The View from the “Clouds”

The View from the “Clouds”

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A pastor friend posted this video on Facebook on Tuesday (21 May 2013).  Though he wasn’t the first person in my feed who did, his comments gave me pause.  He wrote:

He died yesterday at age 17.
How does a kid know so much about parenting?
How does a teen know so much about life?
How does one suffering know so much about joy?
How can such sorrow and loss shout hope and purpose?

When we talk, Sunday after Sunday, that it is possible to have joy in all things, he shows it is possible.

So how can I put the wisdom of this life, with all its joy, hope, and courage into my life?  I want to be like him when I grow up.

Before watching the video, I replied:

There are those among us who have not only spent life living, but watching and thinking — the introspective contemplatives.  It is in the presence of these individuals that one realizes what “an old soul” truly means.  Most live simple lives that only impact the lives of those in their immediate world around them, but every so often the words of one or another of these remarkable persons are preserved and handed down. Often we find the writings of these individuals as mature adults, but in peeling back the layers, realize the individuals in question were long remarkable. Add to all of that the knowledge that he knew that life is short, fleeting, and precious long before most people figure out they aren’t invincible and immortal…that’s how.

The video:

Love the video. Zach gets it — got it:

“Because you can either sit in your basement and wait, or you can get out there and do some crazy stuff.”

“Life is just really beautiful moments, one right after the other.”

“It’s really simple actually, it’s just…try and make people happy. Maybe you have to learn in less time, maybe you have to learn it the hard way, but as long as you learn it, you’re gonna make the world a better place.”

So many people clutter up life with just…things that don’t even matter. The younger this can be learned — the sooner this can be learned — what does matter, the better. The gift that Zach’s cancer gave him was a clarity about this. The thing that can be the greatest evil in this world is not isolated incidents of wickedness and depravity, but the wholesale distraction on a massive and societal level toward ephemeral things and away from the beauty and preciousness of what makes life…life.

Not the best shot of either one of us, but there we are

Not the best shot of either one of us, but there we are

I have a dear baby niece who I try to see a little bit every day. She’s about four and a half months old (younger in this picture) — a sweet, willful, sassy little thing — this child has known what she wanted since before she was born. But she came into the world with little expectation from life — as we all do. Everything is a fascination, and there is so much delight and joy in her as she experiences life. What she wants is simple: to be with those she loves who so dearly love her, and to experience (and delight in) the wonder of life that is her world.

At what point will she be told that’s not good enough?

At what point will she internalize that ‘that’s not good enough’ is true?

The thought that there will come a day when that will be true fills me with profound sadness, because that is the day she will lose her life…the part that matters anyway. Because Zach is right (though I’ll be the first to admit this is a difficult truth to always internalize at every dark moment):

“Life is just really beautiful moments, one right after the other.”

If we ever lose that perspective, we risk losing — forfeiting — all the goodness, joy, hope, and love possible in this life.

For all my love for life (though not always love for the way my own life is going), for all the words of love, of hope, of encouragement…I tend to spend a lot of time on the theological dark side. Sin, evil, pain, suffering, death — what do these things mean within the parameters of a Christian worldview, what does God have to say about it, and how do theologians across the ages weigh in on the discussion? And there is a lot to be found on the subject, because the primary narrative of the Bible is not of children of light living in the glory of eternal light — the primary narrative of the Bible is God’s great rescue plan for broken humanity.

Please remember that the world didn’t start out as a place of light, it started as a place of darkness (see Genesis 1). It is, in-fact, impossible to know light without darkness. That’s not to say that the light does not exist without darkness, it is to say that it will not be noticed: for though the stars burn as brightly during the day as at night, their light is lost to us during the day because of the light of the sun.

Sometimes what makes a thing most noticeable is its deficiency.

“How does one suffering know so much about joy?”

Because amid suffering it becomes apparent that joy is the only thing that really matters. I frequently raid the theology section of a local used book shop, and was having a conversation Tuesday afternoon with the owner about my general distaste for the “heaven tourism” genre. It isn’t about whether I believe or disbelieve the accounts, it’s that I don’t find them relevant or important. I pointed to Philippians 1:21, and said that what interests me more are the books by the people who have wrestled with and internalized “to live is Christ, to die is gain” because they have faced death. It may or may not be a hard word or a hard sell to an eschatologist to say that I don’t give much thought to “what’s next,” but I don’t. I have deep enough Roman Catholic roots for God to be “allowed” to be mysterious. I know God keeps his promises. There are enough broad brush strokes in the Bible to understand the glory and benevolence of heaven without needing a tour map and itinerary. I have an eternity of “later” to think about “later,” what don’t have a lot of is “now.” A friend of mine presented the thought a few months ago that in-light of my trials, suffering, and constant illness this year she wished I could just sleep until 2014 (my reply to that can be found here). I wrote:
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Time is precious…

fleeting…

measured in breaths…

in sunrises and sunsets…

in grains of sand…

in waves on the shore.

It cannot be bottled, nor saved

nor kept, nor held —

only savored, cherished, remembered…or else merely regretted for its passing.

What Zach understood is that life — what we make of it, how we live, and how we die — is a matter of perspective. Whatever we go looking for in this life with intentionality — goodness or evil, hope or despair, joy or sorrow, beauty or wretchedness — we will find. One of the most profoundly affecting things I’ve ever done in my life was volunteer-visit hospice patients. Because hospice patients are a distinct group — a person has committed to not seeking further medical treatment for his or her terminal condition at that point — my various patients gave me the quiet gift of a very close view of death and dying. One thing I discovered first about hospice patients, but then chillingly realized applies to every single living human in my world, is this: absolutely everything about how a person lives his or her life and faces his or her death is tied to the question of whether or not he or she fears death.

Everything.

I have faced my own death many times, and have been called to be a part of the death and dying process of many pets and people. Now there are those who do not fear death who still fight it a little — e.g., what can be done to fight this cancer, do I have a chance? There is a line, however, in a certain type of patient that never makes it to hospice — the patient who fights to fight, even when fighting is of no practical use and destroys the possibility of living and dying with dignity, because their soul has no anchor but to this life and to this world. Realizing how these people lived long before they died, the quiet similarity I’ve noticed — especially among women — is that defying the aging process on all levels becomes a macabre obsession. The thing is though, in the time spent trying to defy aging and death (which, face it, our culture shoves down out throats) we actually surrender control of our lives — minute by minute, dollar by dollar — to that same distracting, dark spirit that steals our days by filling them with ephemeral things. Zach’s view was:

“Death is just another thing on the agenda, kinda. Yeah, it’s scary, but the only reason it’s scary is ’cause you don’t know what’s next or if there is a next. So it’s kinda like sittin’ in the dark. And so you can either choose to be freaking out in the dark and thinking, ‘okay, what’s out there?’ or you can just relax and fall asleep, and be happy and content with everything.”

And it’s by this view — in not “freaking out” but knowing to “relax” — that I know Zach did not fear death, he had a greater peace.

And one of the greatest graces that facing death — reckoning with Philippians 1:21 on a very personal level — is that it can teach you how to live.

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Zach knew this.

Because if a person can come to the place of peace to know “to die is gain,” it completely removes all distracting and self-serving, fear-related barriers to the “to live is Christ” portion of that verse.

Given his words:

“I want to be remembered as the kid who went down fighting…and didn’t really lose.”

and statements made this week by his family, following his death, Zach knew that too.

And its my own deep knowledge of the truth of that verse that brought me to the position I took with my friend who owns the book shop, because there are a lot of really wonderful and rich verses in the Bible to use as an anchor for life, but time and time again I keep coming back to Philippians 1:21.

It’s the ultimate win-win (which Zach also knew).

A pause to fly a little close to the earth with respect to joy and Philippians for any who might not be as deeply familiar with my favorite book in the Bible as I am (or as my pastor friend). Firstly, one of the most beautiful renderings of Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi (i.e., Philippians) is to be found in The New Testament in Modern English by J.B. Phillips (click here to read it). And to read it (in any translation), one thing that is most striking about this epistle (“epistle” is the $10 word for “letter” in Bible-speak) is that it drips with hope and joy…sometimes on a nauseating level.

Seriously, read it…joy, encouragement, hope, love (and the most beautifully succinct passage on the incarnation of Christ is to be found in Chapter 2).

So what’s the story behind the writing of Philippians? Paul hints at it — he was in prison.

Prison?

Yeah, prison. He was chained to a guard 24/7 and used the opportunity to evangelize the guards. Prison — not much joy and hope to be found there. And yet? In Philippians we have one of the most beautiful books in the Bible coming out of the darkness and despair of unjust imprisonment written by a man who was eventually martyred.

“To live is Christ, to die is gain.”

Paul knew what Zach learned — life is too short and too precious to brood over unalterable injustices. In this broken world terrible things happen that we have no power to prevent or to change, but that doesn’t mean we have to swallow the poison and define our days by brokenness. The world was not created broken, it was created beautiful — God made it and saw that it was good. All the goodness didn’t drain out of the world at the fall — much goodness and beauty exists still, albeit imperfectly, and it’s up too us to seek it.

That’s how such sorrow and loss can shout hope and purpose — because sorrow and loss have a walk-on part in eternity for people of faith like Zach, they were not the main characters of Zach’s life, and they will have no part in things to come. Sorrow and loss certainly shaped and informed Zach’s last few years in this world, but by no means did it define him or his beautiful life.

“When we talk, Sunday after Sunday, that it is possible to have joy in all things, he shows it is possible.”

Yes, he shows it is possible, but he also doesn’t deny the bad days. What any who choose to find joy in all things will tell you, is that finding joy — and light…and hope — in profound darkness requires intentionality.

“So how can I put the wisdom of this life, with all its joy, hope, and courage into my life?”

Well that’s the answer, isn’t it: intentionality.

Please understand that finding the goodness, hope, joy and beauty in this broken world is not equivalent to turning off one’s brain and declaring that bad things and brokenness do not exist (“La, la, la — not listening!”) — they do, and they are just as real as all of the good and beautiful things. What intentionality means, is looking at all the good and all the bad, but choosing to honor the goodness of life as more important to value than the bad. It really is that simple…and yet it is so damnably easy to be distracted down the rabbit hole of despair.

Intentionality is no easy task, but it is possible for all. We don’t need to be some kind of super-saint sitting on top of a mountain contemplating life 24/7, it is perfectly possible to be intentional — each and every one of us — in everyday life. It does require a bit of contemplation.

Marginally connected to my application and acceptance to one of the best Jesuit universities on the West Coast U.S., last fall I started delving into the history of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) and their founder St. Ignatius of Loyola. I really like what Loyola had to say about much; his Spiritual Exercises (basically a month-long retreat), The Examen, and so many of his other spiritual disciplines are an amazing and simple way for everyday people to grow closer to God in a very practical way that — really — anyone can do. Ignatian Spirituality is one of the most practical approaches to conducting an interior life that I have found. And don’t think just because Loyola was a Roman Catholic, that this is somehow a “Catholic” thing and doesn’t apply to Protestants, it does. Ignatian Spirituality is a really great tool box for practical faith, and for more information I would recommend reading The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life by James Martin, SJ as a great place to start (he’s very readable and approachable and funny — this will not be a slog, Martin is great!).

Because one of the best ways I’ve found of being intentional about life is the Ignatian principle of finding God in all things — all things. There is a passage from the First week of the Spiritual Exercises that both inspires and challenges me. I’ve quoted it before, but I just keep coming back to it because it is so clear in what it teaches: come what may, our ultimate desire should be anything which enables us to best praise, revere, and serve God (which echoes the famous question/answer from the Shorter Catechism to The Westminster Confession of Faith: Q. 1. What is the chief end of man? / A. 1. Man’s Chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever). Loyola wrote:

Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord and by this means to save his soul.

And the other things on the face of the earth are created for man and that they may help him in prosecuting the end for which he is created.

From this it follows that man is to use them as much as they help him on to his end, and ought to rid himself of them so far as they hinder him as to it.

For this it is necessary to make ourselves indifferent to all created things in all that is allowed to the choice of our free will and is not prohibited to it; so that, on our part, we want not health rather than sickness, riches rather than poverty, honor rather than dishonor, long rather than short life, and so in all the rest; desiring and choosing only what is most conducive for us to the end for which we are created.

To be intentional to seek to lift up what is good and worthy (regardless of circumstances), to find God in all things (regardless of circumstances), and to desire what will best enable us to serve God (regardless of whether the circumstances that come of it are particularly comfortable or desirable to us) — that’s the secret to living a life of hope and joy and courage. Embrace today, it’s the only “today” you’re going to get.

That is what Zach knew.

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Sylmar hill walk. Sylmar, CA. 8 MAR 2013.

And so Zach journeys on without us, and we sojourn here without him. I immediately thought of the Mr. Rogers quotation when I started writing this post:

“If only you could sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to the people you many never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you will leave at every meeting with another person.” — Fred Rogers

because whether Zach knew it or not, we know it of his beautiful life. It is a challenge to us, however — for if we leave something of ourselves with all we meet and in the lives of all we touch, what are we leaving? It cuts both ways — positive and negative. Seek to be intentional that what you leave is positive (as Zach did).

Blessings – VKS

Post-script: I’ve been intermittently watching Zach’s video “Clouds” on YouTube all week as I’ve been writing this (always makes me cry):

On prayer, vocation, mission, purpose, faith, friendship, and faithfulness

On prayer, vocation, mission, purpose, faith, friendship, and faithfulness

Edited from a letter to a friend, originally written on three different days. Footnotes with explanations to give context for certain comments are indicated and referenced at the end of the letter (among them the explanation of what is keeping me stuck out of school) — VKS

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I always count myself blessed to be able not only to worship our great God, but to be able to worship him in the company of those who are both dear friends and beloved saints. I am always so bewildered when people who claim to love God get “dutiful” about churchgoing such that their worship becomes unworshipful. Who is their god anyway? Worship isn’t a “got to,” it’s a “get to.” I am sometimes tired and come to God very empty, but in those dark times when I seemingly have nothing left of myself to give, that God can work beautiful and wonderful things from even the crumbs of my broken soul if I fully offer all of those crumbs to him for his glory and his use? That’s an amazing grace indeed.
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And I am praying, for so many things and for so many reasons I am praying. I usually pray lastly for myself, but I assure you that I no longer ever come to God with my laundry list. I could be classed as “terrible” at prayer because I am not eloquent at public prayer. I am beautifully eloquent in written prayer because I can wait until the words come and just turn them over meditatively before I ever write a thing. My prayers are simple, they have become simple. I have said I am praying for my own situation — and I am — but I very much hesitate to say too much about what I am praying for. I certainly am somewhat discouraged by some of the stuff people report they are praying for my sake. Actually, no, I am very discouraged. I got a detailed laundry list from one of my most frustrating friends this morning. She means well, but she often gets me so worked up drilling down on all the hypothetical details. As detail-oriented as I may be, there is great wisdom in running life like an admin. assistant’s “To Do” list. Write down everything that needs doing and when it’s due, reassess and amend throughout the day, the next day look at the previous day and create a new list based on what was done and undone the day before. It does no good to try to make a “To Do” list in great detail for weeks and months ahead, only to be mindful of the short-term vs. long-term and chip away at the long-term. I’ve honestly never found a better way.

It does no good to obsess over things beyond one’s control, but why it is that people think they need to co-opt and micro-manage my worrying because I’m not doing it enough I can’t tell you. My long-time friends aren’t breaking a sweat over this one — they know God is great and his providence is amazing. I have no idea how this will turn out, but it will work out somehow. As my best friend from college mentioned in a message this morning, I always land on my feet.

And God-be-praised, she is right.

But there are two questions no one is asking that maybe someone should:

1.) Why am I crying?

2.) What am I praying?

As for the former, certainly the toxic reality of my present living situation is certainly part of it*. The fact that I’ve lost contact with Annie and Wentworth is definitely part of it,** but I’ve never stopped knowing that I am a girl on a mission. It is not my job to save anyone, this I know, but I also know that it is my job to love (and love deeply I do!). My heart is breaking over the coming transition. Maybe I’m n supposed to worry, but even though I turn it to prayer, I can’t help a fierce love paired with a feeling of total helplessness.

I can’t save anyone, I can only pray, but in the face of spiritual poverty I feel like prayer is a completely inadequate response to the incredible need. I can’t save anyone — neither body nor soul; I can’t help beyond love and prayer. Is that enough?
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I know not to fight whatever is happening with my life, though I find it all very bewildering. Technically, I could go to school in the fall if I can fund it.*** I need my taxes to be done first so I can get all my financial aid information to figure out what the numbers are. It is a big long-shot, but I have to at least explore this. The plan is to work, but if the door opened to school, you know I would take it.

I really just don’t have enough information to know for certain where I am going or what I will be doing with my life. The part that most people don’t “get” (but I hope you can appreciate) is that I am actually generally pretty okay with not knowing all the details of what is next.

Which comes to the bit about what I am praying…

In his Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius of Loyola has this line that is both challenging and convicting:

Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul.

And the other things on the face of the earth are created for man and that they may help in prosecuting the end for which he is created.

From this it follows that man is to use them as much as they help him on to his end, and ought to rid himself of them so far as they hinder him to it.

For this it is necessary to make ourselves indifferent to all created things in all that is allowed to the choice of our free will and is not prohibited to it; so that, on our part, we want not health rather than sickness, riches rather than poverty, honor rather than dishonor, long rather than short life, and so in all the rest; desiring and choosing only what is most conducive for us to the end for which we are created.

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That’s a hard word, but it’s also one I take very seriously. The longer I live, the more firmly I’m convinced that what this life is about is responding to the various vocations in various seasons of life, and paying attention to keeping my divine appointments (I had several transit-related ones today).

That’s really it, life isn’t really much deeper/harder than that. Now, I won’t say that is necessarily EASY by any means, but it really is just that simple. If I really believe all I say I believe and truly confess that most basic and primary creed — Jesus Christ is Lord — then it is “Lord” he must be.

I’m sure you have some idea of what a terribly hard sell that is. Francis Chan has an extended bit in Crazy Love about the profound wrongness of giving lip-service to loving God while living our lives as if he doesn’t exist. To say: “Jesus Christ is Lord” are simple enough words, but by no means is it simple to do. But I think — for the weight of the measure of what is at-stake in terms of eternity — we at least owe it to God to try and give him our best as a gratitude response.

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So what am I praying for? To be sent out somewhere else where I can offer my best to bless others for God’s service where I am needed to love and bless others. And the part that my long-time friends get well — the crux of why I am totally not freaked out right now — is that God has a really big imagination and takes my assignments as seriously as I do. Someone made the cheeky sarcastic remark a few months back to the effect that it isn’t like we go out into the world telling people: “I’m on a mission from God.”

It was a general remark to no one in particular, but I got even more quiet than usual. Because, actually, that pretty much is EXACTLY what I do say. There really, actually, is no other possible explanation for my life. People believe its truth, and most somehow find something positive in it.
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Visionary leadership isn’t my deal, but nurturing leadership is. You’ll never find me at the helm of an international NGO, but if you need someone to walk you through a mess, I might be your girl. I can’t ever imagine myself as a foreign missionary, for example. Folks have been bugging me about international short-term mission trips since 2001. I don’t feel a call in that direction and never have. That said, God does like to send me places because I just GO without asking a lot of detailed questions about “Why?” or “What’s in it for me?” So instead of a laundry list of prayers wishing a bunch of stuff for myself, I’m begging God to find me a place to go where I can somehow bless others.

By the standards of just about everyone I know, this puts me on the spectrum somewhere between “odd” and “insane.” And yet “send me” and “use me” really are among some of the best prayers that can be prayed. But maybe you already know that?

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Cleaning, sorting, packing, and caring for my sweet baby guinea pigs (still at my sister’s) has eclipsed my life in the past week-and-a-half, but you have been much in-mind and in-prayer my friend. I’m ever mindful that giving a person room and space to be my friend as they wish is better. Maybe that’s how God sees things too — being undeniably present in our lives, but ultimately leaving it up to us how we respond to that? So often I wish I could just stop time to give those I love the ear and attention they need and deserve as my friends. Because it really is possible to die of loneliness somewhere in “How are you?”/”Fine.”
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And I know as well as you do that you are nowhere near “Fine,” but I am also mindful that re-hashing stuff can be exhausting and even harmful. Sunday mornings are my own life’s sacred space where I bring those broken crumbs of myself before God, where I gather enough strength to (almost always) make it through the next week as “Fine” enough to be able to love and serve others. There are weeks — and this one might be one of them — where I hit “done” with my life long before Sunday morning. I’m pretty much always “done” with my life these days actually, but press on to keep going because so many find strength in what is of God within me. That’s hard too. But now, maybe more than ever, I have to keep on — I’ve got a baby guinea pig in trouble: Benwick needs me.**** Lots of people need me actually.

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The incomparably adorable charmer, baby Benwick Wigglewhiskers at five days old

I wish I had an answer to your own questions of what God is doing in your life life. All I have is an ear, a thinking mind, and a loving heart. Is that enough? You have my love; you have whatever of my friendship you will accept; you have my ear to listen for whatever you wish. I love the Thomas Merton quotation from The Seven Storey Mountain:

It is a wonderful experience to discover a new saint. For God is greatly magnified marvelous in each one of His saints: differently in each individual one. There are no two saints alike: but all of them are like God, like Him in a different and special way. In-fact, if Adam had never fallen, the whole human race would have been a series of magnificently different and splendid images of God, each one of all the millions of men showing forth His glories and perfections in an astonishing new way, and each one shining with his own particular sanctity, a sanctity destined for him from all eternity as the most complete and unimaginable supernatural perfection of his human personality.

If, since the fall, this plan will never be realized in millions of souls, and millions will frustrate that glorious destiny of theirs, and hide their personality in an eternal corruption of disfigurement nevertheless, in re-forming His image in souls distorted and half destroyed by evil and disorder, God makes the work of His wisdom and love all the more strikingly beautiful by reason of the contrast with the surroundings in which He does not disdain to operate.

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Merton is right, and there is a power of truth in his wise words. You are a beautiful saint and a child of God. He who has begun a good work in you will what? (see Philippians 1:6) You are a quietly delightful person with a beautiful soul. I am wrestling right now with a life that doesn’t seem to have room for me in it, but what keeps me faithful and getting up in the morning is that – though it is very hard for me to find God’s path out in this mess of a life that no longer seems to have any room for me in it – I know that God IS in this somewhere, and he loves me and – no matter how bad things get – he is with me at all times and in all things (whether I can feel it or see it or know it or not).

That same level of faithfulness applies to you my friend.
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I wish I could fix this, all of it. Can you forgive me a little, however, for being slightly distracted from my total and uninterrupted sympathy for your situation because I am curious in wonder for what amazing new thing God may have in-store for you in your life? Because the truth about ANYTHING in this life is that if you are in alignment with God, he will be glorified through your life no matter what. As you are such an amazing person anyway, do forgive me for wondering how God will be glorified in all this.

Because he will, and he will use you to do it. In the truest and most literal sense of the word: that’s awesome.
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I wish I could give you a hug my friend. I wish I could carve a safe place of rest out for you in the world. I wish I could give you peace. I wish I could fix all that is broken in your life right now. Of that list, all I can offer is the hug, but the good news is that God can give you the rest of it. All I have to offer you is myself – my love and my friendship. It is (and always was) an offering, what you do with it is entirely up to you. I will love you no matter what though.

My heart and tears are with you my friend. I hope and pray you are well. I look forward to seeing you soon. I count myself blessed to know you dear friend. Please hang in there and take gentle care. God’s blessings to you in all things – Christ’s grace and peace be with you my dear friend.

Much love in-Christ,

Val

*A reference to post-fumigation clean-up — literally toxic — and an experience I do not recommend!

**All the guinea pigs had to be shifted to my sister’s house related to the fumigation and clean-up; they are still there.

***It’s complicated, but because I’ve spent the last eight years paying down $20K debt — and I don’t care who knows that, because I’ve worked insanely hard and sacrificed much to do the honorable thing and am down to the last partial payment of $80!!! I was living within my means, not using credit I couldn’t afford — so what happened? My credit score is amazing — or was before the accident — but is too clean; school is almost totally paid for, but I don’t qualify to take out the small bit of private student loans above and beyond the Stafford and institutional loans and grant money from the school and the government to cover my living expenses. Bottom line: unless I find a cosigner or stay out of school 3-5 more years working and building credit, I’m stuck out of school because they can’t prove I’ll honor the debt because I’ve spent the last eight years honoring my debt (even when the bank that acquired the account “lost” the original note on the repayment plan from the first bank and refused to honor the agreement…adding THREE MORE YEARS of payments and setting me back three years). Honors student, amazing transcripts, amazing ministry resume…I’ve now waited thirteen years to go back to school, and this sets me back still further. If you know anyone who might want to help, let me know. I’m a Theological Studies major working to complete undergrad to prepare for seminary to go into ministry. As Pedro Arrupe’s phrase was: “to become a…woman for others.” (the full phrase is “men and women for others,” but I am just a woman). I have to move in August anyway. All of this nightmare could go away — literally — with one signature; references available.

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At six days old a typical view of Benwick: at the milk bar.

****I was worried about little Benwick, he was socially and developmentally “behind” his siblings, and wouldn’t play with them or eat “big pig” food, but only wanted to nurse and hide under Annie 24/7. I was very disturbed on 15 May 2013 when I put him and his brothers in with Wentworth and he was too terrified to interact with any of them and just stood in the corner screaming while the other three played and tried to console him. He was doing much better on 16 May 2013.

Blessings for your Tuesday

Blessings for your Tuesday

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To the same friend as  yesterday’s post…

Oh, right, and yeah, for a long time I was aiming at being a math professor. Most of the teaching I have done in my life? Math. Very gifted at math, science, history, literature, AND theology????? Um, I love art and music too. #RenaissanceWoman, #loveHildegardvonBingen

Oh, right…and if you named one of your pets after Hildegard von Bingen that automatically makes you cool enough to be my friend!!!!

—–

My Dear Friend,

It has been my experience over many years of studying mathematics (still a love, but one I had to leave in a box quietly by the side of the road) that there are basically two temperaments in math professors: the ones who know and understand that math is a great game and a puzzle…and the ones for whom it becomes a religion. I am in the former camp — Calculus proofs are FAR more elegant and fun than, say, crossword puzzles.

My former Calculus professor for all three terms was of a similar mind, and just neat people. Professor, former missionary in Thailand, a pastor’s wife who sometimes preaches herself. She has a radio ministry, she’s mother of three grown sons, she’s grandma. She’s exactly the type of person you can imagine me falling in with because she is both “real” and interesting (I have no use for pretense, and narrowly conventional people generally can’t stand ME, nevermind that shallowness bores me to tears).

She has a great sense of humor, but maybe not as quick and wicked as mine. She is the professor, of course, but in proofs that take 3-5 boards to write out, sometimes minor mistakes are made along the way that get you stuck and backing up later (and you learn as much from the backing up, so it’s a good thing). The funny thing was that she would always have a stock-answer ready-made silly excuse for the mistake. My favorite habitual excuse was: “Because it’s Tuesday” — she never blamed any other day of the week but Tuesdays.
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If you’re reading this, good morning to you my friend — it’s Tuesday. Blessings and love to you my friend because it’s Tuesday. We don’t ever need any other reason to celebrate a day besides the fact that God made it and we’re living it (both of those being very good things to celebrate). The verse goes: “Rejoice in the Lord ALWAYS,” no conditional qualifiers. I pray you can find joy and peace in this day, come what may, no matter what, and even…because it’s Tuesday. I love you my friend, and you are in my prayers. Know that you are loved — treasured by God and by many. No matter what else this day brings, I pray you find joy, peace, and rest in that love my friend.

May the peace of Christ be with you in all things this day, and may the Holy Spirit bring you strength. Hugs to you my dear friend.

Much love in-Christ,

Val

Love and blessings for your day my friend

Love and blessings for your day my friend

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Photo source and image copyright Curly Girl Designs http://www.curlygirldesign.com

Originally sent as an e-mail to a dear friend; it occurred to me it would make a good post as well.  The human soul is a fragile thing indeed, but that is one of the things that makes it most beautiful and precious. For it is, as Thomas Merton wrote, like a crystal: it is the light without — God’s light– shining through a soul that brings it to life. May you find hope and blessings this day. — VKS

—–

My Dear Friend,

Blessings for your morning — I love you, and God does too (know that on both counts).  Come what may (come all that may), if you are reading this, you are alive on a day and in a life that holds so much beauty and love.  Know that — take time to notice it.  There is no joy or beauty too small not to praise the Lord.

—–

“There is not a flower that opens, not a seed that falls into the ground, and not an ear of wheat that nods on the end of its stalk in he wind that does not preach and proclaim the greatness and the mercy of God to the whole world

There is not an act of kindness or generosity, not an act of sacrifice done, or a word of peace and gentleness spoken, not a child’s prayer uttered, that does not sing praises to God before his throne, and in the eyes of men, and before their faces.

How does it happen that in the thousands of generations of murderers since Cain, our bloodthirsty ancestor, that some if us can still be saints? The quietness and hiddenness and placidity of the truly good people in the world all proclaim the glory of God.

All these things, all creatures, all graceful movement, every ordered act of the human will, all are sent to us as prophets from God.”
— Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain

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I love you my friend, bless you. I remembered you and your family fiercely in my prayers this morning. I only wish I could give you a hug in-person to give you my love beyond mere words. I am currently reading The Ascent to Truth, which is Merton on St. John of the Cross (phenomenal book even as I am barely into it). I got into what — on my end — was a very interesting argument AGAINST “prosperity gospel” nonsense with G—– last week; she couldn’t wrap her head around the premise of The Dark Night of the Soul and I think thinks I’m completely nuts (and possibly evil or dangerous) for raising the question in the first place. I was also talking about that premise [with K—–] on the way home from church yesterday, that, no — this is not the place where you know things are bad but you know God loves you, this is the place where things are SO BAD you can’t see or feel God anywhere in those darkest of dark moments. And if your life with God includes NO blessings, is who God is ENOUGH to love him, praise him, serve him?

G—– cited that as a weird question. I was also speaking against one of Job’s friends who equated “lack of apparent blessings” with “secret sin” or perhaps some other deficiency of love or faith (as many today would accuse in similar circumstances). I reminded her that it is also the question raised by Job — if all life is without blessings, is who God is ENOUGH? That was dismissed too. I remain convinced, however, that it is a good litmus test for faith — do I love God because I LOVE God, or do I say I love God because he is “the god who gets me stuff”? Obviously my answer is the former (spiritually-shallow people do not take up with Carmelite mystics for “a little light reading,” and then take up with a Trappist monk for deeper reflection!!!!!).

You are loved, dear sister — by God, by me, and by so very many. May that sustain you this day, come what may. The grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you my friend.

Much love in-Christ,

Val

Blessings and storms

Blessings and storms

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Thus far it has been the most beautiful birthday weekend since 2001.

Today — the morning with my church family.

I will write more later.  For reasons that have nothing to do with festivities, I haven’t slept well in days; presently I’ve been up for hours after…maybe…five hours sleep (after a day of walking about L.A.. with friends — NOT adequate for my day!!!).  It occurs to me that I would live as a servant for the rest of my life if only I could have a truly safe place to rest each night where I could sleep in total and absolute peace, a place where I could attain true and real rest.

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I haven’t slept in complete and total peace since 2002.

That’s a definitive part of hell I think — no rest.  The fact that I haven’t slept in eleven years both with peace and without the occasional Benadryl for help is truly maddening.

It has been a beautiful weekend full of so much love and delight and celebrating life.  Still no baby guinea pigs to celebrate with, but I pray that all goes well and that Annie delivers safely and soon.

But even amid so much love and so much joy and so many blessings, the dark reality that we live in a very darkly broken world looms large in so many ways.  I see it well, but would go completely insane to focus or dwell on it.  And I really do mean that: completely insane.  I am, however, sane as sane can be to know NOT to focus on such things.  Still…scary stuff.

Part of what has kept me up this night is a very brief note from a very dear friend who is probably very much more ill than she would ever admit.  It renews a question raised in my mind last fall when her collegues were piecing together a story that involved years of silence on the subject — will I ever see her again at all, in this life or the next? (there has long been a question mark on the last point)

Forever is not merely a very long time, forever is forever — it means “always” or “never,” but “eventually” and “hopefully” and “someday” are just not part of the “forever” equation.

Is a chronic and progressive illness more than that is my question (one of so many questions).

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Thunderstorm viewed from the back side of Pine Mountain over the Lockwood Valley and Frazier Park, taken 30 SEP 2010

Storms loom in the distance.

I can feel the air changing, I can see the thunderheads building.

There is no peace in this.

Last night, before I went to bed I wrote:

“What I wish from life is not much, or shouldn’t be.  I wish for peace and stability enough that there may be room and provision for me to continue to exist in the world while I remain in the world.  I wish to love and serve God with everything I have while I am in the world.  There may be a problem with this, and it is making me ill.  May God’s favor and provision be with his humble servant, I have no answers.”

Because provision is the open question at this point.

I wrote more at-length to a few friends last night when I got home.  The subject line of that e-mail was: “Wishing for the kind of faith that would make anxiety attacks impossible.”

So much looms and so much is wrong, even on this bright and beautiful weekend filled with joy.  I am not focusing on the darkness, but neither am I ignoring it.

God help me, only he can fix this.

The intro to the backstory to Casting Crowns’ “Praise You In This Storm”:

The full song:

33

33

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Highway 33, one of my favorite places in the world. That lovely photo from the top of Reyes Peak looking south to Port Hueneme, Oxnard, Ventura, Carpenteria, and Santa Barbara that is the main header for this blog? That was taken at the end of the Pine Mountain Summit turnoff from Highway 33 in the Sespe Wilderness.

33.

A fun number I suppose.  Not extraordinary.  Not a nice round number ending in a tidy “0.”  Not a number to be counted off by 5s.  A palendrome to be sure, like all its elevensy kin.  They don’t make special cards for 33rd birthdays.

Maybe they should.

I couldn’t tell you when or what sermon it was, but I remember hearing one of my favorite preachers, Alistair Begg, once say in a sermon something to the effect that he thought that God must love birthday parties because they are about celebrating life.

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That's a really yummy pound cake by the way, there were fresh strawberries and freshly-whipped cream to go with it. Was I really ever nineteen? So young...so innocent...so long ago.

Life is certainly worth celebrating.

The calendar of my life will turn a page this week, and I will add another candle to the proverbial cake.

If I were a tree, the 2012-2013 growth ring would be very thin, and fire scorched on one side.  This has not been the worst year of my life, but it certainly has been one of the leanest and most discouraging.  There are a lot of reasons to take pause and want to forget most of the past year…

…but there is love and beauty to be found on even the darkest days.

I haven’t had a full-time job in eleven months.  That’s not encouraging at all.  The run-up to the election did not bode well for the job market for office contract work, it just didn’t.  I eventually just gave up and decided to throw my hat in the ring for university.

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Sacred Heart Chapel...GO LIONS!

Got in…to my first choice school…one of the most prestigeous universities in Southern California…very easily…on my first try. This wasn’t a gift — I worked really hard, have what it takes…and proved it.

But I can’t go.

Then the car accident.

Then the recovery.

I’ve been sick ever since, no prospects for work, little hope for school (though, on paper, I am “going” for fall; if I can find a cosigner I can make that a reality).  No clue how I connect the dots from the ghetto to grad school (trying to finish the last two years of undergrad in Theological Studies).  No clue how or where I will find work — meaningful or not.  No car in L.A. is no asset.  Intelligence is no asset without the credentials to prove it.

My credentials prove nothing to potential employers (except, perhaps, instability).  God has a plan in this somewhere.  God?  Yeah, hi — a little direction in this would be nice.

I watched God open doors in supernatural ways — open them WIDELY — toward a bright and promising future, the way out of so much long struggle and despair.  I ended up at dinner with someone oblivious to the fact that he was the devil’s mouthpiece for temptation to the easy way through school.

Was I willing to compromise my integrity to accept help from someone with less-than-honorable motives?

No.

[Sidebar: Realizing that what started out as a business meeting has turned into a dinner date with the devil is terrifying.]

All hell broke loose at that point.  Thanks-be-to-God for protecting me from much worse harm last December.  Much was broken and destroyed, but I am mostly intact.  Life will go on.

A friend and a cousin each got married last summer (not to each other, but each to very lovely spouses) — blessed to be there.

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Annie Wigglewhiskers, 31 January 2013

Found Annie, lost Eleanor.

Lost a dear friend and mentor, got a precious baby niece.

Waiting for little Annie/Wentworth babies…any day.  A second generation of beautiful and precious — the combination of the two best-tempered guinea pigs I’ve ever had.  The kiddos of two of the most dear and precious pigs I’ve ever had.  I’ve loved these little ones since long before they were born, I only wish Eleanor could know them.

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I am waiting…waiting between now and forever.

In some ways? It’s hard to think about 33 — for in thirty-three years Jesus Christ was born, lived, accomplished his entire earthly ministry, died, rose, and ascended to heaven.

In thirty-three years…I can’t even seem to get my feet off the ground.

I was advised by a well-meaning friend back in 2000 to focus every bit of my energy and resources to getting back to school.  I didn’t, and I’m not sorry.  I was able to live a much richer life for making sure that I looked up, and out, and to the world and life beyond…not just singlely-focused on that vague thing “the future.”  There were so many people to meet, so many lives to touch, so many things to see…things to learn…days to fully live.

And life is never fully lived when one focuses only on one’s own self.  It is possible to miss all of life if too narrowly-focused (and what could be more narrow a focus than one’s own self?).

“The future” moves anyway.  It’s clear where I’m supposed to be.  God will get me there…someday.

Today is not that day; tomorrow doesn’t look good either.

There are moments when I am momentarily angry or sad for my struggle.  Is it fair that I have had to struggle so hard for so long…only to just stand still?  Some of my former professors and friends share in this frustration.  Sometimes blessings don’t seem to be distributed evenly or equatably — do little eighteen and nineteen year-old slackers with parents supporting them in everything really deserve a free ride?  No, but we don’t live in a karmic universe.  If life made sense, they would be living in the ghetto and pining for entry-level work.

Life doesn’t make sense, maybe life isn’t supposed to make sense, at least not in a karmic way anyway.  I honestly don’t think it matters.  Whether life is or isn’t fair, what does that really change about anything?  Will singing the injustices of your own world really change anything?  Not so much, but it will let you wallow in unalterable misery.  Will that really change anything?

Yes: it will keep you miserable, self-centered and miserable.

Because, really, to some degree life really is what you make of it.

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And at some point the question that needs to be asked, wrestled with, reckoned with is: what’s the point? What gets you up in the morning? Why bother getting up in the morning at all? What’s going to get you out of bed tomorrow morning?

Are you living life for yourself?

Are you living life for others?

Are you living life for God?

Are you living at all?

Are you merely alive and muddling through?

They’re honest questions, though perhaps incomfortable ones.

Living life for yourself: If you’re living life for yourself, you’ve set yourself up as the center of your own universe. Thus you get credit for the good, but when all hell breaks loose in your life, it’s on you to fix it — alone. Totally alone. You can’t give up, you can’t phone a friend, you just have to plod along. If this life is all there is, that’s it — the beginning and end of everything. Come what may, you’ve got to keep it together, because you’re all you’ve got. I know athiests who try to live good lives, but I can’t for the life of me figure out why. If no one’s keeping score, what’s the point of effort? In The Imitation of Christ, Thomas à Kempis writes at length on the idea that anything “great” one accomplishes in this world will be little noted nor long-remembered. Ashes-to-ashes, dust-to-dust, from dust you came, to dust you shall return. If we are all “dust” and no “soul,” there probably is no point. I absolutely DESPISE the writings of Eckhart Tolle, because I find him to be one preaching false ideas of “cafeteria spirituality” (take what you like of various theological and philosophical worldviews, crowd it together on a tray, and leave the rest), but one thing I think he got at least somewhat right is that most people live their lives in light of their own egos. His “what to do about that” is a view I feel to be dead wrong, but that’s another story for another post I never wish to write. But if you travel through life, perhaps driven by ego, as the center of your own universe, are you — yourself — reason enough for the universe to exist? If you are perhaps not an atheist but a vague deist trying to live a good and moral life, who sets the standard? How good is “good enough” to squeak into a benevolent afterlife? If it’s all on you — can you do it? Eternity is at stake here (no pressure). Living for yourself is empty, very empty.

Living life for others: Living life for others isn’t exactly wrong…unless you’re living life only for others. Because if you’re living life only for others, you’re setting yourself to be the center of someone else’s universe. It’s a quick trip to holding up all of the sky at that point. The pressure of living to carry the lives of others is enormous — no pressure, but you never get a day off and can never, ever, ever fail.

Not fail, not ever.

Your entire life exists for the sole purpose of only serving other humans — perhaps only one other human — with no higher purpose apart from this service. There is no glory or honor in that, you are a slave. And — no matter how much you love the person or how lovely the person might otherwise be — people are inconstant and disappointing. Eventually there will come a moment of resenting and feeling trapped under the weight of this life. “Oh, no, that sounds terrible…I’d never do that.” No? What’s first in your life? If you’re the type of person who makes idols out of relationships or the type of parent who stops at nothing to serve your children, this just might be you. Don’t tell yourself it’s love, it might not be love. If it is an all-consuming obsession and drive to serve, it’s not love. As the Bob Dylan song goes:

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

So what about the Lord?

Maybe this is the first of St. Val the Eccentric’s posts you’ve found. Could be…I’m an ecclectic person, I often throw a few odd tags — fitting, but odd — into every post. I have a pretty ecclectic following. If you’re following me, I’ve read at least some of your blog — enough to get a picture of who you are and what you’re about. I love the “tag cloud” widgit — tag clouds give a beautiful picture of what we write about. The biggest words in my tag cloud are: Christ, Christianity, encouragement, guinea pigs, hope, love, and theology.

This is me.

I am about hope, love, and encouragement all rooted in Christ Jesus (and also about guinea pigs, because I am “fearfully and wonderfully made,” and God decided I was supposed to be the Guinea Pig Whisperer, and I’m okay with that).

So…you knew it would come to this, yes?
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Nothing is more practical than finding God,
that is than falling in a love in a quite absolute, final way.

What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination will affect everything.

It will decide what will get you out of bed in the mornings,
what you will do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends,
what you read,
who you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.

Fall in love, stay in love and it will decide everything.

— Pedro Arrupe, S.J. (1907-1919), former Superior General of the Society of Jesus (i.e., the Jesuits)

Living life for God: Some time in the past calendar year, I quietly crossed a line and have now lived longer “beyond” the day when I was so powerfully redeemed from death so many years ago than all my natural life before it. That’s something to give me real pause. I’ve lived long enough to know and experience profound loss, and to also experience profound gratitude for the precious pieces of my life that remain. I struggle, however, with a general “elevator pitch” statement for why you, too, should love Jesus. All I know is that I was powerfully redeemed from death through faith and prayer, I am not the same person I was, God always keeps his promises (“I will never leave you or forsake you” being among them), and that even though sometimes God can seem to disappoint because my life doesn’t quite go the way I think it should…God is still sovereign and comes up with answers that are (in the end) better. My life is just better for God being in charge. I’m not sure I have a better answer than that.

A friend of mine sent me a quotation she found in her studies a few days ago:

“Faith is an expression of the fact that we exist so that the infinite God can dwell in us and work through us for the well-being of the whole creation. If faith denies anything, it denies that we are tiny, self-obsessed specks of matter who are reaching for the stars but remain hopelessly nailed to the earth stuck in our own self-absorption. Faith is the first part of the bridge from self-centeredness to generosity.”

— Volf, Miroslav (2009-08-30). Free of Charge (p 44). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

I think there is a whole lot of truth in that statement.
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“Men and Women for Others”: Pedro Arrupe, S.J. coined the phrase “men and women for others” in a famous 1973 address on the feast day of Ignatius of Loyola when he declared:

“[O]ur primary educational objective must be to form men and women for others, who believe that a love of self or of God that does not issue forth in justice for the least of their neighbors is a farce.”

That was part of the prompt I picked for my university admissions essay, and it’s stuck with me ever since. “Men and women for others” — isn’t that a very large componant of Christian discipleship?

I think it is (and argued it deftly…and will someday finish editing that essay to blog format).

Because the difference between merely living for others and living for God for others is that when we live for God for others, the motive is to serve God. What is on offer from God is such a beautiful and powerful gift — life, eternal and beautiful; we do not work for the kingdom to earn salvation, we work for the kingdom to glorify God with our lives in a gratitude response of obedience to his call to love and to serve. It’s a beautiful thing. Life and love are meant to be celebrated, not kept in a box on a shelf.

Life is, in many ways, what you make it. Celebrate life this day and every day. Love and bless others. Sparkle and shine.
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On my knees

On my knees

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Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, Los Angeles, CA

So, when I finally got home from the hospital Monday afternoon — exhausted from basically NO sleep the night before — I crashed for a few hours while “Mom” in the family of the household where I live went out with the kiddos because the littlest miss had an appointment.  Lovely time for a nap.  It was insanity when they got home though, as it was *one of those days*, the house is a wreck, and no one got naps.  Saw the Cathedral advertising a special mass on their Facebook feed as I scrolled through, and it did not take a lot of thought to know I wanted to get the heck out of Dodge Monday night.  On some level I think every week should be Holy Week if only for the opportunity to worship so much more often.

I raced downtown, of course praying all the way down…which, of course, also had me in tears.  Maybe you can understand how it is to be the kind of person with whom the conversation does not normally stop at the “How are you?” / “Fine.” level.  To be fair, I do pretty regularly check-in with folks via e-mail or text message or Facebook.  When people I love respond to my prayer request inquiries, it’s complicated.  I wouldn’t say that my friends count on me, they don’t per se, but what they count on is — as one of my very best friends, a dear prayer partner, and the only human God has graced and blessed me with the honor of walking with at the start of her jouney of faith put it the other night — a “spiritual constant.”  Well “constant” is a good word for me anyway, I can be cranky sometimes, but I have a pretty even emotional keel.  “Spiritually constant” is a label I will take, but it keeps my inbox full.  These are not prayers on the “please pray I will do well on my board exams” kind of prayer requests.  These are more along the lines of folks with crazed relatives out to kill them, people captive to eating disorders and mental illness, people with children not only far from God but sometimes in a lot of trouble and missing (and grandkids missing with them), people with struggling marriages, or friends who profoundly love Jesus and cling tightly to God but who live in living situations surrounded by profound darkness closing in on them from every side as they sit like a backstop for Christ between those they love so dearly and all the furies of hell waiting for an opportunity to unleash with power to destroy everyone and everything in their path.

When I ask: “How can I pray for you?” those are the types of answers I get.  Those are the prayers that keep me in tears.  I don’t care where I am anymore, but the long stretches of time spent crossing the San Fernando Valley or headed downtown seem to be a perfect opportunity to pray, as I have nothing else I “need” to be focusing on at the time.  So that was Monday night just as much as it was Monday morning.

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St. Peter's Basilica, The Vatican, Rome

So, there was not a lot of thought or intent for WHY to head downtown other than wanting to get out of the house, and worshipping God among God’s people in a beautiful sacred space seemed to be a good way to do that.  If you are my friend, you understand that my default plan for “how to spend free time” includes “going to church” in some capacity and “art museums”; it does not include such typical perennial favorites as “let’s go see a movie” or “let’s stay home and watch TV” or “let’s go hang out at the mall.”

I got there barely “on time,” but “on time” just the same.  I actually earned an Order of Mass from someone who decided that me singing “Church of God, Elect and Glorious” (think “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee…) with my whole heart and pulling out the stops for what my voice had to offer because Beethoven’s 9th is GLORIOUSLY in-range for my voice — and singing this while desperately trying to read the words of the hymn off her friend’s Order of Mass — meant that I wanted or needed that piece of paper more than she did.

Incidentally, I was/am blown away at the beauty of the words to “Church of God, Elect and Glorious.”  Seriously.  Beautiful and powerful.

I was stuck rather close to the beautiful processional in, for by the time I got there people were still flooding in and it was standing room only in a packed house in one of the largest cathedrals in the world.

That’s a moment.

It was a Chrism Mass (but what do I know of such things, I’ve never lived near the seat of an Archdiocese before…).  That crowd…it was like being at a wedding full of people whose primary objective was loving Jesus and worshipping God, and whose secondary objective was sharing the joy of this in prayerful support of their fellow saints (per se, in the Protestant understanding of the word).  After the processional, I was able to make my way across and up and ended up spending most of two hours ON MY KNEES behind the row if pews that mark the center aisle.

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Photo source, Compassion International

That’s not for everybody, I understand, but there is something much more intentional (and far less comfortable!) in worshipping God on your knees rather than sitting.  You have to want to be there, every moment is present-tense not only for what is going on with your knees and lower back, but drawing you back into what is going on everywhere else.  Kneeling through a worship service is not a spectator sport, and it would be impossible to, say, fall asleep doing it.

There was a lesson there.

I ended up not in my usual spot, but across and under St. Cecilia, St. Stephen, and St. Ignatius of Loyola (I can work with that, for nothing in the world against any of the other tapestries, I love them all, but if I have a choice for “who to sit by” in church, I pick familiar friends who, in this case, inspire me).

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Communion of the Saints, Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, Los Angeles, CA

I was next to a girl from Reseda who sings in her church choir as much as I should sing in ours (which I would if I could reasonably make rehearsals).  Our vocal range was similar, which is very fun.  She was about my age, maybe a bit younger, and she and her friends were very nice; it was beautiful and fun to worship with her, singing songs (bilingual ones) that are — by now — very familiar to me.

Now, to be sure, as a resolute Protestant, in any mass there are those “yup, I don’t believe that” moments, but I am disinclined toward the notion of a “seating chart” in heaven.  But apart from blessing the oils there sat hundreds of priests publically reaffirming their faith and their vows before a room of people who turned out to love and prayerfully support them.  And we were also called to renew our own commitment to faith which — on your knees in a giant beautiful cathedral amid so many joyously faithful saints, standing under tapestries depicting the lives of so many who lived beautiful lives that inspire ME — was a powerful thing.  There is so much that is truly beautiful wrapped up in the idea of “the communion of the saints.”

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Archdiocesan Chrism Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, Monday, March 25, 2013. (photo: Victor Aleman / vida-nueva.com)

I’ve “passed through” various ecumenical places on my way to Geneva (and Calvin), as it were.  I’ve been in various churches and denominations where an alter call was fairly normal, and certainly at the single Christian camp experience I had many years ago, there was the call to not just merely commitment to faith but a renewed commitment to faith.  I’ve had the weird pleasure of having to really come to terms with the parameters of my own faith twice in the last seven years as I made the very public profession of faith to join two churches.  Certainly most days I wake up with the attitude: “Good morning, Lord, bring it on,” but there are other moments.  Occasionally there are also moments — and I know Monday night was one of them — where I am more of the mind of: “Lord, I have no idea where we are going, but before heaven — let all these people be my witnesses — I’m all-in, so, yes…bring it on, and where are we going tomorrow?”

But with an “on my knees” intentionality.

So I may not have had any deep motives for why to head to the cathedral Monday night, but God did…which became very clear to me as I — on my knees and singing my heart out — found myself amid a liturgy focused on vocation, service, and faithfulness.  It was a beautiful thing.
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(Click here for the link to the YouTube video for the Homily of the March 25, 2013 Chrism Mass given by Archbishop José H. Gomez)