My Life’s Ambition

Eight years ago, in November 2010, I wrote a post I called Stargazing. It was about asking life’s big questions and how we stop doing so as we age. Within the post I mentioned someone who during my high school years meant a lot to me:

I only took one person to this sacred spot of mine. Her name was…well, I’ll keep that to myself. She may read this and I’d hate to embarrass her. She was a year ahead of me in high school. We were in band together. She was quiet and unassuming, and I thought she was very pretty. Somehow we connected in all the busyness of our teenage years for too short a time and made a try at dating. I was horrible at it and my first love, baseball, ensured the relationship’s death come springtime. But that winter was warmed by the quiet, pretty farmgirl who played clarinet. One night, a night much like tonight, we had gone out for a bit and spent some talking on my front porch. We went for a walk and found ourselves in my backyard where I led her to the place I did all my thinking. I sat down and she sat on my lap for warmth. We talked about the same questions: How will it all turn out? Where will we go in our lives? What will we be doing? We laughed and we talked about all the possibilities before us.

She still means a lot to me. I’m a man blessed to know many people, but I have a very small circle of close friends. I would fight for them in a heartbeat even if we haven’t seen each other in years. I’ll fight physically, if necessary, and always through prayer.

In November of last year, just two months ago, my friend’s husband of twenty-eight years, a fine man, husband and father of her two children, died very suddenly and without warning. No sooner had she finished the grim, sad task of burying him than she was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer. So aggressive that they started chemo within a week. An elementary school teacher with two children in college, her most pressing concern was for her students and her kids. I know this because we had reconnected by random chance by running into each other in a big box store parking lot of all places, around twelve or so years ago, and have stayed in touch via Facebook or text messages.

Before I’d gone on my retreat last month I sent out a text to several people asking them if there were any intentions I could pray for on their behalf. She responded, asking in part:

“For cancer to be gone for the rest of my life. For (my) children to have peace and be cancer free their whole life, to hear God…”

I responded by offering those prayers at my retreat and after. Understandably her spirits were very low after absorbing all of these blows while heading into the holiday season. I also responded by sending her bad clarinet memes. When we were in high school she played clarinet and I played trombone. Trombonists are notorious trouble makers and forwarders of bad band memes, even those with typos. I like to think I helped her laugh a little.

I text her every week, especially the Sundays prior to her two-week chemo treatment. On December 23rd she texted me first:

“Hey! You should see my bald head … 30 years off my age and with a gazillion more muscles and I could be G.I. Jane.”

Sure enough a few minutes later I saw a family photo taken in front of their Christmas tree. Bald as the proverbial cue ball.

It should be mentioned that she is around 5’5”…maybe 5’6” before the hair loss. It should also be pointed out that clarinet players are not as funny as trombone players, but we laugh at their jokes anyway. I figure you gotta have a sense of humor to play a reed instrument. Trombonists have few faults outside of our propensity for bad memes and being late. It’s why we chose to play an instrument with that slide. It’s a cool, non-chalant way of being a half-beat early or late but eventually getting to the right note. “Bad timing, with style,” is what I’d imagine Buzz Lightyear saying if he played the trombone.

Admit it, you just heard him say it in your head.

Yesterday was the passage of another two weeks and it was time to check in. She responded:

“Feeling good for the last four days. Chemo tomorrow. Would have been my 29th anniversary today.”

Oof.

Before she dozed off (I was up late watching a special about the Red Sox run to the World Series title on MLB Network) she seemed to pick up the conversation we’d begun all those years ago during the time I write about in that post when she texted:

“What is your life’s ambition?”

Jeez…clarinet players are unpredictable and much too serious. Thinking about it for a bit, and recalling a similar conversation we’d had together under a canopy of stars thirty-four years ago, I texted back:

“That’s the million dollar question that I have never been able to answer.”

But as I type this out now a thought occurred to me. Maybe it’s to be there for friends in need. That’s not a bad ambition, is it?

During my lunch hour today I was running errands and buying a few things for my oldest son’s birthday tomorrow when she texted me after her chemo was finished.

“Found out at appt today I have cancer in the right side also.”

Being a master wordsmith who is often too verbose in my texts, I considered my a reply for five minutes before mustering

“Nuts.”

“Better to find out now then later,” she replied.

I think I’ve begun to realize my life’s ambition after all … just a week after turning fifty-one.

Trombonists aren’t known for their timing. Better late than never. A clarinet player taught me that.

Please pray for my friend Clarice.

*******

I quoted this song in my original piece eight years ago but failed to embed it for some silly reason. I’m correcting that grievous error here.

©2019 Jeff A Walker. All Rights Reserved.

One year later…

One year ago today I awoke to find I could not walk. I would spend the next 2-3 weeks going from my bed to my couch and no further. I watched more Perry Mason, Laramie or Gunsmoke than I thought possible. I was miserable. I confess to wanting someone to put a bullet into my brain and end the onslaught of pain.

And thus it was that I celebrated Christmas, and my 50th birthday on New Year’s Day, lying on my side with a pillow between my knees because it was the only position that allowed relief from endless spasms and for my tears to cease.

A trip to the doctor’s yielded no results, but did get me a prescription that finally allowed me to get some sleep. I was unable to have an MRI because I could not lie flat for more than 90 seconds and the long, thin tube required my stillness for 30 minutes. My wife bought me two crutches which enabled me to hobble about somewhat. Two weeks in physical therapy prescribed by my doctor did a little, but not much in the end. I did have “dry needling” or acupuncture twice, and it yielded positive results but did not last.

I continued to want that bullet in my head.

I finally went to a chiropractor that had an office near my home. My oldest son had a bad spinal and neck injury from junior high football and two years of chiro had enabled him to function and breathe normally again, complete his high school baseball career and serve as a US Marine. His chiropractor’s office was 30 minutes away and closed for three weeks due to the birth of the chiropractor’s baby. Researching a handful of chiropractors resulted in my deciding to go to the one I did nearby, because of the similarity in techniques and philosophy with my son’s. Hindsight revealed that I had ignored ten months of slow warning signals being sent from my body regarding my back and on Dec. 18, 2017, it manifested itself with the most intense sciatic pain knifing through my left thigh and down into my knee. Seriously…a bullet would have been merciful. I wouldn’t wish that pain on even my worse enemy.

And so, after a flurry of initial treatment several times per week gradually slowing to the once per week I still go today, and as the man who claimed to have been turned into a newt said when confronted with the fact that he was in fact a man said in Monty Python and the Holy Grail:

What a year.

I haven’t blogged in 367 days. I’ve thought about what to say if…or when…I decided to post once again. Would it be a farewell? Would it be as if no time had passed? What would I say? Do I even have anything to say anymore?

I don’t have the answers yet. This may, in fact, be the last thing I write here. I just don’t know.

The last twelve months have been a blur, full of challenges and some triumphs. My oldest son returned from his second deployment safely in the spring, and was discharged honorably in October. He has begun the next phase of his life and currently resides with us. I’ve had to say goodbye to some dear friends my own age who didn’t get the luxury of mulling over such vanities because when the time came for them the next breath was suddenly and unexpectedly their last. Sobering events indeed.

I’ve learned, and re-learned, the power of prayer and faith. For it was my faith as a practicing Catholic that helped guide me through the dark year that was 2017, it’s painful ending, and the challenges faced in 2018. I recently made a three-plus day silent Ignatian retreat that renewed and refreshed me. One of the exercises was to review the events of our last twelve months and to journal

  • What have I learned?
  • What have I accomplished?
  • What role did faith, hope or love play?
  • What might I have done differently?
  • Why might I have done things differently?
  • What significant events occurred that were very special to me?
  • What brought fun into my life?
  • What were sources of joy?
  • What difficult things have I faced?
  • How am I different now? How did I grow?
  • What area(s) still need growth?
  • For whom or to what am I most grateful?

To pray with this exercise I used, among other verses,

  • Isaiah 42:6-7
    • I have been called. I have been taken and kept. I have been given.
  • Luke 18: 35-43
    • “What do you want me to do for you?”
  • Isaiah 55
    • What is it I hunger and thirst for?

Also for consideration: Colossians 3:9-10, Psalm 46:1-10 and Psalm 103.

So until I can decide whether to continue to write, or to write again, I invite you to do the same exercise to close out your year. To begin all you need to do is to look at your past 12 months (or 6, or 3, etc.) and ask God to help you to understand your story as it involved a good and gracious God. Also ask yourself “How can I grow in understanding how God reveals Himself to all of us and in particular, uniquely to me?” And finally, ask “How do I use the blessing that is me and my life in the service to God and others?”

I’ll end here and keep it at 900 words. No sense in exhausting us all after a year off. One year after being effectively paralyzed in one leg I was able to stand on my deck this morning with our beagle and watch the sunrise. A year ago I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to do so again.

Nebraska sunrise, Dec. 18, 2018

In this Season of Fireside Chronicles

[I began to write a year ago as we neared All Hallow’s Eve and All Souls Day.]

I had meant to have something written for All Hallow’s Eve and All Saints Day. Alas, I was unable to finish what I began and so they will wait until next year. I did come across the poem All Souls by Edith Wharton due to this story in Dappled Things and wanted to share it below. Her poem reminds me very much of the themes behind one of my favorite pieces of music, The Danse Macabre, by Camille Saint-Saëns.

But first a quote I found in this article by Sean Fitzpatrick that holds true for my own shelves at home.

There is a cobwebbed corner in every heart and in every library for the things that go bump in the night. Whether thrillers, shockers, or flesh-crawlers, the haunted volumes of literature and the chilling fireside chronicles are venerable indeed, and will remain beloved so long as human beings have lives to lose and souls to save.

That particular shelf holds for me books by Poe and Washington Irving. When I was younger it consisted of a lot of Stephen King’s books from Carrie to It. I haven’t read any of King’s works since around 1990 other than his non-fictional On Writing.

Author Karen Ullo writes along the same vein as Fitzpatrick does in The Spiritual Purpose of Horror Stories, part 1. Writing about this maligned and marginalized area of serious fiction, Ullo points out that:

The purpose of a horror story is to personify sin, often but not always in a supernatural form. Such stories allow us to take the part of ourselves that is the ugliest, the most malignant, the most intransigent and terrifying—the part that is already dead—and give it a shape with which we can grapple. The literary monster comes in varying degrees of embodied-ness and varying degrees of evil, ranging from Quasimodo, malformed but still capable of goodness, to the pure evil of Blatty’s demon (here she’s referring to William Blatty’s book The Exorcist). But the literary monster is always an outward projection of some part of the brokenness within our human souls. This remains true whether or not the author is a believer; it requires no religious conviction to be disgusted by the hideous deeds of which mankind, and one’s own self, are capable.

It is the nature of the literary monster to represent sin, the fallen state of man, which is a spiritual truth; therefore, it is the nature of horror stories to be vehicles for portraying spiritual struggle.

Fitzpatrick closed his article with these words:

At that time of year when nature doffs its seasonal splendor for a dress of decay, man’s mind turns to the end of his own life and those gone before him: the after-life and the supernatural mingled with the tingling fear of the unknown. During the autumn, when the world suffers a seeming death in aspects both wondrous and withering, men spy strange shapes across the moon and women tell strange stories over the fire. Paradoxically lively traditions were born that declared a need to know more about the composition of the world beyond sight. Was death a mere sleeping or the awakening from the dream, and life an agitated expectation? As their cathartically entertaining ghost stories suggest, such haunting folklore arose from the natural piety of simple folk whose thoughts were bent on the spirit of things.

The ghost story chronicles man’s understanding of himself, death itself, and the condition of the soul after death. They highlight man’s keen instincts and healthy curiosities. The tradition of the rural god, ghost, and goblin can be seen as historically rooted in a healthy, human, and even holy mentality rather than a heathen one. Tales of fear, like Washington Irving’s The Spectre Bridegroom, draw people closer, as around a life-giving fire, warding off the chill darkness reminiscent of death. The shadows thrown by flames are ominous, but they dance as well. This is the realm of ghostly escapades, haunted castles, and flitting phantoms—and it is a dance that keeps the worlds around us alive with the thrill of the unknown.

This is always a beautifully melancholy time of year for me. There’s just something about the fall. Baseball playoffs. Memories of raking leaves and burning them (when that was allowed), and driving around town with friends. At this time of year I also pull off my shelves a book by Poe, Irving, Shelley or Stoker to read some good 19th century tale of horror. This fall presents challenges as I deal with all that comes from having a son deployed overseas and the impending “big five oh” in a few short months. I pray with and for the souls in purgatory, and the Office of the Dead.

I’m planning a trip to my hometown soon, this week or the next, while we are enjoying these beautiful autumn days. My parents having moved away years ago I haven’t much reason to visit anymore. But a long-time friend who grew up across the street from me has moved back from Hong Kong with his wife to care for his elderly father, now over 90 years young, and I am drawn to visit and say hello once again to the ghosts of my past. Perhaps I’ll spy a strange shape across the moon. Maybe I’ll tell a chilling fireside chronicle. Or, perchance, I’ll dance.

But…lest you think me depressed or morbid I will point out that I’m far from those things. This is merely a part of the season of life and the cyclical calendar of the Church. And I’ll add that every day I am reminded that the light overcomes the darkness when I pray daily at Lauds the following from the Benedictus, or Canticle of Zechariah from Luke 1:68-79:

Through the bottomless mercy of our God,
one born on high will visit us
to give light to those who walk in darkness,
who live in the shadow of death;
to lead our feet in the path of peace.

Just as Death calls forth the dead at midnight once a year to dance under the moonlight until the cock crows at dawn and sends them back to their graves to sleep another year, I welcome the autumn to remind myself both where I have come from and where I am going.

And every day, no matter the season, I am reminded of the Light.

(Image source)

========================================

All Souls
By Edith Wharton

I.
A thin moon faints in the sky o’erhead,
And dumb in the churchyard lie the dead.
Walk we not, Sweet, by garden ways,
Where the late rose hangs and the phlox delays,
But forth of the gate and down the road,
Past the church and the yews, to their dim abode.
For it’s turn of the year and All Souls’ night,
When the dead can hear and the dead have sight.

II.
Fear not that sound like wind in the trees:
It is only their call that comes on the breeze;
Fear not the shudder that seems to pass:
It is only the tread of their feet on the grass;
Fear not the drip of the bough as you stoop:
It is only the touch of their hands that grope —
For the year’s on the turn, and it’s All Souls’ night,
When the dead can yearn and the dead can smite.

III.
And where should a man bring his sweet to woo
But here, where such hundreds were lovers too?
Where lie the dead lips that thirst to kiss,
The empty hands that their fellows miss,
Where the maid and her lover, from sere to green,
Sleep bed by bed, with the worm between?
For it’s turn of the year and All Souls’ night,
When the dead can hear and the dead have sight.

IV.
And now that they rise and walk in the cold,
Let us warm their blood and give youth to the old.
Let them see us and hear us, and say: “Ah, thus
In the prime of the year it went with us!”
Till their lips drawn close, and so long unkist,
Forget they are mist that mingles with mist!
For the year’s on the turn, and it’s All Souls’ night,
When the dead can burn and the dead can smite.

V.
Till they say, as they hear us — poor dead, poor dead! —
“Just an hour of this, and our age-long bed —
Just a thrill of the old remembered pains
To kindle a flame in our frozen veins,
Just a touch, and a sight, and a floating apart,
As the chill of dawn strikes each phantom heart —
For it’s turn of the year and All Souls’ night,
When the dead can hear, and the dead have sight.”

VI.
And where should the living feel alive
But here in this wan white humming hive,
As the moon wastes down, and the dawn turns cold,
And one by one they creep back to the fold?
And where should a man hold his mate and say:
“One more, one more, ere we go their way”?
For the year’s on the turn, and it’s All Souls’ night,
When the living can learn by the churchyard light.

VII.
And how should we break faith who have seen
Those dead lips plight with the mist between,
And how forget, who have seen how soon
They lie thus chambered and cold to the moon?
How scorn, how hate, how strive, we too,
Who must do so soon as those others do?
For it’s All Souls’ night, and break of the day,
And behold, with the light the dead are away.

We are at war

Matt Walsh’s article today contained more truth than anything else I’ve read by him. He begins:

It’s called evil.

We never want to talk about evil in this country, do we? We rarely even say the word. We’re so shallow and distracted in our thinking. Everything has to be political or psychological, easily solved through policies or laws or pharmaceuticals. But all the drugs and legislation in the world won’t change the fact that humans are sinful and angry, and sometimes they do evil things on purpose, and not for any reason other than their own sick lust for vengeance, power, and pleasure.

You may or may not agree with the rest of what he writes, but that opening is certainly on the mark.

More and more I’ve had a sense of this spiritual vacuum (for years, but really crystalizing to the point where I couldn’t ignore it anymore) and I finally wrote about it. In addition to Matt’s piece today I read another by Fr. Longenecker and he really lays it out as well. And as he says, it’s going to get worse before it gets better:

This violence is not a race war. It is not a war between gay people and straight people. It is not a war against men or against women. It is a war on ourselves.

The white man who killed blacks in a Charleston church or the black man who killed two white people yesterday–their being white or black has nothing. Nothing to do with it. Even if the killers thought that was their motivation. It was not their motivation. They didn’t hate black people or white people. They hated people, and the first person they hated was themselves.

Will this seething hatred, rage and fear at the heart of our society go away or get worse?

It will get worse. As long as we continue to kill unborn children we will continue to kill others. Furthermore, this seething violence in the heart of America will finally erupt either in social violence on a grand scale or in war.

The one recourse any government cannot take away from me is my ability to pray. So I’ve reset my efforts in this area using the “tools of the trade” so to speak that I’m armed with. I can do other things as well, but without the willingness to shore up the foundational battle front the rest is just a house built on sand. We are going to be tested and tempted like never before.

built-on-sandI’ll say it again: it all comes down to the dignity of life. As long as we as a country are willing to so callously and with utter disregard and disdain murder human life within the womb than we cannot feign shock or surprise when events such as those in Virginia yesterday happen. As Fr. Longenecker stated it’s not a black, white, gay straight issue causing the hate. It is a human issue. We are at war with ourselves and our own humanity. We are at war with our Creator.

It’s a war we cannot win.

Gazing through the knothole

Last night while on my knees next to my daughter’s bed I tucked in a little girl who asked me a big question.

“What will we do if Nolan dies?”

I had asked her if she was ready to see her oldest brother again when he had graduated from boot camp and was a Marine. “Yes,” she said, her head settled onto her pink pillow and blue eyes locking onto mine. “But what will we do if he dies during the next four years?”

I pulled back to look at her and there were tears in her eyes, trickling down each cheek. As I moved to wipe them away she moved her hand quickly to her face and did so before I could.

I didn’t know what to say. I assured her that he’d be safe. That he and his Marine brothers were training to ensure such a thing wouldn’t happen. I hugged her close.

As will happen with my mostly matter-of-fact and practical daughter this moment passed swiftly and she soon made a joke, said her goodnight, and shooed me out the door.

She’s quite bright, and growing up in a house with two older brothers and a dad who watch John Wayne westerns and Peter Jackson visualizations of the battles of Middle-Earth has made her aware of the fact that well…it is a fact that soldiers die.

Soldiers + Battle = A chance of death

Nolan will be a Soldier, ergo she now sees that

Nolan + Battle = A chance of death

I had always danced around that possibility with her. But as I said, she’s quite bright this young one.

The October day that he left for boot camp we stopped to pray in a roadside chapel along the interstate between Omaha and Lincoln. We continue to pray each day, at Mass, and each Sunday late afternoon/early evening we four pray a family rosary together. Except this last Sunday we didn’t. I don’t know how or why but we forgot. This was not unnoticed by my daughter. Before I closed the door I turned and told her to continue to pray for Nolan’s safety.

“We forgot to pray our rosary on Sunday, dad.”

“Yes, Sophie, we did.”

Turning to face the wall she said “We need to remember better.”

“Yes Sophie, we do. How about we do one tomorrow night after your brother and I return from his practice?”

“Ok. Good.” <yawn>

“Goodnight Sophie. I love you punkin.”

“Goodnight Dad. I love you too.”

I have been surprised to learn just how lonely a place it is to be the parent of someone in the military. Our “family” has expanded in a sense as we’ve met many other parents going through the same ordeal in online forums, and friends of mine that I know personally have been warm, supportive and encouraging. But in the end you are alone. Alone when you see how much your son’s peers have moved on. How carefree and different their lives are whereas just a calendar year ago they were doing the same things in the same classrooms or same ball fields. As parents we all shared in these things together. Now I feel as distant from them as I did before we met.

“It’s part of the growing up process. It’s normal. It would be the same had he gone to college” I tell myself, and it’s true.

But it’s different. Much different.

So different that it brings tears to a little sister’s face and dampens her pillow.

It’s tempting to wallow in self-pity, especially during the holidays. But I’ve always tried to be a “big picture” kind of guy. I try to maintain perspective. Believe it or not I am an optimist.

peeking-through-knotholeLife is like looking through a knothole in a wood fence. You can see whatever passes by the knothole, but not the whole picture. God knows the bigger picture, and all is well in it. We are being blessed right now even if we are only looking through the knothole and don’t see all the good that God has planned for us. We must trust. When you feel the pangs of struggle, turn your gaze and know that you are cherished by God. Your human past or present might leave a lot to be desired. But your spiritual now is filled with love. My daughter has not learned this yet, which is where my experience and guidance is best served.

I love to keep the Psalms close which is why I pray the Divine Office. It has become so much a part of who I am and my day overall that I am aware of the emptiness when I fail to do so. It is a part of the rhythm of my life.

There are two other prayers that I pray each day. I began to pray the Anima Christi on my knees after returning from Holy Communion. I will let the Eucharist dissolve slowly in my mouth, consciously absorbing every fiber of the host and Body of Christ. This is warmth. This is safety. This is Eternity.

This prayer attributed to one of my spiritual mentors and favorite saints, Ignatius of Loyola (who was also a soldier before becoming a priest) is one that I’ve prayed and meditated upon many times. I closed my final letter to Nolan at boot camp with it.

ANIMA CHRISTI
Soul of Christ, sanctify me.
Body of Christ, save me.
Blood of Christ, inebriate me.
Water from the side of Christ, wash me.
Passion of Christ, strengthen me.
Good Jesus, hear me.
In your wounds, hide me.
Apart from you let me never be.
From the enemy, defend me.
At the hour of my death, call me.
And close to you bid me,
that with your saints I may always be
praising you eternally. Amen.

Right below this prayer in my Daily Roman Missal is another prayer that I’ve now made a part of this time with God. It has become my prayer for 2015 and indeed the rest of my life. I will continue to pray them in order to keep my gaze on God and not on my struggle as seen through a knothole.

SELF-DEDICATION TO JESUS CHRIST (OBLATIO SUI)
Lord, take all my freedom. Accept my memory, my understanding, and my will. You have given me all that I have or hold dear. I return it to you, that it may be governed by your will. Give me only your grace and the gift of loving you, and I will be rich enough; I will ask for nothing more. Amen.

ADDENDUM:

As I was proofreading this post and about to hit “Publish” my mobile phone rang at 4:45pm. I knew from other recruit parents that phone calls were being made from a certain area code by our recruits to finalize travel arrangements post-graduation. This would be Nolan.

When I answered the phone I heard his voice for the first time since Oct. 27th. He sounded strong and normal; his already deep voice sounding even deeper. As soon as he recognized my voice answering him back his tone immediately changed. And then my 6’3″ 185 pound soon-to-be-Marine began to sob. I knew the call was monitored and there were to be no questions other  than those related to travel. So I kept on task and I asked him if he’d received the ticket information I’d sent to him two weeks ago and if we were all set. His voice was still breaking but he seemed to recognize what I was trying to do and he said “Yes, we should be set.”

I told him I loved him and that we’d see him soon. And then we hung up.

The entire conversation lasted 43 seconds.

My son turns 19 in two days. I forgot to wish him Happy Birthday.

animachristi_obatiosui

Reflected in Our Faces

I read this today and it profoundly connected with my own musings and observations of late.

It was a spiritual kinsman of St Isaac, the Father Zossima of The Brothers Karamazov, who showed how our direct responsibility for our own bodies and for dumb creatures may indirectly stretch yet further. In his final conversations father Zossima describes how our very faces may indireclty produce momentous consequences. He asks us to think of a child walking down a street, rather bewildered by the evil in the world and searching for signs that life has meaning. If we have over the years allowed our hearts to become embittered, that will be reflected in our faces. So when the child has seen our face the image that will remain in his heart will be of evil and meaninglessness. It may turn out that our face has sown a seed of evil in the child which will one day overgrow his whole heart. On the other hand, if we have over the years filled our hearts with love, that also will be reflected in our faces and the passing child in the street will be encouraged by what he sees to find meaning in life.

Nor is such an illustration by any means imaginary. We have from the pen of Olivier Clément a moving account of how a face saved his life. It as in the days when he was an atheist, though an unhappy one. He was so unhappy, in fact, and so oppressed by the meaninglessness of human life that he was seriously thinking of committing suicide. Then one day as he was walking depressed beside the Mediterranean sea-shore his attention was riveted by the face of someone who was passing by. The person’s face was radiant with meaning, full of such goodness as can only come from years of cultivating a loving heart. In a twinkling Clément’s suicidal thoughts were dispelled and a seed sown in his heart that was eventually to transform him into an ardent believer. Not surprisingly, Clément asserts with warm conviction that there is a branch of theology that is properly described as a ‘theology of faces.’ Donald Nicholl, Holiness (New York: Seabury Press, 1981), 48-49.

Source: Shirt of Flame

*****

I wonder how much of the unrest, protests and violence today is caused because those committing these acts feel they are invisible. I suspect much of it is. Have you looked around lately when you’re in a crowd? How many sets of eyes actually raise up to meet your own? How many are staring at their shoes or more likely…at a digital screen?

How many lash out because it’s the only way they can think of anymore to get someone…anyone…to pay them attention? When I see a rioter or a protester I see my toddler (when I had a toddler) lashing out in order to get my attention.

I see a lot of things these days through the tired eyes of a parent.

We don’t look at each other in the eyes anymore as a species. I think that is one of the greatest problems we face today. Comments are entered on the internet in anger or biting sarcasm as we viscerally cut those whom we cannot see.

One of the great miracles of the Incarnation of God made man was his desire to enter into His creation and to look us in the eye. When we peer into the manger at the child wrapped and fragile in human flesh we look into the very Creator of the universe. Time and eternity meet our humanity in a glance.

Don’t be quick to look away this Christmas. You are made in the Imago Dei. The image of God. Your eyes contain the power to change someone’s life.

Your eyes show them they matter.

Tell them that they are not invisible.

Demonstrate that they are indeed seen by someone else.

No longer alone, two-dimensional and empty. But surrounded by love, hope and joy, three-dimensional and full of the Spirit and able to do the same for others.

This Christmas I’m grateful for a God whose eyes are much older than my own, but that are never tired.

I’m thankful that He came for me.

He sees my face.

Even when my eyes are closed to His presence, He sees me.

Thank you for those in my own life who look me in the eye when I feel unworthy, lost and alone. I needed that.

We need each other.

face_reflected_in_eye

*****

My Jesus, I forever thank You for allowing me to see You.

I thank You for being visible in all the grandeur of nature, in the mountains, the streams, the oceans, the trees. I thank You for being visible in the beauty of the stars, the sky, the magnificence of the sun.

I thank You for being visible in every beating heart, in every created life. I thank You that I am able to see the gift of love, instilled in every human being, and so often abused, crushed, neglected by the world.

My Jesus, You are visible in every act of charity and compassion, in the forgiveness of every hurt, in every sacrifice offered for another. I thank You for allowing me to see You in the pain and suffering of all people in their struggles.

My Jesus, You are visible in every baby’s smile, in every mother’s caress, in the innocence of every child and the willingness of every mother to say “yes” to life. I thank You for being visible in every miracle, in every healing, in every conversion, in the joy of every soul who has suddenly accepted Your existence.

I thank You for being visible in the faith and trust of countless millions, in the perpetual existence of Your Church in the face of centuries of persecution. I thank You for being visible to me now, in my prayer, in my trust. In every day of my life, in every need, in every way.

Jesus, You died for my sins and I thank You for allowing me to see that sacrifice perpetually before me in the Eucharist. Jesus, I especially thank You for being so visible to me through Your forgiveness and love in the midst of my failures and sins. The world never has.

From An Hour With Jesus: Volume II.

C’mon…laugh.

*****

Photo credit

Another Rule of the Road

going it alone

To pick up where I left off yesterday, another rule of the Road is that during your journey many will join you, and many will fall away. Indeed you yourself are one of those people for someone else as they make their own journey.

My wife’s aunt died last night after a battle with breast cancer. She and her husband Ray had one child, a daughter who graduated from high school this past spring. Mandi and her dad will now continue their journey, minus the companionship of their beloved wife and mom.

During their ascent up the stairs at Cirith Ungol and into Mordor, it occurs to Sam that the tale he and Frodo have been put in is not a thing isolated from the past, but is instead the continuation of a tale that began long ago in the First Age of Middle Earth:

“Why, to think of it, we’re in the same tale still! It’s going on. Don’t the great tales ever end?”

“No, they never end as tales,” said Frodo. “But the people in them come, and go when their part’s ended. Our part will end later—or sooner.”

(The Lord of the Rings, Book IV, Chapter viii.)

Only God can see the whole picture and every detail within the picture at the same time. As for us on our journey we must learn to trust the Lord of the Road. One of the ways I’ve learned to do that is by praying the Divine Office each day when I can. Each day as part of Morning Prayer (Lauds) we pray the Canticle of Zechariah from Luke’s gospel. Near the end of this piece of Scripture is this passage:

In the tender compassion of our God
the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death,
and to guide our feet into the way of peace.

Buoyed by these words I am able to continue my walk each day with an open heart and an open mind. The “dawn from on high” does break and my feet are guided along the way. My decisions are still my own, yet I’m not alone when I make them even as companions come and go.

The greatest book I know of to take along for this journey is the psalter. Within the psalms are thoughts and prayers for every situation. The years have taught me this.

As I prayed this morning before driving to work these words from Psalm 143 resonated with me:

In the morning let me know your love
for I put my trust in you.
Make me to know the way I should walk:
to you I lift up my soul.

Requiescat in pace, Sherri.