Dilemmas and Paradoxes

In exactly three weeks (3! Short! Weeks!) I can start playing Christmas carols non-stop.  This sweet anticipation is quite possibly the second-best feeling in the world, obviously following the feeling when I actually play them for the first time.  There’s always the choice of what kind of Christmas carol to listen to first.  Do I ease into the holiday spirit with the cheery warm-up standards like Jingle Bells and Sleigh Ride, maybe some Winter Wonderland?  Or do I dive right into the theological splendor and vibrant glory of the Christmas season with Oh Come, All Ye Faithful, and Angels We Have Heard On High?  It’s a beautiful dilemma!

I watched The Terminator for the first time ever with Harry yesterday and I was surprised by how much I liked it.  I’ve been reading so much fantasy lately that the time-travel plot line really got me hooked.  The paradoxes within time travel are so much fun to try- and usually fail- to wrap your mind around.  We were talking about it after the movie ended, and I said that maybe that’s why it’s never been hard for me to have faith, to love religion.  Because paradoxes and mysteries excite me, they lure me in, they’re so darn mysterious and cool.  I don’t need an explanation for everything.  Some people do, and we need those people too, the scientific and disbelieving ones.  Even Thomas had his role to play.  But it’s not my nature.  I think I prefer to wonder.  As Chesterton said: “The world will never starve for want of wonders; but only for want of wonder.”
Switching topics, I will be boastful and say that I 100% called the Terminator getting squished in the ending.  It was totally apropos that his non-sapient brethren would enact the swift and violent retribution he so richly deserved.  (Ew that scene when Arnold popped his eye out was nasty though. I shuddered a bunch.)

Today is the 31st anniversary of ordination to the priesthood for a close family friend, Father Leo McKernan.  Fr. Leo is the priest who baptized me 28 years ago, and I wrote a little bit about that baptism two years ago in this post.  You should all stop what you’re doing right now and say a quick prayer that God continues to give him grace and wisdom.  Fr. Leo is an awesome priest, he’s humble and wise and the kind of person who always makes you feel at home, even if you haven’t talked to him in months.  He is truly a “good shepherd”.  Now that I think about it, I actually know a lot of wonderful priests: Father Nash, who counseled me during my breakup and afterwards, who helped me hold onto my faith even when it seemed so lost, and who always has a listening ear.  Father Langan, who showed me the beauty and grace of liturgical celebrations like Tenebrae, and the Holy Thursday procession, and who never minced his words, because sometimes a spade’s a spade and it needs to be called that.  Bishop Dougherty, who has a Mass at the Center every year for the feast of the Holy Family and whose homilies are always so chock-full of awesome that I want to copy them down.  And of course, the wonderful Pope Francis, who continues to inspire and confound and say things like this:

“But Jesus came for this very reason: to look for those who had strayed from the Lord”. These two parables – he said – “allow us to see what the heart of God is like. God does not stop, God does not go up to a certain point, God goes all the way, to the very limit, He always goes to the limit; He does not stop at the half way point on the journey of Salvation, as if to say ‘I did all I could, it’s their problem. He always goes, moves out, takes to the field”.

And this:

“Defense of unborn life is closely linked to the defense of each and every other human right” … “It involves the conviction that a human being is always sacred and inviolable, in any situation and at every stage of development. Human beings are ends in themselves and never a means of resolving other problems. Once this conviction disappears, so do solid and lasting foundations for the defense of human rights, which would always be subject to the passing whims of the powers that be.”

And this:

“A Christian is merciful by nature; this is the heart of the Gospel.”

I love that last quote so much.  Pray for Fr. Leo and all our priests!

Hey, Rain

Hey, rain.

The sky is gray and gloomy above Public Square today, but I am smiling.  You know, the strangest thing about blogging is that I don’t do it every day.  In fact, I haven’t been blogging much at all this past spring/summer/fall.  So if you were to ignore the dates on my posts and just read them all in a bunch, it looks like I’ve been living a steady stream of heartbreak and sadness and nothing else.

I’m not, though.  This autumn has been so good to me.  The season itself has been especially beautiful here, I think.  The usual fall rain has mostly held off- until today- and instead we’ve had endless days bright with amber sunshine and sere fields and vermilion trees.  And me?  I have been growing, letting go, learning how to hold on to what matters most.  Oh, and I’ve been living.  Brittany and I took more photos the other day.  We went up to the top of the old factory building in Forty Fort, where Canteen and the apartments are now, and she shot me against the sky and the sunset with the mountains that I love at my back.

Shoot1

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Brittany’s a pretty fantastic photographer, isn’t she?  Visit her page: https://www.facebook.com/bootephoto.

There’s this new bar that opened up in Luzerne: Vaughn Street.  We’ve been going there for seafood night on Thursdays, me and the girls from the Cafe.  They have a shuffleboard table, which makes me think of being a teenager and playing shuffleboard in the garage at the Holy Family Center with the other community kids after Mass on Friday nights.  Nostalgia at a bar is such an oddly contradictory feeling.  You’ve got a drink, there’s music and chatter, you know you’re grown-up, but you’ve got these happy memories playing in your head- faintly bittersweet because you know they’re only memories now- and you feel like a kid at the same time.

I went on a great date the other night.  The kind of date where you laugh and laugh and everything else is sort of a colorful blur spinning around you but you’ve got a sharp focus on what’s happening between you and him, and it’s light, it’s good and sweet.  I kept thinking of that scene in Casablanca, where Rick is remembering his time in Paris with Ilsa, and he says, “Who are you really and what were you before?  What did you do and what did you think?”  Questions and answers and a current in the air.  Tell me about you because I want to know.  There’s a certain kind of joy, I think, that maybe doesn’t have a specific name, but it’s there when you meet someone who sees the world you see, who stops and looks at you, whether the meeting is friendly, romantic, or whatever else.  Relationships, man.  They make the world go round.

My friend Veronica came into town from Michigan the other weekend.  She was asked to give the keynote speech at the nurses’ pin ceremony at Wilkes University, where she’s an alumnus.  She asked me to help her write the speech, and being the hopeless nerd that I am, I thought it sounded like a blast.  So we got together on Google Drive one day last week, despite still being in different states, and worked on the speech.  I’ve never done that, been editing a document at the same exact time as another person, and it was really cool.  I was trying to think of a better closing sentence for one of her paragraphs, and I was just typing as I thought, stuff like “The compassion and strength of nurses… no wait we used that… I believe that these virtues will help… help what… what am i trying to sayyyy” and Vee typed in the chat bar: “It’s so fascinating being able to actually watch your mind work.”  SCIENCE FICTION BABY.  (The best part of Veronica saying that was that she admitted I have a mind.  I always grin gleefully when I can trick her into complimenting me.)

It’s the little parts, summed up into a whole.  It’s life.  One day at a time here.  As the blog title says, I’m just trying to find the better part and hold on tight.

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Mary and martha

The Song of Wandering Aengus – Yeats

I WENT out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,          
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.
When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire a-flame,   
But something rustled on the floor,
And someone called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran   
And faded through the brightening air.
Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;   
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done,
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.

Guest Post: The Captive

Her breath caught in her throat.  This was her chance.  She could escape right now if she was smart and silent.  Eyes darting side to side for the most direct exit, her pulse began racing and she felt slightly sick from the taste of near deliverance not quite at hand. The right side of the hallway seemed the best option; it was mere feet away from her and the floorboards would not betray her. With a momentary glance to check that they were still unaware, she silently began taking steps toward the hallway. She willed her breathing not to sound so very loud.  Calm, she commanded herself.  Be calm, or this is all over. That thought was almost too much to bear, and panic tightened its gruesome grip around her throat.  Her fluid steps continued, but her mind was suddenly drowning in a whirlpool of despairing cries.

What will they do to me if they catch me right now?!  My life is in their hands… She almost choked on that thought, and tears filled her eyes.  Everything I hoped to accomplish will be lost…  But the hallway was upon her, and her bare feet glided along the smooth wood, carrying her lightly even as her mind was sinking in fear.  Her back was to them now, and she kept her pace normal, scared that unusually slow movement would alert them. Her fingertips gently pressed against the wall, steadying herself as she took step after step along the edge of the hall, closer to freedom with each passing inch. Their voices grew further already, and she reached the bottom of the staircase.  Her body was shaking, and she realized her face was dripping with tears.  You can do this, you can do this, she forced her herself to breathe evenly.  Just the staircase to conquer. Her absence still unnoticed, she took the first step gently, her hand leaving a film of nightmare-induced sweat across the banister.  The second stair, too, accepted her sneaking step graciously with no audible betrayal.

Then, of course, the unthinkable happened.

She sneezed.  Without warning.  Without any chance of muffling it.  An undeniably loud sneeze.  A fatal sneeze.

Their heads whipped around and their conversation ceased instantly.  Eyes narrowing, they dropped everything in their hands.  Their entire beings tensed at the sight of their captive attempting an escape.  For a solitary moment, she was frozen, watching them as all chance of escape slipped as far out of reach as an infinitesimally small pebble beneath the waves of a giant ocean. They were on their feet in a split second, running toward her with screams and shrieks and and wild eyes and foam at the corners of their mouths, their clawing hands ready to snatch her back to themselves.

“Mama, Mama!!!” they shrieked in their baby high-pitched voices.  “Where are you going?  Stay downstairs!  We want to be by you!”  Reaching her on the stairs, they wrapped their chubby little arms around her legs and refused to let go.  “Stay down here, Mama!  We want a snack.  We want juice!”  She let herself slump against the banister.  Forfeiting her ideas of accomplishment, she sat down on the step, and, with eyes closed in a definite kind of resignation, she allowed herself to be climbed upon by her captors. She had simply tried to go upstairs to put away laundry, but her beautiful children had noticed.

Now, it was time for a snack and juice.

Happiness Is

Happiness is

…stopping at the bakery after Mass on Sunday morning and getting a large box with cinnamon rolls, raspberry danishes, and chocolate cupcakes.

…when the autumn wind is chilly and the sunlight is molten gold and every delphinium in the world is jealous of that blue, blue sky.

….writing this, finding words like gems and boulders, the freedom of description and remembering how writing soothes my soul.

…driving.  Driving home, driving to church, driving to visit a friend who lives far away, the reassuring contradiction of arching freedom in the sky above me and the private little world enclosed within a car.

…salty, buttery toast and drippy eggs at a diner after a late night.  Hot coffee and home-fries with peppers and onions.

…the dim lights of the bar and good live music in the background and a cold beer.

…my friends laughing with me.  Or at me.  Generally, at me.

…a busy night at the Cafe when everything is working smoothly.

…singing Latin at Mass, the chants or the songs.  The sound of an ancient language carrying down through the centuries: praise and sorrow and prayer in words of a different yet familiar tongue.

…that scene in The Return of the King when Sam looks up and finds the single star amidst the gloom and smoke of the sky above the Plains of Gorgoroth.

…my living room couch and a book.

…my bed and a book.

…a book.

Hopscotch

I remember metal, sun, chalk dust on my hands
The longing appeal of a little girl’s plans
The hopscotch boxes of a lifelong dream
Held lines and numbers, an orderly scheme
From one up to ten, a simple enough game
Arrive at the end with a brand new name
Then slowly and blurrily the rain came down
Washed out the chalk with a regretful sound
Now jacks and a ball are all I have left
Little pieces of me that fell out of my chest
“Can you make it to ten, can you do this for me?”
My questions were never what they should be
This game wasn’t for winning, it was just for the joy
But you tricked me and yourself, dear stupid sad boy
Alas for a dream; Time makes great fools of us all
Hopscotch boxes, jacks and a ball
A little girl’s games, an older girl’s fall.

 

 

 

I feel like I need to say that I have been doing really well lately.  I’ve been happy and smiling and life has been good.  My friends are wonderful.  But tomorrow would’ve been my anniversary with my ex-boyfriend so he’s been on my mind a lot more this past week.  I’ll admit I’m a silly girl and things like that meant a lot to me, and we’d always do something nice or go somewhere fun.  It’s the ‘firsts’ that kill me during these past months… first time in 7 years I haven’t spent 10/11 with him.  Simply put: the date got into my head a little, messed me up, knocked me off kilter.  So I did what I always do when I need to get stuff out of my head, and I wrote it out.  The very act of putting the words onto paper- well, ok not technically paper- has always been a saving grace for me.  They’re outside of me now.  They’re a weight lifted off my heart and away.  And tomorrow, I’m going to this Jars of Clay concert and I’m going to enjoy every moment of it- because how could I not?- and I’m going to come home singing, with a smile on my face and a future full of hope.

My Favorite Band

(**all the italicized lines are Jars of Clay lyrics)

I became a Jars of Clay fan in the spring of 1998.  They had a self-titled first album and a second called Much Afraid out at the time.  I played those two albums over and over again, with the kind of devotion to music always found in the raging hormones and emotional turmoil of an adolescent.  I remember walking home from a friend’s house one night around nine.  It was summer: fireflies and humid air and mosquitoes at my ankles.  I was listening to Much Afraid on my headphones and Frail came on and completely spooked me with its haunting melody and words.  Nothing scary happened as I walked home, and I didn’t have any inspirational realizations as I listened to the lyrics.  I simply remember how powerful and eerie that song sounded in the dark, enough to make me shiver.  And that’s my first memory of my love for Jars of Clay: the first time one of their songs moved me.

Speaking of firsts, I think everyone remembers their first concert.  That’s the power of a live show, isn’t it?  You hear a song, relate to the words, feel the music inside your heart, and then see it come alive in front of you.  On Thursday, April 18th, 2002, I went to my first concert at the old Hersheypark Arena to see Jars of Clay on their Eleventh Hour tour.  They put on a fantastic show, and I can still recall, clear as day, screaming and grinning with everyone else in the audience when those first few notes of Flood rang out.  Now I’m going to see them on October 11th down in Sellersville for their 20th anniversary tour, and just saying that is hard to believe.  Over the years, the band has released so much more music, and each album has songs that have captured my heart and stayed with me as I matured (from Tea & Sympathy to Loneliness & Alcohol).  But more than just the music, it’s their lyrics.  I think that’s it, right there, why I love this band so much.  Their words are beautiful, the strange and surprising combinations, the phrases I wish I’d written: if our hearts are turned to stone, there is hope: we know the rocks will cry out.  Lyrics are the expression of a sentiment, giving form to a feeling, and the lyrics that the band writes are as relevant and intense today as when they first came out.

So I guess it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Jars of Clay’s music has been the soundtrack of my life for the past months.  All the grief, the heartbreak, the spiritual struggles I’ve been going through… there’s a lyric for them all.  After my relationship ended, I’d listen to the lines “I just want to feel your hand in mine” or “but that’s not the way it has to be” and I’d think “yeah that’s how I feel, ‘I think of you more than ever’” and then I’d have to stop myself and remember that no, that’s not how it is.  The point is, I could not romanticize breaking up with Danny.  I couldn’t sit in my room listening to those poignant words about staying strong and battling through problems together and relate to them.  I’m coming home, I’m waking you up, in the middle of the night, I’m not giving up.  That struggle was no longer mine to claim.  Songs about letting go, songs about sorrow and doubt, the stark lines of heartbreak. Those were my music then.  “Because I don’t understand why we can’t get close enough, I’ll miss the shivers in my spine every time that we touch.”  I never thought that would be my line.

I thought You left me for the wreckage and the waste on an empty beach of faith.  Was it true? …I want to believe but all I pray is wrong and all I claim is gone.”  Was there ever a more fitting lyric for those first few weeks in March?  It wasn’t merely Danny and half of my life I lost; it was hope, and trust in the power of prayer, and that strange innocence I never knew I had until it was gone, because my heart had been truly broken for the first time.  What I get from my reflection isn’t what I thought I’d see.

But like they always do, Jars of Clay’s songs reminded me that my faith was there, buried beneath pain and anger and a hell of a lot of loneliness & alcohol, but still there, a firm and sure foundation.  “God hears your sighs and counts your tears.” That’s from God Will Lift Up Your Head.  For days back in May and June, I played that song on repeat in my car and in my room, clutching it like the metaphorical lifeline it is.  I sang it as a promise, as a statement of belief.  I listened to the words and found it within myself to tell Jesus that even though the hurt and anger were still there, I did believe in His mercy and goodness.  In July, after my sister’s baby girl died, All My Tears became my song any time I cried for her, simply because she isn’t crying.  Cecilia Joy may not have seen the sun or moon from here on earth but she’s seeing what our feeble eyes and ears cannot even conceive: the sunlight of Jesus’ face, the music of His voice, the moonlight glory of His mother Mary.  I was getting back to the basics, looking up at God and saying “don’t forget me, here it is, my frail faith, I hold it out to you in my shaking hands and even if I cannot do anything else with it, I can at least show you that it is here.”

Now I’m healing.  Time is passing.  I can think of Ceci in heaven with my cousin Christin and smile.  I’m moving on and discovering that I’m okay being single, even after six years of being in a relationship.  I’m figuring out, slowly but surely, who I am as a single person.  And more importantly, I’m realizing I need to be in love with Jesus before anyone else.  His love is a jealous kind, a First Commandment importance kind of love, and I need to orient my heart to that.  I need to have two hands, doing the same thing, lifted high in a sacrifice of praise.  That’s the hardest lesson, to learn how to give it all up, not just the easy stuff.  I’ve been learning my whole life how to give up good things for the sake of others, make a sacrifice of something I love, because sacrificial love is the source and the summit of faith.  Giving up the suffering is harder.  Offering up heartbreak, smiling through grief, singing the words of the best Jars song ever: take the beauty, take my tears, take my world apart, and meaning it, that is the hardest lesson of all.  I cannot wear my sackcloth and ashes on the streets.  I have to trust in the mercy of the Lord.

Although at times I still find it hard to pray, and the tears still come for what I’ve lost and what I do not understand, the words of Jars of Clay’s songs are there like a hand grasping mine, helping me up, reminding me that my orphan heart will find a home.  I’m not alone.  Light is leading.  Love will find us all.

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