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How to love in troubled times; St. Edith Stein (Teresa Benedicta of the Cross)

Today is the feast day of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, or Edith Stein. She was born into a Jewish family, but became a decided atheist in her youth. She grew into a brilliant intellectual, writer, and  philosopher. Her search for truth lead her into the Catholic Church, and into religious life as a Carmelite nun, taking the name of Teresa Benedicta of the of the Cross. Eventually, under growing persecution, she was executed at Auschwitz on August 9, 1942. She offered her life for her persecuted and suffering Jewish people.

These days we are anxious, worried and rightly horrified by many things.  We wonder what we should do. Or maybe at times we fill our mouths (and our screens) with argument. Maybe we try to do our part, but we wonder what good we really do or of we are doing the right things? We are people of prayer, but perhaps we worry that it doesn’t seem to comfort us or anyone else. Maybe we wonder if our prayer actually changes anything.

What does the life and the death of Edith Stein have to say to us?

What tremendous inner power enabled her to continue to live deeply a life of prayer, love, and single minded searching for God and truth as the world darkened around her?

 

What motivated and empowered her, even on the train to the death camp, to brush the children’s hair and show them love when their own mothers had gone blank with terror?

 

What lead her to prayerfully and meaningfully offer her life, when she was executed, to God, for her people?

 

by Mark Hudgins

 

She would say that her love, spiritual intuition, and courage came from the practice of inner prayer, in contemplating the face of Christ, and the mystery of His Cross, from the magnifying grace Jesus fills His disciples with when they open their hearts to it.

She wrote beautifully about the mysterious power of drawing near to Christ. She knew the ability this gives us to be close to and to touch those who suffer anywhere and everywhere.  She knew that in God, she  could change hearts, and pour the love of Jesus into a world sickened by violence, indifference, madness, and fear.

 

by Mark Seven Hudgins

 

 

When she was confronted by inhumanity and brutality, even as she suffered the same experiences the others were suffering, she was able to love and serve those around her.

By immersing herself in God’s love every day, she was prepared to be love in the most heartless of places, and to give her life in union with the sacrifice of Jesus, releasing a tide of grace and mercy for all by her sacrificial prayer and offering. She turned evil on its head, echoing her beloved Lord.

We know from the Gospel that Jesus lifts us up when we pray, that He loves to give His healing power of mercy into our hands, as He did when He sent out the disciples to proclaim the Kingdom of God and to heal and bring peace.

Edith Stein faced her death with sacrificial love and prayer, offering herself to God for others.

What if, in our own way, right now, we offered our lives, too?

What would that do?

When we unite ourselves to Christ completely, we free and open our hearts for Him to direct and guide, to fill with whatever graces He wants to see there.

In prayerful union with Him, we will be led where He wants us to be each day, and respond to each person and situation from a mysterious reserve of inner freedom, courage, and love.

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In our prayer, God will take us all over the world like the wind of the Spirit; walking through doors, bringing the sweet breath of peace, calling others forth.

Then the floods of that divine love will flow into [your heart,] making it overflow and bear fruit to the furthest reaches of the earth. ~ Edith Stein

Maybe we can pray something like this:

God, I offer myself and my life to You, for those who suffer violence, for the persecuted, the unloved, the misunderstood. I offer my life and death for the relief of suffering, for peace, for the conversion of hearts to mercy and love; and that the knowledge of You will fill the earth; fill every relationship, every heart.

Wherever there is suffering, or a lack of love, where there is terror, fear, injustice, or a need for You, take me there, put me there- either in time and space, or in the super-imposition of prayer.

Let me kiss every face.

Let me hold every hand.

Let me be your peace.

Let me be your love.

Whatever it takes.

 

St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, pray for us.

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  • Art by Mark Hudgins

 

Praying through conflict

When we talk we can do a lot of good sometimes. When we pray we don’t do anything. We stop doing. Instead we meet one another in the Heart of God. We bring ourselves, and our difficulties before Him in good will and open-ness of heart. What is there to argue about then?

It is a truth I often point out to my daughters, that God will not force solutions on us. “Remember all the times you brought broken toys for me to fix? I couldn’t fix them if you wouldn’t give them to me. God can work with your problem when you trust Him with it and let go.”

We don’t know what God will do but we do know that God responds to prayer, especially humble, open- hearted prayer, and we know it pleases Him when people set aside their differences and come together to seek His will, willing to be changed by Him.

Authentic prayer always brings out the best  in people. It brings them to recognize their own littleness and broken-ness before God, Who is all love, at once perfectly just, full of mercy, and utterly mysterious- thus requiring our open-ness and willingness, for Him to reveal Himself to us. This is when we can come to know the power of His transforming love.

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Photo by Suvan Chowdhury on Pexels.com

On the day of Pentecost in the midst of the believers gathered in prayer the gifts of the Holy Spirit undid  the language barrier, the curse of Babylon. People who heard them when they prayed understand now, in the Spirit, no matter what language each one speaks.

God can hardly help Himself, I think, responding when anyone prays with trust and hope. Surely He will bless the prayers of His children who don’t want to fight anymore and don’t know what to do to stop.

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Photo by Jimmy Chan on Pexels.com

How can we pray through conflict together in our lives?  I think it is of special relevance in families. There is a lot of pain and love in families. There are always issues that need to be brought to the light of the Holy Spirit for forgiveness and unraveling. We don’t always know what to do. Sometimes we have talked and talked or we have tried not talking. We have tried forgetting, avoiding each other, pretending nothing happened. What if we came together in honest prayer and let God begin the healing in His own way?

What if our first reaction, when we had a conflict with someone, was to pray about it with him? Imagine how this might look on social media if people with differences stopped arguing for a minute and prayed together humbly instead?

Praying through conflict can help make difficult decisions people are in conflict about. When my first husband, Blaze, wanted to move back to his native Wisconsin, I knew it was  fair since he had been in Texas with me so long. However, I could not help my grief, and he was upset that I was upset. Our talking about it was not doing any good. We were advised by someone wise to pray about it. Our prayer was to be, “If we are supposed to move to Milwaukee, give Shawn peace about going. If we are to stay in Texas, give Blaze peace about staying.” He got peace about staying and we stayed. It was the right thing.

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Photo by Fancycrave.com on Pexels.com

Once my dad had read about something and wanted to try it. He wanted to sit down on the couch with me and have us look into each other’s eyes for nine silent minutes.  So we turned off the stereo and we sat on the couch and we looked at each other right in the eyes in silence. After the first awkward, anxious moments of wanting to laugh or run away or cry were over, my heart felt such peace and quiet and love.

“What did you think?” my dad asked when the  long beep of the kitchen timer let us know our nine minutes were up.

“I think I saw you the way God sees you!”

My dad just smiled.

Let’s go together and look into the eyes of Our Father without words or agendas of our own. Maybe we will finally see each other, and maybe even see God.

“Behold, I make all things new.” (Revelations 21:5)

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Photo by icon0.com on Pexels.com

A Meditation on the Sacred Heart of Jesus

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Biblically, the heart is the center of the human being, the seat of decision, the place of prayer to which one withdraws. It is where God comes to make His home in us. The heart is the place of longing, and spiritual thirst, the place of encounter, the place of union.*

Incarnate in Jesus, God now has a human heart, at one with His divine nature, a Heart which we call “The Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.” Some version of this representation of Him adorns nearly every Catholic Church and home. Usually the image is of St. Margaret Mary’s apparition of Our Lord with a visible Heart which is on fire with divine love, radiant like the sun, surrounded by the thorns that symbolize His suffering and death, and topped by the cross, the symbol of His victory.

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This is a very dearly loved image of Jesus, and one of great power for us. Jesus’ heart is the center of His being, the seat of His human consciousness, the abyss of His Divine love, mercy, and compassion.

We find in the Scriptures, and we experience, in the practice and grace of prayer, that Christ has thirsted for us, has loved us first. He can easily be found by our withdrawing in prayer into our own hearts, where we are, where He is.

The Sacred Heart of Jesus is one in love with the sacred heart of you, the sacred heart of me, our hearts reflecting His, and His ours, living within one another. We need only be conscious of this to make this truth part of our lives of love, prayer and service, and to look for and find Him in every human heart. 

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Christ living within us has experienced our loves, humiliations, rejections, our own sufferings, deaths and resurrections. We, living in Him, as His Body and Bride, the Church, have experienced His life, too. The Sacred Heart in religious art can also be seen as a symbol of this solidarity and union, this communion and humanity we share with Christ, as well as the mystical union we have with His divinity. More obviously it is a symbol of His love for us, which is the heart of prayer, which is the Heart of our lives.

Sometimes it is hard to remember that Jesus suffers with us and takes our pain upon Himself. In the midst of the extremes of life’s suffering love, we need to know that His tears are mixed with ours, that we have a God who knows sorrow, a God who is Love, a God who wants to give Himself to us in the Eucharist, and share with us His divine life in the Trinity forever.

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In my times of deepest pain, it does not help much to ask why. It helps a lot more to “look” silently at the Sacred Heart of Jesus, into the tender darkness to which I withdraw, into the ruins of my heart, made sacred by His dwelling there, so it can be re-built to His purpose. In that gaze, “why” doesn’t matter, as much as Who this is Who loves me, and is my God. That’s where trust comes from; accepting the Heart of this Lord, Who is Love. What else is there? What more could we need, than to know and live in this Heart, allowing Christ’s Heart to live in us.? What more could we give anyone else, than the knowledge, by our love and presence, that this is so, and that the Heart of Jesus lives in us for them and in them for us? What more could we give our beloved Lord than to “Return love for Love”  as He asked us through St. Margaret Mary, by being attentive to His holy presence in our hearts?

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Jesus took up the cross, the Scripture says, “for the sake of the joy that lay before Him.” It’s easy to think about His joy as His future Resurrection and glory with His Father in Heaven. But we forget sometimes, that part of the joy that lay before Him, was ourselves. Being with us was worth it to Him. After all, this is also why He came to begin with, from the glory He had from the beginning, to take on our humanity, to be with us, to capture our hearts, to transform,redeem and raise us, to be one with us, that our hearts might burn with divine fire. May we  be willing to wear the crown of thorns that love often requires of us, until we share in the victory of the cross, and in His divine life itself, bringing many with us.

Let’s withdraw into the silence of our hearts and find His own beating there as often as possible. We can do this in the moments of recollection we can find through the day, and in the time we set aside to give Him, in silent love, especially before the Blessed Sacrament.  May we grow always and everywhere in awareness of His indwelling, nurture His presence in us, love Him better, be His joy.

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Happy June, month of the Sacred Heart.

May the Sacred Heart of Jesus be praised, adored, and loved, in the tabernacle of every human heart, to the end of time, and forever in the the life to come! Amen.

 

*see CCC Section 4 “Christian Prayer”

Also by me regarding the Sacred Heart: Jesus, give us Your Heart! Make us strong to love!

A Meditation on the Immaculate Heart of Mary

In contemplating the Heart of Mary, we enter into her interior life, symbolized by the beautiful image of her heart. It is often depicted as pierced with a sword, in flames, wreathed with roses or with the crown of thorns of her Son. Mary’s pure and open heart is the reflection of our beautiful Christian life of union with God; a reflection of sacrificial love for Him and all humanity, on fire with the Holy Spirit, flowering with every grace, blessing and virtue.

“Draw us after you in the fragrance of your holiness.” *  Following in her heart beats, we are to be directed by the the love of God: wholly pure, wholly given, fully human. Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure of heart for they shall see God,” because when we are pure of heart, all we see is God. Her heart is utterly pure beyond our comprehension, pure as Eve’s before the fall; then made even more beautiful by Mary’s heroic merits, her sacrifices, her complete alliance with God, her total love, and her compliance with His will and plan. Oh the willingness of this heart to  trustingly suffer in order to love Christ bravely, to grow in love and go on loving even to it’s own destruction! She believed all things, she endured all things, she hoped all things! Therefore she received all things.

How can we imitate Mary by heart? We are so often unlike her inside.  Sometimes we seem hopelessly off track. Mary’s heart’s simplicity and hidden life in Christ are hard to cultivate, but this is what true holiness is, loving God as she did; in stark faith, hope, and love, in simplicity of heart.  We walk with Mary in simple faith and learn Christ from her. We listen, we let go and let God, trusting in His grace that He will complete the good work he has begun in us. It all began with our Most Holy Mother saying, “I am the littlest of the servants of God. Let it be done to me as you have said.”  And Jesus was conceived in her.  This is what happens in the spiritual life if we allow God to work with us, and Mary to teach us. We become more and more attentive to His Word  in our lives. We learn to be in silent communion with Him in the quiet of our hearts and we become more and more aware of His indwelling. It takes training ourselves to be quiet and commitment to spend time with God every day in whatever way we are capable of. We can entrust our formation to Mary.

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She is the perfect model of the spiritual life of a Christian. And because she intercedes for us as Queen Mother we can do more than consider her heart and wish we were different. We can become  closer to what she is by her prayers for us, by grace, by attempting to follow her example, by being willing, by praying. In companionship with Mary and inviting her into our lives, we become more like her . She never keeps anything for herself though. She brings us right to Christ and intensifies our experience of Him. He seems to like to see us in her company, entrusting us to her “school of prayer.” *
With her let us “set out into the deep”*  as she did in trusting receptivity and self -giving love, in  prayer of the heart. In this way the Blessed Trinity will come to dwell in us fully and truly. The Immaculate Heart of Mary is an icon of the heart of prayer in its perfection.

Let us  allow our hearts to be cleansed by being willing to be shown our mixed  motivations and inner secrets and to let go of anything that keeps us from God, allowing ourselves to be transformed little by little as we learn to let God in.  May we be receptive to Love and in being possessed by God, possess God. As Mary allowed the Holy Spirit to overshadow her, may we be open to His movements in our souls with courageous love.  May our Holy Mother pray for us that we can mirror her heart with our own. May we too be simple , humble and free of heart for Him, that we may run lightly in His paths and wear the gentle yoke of Jesus with a joyful humility.

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We are so busy and so was she. Mary practiced prayer of the heart, I imagine, in the midst of family life: as she swept floors, chased her toddler when he ran out the door as all toddlers must, while she was cooking or working outside in the fields, kneading dough or bringing in water, helping a neighbor or wishing it would rain.

Her feet were often dirty and her hands were calloused with work. Maybe sometimes Joseph came in from the shop silent and far away, mentally working on some problem the way husbands will at times, and she had to be patient as every wife does, until he seemed ready to communicate or ready for a hug.

She had to have laughed when funny things happened . She was obviously astonished that her Son could seem so inconsiderate as to be at the Temple for three days while she worried so terribly. Sometimes she didn’t understand what was happening.

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looking and looking for Jesus

I am certain she had to stay up late or get up early to have any quiet time at all. She was and is fully human, and she understands our life. She will come and sit with us when we are crying. She will smile with us. She will teach us how she did it, how hers became the model for the praying heart amidst life’s work , sorrow and joy.

Maybe we could start a new phase of our relationship with Mary, Fetch get your favorite image of Our Lady and have a quiet cup of tea with her and see what happens. I did. It was nice.  You might try it.

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Let us pray: O Mary I consecrate my heart to yours that I may love the Father with your heart, listen with your heart, respond to grace with your heart, accept suffering and sacrifice lovingly and freely with your heart. Pray for me, that I may follow the way of prayer and service as you, His most worthy daughter have done before me.  Be with me and pray that I  serve with devotion and compassion, that I pray until  prayer becomes love and love becomes prayer.

May my heart be conformed to God’s merciful will in every way.  

May I learn from you, Mary, to live continually in God’s presence, whatever I am doing, “For the language He hears best is silent love.” *

Jesus, thank you for revealing the Immaculate Heart of Your Mother to the Church that we may grow in simply loving you,  letting ourselves be loved and opened and inhabited by you as Mary has exemplified.

“Come, Holy Spirit, come by means of the powerful intercession of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Thy well beloved Spouse*” Teach us the heart of prayer. 

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*Mary’s “school of prayer” John Paul II in Rosarium Virginis Mariae

*”Draw us after you in the fragrance of your holiness,” is an antiphon from The Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

*”Set out into the deep!” – John Paul II

*”The language He hears best…”  St. John of the Cross

*This “Come Holy Spirit” is a prayer I learned from a friend years ago. We say it all the time at our house.

Let yourself be loved: a challenge for Lent

The sunlight obscures him in its intense brightness on the horizon, but I can still see his figure walking ahead as I follow at a distance. I have to run a little just to keep him in sight. I am wondering if he wanted some desert alone time and whether I should let him be. He seems to sense my hesitation. He turns to glance back at me, stops right away, turns on his heal and heads toward me more quickly than I would have thought walking would bring him.

“Follow me. I have something I want to teach you this Lent.”

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We walk in silence for a while. Eventually he leads me to where he has set a camp fire in front of a small cave. I am surprised he seems to be cooking. I thought we were fasting. He has made me a simple meal of lentils and bread.

He explains to me that he knows that for me, especially at this time of shock, grief, and upsetting change in my life, eating is harder for me than fasting. This is why he asks that, for now, I take up the discipline of eating, of letting him feed me. This brings us to a larger issue that he wants to sit and talk over as we eat.

He hands me a clay cup full of water and we sit on the warm ground to eat our meal.

Even though we are quiet after the meal blessing, I sense that he wants me to remember that he understands what I am going through and that he experienced it himself. Briefly I remember it as he remembers it, that he was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief of every kind. He wants me to remember so that I will feel deeply understood by him, and I do.

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He wants me to let go of what anyone else is doing, and of what unfolds around me, even and especially the things that hurt me the most.

“Just seek healing for these forty days. Care for yourself as I care for you, let yourself be loved, and pay attention to your prayers. I want you to stop worrying about things that are mine to take care of. I would like you to stop wasting energy doing things I am not asking you to do, and to say yes to doing as I am asking. When you do what I have not asked, you wear yourself down for nothing. When you do as I am asking, I will give you all you need to accomplish everything.”

I have to think about this. Then I start worrying about certain situations in my life. “Trust me. Get out of my way and let me care for you in all those situations that are not really yours to do anything about, but mine.”

I have to think about this, too.

photo Maire Manning-Pauc

He says he has heard my prayers asking what he would like me to do for Lent.

His answer is that he wants me to take care of myself in ways that are hard for me right now.

He goes over with me his idea of my to-do list.

Me eating on a regular basis seems to interest him a lot. Me paying my bills on time and taking care of other things that are mine to take care of are high on the list. Me standing up for myself in certain matters that he wants me to seems important to him, too.

He wants mercy in this: that I let other people love me, that I let him love me, that I take care of myself and my life with love for his sake.

Well, this is different than what I was thinking. But I can see he’s serious. He has given me a lot to think about. In fact, I feel a bit upside down right now.

The lunch he made is good and we eat in appreciative silence next to the fire in the shade of a rocky hill. I glance into the cave at his simple belongings- a bag of some kind, a sleeping mat.

He catches my eye, and I look at him across from me, chewing casually on his piece of bread. Then I catch my breath because suddenly his eyes go straight to my heart, his gaze like a scalpel in the hand of a surgeon, laying my broken inner world open before me. I can see it in metaphor; a bombed-out building I have been trying to live in as if it were not rubble. I see the chaos from the outer world that I have let in like a flood of bad water over what little I had left to live on.

I see that I did not welcome him when he came to pay his mourning call to me to comfort me.

I had given him his usual seat, I had sat near him, so to speak, but did not allow more than his proximity most days. I did not care for myself, nor did I let him care for me. I did not see him cry for me. I was not looking.

I don’t even know how to fix this problem; not this broken heart, not my inability to open it right now.

He gently helps me understand that even this is not mine to do. I don’t have to do anything. I just have to be willing.

I feel at peace as I look up and see only him, still chewing on his bite of bread, gently brushing off an ant.

“In silence and in hope will be your strength,” crosses my mind.

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He says, “Just don’t move without my will.”

He shows me myself moving in tune with him through my days as I set about my house work, my bill paying, my phone calls, my cooking, driving, working, my encounters with others; in all these allowing him to care for me in how I care for myself.

He shows me myself quiet in my prayer, breathing his gentle love, his presence, his mercy, his holy Name, into my broken heart, allowing him to rebuild, to redefine, to transform.

The tenderness I feel from him is almost frightening right now, and I realize it is because of all the pain I have been feeling but trying to carry alone without realizing that was what I was doing. I need to trust him. I need to let him in more to the places that hurt. That is what he wants.

He says, “The Lord is close to the broken hearted. Those whose spirit is crushed, he will save.”

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I understand what he is asking me to do.

I have to do what I am supposed to do in life right now, and it isn’t very much. He will take care of the other things.

He will protect my heart.

He will defend my heart.

He will heal my heart, no matter how impossible it may seem, or how many times it must be renewed or even remade.

He will do what it takes.

He already did all this with his willingness to have his own heart, his own life, broken for my sake. I understand that he stepped radically into my sorrow, inhabiting it himself in his incarnation, his life, suffering and death.

“Let yourself be loved,” wrote St. Elizabeth of the Trinity.

“You are not your own,” says St. Paul. We are each bought at an infinite price and are of unspeakable value to the Lord of love.

To love ourselves perfectly in God, through God, and for love of God, is the fourth and highest degree of love, that signifies union with him, wrote St. Bernard of Clairvaux.

It seems to me the deepest and most humble of surrenders.

This is my challenge to grow toward for Lent 2018.

I look up at the bright sky, and suddenly he showers me with rose petals of every color. They smell beautiful as they fall around me and over me, sticking to my face and shoulders, piling up in my lap, getting between my toes.

He is laughing. I smile. Jesus is Lord. He can laugh and dump rose petals over my head if he wants to.

I will just have to get used to it.

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Something related you might like to try: 

Prayer of the Heart (in the Eastern Orthodox tradition)

Sit quietly and recollect yourself.

Imagine your heart, visualize it and keep your attention there.

Lead the mind from the head into the heart, and say mentally, with your breath, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me,” slowly and reverently. Imagine you are breathing “Lord Jesus Christ.” into your heart. Then on the out breath, think, “have mercy on me.”

If your mind starts doing its usual job, thinking, gently bring it back to the prayer and continue mentally repeating it, visualizing your heart and keeping your attention there.

Be patient and peaceful, spending some quiet time with God in this way.

 

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How the “Bobly Day” began (and how you can be a part of it!) :)

My late husband, Bob Chapman, had a strong sense of community. He was deeply aware that everything he did or did not do affected everyone else’s life, that we all have an effect on one another, all the time, in all we touch and do. He called this his “skin religion,”  and he tried to live it to the full.

He cultivated a constant awareness of others, and had a knack for seeing how each might be helped, and then doing it. He noticed people’s needs and contributions every day.

He always encouraged someone he saw working hard, or doing something good. He pitched in an act of kindness everywhere he could.

The sign shaker guy on the corner was cold and needed a hot chocolate. Bob bought one and had me take it out to the man.

A girl at a small town grocery store was putting back all that she had in her basket. Unknown to her, Bob had watched her do this. Following behind, he had put her things in his own basket.  As he paid, he had me run outside and ask her to wait a minute. I asked this girl what was wrong. “I was out of money on my food stamp card. I thought I had more.” “What were you getting?” “After school snacks for my kids.” And here comes Bob, handing her a bag of groceries.

A kid in our neighborhood loved basketball, and played often in his driveway. Bob noticed his net was broken one day. He went and got the kid a net, leaving it on his front porch.

I remember a time he fixed the cook’s car in the parking lot at the Vietnamese restaurant we liked. He asked about it every time, too, to make sure it was still running OK.

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Bob 🙂

When he got where he shouldn’t be driving anymore because of the return of his brain tumor, he gave his truck away to someone at work who needed a vehicle.

When Bob mowed our lawn, he always mowed the neighbor’s yard, too. Sometimes he went around the corner to mow an elderly couple’s yard while he was at it, as a matter of course. He considered it to be what he was supposed to do.

When he saw anything broken, he fixed it. He would never have thought of not doing so. It was his gift. So it’s what he did. Bob walked around with a wrench in his back pocket. It made me smile. It was a good symbol of his sense of purpose.

After Bob’s death following a valiant fight with Brain Cancer (April 13, 2012,) to celebrate his birthday, December 13th, we began what we call, “The Bobly Day.” It is a day of random acts of kindness, of noticing the needs around us, of sneaky good deeds, gestures of love and service, wherever we are.

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2017 will be our 5TH December to celebrate Bob’s birthday this way. It is mainly a Face Book event. Friends invite their friends, who invite their friends. People who never knew Bob celebrate this day along with those of us who did. On the event page, I ask that people report back to the rest of us what they did. Whoever is comfortable with sharing does so.

The usual number of people officially “signed up”  are a  bit over 100 people. We have “Bobly friends” in New York City, Chicago, California, South Africa, Scotland,
and of course, here in Texas, going out and looking for good deeds to do and having fun doing them!

Streets have been picked up, (something Bob used to do around the neighborhood,) stranded motorists helped, leaves raked, gifts given, appreciation expressed, hugs offered, needy children cheered, angry words held back, veterans’ needs attended to, rides given, smiles exchanged, tabs paid, and animals helped. Here are some of the examples people have shared the last six years, on face book, or e-mail, or by telling me.

“I helped an old guy in line at the doctor’s office who needed blood pressure medicine but had no money for the required doctor visit. I paid for his visit so he could get his medicine.”

“Was going to go out of town this weekend, but gave my trip money to a Christian rehab center instead!”

“Today at the Texas Aggie women’s basketball game, my husband and I bought teddy bears to donate to their teddy bear drive.”

“I taught a guitar lesson to a girl who couldn’t afford a teacher.”

“While walking through the airport, I spotted an elderly lady resting on a huge recliner. I realized it was a massage chair. I put $5 (the maximum) in the slot and it started humming and moving that dear, little lady. She let out an audible “ooooo” and smiled ever so broadly. She then thanked me and said, “My, but it HAS been a long time”, winked and then smiled some more. I’m not sure which one of us was enjoying her “massage” more. I’m giggling as I type this.”

 “The kids made blankets for the hospital, and took them there today. They spent some of their own money to get the materials.”

“I paid it forward at the What- a- Burger drive through!”  

“I hugged a homeless guy and took him lunch.”

“I gave up my seat on the subway.” 

“I shared about the Bobly Day and his life with someone going through her fifth round of cancer.”

“There was a man on the corner with a sign that said “I have three kids.” I have my three girls in the car and would do anything for them. I handed him a 20 and said Merry Christmas.”

“I made gifts for the people that work at all the fast food places I go to. They were thrilled!”

“Today I’m donating baby things for moms in need.”

 

Looking for ways to help others is one of the ways Bob Chapman lived, and found meaning in his beautiful life, by practicing his “skin religion.” We can, too.

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Me and Bob at work in the Press Room at the Eagle

“I want my job to be just going around and helping people- fixing their car if they need it, mowing their lawn, getting them groceries, whatever they need, and to tell them, ‘God loves you!’ ~ Bob Chapman

*If you would like to join our event (Dec. 13-16 world wide) on Face Book, come on over! https://www.facebook.com/events/413215589122405/?notif_t=plan_user_associated&notif_id=1513098439017694

Suffer me not to leave thee (a wife’s Pieta)

 

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After all three of us had called everyone we needed to call, another pot of coffee was put on.

I took a picture of Bob- beautiful and at peace with rose petals all over him, all over the bed.

Andrea had the idea that our closest female friends should wash Bob’s body and anoint him with oils. Amy had a set of Biblical oils (like frankincense, myrrh, calamus, cinnamon, onycha, spikenard, myrtle, etc.)  So she brought it over. Everyone was here except Nan, whose phone had been off that morning so far. Andrea got the tubs of water and pomagranite soap ready and Amy set out the oils. Bob was covered modestly of course.

I was caressing his face. His mouth was open and I said affectionately, as I often did (Bob sometimes would leave his mouth open when he was concentrating) “Close your mouth, Bobbi.”

I was drawn into the discussion over whether we should use spikenard or not because nobody really liked that smell too much. I said Jesus had been anointed with spikenard at Bethany and it was also in the Song of Songs. But it was not my favorite smell either.

When I looked back at Bob his mouth was not only closed but he had a little smile on his face. I asked the others if they had seen that. They looked and we agreed with wonder that he did have a little smile on his face.

 

Then solemly, reverently, Andrea, Jamie, Jocie, Amy, Shawna, and I together washed Bob’s feet, legs, arms, hands, torso, neck, head and face. We dried him and anointed him all over with oils and I also added in the blessed olive oil sent for healing from that priest with the gift of healing, and the oil from the lamp at St. Philomena’s tomb. I also blessed him with holy water as I did every day. Again I sprinkled rose petals over him.  I noticed the smile had gotten bigger. This was very strange and I took a picture. We all noticed and remarked on it.

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I knew that I needed to be alone with him, and I needed to be alone with him  for a as long as I needed to be. People were arriving and my youngest daughter, Roise, had to be told. She had spent the night at Jamie’s house. We told her in the front yard but she already had figured it out. She received the news solemnly, blankly – though tears sprang to her eyes briefly.  When I had woken up my oldest daughter, Maire, to tell her, she had looked angry and then blank. Neither of them felt like they could deal with seeing him. I said that was OK but they could if they wanted to.

I think I was hugged a lot. I don’t really remember those hours that well.

 

I thought of how saying goodbye to my first husband’s body had felt. That was a lesson in how not to have to do that. He was in a coffin, in an institutional setting, and people were waiting for me so they could close the casket; others waiting to take me home. It was horrible. I had been so strong through the vigil and rosary and talking to people and everything else but after I left Marc in that casket and knew I would never see him again I went hysterical and almost passed out. The only thing that had brought me out of that was hearing my four-year-old’s cries of terror as she tried to get out of the car and get to me.  I pulled myself together instantly.  It was quite an effort. This time I could be try to prevent that sense of trauma as much as I could. So I told people I needed to be alone with Bobbi and not to tell the funeral home to come until I said so.

I didn’t lock the bedroom door because I knew everyone would be frightened. I suffered some interruptions because of this. But I was aware that I shouldn’t scare the crud out of everyone. They needed to know they could get in here if they needed to.

Once the door was closed I got into the bed by Bobbi and I looked at him for a long time. I caressed him everywhere- appreciating in the most profound way how his body, beautiful to me,  was in so many ways an expression of his beautiful soul, of who he was, of his Bobness. John Paul II, in his Theology of the Body talked a lot about the nuptial meaning of the body. Bob’s body’s very design is for the spousal gift of himself – to me. And the Scripture says that a mans’ body is not his own but his wife’s and that the two become one flesh and one spirit. No wonder Eve was drawn from Adam’s very side.

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It was not that I thought of these things in a conscious way. It’s that I was experiencing them directly, intensely, since it was the last time I would ever touch him, my beautiful husband, my precious man, and because I was so flooded with memories of experiencing these things throughout our beautiful marriage.

I called him that – beautiful husband, precious man- as I touched him. I called him all the special things I always called him. I told him again how much I loved him, how beautiful he was.  I was peaceful inside during this time. I only felt love and deep appreciation.

It was not until I lay my body over his and put my cheek into the soft hair of his chest in my favorite spot- the safest place in the whole world- that I exploded into the abyss of grief and wept from some deep, dark, primal place- a horrible, wrenching, gutteral sobbing, “with tears hot and wild.” (Sinead O’Connor)  I was speaking but I didn’t know what I said. After a while I realized I was saying, “I love you! I love you! God I love you!”

The grief was a physical pain and no wonder. And I groaned with it from my soul. How can you be one flesh and one spirit with someone and not feel it in your very body and soul when the one you are joined with is taken away?

Maire, came into the room and stared down at us. Her face was a blank mask. I knew she felt traumatized and maybe the situation brought back the memory of my hysteria at the funeral home after the coffin was closed on her father, and I had been led away.

I looked up at her, my face covered  in tears and snot, my hair sticking to my  cheek and I said brokenly, “Maire please go. I need to do this right now. This is a very special time for us please leave the room. I promise I will be OK later. I just have to do this right now.” Finally she left without a word.

I held him. I kissed him. I kissed him over and over and all over him. I lay peacefully with him, looking out the window at the crucifix shrine in the roses, listening to the birds as I had done so many times when he was alive. I knew his soul was there in the room. That helped a lot. His love would make him want to be near me as I went through this. I trusted that love. I trusted that our union, in some ways, was unbreakable even by death, because it is a union of total love. We gave ourselves completely. And we learned about love from one another. I did think about that and was grateful for it as quiet tears slid down my cheeks into Bob’s chest hair and onto his face as I kissed him.

I held his rough calloused hands against my face. Hands that had held, caressed, and protected me, and also reached out for me in need or grasped mine in companionship and joy, or taken my own and pressed them to his heart.

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I was interrupted by Brandee, an old friend who was answering an inner summons to come to me. She did not even know Bob had died. Not even while she was in the room with me. That was strange. I don’t remember what she said or how I answered her. She went out of the room and I continued to be with Bob.

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I called Andrea to me eventually and told her I was ready for the funeral home to come. I was ready to get that part over with. I said please make sure my brother is nearby because I remember that part being traumatic and I may need help. So she did that. I clung to Bob. I waited. After some time Andrea let me know they were here. I said send them in.

The room began to fill up with people- family and friends. I started sobbing and I think I was a little hysterical- whatever that means. I saw the stretcher in the hall and a mild mannered, kind faced Hispanic man came into the room. I was sobbing and clinging to Bob and the man  started asking me what seemed like outrageously inane questions that totally could have waited. I thought  to myself that maybe this is how he deals with the hysterical people he no doubt encounters nearly every day. It worked. I sat up in the bed and choked back my tears, answering his questions.

Bob wanted to be cremated. He is Catholic. He had asked to be buried at Mt. Calvary cemetery next to my first husband. I already own the grave plot. He is a member of St. Thomas Aquinas parish and the funeral mass will be there. Fr. Wade of St. Thomas Moore in Round Rock would be presiding and Deacon Ron would be assisting. There were more questions but I don’t remember them.

 

Finally a young woman brought the stretcher into the bedroom and they prepared to move Bob onto it. There was some difficulty and Jon and Sedrick sprang forward to help. Mark did too.

Once on the stretcher Bob was covered up to his chin with a quilt the funeral home people had brought. We were each invited to say goodbye to him.

Maire and Roise were in the room and Maire came and put her head on Bob’s chest and cried a little bit before she pulled herself away, patting his chest one more time. Roise came and caressed his arm, crying, and said, “Bye, Bo Bo. I love you.’ She hugged him briefly. Other people too came and most put their hands on his chest in silence a moment. Jocie kissed him on the side of his head as she did always whenever she said goodbye to him. I think she said, “By Bobbi. See ya. “ I think we may have prayed the Our Father at that point and chanted the Ave Maria.

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I said, “Look at his face.” The smile was outrageous. It was unmistakable. It was huge. It was the biggest smile you ever saw. We couldn’t believe it. I took a picture of that too. It was truly amazing. And they took him from the room.

 

My brother, Mark got on the bed beside me and held me. My sister-in-law, Jamie, did too I think.

I was crying and I bet I sounded like a small child because that is how I felt. “Did I do OK?” I think I said. I don’t remember their reassuring answers and I don’t know why I asked such a thing. “I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how. Are you going to help me? I can’t do this!” They all said they would.

Andrea said, after some silence, “Shawn, is there anything you’d like to say?” I said, with passion that surprised me, “Yes. I want to say that I asked God, “Father, take this cup from me but not my will but yours be done. And that I took the cup  and I drank it all. With Bobbi. And I’m glad.”

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I was still crying when Deacon Ron got there to bless the Bob’s body. He was surprised Bob was gone already. But he stayed and led us in prayer first. He conducted a simple prayer service that involved the reading of a few Scripture passages and traditional prayers for such a time. And then we all sang. We sang “I love You, Lord.” We chanted the Ave Maria. And we sang the family song, “Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd. We were all delighted and surprised that Deacon Ron, though hailing from India, knew every word. Mark joked with him when we were finished, “Dude, you can’t sing. That’s OK. Neither can I.” My dad whispered in my ear, as people began to leave the room, “That guy in the long white robe looks Suspicious!” I laughed.

I don’t remember anything else from that day except that at a quiet moment Nan came. She led me into my room and got me into bed. She anointed me with oil. She sprinkled me with rose petals. As I had done for Bob a while since. So appropriate. Because that day I had died too. Or maybe I should see it in a more positive way. Being one with Bob I deserved similar attentions. Maybe I should try to see it in this way: That like Eve I was reborn from Bob’s side as he lay in the sleep of death with Adam until he should rise again in Christ who gave birth to His Bride the Church from his Heart pierced on the Cross. I was reborn into a new life as Bob’s widow to go forth from Bob’s side though still with him by Loves’ grace. This new life is yet to be discerned by me as to what it will be like and what path it will take. But God already knows. God waits for me until I am ready to walk again. Then he will show me where to go.

As I started to doze off I could hear Shawna and Mark talking in the kitchen but I didn’t know what they said. I was brought into sharp awareness when I felt suddenly that Bob was very close to me. I could almost expect to feel his breath on my face. “I’m complete now, Baby. I’m complete and I’m fulfilled. And it’s all because of you.”

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Do not press me to leave you!

Wherever you go I will go

wherever you stay I will stay.

Your people shall be my people

and your God, shall be my God.

  • All art is by my husband, Bob Chapman, who died of Brain Cancer in my and my brother, Mark’s arms on April 13, 2012
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