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My friend Krissy over at Visionarie Kindness Chronicles posted a poem today about her discovery of poetry and how it seeped into her being, helping her make sense of her life. It’s terrific. My origin story is more predictable: My mother read me poetry from the time I was a baby. I remember her reading “The Highwayman” — “the moon was a ghostly galleon/tossed upon cloudy seas/and the highwayman came riding” — and stopping to say, “Do you hear the horse’s hoofbeats?” She tapped out the rhythm of the poem and I HEARD IT. Nothing was the same after that.

I was in bed when poetry first found me,
pierced my heart ear-first, an elf, a thief,
a waif who having found warm welcome
would never leave me. I started hearing it
everywhere, whispering words I kept
hidden in the trunk of a tree, in a shoebox
with my paper dolls, behind the geraniums,
velvet-leafed, that flanked the house I
fledged in. They grew, took root,
cross-pollinated with prayer until
there wasn’t anyone else I could ever be,
so bound was poetry with my blood.
I wept alliteration, sighed in spondees.
I was a Phantom of Delight; I was
alone and palely loitering. I was
The Lady of Shalott in “My heart
belongs to Daddy” pajamas.
Heroes get powers. I got a pen.
But I learned how to fly with it anyway.
Now only God can see me coming.

With all the church abuse scandals in the news recently, New Jersey’s attorney general has opened an investigation into child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church in our state. “We owe it to the people of New Jersey to find out whether the same thing happened here,” said Gurbir Grewal.

Where have I seen that name recently? Oh yeah. Hosts of a radio show had courted controversy by referring to the attorney general as “Turban Man.” Grewal responded with aplomb, thanking the governor for his support during the episode, noting, “Others have faced far worse. We rise above this.  Now let’s get back to business.”

Maybe pain is training. Compassion calibration. A way to learn from the inside of the “ouch” what it feels like so that, when your turn comes to give someone else a break, you’ll stand up.

I remember a Sikh boy from grade school. It wasn’t always easy for him, as you might imagine, even though his wearing a turban was harming no one.

Childhood itself shouldn’t be a high-risk proposition, but really, where can kids be safe anymore?

School? Yes but. School shootings.

Church? Yes but. Pedophile priests.

Home? Yes but. Kids are more like property than people in society today. They have no say most of the time. Just what parents decide is best for them.

Change can only come from the inside. Of the school. Of the church. Of the person. Until there’s a change inside the human heart, the chain of pain will continue.

It irks me not to be able to wrap up neatly with an answer to this problem. Yes but. All I can change is myself. All you can change is yourself. So we’ll do our best today. Assume the best in others. Let them rise to our high expectations. Maybe it will be the start a new chain – of love.

I still have a little jewelry box I received at age nine, during a brief stay in the hospital. In it are the small, precious keepsakes of my childhood: a pink rubber cat I got at the dentist’s office, various toys from cereal boxes, incense (it was the ‘70s), a soap shaped like a rose, the Snow White and Seven Dwarves figures from my tenth birthday cake, and a pile of paint sample cards I must have picked up when my parents were painting our new house in Placentia. (It is fortunate that they did not allow me to choose the paint colors, as my tastes seemed to run toward shades with names like “Sun Glo” and “Ultra Purple.”)

What we choose to keep from our growing-up years — and what we discard — interests me greatly. In many ways, our spirituality is built in the same way. Spirituality takes root in the earth of our childhoods, in what we are taught about God and about ourselves. Do we feel loved? Then we can imagine a God who loves us, too. Do we feel safe? This, too, colors our perceptions.

Some of us grow up to reject the precepts of our childhoods. This, it seems to me, has less to do with the reality of God than it has to do with how we were treated by those around us. The most vehement atheists often have childhood traumas attached to faith and religion. (Or they grew up in England, which, with its centuries-old history of religious turmoil, could turn off the hardiest of souls.)

Which moral values and religious teachings you keep, and which you throw away, ultimately comprise your spirituality. Some things I’ve thrown out over the years: The idea of an angry, vengeful God; a God who thinks of women as “lesser” or “unworthy”; a God who only loves and saves a special, select group of believers, to the detriment of everyone not privileged enough to grow up Christian. My God has gotten bigger over the years.

I want you to remember the God of your childhood. Who was God? How has your understanding of God changed? Because I hope it has changed, except in one regard: The joy God gave you, the dizzying sense of greatness and love. I feel terrible for anyone who never had those feelings. But you know, it’s not too late. With God, we can always become children again. There is very little to do but let go. Open your heart and let God in. Of all the things you hold on to or discard, God is the ultimate keeper.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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