Thursday, May 26, 2016

Because the Saints Said So: Manifesting the Truth (St. Thomas Aquinas)

Speaking the truth is not the same as living truthfully. They ought to go hand in hand, without a doubt, but they are not one single matter. Why is this matter on my mind today? Because of this weighty declaration by St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the greatest minds in the history of Christianity:
“As a matter of honor, one man owes it to another to manifest the truth.”
When I hear "manifest," I think of something being revealed and made known in a way that the recipient has not experienced before. It is a tangible illustration. And when I hear "the truth," my mind goes straight to Jesus. Surely though, the truth refers to every facet of God's revelation though - from Natural Law to the words of Sacred Scripture to the daily applications of Christian morality.

We have a duty of honor to manifest the truth to others! By words, actions, proclamations, stories, lifestyles, choices, reactions, attitudes - the list can go on and on. Because there are so many ways to manifest the truth, perhaps we could consider that doing it well is an essential part of that duty.

It is natural, when you are certain of a truth and that truth has done something remarkable for you, to desire to share it with others. It is natural and it is good. Sometimes, in our eagerness or confidence though, we can be unfortunately misguided in our methods. Great intentions but terrible form. I'd wager we have all experienced this, both as the truth teller and as the recipient.

Do not hesitate to manifest the truth, my friends, but be sure to tailor your approach to the circumstances. Consider the audience. Consider your relationship with them. Consider their situation. What in their life could make them receptive to what you are sharing, or make them resistant? What do they know of you that would cause them to trust what you are illustrating? St. Francis Xavier wisely noted, "The better friends you are, the straighter you can talk, but when you are only on nodding terms, be slow to scold." If what you are sharing contradicts what they have previously believed or how they have behaved, are you standing on fertile ground that is ready to welcome the seed of truth you are offering? Or are you coming at them with your proverbial finger pointed and a glint of pride in your eye?

One of the most important precursors to sharing the truth, whatever bit of truth it might be, is a humble recognition of your own need for that truth. "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us (1 John 1:8)." If I say I am better than another person because I possess the truth, I am wrong. If I say I am better than the person I was before knowing that truth, I am on the right track.

In knowing our own need, we know why others need us to manifest the truth. If we truly "owe" our brothers and sisters the truth, as St. Thomas states, there must be a reason! Why do each of us need the truth? Because we are created by God, in the image of God, for eternal life with God. What I am trying to say is, intentions matter. If I am speaking the truth to another, it is not out of pride or judgment. I speak it because I hope they can know the love that I have experienced, and the joy, the strength, and the adventure that comes of knowing Him who is Truth. I speak it because I not only long to live my eternity in Heaven, but I long to have you there with me. If my intentions in manifesting the truth fall short of this (which they so often do), I do not stop trying to manifest the truth but I do keep purifying those intentions.

From our humility in accepting the truth for ourselves, comes change. Our lives must back up what we might say to another about the truth. When this is true, "saying" can become unnecessary in certain cases. The living speaks for itself and attracts others to the truth. No one expresses it better than St. John, I guess, for I go to him again: "Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth (1 John 3:18)."

I write this as one who needs to hear it. As one who must pray from the soul, "Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling (Psalm 43:3)!" And my prayer goes on, "Make me a beam of that light of your truth."

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Because the Saints Said So: On Sadness and the Spirit (St. Pio)

In the past few years, the saint whose words and stories have resonated with me the most is St. Pio of Pietrelcina. An Italian farmboy born in 1887; a world renowned miracle worker known for his humility, integrity, and simple wisdom by the time he died in 1968. There are plenty of biographical details worth examining from his life but that is not the purpose of this post.

Numerous statements by St. Pio have I read, considered, prayed over, and taken to heart. Most recently, the one that is staying with me is this: "Don't allow sadness to dwell in your soul, for sadness prevents the Holy Spirit from acting freely."

My first response was, "Well, that's just too much to ask!" But I stared a little longer at the words. I wondered if it was a matter of refusing to be sad about anything. That seemed unnatural and impossible. Was it about not letting the sadness reach your soul then? That could be debated, I suppose, but I still believed I hadn't hit the nail on the head. True sadness does reach the soul. That's the nature of the beast. So what then was St. Pio challenging me to do?

Eventually my eyes lingered on one word: dwell. Don't allow sadness to dwell.
Dwell: verb: 1. to live or stay as a permanent resident; reside; 2. to live or continue in a given condition or state
Don't let sadness be a resident. Allow sadness to be a visitor. Treat it as such. Visitors require attention. Meet the needs of the visitor of sadness. Ignoring it is not appropriate. Visitors (hopefully) come for a reason. They are present but they are expected to depart. Visitors are not permanent residents.

St. Pio is not demanding the impossible. Nor is he saying anything that wasn't already indicated long ago in Scripture by Jesus and his apostles.
So you also are now in anguish. But I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you (John 16:22).
Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted (Matthew 5:4). 
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us (Romans 8:18). 
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who in his great mercy gave us a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you who by the power of God are safeguarded through faith, to a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the final time. In this you rejoice, although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire, may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:3-7, emphasis added).
They and St. Pio challenge us to give sadness its proper due but nothing more.

What should you allow to "dwell in your soul?" Well, St. Pio touches on that, too. The rightful resident of your soul is the Holy Spirit, and therefore the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit.
Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you (1 Corinthians 3:16)?
The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength [fortitude], a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the Lord, and his delight shall be the fear of the Lord [piety] (Isaiah 11:2-3a, emphasis & notes added).
In contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law (Galatians 5:22-23, emphasis added).

When visitors like sadness are allowed to act as residents, the life and work of the Holy Spirit is fettered and obstructed. Luggage blocking the hallways where the Spirit should move freely. In the case of sadness, it is the fruit of joy that is most inhibited. However if joy is a resident of your soul while sadness, caused by any number of things, is only given a visitor's pass, you will not lose your joy.

Joy is not merely a higher degree of happiness. It is different than happiness. Joy is rooted in hope, particularly the hope of salvation. As its roots then link it to eternity, Joy is not eroded by the changing tides of circumstances the way that happiness can be. Certainly circumstances can affect our joy, strengthening or weakening our awareness of joy or our ability to choose joy in our reactions to things. Circumstances cannot steal authentic joy though. That is among its key differences from happiness.

It is wrong to say that a Christian should never be sad. It is right to say that a Christian does not allow sadness to be a resident of the soul.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Approaching From Another Side

Yesterday, in a half hour's time, I thoroughly rearranged the flow of chapter one of Full of Days. Mostly the same details and action, different order. I think I have improved it. I am never certain because no matter how many times I revise my book, I can always find more to change. It causes me to wonder how I will ever know when it is ready to be sent out alone into the big, scary world of manuscript submissions. This never ending journey known as Revision makes me laugh at the fact that I tried to find a publisher so soon after my first draft was completed all those years ago. Oh, innocent, naive Carrie Sue.

Every reader knows that the first pages of a book are critically important for creating a desire to read further. This is as true for publishers as it is for readers. So, no pressure on perfecting that first chapter, Ms. First Time Novelist. Nope, no pressure at all.

Chapter one's needs have hounded me. The feedback I've received from readers and my own experience as a reader made it clear that it has never quite been what it needs to be. I sit and stare at the lines of the pages and I am stuck. My brain locks into "I wrote it this way for a reason" mode and I can't seem to see how to make more than minor tweaks.

What inspired me to finally tackle the rearranging of the first chapter was some time spent listening to The Piano Guys. These immeasurably talented men gave me the perspective I needed. In addition to other beautiful pieces, they specialize in covering popular hit songs on pianos and cellos and more. Often the covers are composed as mash ups with gorgeous classical pieces. The result is incredible and I could listen for hours. Here's a favorite. Give it a listen and then come back to me.

See what I mean? A feast for the ears. Listening to them yesterday, song after song, I could not stop marveling at what they accomplished via a new approach. They take material already created, already well known in its first form, and approach it from a new direction. A new angle, a new order, a new combination, and, voila! A new creation.

Of course as I type up these thoughts, it becomes clear that this perspective applies to a whole lot in life. Yesterday though, I was simply grabbing hold of the inspiration to rewrite chapter one yet again.

Maybe that chapter is ready now. Maybe The Piano Guys led me to where I needed to be. Maybe there's still more to change. Time will tell. The lesson that a radially new approach to the same material can produce beautiful results is one I'll hang onto as I continue on my way.

Ok, here's another, just for fun.

Thursday, May 5, 2016


Writing Prompt: He had my name written all over him.
Writing Time: 15 minutes

He had my name written all over him. Literally. Polly. Polly. Polly. Polly. At least 50 times, it was written on his skin in blue marker. I stopped in my tracks. Stared. I couldn't help it. The man looked to be 60 years old but only at first glance. My stare continued and it became clear that under the grime and the sunburn and the shaggy, unkempt blonde hair, he might have been 40. Besides the letters, the man wore dirty plaid cargo shorts and leather sandals, one heel strap loose from its seam at the inside of his ankle. Finally, he looked my way. His eyes darted from mine to the ground, to the tree, back to me, back to the ground.


I tried to look away.


What a strange, unsettling coincidence. That's how I would remark to my friends later tonight. I was meeting them for drinks at our favorite bar. I imagined describing the details of the scene. I'd include the absence of anyone else in this corner of the park. Maybe I would mention the boat approaching the landing behind the man, and how the sun was low enough to catch the metal of the bench and momentarily blind you.

He wasn't sitting on the bench, my favorite bench. He was standing beside it, one hand resting gingerly on its back. Waiting. Waiting for me? Don't be ridiculous, Polly.


I didn't know where to turn. He'd seen me. He was the sort of person most people steered their path around in a wide berth, not wishing to smell him, much less chance touching him. I could see in the low hang of his neck the silent rejection he encountered in every hour of  every day. My father had taught us that every single person had dignity and worth. Even when they didn't know it themselves or they had buried it by their choices, still they possessed it. My father taught us to always leave a person feeling more certain of their dignity than before they encountered us. Damn it, Dad. If I walked away now, this man would know rejection once more. I could feel the threat of my father's disapproval from heaven above.

Don't get me wrong. If I sensed any danger, I would have walked away. Briskly, my eyes and ears on alert, I would have left the scene. There was no danger here. I knew it as well as I knew my own name.


Monday, May 2, 2016

10 Things I Love In This Life

1. My son's laugh. Timothy's laugh is the most delicious combination of giggle and belly laughter. It is physically impossible not to smile when I hear it coming from another room. The sound, especially when it is near my ear, is a mood altering drug.

2. My husband's touch. The first time he met my closest friends, we were out to dinner at a favorite restaurant. I wore a sleeveless black blouse and fidgeted nervously throughout the meal. At one point, he leaned over and lightly kissed my bare shoulder. That simple, gentle touch was felt straight through to my fingertips . I love when he takes my hand; when he absently caresses my back as he's passing by; when our feet rest against each other as we fall asleep. Matt's touch is full of reassurance and tenderness in the ordinary moments of our lives.

3. My daughter's smile. From four weeks old, Annabelle has specialized in open-mouthed, pure-joy smiles. I have considered printing every single photo I have of her top notch smile (there  are many) for a photo album that could cure any sad day.  The fact that I am often on the receiving end of her smile is one of the deepest resources of happiness I could possess. 

4. My stepson's hugs. Nethanial has the warmest of hearts but he's also nearly a teenager, which means sometimes the hug is a from the side, one arm around the shoulder, quick release version. That's ok, because those only increase the value of the other version he's capable of offering. From the time I first bonded with him six years ago, he has demonstrated great skill in the field of hugging. Arms wrapped tightly, his smooth cheek pressed against me and his thick, messy hair tickling my chin. It's a treat every single time.
5. A novel that makes me doubt I am any good at writing. That sounds negative, and the experience has the potential of negativity, but in actuality it is a great thing. Reading a sentence so well crafted that I can't imagine writing one of its equal, or finishing a paragraph with the sensation of seeing that moment of the story with my own two eyes - it fills me with satisfying excitement and the driving ache to write more.
6. Finding a new favorite. I'm of the mind that we need not limit ourselves to a very few select "favorites." A favorite gives pleasure. It's uplifting and encouraging. So discovering a new favorite is such a blessing! Favorite hiking trail, favorite lighthouse, favorite coffee shop (requirement: best chai tea in town), favorite song, favorite ice cream flavor, favorite episode of your favorite show, favorite prayer, favorite hairstyle, favorite shoes, favorite scripture verse, favorite sound, favorite photo. They are a bouquet of gratitude; a collection of guarantees that there are things to enjoy in my life.
7. My characters. I don't know if I will ever have my books published. I don't know how many people will read them or whether or not they'll be glad they read them. What I do know is I have created people I love. I care about them. I'm interested in them. I look forward to hearing what they have to say and where they will take me next. I discover more about them and myself the more time we spend together.
8. Pasta.
9. Lake Michigan. My roots run through the woods of the Upper Peninsula to Lake Michigan. The lake touches home - both my first home and my current one - and it touches adventures away from home. I close my eyes and listen to it. I feel its waves slapping my feet. In its calm moments I see serenity poured out to the horizon and beyond. I snap picture after picture. Sunrises, sunsets, swims, boats, beaches, hikes, lighthouses, dunes... They are all splendid on Lake Michigan.

10. The Eucharist. I could say so much but Jesus said it all. "I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh" (John 6:51).