Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Banana Bikes and Moth Balls

Happy Halloween!

We've been weakening our dental work in the office all week with an assortment of Halloween candy. The bags of candy these days are so much classier than when I was a kid. We considered a Snickers Bar the ultimate in generosity, pawing through piles of that orange- and black-wrapped oddity that is apparently stale when it comes off the assembly line, gyppy Saf-T-suckers and off-brand life savers, and boxes of raisins (the hugest gyp of all; a laxative on Halloween!)

Now, the norm is the miniature name-brand candy bars, as well as gummy everything.

I miss some favorite candies of my childhood (1960's) - what we called "moth balls," which were malted milk balls, which I still love, and "Banana Bikes" which I SWEAR I thought was the right name until only about five years ago, when I discovered that they were Banana Taffy from the Kathryn Beich company. Not until I read a newspaper account of a factory fire there did I learn the right name. I like the Bike name better. They were about as "banana" as Circus Peanuts are...vanilla?....what flavor are those, anyway?

I miss the days when candy like Banana Bikes and
Now and Laters made your mouth sweat.

I'm a candy fogey.

Monday, October 23, 2006

A little Catholic humor

Saint Dominic, Saint Francis and Saint Ignatius of Loyola are transported back in time and place to the Birth of Our Lord.

St. Dominic, seeing the Incarnation of the Word, is sent into ecstasy.

St. Francis, seeing God become a helpless child, is overcome with humility.

St. Ignatius of Loyola takes St Joseph and Our Lady aside and asks "Have you given any thought to His education?"

Sunday, October 22, 2006

I get book recommendations from dead people

When I was in college, I worked at a public library in my home town. People whose personalities and wit I enjoyed would check out books, or bring them back, and I would take note of what they read and gave the books a try myself. It was a sort of stealth book club, and I found lots of authors and subjects I enjoyed reading about.

One of my favorite fictional characters is Lord Peter Wimsey, an English gentleman detective in books written by Dorothy Sayers in the 1920's. In the book Busman's Honeymoon, Peter's mother the Dowager Duchess makes reference to the book The Stars Look Down, presumably the linked one by A.J.Cronin, and the "latest Angela Thirkell."

Finally, after years of reading and re-reading about Lord Peter, I read both and I found a new treasure of English wit and life in Angela Thirkell.

A couple of weeks ago, I saw the Dick Cavett interview series on the Turner Classic Movie channel. Bette Davis was being interviewed and mentioned that she considered the best fictional presentation of what Hollywood was like at the time she was beginning in movies to be What Makes Sammy Run? by Budd Schulberg. I just finished it and it was a great story expressed in a writing style contemporary with the period.

Next on my list is The Playboy of the Western World, written in 1911. It's a play, and I'm not much for reading plays, but it was mentioned in another book, and I'm darned if I can remember where I saw it, so what the heck.

When we leave school, how can we be directed into new paths of literature, theatre, the arts? The media? Yeah, right. That Amazon avatar or whatever you call it that says "people who bought A also bought B" is actually kind of helpful, too. But right now, I'm using dead people.

Have you had success finding one book from another?

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Close, so close

The sun, the moon, the stars, the seas, the hills and the plains -
Are not these, O Soul, the Vision of Him who reigns?
Is not the Vision He? tho' He be not that which he seems?
Dreams are true while they last, and do we not live in dreams?
Earth, these solid stars, this weight of body and limb,
Are they not sign and symbol of thy division from Him?
Dark is the world to thee: thyself art the reason why;
For is He not all but that which has power to feel "I am I"?
Glory about thee, without thee; and thou fulfillest thy doom
Making him broken gleams, and a stifled splendour and gloom.
Speak to Him thou for He hears, and Spirit with Spirit can meet -
Closer is he than breathing, and nearer than hands and feet.
God is law, say the wise; O Soul, and let us rejoice,
For if he is thunder by law the thunder is yet his voice.

Flower in the crannied wall,
I pluck you out of the crannies,
I hold you here, root and all, in my hand,
Little flower - but if I could understand
What you are, root and all, and all in all,
I should know what God and man is.

Hallowed be thy name - Halleluiah! -
Infinite ideality!
Immeasurable Reality!
Infinite Personality!
Hallowed be thy name - Halleluiah!
We feel we are nothing - for all is Thou and in Thee;
We feel we are something - that also has come from thee;
We know we are nothing - but Thou wilt help us to be.
Hallowed be thy name - Halleluiah!

- by Alfred Lord Tennyson (of all people)

"Closer than He than breathing, nearer than hands and feet." Right here. Right now. Glory be to God.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Holy Boldness - retreat review

I've come to hate the word "unpacking" as in "let's unpack this problem and see how we can solve it" or "this Scripture verse needs some unpacking before we can understand it."

But I am unpacking after this Women's Retreat. I took a set of expectations, a sort-of-willing and sort-of-trusting heart, some neatly arranged trepidations and hope, hope. I came back with laughter, hours of prayer under my belt, new praise songs I need CD's of, a bundle of tersely delivered advice, a sense of what peace is, and knowledge by seeing, if not by experiencing, that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are expressed in the same group of people who later can charm the retreat manager into opening the TV room so they can watch the Detroit Tigers do their stuff.

In no particular order, here is what I took away from the weekend. I am writing them down to get them out in front of me, so I fit the pieces together in various ways and see what I have:

The Speaker

The retreat master Fr. Thomas Dubay was outstanding. A precise man, a scholar, a priest to the bone. He has an academic sense of humor, that cautious Minnesota twang, and a lovely hokey archaic turn of phrase, not quite of the "23 skidoo, oh you kid" vintage, but close - to any of my sister retreatants reading this, I say "zippy-doo!"

From him, I learned that much of true holiness is direct, brusque, to the point - you are grouchy? Don't be. You want to gossip? Don't. You and your husband each have a preference? (Or your co-worker, or your parent, don't panic) - give in to their preference.

Doesn't that sound a little, well, unaccommodating, uncoddling? Darn right. We are adults and this is the meat, we're way past the spiritual milk. Why do we demand to be charmed into doing what is right? Why must we insist on being driven in golf carts on the Way of the Cross? Our pasts mean nothing, our dysfunctions, our habits - do we claim to be new creatures in Christ?

I also learned a new way of going to Confession, about which more later.

The group

The externals first. 250 women or so, in age ranging from early 20's, maybe late teens, through to the 70's and beyond. Young women with nursing babies, and their mothers at the same retreat. Friends, sisters, sisters-in-law. Easily a dozen nursing babies, brought along and cared for in a separate nursery when not hungry. So many pregnant women, and not made much of; I regret, no, I am horrified, that in many other parts of my little hunk of society, pregnancy is treated as a startling thing, people stare and comment and congratulate but as though it never happened before and might never happen again (and for many of my friends, they make darn sure it won't happen again). God is in control of these women's lives, and it's a fertile field. Jobs - everything, nurses, teachers, lawyers, bus drivers, lots of computer work. Big families. Women travelling in from both coasts. Women with 30 years of Christian life and family, recent reverts and converts. Clothes comfortable to the enth degree; I must buy me a pair of Crocs, the footwear of the Holy Spirit. Lots of skirt-wearing, which I need to do more of myself. No, I don't think jeans are the Devil's handiwork, but there is something about wearing clothes that only women wear that rings a little truer after this weekend.

What Worship Is

I am generally uncomfortable and sorrowful when Christians use the word "worship" when they talk about a sermon bracketed by singing. I think the common phrase "praise and worship" would be more precise as "praise OR worship." This weekend, all of the talks and the prayer meetings led to the true highlight of each day: Mass, the worship of the living God, Emmanuel, God with us not only at a precise historical time, but now in our hearts, and now especially at the time of Mass, present on the altar, the Lamb standing as though slain, and our Heavenly Bread, to be carried away in our very bodies and beings, to fan the flame within and to be spread through the whole world.

But I think I finally got the singing part figured out: it IS praise, and God created us to give Him glory and praise of His Glory. I still prefer to disconnect praise and worship, but I am very willing now to connect singing and praise, singing and prayer. Yeah, I know, He who sings prays twice, (look at the link, too, it's lovely Catholic Nerd stuff), but not for me, until now. It's impressive how many songs these women knew, by heart, and their church's hymnal has been carefully selected and richly added to by many compositions by parishioners. God was good to me because the first night's Mass had mostly songs I not only knew but knew by heart, so I could spend less time fishing for my reading glasses and peering at the text and more time raising my heart and mind to God.

Peace with Pain

This is a cheerful group of women; the laughter at the silly things and the clever things was warm and loud. But talking to them individually, I heard stories of abuse, divorce, death, dying, all the tragedies. They weren't happy, but they were serene, not mindless, but given over to God. There were angry women, and a couple with incomplete thinking (I'm not excluding myself here), but they were striving through Christ to find solutions and peace and eternity. This is a whole community; they pray for each other and cook for each other. They criticize and love, gossip and apologize, comfort and shun, do right and do wrong. From the outside, they might look like automatons of forced happiness, but I see instead people whose lives are in order, or at least pointed toward Divine Order.

The Charism of Holding the Coats

Did I experience an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, at least in the outward "word" gifts of tongues, or prophecy, or interpretation? Did I get my hands raised in praise past my shoulders? Nope. Does this mean that I did not praise charismatically? I don't know, honestly. I had people tell me yes and no. I did feel some pressure and "left-out-ness" when, during the prayer times, women prayed and sang in tongues, danced, when healing was named and prayed about. But other women told me that they felt the same way. Others told me that there were more charisms than those visible ones. I'm ruefully okay with the idea of displaying the Charism of Holding the Coats and Having the Coffee Ready for those who can inspire to prayer others by the Spirit gifts. Actually, I'm a little relieved, since I was just plain scared of the whole idea.

I have no fear of the Mass, of worship, deep intimacy, during that time when we meet at Calvary and the Empty Tomb. God has been so good to me, so consoling, teaches me so much. Perhaps there are others who are afraid of that.

The Same Jesus

I had a concern I didn't express before I left for the retreat that the Jesus I met at this retreat would somehow be different than the one I've come to know at home in my decidedly non-charismatic parish. Since my devout friends at home tend more towards the Opus Dei type (serious, silent, strong and holy), I've seen very little of the outwardly cheerful, passionately praising type of worship, which would be, as fruits of the Spirit received, pointers back to the Source of that Spirit.

If this Retreat Jesus was any different from Home Jesus, I planned on choosing Home Jesus as the Right Jesus, because in silence He found me, loved me, healed me, changed me. This Retreat Jesus was being shown to me, displayed in the beauty of community, and maybe I couldn't tell if I was being touched or healed. Is this incoherent? Sorry, have patience. Praise God, it's the same Jesus! I recognize Him in these women, and in their praise and worship, in their lives and families. Maybe now that I'm over that hump, I may be more open to the Holy Spirit in the future.

The Greatest Relief

In two days, I never heard one heretical word, sang no song that made US the source of good, nothing was taught that gave us any credit for anything but opening up our hearts and wills and minds to God. I didn't have to process anything through the filter I've necessarily crafted, coming from a parish where we can't go too long without an exercise where we alter the "Hail Mary" to make it about us, or hear that the miracle of loaves and fishes was Jesus' influence to make people pull their lunches out from under their coats. The chapel at the retreat center was too small for all of us to fit at Mass, so they put an altar in the main meeting room, but there was no felt-bannerism, where the decorations were plain but the vestments were beautiful, even though ancient reverence was framed in acoustical tile and fluorescent light. I don't think I appreciated that until I got home and it came back to me that I could listen with a whole heart and an unguarded intellect. THAT's worth the drive alone!

Forget Zen - for direct, try Catholic

Do these statements sound too simple?

When you're grouchy, stop it.
When you're pausing on unchaste TV, change the channel.
When you're tempted to exercise your own will, don't.
When you want to tell someone to stop bothering you, instead, smile at them.
Your feelings are not a sin; your actions are.
Take five minutes every day to examine your conscience on a specific sin and it will cease.

What is the sound of one hand clapping (okay, I'm kidding). These aren't simple and they sure as heck aren't easy. Do them not because you will become a happy little golden pool of light, an oasis of harmony to those around you, cue the sappy music, (although you will), but because they are small hidden acts of virtue practiced to put down your will and do God's Will instead, to do great AND small things for love, to join our little acts with the supreme act of Giving. We can't all be burned at the stake, but we can all stop cutting people off in traffic, handing back excess change, smiling silently when the bore you're related to tells the same story, wrong, for the fiftieth time, because of the love you have for those people, given Christ's love for them and love for you.

A life lived this way is as heroic in virtue as any warrior saint's life of brief and blazing self-sacrifice.

In Conclusion

There's a scene at the end of the movie Godspell, which, with its evil uncle Jesus Christ Superstar, formed way too much of the catechesis I received in the 1970's. Purely icky as the theology of that movie was, the end stays in my mind: the various winsome folks who have collected around the mime-faced Jesus (when the words mime and Jesus get into the same sentence, you normally have trouble, but stay with me) take his dead body down from the chain-link fence. His arms have stiffened out to his sides. They carry his body, arms protruding past their shoulders, away from the scene of death. They find themselves on a sidewalk in a downtown area, and as they turn the corner, people and cars and life start to stream past in the cross street. When the camera follows them around the corner, they're gone, seemingly, absorbed into the busy uncaring unseeing swirl of life of the city. But we know they've not disappeared, they're carrying their message of Christ's Death and Sacrifice into the world. That final scene redeems the movie (and the perfect raunchiness of the song "Turn Back, O Man" helps, too) for me.

The women in the retreat certainly took away the Suffering and Risen Christ, not as a secret, preached out of the sides of their mouths, but worn right on their faces and pouring from their hands. I want to be that way, and with His Help, I can be.

Thank you, Christ the King Parish, and thank You, Christ the King!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Skeered of the Holy Spirit

As a half-hearted joke, I've long told my Godly friends that I am terrified of the Holy Spirit. Why?

1. I'm afraid of the commitment

I know that when you meet the Holy Spirit, it's for keeps. It can't be a vague wondering, a maybe experience. I can't meet Him and turn aside and pretend that we didn't connect. That means a permanent point of connection from which I have to proceed. Am I ready?

2. I'm afraid of my reaction

What if something happens? Do I know what that means? No. Will I call attention to myself? God Himself knows that I am delighted to draw a crowd, under my control, delivering some wryly witty (I hope) comment or being friendly and connecting, drawing a crowd together. But this is different. Childishly, I'm worried. Will I cry? Will I be loud? Will I (oh heavens, I squirm) pray out loud? In front of people?

3. What if I'm fooling myself?

What if I'm caught up with the emotion of the moment, and think that the feeling is the Fact? Poop on my perceived strength of mind; I can be just as easily drawn down an avenue where everyone is acting as one, and mistaking that for a real experience of God.

My friends assure me that I HAVE met the Holy Spirit, and I know that I cannot look at the blessed times of prayer and worship I've been given and isolate those as an experience with distinct and separated Gods, as though the Trinity was walled off and individual.

Years ago, in that potent heady near-arrogance of college-fueled intellect, while I was toying (but with serious intent) with God as Energy and Energy as God, I was given a direct knowledge, a personal encounter with God the Father, the Creator. (That was December 10, 1978, in case anybody's interested.) I began to understand my place in the universe, and the universe's place in the mind of God. I, at least for awhile, got myself in right relationship with the world, and gave Him back my origin.

More recently, as I've come to real living faith, I've met Jesus, true God, true Man. I understood that He walked this earth, my earth, at a real time in real history. With my knowledge of Him, I embraced fully everything He did, His passion, His suffering, His death and His resurrection. No more picking and choosing, no more relative Truth, I met Truth and He loves me.

Now, I think I'm going to meet the Force, the Spirit, the Power. It's like meeting a tornado, personally. Well, that's a scary thought.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

My retreat is bigger than your retreat

This weekend, I'm going to the parish of Christ the King in Ann Arbor, Michigan, to attend their annual Women's Retreat. It's worth the over-200-mile drive, to celebrate and worship with charismatic Catholics, including my blogsister Roz. The retreat master is Fr. Thomas Dubay, an ascetic, precise, dryly earnest and witty, older, wonderful priest from the Plains States, who speaks on the contemplative life just about better than anybody living today. To prepare for this retreat, we have all been reading his book, Deep Conversion, Deep Prayer.

Just look at this schedule!

Friday - after arrival, a concelebrated Mass by Fr. Dubay and the pastor, a talk by Fr. Dubay, night prayers, and our choice of Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament continuing until midnight or fellowship with the other attendees, or both!

Saturday - Morning prayer, breakfast, another talk by Fr. Dubay, the Sacrament of Confession, more Adoration time, lunch, prayer ministry, Rosary, Mass (the Masses are scheduled for at least an hour and a half, how wonderful), another talk, dinner, more prayer ministry, night prayer and Adoration until midnight

Sunday - Morning prayer, breakfast, Mass, a last talk with some Q&A time, lunch and beat it out of there.

That's what I call a retreat! No crappy relationship exercises, no experiments, no labyrinths, no reiki, no nothing but Jesus Christ.

What's kept me from retreats for over 25 years, besides years of shocking faithlessness, is wastes of time like that experienced by a friend who went on retreat last year to a local Illinois shrine, and she related, with some happiness, poor thing, that, among their other activities, they took baby food jars, filled them with colored sand in layers, and made the beach that represented their ideal. Their ideal what? I was tempted to ask her if they made a circle and then took turns going into the middle and falling into people's arms as an exercise of trust, but I didn't have the requisite charity to keep the scorn out of my voice...

This retreat, on the other hand, is way bigger than me, and I'm simultaneously thrilled and petrified. More on my chickenhood to come before I leave Friday.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Mortification explained, beautifully

Read this article from Godspy. It is a loving, passionate, sober and clear explanation of the place that suffering and and mortification (corporal and spiritual) should have in our lives of faith.

It's a jolt to read a testimony with such common sense and love, grounded in a regular guy's life. And extra credit for using the term "money shot" in a holy way!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Through God's goodness, we're reading through Job at daily Mass right now. Except for the fact that the feast of the Guardian Angels was celebrated instead, yesterday's first reading would have been Job 1:6-22, with the Devil's cavalier and chilling remark that he was "roaming the earth and patrolling it." (Don't you get a feeling for his personality from that line?) Job's world falls apart: crops, cattle, children, all swept away in cruelty, chaos and violence. And he says "The Lord giveth, the Lord taketh away, blessed be the Name of the Lord." Today in Job 3, he laments "why was I ever born?" I peeked and tomorrow Job tells his friends "If I appealed to Him and He answered my call, I could not believe that He would hearken to my words!"

Been there, done that. I didn't sleep, Father didn't show up for Mass (power failure, not his fault, we had a Communion Service instead), and then my day of work was a parade of pratfalls, humiliating work mistake after interpersonal blunder after diet destruction after sandbagging by fellow staff after stern email lecture from senior manager. I tried repeating between gritted teeth Job's line of "blessed be the Name of the Lord" and I got zip comfort, no consolation from it. But that's faith for you: we seek the "Lord of consolations, not the consolations of the Lord."

The Lord was good enough to give me a door to my office, so I could close it and have a nice old-fashioned cry, which was a terribly mature thing to do, no?

We are so fickle and weak - nobody pulled out my toenails, nobody in my family died, I was forgiven and understood and complimented during all the awfulness, but still I felt small and I HATE feeling small.

From the fear of being humiliated, Jesus, dear Lord, deliver me!

For an encore, I figure I'll round out the evening by setting fire to my hair. Hope your days went better than mine - but both were blessings, I trust and know.


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"There is no God who condones taking the life of an innocent human being. This much we know."

Pres. Barack Obama, Feb 5, 2009