When I go to sleep, I take time, after I get comfortable, to let myself be loved and to feel that God surrounds and fills me with His loving, protective presence. Early in my young widowhood, I used to make it a habit to say, as I sank into my bed, “Into Your hands, I commit my spirit.” I would think to myself, “my spirit….. and everything else.”
I love sleeping, and I love naps. Naps are a kind of any time Sabbath, a rare and splendid solitude. Naps are prayer. Naps are a letting go into God, right in the middle of the day. They are a form of contemplation, really. A nap can even be a dreamy Lectio Divina. I love falling asleep to a quiet recording of one of the Gospels.
I loved it when I found out that St, Therese of Lisieux, Carmelite Nun, and Doctor of the Church, used to fall asleep sometimes during the set hours of solitary prayer in her cell. She wasn’t really supposed to do that. It was an accident. She didn’t feel bad about it, though. She saw it as falling asleep in her Father’s arms. What could be better than that?
Catherine Doherty, in her wonderful book, Poustinia, says,
“Sometimes we are so exhausted mentally, morally, and physically, we can’t do much of anything… we just flop down! Well, to sleep in the arms of Christ is a pretty good idea. You don’t have to do anything. It’s being simple in your relationship with God.”
Holy Naps can also be shared, of course. When my kids were younger, and their dad was still alive, we had a tradition of the Sunday Family Nap. We all cuddled and fell asleep listening to music or a story, and by the time the recording stopped, everyone was asleep. It was a holy Sabbath rest, and I continued to honor it with the kids for years to come.
My second husband and I found that naps were indispensable in dealing with the stress of fighting cancer. We would pretend cancer couldn’t follow us into our bed, and we liked to put on one of those relaxation recordings, wrap the rosary around each other’s hands as a joined prayer, and sleep that way.
Jesus said He would give us rest. But we are to come to Him for it.
“Come to me, all you are are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
I like to think about how he said to St. Faustina,
Know, My daughter, that the ardor of your heart is pleasing to Me. And just as you desire ardently to become united with Me in Holy Communion, so too do I desire to give Myself wholly to you; and as a reward for your zeal, rest on My Heart (Diary, 826).
This is what I like to do, lay my head on Jesus’ Heart, like St. John did at the Last Supper. I let myself be loved and comforted and healed by sleeping there like a tired little bird in the crook of His arm.
So have a nap. Make it a nap of restoration and silent love.
Expect great things from a holy nap.
“He pours gifts on His beloved while they sleep.” Psalm 127
Don’t feel guilty about relishing a good nap, if you can get one; the kind where you know you’re sleeping, and you’re happy about it. Be happy about it. You need it!
As my daughter, Maire’s, friend, April, says, “We need naps after our naps!”
Sweet dreams. And may the love of God enfold you in all your naps!
My youngest daughter begged me to help a friend of hers whose family had no place to live. It was an emergency situation. They had tried everything. Her friend had come to her in tears- a friend who I had only ever seen smile and laugh- a kid I remembered by his radiant smile.
This friend’s mom was an invalid. I didn’t know the details. She wouldn’t be any trouble, my daughter said hastily, between sobs, she wouldn’t be in the way at all, “She just hangs out.” The friend had a brother, too, an older brother. The brother had a job at Taco Bell and could pay us rent. All they needed was a room.
“Please, Mom, please!
“This friend came over later, a fifteen year old guy friend of my daughter’s. We had a guest room since my oldest daughter had moved out not long before.
The boy cried in my daughter’s arms in the front yard, thanking her. He looked at that little room like it was heaven. They only would accept this one room. They had only ever lived together in one room and they would be fine, he said.
No, I could not afford this. No, I am not an extravert who likes people around all the time. No, I didn’t want to do it. I felt absolutely panicked, actually. Neither would this be the first time throughout this family’s long stay with us ( about a year, I think,) that I had anxiety.
However, how could I ever look at Jesus again if I refused?
It turned out the mother of this family was in agonizing pain all the time. She had not walked in over a year. She was in too much pain even to sit in her battered wheelchair. She spent her days lying in bed looking at the ceiling, waiting for her sons to come home from school or work and help her with her physical needs. She could barely raise her arms without terrible pain. Her sons had to do everything for her, even feed her.
The older son worked hard at Taco Bell and went to school. The younger one went to school and mostly took care of his mother.
The mother and younger son joked around a lot. I could hear them laughing often as he cared for her. The older son was very protective of his mom, and also cared for her, doing the cooking and carrying her when needed, though he was of slight build. He was obviously proud to do it. Both boys honored their mom completely, and obeyed her in everything. Their devotion to her was evident.
Sometimes I felt bad for them for the things they had to do as teen-aged boys. They never did understand my alarm at their situation, even though they were often frightened themselves. I can only account for this by the fact that to them, this was just life as they knew it.
The first thing I saw in the mornings when I got up, was the younger son coming down the hall toward the bathroom with his mother’s bed pan. He would always smile and tell me, “Good morning!”
Of course I tried to help out. I asked people, I posted on Face Book (in a way that protected their identities,) I got out of my comfort zone and went out looking for help. Even though I am daunted by authority figures and the world of officialdom, and by having to go places and ask questions, I did all of this. What else could I do? I often thought this family could have done a lot better in the person they ended up with to help them. I did not have much success.
Individuals were often reluctant to get involved, though some offered me some money to help out, or a gave me a gift card for them. My friends brought food by for us. Because sometimes we ran out.One reason we ran out of food was that the boys got their food stamps cut at one point, to $11 a month. Yes, this is the truth. How do you feed two teen-aged boys on $11 a month? You can’t.How can a family of three survive on minimum wage, especially from a job that varies in hours of work offered? They can’t.
A lot of people said, “Oh go to St. So and So, they do that.” I did. They were out of money. In my experience they could not help us. “Go to Such and Such Charities.” I went. All they could offer us was a one time gift of a $50 Wal-mart card. It did help. But then what?
For housing help for them, I encountered a waiting list three years long, and income requirements that put it out of their reach.
Parish Social Justice ministry? Out of money, too.
The food pantry in our neighborhood could not help this family with food because they lived with me, and the rules indicated that my income must be counted as part of theirs, and, in that case, we were disqualified. We hardly ever had enough food during this time. Nothing was working out.
“Lord, I am trying to do what you want me to do, can you make the path more clear!?” …….. and maybe a little easier?
Everywhere I went to get help for this family, there really was not much. I am not putting these wonderful organizations down. Obviously, we should be helping the charities around us more than we do!
When we think of the poor, I think we tend to believe the charities have it covered, but how could they? They can’t do everything, and they don’t. We have to do stuff, too.
I went to the free clinic to try to get medical help for the mother. They could not help us or even see her at all, because they did not have the specialist on board to correspond with her disease, and those were the rules.
The community hospice could not help us with palliative care because her disease was not on their list of terminal illnesses. It was not on the list because, it is a treatable disease, though hers has been untreated so long she will likely die from it, eventually. She will die a slow, agonizing death because of her poverty and because of her status as a non-citizen.
Her sons are citizens, but she is not. They are in constant fear of being separated, of their mother being taken from them, or the brothers being separated somehow if anything happens to their mother while the youngest is a minor. They have been afraid to seek help because of these things. As it turns out, help is hard to find, anyway.
Her pain is what made me really angry. Trying to get help for her frustrated me the most. Sometimes I felt crazy.
My massage therapist friends came and worked on her, bringing essential oils that helped with pain. But that can only go so far on a body twisted and deformed by advanced, unchecked degenerative disease.
The Catholic hospital took her once when the pain was especially bad, and stabilized her. A doctor there gave her a prescription for pain. The other patients and nurses on the floor put together some money between them to pay for her medicine for a while. It was truly touching to us all. But that medicine is long gone, though she usually refused to take it, fearing she would need it more later.
When the enormous hospital bill came, it could not be paid. Also, getting her to the hospital had been so terribly painful, I think now that her illness has progressed more, that it would take an ambulance to get her there. Since it is such a temporary solution, it hardly seems like a good one now.
Oddly, a protective government service showed up to my house to check on her. Seeing it as an opportunity, I tried to ply the visitor for help and information. Getting her help was out of their scope. The social worker was very nice and did offer me a number to an organization that would help pay the hospital bill she already had. It would only be a drop in the bucket, a lot of trouble to get it, and have no effect on her present situation. This did not seem very helpful to me. Sorry, but it didn’t.
Though sometimes the stress of having another family in our house was intense, my daughter and I became very close to this family. The mom could not speak English but somehow we managed to have conversations, sometimes for hours. Sometimes she would let me help her with things, but she usually wouldn’t. She was embarrassed. That’s OK.
All three of them were very quirky, smart, and funny. I have a lot of good memories from that time. I hope they do, too.
The boys had their faults like anyone, so did we, and sometimes we all drove each other crazy. Don’t think we didn’t. Because it was truly difficult sometimes.
My daughter and her friend had their friendship strained to the limit at times.I am happy to say, she and that boy are close friends still.
The family insisted on giving me some rent, and I let them, because I knew it was an issue of dignity, and also I knew that the older son was proud of the way he took care of his family. I was proud of him, too.
When the younger son turned sixteen, he started working too. He would often be very tired, staying up late at night, sitting on the edge of their bed, doing homework in his McDonald’s uniform as his mother looked on or slept.
Both sons made good grades and took advanced classes. Their mother is very strong on education. She wants them to have a better life.
A young couple from one organization became interested in the younger son, and they were the ones who helped him with interview skills and to find a job.They were very kind to him.
One of my sisters-in-law brought audio books in Spanish to help pass the mother’s time, and my friends who spoke Spanish, would come by and talk to her sometimes. That was so kind.
People sometimes gave them helpful things, like a much needed hospital bed.One of my brothers helped the older son get a full time job, and he is doing well at that job, and taking a class or two at the local community college when he can. He doesn’t make much money, but they are able to have their own little low- rent place now, and even get around in their own vehicle, such as it is.
The younger son says it’s hard for him because he feels like he works twenty-four hours a day. He goes to school all day, cares for his mom, goes to work, cares for his mom again, and never has enough time to do all of his homework because he is so exhausted, and he worries about his grades. Sometimes he wants to run away, but he can’t. One time he started to, but he started crying and had to come back and tell his mom all about it.
They are barely, barely making it, but at least they are kind of making it.However, the problem of their mother’s agony remains.
What to do? The pain gets worse and worse all the time. The boys get scared sometimes, and I call my nurse friend. She goes and checks on them, giving them advice, but she can’t do anything about pain medicine. I have asked doctor friends. Nothing has worked out so far.There is “no room at the inn” for her.
“How is your mom today?” “She can hardly move at all. She cries. I cry. It’s really hard.”
She suffers terrible agony with no relief. She is poor. She has no insurance. She has no rights. What is left? What do we do? Dear Reader, what would you do?
God grasps our arms for help; for each of us is His beloved servant never far. ~ St. John of the Cross
* Note: the mother of this family died this Easter. Of a totally treatable disease.
In honor of the month of May being Mary’s special month, here is a list and description of seven of my favorite Marian books. I would love to hear about your own favorites.
I have put these in alphabetical order by author.
1. Gifts of the Visitation by Denise Bossert
In this book we are given a glimpse into Mary’s world; the central place of the Shema in her prayer life, the eighty mile trip Mary (and the author) took across the rugged terrain between Nazareth and Ein Karem, and a greater understanding of why Mary went, and what the visit meant.
The book is organized around the nine gifts of the Visitation. The author not only outlines these, but tells us how to activate them in our own lives. As I read, a vision opened of Our Lady of the Gospel.
In the midst of the sexual abuse crisis in the Church and the profound divisions I meet with every day in the Church and in the world, re-reading this book recently helped me to remember the beauty of our Catholic faith, to have confidence in that beauty, and to remember that Jesus is unstoppable. We have a great and wonderful gift to share in our holy and joyful faith. And we should go in haste as Mary did, with the shining star of the Gospel, which is alive and still unfolding among us as we live it out!
2. The Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary from Catholic Book Publishing Company
This is a prayer book based on the Liturgy of the Hours or Divine Office. It has been through several reforms to help it conform more closely to it, and there are various versions of The Little Office. This one is my favorite because of the modern language and the close relationship it has with the Liturgy of the Hours I pray with every day. You can also find this version online.
The Little Office, still used by some religious orders, runs on a one week cycle rather than th four weeks of the Liturgy of the Hours. Each day has a different Marian theme, such as Immaculate Conception, Mother of the Church, etc.
Along with the usual Psalms, canticles Scripture readings and prayers, a special Marian reading is included for each hour such as a passage from a Church Father, an ancient homily, or a Church document. Though it is usually brief, it is a rich addition.
Most of all, I love the gorgeous Marian antiphons throughout.
The robe you wear is white as spotless snow. Your face is radiant like the sun.
I used to pray the Little Office with my first husband after we consecrated ourselves to Mary. It was a great introduction to praying the Liturgy of the Hours, very beautiful and easy to use. I still pray it often, especially on Marian feast days and in the months of May and October, or any time I think of it.
3. Queen of Angelsby Janice Connell
Oh what is it about this book? The writing seems a little syrupy when I read it aloud to others. However, like the tender words of one’s own mother, reading it privately is balm to my soul.
Especially during difficult times, I tend to carry it around with me in my backpack. It is the kind of book one can pick up, open randomly, read any section, and hear just what one needs at the time. My copy is very dog eared and beat up. Since I tend to give it away and get another copy for myself, it is not even that old.
It is formatted as dialogues between a soul and Mary. The soul asks a question, and Mary answers. There is an ending prayer for each section and a journal entry.
There are Scripture verses and quotes from saints, as well as practical prayer suggestions for developing your relationship with Mary.
Its simple, perhaps at times sugary language mysteriously hits the bullseye for me every time.
I don’t read it aloud to my friends but it surely speaks to my heart.
4. Bogorititza: She who gave birth to God by Servant of God, Catherine Doherty
It would be hard to exaggerate the beauty of Catherine Doherty’s writing; simple, quietly radiant. Catherine was originally from Russia. The “Doherty” is her married name.
The first pages introduce us to her childhood devotion to Mary in her Russian family, how Mary’s icon was a special place in their household, and how Mary’s presence accompanied her everywhere. “Mama Maria” was an important part of her family’s daily life.
Then we learn about Catherine’s suffering during the Russian Revolution and what Mary’s companionship taught her through that experience.
Later she escapes to America as a refugee and began a life of “living the Gospel without compromise.”
Founder of “The Madonna House Apostolate, we see in these glowing pages the meaning of Mary in Catherine’s amazing life of contemplation, service, and community life; the place of Mary’s patronage in the Apostolate, the meaning of Mary to the Church and to the world.
This is a fairly quick but wonderful read full of wisdom and of Mary’s presence in our lives which is like a candle always burning before her icon in our hearts.
5. Mary, Mother of God, Mother of the Poor by Ivone Gebara and Clara Bigemer
This book, written by two Latin American theologians, is scholarly but friendly. It is a look at Mary through the lens of Latin American Liberation Theology. If that sort of thing doesn’t bother you, you may enjoy this book as I did.
Though the Church has become much more friendly to Liberation Theology under Pope Francis, I am not going to claim that this book is Orthodox. However, it is a good book, and, I think, presents ideas worth a listen. For some people it could be a very helpful book.
The authors cover Mary’s humanity and ours, Mary in Scripture, Mary in her Church dogmas, in devotion to her in Latin American countrie. We are given a view of Mary from a social justice perspective.
I first read it as a twenty-year-old attracted to the Catholic faith but struggling with what I thought was a clash of values with the Church. This book opened up the world of Catholicism for me and helped me see there might be room for me in the Church after all.
I have included it in this list because of the turning point it represents for me, and because I still think it has a place in the discussion though it may not be the sort of thing you are used to. I would probably not agree with some of it now, but I still love it and think some people could benefit from reading it.
Be ready to think.
6. Hail, Holy Queen by Scott Hahn
This book is so accessible I read it aloud to my kids, who were a teen and a tween at the time. However, they were spiritually precocious enough to be in awe, as I was, at its depths.
Hail, Holy Queen falls into the category of Catholic Apologetics. Even if you are really into apologetics, you will learn new and fascinating things about Mary in the plan of God all through Scripture in ways that will make your jaw drop at the beauty and perfection of our faith.
We were inspired with wonder and awe of God, with the wonderful and varied ways He speaks to us through the Bible, and the unparalleled glory of our Catholic faith.
St. Teresa of Avila said that consultation of the holy and learned is indispensable in the life of prayer. Learning from Scott Hahn is not to be missed.
7. Mary, the Transparency of God by Servant of God Chiara Lubich
This is the kind of book I have to read a little, put it down, think and pray about it, and then take it up again because it is irresistable. I have read this book again and again. Each time it seems deeper to me.
I had never thought of Chiara Lubich, founder of the Focolare Movement (aka: The Work of Mary) as a mystic. This book taught me more about her (and Mary’s) spiritual outlook.
Chiara begins the book by saying that she thinks it is time to take a fresh look at Mary. She draws a very grounded, very real picture of Mary’s person, her purpose, her soul, her journey, and how each of us reflects Mary’s life in our own. This book is lush, poetic, and beautiful.
There are several new perspectives of Mary in this book, beautifully described. My favorite part might be when Chiara takes a look at St. Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle and sees in the phases of the spiritual life the events of Mary’s life. Then she shows us what she calls “The Way of Mary.” I thought it was brilliant.
Perhaps we can crown Mary in the month of May by deepening our understanding and love for her, and by renewing our relationship with the “Queen of the Angels, Queen of the May.”
We are sitting on cushions at a low table, enjoying shisha from a shared hookah in the corner of a light, airy building in a shopping center in Central Texas. There is country music on the radio, and a minty, fruity smoke rising around us in the late afternoon sun.
Frank, (or as I call him,”Frankly,”) is my first late husband’s oldest brother. Our families have remained close over the years. He and his wife, Karin, are visiting from their home in Oak Creek, Wisconsin (Milwaukee area.)
Today, I have set out to interview Frank about his experiences of inter-religious dialogue. I have been reflecting on Nostra Aetate, the Vatican II document on the relationship of the Catholic Church with non-Christian religions. It seems to me that our own Frank is a living example of what respectful friendship between the faiths could look like if taken seriously and personally, lived out in individual relationships and respectful, curious overtures, even shared prayer.
Frank agreed to talk about his journey, though his natural state is somewhat taciturn. It takes him a while to warm up sometimes… so I’ll wait.
Right now Frank is not sure what he thinks of this hookah business, a hobby that I and his son, Hans have taken up from time to time. He stares at the plastic sanitary tip of the hose we have handed him, unsure of what to do with it.
While he figures this hookah thing out, I will give you some details to confuse you about Frank. (I say confuse because some of the facts about him are not usually found together in one person.)
Introducing Francis K. Pauc, West Point graduate, Army veteran (helicopter pilot) peace activist, father of an Iraq war veteran (Hans, mentioned above.) He is also a volunteer at the local V.A. hospital, an avid defender of immigrants’ rights, friend of Dominican Sisters, assister of people in the Catholic Worker movement (which was founded by Dorothy Day), and writer of many letters to the editor on issues of import.
He has written a book, available on Amazon Kindle, and in paper back, called Father at War. He is a recently retired dock foreman of a shipping company, a devout cradle Catholic with a long and distinguished history of being active in his parish, St. Stephen’s. He has been twenty years a lector, a past RCIA teacher, and past parish council member, among other activities.
He is also the token Catholic at the Buddhist Sangha at Milwaukee Zen Center, frequent attender of the Orthodox Jewish synagogue in his area, and he now and then hangs out at the local mosque. He is a regular pray-er/visitor at the Sikh temple in his neighborhood.
Frank is the father of three adult children, long time husband to Karin, who he met and married while stationed in Germany as a young man.
He is of Slovenian heritage but is sometimes mistaken to be Turkish. Lately he has grown a long beard and looks very Orthodox Jewish. On that last long peace walk his beard became a bit dred-lock-ish.
I have known Frank since the late eighties when I started dating brother # 6 in the Pauc family of seven boys, Marc Blaze.
Frank is starting to be amused with the hookah experience. I can tell he is comfortable enough I can ask him questions now.
Fortunately, besides his big, German village wedding, his journey learning about other faiths is his favorite subject.
His habitually taciturn, crabby look becomes a warm, soft- eyed lucidity now as I begin to ask how all this started for him. When did he first learn about other religions, I ask, blowing out my delicious smoke.
Frank says his first real look at another religion was learning about Islam in the Army, since he had to learn Arabic. Then he took a refresher course in Arabic with someone from work, years later, at a Muslim culture center. He made more friends there. They didn’t necessarily talk about faith all of the time. They moved from learning Arabic to talking about their kids, their wives, their work, their daily lives.
After 9/11, Frank wanted to do something personal to cross the widening divide in our country between non-Muslim Americans and Muslim Americans. He ended up going by the mosque. He found the front locked so he went around back to the kitchen. “I thought you guys might need friends.”
“Are you Muslim?”
“No. I am a Catholic.”
Frank is the only person I know who would show up to an unfamiliar place of worship and ask, “Anybody want to talk about God?”
Frank observes that the prohibition on images in Muslim art has created a very masculine looking art form of geometric shapes and calligraphy, which is beautiful, but, to him, missing something. He thinks it’s a conception of the feminine side of the Divine that is absent. This gave him a new appreciation of our knowledge of the the Holy Spirit, the Giver of Life, “Creator Blessed,” and of our Mother Mary exemplifying and reflecting this to us. He thinks our ability to be spoken to by God through images is related to conscious contact with the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary through whom the Incarnation was accomplished. The Incarnation puts us in touch with how God communicates through what we can see and touch. It’s why, he theorizes, Catholic art is so glorious. It’s because we have Mary, and we are very in touch with that creative motherly energy and imagery.
He talks about how sad it is that so many Christians have lost their mother. Their art is not as cool as ours, either, he thinks. “There’s got to be a connection here.”
He really did love the Dome of the Rock, though when he went to the Holy Land. “That was awesome.”
But we digress. We smoke in silence a while… listening to the pleasant bubbling sound of the water in the hookah’s base.
Years ago, Frank says, he became curious about the Sikh Temple in his neighborhood. He smiles when he remembers his visits there. “You have to eat. They always feed you. You never leave without eating.”
He adds that the music is great. Like a cross between our best praise and worship, and the coolest Indian music ever. Frank likes to find someone and ask them questions like, “Do you think God loves you?” and go from there.
The Sikh Temple he liked to visit was the same one where there was a shooting in 2012 . Frank knew one of the people who was killed. He was among those who offered support. He still likes to drop by and pray.
Sometimes he meets interesting people of other religions in his work as a peace activist. He met a Buddhist monk named Senji on a long peace walk he went on to protest drone warfare. The next year, he, his wife Karin, and his son, Stefan, went to visit Senji in his monastery in Oregon. They had a great time, and found a lot in common, especially in the social justice work the monks engaged in, and their quiet, dedicated life.
The desire for contemplative prayer was what got Frank to visit the Zen Center in the first place. He and Karin had tried to find a place to learn forms of Christian contemplative prayer and practice in a group and had not found one. (They have now.) So Frank and Karin went and sat with the Buddhists. Karin always took her rosary and prayed that. Frank started hanging around all the time and being part of the life of the Sangha, even though there are some things that as a Catholic he can’t do, of course.
He decided to learn more, and he loved hanging around. They appreciated his thoughts. When he thought something was stupid, he always said so, (he always does, regardless of the company,) and he also gave his thoughts as a Christian. They came to appreciate this. He liked sitting in silence with them.
Going to “Zen practice” regularly brought visible changes to Frank.
I remember seeing these changes in him. He became much more playful and open and calm. Less “‘onry.” I think he really did find peace. I could see it in his face and hear it in his speech. I could tell by his kinder attitude, and even the way he carried himself. He still can be found at the Milwaukee Zen Center on a Saturday morning if he’s not volunteering, or traveling somewhere.
He says getting to know his friends at the Zen Center helped him delve into his own faith and prayer traditions all the more.
“It’s made me a better Catholic.”
Learning to sit quietly in what was consciously a form of trusting, un-knowing prayer, for him, brought him nearer to God, and God blessed him with a sense of open-ness and peace. It seems the Lord continued to lead Frank on his unique travels through the spiritual world and to teach him that learning about how other people love and understand God is an act of love.
It is worth remembering that Thomas Merton, a great American Catholic admired by Pope Francis, also got to know Buddhism very well, made friends with Buddhist monks, and found ways to share silence and spiritual practice with them that enriched his own faith.
I asked him what lead him to choose to start showing up at the Orthodox synagogue, rather than Reformed. “Is it because of being Catholic and therefore more into deep, rooted, more ritualistic and mystical worship? ” He said no, that it was because that was the closest synagogue to his house. “What made you want to learn more about Judaism?” One of his more rare expressions crosses his face; an innocent, child like look. “Because I wanted to understand.”
He says he became very close with the Rabbi there and began to take Hebrew lessons. He was often invited to dinner at the Rabbi’s house, and even to Passover. He says he doesn’t think anyone can have the fullest appreciation for their Christianity if they don’t get to know Judaism. He said attending their liturgies changed him as a lector. He grew in his appreciation of the Scripture and reading the Old Testament at mass was a more profound experience for him after seeing the very solemn and reverent way it is read in the synagogue.
He remembers a funny conversation he had with he Rabbi who said, “Oh, you Christians, always forgetting Satan isn’t anything close to equal with God,” when Frank was worried about something.
He still likes going to the Synagogue regularly.
Frank remarks that Jesus was a good Jew, and that he thinks of Jesus as his older brother. I smile, remembering that is what John Paul II said about the Jewish people and the Church. They are our older brother.
I say that it strikes me that his inter-religious ministry and journey seems to be about making personal connections, about being a friend. He agrees with that, though he says he is less conscious of that than just wanting to understand others and share with them. He feels compelled about this.
He says he is most impressed by the people who are deeply and “completely sold” on their religion. He respects the most those who have “their faith woven into he fabric of their every day life. When it’s just who they are.” Those are the people it’s easiest to talk to, and who return the interest he gives to them about their faith.
At times he has wondered if he should stop hanging around Buddhists and the Orthodox Jews. They were quick to say they needed him around, and enjoyed what he had to say. They felt spiritually up lifted by their token Catholic.
At one time in his life, following a series of crises and being simultaneously very wounded by some in his own parish, he actually struggled about whether to remain Catholic or not. It was his friends at the Zen Center and the synagogue, who said, “Whatever you do, don’t leave the Catholic Church.” They cared more than anyone else, he said.
Now that he is newly retired, he can spend more time volunteering, working for peace, and walking into temples, synagogues and mosques asking about God and giving the gift of a listening heart to anyone willing to share their faith.
Frank seems to have been aptly named after the great St. Francis of Assisi, who said, “Preach he Gospel at all times. Use words when necessary.”
Frank and Karin are off to their next stop on their summer adventures; a Catholic Worker farm, then a Youth Hostel, a Benedictine guest house, and then on to Mt. Bly in Oregon to visit my off the grid daughter, Maire, and her little family.
I mention, as we get up to leave the cafe, that we’ve actually been talking Nostra Aetate over our shisha. Frank says, “Yeah. That pretty much rocks.”
Hookah: a waterpipe
Mu‘assel, or shisha tobacco: the molasses-based tobacco concoction smoked in a hookah; often comes in various flavors such as rose, lemon, mint, etc.
Hookah lounge, or shisha bar: an establishment where patrons share shisha
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness… wholesome, charitable views… cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner …”
This is true. However, one can travel without leaving town. Consider the borders of social and economic boundaries, roles we occupy that keep us from knowing one another, our self protective measures in the face of suffering. To brush aside convention and fear in favor of love and adventure; this is travel by heart. I don’t know about you, but without it, I tend to create my own world and risk losing sight of the Gospel.
The rule of this travel is: Anything that softens your heart is a good thing. Anything that hardens the heart should be avoided. Cultivate a receptive heart to be a well -rounded traveler. Learn to ignore what doesn’t matter to go places no one has ever been before.
Get to know a “Welfare Mom.”
Be friends with an “illegal” human being.
Hold someone who is dying.
Breath deeply of another’s world.
Sometimes I am still embarrassed, scared or don’t know what to say, but I have tried walking through the doors when I see them, making a pilgrimage to the holy shrine of human encounter.
It’s kind of a crazy place.
Once, an elderly lady I was obediently and routinely spoon- feeding, smiled, picked up her spoon, and started feeding me! We looked at each other and laughed.
Moments like this happen all the time in life. What if you made a habit of paying attention to their opportunities every day? You would be a seasoned back packer through worlds unknown. Maybe you already are.
Sometimes you will not want to make the trip.
Tradition dictated I invite “all” my “friends, neighbors and family” to my house blessing. I thought, “Not the druggie guys next door.” But I did invite them. They looked great, all smiles, clean and dressed up, obviously totally honored to have been invited. That was humbling. Being humbled feels great.
Make the trip.
I met a young mom who had to scramble to find a house to clean or a lawn to mow to get dinner on the table for her kids at times when her meager supply of food stamps ran out. LeAnn became a good friend. I would have missed knowing a true poet, missed a beautiful friendship, if she and I had maintained the customary boundaries between “helper and helped.” She would have missed me too.
An elderly man I met during my CNA training enchanted me with his serene playfulness, his big blue eyes. We had fun together while I changed his sheets. “I’ve never met anyone like you before!” he exclaimed. “I’ve never met anybody like you either!” I said. “I think I want to marry you!” “I want to marry you too!” We didn’t get married. But we remain good friends years later. Jim is an extraordinary and inspiring person. To think I could have changed the sheets and walked out of his life!
The mother of one of my daughter’s friends, who is very ill, allowed me to do a few, small acts of service for her. Her courage, humor and kindness have inspired me. She has put a human face on the term, “Illegal immigrant,” for me. Coming to know her has taught me that only what God sees matters. Only His will, His law, which is always, love, matters at all.
Early in my care giving job, talking to my boss, Gretchen, suddenly it seemed I was seeing how lovely she is to God. It was magical, a holy moment, a total gift. Now I know by experience that she really is lovely, and, fortunately for me, she is a world class traveler! She saw past my brokenness, past the employer-employee relationship, to let me try even when it was scary for her to do. Her trust helped me grow.
A tendency to travel by heart can help you stay close to someone you love very much even when his journey becomes painful and frightening.
I held my husband, Bob, as he died. I went with him as far as I could until he was gone. All I or anyone else there felt was the overpowering presence of Love. As anyone who has done this can tell you, you can experience love and joy even when death comes, if you just let your heart be there. All that is left is love and you’re not scared anymore.
Habitual focus on what is human and real made me able to connect with my mom in new ways and walk with her through her dementia. It sounds crazy but we had a really good time. It was grace.
Love is its own wisdom, and God Himself IS love. Love covers all the territory. By love, you learn that the universe resides in each human heart, even your own, and that the journey never ends.
That is the kind of trip I love most, because of the peace, transformation, and joy it brings- a trip across borders God does not acknowledge, to that place where the last is first and the first is last and neither even thinks about it because only one thing matters.
So don’t be afraid to cross the borders. Explore, and love. The fence is imaginary and God is on the other side.
I was a young widow running through the house kicking toys out of my way, spilling my coffee, responding to a loud crash at the other end of the house. I had been cooking, having invited somebody over for dinner, (what was I thinking,) my toddler was running from the scene of the crime, my five year old was screaming, and my dog ran by with a piece of cornbread in her mouth. “OK,” I said to myself. “OK.”
I stopped. “OK.”
I set my coffee down. I took a breath. I looked outside at the juniper tree by my front porch. I noticed a thin branch trembling from the hesitant hops of a sparrow along it. I closed my eyes, felt the wood of the floor under my feet, breathed a silent prayer.
It was a centering moment.
I let the toddler get away. I hugged the outraged five year old. I attempted to salvage dinner. Life went on; just with a little bit more clarity, renewed meaning, and divine order.
The word Selah appears 71 times in the Psalms, and 3 times in Habakkuk. It often appears between stanzas of the Psalms, as if to tell the reader to pause and reflect. The precise meaning of the word is unknown, though some of the educated guesses are, “Pause,” “Lift up,” “Praise.” It could have been a musical term similar to our “rest” sign. It may have been a direction about how to read the verses, as in where to stop and take a breath.
In my life, “Selah” has become a practice of putting a pause on exterior and interior clamor and connecting to the Real, to lift up my heart, my situation, the world for a moment, to praise God by an act of mindfulness of His holy presence.
Eventually, developing this habit can lead to a greater general awareness of God at all times, and a natural continuous turning toward Him, in His outward expression and presence in the created world, and in His indwelling in the human heart.
Selah, as “stop and listen,” helps me deal with overwhelming emotions, fearful thoughts, angry rants I discover raging in my mind, to stop or at least slow the wheel of worries that can spin on its own mysterious power for disconcerting amounts of wasted time. Sometimes Selah is just a quiet moment of gratitude in the middle of a busy or even not so busy day.
The meaning of Selah as “lift up” may have been a reference to the scales used at the time. An object was weighed by being lifted on a scale against a counter weight. So Selah can also mean to weigh, to evaluate. Selah as “lift up and weigh” helps me place all things in the balance of God, lifting up my mind with all its wild beating of wings against its imaginary cage, when it needs to be set free to fly in Heaven’s peaceful skies, even for a moment. Grace can do that if we let it.
Even a tiny fraction of a second that we open ourselves to God is enough time for Him to do all that is needed.
An instant of conscious contact with the holy changes us, whether we feel it or not. We invite Him Who is all good, into ourselves, and into the world through us. God can do anything. He isn’t limited by time, that’s us. We can use time to drive ourselves crazy, or we can use as much time as we can to help God help us, and to open ourselves to be channels for the outflow of His grace into the world.
Selah as praise helps me accept what is, as where God has me in the moment, whatever is happening, and to step into my inner chapel, to build a little alter, a temple in the day.
During a difficult day, this can even be necessary in order to hold onto the strength that comes from God. I heard a priest at a San Antonio Marian Conference say once that when we adore God, nothing evil can touch us. I never forgot it, because I found it to be true. Adore the Lord in His holy court,says Psalm 29. It’s what’s going on in Heaven all the time. We can join in at any moment, and the grace of praise, which Psalm 8 says foils the enemy, is ours, grace that the Scriptures say God inhabits.
But You are holy, O You that inhabit the praises of Israel. Ps. 22:3
So how do we practice Selah in the ongoing Psalm of our day?
Selah. Pause.This is simple but not easy. We forget. We get busy, or in a hurry. We freak out. We don’t notice ourselves or what is around us because we are worried or sad, or scared, maybe mad, maybe caught up in the constant wild flow of the negative distractions of the world. Maybe our minds are flying down the rapids of our thoughts and experience, without direction or control.
Sometimes it helps to stop, and notice the sky, to be mindful of the wind, of the sounds around us, of the feeling of the grass or the floor under our feet, the feeling of our own breathing. Getting grounded helps us connect to God. When we stop being carried away by the whirlwind of our worries and busyness, we can dip into an undercurrent of peace. Try stopping and just noticing your environment, tune in to your senses, and then, if you can, go deeper within yourself where it is quiet and God waits for you.
I found myself unconsciously putting up a hand in a one handed prayer pose as a kind of “Selah” in personal sign language. Sometimes coming up with a simple, unobtrusive gesture to myself can really help my state of mind. I still do that hand gesture sometimes without thinking, and it can bring about the inner calm and readjustment of attitude I need without saying anything or particularly thinking any word.
Selah: Lift up. Especially when I am feeling overwhelmed, I try to think, “What is going on?” Sometimes something is really bothering me, but I don’t realize it. Prayerfully accounting for my inner state with God often helps me to step out of my anxiety, to get organized inside, gain perspective. I can lift the whole thing, and myself to God and in this way give over to Him any and everything that is a mess, inviting Him into it to arrange it to His will. Sometimes I have to repeat this step. OK, I almost always have to repeat it several times. When I can let go and let God, he sets me on a high rock, so I can see.
Maybe I just want to hug God, for no particular reason. A little Selah can help me stop and do just that.
Prayer is, for me, an outburst from the heart; it is a simple glance darted upwards to Heaven; it is a cry of gratitude and of love in the midst of trial as in the midst of joy! In a word, it is something exalted, supernatural, which dilates the soul and unites it to God.
~ St. Therese, the Little Flower
Selah: Praise. It seems to me that it is a praise of God to focus on Him, to be grateful for His beauty and presence, to focus our attention on Him, to love and acknowledge Him. We can praise God by a simple glance in His direction. Sometimes I say, “ The lot marked out for me is my delight because it is You Yourself Who are my prize.” Sometimes it is easier to say than others. Sometimes I don’t say anything. I just place myself in His light and do my best to adore.
A good way to do this is to imagine Jesus with you. Really, this isn’t your imagination because it is the truth. You are just tuning into it.
Or remember that the Holy Spirit, the giver of life, fills the universe, and is Love Itself, always drawing us into the life of the Blessed Trinity. You are a part of that vastness that is filled by the Spirit of God, along with the sky and the sun and the stars and planets beyond them, and every bug, butterfly, and blade of grass or drop of rain on the planet. The Scripture says that all of it praises God.
Let yourself join in the praises of Heaven and Earth just by remembering what you are: a child of God, a little brother, a little sister, of Jesus. All these things are good to think about.
Or think of God speaking to you through your senses. Because He is. Let tuning into your senses quiet your body, your heart and mind, and then step further, inside that quiet, to be with God in your soul.
St. Elizabeth of the Trinity said the name she wanted in Heaven was “Praise of His glory.” St. Paul says in Ephesians 1:12 that this is what we are. Stopping and listening puts us in touch with this. It’s about just being for a moment. It gives us a glimpse of divine perspective.
…that we may be unto the praise of his glory.
Pause. Lift up. Praise.
St. John of the Cross said, “With what procrastination do you wait, since from this very moment you can love God in your heart.”
Sometimes, that’s all it takes. A stop in the path. This very moment.
His mother calls him “Pete,” (for “Sweetie Petey.) His dad calls him “Macaroo.” Meet Mac. I know he didn’t say anything you recognize as “How do you do?” But he knows you’re here, and that you are a new person in the room. I wonder what he thinks?
I like to tell him he’s my guru. He is forever in half lotus position, after all. His legs are pretty much stuck that way. However, nearly every moment with Mac is a Zen moment. So it makes sense that he sits like a Master.
His eyes can be disconcerting at first. We are used to eye contact from others, and Mac’s eyes tend to be unruly, rolling wherever they want to, unseeing. But once you get used to his eye movements you will find enchanting blue eyes. There is something wise about eyes that do not see. I think it is because eyes like that imply an inner vision. Mac is not going to give you eye contact. But he seems to give soul contact. It’s one of his mysteries.
When I turn Mac over in the morning, I usually ask him how he slept and whether he had any interesting dreams. He talks to me, too, in “happy Mac sounds,” and I answer, “Really? You don’t say! Oh, not THAT!”
As I get him ready for the day he cooperates as best he can. Or not. (He has his faults like anyone, of course.)
I pull him into his chair from his bed with ease now. I used to not be as good at it, to say the least. We did some unintended yoga now and then. Mac had to put up with me. He looked pretty worried at times.
Trust is a very important part of Mac’s life every moment. It has to be. I’m so glad he trusts me now. His mother says Mac is “literally an example of blind faith.” When you watch Mac, you can see how true that is. In even the routine events of the day he has to practice faith, and patience. He more often than not shows great sweetness, even sacrifice, forbearance, generosity and love.
For a goofy example, he will wear hats and glasses just for me. His mother says I am the only person he does that for. I realized he does it to please and amuse me even though he doesn’t like it at all. He will even laugh with me the whole time, just because I am happy. I came to see that these virtues of Mac’s are choices he makes. He has been pressed hard to make these choices by necessity every day, but the choice to be virtuous and loving has been his.
Eating is the hardest thing he does all day. It takes all his concentration. It’s hard for him to get his mouth and tongue to do what he wants them to do. He gives it his best most of the time. He has apparently decided, however, that the food had better be worth the trouble. He makes sure I have a chance to practice patience too, when I feed him.“OK, Mac, PILL!” He knows what that means and reluctantly opens his mouth for me.
At first I had a hard time getting his pills down him. I kept putting pills in the wrong place on his tongue, spilling water so it went up his nose, and generally making the process more difficult than necessary. This was hard on both of us. He was mad at me sometimes. But after a little while he would forgive me and lean his head on me to show it.
The day the pills went down without a hitch, he crowed with joy. He leaned his head against my arm and nuzzled me–the Mac hug. I felt like the best kid in class. I laughed and he laughed too.
I speak English, Mac speaks Mac, and we both speak music. When I turn him over on his stomach and put on some music he likes, he arches up, raising and swinging his torso, lifting up against the outward curve of his “C” shaped back, pushing with his elbow a bit to stretch higher. He reminds me of a dolphin leaping from the water. He may begin whooping and howling. I like to howl with him. He thinks that is funny and laughs contagiously. Sometimes we raise quite a ruckus and the dogs come running in, barking. His “Macnastics” dance to his favorite song (on repeat) in the morning is an uncontainable Alleluia– joy concentrate.
A big part of our day is listening to music. He pays close attention, usually, to any new music I play for him. If he loves it he will sing with it, which might sound a little more like screaming to the uninitiated. If you knew Mac though, you would be able to tell that it is beautiful and soulful.
Mac loves the wind. He especially loves a sudden gust that rushes against his face. He will sing to a breeze like that. He lunges in his chair with happiness when the wind brings leaves scuttling across the driveway. If he is like me, and maybe he is, he likes the way the wind seems to fill his soul and lift his spirit. Or his happiness with the wind could be something completely unique to the Mac-iverse that we will never know.
Sometimes on our walks I gather rose petals and sprinkle them over his head. He can’t see the petals or even what I am doing but he smiles gently, as if he appreciates the love.
In the afternoon I like to do my meditation with Mac’s feet in my hands. He seems to know to be silent with me then, unless he needs something or is uncomfortable. Then he isn’t silent.
Sitting quietly with Mac, his funky little feet warm in my hands, the sun spilling through the windows, the dogs sleeping nearby, is rather heavenly.
When his family comes home Mac lights up as if all the love in the world is right here at his house. It does seem that way, they are so crazy about him, too. I feel privileged to be let in on the love they have going there.
What is it like to be Mac? How much does he “understand” in the way we define it? Mac does not “do” much by the world’s standards. But he participates in and lives life. He loves and is loved. His soul has beauty, purpose, and wisdom of its own.
There are so many things Mac can’t do but I hardly ever think about that. I’m fascinated by what he can do, what he might be doing, and how much he shows me what it is to live, to be human, to be a child of God.
He teaches me things I thought I knew.
Mac is a shining light of every truth he lives.
I have finally received the true initiation from my 23-year old guru, his highest honor, the Mac kiss. I’m going to smile all day. You would too. I think he just taught me all I need to know.
Mac really is my guru. His teaching is simple but profound: Everybody has a soul, that you can connect with by love. Everyone has love within them. Everyone has a mission from God and is loved, loved, loved by God. We all “know” this. But to see this, really see it, is to be in Heaven already. And in Heaven nobody cares if you drool a little. That’s how it should be.
feet of the master 🙂
I wrote this article in 2014, with the permission of Mac’s parents, when I was in my first year of working with Mac. I wanted to reflect on my work with him again as my official job with him is ending. We’re not worried. We know we will always be friends.
Warm, soft, vulnerable and alive, this sleeping One in my lap. I caress the tiny forearm, touch the curled, unsure hands. I can’t stop kissing his fast-beating heart, listening to his unpracticed, uneven breath. I touch his soft, dark, baby hair, nuzzling the top of his head with my nose. His little feet, slightly cold- so tiny and perfect- have never yet touched the ground. I hold them in my hands to warm them. I kiss their satiny soles. “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus,” my heart in wonder repeats, repeats. I press him to me, this Lord of mine, with a profound, peaceful, joyful gratitude and love, a protective love. He opens his eyes, still that deep slate gray of the newly arrived human. They hold the newborn’s sage, open gaze; mildly curious, seeming to drink in the powerful love pouring out of the utterly enchanted person looking back at them. He blinks innocently at the tears falling from my eyes into his.
Jesus in His Sacred Humanity
I am cold, my arms flailing awkwardly and out of my control. I’m confused. I don’t know what’s happening. I need comfort, warmth, nourishment. And then I am warm, pressed soothingly all around. A deep, sweet peace flows into my mouth and through my body as my unruly hands tangle in her hair; Mama, Mama. The only thing I know is this love, this union, this protection and assurance. I relax completely.
I am that I am, Being, Love, Light and Life. I surround my Son, inhabit my Son, I am within my Son, I love my Son, I am my Son.
I have remained what I have been and will be eternally, and I have become what I was not. In my love of humanity, I have finally become fully human, entering the world of time and space in the most profound and humble way. So great is my love, I have been conceived and born into this human cloud of unknowing, emptying Myself, taking the form of a slave, in order to free and divinize my beloved humanity, made of dust, that they might share my Divine Life.
Vulnerable, human, innocent and unknowing, be, oh Christian soul. I have shown you the way to Me: this little Child, this Way, this Truth, this Life, full of humility and trust, gentle, humble, simple, with the need, the open-ness of the newborn. Come to Me, forgetting everything but Love Itself, and be born again. Be little, be free, be loved. Never be afraid, it is I, the Little One, asking for your love.
Answer Me, say from the heart:
Truly, I have set my soul
In silence and in peace
As the Divine Child has rest in His mother’s arms,
The invitation said “Shawna’s Day of Silence.” When we arrived, her house was open, breezy, and, obviously, quiet.
My friend had set up areas to be comfortable to think, read, journal or pray or even nap. There were candles burning, and an array of books on various tables; spiritual reading, art books, a Bible. Art supplies and paper were in the kitchen with snacks and coffee. I brought a basket of rosaries to set on the coffee table. A note encouraged us to go for a walk, or do whatever quiet activity we liked.
I remember walking in her beautiful garden, scribbling in my journal on her couch, smiling at my friends, just hanging out. People came and went as they pleased or as they had time.
Shawna was going through a hard time in her life then. It is beautiful that one of her responses to her spiritual growth during her suffering was to open her home for us as a refuge of silence and acceptance.
You would think such a gathering would feel awkward, but, especially among good friends, it was not awkward at all.
I was inspired, some years later to hold a “day of silence” at my house. I decided to punctuate mine with times of communal vocal prayer.
People could come and go, similar to Shawna’s day, but they would know that at various times we would gather to pray together.
My friend Jocie came early to my “Day of Silence,” and made memorable breakfast tacos for everyone.
I set up an environment similar to the one Shawna had.
We then gathered for Morning Prayer form the Liturgy of the Hours in the room in my house we had set aside as our family oratory. (I called it my chapel but I know that is not actually correct terminology.)
Then everyone could do whatever they liked.
We had a tree house rosary at noon, Divine Mercy Chaplet at 3, and Evening Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours on the trampoline at 6.
It was a great day. One of my fond memories of that day was wandering into the “chapel” and seeing my friend Molly in there with a bucket of soapy warm water and a towel. She asked me to sit down and she washed my feet!
It was very touching.
* (You may ask where my kids were that day or how did I got them to be quiet all that time. Answer: My kids were there some, but mostly at a friend’s house that day- otherwise it would never have been a day of silence!)
I have hosted days of silence and reflection on other occasions, but they have been shorter. They were more like a come and go open house with communal prayer at the beginning and the end for a few hours, and food and coffee and tea, of course.
I have also tried a “day of silence” with my fiancee. In our schedule we made, we set times for walking, reading, quiet prayer togetherandjust open quiet time. We broke silence for meals and for going out for coffee.
At three o’clock, we washed one another’s feet, and anointed one another with oil.
The day was the first anniversary of my brother’s suicide which had unfortunately marked most of the duration of our relationship with trauma and the various crises that emanated from that event. It was important that we have a healing day.
When we washed one another’s feet, we also told each other how grateful we were for each other’s strength and wisdom, faith and resilience, acceptance and presence.
In the evening, we prayed Evening Prayer together from the Liturgy of the Hours, and went out for a special meal.
Consider hosting a Day of Reflection or a Day of Silence at your own home, your Domestic Church. There are so many ways to serve others without a lot of “doing.” You can be open and accepting to others, your house like the open heart of Jesus.
You don’t have to make small talk or worry about how you are doing. Just be like Joseph and Mary when they opened the stable at Bethlehem for the Shepherds, for the wise men, for whoever wanted to come to be with Jesus and with them under the light of the Star.
We all have so many Christmas parties we go to. We have shopping and cooking, baking and decorating, travel and other plans.
Take a moment. Let the fresh air of the Spirit come into your house, the sweetness of silence with Jesus permeate your home and your friendships.
You could have different kind of Christmas party, one that cultivates peace and gives refuge to your friends in the middle of all their intensified seasonal activity and holiday stress.
Put on the coffee pot. Light the candles on your Advent wreath. Set out some good food, some spiritual reading, maybe some art supplies.
Then open up your home and your heart.
The fruit of silence is prayer… The fruit of prayer is love The fruit of love is service The fruit of service is peace ~ St.Teresa of Calcutta
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