only a minute, all of God's creation, revealing that, without exception, we were members of one body, God's body, in endless diversity. The feast showed us how to re-member what had been dis-membered by human attempts to separate and divide, judge and cast out, select or punish. At that Table sharing food, we were brought into the ongoing work of making creation whole. I read a commentary by Grant Gallup, a cranky liberation theologian and Episcopal priest who'd retired to Nicaragua. 'The little loaf-sharing church,' he wrote,' stole away from the neighborhood of Jerusalem Temple and the synagogues of the diaspora, hounded by a good imperial government to martyrdom for hundreds of years, and then, one day, found its bishops enthroned and basilicas built for it by emperors. It issues receipts and itemized its metaphysics. It created a dogmatic mind of Christ to supplant the flesh of Nazareth. But there was always and remains still the opportunity to make Jesus your friend, and to invite him to share your supper.'"

('But there was and remains still the opportunity to make Jesus your friend, and to invite him to share your supper.' Those words are so profound, I had to type them again, and though they don't belong to Sara Miles, I thank her profusely for quoting them and their author.)

This will be my last Holy Week post, as we are traveling to New York, so have a lovely Easter!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Palm Sunday

What I saw:

A basket of palms.
A priest cloaked in red. The pews full.
Sculptures covered in purple fabric.
An eclipse.

What I heard:

Coughing. Babies.
My children whispering their hunger to me.
"O Sacred Head Surrounded.'
The Passion, the last breaths of Christ,
and the quaking of the ground.

What I felt:

Grateful to be a part of this church,
despite my misgivings, despite my
disagreements. Surrounded by
fellow worshippers, all of us thieves
asking to be welcomed into
the Kingdom of Heaven.

Monday, March 22, 2010

San Romero

I've been quite dispirited lately with the level of discourse that's been pulsing through the country, and encouraged and fomented by Republican leaders. The health care debates have bordered on and actually crossed over into the dangerous, culminating with demonstrations on the House lawn involving racial epithets and anti-gay slurs. Follow that up with some Twitterings suggesting that our President be killed, and I just about want to build myself a bunker.

Thrown into the mix is the idea that social and economic justice are actually code words for Nazism. This, of course, from distinguished speaker and friend of Jesus, Glenn Beck. I'm not one to pretend that I'm certain Christ is on my side, nor do I profess to know everything there is to know about Jesus. I am, though, still pretty sure that Jesus not only cared greatly for the poor, but cared about WHY they were poor. And yes, this is radical, though not even close to the type of radical Beck insinuates.

I suppose it's apt that today marks the 30th anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was shot to death while finishing a homily during mass. Archbishop Romero cared deeply for the poor, and cared also about why they were poor. He cared about their ability to affect social change. He cared about social justice.

I read about Oscar Romero some time ago, when I finished a book on the School of the Americas by a priest named Fr. Roy Bourgeois. I read about the bloody conflicts that left thousands upon thousands dead, many killed by death squads roaming village to village killing everyone in a brutal attempt to wipe out uprising by the poor. Anyone who opposed El Salvador's government, including priests and nuns who helped serve and protect the poor, were targets for murder, kidnapping and torture. Some of the people in charge of these death squads were trained on American soil.

While some religious maintained silence under fear of death, Romero refused. He visited the poor, listened to their horror stories of rape and murder, and advocated for their safety. He tried, unsuccessfully, to get the killers to understand they were killing their own countrymen and women. Shot while saying Mass, he became a martyr.

He is still beloved by Salvadoreans, and others, all these decades later, and serves as an integral reminder of the call to help those who cannot help themselves. Though he hasn't been made a saint as of yet, he is still, to some, San Romero.

Sunday, March 14, 2010


I'm hoping if you read this, you can lend me a bit of the space in your brain. Or rather, someone I know who is having some difficulty.

A friend of mine is going through chemo for treatment of liver cancer. She recently had a procedure to prevent the drugs from entering her stomach, with the purpose of preventing chemo-induced ulcers. She is in a lot of pain following this treatment, and her doctors want to re-hospitalize her. I talked to her a few moments ago, and then paced around for a bit. I swept the floor and put on some U2 and wondered about things.

So I'm taking to this page to ask for your prayers for her and her family. I've been entreating St. Peregrine for some time now, and although I know there are a wide swath of people who send their prayers and good wishes on a daily basis, it can never hurt to have a few more.

And though I hesitate to type her name here, because it's not my right to do so, I think it can be very helpful to have the name of the person you're praying for.

Her name is Tara, and I thank you, greatly.

Monday, March 8, 2010

It's rather amazing what a hefty dose of Vitamin D can do for a struggling soul.

It was Hannah's idea to go outside on Saturday, not mine. I'd been out for an errand, and though it was much warmer than it has been, the chill was still present.

"I just got out a book to read, babe," I told her.

"You can read outside," was her response, and I decided not to argue with her and just do it, because they have been cooped up too. We all have, within this chicken pen of winter, pecking and clucking for some freedom.

She went around collecting items that she insisted heralded spring's arrival, including rocks, the beret-like caps of acorns, some chives and holly leaves. It is one of the greatest joys of this life, watching my kids scoot around the yard with purpose. I see them now, unencumbered with doubt and stress, being present in the moment. Sometimes they drive me insane. Sometimes they teach me.

I've been struggling a bit with grace. I have yet to accept the fact that I'm not too busy to experience it. So then it tends to come along and wollop me, like some gigantic celestial hand slapping me across the head.

I wanted to thank God for all of this, and so I did, much to the chagrin of one of the priests at my church, who lit into my disrespectful butt during one of his homilies. (Well, he didn't directly yell at me, but I felt the sting nonetheless.) He suggested we are a bit too familiar with God and not nearly as reverential as we should be. (I can also tell you he is not my favorite priest, straight up.) Apparently, there is a specific formula for talking to God, and it can only be found on one's knees and using a lofty tone.

So Hannah and I looked at the snowdrops together. I tried to show her to look inside, to lift each drooping head and look down, inside the petals, but she was too distracted. It was intoxicating, all the air and the sunlight.

So she ran off, looking for something else, as I sat on the deck reading Merton. In between the glimpses of a life just about to enter a monastery, I see Hannah, hopping around, jumping from stepping stone to stepping stone, a girl involved in her own version of prayer. It made me supremely happy.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

St. Polycarp

When I started this blog, I had every intention of occasionally choosing a saint by his or her liturgical feast day and writing about them. I felt this important because, one, I find the saints fascinating. Their lives were often one trial after another, yet they persisted in their faith. And two, my own upswing in faith was only encouraged by reading Fr. James Martin's My Life With the Saints about a year ago.

(I think perhaps we should make a drinking game out of the number of times I mention Fr. Martin's name on this blog, because it's out of control.

See? I just did it again. Take a shot! Wait, don't take a shot. Say a prayer. That is most definitely way more appropriate.)

I have kind of squandered that opportunity, seeing as I haven't written about a single saint here. Even a few feast days for virgin martyrs have gone by, with not a peep out of me.

But as I was examining the calendar pre-Ash Wednesday, and counting down the remaining days I could prepare myself nachos as a late night snack, I noticed that Saint Polycarp's feast day was approaching (and is actually today, February 23).

My parents got me Robert Ellsberg's book All Saints for Christmas, and I read ahead a bit a few weeks ago about St. Polycarp. He was in his mid-eighties when martyred. He was widely considered a holy man and as the bishop of Smyrna, was a disciple of St. John the Evangelist. When taken into captivity, he asked only for an hour to pray. St. Polycarp also had a fairly witty exchange with the Roman proconsol. The proconsol, knowing both Polycarp's age and reputation, tried to encourage him to relent. But it was to no avail. And like St. Catherine of Alexandra and St. Cecilia and probably a host of other saints, the initial method his executioners chose to kill him didn't work.

Which I ALWAYS appreciate.

Because it's really cool. I mean, imagine it. Here you have some kind of authority figure attempting to put someone to death for not denouncing his or her beliefs. Trying to wield the ultimate power, they fail. It takes repeated attempts, despite the relative frailty of the human body, to kill that believer.

And even more so in the case of St. Polycarp, again, in his mid-eighties. He was entirely an old man.

Roman proconsol: Worship Caesar. Denounce Jesus.

St. Polycarp: Jesus saved me. Why would I turn my back on him?

Roman proconsol: Do you know I can have you burned? Fire

St. Polycarp: Yeah, but how long will my fire burn? Maybe an hour or so. You'll be burning for eternity.

Ooooh, snap!

So the Roman proconsol had St. Polycarp burned. Or, he tried to. A written account of St. Polycarp's martyrdom by a witness describes how the fire surrounded his body but didn't engulf it. He remained alive, not burning, as if enclosed within a protective shell. Ultimately, he was killed when his heart was stabbed with a sword, and the witness describes such a torrent of blood that all the flames were extinguished.

I know the saints weren't perfect. Far from it. Some even felt abandoned by God, feeling darkness where they once felt the gift of faith.

But for someone like myself, whose faith can sometimes seem to waver with the blowing of the wind, reading accounts like this strengthen my belief that this life is merely our starting point.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Is This Not the Fast That I Choose

I want so bad to put up some eloquent and lovely post on the Lenten season. We celebrate the mystery of the death of Christ and his resurrection, with a special call for repentance, and if anything deserves thought and elucidation, it's that.

As I type, my children are fighting downstairs, and I really should log-off and address this, but they've been home for like a week now, and my patience has just about dried up, like a once-flowing stream that has turned into a trail of cracked dirt. That's where I am, folks.

I keep telling myself that I don't need to be more than what I am, but I do need to be better. Or instead of 'better,' perhaps more aware. Or open.

I was looking forward to Ash Wednesday services tomorrow, at 9:15am, but I have realized that my youngest might be home with me. Funny thing. Her preschool has scheduled a 'pajama day' party, and my children thoroughly dislike such events, with all the school kids gathered in the basement yelling and running and just being kids. They like order and relative quiet and calm behavior, except when I leave them alone at the breakfast table for the purpose of trying to compose a post on Lent.

So I was thinking of just keeping her home, or going with her. Which would mean I'd miss Ash Wednesday services, which also makes me want to cry. Because how can I be better if the one thing that helps to ground me stays elusive? That thing, of course, is time. I know my call right now isn't towards contemplation, for this very reason, but I desire it. At least a bit of it.

I suppose I could keep her home and take her with me, but I'm still working on that selfish part of me that wants to leave everyone else at home and take Mass all for myself. Because I'm still and silent and listening and not worrying that someone is scooting around too much on the bench or bending the hymnals or playing with/tripping over the kneelers or asking for a snack. It's a process.

I've been reading about other options for Lent, other than your typical sacrifices. Since I'm such a novice at my faith (even being a cradle Catholic), last year was my first foray back into Lenten sacrifice, and I gave up gossip sites. I confess to having read them daily, and knew what my clicks were contributing to, so I figured it was something worthy to do. And I haven't been back. So I consider that sacrifice worthwhile. It's one nasty thing I'm free of.

But I do understand the writings about vowing to be more loving, kinder, more generous this Lent, instead of opting for a requisite 'giving up.' Sacrifice, when you think about it, can be pretty meaningless. What's the point of giving something up for spiritual reasons, really, if you don't follow through on the need to give out? The reading for Ash Wednesday, from Isaiah 58: 1-12, which I quote from below, highlights just that.

"Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wicked-
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?

Is it not to share your bread with
the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into
your house;
when you see the naked, to cover
and not to hide yourself from
your own flesh?"

Yeah. Sometimes you just need to let someone else say it.

I'm pretty new, though, to this resurge in faith, so I am still going old school and will give something up. This year, I am abstaining from eating after dinner, which, if you know me, you also know this isn't something that will be easy. I do appreciate some nachos at 10:00pm. And I pretty much have some kind of snack (sometimes two) after dinner, and tend to see this late night food as a reward, so this will certainly be a nightly struggle.

Perhaps I can take this move away from gluttony and run with it. I'm hoping I can feed myself -- because, Lord knows, my cup, plate and everything else runneth over -- with something else.

Isaiah's encouragement is sound. We do not fast solely for our own benefit. Because I know I can feed others too, for these 40 days, and beyond.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


I'm taking a cue from Fran, and posting a video. I feel fairly absent of words right now.

I heard this song in the car the day after a rather epic fight with my husband, and like any good weep-prone woman would do, I cried in the garage while it wrapped up. (Look, I don't get that melodramatic that often, okay?)

Still, while I read Becoming Who You Are again (I know, enough about that book already, right?), it struck me last night as I was jogging that this song ties in a bit.

I'm not sure how Incubus would feel about me making a link between a book by a Jesuit priest and them, but really it's the lyrics that sing about the true and false self, which is the central theme of the book I'm so obsessed with.

"We all have a weakness; some of ours are easy to identify..."

"When weakness turns my ego up, I know you'll count on the me from yesterday..."

"If I turn into another, dig me out from under what is covering, the better part of me..."

Yeah, pretty much.

Hope you enjoy it.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A Rut

I can't seem to get out of this mud.

I can't contemplate. It's a task rooted in poor soil. Nothing comes out of it. Nothing grows.

I can't seem to remember my charge, that the ordinary can contain vast amounts of grace.

I live in my daydreams: escapism for the ungrounded soul. I am someone else, elsewhere, unknown.

I am the Patron Saint of the Eyeroll, Our Lady of Annoyance.

I am both melodramatic and understated. I am aiming for the middle.

I am all good intentions. And I know what road to where is paved with them.

And I know this is temporary. It always is. Something always comes to jolt me from my stupor and my slumber. Still, I can't help but worry that I am missing something. I think it's all elusive when it's not. It's the opposite of elusive. It's everywhere, waiting for me to grasp it and hold it and I see my palm waving around, fingers outstretched and unable to curl, unable to latch on.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Everyday Sacraments

"A sacrament is an outward sign of God's love, they taught me when I was a boy, and in the Catholic Church there are seven. But, no, I say, for the Church is catholic, the world is catholic, and there are seven times seventy sacraments, to infinity." Andre Dubus, Making Sandwiches for My Daughters

One of my struggles involves my general disdain of all things domestic. Whether it's getting four loads of laundry cleaned, folded and put away, or preparing lunches in the morning, or figuring out meals for the week, or going grocery shopping and putting everything in some kind of order at home, or washing dishes after being at school for three hours.

It's not like I walk around with a huge sour puss all the time or something. I'm not swearing as I transfer the cool, wet and dark clothing from washer to dryer, or slamming pieces of bread together as I make my 10,000th peanut butter sandwich. But I usually don't see them as joyful things, either. I see them as to-do items to slog through so I can get to the better parts of my day.

I mentioned in an older post that I got the chance to read Becoming Who You Are over Christmas. It's really a stunning book, and because it's so slim (about 90 pages), it's the kind of text that's easy to return to again and again. There were several times while reading it that I had to stop and digest a particular page or paragraph, not because it was difficult to consume, but because it contained so much wisdom I had to pause and linger a bit.

One such page quoted the late author Andre Dubus. Dubus was paralyzed after he was hit by a car. He had stopped to help another driver who was having car trouble when another car struck him. James Martin, SJ, the author of Becoming Who You Are, quotes from an essay that Dubus wrote:

"In his essay, Dubus, a devout Catholic, describes the laborious process of making sandwiches for his young daughters to carry with them to school. As he maneuvers his large, bulky wheelchair around his cramped kitchen, he reaches for the utensils, as he tries to open cabinet doors from his awkward position, and as he cuts the sandwiches, he realizes what he is doing for his children:

Each moment is a sacrament, this holding of plastic bags, of knives, of bread, of cutting board, this pushing of the chair, this spreading of mustard, this trimming of liverwurst, of ham. All sacraments...if I remember, then I feel it, too."

A sacrament is defined as a ritual in which God is uniquely active, or as a visible form of grace. I know it's ridiculously hard for me to see the grace in the monotonous tasks that create the backdrop of a life. But, I can tell myself, because I can, because I have, it's a sacrament. If I give thanks, it's a sacrament. Thanks for the towels and the sheets; thanks for the place to wash them; thanks for the food and the money with which to buy it; thanks for children to prepare meals for, and the body that is able to do it all.

I think of Andre Dubus, whose short stories I have read many times in college, trying to do something that is so easy for me, and being so grateful to do it. He writes, "...I can do this all with one turn of the chair. This is a first-world problem; I ought only to be grateful." Sure, he had to remind himself from time to time, as he writes in the part Fr. Martin quoted. Because how can we not forget? When we're tired, frustrated, angry.

But I suppose it's our charge to remember. Or to at least attempt to remind ourselves every now and then. Fr. Martin says that such a realization "can imbue even the quietest moments of one's life with a special grace."

Amazing, right?

(I'm linking to Dubus's entire essay, which can be found in an anthology called God Is Love: Essays From Portland Magazine. It's a quick read. And a wonderfully beautiful one. And more complex and lovely than I could do justice describing.)

Sunday, January 3, 2010

I Have Some Reading To Do

Christmas was quite lovely. We were all in relatively good health (which was a huge departure from last year) and could celebrate without the depression that accompanies the flu combined with pink eye.

We even made it to 8am Mass Christmas morning. Next year, I think we'll brave the crowds and do a Christmas Eve Mass, as there is music and instruments and loud singing, and I kind of crave that this time of year. 8am Mass was understated and peaceful, though, and the girls were sweet in their dresses.

I was excited to receive many of the book I asked for this year: a paperback copy of Fr. James Martin's My Life With the Saints, Robert Ellsberg's All Saints, and Father Louie's The Seven Storey Mountain and New Seeds of Contemplation. (Thanks Mom and Dad!)

My Life With the Saints was one of the first books I read as my faith started growing, and I've leafed through my FIL's copy of All Saints, which is a daily mediation featuring 365 figures, from Dorothy Day to Gandhi to MLK Jr. to St. Ignatius of Loyola. Some of the figures are central to the Catholic Church and and some are not, though each has brought great things to the world through their philosophies, faith and vocations.

At my in-laws' this past vacation, I was able to read Fr. Martin's Becoming Who You Are, which, for a slim volume (it is just under 90 pages), I cannot speak more highly of. Imagine my surprise, when, at the end of the book, Fr. Martin proposes a hypothetical featuring a working mother who has two children, ages 4 and 6. That mother, he says, laments her busy schedule and how little time or energy she feels she can devote to prayer and contemplation. She wishes she could be a bit more like the saints she admires, like St. Teresa of Calcutta. But she is no more meant to be St. Teresa than St. Teresa was meant to be a busy mother. I needed that reality check.

The book is about discovering your true self, the person God created you to be, and it's really another I have to add to my bookshelf. With lengthy meditations on Jesus, Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day and Henry Nouwen, the underlying theme was that the path to holiness rests in being ourselves. I hope that I am on the right path concerning school, and becoming a nurse. I hope that my desire to become one is equal to the competency I will hopefully have in that vocation. My self-confidence, as ever, ebbs and flows. Hopefully my spiritual guides and some prayer will make my path a bit more steady and a lot less wobbly.

Happy New Year!