Schooled–by sacred word

I have had some good teachers, I have had some bad teachers, and I have had some mediocre teachers.  But my best teachers have always fallen into one of two categories, there were those who encouraged me to ask questions and find my own answers, and there were those who wrote lovely words that — encouraged me to ask questions and find my own answers!

Many of the latter category were spiritual leaders and mystics who shared their divine insights through beautiful prose and poetry.  These wise thinkers continue to be my guides and companions as I seek truth in my spirit and in my days.

St. Catherine of Siena is one such teacher.  The 23rd (that’s right, no typo there!) child of a wool dyer and without formal education, she became one of the greatest theologians of the 14th century.  A visionary from the age of 6, she is now one of the patron saints of Italy and was designated the first female Doctor of the Church by Pope Paul VI on October 4, 1970.

Being a “respected figure for her spiritual writings, and political boldness to “speak truth to power”, St. Catherine seems a logical teacher for one who wants to understand better her Catholic faith history and what that means to her as a woman.  And so I have not only read numerous of her writings, but flip regularly through some of her selected poems for learning.

Today, in flipping open one such book of poetry, my eyes read the following poem:

CONSECRATED

All has been consecrated.

The creatures in the forest know this,

the earth does, the seas do, the clouds know

as does the heart full of

love.

Strange a priest would rob us of this

knowledge

and then empower himself

with the ability

to make holy what

already was.

Strange…

I Have in my Hands…

“I have in my hands the standard manual of human birth defects.”

It is hard to believe that anyone could successfully begin a book in this way, and yet it is exactly thus that Annie Dillard begins her beautiful book, For the Time Being.  She eventually explains her reasoning saying, “For the world is as glorious as ever, and exalting, but for credibility’s sake let’s start with the bad news.”  And with her sublime prose she combines joy and heartbreak, sand and cloud, quest and discovery… in an inquiry into spirit.

IMG_6921 (2) bw2

I have in my hands my heart, as they hover over these keys.  And it would be wishful thinking that I would be able to express to you the beauty of a heart’s pain and bliss as offered by Dillard, for I cannot, but the intention remains just the same.

My intention to use this medium as a way to continue to seek and offer understanding of life and love and spirit, for as she also writes, “The more we wake to holiness, the more of it we give birth to, the more we introduce, expand, and multiply it in the world“.

I have in my hands a hope of harmony and discourse, both within my soul and within the community of seekers, thinkers and believers gathered here, “for the world is as glorious as ever, and exulting”.

Pulled from the Hat…

Well, it isn’t really a hat.  It is a box.  A bucket box, I guess you could say.

We made it together a couple of years ago, my partner-in-crime and I.  A chocolate box covered with pasted, cut-out images and words that give inspiration to our dreams.

Bucket BoxPeriodically, we remember and will sit down to both archive our already shared memories of fun and  adventure:

  • hike slot canyons in the Utah desert
  • attend an Easter Vigil Mass in Valladolid, Mexico
  • raft a class 5 river in Ecuador — on inner-tubes
  • dance in the kitchen

And to record those experiences that we would still like to share with one another:Bucket Box 2

  • learn the Salsa, in Argentina
  • ride a gondola, in Venice, Italy
  • volunteer at a wolf sanctuary
  • ride the Chepe Train through Copper Canyon
  • walk around town with shoes on your hands

They are not listed in any order, either the “Done” or “To Do” lists, but are on separate slips of cardstock, individual achievements and dreams that, when picked at random, always surprise and delight.

I am missing my son this week, as he spends it with his dad, and this was where my mind was when I picked up that box trying to determine how I would be able to order them in any way.  Should I actually try to prioritize them into a list?  Choosing the eleventh most desirous activity I would like to do?  Or should I just pick out eleven slips at random, writing about the last one?

And then I got a call from S, my most precious soul (my son).  “Mom,” he said,”look up YouTube!  Do it right now! Look up Running Errands with my Mom.  Click the first one.”  Now, I don’t know about you, but I can’t easily refuse anything my teenager is so excited about that he will call me up, let alone something about errands and moms so, order executed, this is what I came up with:

So, there it is.  The eleventh thing on my Bucket List.  Running errands with my son.  I figure place eleven is a good place to be.  Eleven is where you put something that you aren’t in a necessary rush to do (errands 😦 ), but something that you know you will get to and it will be done.

And it is just how many slips I might have to pull out of the box before I find something I really want to do today.

“She heard the clock strike eleven and three-quarters…”

And having recalled that her godmother, above all things, had commanded her not to stay past midnight, she was, thus, already nestled all snug in her bed, with visions of (?) meteors stuck in her head?

LONDON - BIG BEN - NIGHT

In truth, I don’t have many recollections of New Year’s Eve, and not for the reasons one may think.  I do remember Y2K, laying on a futon and cradling my infant child.  And there was the one with family and fireworks and he-who-could-have-been-Prince-Charming.  And another playing board games with he-who-wanted-to-be-PC…

But, in general, the place I most want to be at midnight on any given date is in bed, warm and peaceful,rejuvenating for whatever may come next.  It is true, that presently I am wishing that I were geographically closer to some of those I love, but I would have felt the same way whether it were December 31 or August 31 or…

ancient sundial on the yellow stucco wallFor the first day of the Gregorian Calendar — which was adopted by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582 and which has a way more interesting history than you would think (he actually ordered the world to skip 10 days that year!  True story.) — just has never been a very important milestone in my life.  I’ve never really celebrated it, I haven’t really celebrated the night before and I haven’t ever made new year’s resolutions.

Upon consideration, I think the reasons are threefold.  First, the kinds of resolutions that are most bandied about this time of year are not very applicable or meaningful to me.  I don’t need to quit smoking or lose weight or give up caffeine or alcohol.  I couldn’t be a shopaholic if it appealed to me and I no longer leave the dishes in the sink more than overnight.

Sure, I can eat more refined sugar than necessary, put off my laundry too long, and too easily talk myself out of yoga in the morning…  But are these the things that I would waste serious resolutions on?  No, I have deeper issues to deal with.  Ones that would require resolve and effort and energy — and ones whose failure to work out because of any lack of dedication on my part could devastate me.

Also, I am a summer baby.  That’s right, born near the Summer Solstice, my year starts six months from now.  A perception reinforced by the fact that most of my life I have been entrenched in some kind of academia.  Thus, all of my memories are cataloged according to school year, either mine (as student and educator) or my son’s.  And most of my life transitions, personal and professional, can be tracked on an academic calendar much better than on our standard one.  Summer is when my life shifts, when I would be more likely to celebrate and commemorate achievements and most likely to plan for change and new goals.

Finally, I was a Catholic baby as well.  And in spite of PG13 (see above) having approved the current solar almanac, the Church operates according to its own time schedule.  In the Roman Liturgical Calendar, January 1 is simply the 8th day of Christmas.  Neither the start nor the end of any particularly significant event.  No, the Church won’t mandate resolutions or personal transformation for several more weeks, not until Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent.


And I, for one, have always enjoyed Lent.  Of course, as a child, no-one really wants to give up candy or soda for 40 days, but it wasn’t like my mom allowed much of those things anyway.  Instead, she nurtured an excitement about giving to others through such things as Operation Rice Bowl.  And later, she taught me that Lent was not necessarily about giving up, but about doing what was needed to be better.  This may just as easily mean doing something extra or cultivating a good habit or behavior, rather than the opposite.  The time leading up to Lent became an important time of self-reflection and decision for me.

This year, Lent doesn’t begin until February 13.  It seems to have both good and bad timing. We won’t be able to chomp down on those delicious Valentine’s chocolates until they are becoming a little stale.  On the other hand, the Chinese New Year celebration begins on February 10, and will still be in full swing on the 12th, Shrove Tuesday (Fat Tuesday, or Mardi Gras as it is most commonly known), the last day for Catholics to glut and gorge and groove before the austerity of Lent sets in.

However, the Lenten season will not end until Saturday, March 30 which means that if Doompocalypse hasn’t happened before then, we will all be fried up, hungry and hollow, by a raging meteor on Easter Sunday.  Hmmm.  Appears a little more likely now that I think about the Second Coming and the Christian Apocalypse, etc…

Meteor in the sunset

And so it seems that I must be resolute in resolving any resolutions earlier than thought this year.

As mentioned, I am not as much for giving up things as I am for getting my self in order, and there is certainly more than a bit of disarray going on.  It is primarily my history that I am concerned with if my future is in any way in doubt.  (Lover of the Wild captures perfectly this sentiment here.)

I wish to be at peace with the people in my life.  Those I love, those I resent, those I’ve hurt and those who’ve hurt me.  I want to offer tenderness to each of us that we may better understand the other.  This will mean no longer being afraid to reach out to some and to admit wrong to others.  It will mean a willingness to give and accept forgiveness and to brave rejection.  It will mean generosity and vulnerability.

I wish to imbue my child with the depth of my love for him.  To wrap him close to my heart so he can feel that I will always keep him safe and warm and gently.  As he is a new-teenager, this will mean not being distracted and being, not just present, but engaged.  It will mean restraint and it will mean compromise.  It will mean patience and trust.

I wish to cultivate a harmony of spirit.  To reconcile the various dictates and instructions.  This will mean time spent in self-examination and in seeking out those voices of wisdom.  It will mean letting-go and it will mean taking-up.  It will mean courage and faith.

~ And so now it’s done.  Written and thrown out into the Universe.  Upon re-reading I recognize that I am always overly-ambitious and that my own perfectionism may be my greatest barrier to success.  But no time to waste on that debate!  With only three months to go, there are some things I’d best start doing if I’m to have my happily-ever-after…

Meet my Muse… name of Nemesis

In Greek mythology there were nine Muses, goddesses of knowledge and the arts.  They both personified and inspired such creativity as song, dance and poetry, and were therefore the source of knowledge passed on, at that time, through these mediums.

Woman at nature

It is both apt and ironic that I would recognize my mother as my muse, and she would laugh to hear me call her by that name.

Still, my mom is the one who exposed me to music and poetry and art.  She is a singer and loves to dance, and though she criticized my abilities, she filled our home with song.  It was years before I ever heard her say to someone that I was a good writer, and yet she had an amazing library where I found and devoured classic literature from Dante to Chaucer to Dickens.  And while I have never explored what I suspect (or dream:)) could be a hidden artistic talent, I knew my way around all of the museums and galleries of the nearest urban center before I could locate it on a map.

My love of knowledge and science and learning also comes from my mom and she did an amazing job at allowing me to seek out and question and discover whatever called to me.  A gift that I treasure but one I fear she may regret, especially given what I imagine to be her great grief at my current apostasy.  For my mother also gifted me with the presence and familiarity of faith, which to her falls primarily in the realm of religion, the Catholic religion.

And for that reason, my mom can also be called Nemesis (“the spirit of divine retribution against those who succumb to hubris or arrogance before the gods”).  She is responsible for the things I most treasure, including my values, ethics and sense of self.  But she is also responsible for my greatest co-dependencies, my most hidden shames, and my most difficult barriers.

We have struggled always with the stilted dance of our differing wills.  As a child I waged a crusade to prove that I was good enough (for her? for me? for life?).  As an adolescent I fought for my own personhood.  As an adult I walked my own path, but with desperate hopes of recognition.  And as a parent…

Well, the battle, as I continually vacillate between resemblance to and divergence from my mom while working to be the mother I want to be, has been wearying to say the least.  It has not been graceful.  It has included shouting and being hung-up on, having my son witness her slap me and, worse, seeing my knee-jerk reaction as I slapped her back.  It has comprised much silence and the devastation of her actually saying to me, in the fall-out of an Easter morning family argument, that she had decided to no longer be a part of our lives.

I thought we’d never come back from that one.

And yet, as I suppose muses, musees (?) and nemeses must, we have.

The story of my relationship to my mother and my relationship to Catholicism is the same. It is filled with paralleled juxtaposition, with safety and strife, with constancy and contradiction.  It is an ongoing story, one, thankfully, in the process of evolution.

And so I imagine my mom will be a large part of my presence here.  Acting both as Muse and as Nemesis, her presence will surely guide and poke and keep me true.  And in the end, I hope there will be greater peace between not just me and the Catholic Church, but me and the woman who most represents it in my mind.

Feasting on Family

© Bobby.mn  Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos 1768902In the Catholic liturgical calendar, today is the Feast of the Holy Family.  It seems an appropriate time of year, what with the many close holidays celebrated by feasting and gathering.  It also comes at a historical time when the definition of family has been much discussed and so encourages me to reflect on the meaning of family to me.

Of the history of the Feast Day, we can read that it was initiated by Pope Leo XIII in 1893 in response to the industrial revolution and what he viewed as a “the break-down of the nuclear family. Thus, Leo held up the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph to serve as a model for family life and unity.”

So, if the Pope is to be believed, a grouping consisting of a relatively innocent man, a seemingly adulterous, unwed pregnant teen and, later, her illegitimate child presents the model family.  (And ignore the fact that this is a couple who never tried to have children of their own, in spite of the Church’s teaching that, “By its very nature the institution of marriage and married love is ordered to the procreation and education of the offspring and it is in them that it finds its crowning glory.”)

modern family-reality tvAnd I am not in disagreement.  This seems congruous with my own belief that families can be composed of many different pieces and it is the demonstration of respect, unity and mutual care that makes them a family.

Given what few stories we know of Jesus’s early years, his family certainly appears to have possessed these traits.

From the beginning, Joseph was a kind and compassionate man who sought to protect Mary from legitimized shaming even when he thought to divorce her.  Upon their marrying we must believe that he respected her wishes concerning sex and other children (or the lack thereof).  He was willing to uproot this family and move to foreign, unknown lands to protect them.  He helped his family to follow their religious mandates…

Mary, for her part, willingly consents to being a mother to the child, even though she did not plan it and did not even have the fun of making it.  (Did anyone mention that artificial insemination and in-vitro fertilization are not Church approved methods of conception?)  And still, she clothed and fed and cared for him.  She worried for him when he went missing, had faith in his abilities as he grew into adulthood, and stood by him when he was unjustly accused.

And Jesus, at least on the one occasion where he was chastised by his parents, but gently answers and then obeys.

Kindness, compassion, trust, concern, respect, protection, nurturing, dedication, faith, participation, gentleness, loyalty, love…  Check, check and check.  All important characteristics for a family member to have.

Completely missing are the identifiers usually given by the Church such as biological parents of a biological child, conceived and born within wedlock, with ongoing, unprotected intimate relations offering the possibility of further children.

I like this.  I like the thought that had the world known, they would have been shocked by this family composition.  I like that both of these parents were brave enough to choose this unconventional family and then were consistent in their commitment to it.  I like that Jesus’ family continued to evolve into an even more different “chosen family”, as when he affirms that the crowds who gather to learn with him are his true family.

I like this because this is more representative of the families that I know and love.

My own immediate biological family is small and suffered under the expectations of the norm.  My extended biological family is enormous and comprised of most any kind of character.  They are, without exception, welcome and wonderful.  And yet it is my chosen family, both immediate and extended, who know me the best and who provide the most joy, the most growth and the most support.

A legitimately wonderful child from an abusive unmarried union.  The most generous twins abandoned in youth and adopted after adoption was no longer possible.  A loving sister of my soul who knew me before we were seen.  The ever-surprising mother who is included now by my own decision, in spite of the blood between us…

I am ever graced by them and overwhelmed with gratitude that they have elected also, to make me a part of their chosen family.   Strong, dynamic and valid.  A sacred grouping.  A holy family, worthy of any feast.

~May you each celebrate the dignity of your own family today, in all its varieties!