Murals are an exercise of 1st Amendment Rights. Our Constitution is Strong! I love the murals in Austin.
Murals are an exercise of 1st Amendment Rights. Our Constitution is Strong! I love the murals in Austin.
As I look back at my 2022, I must say that I did not plan for what was to be. I am an overly optimistic person. I look for the good in all things; I find it most of the time. Oh, but those times when I don’t, I usually fall into the black tunnel of my underworld. It is a place that is filled with anxiety, darkness, and fear. My underworld is in direct opposition to my nature and optimism.
My husband and I celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary last Christmas season in Hawaii with all of our children and their families. It was wonderful, it was perfectly imperfect, and it was a time of love. In Hawaii I forgot about problems, except any that appeared along the way. Those problems either were resolved or disappeared as our location changed. In such a beautiful place with my family, love abounded. Each time the entrance to the dark tunnel appeared, I chose to stay the course of optimism. We had Portuguese donuts in Honolulu. We swam with stingrays in Kona and it was awesome! Whale watching was incredible.
We, alone without our family, received a Blessing of our marriage from a Priest in Maui following Mass on our anniversary. Later that day, we restated our vows on the beach with all our family present. Upon arriving home, we, my husband and I, would share a look or a memory that kept the “hang loose” spirit alive. These great days and moments of shear joy are embedded in my heart, and it was a good thing because those moments of joy carried me. Those memories of happiness comforted me when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I had what I call breast cancer lite. It was a lot like Bud lite, in that Bud Lite is beer and it sucks, but it won’t kill you to drink. My nodule was found very early, but I still had cancer and I wasn’t going to die.
I had it easy, a lumpectomy, a few lymph nodes and then radiation. Chemo was not required. I am very blessed. With that said, cancer sucks. I still had to have needles in my sensitive breast; I got radiation rash and fatigue. My cancer was not life threatening, but it was still cancer. I kept those wonderful memories of Hawaii as my contemplation. And God was right there with me. I never felt the need to ask God for anything more than presence. I was never alone.
God was there by my side. Together we prayed for all those praying for me and for all those caring for me. It was an amazing experience. So again, I am saved from the black tunnel of my underworld. As I say this, I feel the tug of my dualistic nature because I do go to the underworld by experiencing anxiety and fear over the emotions of cancer treatments. And being all in for every encounter in the medical care process exacerbates the experience. While in that dark place, God did not leave my side, but instead would let me know that it was normal to feel scared, anger, and fear.
I was doing okay leaning on God, my spouse, and family, as well as many friends. I was in therapy. I was doing the right things. I felt that I was doing okay, emotionally. Then at a funeral of a friend I fell. I popped up knowing I had bruised my coccyx, my head, and tweaked my knee. The next day I went to stand after kneeling on the floor and very suddenly my right knee could not bear my weight. The knee replacements that had been needed for years could no longer be delayed.
I admit the reality of knee replacement and recovery overwhelmed me. I checked out for a while, but I continued to go to my therapist. She helped me organize my thoughts and prune unnecessary concerns. But she could not change the process. I still had to deal with 5 nurse navigators, 3 PA’s, many schedulers, an RN as well as an adminstrative assistant for every doctor. Of course there was the random financial call to pay for weird stuff that was not covered by insurance. Both my ADHD and dyslexia went into overdrive. Medical forms are a killer. Every once in a while I would just scream or cry. In one day, I might speak to 5 or 6 of these medical professionals. It was exhausting.
So, I get past cancer and a right knee replacement, then at Thanksgiving we get COVID 19. This is the first time in the two and half year pandemic that we got this virus. Eddie was positive first, and I followed 5 days later. Because I had COVID, it was necessary to put off my left knee replacement surgery into January.
In addition, it meant that I had to reschedule all of my doctor appointments. I believe just the simple act of rescheduling so many appointments sent me into a tail spin down the black tunnel to my underworld.
The truth is I was not ready; my right knee needed more strength to support the left knee replacement. But truth and the reality of my emotions were so far apart. I was angry and disappointed. My family physician asked if my anxieties were due to my past medical procedures or the ones to come. “Could it be situational?”, he asked. To be honest it is all of the above. I am a medical Chaplain, which allowed me to reframe the experiences, hence Ritamay’s 2022 Magical Medical Tour. The Beatles music has a very positive effect on me, so reframing as such allowed me to laugh at my circumstances. The problem that sent me for another loop, however, is that the next surgery is in January.
So the 2022 Magical Medical Tour is sneaking into 2023, and I was completely unprepared. I was leaving the ailing convalescent Ritamay behind and in 2023 embracing a new and improved Ritamay.
There is a silver lining, actually it is pure gold. I am having surgery on the Feast of the Epiphany! The Kings reach Jesus and bring him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. I am taking all three with me to the surgical facility. These gifts were offered to help care for the child, representing the universal need for cooperative care. The least I can do in thanksgiving for God’s perpetual care of me is to bring the gifts of the Kings with me.
I feel that my 2022 was over taken by a medical coup. I am protected by God from my own underworld and I am never alone no matter the battle ahead. 2022 has been ceded to medical care in this coup, but 2023 is starting with Christ as center of my care. Christ’s care will continue as my recovery will be whole and fruitful.
In closing, I know without the care of my husband, daughter, and sons I would not have recovered as well. Through their love, my family provides a safe and free space.
I also find it reassuring that God is present and giving. In Psalm 23 I am comforted that God has a place of restoration as well as eternal peace.
The LORD is my shepherd;
there is nothing I lack
In green pastures he makes me lie down;
to still waters he leads me;
he restores my soul.
He guides me along right paths
for the sake of his name.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff comfort me.You set a table before me
in front of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Indeed, goodness and mercy will pursue me
all the days of my life;
I will dwell in the house of the LORD
for endless days.
for endless days.
I love me
I love who I am today
Cut, removed, and radiated me
Took some time in-between to rest before
I stand tall with new knees
I am strong, and I am weak
I am ready to be steady and trust
That each and every step is a step into loving me more.
I take care of those I love and
When I am weak I take care of them more
Because I hide inside a duty
It is hard to care for me, duty comes first
I was taught wait
When others are in need, my needs can always wait
Caring for myself was taboo, I was made to love God
I was made to love others, but I was made to love me, too
God is love, I was made in love, God loves me.
I love me and I am learning to care for me
With my next new knee, it is going to be about loving me
My next new knee will be here soon
I am going to with the help of Christ love me and care for me.
As one of my many gifts to God in living the command of Jesus the Christ
Love myself as I love others
June 1, 2022
Our existence is a mystery, the here and why are not known.
We each add to the mystery of life and the vision of hope in each other and ourselves.
“And [many] go abroad to admire the heights of mountains, the mighty waves of the sea, the broad tides of rivers, the compass of the ocean, and the circuits of the stars, yet pass over the mystery of themselves without a thought.” (Augustine of Hippo, Confessions)
Today I offered myself a challenge to lean into my own mystery, reveal a piece of me that I have not known. Are you up for the challenge?[i]
[i] (Author of unquoted text is unknown. I found this quote on a piece of paper in my desk as I was cleaning for summer.)
Personal avatars are like playing digital paper dolls. – I loved paper dolls!
Happy Mardi Gras Weekend!
Tomorrow will be here in a few hours. Hard times arrived many days ago. It is hard to fight an unknown predator that slithers in the night to steal one’s peace. Each day the sun rises chasing the sky from horizon to horizon. At the opposing horizon there is a quick show of the beautiful color while the sun slips back beneath the horizon waiting to start the chase again. It departs leaving a sense of peace as the night processes in.
With that procession a predator waits. A camouflage predator can come and go without notice hunting in the shadows, changing the safety of reality to a surreal world that is decaying and attempting to destroy the fibers of family. The predator delights in the chaos of stealth movements in the night. These are moments of glee before the strike. The predators’ strike comes fast spewing venom and carelessly landing on the innocent. The pain and shock are enough to tear a family apart. But that would give the predator another moment of glee.
Tomorrow the sun will once again chase the sky to the horizon. Tomorrow the predator is blindly vulnerable, shedding its skin, and its changing appearance. It is a part of the chaos and cannot change its own nature, a hunter. Blindly at the moment it will seek cover only to emerge with a vile new strategy to steal again. Tomorrow the hunted will have survived another day building courage and strength to keep moving forward. The blind predator is always prey to the next night of schemes, attempting to stay and pretend that all is okay, all the while slithering on to steal the peace of the night.
I know of no feeling as lonely as the one I feel now
I voiced my need to be heard,
but to deaf ears my need fell.
Instead I hear that I complain a lot.
Such is your fate to be strapped to a shrew.
A woman never satisfied is a poor sight, indeed.
A woman alone with her thoughts, her ideas, and her needs.
A woman once more betrayed by the one she loves most.
A woman who will forgive and forget is strong and filled with courage.
A woman will move on because that is what must be done..
This gallery contains 1 photo.
In the pool there is no despair Continue reading
A phrase often used
A bird bruised and unheard
A lamb abused and accused
Pain, sacrifice, and love
Fuse body and soul
Promise and hope reveal
A grassy knoll beyond the shoal
My freedom, my God
Are one and the same
A name greater than all names
https://pelicanfeed.com/2021/03/31/my-freedom-my-god/(opens in a new tab)
Photo Above: Inks Lake – December Sunset
During this past Lent, I spent most of my prayer time preparing for the Sacrament of Confirmation. It seems odd that I, a cradle Catholic, married and fully participating in the Church would not have received Confirmation in the formation of my youth. But much to my surprise, that is what happened. After discovering the errors of my formation, I set about righting my way. There were obstacles, but none that prevented my Confirmation. As I prepared, I attended daily Mass more frequently. On the first day of my re-entry to daily Mass, I awakened early, before my alarm. I took that as a sign to get up and go to Mass. I knew I was supposed to be there. The homily addressed the need to offer forgiveness, to let go of our anger, hurt and hate. This topic is near and dear to my heart; I was engaged in the topic as well as the presentation by the homilist, however, he turned the concept inside out by stating that you can also give a “holy distance” to those you feel are behaviorally unreceptive to you. I thought, WOW, that is a new take on the Great Command of Love Your Neighbor. I also recognized myself in his description of “holy distance”. I was a recipient and participant in “holy distance” with him. I spent the remainder of my Confirmation Formation and Lent contemplating this very concept. It has continued to plague my mind as the liturgical year begins anew in Advent. I had to ask myself the following questions:
1.What does “holy distance” mean? (How should I interpret this concept?)
I feel estranged in my home with Christ. Is this how the injured person felt each time someone passed him on the road before the Samaritan found him. In that story both a Priest and a Levite pass the injured man, but a Samaritan stop to give aid, to care for and to love another human. It did not matter what the man did, who he was, or how he came to be in this state. Care and love were necessary (LK 10:29-37). It is a very strange place to be, indeed, on the outside. My Confirmation snafu resulted in my Celebration of the Sacrament. It took place with grace and the presence of the Holy Spirit. For me it was an example of how God recognizes my inability to engage others when I feel ostracized by an exercise of “holy distance.”
Ultimately, the meaning of “holy distance” cannot be a pastor giving up on their call. It cannot mean that a person that is right in front of him, sharing in the fullness of the Church, is ousted or expelled because they are not liked. If I turn to Scripture for the answer it is not in the Mission of the Twelve, “Then he summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits to drive them out and to cure every disease and every illness (Mt 10:1)”. But there is a reference to the lack of reception from your host that may apply in the following quote on the Commissioning of the Twelve,
“Jesus sent out these twelve after instructing them thus, “Do not go into pagan territory or enter a Samaritan town. Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, make this proclamation: ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, drive out demons. Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give. Do not take gold or silver or copper for your belts; no sack for the journey, or a second tunic, or sandals, or walking stick. The laborer deserves his keep. Whatever town or village you enter, look for a worthy person in it, and stay there until you leave. As you enter a house, wish it peace. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; if not, let your peace return to you. Whoever will not receive you or listen to your words—go outside that house or town and shake the dust from your feet. Amen, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town. Coming Persecutions (Mt 10 5-15).”
Shaking the dust off of one’s sandals is about unwelcome responses, and maybe that is “holy distance”. Removal of a blessing could very well be about the lack of success in reaching the people for the purposes of conversion. It is not about personal differences in Church management. How am I to reconcile this “holy distance” with the call of all Baptized from Jesus to care for his lowliest and neediest? This desire to live out the values of Christ are the very essence of my purpose in life. Am I to ignore a need in order to protect myself? I think not. I have worked very hard in my life to have my professed theology and my lived theology be one and the same.
If I look to the Canon of the Catholic Church, I find that shepherds are to know their flock. They are to seek them out. The difference between the mission of the Apostles and the assignment of an Ordinary seems to be where one resides. Parish life in the USA conveniently provides a residence (Rectory) for the Priest. This is both a convenience for the parish as well as the Priest. While every parish is a part of the overall mission of the church, the stress of living in constant community with the faithful has changed. Shaking the dust off and the striving to know the faithful are not tandem acts that reconcile themselves. An unliked parishioner is not the same as a person without peace. However, I can stretch myself enough to see that a Pastor might feel unwelcome and that some parishioners lack in their offer of peace. Even with an empathetic understanding of the lack of peace, I cannot reconcile myself that “holy distance” is the proper course in the mission of Christ. As I read the following Canon, I do not see any wiggle room for giving “holy distance” in parish community by the Pastor.
“Can. 529 §1. In order to fulfill his office diligently, a pastor is to strive to know the faithful entrusted to his care. Therefore he is to visit families, sharing especially in the cares, anxieties, and griefs of the faithful, strengthening them in the Lord, and prudently correcting them if they are failing in certain areas. With generous love he is to help the sick, particularly those close to death, by refreshing them solicitously with the sacraments and commending their souls to God; with particular diligence he is to seek out the poor, the afflicted, the lonely, those exiled from their country, and similarly those weighed down by special difficulties. He is to work so that spouses and parents are supported in fulfilling their proper duties and is to foster growth of Christian life in the family.
This Advent has been a time of preparation for the coming of “Emmanuel, God with us”. It is a time to spread the Peace that is beyond understanding and a time to reconcile my own inequities and biases. I have fully decided that “holy distance” is not for me. I will ignore the advice I received from the pulpit less than a year ago to give those that disturb my peace some “holy distance”. I think instead I will offer the Peace of Christ that I receive in the Eucharist to that person regardless of their mindset and actions. Because I believe “holy distance” is an out, it is an easy release from the stress of dealing with the choice to be Christ-like in relationships. It gives an out that does not allow Christ to fully breath inside of me.
God is the breath that gives life to my soul and slices off my rough edges. Through the Eucharist I receive the Risen Lord of Peace. Eucharist is the Thanksgiving that I do not deserve but I am privileged to receive. Because I am receiving this precious gift at Mass, I am called to go out and spread the Good News. The final blessing sends forth the people to live in the world. I am both a host and a guest in my work for Christ. So, as I celebrate this liturgical waiting for the coming of Emmanuel, I will continue to spread the Joy of living with the knowledge that God’s gift to me is for service with others. My salvation is about belief in Christ, but it is also about understanding the call to be in relationship with others in that belief and spreading that belief. God is among us in many ways, and how we address the passing of peace from one to another does not allow for “holy distance”. It is meant as reconciliation that promotes the flow of God’s love and presence.
In closing, this commentary on “holy distance” is directly related to my mission in Christ. I invite God into my conversations to help me to channel my words. I wish and pray for all to experience the joy of waiting on the celebration of Christmas and be present to the remainder of Advent. Allow the peace brought through the Birth of Christ in the baby Jesus to bring you closer to others to share in the love that has offered us a place in God salvation plan. May your Christmas blessings be many and shared in Joy!
I can not change my yesterday.
My regrets and my joy enhance my today.
I do not know how I will fare.
I sometimes sway, but my heart proceeds with steady care.
For my tomorrow is never far away.
My hope and despair await me there.
Many of you know I am originally from New Orleans, Louisiana. My native citizenship to the N.O. meant I was not going to watch “the Bowl that must not be named” this year. I am a dyed in lightweight cotton (never wool in that humidity) Fan of the New Orleans Saints. My husband and I went instead to see the movie “The Upside” with Kevin Hart, Bryan Cranston, and Nicole Kidman. The story hit me with its authentic portrayal of two men marginalized in our society. The story was funny, realistic, and touched a place deep inside me. From this Chaplain’s standpoint, this movie is one of the best at showing the development of a relationship between care-giver and care-seeker.
As a chaplain, I engaged Kevin Hart’s interpretation of his role as “Dell”. He possessed the natural ability to empathetically care for his quadriplegic boss, “Phil”, played by Brian Cranston. Dell is as much an enigma to Phil as Phil is to Dell, but there is a connection of improbability that promotes the relationship. It is because they are so different that the similarities jump off the screen as the story progresses. They are similar in their feelings of inadequacy as men. At one point, Dell and Phil discuss their relationships with their fathers; at that moment they recognize the similarities in their feelings. Dell is desperately trying to find his way out of an economically impoverished existence and provide for his family; Phil, wealthy, and successful, wants to die.
Dell identifies his feelings with awareness of his own existence from a sentient prism. By this I mean that Dell begins with a sensory understanding of his feelings. His development hinges on his ability to reflect and act in his relationships. Phil, on the other hand, in the early mornings, before others claim his unfeeling body for a day with therapy, runs from his feelings about his present condition. He relives his best, as well as, his most terrifying moments. Sadness and guilt are his emotions I identified through his fantasies. These emotions signaled a man in need of an outlet to finally cast off the shame of inadequacy that has caused him so much grief. Phil is unable to have a deep relationship until he experiences a fully engaged life. Dell’s magnanimous personality exudes acceptance and love.
He is the one who treats Phil like a person with dignity; one who is worthy of his time. Here is where the relationship becomes fascinating, funny, and very real. Care-giver and care-seeker morph into a true friendship built on their personal strengths and ability to swap roles. Dell is looking to find a lifelong call and means to support his family. Phil is a business expert. They cross over into each other’s worlds, exchanging ideas and history. They offer each other a safe place to be themselves. And at one point, in a moment heated with anger, they have a symbiotic relationship.
That relationship arose through Dell’s need to be in his world while offering it to Phil. This world exist apart from the penthouse Phil lives in. Dell asks him about the accident, not just the nuts and bolts version, but the version that expresses the man imprisoned inside an unfeeling body. Imprisonment is something Dell understands. Phil’s response to Dell is genuine and connects to a sliver of hope that life can be full regardless of the obstacles. There is an acceptance of each man for the other, which includes their truest nature of love and companionship. They teach each other how to live and how to see themselves as good. At the end of the movie, it is obvious that they have each helped the other heal.
Note from Ritamay: Great Movie, Great Story, and the acting was Off the Charts, really Good!
Most of us look for God’s presence as we go about living our lives. We join others in congregations at Church, Temple, Mosque and Shrines of all faiths, to collectively connect with the presence of God. We see God’s presence in the beauty of nature, in our families and in our work places. And yes, in hospitals! As hospital caregivers, we create a unique opportunity to experience God’s presence in ministering to patients. God’s presence radiates through our gifts and skills in each encounter with a patient and each other. Our patients offer us their trust and faith in our care. We do not have to look further than our existence and relationship to one another to experience the presence of God as human beings. The experience of human relationships whether as a care giver, a patient, or a co-worker is an experience in God’s presence.
Praying each experience, you have throughout this work week brings you closer to each other and God.
Answers That Cannot Be Known
Grieving leaves me with more questions than answers.
Is that grief I feel after another shooting of innocent people?
It is stuck in the darkness of my mind, my throat, and my heart.
How is this grief so intimate, yet so public?
When I look inside myself I see the hurt, the loss,
and the grief that resides inside.
Mothers, Fathers, Sisters and Brothers are gone.
Family, Friends, and Strangers carry the weight of the question.
We live with the question of Why?
Answers that cannot be known.
Is my question a result of this grief?
How can I share my grief?
Is my presence comfort to others
even if there are no answers?
The light of others comforts me in the darkness of grief.
My comfort grows in grieving with others.
Neither their questions nor mine have been answered.
Together we see each other, and we hear each other;
With God’s help we heal each other.
In my grief, I ask Why?
In my grief I accept that there are
Answers That Cannot Be Known.
Who ought I be? Where is the Holy Spirit leading me? These questions have centered my theological development. Next week I begin my newest assignment from God. It is an exciting challenge as a resident in chaplaincy. I have told many others that God could have saved me from so much if he had led me here sooner. My Mother, upon hearing me say this, would have explained that I would not have been ready; that God chooses the time and place, and you either accept or not. Fr. Boudreaux, from Montserrat in Dallas, added to this by saying God never gives with only one hand. That he presents your options with both hands full and asks you to choose. This is the very essences of free will. The choices in free will abundantly bless me, even though I am a less than a perfect candidate for so many gifts. One of my awards given by my supervisor during my externship in chaplaincy guides my thoughts today, it is a plaque that says “I may not be totally perfect, but parts of me are excellent”. I am ready, but a little scared. I need to make sure that I walk with God.
When I first decided to really look at my faith life, I was thirty something. I was a little lost and in need of a path to a love-filled life. I had just had my last child, who died four hours after birth. My husband and I began our grief in the same place, but grief has its own path for each of its recipients. He and I traveled different paths in finding our way. My friends and family were significant in my recovery from grief. My husband and I stopped sharing our feelings in hopes of not bringing the other to a dark place. We were kind and shared the bright moments, but we left each other after a time to a solitary existence in the dark. Upon the advice of a very good friend we continued to offer kindness and compassion when we saw the pain in each other. My best friend (other than my husband) had experienced a deep grief when her mother died. A cancer diagnosis occurred shortly after that death. When my son passed she was eight years cancer free. While she did not believe in God the same way as I do, she was the spiritual guide that I had not expected. She saw the human spirit differently than I did. It was one of the many things that bonded our friendship. We taught each other.
When I found myself in the midst of anger at God, she was the one that shined light on my hypocrisy. I remember saying, “I am just going to give up on this whole God thing. I mean really, what has it gotten me? My baby is dead and I am heartbroken”. She looked at me said, “Are you really going to allow his death to separate you from God”? I was shocked; she went on. “You really want this baby to be what separates you from your faith? You are going to place blame on God and allow your child to carry that guilt into heaven? That is so selfish and unlike you”. Wow, I stammered out a “Well no, well I don’t know. You don’t even believe this stuff.” She then pointed out quietly, “But you do”. She opened my eyes to what I had missed. That I believe in a good and living God. That I believe in the communion of saints. That God too was hurting, that God’s plan is for us all to be born and live a fulfilled life. That sad things happen, but love, which is God, is the way out. That offering my pain to a healing disposition would reunite me in this communion. That giving up would hold me hostage to pain and suffering. We all feel pain when we lose control and an unthinkable outcome results. Blaming God did not offer any truth or escape from the pain of grieving. I was never in control of what was going to happen. I was only in control of my faith, my love, and what tools I chose to use in my healing process.
Blame is an awful game that hides shame and pain. This lesson is one of the many that I have experienced in grief. God’s offer in this chaplain residency program allows me to use my insight. I can help others reframe their hope and love. I will not meet others that have the same concept of God or beliefs, but I will be able to hear their needs and desires. I pray I do not have to challenge them as my friend challenged me. I am ready to listen and hear what needs come through. I initially offer empathy followed by compassion that can help others recover, see light, and find the path that allows their spirit to move forward. My friend has passed on more than twenty years ago as cancer decided to revisit her body. I miss her every day, but I feel her presence and know that her wisdom is part of me. My prayer in this residency is to keep the bits and pieces of others as a treasured offering that prepares me to hear those in need with an open heart. I further ask for wisdom to develop my open heart so that my words and actions are compassionate. I smile with confidence that the Holy Spirit will be busy reminding me of who I am in God and who ought I be.
Grief is a funny thing. It has a mind of its own. Even though I try never to run from it, because it will chase me down, I still run. I don’t want to feel this emotion today or any day. I want to put it off; it suffocates me and it is painful. I know I should face it straight on and deal with my emotions, my memories, and the gifts that have brought me to this time of grieving. My husband, children, and friends are checking on me, just I am checking on my sister-in-law, nieces and siblings. With the passing of my brother, we have lost a husband, a father, a brother, and a friend.
This early morning, I woke for no apparent reason. A vision of my brother, a memory of him driving up to my parent’s home in a maroon convertible Triumph, flashed in my mind. The top was down and his long black hair was settling around his happy face as the wind had blown it freely on his drive. This was the first of many memories that flashed into my barely conscious brain. I have often written and said to others in grief: allow your memories to comfort you. That comfort is not without pain. My heart hurts, I will not see him again until I pass. I will not be able to use him again as my political moral barometer. I will not be able to hug him and tell him I love him. Of course, he knows these things, but they are no longer a physical reality for me.
As other memories formed I organized them chronologically, and through the tears streaming down my checks, I am comforted. My earliest memories revolve around our family, when we were children. I remember seeing him head off to school in khaki pants and a white shirt. He usually had a novel in one hand and his tennis racquet in the other. I remember going with my mother to pick him up at the City Park tennis courts; it was a beautiful place. I remember what he looked like when he would leave in his dungarees as a Sea Scout. He and I recently discussed his explorations with the Sea Scouts, an activity that he loved. I remember his kindness and love for me when I failed, when I succeeded, and when I our mother was ill. I remember in the summers he would pile all the neighborhood kiddos into his car and drop us off at the country club to go swimming. He would include my sister and me in his plans, going to drive-in movies, po’boy shops and so many other places. I remember the love he shared with us, and particularly his special bond with my oldest sister. They were a great brother-sister team.
He was twelve years older than me, so in many ways he always seemed like a grown-up to me. I remember sitting and listening to him tell our parents of his most recent adventure. He captivated my attention. I remember when he left to go to boarding school. I remember visiting him there, as well as his visits home. In his early college days, I remember the excitement of this new adventure. I remember the draft during the Vietnam war. I remember his struggles with what to do, how to precede, and his ultimate enlistment rather than draft. I remember eating Thanksgiving dinner at Fort Polk following his graduation from boot camp. I remember his growing pains as he turned into a fine and upstanding man. I remember his wedding and the joy that came with his love and relationship to his wife. I remember how he fell in love with each of his girls as they were born. He was a good brother, a good father and a good husband. He was not perfect, nor was I. We fought, we made up, and we loved one another. He taught me many things about myself and who I wanted to be. He was also my godfather. He helped me to know God as my sovereign, and later as my friend, offering unconditional love.
I remember the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. On that day, when my mother and I came into the house, he rose from a rattan chair with blue and white upholstery and exclaimed to my mother, “Do you know what happened today”? She sadly answered, “yes”. I had no idea. I listened and took in the trauma of losing such a prominent civil rights leader. I was almost ten years old. It was probably when my sense of social justice began to develop. I don’t remember having an understanding before then.
Today, as I watch the sun rise, it reminds me of my favorite Van Gogh painting, “Starry Night”. My brother is like the morning star. He brought light into my world, and that light will live on. In the Book of Revelations, we learn that we receive the gift of the morning star from Christ, who is light. This gift is given as an acknowledgement of our faith and victory over adversity (Rev 2:28). My brother was one who sought knowledge of, and relationship with, God. He shared his love and mercy. My memories offer comfort in my grief, but my grieving continues. God’s time is the healer and on this I will wait, remembering and loving my brother.
Several days ago, I visited the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. I did not anticipate the deep sadness that welled up inside of me. I am an emotional person, and I am usually able to reign in and bracket deep emotions when I prepare for them. I thought I had prepared. This day I unwillingly felt the tears roll down my cheeks; I was unable to control the enormity of my sadness. The secret annex was located above the factory owned by Otto Frank. As we approached a custom-built bookcase, the opening of the secret annex or hiding place, I experienced a feeling much like my visit to Auschwitz many years ago. It is hard to describe; it is a mix of fear and sorrow. The bookcase was beautifully crafted, the craftmanship of the piece is admirable. At Auschwitz, the beautiful flowers and gardens struck me in the same way, as we approached the opening gate. In each of these places I found myself experiencing the ordinary, and it is the ordinary that hides the horror of what became reality for others.
At Auschwitz, I moved through the bunkhouses struck by the normalness of what had been a military post, before becoming a death camp. Quite suddenly I found myself overwhelmed by the seized personal items from the captives, the shoes, clothing, and baby items. Following these display cases was an entire bunkhouse of human hair behind a glass encasement. The effect on me was even more than items one might purchase, such as clothing. Hair belongs to the person, no one has the right to shave it or take it. This is when I began to experience the acts of dehumanization perpetuated on these captives. They were treated as persons lacking in dignity, the dignity that belongs to all of humanity. My tears flowed without control, while the mix of compassion and fear fought over my emotions, an unsettling deep sadness formed inside my heart. Our guide told us that the hair we saw was discovered by the Russians as they liberated the camp. He also informed us the Nazis would bundle the shaven hair, sending it back to Germany to be woven into the Nazi uniforms as wool had become a scarce resource. I remember my son, who was twenty at that time, turning to me saying, “So the Nazi’s quite literally wore their sins”. My reply was a mortified, “yes”. As I went through the remaining tour and on to Birkenhauer, I was unable to shake the sadness of how one set of people can dehumanize another. The living conditions had been deplorable and the treatment was inhumane. Dignity of personhood is not about how others view your dignity, but that you innately know your own dignity. It seemed to me that one would have to fight very hard to maintain the mental capability to see their own dignity under such dire circumstances. My lesson for that day incorporated this experience, as limited as it may have been,
In the house of Anne Frank, I was struck by the normalness of the living conditions. Although the living was anything but normal. Anne Frank describes in her diary the loneliness of her life. Being unable to go outside, to see friends, and just experience her life. The lack of fresh air would have devastated the human spirit in me. Air and sunlight are gifts meant for all of humanity. The experience of breathing in fresh air and feeling the warmth of the sun are necessary for the flourishment of the human person. The lack of these two simple but necessary human needs isolate the person and suffocate the spirit. This insufficient access would be enough to bring one to a deep place of sadness. I identified with Anne Frank’s description and incorporated them into my experience in the museum.
It is clear to me that her parents and the others living in the secret annex were anxious, but that they had a strong bond and trust. She and her sister Margot decorated their room with photos from magazines, a very normal teenage thing to do. Jan and Miep Gies, members of the Dutch resistance, celebrated their first anniversary in the secret annex; the menu for this celebration is on display in their bedroom. Again, all these normal activities through natural design lighten the experience of hiding and fear. I believe that fear and sadness dominated the inner core of each person, and despite hiding, life went on. The fear they must have experienced of creating any sound in the daytime struck me at my core. They feared anyone in the factory hearing and reporting their presence. I cannot fathom the tension that must have intertwined their experience. And yet I can also understand the boredom that must have penetrated each person as the need for quiet left them little to do. The quiet anonymity tied their survival to boredom, tension and fear.
At the end of the tour there are testimonies of others. Anne Frank’s father, Otto Frank, speaks about all that he did not know of his daughter’s thoughts and feelings. I cannot imagine the pain and sadness that he must have felt upon reading her diary. The unnecessary loss of his family must have been devastating. There are testimonies from others, famous and ordinary of her time and the present, on the importance of Anne Frank and her diary. For me, Anne Frank is a beacon that draws attention to the injustice of the Holocaust. My gut emotions remind me that she was a child bearing the weight of adult responsibility for self. This realization caused my tears to flow. No one should be robbed of life, of childhood, and of the ordinary. No one should live in fear of inhumane treatment. The anguish of fear and despair bought on by living without liberty is beyond what I know to be true for humans to flourish. The overwhelming sense of doom and injustice bear down on my chest and cause me to recognize Anne Frank not as an icon, but as a real person who reminds us of the perils of oppression and desolation created and perpetrated by others. What causes one to believe they have the right to prevent other humans from flourishing, and instead initiate abuse and annihilation? Is fear the main cause?
I fear the loss of this lesson through the passage of time. It has been two-thirds of a century since the atrocities of the Jewish Holocaust, in the big scheme of time this is minimal. Moreover, there have been dozens other attempted genocides which have occurred since, such as in Rwanda and the Bosnian-Serbian war in Central Europe. Is this not part of what is happening in Syria and elsewhere today? I hear and see anti-Islamic, anti-Mexican, and anti-immigration rhetoric today, similar to the anti-Semitic rhetoric as in the days of Anne Frank. Have I allowed others to speak out against the Anne Franks of a new holocaust and not raised my voice against them? Will there be other Otto Franks discovering the diaries of their children after it is too late to save them? Is the fear of terrorism preventing us, as humanity, from recognizing oppression and the need for sanctuary for the oppressed?
It is my belief that God is Love. That if we are to truly care for humanity in the ways of God, then we are to truly love. It should not matter how we worship, but how we live out vocation in caring for one another. That is God for me, that is love for me. I will forever speak out in whatever manner is necessary. If I am ostracized for my blunt speech, so be it. My vocation is to be a host for my Lord and thereby a host to all. Safety for the citizens of every country is a sovereign right, but part of that sovereignty requires the sanctuary for the marginalized, the poor, and the oppressed. I must hear their plight and come to their aid. Lady Liberty stands in the New York harbor as a reminder of our civic duty to one another. That is how I love. I am neither naïve or unaware that evil exist, but I truly believe that the defense to evil is love and mercy.
When I need to seek guidance from my Lord, I go to the well. For many years, I prayed by meditating on the scripture of The Woman at the Well. Her story is one of my favorite archetypes in the Gospel of John. She is a beautiful faulted individual, yet Jesus seeks her out. He seeks to relieve her burden in life. He seeks to reunite her in the community.
I generally begin with the Jesus prayer. “The Jesus Prayer is a short, simple prayer that can put you in the right frame of mind to get closer to God. And, at one sentence long, it’s quite easy to memorize!
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner (Jesus Prayer, 2017)”.
I change my ending to this prayer based on the gift that I need in the prayer session. One of the ways that I alter this prayer is by asking God for his presence in the meditation. The prayer changes as follows,
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner and heal me.
The next step is to read my scripture, in this case
The Samaritan Woman.
4 He had to pass through Samaria. 5 So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of land that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there. Jesus, tired from his journey, sat down there at the well. It was about noon. 7 A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 His disciples had gone into the town to buy food. 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” (For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” 11[The woman] said to him, “Sir, you do not even have a bucket and the well is deep; where then can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us this well and drank from it himself with his children and his flocks?”13 Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; 14 but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Go call your husband and come back.” 17 The woman answered and said to him, “I do not have a husband.” Jesus answered her, “You are right in saying, ‘I do not have a husband.’ 18 For you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true.” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain; but you people say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Believe me, woman, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You people worship what you do not understand; we worship what we understand, because salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth; and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him. 24 God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Anointed; when he comes, he will tell us everything.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I am he,* the one who is speaking with you.” 27 At that moment his disciples returned, and were amazed that he was talking with a woman, but still no one said, “What are you looking for?” or “Why are you talking with her?” 28 The woman left her water jar and went into the town and said to the people, 29 “Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Messiah?” 30 They went out of the town and came to him. 31 Meanwhile, the disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat of which you do not know.” 33 So the disciples said to one another, “Could someone have brought him something to eat?” 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to finish his work. 35 Do you not say, ‘In four months the harvest will be here’? I tell you, look up and see the fields ripe for the harvest. 36 The reaper is already receiving his payment and gathering crops for eternal life, so that the sower and reaper can rejoice together. 37 For here the saying is verified that ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap what you have not worked for; others have done the work, and you are sharing the fruits of their work.” 39 Many of the Samaritans of that town began to believe in him because of the word of the woman* who testified, “He told me everything I have done.” 40 When the Samaritans came to him, they invited him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. 41 Many more began to believe in him because of his word, 42 and they said to the woman, “We no longer believe because of your word; for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world” (Jn 4:4-42).
Following the prayerful reading, I close my eyes and relax my breathing. I then call to mind the images of the scripture. I imagine myself at the well. I often imagine the well in detail. My meditation places me offering Jesus a drink and asking what am I supposed to do now; or I ask if there is something that I should know. Jesus does not always answer. Usually we sit quietly. There is peace and relaxation that takes over in the meditation. Sometimes I will move onto the thoughts of just being present with and to my Lord. The color green shows up often in my meditative prayers as a sign of life. Water is also present, and I interpret that as a sign of Divine presence and forgiveness.
Forgiveness is often the center of my mediation. The forgiveness I need to offer, myself and others even if forgiveness is not necessary for the relationship. I still need to acknowledge that I may not always be the best version of myself outside of prayer. I accept that my actions, my words and my recognition of relationships influence others. This moment of being with Jesus at the well offers light to guide my path and refresh my person. I end with a thank you. I come away from this meditative session with a renewed spirit for my ministry, and a renewed desire to be kind and patient. I feel the love that wraps the Divine presence around me.
I am overwhelmed by responsibility and overburdened by my own hand. But, on the Sea of Galilee at sunset, there is a calm feeling that wraps me in the love of God. It is quiet and peaceful much like the peace I felt when I nursed my children. Comforting sounds surround me as I gently rock back and forth. The water laps up against the boat in a rhythm that is designed to ease. The smell of fresh and clean air fills my senses; joyfully, I take a deep breath. It cleanses my mind and opens my heart, for too often I forget to keep it open. Sunlight shines in beauty through the clouds streaming a warm array of colors in orange, pink, and yellow highlighting the blue sky. As the day slips into night, the warmth penetrates my whole being inviting me to join God and become one in this beauty. Jesus is cooking on the shore; waiting patiently for me to know that he is there. This is a place where I am with Christ, my Lord. I hear his voice and his hand feeds me.
After a long week, I am scattered and often of no use to anyone. When I make the time to rest in him, I feel the promise of his love. With the relief of my daily stress, I refocus my thoughts, and the gifts that I have been given are renewed with vigor. I am ready once again to face my mission. I think of Christ, and desire to walk with him, but I must first place myself in his presence and rest in his mercy and love. I will always return refreshed and collected ready to meet the challenges of my life today.
Today is Good Shepherd Sunday
The LORD is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack.
In green pastures you let me graze; to safe waters you lead me;
you restore my strength. You guide me along the right path for the sake of your name.
Even when I walk through a dark valley, I fear no harm for you are at my side; your rod and staff give me courage.
You set a table before me as my enemies watch; You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Only goodness and love will pursue me all the days of my life; I will dwell in the house of the LORD for years to come.