Friday, January 27, 2012

Mary, Undoer of Knots

I recently came across a devotion to Mary that I had not know before:  Mary, Undoer of Knots.

The official website says:
To show us the mission granted to the Virgin Mary by Her Son, an unknown artist painted Mary Undoer of Knots with great grace. Since 1700, his painting has been venerated in the Church of St. Peter in Perlack, Germany. It was originally inspired by a meditation of Saint Irenaeus (Bishop of Lyon and martyred in 202) based on the parallel made by Saint Paul between Adam and Christ. Saint Irenaeus, in turn, made a comparison between Eve and Mary, saying:

"Eve, by her disobedience, tied the knot of disgrace for the human race; whereas Mary, by her obedience, undid it".
In this angelic court, two angels stand out. One of them holds on to a ribbon, the ribbon of our life, which is full of knots big and small, loose and tight. They are the knots of our life, the knots of anguish and despair of separated couples, the dissolution of the family, the knots of a drug addict son or daughter, sick or separated from home or God, knots of alcoholism, the practice of abortion, depression, unemployment, fear, solitude, etc.
The good hearted angel looks to our Queen and holding onto the ribbon of our life, presents to Mary, the Undoer of Knots and says, “We trust you, Mother; You can help us. Undo, then, the knots of this life!”
Then, Mary takes our life into Her compassionate hands and with her long fingers of mercy goes on to undo each knot, one after the other. Look at Her. Feel the attention, love and tenderness with which She does this, hearing our plea, the supplication of a beloved child!
See what happens?
This ribbon becomes free of any type of knot, reflecting all the mercy and freeing power of the holy hands of Mary Undoer of Knots.
Another angel comes over, then, and taking the ribbon of our life, freed of all knots, looks at us and seems to say, “See what She did. Look at what Mary, through her intercession can do again. Trust Her, place your problems and afflictions in Her hands!”
 I know that there are many knots in my life that seem to defy untangling.  The same may be true for you.  If you want to know more about the novena, click here.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Worry and One Day at a Time

Although I'm not an alcoholic (I rarely, if ever, even take a sip of anything alcoholic), I get a daily communication from AA from a friend. In this email, one of the most common themes is to take each day as it comes, not trying to live in the future and not dwelling in the past.

It's a good reminder for me because I'm guilty on both counts. Today, I find myself fretting about paying the taxes in April and cleaning out my mother's apartment when the inevitable day comes that she dies, while regretting some past decisions that, with the wisdom of 20-20 hindsight, I realize were wrong. I careen from worry to regret and back again.

I'm not alone in this perverse tendency to attempt to live sometime other than the here and now.  Oddly enough, someone just told me how upset they were because they had taken a cruise that left from the same port that the fated, capsized cruise ship Costa Concordia left from.  The part that would be funny if I didn't understand the thinking so well is that they took their cruise a year ago!  On a totally different cruise line!  

 I can hardly point fingers. My stomach is in knots, I can feel a headache creeping behind my eyes and I am having trouble concentrating on the work I have to do today. All because I'm worrying about the future and fretting about the past. I might as well be a cruise ship listing on its side for all the forward momentum that I'm creating.

What's really odd is that for several years, I thought I had banished worry. In fact, I even proposed writing a book about Conquering Worry which, fortunately, the publisher turned down. If I had written it,  today I'd be having to admit, like St. Thomas Aquinas, everything I had written was merely straw. 

I know for me worries tend to cluster around finances and health.  Well, not health so much as how to pay for a major illness if I happened to get one.  So I suppose my worries are really just about finances.  I could say that that's a common worry in this economic climate, but most of the people I know well aren't really feeling much effect from the recession.  Thinking about  how they planned better than I did doesn't help much. Nor does comparing my situation to theirs. It simply leads me back to regretting my own past decisions and perpetuates a vicious circle. 

So, because I do have some things that must be done today, I am going to make a deliberate attempt to "take all thoughts captive" and return to the present moment.  Because in this moment, this very minute, I am fine. I don't know what will happen 60 seconds from now, but for now, there are no wolves gnawing at my feet, I am still breathing.  Heck, I'm not even hungry!

Of all the commands that Jesus gave us, one is the most direct:  Do not worry or be anxious. Isn't it odd that we hear about so many other things, but when was the last time you heard a homily preached on the sinfulness of worry? Have you ever considered that worry could actually be a sin?

I find that somewhat sobering. 

Could it be that Jesus actually meant what he said?

"Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own" Matt 6:24.

One day at a time.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Asking for Help

I'm always sort of reluctant to ask for help.  Do it yourself or don't do it at all is sort of my family motto. But today I had three interesting lessons in asking for help.  And since I tend to believe that when things come in threes, you should pay attention, I paid attention:

1.  A friend told me that she had been in credit card debt.  Since I knew she had a great financial manager, I asked her how that happened.  She said she didn't consult him until after the fact.

2. Another friend who is a mortgage specialist told me that her daughter and son in law just lost their home to foreclosure.  When I looked puzzled, she said that they never asked for help or mentioned they were in trouble until it was too late.

3. I spent time with my mother who is in hospice today.  She drifts in and out of alertness, but when I gave her her Ensure drink, she promptly said, "Help me!" in a tone that indicated I should comply immediately.

As I sit here, eating some peanut Satay and thinking about how much I hate grey winter days, I also am wondering if the reason that it sometimes feels like God isn't answering my prayer is because I either fail to ask or wait until it's too late.

Something to consider.

A Statue and the Importance of Symbols.

Not the statue from the ship
I just sort of liked this story:

Jan 21 (Reuters) - She was found inside the ship's chapel, submerged up to her shoulders, but in one piece. Fire department divers wrapped her in a white towel, and used a nylon belt to hold it in place so she would not be damaged as they pulled her out.
On Saturday, the plaster statue of the Madonna from the doomed Costa Concordia cruise liner stood in a white tent on the port of Giglio, still wrapped in the same towel.
Found early on Friday morning, it was only shown to reporters on Saturday. Orange and black equipment bags were piled next to it, and helmets and diving gear hung behind.
The man in charge of the team which rescued the statue said he had taken the time to recover the relic when there were still 21 people missing because "it seemed like the right thing to do."

Read more here.

The divers also rescued the Tabernacle, the Hosts and the Crucifix.

I realize that there are still bodies to be found and probably other objects to be located, but as the leader of the team who rescued the statue said, "Symbols are important."

Yes, symbols are important. As I look around my kitchen, where I write this, curled up before the pellet stove, I seem a variety of symbols of my life: an icon from Turkey, a plate from Egypt, an African violet that finally bloomed, cup of half-drunk coffee, a broken arrow.  From these things, someone could glean a certain understanding of what must be important in my life since these are the things that I choose to keep in my daily view.

The problem is, of course, when the symbols begin to blend so much into the background of life that they cease to have any impact on our lives.  So what do these symbols that I see mean to me?

Not my icon, but close enough
The Turkish icon is a reminder, not just of the Madonna and child, but of the power of the feminine, the Divinity that each one of us carries within. It is also a sign of the power of art to transcend centuries and a call to me to honor the gifts that I have, gifts that I may have denied or buried.

Not my plate, but almost identical
The plate from Egypt is a recollection of past bravery and call to say "yes" to future adventure; a spiritual ship that says, "You have sailed into the unknown before.  You can do it again, no matter how you are feeling right now.  Just trust and hoist anchor."

Not my violet.  Mine only has one blossom.
The African violet says to me, "All things have a season.  There will be happiness in your life again. Just keep your soul watered and your face toward the sunlight."

Obviously not my arrow, but I needed a picture.  I could not find one of a broken arrow, however.
The broken arrow is a symbol of conquering fear, of facing terror and breaking through it to accomplishment. Its red feathers and silver tip say, "Remember.  Remember.  Remember."  This year I had almost forgotten the arrow, since it hangs above the door, in a place where I have to look up to see.  But even I didn't remember it, it was still there, a silent signal that once upon a time I had the courage to do what I didn't think I could do. 

Um, what do you think?
As for the half-cup of coffee, I think it's just a reminder that deep down, I'm a really lousy housekeeper.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Siren of Suicide

 I was in my 20s when I first encountered suicide. A co-worker took his own life and the entire office was shocked and stunned.

In his later life, my father used to talk about suicide, although, to the best of my knowledge, he never  attempted it.  I was horrified whenever he brought it up.

But now I understand.

The pain and pressure of the past 12 to 18  months has been unrelenting. As my year of debridement wore on and on and indeed as it has continued into the present year, I can understand why some people consider suicide to be a viable option. Trying to be my mother's sole support on her final journey, attempting to make a living as a free-lancer while trying to find a real job in this area (since I can't readily move with mother in hospice) and battling some chronic ill health has been like a steady downpour of icy rain on the spine of my soul. Even when the cascade slows, as it does now and then, I am still clad in soggy clothes and feeling chilled to the marrow and beyond. The future does not appear to hold bright sunshiny days, but simply more and more rain until the house of my being is flooded and washed away in the deluge.

That's when the siren of suicide sits on the rock and bats her beguiling eyes: "Come see me," she whispers.  "I have a solution.  A real solution. No more struggling with finances.  No more waiting at hospice bedsides.  No more trying to figure out how to get through one more day.  Just come see me and I will take care of it all for you."

I sometimes stop for a moment and listen to her, but then I have to explain that first of all, I cannot take the easy way out for me because it would be the difficult way for my son.  I remember all too well the horror I felt when my father would talk about the ways he could die.  The legacy of a parent's death at her own hand would be the ultimate unfair inheritance.

Then I go on to explain that I'm a wuss and anything involving blood, pain or that horrible moment "twix saddle and ground" are just too scary to consider.  What if, in the last second, I changed my mind?

Finally, there is the karma thing.  While I don't know that suicide would condemn a person to hell, I do believe that there has to be some repercussions to an action that would cause so much pain, confusion and anger in those like my son who would be left behind. It would truly suck to take one's life only to find out that you've committed yourself to a whole other level of pain and suffering in the next life.
 It would be horrible to take an action you think is going to relieve suffering only to find out, as one of my friends said to me,  "That siren is Satan with a fishtail, and the next life will have pain, daily migraines, huge, huge mounds of paperwork, income tax to file every day, not just once a year, plumbing problems you won't believe, sick cats including some that aren't yours, a couple mothers to shepherd besides your own and they're even bitchier. And that's just for starters."

So when the siren makes an appearance, I tell her, "No, I understand your offer, oh do I understand your offer, but I can't take you up on it."

She shrugs, flips her tail and dives back into the depths.  And so  I brew a cup of tea and say a prayer that tomorrow will bring some answers and some relief.

If not, I always make sure there are plenty of teabags in the pantry.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Sunday Gratitude

I made a promise to myself to post the things that I'm grateful for each Sunday.  Even when, like this last week, it's easier to find things not to be grateful for than to be grateful for!  But here are three things that I can say I'm honestly grateful about.

1. Nefer and Basti. 
Despite driving me crazy a lot of the time, they do make me laugh.  Like today when Basti got ahold of a sucker and walked around the house with it in her mouth like a pacifier.  I let her do it for a little while, but then had to take it away since sugar isn't good for kitties.  But it did amuse me.

2. Advil
I've been nursing a headache for several days and after having done all the "natural" things, I finally opted for Advil.  Sometimes modern pain medication is a very very good thing.

3. Cell phones
My son has been traveling across country and thanks to cell phones and texting, I was able to keep in touch with him.  It wasn't all that long ago when such real time communication was in the real of Star Trek communicators.

As for the rest of it, I'm having a bit of a hard week, so prayers and good thoughts are most welcome.