Tuesday, October 31, 2006

All Saints/All Souls/Day of the Dead

I can never get these three days straight -- All Saints, All Souls, and Day of the Dead. They are all signs of our fascination with death, our never-ending effort to make something sensible out of it - to tame it, understand it , calandarize it. We honor the dead -- spend time in tribute to those who have gone before. And while (in the case of All Saints and All Souls) this is a fairly tame enterprise, it seems odd to be so civilized about it all. We sing a few familiar hymns -- "For All the Saints Who From Their Labours Rest" is a particularly beautiful one reserved for this time of the church year -- and then we are on our way.

For all the saints, who from their labors rest,
who thee by faith before the world confessed,
thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress and their Might;
thou, Lord, their Captain in the well fought fight;
thou, in the darkness drear, their one true Light.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

For the apostles' glorious company,
who bearing forth the cross o'er land and sea,
shook all the mighty world, we sing to Thee:
Alleluia, Alleluia!

For the Evangelists, by whose blest word,
like fourfold streams, the garden of the Lord,
is fair and fruitful, be thy Name adored.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

For Martyrs, who with rapture kindled eye,
saw the bright crown descending from the sky,
and seeing, grasped it, thee we glorify.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

O may thy soldiers, faithful, true, and bold,
fight as the saints who nobly fought of old,
and win, with them the victor's crown of gold.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

O blest communion, fellowship divine!
we feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
all are one in thee, for all are thine.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
and hearts are brave, again, and arms are strong.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

The golden evening brightens in the west;
soon, soon to faithful warriors comes their rest;
sweet is the calm of paradise the blessed.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day;
the saints triumphant rise in bright array;
the King of glory passes on his way.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

From earth's wide bounds, from ocean's farthest coast,
through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
and singing to Father, Son and Holy Ghost:
Alleluia, Alleluia!

I do love the Day of The Dead, as it is celebrated across Mexico, however. Granted, different regions celebrate it differently, but overall it is a much more engaged day -- one in which Death is real, real with all its tricks and heartaches. Real enough that people eat little sugar candy skulls, parade with dolls made up as skeletons, spend overnight candlelit vigils in cemeteries. Some set food out for traveling spirits -- and pillows and blankets.

Altars to the Dead crop up all over -- from town squares to homes to schools and businesses.

It is a time to spiritually roll around with death, to see it for what it is -- both unavoidable and impermanent. To get all muddy in the ironies of it all, to walk away scathed, having given death its due but knowing that death is merely what we call the transition to eternal life. In Mexico they celebrate this day. It is joyous. They seem to *get it* in ways we do not that although Death comes to us all, it is never ultimately victorious.

It seems to me they have it right.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Trick or Treat Indeed

I was raised in New England, in Massachusetts. A more Halloween conscious state you would be hard pressed to find. Probably part of that Salem/Puritan thing. Even two weeks ago when I was visiting there, yards all over the state were decorated in anticipation. Ghosts flew from trees, pumpkins were piled in big, roiling heaps, stalks of corn were gathered and rested against door posts. Cardboard witches were in windows, and Indian corn was hanging from the front doors. Some houses even had more techno-savvy decor, but as that is not my taste, I won't go on about it. Suffice to say, it was as though the state colors had turned to 0range and Black, dotted with giant clumps of chrysanthemums.

As a kid, my mother made all my costumes from scratch. That was for two reasons -- 1st we could not afford to buy ready-made, and second because I think I was fulfilling my mother's own fantasy about the kind of Halloweens she wishes that she had had. Nonetheless, I always looked forward to the whole adventure..including the scrounging around for fabric on sale or hidden away in some drawer -- or outfits that could be re-purposed. I recall one year as a geisha in a kimono made from what used to be drapes in a oriental print. Then I was a kind of Carmen Miranda gypsy wearing a bowl of plastic fruit on my head which had been glued into a basket and tied to a scarf, and a whirling striped skirt and tons of necklaces. Then I was a flapper in a black dress with tons of gold fringe on it from an upholstery store going out of business. The dress was one of my Mom's old taffetta slips, given wide straps made from the narrowing up bits. I always fely glamorous and special and so proud of my Mom.

But here was the best part. When we called on a neighborhood house, I was allowed to take candy, but always had to leave a handful too (My bag was pre-stocked from home).
My mother was very clear about why --"Because in *this* family we never just *take*."

She didn't want her kid standing in front of someone's door expecting to be given something -- feeling entitled to it just because of the calendar's date.

I like that part of my upbringing. I get troubled by the sense of entitlement I see among some American children, children whom their parents protected from the reality of life -- children who have grown into young adults never having to face what things cost -- never having to understand how a family sacrifices one 'thing' in order to have another. I see parents struggling to find the money so that their kid can have any number of absurdly priced items without the child having any understanding of this in the broader scheme of things. My hunch is there will be hell to pay when the grim reality of the work world catches up.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Rest In Peace, Red Auerbach

Saturday Red Auerbach joined the hosts of heaven. Red, as some of you may not know, was for many years the famous coach of the Boston Celtics basketball team. During his tenure as coach, the team ran up 16 annual US Championships. Red was a man with some lovely extravagances as a coach. He was a shortish, burley man, balding, who always walked around with a big cigar. He would only light the cigar at that point in the game when he felt it was over and the Celtics had, for all intents and purposes, won the game. He was never prematurely mistaken, although there were some times that he confessed he lit up the cigar to motivate the team to win -- simply by their desire to not make it look as though he had made a mistake.

He was a man who cared about fairness, a passionate man with an unwavering eye for talent. He was also unafraid to take risks, to step out for what was right. Auerbach was the first coach to pick a black player in the NBA Draft (Chuck Cooper in 1950), the first to field an all-black starting five (1964) and the first to hire a black coach in the NBA (Bill Russell in 1966).

When I was a little girl, one of the positive things in my relationship with an otherwise difficult father, was the watching of Celtics games on television. It was a family event, but the most enthusiastic viewers were Dad and I. We would hold conversations with the coaches, urging them to see what we saw. We would shout at the refs for bad calls, and when Red Auerbach would end up getting ejected from the game for protesting an unfair call, well, we would cheer him on.

He spoke in one of his several memoirs about occasionally setting up a technical foul or a game ejection as part of his strategy to keep his guys motivated. He was passionate and a crafty devil to boot.

But what drove Red was obvious. He loved the game, and he loved his players. He was gruff and tough about it and pulled no punches. He was outspoken but never mean-spirited. He was pro-basketball, and worked for the betterment of the game. His team played a hard game, but never an unfair one.

When his star, Bill Russell's salary was eclipsed by the opposition's Wilt Chamberlain at $100,000 a year, Red cut a new contract for Russell giving him $100,001.

Gotta love that style.

I watched that team in the days of Bill Cousy, Sam and KC Jones, Bill Russell, John Havlicek, Tommy Heinsohn. Later there were additions like Kevin McHale, Danny Ainge, Bill Walton and the unmatched genius of Larry Bird.

In the early days of Red's reign, when the team was on the road, they had bookings at a hotel in the South. Upon arrival, the hotel agreed to house all the white players, but said that one - Bill Russell, who is African American -- would have to stay elsewhere. The usual protocol for sports teams back then was to just get a second hotel. Not for Red Auerbach. The whole team stayed elsewhere, and were glad to do so. They were The Boston Celtics, a band of brothers, and no one messed with Red's Celtics.

The Celtics played a running game, a fast game with a zone defense that would knock the competition silly. They played hard -- not rough, but hard. They ran and orchestrated almost balletic moves on the fly, with players like Russell scooping rebounds out of thin air. And Bill Cousy, a short fellow by today's standards, whipping in and out of the opposing team's defense before they knew what hit them. The early Boston Celtics, the Auerbach Celtics, had no prima donnas. They were The Boston Celtics. That was enough -- to be a team, a team playing for a man who loved them, who brought out the best in them, who went to the wall for them. That was what won ballgames. That is what it meant to be a man.

Oh well done, Red, well done.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Rolling On

My favorite American poet was/is Robert Creeley who passed away in 2005. I once rescued a book of his, "Words", from my car which was burning down at the time. I had to shove a firefighter away to get to it. I had not finished the book yet, and I was not about to let it birn before I had. I snatched it from the front seat, stomped out the flames coming from the burning paperback cover with my feet on the wet lawn.

Many years later, I had a chance to show him that book. He leafed through it, slowly and with great care, noting things I had underlined or made marginal notes about, commenting about how he could not write such and so poem again, as it was a function of a time in his life, but how glad he was to have been able to feel what brought him to that particular gathering of words. He closed the book after a time, and smoothed his hands absently over the singed cover, the water-warped pages. "Such should be the good fortune of all books -- to be cared for in such a way." He was going to be doing a reading that night and asked if there was anything I would especially like to hear. He was a gracious man, amd a brilliant one.

I recently read an article written by Bruce Jackson in which he recalls an interview he did with Creeley. In it he says :

We'd been talking about the deaths of friends and then about how both of us were workaholics and how we'd probably be hard at it, right to the end. It was a conversation we'd had before and would have again. But that time Bob said something he'd never said before, nor did he say it subsequently: "You know," he said, "you're not going to finish anyhow."

"You're not going to finish anyhow." That had never occurred to me. I don't know when Bob realized it. What a brilliant, liberating notion that is. "You're not going to finish anyhow." What a beastly burden that frees you of. It licenses you to take on anything.

I love that !!! I was thinking about The Great Life In General Issues today, and I got a sense of humankind just rolling this great big ball forward, with various of us falling away from it after 70 or 80 years (if we were lucky), but that the ball kept moving on -- that everything we did contributed, whether we finished it or not -- and that our lives were not meant to be finished and tidy little packets, but part of the whole steamy, active, incomplete Effort of Life.

The joy is in the urging forward - the taking on -- the moving. I keep thinking that this is even the testimony of Christ -- nothing is done, nothing is final, not even death. We are not here to finish. We are here to participate. To contribute. To be a part of The Creation.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Miscellany..unrelated bits

Hi folks -- I am still feeling very punky, and had another doc's appointment last evening. More medicine. More tests. ARGHHH!!! All prayers still humbly and happily accepted. Thank you for your support and affection.

There are some things to post in the meantime until I am at full blathering speed again...little teensy odd bits and bobs..

1. If you want a visual treat that will knock your socks off, and leave you breathless and awestricken, humbled and inspired, check out this link and make sure to view the slideshow. Click here for a visual journey. Thanks to Barb for the link.

2. A friend of mine and I were trying to think of the name for the old fashioned ash trays that used be on a stand. One would have them standing next to a chair in the living room, for example (back in the day before we all knew better.)

3. When I was a kid, my parents had friends from Hungary who used to make a soup from green, unripe pumpkins. It was delicious and I have never been able to find the recipe. Has anyone out there ever seen one?

4. I love this posting which I have lifted wholesale from the Nov 15, 2005 blog of Tale of a Pink Monkey . I have no idea how I happened on this site. Destiny perhaps? Here is her fabulous entry for that day:

What I've Learned from Fundagelicals I Know... A Partial List
1. God is scared of the scientific method.
2. God is a wimp, really. Look at all the places we've "kicked him out" of. Schools, city halls. That's why he needs us to protect him.
3. Christ saves all who trust in him and vote Republican.
4. Christ's love is unconditional, on the condition that you don't smoke-drink-curse-have sex-think too much.
5. The Bible is inerrant and literal. Except for all that stuff about the poor.
6. Many people call themselves Christians but really aren't, because they believe some of the wrong things. We are never, ever those people.
7. Christianity is so unconvincing that we have to legislate it.
8. Our Christian faith is so shaky that we must isolate ourselves from all non-believers to protect it.
9. Christians value life up until it emerges from the womb. After that, it's your problem.
10. Persecution is the existence of people who disagree with us. It must be eradicated.

Friday, October 20, 2006


My blogging has been pretty spare lately -- it is because I have been ill. It started as a wicked cold, one that left me weak as a kitten. It became a cold that kept improving and then morphing into something else. I have had very little energy. Then it started to assault my lungs. About 20 years ago, when I lived in Denver, I developed allergic asthma. This basically departed when I moved east, except for some very low level occurances during cold or pollen season. Well, two days ago at the doctor's office when she immediately hooked me up to some crisis machine that would spray my lungs with medicine, I realized that my asthma was indeed back.

I could barely walk without great, heaving, wheezing gasps for air. Sleep was constantly interrupted with marathon gasping coughs and the struggle to merely breathe. Climbing up the single flight of stairs to my apatment took over 5 minutes, with me having to stop and cough and gasp away until the lung spasms stopped. I have had a friend buy my groceries as I could not manage that. I have tried to carry out the details of my life in spite of all this until this week, when I had to just admit that this illness had gotten the better of me, and that the first round of prescriptions from my conservative doctor had not worked.

As of yesterday afternoon I have been given some severe medicine for the lungs, and I should start seeing even more of an improvement by tomorrow. One of the six prescriptions I am taking is for a steroid that, in 6 days, will work miracles on asthma. After one day I am almost 1/3 better.

I don't like being sick. I don't like admitting that I am unable to do simple things. I do not like this at all. I know that I have had one hell of a year -- including the illness and death of my father, legal issues around any shred of inheritance, decisions to relocate, and on and on ...and my position on the famed "Stress Index" has been fairly stratospheric. I waved "bye bye" to the flying seagulls months ago during my stress ascent. It is expected that when one is in this position at some point the body will just shut the hell down and big signs saying "TILT" will appear in ones eyeballs as one heads, spinning and crashing, for earth.

A severe asthmatic episode is scary. It is like a cross between drowning and suffocating. So I am going to do what I can do, and take all these meds and see the doc again next week, and be a generally fine and fabulously obedient patient, but I am going to do something else that is hard for me because it feels so selfish. If you are comfortable doing so, I will ask for your prayers. Thank you, oh dear ones I have never met. I will be OK. That I know. I pray for a speedy move to wellness. It has been a while that I have been in the downward health spiral now. Thanks for the kindness of your listening.

Monday, October 16, 2006


A friend of mine sent me a link to an interesting US site called BuyBlue.Org, a reference to the fact that states in the US who voted democratic in the last presidential election were shown on TV maps as "Blue" states, while those who voted for Bush were Red. This has since become a national shorthand for blue states=liberal.

This site has as a Mission Statement : BuyBlue.org supports businesses that share our progressive values and ideals. We believe in a triple bottom line: people, planet and profit. BuyBlue.org uses our power as consumers to vote with our wallets, supporting businesses that abide by sustainability, workers' rights, environmental standards, and corporate transparency. At the same time, BuyBlue.org focuses sharply on businesses that violate the essential values of a sustainable, fair and profitable society through their policies and the politicians they support.

For those who, as I do, wish to support businesses who believe in these things, the site could become a valuable reference. I haven't checked it out in detail yet, and am interested in what you all have to say about it as well.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

And So I Created God in the Image of My Father

Well, not all by myself. I recall -- as a young Roman Catholic child raised in the pre-Vatican II, ethnic, Roman Catholic genre of the 1950's -- that we were told that a very stern God was our Father. It was not such a stretch for a toddler -- in any generation -- to believe that her father was also God. It is, after all, part of the developmental task of a child to figure out all those distinctions.

While I learned fairly quickly that my father was not literally God, part of my theology remained corrupted, as I ascribed dominant qualities to God that were present most starkly in my earthly father.

For example, God The Punisher - This was the God that hurt you if you did something wrong (or if he thought you did). There was no questioning it -- do something wrong, and punishment would happen. And it wasn't hard to find scriptural ballast for that one.

Then there was God the Wrathful. God wanted things done his way. If we didn't deliver, there would be rage. Questions were not acceptable. God was zero-tolerance.

The God Who Required Sacrificial Offerings -- God wanted us to achieve things that would reflect on his glory. Our job was to keep piling up fuel for his ego fire, regardless of the cost to ourselves or others. God was the ultimate narcissist.

I could go on and on ...but I wonder how much all of our theologies have been shaped by our childhoods.

I know now that God is all-loving and eternally-forgiving and ever-accepting and all those things that I missed in an earthly father. I know because people in my life took the time to walk me across the bridge of understanding -- because people helped me see where I had created God in my father's image, even if they didn't say that outright. And because I had a deeply loving mother.

The above examples are pretty clear -- but it leads me to wonder how many unhelpful theological beliefs come out of us mirroring our or our familial dysfunctions onto God.

The neocon Christian who is full of fury at people who step outside the lines they believe that God has drawn are living in a fear-zone. They fear God's judgement unless they become His Little Enforcers. These are the folks who throw a gay child out of their home because they believe that is what God would do to them if they accepted that child. Who judged them so harshly that they must promulgate that cycle? What message do we need to send them, and how do we do it?

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Silly saved things

Well, the bedroom closet and large highboy bureau are 100% organized and sorted now. I left the closet door open all day so that when I walked into the room I could appreciate the sight of everything hanging so perfectly, things so perfectly folded.

I did -- however -- save some silly things -- things I might have given away or discarded. This seems like an OK place to confess them :-)

1. Some pieces of scandalous lingerie from a memorable past relationship. I just didn't have the heart to part with them, even though the proportional curves do no longer match my own.

2. A box of about 50-60 handkerchieves, all linen, all hand embroidered or with hand made lace of any of a zillion colors around the edges -- all done by my long-departed godmother. The work is extraordinary. I don't have any idea what to do with them -- thoughts??? Such work and love went into them I couldn't just let them go.

3. A pair of multi color (red/purple/black/dark blue/dark gold) suede shoes with dazzlingly high heels and pointed toes. Lordy me, who could let these go?

4. A huge bag of photographs. I should probably sort through them, but I had just reached that point when I couldn't make one more decision.

5. A crocheted afgan in chartreuse and forest green -- ghastly colors together - in a flame stich. But my Auntie Jo made it for me. It's in my closet, out of sight, but I like having it around.

6. My mother's old eyeglasses.

It is odd what vestigial items we chose to keep -- what shreds of life trigger old memories of a world long gone. I look at my little list and think what a sentimental old poot I have grown up to be, but even so, I rather like that. It was sweet today to really look at the work involved in crocheting elaborate lace around a handkerchief. I like that there used to be days when that mattered, and that I knew someone for whom it mattered, who took the time and energy needed to make one simple small lovely thing out of thread and time.

I like being reminded of my own outrageousness -- it's been a bit too long since that part of me has been out to play, and that should change.

These items - that which we save, that which we discard -- all form such a richly topographical map of our lives. Each choice, pragmatic or sentimental, foolish or sensible, adds to the landscape of our lives - creates things that we manage to touch over and over, reminding our hands of the skin of a lover, or the images of trips around the world. It is good to save such things, to create occasions for contact with them, of only to remind ourselves that not all joys need be new.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Cleaning Closets

I have lived in my current apartment for about 9 years. It has been so convenient for me - very safe, well cared-for and easy to leave for several months at a time with no fear of any problems. I never intended to stay this long, and always thought I would buy something -- in fact I tried -- but things always seemed to not be right...but that is another tale and a half.

My point tonight is that now that I am planning to move in 2007, it is time to sort through my worldly goods in this place so that I do not have to pay to move what I do not need. Plus it is just good discipline. Today I unearthed the bedroom closet. This is an old building. The closet is very deep, but it has a narrow door -- so although one can literally walk inside it when it is empty, when it is full it is impossible to know what is in the back half of it except by touch. And of course all that touching has lead to things falling off hangers onto the floor into the Realm of Perpetual Obscurity.

Today it all got brought out into the light of day.

This is a daunting task. I asked the woman who helps me with heavy housework to give me a hand. She was thrilled, as she would take all those clothes that I no longer wanted and send them to her mother in Uruguay whom she helps support and who cannot afford clothes such as mine.

We all know that when the lights are out at night that clotheshangers breed. I think closets also have some sort of odd magic. They hold far more than they seem able to. One closet, emptied, filled one bedroom. How can this be?

First, I had entirely too many pairs of shoes. What is it with us women and shoes? I actually got rid of 15 pairs of shoes. I am not telling you what is left. And purses? How many black purses do I need? Not as many as I had, I assure you.

Discarding things was on the one hand easy -- haven't worn it for X years -- out it goes. Doesn't fit and won't ever again -- out it goes. Damaged goods unable to be repaired -- out.

But then there are the "pivotal event" discards. I left Big American Corporate Life about 8 years ago. Yet there were the old trappings -- the wool suits from the years before the casualling down of office space. To let them go was to not only admit that the age had passed, but that a part of my life was well and truly over. OUT they went.

Then there are the "emotional attachment" discards -- things given by a departed loved one, or an ex-lover...OUT and OUT.

Then there are the "things I never should have owned anyway" like the flaming red velvet dress that makes me look like a tall fireplug. Or the totteringly high heeled shoes that while they make my legs look like those of a goddess, exact their toll in foot agony. OUT OUT.

I dreaded this process, and now I find myself loving it -- feeling such a rush in the paring down process, the unencumbering and streamlining.

If this material purging has value, I wonder if there is no an emotional corollary, a way to let go of all the crappy little odd bits of feelings that snag at my heels, bog me down, hold me back...I think we all have spiritual closets that need cleaning out as well. As part of this multi-week event of closet cleaning (I have three huge closets and 2 bureaus to sort through) I am going to try to find some way to develop some sort of meditative process to go with it -- a prayer for newness, a heartfelt plea to God for less self-collected emotional and spiritual crap, please.

Any ideas how to make that happen?

Monday, October 09, 2006

Columbus Day

Columbus: Hi. White European guy here. We're moving in. Have some beads.

Native American : We welcome you to visit our home.

Columbus: Yeah right. It's mine now. Nice looking daughter.

Native American: Pardon me, but we live here.

Columbus: No, you can't. I just discovered this. It's mine. 1492 I am just off the Ocean Blue. You are now my slaves, and part of Spain. Got any gold? Oh, and get used to this. There are French, Portuguese and English guys right behind me. I'm snatching all you guys up for Spain, but there's going to be a nasty little land grab soon for all you Japanese and Chinese.

Native American: We're not Japanese and Chinese.

Columbus. Shut up. Got any gold? Oh, by the way, you are Christian now.

Native American: I think we'd like you to leave now. And what is Christian?

Columbus: The monks will explain later. Fat chance on our ever leaving. Oh, and by the way, I'll take a quick trip back to Spain, but I am kidnapping a few hundred of you for show and tell back there. I'll be back, and then we'll get to the serious colonization.

Native American: Please, do not return.

Columbus: This is commerce, baby. Industry. A chance for me to get rich quick. Not only am I never leaving for good, I plan to treat you all like dirt, steal whatever you have of value and impose tyrannical and despotic rule over you all.

Native American: No one will respect you.

Columbus: (laughing) Respect? They'll name whole streets and cities after me -- erect statues -- have parades -- a whole country will take a day off once a year in my honor.

Native American: You are dillusional.

Columbus: No, I'm just a rich white European guy with a lot of guns. Got any gold?

Friday, October 06, 2006

Paging Pardulphus

Well, I got to thinking -- if October 4th was the feast day of Saint Francis, whose day was October 6th? Plenty of saints for today, according to Roman Catholic sources -
St. Faith
St. Bruno
St. Aurea
St. Sagar
St. Ceollach
St. Epiphania
St. Francis Trung
St. Mary Frances of the Five Wounds of Christ
St. Magnus
St. Mummolinus
St. Maria Francesca Gallo
St. Nicetas
Marytrs of Trier
St. Pardulphus

The information about some of the above is sketchy, some even the sources say have 'unreliable' stories. Some are cited just as having been bishops or abbesses with no special story attached to their lives to indicate what had made them saints.

When I was a child in the Roman Catholic Church, we all had our own Daily Missals. Mine was called The St Joseph Daily Missal and was a small black book that had everything in it that one would need to function as a good Catholic. All the prayers, the liturgy in Latin and English, the rules (known then as "the church commandments", and on and on). But in the back was my favorite section -- it was a day by day commentary on the Lives of the Saints. If memory serves, one or two saints a day were pulled out of the many, and some discussion was made of their life and sacrifice. The Latin mass would drone on and I would sit quietly reading the lives of the saints -- how St Barbara had her breasts cut off rather than renounce her faith, or Saint Polycarp who was burned alive for his faith -- other saints who were torn apart by dogs or lions or burned on braziers, starved, dismembered, ridiculed, made to suffer unimaginable horror for their faith.

On the one hand, for a little girl at the age of 10 or 12, this was like an adventure comic book brimming with the vivid drama of superheros. On the other hand it played into typically RCC romantic fantasies about enduring anything for the sake of our great love of God. But it wasn't one thing -- to a little girl sitting in a pew in western Massachusetts wearing her pretty blue dress, white socks with black patent leather shoes, a pretty flowered hat and immaculate white gloves -- it wasn't real.

And now, centuries later, the names of those who have given all for their faith have largely collapsed into obscurity. I don't know who the saints are on today's list.

So I picked one out at random, Saint Pardulphus. How long has it been since anyone asked him for help? I learned a bit about him. He died in 728. Originally from Limoges, France, he became a Benedictine monk, and then abbot in Gueret, France. Pardulphus remained behind and alone in the monastery during an onslaught of Arabs across southern France, winning the safety of the monastery through his assiduous prayer.

I imagined him in heaven, busy with his heavenly life -- maybe gardening or inscribing beautiful illuminated manuscripts -- or hanging out with the choirs. He is a saint, but except for All Saint's Day, he is not in demand the way St. Anthony or St. Jude are. They are the saintly rock stars, the magicians of the cosmic realms.

Then today, about 2pm a bell starts ringing somewhere near his celestial abode. It is my prayer greeting him, asking for intercession (privately between the good saint and me). I suspect he was surprised to hear from me. But I did remember to wish him a happy name day. It may have been a while since anyone not in the formal ranks of the Catholic clergy did.

Should you have a moment free to thank a saint, I'm sure the good and loyal abbot Saint Pardulphus would be delighted to hear from you.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Feast of St Francis

I am a day late on this. October 4th is the real day, and I was reminded of the occasion when reading LutheranChik's blog. St. Francis has always figured rather vividly in my life. He was my Mom's favorite saint, so, using her life maxim that "if one is good, six are better", our home was fairly littered with statues and representations of the good Saint. In the kitchen alone there was a plaque with the St. Francis prayer, a hand carved wooden bust of the Saint that I had purchased for her in Oberammegau, Germany, and a Goebel ceramic version of the Saint seated, with birds at his lap. That was just the kitchen. As I have been going through my Mom's stuff, I have been unable to imagine either selling all her St. Francises or taking them all into my own house, so I have made an adventure about finding homes for them among people who knew her in life. (I must say I did take a small 4" high intricate wood carved statuette, the piece from Oberammegau and the plaque for myself.) It is surprising to me in the best of all possible ways that every gifted statue has been met with such joy from people, as they really are evocative of her. (Did I mention that her name was also Frances?)

When I start thinking about St Francis, I am overwhelmed with images from the Zeffirelli film, Brother Sun Sister Moon (there is actually no comma in the title), with the soundtrack by Donovan (the Scottish singer of hippie-reknown) which was made in the mid 1970's. It is a wonderfully romantic view of Italy and of Francis. We all know the story -- Francis, son of a wealthy cloth merchant in Assisi, returns from the Crusades as a changed man, no longer satisfied with the pleasures in the excess of his old life, longing for more spiritual solace. He begins to see the world as it really is, complete with human suffering caused by his father's business. In one amazing scene, he wanders through the towers in which the fabrics get dyed - passing through rooms of red people, blue people, purple people -- all disfigured by dye -- and as he passes through them, he too takes on their colors.

Francis "gets it". He allows himself to really see the world around him, to really feel the pain and the promise among people the world has ignored, and to step out of the role of warrior. The film has him literally strip naked before his father, casting off all the trappings of wealth and priviledge as he leaves town. I suppose by current definitions we could say that St. Francis had a meltdown, a breakdown. We might say that he suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of the horrors of war. And we might be right. Francis had come to experience the reality of
of the dark side of his own and all of our souls. And he chose the light instead.

Because of that, he could teach us what few can -- the power of gentleness, of kindness, of peace.

Francis reduced his life to the bare essentials, and found joy and hope and ministry. Others followed. The rest is history.

Even the creatures of the earth responded to such a transformation. Even they knew they could trust him now.

I am so thankful that there was a St Francis, and that he reminds me that in simplifying my life, I leave more room for God. It is a lesson that I keep needing to hear.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Responsibility. Will anyone take it?

In the ongoing travesty that is the Foley scandal, we find the ex Representative :

1. entering an alcohol treatment facility, and claiming the alcohol made him do it,

2. stating that he never actually DID anything except speak inappropriately. (apparently cybersex with a minor doesn't count as actually DOING anything in this odd lexicon of things))

3. announcing that he is gay ( and this has GOT to fan the flames of homophobia, despite the facts that pedophiles are more often straight than gay, including same-sex pedophiles)

4. and proclaiming the fact that he was molested by a clergyperson in his own youth. ( So this activity of his must obviously be the clergyman's fault who molested him.))

Foley's spin PhD's are cranking it out by the yard -- we should really be blaming alcohol, or the Catholic church clergy, or gay people. They want us to look at all those groups to diffuse the real points of abuse and a cover up. And when we indulge them, we make it possible for more abuse of power to occur, and more past abuse to be covered up.

People in Congress are apparently running away from the crisis at record speed. Make no mistake about this -- it is an election-year issue, with some Republicans running as fast as they can to put mileage between themselves and Foley. The same guys that protected him a few months ago are long gone in the tall grass these days.

Monday, October 02, 2006


I saw my first Peregrine Falcon about 20 years ago at a mountain fair in upstate New York on an early autumn late afternoon. It was misty and foggy from an earlier rain, as we stood at the base of a steep hill waiting for the falconer to arrive.

Walking through the mist, as though it were staged precisely that way, came the falconer, with his falcon perched, hooded, on the massive glove that the falconer wore to portect his hand and wrist from the bird's talons. Peregrines are a bit less than two feet long, with a wingspan between three and four feet. The falconer explained that he would release the bird, and that the bird would most likely fly straight uphill, as Peregrines like swooping down on their prey and snatching it from mid-air.

True to his word, he unhooded and released the Peregrine, who flew straight up the steep hill beside us, far from view. The falconer then reached into his leather backpack and took out "the bait" which was a dead pigeon tied to a long leather cord.

He started to swing the bait in a circle above his head, making sure we all stood back. He asked us to be very quiet.

Out of the blue came the most unholy sound I may have ever heard - it was the attack-cry of the falcon as he swooped down the hill like a bullet, his wings folded back as he did a straight dive for the pigeon. It was a sound that must have escaped from everyone's nightmares.

Peregrins have been known to dive at speeds in excess of 200 miles per hour, and have special nasal adaptations that allow them to actually dive at that speed and breathe at the same time.

So through the mist was the slice of this piercing bird screm, a blur of motion, the sound of a "thud" as the bird hit the prey, a flash of feathers and it was over. The falcon was 10 meters away, eating.

The falconer yanked back the prey and made the bird hunt for it again, and then finally just let him have it.

And here I sit 20 years later remembering that moment frozen in time -- that moment of mist and bird and the scream of the hunt. It was bone-chilling. Bone-chilling not because it was a bird diving for a pigeon, but because somewhere in that misty, fog-drenched afternoon, something in that bird echoed something in us.

And no one really wants to hear that echo.
Site Feed