Wednesday, July 29, 2015

"Not According to Our Sins": One Woman's Faith, Hope, and Love After Abortion

"Not according to our sins does He deal with us, nor does He requite us according to —our crimes. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so surpassing is His kindness toward those who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He put our transgressions from us." From Psalm 103.
On Friday, July 24, 1987, I walked into the Elizabeth Blackwell women's clinic in Philadelphia. I was seven-and-a-half weeks pregnant—not a teenager, not a college student, but an almost-thirty-something, professional woman who had just been hired for a new job—a better job—the week before I learned that I was pregnant. I walked out of that clinic, barely an hour later, no longer pregnant. I thought my life had been saved. It took twenty years for it to sink in, what I had actually lost that day.

Six years after my abortion I was married, so I asked God to send my child back to me. I seriously thought that I had just put my child’s life on hold and that God could and would just send that same soul back into a new body in my womb, because now I was ready.

There I was, a college-educated nerdy bookworm who didn't understand how it all works.

It didn't happen. Nothing happened. I didn't get pregnant again. And it wasn't for lack of wanting or trying. For ten years I cried every time I got my period. And finally it became too late.

A handful of people knew I was pregnant. Not one of those people—two of whom had been raised Catholic—suggested I consider any other alternative besides abortion. And it was those two Catholic friends who accompanied me to the clinic that fateful day.

Everyone "understood." But nobody understood.

And there was no one standing outside that clinic offering to help me—not on the day I went to make the appointment, and not on the day I came back for the "procedure." No one to tell me the truth. It was all too easy, except—

I remember how much it hurt, and how LOUD it was. I remember one of the nurses held my hand—or I should say, I held hers with a vengeance. And the doctor, whom I had not met before he walked into the room that day, said not a word to me. He talked only to the nurses. He was in the room maybe 5 minutes, and after he left, I never saw him again.

Now and then over the ensuing years I learned that other women I knew had had abortions too. No one expressed any regret. So I didn't either.

I was in my late forties when I made a new friend at a new job—a man who was outspokenly against abortion. I always kept my mouth shut when he brought up the subject, until one night he telephoned me and rambled on about a show on abortion that he'd just seen on TV, and I started to cry. When he asked why, I just knew I was about to lose a friend. Through my tears I told him about my abortion, and his response was, You've just confirmed what I believe: that abortion doesn't just kill unborn babies, it also hurts women, and women are being misinformed and misled, even tricked. It was the first time I was allowed to express how I really felt, and I was not rejected. Instead my grief was affirmed. It was the beginning of a new road.

Two years later, when that road had taken me to the edge of a virtual cliff, it was that man who discovered Rachel's Vineyard and told me about it. I went on my first retreat on Palm Sunday weekend 2008. It was the first step in a long walk back from Egypt.

I thought I finally understood what I'd done and how sorry I was, until one night, home alone, I watched The Silent Scream on YouTube. I cried from depths I didn't know I had. Sometime later I watched, with a friend, a video about the week-by-week development of a child in the womb. I learned that when my child was put to death at seven and a half weeks he had a circulatory system and a heartbeat! Arms and legs, and hands with fingers! Kidneys and other developing organs! And he could move even though I couldn't feel it.* Again I wept.

Sometime later I heard about aborted babies being tossed into dumpsters or burned as medical waste. For the first time I wondered, what happened to my child's body?! And my heart broke all over again. I wondered if it would be possible to find out, but I was too afraid to try. And now we know for sure that Planned Parenthood, and probably other abortion providers, sell parts of our aborted babies' bodies to make money, for themselves.

"Father, forgive them, they know not what they do."**

I believe that's the attitude we should have toward everyone involved with abortion, because, smart as I was, that was me. Knowing and accepting the truth takes more than brains. It takes a loved, healed, transformed heart.

The Rachel’s Vineyard retreat helped me to see me in the Bible, in Jesus’s miracles and gestures of forgiveness. Seven years later I am still discovering the breadth and length and height and depth of God's love revealed to us in the scriptures and in the Church.

I recently learned that all four of the Gospels tell the same story,*** with slight variations, about a "sinful" woman who anointed Jesus with expensive perfume while He was having a meal with friends. Jesus was reprimanded for allowing her to act in this way toward Him. In Luke 7:36–50, for example, Jesus's host chastises Him for allowing "this sort of woman" to touch Him. I have been called "this sort of woman" by Christians who mistakenly think that abortion is the "unforgiveable sin." When I hear Jesus respond to the Pharisee with "her many sins have been forgiven; hence, she has shown great love, but the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little," I too am forgiven and healed. "Your faith has saved you," Jesus says to the woman. "Go in peace." So, with great gratitude to God, I do.

There are also those who call me hypocrite because I had an abortion and now I speak against it. Look around at the alcoholics and drug addicts and former overeaters, for example, who now speak out against these behaviors and try to help others overcome their addictions just as they did. They are called heroes, not hypocrites.

There is one more source of strength that I have recently encountered in a new way: Mary, the mother of Jesus.

For several months now I have been in the habit of listening to Lighthouse Catholic CDs in my car as I drive. This past weekend, after I'd said my yes to the invitation to speak here today, I popped in the next CD on the pile: a CD of Kimberly Hahn speaking about Mary with the name Our Lady of Sorrows.

As the CD progressed, Kimberly spoke about how Mary's own sufferings are intertwined with the sufferings of her Son, especially during the events of His Passion. She also reminded me that we too are part of the suffering body of Christ, so Mary’s sufferings are also intertwined with ours. And as I see it, Mary is also united to the suffering of our aborted children, because as Jesus said, "whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me"—and who is more "least" than voiceless, powerless unborn children?

So I listened to the CD again, and I heard Kimberly say these things:

Mary "knows the powerlessness that a parent feels when a child is in pain, severe pain, especially when it is suffered unjustly," as our unborn children have suffered. Mary "had to extend forgiveness while they harmed her son." In these words I hear Mary forgiving not only those who killed her son, but also those who harmed my child, and me. "She chooses to forgive, and she does not lash back out. She doesn't turn on the disciples who flee or those who are inflicting this pain."

Kimberly says, "Typically our response to pain and frustration is sadness, and we turn inward to console ourselves, especially when the cause is unjust. Mary ... doesn't turn in. She is not Our Lady of Sadness, she is Our Lady of Sorrows ... the focus is outward ... so she stands vigil by the cross." And there, at the foot of the cross, are also "other women ... and they share her sorrow." When we stand here, in front of this place of great, deep suffering, we too stand vigil by the cross. And Mary stands with us. We are not alone. "This," Kimberly says, "is courageous love demonstrated through ... presence."

Kimberly goes on to say,  "There's something so wrong about burying a child." And something even more wrong happens here. Yet Mary doesn’t lash out at us for causing her son’s—or our sons’ and daughters’—suffering and death. "One of her titles," Kimberly says, "is 'Refuge of Sinners.' She invites us to draw close to her. She welcomes us at her side as children of the Father. She's the compassionate mother who calls us to repentance ... because she wants us to receive the grace that we can from what her son suffered."

And then, Kimberly says, "Mary receives back ... the body of Jesus." But we whose children were aborted did and do not receive back our dead children’s bodies. "The body is not just a shell," Kimberly says. "It's so much more than a container of the spirit. And I think how heavy His body would have been, but she needed to cradle Him one more time. She needed to rock Him in her lap one more time. She sees His wounds up so close. I imagined she would have wiped His brow." If we and our children are in the body of Christ, then as Mary held the dead body of her son, Jesus, she also held, even then, the destroyed bodies of our aborted children. And I believe she still holds them for us, until we can.

Then Kimberly says, "A part of Him would always be with her, and a part of her had died. When you lose a child, you know a part of you has died. It's relentless how time marches on, but it does. She also relinquishes her right to bury Him where she might choose, or even to prepare the body for burial alone....  And then the stone is rolled into place, and Mary had to walk away." In this experience, Mary knows how we who have aborted our children feel—if not right away, then eventually.

"Mary's faith," Kimberly says, "did not keep her from suffering, but it enabled her not to be bitter or hard-hearted. Her grief was real, but so was the faith, hope, love, and even joy, real. She is bereft but not without hope.... She's an instrument of grace to all who abandoned Jesus"—including us—"as He went"—and goes—"to the cross."

And then Kimberly says, "as great as her grief was, I believe her joy was even greater." There’s that word again: joy. Why joy? Because Mary knew what the Resurrection meant, and that it would be ours too, if we follow her following Jesus's example. "Now she had to walk through forgiving—forgiving the disciples who abandoned Him, and meeting with them, being a part of Jesus's appearances with them, and there's nothing she holds back in terms of love and being that channel of grace to those disciples.... And she extends her spiritual motherhood ... to every one of us."

So, as our Mother, like her son, whom she follows and to whom she leads us, it is "not according to our sins or our crimes that [she] deals with us. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so surpassing is [her] kindness toward those who fear [God. Because] as far as the east is from the west, so far has He put our transgressions from us."

"Your faith has saved you. Go in peace."

*Information from Students for Life, "Milestones of Fetal Development" at

**Luke 23:34.

***Matthew 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9, Luke 7:36-50, John 12:1-8.

© 2015 by Alice S. MorrowRowan. Presented at Women Betrayed Rally, Planned Parenthood, York, PA, July 28, 2015. Sharing with attribution encouraged.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Afterword: On Robin Williams, David, and the Size of Hope

"The rest is up to me, and God." Robin Williams to Diane Sawyer, October 2, 2006
Comedian and actor Robin Williams died on Monday. He apparently committed suicide. He suffered from depression and addiction. So did my husband, whose death in May 2009 was the conclusion of both maladies.

The significance of this parallel has been growing in me all day. A couple of memories have pushed to the surface.

For the last nine of our fifteen years in San Francisco, David and I lived in a little backyard cottage just a few blocks from a grand house that we were told belonged to Robin Williams. I never caught sight of him there, though I walked by it frequently. But one Sunday afternoon while David and I were walking in Golden Gate Park, Robin Williams stumbled by us on roller blades. Sometime later (months? years?) I hurriedly exited a store a few blocks from our house and literally bumped into someone I at first thought was one of the priests from the grand gold-domed Russian Orthodox cathedral that loomed over the neighborhood. As we stepped back from each other, I apologized, but he just grinned and sparkled. My memory of that moment means more to me now than anything he could have said to me.

In one of the tribute videos about Robin Williams that I watched today, I learned that he was an advocate for the homeless, including helping to raise money through a nonprofit called Comic Relief and testifying before the Senate Health and Humans Services committee in favor of legislation to help prevent homelessness. I spent much of the past year editing and publishing a book about another nonprofit, OFF THE STREETS, which works to help end homelessness by providing security deposits and furniture and other household needs to people who are otherwise able to move into a room or apartment of their own but have no move-in resources. The book's author asked me to write an Afterword, which shares a very tiny bit about David's and my experience with addiction, depression, and homelessness. I now share that Afterword here, in memory and honor of David and Robin, with love to Robin's family and friends at this most painful time, and with hope for everyone who is or who loves someone who wrestles with addiction and depression.

Publisher’s Afterword
"The difference between 0 percent hope and 0.00001 percent hope is enormous." Dan Beutler*
EARLY IN 2008, I applied for a part-time job with a local retirement community. The application process included a thorough background check. Toward this end I was required to list all of the addresses I had called home during my entire life. When I was finished, I learned that my total number of official residences in less than fifty years was twenty-eight, if you count the three weeks I lived in a Tenderloin hotel after arriving in San Francisco in 1988, and the month in my early twenties when I lived in a rented fixer-upper until a week of rain revealed ceiling leaks in all the rooms. Fifteen of those dwellings were home for periods ranging from six months to a year and a half, and I managed to stay in three locations for nine years each (from ages 0–9, 9–18, and 35–44). For more than twenty of my adult years I have shared the costs of maintaining a residence with at least one other person, and for more than fifteen years I have lived alone and been solely responsible for all expenses—including a year and a half when, though we were still married, my husband lived first with a succession of friends, then in shelters and hotels and sometimes in parks, and then in a yearlong substance abuse rehab program, while I paid all the expenses for our little cottage in one of the most expensive cities in the country.

During the first six months of that period, David was essentially homeless. I had told him that as long as he continued to use alcohol and drugs, he could not live with me. Was that the right thing to do? I don’t know. Once during that period, after a three-day binge in a San Francisco hotel, he almost died—and would have if a willing stranger had not summoned medical personnel from a nearby emergency room, who arrived to find David not breathing and blue-skinned. They cut off his three layers of favorite shirts so they could get his heart beating again (I still have a large Teddy bear I sewed from the remains of those shirts), and they put a tube down his windpipe to restart his breathing. If he had died that day, I don’t know how I would have lived with the regret I know I would have felt.

Soon after that incident he found his way into a yearlong program, and for almost a year after he graduated from it, he remained, as far as I could tell, sober. But then, for whatever reason, the downward spiral started all over again. He managed to get himself into another recovery program in California, and I, by that time needing a form of recovery myself, returned, with the help of his family, to the East Coast. Again, was that the right thing to do? I don’t know, but at times I still wonder, what if?

David followed me to the East Coast not quite a year later. By that time I was renting rooms in the house of another woman and not prepared to live with him yet. He moved into his parents’ house, the house he’d grown up in, and spent the next eight months or so helping them get ready to move into an apartment in a retirement community. He also got a job with a former employer—at a liquor store.

By Christmas Eve that year he was back in the hospital, detoxing. I stopped to visit him on Christmas morning on my way to his parents’ house. On the basis of our conversation, I believed he no longer wanted to be married. In the next week I talked to a lawyer, and when I visited him on New Year’s Eve, I told him I would be filing for divorce. He looked as though a huge, heavy weight had literally been lifted off his shoulders—or so it seemed to me. Again, did I do the right thing? Again, I don’t know, but I wonder, what if?

A few months later his parents had been moved into their new home and David was again, in a sense, homeless; that is, he was living in his brother’s basement. And drinking. They told him the situation couldn’t continue. He found a recovery program a couple of hours away that would take him. His brother delivered him there on David’s forty-sixth birthday.

The formal program lasted thirty days. He then moved into a supervised residence, where he lived for six months while hunting for a job. After he landed one, he moved into an unsupervised house with ten or so other men in recovery. He stayed for three and a half years. Finally he moved into an apartment of his own—for the first time in his life. For him, it was a dream come true. Yet not quite a year later he was gone, dead from a drug-induced heart attack. He died alone (except for his two cats) and was found by a neighbor at least a day and a half later.

At the memorial service held on the grounds of the recovery program about six weeks after his death, several dozen people paid tribute to David. Virtually every one of them said, “He was my best friend.” He was certainly mine. Despite all we’d been through that last decade, he was still the person who knew me best. Yet I remember a phone conversation during those last five years when he told me, “I’m everyone else’s best friend, but who’s mine?” Was I? I don’t know. I do remember another phone conversation during the same period in which he told me, “You’re the first person I call when I want to tell someone something good that has happened, because I can tell you’re sincerely as happy about it as I am.”

If I were allowed one do-over, it would be to say yes when a couple of months after he settled into his apartment he invited me to come stay with him for a week. “I’ve got wireless Internet. I’ll give you a key. You can work while I’m at work. You can make it a retreat.” I knew that if I went, it would break my heart to come back to my own apartment. I didn’t want to go through that again. I’d given up. I wish I hadn’t.

In the nine bonus years that followed that time when he would have died but didn’t, the staff members and other residents of three rehab programs took a chance (and another and another) on David, as did several employers, landlords, and dozens of friends, coworkers, neighbors, and family members. The fact that, in the end, he did not succeed in remaining sober and alive is unrelated to the value of his life (to him and to all who knew and encountered him) during those nine years. His untimely death also does not invalidate the opportunities and support provided to him during those years—opportunities and support that should continue to be provided to others who have even a .00001 percent chance of success—the kind of support that OFF THE STREETS is willing to give to anyone who wants it.

The book Help the Homeless OFF THE STREETS One Person at a Time is available in both print and Kindle versions through All royalties are deposited directly to an account that is used only to pay security deposits for homeless persons coming off the streets.

*Dan Beutler is the husband of Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash). Quoted in “Congresswoman’s Miracle Baby Doing Well Nine Months After Doctors Said She’d Die.”

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Only Light We've Got in All This Darkness—Thoughts After Reading REFUSE TO DROWN: A FATHER'S UNTHINKABLE CHOICE

"The grief of death ... can only be transformed by giving it its due in a story. Good deaths are passed to us as stories ready to be told. With bad deaths, we have to work harder, but it is even more essential that we tell their stories—and tell them with compassion—in order to redeem and transform them. We must tell such stories in order to honor the dead and heal the living.... Sometimes we must tell the story of death in order to save our lives. It is the story of our love and the grief for the loss of our love that both redeems that grief and makes our love transformative. Telling such stories is the only way that the emotional ghosts of bad deaths can be released—and the power of the good death inherited." (Madronna Holden)

"While the tale of how we suffer, and how we are delighted, and how we may triumph is never new, it always must be heard. There isn't any other tale to tell; it's the only light we've got in all this darkness." (James Baldwin, "Sonny's Blues")
I’d been living in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, for almost a year when I heard about the nighttime murder of a mother and father and their teenage son in their home not far from mine. Before moving here, I’d lived in a succession of major cities (Philadelphia, San Francisco, Washington DC) for most of forty years. It was already, and still is, deeply ingrained in me to lock the doors of my car, always, even if running back into my apartment for a minute to get something I’d forgotten, or when leaving the apartment to take out the trash. I was used to hearing about such crimes, maybe even jaded, or even expected them.

Weeks later, when I heard that the boy and his parents had been killed by one of his friends, I still wasn’t shocked. I knew, and know, that friendship and family relationships are no guard against violence, whether verbal or physical. As weeks and months passed, I didn’t follow the details of the story or the speculations made about it in the various media. It filed itself away in some corner of my mind.

A couple of years later, a man I had known and loved for thirty years (ten of them as his wife) died a tragic and accidental but self-induced death. Part of my grief manifested as physical pain, and I eventually sought help through massage therapy. The talented woman who became my ongoing therapist told me one day that while the disturbing local events were unfolding, the boy’s father had been her boss. She told me this as prelude to referring me to a website he had started to help others deal with and even prevent such tragedies. I checked it out briefly, and then mentally filed it away too.

Then, a couple more years later, she told me the man had co-written and was about to publish a book, not just about what had happened, but also about how he’d come through it. I linked to a Facebook page about the book and followed the authors’ posts leading up to its release. When I read that they were offering advance copies to bloggers, I sent a request. The book arrived a week ago. I read it, riveted, in two nights. It has taken me longer to digest it. Here, finally, is my offering.

Reading Refuse to Drown: A Father’s Unthinkable Choice, is like reading the book after seeing the Hollywood movie version—or in my case, after seeing the trailer. It doesn’t answer all possible questions about what happened, and certainly not about why it happened. What it does provide is far more valuable. It tells the story of a man who loves his son, unconditionally, but not blindly, and with all the human limitations to which we are all subject. It tells how that love was tested but not crushed, and holds out hope to readers confronting such testing in their own lives.

I can't say specifically why this story will be important to you, but I can tell you that it is important to me less because of what it reveals about the crime, the son, and the father, and more because that father wrote the book and published it, and because he wrote it with help from Shawn Smucker (not an insignificant detail in light of the book’s message that “you’re not alone”), and because of the reason he wrote it: because, as he writes in the Epilogue, “I had to.”

I’ve been helping other people publish books for more than twenty-five years, sometimes as production editor, sometimes as copy editor, sometimes as both and more (including encourager). The closest I’ve come to publishing my own story is this blog and another that I’ve kept sporadically for the past few years. I also brought to languishing life a book of poems a couple of years ago as a guinea pig for learning the CreateSpace self-publishing process. Reading Refuse to Drown has encouraged me to continue believing and hoping that I’m not finished yet, to not give up on taking steps forward, and to not be afraid of asking for the specific help I need, which is a tall order for someone whose default mode is trying to do it alone.

As I was rereading parts of the book in preparation for writing this review, I came across a sentence that struck me, at first, as contradictory. After emphasizing how important it is to ask for and accept help, after characterizing his son’s life as, in a sense, destroyed by the son's belief “that he had to handle his internal struggles on his own” (“he didn’t think anyone would understand what he was going through; he thought that if he did share his pain, people might ridicule him or think he was a freak”), and after illustrating that his own life was saved by seeking and finding help on every level, Tim Kreider states in the Epilogue, “it’s my responsibility not to drown, not to give up.” Isn’t this the very message his son, Alec, misunderstood, as Tim wrote in the Introduction?

After thinking about this for a while, the answer became clear: By telling the police about Alec’s confession, Tim was demonstrating to him that there were indeed consequences to the irreversible deed for which the boy was responsible. At the same time, Tim remained, and remains to this day in his son’s life as the father who loves him, has loved him, and always will love him. The final paragraph of the last chapter before the book’s Epilogue ends with these sentences: “There is a power and love available to all of us. That is the love and grace of Jesus. He wants to be there for you. He wants you to talk to him. All you have to do is trust him.” That, as I see it, is the very love and grace that Tim shows to his son. In that way, he reveals to his son, and to us, the love of the Father that His Son reveals to us.

What Alec, like us, does, in the end, with the love and grace offered to him—whether he drowns or not—is still his responsibility. But we are responsible for giving one another all the help we are capable of offering. Thank you, Tim and Shawn, for what you offer us in your book.


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

No Other Day Will Ever Be as Young for You as This Today

"When I said to myself, 'I can, 'I will,' a hundred experiences had taught me that it was not so. The clay does not suffice for the statue you intended to form with me....
"And love?... perhaps it is now no more than sorrow, the empty pain of disconsolate futility, the weariness that can no longer mourn.... I cast myself down at the feet of Life."
Hans Urs von Balthasar, Heart of the World
About ten days ago I drove my almost-thirteen-year-old niece nearly one hundred miles to return her to her mother's house before turning around right away and driving the same one hundred miles back in the other direction. At some point during that trip she said to me, "This year went so fast!" It seemed somehow wrong for these words to come from the mouth of one so young.

And here we are: more than a half-hour into another one. And already I have not done what I intended to do with those first thirty minutes.

So I will head to bed and begin again after the light returns.
"Today is your ... youngest day ... the newest, most childlike of days. No other day will ever be as young for you as this today, when eternal life has called you by name." (Hans Urs von Balthasar, Heart of the World)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

I Will Send My Beloved Son: Advent 2013, Day 10

"What stands out as singular, surprising, and quite simply inconceivable is the attitude of the owner of the vineyard: 'What shall I do?' he asks himself; and, for some mysterious reason, knowing the fate his servants received at the hands of the wicked tenants, he nevertheless decides: 'I will send my beloved son.' " (Antoine Birot, "The Divine Drama from the Father's Perspective")

“It is not enough then for the word to come down from heaven; it must also be born from the flesh. Hence it cannot be uttered all at once; it cannot dispense with the lapse of time required by the entire life of Jesus." (José Granados, "The Word Springs From the Flesh)
Knowing what we'd do to Him, God's Son still said yes to His Father and consented to come among us, as one of us.

God could have sent Christ in the way the Jews imagined the Messiah would come -- in the way we imagine he will come again: as a fully grown man riding a cloud to the sound of trumpets and heavenly choruses. But he didn't. No; the coming of Jesus the first time took time, beginning with nine months in Mary's womb, and then thirty years of childhood and young adulthood, most of which we know nothing about (just like most of us can't remember much of the detailed minutia of our own lives).

It seems that the promised Second Coming also "cannot dispense with the lapse of time." It has been nearly two thousand years, and though predictions have been and still are common, here we are, still waiting.

The Scriptures are filled with waiting, and mostly they don't tell us why, but they do tell us how -- whether how we actually wait,
"Then they believed his promises and sang his praise. But they soon forgot what he had done and did not wait for his plan to unfold. In the desert they gave in to their craving; in the wilderness they put God to the test." (Psalm 106:12-14)
or how we should wait,
"You must return to your God; maintain love and justice, and wait for your God always." (Hosea 12:6)

"If we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently." (Romans 8:25)

"Judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes." (1 Corinthians 4:5)

"By building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life." (Jude 1:20-21)
But all our individual and communal waiting is as nothing compared to how (and how long) God waits for us.


Vulnerability and Weakness Are His Weapons: Advent 2013, Day Nine

"He looks at the babe in the manger and sees a knight ... not because he sees the Christ-child as inhumanly powerful, but because the baby's vulnerability and weakness are his weapons.... God at war is a baby.... 'his battering shots are babish cries.' " (Diane Vincent, Associate Professor at Torrey Honors Institute, Biola University)
"In love he destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ." (Ephesians 1:4-5)
Today a friend introduced me to a South African ministry called 1hope4Africa, which operates an orphanage called the Muphamuzi Baby Home. According to Unicef, there are approximately 3.7 million orphans in South Africa, about half of whom lost their parents to AIDS-related disease.

Around the world, orphans (some of whom are children who have escaped this world's growing embrace of abortion) wait to be adopted. During Advent, we wait (at least symbolically) for the birth of a child who will change that world.

How will He change the world? By changing us, if we allow Him to.

How will He change us? By transforming us into adopted children of His own Father, "so that we might exist for the praise of His glory, we who first hoped in Christ" (Ephesians 1:12).

And how do we "praise ... His glory"? According to St. James in his letter "to the twelve tribes," we sincerely praise him when we "care for orphans and widows in their affliction," or anyone else who is vulnerable and needs our help.

"The baby's vulnerability and weakness
are his weapons" -- whether the "baby" is an orphan or, with his parents, poor or homeless -- weapons against our empty praise.

Monday, December 9, 2013

We Are the Evidence: Advent 2013, Day Eight

"A thing can only be received according to the actual disposition of the one who is to receive it." (From introduction to Second Sunday of Advent Mass, Magnificat, p. 112)

"Not by appearance shall he judge, nor by hearsay shall he decide." (Isaiah 11:3)

"Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I tell you, God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones." (Matthew 3:8-9)
"Show me the evidence!" This is the shout of the skeptic and unbeliever -- as many of us once were who now believe that the One for whom we wait, in both memory and longing, is the Son of God.

It is also sometimes, still, the shout of the believer who is waiting, hoping, crying for evidence that the Father hears her prayers.

But the evidence is not "out there." It isn't in a theory, or in a sign or a miracle.

We are the evidence -- to others, and to ourselves.

A couple of days ago I arrived at my favorite coffee shop when the only seat available was next to a man I'd never seen before who was perched in front of a rather large, fat laptop computer. I set up my own computer and began to work. Fifteen or so minutes later he stood up and began to put on his jacket. "It's chilly in here," he said.

I agreed. He explained that his strategy was to go outside, where it was seriously cold, for a bit, then to come back inside, where it would then, by contrast, feel relatively cozy.

"Plus, I'm gonna have a cigarette," he almost whispered, grinning sheepishly.

When he returned, he told me that two years ago he'd been a two-pack-a-day smoker, but now, as for the past two months, he is a two-cigarettes-per-day smoker. His intention is to reduce that to one per day come January, and to quit entirely sometime in 2014.

Before coming up with this plan, he'd tried hypnosis and a variety of other tricks, with no success. What finally motivated him to follow the path he is now on was a plea from his two-year-old son (who is now four).

As I listened to him share his story, I found myself thinking how all the gimmicks -- all the attempts to trick himself into quitting -- had failed, and what was actually working was a decision of the will -- or rather, many decisions of his will, one day at a time.

He is more evidence to me that when a person loves someone, he can repent and choose to change his life. He will be that same evidence to himself when he wants to make other changes that will improve his life and the life of his family, and perhaps the world. He will know he can do it.

God has nothing to prove to us, because he has already given us all the evidence we need -- our lives and talents, the planet and its riches, one another, and His Son. The rest of the evidence is up to us.


Sunday, December 8, 2013

Goodness Is Something Else: Advent 2013, Day Seven

In the December issue of Magnificat magazine, between Friday, December 6th evening prayer and Saturday, December 7th morning prayer, Heather King writes about Madeleine Delbêl (1904-1964), who has been called by some "a French Dorothy Day." In seeking to learn more about Delbêl, I found one of her books (We, the Ordinary People of the Streets) available electronically. The book begins with three prefaces and an introduction. In the first preface (to the English edition, by David L. Schindler, Dean Emeritus of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute at the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC), I found these two paragraphs:
"We have come to realize what dry bread justice is when it is not preceded by or completed with goodness. When public funds are distributed on the occasion of an accident, when they come to provide assistance with the burdens of having children, when they accompany old age, these subsidies, pensions, grants, and benefits correspond to a kind justice ... but they do not in any way substitute for goodness. In such cases, it is not James or John himself who, in his misfortune or well being, finds help; instead, it is a condition or situation that is helped. General measures regulate collective categories. I resist criticizing the justice that society is able to achieve; criticism serves better to provoke progress in what remains to be achieved. What I am trying to say is that goodness is something else, it achieves something else. For a person to encounter the goodness of Christ in another person is in particular to encounter that person for what he really is." (Madeleine Delbêl)
"This 'who we are,' which has been so manhandled by the world, possesses a value that is absolutely independent of wealth, power, smarts, influence, strength, and success. The goodness of Christ works with us; even more, it hopes for something from us, from each one of us. The goodness of Christ is above all something else: an encounter which affirms for us that we exist, which makes us present to ourselves, which walks alongside us in a common life." (David L. Schindler)
These lines brought to my mind a much more recent article by American journalist Chris Hedges that I read earlier today at the suggestion of a friend. Hedges too decries the depersonalization of the individual human being, even in a society that claims to value the individual but instead mistakes "personal style and personal advancement ... for individualism." A society like this creates, on the one hand, in Hedges' words, an abundance of "superfluous human beings" ("Those who lose deserve to be erased. Those who fail, those who are deemed ugly, ignorant or poor, should be belittled and mocked. Human beings are used and discarded like Styrofoam boxes that held junk food") and on the other hand, categories of human beings who require society to provide them with justice rather than individual persons who need other individuals to be good to them.

Christ came to us as an individual human being, and during His life on Earth He approached us as individual human beings. He didn't wave his hand over the crowds and heal all the sick among them. Instead, He healed individual persons as they came to him, and still does. So, when He commands us (in John 15:12) to love one another as He has loved us, isn't this what He means?


Saturday, December 7, 2013

A Brief Prayer for the Sixth Day of Advent 2013

"On that day the deaf shall hear the words of the book, and out of gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see. The lowly shall increase their joy in the Lord, and the poor shall rejoice and exult in the Holy One of Israel. For the tyrant will be no more, and the arrogant will have gone. All who are alert to do evil will be cut off -- those whose mere word condemns a man, who ensnare his defender at the gate, and leave the innocent and truly righteous with an empty plea. Therefore thus says the Lord, who redeemed Abraham: Jacob shall not then be ashamed ... when his children see the work of my hands in his midst. They shall ... be in awe of the God of Israel. Those who err in spirit will acquire understanding, and those who find fault will accept instruction." (From Isaiah 29:18-24)
This passage from the first Scripture reading at this morning's Mass intrigues me. Could it be that it implies not the absolute destruction of those who perpetrate all sorts of injustice -- poverty, tyranny, arrogance -- but rather their redemption -- by "the Lord, who redeemed Abraham"? Is it possible that (even in our own future) "the tyrant will be no more" and "the arrogant will have gone" not because they will have been destroyed but because they will have been transformed -- like "those who err in spirit," who will "acquire wisdom," and those who "find fault," who will now, instead, "accept instruction"? 

This is my prayer.


Thursday, December 5, 2013

O Gracious Light: Advent 2013, Day Five

It was the second weekend of Advent 2008. I had said yes to spending several hours in adoration and prayer on the Saturday evening of a Rachel's Vineyard retreat being held at a monastery about twenty miles west of my home.

Dusk arrived and as I was preparing to leave my apartment, a wet, icy snow began to fall. Major accumulation had not been forecast, but driving conditions were predicted to be not good.

I set out anyway. For the second half of the trip, it was all I could do to keep my windshield clear. Nevertheless, I arrived safely at the monastery in time to begin my solo shift.

For two hours I prayed in front of the Mary-shaped monstrance holding the Body of my Lord in her heart. I worshipped with my whole body, flowing my limbs into every yoga posture I could remember, breathing deeply in and out as I held each position like the beads of a rosary, repeating the words not just with my mind but with my tongue and heart too, oblivious to what was happening outside the walls and windows of the cozy makeshift chapel.

When my shift was finished, a layer of snow and ice lay on the ground. A nun led me to a simple room in which I was to spend the night.

After preparing for bed and turning out the desk lamp, I parted the heavy curtains on the west-facing wall and looked out the room's only window. All I saw were three twinkling lights floating in the frigid, shimmering darkness. It wasn't until the morning that I could see they were perched atop tall lampposts in the monastery's parking lot.

I crawled into bed at about eleven o'clock. An hour later I awakened with these words in my mind: "Be not ashamed." They repeated over and over again like gently insistent bells. "Be not ashamed. Be not ashamed. Be not ashamed." Underneath or between or inside them was another voice: "Get up. Write this down."

So I did. Then I turned off the desk lamp again and slid back between the sheets. I was soon again asleep. In the morning, by the time I'd had a shower and eaten breakfast, the evidence of the previous night's storm had melted and I was able to return home--with a message I have never forgotten.

Oh Gracious Light, so pure and bright,
Dispel the darkness of our hearts
That by your brightness we may know the light

Incarnate Word, grant that the light
Deep enkindled in our hearts
May shine forth and give us divine life

Dayspring of life, true light from Light,
Pour into every broken heart
Peace and virtue, bind it by the light

O Jesus Christ, holy and blessed,
We sing thy praises in our hearts
God of heaven, giver of all life

Bring your peace, hope, and love
Bring your peace, Gracious One*


*Lyrics from "O Gracious Light," The Brilliance, Advent, Vol. 2