Sunday, 15 January 2017

O Radix Jesse

Written this past Advent

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
He has come to His people and set them free.
He has raised up for us a mighty saviour,
Born of the house of His servant David...


Our Lord is faithful, patient with us. Redeeming His long lost fold, our long lost fold. Us.

I have been blessed with so many beautiful, devout friends here in this community. Many of these women, like me, grew up in families that are nominally Catholic.  These beautiful women are all incredible mothers, humbling models of who I would like to become.  They weave our faith into their daily lives carefully and intentionally, creating homes rich in liturgical rhythm.  They are passing on traditions and truths that they didn't inherit for themselves.

They share the experience of being exiled daughters.  Many of them are seen as pretentious freaks by their kin.  Beautiful, exceedingly humble women who suffer being despised and misunderstood on account of their all-consuming love for Christ,      Yet after the souls of their own children, they long most to bring the souls of their parents, siblings, in some cases spouses, to the Lord; they live with hearts that radiate hope and yet ache for their long lost fold.  I thank the Lord for them, my heroic sisters in faith who do this so much better, so much more graciously than I.  Holidays can be tough for those of us living in this tension; I want to crumple up and shield myself from all sorts of imaginary disapproval that may or may not come.  But the Root of Jesse reminds me that this is not His plan: 
O Radix Jesse...10On that day,
The root of Jesse,
set up as a signal for the peoples—
Him the nations will seek out;
his dwelling shall be glorious.
11On that day,
The Lord shall again take it in hand
to reclaim the remnant of his people
that is left from Assyria and Egypt,
Pathros, Ethiopia, and Elam,
Shinar, Hamath, and the isles of the sea.
12He shall raise a signal to the nations
and gather the outcasts of Israel;
The dispersed of Judah he shall assemble
from the four corners of the earth.

The Lord doesn't abandon us who feel like their roots are withered and weak.  Furthermore he doesn't just cut us off and graft us onto a healthier plant,   but miraculously in His grace He has called us, He has given us the privilege of knowing Him and bringing Him to our loved ones who have forgotten His voice. He asks us to infuse His love, like living water, into those limp roots. What grace! What mercy!  He wants to do this in us!  Thanks be to God!  Lord, thank You for calling me out of my miserable selfishness, out of my self-defensive fear, to the wide-open wonder of life in You, thank You for inviting me to love for You, for being here, for having come to your people and setting us free.  Help me share Your joy with my loved ones. Help me abide in You where there is no fear. May my life radiate Your good news.   Let me bring You glory, my Lord, my King, my Life.  

Evangelizing in the mud

Today's Gospel reading is Mark 5:1-20. It is the story of Jesus arriving in Gerasene to discover a man who was possessed by many (2000!) demons. He terrorized the populace who had tried chaining and restraining him to no avail; he lived among the tombs and mountains, howling and injuring himself with rocks.  Jesus commanded the demons to come out of him and drove them into a herd of swine which subsequently ran off a cliff and drowned in the sea.  The swineherd ran all over the surrounding area to tell others what had happened and the story concludes thus:

"They came to Jesus and saw the demoniac sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the legion, and they were afraid.  Those who had seen what had happened to the demoniac and to the swine reported it.  Then they began to beg Jesus to leave their neighbourhood.  As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed by demons begged him that he might be with him. But Jesus refused, and said to him, "Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown to you."  And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed.

I've not got much time to write but I wanted to offer a few comments.

As a person who experienced a profound conversion several years into marriage and motherhood, I look back at my waywardness and cringe.  I can see myself in the place of the newly healed "demoniac" and I feel I know what he is thinking. He is so overwhelmed with gratitude to Jesus for rescuing him and wants to give his life to Him, which is one reason he begs to come along with Him in the boat. But, he is also trying to flee.  He recognizes the damage he has done, the scandal his former life has created, the reputation he has earned.  Although everyone can see he has changed, he knows his past too well, and he does not want to remember it. He wants a clean break, a fresh start. He doesn't want to agonize over every encounter "what do they really think of me? Do they see the new me or the demon-infested man? Every time I have a bad day are they all going to jump to conclusions that I've not really changed.  What if the demons do come back?" He doesn't want to be remembered for his brokenness. 

But Jesus, in His compassionate wisdom, says "no" to the man's plaintive cry.  Instead of rescuing him from his memories, He commissions him to be an evangelist! In contrast to several other recorded healings in which Jesus expressly commands the healed to tell no one what has happened, here Jesus does the exact opposite.  And so the man does not go back to his home a shrinking violet, keeping to himself and trying to go unnoticed, but he goes courageously back to the ones who (the man probably thought) would likely view him as a curiosity at best and a dangerous freak at worst. He goes back and he tells them exactly what the Lord has done for him, and of the mercy that he has been shown. He offered up his painful testimony and the story of his incredible exorcism and so proclaims the Good News of Jesus.  His redemption is not separate from his past but drawn from it. 

As I've often written before I have struggled with trying to bury my past and trying to rebuild relationships with people who knew me at my worst.  I know that this fearfulness and retreat is not what God wants for me, but that if He has chosen me to be His own it is so that He could love those nearest to me through me and draw them to Him.  So, I found this passage and Jesus' response to the man's begging to be extremely consoling and it encourages me to likewise bravely "go home to [my] friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for [me] and what mercy he has shown [me]." 

I love you too. (Originally posted sometime last year)

We love because He first loved us. - 1 John 4:19
Can I just say completely without bias that my four-year-old is too adorable for words?

This morning he came stumbling into my room. I was sitting on the edge of the bed. My husband and I both said hello to him but like his mommy who needs her coffee before she can function, this boy couldn't say a word. He came right over to me, planted his head on my lap and wrapped his arms around my legs and hugged them fiercely. "Thanks for that hug!" I tell my boy.

Now wide awake he looks up at me with the widest smile and announces warmly: "I love you too!"

He often does that- saying "I love you too" to my husband or I when we haven't said "I love you" first.  Sometimes he says it in response to kindnesses, compliments, but it's often just when he is happy.

 I find it so wonderfully bold, so full of his child-like confidence that he knows his mom and dad love him, without us saying so.  Our presence assures him we love him, our hugs and our smiles say the same thing. He knows his relationship to us is rooted in our love for him.  So he responds to our affections just the same as if we had said the words "I love you." I am enchanted by this. I realize it's probably partly due to the fact that he is delayed with his speech and he's still trying to figure out the rules or conventions of language, but it is so refreshing and it makes my heart burst every time.

It's gotten me thinking about how we approach Our Father.  Saint Thérèse spoke so much of child-like faith; she knew that God loved her without question, much like my boy takes it for granted that we love him.  I can imagine the Little Flower whispering ''I love you too!'' to her heavenly Father in response to a beautiful sunrise, a sweet-smelling rose, or any heart-stirring grace.

The words ''I love you'' are so heavily charged. It's more than just factually acknowledging that I will your good, but it is confessing that you have a place in my heart; that I delight in you; that you are a part of me; that you have some power over me.It says, I want to give you the gift of myself. Your acceptance or rejection of me can build me up or tear me down. It's saying I am vulnerable to you.  It says ''I will forgive whatever wrong you cause me, because for you I am willing to be wounded, I am willing to suffer.'' It begs to hear back acceptance, affirmation: ''yes, I love you too!''

God made us to love us, to delight in us, desiring for us to freely choose to love Him in return. (And I know it in my depths because I can feel it in front of the Monstrance, those wordless 'I love yous' bouncing back and forth between my soul and Him, feeling pulled towards Him as if by a magnet. And it's jaw-dropping and so humbling to discover this. It changed me.) And He made us to love Him through those around us, and to love those around us through Him, and to let ourselves be loved by Him through them and by them through Him. It's crazy relational! And it's everything! Today's Gospel reading is from Mark 12: 28-34
One of the scribes came to Jesus and asked him,“Which is the first of all the commandments?”Jesus replied, “The first is this:Hear, O Israel!The Lord our God is Lord alone!You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.The second is this:You shall love your neighbor as yourself.There is no other commandment greater than these.”The scribe said to him, “Well said, teacher.You are right in saying,He is One and there is no other than he.And to love him with all your heart,
with all your understanding, 
with all your strength,
and to love your neighbor as yourself
with all your understanding, with all your strength,and to love your neighbor as yourselfis worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”And when Jesus saw that he answered with understanding,he said to him,“You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”And no one dared to ask him any more questions.
Every grace is God shouting ''I love you'' and it's all grace.  Let's tell Him boldly that we love him too.

A bit later this morning, that same adorable son of mine was showing off his new-found ability to wink and was seeing if I could also wink (spoiler alert: I can.) So he pushed my hair out of my eyes to get a better look and said ''Mommy! You're so pretty... just like (his sister) Grace!'' I include this story just as additional proof of his adorableness and because it made his sister break out into the biggest smile when I told her about it later.  I suppose I should have answered ''I love you too.''

Finding unexpected love over fishy crackers

In the United States today is the day of prayer for the legal protection of unborn children.. I wrote this post a year ago this week.


In recognition of the March for Life event in Washington D.C. today, January 22, I thought I'd post a reflection I wrote after I attended our local Right to Life rally in the spring of 2015.  

That day confirmed in me that so much of the pro-abortion arguments are founded in fear.   And the heartbeat of the pro-life movement is the trust that God is good. God loves and bestows dignity on every person He ever created and He providentially cares for us all.  The only way I know of overcoming frightening (albeit temporal) circumstances that seem overwhelming, paralyzing is knowing in your bones that God is love and ultimately love conquers evil, it conquers fear.

And if you are part of the slim percentage of people who are going to a March for Life to berate and hurl hatred at pro-choice protesters, please stay home, will you?  Because your vitriol won't soften hearts. Your love will.  I sadly know too many broken young women who have had abortions at the insistence of their babies' pleading fathers... 'men' who begged them to abort because "my mother is Catholic and she'd kill me if I got 'some girl' pregnant." I knew too many boys in my Catholic high school who would coolly claim that they would push their girlfriends down the stairs if they ever became pregnant so as to cause miscarriage.   I know, and you know, that this is horrific anathema to Christianity, but do those pro-choicers know it? Or is this disfigured and hateful image the only face of the Body of Christ they've seen?  I will never for a second try to excuse abortion but I do recognize how truly lost and convoluted so many people are in our individualistic, dog-eat-dog world and I feel aching compassion for these women as well as for their children. Love them, care for them, point them to the Father whose love surpasses everything.
Finally, I know that a lot of people who were planning to attend the March this year in D.C. had to change their plans as a massive snowstorm moves through the region and local officials declared states of emergency and implored people to stay indoors.  So, if that includes anyone who is reading this:  God love you for your desire to show up despite the inconvenience and hardship of the storm! I imagine that a lot of you feel discouraged, perhaps that you failed in not showing up. I offer this reflection in part to offer encouragement that God is in control, and in His Providential love He will touch and change hearts in ways that we can't imagine....Especially when the circumstances change in a heartbeat...

My son M. and I joined the grade 4-8 students in Fredericton for the Right to Life rally/March for life.  M. (3 years old) and I had left the rest of the group to run around the lawn, look for a balloon, explore the crowd as only a three-year-old can do and finally found some steps to sit/climb/play/slide on. We were on the far left of the crowd and our group was on the far right, near the speakers. So here we were standing off to the side when suddenly a group of university-aged women appeared with signs and bullhorns, screaming “you say no choice, we say pro-choice” and waving signs with clothes hangers taped to them. I wasn’t sure if I should move or stay but I felt deeply, stay, love them.  So M. was covering his ears but he wasn’t crying or upset. He just kept saying “They are so loud!” So I pulled him into my arms started praying the Rosary out loud, which over the bull horn was probably not audible- I could barely hear myself - and I hoped it would help M. because he loves to help me pray. And I kept looking at the girl with the bullhorn and then down at my son with his ears covered and she kept looking at him from the corner of her eye and would hesitate before shouting into the bullhorn again.  

Then, just as suddenly as they had started, they stopped literally at our feet and lay on the ground.

While they were shouting M. was covering his ears but he didn’t seem too worried, but now he became really concerned as he looked at these girls that were lying silently on the ground, eyes closed, with cardboard cut-outs of tombs lying across their bodies.

“They are dead?”
“No, they’re okay sweetheart.”  
“Are they sleeping?”
“No, they are pretending to sleep.”
“Why are they lying down Mommy?”
“Because they are sad.”
“They are sad?”
“Yes my darling, so we have to be very nice to people when they feel sad.”

He had the most concerned look on his little face and started looking at them and at me like he was thinking of what to do next.

I asked: “Do you want to share your snack with them?”
“I can give them my goldfish (crackers)?” His face lit up and he scrambled to retrieve his snack.
‘Yes, you can ask if the ladies if they want some.” So he then walked over to a couple different women and offered them crackers, they all, oohed and aawed over his sweetness.
Some said yes, some said no thank you. - They all responded lovingly. (The kid knows how to win over a crowd!)
One of the protesters got off the dirty pavement and leaned up against the building. I overheard her say she felt sick to the stomach. M. heard it too.
“You are sick?” “You have tummy ache?” he asked her.Everything in me was now shouting “LOVE HER!” So, I kicked into mother mode.
“Can I help you? Do you want something to eat? Can I get you a bottle of water? Do you need to sit down?” She said no. Then quietly M. played on the runner of the steps between the two of us, and I held his hand to make sure he didn’t fall, and she reflexively would reach out to help him if he was leaning too far off the steps on her side towards her. I said:
“This is stressful, isn’t it. Scary, huh?” She nodded.
I then told her I used to be her, and I told her some stories of women I love so much who have deeply mourned their abortions and how much pressure was put on me to abort this beautiful boy with the goldfish crackers because a blood test said he was going to have Down Syndrome.
And she said, with tears running down her face:  “yes, everyone has a story.”  “Yes,” I agreed.

Then, after another moment of silence I looked into her beautiful watery blue eyes and said:  “I just want you to know that I know you are here because you care and you think that you are doing the right thing. These people here, we don’t hate you guys. There are so many women out there (pointing to the crowd) who are here because they have had abortions and they don’t want anyone to go through that pain. None of us hate women who have had abortions. We don’t.  We’re not here saying that at all.” Then just silence and a sad smiley look and then M. bolted across the lawn and I had to leave to follow him.  

Then as we meandered around the lawn and I marvelled at what had just happened, and later as we marched I overheard a handful of conversations by perplexed pro-lifers who were upset with the protesters and in some cases being rude and here I am begging and pleading in both official languages:
“These girls, they don’t know... they think they are right... they think the world is bad, because they don’t know that God loves them. They are scared and they think no one cares so the best thing to do is to abort. If they knew God loved them, really, really loved them,  and that people care and truly want to help them, they would not think that aborting their babies was compassionate. YOU MUST LOVE THEM RIGHT NOW. If you don’t show them God’s love right now, who will? They have to go home tonight confused by how much love we showed them. PLEASE! PLEASE! When you go by, smile at them with love.”

As we marched by and the protesters screamed SHAME at the top of their lungs and I was getting nervous (we were walking on the street and I kept thinking someone could drive into the crowd because they are angry - it happened to my friend who was walking a picket line in Ontario about ten years ago) and I am really trying to stay calm because the kids in our group were with us and were getting really upset and then the woman behind me calmly said to her daughter, “remember when Jesus was carrying his cross? Remember that he prayed for the people who were mocking him?”  and WHOOSH! Those words just completely calmed my racing heart.  

And I looked into the eyes of the women M. and I shared crackers with earlier and they looked away but weren't shouting with the others and the girl with the bullhorn (no longer had the bullhorn) kept looking back at me so I said sincerely, “I hope you have a good day” and she paused and looked really shocked and sputtered, “Well, I hope you don’t.” And I nodded and smiled and said “thank you.”  and kept walking...and shaking... and feeling overwhelmed with love.
Totally crazy, unexpected love.
Deo gratias

You flood my heart

You flood my heart.

I am stunned by You.
Stunned by Your goodness, Your faithfulness, Your generosity, Your perseverance
with one so sinful, so unfaithful, so selfish, so impatient

Lord, I am not worthy to receive You...

You flood my heart.

The psalms and the saints and the prayers of the Mass
whisper the love song that is You.

The husband who loves me;
My children who greet me each morning;
The beautiful friends, neighbours and strangers You put in my path;
The extraordinary ordinariness of homework and dishes and laundry;
The sunrise and the sunset, the rain and wind, the warmth and the cold
whisper the life of Your love.

In the Tabernacle;
Where two or three are gathered in Your name - Your Church - Your Body;
In chants carried up into the highest heavens;
Through the mystical portal of icons;
Under the veil of bread and wine -

You ARE.

You, who is being itself, willed my existence out of nothingness simply so
You could flood my heart...
so that I could know You and love You?

Such goodness, such love.
Unmerited, undeserved.

Lord, I am not worthy to receive You...
but by Your word You heal my soul?

Lord, let me love You with all my heart and all my mind and all my soul and all my strength.

Heal my brokenness, my blindness, my sin, my darkness, my selfishness - undo the knots, break the chains - so that my hands are free to serve You, my heart is free to love You, my feet are free to run to You, my mind is free to contemplate You, my lips are free to sing Your praise.

Free me to be washed away by the flood.
Drown me in the ocean of your mercy.
Turn my heart inside out so it is capable of containing You.

An octillion reasons for my heart to sing.

"Lord, open my lips and my mouth shall proclaim Your praise."

As I am missing summer terribly and since we were discussing the miracle of photosynthesis today in science class here is a post from June replete with really big numbers...

Perfect floral reminders of the Sacred Heart of Jesus?  Lovely that they are in bloom for this Friday! We had bleeding hearts in my front garden when I was a little girl.  They were my first botanical love - tied with pussy willows  -  and I was so happy to find two hardy, hearty shrubs here in our garden.  

I love so much that people just leave their canoes and kayaks on the shore without fear of theft.  Maritimers have a reputation throughout the rest of the country for being honest, friendly, trustworthy.  We are humbled and inspired by the simple goodness of the people who live here.

More horsetail ferns. So much love for these...

I ponder the joy and delight I feel seeing him absorb the wonder of creation around him and wonder how much more  joy and delight our Father, who loves us, made us, and made all this must experience when we do the same!

My kitchen window companion, minus a few fingers.  

I am one blessed woman to have this as the view from my front porch.   We heard the loons this morning as we lay in bed and my husband exclaimed: "We live in cottage country!"  Does anyone outside of Southern Ontario know what "cottage country" means?  Here they call it "up-country".  I had never seen a loon save for on our dollar coin until I moved out here. Now I hear them from my bed! Incredible!

I find plants that take root in sand, rocky craggs, or other harsh environments to be fascinating in their tenacious austerity: stripped down in simplicity; perfectly, gloriously complete.

This is the same type of grass as above but with the roots exposed. How wonderfully adapted to life in a harsh, ever-fluctuating environment - a sandy, rocky, brackish inter-tidal zone.    

My nature lover displays one of his finds.

 The wonder of creation astounds me. The wonder of the One who created it all, the fascinating potentiality contained in the genetic code of life let loose to billions of years of adaptive selection to yield this incredible world that captures the energy of the sun in zillions* of photosynthetic plant cells and turns ultimately into food to nurture our bodies, and simultaneously lifts our souls to awe in His glory.

Praise to You, O my Lord!

*zillions? Is that even a real number? Okay, let's just say a lot. Just how much sunlight is converted into food energy via photosynthesis in a year?  Between 57,300 and 71,000 exajoules! What is an exajoule? 10 to the power of 18 (1,000,000,000,000,000,000) or one quintillion joules!   To put in perspective - the United States total energy consumption is roughly 94 exajoules per year.  I just read that there are estimated to be 3.4 trillion trees in the world! And that algae and other ocean plants are responsible for 30-40% of the total output of oxygen in the world. Oh, and another fun fact I learned this morning: the sun emits 400 Yettajoules (10 to the power of 24 = 1 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000, or a septillion joules) per second!

How many cells are at work converting sunlight into ATP? Well, the world's smallest photosynthetic individuals  - Procholorococcus - a cyanobacterium - number in the octillions alone! (1 with 27 zeros after it).

So kids, the next time you are questioning God's providence... take in a deep breath, let that plant-generated oxygen permeate your lungs and try to count to octillion.

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