reconciling things

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

In today’s Old Testament reading in the Maronite lectionary we read about Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a mighty warrior, successful in battle, and therefore a great favorite with the king. However, he suffered with leprosy. In his raids he took a young Hebrew girl as a slave and gave her to his wife. One day this young girl says to her mistress that Naaman could be healed if he were with the prophet of God in Israel.

The audacity, right? “Yeah, you know the land your husband raided and stole me from? Yeah, they could heal him, but probably too late now. I mean, he did raid their land, so…” Was she being prophetic or cheeky? The text doesn’t say. I imagine it cheeky.

Naaman took this information to the king. I imagine that being an interesting conversation, as well. “I did exactly what you said and raided the land of the Hebrews. Turns out their prophet could heal me. Or I could just die. Your call.”

The king of Aram writes a letter to the King of Israel and sends along ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten sets of garments. I am no biblical scholar, but I think that translates roughly to a crap ton in exchange for a word from the resident prophet. Does this make up for the previous raid? Is it the ancient equivalent of “My bad”?

The king of Israel, however, sees it as a bait for war. The king of Aram is picking a fight. He tears his clothes in despair. Somehow Naaman’s skin condition has now become an international incident.

The prophet Elisha gets word and says basically, “What are you worried about? Am I a prophet or not?”

He sends a message to Naaman that says “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times.”

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I haven’t posted on this blog in over a month. It’s not because I don’t have things to say. I think it is more that this time of year, Advent, specifically, lends itself to darkness and silence. I have been writing more than ever, but those thoughts are going other places. My thoughts feel connected inside myself, but when I go to put them here, they seem disconnected and random. So, perhaps I shall just deliver them to you that way. Sometimes you sit down to a plate of food composed with care and everything is harmonious and makes sense. Sometimes you go to a potluck and eat spaghetti, fried chicken, sushi, and chocolate pudding all on the same plate. And you enjoy it. This is that.

  • This time last year I was hanging by a thread. I was so depressed, it was difficult to keep my head above water. This year, although financially and relationally not much has changed, I feel so much better. And I think it is that I no longer work in the same kitchen where I never saw sunlight. I would go into work in the mornings in the dim light and leave in the afternoon after it was already dark. My kitchen had no windows. So, I just felt so sad all the time. This year I feel hope. It feels almost indulgent. It’s audacious that I should feel this hopeful about my life when there are no outward indications that things are on an upward trajectory. Hope is not always so rational. Yet its very irrationality feels appropriate for the darkest days of the year. “The heart has its reasons that reason does not know.” (Blaise Pascal)
  • Maybe hope is the perfect virtue of bleak midwinter. This last week before Christmastide feels like hope. We are living in a time of “already, but not yet.” We are waiting for the Christ child. We are waiting for the shocking physicality of our faith as God takes on flesh. God’s love is about to burst into visibility to the world. Right now he is tucked in the womb of the Blessed Mother. She carries a great secret and shines forth hopefulness. You know how they say that pregnant women glow and are radiant? Can you even imagine how much she radiates hope in the final days of hiding Divine Love in the secret places?
  • If she is the human ideal–the most sublime creature in existence–and we are to follow her, maybe in some tiny little way in these final days of Advent, we can radiate hopefulness because we know Divine Love is coming? The already, but not yet.
  • Today in the Maronite liturgy we observed the Genealogy of Jesus. For some reason I found such delight in hearing the genealogies read. The very idea that these names are read for thousands of years, faithfully, moved me. You know how when someone dies we say, “May his memory be eternal”? How much more real is this idea knowing that these names are being proclaimed eternally. We just keep saying who begot whom in perpetuity. It makes the Gospel so real, so tangible. Jesus came of these extraordinarily ordinary people who lived real lives, who did their chores and made their suppers and fell in love and quarreled with their neighbors and said their prayers and watched the sunrise. As my priest said this morning, they were “faithfully human.” And while no one will likely ever be reading my name fourteen generations from now, if my name is said in the presence of God, that is enough.
  • As the names were read today it affirmed for me this little practice I have of saying the names of the dead at Mass. At the consecration or during the intentions sometimes I just say the names of my beloved dead–or the beloved dead of my friends. I have this sense that Jesus, fully present there on the altar as the Holy Spirit descends on the gifts, will hold these names in his passion. I don’t know when I started doing this but hearing the names of the generations read today made me think I will keep up this practice of saying their names.
  • This year I am feeling very cozy. I feel like sitting by my fire writing cards and drinking mulled wine is perfection. I want to do nothing else but wear fuzzy socks and read books to my kids cuddled in the living room. I didn’t feel as cozy in past years. I felt rushed and sad and exhausted. I am still tired (I mean, I work two jobs, homeschool the kids, and try to be active in my parish) but when I come home from a long day of work there is a bowl of soup my daughter made and whiskey to sip and I just sit by the woodstove and give thanks. I think gratitude has made a huge difference this year, too. I was getting a wee bit down two weeks ago and a friend texted me, “What three things are you grateful for?” This is his way always of pulling me out of a funk. It works for me, because life really is rather lovely, isn’t it? “If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it; blame yourself, tell yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches; for to the creator there is no poverty.” Rilke

What I am reading:

  • For my heart: Good Boundaries and Goodbyes by Lysa TerKeurst and Resisting Happiness by Matthew Kelly
  • For the family read aloud: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
  • For fun: Anthony Esolen’s translation of Dante’s Inferno

What I am listening to:

What’s cooking:

  • Bhajis. Gluten free and vegan, these are on the menu for every season of fasting and I love them.
  • Winter Squash stuffed with things. Delicata, acorn, babynut, all the squash–stuffed with various mixtures of chickpeas, rice, herbs, tomatoes. When not fasting stuffed with chorizo, shredded pork, bacon, goat cheese, and creamy risotto. It is the hygge of food.
  • Mulled Wine. This is a winter staple and you should try it. In a pot, preferably over your woodstove, place about ¼ cup of maple syrup, a few slices of orange, a handful of whole cranberries, two cinnamon sticks, a star anise, and a bottle of dry red wine. While usually I would not say to buy cheap wine or anything that comes in a box, you can get away with it here. Heat it gently, stirring occasionally but do not let it boil. Ladle it into warm punch cups and add about a half an ounce amaretto or brandy. Garnish with a candied orange.

I’ve always made a point to eat with my kids. Three meals a day, pretty much, give or take. Yes, there are plenty of days I do not feel like cooking and days when it would be so much easier to just say, “Everyone fends for themselves.” But nine times out of ten, we eat together. Mornings start with a hymn, eating together, and then devotional time as a family. We are breakfast people. No one passes up chorizo and eggs. We eat lunch together, followed by naps when the kids were younger. Sometimes I still take a nap. We eat dinner together, followed by night prayers. When I am not around or at work, meals still get eaten together.

My exhusband was never on board with this plan. He would take his food to the computer or TV, outside, or even the car, preferring to eat alone most of the time. But, the kids and I would eat together always. Many times I would read them stories as they ate.

The insistence on eating together has had some interesting consequences. First of all, we all learned to cook and work together in the kitchen. It’s not usually too difficult to convince the kids to help in the kitchen. Meals come together pretty quickly because everyone knows how to handle knives, the difference between mixing and folding, and how to make perfect rice.

Secondly, we learned to be in each other’s faces all the time. We have a big family and a small table. And we like it that way. Our meals are rather rambunctious at times. But that is where the details of life really come out. That is were we bond–and fight–and bond some more. Other people having joined our meal times have said they can be overwhelming. But also that there is warmth. Take us or leave us, we will be there asking someone to pass the butter and fighting over who gets to eat with the threek (which the Littles say is a fork with three tines and is a permanent part of the Gombojav lexicon).

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Here I am again with your simple (overly simple?) answer to a complicated question.

For real, I think sometimes we do overcomplicate things. Life, faith, love, and all good and true things should be approached with a childlike trust and dependence of our faithful God. Everything should be viewed through the eyes of wonder, because everything is far more miraculous than our overly rational and pragmatic minds have made them out to be.

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Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of the prophecy, and blessed are those who hear and who keep what is written in it; for the time is near.

Revelation 1:3

In this Maronite liturgical season of the Holy Cross, we read from the Book of the Apocalypse, that is Revelation. I love that this mystifying book begins with a blessing to those who read it aloud and to those who hear it–as we do in the Liturgy, and those who keep what it is written in it–as we are instructed to do with all liturgy. It doesn’t necessarily pronounce the same blessing for those who completely understand this book, which is wonderful because I don’t understand it.

It’s mysterious. It cycles between liturgy and destruction, liturgy and catastrophe, liturgy and the angelic messengers saying “hold my beer.” At least that is how it feels. In its essence, however, the book is hopeful, beautiful, and is an unveiling of who Christ truly is. Apocalypse actually means “unveiling” or “disclosure.” Which is new for me because I grew up with an eschatology of fear. If I told you how many times as a child I thought I had missed the rapture because the house was too quiet at night or I came home from school and couldn’t immediately see my mother. I thought I must have been left behind. The elaborate plans my child brain made for how I would survive when (not if) I was left behind would make you laugh (or cry, depending how what side of therapy you are on). Somehow I found it completely plausible that all my family would get taken and I would be the one left alone. For a little soul that was already inclined toward scrupulosity, this rapture theology put me right over the edge.

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I had a strong devotion to St. Therese even before I was Catholic. She is a huge reason for my conversion. (You can listen to us tell that story, here.) When it came time to take a patroness, I knew it had to be her. But she has many titles: St. Therese of the Holy Face, The Little Flower, and St. Therese of the Child Jesus. I was insistent that my Confirmation sponsor present me as “St. Therese of the Child Jesus.”

I love this photo of St. Therese cosplaying Joan of Arc

Relating to Jesus in his childhood holds a special place in my heart and the practice of my faith. The fact that our precious Lord was once a baby—swaddled in his Mother’s arm, held tightly by dear St. Joseph during maybe sleepless nights, his baby cries, his baby giggles. Did he have chubby little arms and legs like my babies? Did Mary put her nose right up against his head and deeply breathe in his baby smell until her heart overflowed and her eyes filled with tears?

Jesus was once a child, playing in the dirt he made. Did he have to go to Hebrew school and listen to rabbis expound on the very words he wrote in the creation of the world? What must that have been like? What kind of beautiful humility and innocence did he model for us? Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, far too lofty for me to reach.” Psalm 139:6

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L’Shana Tova! It’s the year 5783, according to the Hebrew Calendar. A day to wish those you love have their names inscribed in the Book of Life. G’mar hatima tova!

For Jews, today is the birthday of creation.

Recently I heard people discussing the age of the earth and how there is no way scientifically there can be a young earth. It has to be older than 6,000 years old. This is the thread that sometimes causes people’s interpretation of the Old Testament to unravel, because if they can’t take the book of Genesis literally, what about Exodus? And then what about the rest of the Pentateuch and the prophets? Does the whole thing fall apart?

Here is why no one will ask me to teach theology; here is my oversimplified answer to this complicated question:

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I met my friend Jenn the summer I was 17, while we were on a missions trip to Pakistan. It was one of the most formative summers of my life. At the end of the summer she went home to Washington and I went home to California. Every morning we sent one another a fax. It was a newsy little note about what was going on in our lives–the dramas at work, what we read in our daily devotions, and whether the cute delivery guy talked to us. On the fax was always a list of “Day Brighteners.” These lists of gratitude formed from our existence–maybe not large and lofty things, but real things, things that really made us smile or laugh or made the confusion of adolescence less sucky. I guess those Day Brightener faxes lasted for about a year, until we had computers with email in our homes. I miss those faxes.

This last Lent I was going through my desert (Lent is like that, isn’t it?) and another friend friend Joan texted me every morning with a “pocket of joy”–one thing that brought her joy that day. And she would ask, “What is your pocket of joy today?” Some days I had to dig. I had to think really hard, because life was slogging hard. Sometimes through tears I would find a pocket of joy and text it to her. Lent is over, but I miss those texts.

Recently in discussing grief and getting through difficult things another friend told me when I first wake up every day to thank God for three things. Find three things first thing in the day because it would rewire my brain toward gratitude. He is not wrong. It works. But, it is also work. You have to choose it. It’s not automatic. If you don’t choose, the world will choose for you.

Gratitude is not the default in our world. Five minutes watching the news and you can find about a dozen things that suck big time. Sometimes it doesn’t even take that. Simply watching people who don’t know how to merge onto the interstate is enough to make me lament the fallen world. (It’s really not that difficult people. Get up to speed for the love all that is good and holy!) Yet, gratitude is the key to everything. Somehow it is the most powerful code to crack that opens up reality and possibility and joy and perseverance. It’s amazing what we can endure when we start on the premise that not everything sucks.

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When I gave birth to my first born child I thought (rightly so) that she was the most beautiful creature on God’s green earth. Although I had no idea how to parent her, no one could fault my love. I loved her so completely, I was so enraptured, I was sure no one had ever loved a child more. When she was just three months old I was pregnant with my second child. And people were aghast. So soon! Another baby! How will you care for two babies? My mother-in-law (may her memory be eternal) asked if I was going to discontinue my pregnancy. I was horrified.

No, I did not know how I would care for two babies. I was not sure I could love another child as much as I loved my first. I wasn’t sure how it would all work out. But one thing was for damn sure, I would not be ending my pregnancy!

My first born son, my second child, was born just 12 months after my first. How is it possible that I had not one, but two perfect children?! I loved him so completely. He was so beautiful! My heart could burst for this child whom I loved so much.

Did I love my first child less? Nope! Still loved her just as much and my love for her felt like it increased daily. And now I was experiencing it at the same time with the second.

And the third.

And the fourth.

And fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth.

My heart grew every time. The original love lost nothing in sharing it with another.

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When I was a teenager I had a sign on the inside of my bedroom door that said, “Fear of what you might lose, hope of what you might gain, or love of what you might give?” It was a reminder to me as I left my room each day that I could choose the motivation that fueled my day and my life. Even then, I desired more than anything to live in, for, and with love.

Years later friends began to joke with me that I was a “love hubber.” Meaning that I loved everyone without distinction. Which, of course, isn’t exactly true–there are some I love more than others. But, yes, in a general sense, I do love everyone. I was always taken aback by this little joke, because I felt like it was a way of saying that I lacked discernment. Yet, I am discerning. I know people can be false or have impure motives. I know people (including myself) are weird and neurotic. I know there are people who want to use others or have unrealistic expectations for me. All this I know to be true. But that is their choice. My choice is love.

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