Maybe clean it up, maybe embrace it. What do you think?
I’m delving into the messy today on Peace Garden Writer. Care to jump in the dirt pile with me, plunge into the chaos, smear a little spaghetti sauce on the face?
Alright then, let’s go!
Because our oldest child didn’t follow the usual course, or at least the one we’d envisioned when he was a little whipper snapper — bright-eyed, blonde and boisterous and speaking in full and correct sentences well before age two — we missed a few steps along the way.
There was no college to prep for, no paperwork to fill out or campuses to visit, nothing of that sort.
He’s still discerning how and where he’ll spend his future, and though at one time this grieved me, I have come to understand that this is him, and he’ll find his way a different way. And that’s okay. It has to be. Though they can be difficult to reckon with at first (we parents can’t help but dream about our kids’ futures, it’s in the job description), sometimes the unanticipated steps make life the most interesting.
But also because of this I wasn’t expecting what I have felt this school year as my friends whose kids are his age are taking the long drive to college, leaving them on the college steps and watching them through the rear-view mirror as they make their way home, an empty space in the car and hearts.
I’ve had to live vicariously through my friends. One morning after our morning walk, Katie invited me into her home for coffee. Her son had left for college a few days before and his room was already all cleared out, making way for a new craft room. She’s been through this a couple times before and seemed fairly ready. But it was strange for me looking into that empty room.
I’ve seen other updates on Facebook — another of my son’s former classmates leaving here, another going there. It’s possible some, including those I got to know so well on last year’s choir tour, I’ll never see again.
Our other four kids are back in school now and in years past, it hadn’t come onto the radar, but this year it’s hit me. Our high school hallways are void of an entire class of kids — bunches of souls whose voices had filled those same halls with their unique sounds and forms. They’re just…gone.
Since my son didn’t go down the college road, I haven’t moved through the steps that would have indicated, “Something’s different, something’s changed.” And so instead I’ve had these seemingly random jarring realizations of these students I’d known since they were babies suddenly going M.I.A.
Of course, it’s all good. This is how it’s supposed to work. This is what kids do and this is how parents respond. From the minute we first hold our wee ones in our arms, we are preparing them for this: the exit. And yet, wow. Such a big void when they are suddenly no longer rustling around the home.
Katie admitted it was eerie that first day without her son. It wasn’t like he’d been there a whole lot over the summer, she admitted. But he’d been whizzing in and out frequently and they’d come to expect that whooshing sound as he flew from one thing to the next, grabbing food from the fridge on his way out, no doubt.
I did experience this during our family vacation. Our oldest was working so he couldn’t join us, and as we toured the city of Duluth, I kept looking back, like a mother duck searching by habit for the duckling she senses isn’t among the pack, only to realize he hadn’t come along on that particular journey; that he wasn’t supposed to be there. And yet…there is a sense…like a ghost trailing along somewhere. It’s the oddest thing.
So, I’m just pondering all this now, these children who are the classmates of my oldest, because this is a new thing for me. And even though I didn’t go through the “normal” mothering steps here, I’m still experiencing a lot of that feeling that things will never be the same. I am feeling the grief in that, because there is a hole. No one can kid themselves there isn’t. But also the hope in it.
My son has a whole big life ahead of him, too. I haven’t helped plant him in his dorm on some campus somewhere — and to be honest, I don’t think that would have worked anyway. Someday, I can see that happening, perhaps. He’s got the brains for it. But not the motivation it takes. Not right now. That and he’s never been one to do what everyone else is doing just because everyone else is doing it. And while it’s driven me crazy in moments, I’ve come to have a healthy regard for it, too.
One of my favorite of his classmates and I went out for breakfast earlier this month. She considered me one of her moms and I couldn’t let her slip away without a good hug. But when she wrote on Facebook from the airplane bringing her to basic training the other day, I sat at my computer and bawled like a baby. Or a grieving mama.
Somehow, even in the absence of going through these motions of having a child leave the nest for someplace far away, I am being given opportunities to experience it anyway. What I’m feeling is real, and a little bit odd and unexpected, but I’m almost certain it’s preparing me for something beautiful someday.
Q4U: How do you approach the letting go times? What is the hardest part? The best?
Recently, I attended an event that brought some fresh Christian voices my way. The Catholic Answers conference in my husband’s hometown of Glenwood, Minn., left me feeling enlightened and gifted with new ways of articulating things about the faith I’ve known but haven’t been able to describe easily to others before.
Some of the most profound insights for me came in the opening talk, given by Dr. Charles Bobertz, who is also a Catholic deacon. Bobertz teaches theology at The College of St. Benedict’s and St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minn., all-women’s and all-men’s Catholic colleges in our neighboring state to the east.
His talk, “How Catholics Read the Bible,” helped me understand different approaches not only to Scripture but in how faith and religion are lived out, particularly from the Catholic point of view, and why our version differs at times from the Protestant version.
The subject matters to me because I have so many Protestant brothers and sisters who, while they profess and believe in the same God as I do, have a different approach to faith than my Catholic one. I think it’s important to grapple with our differences in order to understand one another better, so we can continue to work together to build the kingdom of God.
He talk began with an explanation of the Ancient world, and how people in Jesus’ time understood the world in general and faith in particular. During the time of Jesus’ death, two different approaches to faith emerged: the spiritual view, and the spiritual-plus-earthly view.
The most debated question in Christian circles following Jesus’ death was, according to Bobertz, “Did Jesus rise from the dead in the body or in the spirit only?” This led in turn to the two different approaches to the Christian faith; one focused mainly on the spirit, and the other, the intermingling of both earthly and spiritual matter.
Now, consider for a moment all of the “stuff” that makes up the Catholic faith — the bells and whistles, the incense, the vessels, the ashes and chrism oil. Think of the physical aspects of the sacraments (water, rings, robes,) and the bodily movements (genuflecting, sign of the cross, kneeling). Think of how we approach the body even after it is dead, along with Lent and its ashes and fish.
These elements of our Catholic faith help us express our faith and can bring us closer to the Lord. But some of our fellow Christian brothers are sisters tell us this “stuff,” this earthly matter, is superfluous to what is necessary to live out the Christian life.
It’s true, we don’t need these things to get into heaven. But do they matter? Yes, we believe they do.
Think again of that hotly debated question: just spirit, or spirit and body? In the Jewish faith, the body was part of the deal, and you see these signs in the Jewish tradition of an emphasis on “matter.” It mattered to the Jews, then and now, and it matters/ed to Catholics, too. We brought the Jewish emphasis on the physical and its relevance to the life of faith with us.
Dr. Bobertz mentioned the widely popular YouTube video from a few years back, in which a young man makes the bold claim that he’s “spiritual but not religious.” Many in the Christian world cheered his proclamation. But some Catholics scratched our heads, because we don’t see religion as a bad word. Religion gives form to all of those “things” I mentioned above. Religion respects and invites matter to be a part of the equation, and the body to join with the spiritual.
And therein lies this whole different approach to faith that can help explain our current diversions. “To be Catholic is to be religious and then spiritual, because God is in the world,” Bobertz said. “God is in the world, making the world sacred.” God is in us, too, making us sacred. And this vision of faith, he added, “affirms the sacredness of the Church.”
Consider the question, “Are you saved?” which sends so many Catholics into a tailspin, not because we don’t know, but because we sense there is something more to our answer than a simple yes or no, and we also sense somehow that if we try to give it, we’ll be immediately misunderstood. And we might.
To some Protestants who subscribe to the “spiritual only” view, all you must do is “believe in your heart” and you are saved. But to the Catholic, it’s this as well as all the earthly matter that comes with Baptism, for example, that explains salvation. Our salvation begins at Baptism, with the words of the priest, which is really Christ speaking through that human vessel, “I baptize you in the name of the father, son and holy spirit;” with the water poured over the child; the chrism oil placed upon the child; the white garment worn; the baptismal candle lit.
These things are not irrelevant. And then our conversion continues throughout our earthly lives.
This view also affects our approach to Scripture, according to Bobertz.
“Catholics take the liturgy, the material sacredness that is in the world, and we apply that to Scripture,” he said. “So the whole understanding of what it means to be Christian in the world is different for Catholics.”
This is why, too, a wedding on a beach won’t do. And why it’s not enough to just experience God in nature, though of course we do and can. But the church building, though not an end in itself, does contain a sacredness that cannot be found anywhere else, and that is why we reserve the sacraments for these holy buildings. God is there in a particular and special way and we honor that. We honor the earthly.
Bobertz didn’t really tell me anything I didn’t already know, but he said it in a way I’d never heard it before, and in that, I could feel a spark rushing through me at the realization. I knew I’d just been blessed by his view.
Even the Eucharist can be explained through this viewpoint, he said. “The Eucharist is really the resurrected body in our midst.” Which, if you ponder that for a while, is profound.
Some of the young people in my life are going to these colleges, or are already there. Some will end up taking one of Dr. Bobertz’s classes — lucky them. I feel certain they’ll come away with a clearer understanding and deeper appreciation for their Catholic faith. Our faith and perspective is a treasure, and Bobertz reminded me of that in sharing his perspective, which really comes down to these two simple words, as he put it:
Q4U: Does matter matter to you?
It’s their anniversary tomorrow; the people whose lives came together to make mine.
I can’t help but have Dad on my mind this month for other reasons, too. Atticus may have something to do with it, I suppose.
It’s all laid out today on Peace Garden Writer.
I’m still not exactly sure how I got so fortunate to be invited, but when the invitation came, I knew I couldn’t say no to dinner in a prairie field.
Yep, there I am, Peace Garden Mama taking a sunflower selfie!
The event was organized by a group of women who are part of an organization called Common Ground North Dakota; comprising people who love these prairie lands. They wanted to do something to bring city and country folks together and help us learn from one another; especially for us city dwellers to discover some of the stories of the people who feed the world from the crops here.
The gal on the right below giving a nod to the cooks is Katie Pinke, my blogging and real-life friend of Pinke Poste. She’s the real reason I got to come!
I ended up finagling my friend Laura, fellow mother of five, to be my date. I knew she’d 1) appreciate a night out 2) find it fascinating and 3) be gracious to the hosts, because she’s just that kind of gal. As we approached the entrance together, she was just as giddy as I was!
In fact, though I interview people for a living, Laura took the lead in question-asking. Here, she’s learning about wool (right) that comes from North Dakota sheep.
When we arrived, we were warmly greeted, and told we could roam around to visit the stations that had been set up and sample the products, which originated from 11 different crops, also on display.
The evening was absolutely amazing weather-wise. We could not have ordered it any better for roaming around the fields, sampling fresh North Dakota products, mingling and indulging our taste buds.
Among the appetizers were Tuscan bean salad, potato salad in apple cider vinaigrette, corn fritters, flax seed crackers with corn hummus, sunflower brittle, endamame salad and candied walnuts.
I will be honest. There were more than a few bugs to keep things interesting, but honestly, what would a field feast have been without some critters buzzing around? Very unnatural at best.
After we’d made our way around the grounds and had our fill of appetizers, the dinner bell rang. No, I’m not kidding! We got called together with a good-old-fashioned ringing of the bell.
Laura and I were blessed to somehow end up next to the field owners/hosts — Mr. and Mrs. Peterson of Peterson Farms in Harwood. He joked and said he couldn’t take much credit for the whole thing. All he had to do was show up in time for dinner.
The chefs are people I know — the Nasellos from here in Fargo. I first met them through my youngest son, who is friends with their son. Then a few years back they started writing a food column for The Forum which comes out a day different than my column, so we have that in common, too.
But unlike them, I don’t know how to cook this kind of grub. I was so excited to hear one of the main entrees would be lamb, but the beef tenderloins absolutely blew me away. I’ve never tasted any meat so tender. It was incredible.
But I’m getting ahead of myself, I suppose. Before that came the chilled gazpacho soup garnished with cucumbers and extra-virgin olive oil.
And a dish of basil pesto pasta topped with toasted pine nuts and Parmesan cheese.
A little cup of lemon sorbet drizzled with North Dakota honey cleaned our palettes in preparation for the rest.
Side dishes included roasted red peppers, green beans, roasted red potatoes, and horseradish and a veal glaze for the meat. Peaches and cream shortcake with toasted almonds made up the dessert.
Just as we were finishing up our meal, the sun started to descend and I was in photograph heaven. I flitted about trying to capture what I could of this rare opportunity.
When it was all done, they gave us mugs and swag bags, and had us hoist ourselves back up onto the flatbed to hitch a ride to our rigs.
Definitely not something you get to do every day, not to mention ever in a lifetime for most. It was an absolutely wonderful experience, shared with a treasured friend and a field full of fun new and old friends.
And it did get me thinking about those farmers, who work so hard to produce this bounty, not just for our little group but for the whole world, really. They don’t get a lot of glory, but they sure do deserve it.
I can’t help but point up to the sky, too, in thanksgiving to our good God, who is so dear to the hearts of these people, and who so lovingly helped set the stage for this memorable night.
If heaven produces banquets like this, we are in for a treat someday. The only thing different, I’d imagine, is that there won’t be any little buggy beetles there, I’m pretty sure.
Q4U: What or where was the most unusual meal you’ve ever had?
Our family may never experience flying on an airplane together. In opening our hearts to a bigger family, we silently agreed to give up this luxury, though we may not have known it at the time we were in the midst of collecting kids. But one sacrifice I’ve never been willing to make is to forgo spending time together away from home every summer, even if it means limiting trips to within driving distance.
The Black Hills was an early destination of choice. We’d never been there before and it seemed like the right time. But when we realized our time frame would hit the annual Sturgis motorcycle rally, we decided we weren’t up for battling crowds and spiked prices, so we began devising a suitable Plan B.
After a fair amount of rumination, I threw Duluth, Minn., into the mix. Some of us had been there several years ago for a cousin’s wedding and done a few touristy things, but it was quick and focused. Maybe something more intentionally vacation-y would fit the bill. The four-hour distance seemed about perfect and from what we could tell, Duluth has a lot of offer families wanting a little relaxation time together.
We left Wednesday morning and came back Saturday night, but we covered a lot in that time, and by the end of it, I’d put it high on the list of favorite family vacations so far.
To appease the younger kiddos, we chose a hotel with a water park. This was a compromise, since earlier deliberations had us considering an amusement-park destination, and I’d put in my vote to avoid spending our time together going on rides in the hot sun like a few years back.
It’s important to me that our time together has some sort of opportunity for restoration with a side of education when possible. I want it to be a little more than a joy ride. The best trips, in my mind, leave you feeling connected to the place, and enlightened somehow.
For many reasons, Duluth proved to be a dream vacation for me, and I haven’t heard too many complaints from the rest of the crew, either. It has just about everything I would want — an ocean feel without being on the coast, a city with a small-town feeling, and a coastal, creative vibe. We were only four hours from home but it felt like we’d traveled a great distance from our prairie home.
We enjoyed many terrific meals. The first was mine to enjoy with a friend I’ve known for a while now through a mutual friend but never met in person. What a great start to our adventure, sharing my morning with Jennifer at Amazing Grace Cafe, which also exposed me to the lovely area of Canal Park; a portion we’d missed somehow during our last visit.
Hanging out with Jennifer also gave me a great overview of the area. She explained how the fog in the mornings is common in June and August, as well as the relationship between the two cities of Duluth and Superior. She also gave me some choice insider’s advice. If you want good pie, she’d said, skip the well-known Betty’s Pies and go just a little further up the road to try the Rustic Inn & Gifts instead. It will be worth it, she’d promised.
We were not disappointed. The pie was fabulous, but the big surprise for me was the best bowl of homemade chicken and wild rice soup I’ve ever had the delight of tasting.
We shared three big pieces of pie — five-layer chocolate, apple and strawberry rhubarb — though we gobbled them down too quickly for me to snap photos of the actual pie.
We also spent time at the shoreline just off Canal Park…
Enjoyed introductions to various critters at the aquarium…
And an evening pizza cruise.
We topped that off with caramel apples at one of many candy shops scattered throughout the area.
I’ll save my photos of Gooseberry Falls for another day. It’s hard to narrow down hundreds of photos in one post.
For now, I’ll close by saying again how much I loved Duluth — enough that I could imagine myself living there someday, if ever I were to peel myself from the Fargo I also love.
In an email from my Mom, I was reminded of a family connection to the place. My Grandpa Louis, my father’s father, grew up in this fair city. It felt right somehow to be here during my father’s birthday month when he is so much on my mind. It was one of the treasures of the trip that didn’t come to me until we were well into our adventure, but brought a deep happiness to my heart.
|Grandpa Louis in the middle, my Dad, little Bobby, far right|
Perhaps this is why it felt so instantly like home to me. There’s something about knowing a part of you has a connection to a part of the earth like this, no matter how small and hidden.
We’re back now, and better than when we left, filled with new memories, refreshed by water and green, better equipped to meet what’s next.
Q4U: Where did you find yourself restored this summer?
To be honest, Dad was never much for birthdays. Growing up the youngest son of nine kids, there were years in there where birthdays sort of got lost in the shuffle.
In fact, for most of his life, Dad didn’t even know his actual birthday. An aunt was adamant it was Aug. 4, but not everyone agreed, and Aug. 8 ended up becoming the day he would celebrate his birthday, if there was a celebration to be had.
It wasn’t until social security kicked in, and his birth date was released to him along with other documents, that he and my mom noted his true, recorded birth date of Aug. 4. Aunt Mabel had been right all along, it turns out.
Dad’s not with us here any longer, but anyone who’s lost someone dear knows what it means when the birthday of a special person who’s gone on rolls around. I’ve felt those little tendrils of grief sneaking up, and they’re never welcomed, but it’s only been his second birthday, now, post-death, that our family has faced this date, and I think I’m doing okay.
I’m becoming more accustomed to Dad not being around, and at the same time, being around more than ever. There are so many ways his spirit lets me know we’re still connected, and I’m grateful for each of those moments, whenever they come. Sometimes, they come in dreams, and they are wonderful.
I’m so glad my father was born on Aug. 4, 1935. Not just because without his life, mine wouldn’t have been possible, but because his presence brought something unique and unrepeatable to the world, and even those parts of the world that never had a chance to know him have been affected because he lived.
I really believe that each one of us makes a profound difference to everyone else, and I’m so very grateful that my father’s mother, Mary “Daught” Boyle Beauclair, loved big families and lovingly welcomed my father, her “Bobby,” into the world. They had a great relationship — strawberry ice cream was her favorite, and to find himself in her good graces when he was a teen, he would spend some of his hard-earned money from babysitting or washing sheets at the hospital on some strawberry ice cream, just for her, and a little for himself too, I’m sure.
I wish I could have known my Grandma Mary — she died before I had the chance — but I knew her through her son, who helped give me life, taught me how to love nature, and let me know that no matter what, even if everyone else in the world would turn their backs on me, he would always love me.
Even now, at 45, I still need that assurance. Even though I can no longer go up to him and ask him, I still need to remember how he put it the day I felt so low and he brought me back up with his words. Even two birthdays after his death, I haven’t gotten over the need to wish for his big bear hug, though I know it might be a while before I’ll feel it for real again.
Dad may not have been much on birthdays, but I’m hoping he’s past that now, and that from his new location he’s smiling, okay with the fact that we are thinking about him, honoring his life in our own quiet ways, looking forward to when the bear hugs and birthday cakes will be once more.
Happy 79th birthday, Daddy. Love, Rock
I’d never heard of Jacques Philippe until January, when my sweet friend from Canada sent me a book in the mail.
“Here is a little book I’ve enjoyed of late and thought you might appreciate as well,” her inscription said. “Mine is coffee splashed and full of ink and pencil so this is absolutely yours. Hugs, C.”
It’s a precious thing to know you’re being looked after — a gift from God to realize that as faith sisters, we have one another in our heads and hearts, even through many miles. This is one of the primary ways God cares for us, I think, by putting dear ones in our path.
So I received this gift happily, but then life intervened. I read a little, loved it, but soon got pulled away to other readings and writings until I’d all but forgotten about Jacques Philippe.
Recently, however, I began being drawn to it again, and now, the gift that came to me back at the first of the year has become like gold in my hands during these summer months.
It is small, but rich. Like C’s, my copy is all marked up, underlines and notes everywhere, and it’s possible a few coffee splashes have found their way onto the pages, too.
“So what’s it about?” friends I’ve mentioned it to have asked. Basically, what the title suggests: interior freedom — something I’ve needed in a rather desperate way this summer.
This has been the summer my faith has been put to the test, in particular through what I have faced with some of my children. They are growing up, and making decisions apart from my influence. Some of the decisions have caused me pain. In the midst of this, I have felt numb, without fair recourse, and worst of all, cut off from the lifelong line that has led me to them.
There is a surrender in process that has been particularly soul-piercing, confusing, jarring. So reading a section of Philippe’s book, “Consenting to difficulties,” brought life, hope, a new perspective.
We cannot change our lives effectively without accepting, welcoming and consenting to all the external events that confront us, he says.
“That isn’t so hard in the case of what we perceive as good, pleasing and positive. But it is hard when any kind of setback or suffering is involved,” he says
It is not a matter of becoming passive and learning to endure everything, without reacting, he says, nor should we limit ourselves to accepting things grudgingly. But we should truly consent to them, in a sense “choose them.”
“Choosing here means making a free act by which we not only resign ourselves but also welcome the situation,” Philippe says. “That isn’t easy, especially in the case of really painful trials, but it is the right approach, and we should follow as much as possible in faith and hope. If we have enough faith in God to believe him capable of drawing good out of whatever befalls us, he will do so.”
I don’t know what you think about that, but to me, that’s powerful stuff.
Philippe, as it turns out, is a priest, a member of the Community of the Beatitudes founded in France in 1973. This book and others he’s written are translated from French. I’m glad there are more where this one has come from.
Fr. Philippe has spoken to my heart this summer and given me hope, all the way from France. I feel like I’ve stumbled onto a huge treasure in this man’s reflections and insights. Perhaps he can offer the same to you.
Q4U: What has kept you bound this summer? Have you been freed, and if so, how?
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.
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!
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.
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.
Last night was our high school’s annual Christmas concert, with a second performance tonight.
When our kids were younger, I dreamed of the day they might, possibly, just maybe, be in choir. Music has been a precious part of my own life, and though I never want to live through my children, what parent who has discovered something as magical and mystical as being part of a musical ensemble hasn’t hoped their children might have a chance at something like this, too?
We are living those days now, and I am in heaven. It feels like coming home in so many ways, since my husband and I met in choir our first years of college. Life then was so much about finding ways to keep music a life-giving part of our everyday. Did I know I was in the middle of something amazing? Yes, I did. I appreciated it then and choral music still takes up a lot of space in my heart.
Especially at Christmas time. To me, this is Christmas…snowflakes, warm drinks, tinsel, lights shining on pine needles, and music…oh, the music! Of course, it’s about so much more, but this is the ambiance of Christmas.
And to top it all off, the choir sang one of my favorites: “O Holy Night.” I sang the solo for this one year, as a young adult, and I will never forget that night. I was blessed by this version as well.
O Holy Night by Shanley High School Chorale (listen in!)
We are moving into the center of this season, and I feel good about it all, despite not being “ready.” No, I don’t have all the preparations in line, but I am becoming ready, and I feel blessed.
Today, our oldest turns 18! Wow! When did our little December baby find his way to 18?
Now, he’s a adult-sized guy, finishing his senior year, working hard at his first job.
We know that in many ways, our adventures are just beginning, and we look forward to seeing what’s next for this guy and for all of us as he leads the birdies into flight from the nest.
As he’s blowing out his candles, we’ll be lighting the pink one on our Advent wreath. Yes, it’s time to get serious about what’s coming. Here’s wishing you a very blessed last full week before Christmas!
The Christmas tree has always been a beautiful symbol to me, something to look forward to and to delight in. But I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed it as much as I have this year.
For one thing, I decided to go simple this year with Christmas decorating. Rather than spread them throughout the house, I contained them in one room — which I then dubbed “The Christmas room.” In this way I’ve been able to capture the spirit and feeling of Christmas without creating an exorbitant amount of work when it’s time to put everything away.
The most logical room for this seemed my office — a place where a Christmas tree could easily fit, and where I could spend time adding special touches and savoring what I have always particularly loved. I’m also the night owl of the family, and since this is where I spend the majority of my night-time sessions, it felt right.
Around this time last year, my office was just being put together. I didn’t know it then, but my father would die soon, and during the aftermath of his death, my office would offer safe harbor for me, a place to rest and heal surrounded by the comfort of books (a passion I shared with my father), an electric fireplace to warm my feet and a comfy couch on which to sit and ruminate, read and write.
I didn’t know that I’d need that healing so much now, but as much as I tried to avoid the pre-Christmas rush, it happened anyway. It just does. The preparations need to happen in order to set things up for the memorable, meaningful times with family that Christmas does best. We women in particular take this on as a gift for others, but it can make for some weary moments, too.
So in my exhausted state, I’ve slept by the glow of this tree for the past several nights, letting myself be lulled under by its gentle beauty. The tree has put me in an absolutely peaceful state at the end of some of the most frenzied of days, calming my heart, sending healing vibes. It has been pure bliss.
There’s talk from the secular world that we Christians have stolen this pagan tradition, and how dare we claim it as a religious symbol. It reminds me of younger years when, as a little sister, I would copy my older sister on things she liked, and naturally she would get a little miffed, but I couldn’t understand why she failed to see I was copying her because I loved her ideas. Shouldn’t she feel, instead, pleased?
To me, the Christmas tree is most certainly a religious symbol, and a symbol always represents something larger, deeper than what you see on the surface. If we were to worship the Christmas tree, that would be wrong. But that’s not what’s going on here. Certainly not in my heart.
What’s going on is that each ornament has meaning. Some are handmade by our kids. Some were given by friends. Some were on my grandmother’s tree years ago, and she gave them to me to use for my own tree, like the one below, one of my favorites. Each is beautiful in its own way, a fleeting reminder of Christmases past and all that are to come; and in that way, also representative of the life we’ve lived so far and what’s around the bend.
To me, the Christmas tree means family, love, beauty, peace, and the hope Christ offers and comes to remind us of and lead us toward. That’s not pagan, it is promise – something to live by, sleep near and die to self to have.
A very merry Christmas to you and yours!
What does the Christmas tree evoke for you?
This has been one of my favorite posts of the last several years: announcing my word for the year ahead. And indeed, I’ve got it in hand and am ready to announce it today over on Peace Garden Writer.
Coast on over and celebrate with me, and share your word, too, if you would!
Here we go!
According to my current phone plan, I can’t upgrade to a new cell phone until the spring. Which means I have to suffer through my current need to remain near an outlet or charging source if I want to continue using my phone until that time.
In addition, my laptop battery was going low, so I ordered a new one, and the new one doesn’t seem a whole lot better. Yes, that’s a touch of despair you’re reading.
So lately I’ve been feeling a little inconvenienced by my dependency on outlets — almost trapped in a way. I can’t go too long with either of my main sources of communication without running to find an outlet.
At a coffee shop, I size up the joint to see whether it has adequate outlet-age before I can allow myself to settle in. I’ve been known to race to certain spots in order to assure my trip there hasn’t been wasted.
At home, while doing my daily writing work, I’m often running to beat the warning telling me if I don’t find an electricity source soon, I’ll be cut off.
And the yellow bars indicating an impending shutdown of my phone seem to come at the most inconvenient times, and far too frequently.
In some cases, I’ve been in a particularly precarious situation over this, especially when it comes to my phone. This summer, when I was stalled at an airport, I couldn’t communicate my delays to my family at home until I’d found an outlet, which were in high demand. I finally scoped one out in a most inconspicuous place, then guarded it like the neighborhood watchdog.
|Ding ding ding!!! Outlet sighting!
I don’t like this feeling of being so dependent on an outlet. Even as I’m typing this post, I’m realizing the juice is waning and I won’t make it through to the end without a recharge. So off I go in search of the three-holed monster.
Okay, maybe I’m being a little dramatic, but this electricity dependency does seem to be controlling my life more than seems right. Recently, however, while ruminating over my situation, the thought came to me that this is analogous to my dependency on something else: God.
I can’t get too far in any given day without needing to plug into THE source of life. For bits, I go off on my own, thinking I can do it just fine, charging ahead, and then, bam, I’m pulled off course, and sent flying to the nearest “outlet of divinity.”
This might constitute the daily meditation in my “Magnificat” magazine, or a moment or two of prayer grabbed midday, or rearranging my day to go to Mass or Adoration. It could even just be some devotional reading or a book that is spiritually edifying. Sometimes, it’s the act of writing about something that’s been inspiring.
No matter what it is, this I know: I need God to help my life work, not in the same degree as I need electricity to ensure my earthly communication and work happen. No, much more than this.
I know my electricity woes are what my kids would call a “first world problem.” It’s relative for me, and a big pain, but it’s also temporary. In time, I’ll have a new phone, a better laptop battery. These things will resolve. And yet, I’ll always need some sort of way to stay charged up.
And so it is with my life with God. I need HIM! Not just every other day, but every minute of every day. And that’s okay.
In this mini-revelation, I’ve been able to turn this outlet-attached element of my life into something meaningful. Now, whenever I’m running to find a charging source, I’m going to have it be a reminder of the supreme source of energy, and as often (more than) I go on a frantic outlet search, I’m going to keep plugging into the source of love and life that will never lose its charge.
Q4U: What is your number-one go-to outlet for a spiritual recharge?
Has anybody else been struggling with saying goodbye to the Christmas season?
As of today, it’s officially over. Epiphany, which we celebrated this weekend, marks the end of Christmas for the Church. We’re to move on now, though not away from the messages that have been tucked into our hearts. But on a practical, human level, I’ve been fighting walking away.
On Saturday night, my pianist and I lamented this as we practiced to play for and sing at the 5 p.m. Mass at our church, Sts. Anne & Joachim. Though I didn’t spend Christmas here, I was delighted to be there for several Masses following, so I could absorb the beauty of the sanctuary, all decked out in Christmas glory.
But as Bradley and I talked, we commiserated about how it’s all going to be gone soon. In fact, as I’m typing this, there’s likely a decoration committee at our church removing all of these beautiful adornments.
I, too, spent part of Sunday removing ornaments from the tree, pulling tinsel, and sweeping up pine needles. As I tried gently removing the ornaments, I was pierced several times by dry, prickly “thorns.” It was as if the regret I was feeling over saying goodbye was being cemented with a stinging, “Take that!” Like a knife being jabbed in and turned round a few times.
Okay, so maybe it’s not that bad, but as we discussed saying adieu to Christmas, Bradley said something that hit home. “After we take all the decorations down, we’re just stuck with the cold, bleakness of January.”
Ugh. He’s right, I thought. And I think that’s part of why I’ve been dragging my feet. I loved the glow of the Christmas tree, more than ever this year, as I shared here.
And on Christmas Eve, after midnight Mass, my family and I emerged from the cathedral into the most beautiful scene, complete with large, fluffy snowflakes falling from the quiet sky. As I shook Monsignor Richter’s hand, we noted how perfect it was, and giggled at our good fortune. It was the kind of Christmas Eve setting Bing Crosby sang about all those years ago. And there we were, walking into it!
That night was a reprieve from the bitter winter we’ve been experiencing here in North Dakota. It started Dec. 1, and hasn’t really relented for more than a few days in between before the next cold front makes its appearance. It’s early January, and though we’re normally hardy around these parts, even we are growing weary.
Add to that the fact that my father died a year ago on Jan. 11, and it probably makes even more sense why I’ve not been rushing past Epiphany like an eager beaver.
All that said, as I sang Christmas carols one last time for the year at that Saturday evening Mass, something new and hopeful was placed on my heart. The homily had just been delivered by our deacon, and it resonated.
He said the three wise men were pagans; unbelievers who, nevertheless, were so struck by the brightness of the star, and rumors of a forever king, that they left everything to follow it. He reminded us, too, that the light is still there, beckoning us. And, I would add, it will never leave as long as the earth is spinning. After that point, it will be much more than starlight, something even brighter and everlasting.
Just listening to his sermon, it was if the cold icicles that have necessarily formed around my heart just to survive began to drip. I realized that this isn’t some dreaded phase we’re entering. The light still shines, it will never go away even when blackness surrounds. We can always, at any point, look up and go in search of it. And when we arrive at its source, we will not be disappointed.
With this guiding vision in mind, I am feeling more equipped, less melancholy, more hopeful about what’s coming next. I realize that all good things must end, but they will be back, and in the meantime, new beginnings are about to happen.
I want to be awake for that, to embrace all of it, come what may. I’m starstruck now and moving again toward the light. I hope you’ll come along, too.
Q4U: What feelings does this time of year evoke for you?
Update: After posting this on Facebook, my friend Amanda and a few others noted that the Christmas season doesn’t really end on Epiphany. Here’s an informative article I enjoyed reading on the subject. It’s great news for this reluctant heart. Christmas continues, and after that, there are other feasts and celebrations to anticipate!
Just can’t get him off my mind this week. And it seemed right to think of him on Peace Garden Writer today as our family nears the one-year anniversary of his death. After all, he helped show Peace Garden Writer who she was all those years ago.
More over on my writing blog. I’d be obliged if you’d pay a visit…
Madeleine L’Engle has been enlivening my heart lately. I could cite any number of paragraphs in her book, “Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art,” but let’s just take this one, from p. 67:
“I am grateful that I started writing at a very early age, before I realized what a daring thing it is to do, to set down words on paper, to attempt to tell a story, create characters. We have to be braver than we think we can be, because God is constantly calling us to be more than we are, to see through plastic sham to living, breathing reality, and to break down our defenses of self-protection in order to be free to receive and give love.”
|Me, receiving and giving love, as a baby|
There’s so much there. The daring nature of writing. The courage required to just live, not to mention write. And how we cannot fathom all that God has in store for us.
“God is constantly calling us to be more than we are…to break down our defenses of self-protection in order to be free to receive and give love.”
This brings me back to a Mass just after Christmas, when the priest noted how Joseph had been called to be more than he was by being asked to harbor the mother of God, and God himself.
What an immense responsibility, and nothing Joseph could have predicted before this point. Yet he was a good and upright man, well-versed in the ways of faith and the Lord. This helped him be willing to respond affirmatively to God’s call. Just like Mary had, he, too, said, “yes,” and despite any lingering reservations, put one foot in front of the other to do what needed doing.
|My son, Adam, near relics of his patron saint, St. Joseph|
Each day of our lives, we are being called to be more than we are. That might seem daunting, and yet as children of God, we are capable, through God’s grace. This is how we can accomplish more than who we are, just as Joseph, only by God’s grace, and Mary, only by God’s grace, could say, “Let’s do this thing!” (in so many words…)
“Do not fear.” We’re reminded that we are never alone, and so we need not panic. Each day as we’re moving deeper and deeper toward taking on the “more than we are,” the most important thing to remember is that we’ll be guided, even onto death.
|A winter sunset Christmas 2013|
It’s actually quite exciting, don’t you think? Joseph could not have fully comprehended that he’d play a significant role in bringing salvation to the world. Neither can we, and yet it’s happening. And we’re more equipped than we know…to be more than we are.
Q4U: When have you been aware you were being called to more than you thought you were?
They arrived yesterday, unexpected, wrapped in brown paper. Harbored within, they waited.
I put them in a vase, then went on to finish out the day I’d been dreading — the first-year anniversary of my father’s passing.
It had begun with sunshine and breakfast with a friend, then a card from my husband, “Thinking of you,” which I opened just before he left town. But I started to retreat soon after he pulled away, and found myself wanting to be still, to just be alone in my room. I crossed off some plans I’d had on my “to-do” list and quieted myself, while the oldest kids carried on with their day, and the youngest two hovered near me.
I was still in this state when the doorbell rang, and the purple tulip buds were placed in my hands by the thoughtful friend who always seems to know. But I’ve never been accomplished at receiving gifts. Did I seem ungracious? I take things into myself first, slowly absorb, and it’s often later, when I’m in a quiet spot, that gratitude flows.
By evening, signs came that they were working on opening now that they’d found light. I could feel myself come back to life as they did.
I pushed through, mingling with my little guys, making them cocoa and marshmallows, eating blueberry muffins together. Phone calls and some sweet email and Facebook messages came too, bringing more life and love and some amount of peace. Finally, one last email from one of my dearest friends, a book, a warm body in the form of a daughter next to me. This is how I ended the day processing all over again the day one year before when my father’s spirit leaped from his body and moved on to where it was meant to go all along, leaving those who loved him with an empty space that we knew we’d have to work on filling.
Why this return to remember? What is it with us humans that we’re wired to return to loss to move through it all over again? I can’t say, and yet I know it happens and that it’s important.
And what’s more, we can’t do it alone. As much as we may want to curl up into quietness, it’s things like the card, the words, the unexpected purple tulips, and the kitties who want to investigate them, and the sun coming through, that do the healing work, despite our own efforts.
It happens by God’s grace, through others’ hearts, and it’s what brings us to the day after, to knowing we’ve made it, and then some.
Thank you, God, for the chance to remember without being pulled into the abyss. And thank you for the day after – a new day.
Do you think of yourself as a healer? If not, you should. That’s what we’re here to do, according to Madeleine L’Engle.
And yet I want to challenge her. Me, a healer? I’ve always been one to squirm at the sight of blood. I knew I would never make it in the medical field no matter how compassionate my heart. And it’s been a real challenge for me as a mother to get past my emotions in medical emergencies to do what needs doing, though somehow I have pulled it off a time or two and come out the other side.
If I think a little deeper on this, however, I suppose I’ve done a fair amount of healing after all, just naturally in my vocation as a mother, and perhaps, too, in some of my other capacities as friend, co-worker, wife.
I’m not sure I’ve thought of it as a primary reason for my being here, however, until recently.
In L’Engle’s “Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith & Art” (which I am slowly absorbing but completely loving), she speaks of the Christian artist as a healer and then some.
“The artist who is a Christian, like any other Christian, is required to be in this world, but not of it,” she reminded us. “We are to be in this world as healers, as listeners, and as servants.”
Healers, listeners, servants. That we would be made just for this purpose is a compelling idea. We are here not for ourselves, after all, so much as for others. Yes, our own salvation, our own life needs to be tended to, too. In fact, we must either heal ourselves or find healing for ourselves before we can do this work of healing, listening to and serving others well.
But at some point, hopefully, we become equipped to do what we’re here to do — to give.
I feel this giving in the work I do as a writer. I am healed, and in the healing, I find ways to share this experience with others, and then they, too, can be healed, and freed. I can think of no greater fulfillment than to help another come to healing, to understanding, to love.
In creating art, L’Engle said, we are “once again able to do all the things we have forgotten; we are able to walk on water; we speak to the angels who call us; we move, unfettered, among the stars.”
Beautiful words, but certainly not limited to art. Whenever we are called on to be present to others, we must become unbound to a certain extent.
L’Engle’s words pull me in, make me nod, “Yes.” I see the water, the angels, and imagine myself “moving unfettered among the stars.” It is a lovely visual of freedom — of heaven, perhaps.
She goes on.
“We write, we make music, we draw pictures because we are listening for meaning, feeling for healing,” she said. “And during the writing of the story, or the painting, or the composing or singing or replaying, we are returned to that open creativity which was ours when we were children.”
We cannot, she added, be mature artists if we have lost the ability to believe as children. “An artist at work is in a condition of complete and total faith.”
And so it is with living. We cannot be mature, cannot achieve what we’re here to do, cannot be our best selves, truly free, if we lose our ability to believe. We must, as children of God, as mothers, friends, wives, aunts, grandmothers, be in a condition of complete and total faith to do our best work.
It is when we are in this state that we can be healers, listeners, servants. And what a beautiful thing to be able to do — to turn to another and give them our whole selves; to be “God with skin” to others.
Q4U: How have you been a healer, a listener, a servant this week?
I just want to share a little of the sky today — glimpses I’ve been getting lately, colors I’ve captured on my phone. I want to highlight these because there are a lot of complaints from the peanut gallery here in our fair state about winter, but let this remind us all that we have plenty to keep us inspired until the skeeters and heat are beating us down a few months from now!
A week ago, I took the kids sledding. I was content to stay in the car and drink my white-chocolate mocha. But when I saw the big hill the kids were ascending, I had to at least go see what was on the other side; the side where the sun hadn’t quite reached to melt the hillside. I ended up staying for most of the duration, but my favorite moment was walking up and wondering what we’d find on the other side. It was brilliant and exciting, and reminded me of what it’s like to go on a journey not knowing exactly what it’s going to be like until you reach the top. Pretty cool! There’s Nick, ahead of the rest of us, carrying his red snowboard.
On the gray days, we don’t see the sun very much, but you might be interested to know that North Dakota is one of the sunniest states along the U.S.-Canadian border. All those frigid days we experienced recently were filled with sunny skies. This is God’s way, methinks, of helping us endure the chilliest temps. But sometimes, the sun seems to be on vacation. All the more wonderful then to be taking the kids to school on a slow, slogging morning and be awakened by a colorful horizon.
I have to admit, I almost made the boys late to school the day I stopped to get this shot. But it was totally worth the rush in my mind, don’t you agree?
I got it, savored and shared, and the boys got to their destination with a few seconds to spare. It started our day off at an excited pace, and we were all the better for it.
A slight change in angle and perspective, and I was blessed to seize what seemed more sunset than sunrise. This hasn’t been edited a bit, and it’s now my laptop desktop wallpaper.
Then a friend of mine texted Saturday night saying I had to get outside, quickly! At the time we were tucked away inside the sanctuary of evening Mass, so I missed it in real time. But she texted the image she’d gotten from her phone. I was taken by the colors and the “sun strip.” I labeled this photo, “peach sky.”
Who knows what the sky will offer next? I can’t wait to find out!
Q4U: When did you last peer up and find a delightful surprise?
I was absorbed in some project or another when they barged into my work space; my 13-year-old daughter and youngest son, 8.
He was in tears and struggling to find words, so she filled in the blanks.
“We’ve been talking about reincarnation, and he’s getting freaked out,” she explained.
“I don’t wanna believe it but what if it’s true?” he said between sobs.
Apparently, my youngest three kiddos had been having a deep discussion about life and faith, and it had all come around to the idea of reincarnation. My middle son, 11, had said that when he thinks about it, his stomach feels funny. And that got my youngest thinking…and wondering…and worrying.
If reincarnation were true, he must have been surmising, then everything he’d been learning about God, about faith from the Catholic worldview, would be false.
“I want to believe in God. I really do. But what if…”
After a while, my daughter left and I was alone with my littlest.
“Come here, hon,” I said, closing my laptop cover and shoving it aside. “Let’s talk.”
When he’d first come in I thought he’d been hurt in a sibling squabble. But it had quickly become clear it was his soul, not his body, that was hurt. Was I up to the task of setting things on a smoother course? For a moment, I felt incapable, and then somewhere from deep within, a calm confidence. I can do this.
After all, the anticipation of these kinds of moments is really what had set me on a path of better knowing my faith starting around 1994. The thought of my future children having big questions that I couldn’t answer had sent me spinning, and researching. Through this study, I fell deeply in love with my Catholic faith. Soon thereafter, I learned I was pregnant and knew I’d be calling on my new knowledge someday soon to help me in nurturing the souls of my growing family.
And now, one of those someday moments had come.
This same child would be Confirmed in the spring; his soul was readying for something big. Suddenly, I saw the question less as threat and more as a wonderfully-timed moment in his spiritual life.
And I was ready, not by my own accord but by God dwelling within me.
“First, I want you to know that God made you to ask questions and he wants you to ask questions,” I began. “In fact, he doesn’t ever want you to stop asking. God is the one who put that curiosity in you in the first place!”
“But what if it’s true?” he asked. “What if that really does happen?”
We talked for a while, and though I don’t remember now everything that I said, I assured him there would be a lot of different ideas that would come to him during his life, either by others or through his own mind, and that there was time to sort through all of this. I told him his questions would bring him closer to God in the end; that asking them would actually help him love God more; that those who don’t ask, or who simply don’t care, are more at risk of being far away from the love of God than those who do.
“I want to believe,” he said. “I really do. But I don’t know…” He was still in distress.
It was then that inspiration rose up.
“I can really see that you do want to believe, and the really cool thing about that is that God sees you wanting to believe, too, and the fact that you want to believe makes him so happy!” I said. “It’s hard to believe in something you can’t see, but he sees your good heart wanting to believe, and knowing that you want to is huge. God can handle your not being sure. He will keep loving you through all of the questions.”
As I talked, he began to calm down. Can an 8-year-old really understand these big answers, I wondered? I don’t know for sure, but what I do know is that he left the room a whole lot lighter than when he came in.
And then a few days later, this jumped out at me in the comments box of a blog:
“The desire of your heart is itself your prayer.” (St. Augustine) Or, translated by the one who shared, “To desire to believe is to believe.”
And there it was — sweet affirmation of what I’d told my young son.
Even when we’re not absolutely sure, even when we’re more aligned with Doubting Thomas than the saints in moments of unequivocal certainty, the desire to believe is as much belief as belief is.
Though I know this won’t be the end of his big questions, I’m not alone in helping keep my son going in the direction of faith, in belief in the God who set this world in motion and will lead us to eternal happiness if we seek him.
And to be honest, when I reflect further on this incident, I see so many good things. I see a conscience being formed, a desire to want to know truth, a yearning for love and goodness. It was all there — the biggest stuff of life rolled into a five-minute, spontaneous, teachable moment.
What I want most for my son, and his siblings, and all those I love and even those I don’t even know, for that matter, is the taste of true freedom; the kind this same son so aptly demonstrated during a boat ride this summer.
To me, this is a picture of someone being in a stance of complete trust because he knows he is tethered. And with God’s help, I want to help guide him so that by the time his earthly life ends, he will have returned to this place, arms open and trusting and lavishing the love meant for him from the start
What big questions have you helped answer as a parent?
It might seem like it will never happen, but we’ve rounded the bend folks. I can see it now. It’s in sight! One fine day upcoming, spring is going to have sprung.
That’s one of my favorite expectations. And you’ll find more today on Peace Garden Writer.
Hope springs eternal. See you over there!
After watching a little bit of the Olympics with my family last night, I decided I needed to get my own body moving and go work out. My gym bag was all packed so off I went into the night, knowing I’d be missing something really cool but realizing too that I can’t put my life completely on hold during these great days of the winter Olympics.
I don’t watch a lot of TV anymore, but the Olympics is one of the rare exceptions. It’s one time I find it hard to not stay glued to the tube. But I was determined to stay the course and get my exercising done.
I walked into the Y with that mission in mind. I checked in and started off in the direction of the locker rooms. But then I caught a flash of something. I looked up and saw the flat-screen television attached to the wall in the lobby. Japan’s Narumi Takahashi and Ryuichi Kihara were performing for the figure skating team pairs’ short program.
|Found at http://abcnews.go.com/Sports/photos/top-photos-winter-olympics|
I froze, mesmerized by the sight of the duo gliding along the ice together. I plopped down in a chair a few inches away, knowing I’d just surrendered.
There is something so beautiful about a man and a woman flying across the ice; the strength of his masculinity serving as her rock, her foothold, and the fluidity of her femininity in beautiful contrast, dancing around his solidity.
|Found at http://abcnews.go.com/Sports/photos/top-photos-winter-olympics|
It’s something I’ve admired since I was a little girl. The ice-skating itself is incredible to witness; to think they are out there in shoes with just a thin blade to hold them up and transport them from one end of the ice to the other. But then on top of that, they are somehow able to create these beautiful movements together. They’re like a living and breathing masterpiece on ice.
In those younger, little-girl years, I loved finding out the skating couple was a couple in real life. When this wasn’t the case, I grew quickly disappointed. I wanted so much for all the skating pairs to really be in love, not just to be pretending but to be as devoted to one another off the ice as on. I suppose it was a little like a fairytale, and who doesn’t want a happy ending?
These were the innocent feelings of a child, but it was coming from the gut level and felt very real to me then, and it still does to this day. And I think it has to do with this: male and female God created them. It’s basic and it’s beautiful. And when we see it, we have a deep-down-in-the-soul reaction to it.
I would even call it sacred. To me, these team skaters exemplify the creative complementarity of God’s vision for life when it is flourishing.
I also love that team skating is a demonstration of two bodies working together, closely and in harmony, and not in a way that is obscene. This is becoming more rare every day. We’re more accustomed to bodies of women and men being portrayed not in a sacred way but a way that is twisted from God’s plan. So a tasteful, classy representation stands out as extraordinarily lovely, and cause, apparently, for abandoning an exercise plan for just a few minutes longer.
Don’t get me wrong. I know this is plain hard work for these couples who have put in the time, day in and day out, and probably had more than their fair share of disagreements, injuries, and other real-life drama. But they also offer us hope that it is possible to find a way to glide along together in harmony, even though a few bumps and bruises will be inevitable, and remind me that man and woman are truly breathtaking when working in harmony.
For this, I will let the television god have my attention for just a little while every couple years.
I can’t wait to see what’s next!
Q4U: What’s your favorite Olympics event? Why?
Sunday night, I had a date with my husband on what has been declared by the Worldwide Marriage Encounter movement as World Marriage Day. We made good use of an Applebee’s gift certificate and enjoyed dinner for just a few bucks when all was said and done. It was a nice end to a weekend busy with obligations.
After dinner, I headed down south to our church, where I attended a training session for new “adorers” on the responsibilities involved in being part of the Adoration team.
I’ve been taking part in Adoration for several years now on a “come as needed” basis. Whenever I’ve felt an urging to visit God in the Blessed Sacrament, and when I wasn’t otherwise obligated, I made it my occasional trek.
Not once did I regret it. Not once did I feel like I was wasting my time, even though there is more just being than doing at Adoration. Instead, I left feeling more at peace, more whole, more equipped to face the rest of the night and the day that followed.
Sometimes, I’d even just sneak into the Adoration chapel during a busy day, on the way to here from there. I cannot express adequately the solace that has come from these visits with the Lord.
Recently, our priest sent out a challenge to us to discern whether now was our time to step things up and become a regular part of the Adoration schedule, which would mean a weekly, hourly commitment. I wasn’t sure if I was feeling a tap or not. I told myself I’d look at the list of hours that needed filling, and if one seemed a match and wouldn’t unfairly inconvenience my family, I would consider it. One did and I signed up.
Which means starting this week, I have a certain day when I’ll be there, committed, for an hour (plus the time it’ll take me to get there and back) to just hang out with God.
I didn’t want to be intrusive with my camera during our tour tonight so just grabbed this visual of the interior of our chapel from a card in the entryway. This is the place.
The idea with Adoration is that since it really is God himself there in the center of the monstrance (the golden vessel in the middle of the red candles in front), it wouldn’t be right to leave Him alone. Oh, I’m sure God could handle it, but when He’s exposed in the monstrance, He deserves our constant attention.
It’s not an obligation so much as an honor to be one of those who makes sure the Lord is attended to in this fashion. The picture doesn’t adequately show how peaceful it is to sit in this chapel, but I’ve been here many times before and believe me when I say it’s a place to which you want to return.
Date night with my husband was enjoyable, but I have a feeling date nights with God will be divine.
Q4U: When did you last experience the divine?
Not everyone understands me, but there is one guy who does.
Here’s a hint:
Oh, he doesn’t know me, but if we ever were to meet, it’s almost certain there would be a quick recognition.
How do I know this? Well, skitter on over to Peace Garden Writer and all will be revealed!
When I was a little girl, my father used to take me fishing at Crandle Lake — a little spot of water in northeast Montana several miles out from where we lived.
This has to be one of my favorite photos from those years. It says as much about what isn’t obvious than what is; less about me and more about those who loved me. The pigtails with the yarn ties — Mom’s doing. The sweater draped around my shoulders to keep me warm — Dad’s.
Dad taught me a love of fishing and the being out in nature that came with it. From an early age, I learned the language of fishing and the peace that was possible when waiting for something to bite, not to mention the sheer excitement of feeling that tug on the line — often after a very long wait, especially for one six years old.
Recently, I read a reflection in Magnificat magazine that brought me back to those days of casting and reeling. It caught me and I wanted to share. It’s about fishing, but more, it’s about love. It comes from the mind and heart of Fr. John Tauler, O.P., a German Dominican priest, popular preacher and mystical theologian who died in 1361.
He likened love to the hook on a fisherman’s line. “The fish must take the hook or the fisherman can never catch him,” he wrote. “After the hook is once in his mouth, the fish may swim about and even swim away from the shore, but the fisherman is sure to finally land him.”
This, he said, is love. “Whoever is caught by love is held perfectly fast, and yet in a sweet captivity.”
Nothing brings you nearer to God, makes God so much your own, as the sweet bond of love, Fr. Tauler added. “Whoever is caught by this hook is so entirely captive that feet, hands, mouth, eyes and heart — everything that is himself — becomes God’s own.”
The work of perfect love, he said, is more fruitful to a man’s own soul and to the souls of all other people with whom he deals, and it brings more glory to God, than all other works.”
“The fish may swim about…but the fisherman is sure to finally land him.”
This is beautiful imagery. And assuring. For once caught we are His; we can be confident the One who loves us beyond all imagining isn’t about to let us go once we’re within reach.
Oh, we’ll try. The world will tempt us. It will say, “Look at this freedom here. Don’t leave the bounteous water for captivity!” And we will want so much to find a way out of the hook.
For one, the hook can appear painful. And who wants that? But eventually, at some point, we will somehow realize that we have been saved from having been snatched up and consumed, and that our fisherman does not plan to fry us up but will bring us to another, better lake where we will be nourished and allowed to grow to our natural capacity.
Captivity may seem confining, and indeed it is often so. But when Love is our captor, it can be just the opposite of that
I’m hooked. Are you?
[To read the whole reflection, see p. 250 of the February 2014 issue of Magnificat.]
When I read Jennifer Fulwiler’s challenge on doing a “7 for 7″ blog venture (seven posts in seven days), I thought, yeah, that’s the last thing I need — more obligations added to my already wildly spotted week! But then I began to think a little differently about it.
And what I came to realize is that such an exercise would be, for me, something of my own personal Mardi Gras.
|My sister and I in New Orleans, Summer 2011
Mardi Gras has a bit of a bad rap because of the crazy excesses it promotes in some corners of the world, but the idea behind it is religious in nature; that being that it’s a relaxation of the usual restraints in the hours leading up to a time of fasting — in particular, the fasting season of Lent.
A quick Wikipedia search brings me on a quick tour of Mardi Gras celebrations around the world.
In Belgium, the city of Binche has an annual Mari Gras festival that involves around 1,000 dancers making their way through the city while carnival songs play.
In some regions of Germany, the celebration is called Fastnacht, or “Eve of the Fast.” Some cities host parades the Monday prior to Ash Wednesday called Rosenmontag (Rose Monday).
Italy is where we get “Fat Tuesday.” Their celebration is literally named that, or Martedi Grasso. It’s the main day of celebration along with Giovedi Grasso, Fat Thursday, which takes place the Thursday prior.
In the Netherlands, the people celebrate “Carnaval,” which comes from “carne vale,” or literally, “Goodbye to the meat,” in Latin.
“As with many popular festivals, people tend to loosen some moral codes and become laid-back or loose, which is based in the ancient role-reversal origins of Carnaval, including dressing in costumes,” according to Wikipedia. This helps explain the negative connotations of all the partying.
And of course, many of us are familiar with celebrations in the United States, most characteristically the New Orleans version, which can be far from wholesome, certainly much more worldly than spiritual.
Despite the negative connotations of Mardi Gras, my aim is to retain the celebratory spirit of it, to put in a little extra and go as “whole hog” as possible in these days leading up to Ash Wednesday, the kick-off to Lent.
Next to the Advent season, I like Lent best in the liturgical year for its encouragement of fostering a more reflective, purposeful life. I’ve come to see it as a yearly and necessary purging.
And is often the case, I will be making some cutbacks here, posting only very occasionally throughout the season of Lent. Which leads me to my original thought that the 7 for 7 can be my “indulgence” of sorts before going quiet for a while.
Makes sense, right? Okay, then bring it on! I won’t promise lengthy posts. Not that you’d want that. But I will promise something every day of this coming week.
Here’s to Lent and a richer, deeper sense of living!
Q4U: Do you have a Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday tradition? What is it?
Today was all about tears.
It started when, midday, I sat on my bed, closed my eyes, and started talking to God. My prayer quickly became a pouring forth of many things I’ve been holding in my heart — some worried things but mostly things for which I am deeply grateful.
It doesn’t take much to get my faucet running, especially if I am in silence and connected to that place within and without that brings me to my essence and the essence of God. In those fragile moments when I know I am safe with God, emotions come easily.
Eventually I had to end my prayer because my feelings threatened to overpower. This might seem dramatic but it’s what was. I have so much gratitude in my heart I can barely carry it by myself.
Does this seem strange? Perhaps I feel so deeply in such times because I’ve experienced other times when I’ve felt cut off from the source of life. I know it was all my doing but the fact remains that I have not always had such clear access to God’s love and light.
Though my tears stopped for a while, a couple hours after my prayer session, I attended an evening banquet with a friend. The event is hosted yearly by our Catholic radio station to garner support and provide for the station’s future. And it’s not just one station but many popping up “like mushrooms” (as our guest speaker noted) all over the state of North Dakota. It’s incredible. We’ve tapped into something big here and it’s making a profound difference in the lives of many Catholics and other believers, too.
I shouldn’t have been surprised, but not long after arriving at the banquet with my friend, tears appeared again — this time from the station’s executive director. Equipping the whole state with radio to enliven the soul is no small task, but he’s doing it. Not only that but it had been an emotional day, beginning with a daughter going into the hospital for emergency surgery. And yet somehow, God had carried him through all of that, and there he was, having survived it, and thanking everyone for how they’d come to his rescue to lift his burden.
It was obvious this was not so much a business as a family, and that he was, like I had been earlier, simply overwhelmed by gratitude.
Then the guest speaker, Catholic convert Steve Ray, got up to share his conversion story. He also had to stop in the middle of his talk to collect himself. He’d been sharing about deciding to become Catholic after a lifetime of being passionately anti-Catholic; specifically, the moment when his teen daughter, after crying in her room over a letter he’d written explaining the conversion, told him the kids had been convicted and would be joining the ship, too.
Later, he spoke of other tearful times, including the day he stepped foot in a Catholic Church for the first time, and realized that in looking at the priest he was witnessing “an apostolic man,” someone who knew someone who knew someone who knew…the first pope. It’s an unbroken line traced all the way back to Peter himself, and it’s one of the reasons I stayed Catholic after some floundering in early adulthood — this realization that Peter was the first pope.
All these tears culminated in my realizing a life of passionate faith and tears go together. The kind of faith that brings us up close and personal with the living God can’t help but bring one to tears; not tears of sadness but overwhelming joy.
I had them. The radio director had them. And the presenter had them. And as I sat there listening to the presentation of one who had come back to life, there they were again, dripping down my cheeks. And I just let them.
Tears can be a little scary at times. When we are really crying, we’re also a little out of control. But they tell us something about ourselves and where we’re at. They remind us we are not frozen and numb but enlightened and alive.
Most of my tears these days are tears of joy and gratitude. For that reason, I imagine heaven as being a place full of crying people with tears everywhere, rivers of them; tears in abundance that say, “I love and I am loved.”
God, help me to always feel this deeply. Don’t let me ever take for granted this blessed connection I have with you. Remind me of my need for you always so that my tears will never run dry. Amen.
|Shanley High School students “mobbing” Catholic convert Steve Ray|
Thursdays don’t generally get much attention on my blog, but this week is special. It’s “7 for 7″ – seven posts in seven days. It’s all in preparation for what will be mostly silence here for the 40 days of Lent. This week is my indulgence of words, you might say, as I explain here.
I wanted my Thursday post to be lighthearted — just a little something to make your day. So I thought of thoughtfulness as a theme, and that brought to mind something I’d shared this weekend with my Facebook friends.
Sunday night, I’d taken my two youngest boys out for “coffee.” No one actually had coffee. I had tea, and they had hot chocolate and root beer.
I had some paperwork to do and knew it might be something of a risk to attempt it at a small table with three drinks plus water and a son who isn’t known for his grace. Sure enough, not too far into our stay we had a root beer explosion, and it was all over my papers. The falling root beer bottle had knocked over my cup of tea to make it doubly drippy. It was a grand mess.
We got it all cleaned up and my son — the spiller — decided he wanted to buy a root beer to replace the one he’d spilled, and he thought that just maybe he had enough change to get the job done. He laid out his coins on the table — $2 in nickels, dimes and pennies. He then cajoled his older brother to come with him to the counter to make his purchase.
A few minutes after they tromped off to said counter, our youngest came dancing back to the table with a huge grin on his face and two crisp dollar bills in his hands.
I’d seen the cops come in but hadn’t noticed them up at the counter. Apparently, after Nick had made his purchase with his coin collection, one of the police officers had replenished the money he’d lost on the root beer with two new dollar bills. Our little guy was in heaven to say the least.
“Here, you forgot your root beer.” It was the barista, who’d come to find our thirsty boy. In all his excitement, he’d failed to bring his purchase back to our table.
What was fun for me in all of this, aside from the heart-warming elements of knowing a cop had made my son’s day, was watching others’ reactions. It caused a bit of a stir in the quiet, evening atmosphere of the shop. The two gals near us, around college age, had huge grins on their faces as they watched all this play out (we weren’t exactly quiet as mice), and the barista, too, seemed to be getting a kick out of the whole thing and her part in it.
Generosity is an alive thing. From the initial acting out of a kind thought, something heartening happens and spreads, and onlookers, if any, can’t help but feel lighter as well.
“Did you thank him?” I asked my son.
“Um, I think so.”
“Well I want to make sure. Go back and tell him thank you, just to make sure.”
So he did. Better to be safe than sorry, or as a friend once told me, to err on the side of love.
But I especially loved it when my son decided to share his “reward” with his older brother, who had come away from the scene with empty hands. It didn’t happen right off, but eventually, the moment of recognition came: if older brother had not accompanied him to the counter, he may never have found the courage to approach the counter in the first place. It was definitely a team effort and the result was divided in two.
My sharing this on Facebook elicited some great responses. The “random act of kindness” moment grew beyond the coffee shop as readers delighted in the act of one kind police officer to a young boy.
People want to hear about surprises, to be reminded that good still exists in the world, and that at bottom, our good hearts have not left us. Also, policemen aren’t our enemies. They’re there to help us, and on occasion, make a kid’s day.
Q4U: Have you been the recipient of an act of random kindness lately? I’d love to hear about it!
The other day a friend from Canada sent our Catholic writers’ group a link for an article about a book, “Atchison Blue: A Search for Silence, and a Living Faith.”
This isn’t a review because I haven’t yet picked up the book — though I very much hope to soon. Maybe another Lenten read?
I received the link on a busy day but something about the title caught me, so I began reading the review. Ah, it’s about monasteries and the draw of them. Immediately I’m hooked. Having had the blessing of getting to know two monasteries so far in my life, I can’t help but be alert.
|Carmel of Mary monastery, Wahpeton, ND, fall 2012|
I know the safe harbor they provide for the weary soul. There are few things in life as lovely as having the space and place to commune with God in this way.
Through both, in different seasons of my life, I’ve rediscovered the quiet voice within and come out of the experience all the richer — fortified, ready to resume the ardors and joys of everyday life.
So I couldn’t help but be moved by this paragraph of the review:
“Valente arrives at the monastery beleaguered, anxious and exhausted. She is immediately startled by the saturating silence that surrounds her. As the alchemy of silence begins to transform, she discovers how the monastic day, regulated as it is by the chanting of the Hours, gives context and form to community life. Prayer becomes not some separate activity, but the day itself. She resonates with the alternating rhythms of work and leisure, the attention to detail and beauty, the care of each person, and the concern for the world beyond the monastery’s walls. She encounters women who find meaning and zest in life, who form lifelong friendships, who are humble and filled with gratitude, and who have no fear of death. She is stunned by the conundrum that it is precisely their restriction that offers them great freedom.”
Mid-paragraph I am seized by familiarity: “Prayer becomes not some separate activity, but the day itself.”
This has been my experience during my monastery stays. I’ve mentioned it here before, and to others at other times, that in recent visits especially it’s hit me later, or sometimes during, that rather than setting aside time as I thought I would have for intimate conversations with God, I have found those intimate conversations happen moment by moment as I breathe in the blessing of the sacred spaces and stillness. When I am there, my whole body feels restful, and in sustained fashion, this is such a healing thing.
I’ve noticed this too: that at Mass at the monastery, everything is slower — the words, the songs. When returning after a visit to my home parish filled with its families and another kind of vibrancy, I can’t help but feel that everything is a bit rushed. “What’s the hurry?” I think, having become accustomed to and immersed in something less harried.
From my perspective, the reviewer accomplished what she set out to do. This paragraph was a description in many ways of my own experience, and for that reason I must read this book. Because I am going to assume that if one line from a review can resonate so powerfully within me, there will be more of those nuggets within.
And as Heather King, memorist and modern-day mystic, said last month in her blog, Shirt of Flame, “I read for the emotion, the feel, the sense of other possibilities. That click of, ‘Someone got it right. Someone described how I have felt, but never been able to articulate,’ or posed the question I’ve been posing all my life without even knowing I was posing it! Or someone told a story that is completely different from my story and yet, amazingly, gloriously, is in some way the same as my story.”
I’m assuming, however, that you don’t need monastery experience to get something out of the read; that this book will satisfy the promptings of anyone who has ever desired visiting such a place. This may be your introduction, your peek inside, and that’s a good first step.
Q4U: Have you ever experienced a day or portion of a day when prayer became the day itself?
Saturdays aren’t my usual posting days, but I wanted to finish strong in my “7 posts in 7 days” challenge by Jen at Conversion Diary. Which meant I had to come up with a theme like I have for my regular posting days. I didn’t want to leave Saturday out.
After much pondering in my “this has been the coldest winter in memory,” “take me out of this frozen prison,” “Save Our (Icicle-laden) Ship” mindset, I decided on “Sunny Saturdays.” Because at this point it’s either think sunny thoughts or go mad, and I choose the former.
With that in mind…
Ahhhhhhhh…I feel like this sunflower, thirsting for sun, turning toward warmth and letting it wash me anew. Do you feel it too?
That said, I have a job to do. I’m to come up with my final post of “7 in 7″ and I’m a bit depleted in words by now. A post a day is hard work with all of my other obligations besides. But I’m glad I did it. That said, I need a little help getting to the finish line, and have summoned Mother Teresa of Calcutta for assistance.
Being a fan like so many are of Blessed Mother Teresa, it seems very appropriate that she would assist me with this finish, add something bright to my Sunny Saturday, and help me (and perhaps you too) head into Lent with the right attitude.
The 7 steps include:
1. Slow down
2. Make some room
3. Open your eyes
4. Put great love into small things
5. Do not tire
6. Remember, it’s faithfulness not success
7. Leave the rest to Jesus
To read Matt’s brief elaborations of each, find them at the actual post. And for further edification, return to them, often.
God bless as we turn the corner toward this season of learning how we can live for others, and in that, find our true purpose and fulfillment.
Q4U: Do you have any steps to add?
I tried putting on a brave face. I knew it wouldn’t help her a titch if I let the real feelings pop to the surface.
So I focused on the positives: that by moving to another city far away, my friend would become a blessing to others. It’s true, of course. She will. But I also know uprooting your family to another part of the country after settling in and finding your church, school, and a nurturing city is no small thing.
It’s part of our very mobile society, however. It happens all the time.
Someone is offered a great job and after a time of hemming and hawing, the decision is made to go. And at some point, there’s no turning back.
Frequent though it may be, I wonder if we properly acknowledge as a society the loss involved, not only for the mover but for those left behind. In fact, I would say in some cases it’s harder on those left in the wake.
I’ve never relished goodbyes and when we moved out West in our first year of marriage, it happened so fast that I didn’t have time to tell all of my friends we were going. I’ll never forget the shocked reaction of one who found out after we’d departed.
I realized then that I’d also probably refrained from a big announcement in part to protect myself from uncomfortable goodbyes. Clearly, I saw in hindsight, that had been a selfish decision. I’d denied some of my friends a chance to experience the stages of letting go I’d already quietly experienced.
Now, I’m on the other side of it, and I can say this friend has been generous in the sharing. She’s brought our circle of faith-sharing women into each step of the process and we’ve circled around her and tried to lend our supportive hearts and minds to make her uprooting a little less painful.
But in all of that I’d not let myself consider that this is a real loss for us.
It’s important to share that the friend who is moving a couple months from now is a vibrant person, the epitome of hyperbole. Along with being a true thespian, she’s a mother and wife, a teacher, a skilled vocalist and flutist, a dancer and a church decorator.
She began coming to our circle of faith-sharing sisters when her oldest of two children, now in middle school, was a baby. There, she poured out her life’s hopes, dreams and fears as we did in turn. Though we didn’t do tons of socializing together outside our group, we’ve definitely come to know each others’ souls from the inside-out during these years together.
So last week, as we joined forces in song-leading at a regular weekly school Mass — I managing melody and she handling harmony — it hit me.
She’s leaving and this kind of thing isn’t going to happen again. Come May, the harmonies will cease. The strength I feel from her leadership and musicianship in this instance, and the ardent yearning to know God I witness from her at our group, will be no longer.
The passionate responses and dramatic conclusions we’ve come to expect from this friend in our faith-sharing group will dissipate. There will be not just a tiny void but a glaring chasm.
After receiving the Eucharist that day, I went back to my chair and realized I couldn’t completely hold back the tears, though I remained discreet and composed through the final song. I can act too, after all.
But as we were putting away stands and music at the Mass’s conclusion, I felt a prompting to tell her what had just happened. Even though I knew it might set her off course a bit, I wanted her to know now — not two months from now — that she’d mattered.
“I’m grieving you,” I said, and within a few moments we were in a heartfelt embrace that I’m sure made those still lingering in the sanctuary wonder. It called to mind another grieving friend-hug I had in a swimming pool years ago when we learned a friend was leaving, not just to another town but our world due to a prolonged illness.
Sometimes, you just have to stop and acknowledge your grief — in fact, to name it in the first place. Whether someone is leaving the earth or moving a few states away, the loss is real.
Granted, my friend isn’t dying, but preparing for her to fade into the horizon is like a mini-death. And it deserves a little space — even if just an unplanned, unrehearsed moment of embrace among two friends.
Some in our faith-sharing group went to see our friend perform in her last public drama here the same night of the tearful Mass. In the “Forbidden Broadway” performance, she carried out a rousing rendition of both Carol Channing and Liza Minnelli. It was the perfect way for her to end her theatrical career here. We laughed our way through it, celebrating but knowing, too, that the goodbye has begun.
Now that I’ve gotten my tears out of the way, I think I can go back to doing what needs doing to help send my friend on her way. This is life, after all, always a welcoming, always a letting go. Not always easy, but always possible.
Q4U: What have you learned about grieving to prepare you for the next round?
I broke with tradition Holy Saturday night.
It was a very last-minute decision, but I missed our Easter egg coloring in order to attend the three-hour Easter Vigil Mass with our oldest daughter.
Miss “O” had been sent on a mission. Extra-credit points in religion class for going to this meaningful but long-into-the-night event. She’d never been to the vigil before, and truth be told, I’ve only been a couple other times. Each year the yearning is there, but with all the preparations of Easter and Easter morning, it’s been a hard thing to pull off.
But last night, about 30 minutes before our egg dyeing and dipping were to commence, I changed courses, asking my visiting Mom to take over the egg-shell coloring and my middle girl to take photos so I wouldn’t completely miss out. I am grateful for Miss “E’s” eye and willingness to be the recorder of visuals in my stead. I enjoyed looking at the colorful photos Easter afternoon.
Despite having missed the creative fun of Easter egg making, I have no regrets about the vigil.
Hearing the beautiful psalms, one after another, and the story of salvation history from beginning to earthly end, and then witnessing the baptism of one adult man and the reception into the Church of about nine others through Confirmation and First Eucharist was worth the sacrifice.
For those who’ve never been to a vigil, it begins in the dark, the only lights emanating from small candles held by those in attendance. It’s breathtaking to consider the implications of a world that has been in the dark but becomes seized by light and love.
And at the end of it all, the words “Alleluia,” which have been hidden from our ears and hearts all of Lent, break through in all their splendor. Our choir did an amazing job of igniting our souls through music (small sampling here).
As our priest, Father Paul, said during his homily, “If He is alive, then everything about Him is true…What an amazing night.”
Indeed, He is risen. This is no small thing. If He really rose, it’s a game-changer of eternal proportions. It should change how we live our lives in a dramatic way.
May the implications of this celebration wash through your soul and grip your heart mightily!
Q4U: What moment during this Easter season stands out to you as a game-changer?
Just when you think you know your city, turns out there’s so much more you don’t know. And sometimes, it takes descending the bowels of some of the city’s most interesting offerings to learn what the eye did not catch the first go-around.
Here’s a hint of what had evaded my eye in other visits to the Ho-Do.
I’m so glad I didn’t skip out on the event that brought me to this spot.
I hope you’ll hop along with me today and find out what I’m talking about. No need to stay in the dark any longer! See Peace Garden Writer.
Peace Garden Mama
I’d just read an article about how hard it is to shake the Catholic from our blood, no matter how hard we try.
The gist was that our Catholic faith runs deep in our veins, and those that leave the faith often find aspects of the Catholic sensibility and even tangible history that remain a residual part of them.
As a grateful Catholic, and someone who has approached the faith at one time from a wandering, wondering distance before finding her way back fully in the fold, it is hard for me not to respond with an, “Amen! I get this!”
Naturally, I wanted to share this interesting piece with my Catholic friends in particular. Since many of them are on Facebook, I started there. Upon posting a link to the article, “No-Exit Catholicism,” from Ethika Politika, I added these thoughts to my status update:
“Interesting piece on how being Catholic can take hold of individuals and cultures. Even those who wish to walk away cannot totally un-thread from Catholicism’s beautiful grasp.”
But a Christian friend misunderstood my intentions – at least it seemed to me – and offered a gentle challenge:
“I see the tie as Christ himself. Don’t lose focus on the reason for the religion in the first place.”
Not being entirely clear on her words, I initially did some self-analysis. Does she think I am somehow discounting that Jesus the Christ is intricately involved in this entity called the Catholic Church? It hurt to think this could be the case, knowing the reality of how I feel about Jesus.
Of course the reason for the religion is Jesus. Of course!
Needing to sort through the words that brought me straight to the core of my beliefs, causing me to face them head on and size up the misunderstanding, I asked for clarification.
She responded that she feels my posts, like this one, sometimes come off as being “focused on Catholic over Christ.” She felt compelled to comment “because I don’t want you to get off track.”
So far the clarifications weren’t making me feel much better. There was a disconnect going on; that was clear to me. Thankfully, the underlying peace I feel at my core because of my faith and belief in Jesus gave me an assuring whisper: “Still here.” But it bothered me that she’d somehow missed my intentions.
What seemed to be happening was a misunderstanding between the Catholic mindset and that of a fellow sister in Christ who is not Catholic. In fact, in a way her comment fortified what the article was saying; that being that there is a particularly Catholic way of looking at the world, and you either see it or you don’t. Once you do, it’s hard to unhitch from that. If you never did, it would be hard to explain.
From the non-Catholic’s eyes, my zeal for Catholicism was somewhat off-putting. In highlighting the Catholic Church, I was being perceived as somehow dissing God – making the Church more important than Jesus himself.
But the truth of it is that for the Catholic who truly knows his or her faith, Jesus and the Church are one and the same. When I am leaping up and down about the Church or something awesome the pope said or some other beautiful truth that has been revealed to me through the Church, I am actually and truly leaping up and down for Jesus.
Other Catholics would get this, but Protestants might not. And in the end, there’s really nothing I can say to satisfy my friend or make her believe this Jesus = Church reality. There are too many forces, religious and non-religious, purporting otherwise. We forget that because the Church is full of human beings who sin that we cannot still have a truly holy community that has Jesus infused into every aspect of it.
Because the Catholic Church looks so human so much of the time, especially in terms of the ways the world looks at us from the outside in, many, Christians and otherwise, cannot, will not, grasp the continuity of the two.
It’s one of those misunderstandings I will be forced to live with, I’m afraid. Of course, I can start editing all my posts to make it explicit that whenever I mention “The Church” I really mean “Jesus,” but to me, it’s redundant.
I’m left with the realization that my Catholic readers will get it, and my non-Catholic readers won’t. And the matter may not be settled in this life.
All that said, in the end I felt gratitude for the comments. They came from a good heart and I knew that from the start. For that reason they were never a threat, but an opportunity to try to explain and share the reason for my fervor regarding the Church, which I did.
And putting it most simply, that fervor comes from a heart that “once was lost, but now is found.” There’s no taking away my zeal at this point, but the exchange helped me see that I can temper that with welcoming challenges as opportunities to explain my true intentions whenever they are misunderstood by those who don’t share my Blood Type of Catholic.
Thank God, I do know the reason for the religion, and every day I feel blessed to not only live for Him but to live out my love for Him through the beautiful, revolutionary, mind-blowing entity called the Catholic faith.
Q4U: Have you ever felt misunderstood when it comes to “the reason for your religion?”
A week ago, I was heading down…the Atlantic…Highway.
Oops! For a minute there I was back in 1989 singing with the B52s! Let’s try this again.
I was heading down old Highway 1806 in North Dakota on my way to a very special author visit with some incredibly inquisitive, darling students.
Truly, you won’t want to miss my journey to this corner of North Dakota. Peace Garden Writer has the skinny today! Last one there’s a rotten Easter egg!
I’ve known of the St. Gianna’s Maternity Home in Warsaw, N.D., since before its grand opening a decade ago. In that first year, I had the privilege of touring its beautiful interior just on the cusp of its becoming a harbor for women facing unplanned pregnancy and dire situations meriting refuge.
And I’ve become endeared to the woman who inspired the name and mission — St. Gianna Beretta Molla. Several years after the home opened, my middle son, Adam, had a chance to meet Gianna’s son, Pierluigi Molla, who was in town for a special event associated with the home.
From afar, I’ve watched the home become a success story, not only for the babies who’ve been brought into the world because of it but for the mothers, whose lives have been rebuilt from the bottom up due to the care they’ve received there.
And on Monday, I was blessed to be part of a 10th anniversary celebration to honor the home and those associated with it.
My part was small. I sang one song at the end of the evening as things wrapped up and guests considered stewardship opportunities to keep the home running. But my reward was huge.
The home’s founder, Mary Pat Jahner, insisted my guest and I join the head table at the front and center of the long room. This head table included the keynote speaker and our state’s lieutenant governor, but it was as casual and humble a table as you could find.
Another of our table guests came with crayons and a stuffed teddy bear. She’s only nine — the same age as my baby — but when she gave her speech, all eyes and hearts were happily captive.
|Mary Pat Jahner, founder of St. Gianna’s Maternity Home, and Geianna, 9
This little gal is not only full of spunk but she lays claim to having been the first baby to be born with the help of St. Gianna’s. She bears the same name, in fact, without the “saint” at the beginning — at least for now.
The keynote speaker is someone who has become personally very special to me, having spent time with my father in his final months in the hospital, starting in November 2012, until his death in January 2013. At that time, Monsignor presided over the funeral and, during a quiet conversation as we prepared to do the Mass music, he gave my sister and me a gift — a gentle glimpse into the soul of our father in his final days. I will be forever indebted.
|Monsignor Thomas Richter, pastor, Cathedral of the Holy Spirit, Bismarck|
He normally speaks from the pulpit at my mother’s parish — Cathedral of the Holy Spirit in Bismarck — but for this, he made the drive three hours west. I told him I was looking forward to his talk. He warned me he’d had little time to prepare and I shouldn’t expect too much. But at the end of it, as I wiped away tears, I thought, “If this is his ad lib stuff, I wonder what his prepared talks are like?”
Monsignor is one of 14 children raised here in North Dakota. His parents showed up to hear their son talk, and when they stood, his father did a quick farmer’s wave around the room, a toothpick in his mouth, and his mother beamed as any good mother would. They seemed to be truly salt of the earth people who have turned out a son with a remarkable grasp of the soul and what it thirsts for.
And my soul needed what he shared Monday night; first, a story of his brother, Andy, someone with Down’s Syndrome who is also a hero in the minds of many — much more than he will ever be, Monsignor said. “I’d like to think God sees it that way, too, and I’d be just fine with that.”
He introduced his brother in part to lead into the crux of our top earthly goal as followers of Christ. Though I’d come to sing not report, by the end of his talk I’d managed to scribble down a few notes. Thankfully, because I’ve been pondering them ever since.
Compassion was the real theme of the evening, and Monsignor described it as one of the greatest gifts God offers us. Because of this, it is also easily distorted.
He broke the word down to its essence in order that we might enter more fully into its depth. “Compassion,” he said, comes from the Latin words “cum,” or “with,” and “pati,” or “to suffer.” So it literally mean “to suffer with.”
Mary Pat left a beloved teaching job more than a decade ago to suffer with the girls and women who would enter St. Gianna’s Maternity Home. In that time, over 80 babies have come into the world who might not be here otherwise. And over 80 mothers have been transformed.
It is not easy work. Most arrive with a fair amount of baggage, as those clients and former clients who spoke will attest to. They are, like most of us, wounded in some way and in need of healing, not just emotionally but other ways as well. St. Gianna’s gives them nourishment, from physical to spiritual, and when they move on from there, the relationship remains.
St. Gianna’s cannot save everyone, but it is a start.
So Monsignor talked of the compassion the people there have in the truest sense of the word. “It takes a great soul to understand there are no easy fixes,” he said. It is the harder thing “to suffer with,” he added, and easier to have false compassion. This is the compassion of the culture of death, which says, “I see your pain, but I really don’t want to be at the cross with you.”
“When someone has to suffer alone it’s harder to make the right decision,” he said, making it clear he understands that women in difficult situations, facing bringing a life into the world when they do not have proper support, are truly facing a hardship. “But we can do better,” he said, referring back to another story he told. He noted how much easier suffering becomes, how much more bearable, when someone is willing to suffer with us.
Not take away the problem. Not erase it. Not bring fresh wounds to those still not healed. But offer true compassion by “suffering with.”
It’s beautiful, is it not? I can’t imagine anyone there not being moved — moved to rethink this idea of compassion and what it really is.
Are we willing to enter into the suffering of others? This is what living is, according to Monsignor. There’s something powerful here, something deep, something worth taking into our hearts and pondering.
We may grapple in this world with the sincerity of our compassion, but one thing is for sure — God never will. When He offers compassion toward His children, there’s nothing false about it. He’s for real.
Q4U: What do false and true compassion look like to you?
Sometimes, the white spaces are too thin.
Here’s one way I’ve been able to deal with that problem in my own life:
The rest is on Peace Garden Writer today! Hope to see you there!
My lovely and well-meaning friend was trying to make a point. She noticed how passionate I feel about my Catholic faith, as demonstrated through my posts and murmurings on social media. And our brief discussion led her to feel, for a time, defensive about her own faith.
“I guess I feel pretty passionate about my church, too,” she said, “and a big reason for that is it is focused outward to people not inward to ritual.”
I find it interesting to hear the perspective of those looking at faith — and a particular way of carrying out that faith — from the outside.
We are both believers in God, but we each have our own ideas of the particulars of how our love of God should be manifest. I hope God will give each of us a little pass for at least trying. Neither of us is probably getting it completely right.
But her words contained a challenge, and what I perceive as a misunderstanding.
Ritual seems to have become a bad word outside some of the mainline Christian denominations, similar to the word “religion,” which I covered here a while back. I guess now it’s time for ritual to have its due.
According to the all-handy Wikipedia, “ritual” defined most simply is “a sequence of activities involving gestures, words, and objects, performed in a sequestered place, and performed according to set sequence.”
“Rituals of various kinds are a feature of almost all known human societies, past or present,” the piece goes on to say.
An expounding paragraph explains ritual in broad terms, saying ritual includes not only the various worship rites and sacraments of organized religion, but also the rites of passage of certain societies. “Even common actions like hand-shaking and saying hello may be termed rituals,” it says.
Think swan preening.
But a few paragraphs down, something else piques my interest:
“The field of ritual studies has seen a number of conflicting definitions of the term. One…is that a ritual is an outsider’s…category for a set activity (or set of actions) that, to the outsider, seems irrational, non-contiguous, or illogical. The term can be used also by the insider…as an acknowledgement that this activity can be seen as such by the uninitiated onlooker.”
I find the words “outsider” and “insider” interesting, since I had used the same. In the case of my friend and me, I am almost sure, based on her comment, that there’s a disconnect between her perception of “ritual” and mine.
Because, truth be told, if ritual is done right, it flows from belief, and rather detracting from it, provides a way to increase it. But when ritual is misunderstood, it becomes simply something mysterious which, I can completely see, could become superfluous to the outsider.
Where my friend misses the reality of it as I’ve known it is that ritual is not meant to be the end-all of faith. Ritual is part of the way we come as believers to be fed. The act of falling to our knees in prayer and worship is, I think, ritualistic. We are in reception mode at that point, drawing on our Lord what we need to go out into the world and do the work of love.
Even eating to me is ritual, to some degree. We draw to the table, with all of our ritualistic tools — spoons, forks, bowls — and why? To be fed. To receive nourishment so that we can go on living as well as possible.
For me, ritual is the point at which I forget about myself and surrender to God, opening myself in an act of receptivity to be nourished.
Now, put that way, is ritual really so bad?
Of course it can be, like anything, misused, but I think we are way too quick as a culture to have an “either this or that” mentality. Example: “We can either worship God in ritual or without ritual.”
Why not both? Maybe we can have ritual that draws us inward, and then take what we’ve been fed and bring it outward. That’s how I’ve always understood it, so seeing it any other way is a completely new idea, and seems lacking.
It’s not that ritual is bad and reaching out is good. How about that ritual can help lead us to loving others more deeply? Why not that?
Q4U: When you hear the word “ritual,” what comes to mind? Is it a bad word to you? Or do you associate it with something more positive?
This weekend, I came upon a Mother’s Day post I did a few years back — a Mother’s Day reflection in pictures. It brought happiness to my heart, and seemed such a simple but poignant way of sharing how my family brought joy to me that year. So I thought, along with linking to that precious post, I’d do the same for this year (below).
Just one more verbal mention: I was treated to breakfast in bed by my middle son this morning. It used to be his sisters who took on this task, and as girls are wont to do, it came with all the frills. His he-version of breakfast in bed was a little tamed down — coffee and cocoa puffs — but his sweet smile and generous spirit reached straight through to my heart. I enjoyed every chocolate ball and the coffee was just perfect with the right amount of half and half!
Later, our whole family enjoyed a Mother’s Day brunch. Last night at a Mass for which I served as cantor, we had our May crowning featuring the mother of all mothers, Mary! Isn’t she gorgeous?
The rest of my Mom’s Day weekend treasures will be shared in the visuals below. One of my disappointments was not having the chance to get a mom and kids photo this year.
God bless all you mothers and the teachers who help make the day special with their organizing of projects that bring us so much joy!
|Gift #1: What could it be???|
|Is this neat or what? An artistic tile with clips to hold photos!
|Gift #2 from middle child: so sweet!|
|Gift #3 came with a surprise in the back…|
|Precious words that left me feeling immeasurably blessed…|
It’s been another month of parties and celebrations!
Before I go on, let me tell you about these guys. We have, far right, our oldest, and in the middle, the grad whose mom snapped this shot years ago, and to the left of him…remember that face. Okay? Just remember it because he’ll come back in a bit.
The final of five grad parties we attended this week/end included the precious picture above, featuring our big senior and his friends back when they were around 4 years old at Vacation Bible School. Melted my heart seeing my now-big-boy as a little cowpoke, arm around his buddies. I won’t do the “time flies” mantra. I won’t. But it does.
I honestly wondered how we’d make it to the other side of this week/end. I had things color-coded in my “to do” list and Troy and I were both dizzy looking at it. We had to make some choices, do some tag-teaming, keep things reasonable.
I couldn’t miss this one.
Look at the smiles on these women. Those are not fake, I assure you. We’ve been together a long time, doing our Tuesday afternoon Scripture pondering, eye-watering, belly-laughing thing. We feel big and deep and find comfort in doing this together. Now, one is leaving. It’s not easy saying goodbye. But you just have to close things off properly and we loved getting together to offer this official farewell. Our party included a lot of singing.Plus, you just have to close things off properly and we loved getting together to offer this official farewell. Our party included a lot of singing. We’re all pretty creative gals and we couldn’t help ourselves. We sort of…er…forgot we were in a public place. No one stops us from singing when we’re gathered around the fireplace Tuesdays at our friend’s house. It just felt so natural. In the end, however, we “church ladies” pretty much got kicked out of the place by an irritated bar tender who was trying to watch a very.important.hockey.game in the next room over.
Oops! I think he just needed a hug. Next time we’ll try that.
At the first of the handful of grad parties, our son’s tennis buddy, Alex, featured this cake patterned after his actual tennis racket. I love the tennis ball cupcakes!
We broke away from party #2 Saturday in time to make it to our younger sons’ piano recital. It was nicely done, complete with bows after each song and piece, and we are still gushing over the progress we’ve seen over the last year. Here, Nick is doing a duet with his teacher. You can catch one each of their solos here and here.
Then Sunday night, our oldest daughter performed downtown with 30 or so members of her high school choir, who joined forces with a local adult choir and orchestra at a church to perform Faure’s “Requiem.” She downplayed the whole thing so I was not prepared for what commenced.
Sitting in the audience, and after a very busy span of days, I felt like I was being handed a surprise gift. Here’s one of my favorite portions of the requiem, “In Paradisium.”
And now, remember that face at the top of the page to the left? Here he is last night singing the solo from “Libera me.” Wow! And that with a cold to boot. I’m afraid our kids may not know just how blessed they are to be experiencing these things as teenagers. I guess that’s what we moms are for — to remind them.
So, we did make it through, and with smiles to end the evening.
Q4U: What made you smile this weekend?
Okay, whose name begins as a Mexican dessert and who, in her life, had an obsession over colorful feathered friends, particularly the beautiful peacock?
If you don’t know her already, you’re going to love this gal and her imperfeck-shuns. Trust me.
Now fly on over the Peace Garden Writer for more, like now!
Even writing these words, “A sense of deliberateness and calm,” brings me a sense of deliberateness and calm.
To me, this is the height of calm.
The times I have spent at the Carmelite monastery here in North Dakota have been some of the most divine of my life. And it’s not that the other times have left so little to be desired, but they largely take place within the chaotic cacophony of life.
I like that life is full of vibrant color, varied people and robust challenges. But calm is important too, and sorely lacking in our current world.
Earlier this week, we celebrated the 48th World Communications Day, and as part of that, Pope Francis issued some guiding words to help us make the best use of the technology we have before us in order to most effectively communicate. His message can be found in its entirety here and I’d highly recommend a look.
For now, I’m going to pull a few of the phrases that spoke to me, because I think they are for anyone to receive and process, whether you are Catholic or otherwise, and a professional communicator or otherwise. We humans all have a great need to communicate, and the better we do this, the more fluidly we can move through life.
The pope says communication is more a human than a technological achievement. Already, another image than what I’d been attaching to “communications” comes into my mind.
“What is it, then, that helps us, in the digital environment, to grow in humanity and mutual understanding?” he asks. “We need…to recover a certain sense of deliberateness and calm. This calls for time and the ability to be silent and to listen.”
That’s not something usual these days, is it? We must plan for it, work toward it, and move into it. And if we’re so fortunate as to reach that place, we must let go of distractions and allow it to change us from within.
For some, this is very scary. For all, this is necessary.
“How can communication be at the service of an authentic culture of encounter?…How do we draw close to one another?” Pope Francis asks. “Communication is really about realizing that we are all human beings, children of God. I like seeing this power of communication as ‘neighborliness.’”
The pope said that communication aimed at promoting consumption or manipulating others is a form of violent aggression like that which was suffered by the man in Scripture who was beaten by robbers and left for dead. “Nowadays there is a danger that certain media so condition our responses that we fail to see our real neighbor.”
I know how easy it is to be tempted toward aggression in communications efforts, and yet as a communicator, I feel strongly that we must engage, including on popularly contested topics. But I feel that God has given me courage in this realm and a heart to go after those difficult topics anyway.
And so I will step into terrain that might feel foreign, that might involve risk, but I can do this because of God’s grace, because of the community that supports me, and because I have first dwelt in a place that has brought me a sense of deliberateness and calm.
Whether it be at the monastery or at the feet of Jesus in Adoration or sitting on a bench in the park watching my children play, purposefully seeking out these places of refuge serve to calm my heart. And when my heart is calm, I can lovingly enter the places of engagement that God is calling me toward.
If we only deal with safe topics, only talk to people with whom we agree, and never take risks in the realm of communications, I don’t know that we’re really serving God in the way He asks. Not everyone is called purposefully to be the kind of communicator I believe God has called me to be but we are all called to communicate as lovingly and thoughtfully as possible.
Sometimes the most powerful kind of communication is simply done through our right and loving actions.
But for me, words are often required. Fortified by the love I have known, and the calm I have cultivated, I can move in, offering up that same love, and die to self as God’s human vessel by seeking, challenging, receiving and being a vibrant part of the human conversation. I
Hopefully, my communicating will be part of what brings me ultimately into God’s arms, and maybe even attracts others to seek the same.
Q4U: In what ways are you being challenged to communicate, and challenged by communications, when it comes to your life as a Christian?
It wasn’t that long ago that she was 2, trailing me around her home, where I was a guest, watching me, her auntie, apply makeup as I prepared to meet the day. I’d come from far away, left all my busy work in a busy newsroom behind to see her, to hang out for a while with my little niece — the first of of eight children my sister and I would help bring into the world. And as she watched, I could feel her sweet young gaze and all its wondering.
Was she already imagining in some inexplicable way this day?
I didn’t expect the emotion that would rise up within me during the ceremony, as a string quartet played haunting melodies of life and love, as a future bride joined hands with her future groom, as they locked eyes during the vows, as she tried not to cry.
I see people crying at weddings and it’s hard for me to connect sometimes. I didn’t cry at my own wedding. I’d seen too many brides lose it walking down the aisle. I, on the other hand, was intent on remaining in control.
And I’ve sung at weddings of people I don’t know. It’s easier then to remain composed.
But this time, it was different. This time, that little baby face I saw sitting in her mother’s arms that very first visit, waking me up with her little giggles, and my awe over the fact that my sister had really done it — she’d become a mother — after all our pretending in our growing up years about this day, here it was. A child. My only sister’s child. And so beautiful at that.
And now, a blushing bride, and the years flash back and forward and in a jumble I realize…this is big.
This is the beginning of a new life, and the beginning also of many weddings and new souls coming into our lives and all that our growing families will come to mean in the coming years — and so much of it as yet unwritten.
Next, it could be one of our daughters.
Who knows? For now, I’m content with them serving punch at their cousin’s wedding.
I’m not quite ready.
Was my sister? She seemed so composed, so relaxed. She did a great job of being mother of the bride. I know it wasn’t easy every step of the way, but she did it. I’m so proud of her. Because really, even though it’s about my niece and her new husband, it’s also about my sister and her husband and everything they have poured into this life.
Now, they step away and hope they’ve done enough to teach her to be a woman, a wife, a mother.
The photos speak for themselves, but suffice it to say…it was a beautiful day. The rain of earlier had cleared just in time for outdoor shots.
And from there, everything seemed to flow as flawlessly as one might imagine it.
Oh, I’m sure there were a few hidden foibles.
But we couldn’t see it from the outside.
We just took it all in and enjoyed the sight of a new family in the making. Two saxophone players from North Dakota who met in Colorado and realized…this was something different than they’d known before.
I pray for my beautiful niece and her charming new husband, that they will always have the opportunity to share the music of their souls and never forget what it feels like to dance.
I pray that God would wrap His loving arms around them and never let go, and that they will respond in kind, and realize that it is only through Him that they will find true fulfillment in this world.
There is much reason to be hopeful.
And by the way, Happy Anniversary today to my sister and her husband, as if a wedding and another birthday the same day of the wedding wasn’t enough!
Q4U: What are you hopeful about this week?
I love how the writing of one writer can enliven the life of another.
Reading an article today got me even more eager for my upcoming trip to Andalusia Farm. Now, I’m even more sure what I’ll be there to find.
Follow the trail over to Peace Garden Writer to discover what I aim to uncover…
I didn’t see it coming. At all. But it did, and before I knew it I was completely overtaken, and my whole world had gone lopsided on me.
I was like a deer in the headlights.
It all left me feeling a little bananas.
Recently I’ve been forced to face some very hard scenarios as a mother. And in that, I’ve realized that no matter how prepared I had felt, or how much I had journeyed through and learned, or how well I’d built up my spiritual fortifications, sometimes, life brings situations that leave us clueless.
In such a time, everything that has led us to wisdom falls away and seems inaccessible.
These quandaries have involved my teenagers and the kind of details you always pray you will be fortunate enough to avoid. They are not immediately life and death, but certainly, you wonder where it all could lead.
Some of you parents have been here, too, looking up to the heavens and saying, “Really God?” And then reaching out your hands to that same God and saying, “I am totally unarmed, and ill-prepared.”
But it’s in being in that place you don’t want to be, when your stomach is in knots and all that you had hoped for seems far away, that you realize you do have armor after all.
You have Him. He who sees all, knows all, loves all, and will carry you through this, too, even though His voice has become very tiny; barely audible.
Barely, but not altogether gone. He is still here…in the friend who rubs your shoulder, the other who brings a comforting word, and the one who shares a Scripture passage she knows she heard for you and you alone at just that precise moment.
Even as the floor falls from under you, somehow you manage to hold onto something…the divine hand…just enough to not get sucked under.
Everything about me wants to go running and screaming from these years of parenting teenagers. I didn’t know a heart could break more than once in a day. I’m baffled by what’s been presented. But I know that giving up really isn’t an option. There’s too much invested. The only thing to do is plow through.
“Jesus I trust in you.” That’s all I got. And for now it is enough.
When I visited her last month, I said to Grandma, “Next time I see you it will be at your birthday party!”
“I won’t be there,” she responded with little expression.
“Well I hope you will be,” I said, smiling, though not able to crack her stern gaze. “100 years is a long time. We want to celebrate with you!”
And so on Saturday, we did, and she was there, thank God! There, and from what we could tell, taking it in as well as she could for someone who seems halfway between this world and the next.
A few years back, Grandma started showing signs of a forthcoming departure. Yesterday, she said something about not wanting another 100 years. I told her that soon enough, she’d be with those she has missed so much and for so long. Most of her friends have already gone, of course, and many other dear ones, including her husband, my Grandpa Joe. I asked her to greet them all for me when she gets to where they are. I want her to be eager for what comes next because her liveliest years are behind her now.
And yet it’s not everyday someone you love reaches triple digits. Maybe once, if you’re lucky.
I’ve had a lot of — too many — friends die young. This started in childhood. Funerals of children were not uncommon in my growing up years. And later, in young adulthood, I experienced the fleetingness of life again when so many of my friends, mothers of children, began leaving.
It gave me an appreciation for life, a stark reminder of how short it can be, and why each day is truly a gift. When God bestows longevity, it is a blessing, to the soul given that gift, and maybe more, to those that soul has touched.
This was as much a gathering for those of us who exist because of her, who have been the recipients of her love, have swirled around her through the years, dancing around the life that helped start off this brood.
It is very hard to imagine life without Grandma. Since age nine, this is the only grandparent I’ve known. My paternal grandma died before I was born, and my grandpas were gone by my 4th grade year. Grandma Betty has endured through all of this and is something of a living miracle, a witness of how much God loves us to bless us with her presence for so long.
This daughter of a lawyer/judge and teacher, who became a teacher herself for a time, married, then lived for her family, became a philanthropist, swam thousands of miles at her local YMCA, played bridge, entertained, told lively stories we will forever cherish; this only child who always had a bit more spunk than the next kid, who survived being widowed and never remarried, who loved traveling, who raised three daughters and loved six grandchildren and their 11 children – her great-grands – is a century old.
Born June 15, 1914, she’s lived 100 years and loved me for 45 of them.
Happy 100th dear Grandma. You have lived an amazing life and we are so honored to have been part of it!
My sister’s husband took the above shot, and each time I look at it I love it even more. It’s grandma, looking at a photo of herself at age 20. She didn’t say much, just gazed mostly, but how I wish I could have known her thoughts at this moment. The photo was taken 80 years ago!
After the party, the sky ushered us home with its beautiful, early-evening preview of what would be a downpour later. It was brilliant and breathtaking and affirmed everything about the day being a complete blessing.
Yep, I’m settling into my temporary environment here in the South, and so far so good!
This morning, after a nice breakfast at Cracker Barrel in Bowling Green, KY, my mama and cousin Blenda and I left Blenda’s house, along with her lovely crepe myrtle hibiscus bush, and headed for Springfield, where Day 1 of summer and our pilgrimage in search of Flannery O’Connor would begin.
I could tell from the road we weren’t in North Dakota anymore.
When we rolled into Springfield, Cinnamon House, our bed and breakfast, came suddenly into view. Our first Catholic writer comrade, Beth, was out on the porch swing.
It was the perfect Southern welcome. She’d been in the kitchen, preparing a meal for us pilgrims from the Midwest; Christina and Karen from Wisconsin, and I, from the Dakotas.
I said hello to Beth and goodbye to Mom and Blenda. As they pulled away and headed back to Bowling Green, I checked out our temporary digs.
Cinnamon House was just as charming as I’d imagined.
Lincoln is a big presence around here. His parents apparently married in this town, so you see a lot of him around.
But first, the meal, all of it garden fresh — kale and onions, a delicious meatloaf, homemade bread with basil butter, and roasted veggies. Dessert was a fruit crisp with rhubarb, blueberries and another berry that escapes me now, but…yum! We capped it all off with some hot tea.
Then I sneaked out to get a few more shots before sundown.
I couldn’t keep all this to myself so I ran back to tell the gals what I’d witnessed, and they joined me for another stroll to end the evening.
I tried getting some shots of the fireflies. I love them! We don’t have any in North Dakota, or none that I have seen. They are like little sparklers lighting up the grass. I can’t help but think how much my boys would love to try to capture them in a Mason jar.
We’ve only just begun our little adventure, but so far, it’s been a beautiful blessing. I am thanking God every hour for this chance.
Tomorrow, we will explore the grounds of the monastery where Thomas Merton wrote his famous memoir, “The Seven Storey Mountain,” along with other discoveries.
See y’all again real soon, now, you hear?
Day two began on a lovely note with a little fuel for the journey.
Christina lured herself awake with a little swing on the porch.
And once we’d packed our lunch, we were off for a Eucharistic service at a Trappist monastery.
I wish I could say I’ve read “The Seven Storey Mountain,” Thomas Merton’s well-known memoir, but I cannot, and because I cannot, I missed some of the significance of Day 2 of our journey South.
It reminds me a little of the time I was in Rome, back in college, before I appreciated the depth of just what Rome means to my faith story. It’s on my bucket list to return, now that I would cherish each step.
Perhaps I will return someday to this beautiful part of the country too and have a greater appreciation for Merton. For now, however, I can say that Day 2 was beautiful, and that, like that naive college student, I took it in nonetheless with a sense of awe and a peacefulness in my heart.
It didn’t hurt that we started our day winding through the Kentucky hillside, finally landing at Merton’s old haunts, which are still very much alive today.
Alive with the prayer of the monks.
Alive with their voices (listen here), pleading to a good God we can’t fully understand.
Alive with memory.
Alive with beauty.
In some ways it didn’t matter that I didn’t know all there is to know about this sacred place.
I still let it all wash over me, let it heal my soul, let it slow my breathing.
After Mass and a chance to inhale this lovely, peaceful place, our “tour guide,” Southern Belle Beth, our fellow pilgrim and chef, brought us to another little spot of heaven — a place where she’s gone for solace as a Catholic writer before; to the mother house of the Sisters of Loretto.
She showed us many spots in which we might set down our picnic, but we chose this one, near a pond called Mary’s Pond, which runs parallel to a little road that had just been blanketed with fresh cedar chips.
We lingered and laughed and looked out on the pond, marveling at the turtles who poked their noses up, but would duck before we could take photos.
Karen, however, was able to capture the dragonflies.
We strolled through the grounds a bit…
Taking in the rocky grotto…
And a piece of art Beth said is one of her favorites, “The Magnificat,” which reminded me of my friend Katie back home…
The outdoor Stations of the Cross…
And many other lovely things.
And then, Beth announced it was time to depart. We needed to get on back to Cinnamon House so she could get home and catch an evening flight to D.C.
Now, we were on our own — three northerners in the South.
We took it easy the rest of the day, blending into our environment, letting our souls sit a while.
We caught up on some reading and writing and pondering what tomorrow will bring.
We talked about the joys of faith and some of the experiences that have led to where we are now.
And how much we appreciate today.
God is good and we all see this as an incredible gift that we are soaking in like thirsty sponges.
Tomorrow, we shall ride to Georgia!
When we rose this morning, we did so with a “Goodbye y’all” to Springfield, KY, and “Howdy” to the long and unexplored (to us) road to Milledgeville, GA — all eight hours worth, and with a couple little stops for lunch and relief, make that nine.
There’s so much I’ve not had time to mention while working hard to hit the top layer of this incredible trip. My commitment to blogging daily means “Just the highlights, Ma’am” for now. But before I move on I must mention that despite being in the Bible Belt, we three Catholic travelers just experienced what is known as the Holy Land of Kentucky.
|Photo: Karen Pieh Mahoney
Indeed, an incredibly rich Catholic heritage exits in the area surrounding Springfield. We felt we were among many kindred spirits; not far from our hearts after all. It was pretty cool. Just check out our jaunts around the area yesterday to see for yourself (see Day 2 post).
Now, having said that, it’s time to bring you into the loop of Day 3, which was 95 percent about traveling. In fact I was beginning to think all my photos for today’s post would be road shots.
Don’t get me wrong. It was an amazing journey. Three northern faith writers exploring the South together in search of Flannery O’Connor can’t help but make for a giddy ride, and it was full of that. We went through everything from country to city to country to city again.
And from sunshine to rain back with a return to sunshine then clouds.
Then finally, with just a few sips of our water bottles left, there it was on the horizon — our first sign of our main destination: the stomping grounds of our heroine.
Around that time, we also learned why Flannery had such a hard time — or maybe such a fun time — with spelling. It seems to be in the water.
I wish I’d turned my camera on our youngest traveler, Christina, who was practically jumping out of her seat in the back as we came within a few miles of Flannery’s hometown. She’s largely responsible for planning this trip and was beyond ecstatic to see this longtime adventure turning into reality before her eyes. Karen and I weren’t so subdued either.
|Karen and Christina
When we got to Milledgeville, we couldn’t believe it. The town downright impressed us. It was much more modern, tidy, and sparkly than we’d imagined.
The Inn where we’re staying the next couple nights exceeded our every expectation. What a cool pad!
That’s just the outside. Here’s a peek at the inside, including my temporary room, the Oak.
And the chair where I composed this post.
We couldn’t help but gush at this little treasure of a city; a city many people have scratched their heads over while asking us, “Now where are you going again?”
It’s a neat little place that boasts Flannery’s digs, of course, but also what seems to be a very nice college, Georgia College & State University. We drooled over it and wish we’d have known about this place back in our college-picking days!
Then again there are no regrets, only moments to savor from the past and many to look forward to in the future.
Speaking of savoring, all that traveling made us hungry. After settling into our bed and breakfast — which is absolutely charming beyond imagining — we hunted down a restaurant that would offer a few Southern options, and seemed to choose right in landing on Buffington’s, where we had fried green tomatoes, catfish and salads, all the while a pair of musicians played a little bluegrass in the background.
I’ve long wanted to try fried green tomatoes and these ones, with their Parmesan cheese on top and spicy dipping sauce, did not disappoint.
The catfish was mighty tasty, too, with its yummy crust!
Well, it’s been a long day and I’m short on words now, but my heart is full and remains ever so grateful. Tomorrow, we start making our way into the center of what this trip has been about all along, and we can’t wait to share a bit of our findings.
God bless and g’night from Milledgeville, GA!
This was it. This was the day we’d been imagining for so long.
We’d traveled all this way, saved all those pennies, convinced our families it was worth it for us to be gone for a while…all for this.
Some might think us a little mad, yet if given a chance, most anyone would travel to where a hero found her voice. That’s all this has been — a chance to feel the spirit of one whose spirit has moved us.
And yet it’s been a little more than that as well. It’s been a journey of connecting, discovering and even of healing.
I’ve long thought green to be a healing color. Today, we got plenty of it. This was our very first glimpse of Andalusia Farm.
Well, after this anyway.
We’d breezed past this sign on our way into town the other day, and for a day beyond that, held the visual in our heads and hearts, wondering what it would be like for real.
Though the house attracted us — the elusive place where Flannery strung so many interesting sentences together — we seemed drawn by an invisible force to the grounds surrounding her old home. Early to arrive, we were the only visitors for most of the duration, and I can’t imagine a gentler, more appropriate introduction to the place we’d seen only in pictures and dreams before now.
Soon, we’d bumped into the home out back that had been residence to Flannery’s and Regina’s (her mother’s) hired help, Louise, Jack and “Shot.”
We couldn’t believe how accessible everything was. A few spots were marked off as the furthest point we could go, but mostly we were free to roam.
Signs let us know how to behave and that was just fine by us.
As we found our way to the back of that outlying house, we discovered a little slice of heaven. Flannery always did call Andalusia a bird sanctuary, and as we learned, it most certainly was, and still is.
You won’t regret stopping here just a moment or two and listening…
I’ve always loved birds but in the past couple years I’ve become even more enamored with them. My father pointed them out often, and in his passing, I was left with the realization of just what gifts they are to us.
Healing green. Healing birdsong. Healing stroll through hallowed ground in the company of beautiful companions.
Eventually, we found our way to what is something of a main attraction. At first, we heard him calling through the grounds in that haunting voice that echoed from tree limb to tree limb. I remember the sound from childhood when we’d visit the Dakota Zoo in Bismarck and the peacocks that wandered the grounds would “yell” to us. That was the sound.
And there they were.
Flannery’s special “pets.” At one time, there were as many as 50 on the grounds. Now, there are just three — the male, “Manley Pointer,” and his two lady friends.
|Photo: Karen Pieh Mahoney|
I found the females beautiful too…
But Manley insisted on center stage.
When we first strolled up he was fanned out. The tour guide later told us he tends to do this in clockwork fashion, straight up at 10. We’d arrived at 10 but had missed the climactic moment, apparently.
But he was not quite done showing off. Soon, he was jumping up on a beam, giving us his best poses.
This is one of my favorites; Manley and Christina, posing together.
The birds seemed to like us. We had a connection. We were gentle with them, respectful, and in turn, they engaged and let us get some close-ups we had not anticipated possible.
It was as if Flannery herself were there with us, thrilled to show us her birds. “Aren’t they beautiful?” “Yes, Flannery, they are.”
It would only seem right that during our stop at the little gift shop later, I’d pick up a handful of peacock feathers for souvenirs for the kids.
There they are, just around the corner from St. Therese in that vase, which is just above “The Habit of Being” I’ve been talking so much about. Yep, that’s right. Signs of Flannery were all over this place, and we were eating it up like kids in a candy store.
We downloaded hundreds of photos today so I have to pace myself, but let this be a preview of coming attractions. There is more to come and it will be worth a return visit.
It’s been another beautiful day in Milledgeville. My cup is overflowing and I hope to bring back some of this abundance to my loved ones back home soon. But for now the adventure is still unfolding. Hurray!
Q4U: What heals you?
My promise to post every day of our Flannery adventure was thwarted by staying at a monastery that lacked a proper Internet connection. So I apologize for lack of proper follow-through. But sometimes, as Flannery well knew, you just surrender.
After this short catch-up post, the rest of what I will share in this series will all be post-journey meanderings. For this moment, however, you’re reading the words of one travel-worn little lady. So, let’s keep this short and sweet, if you please, for now, with just a few shots of our last major destination attraction before the three of us have to (gulp!) say goodbye for a while.
By the way, I am not relishing the thought of parting. These women have truly become my sisters on this brief but concentrated journey. But with that, I know that it’s only the beginning in many ways of all that we’re meant to learn from one another as we continue to find Flannery in our lives.
Flannery talked quite a bit about the Holy Spirit Monastery in Conyers, Georgia, and it was a delight for us to finally have a chance to see it for ourselves, and worship several times with the Trappist monks there.
The cats were first to greet us. By the time we left we counted six in all. They were playful and we enjoyed watching them, and decided they had a pretty good setup at the monastery. We didn’t worry too much about monastery mice, that’s for sure.
The rest was just…well, beautiful, peaceful, a nice way to begin to wrap up our time together, really.
These holy places we’ve visited have given us such hope, presented us with such quiet beauty. We can only hope that through sharing of our travels, we are able to offer just a little of that peace to you.
God found a way to ease me back into home life from my adventure in the South, though it was hard peeling away from those rolling hills.
It helped when my extended family in Kentucky gathered for a home-cooked meal at Cracker Barrel — one looking just like the restaurant in Bismarck, N.D., where the idea of taking a trip down here first emerged this past Christmas.
These two, kids of my second cousin Chris, rode along with us to the airport in Louisville the next day, yesterday, and since they are the same ages as my youngest two, they helped get me properly oriented toward home.
I sat in the backseat with them while Mom and Blenda, daughter of my Dad’s brother Bill Beauclair, worked the front. I had my book of Flannery’s letters along and they wanted to know what I was reading. Before I knew it, I was explaining all sorts of things about the woman who had transfixed my friends and I enough to travel hundreds of miles to see the elusive peacock place where she’d spent so much time.
Eventually, the subject came around to their beloved hockey team, the Nashville Predators. They were surely impressed to know that I’d met Matt Cullen and interviewed his wife, Bridget, for a newspaper article a few years back.
At the airport, I had a chance to see one more of my Catholic writer friends. Suzanne had had to bypass our trip, reluctantly, in favor of other, more urgent obligations. So it was a true pleasure to have a chance to sit just a while with her before heading back to North Dakota.
I had to grab a bottle of this on the way out.
Sipping on a cool mint julep was something Karen, Christina and I had hoped to do, even if the non-alcoholic variety, but since it never came to pass, I thought I’d stir some up at home sometime, sit out on my back patio and think of them a spell.
Hopefully, it will bring me back to our beloved and blessed time at Andalusia. I’m sighing right now just thinking of it.
But there’s no doubt about the fact that real life needs attention now, too. These reprieves are glorious in part because of the real life that gets lived in between them. There’s no better way to appreciate the mountaintop moments than to live most of the time in the valley. It’s hard to come back to the mundane parts, like bills and deadlines, but necessary, and good, really. There’s a lot of beauty to be lived in these in-between spots; each day is a gift.
I couldn’t get over the Minneapolis airport and its high-tech setup. I felt like I’d time-traveled from a place of yesteryear and straight into the next century.
We ordered dinner right from the ipad. Every little booth in this whole corner of the airport had one and you do everything with the touch of the screen. When the waiter appears with the food it’s almost jarring. You forget there are real people still making it happen.
So now I’m home and far from where I was, but I’ve at least got my peacock feathers. They made it back, though there were a few fragile moments when I wasn’t sure they would. I couldn’t have asked for a better memento than this.
By the way, as Flannery said, traveling broadens a person, including on how to say things properly. I learned, on this journey, that it’s not “Looey-ville” as I’d thought and always heard, but “Lou-uh-vul.” And, as my cousin Blenda noted while on the subject, it’s not Lah-fay-ette, Louisiana, but La-FAY-et. Who knew? Not me, until now.
And by the way, any poking at the Southern dialect I’ve done these past days is truly out of my love for discovering new places and new ways of being and my meager attempt to enter into the life there. It’s been loads of fun.
And with that I’ll say, y’all come back soon now, hear? I’ve got more updates on the way.
Q4U: What have you learned about another place that you didn’t know before through traveling there?
There’s this horse I know, and some think he’s a dead horse. But me? I haven’t given up on him just yet.
You want to check on that horse, see for yourself? He’s just over yonder at Peace Garden Writer today!
I’d only been returned from my trip South for about ten minutes when I saw the usual stack of mail that awaits a homecoming, including the package, a review copy of a book, I quickly and correctly assumed. As an occasional reviewer and radio host, I’m on several mailing lists to receive books of faith from various publishers. Sometimes I am able to delve into them; sometimes not.
But this one grabbed my attention. Fresh from Kentucky, I was holding a copy of a book filled with the wisdom of Thomas Merton’s journals, Simply Merton, most of which had come from the time he spent as Father Louis at the Trappist monastery in Trappist, Kentucky. It’s been a century now since Merton’s emergence into this world, time to celebrate the best of his work, the publisher determined.
Those who’ve followed my recent journey to the South will understand just why the book felt like gold in my hands. I stared at the cover showing a different angle of the monastery than that to which I’d been privy about a week prior, in awe of the confluence.
I have wanted to know a little more about Merton, especially after visiting the monastery where he spent so much time, and now, here it was, unrequested but delivered nonetheless.
A few years ago, I read an article that was somewhat critical of Merton, and because I want to go into everything with my eyes wide open, it was important to me that, along with reading some of his richest writings, I would also come to a better understanding of what about him bothered some. And now, just today, I happened upon this article, which gave me a clearer understanding of my misgivings.
It helps explain why some Christians approach Merton with some hesitation. At the same time, you’ll see at the end of the piece that his earlier writings are described as “beautiful” and orthodox and worth diving into. I think it’s fair enough that we approach those, even those we admire, with a measure of healthy skepticism, knowing that other than God himself, we are all on a journey, and no one but God is incapable of error.
Nevertheless, I’m still feeling incredibly inspired to have this connection with my journey. Flannery herself mentioned Merton several times in her letters. Though the two never met, they knew of each other, and were aware of the work each was doing. So as I continue to process all that this trip meant, I am discovering that piece of it, and interested in what insights might happen as I go.
I think in the end, we pilgrims will agree that when we entered the monastery entrance and saw this…
…we were drawn to it like magnets to a fridge. Look closely at the words above the iron gates; two words that speak so much, and behind them, a beautiful garden of green — as mysterious as the words themselves, which could be pondered for eternity, I would suspect.
To Merton, these words, in part, signified a need for simplicity, to cast aside all encumbrances that might prove to be a hindrance to living for God alone.
As the author of this collection says in the introduction, the Abbey of Gethsemani “was – and remains today – a place to be free, a place to come and do ‘nothing’ but spend one’s time simply for and with God.”
I am only beginning to ruminate over what they mean to me, but the words pull me in, challenging me to question how I might live out the “God Alone” idea — a challenge I gladly accept.
Q4U: What do the words “God Alone” mean to you?
This year, I only had my phone camera to help me, but for some reason I just love trying to capture the sparkles of July 4. This year, I pulled in my photo editor to help me make a little Fourth magic. Just for fun.
More than anything I love the expressions on my kids’ faces!
Have a sparkly rest of the summer!
Peace Garden Mama
Even back in college, she was always looking for beautiful things to adorn her world. So it doesn’t surprise me when I go to visit my dear friend from those years when the mounds of evidence show that nothing has much changed, for the good.
The special touches began showing up the minute we pulled up.
When she comes to Fargo, as she does some years, we usually go out to a nice restaurant with our girls, shop a little and, if we’re lucky enough to hit it right, take in a Trollwood outdoor musical.
Then, we spend the rest of our time talking well into the wee hours of the next day. Our topics cover everything from faith and family to assessments of our lives past and present, as well as our hopes and dreams as we look ahead.
When we visit in her small Minnesota town, the flavor is different, but every bit as wonderful. It had been a couple of years since we’d gone there, so a few things had changed from our last trip, but I was struck anew with all of the small things she’s done to make her house a welcoming home.
Like me, she’s a lover of words and knows their power to change an environment, to change a heart. I had so much fun going around her home and collecting all these words, like flowers in a bouquet.
The boys could not get enough of her backyard, which is something of an oasis in the summertime. Whether it was sitting on the deck and having our grilled dinner, or in the patio chairs in front of the firepit, or splashing together in the pool, which the boys did for about six different sessions during our 24-hour stay, we made use of most of the corners we were invited into.
A new kitten graced our visit, too, and as is usually the case, ignited a hope in the kids that we, too, could maybe get another kitten someday soon.
I’m afraid I dashed those hopes for now, but it was a good try. There’s just something about new life that sends kids spinning. I find the looks in my boys’ eyes as they watch little creatures at play so dear.
That was the best of it, but not all we garnered from this trip. The way home pointed out some pretty little spots.
And as the sun further descended, we were treated to quite the spectacle and had to pause to take note. It made for a little longer trip but it was worth it to breathe in a Minnesota sky on a mild, summer evening.
Thank you, God, for life-giving words.
Thank you, God, for splashes in a pool.
Thank you, God, for summer nights.
Thank you, God, for forever friends.
When people ask the name of our parish, and I answer, many scratch their heads. “Who are Sts. Anne and Joachim?”
When I tell them they are Jesus’ grandparents, I often get even more befuddled looks.
What’s so interesting to me is the fact that despite the Christian belief that Jesus was truly and fully human, many Christians don’t consider that, just like every other truly and fully human out there, he had grandparents!
Yep, grandpa and grandma, pappy and nanny; who knows what he called them but he had them!
This gets interesting, though, because the names of Jesus’ grandparents are not recorded in the Bible. So to many Christians, especially those who believe that the Bible alone contains all we need to know about faith, Anne and Joachim, parents of Mary and grandparents of Jesus, just don’t come onto the radar.
But Catholics have a little more to drawn from. We’ve got Scripture, which is our go-to book above all others, and then we’ve got tradition — all the things that were passed down orally from the time of Jesus that are every bit as much a part of our faith as the Bible. In fact, the two complement one another, and there is an incompleteness to each one on its own. Or so goes the Catholic view.
And yes, there has been a lot of contention over this point through the years, but to me, it just makes sense. We have our lived experience and our recorded experience. Why would it be different for Jesus? I mean, at what point did Jesus say, before he ascended, “Put it in the book, and whatever isn’t in the book isn’t true.” It would take a hundred books to record everything anyone has ever known about Jesus’ life!
Case in point: you don’t find Anne or Joachim in Scripture, but they existed, they were real, and our tradition goes a step further and says they are bonafide saints. And why wouldn’t they be? They’re Jesus’ grandparents after all. Mary was a special gal, and it goes to reason her parents would have been faith-filled examples to such a young lady; a girl who would someday bear the very son of God!
Our parish was named after these saints because we are a younger parish with a lot of families, and Sts. Anne & Joachim are the go-to people for families. They know what it takes to have faith, to teach faith, and to live out faith. And it’s not easy, but we can rely on them for help when we falter. They’ve been there before, after all. No, they’re not God. They can’t effect miracles. But they can pray for us.
Thursday night, we gathered for our parish’s annual celebration in honor of our patron saints. We started with Mass. Afterward, I thought it the perfect time to grab some shots of Sts. Anne & Joachim as depicted in the painted mural on the back wall of our altar. I just love this depiction. It says love, and faith, and commitment, and it’s beautiful besides. Look at the way Mary is humbly accepting her special mission.
From there, we moved outside for our yearly picnic. I was too busy enjoying being with my family on a nice summer day to take photos, but the line for the brats, hot dogs and hamburgers was very long. We enjoyed catching up with some friends we hadn’t seen in a while, and having some Dippin’ Dots ice cream. We had to leave before the magic act, unfortunately.
I also enjoyed reading the reflection about Sts. Anne & Joachim in this month’s Magnificat; the author is Pope Francis: “According to a second-century tradition, Anne and Joachim conceived Mary as a gift from God after years of fertility. Devotion to Anne dates to around 550, when Emperor Justinian built a church in her honor.”
According to the pope’s summary, Anne is frequently shown teaching Mary to read the Scriptures. “Sts. Joachim and Anne were part of a long chain of people who had transmitted their faith and love for God, expressed in the warmth and love of family life, down to Mary, who received the Son of God in her womb and who gave him to the world, to us. How precious is the family as the privileged place for transmitting the faith!”
Sts. Anne & Joachim, pray for us!
Q4U: What are your thoughts about Jesus’ grandparents?
I didn’t know Fr. Peter Hughes well — not as well as some in my life. I would see him at gatherings here and there during the years he served here, and I knew more than a few people who held him beloved. Then one day in 2011, I was given the honor of writing a story on him on the occasion of his golden jubilee as a priest. The day we sat down together, I discovered why he was such a magnet to so many.
With space constraints before me, my editor and I decided to let him do the talking. Our time at the now-defunct Cardinal Meunch Seminary in north Fargo is etched in my memory, in a precious place. Some of his thoughts became infused into the article that resulted, and the rest is simply in my heart, but I have called to mind his broad and loving perspective about God’s hand in the world and in our lives many times over.
Father Hughes’ life ended where it began, in his homeland of Ireland; a place I also count as part of my ancestral grounding. The middle of his life, however, included long stops in both Nigeria, where he was part of a group of missionary priests known as the Holy Ghost Fathers, and North Dakota, where he spent several decades shepherding the prairie flock here. Many, far and wide, including in the Emerald country and here in the Heartland and there in the African jungle, have been touched by his life, which included a deep devotion to Jesus the Christ and his mother.
Since his death this week, I have learned even more about him, including that one young lad, name of Bono, who eventually found his fame in a rock band known as U2, once stood by Fr. Hughes’ side as one of his altar servers. And in our local paper this week, I learned he once captured video footage of the civil strife in Nigera in the late 1960s, which was aired on NBC. He was interviewed during this time on the Today Show.
Fr. Hughes’ real claim to fame, though, was of a humbler variety; the simple loving of God and neighbor, and doing what was possible to make life a little more charitable to those who walked near him.
I have not been able to find a link to that older story, so I am sharing it here, at the request of friends who now are yearning to remember, to hear his voice in phrases, to touch his wisdom and faith and love once more.
May the perpetual light shine upon you, dear Father Hughes. I have every confidence it will and then some.
By Roxane B. Salonen
In his half-century as a priest, Father Peter Hughes has experienced everything from the high of Mass with Pope John Paul II to the low of a brush with what might have been an untimely and brutal death.
The high took place in 1984 when Hughes, a native of Dublin, Ireland, was just starting his 28-year stint with the Diocese of Fargo. He’d had the fortunate experience of helping lead a three-bus caravan from North Dakota to Canada to meet and celebrate Mass with the former pontiff.
The low happened while on a missionary assignment in Nigeria. As part of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit Order known as the Holy Ghost Fathers, Fr. Hughes was helping introduce Jesus to Africa. But when a civil war erupted between Christians and Muslims, things turned unsafe, especially at night.
One evening, six militants broke through a dividing line and forced Father Hughes to drive them to the next town. “I put two in the front seat, four in the back, and one had a tommy-gun to my head,” he recounted. “It wasn’t until later that I realized how it could have gone. When I got into bed that night I started to tremble. He’d had his finger on the trigger.”
Despite the difficult end, he’ll always remember that time as one of the most blessed of his priesthood. “The Church was thriving there at the time. I baptized about two thousand children a year. I once did 133 baptisms in one go.”
When it was time to leave, Father Hughes made the transition with ease. The pattern of going easily from one thing to the next seems to have been set during his earliest years as the youngest of six children. “Of course, I always claim I was the neglected one,” he said, grinning.
In reality, it was a good life lived in a country rich in faith; a place in which the whole community worked to raise up the next generation. “You didn’t just answer to your parents for misbehaving, but to the locals, too,” he said.
An altar boy in his parish of St. Sylvester’s, the young Peter was formed by parents who greatly respected the Church and priesthood. One priest friend would come over every Monday night to eat dinner and play cards with the family. And music nearly always rang through the house.
“My mother was an opera singer…and we’d have a party every Sunday night at our house. If you wanted to attend you had to play or sing a couple songs.”
Eventually, his father, owner of a grocery store and tea business, moved the family to the coast eight miles from the city. There, the kids swam in the ocean several times a day and stayed active in sports. “We lived beside a castle,” he said. “We had cricket, tennis, soccer – what a life, I tell you!”
Soon after his mother died of heart failure, a teenaged Peter shared his thoughts of joining the priesthood with a local pastor. He finished high school in the seminary while continuing to enjoy his beloved cricket game and bicycling around his homeland.
A year after his ordination on July 16, 1961, he left for Africa. Nearly instantly, he felt at home.
“People say that it must be so different, but human nature is the same whether it’s in white skin or black skin,” he said. “And they gave us a great reception there. There were 306 of us Irish Holy Ghost priests in Nigeria.”
As civil strife increased, the priests became “black-listed” from the area. “They maintained we prolonged the war for 18 months because our guys started airlifting food and medicine every night for the Christians.” Recently, the ban was lifted.
After a pause back home, Father Hughes went to Zambia, where he spent another 13 years. In 1983 he came to North Dakota to help one of his fellow Irish priests and was swiftly snatched up by Bishop Driscoll. “I arrived on a Monday, went to a funeral on Tuesday, and I got a letter in the mail the next morning appointing me to Jamestown.”
Though North Dakota was no Africa, he took to the prairie quickly. “I’m a bush boy at heart,” he said. “I enjoy people no matter where I go, but I like North Dakotans and I like the pace here.”
In his many years of priesthood, he’s seen many changes within the Church, but appears to have it all in perspective. “I went to Africa 49 years ago to bring them into Christianity, and now they’re coming back to save our Christianity,” he said. “It’s all in Scripture. If God doesn’t get the grapes in one vineyard, he’ll go to another.”
That’s not to say the lack of gratitude he’s witnessed in “richer” countries doesn’t concern him. “You see people going to the lake, mowing the lawns, playing with their snowmobiles on a Sunday morning; that hurts me,” he said. “The more we have, the less time for God. It’s a material paganism.”
He added that though we’re surrounded by goodness, we’re not necessarily reaching those at the bottom of the steps outside. “Are we reaching the people who are not (in the pews)? Are we only saving the saved?”
Regardless, he still finds the attempt to bring Christ to others worth the trouble. “That’s the joy of it, isn’t it?” he said, a sparkle in his Irish eyes.
Father Hughes will celebrate his Golden Jubilee in his homeland, where he and a group of priest friends will convene for the first time in many years.
Old-fashioned, belabored, not all that important, right? Just a greeting card. Doesn’t need all that much attention.
Or does it?
Here’s my take on that, and why the right space counts in writing just about anything, including messages in greeting cards.
It’s over today on Peace Garden Writer. See you there!