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Catholic contemplative life and devotion

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Virgin Mary

Happy Birthday Mother Mary

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Today, September 8, is Mother Mary’s birthday! (Well we don’t know when it actually was but we celebrate it today!) Time to burn rose incense and get out all of her baby pictures and make a cake! (Chocolate! What other kind would she eat?) Happy birthday to our mother, our sister, our Queen, the one who was continually amazed. In her companionship may we come to live in a state of wonder as we follow her Son at her side.

Here is a little family prayer service I used to do with my kids before we had Mary’s birthday cake and that I will be doing with my daughter and granddaughter this evening.

(You might set a statue of Mary on the table, and any flowers or candles you may have.)

Opening Prayer:

Leader: We give thanks for the gift that Mary is in our lives in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

All: Amen

Reader:

A reading from the book of Judith (13:18)

“Blessed are you, daughter, by the Most High God, above all the women on earth; and blessed be the Lord God, the creator of heaven and earth.”

Petitions:

Leader: St. Therese the Little Flower said she felt bad for you, Mary, because unlike herself, you don’t have a Blessed Virgin Mary to love! Thank you Mary, for your gift of self.

Respond All: Be blessed, sweet Mother of God.

You are the glory of Jerusalem, the joy of Israel; you are the fairest honor of our race. We praise God because of you.

Be blessed, sweet Mother of God.

Pray for us, Holy Mother, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Be blessed, sweet Mother of God.

May we live in your kindly companionship, meditating in our hearts on the Gospel your Son with love.

Be blessed, sweet Mother of God

Leader:

Happy Birthday to you, dawn of our salvation, lover of God, friend as we follow him.

(Pray together a Marian Prayer such as the Hail Mary)

Sing happy birthday.

Close by blessing the cake and allowing the youngest person present to blow out the candles.

Mary, we love you! Happy birthday!

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It’s been a couple minutes

I’ve been gone forever. There are a lot of reasons for this. One of them is that I was writing a book. I tried to keep up with my other writing but I could only keep up with my column at the paper and even so I often used old material. It seemed like even when I wasn’t engaged in writing my book, I was constantly writing it in my mind, or reflecting on an idea for one of the devotional entries.

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The book is about friendship with Mary, based on the fact that Mary is real and accessible. I really had fun writing…. when I wasn’t agonizing. It is a devotional with reflections on Mary and her contemplative spirituality, her role in our lives; the sneaky ways she leads us to Jesus, and to deeper and deeper prayer. Each devotional is followed by an imaginative sequence about coming to Mary’s House to hang out with her. In the appendix I have written about how to get started with contemplative prayer: four different methods and some tips and words of encouragement.

I turned it in on August 31, which was so scary. Here goes. I hope they like it!

What happens next is that it will be in editing for a while.

I chose an artist who has done a wondrous job creating art that fits beautifully with the book. Hopefully they will like it too at Our Sunday Visitor!

My friends and family have put up with hearing the parts I was working on over and over and over! And also listening to me freak out.

Mary, I have really enjoyed this year and a half writing about you. It seems like this little book of 30,000 words should be so much longer for all the time it took to write. But truly, that is just how long it took. It was an adventure with you and you took me in different directions at times than I expected. I feel closer to you because of it. I pray others will feel closer to you, too when they read and pray along with it. I hope this book has made you happy.

And so, reader, just so you know, that’s what I have been up to. Hopefully I can think of other things to write about now sometimes.

My book’s working title is Come to Mary’s House. I will let you know what happens next with it.

Photo by Isabella Mendes on Pexels.com

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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The moon in my heart

 

 

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Thinking and dreaming and having tea with Mary

In the briefly blooming rose of evening.

We sit together silently, night’s growing darkness cloaking us,

Warm about our shoulders.

Through the window we can see the sun’s glow cascade ecstatically over the top of Howell’s Grocery,

Pour itself over the edge of the earth into space;

A passing caress over the other side of the world

As she turns on her axis.

We sit.

Mary’s hand touches mine,

The warmth of her tea cup still on her finger tips.

I sense her encouraging nod in the darkness.

She is with me.

“Remember,”

Says the brush her of fingers,

Remember day when you forget.

I am always with you,

I will bring for you the moon,

Reminding you of the sun

The deepest glow of God

Present in your heart.

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  • Sky photos by Renee Bork

 

The little One : a meditation for Christmas

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Photo by Anugrah Lohiya on Pexels.com

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.

 

Holy Name of Mary

“All generations to come will call me blessed.” Luke 1″48b

Today, September 12, the Church celebrates and reflects on the Holy Name of Mary.

According to custom, Our Lady’s parents would have named her eight days after her birth, like any other Hebrew girl. Most likely her parents had ordinary hopes for her. They would have the  joy of raising a daughter who would love them, learn from them, live and play and pray with them. They likely had expectations for her of a future husband and family of her own.

All these things Mary did, but in an extraordinary way, and for a purpose no one knew.

Her mother and father fittingly named her Mary (Maryam or Miriam.) I wonder if they were thinking of the prophet Miriam, sister of Moses, who partnered with Moses and Aaron in leading his people to freedom through the Red Sea.

The Church sees the journey through the Red Sea as a metaphor prefiguring Baptism in Christ. This little one was a new Miriam, who would partner with her Son in His work of our Salvation.

I am enchanted by the fact that the origin of Mary’s name was most likely taken from ancient Egyptian; from mry “beloved” or mr “love.”  She is beloved and her name is love. That reminds me of Romans 1:7, which greets the Christians of Rome as, “Beloved of God and called to holiness.”  

In a way, every Christians’ name is “Love.”

The Son of Mary taught us that holiness is love.

As the Beloved Disciple said, “And we have come to know and believe in the love that God has for us. God is love; whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.” 1 John 4:16

Blessed little Mary, I will take up your holy name, “Love,” many times each day. Come to me, and lead me through every challenge, singing of my victory.  Today as I honor your childhood, inspire me to walk ahead through all that life brings, made brave for love by the companionship of your spirit. May I may live in love, live in God, and God in me. Help me to follow Jesus with faith and simplicity of heart. 

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