Monthly Archives: December 2014

Before I leave Minnesota…

Tomorrow I return to Ohio. Despite much to do and sleep beckoning, there is something inside needing to be expressed before I leave Minnesota.

I came to here a week ago in order to spend Christmas with my mother and brother. It can be a wearing trip from Cleveland, despite the conveniences of modern travel, but I could not imagine going anywhere else but where my family is.

I do not need to travel to see my father anymore. Since his death 6 months ago, he is always near. However, not surprisingly, I sometimes find him even closer when I am here to see my mother…in my motel room, when I close my eyes at night…

When I was a young child, like most of that age, I loved Christmas for the excitement of opening presents, decorating the tree, playing special music and baking cookies. But especially the presents!

However, by the time I was an adolescent, I had become rather serious about faith and longed for more simple, Christ-centered celebrations.

Family traditions are solid structures, however. Christ was certainly in Christmas but everything else remained, much to my dismay at the time. (The gifts I gave did take on a rather unique flavor during this phase though, often being homemade or from fair-trade shops.)

Finally, perhaps a half dozen years ago or more, I proposed to the family that we let go of the gift exchange. We are a small family with no young children. We all had more than we needed in terms of material possessions. We could celebrate with cards, time together or small, homemade things. The motion passed, with only a little reluctance.

As the oldest generation ages its way toward heaven, this too has had an impact on the family experience of Christmas. We can no longer do what we once did and some can only be present in spirit.

Yet, for me, it is simple and beautiful, even if tinged with sadness.

This year, upon my arrival, I found my mother sick with what seemed to be a bad cold. As the days passed, she became sicker and sicker. It soon became apparent that some strain of influenza had taken over her 88 year old body and did not want to let go.

Because she was so sick, no one came over except my brother and me. She was unable to go to church, of course, and was even unable able to pray at some points, she told me, because she could not stay awake.

My brother’s family had a gathering a couple days after Christmas but, not wanting to leave her alone, I spent the day quietly in her apartment. She ate almost nothing and could remain awake for but 10-15 minutes before sleep overtook her again.

Today, she is a bit better, staying awake a little longer, eating a bit now and then and no longer feverish. Yet she is still very weak and frail in a way that I have never seen her.

Several years ago, I had a Christmas like that with my father, seeing him for the first time as an old man whose grip on this life was slipping away from him little by little. And there was nothing any of us could do about it.

Certainly there is no beauty in my mother’s suffering and illness. I would not wish that on anyone. But there has been a simplicity and beauty in the Christmas experience, despite her concerns that I wasn’t having any “fun” during this visit.

As my parents have entered the latter stages of their lives, I have been invited more and more deeply into the life of Christ, His body in this world. Christmas has become what I have longed for in a way that defies words.

This year, I live and pray with a sense of my father gazing upon Christ in glorious eternity.

This year, I grow closer to Him as I am given the privilege of sitting with my mother in one of her many times of trial.

All I want is to be with Christ.

And that has been given. Alleluia.

The Good News

I sit in my motel room, late at night, having completed the day our culture calls “Christmas”. Of course, I should be sleeping.

But something tugs inside of me, longing to express the Truth that keeps revealing itself in the One who is simultaneously with us and sought by us, the One for whom we waited but was already here from the beginning…

The Word, the true Light, that enlightens everyone, that darkness will never overcome… The God that no one has ever seen, now revealed, grace upon grace, of whose fullness we have all received…

There is nothing of mine sufficient to express such a Truth. Of course there could not be – how could I imagine it otherwise?

And so I will sleep, leaving you with a wondrous image I was permitted to glimpse some two years ago, along with the words of John, a man who knew the Word intimately and testified to the Light…



God is with us

It is late on Christmas eve… As each minute passes, the feast of Heaven and Earth draws closer, the feast that announces that God is with us.

What words or images could I possibly offer to express what this means – when I myself do not understand? Yet something in me longs to proclaim it. The beauty, the truth of it.

The Word was made flesh to live among us, to reveal the face of a loving Father always with us, intimately present in every moment of my life and yours.

Yet I hardly seem able to remember this for more than a few minutes at a time, if at all.

I am like one afflicted, so preoccupied by my disease that I forget the medicine I have been given. Or like one starving, too weak from hunger to remember to eat my food.

But He is here. He has come to be the medicine that heals me, the food that nourishes me back to life.

He has come to look for me when I am too lost, too weak, too preoccupied to look for Him. He wraps me in love, like an infant in the arms of its mother, until I am strong enough to walk along side of Him.

Having taken on flesh Himself, He has humbled Himself so as to feel my fears, to endure the humiliations and pains I experience because of sin. He is with me and He is with you, at each step and around every unexpected corner.

Through each step, in every sorrow and triumph, He gives me His heart to live in my heart. I begin to see. And believe. And know. His heart becomes my heart and my life becomes love.

And then I forget. I become like one afflicted, one starving…

And He comes looking for me again. No, I cannot say that. For He never left my side for a moment.




God is with us.



What I fear most…

As I begin this venture of a new blog, a curious fear stalks me. The fear is not a new one but I thought I had left it behind. How silly of me.

I will confess it, here and now. I am afraid of comments. It doesn’t matter if it is a publicly posted comment or an offhand remark made in passing by a reader that I know personally. They scare me. (Thanks to the kind souls who got me started with comments, forcing me to face my fear.)

While it might seem logical that I would fear critical or controversial comments, I haven’t really thought much about them. My true terror seems irrational: I fear the positive comment, the one that pays me a compliment, the one that makes me feel good.

It is an odd sort of thing. In the course of my professional work, I encounter so many people who are starved for a positive word, an acknowledgment that they have done something well, that they have some value. To be criticized and demeaned from childhood has left them with very little sense of self. What self they have is often badly damaged or sadly immature. And here I am, seemingly so unappreciative of the kind words of others.

Yet it is not that I am unappreciative. It is that I am afraid.

I am afraid because I know that my problem is not low self esteem emanating from a damaged sense of self, but pride festering within a bloated ego.

I am so very thankful for God’s gifts to me, the “talents” He has entrusted to me as well as the loving parents who instilled in me a healthy sense of self. It is my sin that scares me, my weakness in the battle against the passions.

Until I was led to read and learn with the Orthodox a couple of years ago, I don’t think I had ever heard the term “passions” before. Conceptually similar in my Catholic upbringing were references to “the seven deadly sins”. However, despite 16 years of Catholic education, I don’t believe anyone ever explained to me their meaning.

My point is not to criticize the many religion and theology teachers I had over the years. Rather, what strikes me is how readily one can grow up within a devout family and participate in every church ritual with serious intent and miss learning something so essential to the Faith.

My only related memory was, as a child, reading a little book to prepare for confession – and it frightened me. I did not know what a “deadly sin” was and could only assume that it was worse than a regular sin. Hence, for years to come, I believed that I sinned (in a deadly way) when I felt good about myself for something I did well. That was my understanding of pride and it was my job to banish it.

Unfortunately, there was so much that little book did not teach me. It did not teach me that all the good that I do or accomplish is God’s gift and therefore it is my duty and joy to praise Him without ceasing. It did not teach me the beauty of holy humility, the emptying of self before God with complete knowledge of my utter helplessness and need.

Not that I would have understood this at that tender age. But what I did learn learn was to suppress my natural feelings out of fear and to substitute a humility that seemed false, a lie I was to tell myself. It seemed that I was to deny the positive data of my accomplishments so that I would not think too highly of myself.

At some point, the entire model became unsustainable, as the “deadly sins” of normal human feelings like pride (not to mention the really shameful ones, like anger and lust) demanded to be heard in my life. To survive emotionally, it became necessary to embrace my human self.

I came to realize that I was not so different from my patients who had damaged, immature or nearly absent selves. None of us can genuinely surrender our selves, even to God, if we do not first have a real self. For the abused, this may mean a period of extensive healing of old wounds and positive growth so that they can know who they truly are.

For me, healing has meant learning to discard the prideful and artificial sanctity of a self who works hard and follows the rules, thus thinking she owns whatever goodness is made manifest through her. I have been called to discover not who I am but what I am.

To discover that I am nothing before God but a helpless sinner is not easy for one such as me. It is not because it is demeaning. It is not. In fact, it is perhaps the most liberating and loving experience that there is.

It is difficult because the ego in me is always fighting it, not wanting it to be true, scrambling to find evidence of how good I am, how smart, talented or holy. And that is all smoke and mirrors for the truth.

For the truly holy know what they are. Mother Teresa in the Catholic community bore witness, “If you are humble, nothing will touch you, neither praise nor disgrace, because you know what you are.” Among the Orthodox, Elder Paisios knew very well that the many miracles occurring through him were God’s actions not his; he said of himself, “I’m a tin can shining in the sun – it looks like gold, but it’s empty.”

I am just beginning to know what I am. What I truly am, sinner before God, empty of any significance of my own.

And, in this newfound awareness, I am afraid that I will fall to temptation. But I must expect that of myself – because of what I am – and be prepared to repent and place my hope and trust in God’s unfailing mercy.

Therefore, I cannot take this little “talent” He has entrusted to me and bury it in the ground because I am afraid. Rather, I must step out from the darkness of my own corruption, share what He has given and trust in His healing Light.

Please pray with me and for me, as I pray for you, kind reader.


Everything is Yours…

It is both an exhilarating and daunting experience to be sitting here before a brand new blog that is empty and waiting to be filled with words and images.

Recently, I was reminded of an admonition given by the most faithful reader of my previous blog, a beautiful soul who has since left this world to go to God. “Please, never stop writing,” she would urge when I had been remiss in my posting. I never felt quite worthy of the honor her words implied nor was I ever sure that I could make such a promise.

I would tell her that I would write as long as God allowed – for I intuitively knew that He could withdraw the ability or inspiration at any moment and I would have no choice but to obey. To write was not simply an act of my will.

But I also know that I am lazy. I do not always make the time to listen to God, to ask Him if He might give me something to share. I become preoccupied with my job and so many other things of this world. Time passes and I do not write.

Is it His will or mine that I have followed?

That is perhaps something that I can never know with certainty – for my willfulness, my ego, slip into play so insidiously that what I imagine to be God’s will is often really just my own.  At times, it seems that I can only trip along blindly, hoping to discover the Way that is simply too glorious for my tiny mind to comprehend.

From years of willfulness and blindness I have learned one thing – no, two actually. First, I am weak and sinful and therefore I cannot trust myself at all. Second, I must resolutely place all of my hope in God.*

I anticipate that I will continue to fall as I learn to do this – because that is how I am. But I also trust that, when I return with all of my heart, He will lead me with a Love that will destroy in me any desire but to follow.

And so I begin this blog, knowing only that I am weak and He is good – and that I want to lose my will in His.

Of course, I do not know how to do this. And so, asking the prayers of the saints and holy ones of God, I  allow the words of St. Ignatius (Loyola) to wash through me and become the guide for my journey:

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,

my memory, my understanding,

and my entire will,

All I have and call my own.

You have given all to me

To you, Lord, I return it.

Everything is yours; do with it what you will.

Give me only your love and your grace,

that is enough for me.


Indeed. Everything is His. To Him be glory. Amen.


* note: see The Struggle for Virtue: Asceticism in a Modern Secular Society, by Archbishop Averky (Taushev), the challenging text where I encountered these ideas and began taking them to heart.