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Let me sum it up for you: Grace — I don’t have it. Well, at least not outwardly. Not the kind of grace that shows up in the fluid movement of a dancer or the effortless courtesy of a good hostess. Certainly not the kind of grace Jesus’ mother Mary had, which was a complete freedom from sin. The kind of grace available to me (and to all of us) is pure gift, the redemption we receive only from God.

We give grace when we forgive one another. But it’s hard to bestow that kind of grace, hard to say, “I forgive you” without adding, “even though you’re essentially a bad person/ a selfish swine/possibly a criminal/not someone who deserves my friendship.” Grace doesn’t judge. It’s rather like mercy in that way, dropping “as the gentle rain from heaven / Upon the place beneath.” Raindrops don’t choose where to fall. And if we want to be Christ-like, we can’t pick and choose where our grace falls either.

I’ll admit it’s a struggle. Lucky for me, grace is also a prayer. Maybe not this kind, but still — praying might get me there.

I was not built for grace.
It fits me ill,
a hair shirt at once too small
and dangling from my shoulders.
Still, I’ll have the mastery of it.
I will practice the fastening of buttons,
repeat the words until I mean them.
I will work at grace as at a puzzle,
trying the pieces, searching for a fit.
Perhaps the picture will never be clear,
but I will accept it as it stands, with holes
and jagged bits, unfinished but enough.
I will rain grace, fertile as a heavy cloud,
no matter how the stony ground accepts it.
But first, I must fill myself.

I once heard a doctor describe illness as an external trauma that the body has absorbed. Literally, our bodies take in the bad things that happen to us and convert them into sickness. “What kind of New Age nonsense is this?” I wondered.

But he was right.

The trauma I experienced in the first three months of this year came home to roost in the second three. Cellulitis, respiratory infections, back problems, pneumonia — you name it, I had it. I was a fixture at my doctor’s office. I visited the ER. I underwent two ultrasounds and a CT scan. I took four courses of antibiotics, all different. I slept sitting up for two months.

I’m much better now. Really. But I’ve become a believer in the body-mind connection. If you don’t take care of the things that hurt you emotionally, your body will be forced to contend with them in various, very physical disguises. What hurts your soul can also hurt your body. My advice? Pour out your pain to any listening ear you can find. Ideally, you should find a professional, but barring that, talk to someone: a friend, a relative, a spiritual advisor, your spouse. And, of course, you can always pray it out.

I am the worse for wear.
So are we all, trapped as we are
in fragile flesh, prone to pelting
by the nettles of nature, the stings
of our very need for each other.
Bad love hurts to the bone.
Grace still heals, miraculous as mud
daubed on a blind eye, sudden as touching
the hem of a cloak. You will hurt,
but you will change, cell by cell,
into something stronger.
You may not see it now. But believe.
Bones ache as they grow;
so do souls.

Photo by Lum3n on Pexels.com

“God is God. You are not.”

Following this opening line from today’s sermon, my friend and I glanced at each other. “All righty then,” she whispered.

No, the pastor didn’t stop, but this could have been the shortest sermon ever. Instead he spoke about how we humans try to draw connections where none exist. We want to connect the dots. We want answers and explanations. Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do good things happen to bad people?

This reminded me of something that I read last week. We are primed and programmed, as human beings, to make connections and recognize patterns. It is how understand the world around us and how we have survived for so many thousands of years.

Think about it. Many years ago, Bob ate the bright red berries. That night, Bob had a horrible stomach ache. He got sick. While he is recovering, his friend stops by. The friend says that he is only now feeling better. He ate some bright red berries. He had a stomach ache and got sick. Bob and his wife connect the dots. Don’t eat the bright red berries. They tell their neighbors. These people learn from the pattern.

People are really quite good at recognizing patterns, but we get a little full of ourselves. If we can figure out what to eat and what not to eat, surely we can figure out why X event happened to those people over there and not to us. Because, if we can figure it out, we can be safe.

Sigh. If only it were that easy. This idea that we can figure things out and be safe isn’t new. In Luke 13, a group of visitors asked Christ about a party of Galilieans who had been killed by the Romans. Why did this happen to them? How could it have been prevented? Christ’s answer probably wasn’t reassuring because he simply responded that it had nothing to do with them being bad or wrong or somehow deserving.

It isn’t the answer that the people wanted. I imagine that they felt let down and out of sorts. They were stressed and worried and had troubles sleeping. Sound familiar?

Christ assured the people that God, the gardener, was at work. God had not given up and neither should we. After all, we are God’s and he is working all around us even if we cannot always make out the patterns.

–SueBE

The magic of Christmas is this: That something so small could change the world. That a girl from a “nothing” town could be chosen as the mother of God. That a stable could be the birthplace of a Savior. That a baby — a tiny, helpless baby — could be God incarnate, our salvation, the ultimate game changer, taking us from Old Testament “eye for an eye” to New Testament “forgive seven times seventy times.” God truly is a master of surprise.

Something so small:
the cowrie shells of his nails
(an oasis in the desert!),
the questing bud of his lips,
opening like an orchid.
His hair, fine and spare,
brushed ‘cross a skull
still red with effort,
soft beneath the hand.
Slitted eyes, seeking light,
seeing only subtle shapes.
Yet armed as any animal,
able to grip and startle, track and root.
This, then, will change the world:
hands so small will touch a cross,
flailing legs will lead us to heaven.
To trust in this is to pick cattle over comfort,
seeds over trees, a star that shines so seldom,
yet points the only way. And so we follow.
All that God is fits in the crook of an arm,
swallows us like an ocean.

Picture of my tiny basement window, with a yo-yo next to it for scale. It is rectangular in shape, with two sliding sections. The basement is sparsely finished, and there is a pole lamp to the right of the window.

As I exercised in my basement the other day, I wandered over to the tiny window near my stationary bike and checked to see if it was locked.

Strangely, it wasn’t. Huh. That’s unsettling. I’ve lived in this home for 26 years and can’t ever remember checking that window to ensure that it was locked.

I stood there for a moment in disbelief. That’s a safety risk! Granted, you’d have to be downright Lilliputian to squeeze through that window, but I felt it was my duty to make myself worry retroactively. An unlocked (albeit diminutive) window for all these years! That’s very troubling! 

For some reason, I’ve always felt that part of my job in life is to worry. I should’ve been on the ball about this! I considered standing there in the basement and worrying retroactively. But for how long? For the equivalent of 26 years? Where’s that blasted “panic” button when you need it?!?

Deep breaths! Okay.

“Let not your heart be troubled,” a wise sage once wrote. Every problem is a project in disguise. My worry about that tiny opening that only a leprechaun could fit through was really a window of opportunity. A learning experience, taught by the Great Teacher.

It’s not my job to stress over problems I didn’t know existed. My job is to do my best in this moment, grateful for the grace that has kept us covered through the years.

“Anxiety in a person’s heart weighs it down, but a good word makes it glad,” Proverbs 12:25 NASB.

Here’s the good word: whatever is too heavy a burden to bear is not yours to carry. Hand it off to God and bask in the blessings of each new day.

“The Eucharist is the bread of sinners, not a reward of saints.” – Pope Francis

We’re soaking in it —
not just our hands.
Steeped sinners all,
we gather, at table
for what will not fail us.
Christ’s broken bones hold no reproach.
It is invitation without exclusion.
All hands may have the crust
to touch both body and blood.
I would not stop them, for I am they, too.
And you? Come out from behind your politics
and know what time and hierarchy have hidden:
He who broke bread with Judas
would not turn him from the table.

silhouette of two person sitting on chair near tree
Picture of two friends sitting in chairs seen in silhouette at sunset under a large tree. They are facing each other as if deep in conversation.

Happy as a clam.

Cute as a button. 

Fit as a fiddle.

Do these phrases even make sense? How do we know clams are happy? Has someone taken a seaside-survey?

A button, cute? Useful, maybe. But I’ve never seen a button in a beauty contest!

And a fiddle is fit? It looks like it’s wearing a tiny corset. Maybe this musical pun is a groaner, but that can’t be good for its organs! 

So how about this saying: Goody two-shoes. Do the baddies only wear one shoe? 

It’s not possible to make sense of things as they once were, because time marches on and things change. 

Old sayings are like old ways of doing things.

It might’ve made sense to someone, at some point in time. But we’re in a new era. So just as a general rule, and public service, let me offer some sage counsel.

When someone confides a painful truth to you, please do not do this:

  • Gaslight them (say, “I’ve never experienced it, thus, it hasn’t happened to you.”)
  • Blame them (say, “What did you do to cause X? What were you wearing/saying/thinking,” etc.)
  • Snow them (say, “I know exactly how you feel.” No you don’t. You know how you feel. What they’re going through is another person’s situation.)

Show up as a friend, and if that person with a painful truth wants to talk about it, honor that. If they don’t, you know the drill…. Honor that. Silence isn’t the enemy. They may just want to sit and “be.”  

Come to think of it, there are some wise old sayings that still hold true, like this one: “A sweet friendship restores the soul,” Proverbs 27:9. Give your friend in pain space when they need it, and solace when they ask for it. You’ll know how to be there when you listen with your heart.

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.

A star atop a tree
can only be
a drowsy placebo
for something missing.
A sky-held star
is an echo, light hitting
earth like a memory.
Fix your ambition instead
on finding the true star.
You will know it by the way
it surges, hot stone,
crying for the love of something
it cannot name.
Follow the star
to the heart of you,
blind and ragged.
Find,
pure and bright,
a child
that is you.
That is He.
Know, at last,
Christmas,
breaking you,
laying you in straw,
lulling you to sleep with
the breath of sheep.

December 8 celebrates the feast of the Immaculate Conception, which (as anyone who reads me regularly knows) has nothing to do with baby Jesus and everything to do with baby Mary. The Immaculate Conception refers to Mary being conceived without Original Sin. She comes into the world, unlike the rest of us, sin-free. And she stays that way.

What would you do with a brand new, spotlessly clean soul? If the past is any indication, I’d probably just soil it again. Even after being absolved of my sins in the sacrament of Reconciliation — despite my sincere vows to not fall into the same traps again — I inevitably sin.

Is it the human condition to fail and fall, over and over again? Can we ever rise beyond our nature? Surely some of us do. But how?

What must it take,
once washed white,
to stave off soil and stain?
Love, mercy, justice,
wielded wisely.
Love launders.
Mercy bleaches clean.
Justice proofs the fabric
against what muck may come.
Lather liberally. Saturate spots.
Rinse and repeat as needed.

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Have a Mary Little Christmas

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