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“Love” is a troublesome word, as our pastor pointed out at Mass last Saturday. “I say I love God,” he said, “but I also say I love hotdogs.” It’s a problem that many have tried to remedy. In the movie Annie Hall, Alvy struggles to explain his feelings — he doesn’t just love Annie, he “luffs her with two f’s.” In our own circle, SueBE, Ruth and I have turned to the word “loave.” Sue started it; in an exhausted stupor after working on her latest book, she nearly typed the word “loave” rather than “love” in an e-mail to the other two of us. Ruth, of course (with her love of wordplay), seized on it immediately. It now liberally dots our e-mails to each other. I like it, the way it summons up yeasty, warm rounds of bread, fresh from the oven. To bake bread for another: That’s love. Is there a bigger word than “love”? No, but we’re working on it.

How wide a word can contain
the heights of hope and the terror of loss?
How can a mouth move sufficiently to utter
what is utter — the strange shift in my chest
when I attempt to grasp the totality of You?
It is light. Heat. Pressure. Pain. Loosed bounds.
Open air. Joy. It is a rising, quick and breathless.
It is grounded to the earth. Perhaps it is a word
we cannot say. Our lungs ought to be trumpets.
Instead we cram its meaning into too small a box.
It lacks capacity, much like our hearts.
And so, “love” suffices. (Can you hear the
wordless word, thrumming in my veins,
bounding, banging, bursting, breaking?
It will deafen me yet, I fear.)

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What do you do when you feel overwhelmed? It’s not just all in your head. Your experience is valid. Even if no one else shows up to support you, remember to show up for yourself.

Walk out of the room where negative notions gripped you. Keep walking until you find the room you’ve designated as Home Base. A grace-place where all is well, no matter what else is going on in the world. 

Search online for deep breathing techniques and calming music videos.

Watch a live stream from a cat cafe.

Breathe in through the nose. Out through the mouth. 

Remind yourself: You’re here, not there.

Be here, where that virtual cliff’s edge isn’t. Be where the worst that could happen, hasn’t.

Be in this breath. This breath is blessed.

Do something symbolic, like stretching toward the sky, reaching for the clouds. Light a candle. Watch old sitcoms. Go to Mayberry, or even Petticoat Junction. Everything’s okay there.

Talk to your own mind. Stay here. Don’t go down that dark alley that doesn’t really exist yet. In the peaceful place of yes, you may find the antidote to that no. Shelter in place until the looming doom passes. Keep the faith: The sun will rise again.

Sometimes I look in the mirror and wonder just whom I’m looking at. The face, the body…none of it seems familiar to me. I don’t just mean the wrinkles that cross the bridge of my nose or drag down the corners of my mouth. It’s more than that. I find myself looking for recognizable signposts: the purple mark above my right knee, the scars from a childhood double-whammy of chicken pox and rubella. Getting older is scary. Good thing we don’t have to do it alone.

The hands I know, but they are my mother’s;
the square face an artifact from Germany, I think.
My hair — impossible curls after a lifetime
of lying listlessly but reliably straight.
I cannot find myself in my own face,
though I search for traces like a dog
sniffing clues. Who is this strange woman
haunting my mirror like a cautionary tale?
I have not chanted “Bloody Mary,” yet here
she is, her visage a map of days, of years.
Where was I during this time? Asleep?
But Sleeping Beauty never aged like this.
Or perhaps I was inside, cleaning house.
I hope I was. One day, my soul will rise
to meet me, as familiar as the ache
in my ankle when weather turns cold.
She will lead the stranger home.
And I will know myself at last.

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.

This is one of my favorite prayers. Okay, technically, it isn’t a prayer.  It was written in The Revelations of Divine Love by Julian of Norwich.  But I use it as a prayer.

For those you who don’t know of Julian of Norwich, she lived approximately from 1342 to 1416.  She was a spiritual counselor, a woman who set herself off from the world and lived at St. Julian’s Church in Norwich.  Thus the name by which we know her.  That’s right.  This isn’t even her real name.

Does that mean we should pity her as a woman whose identity has been taken from her?  I don’t think so but not because that isn’t an issue.  It is but in this case I suspect it is what she wanted.  She was an educated woman who wrote the oldest surviving Western book to be written by a woman.  She has a clue.

In The Revelations of Divine Love, she writes about her visions of Christ.  In one vision, she was bemoaning the fact that sin had to exist.  Wouldn’t everything be better if there was no sin? But Christ answered her in her vision, “It was necessary that there should be sin; but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

How often in prayer do we spend our time looking back, gazing on past sin and suffering?  Oh, God.  Why did this have to happen?

It did happen.  But there is God and where there is God there is hope.

“But all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

The world is not a perfect place and yet we have grace.

“But all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

We are flawed but we are God’s.

“But all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

–SueBE

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.

Even though I’m a bit psychic myself (skeptical? I predicted that!) I wasn’t planning to get a psychic reading that day, but went along with my friend as she got hers. When she was done, she declared the psychic to be 100% accurate.

“100%? Come on,” I said.

“Try it!” she said.

So I did.

We were visiting the town of New Hope, Pennsylvania, for all its wonderful little shops. Antique tchotchkes, lovely little cafes. It was a haven for motorcyclists and mind readers. Big, bulky tough guys with tattoos right beside psychics who were giving readings for $10 a pop. I haven’t been there for over twenty years, but still remember our visit.

The psychic had predicted I’d have one son and I did.  Also, that my son would have a soul similar to my father’s. Well, both were Libras. I can’t remember anything else she said that was earth-shattering, but my friend had been promised she’d be rich beyond her wildest dreams, marry Mr. Right and live happily ever after. How did that work out? Well, not as planned. In fact, quite the opposite. She wondered: is it possible to sue a psychic for malpractice?

Maybe all we really want to hear about the future is that it will be better than today. That sounds entirely possible, and with some effort and a prayer for good measure, could become a self-fulfilling prophecy. I predict clear skies (sometimes), green lights on the road (here and there) and free will (all the time.)

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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