Friday, June 28, 2013


You're going downhill this year, James," [the doctor] says to me, but I am eighty-three. What can you expect? "If you mean my chest is worse," I said to him, "I will accept your judgement as a medical man, but don't tell me I'm going downhill. The road climbs upwards, upwards to the light. It must do. It wouldn't be such hard going if it was going downhill." 
The Wounds of God, Penelope Wilcock


Sunday, June 23, 2013

Changes Along a Country Road

Ever since we moved here I've been intrigued by the way the fields that we pass change from season to season. You never know when a field full of grass might fill with cows. A field of tall green corn turns into a field of parched brown stalks, and a month later it may rain for a week and there will be ducks swimming in the field. I wanted to record these changes so every Saturday morning for about twelve weeks, I've been stopping at first four, and now five places along the way to take pictures on my way to Mass. 

A while back, I started slowly uploading the pictures into a blog, and now it's more or less ready to be seen.  There's only one post, but there are five pages on the sidebar, one for each of the locations. I'll be adding a new picture to each of them every week, and I hope to continue for at least a year. I realized while I was loading the last bunch that I should have loaded them with the most recent pictures on the top, so I arranged the Cornfield page that way, and I'll try to find time to change the others little by little. 

Of course, I doubt that anyone will want to look at them very often. I'm doing this more or less for my own enjoyment. Every trip down that road--and I make that trip at least 12 times a week--has become more interesting. I'm always checking to see how things are going, and I notice so much more. Ever since we started walking, I have felt more and more a part of the area where we live, and this project has increased that sense of belonging to a place. 

There have been other really nice things that have happened also. Frequently people stop to ask if I need help. Over the past few months almost every sort of person has stopped: old, young, black, white, people with nice cars, people with beat-up old trucks. Once I was able to help an older lady who had gotten lost was frightened. 

And then, sometimes unexpected beautiful things show up. Last week I saw a bird that I've never seen before. It was small and bright yellow with black markings. Unfortunately it was too far away to get a picture, but I'll always remember it. Week before last, as I was walking back to my car from the swamp, I noticed that hundreds of swifts were flying back and forth over the bridge ahead. Most of the area was in shadow, but the sun was beaming down the path of the river and all the birds were aglow with light. I walked up to the bridge and managed to get a picture this time, but I could never convey how exhilirating and lovely it was to stand there in the midst of them.

Click the picture to see a larger version.

So, I hope that you will visit at least once. You can find it here.


Saturday, June 22, 2013

Inner Pilgrimage

Somewhere along the road of life, by the grace of God, my soul woke up, and its hunger became a fire, a fire that consumed me, ate me up, with its intense, devouring heat. 

I could not rest anywhere except in motion—in a motion that led me to God. That is how I began the journey inward, that long, endless journey that every soul must undertake if she is to meet her God. 

 It is a strange journey, across arid plains and verdant valleys, and deserts—a journey of many crossroads and endless sharp turns that confuse and clamor for a rest. But the hunger for God knows no rest. So I go on and on and on. 

 Yes, it is a strange journey that slowly makes me shed all the baggage I took for it—the baggage I took for it before I knew that it was too heavy a load for this kind of journey. I don’t know where I left it—somewhere back there by some crossroad. Now I am baggage-less, but somehow still too heavily burdened. 
Journey Inward, Catherine Doherty

This is the first part of a poem by Catherine Doherty. The first time I heard it, probably 25 years ago, I was riding home from a conference in New Orleans with friends. My friend Betsy had bought a book which included this poem, and she read it to us. I was thinking, "No thanks. Not for me. I'm not there yet and if I ever get there, it will be a long time from now." Well, I was right, and now it's been a long time.

There is more, and I plan to post it soon, maybe tomorrow, but you see how frequent my posts have been lately, so we'll see how that works out.

Friday, June 14, 2013

The Purple Book

About 20 years or so ago, someone wrote a history of the seminary and had way, way too many copies printed. Now it has become a sort of joke, and a long-standing tradition, that when anyone leaves the seminary, they are presented with a copy of the purple book which has been signed by the other employees. Over the years, I have seen many, many of these books given away. Less than four weeks ago today, I had not the slightest idea that today I might be sitting at home, the possessor of a purple book, having turned in my keys, and brought home eight years worth of junk, waiting to begin a new job on Monday. I don't really believe it. I know I've said this before, but I am still in a state of shock.

When I first started working at the seminary, I bought a set of four cups that matched these coasters.

One by one, the cups broke and we always had a joke that when the last one broke, I had to go. The cup with the mallard was the last one. I have dropped that cup on the tile floor in the kitchen, and on the marble floor in the Great Hall. I have dropped a heavy stoneware bowl on it while I was washing it twice. It seemed to be invulnerable, but about 6 weeks ago, I dropped it in the kitchen and it shattered. It was funny at the time. 

I wish it was Monday! I'm ready to see what the next part of my life is going to be like!


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Last Day

Very, very, very odd. I think that part of me believes that I will just get this quitting stuff over with and then I will show up again next week.


Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Well, I see I haven't posted anything since Saturday.  I've been very busy trying to organize my office and train my replacement. Tomorrow is the last day. I hope to write something then. I haven't decided to go away yet. ;-)


Saturday, June 8, 2013

Taking Them Away

This morning at Mass when the priest elevated the Host and said, "Behold the Lamb of God, behold Him Who takes away the sins of the world...," I thought, "The sins of the world! THE SINS OF THE WORLD!!" All of the terrible, slogging, soul-destroying horror that we see all around us every day, and all that is done in secret in our souls, now and from the time of the first sin to the end of the world, taken away by the sacrifice of the cross. I'm sure I can't begin to convey how overwhelming this was to me, but it was completely overwhelming. And there was I, about to consume that Lamb of God. Amazing. 

Every day. We can do this every day.


Friday, June 7, 2013

Opening the Door

About 20 years ago, I read a biography of St. Martin de Porres to my youngest daughter. St. Martin was admirable in many ways, but there was one story about him that touched me so deeply that ever since then, he has been my favorite saint. Once when his priory was in debt and in danger of having to close, Martin begged his superiors to sell him into slavery to get the funds they needed. Thankfully they refused, but how does one begin to understand such detachment from one's own well-being, such humility? Being pretty much attached to my own self-preservation, I can't help but be humbled before him.

Later, I guess it was about 10 years ago, I attended a retreat given by Fr. John Horgan, who has a really incredible degree of knowledge about saints and their stories, and about people who are in the midst of the canonization process. During the retreat, He gave everyone a copy of the holy card that you see in the picture. There's a third-class relic in that little red circle on the bottom right. I don't know why, but the minute I looked at this picture, I fell in love with this woman.

Before Father gave us these cards, I had never heard of St. Josephine Bakhita, who had just recently been canonized. Born in the Sudan, Bakhita was kidnapped by Arab slave traders when she was about 8. She was forcibly converted to Islam, and was sold to a series of owners who treated her very badly. Finally, she was bought by an Italian who treated her well, and then two years later to an Italian family who needed a nanny for their daughter, Mimmina. During a transition in the family, she and Mimmina were left in a Canossian convent in Italy, where Bakhita learned the Catholic faith. When it came time for her to leave, she wanted to stay and become a sister of the order, and because slavery was illegal in Italy, she was able to do this.

Now I said all that in order to say this. Yesterday, on my way to Mass, I was thinking about several things, one of which was that I hoped I had made the right decision about the job. And then, I thought about these two, my favorite saints, who were both doorkeepers in the religious communities in which they lived. They were the first to welcome people to the monastery, and the convent, and both of them were known for their hospitality and concern for all those who came. It dawned on me all of a sudden that they are the perfect patrons for someone in my position. I will be the first person that people see when they come to the parish office, and the welcome they get from me will color their whole impression of their visit. The Holy Father spoke of this in his homily on May 25. It was nice of him to think of me like this. I should probably print out the article and read it every morning.

I wrote about 90% of the above two days ago, and this is the first chance I've had to finish it. I've been busy training my replacement and trying to finish all the things I need to finish. Today was my going away party because even though I will work through Wednesday, the other woman in my department won't be there next week. Also, my boss won't be there Tuesday and Wednesday. This is going to be very strange.

Well, I just posted this and then realized I hadn't mentioned St. Paul. I've never thought all that much about St. Paul. Of course, I've read everything he ever wrote several times, and heard it read at Mass many, many times, but I've never had a great, or even a tepid devotion to him. However, when we had the year of St. Paul about five years ago, I bought the statue in the picture, and we bought some study guides on his epistles which we never opened. Still, there he was watching us from the piano all those years, and Tuesday I noticed that there is a big painting of him directly over my shoulder every week when I go to Mass at the cathedral. So, maybe this job at his parish has been in the works for a long time.

The picture, by the way, is of his beheading. I hope that's not an indication of what I have to look forward to.


Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Your True Character is Finally Showing Itself

This morning after Mass, I knew that I had to stop and pick something up, and I found myself walking aimlessly around in Walgreens (drugstore) wondering what the heck I had come for. Then I remembered--lettuce. "Oh," I thought to myself, "I guess I should have stopped at Kroger (grocery store) instead." So I put my cart away and went back to my car feeling like an idiot, but at least it gave me the opportunity to take a picture of this.

I love seeing bird nests stuck away in urban places like this. Apparently this bird mother was hoping that she could influence her babies to get good grades. 

And seeing the nest above my head, reminded me that I wanted to write something about this morning's first reading at Mass. I'm sure you are familiar with the story. Tobit, having fallen asleep under a wall where birds are perching, has been blinded by their droppings, and he continues the story in chapter 2, verses 11-14.
At that time my wife Anna worked for hire at weaving cloth, the kind of work women do. When she sent back the goods to their owners, they would pay her. Late in winter she finished the cloth and sent it back to the owners. They paid her the full salary, and also gave her a young goat for the table. On entering my house the goat began to bleat. I called to my wife and said: "Where did this goat come from? Perhaps it was stolen! Give it back to its owners; we have no right to eat stolen food!" But she said to me, "It was given to me as a bonus over and above my wages." Yet I would not believe her, and told her to give it back to its owners. I became very angry with her over this. So she retorted: "Where are your charitable deeds now? Where are your virtuous acts? See! Your true character is finally showing itself!"
The first time I heard this read at Mass, I almost laughed out loud. Sometimes conversation in the Bible sounds archaic or it reflects a culture that is different than our own, but this conversation between the husband and wife sounds so natural, and it calls our attention to something that we all have to face up to in our own lives from time to time. 

It's so easy to be charitable in public, but so hard to be charitable at home, or in other places where we are comfortable and let our guard down. Whoever said that charity begins at home was a real idealist. Every time I say in the Act of Contrition that I am going to avoid the near occasion of sin, I wonder how I think I'm going to do that. My usual occasions of sin are the people I live with, the people I work with, and the people I go to church with--hard to avoid. I'm always thinking that the only thing I can do is to think up ways that I can avoid these temptations by being prepared ahead of time. I don't think I'm very good at that yet. The best way, I think, is to remember that, as Caryll Houselander reminds us, Christ is there within all these people. Trying to always remember this is probably going to be the work of a lifetime.


Monday, June 3, 2013

The Best, Though Scary, Thing

I mentioned yesterday that among all the changes occurring in my life, even the best one was scary. So, this is it. 

On June 14, I will leave the protestant seminary where I have been working for the past 8 years, and on June 17, I will begin working at St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church. The reason why it's scary is that, although I am really excited about many aspects of the job, especially the fact that it's in a Catholic parish and I can attend Mass everyday, I'm leaving a place where everyone knows me, and, I think, most everyone likes me, to go work someplace where I am almost completely unknown. The pastor has been my spiritual director for the past several months, and the Saturday morning Mass attendees will recognize me, but that's about it. I really, really like the pastor, but then, so do I really love my current boss, who was my friend for 8 years before I started working for him, and with whom I have a great working relationship.  And then, Fr. J. is the best spiritual director I have ever had, and he can't be that any more once I start working for him. Also, it's just the idea of change. I like NO change, and lately, it's lots of change.

Still, I'm really excited. It's the kind of job that I have been wanting for a long time, and I know it's a job that I am well-equipped to do. Also, the school there is staffed by the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia, and they are always great people to be around. I have met the one person with whom I will be working the most closely, and not only does she seem to be very nice, she lives fairly close to me (unbelievable considering I live at least 25 miles from the church) and has offered to give me a ride if I ever happen to need one.

When you are young, you think that by the time you are 62, you will be settled--that life will pretty much continue to go on in the same way. I have to tell you that this has not been my experience at all. Although I had sometimes thought about changing jobs, I never really thought that in the current job market a woman my age would have the slightest chance of getting hired, and I'm pretty happy where I am now. I didn't go out and look for this job at all. It just fell into my lap.

A couple of weeks ago, during a fairly intense round of spiritual direction, there was a knock on the door of the rectory, and Father got up to answer it. When he got back, he said that it was someone coming to do the bulletin. He said, "You know I've lost my help. My assistant resigned," and I said, "You should hire me," and he chuckled and we returned to the business at hand. I mentioned it again on the way out, and told him to pray about it, and he called me the next week to tell me to email him a resume. I was selected by a committee on which he did not sit. One reason they like me was because they thought my maturity would be an asset in the job. How amazing that the one thing I thought would hinder me--and would have almost certainly hindered me anyplace else--was a selling point.

For the next two weeks, I know I will be very busy trying to get some pretty urgent things done around here, and also, hopefully, training someone to do my job. Nobody really has any idea what I do in this little office, so it's going to be a difficult transition. I'm looking forward to June 17, when for about 5 minutes, I can sit at my new desk and think, "I'm not behind in anything!"


Sunday, June 2, 2013


I've been pretty quiet for the past week or two, and even when I've posted things, I haven't actually written much. Part of the reason for this is that I have been really busy both at work and at home. I mentioned Monday that our granddaughter has moved in with us, and while this has been a great blessing, it has initiated a fury of rearranging, and sorting through way too much stuff. 

If you've read this blog for a while, you may remember this chair. I'm quite attached to this chair and the room in which it sits; however, at the moment, my granddaughter is living in this room. In order to be able to reclaim my room, I had to clean out the rather large closet, the door of which is directly across from this chair. It has been my habit to never open the closet doors because of the horror which lay behind them, i.e. approximately 100 cubic feet of too much stuff. So, after fortifying myself with visions of future chair-sitting, I sorted and threw away and packed and rearranged and vacuumed.

Now I am in the process of emptying all my stuff out of this room. Some of it had to go in the closet which I had just cleaned out--which was why I had to clean it out--and some got thrown away, and some was moved elsewhere, although elsewhere is pretty full of stuff, too. I'm almost through with this stage, but now I've gotten down to the stuff that I can't seem to make a decision about, so it's slowing me down. I have, however, emptied bookcases and am actually going to sell one (unheard of!). 

After I finish emptying out this space, my husband has to move all of his stuff out of the room that formerly belonged to my youngest daughter, and then we can paint the room and clean the carpet and then my granddaughter can move into it and I can have my room back.

The main reason that I haven't written, though, is that there are so many unexpected changes going on in my life at the moment that I haven't been able to still my thoughts enough to write anything that's reasonably cohesive. I think that in the end, all of these things will be good, but at the moment some are very difficult, and even the best thing is very scary, and out of all these things, there's really only one that I can write about,  but not until tomorrow afternoon or evening.

Well, it probably displays a great deal of hubris to think that anyone is interested in such a self-centered sort of a post, but I will excuse myself by saying that what I am really doing is asking for your prayers. I'm not sure, really, if I am going to keep writing this blog. We'll have to see.