Down from the door where it began.

“The Road goes ever on and on, down from the door where it began. Now far ahead the Road has gone, and I must follow if I can, pursuing it with eager feet, until it joins some larger way, where many paths and errands meet, and whither then? I cannot say.” – Bilbo Baggins, spoken upon his departure from Bag End at the beginning of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

“Here is your God, he comes with vindication, with divine recompense he comes to save you. A highway will be there, called the holy way; no one unclean may pass over it, nor fools go astray on it. ” – Isaiah 35:8

I grew up reading the “Lord of the Rings” and hanging out on porches filled with good friends, dwindling sunlight, musings on “what if’s” and wondering about where the next Road might lead me. I thought Hobbits should have been real folk, that I wished I knew them personally, and I was so excited to read “The Two Towers” that I actually sat down on the floor of our school library in a back corner on my “study hall” break to start reading it, and the librarian found me there over an hour later and scolded me for being late to my next class. True story.

Someplace along the way, and I don’t know when, my highways became a whole lot more by-ways and I started to forget about orcs and trolls and eagles and buried treasure. I overlooked Dwarves, Elves, Hobbits and things called Gollum. I think it was a bit of that sad Peter Pan-growing up bit that strikes all of us as we grow older. I read the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings books to my children over a decade ago (maybe two, which is kind of startling because that means they might have been a wee bit on the young side for it…) but over time, I only recalled the general movie-star plot line. Two weeks ago, I enrolled in a Lord of the Rings Catholic class on JR Tolkien – and it was there that I finally picked up the books and read again the trilogy – and stumbled across that verse  that I quoted above. It was like finding an old friend seated on a back porch rocking chair puffing away on Pipe Weed. asking if it was snack time for elevensies.  It reminded me of a time when I really thought Hobbits existed – and when in my youth I expected that real people of great virtue would travel the super highway of God and save us from sheer ruin before we imploded on our own imaginary, closely guarded castles of gold, silver, jewels and self-righteousness. To free us from our very own Smaug, trapped on an island of self-preservation with no road leading out of those snares of despair. I was looking for a hero, and the trilogy was full of heroes. In the real world – not so much.

So, to read those oh-so-familiar words of the very humble Bilbo again today, well, gee – my hardened heart was wax melted once again into the flame. We are called to be pilgrims on a long and sometimes arduous journey, friends. Better yet – we are called to be heroes. I am blessed that my journey down from the door where it all began was filled with faith, love, family and friends. I might have marveled to think about where the adventures of Bilbo and Frodo might take me, but I was never full of self-loathing, or hatred, or envy – or fear. My porches were full of dark nights with my dad waxing on about the stars over my head and lessons about the Milky Way, and encouraging me to think about galaxies bigger than I could imagine. My days were overflowing with family and cousins (and second cousins) eager to draw imaginary swords out of scabbards to fight ferocious dragons guarding jewels and breathing fire. We didn’t live to escape trials and tribulations; instead, we thrived on that. We couldn’t wait to face them.

Not so, today. Not so. Not all are so lucky to travel on the super highway to meet God. Times of loss, despair, desolation, distrust – all so damaging and very common today.  It grieves and pains my heart. Our Catholic Church in particular is in great need of a hero. A Savior. My feet are eager to lead the way, but the road is very long.

Then without another word, he turned away from the lights and voices in the fields and tents…he jumped over a low place in the hedge at the bottom and took to the meadows, passing into the night like a rustle of wind in the grass. 

May we all find our feet to carry us far when the way is hard and the dragons threaten to consume us. May we all find a little bit of Hobbit in our souls to drive us forward when the way is troubled. We are the stuff that makes heroes more than wishful thoughts in crumpled pages and faded ink. We just have to recall the door where it all began, and return there. And knock until it is opened.

Hope. Faith. Love. Perseverance. Endurance.

 

 

 

 

Weddings, wine and water

“On the third day, there was a marriage at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there; Jesus also was invited to the marriage, with his disciples. When the wine failed, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “O woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” – John 2:1-4

Jesus made the disciples get into a boat and precede him to the other side of the sea, while he dismissed the crowds. After doing so, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When it was evening, he was there alone. Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore, was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it. During the fourth watch of the night, he came toward them, walking on the sea. When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified. “It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear. At once Jesus spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter said to him in reply, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” – Matthew 14:22-29

A week ago, my husband and I were in the great state of Kansas, celebrating the beautiful marriage of our oldest son to his lovely bride. It was a wedding set in a quaint little Kansas church in the countryside. The weather was exquisite for Kansas this time of year – a bit cloudy (which kept the temperatures out of the 90s) and we were blessed to be part of their vows on such a special day. Family and friends gathered in. It was truly perfect.

The reading during their wedding of the marriage at Cana has “stuck” with me since then, though. Oddly enough, I found myself a few days later reading that passage above from Matthew, and I couldn’t help but ponder and set aside the two. Nearly a week later and after a whole lot of pondering, I think I know what spoke to my heart this past week as a mother of nearly 30 years and a newfound pilgrim on a journey that really only caught a spark of devotion centered on our Lord about three years ago.

I’ll try to explain, although as I have said in past posts, I don’t profess to be a scholar. These are just my reflections, and I hope they help someone.

John’s description of the marriage at Cana is so remarkable in that it puts Mary, the mother of God, at the forefront of the scene. It’s the only other time until Calvary that we will see Mary figure so predominantly in scripture. Most of the time, I have a mental picture of Mary hovering at the edges of Christ’s life. Participating, but not mentioned, in the life of his disciples in his public ministry whenever I read scripture. I am sure that she was there, though. I can’t imagine she would have left his side. Mary must have been there – lingering in the shadows, filling the corners of His life, always encouraging him and loving him to the fullest, but without need to be the center of attention. Always humble. Always keeping the focus on Christ.

As a mother, I totally get that. Your children grow and from their first toddling, uncertain steps when they fall gleefully into your arms, you see them progress to young men and women who begin to gently pull free of your grasp. You are the center of their world, and then you are teetering at the edge of the universe, wondering if they even see you clinging to the edge. It’s exhilarating to see them succeed, and it’s heartbreaking, too. I know I felt that pang in a mother’s heart last weekend – seeing the very last domino tumble between the age-old mother and son bond as my oldest recited his solemn vows to his new bride. Till death do us part. In good times and bad. What God has brought together, let no one put asunder. He only has eyes for his new bride, his new life. As it should be. But my mama heart sobbed just a little bit to see him go.

At Cana, however, I can take comfort in this glimpse we get to see about the fortitude of Mary, who is also a mother. She was invited to a wedding, and that meant that Jesus got to “come along” with his band of fledgling disciples, who at that point were more than a bit bewildered and not-so-very-sure-where-we-are-going-with-this. Mary’s perception of the situation at the feast is key. She doesn’t wait for the lamentations of “oh no, we’ve run out of wine.” She doesn’t second guess what needs to happen or Who she needs to turn to in order to fix the issue. She assesses, consults and acts: “Do whatever he tells you to do.”. The Type A gal in me absolutely LOVES this approach. Mary is my Go to girl. She launches Jesus into public ministry! The future looks bright!

That brings me to the second reading from Matthew that had me a bit tongue-tied and wrapped up in knots this week. Jesus, having withdrawn from public ministry to be alone, watches from the shore as the disciple’s boat is being tossed about on the sea. After the fourth watch (my brain is trying to figure out, is that several minutes? hours?) He finally ventures out toward the boat. No mom on the shore, urging Christ to go to them. He watches. Then he goes. It would seem to me on the face of it that Christ hangs back a wee bit longer than he should have. And then, when He does finally act, the reaction of Peter is odd: He sees Christ walking on water, but yet demands that Christ “command him” to walk to him.

Only if Christ commands it, will water be turned into wine for the wedding guests.

Only if Christ commands it, will water be turned into a smooth pathway for Peter.

In both instances, it feels like Christ hesitates to act. Mary implores him in the first verse. Peter implores him in the second.

I found myself imploring him this week: what gives?

I feel like I have been the one trapped in that moment of indecision between both verses for several days, trying to reconcile the two in my mind. Or more importantly, trying to grasp what the good Lord wants to show me in this suspended moment.

Today, sitting in meditation for a long time, I think that I finally begin to see it. While I would be the one to want to choose one outcome over the other, the two scriptures are actually a perfectly balanced lesson about the demands placed on us in this earthly life.

Sometimes, we are commanded to “Do Whatever He Tells You.” And sometimes, we need to ask Him to “Command Me to Come to You.” In either case, the indecision I see isn’t on the part of Christ. It’s ME.

When I see the situation desperately crying out for His intercession, do I ask Him to act? Or do I think that he must see it for himself and so instead I wait on the sidelines, presuming He will take care of it without any need of me vocalizing my request for His help?

When I am the one being tossed about in the waves on the fourth watch, more than a bit weary of being overcome by the ocean and gasping for air, wondering when the heck is He going to show up and rescue me, do I ever think to stop and ask – or even Command – that he come to assist me? Or do I just assume that he will show up?

Ask, and ye shall receive. Knock, and the door will be opened to you.

But you have to raise your hand and knock on that door, friends.

My deepening friendship with Christ this last year has been wonderful, and fruitful. But I can’t take it for granted. Even the very best of friends reach a point where they know when to reach out and honestly let the other one know that they need help. It’s not an admission of weakness. It’s an admission that we are human. That we must leave ourselves open and vulnerable in the body of Christ.  On bended knee, we must ask Him to come to our assistance. To change water into wine. To beckon to us to cross the angry sea. To walk on water.

What are you asking for?

What do you need?

Lord, make haste to help me. Assist me in every need.

 

 

 

 

Golden Calves and the real McCoy

“And the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, for your people, whom you brought out of Egypt, have corrupted themselves; they have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them; they have made for themselves a molten calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, “These are your Gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” (Exodus 32:7-9)

“The Sherman McCoy of the McCoy family and Yale and Park Avenue and Wall Street is dead. Your self—I don’t know how to explain it, but if, God forbid, anything like this ever happens to you, you’ll know what I mean. Your self…is other people, all the people you’re tied to, and it’s only a thread.” (“The Bonfire of the Vanities” by Tom Wolfe)

The first big, grown-up book I ever read was “The Bonfire of the Vanities” in 1987 and the real-to-life-yet-too-hard-to-crunch trials and tribulations of one haphazard, misguided, egocentric Sherman McCoy. A self-professed “Master of the Universe” with millions in dealings on Wall Street in New York, highly successful one minute, and then brought down lower than low over an unfortunate turn of events, it was Sherman who taught me all about what it is to be so full of yourself and worshiping false Gods that even Moses himself would have been left shaking his head and wagging his finger at you.

Ah, Sherman McCoy.

So it was with a tender tear of sadness that I saw a tiny news blip go by my Facebook news feed last week that author Tom Wolfe had passed away. In today’s hurried times, among more popular authors and self-help books and instant news, Tom Wolfe was largely forgotten. Anthony Bourdain, Kate Spade, the latest Trump news and strained relations with North Korea…Sherman McCoy was forgotten, too. Tom Wolfe was rather eccentric. I wonder if in the end he maintained his flamboyant, socks-don’t match-don’t care attitude. I hope so. I visualized Sherman McCoy would at last go to rest in peace now with the fellow that had brought him to life in such a wonderful bit of over-the-top introspective and scenery that had challenged my thinking, delighted my senses and had me guffawing at how much Wolfe seemed to really understand True Man. Flawed and self-centered and kind of stupid, assuming that if only he thought he could fix something, it could be fixed. Time, money, prestige – surely it could be remedied. Lessons that I think that I had forgotten, until I saw that post last week that Wolfe had died, and I realized, I hadn’t ever really forgotten the real McCoy.

The people of Israel, waiting for Moses to come down from the mountain, we are told, were a stiff-necked people. They were wanton to wander around, looking for instant entertainment, and evidently had enough time on their hands to melt down gold (Gold!) into the shape of calves, just to have something to talk about. Props for a weekend dance, I guess.

Likewise, Sherman McCoy, Master of the Universe of Wall Street, wasn’t so different. Bored with his success, searching for some sort of excitement beyond his marriage and his day job, he concocted his own Golden Calf of sorts, as Wolfe comments:

“There it was, the Rome, the Paris, the London of the twentieth century, the city of ambition, the dense magnetic rock, the irresistible destination of all those who insist on being where things are happening—and he was among the victors! He lived on Park Avenue, the street of dreams! He worked on Wall Street, fifty floors up, for the legendary Pierce & Pierce, overlooking the world! He was at the wheel of a $48,000 roadster with one of the most beautiful women in New York—no Comp. Lit. scholar, perhaps, but gorgeous—beside him! A frisky young animal! He was of that breed whose natural destiny it was…to have what they wanted!

A frisky young animal! Golden calf that he imagined that he was, Sherman’s ultimate search for happiness outside of himself was his downfall, and everyone around him tended to drift away when fame and money and fortune left him broken on the streets of life.

And so it went, too, with the people of Israel. Faced with the statue of the golden calf, it’s pretty difficult to stuff that statue in a closet when Moses is coming down off the mountain. To pretend there’s really nothing to see. Nothing going on here. Kind of foolish, isn’t it?

Faced with an impossible situation, and incriminating evidence. Sherman McCoy faces the same dilemma. As much as he longs to say, “there’s nothing to see here,” it’s there. Guilty.

We can all see it.

I won’t defend Sherman in the closing chapters of the Bonfire. It’s a book of greed, lust, materialism and self-loathing, and self-serving interests and racism and in the stuff that greets us in today’s times, the Bonfire of the Vanities would probably be held up and twisted against the light and scrutinized against a multitude of rebuttals.

I get that. Wolfe’s bonfire was probably just the spark of the flame that we have witnessed in our news today. Most people know Wolfe for writing “The Right Stuff” about the astronauts in space. Popular movie. Happy ending.

But make no mistake, the real McCoy is no astronaut. Not even a hero. Nor does Wolfe want him to be. He still stands before you, next to the Israelites. Do you worship the golden calf? Or the God that created you?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Through a glass, darkly.

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. – 1 Cor 13:12

“I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then” – Alice, in “Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass”

When my husband and I were married in 1984, we won a honeymoon trip to New York City. It was the first time that I had ever really been away from home “on my own,” even though my new husband was right there by my side as we trundled through Times Square (a free room at the famous Algonquin Hotel, although honestly, the room was about the size of a walk-in closet, and that’s being generous…). This evening, I was looking through our scant collection of honeymoon photos from that New York City trip. My hubby had an old fashioned box camera he had inherited from his parents, and although it was a bit on the antique side of things, we couldn’t really afford a 35mm camera and film was very expensive to buy. And it was so pricey just to process the roll of film, too! Usually you were lucky if the photos were somewhat usable, and every now and then, you got a few good photos where people didn’t have their eyes closed, or the dreadful “red eye,” or all scrunchy-faced and squinty-eyed peering into the afternoon sun. The box camera seemed a bit exotic, but it generally produced pretty good pictures – better than the Kodak instamatic you could fit in your pocket. So that’s what went into our suitcase when these two young love birds headed off to NYC on a hot, muggy August afternoon.

I was looking through the dozen or so honeymoon photos this evening after coming across the bright floral album in a closet, and I was surprised (although I shouldn’t be) at how much those old photos were beginning to fade away. The colors that I remember amid the cacophony of noise that defines NYC – the dress district with its yards of fabric being carried down the street in large rolls on the shoulders of hefty, stout young men, the grainy grays of rain and debris splattered in the streets and the early morning window shades rolled up with ribbons in those cute corner coffee shops, the neon signs of the electric light show blaring on billboards around Times Square, the white and grey spirals topping out the heavens above the Empire State Building against a puffy cloud blue sky…all of those photos look sort of muted and washed away and quiet, now. Like waves that have beaten away at the seashore sand for a few too many days. The edges of the photos are smudged and a little bit curvy, and they’ve taken on a watercolor sort of sheen inside that plastic photo sleeve. Not at all what I remember after nearly 34 years of marriage.

The young girl in the photo standing with the City-scape behind her still looks like me. She looks a little bit caught off-guard all the time, with sort of a half-uncertain, half-hopeful, wonder-full how did I get all the way here to the Big Apple kind of gaze into the camera. But you can still see that she is a happy, newlywed bride. I look at that photo, and I think about Alice in Wonderland – a favorite book from my youth, and that quote above: I know who I was … but I think I’ve changed several times since then. 

What a wonderful reflection we have on that very sentiment set side by side in the reading from First Corinthians. Every time I read that particular verse as a teenager, I would always think of Alice and her “through the looking glass” experience. But in the world of Lewis Carroll, the colors she experienced were crisp and clean, and the language was loud and kind of raunchy. The looking glass that Paul describes here is dark and dim and eerily void of speech – nothing you could ever imagine that you could pass through to the other side easily. Nothing that – even once polished – would reveal what truly lies on the other side.

In my youth, I have to admit that this scripture verse from Corinthians always brought me up short. My immaturity in my faith, and my general lack of knowledge of the world led me to think that we’re left trying to peer through a dark glass in vain, straining to see what’s on the other side. The control expert in me wanted to clear the glass, improve the view, and move along.

All of these years, later, however, I can see just how flawed that thinking really is.

The Alice we’re presented with in Carroll’s fantasy land was all about adventure and experiencing a topsy-turvy, usually backwards sort of place. Exciting! Exhilarating! But exhausting, too, isn’t it, for most of us? At one point in her adventures, and a bit exasperated, Alice asks the Cheshire Cat where she should go and he replies:

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.”

Indeed.

Being presented with a path forward that seems a bit cloudy, faded and smudged around the edges isn’t always a dead end, it’s a blessing, friends. When we aren’t clear which way to go, we ask for help. From God. From family. From friends. When we are a bit unsure of our footing, we tread a little more slowly to find our way up that slippery slope of uncertainty.

Slow can be good when you are the kind of person who would rather end up “somewhere” than admit you’re comfortable standing still for a little bit.

I have been grasping for just that kind of a strong foothold in quite a bit of spiritual searching these last few months. I am exasperated. Some days I think I have found it, and other days, I realize – or maybe I second-guess myself – about exactly “where” I am. Not knowing where you are and not having a good road map to leave there is really disconcerting for someone who likes to be going somewhere with great purpose.

It’s tempting to be Alice in the Red Queen’s race in Wonderland, and run twice as fast but yet find that I remain in the same place. How often do we all find ourselves doing that, and calling it “progress?”

Instead, I could just sit quietly on this side of a dark glass, and wait for the good Lord to tell me what comes next for my part of the story. I have to admit, I am nervous that I won’t ever get to know how it ends until I really do pass through that mirror, and He reveals it to me. Did I succeed? Did I fail? Did I miss a sign-post along the way that I should have recognized? What did it say?

Psalm 37:7 exhorts us to be still and wait patiently for Him. I keep stumbling across that verse over and over these days in various ways. I know that’s the sign-post along my pathway, whether I agree with it or not. I know who I was, but I don’t know who I am yet to be. He tells me to be patient and take a lesson in waiting. So I’m waiting.

“And how many hours a day did you do lessons?’ said Alice, in a hurry to change the subject.
“Ten hours the first day,” said the Mock Turtle: “nine the next, and so on.”
“What a curious plan!’ exclaimed Alice.
“That’s the reason they’re called lessons,’ the Gryphon remarked: ‘”Because they lessen from day to day.” 

I certainly hope so.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I choose everything.

One day Léonie, thinking no doubt that she was too big to play with dolls, brought us a basket filled with clothes, pretty pieces of stuff, and other trifles on which her doll was laid: “Here, dears,” she said, “choose whatever you like.” Céline looked at it, and took a woollen ball. After thinking about it for a minute, I put out my hand saying: “I choose everything,” and I carried off both doll and basket without more ado.

This childish incident was a forecast, so to speak, of my whole life. Later on, when the way of perfection was opened out before me, I realised that in order to become a Saint one must suffer much, always seek the most perfect path, and forget oneself. I also understood that there are many degrees of holiness, that each soul is free to respond to the calls of Our Lord, to do much or little for His Love—in a word, to choose amongst the sacrifices He asks. And then also, as in the days of my childhood, I cried out: “My God, I choose everything, I will not be a Saint by halves, I am not afraid of suffering for Thee, I only fear one thing, and that is to do my own will. Accept the offering of my will, for I choose all that Thou willest.”   – St. Therese of Lisieux, “The Story of a Soul”

Ah, St. Therese.

This entry is an ode to my patron saint (her special day is Oct. 1, my birthday) and that lovely, spunky little girl who stole our hearts with her Little Way of loving God in such a big way that only became known to the world in “The Story of a Soul” when it was published after her passing at an early age. I’ve thought about Therese a lot during Lent (and it’s early, so, you know that she has to be letting down a ‘shower of roses from heaven’ as she promised to do, if I’m writing about her with such gusto and gumption and conviction on a Saturday evening…)

“The Story of a Soul” is really her love letter to God (and Jesus Christ, his son) and a forthright admission of asking One who is so great to humbly reach down and scoop up the very smallest, insignificant person that she believes she is, and lift her up onto His lap. She asks, because she can’t imagine that He could refuse. She asks, because it never occurs to her that He would say No. So simple and childlike. That’s my Therese. That’s why I love her so much, and I adore her writing. I am always so very touched when I read her simple yet heartfelt words in her story (which she really didn’t even want to write, but was urged by her sister and the prioress to do so and reluctantly complied – again, therein lies such a lesson in humility…).

The excerpt above from “The Story of a Soul” is my favorite. I can just imagine a tiny Therese, peering with great anticipation into Celine’s basket, and seeing that it’s been extended to her for the taking – she takes it. She chooses all.

On the surface – and the first time I read it – I found this passage to be merely delightful and amusing. Given a tidbit, she grabs the feast. Given an inch (in today’s modern terms), she takes a mile.

But that second paragraph has grabbed a hold of my heart now as I have matured in my faith journey. Now, I’m paying attention to her next steps:

“My God, I choose everything, I will not be a Saint by halves, I am not afraid of suffering for Thee, I only fear one thing, and that is to do my own will. Accept the offering of my will, for I choose all that Thou willest.” 

If she was playing poker, Therese just went “all in.” There will be no half-baked, half-hearted, too-hard-wanna-turn-back-now attitude from this one. Heels dug in. Game face on. She’s committed.

Wow.

How often do we say out loud that we are all about choosing a life in Christ – a life lived for God – until the way grows thorny and rocky, and our feet begin to stumble? We so often find ourselves in the wilderness, wandering around and grumbling when God has sent us manna, but we desire flesh pots – even when that meant salivating over meat and spices as slaves. We tend to overlook that finer detail when our will begins to fail us.

Not so with Therese. Not so.

I was listening to a Catholic podcast today and heard for the first time that in the final few months of her life, St. Therese had been wheeled out on her sick bed into the gardens at Carmel to soak up the peace and sunshine, and while reclining there, she overheard two of the sister nuns in a nearby garden out of sight talking about the fact that, when Therese passed away, the nuns would need to supply a circular to other monasteries, abbeys and so forth about her death. Part of that circular would require the nuns there to write up a few paragraphs about her life.

“…and what on earth shall we say?” one sister says to the other. 

I literally stopped in my tracks when I heard that. What would they SAY? My love for this little saint puffed up my chest and threw open my indignation in a heartbeat! How could they not see the love and devotion of the smallest one there among them? How could they not recognize that she had pined at a very early age to enter Carmel and everything she went through to get there? How could they not see how long she suffered everything! Everything! She chose it all! Suffering, and solitude, and set backs. I wished I was half the saint that she was, and yet I knew Therese had already said she would never settle for halfway.

And in response…here was the quiet answer in my Little Way devotional prayer book this evening. It brought tears to my eyes to read her own words as she sent me the answer to my outrage in her oh-so-humble voice:

“To be little is to recognize one’s nothingness, to expect everything from God as a little child expects everything of its father.”

The true story of this little soul – of my beloved, sweet child Therese – is that the one who chose all, really chose nothing in the end. And by choosing nothing, she obtained everything.

I will not be a Saint by halves. 

Embrace everything, friends. Expect nothing.

 

 

 

 

 

Casting Off

On that day, as evening drew on, Jesus said to his disciples: “Let us cross to the other side.” Leaving the crowd, they took Jesus with them in the boat just as he was. – Mark 4:35

Jesus and his disciples came to the other side of the sea, to the territory of Gerasenes. – Mark 5:1 

When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a large crowd gathered around him, and he stayed close to the sea. – Mark 5:21

“Wynken, Blynken and Nod one night/ Sailed off in a wooden shoe, 
Sailed on a river of crystal light/Into a sea of dew
Where are you going and what do you wish/The old man asked the three
We’ve come to fish/For the herring fish/That swim in the beautiful sea
Nets of silver and gold have we/Said Wynken, Blynken and Nod” – Eugene Field

I am not a big fan of water. Just ask my family. My mom insisted I take swimming lessons as a child – so I did (I hated it.) I would much rather be the one on shore, taking photos of the family out on water skis, or getting the picnic lunch ready while everyone else is doing the inner tube/swimming/water jet ski kind of thing. My dad owned a speed boat, and we used to go out on the lake a few times a year. I got in the boat, but I was never really happy about it. I finally took my very first cruise in the Greek Islands a few years ago, and I was just sure that I would be seasick and miserable.

But you know what? That cruise turned out just fine.

Why would I be talking about things of the sea in this post and my weird water phobia? Probably because it’s been over two months since my last blog. And that was a pretty spectacular post, full of love of God and things-not-usually-seen-in-this-world kinds of experiences. I was completely overwhelmed after I wrote that.

Bottom line: It’s really hard to go back in the water sometimes after a great big, awesome thing happens to you – and then nothing else happens. Life goes on. Thanksgiving dinner happens, and there is a turkey and mashed potatoes. Christmas happens, and that’s nice and the family gathers round. And then there is New Year’s Eve, and you promise yourself that THIS MONTH you will get back to writing on your blog. Resolution! Fortitude! Stamina!

And finally, by the grace of God, here I am, today, writing at last about Jesus, a boat, and an odd little insight that just came to me about a trio of children from an old nursery rhyme that made me cry when I read it again.

It’s funny how God speaks to your heart sometimes in the tiniest, quietest little ways, isn’t it? As if He knew that if he delivered some great big over-the-top message to us with thunderbolts and lightning, we’d cower and cover our heads instead of standing up and looking at it like it was the Miracle of the Sun at Fatima. This blog post tonight first started seeping into my leaky little fishing boat several days ago, through the verses from Mark that I listed above, which made up the scripture readings this week. I realize that most people would take away the story of the violent squall and Jesus with his calming of the wind and sea, or the man possessed by demons among the caves and rocks when Jesus drives out the evil spirits into the swine and hurtles them into the sea, or the woman with the hemorrhages who is healed at the touch of his cloak, or the daughter of Jairus who he miraculously brings back to life…all wonderful. All worthy. My boat, in contrast, was taking on a lot of water this week.

Instead of the miracles, I saw only the sea, and a very tiny boat, casting off. First this side, and then that side. People pressing all around Jesus. Anxious for healing. For him to drive out demons, for him to heal their sick children, for resurrection, for the Divine Physician to stop the flow of blood that seemed to be everywhere, everywhere, everywhere… For words of wisdom. For revelation of things to come. For a prophet, a savior, a king.

“…they took Jesus in the boat, just as he was…”

“…and he stayed close to the sea…”

Those are the words that kept whispering to my heart this week. I thought not of the great things he did, but how Jesus must have been very tired in that boat, waiting to cross from shore to shore. I thought about how that must have felt, to be crossing the water with only a few of his friends – those who would later fall asleep in the garden instead of keeping watch, and those who would flee before he picked up his cross to carry it to Calvary for us. I could only imagine what it felt like to be in that boat, casting off again and again. To see demons awaiting him on one shore. To see anxious, hungry-to-be fed masses on another shore. To witness the poor, the sad, the sick, the broken. I thought to myself that the heart of Jesus must have wept at every gosh awful moment of our humanity, because he could feel it. He could feel us. It truly broke my own heart this week, as I began to hear the waves lapping at the seashore, calling to me very urgently to return to Sparks Through Stubble, my own little “sea of emotion” – and I didn’t know why I should bother.

I have sat in this tiny little leaky boat of mine for over two months now, trying to convince myself to cast off. To leave the shore for the other side again.

And then, out of the blue this evening, I thought about the gospel of Mark readings again, and I thought about that boat of mine, sitting in stagnant water now, and somehow God graced me with a memory of this wonderful little children’s board book that I used to have about Wynken, Blynken and Nod. My grandmother gave it to me for my birthday, and she loved reading it to me. I have a vivid memory of being tucked up into her generous lap in her rocking chair as she read it out loud to me. I always thought as a child that it was a kind of curious story – boys sailing on a wooden shoe? Talking to the Old Man of the Sea? Hmmm.

Oh, but what a wonderful song that can be, friends, when your soul is kind of tired and sad, and you aren’t sure your little boat will ever float again. It really is a lullaby of the Lord. Crystal rivers. Heavenly dew. Nets of silver and gold. Stars and twinklin’ foam. Rocking along in the safety of a misty sea. It could have been a Psalm.

And here’s what finally hit home with me this evening as I read that children’s book after years and years. At the end of the story, the wooden shoe is the one bringing the tired and exhausted “fisherman three” home. And I realized for the first time, Christ isn’t in the boat I’ve been envisioning all week. He IS the boat. He’s the one who’s been patiently waiting for me along the shore. He’s been staying close to the shore, waiting for weeks and weeks for me to get back in the boat. I see the masses huddled on the other side, and they look pretty demanding and oppressive and needy. He sees only an opportunity to sail forth and proclaim the greatness of the Lord on the opposite shore.

“Let’s go,” he says to me, “Just as I am. Just as you are.”

He is the One True Fisherman, skilled at casting the net, guiding the boat, calming the angry wind and sea. If I set sail in his tiny wooden boat, he assures me that I won’t be tossed about. I can safely navigate to the other side…and tackle whatever waits for me there.

So, no more delays, and stalling, and wishing for a bigger boat. I’m casting off again this evening.

See you on the opposite shore.

 

 

 

 

 

In the Cleft of the Rock

And the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand upon the rock and while my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft of the rock and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by, and then I will take away my hand and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen. ” – Exodus 33:21-23

Sometimes, in my morning scripture reading and meditation, I really do feel like I get a rare glimpse of God. He is never big and lofty like I often think of Him – especially in the Old Testament – but always the kind, gentle Father, bending down on one knee, beckoning to me as His child to come just a little bit closer.

Honestly, I am still working on convincing my feet to take even baby steps toward Him, but, I find as I work on my relationship daily with Him now, it seems to be getting easier.  The following is my feeble “writing attempt” to describe a really lovely vision yesterday morning –  a handful of child-like images and intriguing thoughts that were difficult for me to scratch down in my journal. After reflecting on that vision again today,  I decided it was something that I wanted to try and weave back together so I could capture it before it faded away…like so many lovely things do, right? No matter how much we yearn to hold them in the palm of our hand. Or maybe later on, we think it was simply a dream, and it becomes far too easy to not dwell upon it as the vision slips away and falls into the man-made realm of rational, practical thoughts and whatever seems to be more important than God at that moment. Maybe a natural part of aging is that I long more now to dwell in the spiritual realm, not this earthly one. No doubt that is God’s way of beginning to prepare us for the journey back to our true Home some day.

Anyway, I hope what I wrote below strikes a chord with any of you who might be seeking the same gracious, loving Father that I encountered. He is with us always, friends. May your life be richly blessed.

In the Cleft of the Rock

 

She told him in their early morning conversation that His presence right now simply overwhelmed her. That when He stood so close to her, it made her feel like she was standing on the edge of a very tall cliff in a barren desert with nowhere to turn. And that if He advanced, if He took one more step, she would step backwards and tumble over the edge, instead of flying like He thought that she could.

He asked her if it would be better if she was in a garden, with tall trees and fragrant flowers and a mossy green floor that would be gentle on her bare feet. Would she be more comfortable there with Him?

She answered no, because now that she had met Him, she already knew that He was taller than any tree in the garden, and against that magnificence and magnitude, she felt very small. Like a frightened rabbit in a forest, seeking out the nearest bush where she could hide.

He reminded her then that she should not be afraid of Him. Never, ever fear Him.

She thought about that for a moment, and the story of Moses and the Lord passing by came to mind. She asked Him, a bit timidly, if He thought she could stand in the cleft of the rock. She couldn’t bear to be right at His side (imagine that!), but, she could certainly watch His back pass by.

And just like that, she was there. Cool granite pressed up against her cheek. Grey stone towering over her head. Sky full of light brimming with purple haze, like dusk and dawn blended into one day, one moment. Dusty desert beneath her feet and air that seemed to be a pungent mix of incense, filtered through golden dust that was hanging low over the far horizon as she peered around the edge of the rock. It was difficult to breathe.

Swishing sounds in the distance now caused her to draw back. Gazing down at the ground in anticipation, holding her breath, the edge of satin robes trimmed in golden leaves loomed into view. Pearls spilling out across the desert floor, rubies tumbling across the pathway, rolling to a stop at her feet. The air was no longer still as He approached, but rather He seemed to carry the breeze without effort, unfurling it in the folds of His robe as He moved on quiet feet. The wind swirled the jewels into a firestorm of colors that leaped and danced across the pathway in front of Him, heralding His arrival. In the wake of His passing, the air changed too, from the heavy perfume of days gone by to a familiar, wafting aroma like that of baking cookies. It was the kind of wonderful smell that greets you when you open the oven door – warm and tantalizing as it wafts across your face. It made her want to reach out her hand and touch the last edge of that departing satin robe trailing by on the pathway, but at the last minute, she drew it back like a child, reluctantly, realizing that to reach into this fire, one might be burned.

Instead, her hand found a hollowed spot in the rock, worn smooth through thousands of years…thousands of battered, sorrowful hands before hers. She clasped the rock and watched the sky as the edges grew grainy and blurred. The wind seemed to sigh at His departure and settle into a soft, mournful hum of a lullaby, soothing the earth. She realized how perfectly that hollow cradled her hand in the silence falling around her, as if the rock shifted to embrace it and gift her palm with a silent, reassuring squeeze. To give her strength. To let her know that it was a day acceptable to the Lord, even if she was hidden safely from His view in the cleft of the rock, for now.

Bambi, Sirach & Merton

Several times (Bambi) meets with the old Prince who teaches him about snares, shows him how to free another animal from one, and encourages him not to use trails, to avoid the traps of men. When Bambi is later shot by a hunter, the Prince shows him how to walk in circles to confuse the man and his dogs until the bleeding stops, then takes him to a safe place to recover. They remain together until Bambi is strong enough to leave the safe haven again. When Bambi has grown gray and is “old”, the old Prince shows him that man is not all-powerful by showing him the dead body of a man who was shot and killed by another man. When Bambi confirms that he now understands that “He” is not all-powerful, and that there is “Another” over all creatures, the stag tells him that he has always loved him and calls him “my son” before leaving to die. (excerpt from Wikipedia on “Bambi, a Life in the Woods” by Felix Salten)

My son, if you come forward to serve the Lord, remain in justice and in fear, and prepare yourself for temptation. Set your heart right and be steadfast, incline your ear, and receive words of understanding. (Sirach 2: 1-2)

If the Lord has given me intelligence, it is because He wills me to see something of His intentions for me, in order that I may enter into His plans with a free and intelligent cooperation. And so I cannot merely shut my eyes and will “whatever He wills” without ever looking up to see what He is doing. (No Man is an Island, “Pure Intention”, by Thomas Merton)

I grew up spending my summers on a little farm in rural Kansas. We had one library on Main Street and it was a tiny little white-washed bit of a building that sat next to the Post Office, with books tumbling off dusty shelves that were more than a bit ragged around the edges. Some days, the bookmobile rumbled onto Main Street, bringing us summer-bored children newer books on loan for a week or two, but for the most part, we found ourselves tucked up against some dim and dingy light-splattering one-windowed library – pondering pressed hardwood shelves to peruse what we would like to read again while Mom was next door at the Post Office mailing packages – or two doors over at the local grocery store buying the necessities for dinner.

As an avid reader, I am pretty sure I read everything in that little library at least twice (maybe three times if it was a favorite) by the time I was a teenager. I read my age range and a little below and a whole lot of above my reading level. I would like to think that summers there actually made me a better reader and that I had a better understanding of what-the-world-needs-now – though I admit I checked out (twice!) Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” thinking it was supposed to be a masterpiece that I ought to read, but I never could get past the first quarter pages of the book. I later bought my own copy but I still haven’t finished it 40 years later. Retirement bucket list. Yawn. Maybe.

Libraries are candy stores for book nerds. Doesn’t matter how big or small or squished or musty-smelling or dog-eared the books are. When you love to read, it’s all in the noise for you. Our local library here is awesome, but, with so much else on my To Do list, I really spend very little time there these days. And of course, the advent of a Kindle and the explosion of on-line information and books you can read on the internet is exciting – but yet I feel kind of sad and yearn for those tiny little dust-bunny libraries, struggling across rural America to keep their doors open with fewer and fewer books and crabby librarians telling you to “shhh” if you start giggling with a girl friend over there in the Romance section on Aisle 3. Good memories.

I tell you all of that simply to preface the mystery of that blog post title:

One summer (I think I was 13), I arrived dutifully for my weekly trek to the library, and the librarian waved me over to her desk with a meaningful and excited glance.

“A patron donated this book,” she said, holding up “Bambi, a Life in the Woods” like it was the Holy Grail of book-dom (cue the music for the Circle of  Life in the Lion King…) “And I saved it back, because I know you really like to read, and it’s new, and I wondered if you knew about this book.”

New? Knew? It looked pretty tattered. Did I know about Bambi? Disney? Er…Thumper? I remember thinking it was a “Baby book” and, being kind of distracted, casting a meaningful glance toward a cardboard box of donations that sported some Harlequin Romance paperbacks with a Barbie-Ken kissing sketch on the front of the cover.

“Um, okay, I guess. I don’t really know.” I mumbled, wishing she would just go away so I could check out that box that some mom had just dropped off that had some promising teen-rated material bottled up inside.

With a great flourish,  she stamped the inside cover pocket of that book with a bright blue stamp on Line One and a two week due date – and handed it over to me with a wink as if she had just delivered the cup of life. And she encouraged me to read it.

A week later – post Harlequin romance books exhausted, I sat down and finally read “Bambi, a Life in the Woods.”

And it wasn’t about cute fawns and bubbly streams and grassy meadows with wildflowers and trumpeted songs and Thumper. It was gritty and dark and tragic and had a great sense of allegiance and confusion and loss and edge and a whole lot of-what-are-you-going-to-do. It was the first time I ever cried when I read a book to the end. It was the first time in my young life that I actually sat up and put a book down and asked myself, “What are you going to do?” That was the first time I recall thinking that there might be an unselfish, bigger than me need to “do something.”

Almost ten years later, newly Catholic, I would myself ask that same question. I would find Sirach in my squeaky clean, unmarked Catholic gifted bible, and have the same kind of reaction. Protestants don’t read Sirach – it’s not in their bible. So – it was the new book on the library shelf for me and I gobbled it up along with Wisdom and Maccabees. But again there would be that Bambi shadow to “do something.”

Sheltered from so many things that equate to “this saying is hard” for the disciples, I would ponder in my heart the next 20 plus years what Sirach had uttered. It said a lot. It would not be until more recent times that I would finally be disciplined enough to study the church Fathers and read about the author of Sirach – considered by many to be “the Book of Instruction”. As my Didache bible says in its preface:

“The themes in Sirach resonate well with the key ideas in the wisdom literature. It is good to seek wisdom, specifically divine wisdom,” (because) to fear the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom.”

And finally – I would read something just a few days ago in the works of Thomas Merton, where I find we two have a lot in common in a goose-bumpy kind of way  – with this prologue to “No Man is an Island” – I really found a soul mate. In nearly 40 years, Merton was the one soul that finally prompted my teen-addled memories to recollect once again the desperation and loneliness of a much different Bambi standing there in the glade alone at the end without the old Prince, and I couldn’t help but get teary-eyed and choked up again when I thought about that pitiful 13-year old me:

No matter how ruined man and his world may seem to be, and no matter how terrible man’s despair may become, as long as he continues to be a man, his very humanity continues to tell him that life has a meaning.

In the last few weeks, we have experienced so much pain and sorrow over hurricanes and floods and earthquakes and threats to national security and stress about what our future might hold – and death. Anxious to fix it, I ask, “What are you going to do?”

I was thinking of that and reading Sirach this evening, and in response, there was this from the Holy Spirit:

“Do not winnow with every wind, not follow every path; the double-tongued sinner does that. Be steadfast in your understanding, and let your speech be consistent. Be quick to hear, and be deliberate in answering.” (Sirach 5:9-11)

My soul flows like molasses most days. I am whiny and thick-skinned and mind-muddled from where I am and where I would like to be. But one of the last pages of Bambi has never left me: he is reflecting upon what he has seen, with fond memories of the places he has been and those who shaped his life, and the bright future he sees before him.  And reassured by that, he simply wanders off into the forest, peaceful and content.

He was called to something bigger, and he answered – but then he let go and he Let God.

May we all have that kind of harmony and sense of fulfillment that when we are called, we have courage to do what the good Lord calls us to do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chasing Ruth

Naomi said, “See now! Your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and her god. Go back after your sister-in-law!” But Ruth said, “Do not ask me to abandon or forsake you! For wherever you go, I will go, where you lodge, I will lodge, your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if even death parts me from you.” (Ruth 1:15-17)

Jesus said to the Twelve, “Will you also go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:66-69)

First, a confession. My husband and I had the above verse from Ruth as one of the readings we selected for our wedding in 1984, and I honestly had no idea what the book of Ruth was really about. Out of context, I suppose I had read the verse someplace (some bridal magazine, perhaps?) and I thought it was such a lovely verse for a wedding, and the entire till-death-do-us-part notion was certainly part of the vows. (Little did I realize that Ruth’s husband has died by the time we read this exchange between her and her mother-in-law, Naomi!).

It was my starting point. I was actually pretty ignorant in reading my bible back then. I don’t profess that I am an avid bible-reader today, but, it’s way better than it was over thirty years ago. For starters, instead of skipping over the Old Testament as I would have been likely to do before my conversion to Catholicism, today I have a deep appreciation for what we were given in the Old Testament that points to Christ in the New Testament. That has been a pleasant surprise. Instead of thinking the Old Testament is a group of nice stories of judges, kings and some really famous prophets, I now view it with a fresh perspective in reading. That means there are lots of opportunities for me for spiritual growth – and I have a long ways to go and a lot of catching up to do.  I look forward to that.

Ruth is one of my bible heroines, now, although her story is only four chapters long. Ruth is a foreigner (Ruth the Moabite) taking up her residence in Bethlehem with Naomi, but yet Ruth has the courage to stay with her, and furthermore, to take up the faith of the people of Israel and worship the one true God. It would have been much easier to go back to her people with her sister-in-law, Orpah.  I admire her for that.  She works hard to support Naomi by scavenging the grain that has been abandoned by the gatherers  in the fields. A hard worker! As the daughter of a wheat farmer, I respect that, too.

And this humble, grain-gathering woman is worthy to be listed in the genealogy of Jesus Christ (Matthew 1:5) because after her marriage to Boaz, she will become the mother to Obed, and eventually be great-grandmother to David the King. The future branch of the vine of Christ and later of the one Church. Her name isn’t exactly spotlighted in fireworks, is it? Until recently, I admit that I glossed over it. Like some nice person you meet at a social gathering but later can’t recall their name tag.

More importantly, though, what I learned from reading in my Didache Bible, is that the relationship of Ruth and Boaz is a fascinating foretelling of the coming of Christ and forming of his church. Intermarriage between Jews and non-believers was greatly discouraged in that time, but in the story of Ruth, we see God’s handiwork on display. Ruth is redeemed by Boaz and reconciled to her deceased husband’s people; similarly, Christ comes to us as our Redeemer to save us from our sins. Ruth is an early indication that ‘all peoples’ will be saved by Christ – both Jews and Gentiles – as Christ later commands when he says that the apostles must be willing to make disciples of all nations.

The story of Ruth is a familiar one to romantic movie fans, in the end. Young girl loses husband, finds a new husband, and enjoys a long, prosperous life. But the hidden message – the one that Ruth calls us to – is life spent laboring in scavenging the grain fields. Given a small heaping handful of grain, can we shape it into bread and share it selflessly with others who are hungry but May Not Be Like Us? Granted the knowledge that we might know at last the great-grandmother of a new Universe, a new Calling, can we humble ourselves to cast our prayers at the feet of a tiny,  young Virgin Mary – and trust that she will lift up our prayers without ceasing?

The Fiat of Ruth is the squeaky little spark of a YES that we will soon hear rebounding off the hills around Mary as she rushes to meet Elizabeth.

In giving it up to God to trust to take her far from her home, among a foreign land, among those who had great influence to crush her or to save her, Ruth never stumbles.

Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if even death parts me from you.

May our Lord lift us up and graciously fortify us when we struggle to hear the words of our ancestors.

 

 

Turning Aside

Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Mid’ian; and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush; and he looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. And Moses said, “I will turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt. When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here am I.”  (Exodus 3:1-4)

When I was in junior high school, I was traveling with another group to an event in Nebraska, and we decided to take a side trek to see the World’s Largest Ball of Twine in Cawker City, Kansas. (Yes, this is a real thing – you can see more on that here.) It was an amazing sight – it really is just a very large ball of twine wrapped around and around what is probably a very small pebble. Took the obligatory photo with my tiny Kodak film camera and moved on.

I thought about that jumbo ball of twine this morning, reading the scripture for today from the Old Testament in the fascinating, unfolding-better-than-reality-TV story of Moses, a basket baby who grew up to be a man commanded by God to go do great things and yet who by the time you get to Exodus 3:11, Moses has already gotten past the wondrous sight of the burning bush, been told to take off his shoes because he is standing on holy ground, and begins questioning why on earth God has called him of all people to go save God’s folks in Egypt. And then (THEN!) that plucky little guy has the guts to ask God his name, just in case anybody asks him.

But let’s go back to that burning bush scene for a minute.

And Moses said, “I will turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt. When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here am I.”

We often hear in the bible phrases about “Turn back to me” or “Turn away from sin” and of course that reminded me of the Byrds’ song about turn, turn, turn and a time to every purpose under heaven. But to turn aside? That’s a detour off the selected path and that tells me that Moses had someplace that he was supposed to be going (Horeb, the mountain of God) and he must have been a Type A like me because it would take a burning bush to get me to divert from the path instead of checking my sundial wristwatch and chugging right on up that mountain with my flock of sheep meandering (yes, actually sheep do like to meander, have you ever herded sheep?) along behind me.

Turning aside just seemed like a curious choice of words to me to use for a man that up until Verse 5 and his “Here am I” doesn’t even appear to have ever been called out by God in any particular way. So I used e-Sword* to look up those two little words, and here’s what it said for Exodus 3:3 and that pivotal moment in salvation history where God calls and Moses answers:

H5493
שׂוּר    סוּר
sûr    śûr
soor, soor
A primitive root; to turn off (literally or figuratively): – be [-head], bring, call back, decline, depart, eschew, get [you], go (aside), X grievous, lay away (by), leave undone, be past, pluck away, put (away, down), rebel, remove (to and fro), revolt, X be sour, take (away, off), turn (aside, away, in), withdraw, be without.
Total KJV occurrences: 301

Whew. And I thought the English language was uber-difficult when it came to translation into foreign languages. I guess there must have been a lot of things placed in context if you can go from turning things off to call backs to leaving things undone and straight on to rebellion and withdrawal and being without.

So. Back to Square One. I had to think about what that really meant to me, to “turn aside”. That’s what I did today. I meditated and tumbled around quite a bit in my heart about those two words. And of course, that trusty sidekick of mine, the Holy Spirit (who has been kinda quiet the last month, can you tell – I haven’t blogged for awhile…) kicked into high gear, and here is what I know now at the close of the day to be my truth – maybe your takeaway is different:

1. As I mentioned earlier, it would have taken the sight of a bush on fire to command my attention. A great sight to behold to make me glance sideways and say “hmm – perhaps I shall detour this-a-ways and see why that bush is on fire and yet not burning.” Or, maybe instead I will divert to go see a big ball of string. They aren’t really the same thing – one is lofty and important and one is just a cute Roadside America side trip and photo op. I can relate to that, though. God often has to do something really big and obviously over-the-top show-y for me to get my attention – I think I have asked Him a dozen times in the last year why we just can’t have another Miracle of the (Spinning) Sun like Fatima right now to get people to stop and look up and convert. That would be so useful for us Catholics. Or, another Guadalupe with falling roses and an emblazoned tilma. Massive conversions! National media coverage! Facebook postings! But no. The lesson here is to be small and little and humble and look for God in the little things. I was reading in the diary of Saint Faustina today and she talks in Notebook 1 about wishing to just be the simplest violet in a garden of beautiful flowers, low to the ground such that you have to bend way down just to see her and even lower to capture the scent of the flower. Praying for the burning bush moment instead of the tiniest whiff of the violet moment is not what I tend to do. Be the violet not the burning bush. (Sigh.)

2. Once God has my attention and I have actually stopped doing what I am doing long enough and (tapping my iPhone watch) asked Him a bit impatiently what He wants me to do, and then having clearly heard the answer, rolling my eyes a bit in exasperation because I’d really just like a free hall pass and get back to getting on with my day – also not appropriate. Serving others is hard. (See #1.)

3. This last one was elusive but it really is the icing on the Catholic cake for me. I don’t think I even recognized it until this evening after a day of a few trials and tribulations at work, and some thoughtful meditation as I was beginning to write this blog and return to the Old Testament readings to ponder Moses for quite awhile. There are two things that happen in Chapter 4 (spoiler alert!) – or, more distinctly, there are two gifts God sends Moses when Moses is beginning to think “uh-oh, I should have stayed on the road to Horeb and ignored that spectacular burning bush”. First, God gives Aaron to Moses, to help him speak the words that he needs to say to the people and Pharaoh when words fail him (a spiritual gift), and second, he gives him the rod that will in the end be the staff that holds him up when his strength begins to wane (a physical gift). As an uneducated (I say that in the sense of lacking words/speech) kind of man and a shepherd of some pretty frustrating flocks of meandering sheep (this will be a pre-cursor of things to come for our guy Moses in the desert for a really really long time), Moses would have totally understood and been grateful in this new position of being God’s messenger for both gifts. He needed help and God reassured him and responded. He had doubts and fears – but he said Yes.

God does this for me, too – he gives me lots of good reasons to say Yes. We all have spiritual gifts – a charism – that we are born with and possess, and, we supplement our weaknesses (maybe in our ability to be creative, or to write, or to speak or evangelize) with others filling in the cracks we can see widening around us right before the sea swallows us up. We save each other. We all have our Aaron. I have been Aaron to some and others have been Aaron for me. Likewise, God gives me physical gifts to prop me up when I am feeling discouraged and downtrodden. The rod that can strike the rock and bring forth water or cure the people when they have been bitten by serpents or part the sea to dry land is really just the Word of God at work in today’s times. And it is the powerful healing and being united in the Eucharist, and experiencing the wonderful unity of my parish and my family and friends in Christ who provide that physical presence now here on earth. They prop up my hands when I grow weary of holding the rod. And we take turns doing that for each other, too.

Think about that. If tomorrow, you hear God calling your name, don’t clutch your map or your daily To Do list or your well-planned life too close to your heart. Don’t pretend you are too busy or  too self-righteous to not take time to stop and glance sideways to see that burning bush. It could be your time to answer and say, “Here am I, Lord, I’ve come to do Your will.”

 

 

 

 

*With a shout out to @biblestudyevangelista writer and speaker Sonja Corbitt who educated me about e-Sword – a fabulous and free internet site where you can download software and then spend waaayyy too much time like me delving into comparisons of KJV passages and nerdy number of occurrences of words and looking up words and their translations in the dictionary and just generally studying so much cool stuff. Check it out here.