for lost friends

As twilight makes a rainbow robe
From the concealed colors of the day
In order for time to stay alive
Within the dark weight of the night,
May we lose no one we love
From the  shelter of our hearts.

When we love another heart
And allow it to love us
We journey deep below time
Into that eternal weave
Where nothing unravels.

May we have the grace to see
Despite the hurt of rupture,
The searing of anger,
And the empty disappointment,
That whoever we have loved,
Such love can never quench.

Though a door may be closed,
Closed between us,
May we be able to view
Our lost friends with eyes
Wise with calming grace;
Forgive them the damage
We were left to inherit;
Free ourselves from the chains
Of forlorn resentment;
Bring warmth again to
Where the heart has frozen
In order that beyond the walls
Of our cherished hurt
And chosen distance
We may be able to
Celebrate the gifts they brought,
Learn and grow from the pain,
And prosper into difference,
Wishing them peace
Where spirit can summon
Beauty from wounded space.

-John O’Donohue, in To Bless the Space Between Us

holy week

This was one of those weeks here.

One of those weeks where the parent of a teenager dies, and my daughter helps to hold that friend up, while grieving and tears and sadness swirl around them all.

It’s happened before.

The first time, the father of one of her friends was killed in a car accident. A couple of weeks later, a guy lost his mother to brain cancer. Another time, a girl in her class watched her kid sister die of brain cancer. A few weeks ago, a young man whose father committed suicide a few years back decided to take his own life. This week, the dad died of a heart attack.

These are the times when people ask God, “Why? Why is this happening?” And these are the times when, sometimes, God’s answer is so unclear.

Why do we suffer? Why do kids who haven’t even graduated from high school lose their parents? Why do these tragedies happen?

From my perspective, as I watch these teenagers go through some of the most difficult moments that they will face in their lives, I have become profoundly aware that these experiences are changing them.

The night of the viewing, a close-knit group of Katie’s friends stood in line for over two hours. As adults, we all know how this can be. People talking in hushed tones around us. As we get closer to the casket, the raw emotion of the family who has lost someone. The awkwardness of not knowing what to say, even though we have all been on the receiving end before.

The day of the funeral, my daughter waited for the mass to start in a pew next to the girl whose father died in a car accident. I’m sure that thoughts of that funeral 12 months ago were forefront in their minds. When the opening song began to play, it was the same song they had heard a year ago, “Be Not Afraid.”

These are moments that change us. These are moments that, like it or not, make us holy men and women. Or teenagers, as is the case for my daughter, many times over, these past couple of years.

These are moments where our faith can be strengthened or lost. Our understanding of suffering can be profound. Our human bonds are transformed. Our commitment to those relationships that have changed because of death are magnified. Our hope in resurrection can be questioned, and then, in the end, sustained.

And though we may not ever truly understand why, in our deepest souls. we come to know, through these holy experiences, that God is good.

This Holy Week, I pray for all those touched by deaths that don’t seem to make any sense. That the grieving in our midst know God’s grace. And that they hope in the resurrection that is to come.

I invite you to do the same.

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.

I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses,

that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults,

hardships, persecutions, and calamities;

for when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10

tradition

Living over 700 miles from our families sometimes makes the holidays difficult for me. Because of the challenge in scheduling around me, my husband, and our two employed young adults, we won’t be “going home” for Christmas this year.

This saddens me.

I will miss the always amusing banter between my three brothers and my husband. The way that they can recite lines from funny (stupid) movies as if they had been part of the original cast.

I will miss both of my niece’s gentle spirits. Their kind, compassionate, smart, funny hearts.

I will miss the amazing conversations I always seem to have with all of my nephews. The way that I marvel at how much they’ve changed. How I appreciate and savor every word, every smile and frown, every uninhibited expression.

I will miss the snow. The way that, when you drive from the east side of the state to the west, the snow banks get deeper and deeper.

I will miss my mom’s gingerbread boys. Soft and sweet, with the perfect blend of spices, these are one Christmas treat I cannot resist.

I will miss both of my sisters-in-law, a truly profound blessing to me. Their witty wisdom, their enlightened grace, their calming and subtle affect on my sometimes over-stressed heart.

I will miss hot coffee in the morning at the kitchen table on Allen Road and the relaxed, wonderful conversations that always seem to happen there. When the sister and her boys come in and fill the house with energy.

I will miss Christmas mass at Cabrini, the chill in the air, the beautiful decorations, the lovely choir, singing all the favorites.

Mostly, I will miss the wonderful opportunities to bring everyone together. The crowds of relatives, the festivity in the air, the hustle and bustle. The overflowing love and affection. The smiles, laughter, and enjoyment of the relationships I hold most dear.

I find myself half-heartedly putting up the decorations in my own house this year, 700 miles away. My favorite Christmas playlists don’t have their usual appeal. And yet, I have a profound awareness of the gift of my own little family here in Pennsylvania. It is as if this year, when I am missing my larger family’s traditions, the “little” family traditions we have become magnified and treasured. It’s God’s grace that has shown me this truth.

Today, I thank God for my families, large and small, and the wonderful ways that they shower me with grace.

I invite you to do the same.

gentleness and compassion

“Part of the very essence of Christianity is to be together in a concrete community, with all the real human faults that are there and the tensions that this will bring us. Spirituality, for a Christian, can never be an individualistic quest, the pursuit of God outside of community, family, and church. The God of the incarnation tells us that anyone who says that he or she loves an invisible God in heaven and is unwilling to deal with a visible neighbor on earth is a liar since no one can love God who cannot be seen if he or she cannot love a neighbor who can be seen.” –Ronald Rolheiser, in The Holy Longing.

“Having to wait and wait and wait without answers, or direction, or an easing of the emptiness, can cause such anxiety in the dark of the tomb. Eastering can’t be rushed or forced and there are no clocks or calendars telling us when resurrection is going to happen.” Joyce Rupp, in Little Pieces of Light: Darkness and Personal Growth.

“Don’t harbor hateful anger or call people names in your heart like “fool” or “worthless person” (Matt 5:22). If you’re walking around all day saying in your heart, “What an idiot he is,” you’re living out of death, not life. If that’s what you think and feel, that’s’ what you will be, death energy instead of life force. Apparently, we cannot afford even inner disconnection from love.” –Richard Rohr, in Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer

Being a Christian cannot be separated from living in a community of believers. In my life, this community has manifested itself as a wonderful conglomeration of deeply spiritual persons who consistently care for others, in body, in mind, and in soul. Some of these individuals would deny that they are deeply spiritual. And yet they love deeply, with love beyond all telling. In some cases, this love leads to great suffering and profound grief.

One of my favorite prayers in the Mass is when the celebrant says,

“Coming together as God’s family,
with confidence, let us ask the Father’s forgiveness,
for he is full of gentleness and compassion.”

When I started this blog, I did so because I believed that God had given me a voice, and this gift was something I needed to share. These past few days, finding this voice has been difficult. And yet somehow I know that this voice must embrace gentleness and compassion.

I ask you to pray for those who are suffering or experiencing profound grief in their communities. Especially those in my community of believers in Downingtown.