Friday, April 30, 2010

An Unchecked List

A storm's coming.

No, that wasn't a metaphysical statement spoken in a hushed tone. A real storm is coming. According to the online radar, it should hit right around the time I will walk out of this building to my car and drive home. Convenient. I do love a good storm though, especially one with plenty of volume.

I didn't sign in here to talk about the weather so let's move on. I signed in to talk about a list. The list. The "do before I get old and/or die" list. Some might call it a bucket list although my aversion to anything Jack Nicholson related keeps me from adopting the term. I've kept such a list for ten or more years. It's been revised a handful of times and each version is kept for posterity. Occasionally there's an item that doesn't make the new list as the desire to fulfill it has passed and it no longer holds significance for me. A few nights ago I retrieved all the versions from my desk drawer and read through them.

Hold a master's degree in English or writing
Live near the ocean
Kayak in Lake Michigan and Lake Superior
Publish a novel
Learn to play piano
Visit England, Ireland, Italy, France, Hawaii
Hike at Porcupine Mountains and Grand Teton & Yellowstone National Parks
Get married
Ride in a hot air balloon
Write a non-fiction faith-themed book
Write a biography

These are some, not all, of the ones still to be fulfilled.

So few lines have a checkmark beside them...
Sail on the ocean
See U2 in concert
Live by myself
Hike at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Teach RCIA at a parish
Travel to Niagra Falls
Crochet a blanket
Write a novel

I decided not to revise the list this time around. The desires that have been left unpursued, not just unfulfilled, sadden me the most. I know that not every wish and endeavor will come to fruition. Certainly I'm learning to live with a bit of failure from day to day and that helps me keep my hope firmly anchored where it belongs. Not to have tried though, not to have pursued... I can't live with that from day to day. I won't.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Words to Live By

"Never be in a hurry; do everything quietly and in a calm spirit. Do not lose your inner peace for anything whatsoever, even if your whole world seems upset." (St. Francis de Sales)
"And let the peace of Christ reign in your hearts." (Colossians 3:15a)
"We pay a price for everything we get or take in this world; and although ambitions are well worth having, they are not to be cheaply won, but exact their dues of work and self denial, anxiety and discouragement." (L. M. Montgomery)

Quite unexpectedly, God came through with that clarity and assurance I've been praying for in recent days. A simple observation by someone outside the situation and voila! Clarity. I almost started laughing as the peace I'd lost hold of started coating my heart once again. All that I've allowed to erode under the anxiety and discouragement and sorrow, I want back. I want to be myself again. What joy has arrived as I take steps to leave behind things that are in no way easy to leave behind. A friendship, a ministry, a role in which I have found much reward... it is not a matter of rooting out some terrible thing but of discerning the wisdom of a sacrifice.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


"The line is thin between a selfish act and things you do to keep yourself intact." I consider that one of the most insightful lyrics of the countless songs I have heard. It's from "Same Mistakes" by Sara Watkins and the song is a beauty. That particular line resonated with me the first time I listened to it and does so again, perhaps more, this week.

I have a decision to make. It involves work and friendship and priorities. The direction to which I lean changes from day to day. Sometimes in life, thank God, clarity and peace of mind determine a choice and I am able to move forward in that choice with confidence. Sometimes not so much. After feeling convicted to turn in two completely different directions from Sunday to Monday, I began Tuesday with my Bible open on the kitchen table. As there is logic and good reason behind either choice, I felt convicted to seek the choice of love. Which way allows for loving as I should, while which way, valid as it may be, is the more self-serving? "Make love your aim," was St. Paul's reminder to me. Make love your aim...

This doesn't uncomplicate things. This does not even decide things with desirable certainty. But I am given a lens through which to survey the problem, and a purpose to prevail over the handful of other tension-building purposes presently motivating me.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

After Midnight

What am I doing here at 12:04 a.m., listening to She & Him and sliding open the patio door before I sit down at the kitchen counter? Blogging for the first time since Easter, for one thing. I've begun and deleted a few posts in the last week and a half. Each time I begin to gather my thoughts they scatter before I can finish a paragraph, so I'm not promising any coherence in this attempt either.

My sister, with whom I live, is in China for two weeks. This leaves me with a home to myself and plenty of quiet in which to think. I haven't decided if that has proven to be a positive or a negative. It's a bit of both, quite likely. On several occasions lately my mind has been consumed by the idea of living honestly. Easter night and last night were the greatest contributors to this theme, each due to very particular and separate struggles. Let me see if I can explain. It is not the simple opposite of telling lies. Rather, it is the appeal to be honest - stripped, to lack a cover or veil - in answers, in reactions, in interplay. I have this heavy sense of wasting time with pretending. As I catch myself at the start of a pretense, whether with another or with myself, I cannot follow through on it.

It's a terribly unsafe way to live. Vulnerability, risk, misunderstanding - these are its results. But maybe more will come besides... maybe courage, maybe integrity, maybe fewer regrets and more glad-I-took-them chances. Truth faced, even in its bitter or thorny forms, is to be preferred to pretense, isn't it? If nothing else I think I might stand surer in who I am and who I am not, in what I need to give and what I need to receive. Heroines parade through my mind and I see what I'm aiming for in this. Cassandra Mortmain, Emily Byrd Starr, Lily Bart as an antithesis... Lucy Honeychurch most of all.

"...let yourself go. You are inclined to get muddled, if I may judge from last night. Let yourself go. Pull out from the depths those thoughts that you do not understand, and spread them out in the sunlight and know the meaning of them."
(E M Forster, A Room With a View)

Sunday, April 4, 2010


I am spending the first hours of Easter morn baking a few dozen cupcakes, dancing to David Crowder Band in my kitchen and basking in the lingering jubilation of the Easter Vigil Mass. Tonight I witnessed 8 children be baptized and 5 adults enter the full communion of the Catholic Church and receive Confirmation and Eucharist. Tonight I remembered exactly why I love serving in the RCIA ministry. It was a glorious night. It is a glorious morning. I hope you find it so as well.

"Yesterday, I was crucified with Him;
Today, I am glorified with Him;
Yesterday, I died with Him;
Today, I am quickened with Him;
Yesterday, I was buried with Him;
Today, I rise with Him."
(from an Easter sermon by St. Gregory Nazianzen)

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Keeping Vigil

"Are you sure He said three days? Maybe you're remembering wrong."

"I'm pretty sure. Wish I was wrong though."

I wonder if any such conversation occurred between the disciples on that first Holy Saturday. It is the full day of Christ being dead in the tomb. The day of waiting, trying to avoid doubt, remembering all the things He said and promised. It must have been a terribly long day. If I were in that locked room with Mary and the eleven remaining disciples, I'd probably have been grumbling with impatience. "Why not this morning? Yesterday and last night were awful enough, why must Jesus make us wait any longer? If He's coming back as He said He would, why not this morning? It's the sabbath, after all, so wouldn't today be appropriate? What is tomorrow? Sunday? Sundays mean nothing to us. He should have risen today." It's sad how easily I can imagine myself making these comments.

But with the death and Resurrection of Christ, God was doing something entirely new. Truly Sunday meant nothing to the world in the days when Christ walked the earth. The pagan religions certainly held it in no special regard, it was simply another day of the week. The Jewish people had their holy sabbath from Friday sundown through Saturday. What was Sunday to them? This reality in itself reveals the radical newness of the divine work of the Paschal Mystery. With the Resurrection, God gave us a new holy day. He sanctified Sunday as the weekly anniversary of His defeat of sin and death, making it a great high feast for all who belong to Christ. The influence of Christ is unstoppable and so we find Sunday to be 'different' from all other days of the week even among those who do not worship God or practice the Chrsitian faith.

Indeed God did something new and when God does something new it is on His terms - His wise and perfect terms. His terms often involve plenty of waiting time for our part. With the waiting comes a choice: grumble against God's ways, perhaps mysterious, inconvenient or difficult, and try impatiently to move things along by our own will or keep vigil. The two approaches to waiting could not be more different. Keeping vigil as we wait upon the Lord to fulfill His promises and carry out His will implies so much. Hope- for why keep vigil if you have not the hope that what you are waiting for will come through in the end? Trust and surrender- placing that which we wait for into the hands of God, into the secure and steady grip of His love. Patience- refusing to demand God perform on our terms, we peacefully allow Him to take the lead, make the move and direct the work. A Prayerful Spirit- our vigil might not be free of questions or doubts or pain, but by prayer we bring all of that to the feet of our Lord; "with confidence [we] draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (Hebrews 4:16).

This is a day of vigil. Indeed, each day is opportunity to keep vigil for we are all waiting on the Lord. For answers to prayers, for guidance, for mercy and ultimately for Him to welcome us into eternal life, we keep vigil. On the wood of the Cross we kneel at the feet of the enthroned Resurrected Christ.

Friday, April 2, 2010

A Good Night

The patio door is open and there is a soft shower falling on the wood of the deck. It is the accompaniment to my thoughts. The weather has had 4 different faces in the course of this Good Friday and I have to say that this is my favorite so far.

Good Friday seems so purposely paced compared to the busyness that will come tomorrow and the rejoicing celebration waiting for us on Sunday. I can almost feel the Father's hand on my shoulder, slowing me down as He points toward the Cross. "Do not pass it by unobserved. Look upon it. Look upon my Son. Let it sink in. There is so much wonder, so much greatness in Easter that cannot be perceived if this is not first observed. Don't skip ahead in the story. The glory that eclipses suffering will come soon enough; enter into the suffering first. The suffering that was for you, the suffering that emptied my Son of life, the suffering that looked like defeat to all without faith; this is what digs the depths found in the Resurrection."

See from His Head, His Hands, His Feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down;
Did e'er such love and sorrow meet?
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?
(from "Crucifixion to the World by the Cross of Christ" by Isaac Watts)

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Upon Holy Thursday Night

I really, really wanted to write a Holy Thursday blog. The Triduum - these most holy days of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday - is the peak of my year each year. It is the culmination of so much work and prayer and efforts and more work for the RCIA process. It is approached via 40 days of sacrifice and contemplation. It is the summit of this strenuous walk through the mysteries of faith that takes place in each liturgical year.

I'll be honest though, in my heart I feel like I'm still roaming the valley below rather than nearing the summit. I don't like writing from the valley. At Mass tonight, the tension between the difficult and unresolved and the blessed and wondrous was nearly too much for me. I find now that I am unable to succinctly say all that I'd like to say. And maybe that's alright. Maybe I'll try again tomorrow. Maybe I ought to just focus on one thing tonight. For the sake of a little peace of heart and because I won't be able to think straight for too much longer as the nighttime pain reliever is beginning to do battle with this monstrous headache of mine.

What I kept coming around to as I contemplated Holy Thursday and as I prayed at Mass was the incredible gift that the priesthood has been to me. I'm not even talking broad spectrum, 'the Church could not survive without the priesthood' appreciation. I could expound upon the necessity of the priesthood, the beauty and gift of Christ's ministers, the indispensible link between them and the Sacraments. But such catechetical themes aren't actually on my mind. Today I gave a lot of thought to my friends, the priests.

Among people of my aquaintance, and I'm sure this is true for so many, there are plenty of individuals who either have no personal experience with priests, off-putting experiences with priests, or downright negative experiences with priests. Each time I discover this to be true of someone I am struck with fresh force by how radically this is not true for me. In my 28 years, I have accumulated innumerable holy encounters, blessed friendships, and upbuilding influences all through priests.

Fr. Ray Zuegner
Fr. Mike Steber
Fr. Dave Pivonka
Fr. Dan Pattee
Fr. Robb Jurkovich
Fr. Mike Chenier
Fr. Robbie Favazza
Fr. Jay Mello
Fr. Mark Vandersteeg

That's my little litany, which I am certain is missing some important names. The presence of these men in my life at various stages and circumstances is a simple matter of Christ making Himself present to me. As teachers, as preachers, as friends, these men deserve my thanks and respect, my prayers and service.

Christ is my priest - my High Priest. He ministers to me; He extends grace and forgiveness to me; He admonishes and encourages me; He challenges me with truth; He intercedes for me; He works for my eternal salvation. Christ is my priest, and He shares His priesthood with men of this world that He might continue to walk among us and lay down His life for us.

"If we had faith, we would see God hidden in the priest like a light behind glass, like wine mixed with water." (St. John Vianney, Patron of Priests)