Book Review: Bittersweet

How can something be both beautiful and sad at the same time? That’s the question Susan Cain sets out to explore in her newest book, Bittersweet. Her fans will remember Quiet, her study of introverts and their contributions to a noisy, extraverted society like ours. Just as the first book felt counter-cultural, so this one praises “negative” emotions like sadness and grief in the face of a relentlessly cheery society. Our longing, she says, the place where we care desperately, points in the direction of the sacred. It is the “beating heart of the world’s religions.” This yearning for a more perfect, beautiful world can be the source of creativity and compassion. In the state of exile from Home, our broken hearts help connect us.

Cain’s finest example comes in the Prelude: the cellist of Sarajevo. Vedran Smailovic, lead cellist of the Sarajevo opera, played Albinoni’s “Adagio in G Minor” in war ruins. Dressed in formal white shirt and black tails, he sat in the rubble and played this haunting melody for 22 days in a row, despite sniper fire, for 22 people killed by a mortar shell as they line up for bread. (To hear this infinitely sad music, go to youtube.com/watch?v=kn1gcjuhlhg) The rubble reminds us of Ukraine. The cellist’s rhetorical question could apply there too: “you ask am I crazy for playing the cello in a war zone. Why don’t you ask THEM if they’re crazy for shelling Sarajevo?”

We can sense longing transformed into beauty in the music of Leonard Cohen or the writing of C.S. Lewis, who described a “joyous ache,” a search for “the place where all the beauty came from.” “God is the sigh in the soul,” said Meister Eckhart. Somehow, living in a flawed world, we sense a place of peace and wholeness, always beyond our reach. The pain of not achieving it permanently can be transformed into beauty; darkness can become light through artistic expression or compassion.

I felt a strong stab of this “joy laced with sorrow” at a recent birthday celebration. My six grandchildren were exuberant as they rushed into my room that morning. Carrying balloons, streamers, gifts and hand-made cards, they sang “Happy Birthday” and tumbled into bed for abundant hugs and kisses. Beneath joyful tears, I also thought: they will never be these ages (6-10) again. Sooner or later, we’ll return to routine. And I can’t imagine this clear innocence in 5 years, when they start becoming teenagers. Perhaps having limited expiration dates sharpens the edges, so humans better notice the miraculous in the everyday. “Poignancy is the richest feeling humans experience, one that gives meaning to life—and it happens when you feel happy and sad at the same time.”

Most of the book is gripping, but it sags in the middle, where Cain becomes extensively autobiographical about her relationship with her mother, and repeats much of what’s been written elsewhere. By now we’re aware of social codes that make us say everything is fine, and smile no matter what is unraveling.  The pressure on students to achieve perfection and never admit failure has been well documented. Brene Brown has published fine work on vulnerability, and many are already aware of the “tyranny of positivity.” Most of us know the power of journaling. It’s tempting to yawn when Cain reviews Sharon Salzberg’s well-known story and breathlessly discovers metta, the practice of loving-kindness which some readers have done for 30 years. The ultimate question on which the book ends, “What are you longing for?” echoes St. Ignatius’ probing our deep desires.   

Nonetheless, Bittersweet is well worth a read, and may name elusive feelings. It certainly clarifies our discontent with “normative sunshine,” and our mysterious yearning which is ultimately for the divine.

Film Review: “Downton Abbey: A New Era”

I attended the second movie which follows the six PBS seasons with a friend who isn’t nearly as obsessed with the series as I. But afterwards he said, “I can see why you like living in that world.”

What’s not to like? Beautiful costumes of the 20s, the men in white tie and tails, the women with long gloves and jewels, stately mansions, elegant meals, lush lawns, sparkly Mediterranean vistas. A gun never appears; though arguments happen, they occur only with the utmost civility. Almost everyone behaves graciously; the characters are nuanced so that no one is all good or bad.

Before some grim justice-advocate breaks in to criticize, I know. I realize it’s a lost world and it was probably quite unfair to many people at the time. But haven’t films always offered us a vicarious experience of Hollywood glamor? As Marah Eakin wrote in Chicago Reader: “‘Downton Abbey: A New Era’ is cinematic escapism at its finest and perhaps that’s all it should be.”

This one occurs between two world wars. While people are still suffering the after-effects of the first, few have any premonition that another major conflict looms on the horizon. So most characters can focus on the revelation that their ageing granny has been left a home in the south of France by a man so besotted by her beauty, he didn’t forget her for over 50 years. With no zoom nor e-mail, that leads to an exploratory party checking out the mansion, improbable but handy for the narrative arc.

In typical “Downton” style, simultaneous happenings and twisty plots keep us on our toes. With swift flashes between two countries, one story line follows the group in France, the other a group at home, where a movie company takes over the noble estate for filming. (The roof is sadly in need of repair; one look at the pots in the attic collecting drips convinces the reluctant Earl to take the considerable money offered by the film company.) That eventually leads to a marvelous role reversal, with the servants as film extras dressed to the teeth in 18th century finery, dining “upstairs.”

The old favorite characters are back: Lady Mary, despite her regal distance, the spine of the family, Tom Branson who always seems to say something kind, and everyone’s favorite, the Dowager Countess. As Bill Newcott writes in The Saturday Evening Post: “Here Violet (Maggie Smith) is again, still dying, yet peppery as ever, holding court in the parlour and hurling droll Violetisms that stick to their targets like clumps of warm figgy pudding.”

I’ve always been impressed by the fact that despite the rigid social hierarchy, some members of the Crawley family have closer friendships with their servants than with their family or friends. Both happy and sad events are celebrated by the entire household. Fans who’ve caught prophetic hints will be pleased by the Shakespearean device of tying up loose ends with new marriages, upstairs and down.

If one believes as I do, and Richard Rohr describes eloquently in Immortal Diamond, the natural trajectory of history leads to resurrection, then the new baby’s appearance at the film’s end is no accident. We who’ve watched the whole family: Lady Mary, Lady Edith, Lord and Lady Grantham endure tragedy are pleased by their joy because someday, it may be ours too. It’s not heavy theology; it’s story, but it points in the direction of new life and goodness. It gives us hope in the unfolding Mystery. Wasn’t that what C.S. Lewis or J.R.R. Tolkien tried to achieve with their fiction too?

The Feast of the Sacred Heart—June 24

Admittedly, my approach to this feast is colored by 23 years of education with the Religious of the Sacred Heart. I could belt out “Coeur de Jesus” with the best of them, but secretly admired my parents for refusing to drive across town for the celebration of the feast at school. School? In summer? When we’d so recently been freed?

That wasn’t the only ambivalence. Ever the sensitive-to-hypocrisy teen, I noticed that though the talk was about love, the practical reality was a fierce discipline, a pervasive obsession with rules, silence and order. Wiser people have counseled, “Let it go!” That was simply the era, a perhaps desperate attempt to corral hundreds of chattering girls. Other writers have explained that the feast itself represents progress from 17th century piety, with its emphasis on the externals of religion.

But somehow the rigidity softened at the front gate. There stood a statue which remains an icon somewhere deep in the psyche. It was a large representation of Jesus as the Sacred Heart, with the odd heart-outside-the-body typical of that art. But more important: his arms were flung wide in welcome. His hands didn’t hurl thunderbolts or brandish law books.

The stance epitomized St. Margaret Mary Alacoque’s insight: “The divine heart…is an ocean full of joy to drown all our sadness…” When she tried to convince others of this broadly inclusive approach, authorities called her delusional. (If only the prune-faces could’ve been around when she was vindicated: for the feast proclaimed in 1856, her canonization in 1920.) 

That set the stage. Then in adulthood, I could understand Richard Rohr’s superb book, The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation, where he explains that we can do nothing to make God love us more. “All is given all the time!” because God can’t not love.

If I could really believe that, live out of it, I’d have it made. We all would. So, thanks to the Sacred Heart for that good grounding.

Trinity Sunday

Today’s first reading from Proverbs is a delight:

“The Lord created me at the beginning of his work,

   the first of his acts of long ago…

Before the mountains had been shaped,

   before the hills, I was brought forth…

When he established the heavens, I was there,…

   then I was beside him, like a master worker;

and I was daily his delight,

   rejoicing before him always

Rejoicing in his inhabited world

  And delighting in the human race. (Proverbs 8:22, 25, 27, 30-31)

This biblical passage shows God and human engaged simultaneously in the same creativity. An interesting footnote to “like a master worker” in the NRSV translation says “like a little child.” Perhaps the two aren’t so different. They are equally fearless, totally absorbed, and thoroughly given over to delight. C.G. Jung writes, “The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the objects it loves.”                

Just as the baker gives his child a small ball of dough or a potter gives her child a lump of clay, so the child happily does the same work on a lesser scale. Latina cooks learn to make tortillas besides a mother or grandmother who weighs the ingredients in her hands and teaches them by example how to shape the perfect circle. In European museums, apprentices often cluster in front of masterpieces, learning to paint through imitation. So we, in a specific art or an artful life, imitate the work of God. Our happiness springs from God’s presence beside us, our parallel activity.

What is true of God’s creativity and ours is also true of the faithful life. Grace is essential: sometimes an unanticipated shift of direction, a new friendship or idea, a sudden phone call can make all the difference. Originality or uniqueness is also central. In literature we call it voice. No one familiar with their writing would confuse Milton and Shakespeare, or mistake Hemingway for Faulkner.

So in art the styles of Rembrandt and Monet are decidedly different. One who knows the music of Schubert wouldn’t think it had been written by Handel. No self-respecting music lover would confuse U2 with The Rolling Stones. Even musicians or writers of the same era place their distinctive mark upon a piece.

“But,” some may protest. “Isn’t faith a more dogged matter of keeping rules and attending religious services?” Nothing wrong with that.

Approaching faith through the arts is a different lens, the distinction made by Alejandro Garcia-Rivera between “textbook theology” and the living theology we remember better: of story, image and song. (A Wounded Innocence. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2003, viii)

If we have inherited a treasure in our faith, as we say we believe, then why do we live like paupers? If we have such a short time on earth, why do we squander it? Let’s paint, as beautifully as we can, the canvas of our lives.

A Trio of Pentecosts

A personal Pentecost happened on a frigid, blustery day in Cleveland, Ohio. The Community of St. Peter had invited me to give their Lenten day of prayer, stressing that the group’s discussion and input took priority over a long-winded speaker. That was a good start, I thought, still surprised by the burst of energy and joy that day brought. We met in a red barn, an event center behind one of the oldest buildings in the city, once a wayside inn from frontier days of transportation. I came to see how appropriate the red color was as the whole building rocked with animated discussion, warm laughter, song, good food and the happiness of being together in person after a long lockdown apart.

From the personal, to the national, to the church…

With whoosh of wind, the Spirit barrels through the US in the Pentecost I imagine. Just as faith leaders of all traditions once joined to march with M. L. King Jr. and enact Civil Rights legislation, so Muslims, Jews, Christians, atheists and agnostics rise together as a concerted public voice for gun safety. They move past “thoughts and prayers” to concrete actions which reduce the skyrocketing death toll. They don’t want their country to be known as the nation where guns are the #1 cause of death for children.

Despite what Nicholas Kristof calls “a scandalous lack of research on gun violence,” his article in the New York Times proposes a clear path forward (“How to Reduce Shootings,” updated May 24, 2022). His common-sense proposals are supported with charts that make the statistics easily understandable.

It helps to use auto safety as a model for gun safety, because it has been spectacularly successful, reducing the death rate per 100 million miles driven to less than one-seventh of what it was in 1946. Measures such as mandatory seat belts, car seats for children, federal safety standards, lowered speed limits, airbags and mandatory reporting of defects by car makers may have met with initial resistance, but are widely accepted public health strategies now.

The Spirit doesn’t linger long over political divisions. Following that lead, we could focus on areas of common accord instead of despairing that nothing can be done. There are surprisingly many agreements on gun safety:

● 93% of people in gun-owning households favor universal background checks for gun purchases.

● 89% of both those who own guns and those who don’t agree that the mentally ill should not be allowed to purchase them. A similar high percentage in both groups want prevention of sales to those convicted of violent crimes or on no-fly lists.

● 77% of gun-owners and 87% of non-gun owners favor background checks on private and gun show sales. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/11/06/opinion/how-to-reduce-shootings.html.

In a move unusual for him, President Trump signed a bill to restore federal funding for CDC and NIH research on preventing gun violence. The $25 million allocated for 3 years is a start, but little compared to the $200 million spent over 50 years to prevent car injuries. Right now, there’s only one federally funded study—we need the Spirit’s intervention for more research.

Some of the most poignant Uvalde stories came from relatives of the dead children who are also staunch gun owners. But they saw the irony in an 18-year old who couldn’t buy a beer being able to buy an AR-15. They are more open to gun safety measures than their Republican leaders, more likely to agree when Catholic archbishop Gustavo García-Siller called the NRA convention in Houston “a culture of death in our midst.”

The Spirit always infuses with hope, a conviction that the long arc of human history bends towards good. In the Christian paradigm, new life come from painful crucifixion. From so much death, the God to whom nothing is impossible can bring improbable resurrection.  

One small breath of Pentecost wind in the Catholic tradition was Pope Francis’ recent naming of Robert McElroy as a cardinal. For those not familiar with the intricacies of church politics, McElroy of San Diego has stoutly protected refugees and won’t deny Communion to anyone. He harshly criticized the bishops who refuse communion to politicians such as Biden and Pelosi. He represents a minority who decry the weaponizing of Eucharist, its being “deployed as a tool in political warfare.” Among his five degrees are a BA from Harvard, an MA and Ph.D. from Stanford. In the creaky old college of cardinals, the stirrings of life.

Book Review: Ordinary Grace

Small town in Minnesota, summer of 1961. What could possibly happen? Plenty, in this rich novel by William Kent Krueger. The prologue gives the tip-off, with the Aeschylus quote, “And even in our sleep pain… falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”

It’s narrated by 13-year old Frank Drum, whose experiences that summer teach him “the terrible price of wisdom.” Deaths come by accident, suicide and murder, in unpredictable ways with unforeseen consequences. Forty years later, the narrator looks back and reflects, but still doesn’t fully understand. Reconstructing the past, he sees a path weaving into and out of deep shadow.

As the son of the town’s Methodist minister Nathan, Frank has a front row seat on small town events. His father is called when a child is killed by a train or an old war buddy becomes drunk and violent. But when his talented, kind, attractive older sister Ariel dies mysteriously, the family feels directly the jagged edge of tragedy. She is young and has a promising future as a musician ahead; their mother, in deep depression briefly abandons her husband and two young sons.

Through a furnace duct in the church basement across from their home in the rectory, the two boys eavesdrop, a clever device to reveal more of the plot than they would’ve known naturally. What they overhear and see consistently is their father’s steady compassion, even when he is broken-hearted himself.

When their dad must pray at the reception after his daughter’s burial, he pauses for a long silence. His blessings tended to be long and comprehensive. But this time, his wife’s grief, turned terribly onto him, twists into the public outburst, ”For God’s sake, Nathan … just  once, offer an ordinary grace?”

That phrase becomes crucial, indeed the book’s title, as the younger son Jake, who stutters steps into the breach. “Oh God,” prays Frank, “just kill me now.”  Instead, his little brother prays without a hitch “a grace so ordinary there was no reason at all to remember it. Yet I have never across the forty years since it was spoken forgotten a single word.” Surely it can get us thinking about our own ordinary graces: the dance of laundry on the line in a warm breeze, an unexpected message of thanks or kindness, dew shining like jewels in long grass.

Another service Frank remembers is Nathan’s sermon right after Ariel’s death. His colleagues have offered to cover for him, and he has been wracked with sobbing the night before, but he speaks without platitudes and with searing directness. He guarantees miracles, but not the ones we pray for. “God probably won’t undo what’s been done. The miracle is this: that you will rise in the morning and be able to see the startling beauty of the day.” Without churchy language, he evokes Jesus’ resurrection after his dark night.  

After that turning point, Frank is able to tell Jake he’s his best friend, their grandfather for the first time voices his appreciation for the boys’ work on his lawn, and their mother after a time of mourning, returns to her family. The mystery of who killed Ariel is finally resolved. Nathan is a memorable figure—a clergy person who sometimes fails as husband and father but steps out of his own grief to reach others who suffer too. The only badge of his sanctity is a “clean white ball cap” worn in the final scene.

In this epilogue, Nathan, over 80, visits graves on Memorial Day with his two grown sons, all bound by the “awful grace of God.” The word “awful” is used not in God being dreaded, but that God’s grace is far beyond human understanding, logic or sense of fairness. The evocative prose carries the rich scent of Minnesota soil, and the novel is permeated by the profound sense that “the dead are never far from us.” Fine reading for Memorial Day weekend—or any time.  

May 21—Feast of Christian de Cherge and Trappist Martyrs of Algeria

Born in France, Christian de Cherge spent his youth in Algeria, where his parents taught him to respect Islam. His dad told the kids, “Let’s not kill each other over names.” As a young adult, he could share God-talk more easily there than in France. One friend, Mohammed, the father of ten, who shared a common love of God intervened when thugs aimed their rifles aimed at Christian. Because he defended Christian as a godly man, Mohammed was himself killed that night.

Christian later wrote, “In the blood shed by this friend, who was assassinated because he would not practice hatred, I knew that my call to follow Christ would be lived sooner or later in the same country that gave me a tangible sign of the greatest love possible.”

Studying for the priesthood in Paris and Rome, Christian added intense study of the Qur’an. He wanted to seek “the notes that are in harmony” between Christianity and Islam, incorporated in a “both/and” spirituality. Later, as prior at Our Lady of Atlas monastery in Algiers, he created there a safe space for respectful Muslim-Christian dialogue and prayer. Chapel bells mingled with the muezzin’s call to pray. Christian once counseled a Muslim woman worried about marrying a Christian, “we are only an envelope around a soul. Don’t worry about your skin.”

The Trappists farmed, became friends with local villagers and distributed medicine to the sick. Yet as violence escalated, the monks debated whether to remain, knowing they were in danger.

When one monk said, “we’re like birds on a branch—we don’t know if we’ll be leaving,” a Muslim woman complimented their commitment: “We’re the birds. You’re the branch.” Eventually all came to peace with the decision to stay, realizing that they rested in God’s embrace. They relied on their strengths: God, each other, their common prayer.

Eventually, rebels kidnapped and killed seven monks, but Christian had written a prophetic and forgiving letter three years before. He worried that his death would intensify anger at Islam. Despite his concerns, the last testament is filled with gratitude, extending even to his “friend of the last moment.” He meant his murderer, whom he would meet in heaven “like happy thieves,” who had both stolen paradise.

For more information, see the film, “Of Gods and Men,” or the book, The Monks of Tibhirine by John Kiser

May 13–Julian of Norwich’s Feast

Ever enjoy a movie, conversation, walk, or pizza? You can thank Julian of Norwich, the fourteenth century mystic who invented the word. She was also the first woman to write a book in English, though Revelations of Divine Love wasn’t published until 300 years after her death.

We can thank Julian for much more than her creative, playful writing style. She showed us God’s maternal tenderness, God’s refusal to blame or shame, God’s forgiving and open arms. Some of her main themes are introduced below, an overview which should entice readers to learn more. But first, a brief biography.

Throughout Julian’s lifetime (1343 –1420), waves of plague swept through Europe, eventually killing close to half the population. Some scholars speculate that Julian’s husband and child or children were killed by this disease devastating her native England.  At the age of thirty, Julian grew critically ill. A priest held up a crucifix to the dying woman and said, “Gaze into the eyes of your Beloved. You’ll fly straight into his arms.”

But God apparently had other plans. On her deathbed, Julian had a series of visions which invigorated the rest of her life, eventually recorded in her book, also called Showings. She recovered, and continued to unfold the meaning of these revelations.

For the next 47 years, she lived in an anchorhold, a room attached to a church with one window opening onto the street and one into the church. (Her never leaving this room sounds like the 14th century version of pandemic lockdown!) At the time there were more than 200 anchoresses in England, and her city Norwich was the second largest and busiest in the country. Two helpers, Sarah and Alice brought clothes and food, emptied the chamber pot. Julian’s generous and authentic lifestyle was held in high esteem; many sought counsel at her outer window. Her only companion? A cat.

It’s a disservice to focus on Julian’s living conditions: she moves beyond her own specific context of plague, to reassure people of all times that God is larger; God is sovereign.  “Everything that is made is as nothing, compared with almighty God.” (Ch. 5) Evil is the illusion of separation from God, and God triumphs over evil. “That love of God is hard and marvelous. It cannot and will not be broken because of our sins.” God places no blame.

No one developed the idea of God’s motherhood like Julian until the end of the twentieth century. Far ahead of her time, she saw gender fluidity in God. “As truly as God is our Father, so truly God is our Mother.” (Ch. 59) By creating us, Julian said, Jesus is our true Mother. Second, Jesus takes on human nature, the motherhood of grace. Then, by doing the vigorous, natural work of mothers, Jesus keeps us alive: motherhood in action. It’s not sentimentalized motherhood, but hard sacrifice and daily service.

If anyone ever learned dour and punitive images of God, Julian presents another, more positive side. She has a generous, affirming view of the human condition: “Our birthright is never-ending joy,” she says. It’s logical—if separation from God causes our sadness, Julian reaffirms in different ways: “Between God and the soul, there is no between.”

Julian lived over 70 years, and endured the plague, the hundred years’ war, papal schism, assassinations of a king and archbishop. But her extensive writing never mentions those disasters. Instead, her focus is on the marvelous love of One who doesn’t punish, who is free of anger, full of tenderness, and who wants us to trust that eternal grace, thus becoming radiantly unafraid.

Excerpted from an article on Julian which appears in May/June Liguori Magazine, p. 20, Liguorian.org

Fourth Sunday of Easter/Mother’s Day

Not often some churches get today’s lucky coincidence of John’s Good Shepherd gospel with Mother’s Day. Never mind that shepherds say the critters they tend are stupid and smelly. Mothers just smile quietly. And no odd aromas nor slow wits deter Jesus. He simply says, “I know them,” placing no blame.

Jesus often acts like mother and shepherd: one of the best examples is the post resurrection narrative where he invites the disciples who’ve been fishing, “come and have breakfast.”  He knows his friends have been on a boat all night and are probably woozy with hunger and fatigue. He doesn’t rehash gory details of Peter’s betrayal. Instead, he puts friends at ease, concerned whether they’ve caught anything to eat. (Feeding the sheep must be a big part of the job. As is mom’s job description.)

Calling them “children,” he touches the sweet, needy, vulnerable self beneath the polished or cantankerous surface. He looks on them fondly: dripping, bedraggled, dazed with grief and sleeplessness, sloppy, dear. They thought he’d died, but there he is, calmly placing bread on the grill, asking for more fish. Why do we make him so distant, perfect, unreachable and glorified, when he is as close and natural in his serving role as a waitress who’s refilled the coffee 97 times this morning?

No one developed the idea of God’s motherhood like Julian of Norwich, fourteenth century mystic, until the end of the twentieth century. Far ahead of her time, she saw gender fluidity in God. “As truly as God is our Father, so truly God is our Mother.” (Ch. 59, Showings) By creating us, Julian said, Jesus is our true Mother. Second, Jesus takes on human nature, the motherhood of grace. Then, by doing the vigorous, natural work of mothers, Jesus keeps us alive: motherhood in action. It’s not sentimentalized motherhood, but hard sacrifice and daily service.

Julian concludes that the Second Person of the Trinity, generally known as the Son, has to be female. Why? Because it is a mother’s nature to break herself open in childbirth and pour out everything for love of the child being born through her.

One more connection: The shrine of Our Lady of Aranzazu, Spain was built on the site where Rodrigo de Balzategui, a Basque shepherd, found a statue of the Virgin Mary nestled in a thorny bush with a cowbell in 1469. Stunned, he asked, “You? Among the thorns?” Exactly where a shepherd might seek the lost, in brambly wild places. St. Ignatius visited the shrine in 1522 on his way to Montserrat. Could it have influenced his signature quest for “finding God in all things?”

Shepherds and fisherfolk and mystics and thorns: what a fitting bouquet for Mother’s Day!

Third Sunday of Easter—“Breakfast!”

I’ve always loved the maternal Jesus who invites his tired, bedraggled disciples, “come, children, have breakfast.” He speaks to the hungry and bewildered a word of comfort, offering exactly what they need.

In other instances, the post-Resurrection Jesus asks for something to eat. He reminds us of adolescents who are always hungry, or long-awaited guests whom we welcome with a special meal. This touchstone in human nature apparently convinces the skeptical.

My granddaughter Mia recently had the same gracious instinct. She is only seven, but on the first day of spring break day camp, looks out for her friend from school. Glimpsing Ben, she is delighted, runs to give him a giant hug. Ben, on the other hand, is terrified. His mother tries to walk hobbled as he clings to her leg. Gradually, Mia peels him away, snuggles him beside her on a couch, opens her lunch box with bravado and reveals the tantalizing contents. Which does the trick. Somehow, knowing there will be Provisions calms Ben down. He relaxes his tight grip on mom and enters into the camp experience.

So Jesus, before asking Peter to feed the flock, makes sure his friend is well fed himself. Jesus knows how wavering and uncertain our human nature can be. But he also knows, like a good mom, how to nurture. We follow some deep instinct when we get out the best china and cook some of our favorite recipes to celebrate this season. Only following the footsteps of our wise and tender model…