Friday, September 25, 2015

HIDDEN DEPTHS

This past Wednesday, when I went to pray my Holy Hour in the Blessed Sacrament chapel at our parish, I discovered that the door was locked, and realized that with all the priests of the diocese on retreat, things were more hunkered down than usual. So I told the friends who come with me every week that God was probably telling us, in the words of the Gospel, to "Go to your inner room...and pray to your Father" (Matt. 6:6).  I went home and prayed there.

My prayer of reminiscence bubbled up a memory of my senior year, when I had gotten to know John Hazard better. It was our Easter break (and I think we even called it an Easter break even though we were in public school), and most of us were anxiously waiting to hear from the colleges to which we had applied.  John had applied to five Ivy League schools and was obviously concerned about the responses.
I had asked him to call me when he heard, and he promised that he would.  

When the phone rang, my mother picked it up and told me he was calling, and when I answered and he responded, I remember being almost stunned at how deep his voice sounded over the telephone.  I asked him what his news was and he told me in a very happy voice that he had been accepted at all five.  I remember several years later seeing a picture his mother had taken of him in front of a table with the five letters there.  One of his friends had been accepted at Yale, and another at Princeton, but he was the only one in our class who had been accepted at Harvard, and that was where he wanted to go. 

When I reflected on it Wednesday night, it was the sound of his voice and how much deeper it was than I expected that filled my mind.  As I prayed about it, it occurred to me that every one we meet has depths we don't encounter casually, and that only when we take time to really listen and get to know them do we discover more layers of who they are.  And even in our daily existence, we can deepen our experience of the moment by paying more attention to our surroundings, opening our eyes and ears and allowing life to enter in.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

CHANGE TIPTOES IN BEHIND

Today, just after noon, it was already 104 degrees. September and October in Southern California are often the hottest months, just as the rest of the country is starting to celebrate fall, pulling out sweaters and decorating with pumpkins.  Here, the pumpkins might bake in their shells if we left them sitting out in the sun.

I called my daughter, who was preparing to host their Sunday night dinner group, to see if she wanted to have it at our home, about half an hour away.  They don't have air conditioning and we do; she had already called last night to ask our son to bake his famous pies here rather than heat up their house even more.  She said she would check with her husband, and called back almost right away to say they would be happy to have it here.  I have known most of the members of the Sunday dinner group since they were in college and grad school together; it's the group responsible for introducing my daughter to her husband.  I've seen many of them married and watched as children began arriving. The last time we hosted, there were twenty-seven children in all!

But even as the heat seems to press the landscape to the ground and the gardens and lawns of the area turn brown with the drought-sponsored watering restrictions, I can see clues that the earth is still turning, and autumn will eventually make its way here.  At the very top of the liquidambar trees, ruby and burgundy is scattered among the mostly emerald leaves. Sunset creeps in sooner, and in the morning dawn lingers in bed a bit longer.  Children are back shrilling the air at the two schools near us and their big yellow buses boomerang out and back twice a day.  I am ready for cooler air and praying, like most Californians, for a very wet winter!

Friday, September 11, 2015

THE CHALLENGE OF MARRIAGE

In the past few months, I have stumbled over marriages that have shattered or are crumbling.  They are long-term marriages of friends or marriages of friends of my daughters. The first time I heard of the dissolution of a marriage of a couple who seemed very similar to us in many ways was the reception of a document in the annulment process by my husband, followed by a letter from the wife detailing some of the very serious issues in their marriage.  They had moved away a few years before, but we had stayed with them for several days in their new home, and had been blind to the brewing catastrophe, or deceived by the elaborate farce played out for our benefit.  We did have a dozen children between us and the romping about of so many little ones may have been the smoke and mirrors that kept us from having any sense of what was going on underneath the facade.  But I remember that when it was borne in upon me that in fact this seemingly ideal couple had been torn asunder by the lightning strike of divorce, I felt as if an earthquake had roared beneath my feet, leaving the ground no longer solid, and walls a danger rather than a protective shield.  I understood the twins in A Comedy of Errors who began to question their own identities, although with more serious intensity.  What happens in so many cases is a Tragedy of Errors--errors of understanding, of expectations, and of actions, and most devastating, an error of underpinnings. Because if there is no underpinning of commitment to the covenant of marriage--and for Christians, to the sacrament of Matrimony--then a major disagreement or a tragedy can overwhelm them like a tsunami and obliterate the landscape created by their vows of love.  When Don Francisco sang, "Love is not a feeling, it's an act of the will," he summed up one of the key truths that binds together husband and wife. Your feelings of love may ebb and flow, but your decision to love, "for as long as we both shall live," made on your wedding day, is a sturdy plank in the foundation that will carry you through every storm of life.  Standing securely on that foundation, you can do the work of marriage--prayer, passion, and persistent communication--that provides a home for you and a haven to others.

Monday, September 7, 2015

TRANSCENDENCE AND IMMANENCE

Recently, as I was going through my emails, I came upon one from Writer's Digest, which I was assuming was another of my many rejection notices.  Somehow, they don't seem as daunting when they come in by email, as when it's an envelope in the mail, and I can often tell by feeling whether it's a thin rejection notice, or a slightly thicker letter saying they have accepted my poem(s).  But instead, this email was the bearer of the welcome news that the poem I had submitted to their annual writing contest had received an honorable mention.  This didn't quite lead to my doing a touchdown dance, but I felt appreciated.  In addition, the poem had been sparked by a comment a friend had made in an email to me, and I let her know that she had been the muse who inspired my poem.

When I was praying about the incident that provided the background for the poem, I remembered how our son, who was two at the time, had insisted on climbing the path at Muir Woods for several miles, and how people who passed us commented on his persistence.  And how we then had to carry him all the way back down!  However, despite making this extended hike with all our six children, my predominant memory was of the silence and awe that the huge trees of Muir Woods impressed upon me.  When I reflected on that vast green chapel, in the tiny Blessed Sacrament chapel in our home parish, I was overwhelmed with the realization that God is present in every moment, from the most mundane, to the most magnificent, and that if I open my eyes and ears more often, I can experience his presence rather than rush blind and deaf through my life.  I can hear

Heartbeats like pebbles
on the upward trail
diminuendo in intensity
of space sprung
from one whose works
and Word are hung
beyond time veiled 
in a runic twig or bound
in veined systems of leaves:
green hope fragile
submerged,
profound.