Ruby Slippers

For quite a while now, when I first kneel down in church I find my heels clicking together as my toes rest on the floor tiles. In the strange way that memory and imagination work together, I am taken to Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. She clicks her heels together with those amazing ruby slippers on her little feet, and repeats, “There’s no place like home!”, over and over.A pair of Ruby Slippers worn by Judy Garland for the film, The Wizard of Oz.

Then in the way that intellect takes over from there, instead of banishing the thought as unworthy of this sublime setting, I immediately agree. Yes! There is no place like home. And this is home. This is where my restless heart finds its truest home, here in the presence of The One who gives us the only gift we should ever desire and the truest place of rest.

So, I click and smile and give thanks when I kneel down before Mass, but lately there is another unbidden thought that follows.

There are so many people, in my acquaintance and not, who have no clue about this Home, this Guest, this rest. My heart goes out to them, the true homeless, and they are legion. Then, of course, follows my prayer.

It reaches the pinnacle of desire as the priest elevates the host. “I believe for those who do not believe. I love for those who do not love. For all the homeless Lord, have mercy!”

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Heavenly Thoughts on Ascension Thursday

Earlier this week our son, Fr. Tom, sent this picture of the Alps while he was on a flight from Rome to Hong Kong. He included a little caption about pondering what heaven might be like.

Tom over Alps

When I saw it I suddenly remembered a conversation I recorded over ten years ago. I found it recently when I was going through some of those endless stacks of paper that seem to be my particular form of hoarding.

Grandson, Alex, age six ( after a discussion on the way home from school with his dad about what was for dinner):

“Grandma is cooking? Oh, Grandma cooks like an angel. Grandma cooks like heaven!”

His brother, Eddie, a year younger, pipes in:

“Yeah, Grandma cooks like a cafeteria!”

Alex is quick to correct him in true big brother fashion and with perfect logic:

“No, Eddie. The best thing in the world is heaven. If Grandma is the best cook in the world then Grandma cooks like heaven.”

Eddie, accepting of correction and bowing to logic says:

“Yeah, Alex, that’s right!”

Part of me is so honored to have reached this pinnacle of culinary honor, even by the judgement of a couple of young boys.  I also smile at their innocence and commend Alex on his knowledge of things eternal and use of reason to get his point across.

Mainly, though, I am in awe of the intellect and innocence of young children. Heaven is “the best thing in the world” as it is the place where God dwells and for us to be there means living in His presence for days without end. How the little ones can often grasp what us older folks cannot see. Alex will graduate from high school in a few days, with Eddie a little behind him. Oh how the days do pass so swiftly this side of eternity!

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Tim walks with his nephews at a park in Alabama

We contemplate heaven in our thoughts today as we glimpse the apostles and Mary looking up into the sky as Christ disappears from view. We yearn as they yearn for an end to our trials and that perfect happiness that means living in the presence of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

In Divine Intimacy, Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen helps us to understand:

The central idea in the liturgy today is the raising of our hearts toward heaven, so that we may begin to dwell in spirit where Jesus has gone before us. “Christ’s Ascension”, says St. Leo,  “is our own ascension; our body has the hope of one day being where its glorious head has preceded it”. In fact, Our lord has already said in His discourse after the Last Supper, ” I go to prepare a place for you. And if I shall go and prepare a place for you, I will come and take you to Myself; that where I am you also may be”. The Ascension is, then, a feast of joyful hope, a sweet foretaste of heaven. By going before us, Jesus  our Head has given us the right to follow Him there someday and we can even say with St. Leo, ” In the person of Christ, we have penetrated the heights of heaven”.

There is a lovely echo in the prayer Liturgy of the Hours today;

Father in heaven, our minds were prepared for the coming of your kingdom when you took Christ beyond  our sight so that we might seek him in his glory. May we follow where he has led and find our hope in his glory, for he is Lord for ever.

Amen. Alleluia!

 

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Learning Our Native Language

Last night I finished reading a Christmas gift from Andy, The Divine Adventure: St. Teresa of Avila’s Journeys and Foundations. (ICS Publications) I have been reading it slowly since late December, savoring the descriptions, color photographs and little details I found there that made our Carmelite saint’s travels come alive. The book also included small graphs plotting out the elevation between each city in Teresa’s travels, highlighting the difficulty of her journeys for those of us who have not been to Spain.

The Divine Adventure: St. Teresa of Avila's Journeys and Foundations

She was not a young, vigorous woman at the time she traveled in Spain either. Roads were poor, the weather problematic and bridges few and far between. Teresa had a singular mission to perform, though: the forming of the Discalced monasteries, where consecrated women hid themselves from the world and made prayer their first and foremost occupation. So she pressed on with energy and a lively sense of humor, seeing God at every roadblock and around every bend. Not content to rest when she had her sisters established in the city of Burgos, she pressed on, making two more stops before obedience saw her pick up her walking stick again and arrive at Alba de Tormes where she died at age 67.

In a little aside,  the authors comment about the importance of the life of prayer.

Today we live in a world in which we’ve succeeded in establishing contact with the stars, a world hungering for the widest communication possible, eager to pass beyond cultural barriers to study languages and symbols, and demanding 24/7 communication with our electronic devices and social media. And yet we are practically illiterate when it comes to the one language we really need to know, prayer. Only when we are convinced that prayer is essential to really communicate with God, to discover the inner world of our spirit, and to help humankind will we try and learn how to do it. If we take Mother Teresa as our tutor, it will simply mean learning our native language.

Our native language! What a perfect way to describe prayer. And once we have passed beyond the proficiency that St. Teresa teaches us, how well we can communicate in this language, yes with God first and foremost, but also with others who speak the same language. Would that one day we really could truly “defeat our Babel with your Pentecost”.

We live in hope.

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Keep Me Beneath Thine Own Almighty Wings

Vespers are on my mind this Sunday evening. Back home after a Carmelite retreat, I opened my breviary on the porch as the shadows lengthened and the breeze made the air so delightfully fresh. A lovely way to begin to bring the day to a close and to ask God’s blessings upon it all.

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In the last several weeks I have found myself in a number of conversations with half a dozen women who are new to praying the Liturgy of the Hours. I answered a few questions, suggested a book and a website ( you’ll find these on Coffee and Canticles thanks to my friend, Daria) and discussed rubrics, the beauty of the Office of Readings and sometimes, the struggles that we have in finding the time to pray in our busy days.

Skyping with a newly-married niece, I was also surprised this week to see her hold up the wedding gift she received from her husband, a four volume Liturgy of the Hours. Now that is a marriage that is off to a good start!

On two nights of the retreat, a group of Carmelites from our community introduced some of the newbies into the intricacies of chanting Compline together, instead of a simple recitation. Their joy at the other worldly aura of our voices blending together was sweet to behold.

Earlier in the week I picked up a novel that had been on our homeschool reading list. No doubt I had read it twenty some years ago…….The Hawk and the Dove by Penelope Wilcock. After all these years it seemed new to me and, there, in Chapter V, a dear scene in which a mother and her eldest daughter head off alone into the church for Evensong.

     “I loved Evensong. I loved the stillness of the church that enfolded the small evening congregation, the mellow evening sunshine that slanted in low through the windows in summer, the gathering, sombre shadows of spring and autumn evenings, and the profounder darkness of the winter months, all wrapped the evening worship in a mystery and a beauty…..

Mother settled into our pew with a happy sigh. The evening service was a cherished time for her, when she could give herself to the worship without the stress of the little ones’ company or the anxiety of being late……

Glory to thee, my God, this night
For all the blessings of the light
Keep me, O keep me, King of kings
Beneath thine own almighty wings.

I knew about his almighty wings. They were folding around us here, in the quiet of the evening, kind and everlasting and utterly secure. It was the same wings that wrapped me round in our home, in the bedtime candlelight. Sanctuary from the busy and complicated daytime, God gathered us under his evening wing, haven for all our weariness.
The evening service felt as familiar as an old friend, comfortable to be with. I knew these prayers and Actually, I could say them all while thinking about something completely different, which to my sham I frequently did.

     ‘My soul doth magnify the Lord: and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour,’ we sang.

     I thought of Peregrine, singing the same words, but in Latin, all those years ago; wrapped like me in the contentment of evening calm, blissfully unaware of the turbulence of surprise and grief that lay around the corner…’No! I told myself sharply, ‘this is not the time! Come out of the walled garden and shut the door firmly behind you and turn your back on it. Concentrate!’

“Glory be to the father, and to the Son….Mrs. Crabtree sang vigorously behind me.

     Father Carnforth took the evening service. his gentle, wheezy old voice led us through the prayers; the Lord’s prayer, the responses, the collect of the day. I felt reassured by the humble confidence with which he prayed.

     ‘Give unto thy servants that peace which the world cannot give…’

     What a gift! What a thing to ask for! And yet, incredibly, it is given. I knew that peace; I had been brought up with the flavour and texture of it in our home. Peace, at the very core of things, constantly unobtrusive, like the humming of the fridge and the ticking of the clock. Peace, freely given. Beyond our making, or even our understanding. Thank you, God.

May every one of us know this peace and may our prayers at Vespers serve to still the world and make us open and receptive to the divine presence.

Deo Gratias!

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Looking Back Over the Road

Last night Andy and I met at a little pizza place. Their main business seemed to be take-out so there was a steady stream of customers coming in to pick up warm cardboard boxes. The busy staff  were in perpetual motion taking orders and making pizzas. We pushed two tables together and rearranged the chairs so we would have enough room for our group of eight. A blast of cold air and there were Paul & Jasmine and our three grandchildren. Then another blast and in walked our friend, John.

We usually make pizza at home on January 7th, but tonight we opted to gather at Bella Rome. Same intent, though. It was Adoption Day and we were still celebrating twenty five years later, undeterred by the fact that the guest of honor was not physically present. We still wanted to honor this family anniversary and think about Tim.

When I told the kids that we were having a special guest join us for dinner, the girls thought I meant Tim. Sweet ones! “No, just Tim’s friend, John”, I explained.

We talked about this and that while we waited for the pizza to be assembled and baked. We asked about the school day, about how the cars were running, and when John sat down, we asked him to tell us about his Camino adventure. As if on cue, John pulled out a stack of pictures from his walk to St. James Compostelo in Spain last year. He gave us a little travelogue, explaining the pictures, the terrain, the customs and the greetings of fellow pilgrims along “The Way”. Happily for us, a retired college professor is never without his historical details and background!

John told us about the yellow arrows showing the way, the common greetings of the pilgrims, but also about the two Latin greetings that resonated the most with him.

“It’s like this with the yellow arrows
on the Camino.  Generally they are a
ready guidance system, all along the
way.  Painted on the sides of buildings
and fence posts, they indicate changes
in direction. Turn left.  Turn right.  Go straight
ahead.  Pretty simple.  But the occasional
vertical arrow, which means go straight
ahead, reminded me of the old pilgrim
greeting.
Camino 1020
If you pass someone walking on the
path today, you might smile and wave,
and shout ‘bien camino,’ or have a
good walk.  But in the middle ages,
the two latin words were much more
common than now.  The first greeting
to a fellow pilgrim, might be ‘Ultreya’
meaning, good luck on your way to
Santiago, hope you make it to the end
(and don’t get robbed or run out of
food, or become injured, etc).
The reply might be ‘Suseya’ which
more literally means, after you get to
Santiago, hope you make it home again.
But the ultimate spiritual meaning is
hope you make it to your final home,
after the last camino!  This digs deep.
It means a lot, and is the perfect
encouragement, especially for a physically
exhausted pilgrim, who doesn’t know
if he’ll ever make it home.  “
John Paulmann
Camino 2021
We are all still pilgrims on the road of life, occasionally exhausted and sometimes discouraged; footsore and sunburned.
Tim, though, and countless others have made it through the gates and sit around the heavenly table. Someday we will look back over the road and sigh with contentment that we, too, have indeed run and not grown weary. May God help us all.
Suseya!
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Happy Mother’s Day

Happy Mother’s Day to all of you mothers from the Country Mother! In honor of the day I have a little story to tell you.

On Friday I got an email telling me that there was a comment to moderate on this blog. As I read what Jessie had written, I was suddenly alert and surprised. She had been searching for her mother-in-law, Brenda, to find out any information she could about the baby Brenda gave up for adoption in 1989.  Jessie had written to me, hoping that I would respond and that Brenda could communicate with me after all these years.

We spoke later in the day and I told her as much as I could about Tim and, with sadness, about his death. I can only hope that my words consoled her. Yesterday I mailed out copies of Diary of a Country Mother to Brenda and to her son Nathan, Tim’s half-brother, and to his wife, Jessie. I hope to do the same later for Nathan’s sister, Shawna.

The books should arrive tomorrow, a day late for a timely Mother’s day present, but the perfect gift for Brenda to read so that she can get to know Tim, the son she will not have a chance to meet again in person in this life.

Today I want to pause in the normal activity of the day and set aside a few moments to thank Brenda and all the other mothers who have made the brave and difficult decision to choose adoption for their child. What a huge amount of courage it takes to place an infant

A perfect ocean day

in the arms of another mother, trusting that their sweet little one will be loved and cherished and cared for! There is an injury to the mother’s heart, one which heals over and fades with the passage of years, to a certain extent I am sure, but whose scar still throbs when other children are born, when you see a little boy of a certain age and on Mother’s Day, of course.

Thank you, Brenda for your courage. Thank you for the gift that your sweet son was for our family. May God bless you today and all days and may He give you joy in your children and grandchildren to offset the sorrow.

Tim always said he had three mothers. First his birth mother, second, me, his mom third Mary, his Mother in heaven. With the three of us close in spirit today we offer thanks for Tim and his abundant love that brings us together in joy.

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Carmelite Conversations

On March 16, I had the great pleasure to be a guest on the Radio Maria program, Carmelite Conversations. Host Mark Danis, a Secular Carmelite, spoke with me about Diary of a Country Mother and I had a chance to talk about Tim, our family and the writing of the book.

My thanks to Mark, his co-host, Frances Harry, and Radio Maria for this opportunity.

You can listen here:      http://radiomaria.us/march-16-2015/

The Country Mother

The Country Mother

http://radiomaria.us/march-16-2015/

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