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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.

I.
You are my soul’s only seeking.
Yet you remain as opaque
as the sky, as resolute
and rainy, your face like flint.

II.
I am not the first
to grab a spray of roses
and draw back bloody.
It is the way of women
to feel keenly every prickle,
every puncturing portion.
It is why we weep.

III.
I begin the day as ever,
crying I am here and I am clay.
Make something of me
.
When might I expect a reply?
My calendar glares,
an ocean of blank possibility.

IV.
Yet if you were to step in,
we would surely fold our hands,
close our fists against you.
We do not want what we say we want.
Brokenness is easier than love.
It is an ask too big for begrudging hearts.

IV.
And so I say: Let it come.
Let what will be settle on me like a cloak.
If I must live in the dark, at least I know
I will not be lonely there.

There’s been a lot of talk around here lately (and by “around here,” I mean this blog. Which is its own universe. At least, it is to me!) about discernment, about hearing God’s nudges and praying the way forward. As happens so often, the three of us are in a similar place, feeling a call to the road ahead yet not really knowing what it entails. A book? Videos? Something else?

At the same time, I am being tugged at by other forces. It seems I am a good person to have aboard a project, although none of the proposed projects are paying projects, alas. (Go ahead and red flag me, Ruthie. “Aloteration” is both gift and curse.)

Which way to go? How much energy do I have to devote to each path? And which way feels most right and true to me? Listening for and to God is very hard work indeed.

The road forks precipitously,
twining like tentacles away into a future
I am too near-sighted to see.
God, I lay these routes at your feet.
Where you step, I too will step.
The map is in your hands
but I cannot read it, being somewhat lost
and, at any rate, confused about directions.
You, however, know them.
You know the path most tender on my feet,
and which is worth the stones and thistles.
Your eyes see in the dark,
and dark is where I live these days.
You will need to speak up.
You will need to post an obvious marker.
You will need to explain to me,
as if to a child, how to get there.
You, who, meet me where I am,
lead, Love, the way.

God is big. People are small. Not because we were made that way, but because it’s what we want. Think of the way God defines Godself to Moses — “I am who am.” God doesn’t even need a name. God simply is. And when Jesus addresses God in prayer, he chooses the word “Abwoon,” which is genderless. Jesus doesn’t use he or she, though he certainly could have. God always chooses the largest definition possible.

Now think about how we define ourselves (i.e., to death). We sort ourselves (by gender, sexual preference, age, name, hair color, skin color, ethnicity, religious affiliation, ability and lack thereof) into ever-smaller subsets of human being. It’s as if we aren’t special unless we are defined to within an inch of our lives. Why is that? Why can’t we be bigger?

Rest in your humanness, let it fit you
like a skin, the skin you know and breathe in.
Imagine for an instant that you are not alone.
Picture the possibilities of seeing yourself
in the eyes of everyone you meet.
What might it mean?
To see our home in ratty humanity,
common as an old quilt and just as comfy
is to see unbelievable opportunity.
If we knew for just one moment
how large we are together,
what could we not do?
We are called to greater seas.
Leave your puddle. Swim. Be one.

Everyone who learns my secret tells me how wonderfully calm I am. How gracious. How unruffled. Little do they know that I’ve spent my time more like the anagram of calm — the clam: roiling on the inside, turning worrying grit into a pearl of anxiety that I hold in my calmly closed mouth. Only a few, very select people know that my husband has tested positive for Covid-19 and that I am awaiting the results of my own test. Of all the possible effects this plague could have on me, I’ll admit “asymptomatic carrier” was not on my bingo card. Not with my asthma and faulty, scarred lung. Even more surprising would be to find out I’m negative, after living in the same close quarters with a positively sick person for two weeks. Stranger things have happened, though.

Only God knows how my fear is manifesting itself — through migraines the size of a Goodyear blimp. Fortunately, God also knows and hears my fervent, late-night prayers. I may be a calm clam on the outside, but God reads my insides like a book. Maybe that’s why I seem so calm?

My head is splitting,
threatening to spill
all the ugly things
I keep inside it:
fear oozing from its rind
like overripe cheese,
panic and its partner shock,
and behind them all the dizzying
dread of knowing how small I am,
how unready and unsteady I stand.
I could heave it all out of me,
this, that no one wants to see.
I needn’t. God dissects my being,
the most masterful surgeon,
baring my wormy innards and
blessing them with balm. I feel his hand
skillfully sewing, stitches so small
no eye can behold them. The scar
will be hidden. We alone will know it.
I whisper the words, private, prayerful.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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