Wednesday, March 05, 2014

De Profundis

Out of the depths I cry to You, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice.
Let Your ears be attentive to my voice in supplication.
If You, O Lord, mark iniquities, Lord, who can stand?
But with You is forgiveness, that You may be revered.
I trust in the Lord; my soul trusts in His word.
My soul waits for the Lord more than sentinels wait for the dawn.
More than sentinels wait for the dawn, let Israel wait for the Lord,
For with the Lord is kindness and with Him is plenteous redemption;
And He will redeem Israel from all their iniquities.--Psalm 130

It's been half a year since I blogged and I truly feel like I am coming "out of the depths." Today, as Lent begins, I felt like it was an opportune time to write again, to think again, to share again.

These past half year I've been looking at myself, especially at the role of forgiveness in our lives. During the next weeks, I want to share some of the insights I've gained and some of the ideas that have and are changing my life.

But for today, the ancient words of the Ash Wednesday service will suffice:  
Remember, woman, that you are dust and to dust you shall return.

Monday, July 22, 2013


Sometimes only a song can express what one is feeling.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Change and Pain in the Brain

I am not tidy.
I'd like to be, but I'm tidy-challenged. Clutter enters my life at light-speed.

I try.  I really do.

But I find it very difficult to get rid of things.

I have friends who say things like, "Doesn't it feel LIBERATING!!! and FREEING!! and WONDERFUL!! to get rid of all things? Don't you just LOVE the feeling of tossing out things?"

Um, no.  No, I don't.

I find it difficult, painful and I often end up regretting having let go of something. Letting go hurts...and so I find it difficult to toss out things like a favorite dress that no longer fits or a card from a friend from five years ago.

Now I know why. A new study at Yale indicates that in some people the same areas of the brain that register physical pain light up when people are faced with getting rid of a possession: the anterior cingulate cortex and the insula. Which means that no, I don't feel great when I get rid of things; I experience anxiety and pain.

However, some people, with different brain chemisty, have the opposite reaction. They get a high every time they get rid of something. So they get rid of as many things as they can, as often as they can because their brain registers the activity as pure pleasure.

Now, the two really big questions are:
1. Why people who experience pain with letting go of things so often enter into relationship with people who experience pleasure from it?
2. And why do the tossers of life seem to think that they are completely and utterly morally superior to the keepers when it all is just brain chemistry?

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

An Ice Cream Shop and Papal Style

 There seems to be a divide between people who find Pope Francis's style of dress and liturgy to be inspiring and those who find it distressing. The ones who are upset miss the high style and what they see as the "beauty" of the Church (which others dismiss as "smells and bells.")

I think part of the reason for the divide is what people, especially relatively new (since the middle to end of the JPII pontificate) converts expect of the Church and what those who have been around for a lifetime expect.

Maybe an illustration that came to mind as I tried to get to sleep last night will help.

Imagine an ice cream shop that has opened under new management. This shop sells many flavors of premium ice cream including a few unusual ones like lavender and  honey. People who have been coming to the shop for many years are used to changes of ownership on a fairly regular basis. So they come in, check out the new selections, and get back to their lives. People who have never been to this shop before are thrilled and return daily to see what new delights have appeared. They get so used to premium ice cream they can't imagine a time when there wouldn't be this special ice cream shop or their favorite owner. They write blogs about the wonders of the shop and bring all their friends in for samples.

One day the old owner dies and a new owner takes over the shop. The people who loved the old shop are a little nervous, but instead of premium ice cream, the new owner now serves even richer, more decadent flavors including some recipes from the past like butter pecan salted caramel with toasted nuts. The ice cream lovers are over the moon. Many line up for hours just to see what special flavor has been created. Those people who prefer plain vanilla and chocolate still come by, but they aren't enamored with the new treats. However, since they can still find vanilla and chocolate in the far back containers, they are okay with the new management. They know that there will be another new owner sooner or later.

Just when the people who recently came to love the shop are completely comfortable, reassured that they will have wonderful rich ice cream available for the rest of their lives, the new owner suddenly sells the shop. Much to the ice cream lovers' dismay, the shop now sells--gasp--frozen yogurt! No more butter pecan salted caramel with toasted nuts.  Just yogurt plus a few plain flavors of ice cream.

The new ice cream lovers are horrified. They have been betrayed. They had come to expect premium ice cream whenever they wanted it and now all they can get is frozen yogurt (and a few plain flavors of ice cream.) This is NOT what they signed up for when they started coming to the ice cream shop. It is an outrage, a travesty! They are angry, hurt and frustrated.

However, there are many people who are now coming to the shop who haven't been in years. They happily sample the yogurt. They never really liked the fancy flavors anyway. And those who always did like the plain flavors of ice cream are now very happy that they can get their scoops without having to drag out a carton from the back freezer.

As the fancy ice cream lovers mourn the loss of their favorite shop, the one they had expected to be able to go to for the rest of the lives, the new owner points out that it never really was an ice cream shop to begin with.

He shows them a sign that has been on the door since the very beginning--it's a frozen dairy product store.  Just because the recent owners had decided that meant ice cream didn't make it so. Yogurt is just as much a frozen dairy product as the most premium ice cream, the new owner explains. It has the same general ingredients, even the same calorie count (more or less) as ice cream. It meets all the requirements for the shop.

And the new owner adds that he hasn't forbidden anyone from having butter pecan salted caramel with toasted nuts; he just isn't serving it right now. After many years of focusing on customers with refined palates, the shop is now going for a the health-conscious, yogurt-preferring, plain vanilla crowd who have been hard pressed to find their preferences for many years.

The ice cream lovers may not be happy, but no one owns the shop forever, the new owner adds.  And who knows...the next owner might decide to serve gelato, he chuckles.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Sacred Space

 From my book in progress: Every Day Holy Day

Standing at the edge of Sacred Cenote at the ancient Mayan temple city of Chichen-Itza, I stared at the vibrant green water nearly 30 meters beneath me.  I knew that archaeologists had recovered artifacts of gold, jade, pottery and human sacrifice from this alarmingly placid sinkhole, where Mayan priests, hoping to court the favor of the gods, had tossed their helpless victims who often included children.  Just a few steps away, I could hear the cacophony of tourists buying cheap souvenirs and bottled water, but at the rim of the well, silence prevailed.

I understood why. The very rocks and cliffs seemed to have absorbed the fear and terror of those who had died and now, centuries later, their feelings reverberated, forcing even the most oblivious sightseer to silence.

Because of the horrors committed there, the place wasn’t holy, in the way that a great Cathedral is, but it was still sacred. It was a location where the veil between now and eternity was stretched so thin I could almost reach through it.

For me that is one definition of sacred.

I’ve felt that same sense at San Clemente in Rome, as I climbed down layers of excavation from the 12th century basilica where St. Clement is buried, through a fourth century church, to an altar to the Roman cult god Mithras and finally to the spring where the pre-Romans worshipped unknown deities.

I’ve also had that feeling at the oldest church in my town, where Mass has been offered every day for nearly 100 years.  When I enter the soft darkness, broken only by rainbow shafts from the stained glass windows, I know that I am in a place where the human and the divine intersect.

Reflecting on the sacred places I’ve visited, I think I understand that a location becomes sacred, not by declaration, but through honest and sincere prayer, even when, because of lack of knowledge, that prayer isn’t directed to the Triune God.

The Cenote at Chichen-Itza isn’t sacred because the Mayan priests declared it to be so, nor because of the sacrifices that took place there, nor because of the gods that were worshipped there, but because, at the moment of their deaths, individual souls cried out to their Creator, seeking mercy, salvation and hope and, at the moment of those deaths, their Creator answered.

San Clement is sacred because for thousands of years, people have been coming to that spot, seeking to do the will of God as they understood him, even when they believed that will involved slitting the throat of a bull and washing its blood way with spring water.

St. Mary’s in my town is sacred, certainly because the Sacrifice of the Mass is and has been offered there so many times, but also because countless prayers from countless pilgrims on life’s spiritual journey have been said in its pews, giving an ordinary city block a sacred dimension.
This power to transform the ordinary into the sacred isn’t the prerogative of priests and saints.  It’s something we all possess.  By the way we focus our attention on the divine, we can turn our homes, yards, even our cars into sacred spaces.

Summer is a wonderful time to work on this transformation because during this season, doors and windows are left open, meals are eaten on porches, and evenings are spent under the stars.  We experience a fluidity between in and out which can become a living example of how the mundane can become sacred by our actions, intentions and our prayers.

This day, I urge you to infuse your own physical spaces with the intention of allowing the divine to permeate.  Using the example of Brother Lawrence who says, “It is a great delusion to think our times of prayer ought to differ from other times. We are as strictly obliged to cleave to God by action in the time of action as by prayer in the season of prayer,” we can gradually alter our environment so that when someone enters it, they immediately know they are stepping into sacred space.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Sunday Gratitude

I'm trying to pack and do all the things I think need to be done before going to the Catholic Media Convention, like leave notes about the cats for the house sitter, water the plants etc.

I wonder why it is that I feel compelled to do things that I would normally put off for days just before a trip...maybe it's the same principle as wearing clean underwear in case you get in an accident.  Want the house to look better than it normally does just in case...

Since I have the vestiges of a sore throat and feel less than wonderful, this time the house will just have to be its normal not ready for staging self.

This Sunday I am grateful for:

1. A cell phone.  I really love my cell phone and I wonder how we ever survived without them?  I remember the first person who got one and how impressed I was with the giant brick that made calls almost anywhere.

2. Chocolate.  It really is a miracle drug.
3. Good friends. I am so grateful for the people in my life who make me better than I would be on my own.
(No know who you are.) 

4. Nefer and Basti.  They sometimes drive me crazy, but their joie de vivre helps me remember that all of creation is a song of praise to the Creator.

 5. My bed.  Dorothy might have said there's no place like home, but there's really no place like your own bed.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Summer Daze

Is there anything more splendid than the first days of summer!

I'm relishing the beauty of pots on my deck and laughing as the cats fight over a basket to sleep in. You see, they always fought over the basket so I put up a second one and now they fight over who gets the new one.  Just like kids!

On Monday I head to Denver to the Catholic Media Convention where I hope to see many old friends and perhaps make a few new ones. I'm hoping to try out some of my new-found almost skills with my iPhone camera as I visit a couple of places, including the Augustine Institute and their fabulous programs.

I probably should go pack!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Ruminating on Rumi

I had the great honor of visiting the Tomb of Mevlana Celaleddin-i Rumi , when I was in Konya, Turkey. It was a holy moment, akin to visiting the tomb of a Catholic saint.

Today I found this wonderful verse of his.

God's joy moves from unmarked box to unmarked box,
from cell to cell. As rainwater, down into flowerbed.

As roses, up from ground.
Now it looks like a plate of rice and fish,
now a cliff covered with vines,
now a horse being saddled.

It hides within these,
till one day it cracks them open.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Sunday Gratitude

It's not that I've been ungrateful the past several weeks, it's just that when I'm feeling mightily stressed, I tend to go into radio silence.

But no use looking back!

This week I am grateful for:
 Pots on the deck.
 A new manicure.
 Hydrangeas turning blue.
A wild turkey that visited my backyard.
Sweet tea.