Category Archives: Family Spirituality

Feast of All Saints–Nov. 1

 

When Jesus first walked among the crowds speaking the Beatitudes, the promises he made must have seemed astonishing. But Christians throughout history have recorded their own astonishment at the amazing fulfillment of what must have at first seemed utterly outlandish.

 

While many people are struck dumb by the gifts they have received, others are inarticulate. They may feel the amazement, but putting it in words is the work of the poets. So Raymond Carver, who died at fifty, marveled that the last ten years of his life were “gravy.” Because of his alcoholism, he had received a terminal diagnosis at age forty. The love of poet Tess Gallagher, with her encouragement to stop drinking, bought him years he never thought he’d see.

 

C.S. Lewis explains the thinking behind the Beatitudes:

 

“If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

 

Metaphorically, then do we settle for living in a dark, damp basement when we could be enjoying the five star resort?

Feast of St. Tabitha, Oct. 25

 

Acts 9: 36-42 in her own words…

It was the sweetest sleep ever. For the first time in ages, I didn’t need to be busy, achieve or accomplish, just rest. No whiny demands, no rude interruptions, no desperate pleas for help. Being “completely occupied with good deeds and almsgiving” takes its toll—I was exhausted. But as I slept, I dreamt of the beginning…

 

Always I had loved fabric, the ways its color could dance together, or light a sallow face. The way it draped across a figure could camouflage the flaws and accent the lovely curves. I’ve always been intrigued with the contours of cloth, its weight and shimmer in my hands. Into my coastal town, Joppa, flowed imports from around the world. So I was enchanted with Roman linen, Chinese silk, Arabian sunrises woven into stripes. I imagined women at their looms everywhere, pouring their artistry into this tunic or that skirt. I too created clothing. My name means “gazelle,” and I designed cloaks that swished with the animal’s swift grace. Threaded through the garments were the stories: this shirt made for my husband’s birthday; that shade matched my daughter’s hair or son’s eyes.

 

When I first heard about Jesus, I was captivated. The man spoke my language—and enlarged it somehow. Of course I was drawn to his examples: “Notice how the flowers grow. They do not toil or spin. But I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of them.” I could understand that first-hand. All my spinning and weaving couldn’t come near the softness of petal or the radiance of the lily’s throat.

 

So I was dreaming of a field of wildflowers, bending in the wind. Their fragrance filled me with joy. And Jesus was woven in somehow, just as I’d weave a rare gold or copper thread into a fabric. He knew too about not sewing a new patch on an old garment. He spoke my language in a way no other teacher did.

 

Then a distant growling ended my beautiful rest. Peter, that bear of a man, blundered into my sick room. My cherished friends showed him the tunics I’d embroidered, the cloaks I’d made as strong protection against the heaviest winds. They were wasting their time—the guy didn’t know satin from sandwich. But his voice was kind as I heard him say my name as through a tunnel, “Tabitha, rise up.” Where had I heard those words before? [CF LK 8:40-42, 49-56 & Mk. 5:41, “talitha, koum, maiden get up.”]

 

The call to life was familiar but at first I protested. NO! Let me rest. I’ve earned it. Please don’t make me everyone’s savior again. There’s only one, and Jesus was all we need. Enough of do-gooding! Can’t I just enjoy that dreamy meadow? But the touch of a hand on mine was warm, comforting, life-giving.

 

As I struggled stiffly to my feet, I remembered others who’d made that precarious journey: the daughter of Jairus, Lazarus, Jesus himself. Death to life was taking on another connotation to me, though. To be God’s precious daughter, I didn’t need to DO anything, serve anyone. I could take it easier. I could enjoy just being myself. God wasn’t nearly the steely-eyed taskmaster I had set myself. During that sleepy time of great happiness, I had been still, and free and blessed. I could do it again. If God “so clothed the grass,” I too could wear the green gossamer fabric of trust. I rose to a different awareness.

 

As my vision gradually focuses, I notice Peter’s cloak is ripped. Vaguely, I start planning. Think I’ll show him how to thread a needle…

St. Teresa of Avila’s Feast—Oct. 15

“From silly devotions and sour-faced saints, Good Lord deliver us!”

“May God preserve us from stupid nuns!”

No matter how hard they try, hagiographers can’t camouflage Teresa’s tart brusqueness. In her day, the sixteenth century, the Inquisition tried to force change through threats, imprisonment and violence. One suspects that Teresa’s humor had longer-lasting effects.

She reformed not only the Carmelite order, but also attitudes about women and approaches to prayer. Because her early training had shoe-horned her into trivial conversation with too many women jammed into one house, she created orderly spaces where her sisters could turn inward. “My daughters, we are not hollow inside,” she reminded them.

Then she took on the prevailing ideas of prayer: mindless repetition of rote formulas imposed by the clergy. Most people considered direct experience of God, without priestly intervention, subversive. Teresa gave images of contemplation that were close to daily life: the watered garden, beehive, interior castle, heart of God like the innermost, edible core of the palmetto. The face of God that Teresa reveals is not punitive or distant, but precious as a lover, close as a friend.

All the while she was dancing around the Inquisition, coyly claiming she had no idea what she was talking about. How could others condemn her when she beat them to it? Meanwhile, probably grinning self-protectively, she focuses on God’s generosity: “Do you think it’s some small matter to have a friend like this at your side?”

The Body to the Yoga Practitioner

As a slight shift from more serious posts, a poem. For fifteen years, yoga practice has been part of my self care. Thus, today’s blog gives light-hearted voice to the body, protesting long stretches at the computer.

 

Outta shape.

Outta alignment.

Too long since last session–

the body’s chorus protests:

Creak, groan, pop, “ouch,”

moan, tickle, str-e-t-ch,

pinch, whimper, croak.

 

Six hundred forty muscles,

Thirty-seven trillion cells:

The quiet inner voices become

one slam-bang jazz band.

Hamstrings taut as banjo strings,

timpani of heart, trumpets of lungs,

tubas of gluteus maximus,

belt out brassy and bold:

Yes. Do it again.”

Therese of Lisieux—Feast Oct. 1

No wonder she’s so beloved. She saw enormous potential in the daily grind; she responded with gusto to confined circumstances. In an era of syrupy piety, she used organic metaphors and spoke with a fresh voice. Best of all, she transformed limited, flawed humanity into Christ’s own life. Or as Richard Rohr puts it, she taught that “We know God by participation in God, not by trying to please God from afar.”

It’s helpful to understand her parents, who adored their youngest child. Her mother died when was Therese was four, a tragic loss. About the time she entered Carmel, her father entered a mental institution—horrid places in the nineteenth century. As she matured, Therese revised her glorious concepts of martyrdom. She came to see the martyr as her gentle father, lying in the mental hospital with a handkerchief covering his head.

As a young girl in a strict convent, she wasn’t immune to irritation. Caring for grumpy older nuns, directed by a prioress who was probably neurotic, surrounded by a community jealous of her relationship with her blood sisters, she disappeared into Christ. She writes: “One feels that to do good is as impossible without God’s help as to make the sun shine at night.” Freely she admitted falling asleep during her prayers for seven years running.

She would die of tuberculosis at age 24, the age when if male, she would’ve been ordained. Her last illness was excruciatingly painful, yet she drew on a whole repertoire of jokes and puns to cope. One sister wrote, “There are times one would pay to be near her. I believe she will die laughing, she is so happy.” Her honest account described being “stretched out on iron spikes.” Yet she clung to the image of herself as a child, sleeping fearlessly in her father’s arms, hiding her face in his hair. In an era when God was punitive and many Christians wanted simply to deflect God’s anger, Therese is warm, earthy, worth celebrating.

 

The Challenge of Joy

Over the Breckenridge, CO Nordic Ski Center hangs a sign: “Oh, be Joyful!” That’s hard to do, when we can’t quite trust that any grown-ups are running the government or the church. And yet: as St. Bonaventure says, “God is a fountain fullness.” Picture that: burbling over, spilling plentifully, and as I saw recently, the place where a hummingbird, shimmering, translucent, pale green, could dip for a sip or a shower. God never stops spoiling us, pulsing with life within.

When much of the country suffers heat, drought and fire, it’s lovely to think of Jesus’ promise to the Samaritan woman: that he would be gush of living water from which we can all drink deep. Or as Richard Rohr says, “Your deepest you is God, is good, is okay. The True Self cannot be hurt; it’s invulnerable, it’s indestructible.” Knowing that, it seems downright ungrateful to repress our joy.

Jack Kornfield, author of  After the Ecstasy, the Laundry spoke recently about how protests should be joyous and artful. When he demonstrated at the San Francisco airport against the ban on travel from majority Muslim countries, a jazz band accompanied the welcoming words called to refugees. The last thing they need is depression and hopelessness. Instead, trumpets, drums, Ka-zam and bling! Kornfield also quoted Gary Snyder, asked about environmental damage, who responded, “Don’t feel guilty. Save it out of love.” Or Molly Ivins, who said, “Fight for justice but have fun doing it.” It is, after all, a beautiful blue-green planet filled with deep lakes, soaring mountains, the tinsel arc of rivers, the rainbows on trout. How unappreciative to become grim in its defense!

Sad Anniversary Resonates

The names aren’t mentioned much now, 55 years later, but they should be: Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley, Denise McNair. On Sept. 15, 1963, they were killed in a Birmingham church when it was dynamited. Right after Sunday school, they were innocently changing into choir robes.

The anniversary of their deaths prompts us to ask whether we’ve improved the climate for children in the US. It’s also a unique opportunity to write about gun violence when there hasn’t been a recent school shooting. Typically, concern surfaces then, and ebbs until the next tragic event. But maybe it should be a constant irritant on the national conscience.

Perhaps we should continue to remember the brave Emma Gonzalez, who had to run past her friends bleeding on the floor of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. After she spoke at Washington’s March for Our Lives on March 24, she remained on stage, silent for the 6 minutes and 20 seconds it took for the Parkland shooting to occur.

Her stillness contrasts with the empty political blather which hasn’t yet achieved gun control anywhere near that of most other nations. Emma and other students had done their homework: “Australia had one mass shooting in 1999, then introduced gun safety, and hasn’t had one since. Japan has never had a mass shooting. Canada has had three; the UK had one. They both introduced gun control.” As she said to legislators and the president, “For shame!” The exorbitant amounts of money they’ve taken from the NRA apparently blind them to the inestimable value of one human life.

Our children–bright, vulnerable, filled with potential—are our national treasure. They may resolve the ecological crisis. They may find cures for cancer, Alzheimer’s, AIDS and heart disease. Their generation may learn to solve human problems without wars. But only if we protect them. Only if we make their schools safe. Only if we make gun control a pressing issue in the November elections. And then, vote. Our doing so seems a small way to honor Addie Mae, Carole, Cynthia, Denise.