reconciling things

“Allow it all to happen: beauty and terror…” Rilke

I didn’t use to believe in it. But, I did it anyway. Now I believe in it and do it even more. I am speaking of praying for the dead. There is something about it we cannot help. Even people who claim to not believe in Purgation will say things such as, “May they Rest In Peace” or lately I hear a lot, ”May they rest in power.”

If what’s done is done, why the wish for peace and power? It’s not a wish, it’s a prayer. Unless one believes in the power of wishing, I suppose. I have never particularly gotten anything I have wished for. But, certainly have seen answers to prayers.

“Of course I pray for the dead. The action is so spontaneous, so all but inevitable, that only the most compulsive theological case against it would deter me. And I hardly know how the rest of my prayers would survive if those for the dead were forbidden. At our age the majority of those we love best are dead. What sort of intercourse with God could I have if what I love best were unmentionable to Him?” (CS Lewis)

You can google a Biblical defense of the doctrine of Purgation. You can read the Church Fathers. You can read CS Lewis if that is more your speed. I will not try to convince you. Not in this space. Texting with my son tonight about all the theological papers I have proofread and edited over the years and all the ones I will never write, he said, ”Write them now! I would support you in this.” I replied, “For whom? Myself? Besides, I am a mystic and not a theologian.” He said the world had plenty of theologians. People need their hearts strengthened along with their minds.

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I have a penchant for dwelling on the negative. I am not uncomfortable sitting…nay….wallowing in my feelings. I can throw a mean pity party for myself. Don’t judge me. You’re invited. BYOK (bring your own kleenex) We can play all the sad songs and get really deep in it. Do you want to hear the traumas chronologically or alphabetically? Let’s go.

It’s a tough balance, you know. I was definitely raised with a “power of positive thinking” mindset. As the lyricist Propaganda says, “Self-sufficiency dies hard, right? But when rightfully humbled, God shows up in burning bushes.” All the positive spin in the world does not make the tragedies of my life somehow OK.

Yet, there is goodness. I know it is just as important to process the good as it is the bad. If we stop to notice the clouds, we sure as hell better stop to notice the sunshine.

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“I forgive you. For growing

a capacity for love that is great

but matched only, perhaps,

by your loneliness…”

(Phase One by Dilruba Ahmed)

I have always been lonely. Always. When I was a little girl, burying myself in books I was lonely. When I was a teenager, burying myself in journals full of angst and drama, I was lonely. I was lonely when I got married—especially when I got married. I am lonely now that I am divorced.

I find myself always longing for the day when the loneliness will somehow be satisfied. Like one day, somehow, surrounded by the right mix of people whose love for me matches my love for them I could breathe easier, I could rest, I could sleep without dreaming.

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I do not have adequate words to capture what it meant to me to Enthrone the Sacred Heart in our home and to Consecrate our family. The adoration of the Sacred Heart is a devotion we have been increasingly cultivating in our family over the last two years. This year, on the fifth day of Christmas and the Maronite feast of the Holy Innocents, we officially Enthroned and Consecrated. This is the anniversary of my Grandma’s passing, who died on the Roman feast of the Holy Innocents three years ago.

Israel painted the image. As a bonus he painted the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Chaste Heart of St. Joseph. Hearts of the Holy Family, pray for us.

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Christmas will still come even if you don’t get all the cookies baked or gifts wrapped.

Christmas will still come even if you don’t send Christmas cards or get crafty with the kids.

It will still come if you would rather listen to Bo Burnham and not Bing Crosby.

It will come if you feel the wistful rather than the nostalgic side of remembering.

If Christmas comes with more baggage than presents, it will still come. If that terrific traffic from the song is actually people on guilt trips, Christmas will still arrive on time.

I was talking to a friend about my obvious lack of cheer this year and he comforted me saying said, ”You don’t have to have Christmas spirit, you know? It’s not a requirement to be a good Christian.”

The Incarnation changed everything. It imparted so many things—happy-slappy-glass-is-half-full Christianity was not one of them. Jesus came on the scene “in the fullness of time” (a phrase I love, because I feel like it means when all the pieces are in place and it is exactly the right time, things happen) when the world needed Him, but was perhaps not ready for him.

It is enough to go to Mass, worship, receive Jesus—present in the Eucharist into myself (the most intimate way we can experience Jesus), and to pray. Even if I do nothing else this Christmas, this would be enough. There are no requirements of sleigh bells or Christmas hams and you don’t have to invite Mariah Carey into your kitchen. Going through the motions is just going through the motions. If you are doing that, cut yourself some slack. You can only fake it ’til you make it so long. Light a candle and say your prayers. Drink your coffee and know that in the fullness of time, things happen—exactly when you need them, but maybe not when you are ready or when you think they will happen.

And don’t look at the future. Oh, for the love of Sweet Baby Jesus and all that is holy, don’t look at the future. New Year’s Resolutions and commitments for the months ahead can feel so overwhelming when you sense deep in your soul that all you can do is soldier on and wait. Wait for the fullness of time. My pastor tells me that I cannot live the next thirty years if I imagine myself in my bathrobe alone and aging. No one can offer their future, because it does not belong to us. One can only live today and offer the present moment. Pause, light a candle, say my prayers. The future will be what it will be and I will be what I can be. I will trust the Incarnation will change my reluctance to surrender and my “Oh wells” to Fiats. This is all there is.

Rilke’s Book of Pilgrimage

I had a near miss of a car accident recently. The fool, driving a one ton truck, crossed two lanes of traffic and came perpendicular to my drivers side door. My guardian angel was keeping careful watch over me, I am 100% sure. I would be dead if he hit me straight on like that. Honestly, I don’t know how he didn’t hit me. I think my angel moved my car.

After that I was having a conversation with my best friend and the topic was morbidly, “What would happen if I died?” (However, it all feels less macabre for Catholics who live on a steady diet of memento mori.) What would happen to the kids? How would the family stay together? All that. Big questions with complicated answers. My friend said, “I’d take care of your kids” quickly followed by “not alone though of course.”

My first thought was, “Well, I take care of them alone” quickly followed by “I absolutely do not take care of them alone.”

It is a huge deception that a parent (married or not) can be everything to their child. Children need a safe network of trustworthy adults to help them reach adulthood as functional and happy people. I am under no illusions that I can be everything to my kids. No parent can. And those that try end up with neurotic children and/or parenting burnout.

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We are living in a culture that is openly hostile to what is truly masculine and truly feminine. People willy-nilly redefining things, while we either watch passively and helplessly or recklessly choose to participate in the madness. However, what we see on social media, the theater we see acted out on the political stage, the nonsensical farce we experience in most of academia changes nothing that is a reality in the spirit. I am feeling like what we really need is to opt out. Step away from anything, anyone, any institution that robs us of the power of our symbol. Opt. Out.

“In reality woman had lost her power as symbol while she still believed to be retaining it. A culture that in its last analysis is no longer turned toward God in reverence and with a sense of responsbility has, if viewed according to a deeper insight, also foregone the presence of woman. The woman, however, who recklessly and unconditionally allows herself to become part of such a culture, basically affirms only her own exclusion. Her presence is nothing more than a pretense….

“It is not the man but the woman who must save the endangered feminine image; she must rescue it in its three-fold revelation as established by eternal decrees…”

Mother

Virgin

Bride

(Quote from The Eternal Woman by Gertrud von le Fort)

I grew up with a version of the Prosperity Gospel. Not a pure version, mind you. Because we were not wealthy. We were pretty healthy though, despite everything. Maybe we couldn’t manifest money, but in lieu of health insurance, we certainly saw more than our share of divine healing. I say that without an ounce of irony. I am grateful for that to my core.

But, this Prosperity Gospel—the notion that you can, in a way, experience heaven on earth, is insidious and a distortion of the actual Gospel Jesus preached. The slogan that emerged post-Jesus People Movement with the rise of the televangelist taught people to name it and claim it. We were taught to set our faith, to believe that we would receive, that we have not because we ask not—as if that was carte blanche to ask for things we have no business even desiring.

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When I was a small child (maybe three or four?) my mother asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I said I wasn’t sure. She said, “Do you want to be a mother?” and I replied, ”Oh, no! I want to do something important.”

What a knife. My poor mother.

I thought of this recently listening to a podcast that featured Kate Bowler who was sharing how she journeyed through being diagnosed with cancer and parenting her child. The question was asked if she took time off from her work. (She didn’t.) She replied, “I just needed something really meaningful to do. I didn’t want to crochet. I mean, God bless crocheting, but I wanted to do something hard. I like the feeling of doing something hard.”

What a knife. Poor crocheters.

My opinion is only my opinion. I am not an expert on anyone’s pain, but my own. And even then I understand only part of the time. However, I feel in my marrow that however you are processing your pain that process is the “something hard” and whatever cross the Lord asks you to carry, that is the “something important.”

Learn to knit socks or pray the Rosary in Latin or take up trimming bonsai trees or volunteer at the local soup kitchen.

There is no judgement. Feel your pain. Do what you need to do in order to be present in it.

If that means you write a book, write it. If that means you learn to bake sourdough bread like everyone who stressed baked through lockdown, bake on. If you hit the gym or climb a mountain, the important thing to realize is that it is the important thing.

Sometimes the hard thing God calls us to is getting up each day, drinking our coffee with gratitude, and surviving. Survival is the hard thing.

Rilke says, “Almost everything serious is difficult and everything is serious.”

This idea that we need to do hard things at the same time define what that means so narrowly, can quickly become spiritual laziness, so intimates Merton, ”Set me free from the laziness that goes about disguised as activity when activity is not required of me…” (New Seeds of Contemplation)

Do hard things.

Do important things.

Ride a bike, play in the sprinkler, learn to make sauerkraut, read all the great books you can find, watch foreign films with subtitles, send your friends memes to keep the communication open when you otherwise can’t, go to Adoration and cry (or take a nap), journal pages and pages to fill all the notebooks you have lying around, write haiku, get up early and watch the sunrise every day, stay up late decluttering your attic. Do the things God puts in front of you and resist the urge to do the things the world deems as important simply because the world says they are. The world is no judge whatsoever of what is truly important. Or hard.

What an Opus Dei priest said to me once in spiritual direction

When I was a child I learned to cook because I loved it. But also I learned because it was one way I could control my little world. When things were bad or stressful or scary or when I felt alone or confused, I cooked. When I discovered this coping mechanism I was 10 years old. And I was stressed. And so I made baked chicken, rice, potatoes, broccoli, pudding, and chocolate cake. All at one time.

When things were really rough in my marriage I would make heavy elaborate food to soothe the beasts (real or imagined).

Then the day came when I was strong enough to take charge of my world and had fewer beasts to soothe. And I cried.

In conversations with my therapist I realized I was crying a lot for no apparent reason. She said, ”Consider that you are mourning and letting go of that person you created to survive. She served you well, but you can let her go now.”

I still cook, but more often now from a place of peace and not anxiety. However, I do not for a moment forget how that means of coping was important. And hard. And exactly the tool God gave me in that moment that I needed it.

The idea of this kills me. Because it is so true. My goodness, how many times I have gone to the Lord with all the excuses of why I am the way I am!

While I have no clue about my sign or my co-star, I can tell you that I am Meyers Briggs ENFP and an Enneagram 4w5. I am the quintessential middle child. My love languages are words of affirmation and physical touch. My temperament is Sanguine-Melancholic. My charism is hospitality.

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