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Recently, a student brought a loaded gun to the high school my son attended. Cole’s in college now, so we weren’t directly affected; still, it was unsettling to hear of such a thing so close to home.

The next day, I received word that a threat had been made to a teacher, so all township schools would be closed. A follow-up text said the incident had not happened in our town of Franklin, which is in central Jersey, but in the other Franklin in our state, which is in north Jersey. Oh. Okay! No problem then. Why didn’t I feel any less tense about it?

Everything is in your neighborhood now, isn’t it? You’re not directly affected, yet somehow, you still feel directly affected.

As I look at the student coalition advocating for gun control after the attack on their high school, I’m experiencing something I’ve never felt before: I’m both encouraged and discouraged at the same time.

The student movement’s leaders are capable young people with convictions and confidence, ready to take on the world. What about the kids who aren’t being heard? The ones who show up for class in worn-out sneakers, who eat lunch alone and get picked on in gym class? These are the young souls who end up folding in or lashing out.

Gun control, yes. Mental health background checks for gun purchases, okay – provided you define your terms. Does that include people with depression? Anxiety? On medication of any kind? How about Asperger’s? Who decides?

But also, a call to arms of a different kind: working together to remind each other that words and actions have impact. To encourage each other to honor the humanity in every person they meet.

How we get there as a nation is anybody’s guess.  Until then, we pray.


Photo by Monika Grabkowska on Unsplash

In years past, when I had extra, I found many creative ways to spend it… on things I didn’t even want or enjoy. I’ve been on three cruises in my life. Yet. I don’t swim, I can’t be in the heat due to my medical issues, and I hate crowds. Complained the whole time. Spent a boatload (see what I did there?) of money. Didn’t like it one bit. Well, the food was good. Overall? I could have, and probably should have, stayed home and socked that money away for a rainy day.

Tell you what’s true: it’s been raining lately. Money’s been tight, but we persevere, and wait/pray for better days to come. We all need certain staples to live on, but sometimes, there’s just not enough to buy some of the basics.

When “enough” returned, I actually said out loud to my son, “This is the best slice of toast I have ever had in my life!” Toast. Just made me do a happy dance. Although I did have other food in the house, I was out of bread and there just wasn’t enough in the budget as medical co-pays and deductibles came up early in the year. When a simple piece of buttered toast finally came back to my plate, I was over the moon!

Tell you what’s true: when I had too much I used too much; still, I wasn’t satisfied. Now when I have just enough, it’s manna. I’m content, though eager (if Someone upstairs is on the line listening) for the next batch of bread from heaven! I feel God’s saying, Do what you can. It gets better, and there’s more than “enough” on the way. Grace is always right on time, and that’s good enough for me.

There’s been a lot of talk about hope lately. SueBe neatly defined it as a way of thinking positively about life. I gave it some thought and came up with a wild variety of metaphors…and maybe a little insight.

You can live on hope, if you need to.
You can eat it like bread, portion it out
to last, like pemmican, (or whatever it was
Lewis and Clark ate while Sacagawea took them
on a tour of places she already knew), only better-tasting.
The point being, hope is at least as good as a native guide,
even if it can’t tell you where you’re going. It can, however,
sustain. Hope is the rail on the stairway, the boy scout
who helps you cross a busy street, the friendly cop
on the corner. It is a safe place to land. Miss Emily
called it feathered, though, I think it less flighty
than the image deserves. It persists like plastic.
It stands in the desert, against the wind blowing
and doesn’t lose its nose, the way the Sphinx
did. It is a hearty breakfast: toast, eggs, bacon.
It cannot be spent, only abandoned. And even
then, it returns, nudging you with its wet nose
like a cat who has decided to stay. You might
as well keep it. The comfort of it will warm you,
some dark night, and make its care and feeding
worth your while.


Sometimes I think: Wouldn’t it be nice to squirrel myself away in some comfy little hole and turn exclusively to prayer? Then I remember: As much as the hermit lifestyle appeals, it is not practical. Not only are comfy little holes hard to come by, they are seldom free of charge. And there’s the niggling problem of needing to eat. But that’s not the biggest problem.

The biggest problem is this: You can’t pray for the world if you’re hiding from it. You have to know what’s going on. You have to be a part of things. Otherwise, you’re just praying for yourself, and doesn’t that defeat the purpose?

It can be very painful to make yourself aware of the world’s troubles. There will always be too many of them to tackle, too many tragedies pulling at your limited heartstrings. You have to choose, but in choosing, you have to deal with the repercussion of guilt. It is a difficult place to live. A comfy hole is so much more congenial, don’t you agree? But it’s no place to linger, not if you have a heart.

Nowadays it’s an insult to be considered sensitive. It connotes a certain weakness, a lack of backbone, a pitiful inability to cope in today’s eat-or-be-eaten world. I don’t much care about that. If it takes not caring to get by in life, then I guess I won’t get by. Wherever that destination is, it doesn’t feel like a place worth going to. If feeling keenly about people and things makes me a snowflake, then — fine. I’m still here. And as long as the world stays cold with injustice and hatred and inequality, I will persist.

And if the milk of human kindness ever warms us all adequately, I will happily melt.


Things have gotten awfully heavy of late. It feels like we’re all just trying to carry the weight of our crosses; sweating, straining, staring at our own two feet. Meanwhile, people are buckling all around us. They are dropping to their knees. They are feeling alone. It cannot end well, for we all need to be loved. And so, I am urging you: Take up an end. If you’ve got your cross balanced and you’re making your way, slowly but surely, help someone else out. Or to drop the metaphor for a moment, tell someone today that you love them. Tell them you forgive them. Tell them you hear them. Because you might be the next to stagger. It can, after all, happen in an instant. Or to take a more nautical theme:

A warning to mariners:
storms crop up quick.
Squalls in the harbor,
thunder out to sea,
fog like a shroud.

If your skiff’s at risk,
signal. Do not attempt
to rescue yourself.
The water is cold.
Depth cannot be calculated
by any standard measure.

If your skiff’s afloat,
please save the sinking.
Bail with a bucket,
or even a thimble.
Make a life jacket
from your own heart.

Continue until all’s clear,
which may be never.
That is all.


Faith took root in my heart at the end of a deep, dark time in my life.

One day about ten years ago, I realized that there were always good things and bad things going on, every day. When I focused on the bad things, I felt bad. When I focused on the good things, I felt good. It may sound simple, but this is the actual thought process I had at that tumultuous time. It occurred to me: Somebody’s in charge. I believe that somebody is a positive force and I’d like to be aligned with that somebody, because I believe it will improve my life.

When my son was younger, I used to pray for so many things that I hoped for his life, but I realized they were things that I would have wanted, not what he might want.

So I had to amend it to include whatever would make him happy. I couldn’t make assumptions about what that would look like in his life, so I encapsulated it by kissing his head like a benediction and saying to him, “I wish you every good thing.” I had to take the leap of faith, dial down the anxious petitions in prayer and leave it up to him to fill in the blanks.

If I had to sum it up, I’d say that God is the yes of the universe. Every good thing you think about and smile. I really don’t know if God is male/female/both/neither. I don’t know if God exists as a being or is the electrical current in every atom. It doesn’t really matter. Just as I know that I love my son so much that I can smile till I break my face just thinking of him, and at the same time, a tear may tinge my eye, I know that some things are beyond words and yet still comprise the basic, beautiful stuff of life.


“God,” I pray, “Help me not to hate him.” And as if in answer to my petition, a video streaming on Facebook, on Yahoo, all over the web: The president ascending a staircase into a plane, the wind blowing the convoluted nest of his hair all around and revealing — what? The subject of scorn and derision? I didn’t see it that way. I saw a pink egg, a skull as fragile and naked as a baby’s. Something he has gone great lengths to hide…and yet. There it is in all its sad, easily broken glory.

It taught me an important lesson: Even the most blustering of bullies is, at heart, fragile. Breakable. Just another broken person trying to hide his metaphorical cracks in the hopes that no one will notice. We all do it. The cracks are just different for each of us. It would do us well to remember that. Perhaps a little more tenderness toward one another is in order.

In my own hand, I see it
bones so thin and fine I could crack them
in the act of clasping, of joining together.
To strike would be to obliterate them outright.
We are all hands — though some are fists —
and all of us can be broken. Forget the lie
of childhood rhyme: words too can be thrown
with deadly precision. Just one and we shatter
like a castle built of sand. Be forbearing.
Remember the house you live in, accessible
not just to wolves but other pigs. Do not blow.
Keep your words light, let them not stir
a single straw. We can destroy whole worlds:
but what is the point? We live in them together.


“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” So begins the gospel of John…and the deepest roots of my spiritual connection to God. I have always loved words, loved what they could do with sound and meaning, loved them in their inadequacy and perfection. As a child, I was teased for my advanced vocabulary. “But that’s the right word for it,” I would think. “I could use a more common word, but it isn’t right.” From the beginning I knew that God was in both language and silence, that as flawed as words could be, they were a link to God — a beautiful and fragile link.

In The Little Prince, the fox tells our titular hero that when you tame something, it becomes yours forever. The same is true of naming things. That’s why I respond so warmly to John’s gospel-opener: God is, in my mind, the first named thing. In a world of small-w words, God is The Word.

Our words for God change and persist; they speak of power and authority. But God is also in the tiniest places, the humblest nest of the lowliest sparrow. God is in all words, from thunder to shame, eternity to crumb. Maybe that’s a compelling enough reason to use our words judiciously.

On the other hand, why not celebrate words? Why not lavish them luxuriously, paint a thick coat of them all over everything, dress up a tawdry world with silvery syllables? Isn’t that what poets and musicians do? Yeah! Don’t paint the town red; paint it God.

That’s what we try to do on this blog, at least in my eyes. We invoke God through God-as-Word. We praise God. We cry out to God. We participate in Godliness and ask our readers to do the same.

That’s a pretty sweet gig, from where I’m sitting.


If there’s one thing you ought to know about me by now, it’s that I’m a Catholic. And if there’s one thing that you ought to know about Catholics, it’s that we love Mary. No, we do NOT worship her. We do NOT pray to her. We ask for her intercession because she is the one human being in all of history to have had an intimate relationship with God in all three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. No one knows God better. No one is closer to God.

When children fall and hurt themselves, they run to their mother. So do Catholics. Our “falls” might be physical, mental or spiritual. But when we hurt, we reach out to Mary for comfort. She is our advocate.

The quintessential Marian prayer is the “Hail Mary.” It is taken partly from the words of Mary’s cousin Elizabeth when she saw Mary coming to visit her and recognized what was happening to her — Mary was carrying the Savior in her womb. Here’s how it goes:

Hail Mary, full of grace!
The Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners
now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

The Hail Mary is the most basic prayer needed to pray the rosary. There are a few others — the Our Father, the Glory Be, the Apostles’ Creed — but the Hail Mary is the foundation.

Why so much talk about Mary? Call it passing on the words of my people. My own relationship with Our Lady has brought peace to my life, and I think it could help you, too. The single thing necessary for building a relationship with Mary is simply the desire to do so. Just open the door. Talk to your Mother. What, you’re too busy? Don’t worry about it. Start with the Hail Mary. Let it lead you home. Mary can become your confidante and prayer partner. After all, Mother knows best.


Last month, Pope Francis made headlines by suggesting that it may be time to change the words of the Lord’s Prayer from “Lead us not into temptation” to “Do not let us fall into temptation.” The reason for this proposed change is to negate the notion that God would ever lead us into sin.

I started to write this post last month, but held off, as I kept finding the post coming back to #MeToo and things we’ve been hearing from the president. Hoping to steer away from topical, highly-charged issues and back to the prayer itself, I realized that this prayer is timeless as well as timely. Maybe the reason I can’t stop finding its resonance in the news and in the world at large is that it’s not only relevant – still – but it may contain solutions to these problems.

It’s more important than ever for anyone in a position of authority to seek God’s counsel to avoid the temptation of abusing their power. And the need to forgive seems just about continuous of late.

I looked at the wording of various translations of the line about forgiveness.

And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors (New International Version)

And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us (Roman Catholic version)

Forgive us for doing wrong as we forgive others (Contemporary English Version)

I’d like to add my own version, if you’d indulge me:

Hold my hand as I walk the path so I don’t lose touch with my own humanity.

Make me mindful that, at my worst, I’ve been unkind.

So when another child of God aims their pain at me, it’s best for my soul to let it go.

If only we had a universal translator to sort through what people are really saying, maybe we’d see that the world is a neighborhood. Everyone we meet is extended family. Somewhere between intention and interpretation, healing awaits.


Have a Mary Little Christmas

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