Saturday, December 29, 2007

Mother's Tears

We are a modest country parish, but we made a big statement yesterday on the Feast Day of the Holy Innocents.

Before morning Mass, our small daily Mass group (a couple dozen hardy souls) gathered outside the church at a rock commemorating the victims of abortion. Our priest wanted to remember not only the Holy Innocents of scripture* on their feast day, but the innocent souls that are killed every day through the modern horror of abortion.

It had been raining that morning, a light fine mist, but I was pleased that it stopped prior to our little service. Our candles, all lit with fire from the Christ candle in the center of the Advent wreath, flickered in our hands with no raindrops to douse their flames. Our priest led us in prayer, and with bowed heads, we prayed for aborted babies, for their mothers and fathers, and for any who might be contemplating aborting their unborn child. It was emotional and meaningful.

And then... something beautiful happened.

We had prayed the Lord's Prayer together, and we were about to ask for our Blessed Mother's intercession. Our priest said, "
We ask the intercession of Mother Mary who sheds a tear for every child denied life. And so we pray...Hail Mary...."

At that moment, at that VERY moment, raindrops began to fall ever so gently from the sky. Our priest said that when the words about Mary's tears left his lips, light drops hit his face. Coincidence? Perhaps. But I prefer to believe it was our gracious Mother shedding tears from Heaven in solidarity and sadness.

May her tears and our prayers heal our land - our world - so the death of the innocents will be no more.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

*On the Feast Day of the Holy Innocents, the Catholic Church remembers the children killed by King Herod's hand as recorded in the book of St. Matthew 2:16-18: "When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi, he became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi. Then was fulfilled what had been said through Jeremiah the prophet: 'A voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation; Rachel weeping for her children, and she would not be consoled, since they were no more.'"

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

It's Just Me

A fellow pilgrim said to me today that she was surprised to learn I struggle with fear and insecurity. Based on my writings, she thought I was one together lady! (Until she was further educated, that is.)

Oh my.

Just for the record, I am entirely prone to bouts of fear... and insecurity... and doubts... and attitudes that aren't so great. The good news is that God always reels me in and somehow turns them into learning experiences and fuel for my writing fire. It is my fragile humanity that provides me with my subject matter!

So raise your glasses one and all to our weaknesses - for they lead us straight to our very strong God.

2 Corinthians 12:9 - "He has said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Most gladly therefore I will rather glory in my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest on me."

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Day

Oh heart, be still
For through God's will
Love entered the earth

On a night so rare
Love pierced our air
Through the virgin birth

Love's with us now
To kiss our brow
And wipe our tears away

Oh, celebrate! Open wide the gate
To heart's empty core
Love will meet you there
With life to share
And joy on death's far shore

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Glimpses of God

When I saw the movie Blood Diamonds, it became apparent to me that Satan is a true presence in this world and behind all the evil in it. It brought home how present our hateful tormentor is. I am reading about the Nazis now, and I see the same in their warped inhumanity.

In contrast to this, there is a lot of beauty in this blog-o-sphere in which we share ourselves. I am amazed at the goodness that shines from folks' hearts through the thoughts, photographs, art, poetry and other lovely things they post on their blogs. It never fails to cheer me when I visit these positive, spiritual oases in cyberspace.

Many thanks to all of you who express the beautiful nature of God through your creativity. You help me see His face and goodness in our world.

I wish you a merry Christmas, and pray that the brightness of Christ will be as a sunbeam on you throughout the day.

Love, Esther

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Unmerited Favor

I must confess: I haven't sent out Christmas cards in years. Not that I don't want to (I do), I just haven't been good at planning ahead and making the time. Yet we get them (and they're gratefully accepted!). People continue to send cards to our home, even without our doing the same.

I was fussing with them this evening - rearranging them, taping up photos of happy Christmas smiles, and generally feeling pretty happy about them - and I realized what a metaphor this is for the unmerited favor God bestows upon us. His graces are given - new ones, each and every morning - whether or not we are grateful, whether or not we are happy about it, and whether or not we recognize it, in an amazing show of love.

I pray this Christmas my heart will long for Him in a way it never has before - and that every moment I spend with Him will be with excited anticipation, as though I am getting Christmas cards fresh from the mailbox.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Such a Fragile Package

My brother recently fell off a roof and injured himself badly. A local school counselor died in a head-on collision Thanksgiving weekend, and a young man I know (for whom I babysat many years ago) died in a construction accident this week. We're not invincible. Our humanity resides in a very fragile package. Our lives can be lost - or forever changed - in an unexpected instant.

I've been thinking lately about the corruptibility of the body. (It's no wonder!) Could every cut, ache and pain be meant to push us to God? When sin entered the world, not only did our bodies cease to be eternal, but our communion with God was damaged, forever changed. Vulnerability is our reminder that there is something beyond ourselves. This fragile temporal home pushes us to seek what is eternal - God. It calls us to Him.

To die in friendship with God is to give our soul a home long after our body has turned to dust. But first one must live cultivating His friendship, for we never know when our lease here is up.

Holy Hush

I am often amazed at the palpable nature of God's presence in an empty church.

Sometimes I rush through on my way from one place to another and feel the Lord's presence like a cloak when I enter.

The candle signaling His presence in the tabernacle flickers through red glass - a reminder that the Lord is there - but it is not necessary, as He can be felt. A thick hush, a full silence, is heavy in the room.

Many notice this their first time entering a Catholic Church - and the Holy Presence invites them to stay.

When the Blessed Sacrament is exposed and my gaze falls upon Him, I marvel that the Author of the scriptures, the One who choreographed all of creation, is there in the room before me. Amazing.

I wonder, is this how the Jews felt when the Shekina Glory of God was present and with them in the Ark of the Covenant? It was only to the High Priest - and only once a year - that God revealed Himself. Now He reveals Himself to all. The veil between God and man was rent through Christ, the God-man, and now I sit before Him.

The Winter of Contentment

Today feels more wintry than any day so far this season - the sky, heavy with clouds, darkens the daylight hours. Stark and barren branches dominate the landscape. A wickedly cold and persistent wind chills to the bones, and the feel of the day throughout is best described as heavy and gray.

Yet I know there is a heart beating underneath the barrenness of the landscape. Life is flowing through nature's hidden veins. Greenness and buds and tender leaves are waiting to arrive. Shoots will push through once cold ground. Flowers will amaze the meadows (and those of us watching on the sidelines) with their color and beauty.

Immersion in spring will tempt us to forget winter - so let us not forget the hope of spring in the gray starkness of now.

Like the tide, our well-being ebbs and flows. We are sometimes in spring, sometimes in winter. Even in winter, the lifeblood of our Lord flows within us - beneath the cold and darkness there are flowers and tender shoots ready to spring forth, promising to leave winter behind.

Do not lose hope in the winter of your days. Our Lord promises spring - it's just ahead!

"Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come..." Song of Solomon 2:12

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Stop and Smell the Gifts of Love

I was in a rush to leave work earlier this week, but even in my quick scurrying, something caught my eye. I mean this literally, for the scene seemed to focus in reverse, almost as though the object drew my attention to it.

It was a white rose, a perfect bud on a bush I've passed countless times but hadn't stopped to notice. An oh-so-gentle pink hue added to its beauty. A soft rain had deposited droplets that clung to its petals and leaves. I knew this was my "white rose of purity," the image from my dream of just a day before. All the cares of the day dropped away, replaced by the joy that comes when Someone chooses a special gift just for you.

In an effort to preserve the moment, I took the rose home with me; however, time away from the living bush diminished its sweet scent and the pristine curves of the petals. Paradise lost.

Today, while mourning my loss, I passed the bush again. Another white rose, a perfect bud, showed forth among the deep green leaves. Redemption. A second chance.

Two white roses. Though I destroyed the first one, God graced me with another. His love never fails. His subtle gifts shine with encouragement. I am glad His mercies are new every morning.

This time I left the rose to thrive on the vine, a fitting metaphor for our life in Christ.

"Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in me." John 15:4

Saturday, December 1, 2007

The White Rose of Purity

I awoke this morning with an image: "the white rose of purity." In a dream before waking, I gave Christ a white rose, a gift to Him and a symbol of my life. The imagery spilled into my waking moments as a call to a fresh way of being. I saw the white rose not as a statement on my life, but as a symbol of what my life could be. I am now challenged to live my life deliberately and purely, with the hope each thought, word and action will contribute to the white rose I wish to present to Him in the end.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Christmas Is Coming!

I heard a Christmas carol the other day and the depth of my emotion surprised me. Sheer joy bubbled deep inside. I haven't felt that way about Christmas for a long time.

Somehow it means more to me this year.

Advent candles arrived at the office today. I opened the box and was taken in by the tall waxy poles of violet and rose, not to mention the crowning glory of the white and gold pillar candle for the center. I held and looked at them with awe and excitement. What's happening to me? I can't wait to decorate the Advent wreath for the sanctuary.

We pray a novena to St. Anthony each Tuesday after morning Mass. The last novena asked for his intercession for our new parish center. In contrast to many past frustrations, the ground is now broken and the foundation is poured. The beginnings of walls are being formed. Success!

I wonder if my new state of mind about Christmas has anything to do with our latest novena, one which asks the saint to intercede for Christ to find a place in our hearts this Christmas. What a lovely request! We've been praying this for several weeks, and here I am feeling gaga about Christmas... hmm.

Never underestimate the power of the communion of saints.

Saturday, November 24, 2007


I've been thinking a lot about simplicity, of scaling down my possessions and hence the complexity of my life.

Since our possessions can (falsely) make us feel secure, choosing to live simply can be an exercise in trusting God with abandon.

My thought is that living with as little as possible will tame the current state of my atomic structure, which feels as though each molecule is frantically and frenetically jumping about. I long for peace in my busy life, and inviting serenity to reign in my home feels like the first step.

I think of Franciscan monks with their simple brown robes, and realize that their simplicity of life is not just for their good; it allows those around them to more clearly see God without "stuff" getting in the way.

Off I go on my journey to collect & give away the odd pieces of my life that hold me back...

Friday, November 23, 2007

Complete Abandon

I approach many things in life with complete abandon, such as singing, motherhood, and almost all human interaction. (Unfortunately, all too often, I live out vices with complete abandon, too!) But I wonder, what would it be like to trust God with complete abandon?

Perhaps I would sit in His presence without asking questions... I would listen, rather than present my wish list.

What others think of me might not matter much anymore.

My first waking thought in the morning wouldn't be panic about all my unfinished business.

The past or the future wouldn't occupy my present.

My ducks needn't be in a row.

Peace would reign in my soul.

"Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths."

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Practical Dreams

I attended a class last night about the colors and customs of liturgical seasons, and I woke up this morning with an image straight from a dream...

Create a prayer altar with colored candles to represent different liturgical seasons, and light the candle appropriate to the current season when praying. Fill the altar with holy reminders of the liturgical time of year (or the feast day) and with framed photographs of loved ones for which I pray.

Liturgy is the rhythm of the intertwining natural and divine worlds, a reminder of God's grand story played out on Earth.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Earthen Vessels

Recently I was part of a small gathering for Mass at a local thrift store ministry. Afterwards we prayed and processed as holy water was sprinkled throughout the building. The holy water was not in a fancy receptacle as one might see at the parish church; it was in a ceramic bowl someone pulled off the thrift store shelves and an old paintbrush was used to sprinkle it. When the priest blessed the water at the beginning of Mass, we used what we had (including salt from an old fast food packet that was blessed and put in the water). Was the water any less holy and blessed because we used these thrift store items? No! - for it is not the receptacle, but what's within it that matters. In the same way, God transforms and uses us, human versions of dusty bowls, old paintbrushes and fast food salt packets. We are His imperfect receptacles that hold the holiness of Christ.

I know my faults and sins; the ceramic bowl of my humanness has plenty of cracks, and my spiritual paintbrush is worn and lacking. I'm not even sure if I have a salt packet! Yet over and over again, His grace is sufficient for me and I am made perfect in my weakness.

Next time you feel unworthy to carry His message, think of the ceramic bowl gathering dust on a thrift store shelf that got to hold the holy water that dispelled the devil and the old paintbrush that got it there. Then you'll know that God will use even you and me...

...provided we're willing to be His earthen vessels.

"But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us." (2 Corinthians 4:7)

Monday, November 19, 2007

Dancing with the Spirit

Jesus tells us to be as little children; however some of us need to learn to be childlike.

When my father died seven years ago, I was alone in making the arrangements for his funeral and burial. I traveled across country, away from my young children, to take care of things. I did OK until just after I arranged for his plot at the cemetery. Then suddenly, in the silence of the car, I fell apart. I sobbed deeply, uncontrollably, for what seemed like a very long time. It might have been the first time in my life I felt powerless, unable to manage things by myself. And you know what? God met me there. I became a child who climbed into His lap and I allowed Him to hold me like a daddy. That experience is still very close to my heart.

A friend recently sent me a poem over email about dancing with God. It reminded me of a verse from Galatians: ‘Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.’ (Galatians 5:25, NIV)

Sometimes ‘keeping in step with the Spirit’ is not about doing correct, orchestrated dance moves; it’s about letting the Spirit lead, about being a child in His arms and allowing Him to carry us, kind of like when I was a little girl and stood on my Daddy’s toes while he danced. It’s about admitting we don’t know where He’ll take us, but trusting all the same.

Keeping On

Today I told a friend not to neglect doing something positive for herself, even if others are negative. (Or something like that.) Sometimes we can let the opinions of others dictate our decisions. It can be hard not to, especially if the others are significant.

Listen to that little voice inside you, the one that is asking you to break out of your shell of insecurity to move forward in following your dream.

Be coaxed by the love of God that calls to greater things. Be willing to throw off the status quo, to be the seedling that sprouts into a great tree.

Even Jesus said to Peter, "Get thee behind me, Satan!" At times our greatest allies, our closest friends, can provide temptation to stray from the path.

True courage is not about feeling brave, it's about following the call even when you feel scared.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Kiss of Life

Today someone dedicated himself in a deeper way to the service of God. A friend renewed his vows as a Franciscan brother. The event touched me in many ways. What I write about below was just one of them.

The story of St. Francis kissing a leper was briefly told at the ceremony. Apparently, St. Francis was deathly afraid of lepers all his life, but through the grace of God he was able to embrace and kiss one. This encounter removed the fear and changed his life.

A thought struck my heart as I listened to the story. Are we not like lepers embraced by God? We are amazingly stubborn and rebellious (we wear it like leprosy), yet He loves us. We are completely undeserving, yet He bestows grace upon us. We cannot earn His love, yet He gives it unwaveringly. He embraces us in all our sin and Heaven responds with joy when we allow the embrace. And, like St. Francis, our lives are changed.

"While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."

Divine Plumage

I was in the kitchen one recent morning and looked out the window to billowing hot pink clouds, the beginning of sunrise. Since our kitchen window faces east, I can be astounded each morning (so long as I pay attention). Such vibrant colors - such brilliant clouds! Each morning is different. I began to think of sunrise and sunset as times when God "shows His feathers." It's almost as though He's revealing Himself very dramatically for our benefit. With a show like that, there is no doubt He's there.

He doesn't have to do it... But He does.

Like a cosmic peacock fanning its tail to its mate, He calls to us in a no-holds-barred kind of way through these vibrant slices of Heaven visible just twice a day on Earth.

The More Excellent Way

I had to make a decision recently, and in doing so, it seemed to me that we are often presented with the "acceptable way" and a "more excellent way." I found that any decision, so long as it is in line with our values and doesn't hurt us or others, is acceptable. But sometimes we are called to a more excellent way, one that may involve sacrifice for the greater good. The more excellent way is not always the easier way; in fact, there may be great obstacles, even pain. However, it is always the way that brings great blessing in the end. Christ travelling up the hill with His cross is our example of the more excellent way... there was great pain and great sorrow... but in the end, then and now, there is always resurrection.