Tuesday, May 6, 2014

THE ROAD TO EMMAUS

Were not our hearts burning (within us) while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?
                                                                                                 Luke 24:32

The story of the disciples traveling the road to Emmaus, discouraged and disheartened by the apparent loss of the Messiah to crucifixion, has always been one of my favorite Gospel passages.  It was our reflection point at Christian Community on Sunday, and in my written comments I said I felt
"unfinished....I don't have any perfect insight or resolution to all the struggles of the week other than to keep moving forward, accepting whatever comes into my life, and hoping God will strengthen me. "

When I went to Mass yesterday morning, our associate pastor said that the key to spiritual growth is relationship--with Jesus Christ and with his heavenly Father.  Somehow that simple statement struck me with unusual force.  I realized that often my prayer life can be similar to approaching a dispensing machine, as I ask for graces or favors but don't spend time trying to develop a heart felt conversation with the One whom I am approaching.

This morning, The Word among Us took today's Gospel from John 6:30-35 and compared the Jews' romanticizing the time when God gave them manna in the desert and refusing to accept the Bread of Life standing in front of them to our own tendency to look back at God's past work in our lives instead of the challenges he is giving us today.  "It's hard to be patient with such an incomplete and unfinished work, isn't it?  We'd rather cross items off our list than return to them every day, with mixed results."

As one who has a long list and only crosses off a few of the items each day, I can testify to my desire to be finished--to become completely spiritually mature, never to judge anyone, always to listen attentively to others, and mostly not to have to walk the road to Emmaus as a widow.  Yet Lent and its spiritual desert comes around faithfully every year and then we celebrate the astonishing news of the Resurrection.  But for those of us traveling in sorrow to Emmaus, the news can come later than Easter.  We don't see the angels at the empty tomb or the burial clothes wrapped up neatly.  What we are given, though, is perhaps what we most need:  a vision of Jesus at table with us, taking the bread, saying the blessing, breaking it and giving it to us, looking deeply into our eyes in a way that fills us with his presence even as he vanishes from sight.  But that strengthens us to "set out at once" and return to Jerusalem.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

CHALLENGE

Look upon each day that comes as a challenge, as a test of courage. The pain will come in waves, some days worse than others, for no apparent reason.  Accept the pain.  Do not suppress it.   Never attempt to hide grief from yourself.  Little by little, just as the deaf, the blind, the handicapped develop with time an extra sense to balance disability, so the bereaved, the widowed will find new strength, new vision, born of the very pain and loneliness which seem, at first, impossible to master.
                                                                                 --Daphne Du Maurier

Yesterday was such a challenge, and I didn't realize it as such until I read this morning's reflection from Martha Whitmore Hickman's Healing after Loss, headed by the quotation above.  Hickman went on to say, "When the waves of pain rise highest, we think we will be swept under, that we cannot make it.  But we can.  Our work then is to accept the pain, and to wait.  We can do other things while waiting--talk with people, go to the store, read, work in the garden.  Even as we do these things, we are aware of the pain, scraping against our heart. But if we accept these bad days as part of the course of healing, then better days, better moods will come.  The pain will moderate, and we can be confident--proud, even--in our newly acquired strength."

What tipped me into a downward spiral was a letter that came in the mail saying that my COBRA insurance coverage would end next month, when my husband had told me that I would be covered for a full three years.  Of course, being Saturday, there was no live person at the number they told me to call if I had questions, so I called my oldest daughter who has dealt with insurance issues for many years to see if she had any ideas about this.  She said I probably just needed to call and switch it to the state plan, but of course I can't do that until Monday.  I've been watching friends attempting to find their way through the Obamacare morass in an attempt to get treatment for two serious cancers, so I know that the bureaucracy is uncaring and usually ineffective.  And how I found myself wishing that my dear husband was still alive to talk with me, help me, and explain it all to me in loving, comforting terms!  My son was at his Sea World job all day, and although I went to the farmer's market, several of my favorite vendors weren't there, the cashier at the grocery store was non-committal, and I felt the aloneness in my house descend like a wall that cut me off even from the beautiful flowers filling my garden with color.

This followed a day when I had felt nourished and healing.  I had been able to get to Mass in the morning, I had a great French horn lesson when I was able to produce clear shining notes on my new horn, I wrote and thanked one of the poetry journals for publishing a recent poem, and I submitted three poems to a well known writing contest, where every other year I submitted only one.  All three were written since my husband got sick, and two since he died, and I judged that they had more heft than some of my earlier poems.  But one of them dealt with 
     cruel stupidity’s unexpected stings:
     the official who insists your husband
     must sign the form, just after you told her he’s dead.
It was probably revisiting that traumatic telephone conversation added to the insurance dilemma that sparked the oppressive heaviness of  most of the day.  

Fortunately, I was lifted out of it in the evening when I went to a dinner for the school some of my grandchildren attend.  My daughter Mary (whose two oldest boys are in third grade and kindergarden) came with me, and when I picked her up at her house, seeing all four of her little ones rush up to me with delight on their faces, was balm and solace to my empty heart.  It was nice to see a few friends from the days when three other daughters went to the school, and to meet Mary's friends, who were at the table with us.  The event was rather different than when my husband and I used to go--and I outbid everyone on three different scrapbooking baskets!--and that reminded me of time's inexorable rush forward. When I got home I was so exhausted that I fell asleep without any difficulty, and that was an unlooked for blessing since the past two nights I woke up almost every hour.  

When I got up this morning at 5 so I could practice before I left for Mass, life seemed to be opening the door to beauty and companionship again.  
People in the choir were glad to see me back, the couple who are the greatest admirers of my French horn sat in the pew next to me, and I will be going to a gathering of our Christian Community this afternoon with three couples who have journeyed with my husband and me longer than almost anyone else in the San Diego area.  Just being in their presence is like being wrapped in a warm and enduring hug.  Even when I slog through the pain, I know I am continuing to heal and find new vision.

Friday, May 2, 2014

INTO EASTER

I knew it had been a while since I last blogged, but when I finally bestirred myself to look at the last date, I discovered it had been exactly a month. When I wrote last, we were still in the depths of Lent, and now we are celebrating the 50 days of Easter.  It has been a very busy month for me. At long last, I made the last payment on our 30 year mortgage and have the joy of knowing that the house is fully mine!  The reconstruction is truly almost finished; while I was away for almost a week, my reconstruction agent painted the studio upstairs, so now everything in "Chapter 2" has been painted, I have new windows which make a huge difference in keeping the 90+ degree heat from a brutal Santa Ana outside all through the addition, and I'm slowly reorganizing files, making new cards, learning Adobe Elements and writing.

I was able to play for all the special Liturgies of Holy Week and the Triduum, and I even took my French horn down to visit a priest friend recovering from a knee replacement and played "All Glory, Laud and Honor" for him for Palm Sunday since he couldn't go to Mass.  We sang a Tenebrae Wednesday night, and I played for Holy Thursday, Good Friday, the Easter Vigil, and Easter Sunday.  It was a time for remembering the life, death, and Resurrection of our Lord, but also for thinking of my own personal journey with my dear husband, who began his own passage toward death on Holy Thursday two years ago and drew heavily upon the graces won for us by our Messiah.

On Tuesday, my son and I drove up to LA together and stayed with my oldest daughter's family.  She made my favorite meal, Cuban Chicken, and I went to bed early since we had to make a 6:30 AM flight from LAX to Philadelphia the next morning.  For my daughter, who is a night owl, it was an even greater sacrifice, but there was no traffic, an extremely short security line, and a relatively smooth flight.  When we landed, my nephew Zach picked us up, and took us to the Cathedral where he had celebrated the Rite of Sending earlier in Lent.  Back in the fall, he had contacted me and told me that the way my husband lived his faith had inspired him to look into the Catholic Church, and he asked if he could call me each week to discuss his lessons and read the Readings for the coming Sunday Mass.  So we had had many meaningful discussions and I came to know him much better through them and was brought myself to deepening my Faith as we wrestled with the questions and issues brought up along his journey.  

He showed us his new parish church that serves 5,000 families!  I guessed right on the statues--St. Therese, St. Patrick, and St. Anthony, though I wasn't as sure of St. Anthony.  They have very old and beautiful stained glass windows brought from another church that were made in Germany.  The parish gave a dinner for all those coming into the Church that evening and I was happy to be able to meet his pastor and the DRE and quite a few other parishioners.  

On Thursday, his wife took us to Longwood Gardens, an astonishing showplace even in early spring when most of the fountains were still empty.  There were huge beds of tulips and daffodils, and the Conservatory had an almost endless variety of rooms filled with exotic plants, many of which I had never seen before, and hibiscus in colors I've never encountered in California.

On Friday, my son wanted to go to Valley Forge, and my sister-in-law took us there.  It was very moving to walk over the ground where Washington and his troops suffered during a brutal winter in order to protect the newly fledged country's chances at independence.

Saturday was the big day.  In this parish, those who are entering the Church but not being baptized come in during the weekend of Mercy Sunday.  My youngest daughter had driven up with her one year old daughter so she could be there as well.  We had front row seats as Zach professed his Faith in all that the Catholic Church proclaims, was confirmed, and received his First Communion as a Catholic.  His Confirmation saint was Moses the Black, whom my son had wanted to choose for his Confirmation until I told him that they would only use "Moses" when he was confirmed.  But Zach wanted the saint who had started out as a robber, and he had done a lot of research into his life.  He was also confirmed as "Moses," but we all knew which Moses it was!  We had a wonderful dinner with the family afterwards, and my son and I flew back to California with beautiful memories of time with family and Zach's beginning journey in the Catholic Church.