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From midwifery to hospice: Andrea’s spirituality of service

Twenty-one years ago, my youngest daughter, Roise, (pronounced “Rose,”) was born at home, at sunrise. My dear friend, a nurse and midwife, Andrea, put her on my stomach. My baby looked up at me with frightened eyes, and said “Oh! Oh! Oh!”

As her dad, who was in our bed holding me, sobbed with joy, I said to my child, “It’s OK! I’m your Mama!” I nursed her for the first time, and my husband, Blaze, gave her her first bath in our kitchen sink, after my sister in law, Shawna, had cut her umbilical cord. All the women in the family were in the bedroom with us when Roise was born; my step mom, my daughter, Maire, who had run in at the right moment, and my mom, holding Maire in her arms. 

 After everything was all cleaned up and Roise Mariah was pronounced robustly healthy, everyone left with a happy glow. Maire and Blaze climbed into bed with Roise and me and we had a long family nap. It was beautiful.

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I’m having coffee with my friend, Andrea, mid-wife and Hospice nurse. She’s talking about work and spirituality. People often ask her how she can do what she does, especially the Hospice work. But she says that, aside from being tired sometimes, and worried about her own problems when she’s on her way to work, there’s nothing negative about what she does. She forgets everything else in the presence of a laboring woman or a dying person. “It’s like a window to Heaven!”

More often than not, dying people she comes into contact with are in a state of peace as they near the end of their earthly lives, and they commonly seem to be seeing and talking to people in the room that nobody else can see, most often, people they love who have died.

My mother looked up in wonder, not having really spoken for months at the end of her illness. “What are you all doing here? Are you going to take me with you?”

The deaths Andrea has been able to be present for were powerful spiritual experiences for her. The houses of the dying are filled with God’s presence, and she prays deeply when she is working with a patient and his or her family.

She is more grounded and profoundly present than at any other time in her life, she reflects, when she is working.

Sometimes, as she goes about her own daily business, she thinks, “Wow, I really did that.”

The morning my second husband, Bob, had died, Andrea had the beautiful idea of inviting our close women friends to come and wash and anoint his body. She thought of it because in the Bible, women were the ones who prepared the body for burial with bathing, oils and spices.

Our friend, Amy, had a set of Biblical essential oils, such as frankinsence, myrrh, myrtle, spikenard, etc.

Andrea, with solemn tenderness, guided us through an improvised ritual; with Bob’s body modestly draped, we washed him reverently, and anointed him with fragrant oils.

We cried and we prayed.

She guided family and friends in prayer and asked each of us if we had anything we wanted to say as we waited for the funeral home, and for our friend, Deacon Ron Fernandes, who led us in prayer and blessing, and even singing.

“When a family is spiritual, it’s really nice for me- especially if they are Catholic. I am always glad to see icons or a crucifix or picture of Mother Mary in a house. Then I know I can openly pray the rosary. The rosary is definitely the prayer I pray the most during my work.”

“During labor or grief, my imagery/prayer is, ‘Please, Mother Mary wrap this mother, this couple, this family, me, in your mantle of grace and mercy.’ I call that image to my mind.” 

Andrea says she often senses the presence of Mary at births, especially.

“I think I identify with her because she labored to birth Jesus, she was human, and she suffered the grief of His death. This comforts and gives me strength.”

religious image statue
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I have always thought it was perfect that Andrea was born on the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, December 12.  The Virgin Mary of Guadalupe is the patroness of the unborn, and in that image, she is pregnant.

“People are always so grateful. And I think, I didn’t DO anything, I was just there!”

I know why people are grateful. They are grateful because she was there. Andrea brings a sense of solid, motherly, and professional competence into a frightening situation, she gives the intimate and ultimate mysteries of birth and death back into the hands of the family. Then these events become far more personal, home and family-centered experiences because of her courage and love, her willingness to come to the family, and serve them where they are, in order to allow them to give birth, or to die, at home. This is a gift of peace.

She recognizes, nurtures and draws out the best in people when it is most needed. She makes them feel empowered in trusting the process.

Precious to me is the memory of Andrea holding my hand as I labored in the bath tub. I laughed and said I could not imagine our family doctor doing this, as good as he is. 

“There is just so much love that is there,” she says, tearing up.

She is certainly adept at finding the beauty inherent in these events, and transmitting it just where it is needed.

As we talked about her work, she cried now and then. Don’t worry, she cries easily. She also believes so much in what she is doing, she is very passionate about it. She gets frustrated trying to describe her thoughts and experiences. She thinks she is in-eloquent. But she’s not.

Andrea is very earthy, and as I thought about what she was saying, and what I learned, having watched her work, I see that her spirituality involves being very in tune with the Sacred Humanity of Christ, of the physicality of birth, suffering, and death, of what Veronica’s veil would have really looked like, smeared with the dirt, blood, sweat, snot, and tears of the very real Face of Our Lord.

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The blood and water from the side of Christ make sense to Andrea. She has these all over her all the time. She understands the physical as deeply spiritual. Hers is an Incarnational spirituality, true to the One who came to share our sufferings and give us life; actual life, not just an idea, Life we can touch and hold. That’s how real the Resurrection was. Jesus wasn’t just a spirit. He was and is real. His wounds were touched by His disciples. He ate with his traumatized friends. He comforted them.

Andrea experiences this truth of the Incarnation as an every day reality, and to her, it just is.

Well, not really, because she cries when you try to get her to talk about it.

“What are you looking at, Daddy?”

“The glory of God.”

“What does it look like?”

“You wouldn’t believe it!”

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Sacred journey (a childhood memory)

The trip to Corpus Christi where my parents both were from was usually taken in the evening. At that time (the early 1970’s) traveling the 250 miles from College Station where my parents attended Texas A & M, to Corpus in our VW Bug (we had a couple of VW vans over the years too) took about six hours.

We made this journey often. This was where both sets of grandparents and lots of extended family lived. We went for holidays, sometimes for the weekend, sometimes because my mom was homesick, or because we were out of money and needed help.

At those times, one or both grandmothers offered to pay our gas, feed us for a couple of days and send us home with groceries.

Sometimes my parents needed more time for school and work and sanity so they had us stay there for extended time in summer. They were quite young and they needed a lot of support back then.

A night drive was preferable in part because our car didn’t have air conditioning and it is almost always hot in Texas.

Often there was little radio reception so my family made requests for me to sing. I had our Linda Ronstadt albums memorized in particular and I was a good singer.

Like a lot of siblings on trips we tended to fight in the back seat. I am sure this is another reason for the evening departures. We would sleep more and bug them less.

I liked listening to mom and dad talking after my brother fell asleep. I liked looking at the moon and wondering why we never passed it up. I liked looking at the patches of earth we drove by in an instant but that were the whole world to the bugs that lived in the grass there, or to the person who woke up and saw that patch of earth every day. My brother and I talked about these things when he was awake. He liked to think about that stuff too, gazing at our feet on the car window, considering the scattered stars beyond, the shapes of buttery clouds, wondering what other people thought about.

Or maybe he would fall asleep on me and not get off and I would have to push him into the floorboard and then various forms of chaos would ensue. You know how it is.

Whether we slapped each other or not, we regarded this trip as a sacred journey. The excitement was intense. A lot of the happiness was about seeing my maternal grandmother, “Granny,” whose house was our unquestioned home base in Corpus Christi. We loved her passionately. We loved Grandaddy and all the assorted animals that lived in or around the little house on Dewitt Street.

We loved rolling cigarettes for them with their cigarette roller (and being paid a nickel apiece!) We loved playing Dominoes and “Go Fish” with Grandaddy and hearing his stories. Granny was colorful and funny and a little bit crazy and she loved us like we were her everything.

We could recite the names of the towns along the way from College Station to Corpus Christi and that is how we understood how far along we were on the way.

It was our sacred duty to wake one another as we approached certain markers of the journey’s progress.

The Shamrock station in La Grange was one of these places. It had a covered vending machine area and everyone was allowed to get something. This was a very big deal because my mom did not let us have soda or junk food as a rule.

My brother loved the hilly winding road outside La Grange with the stone walls on either side. I had to wake him up for that so he wouldn’t miss it.

Here is Giddings where our van engine blew up that year and Sally had to come pick us up.

The halfway point outside of Victoria had to be noted and celebrated by all.

The turn off near Refugio.

Sinton.
Taft.
Portland… The first sight of the water.

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We were always so excited at the sight of the Harbor Bridge (usually just called “The High Bridge”) that crossed to Corpus Christi I am surprised we didn’t throw up.

Both of us could hardly contain shrieks of joy as we began the ascent. For a while, all you can see is steep climbing road ahead lit by headlights, and the vast expanses of dark water to either side. Then at the highest point of the bridge suddenly the sparkling city opens out before the traveler like a fairy kingdom. It was a moment of awe I was to duplicate for my own children.

Neither of us would ever let the other sleep through that.

We would always try to pick out which one of those lights might be Granny’s house.

The excitement at this point was almost too much for us.

Her house was out in Flour Bluff so it took some extra time to get there. We always went down Shoreline and Ocean Drive along the bay with its sea wall, palm trees and tall houses, past the hospital where I was born, past that ugly church with all the bells that my mom said was an eye sore. I always watched for that great big pink mansion with the back yard sloping into the sea, wondering what it would be like to walk out your back door and be standing at the edge of the sea like that. There was the house that looked like a castle, too.

We were sure we could smell the salt air, that we could feel the ocean’s greeting.

By the time we turned from South Padre Island Drive onto Talmadge and then to Dewitt Street, pulling into the little driveway with its over arching Oleander trees, we were usually screaming with happiness.

The screen door would fly open and slam against the house. Granny would be standing on the threshold, her arms open wide, yelling, “MY BABIES!” as we shot out of the car like rockets to be scooped up and squeezed tight. Cats ran every which way, dogs barked, people laughed and exclaimed and hugged. My grandfather would hang back shyly, pointlessly telling the dogs to quiet down, until we jumped all over him like maniacs too.

There was always coffee on and a pot of beans on the stove.

Eventually we fell asleep on pallets on the floor near the big air conditioner in the living room window as the grown-ups talked and smoked late into the night.

It was heaven.

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Coffee and cigarettes (my brother part 1)

My brother and I were standing on the loading dock at the Eagle Newspaper where we both worked, looking out at the woods across the street, the sky, the parking lot. People were working around us unloading trucks, driving the forklift, walking in and out of “the roll room” where the giant rolls of newsprint were stacked waiting to be loaded onto the press as needed. Sometimes he lifted his chin curtly at someone going by. He was the Production Director so there was hardly any such thing as a break for him. There were texts, phone calls and people stopping by to ask questions.

“Yes… that ad, yes. I called already, yes. You. Pain is the ass. Yes.”

The Eagle had a family atmosphere and Mark was like everyone’s Uncle and to most people he was also their friend.

I was trying to talk to him about his smoking, hopeless though I knew it was. “I read that non smokers live an average of ten years longer than smokers,” I was telling him as he listened patiently, drawing on his cigarette as I spoke. “So what?” he asked charactaristcally. I said, “Since I am a vegetarian and we live eight years longer than meat eaters, that means I will have to live eighteen years without you! I don’t want to live all those years without you!!!!”

He looked at me then, holding his latest lungful.

“Better start smokin’!” he said in chokey voice.

That is one of my funny Mark stories. There are so many.

He was funny, quick, tough, talented, cocky and competent, sometimes arrogant and “full of piss, wind and vinegar,” as my granny used to say.

He was short so he had to learn to be like that. It worked for him, and I am so proud of all that he accomplished. I was his sister. I knew he could do anything and he pretty much could.

He wrote in an e-mail to me once, “You are among my chief comforts.” Did I say eloquent? Because he was eloquent, too. Intelligent. Thoughtful. Reflective.

He was a person of depth. He was a master of banter but he disliked meaningless conversations.

He always knew the right thing to say to me.

When I was pregnant with my first daughter and freaked out about the overwhelming prospect of motherhood, he had said, “Shawn think of it this way, there will be a new sweet little baby in the world! And that baby will grow up to be a gentle human being. We need gentle human beings. I know that’s what I value most about myself.”

Some people would be surprised that he valued his gentleness most. They wouldn’t know he had that quality. He could definitely play the games of the world- something I have never been able to do. He really did see the corporate world, the business world, the get things done world as a game. It was fun to him though I saw that he regretted it deeply when someone was personally hurt by him winning. He was a good guy even though he enjoyed being a little deviant at times. I mean coloring outside the lines in ways he thought benefited the people who worked for him over whom he felt very protective. (When people around him were mad at him they thought he was patronizing. He could be patronizing.)

Some of the things he did were big heroic risks that saved people’s jobs at the risk of his career had he lost his bet with luck. Other times I thought he was just showing off a little bit or seeing what he could get away with. “Ha haaaaa! Gotcha!”

I think he felt justified if the people he fooled were mean or threatening to his “people.”

Also almost anything was justified if it was funny. That is an unspoken rule in my family. You better be smart and if you mess up it had better be funny. Or at least being funny or making the whole thing hilarious will get you points. Always.

My brother had the gift of presence. The people closest to him knew that sitting with Mark in silence or telling him something important was different than being with or talking to anyone else. He was all there with you, with all of himself. Somehow he understood everything, or seemed to, the way the person in front of him was feeling it. As our friends since childhood, Mike and Kenny said about him, “Listening to music with Mark was different than listening to music with anyone else.” Part of this may have been that the four of us were in a band together for 16 years. But I think it has more to do with the quality of Mark’s presence and friendship than that.

He was loyal, and he invoked that loyalty in others. People who loved him would do anything for him and did.

There were little everyday things he did that showed his mind was on the people around him. He always kept a cache of nickels (his favorite coin since childhood) in his desk drawer at work in case anybody needed change for the vending machines.

His co-workers did little things for him too.

Cindy, his right hand person, parked in his parking spot just to make sure it stayed open for him one time. He laughed. He appreciated that kind of thing.

The people around him had faith in his abilities. When I worried about him, his friends at work would say, “He didn’t get where he is by being stupid. He’ll be fine.”

He liked to bring people together to enjoy each other. He loved watching people he loved talk and have fun together.

That is one of the reason he had a pool put in at the old house we grew up in. He loved having people over to the pool and waiting on them hand and foot.

When my first husband lay in his coffin after the Vigil (wake) my brother put his hand on his chest and promised him he would take care of me and the kids.

He kept that promise almost until the end of his life. He was part of my kids’ daily lives. He was over almost every day. When I was at my wit’s end he would come pick up the girls and take them to The Kettle (a diner kind like Denny’s in our town where we used to hang out.)

They would clamor all over him until he said, “Shut it, Rat!”

He loved them like they were his own children. He fretted about them, picked them up from school, lectured them, talked about them to his friends, came with me to teacher meetings if he could. I can’t imagine a better Uncle.

He could also be ridiculous like when he would try to reason with a wildly weeping teen-aged girl in a restaurant parking lot with me saying, “Mark! You are just making it worse!”

He liked to take me to lunch. He liked to talk to me about his problems over coffee and cigarettes and listen to mine.

If we hadn’t seen one another or had time to hang out for a while he would sometimes say, “Hey, we both do better when we make time to be together enough.” It was true.

His spiritual beliefs could be described as fairly minimal, although he believed in Something. He just thought that Something was unknowable. His argument was that God is so big you can’t know him like you know a person. “We’re all just fleas. What do we know?” I knew he respected my spirituality so I said, “What about me?” He said, “You’re just a really smart flea.” I loved it.

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It’s funny how he claimed basic agnosticism or only the vaguest spiritual beliefs but he understood my most intimate of secrets in my experiences with God as someone very serious about the life of prayer would. He got it. “I just translate it into my own language,” he used to say. I was fine with that. I always felt understood by him and he felt understood by me.

One time he found a little baby bird and he looked up how to care for it. He took care of it for several days and was heart broken when it died. “Yesterday he wasn’t feeling very good,” he said with the sadness you would normally see in someone talking about about a sick relative. When the little bird died he could hardly talk about it.

He worried he had fed it the wrong thing. He kept trying to figure out what made the little bird sick like that.

Sitting with him on the porch was like total inner peace to me. Even when he wanted to take me on a wild ride on his motorcycle or his latest car I was never scared. I laughed or I closed my eyes happily but I was never scared. He was a skilled driver and I simply trusted him completely.

He felt taken aback that none of that scared me. Not going over a hundred miles and hour on his bike, not a jump in a go-cart. He thought my fearlessness was a little creepy. I think I was fearless because of trust.

We had a few fights and disagreements. We had terrible crises we weathered together. But that trust in our essential unity gave me total confidence that we would get back on track every time.

We had observed that since we were kids we felt like he and I were the family. We had these parents and they did this and that but we were what we called “the core.” We reminded one another of that in the many losses and tragedies in our lives. No matter what we always had each other.

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We told each other everything. We even shared gum. (Mostly to gross out other people at work but if I said, “Hey you have gum where is MY gum? He would half his piece and give it to me even if he was already chewing it.)

I think of blue eyes and cigarette smoke, a cup of coffee and the setting sun, a new song he wanted me to hear. Laughter.

I can’t really tell you all about my brother. Like you, he was an entire universe. Like all deep relationships, ours was also a living thing, a world we comfortably inhabited together and sometimes let other people hang out in, too.

How can you share a universe with someone who never traveled there? I don’t know. But I know there are people you love very much; maybe as much as I loved my brother, maybe as much as he loved me (which my dad said was more than anyone on the planet loved anyone but I think he was exaggerating.)

This month is suicide awareness month. I have decided to follow Leticia Adams’ lead and write about my experience with suicide. This is what I wrote today, I will write more.

It’s been four years. It was four years in August. The pain changes but it hasn’t stopped. There are tears in my eyes as I write this.

It hurts like hell.

P.S. He wouldn’t have liked this song. Just so you know. However, right now it is on target with how I feel. So he can just deal with that.

Mindfulness, presence, indwelling and love

It’s been a stressful day. But we are here together at Hensel Park. I played here when I was little. My daughters played here growing up. Now Arelani does, too. She considers it “her” park. I brought her even though it is the hottest part of the day in the hottest part of a Texas summer.

I am anxious and worried about many things. So it takes a special effort to make consistent eye contact with her, to respond to what she says, to play with her attentively, given the stresses of the day.

I have learned from the practice of inner prayer how to bring myself back again and again gently each time I am distracted by a wayward thought about this or that.

After a while this practice with Lani becomes easy. I realize I feel peaceful in a similar way I do when I am grounded in prayer.

Time seems to flow back into itself like the tide drawing away, leaving its treasures on the beach.

The cicadas chant in the trees around us. A hot wind lifts her curly black hair, a curtain pulled away from her face – a face unbelievably pretty- sweeter than any Disney princess. The conversation is simple (she’s three,) and tender, her black eyes wide, soft and steady. We smile at each other in a timeless moment. She reaches over and clears my tousled hair from my face. Peering at me closely,she seems lovingly amused.

She crosses a little bridge, turning to beckon to me, “Come on, Granny, this way.”

It strikes me that she is the Christ Child or maybe the little Child Mary leading the way for me; to love, to hope, to the Kingdom where the littlest are the brightest of all.

The idea we can love Jesus in others, or learn to love others by seeing Christ in them may sound impersonal at first. But Arelani never seemed more herself to me than when I saw her as having the Little One inside her. I was seeing the truth of her, her “Arelani-ness” itself. Are we not each part of the Body of Christ? When someone sees the Lord in us, is that not only the simple truth? It does not make us less personally loved, but more so when the Lord of Love who is truly within us is experienced by another person.

We slide down the slide, we swing. We sing in the pavilion that echoes, run in circles for fun, watch ants. I take a picture of her running through a field of yellow flowers; a little kid in overalls and tee shirt, wild hair flying. She’s excited and she looks back to yell, “I yuv you, Granny!”

“I love you too, Pooh,” I say as I clump along behind her.

Later she picks a few flowers for her mama. She gets lost in the lovely details of one of these, touching each petal in awe. She sits down with it. Nothing else exists to her.

Time is a gift we can open and make holy by attentiveness. This is the “sacrament of the present moment.” * This is God with us. This is the first commandment and the second also.

Master, which is the great commandment in the law?

Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.

This is the first and great commandment.

And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.

On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. (Matthew 22:36-40)

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* this term is from Jean Pierre de Caussade

A bed time story

Once upon a time, a time called “forever now,” there were some beautiful old roses that could talk in hidden ways through a special root system they had underground. They looked as if they were planted far apart but really under the soil their roots were intertwined and they heard everything each of the others said in that silent language that roses have.

So when you see the white rose nodding… quietly in the wind you will know she is getting a message… and she says, “Yes, I have felt that way myself many times,” only she doesn’t really say anything. The others just know in their roots. And that is how it is with roses. They just know. It’s that simple. In the dark they go on whispering in their sleep as they wait for sunrise at dew fall, all together knowing when the first ray touches the first petal.

And roses never worry about anything else. All they know is now. All they know is love.

And they are always speaking about it. ♥

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Novena to St. Philomena (Day 1)

Bethany Hang Out

Once upon a time in Rome, during the reign of the Emperor Diocletian (in the third century), a young girl gave her life in witness to Christ under harrowing circumstances hard to imagine. She did this in spite of frightened parents, repeated and successively more cruel tortures, threats, and even persuasive words and temptations from those around her. She also spent some time chained, bleeding, and broken in the Emperor’s dungeon. There Mary is said to have appeared to her and healed her, strengthening her resolve with the promise of victory and the hope of Heaven. Some of her tormenters were converted to Christ by this child’s astonishing courage, faith and perseverance through punishment after punishment.

A Reading from from Book of Revelation

Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna…

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Book Review of Abuse of Trust: Healing from Clerical Sexual Abuse

I wrote this book review for both The Eagle newspaper and for ATX Catholic. I think it is such an important book and such an urgent issue that I wanted to share it everywhere I can.

http://atxcatholic.com/index.php/2019/07/book-review-of-abuse-of-trust-healing-the-church/#.XUC05uhKjIV

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In the cave of the Magdalen

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Ihave come to the top of the mountain to a place we now call, St. Baume (Holy Balm) * to visit my patroness, St.Mary Magdalene. I am not in as good a shape as I used to be. Getting myself up this mountain was not that much fun for me, plus I’m very banged up.

But now that I am here, I feel refreshed by her smile when she comes out of the cave to meet me. She is on her way somewhere with a water jug, so I just follow her. She is watering what looks like a kitchen garden, with flowers planted in between the vegetables. She seems to smile at every plant.

Back at the mouth of her cave, she takes my backpack off my shoulders, dusts me off, invites me in.

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I feel a lot better now, as she sets out bread and olives on a piece of clean, rough cloth, setting a wild flower in the middle.

My eyes adjust to the comparative darkness, and I look around me at her hermit’s cave. It is sparse, with only the necessary things for living. Knowing her, I am not surprised to see that she often brings in flowers from outside, set in little clay drinking cups in various places where she could balance one.

The only thing I didn’t expect was the art. The cave walls are full of simple, colorful murals. Jumping up to look more closely, I can see they are vignettes, that they tell a story. I am thrilled when I realize it is the Gospel story. I know the actual written Gospel was probably never seen by St. Mary Magdalene, but I also know she lived this story, and that some of it rests on her testimony.

Delighted, I ponder over several of these pictures.

She is grinning over my shoulder, reaching out to touch a figure of Jesus teaching with his arms wide. She guides me to other paintings, clearly hers, touching them, chuckling at some of them, because of memories of her own.

I wonder how she did these with the scant materials available to her. I think of the day of Pentecost, at which she was present, and reason that anyone given the power to speak languages previously unknown to her in order to preach the Gospel and praise God so that all can understand, probably has the ability to preach it in art in a mountain cave in some mysterious way.

I am surprised to find a picture of myself with Jesus. “Hey that’s me!” She smiles. Some scenes from my life are mixed in with the Gospel story as if I were part of it. Other depictions I recognize as my own life, the painting showing Jesus taking part. In places, it is hard to tell which story is which.

I reflect that the Gospel is not just a story that happened a long time ago; it is alive and happening every day, and we are each part of it.

“It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.”

Turning back to where I had been sitting, I notice there is a stream running through the cave. It seems to come from somewhere within the mountain, and to flow out of the mouth of the cave, and down.
I have never seen anything like that before.

This is a good opportunity to change the bandages on my wound again. As I begin to remove the sweaty, stinging cloth from my chest wound, she watches with concern.

She has me kneel at the edge of the water. She brings a basket, setting it beside us. She dips a small pitcher into the stream and pours the water onto the wound. She pulls from her basket a broken alabaster jar I recognize, anointing the deep wound gently with fragrant ointment.

I feel a deep sense of peace, my breathing becoming easier as warmth spreads though my body.

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I have had this wound such a long time, I had forgotten how painful it has been. It has never healed, only become deeper, more jagged, bleeding so I have to change the bandages on it several times a day.

The relief is tremendous.

Everywhere the water splashed on the rock floor, tiny white flowers have sprung up, like glittering little stars in the dim light of the cave. She picks one and hands it it to me.

The chest wound, I am surprised to see, is still there. Not only that, but it bleeds still, perhaps more, and the blood drizzles down mixed with water now.

I am surprised, I admit, that it is still there, given the sense of healing I feel.

She explains to me that this kind of wound, this wound of the heart I bear, is what she calls, a “royal wound,” because it is joined to the wound in the Heart of Jesus.

She encourages me to remember the wounds endured by the heart of Jesus: his betrayal, his agony, the abandonment of those who believed in him, the misunderstanding, the mockery and rejection, the torture he underwent, the vinegar to drink in his suffering, his dying cry to the Father from the cross, the last indignity of the lance to his broken heart. Didn’t I remember the blood and water that flowed out as a sign of grace and mercy for us and of the birth of the Church from his wounded side?

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I had not thought the worst and latest injuries to my wound qualified. Maybe I thought that because the pain seemed so meaningless to me at the time; just a horrible thing I would never recover from.

I used to understand this lesson she is teaching me. At a certain point it had stopped making sense to me. I realize that does not make what she is saying any less true.

Whether a wound received is meaningless and cruel or if it is one sustained with love, and anointed with personal meaning; either way, Jesus transforms it into his own because we belong to him and we share his life.

He wants our wounded hearts to bleed clean and uninfected, to become, by his grace, life giving and effective, drawing his grace into them and out to the world.

The Magdalene and I sit quietly for a while, and I enjoy the calm I feel.

She squeezes my hand and tells me that with time and holy living, the blood and water I am seeing flow out of my heart now will become invisible, and the wound will be a quiet, hidden scar. I will feel a gentle ache from time to time, and I should let it serve to remind me of this day; of this love, of the heart of Jesus, and of my new chance at life. 

 

Now she leads me along the stream, reaching back for my hand. We pick our way through more and more glittering flowers toward the heart of the mountain.

Suddenly there is space and light and thousands on thousands of people of all races and all times, singing and praying. I realize this is mass, Jesus himself is the priest at God’s alter, under which a river flows, the beginnings of the mountain stream.

We hear the word of God from him reverently. We go up for Holy Communion with all the people, filled with joy and awe. We receive Communion from his hand. Together we kiss his feet.

We pray with all the people for a long, happy time.

Then she leads me back to her cave where it is quiet, and a golden late afternoon sun lights the murals on her wall.

She dips my fingers into a small bowl of a deep red paste, takes my hand, and presses it to a blank spot next to her pictures of the Gospel.

I begin to paint.

 

*

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The legend of St. Mary Magdalene’s life after the recorded events of the Gospel is that she and her brother and sister ended up in what is now France, where they preached the Gospel. Eventually the Magdalene was said to have retired as a hermit to a mountain cave. Her remains are there and are venerated there to this day. Her feast is on July 22.

 

#Wearblacktomass

Let’s talk about the sexual abuse crisis in the Church again.

I don’t see anything changing.

I don’t see survivors of abuse being put first. I hear innocuous (at best) statements from the hierarchy that sound as if they consulted lawyers before they composed them. I have even heard murmurs that the Church is being persecuted. I am ashamed to say I have even heard this from the pulpit.

I have heard some of the laity blaming the abuse crisis on whatever their pet issue is with the Church.

As a survivor of child rape and various types of sexual abuse from different people throughout my childhood and adolescence, and after years of therapy, I feel I have some authority on this subject though my abuse was not Church related. It is not gay people priest or lay that caused this. It is not celibacy. It is not the lack of female power in the Church. As we are finding out, nuns have also sexually abused children as well, and nuns have been raped and forced into abortion.

The origin of sexual abuse is the sickness of the offender. Not everyone in power becomes a sex offender just like everyone at a party doesn’t become dangerously drunk. There are s lot of things going into this.

I have learned that when there is sexual abuse, similar to someone with an addiction, the problem becomes a family “disease.” A certain configuration happens in the family. There are roles everyone starts playing in order not to speak truth about the problem or to cover it up to protect the whole (or the image of the whole.) Everyone begins to protect the addict or abuser. Anyone who is evidence of the problem or tries to deal with it in an honest way will be silenced in one way or another. The Church is a family. We are sick with this problem.

The Bishops have played their roles and protected the whole (or so they thought) at the expense of the victims and really, in the end, at the expense of the whole.

Some things I think we need to deal with are first figure out how to protect children, seminarians, and nuns in a way that does not just please lawyers or cover for us, but really does something.

Then we need to deal with the enablers of abuse and make sure there is no more of that through education and support perhaps. Maybe we need to bring in other people for them to be accountable to about this rather than just one another. Obviously that is too hard for the bishops to do. They have tried and massively failed again and again. I am not an expert on fixing this problem. I mostly know how not to fix it.

It seems to me we then need to look at the abusers themselves. What’s going on with these people? What makes them do that? What needs to happen to permanently stop their behavior? They need to be stopped. We have to protect others. I also believe the Church is about redemption. What needs to be done for their healing? Once they are removed from access to children and the vulnerable, and they are willing to take responsibility, face just consequences, pursue treatment they should be helped to redeem their lives somehow though they should never be around children again if they have abused a child. If they are not helped in an effective way to heal they will continue to find ways to offend as surely as an alcoholic will find ways to drink.

As a Catholic abuse survivor I feel responsible to speak up. Also people should know it is hard for me (and I can only imagine how hard it is for survivors of clergy sexual abuse) to hear about all this without being triggered into my P.T.S.D.

People say ridiculous things on social media about sexual abuse and they don’t know what they are talking about and how much their attitude hurts survivors to hear.

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I have started not to want to see Bishops and Cardinals in their regalia. Seeing their black robes, red hats and big crosses, or their crosiers and miters makes me feel nauseated now even though there are three Bishops I know personally and love dearly. It’s not them personally- I feel better the ones I know are there actually. The nausea is what has happened and how I don’t see anything changing. “Put it all away,” I think.”Why not wear the simple robes of poor Friars as a sign of repentance?”

The clothes they now wear are signs of status and power that just seem so inappropriate right now. I used to like the outfits because they were historic. I don’t like them anymore.

As I have said before all this behavior of secrecy and self/institutional protection even when it comes to how they have at times treated victims of abuse like enemies is very typical also of a family or any group in which the sickness of sexual abuse has or is occurring. This is what humans do when there is sexual abuse. They protect themselves even at the expense of the abused. They protect the group. They protect the perpetrators. It happened to me and it’s happening to the survivors of clerical abuse too.

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I have read about and spoken to clergy abuse survivors who met with their Bishops and came away really upset, feeling unheard and uncared for and that nothing has or will change. “Come forward,” they say, seeming to have no idea how hard that is for people like us. Most of us have had more than enough of people who don’t listen and don’t help. Sometimes I think that part of my experience has been worse than the abuse itself. It’s re-traumatizing.

The hierarchy does not seem to understand how angry the laity is, either. We want to see Jesus purifying the Temple with a whip cord and overturning some tables. Now. Now.

We don’t see that. Don’t they understand? People are losing their faith. People are leaving the Church they love.

I am deeply Catholic. I am an obedient daughter of the Church (though obviously not perfect) and I am having thoughts like, “How dare you? Why should we listen to y’all anymore? How can you tell US what to do? How can you ask us for money?”

I have to drag myself to mass sometimes. I don’t want to leave Jesus because of Judas. I believe the Church is true. So do so many of us. What are we supposed to do? This is our home, and the Eucharist is at the center of our Catholic life. I refuse to leave. I never will.

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I don’t know what to do with all this. I don’t want to read this stuff in the news anymore. It literally makes me sick.

I resent how I had to stop being a Eucharistic Minister because I can’t handle the classes they make us take about sexual abuse in order to serve. This rule is well meaning I know. But….why do WE have to take those classes? YOU take them!

I don’t, as a survivor, think classes would have had any effect on my abusers or their enablers.

After years of inner struggle about those classes I made a call about it. It was hard for me to explain my problem but I got the Diocese to let me take an alternative one- on- one class with a kindly gentle person. She didn’t even hardly mention abuse to me, just the ethics guidelines. But I broke out in hives immediately afterward and felt terrible emotionally for days.

I don’t think those classes help. I worry about other survivors taking them, especially those who don’t realize yet the reality of what happened to them and aren’t ready to deal with it. Those in charge should have trained psychologists available in case someone has a breakdown.

Something like this happened to me before in a different way early in my process when I was young. I was not ready at all. I went home suicidal and feeling like cutting myself. What business do they have risking traumatizing abuse survivors anyway? It is cruel and irresponsible.

I have seen nothing from our leaders that gives me any hope of any meaningful change. I want to see them in sackcloth and ashes. I don’t see that.

My socioeconomic status is fairly low. I do not wield worldly power.

I have been praying, though. Praying and starting to avoid news about the crisis for now.

Here’s what I have prayerfully come up with, and I hope some of you will join me. Starting on the Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows, September 15, I am going to start wearing black to mass, every mass I attend. I will wear black next to Our Lady whose children have been crucified and continue to be crucified.

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I am an obedient and loving daughter of the Church and I mean no disrespect. But I am in mourning with Our Lady. I want Judas to see and repent. I want to never forget and for no one to forget the victims. I want children and nuns protected. I want actual change. I want to see humility and repentance not the protection of power.

#Wearblacktomass in honor of Our Lady’s tears. When they see us they will see her and all her wounded children.

Our Lady of Sorrows, pray for us.

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