Saturday, December 26, 2009

Joy Has Come

"You will show me the path to life, abounding joy in your presence, the delights at your right hand forever." (Psalm 16:11)
Christmas has come. The simplicity and quiet of the celebrations this year (compared to how it is normally when the entire family gathers at my parents' house) is lending itself to being more Christ-centered and reflective. I'm enjoying that a lot. It can be a difficult enough task, so any help is welcome. Fr. Mark's homily on Christmas Eve was a compelling call to strip away all the wants of this life and want, above all, a "happy ending" to this life, or more truly a "happy eternal beginning." Then yesterday, my friend, Erin, shared a little with me from Fr. Mike Chenier's Christmas morning homily.
Fr. Mike is my friend, Mike, whom I mentioned previously in the post asking for prayers for his sister, Amy. That post can be found here. Excepting a miracle according to God's great will, Amy is expected to live another one to three months. She is confused a lot of the time and has difficulty communicating now. The whole thing continues to break my heart. I have wept for Fr. Mike, who has been dear to me for so long, and for Amy, who ranks among the sweetest and most good-humored people I've been privileged to know. All of it breaks my heart in a way that tears away any pretense I might hold onto of knowing what this life will or won't bring for me or my loved ones. The sense of vulnerability, our inability to sustain our own lives, and the prevailing authority of God as the Author of our lives is strong. I haven't been able to shake it from my mind in the last few weeks.
What Erin shared from Fr. Mike's homily has provided some necessary rounding out of these contemplations. I do wish I could have heard his sermon but the bits of summary have given me ample mental soil to work with this Christmas. He preached on joy, on the joy of Mary and Joseph and his and Amy's joy, too. Joy instead of bitterness; that's what was chosen by the Holy Family in the face of unavoidable suffering, certain hardship, and disconcerting mystery. Total entrustment of their lives to God's Providence allows for this joy. The loss of all the plans and expectations for their personal lives; facing the unknown of what God was asking of them, taking from them, and giving to them, all of it could have led to fear and bitterness, even self-pity. Sorrow over the losses could take hold with no release; surely we all know people for whom this has been the case. This was not so for them. The sorrow and grief may be real but they are not the highest powers. Instead there is joy. True joy that comes from peace; true peace that comes from hope; true hope that comes from faith in the God who promises to never leave us, to always carry us back to Him, to be our "fullness of joy" for all eternity. Fr. Mike shared that in this most harrowing of times for his family, there is joy. Amy has joy; he has joy. I don't know if I can think of another example that more effectively teaches me of the difference in depth and worth between joy and happiness. What a glorious sign of holiness when a soul still genuinely rejoices in the Lord when all sources of happiness are stripped away. I am humbled by the sight of this holiness in my friends.

Friday, December 18, 2009

It's a Jars of Clay Christmas!

A very enjoyable, Advent-y blessing was the chance to attend the Christmas concert with Jars of Clay and Bebo Norman. Call me a silly fan but I felt kind of privileged to see the show considering there were only five shows on the tour! How Oconomowoc, WI ended up as one of the five, I don't know but I'm glad it did!

Also, what on earth is up with the Armadillo?!

Christmas Tree - Made It Home

Let's Find a Christmas Tree!

As we do every year, my sister and I (with our niece too this time) went tree hunting. It's a lovely process. Taking our time, picking out our favorites, tramping through the snow to compare the possibilities, realizing we aren't lumberjacks when our shoulders are aching after sawing through half the trunk. Good times are had by all. This year's tree is decidedly plump, overtaking half the living room. I'm growing more fond of it each day.

December Part 2

My car definitely didn't go anywhere that day, which I was quite happy about.

December Came In Heavy

This is much more like the Decembers of childhood. The more recent years have seen barely any snow until January. Last year and this year are looking to be true, old fashioned winters of the north.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Advent Amazement

This Advent I've been reading a collection of meditations on quotes from C. S. Lewis. Lewis had a very worthy grasp of the the grandness of the miracle of the Incarnation, of the greatness of God becoming man in Jesus Christ. His awe of God's actions on that first Christmas night is unmistakable. It casts light on my lack of awe and has me thinking about the vast difference between the greatness I attribute to God and His actual greatness. I think of Moses, who had to veil his face after seeing the glory of God because he shone with blinding radiance; of King David, who sought to contemplate God, His works and commands all day and all night; of the Prophet Isaiah, who saw a vision of the Lord on His throne, surrounded by worshipping Seraphim; of St. John, who wrote an entire mystical account of the heavenly visions he received; of St. Francis of Assisi, who went into a coma-like state for a few days after hearing a single note of the music of heaven... these men had a much deeper awareness of God's divinity than I do. I'd even warrant that most of this era's Christians don't come close to such an awareness as used to characterize the great figures of the Church. It is why the mystics fascinate me more and more with each passing year. In this time we prefer to have everything figured out. We like to fully grasp the thing that is before us, to give it boundaries and know exactly how it works and what it means. I see it in the way the faith is taught, as well as the willingness of people to make acts of faith in truths that they haven't fully grasped yet. I see it as well in our worship. The individualistic nature of our culture has crept into our worship. Though there is great worth in the individual's worship of God, in the singular communication with and listening to God, there has been a loss of comprehension in how liturgy unites us with all the saints and angels of heaven, as well as all the Church on earth, in the worship of our King.

Basically, I find myself questioning these attitudes and tendencies that characterize the present. I don't doubt the goodness of knowing what we can know, of grasping what we can grasp; God wouldn't have revealed so much and commanded the Church to continuously teach it all if He didn't desire that we know all of it. It's all that we don't fully know or fully understand that I'm concentrating on here. What is so wrong about being baffled with amazement? About sensing the infinite depth of the mysteries of God and concluding that I truly know so, so little. I cannot hit the bottom of the well with my bucket. At the end of his years, St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the greatest minds to ever encounter and expound upon the Christian faith, said this: "All that I have written appears to me as much straw after the things that have been revealed to me." The more insight he gained into the truth of who God is, what He has done, who we are in light of Him, the more he realized how much there was still to know and understand.

How I react to the Incarnation is an excellent test of my heart's capacity for amazement at the mysteries of God. The Incarnation is absurd, scandalous, bewildering, incredible! It is awesome in the truest sense of that overly used word. I've heard before that to get an idea of how much God humbled Himself to become man, we should imagine ourselves becoming an amoeba or a worm. But even that is a terribly weak analogy for I and a worm are both creatures; not equal creatures, but creatures nonetheless. What God did by becoming man, indeed an infant born expressly for the purpose of dying for mankind, is beyond any comparison we can make. This is not meant to belittle or devalue us as human beings. Rather if I develop a proper sense of awe at the Incarnation, my sense of human dignity will likewise develop. For in the face of this immeasurable difference between God and man, God still became man!

I have a feeling that this awe and bafflement at God, at the mysteries of God, are key to having faith like a child. Too much of our accessible knowledge of God has been gained at the expense of our certainty that we have only glimpsed into all that there is to know and experience of Him. Both must be nurtured in my heart and mind: the accessiblity of God (which is due only to His initiative over the course of salvation history, especially in the Incarnation) and the inexhaustible depth of His mysteries. Neither should be sacrificed. It's difficult though not to give up one and cling only to the other.

"The Christian story is precisely the story of one grand miracle, the Christian assertion being that what is beyond all space and time, what is uncreated, eternal, came into nature, into human nature, descended into His own universe, and rose again, bringing nature up with Him. It is precisely one great miracle." (C. S. Lewis) Do I even have a concept of what miracles are? I do, but I don't recognize them enough. I don't fall down on my knees in worship of the infinite God when He takes heed of the individual and intervenes in space and time for the sake of His sons and daughters. The divine intervention that is the Incarnation... well, I ought to be struggling for words to describe it, so great is this miracle! And the more I contemplate it, the more that is the case.

I wonder how the angels reacted to the Incarnation! Some went to the shepherds near Bethlehem, but what of the legions not present there? The awe of God, the amazement at His action, the joyful acceptance of His infinite wisdom in carrying out this plan - what a chorus must have been sung! Some theologians speculate that the tipping point of Lucifer's and the rest of the fallen angels' rebellion came when all the angels were given knowledge of the plan of salvation and asked to choose whether they would or would not serve that plan. Lucifer's pride could not accept the plan. It was scandalous that God would become man! That He would take on a created human nature, live among the poor, work for His bread, be rejected by His own people and be put to death! Considering the stir He creates here, Jesus Christ must have caused quite the stir amongst the angels too.

Yet what is my own reaction to the plan of salvation, to the Incarnation? It is comforting and encouraging, if I slow down enough from the nonsense of the 'holiday season' and focus on it. It is cause to rejoice, to give thanks, to be kinder to others, and so on. Not bad reactions, certainly, but they fall so short! My prayer this Advent is for awe and amazement to fill me to my fingertips, and that in this reaction may come the seeds of childlike and willing faith, unceasing joy in God's incredible outreach to me, humility in the face of the humility of the Divine veiled by a human nature, and eager, earnest repentance out of love of the God who set this "grand miracle" in motion for the sake of making a way for us into His presence.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Truth Behind the Lies

Accurate medical information and offering what's best for women? Or lies, deception and greed? Amazingly awful stuff happening in our own towns, down the street from our own houses, promoted to our daughters, sisters and friends. Please share this video with others. Check out for more.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Winter Skin

It's December 7th and a fluffy layer of fresh snow is on the ground. With more to come today and tomorrow, in fact a surprising 9 or 10 inches by Wednesday morning, I'm realizing that winter is in full swing. It's here, with its winds and snows and frosts, and there's no turning back. The song in the video above is one of my current favorite seasonal tunes by my favorite band (6 days until I see their Christmas show!!! Sorry, sidetracked...) and it is especially well suited to my mood today. Maybe it's the cold, maybe it's the fact that it's Advent, maybe it's the seven days in a row that I've been sick; I have a few reasons to slow down... and to quiet down. In fact, that's going to be my mantra this winter. "Slow down. Quiet down. Slow down. Quiet down." I'm going to walk through my days, rather than run, skid, slide or barrel headlong into the next day and the next.

On Saturday I needed to write an article for the next edition of our church's newsletter. My bout with the seasonal flu didn't make that easy as I couldn't seem to clear my mind enough to remember what I was talking about from the start to the end of a paragraph. So I cheated. I pulled out an old prayer journal and flipped through the pages to find a suitable reflection I'd written that could be adapted into article form. In the course of perusing the old journal, I found more than just an appropriate piece of material for my article. I found other tidbits that reminded me of the things I wanted to write; ideas and meditations that I now readily saw as seeds for longer works. And just like that the writing bug was back. I've repressed it by focusing on the other tasks at hand, i.e. directing/teaching RCIA, Theology of the Body study, adult faith nights, and life in general. The sacrifice has been a necessary one. I haven't touched my in-progress novel for a couple of months, at least. I haven't sent my completed novel to any new publishers in several months. To be honest, the ongoing busyness has kept me from dwelling too much on the lack of writing. It's allowed me to 'be okay' with the break from it.

Then I got sick. I slowed down. I couldn't multi-task. I needed quiet. And you know what, as much I loathed being sick, there was an aspect of it that was distinctly enjoyable. Knowing I wasn't good for much else, I pulled out Full of Days and picked up where I'd left off in revising the chapter divisions. Sure, I knew that once I was well enough, I'd need to get back to writing RCIA class materials and cleaning the house but for a few hours on Saturday, I got to be a fiction writer again. The tradeoff: I am completely renewed in my motivation to complete the class materials so I can move on (or back) to writing fiction again.

All I had to do was slow down, quiet down, and things seemed doable again. So for the next few months, I'm putting on my winter skin and walking. Slowly, quietly. Sometimes that's all we should ask of ourselves.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


I don't normally make requests on this blog. I have no idea if there's any point since there's no way to know who reads this or how many views it receives. But I'm going to take a leap of faith and put a request out there, trusting that God works in hidden ways and maybe this blog can be part of that.

I have a friend who is dying. I can't help but begin to cry as I type this. Amy, who is in her early thirties, has been living with a brain tumor for the last few years. Every day that she's had since the tumor took hold has been a true miracle as the tumor is inoperable. With treatments and a great deal of prayer, the tumor had stopped growing for some time. However this is no longer the case and it has begun spreading significantly. All that is left to hope for is a miracle. Be it God's will, He is more than capable of providing that miracle. His will is so often hidden though.

These circumstances have me consumed with thoughts of loss and hope and the insufficiency of our own strength to sustain our own lives. As the person in Amy's family that I am closest to is her younger brother, I look upon the situation with the eyes of a sibling and my heart breaks for my dear friend, Mike. Even the imagining of losing one of my sisters is too much for me to dwell on for more than a few seconds.

Would you pray for Amy? Pray for a miracle, if it be God's will to continue her earthly life, to happen soon; for acceptance of God's choice in Amy's heart and the hearts of all of her family , whatever that divine choice ends up being; for consolation for Amy as she suffers, for her husband as he suffers at her side, for her dear and wonderful parents and siblings. They all need to be buoyed by prayers.