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My husband and I had just parked our car at the grocery store. As I got out of the car, I glanced into the car next to me. A quite normal-looking man (conservative haircut, wire glasses) had a large can of baked beans in one hand; with the other, he was scooping beans out of the can and into his mouth.

I was a little gobsmacked by this.

Two days later, still processing the incident, my husband asked where I wanted to eat lunch. “I don’t know,” I said. “We could drive to the grocery store and eat baked beans out the can with our fingers.” Deadpan, my husband looked straight into my eyes and replied, “We would need a nicer car.”

Sometimes life is so absurd, you just have to laugh.

Funny thing, life.
It hands you a joke
disguised as drama,
as awkward as an equine in an overcoat
trying to check out a book at the library.
You could weep at the incongruity,
or seize on the strangeness
and laugh yourself hoarse.
Stop trying to solve things.
Throw back your head.
Throw up your arms. Give in to the odd experiment
that is the universe.
When you’re in on the joke,
God will entrust you with things
you’re too wise to know now.

I’ve been wondering for some time what God has planned for me and whether I am, in fact, mulishly resisting his call. I think my hearing is adequate. I say, certainly, that I am willing. So why do I remain standing alone, the wall at my back, watching others in the dance? Perhaps my partner is waiting for the right accompaniment?

Turn your will to music;
teach my heart to dance.
I will move to the tune of your making.
I will follow your footsteps as you lead.
I haven’t the grace you gave the stars,
pirouetting ever heavenward,
nor the artistry of angels,
nor the simple step of saints.
My raw parts hold no rhythm,
yet you call me to perform.
Here. I hold out my arms,
angled to envelop you.
Let us take up the tune
together.

As any horror aficionado knows, those title words signal the apex of panic for our poor heroine: The maniacal “crank” caller that has haunted her all night has been revealed to be in the very same house as our terrified victim! (Aside: I never understood this trope. This was used back in the olden days of landlines, so it’s not as if the killer could be calling on his cell phone. Is he using a second landline in the same house? Most houses only had one. And how does he know what number to call? Is he close friends with the owners of the house? This is never explained to my satisfaction.) Recently, these words caused something of a spiritual panic for me.

Last Saturday night, we went back to church. I was hesitant, but I knew the bishop was about to lift the dispensation for missing mass, and since both my hubby and I are vaccinated, I figured…what the hey. Our parish is not new; it was built in the 50s. The ventilation is poor on a good day. And lo and behold — at least a third of the folks in the church were eschewing masks. And singing. Let me tell you, I was scared.

And judgmental. Even with my vaccination, I know infection is still possible. How could anyone be in an enclosed area with a large group of people and not wear a mask? How could our pastor allow singing? All of these thoughts so overwhelmed me, I did not feel the emotion I ought to have felt at receiving Eucharist after more than a year. I should have been buoyant. I wasn’t.

And then I realized: The call was coming from inside the house. In other words, it was me. I was preventing my own enjoyment of the celebration of the Eucharist. I was the problem. I was the deranged killer.

There is a time to hang up the phone. A time to realize that you’ve done your best to keep yourself safe and that you can’t carry the weight of the world on your shoulders. So enjoy what you can. Move into the world and try to experience it without terror, especially where your spirituality is concerned. We need the normality of that connection in our lives. We need the strength of that bond to lift us up and out.

We can’t hold ourselves captive. God wants us healthy, but God wants us happy, too.

My office is (mostly) a normal place. Sure, there are maybe too many model cars. I wouldn’t recommend opening the closet. And yes, there is a poster of a guy who looks a lot like Ted Allen of “Chopped” smiling benignly from the wall behind the door. No, it’s not Ted Allen. It’s Estes Kefauver.

Estes Kefauver was a politician from Tennessee. Among his noted accomplishments: He took on mob corruption. He took on big Pharma. He was the running mate of Adlai Stevenson, who (until recent times) was the winner of my personal award for “Best President We Should Have Had But Didn’t.” Why does Mr. Kefauver grace my office wall? That’s complicated. What’s more important is the slogan on the poster: “For All of You.”

Nowadays, it’s nigh-unto impossible to get anyone to do anything for “all of us.” Wearing masks, for instance. Taking a vaccine. Listening to reason. Just when exactly did “the common good” become none of our business?

Today, look into your heart and really examine what you would or would not do for “all of us.” Estes Kefauver, for instance, died in 1963 after a heart attack on the floor of the Senate, representing the good people of Tennessee to the bitter end. Jesus was crucified. And you? And me?

It is easy to love a pear,
hip-heavy as an old auntie,
golden, flecked, sweet to eat.

Harder to love a lemon,
seedy, hard to swallow,
still: sharp with possibility
to sweeten and refresh.

Until I can love a durian fruit —
see past the bared fangs of its rind,
snub its scent (compared kindly
to sewage or rotting flesh),
taste on my tongue its gummy innards —

only then can I name myself
ready to tackle the harvest
of a higher order:
the fruit of the tree of humankind.

I received my first vaccine last week, and vaccine #2 is on the books. What will that mean for my life? I’m not sure yet. There are plenty of things I’ve missed during this pandemic: receiving the Eucharist, seeing people in person, hugging, eating in a nice restaurant. But there are also plenty of things I have not missed…things I’m not looking forward to incorporating into my life again. I don’t miss crowded theaters. I don’t miss noise. I don’t miss socializing on a regular basis. I liked the quiet of the past year. It gave me something I can’t get enough of: solitude. Peace. Time to do — or not do — as I please. I had an excuse (and a good one at that) to withdraw. How will we choose to face life, should the pandemic become past-tense? I’m still pondering.

If I should opt out
what would be missed?
Can silence fill the spaces
where words have been?
Yes, and well enough.
And yet, I miss the muck.
Might I rush in like a fool
or tread, cautious as an angel,
into whatever haze lies ahead?
I think I will know. The time will come,
bubbling with possibility,
a soup that demands to be shared,
or, alternately, ice over, a caution
to step as lightly as a snowflake falls.
God must be our eyes and ears,
the cane that taps the ground,
the hand that reaches into the dark.
The way ahead is only as safe as our faith.

Just over a week ago, we bought a new toy for our seven-month-old kitten, Pugsley — a plastic butterfly attached by a wire to a wand. It fluttered, at least at first, rather convincingly, spurring Pugsley to terrific leaps and epic pounces. He gloried in snatching it away from me and parading his prey proudly through the house, wand dragging forlornly behind him. The toy today looks nothing like it did when it was new. It is chewed and bent and bedraggled beyond recognition. The wings have been mended with duct tape. It resembles a crumpled leaf more than an insect. But Pugsley still loves it.

Perhaps the butterfly makes a good comparison for our souls. They are tattered, sure, but God still loves them ardently. And all that wear and tear? Maybe it’s a good thing. To end our lives with a soul beaten and crushed by years and years of extreme love; by good, hard use in working for a better world — what could be better? Sounds like a goal to me.

Take me as I am, Lord, in ill repair.
Mend what you can, moving your hands lightly
over me like the sun that dapples the floor
where the cat shifts and rolls and purrs.
The worst bits can remain; I will wear them
as badges, each rip a reminder of how hard
I loved, how frantically I held to hope.
Though I am ragged, you regard me
as rare and precious as a ruby.
I am yours, despite my ravages,
whole and healed in your eyes.

How’s your Lent? Mine has been…arid, thank you. Perhaps it’s because the entire last year has had a Lenten quality to it, but I’m finding this season especially rough. I don’t feel like I’m connecting with my goals. I’m impatient. I am tired of wandering through the desert of my soul. And I’m sure I’m not alone. In more ways than one.

I made myself a desert place
and waited for Lent to come,
to roll like a storm,
rinse grit from my sand-caked soul,
beat into me a scrubbed resolve.
Instead, came dervishes of whirling dust,
heat to crack the skin, no shepherd
to steer me as pellets pocked my eyes.
I made myself a desert place
and longed for Lent to find me,
devour me like manna, drink me to the lees,
like the swollen tongue of a parched wanderer.
Instead, I have ceased seeking saints
to reckon with my resemblance
to things that slither in the shadows,
tongues primed to flick my skin, name me kin.
I made myself a desert place
and begged for Lent to change me
only to find I will not reach the other side
until the Lent of life finds me fallen
on the final dune outside the city
I sought so far, so long.

Feathered, almost, I suppose.
an egg cupped in a nest,
the worrisome business of being born
blunted by something sure
bringing light and heat
to the blind uncoiling of limbs.
There will be no abrupt nudgings
to take flight with wings too weak
to shatter air; you are welcome to stay
a week, a year, a lifetime.
All you need do
is never look down.
Instead keep your vision fixed
on the sky: something is coming,
flapping furiously, with arms like an angel,
to enfold you. Believe in this.

Wisdom gained in the past year: In a pandemic, days seem to blend together. To that end, I’ve made a conscious effort to find the goodness in each one. For example, by Monday evening, the house is as clean as it will ever be. On Tuesday, I write a blog post — or don’t — and either option is pleasurable. Wednesdays bring a phone chat with my friend Alice. Thursdays provide time for catching up, while Fridays — well, Fridays have their own magic, don’t they? Mine are enhanced by a weekly phone chat with my friend Marilyn. Weekends require little help to shine. They are the days I get to spend with my spouse, neither of us laboring (for the most part).

How are you marking your days? And how can we all add a little spiritual oomph to our routine? Maybe by focusing on each blessing, no matter how small.

Today may bring a miracle
or at least a small surprise —
catch either by the tail
and hold it up to light.
Bless its energy, no matter
how humble and nondescript.
Then let it go to anoint another.
What we cannot touch with our hands,
let us embrace with words.
What is left loose in our lives
is one thing less to do, a grace,
to fill with silence or bread baking.
Slow your expectations to meet
the small, still passage of hours.
Revel in them. You may never know
solitude like this again.

As our government transitions from one president to the next, most of us are praying for peace. I include myself in their number. What I cannot stand behind, however, is the call to “forgive and move on.” To explain, I must bring in my Catholic upbringing. In the sacrament of Reconciliation, two things are required. One: the sinner must recognize that she has sinned and admit her responsibility for wrongdoing. Two: the sinner must resolve not to sin again. Of course, we — sinners all — fail at this repeatedly, but we should at least show a determination to try not to repeat our sins.

I have seen no recognition of sin or resolve not to repeat it from those who dared to rock our democracy to its core. Without these things, there can be no reconciliation. But without reconciliation, how does our country move forward? As Shakespeare might say, “Aye, there’s the rub.”

Take up needles
and begin the slow work
of knitting a country together.
The constituents are disparate,
some soft, new-spun, some
rope that once bound hands,
some silk, some knotted string.
Some of it will bloody our bodies
with barbs. No matter. We will
not still our hands. Each stitch
will be a prayer, each row an invitation
to join the circle. No person is exempt.
Perhaps at first, we will produce a sock,
a scarf, a mitten. Let us aim to weave
a blanket big enough to cover us all.
Begin.

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Have a Mary Little Christmas

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