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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.

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.

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.

The general consensus seems to be that we’ve kicked 2020 to the curb. Our long, international nightmare is over! But is it? The funny thing about time is that one year tends to spill over into the next year. We still have challenges to face. Old ones. New ones we can’t even foresee. Do we have the stuff to face it? Maybe with a little faith, a little hope and a little grace, we really can begin all over again.

We have swept the mess to the sill.
Still, it sits, casting an accusing eye:
What will you do with me?
It will not be as easy
as clearing the threshold
and shutting the door.
The scent of it lingers,
its obdurate conundrums
persist, twisted as steel
by the side of the road.
Fresh eyes, fresh hearts
are required, new courage
flowing from hope
we didn’t know we had.
Listen to the urgings of your heart.
It is time for a new song,
sung louder, though throats are sore.
Bear up. Lean in.
Call for change
and change will come.

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.

The giving of thanks
brooks no exceptions.
Conjunctions, those buts,
those yets and whethers
have no place at the table,
festooned as it is
with the fruits of our year.
We do not qualify these gifts
for smallness or imperfection,
but look only with eyes that see
peel, stem and leaf, the curve
of the orb, each freckle and seed,
without censure.
It is perfect.
It is what we have.
Give thanks.

Just last night,
the trees shrugged off their leaves
as if to say, We are done. Done,
as we all are, with this
annus horribilis.
Still. Under the piles of russet,
of red and gold and brown, there is a sliver
of silver new hope. Can you see it?
We need a God who can take a spark
so small and fan it, with gentle breath,
into a conflagration of love.
Add your own exhalation,
even if it is only a sigh,
and perhaps we will work up
something to warm ourselves by.
And, with time, others will come,
drawn in from the cold.
Here is our directive:
Fall into winter
with a clash of cymbals:
something new is coming soon.

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Have a Mary Little Christmas

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