Category: Faith

Answered Prayers

In 2005, Beth Holloway’s daughter, Natalee, disappeared while on a school graduation trip in Aruba. Holloway traveled to Aruba to search for Natalee and

[o]n her fourth morning …found a taxi and asked the driver to take her somewhere to pray. ‘He pulled over and there was a large white cross, and he told me to get out of the car, and as I did, I walked to the cross and just fell to the cross on my knees and just started crying and begging and praying to God to give Natalee back,’ she says. ‘I got up, and I went to next cross, repeated my same prayers and dropped to my knees and kept praying and crying and begging for God to give her back.’

“After days of searching for her missing daughter, Holloway says she was in unbearable pain. Though she was unfamiliar with the Catholic tradition of the stations of the cross, she instinctively went from cross to cross, each time seeking an answer. Finally, on the fifth or sixth station, she found one. ‘Complete peace blanketed me, and in that instant somehow I then knew that Natalee was with God, and I knew that he had cared for her through whatever ordeal she had encountered that night, and that’s when I became at peace,’ she says. ‘When my grandmother was always saying, ‘Lay your burdens at the cross,’ I got, at that point, what she was saying. I laid the burden of caring for Natalee at the cross. The work to find out what happened to her had to be done, but the burden was taken from me.'”

Nearly two years ago, a reader asked me “how could God be loving and let Helen die?” Helen is Phronsie’s friend in Margaret Sidney’s The Five Little Peppers Grown Up. When Helen contracts diphtheria, Phronsie prays that God will heal her and is convinced He will. After Helen’s death, Phronsie determines “it wasn’t nice of [God]” to take Helen away. She tells her sister, Polly: “‘Helen was happy here …And she never–never would want to leave her mother alone, to go off to a nicer place. Never, Polly.‘” Phronsie is right. Helen was happy with her mother and never would want to leave to go to a nicer place.

5th station

Simon of Cyrene Helps Jesus Carry The Cross

Natalee Holloway loved her family and never would want to be murdered even to be with God. And certainly, God did not want Joran van der Sloot to murder her. Van der Sloot chose to commit that evil. Yet God did not stop Him. God allows an enormous amount of suffering and pain both natural and man made. And when we pray for relief, He often allows evil to continue though Jesus promised, “Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it, that the Father may be glorified in the Son; if you ask anything in my name, I will do it.” If He wants us to believe in Him, ought not God keep that promise? Isn’t John 14:13-14 is a simple equation?

Request + In Jesus’ Name = Jesus gives us what we ask so that the Father will be glorified.

Except “in Jesus’ Name” is not like π. It’s not a constant Christ gave us so that we’d be able to avoid the evils in this world. Nor is it a talisman that wards off the van der Sloots or tsunamis or disease. Instead, “in Jesus’ Name” is a promise that we will pray as Jesus Himself prays, “Father, if thou art willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.” Less than a day later, Jesus was crucified because His crucifixion and all that followed glorified the Father.

We have been given the grace to pray as Jesus, our King, prayed. But we’re like infants, making much noise and still unable to speak for ourselves. We nearly always pray from fear and anxiety, in blindness and desperation. But when we pray in Jesus’ Name, “the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.

When I prayed to go home, pleaded for the return of my family, begged God to undo the horrors that had overwhelmed my life, I didn’t know I was asking Him to remake all of reality just for me. It never occurred to me that I could never be whole or free unless I was willing to be whole and free in a world that can be horribly painful. If He must rework the world to make me happy, then I don’t love Him, I only love what makes me feel happy. God becomes my fantasy, my story that I can manipulate and rework to my own liking. If God is God, then He must be faithful and worthy of my love even when He doesn’t do as I want, as I know I deserve. Margaret Sidney knew that and so Helen dies. Natalee Holloway remains murdered because God is God.

But Beth Holloway has peace because Natalee is with God who “had cared for her through whatever ordeal she had encountered that night.” And I have happiness and am learning to accept an experience of home that is not what I knew when my family lived; God cares for me through my ordeals and will continue to do so even when the final one culminates with death.

He is the God of answered prayers, prayers that the Holy Spirit refines and utters in a language very few ever learn this side of heaven. Even when God does not give us what we want, He answers our prayers. The losses are real; we don’t go skipping away wreathed in smiles after being lashed by the evils of this world. We do walk on able to live in a world that too often feels like hell. We walk on knowing that the answers Jesus gives us heal us and glorify the Father. Those answered prayers help us carry our crosses as we walk on to heaven.

Image source

Quiet – Five Minute Friday

O GOD of peace, who hast taught us that in returning and rest we shall be saved, in quietness and in confidence shall be our strength; By the might of thy Spirit lift us, we pray thee, to thy presence, where we may be still and know that thou art God; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (The Book of Common Prayer)

Pray For A Quiet MindNearly 18 years ago, I stopped looking for my family. I was banging my head against a brick wall trying to find a relative who wanted me in his or her life. My head ached from the stress of finding just one cousin, one aunt, one uncle, anyone. I heard His Voice ask, ‘Can you be happy without knowing any more?’ And I responded, ‘Yes.’ He is my very best Friend. He condescended to befriend me had remained with me and brought me through hell. I knew I could be happy as long as He is with me. And my head did ache so badly. So I worked to quiet myself and develop confidence. Over and over I prayed the collect for a quiet mind. Years later, occasional chatter appears in my heart but attention to my Friend quiets me.

Fast forward to yesterday when I was reading the biography of the new Bishop for the Personal Ordinariate in the USA of which I’ve been a parishioner for some times. I had heard his name pronounced “Lopes” as in “hopes” but for some reason, that didn’t seem right. He doesn’t seem Brazilian. Yesterday, I learned Bishop Lopes is half Portuguese. His name is pronounced, “Law-pez.” I read more eagerly only to discover a few sentences later that Bishop Lopes’ father had emigrated from Portugal to the “vibrant Portuguese community” in northern California. <Timer Rings>

All at once it struck me. Whenever I’ve been asked, “Why northern California?” I had no response, was left confused — it didn’t seem a reasonable choice. Perhaps my parents had spun a globe and randomly chosen a haven for me. But in one paragraph, their choice suddenly made sense. They sent me to my mother’s people. They may not have known me and when my parents were killed, I wasn’t raised by them. In fact, I didn’t know there was a Portuguese community all around me, our paths didn’t cross. And I’ll probably not know this side of heaven, if they had emergency plans to have me cared for by someone in that community, plans that were thwarted. But I do know that my parents chose a place where there were people like me. I know their choice was an act of love and care.

That knowledge brings a new quiet and a new happiness to my heart. My dearest, dearest Friend has provided me an opportunity to know my parents and myself a bit better. How fortunate I am that when I was lost, He never let me go.

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On Friday (and occasionally Saturday if Friday is filled with an excess of other activities),100s of bloggers set a timer, write for 5 minutes, and then post the results over at Kate Motaung’s blog, Heading Home. She provides the prompt on Thursday evening. We don’t edit or concern ourselves with whether our writing is flawless or worthy to be seen. We expose our incomplete, unpolished thoughts and words to each other and our readers and tweet them with the hashtag #FMFParty. Join us.

Image source: https://www.pinterest.com/source/overcomeroutreach.com

First (The Christmas Card I Wanted To Write)

“[S]eek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.” (Matthew 6:33)

God reveals the beauty in us.

Pieta, The C.1498 Buonarroti, Michelangelo (1475-1564 Italian) Marble Sculpture St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City

First, it hurts. Like warm water on frozen fingers. Like Michelangelo chipping away at a block of marble because he knows the Pieta or David is within. Chip. chip. Chip. God is plying his little hammer and chisel. First, it hurts.

Then I remember that first, my parents gave me to God in baptism and entrusted me to His care.

And first, I chose to risk my life on the belief that He really meant, “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.” If that promise is a lie, then all the other firsts are meaningless.

And first, He has always made it possible for me to withstand the chiseling and so I remain and let Him work. He loves me. I know that. There is no why. I’m not worthy. There is only love.

And first, there are my friends who share in community I hoped for but could never really imagine. They’re the biggest surprise. They wait with me as God warms my frozen flesh and brings me back to life. They wait as He chisels away. They wait in expectation even when I can’t turn my eyes in hope that there is something glorious in me that He is releasing. They wait even when I can’t find words to say “thank you” for loving me. So I will wait with them. I will have faith in their faith.

First, it’s a glorious new year.

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On Friday (and occasionally Saturday if Friday is filled with an excess of other activities),100s of bloggers set a timer, write for 5 minutes, and then post the results over at Kate Motaung’s blog, Heading Home. She provides the prompt on Thursday evening. We don’t edit or concern ourselves with whether our writing is flawless or worthy to be seen. We expose our incomplete, unpolished thoughts and words to each other and our readers and tweet them with the hashtag #FMFParty. Join us.

Reflect – Five Minute Friday

John 3-16 (1)Advent always causes me to reflect on Good Friday. It seems to me Heaven must have experienced both joy and something else, something that included the complete knowledge of all that was to come. Jesus gave His all. So did the Father and the Holy Spirit. My tiny, human brain cannot even begin to imagine what it must have been like when the Godhead poured one Person into the hands of human beings first as an infant and ultimately, on Good Friday. Heaven didn’t pull back even though it was apparent that we were so far lost, even the best of us did not appreciate the gift.

But I pull back. With all I have been given, I cower in fear or drag my feet. Too often, I’m not busy about my Father’s work. Which leads me to reflect, of all the gifts I can ask for this Christmas, the best might be even a soupçon of longing to spend myself doing the Father’s will. After all, Heaven spent it all for me.

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On Friday (and occasionally Saturday if Friday is filled with an excess of other activities),100s of bloggers set a timer, write for 5 minutes, and then post the results over at Kate Motaung’s blog, Heading Home. She provides the prompt on Thursday evening. We don’t edit or concern ourselves with whether our writing is flawless or worthy to be seen. We expose our incomplete, unpolished thoughts and words to each other and our readers and tweet them with the hashtag #FMFParty. Join us.

Image source.

Weary: Five Minute Friday

I believe that I shall see the goodness of the LORD
in the land of the living!
Wait for the LORD;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
yea, wait for the LORD! (Psalm 27: 13-14)

weary (1)Once upon a time, I read Psalm 27 many times each day. It calmed my weary soul until I reached verse 14. Then anxiety and desperation would flare up and weariness returned; I was weary of waiting. Eventually, I decided “wait” means ‘No.’ And though I was even more weary of facing ‘No’ after ‘No’ after ‘No,’ what does one do when god says, ‘No.’ He’s God after all. So I prayed to accept ‘No’; I was never very good at it and I was still so weary.

Then I met a friend who was as crazy as me. Then I met a whole slew of friends who cared for me as if I was a family member. And then I discovered my friends love me even when I’m cranky and silly and capricious. Finally, I realized I love them even when they fail to live up to my expectations. Now I’m no longer weary of waiting, weary of the hole in my heart. Now I not only believe but know that seeking first the Kingdom of God leads to all the other things being provided in surprising and unexpected ways. And God is so much more than I ever imagined because He knows better than I how to heal the holes and free me of being weary.

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On Friday (and occasionally Saturday if Friday is filled with an excess of other activities),100s of bloggers set a timer, write for 5 minutes, and then post the results over at Kate Motaung’s blog, Heading Home. She provides the prompt on Thursday evening. We don’t edit or concern ourselves with whether our writing is flawless or worthy to be seen. We expose our incomplete, unpolished thoughts and words to each other and our readers and tweet them with the hashtag #FMFParty. Join us.

Image source: http://dict.space.4goo.net/dict?q=weary

Why?

The assignment this week asked us to use an excerpt from a previous scene and “write a new and rich description of the world that surrounds this text.” I took an excerpt from “Good Times,” my assignment from last week.

persian carpetMmmph. Mmmph. Mmmph. I drag heavy feet across the reds, golds, and blues of the Persian carpet. My head is down but my eyes don’t see the multi-sided, geometric patterns that so neatly fit thick-soled Mary Jane and then the other. I stop when I reach Papa and place one of my small, tan hands on each of his knees. His breath smells of warm, spicy tobacco. Peppermint too. His trousers exude the fragrance of tweed that has only recently dried.

I try to grasp one of the pale, beige cilia in the fabric under my fingers. Head down, intent on the elusive fiber I ask his knee, “Why did my Grandpère die?”

Papa places one strong index finger under my chin and raises my face until his icy blue eyes meet my dark brown ones. He flinches at my pouting, quivering mouth.

The rustle of silk fills my ears as Marmar flies from the grey wing chair leaving her embroidery on the table under the floor lamp. She sits next to Papa, reaches over his arm and places her hands on my shoulders turning me until our eyes, identical in their darkness, meet.

“He died because it was time for him to go home and be with God.” She places equal stress on each word. She uses the voice that says, ‘I want you to understand.’

My mind sees a soldier in a stiff cap, another in an olive green cap with a bill, a gun. My nose smell hot, metallic sulfur; my ears hear explosions that deluge Grandpère’s white study and fling him against the dark, polished, wood chair rail.

“No,” I shake my head. The words spill out, “God didn’t take my Grandpère. Soldiers shot him.”

Marmar pulls me against the soft hazy blues of her dress; I breathe in the comfort of her musky perfume.

“Yes. They did,” she tells me, her voice soft, singing, as if she must speak this awful mystery in the cadence of her native Portuguese. “But when he fell, God was right there to catch him.”

My lip quivers. Tears puddle in the corners of my eyes, spill down my face. Papa pulls me onto his lap. My lips, pressed tightly together, struggle to dam the words.

Words burst out, “I don’t like God.”

Papa pulls me close against the softness of his yellow, ribbed vest. I bury my tears in the strength of his chest; he holds my shaking body and murmurs softness into my heart. Marmar’s gentle hand strokes sleep into my short curls.

Doubt: Five Minute Friday

This is one of those “I have no idea what to write” weeks so let’s see what comes out occasions.

I doubt many things – myself, other people, whether what we plan will work as we expect, even whether God will agree with what I think is important. But I don’t doubt God Himself. I don’t always like Him (He often doesn’t agree with me), but I don’t doubt Him. He is real. He is everything He has revealed Himself to be and more. I wish I could express that so that all those who long for God to be real would know, He is.

Often, I encounter anti-theists, people who hate God, who battle against Him. (I regularly pray for them.) Often they are hurt. Often, they are confused. Always, they fail to understand that they are not doubting God. How is it possible to be angry with someone who doesn’t exist? They are angry that God is not as they think He ought to be.

dwarfs are for the dwarfsGod is frustrating, like a parent saying we can’t have cookies before dinner because they will spoil our appetite. He will not make our world as we see fit but instead, works according to His purpose and we must accept both His purpose and that only He knows how to accomplish it. My fighting God days ended when I began to ask, what if God is right and I am wrong? What kind of world would exist if God followed my script? What if I’m asking to cast myself as God and make God merely a character in my own story? (That one terrifies me.) Do I really want God to be under my control? Do I think I’m big enough to keep all that is in existence? To create all that is new? Can I create even one human being in my image? Am I big enough to love everything and everyone?

It’s hard when life isn’t as it ought to be. But if I haven’t the power to fix it, if all I can do is complain and insist that things ought to be different, then I’m like the dwarfs in C.S. Lewis’s The Last Battle:

Aslan raised his head and shook his mane. Instantly a glorious feast appeared on the Dwarfs’ knees: pies and tongues and pigeons and trifles and ices, and each Dwarf had a goblet of good wine in his right hand. But it wasn’t much use. They began eating and drinking greedily enough, but it was clear that they couldn’t taste it properly. They thought they were eating and drinking only the sort of things you might find in a Stable. One said he was trying to eat hay and another said he had got a bit of an old turnip and a third said he’d found a raw cabbage leaf. And they raised golden goblets of rich red wine to their lips and said, ‘Ugh! Fancy drinking dirty water out of a trough that a donkey’s been at! Never thought we’d come to this.’ But very soon every Dwarf began suspecting that every other Dwarf had found something nicer than he had, and they started grabbing and snatching, and went on to quarreling, till in a few minutes there was a free fight and all the good food was smeared on their faces and clothes or trodden under foot. But when at last they sat down to nurse their black eyes and their bleeding noses, they all said: ‘Well, at any rate, there’s no Humbug here. We haven’t let anyone take us in. The Dwarfs are for the Dwarfs!’

‘You see,’ said Aslan. ‘ They will not let us help them. They have chosen cunning instead of belief. Their prison is only in their own minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in that they can not be taken out.’ (1)

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On Friday,100s of bloggers set a timer, write for 5 minutes, and then post the results over at Kate Motaung’s blog, Heading Home. She provides the prompt on Thursday evening. We don’t edit or concern ourselves with whether our writing is flawless or worthy to be seen. We expose our incomplete, unpolished thoughts and words to each other and our readers and tweet them with the hashtag #FMFParty. Join us.

(1) C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1978), 147-148

Image Source: http://revbickers.blogspot.com/2012/05/romans-61-14-dead-to-sin-alive-in.html

Same – Five Minute Friday

This week, I spent 5 minutes rewriting a passage from my book. The rewrite is moving along:

nyc from the air“Had I not bought the boys clothes for school,” I softly told my Friend. “I’d have enough.” I sighed and plucked out a blade of grass. “But he would have tried to take my money away. I just wanted him to leave me alone.” I sighed again. “Now I can’t afford both a plane ticket and to make it through the year.” My forehead was tight. “I’ll need his help,” I told my Friend looking out over Lake Mirren. “But he won’t help me. He’ll never let me go. Never.” I shook my head. “There’s no escape. It will always be the same.”

Tears welled up. With an angry sniff, I blinked them away. A brilliant flash of demanding possibility raced through my mind. “I can’t!” I told my Friend. “I just can’t!” The bright sunny day suddenly felt foggy, dim. I packed my things and walked to the bus stop.

Tap! Tap! Tap! I lowered my Bible, “Who is it?”

“It is I,” Ella announced. “Could you open the door?” I unlatched the hook and cracked the door. “I have a headache,” Ella was even paler than usual. “Would you make dinner?”

“Sure,” it was a pained sigh. I marked my place in Genesis and made my way to the kitchen. With the big chef’s knife Ella and the man had received as a wedding gift, I chopped carrots as if they were wood. “Why isn’t she making dinner?” I demanded of my Friend between chops. “That’s why he married her. I’ve been doing her job all summer.”

You could be in New York soon.

“What?!” The almost sound hung in the air. I felt my bum. The words were like a large boot kicking me gently but firmly in the seat of my pants.

You could be in New York soon.

My backside felt the gentle but firm kick again. “Really?!” My voice was shrill terror. I walked over to the calendar that hung next to the phone and counted days with the knife’s tip. “Three weeks. In three weeks I could leave.” My eyes widened. A warm tingle suffused my body.

A few minutes latter, Gerard came through the laundry room. “Dad sent me to get…” he began.

I interrupted, “In three weeks, I am going to New York.”

“No you’re not,” his voice dripped with superior knowledge.

“Yes I am,” my head nodded as I spoke. He shook his head and disappeared down the cellar steps.

When he returned, words tumbled from my mouth, “Will you buy me a trunk for my going away present?”

Gerard pursed his lips, “He won’t let you go.”

“Yes, he will,” I told him.

Gerard shook his head, “If he let’s you go, I’ll buy the trunk.”

“In three weeks, I’m going to New York,” I told the man that evening. “Will you pay my plane fare so I can use the money I’ve saved for my expenses?”

The words had tumbled out. I didn’t even rehearse, I mutely told my Friend as I waited for an answer.

At my words, the man’s face had become angry and indignant. Ella, who lay beside him, pulled herself up and spoke first, “That’s the least we can do considering how hard you’ve worked.”

The floor was suddenly wobbly, my head woozy and light. Something was changing. Something was not the same. My mouth formed itself into a small smile,  “Thank you.”

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On Friday,100s of bloggers set a timer, write for 5 minutes, and then post the results over at Kate Motaung’s blog, Heading Home. She provides the prompt on Thursday evening. We don’t edit or concern ourselves with whether our writing is flawless or worthy to be seen. We expose our incomplete, unpolished thoughts and words to each other and our readers and tweet them with the hashtag #FMFParty. Join us.

Image source: http://www.shutterstock.com/video/clip-2583917-stock-footage-new-york-new-york-circa-may-taxis-and-street-scene-at-intersection-near-grand-central.html

Happy Again – Five Photos, Five Stories – 5

feast 2“Three pirouettes!” I cried out. “Three pirouettes! For the first time, God!” I took a series of quick steps and executed a grande jeté. My hand reached for the barre. A huge smile lit my face; my eyes sparkled. I took a deep breath, “That’s what it needed, three pirouettes!”

“Can you be happy without knowing everything?”

Time stopped. A rich, white noise masked the strong, driving beat of 38 Special’s “If I’d Been The One.” The question hung in the air. I blinked away the tears that suddenly pricked my eyes.

“Can you be happy without knowing everything?” The Voice spoke again.

“Y-yes,” I found myself responding. Tears surged past my attempts to blink them away. The mirrors reflected my crinkled forehead, of eyes sparkling with tears. I did not ask, Why are You asking me? What does it mean?

For much of my life, I have kept in check a very young part of myself who longs to squat keening in the marketplace, “Look at what they did to me! Look! Look!” as I toss dirt and ashes on my head. Her deepest desire is that my losses, my wounds, my pain be acknowledged. Beyond that, she doesn’t know what she wants. Some losses are so great, it’s impossible to imagine any recovery.

So when my dearest Friend asked if I could be happy without knowing everything, I could say, ‘Yes.’ Hadn’t I just turned three pirouettes when I’d never imagined myself turning more than two? Didn’t that make me happy? Didn’t singing, swimming make me happy? Hadn’t designing a pencil skirt that fit a narrow waist and wider hips made me happy? I didn’t know that I didn’t know what happiness was. I was willing to go along for the adventure.

But the keening child in me knows happiness. She remembers everything. She holds within her the absolutely delicious experience of belonging to specific people, of being loved by specific people, of being at home with them because they are hers and she is theirs. And through the adventure, she has often noted that this is all very nice but…

It’s grand that these people are accepting my invitation to dinner but they’re not my family. What a lovely time I had with my girlfriends but I don’t really belong to them. How grand that they threw me a surprise birthday party but they don’t really know me and so can’t really love about me. Then I unexpectedly found myself waiting five months for my insurance company to begin paying on my disability claim, wasn’t allowed access to my profit sharing account, and had already spent all my savings on being ill. Friends (and even strangers) swooped in and provided the funds I needed to pay my bills. At the same time, they continued to be my friends. The young, keening child in me was flabbergasted and dazzled. But she insisted there was at least one person my friends could never replace. She knows the place in my heart I never go, the place to which I never invite anyone.

I have no auditory memory of Marmar’s voice, no auditory memory of Portuguese. I do recall the sound of German, French, Italian, Spanish, and several other languages. Though I read Portuguese quite well, each time I hear it as it’s the first time. Each time I want to wail. Perhaps it is mercy that hinders my memory. Her loss is beyond telling, a pain I will carry to the grave. Perhaps my Friend has granted me the grace to forget because memory would bring more pain than joy.

“‘Helen was happy here,’ said Phronsie decidedly. ‘And she never–never would want to leave her mother alone, to go off to a nicer place. Never, Polly.’

“Polly drew a long breath, and shut her lips. ‘But, Phronsie, don’t you see,’ she cried presently, ‘it may be that Mrs. Fargo wouldn’t ever want to go to Heaven unless Helen was there to meet her? It may be, Phronsie; and that would be very dreadful, you know. And God loved Mrs. Fargo so that he took Helen, and he is going to keep her happy every single minute while she is waiting and getting ready for her mother.’”*

Fallen Sparrow learned to drive recently and set off on an adventurous motoring trip from Maryland to his home state of Minnesota. Some planned meet ups didn’t work out. I was concerned that he might be disappointed. When I gingerly inquired, he told me he wanted to let one of those he missed know, “I will always fail you and disappoint you, but Jesus never does.”* We cannot escape entropy. Life fails and disappoints but Jesus never does. Christ holds us together, holds all that we are. And just as He held my innocence until I could receive it again, He holds Marmar. And perhaps I long for heaven more than I would have had I never lost her. Though her voice remains just beyond my memory, the sight of her fills my heart. I see us in heaven some day. We will dance before God, her extremely long, dark hair flowing freely and my (not quite so) long, dark hair bouncing in the breeze.

In the meantime, I am happy again. The young child within me longs to keen on occasion but I know, friends love me; I belong to people who belong to me. There are feasts on earth even though there is also famine. While earth was never meant to be heaven neither is it hell. I can be happy and long at the same time. We’re not an either/or people; life is not a zero sum game. Christians are both/and people. Even as we wait, we know we are “heirs in hope of eternal life.” And “hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.

*Margaret Sydney, Five Little Peppers Grown Up: http://www.readprint.com/work-5664/Five-Little-Peppers-Grown-Up-Margaret-Sidney/contents

Image: An earthly feast – Grilled chicken breasts with a balsamic and garlic glaze; Baconated kumatoes with fresh basil, garlic, and spicy pepper oregano; Old Bay Shrimp (with butter for dipping).

Christian Community – Not Just A Catholic Thing

And behold, men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they sought to bring him in and lay him before Jesus; but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus. And when he saw their faith he said, ‘Man, your sins are forgiven you.'” (Luke 5:18-20)

Jan luyken's paralytic lowered by frinedsWere I limited to one depiction of Christian community, I’d choose the healing of the paralytic in the fifth chapter of Luke. Jesus sees not just the faith of the paralytic but their faith, the faith of the paralytic’s friends. They work to gain their friend’s healing. When the way is blocked they create a path. Mere building materials can’t interfere with their love. These friends are filled with solid faith which the paralytic needs to reach the One who has the power to heal.

I have not always experienced Christian community in the Catholic Church. Obviously, I believe Catholicism is true or I wouldn’t be Catholic. But Catholicism is as filled with selfish individuals as any other place where humans gather. (Too often, I’m one of them.) It’s so easy to become involved in the forms and forget the people. It’s so easy to write a cheque each week and contribute to parish charities but never get to know the other people in the pew. It’s so easy to be concerned with myself to the exclusion of others. The “Sign of Peace” during Mass can be the only expression of Christian community many Catholics experience.

Fortunately, some Catholics take Christian community seriously. They reach out to others, befriend them, and don’t give up until they have helped their friends reach the One who heals. And fortunately many Christians do the same in many, many churches throughout the world. Their arms are open, ready to embrace others. They carry each others’ burdens — carry each other, when necessary. They don’t give up even when the way is blocked.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide; so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. This I command you, to love one another.” (John 15:12-17)

This is how the community of believers in Jesus Christ love one another, by daring to get our hands dirty in each others’ lives, by sacrificing for one another. When we are as concerned with our neighbour who sits next to us in church as we are with our own lives, we live the great commission to love one another. That is Christian community. It’s not an either/or proposition — the people and concerns in our lives matter. It’s a both/and experience, making space in our hearts and lives for one more person. Sometimes the tiles we must peel away are not on another person’s roof but in our attitudes and hearts. But because we are heirs through hope of Jesus Christ, every Christian has the ability to peel away those tiles with help from our friends and through the healing power of Christ, and love as Christ loves us.

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