You are currently browsing loristrawn’s articles.

What does it mean to be the body of Christ? Maybe it means that the goal of our spiritual journey is to become part of Christ, to do His work and will as one body. A body requires all of its parts to function harmoniously. It is not enough for the “stars of the show,” like the eyes, hands and feet, to operate. They cannot do so independently. Every part is needed — the toenails protect the toes, which enable the feet to balance the body, etc., etc.

There is no appendix in the body of Christ, no unnecessary wisdom teeth. We are all indispensable and important. Never sell yourself short. Never diminish your role in the salvation of the universe. It takes us all. It takes a body.

No part more precious than another,
a democracy of bones and sinew,
hallowed by purpose, divine by design.
The body of Christ stands, walks,
wields the world, shaping, smoothing
with an artist’s hands. The fate of us
resounds, ringing from the stapes
of the ear to the fifth metatarsal of toe,
reminding us: no hand, no heart
can stand alone. We breathe into being,
make possible in real blood, by prayer
and deed, God on this earth.

Advertisements

Unless you live under a rock, you know that Alex Trebek, long-time host of “Jeopardy” has pancreatic cancer. This is a devastating diagnosis. However, Mr. Trebek recently announced that he is in near remission, and credits this miraculous turn-about to the power of prayer.

Which is wonderful. I was one of the many people who prayed for him, after all. The only problem with stories like this is that they cause us to question the nature of miracles. In my lifetime, I’ve also prayed for many other people with cancer, including some who had the very same diagnosis as Mr. Trebek. They died anyway. Why didn’t my prayers elicit a miracle for them? Did I not pray enough? Or maybe it comes down to numbers: A celebrity like Alex Trebek is bound to get more prayers than someone like my father, a quiet Korean War vet and former farm boy from Wisconsin. But since when does God favor the popular crowd? It’s a conundrum.

It is not grace withheld,
nor grace deferred.
It is only this: The miracle
you held in your heart
changed shape, became
a color beyond the spectrum your
eye can see. It came as you bid.
That is an assurity. But:
it did not look familiar,
dressed as it was in the stuff
of your fears. Still.
It was perfect.
And you will know it —
or not — one day.

Pentecost is nearly upon us; what better time to talk about the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit? For those unfamiliar with these, they are: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. Most of these are easy to grasp. But fear of the Lord? That one was a mystery to me until it was explained that the word “fear” relates to loss of God’s love and mercy — fear of being without God, of being alone. That I can understand at a cellular level. It’s a bit like the feeling you get on a roller coaster, just as you begin to plummet down that first big drop.

To leave one’s stomach — and heart —
on some bucolic grassy berm
and fall further, surely, than Alice ever fell,
into void and absence, of light, of sound,
to spin loose like a kite: hand, neck, knee,
head; bones loosed, body unbolted…
To live here always is to live without You,
a land as foreign as the face of the sun,
but cold, dead, devoid of compass points,
street signs, bent twigs or bread crumbs.
Blinder than a worm. No. I will not go.
Take me in your arms and promise me:
though I kick the air, you will not let me fall.

My friend Maria, who hails from Taiwan, tells me that in her culture it is believed that friends are souls who find one another, lifetime after lifetime. Though I’m not a fan of reincarnation (it sounds terribly tiring), I like the sound of this conjecture. After Ruth opined that she thought the three of us really ought to get tattoos so that we can find one another in the next life, it all clicked together.

The sky appears daunting, swarming
as it is with bright and twinkling things,
still: We will find each other,
unerringly, though lifetimes,
on this or any astral plane.
We will coalesce into constellation—
The Sisters, they will call us, or something Latinate —
we will laugh, knowing we are we, not stars but souls,
bound by something more grave than gravity,
beats of light that blink out occasionally,
only to reappear, newborn but ancient,
in yet another freckled sky.

As a writer and editor, I’ve always been a proponent of proper punctuation. It not only renders our words more readable and comprehensible, it can eliminate tragic misunderstandings. Don’t believe me? As a (rightfully) famous book about grammar points out in its title, a panda bear “eats shoots and leaves.” A murderer at a café, however, “eats, shoots, and leaves.” Big difference!

I’ve been pondering punctuation in relation to real life: Is death a period or an ellipse (…to be continued)? Or is it a semicolon, as we move from one part of our “sentence” (a complete thought) to another? Only God knows.

I pray in commas, brief pauses in my day, bare blips,
or often longer stops — ellipses and em-dashes —
the occasional exclamation, in pain, worry, joy…
a curved question mark, arced in self-pity.
The perfect prayer is, I think, a period.
Self-contained. Measured, like a bolt of cloth.
Shaped most simply, a clay cup
of subject, verb, and object.
And best if God is all three.

Let me just affirm what you already know: Things are lousy right now. There is no equality, no justice. No hope? Sometimes it feels like it. Then I hear a little voice (it sounds suspiciously like Auntie Ruth) saying, “Focus on the bright side; focus on hope.” Sometimes, it feels foolish to hope. But hope, like faith, never claimed to be rational. It just is.

Advice for those who are sinking: First
find a reed, however slender, to grasp.
If muck sucks you downward, lie on your back,
float: improbably, hope will buoy you.

I read the handbook, yet trust forsakes me.
I hover, the slough still plucks and pulls.
Hope, foolish and fleeting, throws me a rope —
faith fills my chest; my heart is a red balloon.

(Or: In Which Lori and Ruth Pen a Poem Together)

You may not know that one of my very favorite poets is our own Ruth. As you probably have gleaned, she has a way with words. So when she emailed me with a premonition most poetic — Rows and rows of grown things. And it came from the pain. — I had to respond.

Oh Gardener, you surely tease:
what can grow from this blighted, salted soil
but stones and brush, blunted and stunted as bonsai?
What takes root in blood and mud but dashed dreams
and creeping evil? This ground has shown no promise,
not in all its years of sunward striving. Still, you laugh.
Crucifixion turns into Resurrection. Do I not recall?
And I see — rows and rows of grown things,
green shoots rooted in pain, turning new blooms
toward heaven. When will it come? You simply smile.
I carry no timepiece. Only wait for the rain to cease.
And you throw me an umbrella: a friend.
I resolve again to wait.

Emphatic disclaimer: This is NOT my poem. It was written by Grace Noll Crowell (1877-1969), and it is beautiful. So beautiful — and so essentially needed right now by so many people — that I had to share it. If you are tired (and I suspect many of us are, burdened by health problems, family troubles, lack of clarity in life, political frustration and despair over the violence that besets us), here is my attempt at comfort. Please know that you are never alone.

Dear heart, God does not say today, “Be strong!”
He knows your strength is spent,
He knows how long
The road has been, how weary you have grown;
For He walked the earthly roads alone,
Each bogging lowland and each long, steep hill,
Can understand, and so He says, “Be still
And know that I am God.”
The hour is late
And you must rest awhile, and you must wait
Until life’s empty reservoirs fill up
As slow rain fills an empty, upturned cup.
Hold up your cup, dear child, for God to fill.
He only asks today that you be still.

I’m in an abusive relationship…with a church. I was reminded of this during Holy Week, when our pastor made a point of choosing twelve men for the ritual of the washing of feet, because only men can represent the apostles. Except that’s not true. Women have their feet washed by the clergy all the time — the Pope himself does it.

Then, on Good Friday, I went to another parish (ours didn’t have a Mass scheduled at a time my husband could fit into his schedule) only to find an even more antiquated service. There were seven people around the altar. All were male.

Growing up, I was always top of my class. So when someone said something silly like, “Only boys are good at math,” I could laugh it off. I was proof that they were wrong. I was fortunate to receive sixteen years of Catholic education, being taught by great thinkers and being told that I, too, was capable of great thought. I planned my first mass at nine. I narrated The Passion Play at 13. I’ve spent a lifetime as a faithful Catholic. And somehow, I’m still not good enough. I can’t be good enough. I haven’t got a Y chromosome.

“How many times,” I asked my husband after Friday’s ordeal, “do I have to be slapped in the face by my own church?” “All of them,” he replied sadly.

I know, I know. I really ought to leave. Except that I have nowhere else to go. The church that honed my soul and sharpened my thinking is still my home — my bigoted, outdated home. Why should I have to leave?

On the other hand, why bother baptizing girls if we can never, ever have full participation in the church? Why bother with Confirmation, unless to make sure we understand that we’ll never be fully wanted? Why let us in the door if we can’t be trusted to make policy or even determine what happens to our own bodies? Why not just be honest and come right out and say it: “The Catholic Church: We’re not big on chicks”? At least we’d know what we were getting into.

I brought my husband into this church. At some level, I must think it capable of change (just like every other woman in an abusive relationship am I right?). But what I won’t let it do is hold me back.

Today, Holy Thursday, begins the Triduum, the three days that recollect and celebrate the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. Most of us know this story well. We’ve pondered that journey. But how often do we think about the people who walked the path with Jesus?

Simon of Cyrene was picked out of the crowd to help Jesus carry the cross. How and why was he chosen? Well, we know he was from Africa. He might have been a person of color. Or the Roman guards simply noticed he wasn’t Jewish — he was “other.” Or he might have expressed sympathy for Christ. Whatever the reason, he is an outsider, someone from the fringes — the type of person Jesus favored in life.

The women of Jerusalem wept for Jesus and were comforted by him. Women weren’t exactly valued commodities in Jesus’ day. They were mostly seen as possessions, with no voice or agency of their own. Yet Jesus turns to women again and again in his life and along the road to his death — he listens to them. He values them. He speaks to them. Again, Jesus chooses the outsider.

Veronica wipes Jesus’ face. Again, a woman does the unthinkable, and Jesus rewards her with kindness.

The penitent thief (sometimes called Dismas) is crucified next to Jesus. What do we know about him? People were crucified for all sorts of crimes in Jesus’ day, but to be crucified for mere petty theft would have been a long shot, unless the thief was from the lower classes, or worse, a slave. Or the theft was far from petty — it was violent and extreme. There is some conjecture that the “thieves” were more like terrorists. Once again, it someone from the fringes, someone most unlikely, who responds to Christ’s call. In radically changing his heart, Dismas is promised paradise.

Women. Foreigners. Criminals. These are the people who walked the way of the cross with Jesus. Not his apostles. Not religious leaders. It was the most unlikely of people who shared the journey.

People are always amazed when I tell them that SueBE, Ruth and I have never met in person. Yet in my dark nights of the soul, they consistently walk with me. This Easter, take some time to ponder who walks with you. You just might be surprised.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: