Saturday, April 30, 2011

Rise Again, and Again, and Again

And I’ll rise again.
Ain’t no power on earth can tie Me down.
Yes, I’ll rise again.
Death can’t keep Me in the ground.

"Rise Again," a traditional Spiritual

It occurred to me, sitting and listening to Good Friday unfold this year amongst my friends, that what we celebrate is something of a funeral. This seems obvious, but it's not until you have experienced death first-hand, and considered what it means to rise from the depth of that sadness--or watch a child go through this. When my uncle died I watched his daughter go through a significant change in her life, watched it sap her energy and addle her mind, never mind my own.

It's hard to relate if you feel wrapped up in the death of things--the potential "funerals" we can experience each day, be that of loved ones or of things ended, like relationships, jobs, dreams. Those things we cling to can feel much more important than what the big picture of life's meaning can offer us.

As our choir director sang this spiritual for Triduum this past week, I felt reminded that there is hope in a vision of life beyond the cold earth into which we go--Easter's power for those who believe is the pathos of this hope. We feel the power of something we believe but cannot see.

And that's true faith.

I could finish here, but felt the lesson continue this week as I listened to the reading at the royal wedding--one I've felt inspired by in times past, one which fills in the gaps of blind faith. In the passage from Romans 12, I pause and consider: "Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." I've tried all my life to be who I believe God meant me to be, and sometimes that's tricky (since sometimes my ego gets in the way for sure), but when I do it right, I do feel transformed, renewed. To give yourself spiritually there are so many patterns to break; it's too easy to conform, unless one of the gifts God has given you is discernment of what's easy and instant versus what's often hard but ultimately rewarding on a different level than what the everyday can demand of our attention.

Then, "We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully." In teaching and writing I've found the outlet for this mandate, and since I was young this was all I wanted: the ability to reach out to others, nurture emotionally or spiritually. Everyone has a different calling--ultimately the message is DO SOMETHING which enriches others, renews them, and in turn, be renewed. That's the ultimate makeover--transforming the spirit beyond the self yet for the self. Not selfish, but cyclical, and something to help us make sense of those dark hours in our lives when we do make that proverbial leap of faith.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Mercy in the Real

Lately I'm learning lessons about mercy in unexpected places, with people I thought had lost hope, and in situations I never thought I'd be in. Handing over my daughter to a surgeon--however talented he may be--was one such mercy; the nurses, doctors, and people who surrounded us helped me understand that while we wrung our hearts out, there were many parents and children who felt helpless surrounding us, but would make it through. I heard next door to our room the constant rocking of an old chair, a parent relentlessly trying to sooth a little one who suffered as well; I would see in the faces of the children who rode along in their radio flyer wagons a sense of hope, some fear, some pain. Maybe a sense gratitude in what was now possible.

More recently this sense of mercy came to a head with the death of a cousin who long suffered in life--he'd experienced every imaginable sort of tragedy, suffered especially physically, and to some might have seemed the embodiment of Job himself. I touched base with another cousin of mine who'd become close friends with him, and he revealed that he'd gone with his wife to visit this suffering cousin, and just hang out--no more, no less. During that time they shared their ups and downs, and my cousin, who'd had some of his own serious doubts in faith, came to learn through his long-suffering friend that you shouldn't spend your life complaining about what you don't have, but appreciating what you do have, using it to the hilt, loving it. Accepting what's good and bad in your life, making something of either. In spite of his long-suffering, he was able to see what he did have: a beautiful daughter, devoted friends and family, the simple things of life. He absolutely dealt with the dark night of the soul, as they say, but he did not forget the boon of his life.

Listening to him, I recalled my Sunday school lessons about the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy--listed like they are here below, these seem letter-of-the-law-ish, but really, they're just common sense.

The traditional enumeration of the corporal works of mercy is as follows:
To feed the hungry;
To give drink to the thirsty;
To clothe the naked;
To harbour the harbourless;
To visit the sick;
To ransom the captive;
To bury the dead.

The spiritual works of mercy are:
To instruct the ignorant;
To counsel the doubtful;
To admonish sinners;
To bear wrongs patiently;
To forgive offences willingly;
To comfort the afflicted;
To pray for the living and the dead.
(from the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia online)

These are about just living--in both senses of the word *just*--and while I have aimed all my life to fulfill these, in the end, I think it's not just about duty. This humane sense of God's will for us is a way to simply live, and live faithfully, in honor of the gift of life we're given. We may not be paragons of saintliness, but I think saints come in all shapes and sizes.

Faith--just faith--is about trust. It's about surrendering to trust all will be well. It's about fighting the good fight--giving what you can in return. It's about using whatever we do have to help others. It's about considering your moment--your sense of self, right now, and working on transforming your soul by opening your eyes to the real.

God rest your soul, Tony--and thanks for the lesson of your living.

Sunday, April 3, 2011


After feasting on a lovely "date night' with my husband I found myself thinking about the way food nourishes in more than one way. All my life that's been a visceral experience.

Potluck was the idea I had while drifting off to sleep that night of our feasting--a potluck for Isabella's first birthday. I wondered--is it appropriate to ask others to contribute? That's what my family did for well over a decade of birthdays--maybe fifteen-odd years of birthdays, first Communions, an anniversary or two, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.

I recall always summer parties--though we had them all year long. Our table, brimming over with platter after casserole dish of Portuguese favorites and the occasional "American" cuisine: tripa (cow stomach), bacalau (salt cod), caçoila (beef and liver stew), favas com linguiça (a garlicky, spicy sausage), povo (octopus, now and then), meatballs or lasagna, or linguiça and peppers (always from my Godmother). Desserts of all sorts: a cake I would decorate, flan, bolo de ouiro and prata (gold and silver cake, made each with yolks and whites of 8 eggs, respectively), chocolate pudding pie, "million dollar" pie, various puddings (three color was decadently sweet with its homemade vanilla custard, chocolate pudding, and meringue layer, and ice cream cut into slices from a box for the cake accompaniment. Sometimes coffee. Always wine and beer.

A regular restaurant operation for about 25 people, sometimes more, every time. One major family photo around the blowing of candles, huddled around the mass of food carpeting the tablecloth. Really. The whole nine yards.

I wonder at it--so long ago, but so much an inherent part of my upbringing. I don't experience this much now, but potluck still happens amongst the friends I feel are like family here, 2000 miles from my mother and father, sister and brother, aunts, uncles, cousins. All my milestones have been marked by food and friends here in my years of adulthood--my graduation, birthdays, my bachelorette party, our baby shower, various Easters and Thanksgivings. Everyone brings a piece of themselves to the table--unique, filled with love in the form of generosity. The same sort of thing happens when people bring themselves to a discussion--our spiritual gatherings at church, or literary considerations in my classroom, or general camaraderie of a book club. We share a potluck of ideas, sometimes a bit slow-going, everyone catching up to the main idea, nourishing themselves from the sharing of self.

It's all gift, really, almost magical. We are given the best from our Creator, who carries to us, like my aunts, mother, and cousins did in my childhood years, platters of love and bowls of joy--to share, marvel at, relish.