Tuesday, December 30, 2008

End of Advent

Closed until next season!

Thursday, December 25, 2008


The figure of the reconciler, of the divine human Jesus Christ, steps into the middle between God and the world, into the center of all that happens. Through this figure the mystery of the world is disclosed, just as in the same figure the mystery of God is revealed.


[B]ehold the incarnate God, the unfathomable mystery of God's love for the world. God loves human beings. God loves the world.

~Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ecce Homo, in Meditations on the Cross

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


Chartres Cathedral Nativity

Such a loss! Such a keen and tearing pain. Even when I am in a crowded room, there is a loneliness I never knew existed. Comforting God, I have turned to you so many times for solace, and I come again. While the world is bright and sparkling, my heart feels leaden and has an emptiness that cannot be filled.

Lord, how can I enter into this season of joy? In my head I celebrate your birth into this world, but in my everyday life, I am filled with a grief that runs so very deep. You blessed me with a loving relationship and now it is gone from my life. How can I be faithful to that love and the memory of that love and my sorrow in this season of "Rejoice!"??

Tears are so close to the surface all the time and helpful friends who want to "keep me busy" don't seem to really understand that I need to embrace my grief. I am afraid of letting go of the sadness and losing the deep love connection I had.

Instead of entering into the Rejoice of Christmas, I long for the sorrow of Lent. I beg you Lord, show me how the two are connected. I ponder the name Emmanuel and know that it means "God with us." With us. With me in this world, in this sorrow. If I look beyond my pain, I know that you, too, suffered so much in this world. I never understood so clearly before that Emmanuel is what your nativity is really about. You are in my world, in my pain.

Thank you, Lord, for the loved one you blessed my life with. Grant me now in my grief, a peace. Give me a comfort that might not make the tears go away, but that lets me feel your presence as you take up a place deep in my heart, with me.

(Another one from the
Creighton Advent Website.)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Prayer as Expectant Attention

Giotto's Nativity Fresco in Padua, 1305-06

Praying with the Nativity scriptures can help us with a profound support for our everyday lives. The gospels paint us beautiful portraits of how Our God comes to us in the midst of great poverty. The age of Elizabeth, Gabriel's annuniciation to Mary, no room in the inn, enemies out to get the newborn, all surround the central mystery - our God is faithful.

Our God's fidelity is not only not limited by great poverty, it is most apt in places of great poverty. The way the nativity happened then can tell us a great deal about the "style" of our God. And, it can open our eyes and our expectation to the places of great poverty in our lives now. Whenever I ask, "How can this be a place of promise?" or "How can I expect God to be present in this mess?" I am being invited to experience the mystery of the Incarnation in my life.

Eventually, I begin to look for and to really anticipate special intimacy with Jesus in the difficult, challenging, painful, empty, power-less situations of my life. If I desire to find intimacy with God in all things, I'll pay special attention to the povery places of my life.

(This is from the
Creighton Advent Website. I hope I am providing credit as desired and appropriate, so that the Nebraskan Jesuits do not feel compelled to come down to Key West and bust me.)

Monday, December 22, 2008


There are, as I have found over time, people who in response to great loss write brilliant and illuminative sermons, offer prayers of deep insight and faith, compose music expressive of our deepest hopes.

Most of us, however, do well to say what we see, to collect those fragments of language and sound and vision that speak to us, to offer up the pieces that reflect an unsure and tortured encounter with the mystery of death.

If we write it down, or speak it out loud, that is something.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Tanner's Annunciation

Tanner's Annunciation

This might be my favorite painting in the world. All over the internet this time of year, it remains fresh to me. In the past I've liked it because, frankly, Mary looks a lot like I did as a very young woman, and her puzzled expression confirms the likeness.

This year, I've noticed other things. The messy bed. The worn surroundings.

The uncompromising light.

Is that what we pray for, when we are so bruised and fragile that the flames of the advent candles threaten to engulf us in sorrow?

A birth that can lead only to Good Friday, because it is only there that we can be sure that God knows us?

Uncompromising, indeed.

Friday, December 19, 2008

As Advent Calls Us

15th century Russian Icon (Here)

This is the loveliest and most compelling Advent piece I've encountered in a long time, maybe ever.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


Dome - Basilica Santa Maria Maggiore

In spite of myself, I am finding small new gifts this season. Steering clear of the usual traditions which as the source of much joy in the past have become intolerable reminders of what we have lost, I bump into other things.

One of the benefits of my immersion into Ignatian spirituality has been the discovery of the music of Palestrina. I didn't know why it kept popping up in various Jesuit contexts, but I finally did a quick search today and learned that his life spanned much of the 16th century (Ignatius lived during the first half of that century) and that he was a major figure in the development of Catholic church music. During the 1560s he held an appointment at Santa Maria Maggiore, one of the five major basilicas of Rome; during the following decade, he lost his brother, two sons, and wife to the plague.

When we visited Rome in 2000, we stayed in the Maria Maggiore neighborhood and spent our evenings eating gelato in the piazza outside the church. These days, my shaky and tentative journey back to life includes connections to the prayer and music of the 16th century. I don't know why I'm so surprised.

From Palestrina's Missa Brevis:

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Eyes As Flame

Among the many losses associated with this season has been the music that has so moved me for decades. I can't bear to hear it. I cannot bear much of anything associated with Christmas or its traditions ~ and music, of course, heightens all emotional response.

This carol, though ~ I can listen to it sparingly, and primarily for the second phrase in the second line. I cannot countenance the thought that Mary had an ounce of meekness in her, at least not as we know the word. But ~ if this event took place in any way remotely related to the narrative as it comes to us via Luke, then: yes, the angel Gabriel's eyes could have only been wild with fire. If this event and those that followed offer any hope at all to a people completely undone, a group in who I count myself this year, then the invitation could have been offered only by an angel whose eyes were ablaze with light.

And if you need them to listen along, the lyrics:

The angel Gabriel from Heaven came,
His wings as drifted snow, his eyes as flame;
“All hail,” said he, “thou lowly maiden Mary,
Most highly favored lady,” Gloria!“

For know a bless├Ęd mother thou shalt be,
All generations laud and honor thee,
Thy Son shall be Emmanuel, by seers foretold,
Most highly favored lady,” Gloria!

Then gentle Mary meekly bowed her head,
“To me be as it pleaseth God,” she said,
“My soul shall laud and magnify His holy Name.”
Most highly favored lady, Gloria!

Of her, Emmanuel, the Christ, was born
In Bethlehem, all on a Christmas morn,
And Christian folk throughout the world will ever say—
“Most highly favored lady,” Gloria!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Saturday, December 13, 2008


I would go back, if I could. I would go back to August, when I was worn out from my CPE summer and looking forward to a weeklong silent retreat. I would go back to anticipating my second year of seminary, an exciting internship, and more time at home than I had last year. I would go back to being the mother of three living children ~ irritated at one of them for not making it to his cousin's wedding, sorry that another could not join us in North Carolina, curious about another's new romance. If prayer offered magical solutions, I would pray to go back. That life we had ~ it didn't seem that we were asking so much. No boat, no vacation home, no fancy cars; not even the needed plumbing repairs. Three healthy children and the prospect of their futures to enjoy. That was enough. Everything else could have fallen away and that would still have been way more than enough.

But prayer is not magic. Prayer is God with us, us with God. Prayer is listening and noticing. So we don't get to go back but maybe, in the light trying to break through in December, I can notice some things.

And here is what I have noticed this week. I have, as a consequence of my son's death, received what I think must be some of the most extraordinary missives ever written. Emails, cards, letters -- the form of transmission doesn't matter. The words do. Some are about my son, some about those of us left behind, some about God. There is apparently something about magnitude of loss that drives ordinary people to eloquence.

I literally carry some of this writing around with me. There are moments, many of them, when I think that I will not make it to the next one, and then I read what people have sent me. I read them as prayers, regardless of how they were intended. I look for what God might be saying, in a phrase or a paragraph, and sometimes I see them, small clues to the mystery that binds us together, whether the people who articulated them knew what they were doing or not.

If you have a friend who is longing for someone else this Advent, especially someone who died in the last year or two, sit down this week-end and write a note, or send an email. It might be the most important thing you do this month.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Advent List, Week Two, Year One

1. patience

2. wilderness

3. calm

4. mountains

5. insight

6. valleys

7. vision

8. road

9. memory

10. desire

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Possible Light

I bought some candles today.

Most people are well into Christmas preparations. Two weeks from today, right?

Most years by now, I would have ordered turkeys, filled the kitchen with the nonperishables, purchased gifts and wrapping paper, started playing Christmas CDs, scouted out tree locations, organized my friends to bring food on Christmas night.

I can't think about it.

Today I received a beautiful note from someone who has tried many times over the past three months to bring some hope into my life.

Gratitude? Is that what I felt? It seems like a foreign country, but one which I might visit again.

So I went out and bought candles.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Miserere Mei, Deus (Psalm 51)

These days, it's all about the music.

Give it the full ten minutes -- you are unlikely to regret the time.

(And I can't get this one to embed.)

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

I'm Just Saying

I think it would be a good thing if people felt constrained to ask and listen rather than to offer advice or assurance about a situation with respect to which they know nothing.

If you have not balanced on the crumbling edge of a precipice, please don't tell me how to do it.

Monday, December 8, 2008

How Long?

I found that this past week-end, for the first time since my son died at the beginning of September, I felt a longing for church: for worship in community. The first time I had felt that genuine desire in almost fourteen weeks.

One of my friends tells me that it was six months for her.

Another has gone back every Sunday since the beginning, and sobs through every service.

I've been to my own church a couple of times. There is something both reassuring and excruciating in finding the same patterns and music as before, in hearing familiar texts, in listening haphazardly (the best I can do right now) to a powerful sermon.

This past week-end I decided to go to a Saturday afternoon Mass. Three days back at school earlier in the week had taken their toll, and I knew that morning services were going to be too much to manage. What I didn't take into account was that hundreds of Catholics choose to meet their weekly Mass obligation on Saturday afternoon. And I didn't know that the service had been preceded by a parish service day in which 950 people had fanned out across the city to offer themselves to various organizations. By the time they got to the Mass that preceded a community dinner, they were pretty charged up.

So it was all a little too energetic for me. But the sermon and the music both spoke to me, and it was very good to be in a place where people were praying.

I don't know how long it takes before the fit feels right. Time of day, energy level, lighting, liturgy, community. Like almost everything else that we take for granted, the combination of stimulii feels like an assault when we are fragile and off-balance.

How long? Ever?

Sunday, December 7, 2008


As it turns out, it might be a harder prayer than one could have imagined at the end of The Exercises.

Saturday, December 6, 2008


We've only gone away for Christmas once since we had children and, when we did, this is where we went, because Chicago Son was there.

We have decided to go away again this year, although not quite so far.

"As long as you know that we won't feel any better," said the Lovely Daughter.

I know.

Friday, December 5, 2008

If You Could

I was thinking about prayer; more specifically, about intercessory prayer.

I was thinking about it as I watched the news last night. Security (or lack thereof) in Mumbai. Cholera in Zimbabwe. Champagne at an art opening, confusingly related to an indictment against UBS. Death and life and chaos, always.

If you could only pray for one thing, I wondered, what would it be?

For the end of death. Love may be stronger than death, but the consequence is a deeper anguish. One does not, however, long for the end of love. One longs for the end of death, for the eradication of that terrible breach that separates us from one another.

The end of death. The promise of Advent.

When Easter comes, my friend's husband will have been dead for a year. Will she feel the tiny flame of that promise flickering to life? Will it burn; will it singe her insides?

Advent hope: Scorched earth.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Advent List, Week One, Year One

1. extravaganza holiday lighting house yard trees neighborhood friends who do not believe in God

2. eggnog I used to love eggnog

3. Pier I sparkly wrapping paper ornaments dishes

4. packed church trumpet accompaniment O Come O Come Emmanuel

5. Key West guidebook shall we go to a galaxy far far away

6. Tanner Annunciation I see things in it I have never seen before

7. nativity set all those Italian pieces purchased to charm small children stored in the basement can I bear to unpack it

8. doctor's office magazines there are more heart attacks on December 25 than on any other day

9. rain slush sleet snow clouds gray

10. the people who walked in darkness

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Memories Unspoken

Within a day of returning home from Thanksgiving with my in-laws, I received two emails from friends offering holiday solace and expressing the hope that our dinner had at least been filled with stories and memories of our son.


Not a word, with one exception: He did come up in the context of a story told by his twin brother.

What was that, that reluctance to name the one person who was foremost in everyone's thoughts? I know that he wasn't forgotten, but the jovial insistence on behaving as if all were as usual only enhanced my feelings of sadness and isolation. In the absence of conversation about the person never absent from my thoughts, I found that I had hardly a word to say.

Such an odd disjunction. My in-laws are the steady family of churchgoers, those with a lifetime of committment to religious community behind them. But it's me, the one with the disjointed history of religious engagement and observance, the one with the family whose narrative defies that of any soap opera, who longs for ritual and articulation.

But it wasn't my home, and so I skipped even my usual toast to Digory Priest, my Mayflower ancestor, knowing that one toast might lead to another, or to an atmosphere of "should we say something?"

The silence made things so much worse. For me, anyway. (I do know that in grief one can only speak for oneself.)


The first draft of this entry turned into something of a rant, targeting the inadequacies of everyone involved. Including, yes, myself. Probably more harmful than helpful. Perhaps instead I should just offer what I would try as a hostess under similar circumstanes. From a practical standpoint, what might have helped?

An advance phone call, I think, asking what might be done to honor the empty place at the table and maybe bring us some comfort. Along with an acceptance of the reality that comfort might be a hollow word. Even better, knowing how many such decisions have to be tackled by the heartbroken immediate family on a daily basis, a phone call offering a plan -- a plan to which we could have acquiesced, or which we could have rejected -- would have been most welcome. A simple acknowledgment of the difficulties of the holiday season, a suggestion for consciously incorporating the new reality into them, a spoken willingness to share the burden. Sometimes words do matter as much as actions do.

We haven't forgotten him. We don't forget him for a second. You can say his name aloud. Please say his name aloud.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Friendship of the Lord

God is faithful; by God you were called into the fellowship of God's Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
~ I Corinthians 1:9
(an Advent I reading)

Emily: Do any human beings ever realize life whole they live it? -- every, every minute?
Stage Manager: The saints and poets, maybe.
~Thornton Wilder, Our Town

I wonder whether there is anything which we do not take for granted.

I thought that I was way over on the appreciative side of the spectrum. I considered it one of the gifts of early childlhood loss. My mother and youngest brother, gone in a flash when I was seven. Some twenty-five years later I became a mother who practiced mindfulness long before she heard the term. It could all vanish so quickly; how well I knew that reality. My genuine sense of appreciation for the good gifts of motherhood did not relieve the tedium of years of wipes and dipes, but it did make it possible for me to look and listen, always, for the grin, the gurgle of pleasure, the boast of achievement, the shy smile of success, the blond hair in the sunlight.

But it wasn't enough. We can never be aware of one another, appeciate one another, enough. I could have taken note of every single minute, every single second, and it would not be enough to compensate me now for the loss of my child.

We take this season and the birth of our God into human form for granted, too. Put aside the commercial excesses, extended this year to the horrors of violence in the marketplace. Put aside the trivia and sentimentality. Even when we pay attention, our own daily preoccupations prevent us from comprehending what we are about at this time of year.

Paul could not have sounded the claim that we are called into fellowship with the Son of God unless there is, in fact, a Son of God. A God who shrugged on human form, was carried in human arms, grew into human companionship, died at human hands. A God who as our human friend remains faithful and always with us, even until the end of time. Paul's assertion is astonishing, really, and yet there it is.

Even when we are so lost in sorrow that awareness and appreciation are far, far out of reach.

Even when we cannot know.