Yep, this guy here, the one who lights up my life on a daily basis.
It’s his day, and I’m letting him shine over on Peace Garden Writer today.
Here’s to 11!
The thought came to me when I was pregnant with our fourth child. During that pregnancy, my aunt, my father’s oldest sister, was dying of liver cancer, and I was intently pondering life and death.
It started here:
Life doesn’t end with this one, and the next life continues on eternally. Eternal life means forever, as in never-ever-ever ending.
And quickly progressed to this:
Wait now, eternal? Who would want that, really? How could that even be possible? Wouldn’t it get…boring or…overly long? Is that really something I even want?
Once my mind hooked into this, I couldn’t let go. For a moment, I felt physically ill thinking about it. We can’t wrap our brains around eternal, I know this, and yet this wasn’t about not wrapping my brain around eternal as, for the first time, confronting eternal. This was the first time I’d ever thought of it in a negative light and it was extremely disturbing.
Until this day, I’d always taken for granted that our natural propensity is to yearn for something more — that we have an innate sense of a life after this one — the Act II. I know I’d always been moved in that direction. However, the earthly part of me seemed trained more in the way of anticipating endings. And so a non-ending just didn’t make sense.
To be sure, I did not let this thought keep me up at nights. It was only an occasional disruption that would take hold for a little while. Eventually I would let it go and think nothing more of it.
But recently, it happened again, and I knew when I met with my spiritual director I had to bring this question before him. I felt a little silly as I explained being bothered by the idea of infinitude, feeling sure he’d think me a little loony, but he didn’t. I’m assuming it’s a thought others have had, too.
Now, I will be honest. I didn’t think he’d be able to come up with anything satisfactory, and I will also and share that I can’t remember everything he said in his explanation. But at some point, I experienced one of those “aha!” moments that changes everything.
“We really can’t understand it, that’s true,” he said, “but maybe we can think of it this way. We can understand relationships. Think of the love you have for your children. Is that something you can imagine going on forever?”
He continued on for a bit after that, but I didn’t hear any of it. I was stopped at the thought of the love I have for my children and how I could never-ever-ever imagine that ending…ever. And in that moment, even though I still cannot, nor will I ever, fully conceive of how forever works, it made a whole lot of sense how it’s possible for something to endure infinitely.
The “Love never ends” we find in 1 Cor. 13:8 came to life, too. When my father died in January, that’s what I was left with: love. And yet I haven’t felt for a moment that love has left, even though my father has, nor that he is really gone. No, I don’t feel that at all.
I don’t know how it will work. It still doesn’t make sense to me that we would ever want to continue existing into eternity and on and on and on. But I do know for certain that the love I have for my family doesn’t seem to have an end point. Even on our worst days together, love, not as a concept but a reality, is very, very big and yes, I can quite imagine it lasting.
And now, I can embrace the idea of eternal life and not feel ishy at all. Instead, when I think on it, the warmest, most wonderful feeling comes over me.
It’s something I could definitely get used to, forever.
Back in September 2009, I had the honor of sitting down for a catfish meal in New Braunfels, Texas, with one of my favorite bloggers, atheist to Catholic convert Jennifer Fulwiler of the popular Conversion Diary blog.
Here we were then, at the tin-roofed cafe that boasts the best catfish in Texas.
And again, just a few weeks ago at the Thirst conference in Bismarck, ND, along with Sister Bethany Madonna of the Sisters of Life.
Yes, you’re seeing right. I am aging, while Jennifer is actually getting younger. She’s also beat me now in family size, having given birth to number six this past year, while I’m holding at a holy handful.
This visit means we’ve gotten to meet each other once a piece on one another’s turf. Though, as it turns out, I have a Texas connection with my father’s two sisters living in the San Antonio area, and Jennifer has a North Dakota connection, having spent her first-grade year here.
That’s all background to the much more important topic of how Jennifer has, once again, helped inspire me, a lifelong Catholic, by her very thought-provoking perspective on what it’s like to become submerged into this beautiful faith family of Christianity from the outside.
I had the chance to hear two of her talks in Bismarck, including one on Catholic mothering, and another on her conversion from atheism.
I’d heard the conversion story before in pieces on her blog. It was something else to hear it as an actual presentation, however. I laughed, I cried, and I thanked God for her story and life. People were visibly and audibly moved.
For those who don’t know, or need a refresher, Jennifer was a proud atheist most of her life, until around the time her first son was born. It was then she began opening her heart to the possibility of God’s existence. Once she determined that God was, in fact, plausible, she began researching religions, narrowing it down to the Christian religion, in part because it is the only lasting world religion whose founder claims to be God. Her husband, Joe, had been impressed by this fact, and she figured it was pretty significant too.
In the beginning, the introduction came largely through reading authors who shared her former-atheistic perspective. The first such book she picked up was Lee Strobel’s, “The Case for Christ,” which, she said, made some compelling points. He recalled the history of 1st Century Palestine and the customs of its people. For centuries, the Jews of that time had held to religious and social structures from which they wouldn’t stray, even under the threat of persecution.
And then comes Jesus’ crucifixion, and with it, a “sudden” and massive exodus of Jews from Judaism. Over 10,000 Jews are now suddenly following Christ, claiming he’s the initiator of a new religion. And even more, Jennifer recounts from Strobel, “they are willing to give up or alter all five of the social institutions that they have been taught since childhood have such importance, both sociologically and theologically.”
Strobel, she said, made the point that whether you are atheist or Christian or anything else, you have to admit that “something explosive happened to Jewish culture in 1st Century Palestine.” He concluded that the explanation had to be that, in fact, the people had seen Jesus risen from the dead.
It’s not that I wasn’t already in awe over the Resurrection, because every Easter especially, I reflect on the enormity of this occurrence. But rarely have I thought of it like this, stepped inside the lives of the people then and really tried to grasp what this occurrence meant, not just to the apostles we read about at Mass every Sunday, but the ordinary people whose lives were blown away, changed forever, by this monumental event.
“Something explosive happened.” Indeed, it did. God allowed us to know for certain that it was, in fact, him who’d been visiting those 33 years, walking among us, in the form of his son, Jesus. And that he wanted to rock our worlds, change our lives, and refocus our attention on something much more attractive than anything we’d experienced — something that, if we set our sights on it, would lead us straight to heaven and into his divine arms.
Pretty powerful stuff, no? More explosive than the most explosive dynamite, and we are the blessed followers of this religion that is not just about ideologies, but about relationship, and not just with a creator, but with a brother, father, friend.
When Jennifer shared this, I felt like something explosive happened in my own heart, and I could feel myself moving another inch closer to love.
I’m over at my writing blog, Peace Garden Writer today, discussing the apparent impediments of the visual learner.
Yes, I’m watching you! Better to scoot over to where the good stuff is rather than keep this staring contest going.
I promise, I’ll be keeping an eye out for you!
It wasn’t a planned trip. We decided the night before we were going to do it, my mother and I. So off we went, heading west, back to the place where I grew up and she lived nearly 40 years, to attend the funeral of one of my childhood friends.
If I could have chosen another way to get home, I would have. And yet, this is what was given us, and I’m grateful we both were able to rearrange things quickly enough to make it happen.
It was a bittersweet trip in many ways but I was gratefully surprised by the beauty, life and laughter that sneaked in among the heart-wrenching moments of tears. And after I’ve caught my breath, I’ll try to share a little more. For now, here’s a little peek — from our blessed jaunt through the North Dakota Badlands on Saturday.
A friend of mine calls journeys like this pilgrimages, and indeed, it was.
Did being alone ever become more than a desire, more of an essential, a thing that had to happen in order for you to thrive?
Been there, know that feeling well. And I’m going in deep with it.
Yep, I’m a little like this house sometimes, just needing a little space. And it’s all good, but it deserves respect.
|Alone, Not Lonely/Roxane B. Salonen|
I share more on this on Peace Garden Writer today. Go in search of a reprieve there, then treat yourself with a little nap.
It was one of those evenings when I’d found myself needing a distraction, which led to a perusal through the Facebook trail. You know how it goes. You see something interesting, and before long, you’re far from where you began.
The photo caught my eye immediately, and then I had to catch my breath. It was a family photo from a reunion, but I found it absolutely brilliant.
|Family Reunion (click on photo to enlarge)
And not only brilliant because of the way the family had obviously thought it all out beforehand, but, well, to be honest, I was transfixed by the beauty of it all — of seeing this big bustling family in all its glory, in all those colors, parceled out by T-shirts with each family “pod” or branch having chosen its own distinguishing color.
This moment in time, which had to have been tricky to capture, became a breathtaking bouquet of people, each connected in some way to the two sitting on stools in the middle — the ones who’d started it all.
I don’t know that I’ve met the matriarch or patriarch of this stunning brood, though I do know several of their children (one of whom graciously gave me permission to share this piece of their family history). But I’m captivated by this visual and what it says to me: “Trust in God and He will lead you to life in abundance.”
It didn’t escape me that the main couple chose yellow for their T-shirt color. Yellow, like mustard, or a mustard seed. Or, as Jesus said in Matthew 17:20, “I assure you that if you have faith as big as a mustard seed, you can say to this hill, ‘Go from here to there!’ and it will go. You could do anything.”
Anything, like help create a big beautiful family from the simple but profound words, “I do” and a loving God to guide.
Jesus wanted us to know that it only takes a wee bit of faith to create a big, bounteous life. When this mustard-seed couple married all those years ago, they couldn’t have fathomed how their family would expand. They simply stepped out in faith, leaned hard on God, and this was the result.
Some in our world would see this as a negative, and say this couple has been selfish. But that would be unfair and wholly untrue. Rather, they have been selfless. Think of how many things they have sacrificed through the years in order to help bring all these souls into the world.
The really cool thing for me is that, though I don’t know every single person in this photo, I do know a fair number of them. Several, I met back in college. I once witnessed one of the couples falling in love when I walked into a room at a retreat and accidentally glimpsed them sneaking in a quick kiss. Several have been in Bible studies with me. We’ve shared pregnancies. Another has a child in my son’s class and they’ve played soccer together. One teaches and brings kids on mission trips to other countries.
There have been many crossing through the years, and I can say with confidence that this is a family with a beautiful, generous collective soul.
I know that there has been hardship in this family, too. One of the mothers has battled and overcome cancer. One couple lost a child in infancy. There have been heartaches woven into this picture of love, but there has been so much joy, too, because this is a family that has followed the mustard-seed model that Jesus presented. They have stepped out in faith, and God has delivered in a prolific way.
Along with inspiring me in terms of sheer numbers and the color, this visual also says something else to me: hope. It says, “Hang on, trust, lean it, let go, and hope for what is possible through God and God alone. Give Him your life and He will bring life to yours in ways you could never have imagined.”
Whether it’s through our family or in the other ways we move about the world, the application is the same. We don’t have to be big, nor does our faith. God can work with just a small amount, and even with that speck of faith, mountains and hearts can be moved, and the world can become a little more colorful and beautiful than before.
[The following column was printed in The Forum, North Dakota's largest daily newspaper, on September 28, 2013. Reprinted with permission. Photos by author added for Peace Garden Mama entry only.]
By Roxane B. Salonen
“I just think you’ll regret it if you don’t do it, Mom.”
The words of my oldest daughter hit me like an ice-cube-cold glass of water.
I’d been living for days with the heavy reality that my childhood friend had died unexpectedly and I wouldn’t be able to be in Montana for the in-person goodbye.
“It’s impossible,” my head kept saying, while my heart tugged, “Are you sure?”
I’d even challenged God, demanding one night the answer be abundantly clear – the divine will obvious – by morning.
Problem was, I’d insisted on my timeline, giving God only a few hours to strike me down with the answer. Four days later, despite thinking I’d gotten the right signal, I did not feel at peace.
As it turns out, instead of coming from within, God’s answer had come through the voice of my teen daughter. But there was little time now to pull it off.
Quickly, I made a phone call. “Mom is there any chance …?” And then another to my husband, who would need to agree to take on the extras at home.
Within the hour, it was settled. Mom and I would leave in the morning for the place of my rearing and where she’d lived the majority of her life with my father.
Sometimes, you have to stop the world to live without regrets.
So last Thursday morning, after dropping the kids off at school, I grabbed a quick oil change and headed west. And for the first time in days, peace began to come.
From Bismarck, Mom and I continued on together, winding through sagging sunflower fields that turned to golden, just-harvested wheat fields as the sun closed in and we neared our destination.
Despite the weight of the reason for our journey, it all felt right.
We arrived just as the wake was about to begin, and as we walked into the sanctuary of the rural church in our reservation town, its walls bedecked in colorful star quilts, I felt a whisper, “Welcome home.”
At the base of the altar, I caught sight of the coffin, so hard to look upon but flanked by a plethora of floral bouquets and wreaths – including one a fellow classmate had ordered on behalf of our entire class in our school colors.
The faces, worn with grief, were not easy to take in and yet I knew seeing this in the flesh would become part of my healing.
I only had to think back a few months to my father’s funeral and how it seemed, with each person who showed up to pay respects, my grief-load lightened. Now, it was my turn to be part of that giving.
“I’m so glad you came,” one friend said, more than once. “Me too,” I said, no longer able to see how it had ever been a difficult decision.’
If I’d stayed behind, I would have missed so much – the tight, meaningful hugs; the spirit-filled funeral service at the church and deep resonance of the Native drums and song at the burial; and the warm deliciousness of the traditional dried-deer-meat and chokecherry soups and fry bread.
To think I almost relinquished an opportunity to travel with my mother, who helped hold me up emotionally, and inhale the familiar sights of the blessed route home – shadowed hills against blue, the spectacular Badlands, even the scattered, beaten-down buildings and rusted out junk yards.
I would have denied myself the chance to cry with my friends, say, “I love you” and mean it, and laugh until it hurt when the one adept at story-telling started in.
Each of these things started a process of a returning to whole that could not have happened if I’d stayed back, my heart split and aching to be somewhere else.
This is why we have these rites of passage – not for those who have left, but for us, so that we can better live through it and get to the other side of our sad.
It isn’t always possible to stop the world in this way, but as one friend said, “It’s just the right thing to do.” And I’ve been reminded that when we choose right, God affirms our choice at every turn along the road.
Don’t even ask me how to say his name. Fr. Leo’s good enough for me, though if you want to get technical, it’s Fr. Leo Patalinghug.
What’s more important is this guy can cook. I mean, really cook. And I know, because he cooked for me on Friday night.
Well, me and a room full of others from throughout the Diocese of Fargo.
The main dish? Penne ala vodka. Amazing!
I’d recently been exposed to Fr. Leo and his masterful theology/cooking gig while watching EWTN television. I love it when Christians are joyful about their faith, when they can show the love of Christ simply by who they are and the ways they move about the world.
For anyone who has seen Fr. Leo, he’s got quite a spark, and a million pounds of energy all wrapped up into one small Filipino body. He’s also obviously in love with Christ and the Church.
Fr. Leo brings these things together through his program, “Grace Before Meals,” a movement he spreads through television, books and his presence in the public. His aim? To call families back to the dinner table in order to enliven the faith life and our relationship with God and one another.
“That’s where the best conversations happen, while someone’s chopping up vegetables and I’m stir-frying this or that,” he says in this video, which will give you a good taste of what this guy is all about.
Another moment in the video shows Fr. Leo trying to get an adolescent to taste something he’s whipped up. “Try this, just a little piece. I promise you it won’t kill you and if you do die, I can do your funeral,” he says to convince the teen.
Having him in our diocese, in our parish actually just steps from where our youngest child was baptized, was a wonderful blessing on a rainy, chilly Friday night.
My husband was away on business, so I went without a date but truly enjoyed the people who showed up at my table and ate and laughed through the evening with me.
I wanted to bring a little of Fr. Leo’s presentation home with me, so I stopped in his book line afterward and picked up one of his latest, “Spicing Up Married Life,” and had him sign it to my husband.
“As a Catholic priest,” he writes in the introduction, ” I offer this book about marriage and romantic meals as a gift to be shared by husbands and wives…It’s a collection of ideas, ingredients and recipes to help married couples, whether just starting out or celebrating a jubilee, to experience all the blessings that God has in store for them as the grow in faith.”
It looks like a fun read, filled as it is with beautiful photographs of different delicious dishes…
“It’s amazing how good food can soften people’s hearts and minds,” Fr. Leo told us as one of the main reasons he’s doing what he’s doing.
He also shared some of the back story of how his “Grace Before Meals” program started. It wasn’t his idea; it came from beyond him and he was very reluctant at first. But in the end, he acquiesced and the program has been a terrifically tasty success.
Another quote I snatched up from the evening, which rang familiar, “Hospitality heals people,” he said. “And when we’re generous in our hospitality, we will be healed, too.”
I thought about the funeral I attended a few weekends back, and how very true this is. The warm soup and food I enjoyed with my mother, friends and strangers after my friend was laid to rest was truly healing for my body and soul.
There’s so much to this food thing, so much to explore about how God uses tangible, earthly things like food to reach us, to love us, to connect with us.
I’m inspired, to try some of these recipes, to read this book with my husband and in that way, share a bit of the experience he missed tonight, and to think anew about the lengths God will go to reach us.
The way to the hearts of God’s children is through their stomachs, it seems. Tonight, I have been fed. Now it’s my turn to feed another.
This past weekend, at a conference here in North Dakota, I had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Edward Sri share his insights on Mother Mary.
Sri recently published “Walking with Mary: A Biblical Journey from Nazareth to the Cross.”
And as he does so well, he brought the Gospel alive for me during his time on stage at the Bismarck Civic Center, and made me more endeared than ever to Our Blessed Mother.
As I heard him talk, I couldn’t help but wish our Protestant brothers and sisters would open themselves more to the Catholic take on Mary. I know Mary is a stumbling block to many. But there is so much richness here, and I fear that in the worry we’ve gone too far with Mary, many Christians risk missing out on the treasures of walking with her.
It was Jesus who first walked with her, after all, and I’m convinced we can learn even more about Jesus by walking with Mary. I have a long way to go, but I have loved Mary from an early age and look forward to new discoveries in the years to come.
Sri, the father of six young children, introduced the topic by recreating the moments when his youngest daughter, Josephine, took her first steps. He recounted the glee he saw on her face at the thought of braving this new adventure, and then her hesitation as she peeked over the chair she’d been using for stability, her face and body now showing second-thoughts.
Until…she saw her father. Once he was in sight, little Josephine felt courageous, and so she let go and made those first steps, falling into his arms just as she was about to topple over toward the end. She was so delighted with herself at that point that she wanted to do it again, and again and again.
Sri used this visual to help us see that when God calls us out, when He asks us to step out in faith, He doesn’t expect it to happen all at once.
“Mary was a great model of someone who made those steps of faith,” Sri said. But she took them one at a time, and that is the way we all can and should approach our walk in faith with the Lord.
He noted that Blessed John Paul II once commented on Mary’s “profound walk of faith;” that though she was given great graces, she remained human, and, like us, experienced moments of trail and suffering — “times when she was in utter darkness.”
Sri mentioned several steps in Mary’s walking out in faith — steps we might use as a model for our own stepping out. I’m going to start with them now, and finish in subsequent posts.
The first step of faith comes the moment the angel Gabriel appears before her. We know from Scripture that Mary “was greatly troubled,” but not at the sight of the angel, Sri said; rather, it was at what the angel had said that bothered her.”Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you.
Why would this have been troubling? Because, Sri explained, the wording would have indicated to Mary that she was being called on a mission; that she was being asked to be stretched as never before. “Mary realized she was standing in the shoes of Moses,” Sri said. And how daunting would that have been to a young girl? Wouldn’t we have been scared out of our wits as well? I know I would have.
But the Lord says, “Trust me, it will get better,” Sri said. “It’s okay to be troubled, but what do you do with those fears?”
Mary has a wonderful response, according to Sr. “She enters into an interior dialogue with the Lord.”
We are still only at step one, but hopefully you can see in this brief example how much we can learn from Mary by watching her responses. Because we, too, are being called out. There’s no doubt about it. As children of the light, sons and daughters of God, we will be asked to go on a mission. We’re at the chair, now, clinging mightily, wondering, should we let go? Should we go? Or would it be safer just to stay right where we are?
Like Josephine, and like Mary, there’s likely to be that moment of hesitation, and yet in the end we are able to glimpse, in the near distance, the arms of our father. With that in our sights, we can tell ourselves, “I got this!” And off we go.
But just as Josephine didn’t become an expert walker in one day, we’ll need to practice, to go slowly, to not get ahead of ourselves. And God will be with us every step of the way, offering us a safe place to land when we fall.
Sunday morning, I had the privilege of being cantor for our early-morning Mass. Thankfully, the time change made turning this night owl into an early bird a little more tolerable.
Also making it more tolerable was the sunrise that lit the way to church. As I was taking in the rich colors reflected in the clouds, I thought of what my name, Roxane, means: “Dawn of Day.” Could this be one of the reasons I am so transfixed by sunrises and sunsets? There may be something to this.
When I reached the choir room, which faces the front of the church, I peeked out to see if the sunset was still visible, and was met by this beautiful sight! That’s the statue in front of our church, Sts. Anne and Joachim, acting as foreground for the beautiful sky.
It’s been a meaningful weekend. Saturday, November 2, marked All Souls Day in the Catholic Church, and the day before that, November 1, was All Saints Day.
At an All Saints Day Mass on Friday, the students from Shanley High School helped lead song and prayer, and inserted time for honoring the deceased who’d been remembered in a memorial for the school in the past year. My father was among them, having received this honor from one of our daughter’s teachers.
I’ve written about this before, but I have to say again, it’s amazing how much healing can happen in simply hearing your loved one’s name. As I heard my father’s name called, and saw it in the program, and then as I saw his candle flickering with the others upon the altar, it was if his very spirit was with me.
I wanted a photo of the little candles dancing on the altar, but by the time I got there, they’d been blown out, so I walked to the chapel behind the sanctuary and lit another candle for Dad. Then I knelt for a while in prayer, asking God to be with him, and for him to be with our Gabriel, who would have been born in November 1999 had my pregnancy reached maturation.
And then on Sunday after Mass, I joined others in another spot behind the sanctuary to sign the Book of Remembrance. I added my father’s name. Such a small act — a stroke of the pen — and yet the permanency of it becomes so precious. For the rest of the month, all those whose names have been entered are prayed over at every Mass at our church. What a consolation to family and friends.
A small thing, or big? I think the latter. When we take time to honor those who have passed on, we offer ourselves a chance for further healing, and we honor the God who gave them life and in whose care they are now enveloped.
As my father told me long ago, “We are dying every day.” As a five-year-old, I found this statement troubling and stark. And yet, my father was right. It was one more bit of reality he imparted that I have not forgotten through the years.
We are dying, every single day, in body. But our spirits, if we’re living rightly, if we’re trying to seek what is good above all else, are very much alive, and rather than living to die, living with the hopes of continuing into eternity.
It’s times like this, when the Church takes time to celebrate the dying, that we rediscover these important perspectives. And far from making us sad, they should, if we receive them in the intended spirit, give us all kinds of wonderful hope.
Thirteen – that’s how many years we’ve had the privilege of attending our kids’ elementary school Advent program so far. By the time our baby is past this, we’ll have 15 of them under our belt.
Seven years ago, our daughters did their first (and only so far) duet together at this event. The evening has been etched forever in my heart. What a proud moment for me to hear my little gals’ tender, angelic voices in harmony. And they were so graciously bold to dare do this in a church packed with parents, peers, family members and friends.
After 13 years, you’d think it would get a bit monotonous. It doesn’t for me. Maybe it’s because my friend is the choreographer for this event, and I know how hard she works to pull it off each year.
I’ve known her for about as long as I’ve been attending the Advent program, and when I see the kids, I see her in them.
It’s not everyone who can teach creative movement to boys, nor convince kids of all stripes that it’s the coolest thing ever to dance in the school Advent program. But she manages this every year.
My first such Advent program elicited tears of amazement and joy. I managed to pull it together this year, but the evocative movements of small people reaching to God still tugged at me.
These Advent events begin with and flow around a story — the one leading to the climax of the greatest event in history, when God broke through the barrier between heaven and earth and presented himself to us as a small baby.
Why? So we would not be afraid to approach. He still beckons us, hoping with an unending hope that nothing will come between us and our thirst for what he has to offer.
Earlier this week, I was challenged to think of what the world might have been like before all that happened. But it’s hard to conceive a world before and without Jesus; a world before hope, in its fullest sense, became a possibility. And yet we so easily forget what a remarkable thing this was, and still is.
When I watch the children reaching, I see it as a yearning for the only one who can truly satisfy our souls.
But still, we must wait for the very best part of all, when we are fully with him. In the waiting, we are reaching, and it is a beautiful thing — like the sunflower reaching for the warmth of the sun so it might prosper rather than wilt and fade.
I’ve been reminded this week that waiting is not a passive thing; that though Advent is a time of waiting, it is not a time of being inactive.
On Facebook the other day, I asked my friends to describe Advent in one word. Just one friend asked to use two, and I gave her the pass. I was delighted at what came forth, and amazingly, there were few repeats. I hope they evoke for you feelings and images of active pause as they have done for me.
If you have a different one to share, please do in the comments box!
This four-day weekend offered me some relished reading time and cherished down time with family. I could feel my body physically slowing in preparation for this season we’ve now stepped into — Advent. What a blessed time of year!
To make the most of it, I’m doing a couple of things. One, I’ve signed up for “Study the Gospels in a Year,” a continuation of what Flocknote started at the beginning of the Year of Faith with The Catechism and sending out daily emails or text with bits of wisdom in them. I can’t wait to begin digging into these daily nuggets of wisdom and enrichment from the Gospels themselves! To join me, go here to sign up. It’s free, and easy.
And more specific to the season, I’m diving into Edward Sri’s “The Advent of Christ: Scripture Reflections to Prepare for Christmas.”
I had a chance to hear Dr. Sri in Bismarck in October, and a few years before that, interview him on Real Presence Radio when he was in town for a Marian Eucharistic Congress. He’s around my age, but has a few degrees more and a few kids more, too. Which makes him smarter, wiser and even busier than I.
Seriously, though, he presents complex theology in such an easy to digest fashion that I do really appreciate and respect his work. For the first reflection from his Advent book, he challenged me: “What are some things you can do each day this Advent to prepare spiritually for Christmas?”
It got me thinking about how much I like Lent, and the preparation for Easter we do then, and how edifying it is to prepare my body and soul through fasting. If I can make it 40 days, surely I can do 25 days.
Not that Advent is Lent, because it’s not. And yet there are parallels. During Lent, we are preparing our hearts and souls for Jesus’ death and resurrection. In Advent, we are making room in our hearts and souls to receive the baby Jesus. But that baby Jesus grew up and was crucified, so in truth, as we make room for the baby Jesus, we are making room for the crucified and risen Lord as well — Emmanuel, God among us.
So, I am going to do some smaller fasts this Advent. For one, I’ll have tea in the morning instead of coffee. It’s a little lighter and it will be a sacrifice for me, but more importantly, it will be that daily reminder that I’m making a conscious decision to make a change that will awaken me each day to what I am waiting for. I’ll try some other fasts too, but this is the main one because it feels doable to me, and I don’t want to make this something so impossible to achieve that I won’t make it through day two.
What about you? What are you planning to do to prepare spiritually for Christmas? I’d love to hear your ideas.
Our 22nd wedding anniversary celebration this weekend included dinner out at The Cork, the restaurant where our groom’s dinner took place way back when, and a movie.
|Another dinner out in an earlier year (1999)
We happily settled on “Captain Phillips.”
We both found the film invigorating, but there’s more to this story. Tucked into that movie was something no one else in the place would have noticed. Toward the beginning of the show, the captain is checking his email on the ship while listening to music. The song playing happens to be Eric Clapton’s, “Wonderful Tonight.” This was the song we danced to on our wedding night, around the same time in the evening we were watching this scene in the movie. A sign from above? A huge coincidence? Who knows? But it made us smile.
Here’s another highlight from our weekend:
Oh yeah, and this, too!
[The following column was printed in The Forum newspaper, on Nov. 23 2013. Reprinted with permission.]
Living Faith: 22 years together a sign of the divine
By Roxane B. Salonen
On Nov. 23, 1991, the sun shined brightly in Fargo, despite a forecast of snow and a northern breeze. By afternoon, the flakes came as promised but not profusely enough to block the insistent sun.
I remember driving around town that morning doing last-minute errands after getting my hair done, feeling abashedly conspicuous in my get-up – a wedding veil with long curls framing my face, and jeans with a casual shirt I’d wear until it was time to don the real deal.
Logistics had dictated this late-November wedding date, along with my affinity for warm, winter colors. And it was lovely – the bridesmaids’ red and black velvet dresses, our floral pieces featuring red Gerber daisies and eucalyptus. I can still smell the freshness of my bouquet, a sign that spring can flourish even in winter.
We were both 23 on that 23rd day of the month, and, though filled with knowledge from years of collegiate learning, clueless about life.
Along with all the other plans, I’d made a pact with myself to not end up a blubbering mess like some brides I’d seen, mascara streaming down their cheeks on their jaunt down the aisle. No, I’d remain composed, be the hospitable one rather than star of the show.
By evening my mouth would hurt from all my party-host smiling, but I was left feeling gratified. Many would comment on the markings of the day, including the rich music, meaningful messages and something harder to define, perhaps, but still obvious – the divine presence.
The latter had been intentional, an effort, however meager, to invite God into the relationship we’d just sealed in a sacrament.
Did I have doubts? Yes. I wondered what made us any more equipped than anyone else to beat the odds. And that question didn’t go away quietly in the coming months.
A move to a new state and so much to move through emotionally in tying together two imperfect lives lent itself to numerous trials. Many close to us worried, wondering if we’d make it, and we were among those wondering.
But somehow, despite all that threatened to break us and the inherent challenges of eventually raising one, two, three, four and five children, our marriage has persisted.
How have we remained together in this circle of family given the delicacy of the thread that seems to hold us up most days? I’ve asked this many times.
There is no human explanation. We easily could have been among the statistics of those who could not keep going. In fact, the only possibility that makes any sense at all is that when we asked God into our marriage 22 years ago, our request did not fall on deaf ears, despite human failing.
It was as impossible as many earthly endeavors are, and yet this relationship, marked by some for failure, has stood the test of time, bound by an invisible, transcendent force. Through this miracle, we’ve glimpsed the power of grace and glanced at the eternal.
In hindsight, the weather seems to have been as purposeful as other details that day; a foreshadowing of a chill that would come and go throughout our lives together, but always followed by sun melting the path before us, giving us just enough strength to move onto the next thing.
It hasn’t been easy, but through God, all things are possible. And on this day, we celebrate.
I have to admit, dull as it may be to some, brown never bothered me.
Maybe because I was stuck with the color. Being one with brown hair and eyes, I knew I had to make the most of something that would be with me all my days.
Oh, I do love rich colors and vibrancy, and I knew that my return to the Carmel of Mary monastery this time of year wouldn’t be the same as I’ve known it before. And yet I wanted to experience this place in its brown season, too. I knew it would bring its own surprises, and that it did.
The first and most startling one was that I have never visited here at a time when darkness descends so quickly. So when the dinner bell rang Saturday night and I scurried out to the porch of the guest house, I was taken aback. It seemed the porch light was not working and with no city lights to guide, and only dim lights from within the monastery itself, there was a span of road in between that was as black as I’ve ever known.
I’d heard stories of some of the Guinea hens being ravaged by night animals, and so I knew there was nocturnal wildlife about, perhaps hungry as winter draws near and looking for something juicy to sink their teeth into. Yes, the imagination of childhood came alive and I panicked, finally remembering that my cell phone could provide at least a dim light.
I have never felt fear at Carmel until now, but the suddenness of my discovery and not wanting to be late converged, letting emotion take hold. It’s not a long walk so I figured it would be okay, but there was a moment of wonder, of fear, of feeling very alone.
Then, when I got to the dining nook, along with my meal, an object stood out — a flashlight that is more like a flash beam, and with it, a note saying I’d probably need this to make my way in the dark.
Then, a warm meal to assure me I was in safe hands.
Later, I went to evening prayer, or compline, and listened to the nuns chant their prayers to our good God. I joined them when they got to the litany and on some of the other familiar prayers, too. It always is, and was this time, a beautiful experience, the epitome of restfulness and calm.
On the way back, my beam light in hand, a very light rain fell onto my path, gently misting my face. I began to cry as I moved, not from fear now but happiness — a spontaneous and very deep response from absorbing the gift of being back in this blessed space.
The next day, I stole out with my camera for a bit to capture the beauty of brown, of Carmel in its fall garb, readying for winter.
Just as I’d hoped and suspected, in all seasons, Carmel is brilliant.
If I were never to return, though I hope I will, I want to remember this feeling of having come through the dark, filled with assurance and gratitude, and most of all, overwhelmingly, loved.
It’s time to head back to the place where I might stay forever if I didn’t have so many lovely things drawing me back into the world.
I wonder what Carmel will have in store for me this time? For a pictorial of past visits, go here. It’s worth it I promise!