Today we celebrate the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross, which is essentially God’s kind of win, so different from our own. The cross isn’t about leaving anyone humiliated or diminished. There is no gloating involved, and no revenge. No one who does not want to be left out is left out.
Jesus took all the negative consequences of both “winning” and” losing” all on himself for his kind of triumph. Love always redeems, lifts up, and seeks out the other. Love sacrifices. Love believes in the loved one’s ability to be made new by the experience. All those Psalms asking God to break our enemies cheekbones and all that perhaps startle when we read them. However, in light of the Triumph of the Cross, they seem so different now that we know what Jesus considers defeating the enemy; turning someone’s belligerence, their attachment to all the wrong things, into their own deliverance.
God’s kind of win is a real win, and that win is for everybody, regardless of our human games, our social understandings of competition and power.
So never be turned back from love, oh soul. That’s what winning is.
We adore you O Christ and we praise you
because by your Holy Cross, You have redeemed the World
As soon as my friends and family stop laughing that I am writing anything about this subject, we can begin in earnest, Gentle Reader…
Well, never mind then. We will just go on anyway. I deserve it, I know. If cleanliness is next to godliness then I had better meditate on Philippians 2:12,b EVERY DAY! My step dad, Tom’s reaction to my writing this was, “OK, you got guts!”
Actually I enjoy housework. It’s just that with my ADD (I believe I mentioned it to you before a time or two) it is very hard for me to stay on task and to be consistent or plan my work very well. This is called a lack of executive function, I believe. Also I have trouble practicing habits that make it so I don’t have to play bulldozer when I do clean (that’s called being a bit of a slob I believe.) I am quite likely, as my witnesses know, to pick up a book to put it away and suddenly realize I’ve been sitting on the floor reading it a good while, or to start a grand project and then find myself staring out of the window thinking of my next “hum” in Pooh-Bear fashion.
I’m not lazy. I like hard work. My last job was in the press room at the local newspaper, which was very hard physical work. I loved it. So work is not the problem. As long as I am not distracted or confused, I will be fine. An overwhelmingly messy laundry room, however, causes a kind of short in my circuits that makes me gaze unseeing or become instantly distracted. OK, maybe I run away.
My difficulties confessed, I do think I have something to say about housework and its sacredness. I may even offer some advice for other ADD and AD/HD sufferers or people with small children and/or busy schedules (or maybe just anyone!) that might not be so out of line about getting a modest amount of work done in a prayerful way.
My house is clean right now. Roise was slightly helpful in the way that a mopey 15-year old can be when she really wants her friend over, and Mom has said, “Not until this house doesn’t know what hit it!” Still it was mostly myself working on this goal. Roise took a few Facebook breaks as mopey teen agers will.
When my kids were small, I used to go with them one room at a time to work with them side by side. We used to offer up our work in each room for a different prayer intention. Maire, at age 7, usually offered her room cleaning for Brittany Spears. She was always worried about her. When we finished a room, we bowed, before lighting some incense in the clean room; a ritual we got from their dad, Marc Blaze, that added a sense of completeness and made our work feel sacred.
My second late husband, Bob, taught me a lot about the holiness of work around the house and of conscious service to the family. He said this was part of what he called his “skin religion.” He said his work in the yard, for instance, was a form of prayer. He was mindful, as he mowed the lawn, picturing Maire and Roise’s bare feet on the grass and how nice he was making it for them, how soft it would feel on their feet. He said he wanted us to look around and see the things he had done for us around our house and feel like each one was an “I love you,” from Bob.
House work and yard work seemed to open him to the “sacrament of the present moment” * and to fill him with love.
We do look around and see his “love notes” all around us. One can hardly look anywhere and not see something he did for us.
I was at Bob’s side a lot of the time as we painted our house the exact blue of my sister-in-law, Jamie’s, eyes. I felt a sense of loving gratitude toward my house as we painted and like I was getting to know our house better. We thought about how meaningful it was to be painting this house that had been drab, dirty white for so many years. We were covering it with brightness like a metaphor for how colorful our lives were now that we were together and so happy after so many years of loneliness for both of us. It felt like an act of gratitude and a recognition of the sacredness of our home. Later Bob made me a painting of our house shaped like a heart with the two of us contemplating it. We went on to paint the garage green and to put in a pink antique front door.
When I wash my mixing bowls, which belonged to my granny and then to my mom and now to me, I have a sense of being close to them, and that those bowls are holy. So are all the dishes on which I feed my family and all those who come to my house as guests. Cooking is holy too. The Sufis believe food cooked with love, especially by your parents, carries a special blessing- which indeed it does. We should always try to cook with love. My mom did.
I have a few habits when I am working around the house that help me stay in tune with the holy and remind me that my housework is not only an offering but it can be an adoration of the Lord who is continuously present with us in all we do. I know it’s weird but I have a tendency to pause and genuflect now and then in the kitchen. Bob used to ask why I did “church stuff in the house.” I said I was just praying while I worked. He understood that.
My Carmelite Community has a “Day of Recollection” each December. One time the Holy Cross Brother leading us in our day asked us what we imagined ourselves doing as holy people, as we are all called to sainthood. What did we see ourselves actually doing? He said he saw himself writing. I was surprised that I saw myself sweeping the floor. Well! That’s already true. I could think that’s pretty disappointing, or I could think that is worth pondering. Maybe God is telling me to find Him in these things I am always having to do anyway. It is true that He has given me some great moments of insight and growth in the middle of a daily task like sweeping the floor or folding laundry.
This sense of love and holiness involved in caring for my house makes me more mindful of each task and even makes me handle material objects with a loving gentleness more like I would if I were putting the vessels of the alter away, were I to be doing that. I do sometimes feel an infusion of love and awareness of God’s presence when I am engaged in simple tasks.
So why is it so hard for me to be consistent, to get started on a project and stay with it? You remember. I’m terribly ADD.
If you are too, or have young children, or are otherwise busy and pre-occupied, here are some things I do to get myself through an afternoon of housework and grow in the awareness of God’s presence at the same time. Maybe you have some tips for me, too. I bet you do.
First, Roise and I ask the prayers of St. Anne, the patroness of our house, as well as patroness of house wives. This is her house so I ask her to pray for me while I clean. Sometimes, if I am badly distracted or overwhelmed, I lay a novena to her out on the kitchen table and set the oven timer for 30 minute increments. I will stop and pray another “day” of the novena each time the timer goes off. It keeps me going.
Also I trick myself. I tell myself I am only going to fold five towels (when I have a huge, intimidating pile of laundry) and then I’m quitting. Once I get going, it is not an unpleasant task so I keep going. Anyway, it fascinates my cats.
The timer is also useful for seeing what I can get done in 15 minutes. My house used to be a duplex and my dear friend, Andrea, lived on the other side. One of us would watch our kids in the back yard for 15 minutes while the other rushed around her house to see what she could get done in that much time. We were amazed at how well this worked and how much we got done in such a short, focussed period. Both of us still do that sometimes even now; set the timer for 15 minutes and see what we can accomplish.
It’s hard for me to stay on task so one thing I do is follow a rule that it doesn’t matter what I do as long as I don’t stop doing things, just keep moving and bringing myself back to housework like I bring my mind back to prayer when I get distracted. Audio books help me a lot too. They get me to stay in the room, and if I’m caught up in St. Julian of Norwich the work is a breeze; I’ll stay right with it and listening to her could only increase my consciousness of being immersed in the Source of all Good. Holy music can help with this too, though I like Metallica for mopping.
I saw a painting of St. Therese of the Child Jesus, in which she is washing dishes and holding up a dinner plate like an offering. I liked that picture a lot. It expresses well what I am trying to do.
Brother Lawrence, author of The Practice of the Presence of God, said that he felt just as close to God when he flipped an omelet for love of Him as he did on his knees in chapel as if there was no difference. As St. Teresa of Jesus said, “God moves among the pots and pans.”
That he does. Finding Him and hanging out with him there is what I’m working on a lot lately; even if I have to trick myself to get started.
Laugh. It’s OK. I don’t mind. 🙂
“Father, may everything we do begin with Your inspiration and continue with Your saving help. Let our work always find its origin in You, and through You reach completion.” (from the Liturgy of the Hours Monday Morning Week I)
“You who work in this house…. Mary counts your steps and your labors.” ~ Sister Miriam of Jesus Crucified
In no way do I intend to present any other idea about the life of St. Mary Magdalene, but that which the Catholic Church believes and teaches about her through Scripture and Tradition. (See http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09761a.htm for a history of the Church’s thought on St. M.M., “Apostolora Apostolorum” Apostle to the Apostles)
A reading from the Letter of Paul to the Galatians 2:19b-20
I have been crucified with Christ, and the life I live now is not my own; Christ is living in me. I still live my human life, but it is a life of faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
The Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
The last few years have been so traumatic for me that I have felt alienated from everything and everyone, and like I would never be myself again.
Part of my healing in this latest phase of my journey has been to investigate for myself what really happened and to face the truth around my brother’s suicide, to ask questions I had been too freaked out to ask before, to recognize and re-claim my own experience of what happened after a truly dysfunctional family response that left me confused, dismayed, and even more traumatized.
I called my truth- seeking mission “The Immaculate Heart of Mary Detective Agency.” I thought this appropriate because the sword that pierced Mary’s heart, Simeon said, was “so that the secret thoughts of many may be revealed.
I wanted to truly love my brother by understanding all of him, not just the parts that I had enjoyed so much all of my life, but all of him. I wanted to try to understand what drove him to do what he did.
I realized I didn’t have to wait around for people to quit lying to me and tell me what was going on. I could find out for myself. So I started asking questions and interviewing people who had the information I wanted, or a different perspective from my own as the sister and room mate I had been at the time.
Unexpectedly, the whole experience of the IHMDA has been empowering, though I uncovered rank injustice and malice I hadn’t known some people were even capable of. I feel more alive than I have since all this tragedy began. I have a glimmer of an idea that I have a life and a future.
It seems to me that Mary’s heart has helped lay bare many truths, and strengthened me to deal with them.
I am not sure what I will do next. But it seems God thinks my next step is to forgive. That message was in last Sunday’s Gospel. It seems to pop up everywhere I turn. I seem to read or see or hear something about forgiveness every day.
There is hardly anything I have not lost to some degree in the past couple of years of shock and trauma; my home, my life savings, my family, and the cohesion of my group of wonderful friends. Everything is strange now. I have even felt like I lost myself.
I am grateful for the good relationship between my daughters and me, though honestly, at times, even those sacrosanct relationships were violated and temporarily distorted by lies and manipulation.
What do I do with this horrible story? Sometimes I can hardly believe it myself.
How can I forgive the unforgivable? And how can I ever be a whole person again? How can I bear this?
I have been asking all that for a good while.
I realized, praying Morning Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours today, when I read this reading, (above) the answer to these questions. “This is how,”Jesus says.
“You will do and experience both of these things because your life is not your own anymore. It’s better than that because I live in you and for you. From within you, I will forgive, I will live, and we will have a beautiful life together. I have loved you and given Myself up for you. You have loved Me and given yourself to Me, no matter what life has brought you. ”
I thought about this. It is a miracle that the thing I have not lost or had to re-negotiate, so to speak, is my faith in God. Even though I have been broken inside beyond anything I thought it was possible to experience, I have an inner rock solid foundation of faith that God has not let me lose.
I have discovered that, as St. John of the Cross speaks of in his Ascent of Mount Carmel, I am “supported by faith alone,” now, in spite of how disjointed I feel psychologically and socially.
No one and nothing can take me from Christ’s hand. He is even more real to me than I am to myself. And even though my heart is broken, it does know it is safe. It does know Who it belongs to and Who lives there forever. Not even my own death will change that.
In fact, Paul also says that the spirit of Jesus in us is so real, it is that power that will raise our bodies from the dead.
But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. Romans 8:11 (This turned out to be in Evening Prayer tonight.)
All the lies and malice, misunderstanding, persecution, blame, rejection, trauma, loss and grief I have suffered, and that the whole world has suffered, are no match for the Truth of God who is Love, and Life.
In a way, in comparison, these terrible things are not even real.
The reality is God.
And I am glad to be only ashes and dust.
That is exactly how I have everything I will ever need in this life and in the next:
“It is not I who live, but Christ Who lives in me.”
The only accounts we have of the life of St. Philomena are two corroborating private revelations (from different people in different places) that have been approved by the Church, but are not as certain as written testimony from her contemporaries would be of course. According to these private revelations and the hints from the drawings on her tomb, she had been through and survived several humiliations and tortures to try to break her down and many attempts by her captors to kill her before she was finally beheaded.
She gave herself to God bravely one life-threatening moment after another. Her trust converted many of the people who witnessed it. I am sure God was speaking to St. Philomena, too, in the way He is said to have saved her miraculously from two attempts to execute her, once by drowning, once by arrows. God often sends us messages in our lives, as well, often when our suffering is deepest, and our challenges urgent, to let us know, “I am with you.”
Because of her union with God, and her willingness to follow His lead wherever it might take her life, her moments of fear and suffering became her finest.
A Reading from the Letter of St. Paul to the Philippians
Conduct yourselves in a way worthy of the Gospel of Christ, so that… you are standing firm … struggling for the faith of the Gospel,not intimidated in any way by your opponents. This is proof to them of destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God’s doing.For to you has been granted, for the sake of Christ, not only to believe in him but also to suffer for him.
The Word of the Lord
-Thanks be to God.
St. Philomena, pray for us that our pivotal moments may be transformed in Jesus, and that in these we might glorify His love. May God increase the strength of our souls, and exceed all we have ever known of Him. [Here mention your petitions.] Trusted Saint, lead the way for us bravely, and help us to see the movements of the Holy Spirit in the events of our lives, that every one of them will become sign posts of the way forward. Pray to God for us, that He may turn darkness into light before us, and make crooked ways straight. May we shine with the power of the Lord when we come to moments of decision, and may God bless our efforts to be faithful, as you were unfailingly.
Mother of God, may the sweet companionship of your spirit make our paths bright with meaning and love and grace. As you accompanied St. Philomena to such great bravery, we ask that you also accompany us, especially in times of trial and discouragement. Shine the brilliant light of the Gospel on our paths, that we may see our way through our troubles, and that the grace we will know may, in turn, strengthen the faith of others.
Radiant girl, courageous and free of heart, our friend and guide, protect us, lead us, for the glory of God.
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.
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,
Even so, my soul.
Children of God,
Hope in the Lord forever. (a variation on Psalm 131)
On this Holy Night, take time to be little, humble, simple, trusting, and close to God, like a child.
I have a cup of coffee, and I am listening to jazz (Alice Coltrane today,) because it is 2 o’clock. That’s what I always do this time of day; jazz and coffee. Somehow this makes me feel more present in the day.
The loose, open-ended routine of stopping the day, at least a little bit, to remind myself I am in it, began when I was an overwhelmed young mother with my first new born. I looked forward to the afternoon jazz show on public radio every day. It helped me touch base, and for the day not to just slip away. It started at 2:06PM. It still does, actually.
My best friend, Andrea, lived on the other side of our duplex, and she liked to make a pot of coffee about 2, because she tended to get sleepy that time of day. So we had the afternoon solace of a cup of coffee, afternoon jazz, and an attempt at a moment of peace together each day, with our babies.
Later 2 o’clock jazz and coffee was a stopping place of peace and re-gathering before I picked the kids up from school. There were various incarnations of the same 2 o’clock routine as my life evolved.
Even through all the tragedy and trauma of these last few difficult years, I have continued to put on some jazz and make a cup of coffee around 2PM, if possible. The duration of time I spend on this, and what else I will do at that time, varies, but generally, I will do at least those two things, and make conscious contact with the day.
What does this do? It gives me a little island in the day to reclaim my peace and priorities.
On a busy, hectic day, it reminds me that I need to slow down.
On one of those difficult, timeless days when my ADD seems worse, or I have that PTSD inertia -anxiety I get, it helps me get a foot on the ground and start over.
For me time can be vague, and the day gets away from me. The simple act of turning on the music and putting on some coffee at that same time of day I always do, is a rung on the ladder back to earth.
As Dorothy Day said, “My strength returns to me with my cup of coffee and a reading of the Psalms.”
When I am at work caring for Mac, I still make coffee and put on some jazz at 2 in the afternoon. He has developed a taste for jazz now, and if I put on any other type of music that time of day, he looks confused. “Hey, what are you doing?”
The rhythm of the day means a lot to Mac. I think it is how he understands his place in time and in the world in general.
I can learn from his way of keeping track of his life so that it means something to him. Without the predictable and repeated routines of each part of the day, life would feel like an unsure, confusing continuum to him. He feels safe when he understands, at least in a general way, where he is in his day.
We are the same way, though most of us have more physical senses and more personal choices available to us than Mac does.
Routines and traditions help us to be fully in the present moment, and, if they are appreciated, can help us live more deeply, more consciously, and therefore, more prayerfully.
Maybe that’s why God made time for us to live in, even though He doesn’t need it. He doesn’t have any problem being present everywhere at once, but we do. We need time to truly experience life and meaning.
We have to mark time to keep ourselves in the only part of time we can really live in; the present moment.
The present moment is where we are most able to encounter God, because that is where we ourselves really are. God is within us, so we need to be “home,” to be present to our Guest.
During the day, we can get caught up in the past, in the future, and other distractions, worries, and concerns. Our minds are a constant river of thoughts and feelings.
Sometimes the day is a frantic blur. Sometimes it is like a dream we can’t quite remember.
When we occupy time fully by being present in the day, there we will find meaning; we will find God.
I have been thinking about that.
I am not much of a routine person. I tend to prefer a cadenza of a day, leaving plenty of room for inspiration, for people who show up, for the Holy Spirit to blow through, for random acts of goofiness, impulsive kindness, or happy, dreamy uselessness.
However, I understand that touch points in the day can be sacred. They give me a way to put the day back on track, put first things first, and remember what I’m trying to do with my life.
Besides making sure I get certain things done each day that have to be done, routines can be boxes to put presence in.
They can be conscious bridges into the next part of the day, helping me live intentionally for the next few hours.
I am trying to aim for small and attainable things to do here and there like modest ornaments for the day I am crafting.
One of these little routines is to turn off any music or stop whatever noise or activity or device is on at noon and pray the Angelus prayer.
I try to get certain things done at work by then so that I can sit down beside Mac and pray the Angelus at the traditional time of noon, or as close as I can get.
Mac likes this, too. He knows when all is tidied up and quiet, and he is made comfortable, that I will come sit and pray with him for a while. Sometimes he likes me to scratch his head while I pray the Angelus, and mid day prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours.
Another thing I have been trying to do: When I get home from work, before I do anything else, is to make time for a mindful sweeping up before I let myself settle down or get obsessed with anything. It’s an easy thing to do, but it makes a big difference in how the rest of the evening goes.
The temptation, when I get home from work, is to flop down and start reading or messing around on the Internet, or get caught up in listening to the news.
When I succumb to that temptation, it seems I only get more and more tired and unmotivated, and that time is wasted. There goes the evening, before I know it; myself and the world, none the better.
I am more likely to do other good things if I make the transition into the evening by doing a simple, silent routine like sweeping, paying attention to what I am doing, often accompanied by inwardly saying the names of Jesus and Mary prayerfully as I sweep.
Jesus. Maria. Jesus. Maria. Jesus. Maria.
Sometimes I even think there is another pair of playful, encouraging feet dancing with mine as I move across the floor with the broom; sneaky, sandaled, dusty feet behind my bare ones, and a silent voice that playfully says, “1,2,3, 1,2,3,” as if we were waltzing together while I sweep.
It makes me chuckle.
Maybe I’m on the right track.
*If you would like to try praying the Liturgy of the Hours, you can try it for free on Universalis
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