Wednesday, November 28, 2012

"Every Dream That You've Been Shown . . . A Shelter from the Storm"

My last few posts have been about the man who was for ten years my husband and for thirty years my friend. He knew me better, and knew more about me, than anyone else in my life and world. His early and tragic death at the end of a lifelong struggle with addiction, and with whatever it was in him that predisposed him to addiction as a way to cope with life's inevitable suffering, was and still is a deeply felt loss. It has been healing to begin to tell our story here, but it has also been wrenching, and I have realized that I am not capable of making this journey in such a concentrated and public way at this time. So, from this point on my focus here will be on other things (for example, Advent begins on Sunday). I may share more about David, but not daily.

That said, I want to share a video that came into my life "accidentally" this past summer, just a day or two before what would have been David's 53rd birthday.



"White Owl," by Josh Garrels, is mysterious and enigmatic (like the Bible's Book of Revelation, which is being read at daily Mass these two weeks leading up to the commencement of Advent). It was because of its title that I clicked on the YouTube video of this song after listening to another song by Garrels that someone had posted on Facebook.

About a year after I followed David to San Francisco (where he had moved six months prior), I had a startling dream in which I was chased by a large owl. He came into my room in the house where I had lived with my family from age nine to nineteen. He came in through the open window. He chased me around the room. I ran out the door, down two flights of stairs, and out the back door, where he chased me around the yard. I ran back into the house and up the stairs and attempted to close the window before he could enter again, but I failed. Suddenly, the owl landed on my shoulder—and I awoke feeling a peace that I had never felt before, nor have I ever quite felt it again. I cannot conjure it with my imagination; I can only remember that I did feel it, and I believe it was the kind of peace St. Paul meant in chapter 4 of his letter to the Philippians—a peace "that surpasses all understanding."

The next morning I told David about the dream and the feeling, and from that point on I have collected owls, as a reminder, as though I could possibly forget it had happened.

So, I clicked on the video called "White Owl" and, a few seconds into it, met it's star, a red-headed sad-faced boy lying awake in bed. I immediately thought of photos I'd seen of David when he was a boy. A man with a bald head and full beard beckons the boy to arise and follow him. He leads the boy out of the house, across the yard, to the edge of a woods. There the man hands him a shoulder bag and an unlit lamp and sends him into the forest.

At that moment I remembered a dream that one of David's brothers had soon after David's death—a dream in which he saw David setting off on a journey with a large backpack on his shoulders.
"When the night comes,
and you don’t know which way to go
Through the shadow lands,
and forgotten paths,
you will find a road"
In the forest, the boy follows a path that appears before him as he walks. He arrives at a pond. He kneels beside it and blows into it through a straw he finds in the shoulder bag. Large bubbles begin to rise from the pond and quickly turn into jellyfish illuminated by bright white light.

Immediately I thought of the time David and I spent five days at a bed and breakfast in Monterey during the week of our wedding anniversary. My favorite part of that trip was the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and my favorite part of the Aquarium was the jellyfish, whose beauty was enhanced by the lighting used in the exhibit tanks. I bought a pair of earrings at the gift shop to commemorate the experience.

As the jellyfish continue to rise from the pond, the redheaded boy stands and opens the lamp. A dozen or so of the jellyfish fly into the lamp, which now glows with their light.
"You will have wisdom born of love....
Take the flame tonight"
The boy continues to follow the ever-appearing path. He arrives at another, larger pond. Here he again reaches into the shoulder bag and pulls out a smooth, round, flat stone. He tosses it toward the pond, where it skips across the water, touching the surface three times, creating the expanding concentric circles known as the ripple effect.
"Every dream that you've been shown
Will be like a living stone"
This is exactly what David would do any time we found ourselves in that situation, which was often during our early years in California. He tried to teach me, but I could never do it as consistently as he could.
"Like a messenger of peace,
the beauty waits to be released"
And then, the air above the pond is filled with glowing butterflies, and I thought of the butterfly tattoo that David got on his arm after his first treatment program. I still have photos of that tattoo, and his other one (an image that had been sold to him as a stylized phoenix-rising-from-the-ashes but that looked much more like the victorious risen Christ), which he had photographed and e-mailed to me during the last years of his life.

And then the boy arrives at the base of a tall, craggy mountain. The path he has been following draws a winding line up the middle to the top. Lightning flashes behind the mountain. The boy reaches into his bag and pulls out a white feather, then moves toward the mountain. He begins to ascend it, running. Cracks that ooze red fire begin to appear around him. He leaps over them. The mountain is breaking apart. A deep cavern opens up. The boy drops the feather and the lamp as he grabs onto the edge of the mountain in front of him. The lamp falls back into his hand as the feather floats down into the cavern. The boy pulls himself up as a large, full moon glows above him and Garrels sings, "Morning will come soon."

The mountain made me think of how treacherous the final ten years of his life were, and of how many times he got up again after almost falling into their deep caverns. The moon made me think of how much he loved following the lunar cycles. During his last years, twice a month he sent me a text message, once to tell me the precise time of the new moon, the second time to tell me exactly when the moon would be full.
"Use your instinct as a guide,
to navigate the way that lays before you"
The boy continues running up the mountain as it crumbles. He is near the top when two large red creatures that look like open-mouthed wolves appear, one on each side of the path. The boy lifts the lamp above his head and throws it toward these threatening guardians.

Suddenly I am watching from the other side of the mountain, and up from behind it shoots a large white owl, carrying the boy in his talons.
"You were born to, take the greatest flight...
As you're sailing, across the great divide"
Soon the bird drops him, and he falls, at first resisting, then relaxing into it. And then, suddenly, he lands in the arms of the old man who sent him on the journey. And finally, for the first time, the boy smiles.

That's when I believed—when I knew—that David was, is, home. Because for the first time since I had that dream about the owl, I felt, for a fleeting moment, that peace.
"Child, the time has come for you to go
You will never be alone
Every dream that you've been shown
Will be like a living stone
Building you into a home
A shelter from the storm"
Amen.

"White Owl" is from the album Love & War & The Sea in Between, by Josh Garrels, available here.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Way a Rock Is Shaped and Smoothed by Water

"A mourner needs a voice, some way of making his anguish public...."

"Addicts die young.... often somebody gets left behind, somebody does get hurt.... Art is a way to assert ... that the lives of addicts matter more than their deaths."

I graduated from college in May of 1980. I stayed in town for a month, trying to find a job, but I ran out of money, so in June I returned to the city and my parents' house.

For the next two months, every Sunday at about 2:00 in the afternoon, my phone rang. Usually I was just finishing dinner with my family and had to race up the two flights of stairs to my room to answer it.

Now and then he called me on a Friday night, late, after being out with friends. But usually it was Sunday, and always it was him calling me. Occasionally I wrote and sent him a letter, and he always wrote back.

One day in August I was sitting on my bed, legs curled up under me, staring out the window at the house next door, and suddenly I knew, though it had happened the way a rock is shaped and smoothed by water: I was in love.

I wanted to go see him; it had been months. And other than the letter writing, he'd been the one to initiate every encounter. I decided not to mention my thoughts, or my heart, to him. Instead, I prayed.

A few days later I got a letter. At the end of it, he asked me to think about coming to spend Labor Day weekend with him.

If only I'd continued handling all my impulses toward him—or anyone or anything else for that matter—in the same way.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Something to Look Forward to When I Get Home

We met in a student lounge, one filled with vending machines and booths and two-person tables. I was sitting in one of the booths with a friend or two, classmates who were also residents at a nearby Catholic seminary. Another such friend approached, trailed by a very tall, very thin, very red-headed man in blue-tinted glasses whom I'd never noticed before. We were introduced. I don't remember how long we all sat together, but eventually the two latecomers left.

Many years later the redhead told me he'd been "seeing" me "around" and had been plotting to meet me.

Early the next afternoon I was hogging a couch in another lounge, legs stretched across the pillows, textbook in lap, highlighter in hand, when he approached me again, this time alone. I invited him to sit and surrendered the other half of the couch. We talked for a long time, until one or the other of us had to go to a class.

It was mid-February. Years later we would begin to celebrate Valentine's Day as the approximate day we met.

Suddenly, in the days and weeks that followed, he seemed to be everywhere. He figured out my schedule, including what time I went to lunch each day, when and where my classes were, and where I went to study in between. He began to show up toward the end of my lunch period, just as my lunchmates were heading off to class and leaving me behind.

One early spring day he followed me out onto the balcony. As we leaned against the railing, silent for some moments, he suddenly said something like, "One of these days we should go someplace else for lunch." I looked at him, smiled, and said something like, "OK." He looked back at me, eyes twinkling, and replied, "Really?" His usually deep voice squeaked in that way I can still hear in my head.

A day or two or three later (I don't remember such details the way he did), we wandered downtown and into a corner restaurant called Central Park. I remember I had French onion soup. Years later he still remembered what I was wearing that day, but I have forgotten what, even though he reminded me.

That was the first of many wanderings off campus, for the rest of that semester and the next, at the end of which he left both the seminary and school. I had one semester to go. One day that winter, a year after we met, I found a letter from him waiting in my student-center mailbox. Among other things, he told me he would soon be coming to campus for a couple of days to retrieve a few things he'd left behind at the seminary. As I headed back toward my dorm, reading the letter again as I walked, I glanced up and—there he was, about twenty feet away, walking toward me.

We continued to correspond. A little later in the semester he arrived for another visit, this time unannounced. He found me in the student center, sitting on the same couch where we'd had our first long conversation. At one point he asked if I'd gotten his last letter. Indeed I had. "And I wrote back but I haven't mailed it yet," I said. I reached into my book bag, pulled out the evidence, and handed it to him. He stood up, said "I'll be right back," and headed out the door. Through the building's plate-glass windows I watched him go down the stairs and deposit the letter into the big mailbox in front of the student center. "Why'd you do that?" I asked when he returned. "So I'll have something to look forward to when I get home."
"In fairy tales, all the difficulties come first, then the hero and heroine marry, and they live happily ever after with death never mentioned; in the story of the saints, being drawn closer to Christ leads to many years of intense suffering, with intense joy in the spiritual marriage, interior peace in the depths of the soul, and a promise of eternal bliss." (Ronda De Sola Chervin, Becoming a Handmaid of the Lord, p. 213)
"A promise of eternal bliss"—sounds a lot like "something to look forward to when I get home."

Amen.

Friday, November 23, 2012

"Don't Interrupt!" Remembering a Mother and Her Son

"I am still missing having a husband—now defined by me as 'someone who has to love you.' ... How much a widow misses even the faults of her husband.... I miss the diversion his interests provided me from my heavy melancholy over-serious thoughts....

"What I've discovered about [his] continuing presence in my life ... is not its strength (that ebbs and flows), but its depth.... What seems most alive about [him] is not our conversations ... (although I remember many of them) or mutual interests, but the subflooring of what we were, are, to each other. The gift of self that we gave each other—that still lives, something to be relied upon, called upon still.

And I do."
—Ronda De Sola Chervin, Becoming a Handmaid of the Lord

A little over a week ago, my husband's mother died—three and a half years, to the day, after David (whom I've written about here and here) left this layer of existence and entered a layer that we usually have only inadequate means to perceive.

This past Tuesday morning I drove south a hundred-plus miles to attend the funeral. Traffic was lighter than what I'd expected. Almost there, I did manage to miss a left turn and had to backtrack about five miles.

The last time I'd been in that chapel was to attend David's funeral—an exceedingly painful day, for both obvious and personal reasons. Walking into that space on Tuesday felt like stepping through a time tunnel—even more so than I'd imagined it would. And I had.

Here was a mourning family that I'd once—a long once—had a place in—as a wife, a daughter-in-law, a sister-in-law. I hadn't seen any of them for many—too many—months, and suddenly here we were, together again—because another one of us had left—in search of, broken-hearted, the one who, too soon, had gone before us.

Hours later—after a timeout with a cup of decaf at Starbucks and a long detour after turning right when I should have turned left—I finally arrived at the cemetery where now the bodies of both David and his mother are buried. The work of returning the earth to the place from which it had earlier been removed was just being finished. I stood awkwardly over David's stone as I waited for the workers to leave. When they were gone, I let go: I hadn't realized how much grief was still in me. I cried out to David. I cried out to his mother. And I'm not done yet.

A couple of days ago I wrote here about needing an angel of the Lord to say yes to by means of writing here. One of these angels has spoken, I think. This angel has said, write about David. So that's what I will do, every day, for as long as it takes, for as long as seems necessary: I will write what I remember. I will write what I mourn. I will write what I celebrate.

To begin (and to end today's post):

At the funeral on Tuesday, one of David's brothers shared that something their mother said to them repeatedly while they were growing up was, "Don't interrupt!" This is why, he said, they are all such "good listeners." David, indeed, was that. (And he remembered everything he heard.) In fact, it's one of the primary reasons I miss him. During the years of our separation (those before his death, that is), we spoke frequently by phone. I remember at least once when, after I'd talked for a couple of minutes, I asked him, "So, what's happening with you?" and he replied, "No, no, this one's all about you. I can talk about me next time. It's your turn." I realize now that he often did that without announcing it.

As I drove around lost on Tuesday, as I wept at the cemetery, as I inched my way toward home during rush hour (a normally two-hour drive took nearly four), and as I crawled into bed alone that night, I wanted that part of David more than anything or anyone.

Amen.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Calling All Angels: Commitment Makes a Difference

"This is the nature of an assent: it binds the one who gives it, yet it allows him complete freedom in shaping its expression. He fills his assent with his personality, giving it its weight and unique coloring. But he himself is also molded, liberated and fulfilled by his assent. All freedom develops through surrender and through renunciation of liberty. And from this freedom within commitment there arises every sort of fruitfulness."
—Adrienne von Speyr, Handmaid of the Lord

How is it that for thirty-one days—from October 11 to November 11 of this year—I was able to write and post something on this blog every day? And why, except for day 32, have I posted nothing here since then?

The answer, I think, is that, at least for me, commitment makes a difference.

Merriam-Webster's defines commitment as "an agreement or pledge to do something in the future." According to Wikipedia, "a commitment is never supposed to be broken; if it is broken, that means it was never a commitment." Synonyms for commitment, according to Thesaurus.com, include duty, engagement, guarantee, promise, responsibility, vow, and word--as in "I give you my word."

Commitment is what Adrienne von Speyr (a Swiss medical doctor, convert, and mystic who lived from 1902 to 1967) meant when she used the word assent.

Commitment is what Mary, Jesus' mother and our Blessed Mother, meant when she said yes to the angel—and through the angel, to God.

What I need, then, maybe, in order to continue here is something or someone to say yes to. What I need, maybe, is an angel.

An angel who speaks for God. An angel through whom God speaks. Through whom God asks.

May I—like our Blessed Mother; like her husband, Joseph; like Zacharias, Moses, Philip, Cornelius, Peter, and Paul—recognize, next time, the angel of the Lord when he comes.

Amen.

Monday, November 12, 2012

He Showed Them His Hands and His Feet

While drinking coffee-shop tea this afternoon, I heard this Who song (from the 1969 rock opera Tommy) played over the speakers:



I remember hearing it in my teens and twenties and thinking that the refrain—"See me, feel me, touch me, heal me"—could be a prayer, and at times I even uttered it as such. It is only now, after a few years of participating in the Catholic practice of Adoration, that I can also hear the rest of the lyrics as part of that prayer, to be prayed at the feet of Jesus on the Cross:
"Listening to you, I get the music. Gazing at you, I get the heat. Following you, I climb the mountain. I get excitement at your feet. Right behind you, I see the millions. On you, I see the glory. From you, I get opinions. From you, I get the story."
More unexpected, however, is that I now also hear the first few lines as going not only from me to Jesus, but also from Jesus to me—
"Then he said to them, 'Why are you troubled? And why do questions arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have.' And as he said this, he showed them his hands and his feet." [Luke 24:39-40]
—as though the risen yet compassionately scarred Jesus were singing to me, "See me, feel me, touch me—and be healed!"

Which in my mind transforms these words not only into a call to adore, but also into an invitation to receive.

Amen.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

"Without Memory, What Are We?" Day 31 of 31 Days of Falling by Faith

"I have found that familiar routines are a necessity. Sentences must be short. Instructions must be brief, and step by step. We do things one at a time. Never announce plans ahead of time. We carry on great conversations. She talks to herself, and I talk to myself. I have learned also, and this lesson is easy, that there cannot be too many hugs and kisses. 'I love you' comes often. In addition to being true, it gives assurance and reduces fright. When we finish dressing in the mornings, it is easy for me to say, 'Look in the mirror and see how beautiful you are.' When we take walks, we hold hands. That way neither one gets lost. And that’s something in life: that you don’t get lost."
—Written by a man about his wife, who was suffering from Alzheimer's

Today is the last day of my 31-days of blogging, or 31 days of falling by faith. Now what? Without such an explicit commitment, will I continue?

I spent most of the afternoon with my stepmother, a small, gentle woman who, during her 81 years, has done a lot of big, strong things, like bicycling through monsoon mud in East Africa; becoming all at once a wife and a mother of four in her early forties after living as a very single, very independent woman until then; and climbing a 40-foot extension ladder to the roof of our three-story house so she could replace the shingles.

When I arrived to join her for the noon meal at the retirement community where she lives, she was sitting in her glider rocking chair in jacket and hat with a mischievous grin on her face. "I was thinking," she said. "How would you feel about going out for lunch?" For her birthday a year ago, someone had given her a gift card to a local smorgasbord-style restaurant and she'd been thinking, she said, for a long time about using it, and today, with its clear sky and warm temperatures, seemed like the perfect day.

Off we went, in the direction of where we thought the restaurant was. It wasn't. But I asked someone and they pointed us in the right direction. When we arrived, the parking lot was empty—not open on Sundays I was told by the woman in the motel office next door. The motel and the restaurant are part of the same establishment. "Where," my stepmother exclaimed as we drove off, "do they expect the people staying there to eat on Sundays?!" We both shrugged our shoulders and laughed.

A while later, comfortably seated in a local diner (her choice), she told me about the funeral she went to yesterday. The deceased—I'll call her Mabel; my stepmother couldn't remember her name—had been in her nineties. During the last few years of her life she had lost much of her memory. My stepmother spent a few minutes sitting next to Mabel's husband after the funeral. She told him about a conversation she'd had with his wife a few years ago. She'd asked Mable if she'd written down the stories of her long, interesting life to give to her children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Mabel managed to tell her she'd already forgotten a lot of the details. At that point, my stepmother told me, Mabel's husband reached over and took my stepmother's hand. "And I let him," she said. "I let him hold it for over a minute. I thought he needed it."

I think he may not have been the only one.

After I had returned my stepmother to her apartment and the Sunday paper's crossword puzzle, which she still works on (but not Sudoku anymore, she says); changed the sheets on her bed (which she doesn't do herself anymore); changed her wrist watch to daylight savings time (even I needed to use the manual for that); and cleaned her heavily smudged eyeglasses (because she couldn't figure out how to get the top off the spray bottle of lens cleaner), I drove away while fighting back the usual tears. While waiting for a traffic light to turn green, I called my sister. I told her a little about the afternoon, and about the memoir I'm editing, which I've quoted at the beginning of this post. "That's what you should do," she said. "Write these things down and share them."

So I did, and I will.

Amen.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

You Can't Solve Somebody's Heart": Day 30 of 31 Days of Falling by Faith

This morning on Facebook, a friend posted a link to the article from which I took the true-sounding title of this post. Tonight--because I'm suddenly profoundly tired, after sleeping poorly all week, and feel close to unable to form sentences-- I'm not going to write about that article, though that was my intention today. It will have to wait.

Instead, I'm just going to say goodnight with this song from a young lady who is making beauty out of sorrow.

Amen.

Writing My Name a Hundred Times: Day 29 of 31 Days of Falling by Faith

"Pope Benedict points out that if we block out our memory we also can end up blocking out our identity so that we don't have any kind of solid base from which to grow.... I found my identity in God....

"Child sexual abuse is founded on lies. The abuser lies to the victim. Often more lies abound ... particularly if the abuse takes place in the family, if the victim is put under pressure not to be up front about what happened....

"There are saints who experienced ... sexual abuse and ... what they have in common is that it wasn't in spite of their wounds or in spite of the evil committed against them that they drew closer to Christ; it was actually through their own experience of woundedness that they drew closer to the wounded and resurrected Christ. So they show us the way.... They also show us how to stop feeling the misplaced guilt and misplaced shame that people feel about these things, 'cause children do tend to blame themselves for the evils committed against them."
—Dawn Eden, author of My Peace I Give You, on Christopher Closeup

On one of the four report cards I received during my year of kindergarten, the teacher wrote, "She never speaks above a whisper." In third grade, I was frequently given an extra homework assignment that was not given to the other students in my class: I had to write my name one hundred times. This was my punishment for regularly turning in my other homework assignments without putting my name on the paper.

In fifth grade I was one of several dozen students bussed from my neighborhood elementary school in a largely black neighborhood to integrate the elementary school in a mostly white, mostly Jewish neighborhood. The bizarre thing was, I was (and still am) white, and I was the only such child on the bus. I didn't fit with my bus mates, I didn't fit with the natives of my new school. Introverted and awkward to begin with, I had a very lonely year.

At a schoolwide assembly a few days before high school graduation I was given several awards, none of them really academic, unless you count the one for "diversity of artistic gifts," which was for my extracurricular involvement in both art and writing classes and activities. I remember walking onto and across the auditorium's stage to take the certificate from the principal's left hand while shaking her right hand. I remember feeling more embarrassed than anything else, because I figured they were giving them to me because they felt sorry for me. The only award I thought I actually deserved was one presented by the counselors' office, where I'd spent many a study period helping the secretary by filing papers and stuffing envelopes for mailings, and when there was none of that to do, talking to one or another of the guidance counselors. I don't know if any of them ever figured out what was really going on with me; I never told them. I just remember feeling very safe and accepted in those rooms.

In my twenties I once rode my bike eight miles to the city art museum to see Woody Allen's movie Zelig, about "a nondescript enigma who, out of his desire to fit in and be liked, takes on the characteristics of strong personalities around him" (as described by Wikipedia), because I figured I could relate to him.

In my early thirties a job supervisor told me that if I ever wanted to advance I should take a public speaking class to learn how to contribute more at staff meetings and to become more confident and comfortable talking to clients on the phone.

I now recognize these experiences as a few of the many impacts that others' inappropriate sexual behavior during my growing-up years has had on my life. I have been exploring this topic on this blog not to shame anyone (I haven't given any names or details), nor to garner sympathy. I have worked hard over many years—decades—and spent lots of money trying to find and claim the authentic person hidden beneath the layers of adaptation and self-protection. I often still feel like I'm just beginning, and some days I feel like I've made no progress at all, and now and then I actually feel content with my limitations—safe, the way I felt in the school counselors' office.

Early tonight as I was listening to Dawn Eden being interviewed by Tony Rossi on Christopher Closeup, I jotted down this thought:
Survivors of abuse and of the false self are like Mary Magdalene. I wonder how she spoke to other women about her experience? I wonder if she expressed explicit anger at those who continued to hurt others like she had been hurt?
The Bible doesn't say what actually happened to Mary Magdalene, doesn't tell us how those seven demons (Mark 16:9) got into her in the first place. The memories of people who have been sexually abused as children can certainly feel like demons that have taken up residence in one's mind and heart. Could Mary Magdalene's demons have included those of "misplaced guilt and misplaced shame"?

When the 72 disciples that Jesus sent out to "cure the sick" at the beginning of Luke 10 returned to him, they told him excitedly, "Lord, even the demons are subject to us because of your name.” Jesus had warned them that he was sending them out to be "like lambs among wolves." They were to be gentle, to offer peace; yet they were to tell the truth, that the people would be subject to harsh judgment if they did not repent; and if they were not well received, they were to shake the dust off their feet and leave, after going "out into the streets" and announcing a final warning, "the kingdom of God is at hand."

Couldn't Mary Magdalene have been one of these disciples? Knowing what it was like both to be possessed and to be emptied of her possessors, wouldn't she have been an appropriate and compassionate member of such a team?

The way Dawn is? The way I would like to be?

Amen.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Start with Yourself: Day 28 of 31 Days of Falling by Faith

"I am more comfortable than most with the realization that mine will be a voice that is little valued or noticed, save for occasional scolding." (Bruce Frohnen, Associate Professor of Law, Ohio Northern University College of Law)
"On this subject, I do not wish to think, or to speak, or write, with moderation. No! no! Tell a man whose house is on fire to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hands of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen; but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present. I am in earnest — I will not equivocate — I will not excuse — I will not retreat a single inch — AND I WILL BE HEARD.” (William Lloyd Garrison, abolitionist, 1805-1879)
"I remain, way down deep, very cynical about politics." (Fr. Dwight Longenecker)

All of the above are exactly how I feel today, now, all at the same time.

I don't have a TV so I didn't watch any of the election day or night speculations and reports, and I deliberately stayed off Facebook and out of my e-mail boxes, for the most part, after the polls closed. I haven't watched any online post-election news coverage, nor have I listened to either of the candidates' speeches on YouTube, and I don't plan to. I haven't read any newspaper coverage either. It's too stressful.

I have been reading blogs, however. And sharing links and quotes. And writing. Because that's what I do. That's how I process.

Early this evening I clicked on a link that led me to the unfamiliar blog of a young Baptist pastor where I read the following in a comment:
"Who cares who enters into political office—the only thing that matters for those that follow Christ is ... God and his kingdom, and ... becoming overly involved in the affairs of American politics is a distraction from what one ought to devote themselves [sic] to...."
A similar cynicism about politics was expressed by a Roman Catholic priest who came to his vocation by way of Evangelicalism and Anglicanism:
"It is because [the believer] trusts in the Prince of Peace that he does not trust the princes of this world, and it is because he accepts the reality of immortality that he can deal with the reality of  being mortal, and it’s because he has a bright eye to eternity that he can cast a dim eye on elections."
To a degree I agree with both of these men. For most of my life I have been much more comfortable staying out of the conversation when it comes to politics, because I have always felt deeply skeptical about politicians and the political process. My openness about my concerns and opinions this election season has been entirely uncharacteristic, and it would be completely natural for me to close my mouth and never open it again except to say "nice" things, safe things.

But there is also something dissatisfying and inadequate, to me, about their conclusions. Does it really not matter who is in charge of our government? Tell that to people in our country and around the world and throughout history who have suffered greatly because of the policies and practices of those who govern them. Why bother attempting democracy at all? Why not do away with all laws? Should those who used political power and processes to end slavery and win women the freedom to vote, for example, not have bothered? To me it seems unloving, even un-Christian, not to care about such things and not to work within the system to address them.

I stumbled upon the missing piece in a reflection written by Matthew Warner for the National Catholic Register. Warner too points out the limitations of American politics and politicians. "Most politicians," he says, "are not leaders. And that's because politics has become less about leadership than it is about marketing." But instead of making that assessment a dead end and telling us to "fugetaboutit" and focus only on getting ourselves and others to heaven, he tells us that it does matter who our leaders are, and it's up to us to attract those who are good for us. (It just occurred to me that no pastor or priest would say it doesn't matter who our church leaders are.)

Elections "matter a lot," Warner says, but
"if you want to change their results, the mechanism is not a political one. It's cultural. And politics rarely drives culture, it's almost always the other way around. So stop worrying about how to change the politics and go sit down and figure out the next big way that you are going to change our culture for the better. How are you going to lead? Figure that out and the elections will take care of themselves....

"Real change starts in the home. Not in the White House.... It ends in the election booth. If we're only showing up to fight in the election booth, we've already missed the battle.... We need cultural leaders. We need individuals and organizations to rise up and provide inspiring, convincing leadership that will lead to conversions of mind and heart. That's the surest way to change the politics. That's where real change will come from. And we already know where our hope comes from...."
Speaking of caring about such things, I have to admire a new Facebook friend—we found each other just a few days before the election. The day after the election her posts were filled with unvarnished, unconsolable frustration and anger. Today she wrote a beautiful, gracious, gratitude-filled apology to all her friends that she closed with these words: "Love to you all. I don't care who you voted for, or what your position is on anything. None of that is more important than human beings and I hope you at least agree with me on that part." I wanted to hug her. I trust a passionate response like hers much more than I trust claims of detachment. I respect the process she went through, and that she was brave and crazy and honest enough to go through it publicly.

I'll end with Warner's ending, or perhaps I should say, his beginning: "Start with the culture. Start with your home. Start with yourself."

Amen.

Stranger in a Strange Land: Day 27 of 31 Days of Falling by Faith

"You never know you were asleep until you wake up."
—Fulton J. Sheen, Seven Words of Jesus and Mary

"Part of what it means to be a conservative is to learn from experience."
John Barnes

Yesterday, for the first time in my almost 55 years of life-after-birth, I voted Republican. I've always registered Independent, but always voted Democrat, for lots of reasons that I'm too tired, and it's too late, to try to articulate right now. But this time, I voted Republican.

It wasn't because I thought Romney and his running mate were perfect or right about everything. I didn't. I don't. It's because I agreed with, and trusted, them on a lot more issues. On issues that I have learned—too late to protect myself but hopefully not too late to spare others—are fundamental.

I know I confuse and upset a lot of people these days—people I've known for many years, decades, even their whole lives. I don't like doing that. For most of my life I've avoided doing that—to keep the peace, to be liked, to fit in—but I did it, I know now, at great and profound cost to myself. And to others, whether they realize it or not.

I can't be a wimp anymore. At least not in writing.

I'm still new, however, at this "conservative" thing. So I'm awkward. Sometimes very. I haven't gotten rid of all my anger yet. My regret. My sorrow. My fear.

It's lonely. It's frightening. But, like someone who is finally free after many, many years in prison, my soul cries out, "I won't go back in there!"

In Luke 7:47, Jesus says of the "sinful woman" who has just washed his feet with her tears and her hair, "Her many sins have been forgiven; hence, she has shown great love." I'm still learning.

"No one is better," Fulton Sheen said, "because he knows evil through experience.... Would you not," he asked, rather unlearn than learn "the evil you know"?
"Would you not like to be right now, just as you came from the hands of God at the baptismal font ... so that like an empty chalice you might spend your life filling it with the wine of his love? The world would call you ignorant, saying you knew nothing about life. Do not believe it—you would have Life!"
Exchange life for Life? "Yes! Absolutely!" I would say, I hope, if he, or anyone, asked.

Amen.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Enough for Both of Us: Day 26 of 31 Days of Falling by Faith

It's election night. I'm not glued to watching or reading about returns—which means no Facebook until the morning (no small challenge for me, home alone with the Internet). Watching won't change the outcome, and it won't help me sleep. I'd rather save my strength for responding to the real outcome rather than fritter it away on speculation.

I prefer instead to use the rest of this 26th day of blogging to share a few more thoughts in response to Dawn Eden's My Peace I Give You. I'll begin with a quote from chapter 8:
"Drusilla, a Catholic orphan who was subjected to brutal abuse by her foster father and siblings, felt as a child that she had been 'thrown to the wolves.' 'I had to pretend to be a wolf so as to keep myself from being torn to pieces,' she writes.... 'I no longer live with the wolves. I am a cat again and happy to be one. But I have not forgotten my time in a wolf's skin. At times I still feel shame, feel I deserve to be abused.... But in Jesus' wounds I remember that the flames burned but never owned me. I belong to Christ and I never want to belong to anyone else.'"
The first time I read that last sentence—"I belong to Christ and I never want to belong to anyone else"—I reacted the same way I did while reading the first pages of another book I blogged about and quoted some during earlier days of this 31-day challenge: Ronda De Sola Chervin's Becoming a Handmaid of the Lord. Early on page 1, for example, Chervin writes, "Longing for eternity has always been easy for me to understand."

Not for me.

There are two things that I remain in awe of yet mystified by when I read or hear about them—because I seem, to myself, so incapable of them: (1) feeling—I mean really feeling, not just intellectualizing—so much love for Jesus that I would long for Him and look forward with all my heart and mind to being in His full and complete presence after my life here has ended, and (2) letting go, in this life, of every other longing except that one.

Considering that more often than not I have lived my life with no sense of anchor in this world, why aren't these things easier for me, especially since, seeking help, I have read so much about them? Why can't I live adrift contentedly, trusting only the wind—or even want to live that way enough to ask for the grace to do so? Why can't I stop longing for human love, human belonging, human security and take comfort in longing only for God and heaven? Why, more often than not, does longing for these things hang on to me like a sharp-teethed, lock-jawed dog?

Is it because while I was "growing up" I wanted so much to have these things but never really felt like I did? Is it because I have sometimes thought I had them, only to lose them to disillusionment, shame, abandonment, death? Is it because I carry around unsurrendered anger at God for "allowing" shaming and painful things to happen? Do I resentfully accuse him of taking away what I need, or of giving me a counterfeit version that ended up hurting me more, I have complained, than the original lack?

Dawn Eden gets it. She opens chapter 8 of her book with a story about a police officer who arrests "a man who had been systematically abusing his six-year-old stepson." The officer wondered how he could "look into the eyes of that little boy and tell him that God really does love him and wants nothing but the best for him after God let that go on for so long." Eden writes near the end of the chapter (and book) that this "was the very question that haunted me in my own life: If I were to meet my younger, abused self—the little girl who still lives inside my memory"—who sometimes takes over my life even now, I would add—"how could I look into her eyes and tell her God really does love her?"

We are hard to convince. And it is hard for us to remain convinced.

I have learned one solid thing that transcends this difficulty (though I sometimes forget I have learned it): feeling is not what is required to love or be loved. That is, my love for God and God's love for me cannot be measured by and does not depend on how I feel. Neither should my love for others.

So, I have decided it's OK to give myself a break if I can't accomplish, or even ask for, those two things I mentioned—to feel so much love for Jesus that I will long for him alone and nothing and no one else, ever. If God wants to give me that freedom, he will. Meanwhile, or otherwise, he will continue to love me enough for both of us—and that will be enough.

Amen.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

"It’s Super Uncool": Day 25 of 31 Days of Falling by Faith

In chapter 8—the final chapter—of her book My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints, Dawn Eden writes about one of the more well-known saints, Thomas Aquinas, who lived and died in the 13th century. He had taken vows as a member of St. Dominic's new Order of Preachers (or Dominicans), who at that time "supported themselves by begging barefoot in the streets." His "wealthy and powerful" family was not at all happy about this. His mother succeeded in having him kidnapped and banished to isolation in a castle. Some months later, his brothers tried to tempt him out of his vocation by injecting a beautiful young prostitute into his cell. Thomas, who was about 19 at the time, immediately and forcefully ejected the woman.

Eden considers why Thomas reacted so vehemently. It wasn't just that his brothers had led him into temptation. It was that their actions were "a violation," she writes, of his "peace, privacy," and intimacy with God.
"The effect of witnessing close up a woman who had chosen or was forced to demean herself—and seeing his own brothers urge her on—would have been like being forced to watch a performance of sadomasochism. Here was the crown of creation, a beautiful human being in God's image, reduced to a painted mask ... a caricature, an object, a dressed-up piece of meat. The image was tragic ... And now it was imprinted upon Thomas's mind, put there by the perverted will of the very men who, from his childhood, were supposed to protect him."
People who have been sexually abused, including those whose abuse has consisted of or included pornographic images and language and inappropriate nudity, know how difficult, if not impossible, it is to permanently remove those memories and images from one's mind, and know how those unwelcome and unsought memories and images can poison the rest of one's life. Just as tragic, if not more so, is the fact that in today's world almost no one escapes this kind of abuse, yet so many people don't realize that they have been and are being exploited. Eden writes, "we live in a sex-saturated culture.... it takes effort to imagine a time when people could easily chose not to see things that would assault their purity." In fact, if you watch any TV at all, spend any time on the Internet, or just shop for groceries or deodorant, it's virtually impossible to avoid having in-your-face titillation imprinted on your brain.

And purity? Who talks about that these days? Who (especially in secular culture) even knows what it means anymore? And ads like the one that Lena Dunham made for the Obama campaign, comparing first-time voting to first-time sex, imply contempt for anyone who considers sexual purity to have any value. ("It’s super uncool," she says, "to be out and about and someone says, 'Did you vote' and 'No, I didn’t vote, I wasn’t ready,” followed by a smirk that could be read as meaning "that's ridiculous.")

In chapter 7 of My Peace I Give You, Eden tells why she is "offended" by "radical feminist bloggers" (with whom, she says, she has learned to be more gentle while continuing to disagree with their approach to feminism):
"I saw in their writings the attitudes that had enabled my abuse. In their denial of the personhood of the unborn child, I saw the denial of the personhood of all children. In their praise for what they termed sexual freedom, I saw the elimination of sexual boundaries— the boundaries that, had they been enforced in my childhood home, would have protected me from harm. In their ridicule of modesty advocates, I saw my mother's laughter at me when I, as a child, complained of her and her boyfriend's household nudity.... In their efforts to convince young women that purity was 'repressive,' I saw the culture that had enabled the efforts I made to 'free' myself by means of sexual encounters that served only to re-traumatize me."
Those who struggle consciously with the fallout of childhood sexual abuse are, I think, another equivalent (like people with environmental allergies) of the canary in the coal mine, which most people know refers to the canaries that coal miners took into the tunnels to use as detectors of the lethal gases, such as methane and carbon monoxide, that could leak into the mine. If the canary died, the miners would know they had to get out of there.

We would do well to consider seriously the effect that our culture's (and government's) overemphasis on, and disrespect for, sex has had, is having, and will have on all of us—before it's too late.

Amen.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Flood: Day 24 of 31 Days of Falling by Faith

Other than attending Mass this morning, I've been hibernating most of the day, aiming for a Monday morning work deadline. My eyes and hands and mind are ready for sleep, so there's no time on this 24th day of blogging to sink my teeth into the latest chapter of the book I've been digesting here this week, Dawn Eden's My Peace I Give You. Instead, I'm going to share something I previously published elsewhere.

From 2004 to 2007, I processed a lot of what I was experiencing, thinking, and feeling by writing poetry. In December 2007, I chose 18 of those poems, matched them with an assortment of photos I'd taken during those same years, laid them out as a booklet in Publisher, printed it out on my inkjet printer, and sent it to a friend as a Christmas gift. Earlier this year I agreed to help several people self-publish books through Amazon's CreateSpace service, which I'd never used before. I decided to use my collection of poems, Redemption Songs, as a guinea pig. The book has been sitting on Amazon for several months now, with one nice review written by a Starbucks acquaintance who graciously bought and read it and shared it with his wife. I haven't sold a copy in months. Most of the time I forget it's there.

All of the book's poems were written in the few years before I returned to the Catholic Church. The final poem, which I've decided to share here, may be my favorite. When I read it now, five years later, I can see how afraid I was then, and how hungry for repentance and salvation, and I'm reminded how grateful I am that I wasn't too late. Here is that poem, written and dedicated to a friend named John in November 2007:

The Flood
It is as though you are
on the ark—learning how
to feed the animals, how
to live in a small space,
and how to wait for
God’s timing—
and I am outside,
whipped and whetted
by the whirling
waters rising around
my broken heartbeats
and reaching arms,
spitting out the sharp
shards of shattered
suppositions that
land in my mouth
when I gasp for air or
cry out to be let in,
still smelling the
sweet sweat of our
lost land while the
wailful winds peal.
Now and then you
reach out a hand but
the current is strong
and I feel too late
to take it.

Amen.

"The Flood" is © 2012 by Alice S. Morrow Rowan. All rights reserved.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Bread for Stones and the Consecration of Weakness: Day 23 of 31 Days of Falling by Faith

"All she had wanted since she left home was now hers: a stable relationship with a man she loved, a beautiful place to live, a circle of friends, and a burgeoning writing career. Just one thing was missing: someone to thank."
—Dawn Eden, writing about Dorothy Day in My Peace I Give You
In 1999, that was, more or less, me. I didn't have a "burgeoning writing career" (though I thought I might have one buried in me somewhere), but I had been successfully earning a living as a copy editor, working quietly and comfortably in a corner of our living room. I felt content and, for the first time in my life, safe. I had, it seemed, the best blend of everything—solitude and a social life, solitude and a husband, work and flexibility, work and hobbies. I lived in a cozy little house a short bike ride from the ocean in the beautiful city of San Francisco. I had respect and a perfect credit rating. I lived far away from anyone who had once, and still could, hurt me.

Yet early that year I wrote in my journal that I was feeling like a caterpillar in a cocoon, and like it was only a matter of time until I would, by natural processes, be forced out of it. I never imagined that these processes would include the gradual falling apart of my marriage, a return to the East Coast (exactly ten years and three days ago), the tragic death of my husband, and my return to the Catholic Church (to which I had converted when I was eighteen but from which I had drifted away in my late twenties).

The saint introduced by Dawn Eden in chapter six of her book My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints is Dorothy Day. Day has not actually been canonized yet, but she is being officially considered for that honor by the Vatican. I first read about her while I was in college, and for a couple of years after graduation I was involved in a community in which she was studied, revered, and imitated. But it wasn't until a few years ago that I learned that, years before her conversion to Catholicism, she'd had an abortion. As I read Eden's description of Day's life leading up to that decision she deeply regretted, and as I read Eden's discussion of Day's attraction and commitment to the Catholic Church, I came to understand even more why I have long felt drawn to this woman, and what she has to offer me.

For example, although not abusive, Day's father was controlling as well as, like her mother, emotionally distant and withholding. This set her up for a lifelong struggle to find "the love she lacked." Her decision to abort her unborn child, Eden writes, was "the most damaging result of her efforts to fulfill her desires"; she did it because her boyfriend didn't want the child, or her with the child, and she needed "to hold on to him at any cost." He left her anyway.

Later, in another uncommitted relationship, she became pregnant again, and this time she followed through and gave birth to her daughter. The father stayed with her, but was not interested in marriage. Eden writes that "while she continued trying to win over a man who, like her father, placed his love out of reach, Dorothy felt her heavenly Father pursue her." She took instruction in the Catholic faith so that she could have her daughter baptized. Her daughter's father objected to all of this and continued to refuse to marry Day. Ultimately he left her and their daughter. Day immediately was received into the church through the sacraments of baptism, confession, and Holy Communion. Eden writes, "After a lifetime of seeking, she was finally in the arms of 'a kind Father ... who will not give us a stone when we ask for bread."

This relationship with her heavenly Father did not, however, immediately remove Day's "hungering for companionship." It took five more years of emotional struggle before "God worked a change in her, the kind of change he works in every wounded person who desires it and is patient with the workings of grace." In response to a fervent, tearful prayer for help, he finally "transformed her heart." The very next day, she met Peter Maurin, "the idealist French expatriate who gave her the vision for the Catholic Worker newspaper and apostolate."

Day did not lose all of the wounds of her childhood; rather, Eden says, she bore them "with the humility of one who has consecrated her weakness" to Christ, just as St. Paul did (in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10):
"A thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.' ...Therefore, I am content ... for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong."
May I yet receive the graces, of both healing and humility, to follow Christ as Dorothy Day did.

Amen.

Friday, November 2, 2012

For with the Lord Is Kindness and Plenteous Redemption: Day 22 of 31 Days of Falling by Faith

"The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul."
—Psalm 23:1-3
Today was All Souls Day—a day on which the Catholic Church especially acknowledges the souls of all those who have died in the faith before us. The psalm prayed at Mass was Psalm 23.

A couple of years ago I drove alone from Lancaster County to northern New Jersey to attend the funeral of a woman who had died of ovarian cancer. It was a heartbreaking occasion. She was not much older than fifty and had been married only three years to a longtime friend of mine. It had been the only marriage for each of them. They had waited a long time to find each other. Now she was gone.

The funeral was Jewish, because they were. I may have been the only non-Jew at the service and cemetery. I'd never been to a Jewish funeral before.

The service began with the reading of a succession of many scriptures, each first in Hebrew, then in English. After one of the readings in Hebrew, the rabbi invited everyone to join in saying out loud in English the 23rd Psalm. I began reciting it with them, and discovered that I could remember every word of it. I prayed it, with my eyes closed. Before we were done I was crying.

I remember thinking that during his thirty-three years on Earth, Jesus must have attended many funerals at which he would have heard, read, and recited these same scriptures. I felt him there with us that day as much as I've ever felt his presence anywhere else.
Out of the depths I cry to You, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice.
Let Your ears be attentive to my voice in supplication.
If You, O Lord, mark iniquities, Lord, who can stand?
But with You is forgiveness, that You may be revered.
I trust in the Lord; my soul trusts in His word.
My soul waits for the Lord more than sentinels wait for the dawn.
More than sentinels wait for the dawn, let Israel wait for the Lord,
For with the Lord is kindness and with Him is plenteous redemption;
And He will redeem Israel from all their iniquities.

—From Psalm 130
Amen.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Woe to Those Through Whom They Come: Day 21 of 31 Days of Falling by Faith

"My rebel persona was a liea lie I created in an effort to protect myself from the lies imprinted upon my psyche by my abusers. Child sexual abuse thrives upon lies. The abuser lies to the victim, while the victim in turn, trying to cope with her wounds, often finds herself living a lie.... I mentally dissociated myself from my victim identity in favor of a persona in which I could feel powerful.... Beneath the posturing, however, remained the soul of a little girl desperate to be told she was valued not for what she did, but for who she was."
—Dawn Eden, My Peace I Give You, pp. 52-54
These sentences are from chapter three of the book I've been weaving into my posts here the past couple of days (see here and here). Today there are two more reasons that reading this book now is uncanny. First, it seems appropriate on All Saints Day to be reading a book about the help provided to us by those saints who have gone before us (if even just through the stories of their lives). Second, we are near the end of a presidential campaign season in which women and sex have been major talking points—and they are being talked about very differently on each side of the campaign.

Feminism was originally a response to abuse—the social, political, economic, physical, and sexual abuse of half the human race by the other half. The need for it has been and still is real in many ways and places, but some of the solutions have only morphed rather than resolved the abuse, and they have done so by morphing, corrupting, even downright abusing the understanding of what and who a woman is, and then imprinting that distorted understanding on the psyches of vulnerable girls and women.

I am almost fifty-five years old. I have "survived," and been inscribed by, sexual, physical, and emotional abuse. I have rebelled against that abuse in the way Dawn Eden has described, by creating a "rebel persona," even several such personas over the years, "in which I could feel powerful"—or at least not powerless. And all this rebellion, which has caused me much harm and suffering rather than rescuing and healing me, has been reinforced, encouraged, even fueled by a feminism that treated my pain by telling me I didn't need that baby, didn't need that man, didn't need that home, didn't need that identity, didn't need that God.

So, when I see videos like the recent Obama campaign ad in which Lena Dunham poses as a first-time-voting college student and compares voting for Obama to losing one's virginity, I bristle. It feels abusive to me, and the most heartbreaking aspect is that so many young people will not realize that they are being abused. They will believe they are being offered freedom. They will believe they are being validated, respected, and even protected (by "birth control"). They are not. They are being endangered and taken advantage of through appeal to their basest instincts and vulnerabilities.

A presidential administration that doesn't understand this is not to be trusted to have the best interests of the people—all of us—in mind.
"Jesus said to his disciples: 'Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come' " (Luke 17:1).
Amen.

The Great Hope: Day 20 of 31 Days of Falling by Faith

"We have to wonder: What would it do to a child to go up on a mountain with his father, ostensibly to offer sacrifice, and for the father to end up holding a knife to the child's neck? What kind of a child leaves with Abraham that morning, and what kind of a child does Abraham bring back to Sarah?
—Heather King
This is a paragraph from today's meditation in the Magnificat Year of Faith Companion. It was uncanny to be presented with this angle on the story of the almost-sacrifice of Isaac while reading Dawn Eden's book on healing from childhood sexual abuse.

The only thing more disruptive to a physically or sexually abused child than the abuse itself, in my experience, is the threat of it. In fact, anticipating the next occasion of abuse cuts deep grooves in a child's psyche that, like St. Josephine Bakhita's tattoos (see yesterday's post), may never go away.

Did Isaac spend the rest of his life afraid to trust?

"Life traumatizes all of us," Heather King writes. It even traumatized Mary, Jesus' mother, writes Dawn Eden in chapter two of My Peace I Give You, which I began to write about yesterday. "Here is a woman who, during her Son's Passion, endured the most intense emotional trauma any human being could undergo and survive.... she was able to remain standing by the Cross, pouring out her heart for her Son as he poured out his own Heart for the world...."

"Mary's response to pain," Eden writes—her steadfastness—"is a model for those of us who seek purification of memory." At the foot of the Cross and then again when she learned that Jesus had indeed risen, she must have recalled every moment of her child's life, every word she had heard him utter, because she had been "pondering them in her heart" all his life (see Luke 2:19 and 2:51). "Keeping Jesus' words in her heart enabled her to move forward even when she could not yet see how the present trauma would resolve," says Eden. Her "fortutide came not from forgetting her past suffering, but from remembering it in a new way."

What is this "new way" for someone like me? Like you?

It is faith in the same person in whom Mary had faith. It is pondering in our hearts all the events and words of Jesus life, right alongside all the things that make little sense to us, the things that hurt. It is believing those words "regardless of how I may feel at any given moment."

It is, in the words of Pope Benedict XVI that I quoted yesterday, "the great hope."