Sunday, December 14, 2014
Yes, it is time to move on. As noted in my last post, I have felt called to stop posting to this blog.
It has completed its task and but remains here for any who still want to explore its nooks and crannies or visit favorite places. It will remain as long as the powers that be (Blogger and the Internet) allow it to.
I have made a few small cosmetic changes to the left sidebar. I removed the "follow" option. No point in inviting someone to wait for e-mails that will never come. I also removed my Twitter link and my podcasting link, since I am no longer active with either. I added a link to my YouTube channel to make it easier to find videos that have been posted in the past. I have also added a link to the new blog I have started, A priceless thing.
One might raise the question as to why to stop one blog only to start another. One reason is that I had been contemplating a switch to Wordpress anyway because of some of its features. Another reason, perhaps more fundamental, is that this blog was established for patients. Over a five year period, many beautiful things were given to me to share with my patients who in their suffering might have a spiritual longing or struggle. I have been blessed perhaps more than anyone in the process.
Now, I feel drawn to write in a more distinctly spiritual direction. Anyone is welcome to read the new blog but there I am not writing as a psychologist as much as a believer. I cannot help but laugh at myself as I re-read that line - I have been writing much more as a believer than as a psychologist all along! I cannot help myself. ;-)
So, my friends, "findhope" remains here for those seeking a hopeful word or image or just a bit of virtual contact with me. And those who would like to peruse my spiritual ramblings are most welcome at the new blog as well.
Peace, love, joy, hope, mercy, grace and light to all.
Posted by mary at 5:35 PM
Sunday, November 23, 2014
Given my previous announcement of a theme and the subsequent absence of any posts for more than 2 months, one might readily conclude that I must not have been learning anything.
However, quite the opposite is true. In fact, I tend to think that God, having so much to teach my sorry soul, had to put me on sabbatical from some of my other imagined duties so that I would pay attention to Him.
There were times when I thought to myself: I must stop and write about this on the blog. However, it did not get done - for a number of reasons. One reason is that before I could formulate what I might say, I was busy learning something else. Another reason was that I could not fathom how I could possibly summarize what it was that I was experiencing in my spiritual life - or whether it was even appropriate for me to try.
It has not all been easy by any means. But I feel a corner was turned and a door opened. And, most interestingly, it was a corner that I didn't know I needed to turn and a door that I didn't know was closed.
Perhaps one of my greatest discoveries is how easy it is to think that I am a believer, a Christian, and how God, in his graciousness, can then show me how little I actually believe and how small my understanding of Him is. I can, in my pride, think that I am a pretty good person, only to discover that I am really quite the sinner.
But God, knowing how small and weak I am, has been patiently accepting me where I am all along. He knows I am but a baby learning to take my first steps - even though I might believe myself to be a grown-up. He nudges me to take more steps and then shows me how much more there is, once He can tell that I am ready to see it.
I expressed it to a friend that, since experiencing this spiritual growth spurt, it is as though I look back on what I thought was pretty good faith and now see it as this little dim, flickering light. What is more, I have the awareness and hope that someday I will look back on where I am now as a dim, flickering light when, in time, God opens yet another door and invites me further into Him.
There is no end to Him if I am willing to follow, as He opens more and more doors.
I entitled this post, "All good things..." as these three words begin three different adages, all relevant to me and my relationship with this lovely little blog.
First: "All good things must come to an end." Yes, I believe this blog has been a good thing but I also believe that the time has come for it to end. It will remain here so that all the little treasures I have received and shared will still be available to any who wish to view them. I simply will not be adding any new posts. (With one exception.)
If any are wondering why, I must say that I really don't know other than that is the call I feel. I began the blog 5 years ago Thanksgiving, answering the call from within with fear and trembling. Now it seems that it has completed its mission. I don't know how I know that, but I do.
Second, "All good things come from God." This also I believe firmly. If any good has come from this blog, it has been the gift of God. If my time and meager talents have been used in the writing, photography or art included here, I cannot claim credit because they too are His gifts. By myself, I am not at all trustworthy but I am ever grateful when God finds ways to make use of me for the service of others.
Lastly, "All good things come to those who wait." I include this saying because I believe that where one thing dies, another is born. It is often my tendency to want to make things happen to satisfy the longings of my own will - but that is a tendency I wish to leave behind. My will is of little importance in the greater Design of things.
I do have some sense of another blog wanting to be born. I do not know for certain if it is meant to be - or if the wait for its birth will be long or short. (However, if it comes about, I create a post on this blog with a link so that any readers who receive e-mail notifications of my posts here will be notified of the new blog, should they wish to check it out.)
And now, one final story and image. Any regular readers, should there be any left, will know that my father died in June and that he and I shared a love of butterflies. And so it is appropriate to bring this blog to a close with a story that celebrates the mystery of life and death and love through eternity.
On November 5, my father's birthday, I decided to go to church to remember my father in prayer. It was a warmer than average November day, but certainly not hot. As I approached the church door, I thought I saw a butterfly out of the corner of my eye. It seemed impossible. Butterflies just are not seen in November in Cleveland, Ohio. But I looked closely and there it was. Such a delight!
Now I was sorely tempted to delay church and take a picture. But I knew I was already risking being late and so I did not stop. I knew that it was not the picture that was important but the gift of encountering the butterfly itself.
About 30 minutes later, I emerged from the church and decided to take a look where my winged friend had been seen, feeling silly but unable to resist. At first I saw nothing but the surprisingly vibrant flowers in the cool afternoon sun. And then...there he was.
I fumbled with my cell phone camera and asked the little one if I might receive his image. He did not object. So now, I share with you my friends, a little gift from heaven:
Peace be with you, O my friends, and may grace and mercy be yours always. Whatever darkness you find yourself in, never lose hope nor cease believing in the light. You have been promised joy - eternal joy! Love, love, love always and you will know the Holy One, Who by love creates and sustains us all...
To Him be glory.
Posted by mary at 3:56 PM
Tuesday, September 9, 2014
So much for new series...I haven't lost my desire to write, nor have I failed to learn new things. In fact, I have been learning so much much that I have hardly had time to catch my breath.
Finding the time to write about what I am learning is the greatest challenge. Or perhaps knowing where to begin.
But tonight, exhausted as I am, I was given a beginning point that I cannot ignore.
I had worked a very long and busy day today, seeing patients almost continuously for 10 hours. I had perhaps 30 minutes of time free to try to eat something and make trips to the bathroom. I was truly worn out as I got in my car to drive home.
However, I knew that my last patient of the day was even more exhausted than I was due to severe sleep deprivation. As I was began the trip home, I prayed that she would make it home safely - and then added a prayer for my own safe travel as well.
Traffic was fairly light on I-77 North because of the late hour but I kept my eyes on the road. Suddenly, just ahead of me and rapidly approaching, were two cars stopped on the freeway. One was at an angle, as though it had just skidded to a halt to avoid hitting the one in front of it.
I braked immediately but, given my speed of 60 mph, it seemed impossible that I could stop in time. There was no time to even consider a lane change - it was just there in front of me now. As I was braking, I waited to hear the sound of crunching metal, thinking to myself, "I'm going to be in a car accident..."
But there was no crunching metal. My car came to a dead stop, literally inches away from the nearest of the two motionless cars. We were so close that I could not see any distance between our vehicles from the driver's seat. Apparently no one was hit or hurt - there was some debris on the road that may have caused the first car to brake - and the two cars just pulled away.
As I resumed my drive, I said thank you. Thank you to God, to all the angels and saints who were at my side through this experience.
I am reminded that it is always much easier to be aware of and grateful for the presence of the holy when the outcome is a happy one. Am I imagining that those drivers whose cars collide failed to pray, or that God chose to protect me but not them?
Not at all. Although I am very grateful that I was spared injury or death, as I look back the true gift was something else all together. In those moments where I saw the collision as inevitable, there was a peacefulness. There was a bit of natural adrenaline flow, of course, but I wasn't terrified.
It was as though I was noting that I was going to be in a car accident and, well...we'll wait and see what happens next...surely my car will be damaged, quite possibly I will be injured, but ultimately it will be okay.
My mind only had time to process that I needed to brake, do it and then watch the results. As fast as it happened, this brief moment in time was also long and sweet. How can this be?
Surely the scientists would have another explanation for it, such as that I was unnaturally calm because my brain had not had time to truly process the danger. And this may be so. But I also feel quite certain that this moment was so beautifully sweet because I was resting in the hands of God.
It is not as though I were praying during these crucial seconds - there was no time for that. And I believe that if the cars had collided, I still would have been safe in God's hands. And I am in God's hands at this very moment - as are you.
The gift is that now I truly know it. Whatever happens, however I feel, whoever or whatever hurts me, I am in His hands, ever safe, ever loved.
To Him be glory through all eternity.
Posted by mary at 10:59 PM
Monday, September 1, 2014
Episodically I seem to lose the urge to write. I don't feel drawn to write about anything in particular and my blog sits dormant for a few weeks. Often it seems that I am thus afflicted during the summer months. I don't know why - I would like to write but nothing comes and then I feel bad for neglecting this, my small bit space of cyberspace.
However, I am ready to begin again (and, of course, to do penance for my sins of omission). So I have decided to begin a new series of posts. Because I am just beginning, I have no idea how long it will go on but it seems to have potential to continue for a while.
I would like to write about things I've learned recently. And it feels like I have been learning a lot.
Many years ago, I frequently encountered a friend of a friend at parties. In the course of party small talk, he often asked the question, "Have you learned anything lately?" I always loved this question and loved reciprocating it. As an introvert, I didn't always find it easy to move past the obvious small talk to the deeper topics I enjoyed.
As it became almost a tradition to exchange the asking of this question, it became evident that it could be answered in many, many ways. I could comment that I had learned how to change a tire or I could relate that I had learned that it was more important to respect others' feelings than to argue my most dearly held political views. The possibilities were endless.
In keeping with this old tradition, my plan to is to post about things I have learned in recent times. Some of them may be light, others deeper - but all in the interest of sharing. I hope that what I have learned may be of help to you, my reader, but also that it my stimulate you to reflect on what you have been learning at this time in your life...
So here we go... I decided to start out a bit light...
Things I've learned: #1
Rhyming poems can be a lot of fun and still communicate something thoughtful.
Aside from sonnets, which often seemed like too much work, for quite some time I had developed the notion that a "serious" poem should not rhyme. In other words, if I wanted people to take a poem of mine seriously, I should not have it rhyme. Rhymes made it seem too amateurish, like something a child might write because they thought all poems had to rhyme.
How utterly snobbish of me.
I have learned that poems can rhyme or not rhyme. People may or may not take them seriously. It is up to me to write what is given, whether in a spirit of fun or deep contemplation. Life needs both - and sometimes they walk hand-in-hand.
The other night, I was doing a little mini-retreat at home and had thoughts of how I would spend the time with God. However, I found myself so very tired that all I wanted to do was sleep. I walked out to my kitchen window and saw a number of moths and winged creatures lusting after the light bulbs hanging from my ceiling.
The first line of a rhyme-y little poem appeared in my once weary mind and the rest of the evening opened up to words and images that were completed the next day. Nothing so terribly special - but important lessons contained within.
And so I am learning...
greetings little winged things
who to my windows cling!
each summer night we thus begin
as you flutter at the light within.
you think your joy will be complete
if this obstacle you can defeat.
but this, my little friends, is sin,
for the true barrier lies within.
so still your wings and end your strife;
turn to Him who gives us life.
rely not on your own poor might
but make His love your heart’s delight.
for when our wills to Him do bend
they find the joy that has no end.
(Look for more posts in this series - have I learned anything else lately?)
Posted by mary at 11:35 AM
Sunday, August 3, 2014
This past week, another of my brave and beautiful warriors departed this life victorious. I am so proud of her.
I am sure that she would not have thought of herself as a warrior nor would most of the people who knew her. Certainly she would not have thought of herself as brave or beautiful.
And yet she was all of these things.
Who or what was the foe that engaged her in battle? How could she have been a warrior without anyone knowing?
I can only say that some of the greatest battles are fought within.
This courageous soul had a dark place inside of her, a place so dark and awful that she was terrified to go there, to find who or what lurked in that inky blackness of self. Most likely that part of her was born from a very troubled childhood in which abuse was a routine part of life.
On the outside, she gave the appearance of being a meek and agreeable person, kind and perhaps a bit goofy - but certainly not "crazy".
Yet, from that dark place in her mind, she was regularly bombarded with vicious words telling her that she was stupid, bad and worthless. It told her that she didn't deserve to get better and that she should die. It badgered her, telling her to kill herself, to "just get it over with" and "do it! do it!"
She grew tired of the noise within. Often she wanted to kill herself just to make it stop.
Yet this voice was not the only voice within. There was also a "teensy little voice" that did not believe these accusations. A voice that spoke up about wanting to get better and live.
While the battle raged on the inside, the body struggled with more and more serious medical conditions, each offering its own variety of pain and suffering, as well as fears about more suffering in days to come.
"Why not just kill yourself now", the inner voice urged, "before things get too bad or out of control?"
Each illness also brought medical bills and increasing stress to her family, enabling the dark place within to issue even more accusations that her life brought more trouble than it was worth.
Everyone would be better off without her, it claimed. And all of the evidence seemed to point to this, as her illnesses eventually rendered her unable to get out of bed.
That teensy little voice of hope was almost smothered. Stripped of nearly all control over her life, our brave warrior seemed to have nowhere to turn. What could she do in the face of such an enemy?
I was but one sent to walk with her, unworthy, but privileged to be called to help fight so holy a war.
Throughout our long walk together, we talked many times about suicide. Although the demons of despair were never far from her, she had one very powerful weapon: she loved her family.
I am always awed when I encounter someone like this courageous soul who can love their way through untold pain and suffering, despite having received so little nurturance early in life. How does one who has been given so little learn to give so much?
However, the enemy was not willing to cede victory, despite this formidable weapon of hers. In fact, the enemy sought to use it against her - to convince her that she had failed even at this. It tried to convince her that she was so bad and worthless that she had now managed to destroy whatever love she had previously created within her family.
At this point, the teensy little voice was barely perceptible.
And so we began to talk about God.
The God she knew - or didn't know - was one of threat and punishment more than one of healing and forgiveness. While acknowledging that he might be loving, she feared encountering him and hearing him sadly inform her that she just wasn't good enough for heaven.
When I told her that forgiveness and healing were already hers and she had only to want them, she responded, "It can't be that easy."
And I replied, "Actually, it can."
As the brave one's health steadily deteriorated, I told her that I wasn't opposed to her dying, though I would surely miss her. But I told her that suicide was still unacceptable.
Many might question what possible difference it could make at this point. If she was going to die, she was going to die. Why would it matter if she ended it herself or if she waited?
"It matters," I told her, "because I don't want you to leave this life with your final act being one of despair." I told her that I wanted more for her than that.
I encouraged her to find peace with herself and her family so that, when her time came, she would not leave her children feeling conflicted or abandoned. She still had the choice of leaving them a legacy of love rather than one of despair.
The last time I saw this lovely person awake and conscious she told me that where before there had been tension and stress, she was now at peace with each member of her family. A month or so before that, she had told me she had been talking to God and asking for forgiveness.
As things went from bad to worse with her ailing body, this past week her family was faced with the difficult decision of discontinuing life support. I had the privilege of being with them when she was relieved of the equipment that tethered her soul to her body.
Though she was sedated, I talked to her and prayed for her. I left her breathing on her own, my final words granting her permission to move on when she was ready.
Approximately 12 hours later, she did so, surrounded by love and leaving love in her wake. Despair was nowhere near her, the demons scattering as the Savior claimed His loved one for Himself.
She was victorious and she was free.
Her soul is now made beautiful in Love for all eternity.
All praise to the Savior,
for in His love
He has trampled down sin and death,
delivering us from suffering
and bringing us to glory
Posted by mary at 10:24 PM
Saturday, July 26, 2014
my soul sings
of butterfly wings -
of all that is glorious and free.
let us fly the sky
and praise the ways
of the One who made
you and me.
for He loves us all
the great and the small -
to Him all glory be.
(Enjoy this poem and a collage of some favorite butterfly images received in the last couple of years. Click on the collage for a larger view. Many blessings.)
Posted by mary at 11:50 PM
Sunday, July 13, 2014
(To hear the audio version of this eulogy, scroll down to the player at the end of this post.)
My father taught me many things in life. Some of them I learned better than others. But for all of the things he taught me, it's funny that I remember so few of his words.
My father was a quiet man. Most of what I learned, I absorbed from being around him and watching what he did. When he taught me how to ride a bike, he demonstrated to me that he would hold on for a long time to help me feel safe. But he also showed me that he wouldn't hold on forever. I eventually had to learn to apply brakes and turn corners myself, even if that meant I skinned some knees and elbows until I developed confidence.
Early on, he installed a basketball hoop on the garage of my childhood home and taught me to shoot baskets. I tried to learn the finer points of hook shots and jump shots, but mostly we settled for countless games of H-O-R-S-E where at least I had a fighting chance against my taller brother and father. I didn't know until I was somewhat older that I had been taught to shoot like a boy - something that pleased me greatly.
In his quiet way, my father also taught me a lot about the mysteries of life, about Christianity and how to live compassionately in this hard world of ours.
As a young child growing up in Minneapolis, I remember getting up before dawn to attend 6:30 Mass with him. (He went daily, I did not.) I cannot remember clearly what induced me to get up at this dark and chilly hour. Certainly I was not the natural early riser that my father seemed to be.
But there was something about the sacred stillness of the church, the mumbled words in Latin (that I did not fully understand) and being with my Daddy that made it a holy time worth getting out of bed for. And when we got home, he would cook me a poached egg for breakfast. Such a beautiful memory, poignant in its simplicity.
As I got older, I found books like The Imitation of Christ (Thomas a Kempis) and Seeds of Contemplation (Thomas Merton) on my father's bookshelf. I don't remember discussing them - but I read them and I learned.
I do not recall my father ever once instructing me to speak up for the less fortunate, to help those in need or to offer service to the church. Yet throughout life, I saw him do each of these things many times over. As a Eucharistic minister, he brought Communion to the sick and homebound. He was a care partner to a man with AIDS. He was a sacristan, helping the priest set up for daily Mass and funerals. When living in North Carolina, he traveled to a flood-damaged community to help rebuild homes.
He gave generously of his time and money but didn't talk much about it. He did it as naturally as he washed dishes after dinner or tended to the tomato plants he grew in the back yard. That was simply how he lived his life.
But this life of his was not a dry or joyless one by any means either. My father was dedicated to his golf game and he played a good hand of bridge. He traveled with my mother to the ends of the earth, from the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia to the Great Wall of China. He had a wonderful sense of humor and I will perhaps miss his laugh more than anything.
I have often wondered how I came to be blessed with such a father. As a psychologist, I hear of fathers who molest or beat their children, fathers who tell their children they will never amount to anything or who walk away and never support their children, emotionally or financially.
Certainly I did nothing to deserve such a great blessing. I simply came out of the womb and landed in the arms of parents who loved me. I do not know why this was given to me, nor do I understand why it is not given to everyone.
But I do know that with this gift comes a responsibility. My father taught me many things. But most of all, he gave to me of his spirit, a Spirit that was poured out in him when he chose the Faith as a young adult.
I too must live that Spirit always, in the fullness of love and compassion. Though I do not have children, I too must share that Spirit or it will die within me.
And so I ask you today, in Christ, to be my child or my brother, sister, mother, father, cousin, aunt or uncle. Let us be family, that we might share this Spirit always, for this is what we were made for: to share One Father, One Spirit, in the love of Christ our Savior.
To Him be glory. Amen.
Posted by mary at 10:35 PM
Friday, June 27, 2014
At times life feels fairly normal as we grieve; at other times, it feels almost as though we are suffocating in a longing for the person we have lost.
It is as though we need love as much as the air we breathe and we are gasping to survive when the person we love can no longer be seen or heard or touched. We are lost without them.
And yet all genuine loves can only have their beginning and end in God. How could there be a love that existed apart from the One who is Love?
Tonight is not night for writing but for breathing. Though I cannot see or hear or touch it, the air around me is saturated with a holy Love and I keep breathing...
(I share with you a video of this beautiful song as performed by its composer.)
Posted by mary at 10:04 PM
Tuesday, June 24, 2014
I have never lost a father before. It is very much a learn-as-you go sort of thing. And I am so very grateful that it is an experience I will have only once in my life. It is simultaneously both beautiful and horrific, concurrently bringing one to both mystical heights and terrifying depths.
I have labeled this reflection "part 1", assuming that there will be more parts, as one cannot hope to escape even the cleanest and least complicated of losses in only a chapter or two. There are many layers to loss and certainly not all of them can or should be shared here. But I will share more than one reflection, I suspect, because I feel them lining up inside of me, waiting to be spoken.
For those who are kind enough to worry about my well-being, please know that I am fine. All of this is part of God's loving plan and it would be absurd for me to consider myself a Christian and expect a suffering-free life for myself. I go where He goes - and He has entered the realm death out of love for us.
And so I enter it too - this time as one bearing the pain of loss. Later, I will enter it on my own, when my Creator withdraws my spirit from my body and takes me back to Himself.
For today, I will begin with a simple story. But, before I begin, I will give a little background.
I have written a number of times about my love of butterflies and have posted a number of butterfly images I have received. However, I am not sure that I have ever shared that it was my father who first interested me in these beautiful little creatures.
When I was a child, unlike many little girls, I loved bugs. I made friends with the ants, picking them up and giving them names. My brother and I would capture in jars the different types of bees in the local gardens so that we could safely get a closer look. Mosquitoes, of course, got swatted, but grasshoppers, crickets, fireflies and all the rest were objects of fascination.
Butterflies, however, were most special. I'm sure I was attracted to them because of their beauty. How could I not be? But I was also aware from an early age that my father liked butterflies and had collected them as a child. So, of course, I had my little butterfly net and he taught me and took me on short excursions to find different species. It was something that he and I shared.
As I got a bit older, I could no longer bear to collect them, having developed a conscience that would not accept the purposeful ending of their short lives just so that I could hold onto their beauty. But they remained special to me and I drank in their loveliness at every opportunity.
It should come as no surprise then that, when I began receiving images with my camera a few years ago, my lens was drawn to butterflies. Here I discovered a way to receive and share their beauty without taking a second away from their brief lifespans.
Almost 3 years ago, I was blessed with one of the most beautiful images ever: that of a tiger swallowtail butterfly, resting lazily on a blossom in the evening light. (Click here to read the original post that accompanied the image I have reprinted below.)
Shortly after receiving the image, I had it made into a greeting card that I sent to my parents. Both of my parents enjoyed the card but I sensed my father's pride. It is not every day that one gets to see a tiger swallowtail, much less receive such a beautiful image of one.
Now, at last, to the story.
I arrived in Minneapolis the day after my father died. He and my mother, being advanced in age and ever the good planners, had pre-planned and prepaid everything for a simple return of the body to the dust from which it came. Hence, when I arrived, my father's body had already been sent for cremation. All that remained was his empty wheelchair in their apartment and some blood stained pillow cases that had held his head as he lay dying.
It had been a long trip and it was good to see my mother and my brother soon arrived early in the evening. The weather was fair and my mother wanted to go outside to see the lilac bushes in the facility's fenced-in patio. The lilacs had bloomed late and poorly because of the harsh winter just past, much as was the case here in Cleveland.
As we stepped out onto the small patio, I noted a black and yellow fluttering near the top of one of the scantly bloomed bushes. Could it be? I focused more closely. "There's a tiger swallowtail!" I said aloud in awe, although the observation was of little interest to anyone but me.
This glimpse seemed almost too much to have hoped for. The last couple of years have been very poor years for butterflies, given the impact of climate extremes and pesticides on feeding foliage. I had seen very few of even the most ordinary butterflies this year - but a tiger swallowtail? Then, even more remarkably, the butterfly sailed gracefully down to the other cluster of lilac bushes, alighting on the sparse blossoms so that it was right at my eye level.
I excused myself as my mother and brother were sitting down, announcing that I needed to go over and talk to the butterfly. It was indeed a tiger swallowtail - a bit smaller in size than the one above but with seemingly perfect wings that showed no wear. It looked as though it must have been almost fresh out of the chrysalis.
I gazed at it and spoke softly to it in butterfly-talk, returning then to join my family.
I have always thought it mawkishly sentimental when reading stories of people who believed that a recently deceased loved one had come to comfort them in the guise of some creature or object. And I hasten to add that I know that this was but a butterfly - not some embodiment of my father trying to make known his presence at the gathering of his family.
And yet...it wasn't just any butterfly nor was it a common butterfly. And it didn't just come and flit about quickly as butterflies often do, especially when blossoms are nearly withered and drained of their nectar. It came and waited, almost as though it wanted to talk to me as much as I wanted to talk to it. Not in words but in spirit.
I must stop and consider - why have I been so arrogant as to label others as maudlin when, in their bereavement, perhaps they were allowed to see something that the rest of us cannot see? Perhaps it is at those times in life, where the boundaries between life and death, heaven and earth, are especially "thin" that we are able to understand more deeply the Spirit that pervades all living things.
Our modern scientific minds scoff at things at such notions. Merely a coincidence, they say. You stepped outside and saw a butterfly taking nectar from a blossoming bush. It was a butterfly doing what butterflies do. It is what is it and nothing more.
Or is it?
I do not claim to know. I wasn't looking for anything or expecting anything and yet a gift was given to me.
It was but one representation of that "abundance of grace" that wrapped itself around my heart and sustained me in joy as I entered the realm of death.
The sadness is here. I cannot (and would not) try to escape it. But I am grateful for moments like this one, etched into my spirit by the Spirit that guides all things living.
To Him be glory.
Posted by mary at 12:12 AM
Saturday, June 14, 2014
"The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God,
and no torment shall touch them.
They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead,
and their passing away was thought an affliction
and their going forth from us utter destruction.
But they are at peace.
For if to others, indeed, they seem punished,
yet is their hope full of immortality;
Chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed,
because God tried them
and found them worthy of Himself."
(Wisdom 3: 1-5)
Just a few short days ago, my beloved father passed from this life into the peace of God's kingdom.
I was driving when the phone call came from my brother...the phone call I had been awaiting with dread for the previous 10 days when my father was found to have a large, aggressive tumor in his brain. A quick glance at the phone told me who the call was from and I pulled over, missing the call but returning it immediately.
The preceding days had involved a whole spectrum of emotions, each arriving at its own unpredictable moment. But in the hours immediately before the call, I had been experiencing a particularly intense, inexplicable anxiety.
I had been wondering to myself why it was there but, receiving no answer, I simply accepted it as part of the process. I breathed the prayer and kept going.
Both the tumor and my discomfort, in an odd way, were an answer to a previous prayer. I don't mean to suggest that I had prayed for my father to die. But my father had been declining. A lot. It had started with a broken hip four years ago, moving through a multitude of layers of cognitive and physical disability. He had become able to do less and less, enduring one humiliation after another as his body and brain gave way.
In my thoughts and prayers I had moved to a place where I preferred to take on the suffering of losing him to having him continue this wretched decline even further.
The wish was granted when I heard the words, "Dad passed away...", words followed by a piercing stab of grief.
But then, peace. A deep peace, as inexplicable as the anxiety that had preceded it.
In the few days I have had to live with this new reality, I have felt that my family and I have been wrapped in grace. So many have been praying for my father, for my mother, brother and me.
As important as that has been, even more importantly, I believe that my father is now living in the fullness of peace and is radiating that peace to us. I do not imagine the peace of God's kingdom to be like a passive green meadow of eternal indolence where everyone "rests".
No - it is an active, living peace - one that loves and loves and loves, continuing more deeply the life of the spirit first tasted in earthly form. My father knew and lived that life of the spirit - in his love for his family, his prayer life, his acts of service and gifts to those in need. That life has not died and will never die.
I will miss him. I do miss him. I miss the younger, healthier father who did so much and was so much for me. I am sure that I will experience more emotions and sorrows as time goes on - I am not trying to hide from them or deny them.
But I also feel a great joy - certainly for all that has been - but even more for all that is yet to be known in the the eternal kingdom of God. And that is a joy that no person, no circumstance, no illness can ever take from me. Or from any of us when we choose to follow the Way.
(Heartfelt thanks to the many friends, patients and communities of mine that have surrounded my family and me with prayer and loving intention. Know that my prayers are with you as well as we walk together through both the joys and sorrows of this life.)
Posted by mary at 12:30 AM
Sunday, June 1, 2014
Just a little over a week ago, I went away to a hermitage for a couple of days to be with God.
It was a profound experience, to be alone with Him in a little cabin in the woods. To walk with Him through trees and verdant grasslands, seeing His beauty in every blade of grass and blossom, listening and watching His creatures as they frolicked and flitted joyously with the fertile energy of spring.
It was an experience of being more than doing, of resting in the embrace of our loving God, whether I was praying or reading, washing dishes or cleaning out the fireplace to build a fire against the chilly night.
Today, I learned that my father will very soon be going to spend eternity with God, to rest in that loving embrace forever.
My father has walked closely with God for many, many years. As a believer, he has glimpsed the Beauty, he has trusted in the Goodness, he has attempted to live the Love in every aspect of his life.
I will miss him when he no longer lives among us in his body. But I am happy for him - happy that he will be freed of his body's suffering - and even more happy that he will know the Beauty, the Goodness and the Love Whom he has sought to follow all of his life.
Today, as I awaited news (my father lives hundreds of miles away from me), I completed the editing of a video comprised of images, words and sounds from my time at the hermitage. Open your heart in prayer with me...
Posted by mary at 11:07 PM
Sunday, May 18, 2014
Sunday, May 11, 2014
In these weeks after Easter, I have been reading and reflecting a lot on salvation. What is it about the death and resurrection of Jesus that saves us?
Today, in a most unexpected way, an answer was given to me.
I called my mother this evening for Mother's Day. After the usual well-wishes, she updated me on the hardships she and my father have faced in the last week, a litany that sometimes seems to have no end.
My parents are both well into their eighties. Last night, my father fell once again, this time from his wheelchair when he leaned over to pick up something from the floor. He hit his head and bruised his ribs, adding to the aches he already suffers from his rheumatoid and osteoarthritis.
My father has dementia and a worsening Parkinsonian tremor that makes it difficult for him to do much of anything for himself. My mother, who has her own severe chronic pain, has had many more responsibilities land on her shoulders because she is now the healthier one.
Throughout the 61 years of their married life, both of my parents have been devoutly religious (Catholic). Just in the last month or two, they reached the point where they had to conclude that they could no longer attend church. Even with a van equipped with a wheelchair lift, it was simply too hard.
A handicapped priest comes to their assisted living facility to celebrate liturgy every couple of weeks and a lay minister of the church brings them communion once a week. But for most of their married life, they attended church every day...
My poor, dear sweet parents.
As my mother was recapping events, she mentioned Daniel whom I met when I visited at Christmas. My parents are very fond of Daniel, a young African American nurse who frequently stops in to provide care for my father. While he is there, they often discuss sports since both of my parents are avid fans of almost every Minnesota team.
However, what my mother related today was different - not just the usual chatter between them about how the Twins are looking this spring. Daniel, while trimming my father's nails for him this morning, sang hymns to my parents. My mother couldn't remember most of them, since they were not familiar to her, but my parents joined in on the one or two that they knew.
The vision in my mind of this young black man singing hymns of faith to my frail white parents in the decline of their lives brings tears to my eyes. I see Daniel holding my father's frail hand, steadying its inexorable tremor, singing softly as he works...
"What a friend we have in Jesus..."
No longer do I need to read theological discourse or debate. In my heart, I have seen salvation...and it knows no words.
Posted by mary at 11:24 PM
Sunday, April 20, 2014
(When a poem came forth on Ash Wednesday, I was surprised. However, the verse that emerged today in celebration of Pascha (Easter) could not have surprised me more. I do not always understand the gifts God gives - much less expect you to understand them. However, reading the brief poem for Ash Wednesday as well as my recent post for Holy Thursday may lend some context for the poem below. You may read or listen - or both... )
i didn't even know i was in hell
when You came for me.
i thought that I was alone
while they persecuted me
and treated me unfairly.
surely You could see
how wrong they were
and that i was one of Yours!
i did not understand Your silence,
why the walls closed round me
in stony darkness,
why my cries of complaint
never reached Your ears.
they ridiculed me
and You did not stop them,
they robbed me of all dignity
and You did not rebuke them.
did You not love me
more than this?
did You not love me
more than those who
sought to destroy me?
i had not known i was in hell.
or that you had left
the Prayer there for me
amidst the ashes at my feet.
yet i repeated its words,
again and again,
until they spoke themselves
deep within my heart.
Lord Jesus Christ,
Son of God,
have mercy on me,
Lord Jesus Christ,
Son of God,
have mercy on me,
Lord Jesus Christ,
Son of God,
have mercy on me,
over and over, i said them
until i had become
all of the me’s in the world,
their sins were my sins,
and my sins, theirs…
and then, when i looked up,
You were there.
i had not known i was in hell,
so accustomed were my eyes
to the darkness within me,
so familiar was my heart
with its own despair.
and now, You are here…
gently, You touch my eyes –
and I see, as though for the first time!
there are no walls of stone
no menacing enemies threatening
to take my life.
i stand emptied and open,
Your glorious light ever before me.
my heart has been freed for mercy!
mercy – o endless mercy –
You surround me and fill me!
o joyous, wondrous love –
You who are my heart –
shine in me, o eternal Light!
He is risen.
alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!
He is risen, indeed.
Posted by mary at 12:02 AM
Thursday, April 17, 2014
My last post might strike some as taking too light of an approach to a grave topic. Disobedience toward God is indeed a very serious thing. Are there no consequences? What about hell?
God's love is unconditional and eternal. God is unchanging and unchangeable. He does not stop loving us when we sin nor does He dole out punishment to us for our misdeeds by sending us disease or misfortune in this life.
He has not created a fiery hell in which to cast us when we make mistakes or yield to our weaknesses. Even if we fail to repent, He does not withdraw His love from us.
This is my faith. This is Christianity.
Some of the suffering people who come to see me tell me that they believe that hell is right here on this earth, that they are in hell right now.
And they may be correct - but not for the reasons that they think. More on that later.
As I write this, it is Holy Thursday and I have just returned from celebrating the Lord's Supper. In this holy meal, Jesus gives Himself to us completely and for all time.
He first gave Himself as Eucharist to His apostles, (including Peter who would deny Him within 24 hours and Judas who would betray Him that very night). He did not limit His gift to the obedient.
He has continued giving and giving Himself in sacrament to saints and sinners alike, for generation after generation, century after century. And now to you and me. It is a grace and love beyond telling...
So if God loves me unconditionally, giving Himself to me whether or not I am obedient, what is point of being obedient?
This is where hell comes in. Hell is not a torture chamber designed by God for the next life nor is it the suffering we experience in this life - though the latter can indeed be very bad.
Hell is being in the midst of suffering, with God loving you completely, totally and unconditionally - and you don't know it. You don't know that He loves you, that He is holding you at every moment. You think that you are totally alone and that you are locked into the dungeon of that aloneness with no means of escape. You imagine either that there is no key - or that God is outside holding the key, with no intention of releasing you because you deserve to suffer.
That is hell.
And that hell is of our own creation. There is no dungeon and we are not really alone - but sometimes a belief can be stronger than reality in our corrupted awareness. The hell we experience is locked from the inside. Christ is most certainly there with us ready to show us the way out. However, if we don't know it, we experience no comfort, no hope. We experience hell.
And so to be obedient, to repent, to change my heart, to "cease doing evil and learn to do good", to love and forgive, to pray and to receive Eucharist - all of this is so that I might know Christ and unite my heart to His, by the gift of His grace.
United to Christ in obedience, am I then guaranteed freedom from the pains and sorrows of this existence? Am I promised that I will be loved by others and have the things I want and need from this world?
Most assuredly not. In fact, I am promised quite the opposite - at least for a time.
United to Him, I still feel pain and sorrow, grief and betrayal. But I am not alone. I am loved.
And so I choose to walk with Jesus, praying for the courage to be obedient and the humility to know that I cannot walk this path without Him...
Posted by mary at 11:58 PM
Wednesday, April 16, 2014
My backyard, graced with an old walnut tree at one end of the property, is a veritable playground for squirrels. I love my squirrels, so frisky and playful and funny are they.
And this is the season of hungry squirrels. Of course, if you have spent any time watching squirrels, you will recognize that all seasons are the season of hungry squirrels. No matter how much they are given to eat, they always seem to want more - one's layer of fat can never be too thick nor can there ever be too many nuts stowed away.
I try to look out for my squirrels. I frequently given them tasty treats outside my sliding doors on the concrete slab that passes for a patio. They gobble up everything from stale pretzels to left over peanut butter sandwich to gourmet treats like the fruit and nut mandala I made for them last year. (see below)
Yet, as much as I try to show my love for them, sometimes my squirrels are disobedient. I know. You are probably thinking that they are just wild animals and cannot know the difference between right and wrong. Well, allow me to explain.
On the other end of my property, many mulberries fall every spring from a large old tree on the other side of the chain link fence. The mulberries, of course, attract many birds whom I also love and gaze upon fondly from my kitchen window.
In fact, a couple of years ago, I hung a bird feeder from the tree outside my window so that I could watch them feed and was quite delighted with the result. I had been a bit skeptical of the claim that the feeder was "squirrel proof" but I had talked to my squirrels and they never tampered with it. If I saw them eyeing it, I reminded them where I put their food and they were obedient.
Sometimes the birds themselves would squabble among themselves. That seemed a natural outcome of there being so many of them and just the one feeder for them to share. (see below)
So, this year, when I saw a sale on bird feeders, I thought perhaps I would hang up another. This feeder made no promise of being "squirrel-proof" but I trusted my furry friends. I decided to load this feeder with sunflower seeds, making it more appealing to cardinals and songbirds, to ease the sharing process among my winged friends.
However, before I had even hung the new feeder, something very disturbing happened. I glanced out the window one morning in March and, much to my amazement, this is what I saw:
I wanted so much to believe that it was an accident, an aberration, something that would never happen again. Yet I know how it is with disobedience. It starts with a single act. Perhaps one is simply curious. Perhaps the adversary has whispered false promises that seem just too good to pass up.
Whatever the reason, once the sweet fruit of sin has been tasted, it is hard not to go back for more, despite the guilt and shame that follow.
Thus, my heart was saddened - but not surprised - when the new feeder was hung and I could see the look of disobedience on the faces of my squirrel friends as they plotted and planned how its contents could become theirs.
My first response to these transgressions was to tap loudly on my kitchen window. But, alas, they did not even look up from what they were doing. Next, I charged out the door and talked to them sternly, with words and gestures, reminding them that this food was for birds and that their food was by the door.
My immediate impulse was to withhold food from their usual feeding station, not wanting to reward their disobedience. Yet my heart soon melted. It had been a long and harsh winter. They were hungry. And not all of my squirrels were being disobedient. Some dug up last years nuts and ate contentedly. Others stopped by my door to see what I had left for them. Should I punish all because of the actions of a few?
And so I continued to leave them their treats. I even gave the squirrels their own little pile of bird seed, along with the nuts and fruit, since they seemed so fond of it.
Yet my bushy-tailed friends became even bolder in their disobedience.
I was perplexed. And then something else happened. My bird friends started showing up at the squirrel feeding station!
The birds, however, did not necessarily limit themselves to the bird seed. Some of them even tried out the walnuts and pecked at the grapes!
I wrestled with the question (after I got done laughing): what happens to the disobedient?
Reflecting on my Father in Heaven, I realized this: He makes the sun to shine and the rain to fall on the obedient and the disobedient alike. He gives food and drink to his disobedient children as much as He does to the obedient. He loves them all and wills for them all to return to Him in love.
I too have been disobedient and He has loved me. Who am I to judge these little ones?
And so, following in His Way, I continue to love all of the little creatures of my backyard and share with them of my bounty. Even in their errant ways, I know them to be good and beautiful. For He has made them, each cell of their bodies having been born of His love.
The same is true of you and me. Good and beautiful. Born of His love. Longed for, even in our disobedience...
Posted by mary at 9:36 AM
Monday, April 7, 2014
So often we feel burdened. Our bodies, our minds, our circumstances - sometimes they all just seem too difficult to bear.
Yet it was not meant to be this way.
We are made of love; indeed we are made to be love. All of the dimensions of our unique individual selves are meant to come together like the many instruments of an orchestra. Disordered as they often are in this world, they may seem discordant, more noise than music. However, when well-directed, they blend into a perfect symphony.
Likewise, our selves are made to be part of each each other, with our lives flowing together into a flawlessly choreographed dance. Yet, looking at our world, one might think that the choreographer has gone missing. We human beings are ever bumping into each other, sometimes violently, often painfully.
Within ourselves, we do not know who we are. Between ourselves, we do not understand how we were made to be. Because we do not know how to love ourselves, our efforts to love each other too often leave us feeling hurt and empty, longing for something that ever eludes us.
I encountered a gift today in my e-mail inbasket - a gift that will surely help our burdened souls to sing. And in the singing, to begin the journey to knowing and loving our true selves.
"Even under its burden / the soul awakes and sings." (Listen below)
(Thanks to Christine Valters Paintner, whose newsletter for Abbey of the Arts, alerted me to this wonderful video of the song, Soul Awakes and Sings, by Trish Bruxvoort Colligan. If this is a rehearsal, I cannot wait to hear the album upon its release!)
Posted by mary at 10:12 PM
Wednesday, April 2, 2014
This past winter in northeast Ohio is one that few people will miss. Many say that it was a "bad" winter, one of the "worst" we have had in a long time.
I, however, am simply referring to it as a harsh winter.
Certainly there is no denying that it was more consistently cold and that the temperatures were considerably colder than average. We also had more snow than usual. All of this has caused hassles and hardships to many people. And we don't like hassles and hardships, so we label it a "bad" winter.
However, it was also a very beautiful winter. There were days when the trees were "abloom with snow". At other moments, the sight of the sun sparkling off the pristine white was dazzling. Lake Erie was nearly frozen over, its once crashing waves stilled and silent, leading the soul to the shores of contemplative awe.
The air was fresh and crisp as my camera and I braved the winter woods this year. It was exhilarating, despite numb fingers and toes. Birds chirped in the trees and squirrels hopped designs in the snow between the wintry storms. We befriended our warm blankets and sipped hot tea. It was glorious.
I'm sure many would think that I have lost my mind.
Yet it seems to me that we spend far too much energy hating not just the weather, but unpleasant experience in general. While it certainly seems natural to hate what makes us uncomfortable, a closer look may suggest that this is not always the wisest path to take through life.
Some of my most profound discomforts have also been my best teachers. As I have mentioned before, having panic attacks and obsessive compulsive disorder earlier in life taught me a great deal about compassion for emotional suffering. Have I thanked God for allowing this wonderful teacher to come to me?
Of course, illness is not something God wants for us but He allows it. Often we cannot understand why - and I am not least among the questioners. And yet illness, both physical and mental, can teach - as can almost any tragedy or unwanted experience.
Even the moods of my soul may be my unwelcome instructors - and fruitful ones at that. I am readily pleased and grateful for the days of delight, when my soul seems to move toward God effortlessly and joyfully. But, when the very next day all prayer feels forced and the existence of God suddenly seems illogical to me, my fickle heart is not so quick to give thanks.
However, when I learn to thank God for even the unwelcome experiences of life, I open my heart to discover the mysteries hidden deep within each moment.
My energies shift from resisting the moment to being aware of it and living it fully, trusting that God is somehow present even when I cannot see Him.
And so I thank you, God, for the cold and snow and ice. I thank you for showing me Yourself in their beauty and for reminding me that they will melt and prepare the earth for new growth. I thank you too for showing me Yourself in my oft frozen heart, for bestowing Your love when I least expect it. May my heart's hardness melt and soften in Your light, that it may be ready to receive the seeds You planted during my dark nights. May Your life ever grow within me and may I never forget to thank you for this wondrous gift. Amen.
Posted by mary at 11:10 PM