Epiphany

Last week I celebrated Epiphany on January 6. On the 7th, I took Christmas down. But my Wise Men and their camels and gifts made it to my manger scene in good time. They arrived on the 4th! Must have been great travelling this year.

Epiphany — our young priest tried to explain it Sunday. That’s the day we officially celebrated the feast at church. He [Baby Priest] took the “Tell all the World” approach to Epiphany. Me? I’m more of the “Aha!” as the definition of epiphany type person. But, I can see clearly that the story of the Wise Men clearly tells us that God’s love not only extends to all, but you just can’t control who will pay attention and recognise it. These Wise Men came across the desert because they saw the light and followed it. They weren’t God Chosen Jews — not when they started the journey and not when they returned home. They didn’t take on the trappings of the Jewish religion as far as I can tell.

Our current pastor is a very young priest. He wears a cassock. I do feel for him being thrown into this job. I tell myself he’s young. My epiphany when listening to him this week was that he longs for a magical perfect past that never existed. In many ways, I think that’s what so many “traditionalists” long for. They wish for a time of innocence when there were rules, and they felt quite safe. They wish to go back to a time before their personal age of reason (not before The Age of Reason).

When they speak of this magic past, everything is peaceful and good. Like so many in my generation, that would mean perhaps the 1950s. Ozzy and Harriet, Leave it to Beaver, Andy Griffith. Those TV shows represent an idealized past sold to use by Mad Men and their advertising.

But let’s look closer. Yes, for Catholics this was pre-Vatican II. Everybody (ok, maybe every Catholic) was told what to think, what movies and books were acceptable and the clergy was on a pedestal. It was quite safe and predictable. Except it wasn’t. It was the McCarthy era. Any sex abuse by clergy (Catholic or Protestant) was covered up and/or dismissed. There was the growing threat of nuclear war. It was illegal to be homosexual – or to act on those inclinations. There was redlining that kept a part of our population down and out. And what about overt discrimination based on color or sex or religion that kept children from getting equal education. It was perfect in the US and many other countries if you happened to be white and male (oh, and cisgendered).

Even my father, who was forward thinking enough to work out how my mother would have her own credit history, etc, tried to steer me toward being a legal secretary (maybe today a paralegal) instead of an attorney. Not that I was interested in either. But, I’m sure he would have thought it more appropriate for me to think nursing instead of being a doctor. (Again, not my path. I thought large animal Veterinarian was a good idea).

I never shared a classroom with a black student until I was in high school. I remember white and colored water fountains and separate entrances to movie theaters.

This mythical past just wasn’t.

Or go back further into this magic, traditional past with Latin masses and the altar turned so that the priest’s back was to the congregation, and the word from Rome was not questioned (out loud). If it was so perfect, why was there a Vatican II in the first place?

My guess is that the Church herself reached an “age of reason” where she had to look at herself and take responsibility. That She had to be open to the Epiphany and see/accept that there are many ways to God, and many ways to experience God, and many ways to share God’s love.

And that it the present.

New Years Day: Mary Mother of God

Mary: mother and child

Sunday’s mass celebrated Mary, Mother of God. It is her feast day after all.

I’ve long had problems with Mary on a pedestal. No problem with Mary as a sister who could stand by me as a woman or a mother. What I find most fascinating is that in order for God to become human, it required a woman to cooperate. Jesus came as a baby. Jesus grew in a womb and had to pass through the trauma of being born. Yes, I think birth is probably our first trauma — pushed through a narrow gate like the proverbial camel, emerging usually into light from total darkness, leaving the warmth provided by mom’s body. Yup — exciting, but still traumatic! Even with a c-section a baby is suddenly taken from a safe, warm place into a lighted, open space that is likely chilly.

So, while the Word existed one with God (the Father/Mother/Creator), when it came time to take on being a human, a willing woman was required. And, that child was a boy, to boot!

I find it perplexing as well that since Jesus becoming a human required a mother, then why is it that women are not allowed to be ordained as Catholic priests? A woman did cooperate to bring God/the Word into the flesh. Jesus’ words at the Last Supper were “Take and eat, this is my body… do this in memory of me.” Only a human person who could bear children could actually have brought the original “Body of Christ” into the world. So, now, we are not considered valid to consecrate the Eucharist? Hmmmm.

And so, I will continue to ask Mary to pray for me and for many things. And I will continue to be certain that women are more than qualified to consecrate the Eucharist.

Finding my point of view

I’ve been working on my photography skills of late. At times I focus on the technical aspects, but I find I must also learn to hone my vision. Shots of my grandson’s flag football game certainly indicate that I had a particular player as my focus. Also got some good photos of his family.

It was a great morning — I had no idea that 6 year olds could manage to execute a reverse, a fake (handoff), a handoff or a half back pass. I continue to be amazed by what kids can learn.

Sleepless

Some mornings I just have to give up and get up. Most times, I can let the thoughts roll on by after considering them. I always think I’ll remember the insights when I get up. Alas, it seems that this is one of those days to get up and make notes of all those deep down things that showed up.

Faith

A couple of Sundays ago, our young, wet behind the ears priest reflected on the parable of the mustard seed. He caught me short when he started with the idea of faith as all the information about what we [Catholic Christians] say we believe. I thinking “What?” The Catechism, the specifics, all the tenets of the Faith, etc… okay, I guess that is a definition of faith. I, however, think of those things as Religion.

So, I was relieved as he moved on to the idea of faith as trust. Now, we are getting somewhere. Faith is a belief, a trust in something or someone. All those rules, and statements, etc are maybe the result or the revelation of how faith has impacted our lives. Looking beyond the surface and accepting what is often hard to see and trust.

All of this led me to thinking about scrapbooking layouts revealing the image beyond surface. Yes, I know this seems a leap here. But stay with me. Just for a minute. Thanks.

Of late I have been digging into some digital scrapbooking layouts where there is a textured background, but another image is revealed in part. Hard to describe in words, but maybe an image would help:

All that pretty pinky base, and low and behold, sunrise at the beach is partially revealed, with birds laid on top, and a 3 frames to focus one’s attention. In many ways this is how faith works, especially if one practices contemplation. The details of the what lies beyond begin to be revealed.

What is my God? or yours?

Onward marched my random thoughts. All the way to remembering a meme (okay, a quote) I saw yesterday attributed to GK Chesterton.

Once [you] abolish God, the Government becomes God. Whenever the people do not believe in something beyond the world, they will worship the world.

GK Chesterton

OK. I find it difficult to accept words themselves without considering who is passing them on. In this case, I know the person posting is pretty much a right wing, don’t take away my gasoline/diesel vehicle or my guns type who is seems pretty sure that financial success or failure is due entirely to how hard you try. So, I have issues because of the source. I fully agree that we will believe in something, and that something becomes our God. I find it hard to take these sorts of things without a large grain of salt because I believe I understand that the words mean something quite different to me than they do to the poster. I see the poster’s God being Self, Self Reliance, Guns, Stability. I see the warning to check what/who is my God. Is it security? Is it being right? That’s on me — to take inventory and have a good long, honest look at myself.

So, give me the grace to see unexpected good in unexpected people, and to be able to tell them so.

Lost

Sometimes someone simply nails it:

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Sean Dietrich on Tuesday

Here is the letter I got:

“I’m struggling. My name is Joe, and I’m an addict. I’ve been to drug rehabilitation twice. I actually spent my 21st birthday there. Five years later, I’m still using drugs and I’m lying to my parents about where my money is going. I’m hurting my health, I know. It’s hard because I really want to be sober, but it’s just hard to stop. I guess I’m writing to you because your letters really are therapeutic to me.”

Dear Joe,

Today I sat down to write you a response even though, I freely admit, I know nothing about the nature of addiction. I typed one sentence when something happened. My wife came bursting into my office, shouting, “Otis has gone missing!”

Otis is one of our dogs. Otis is an alleged Labrador who might as well be our oldest child. He smells like a giant armpit and has chewed approximately 39 pairs of my reading glasses. But he is loyal, and he is mine. And we love him.

This dog, however, has been known to dig beneath our fence and explore the greater Birmingham metro area. I don’t know why he escapes. He has a pretty cushy life here. We feed him Science Diet, which costs more per bag than a four-bedroom beachfront condo.

My wife and I tore into our backyard and found a big hole beneath the fence. My heart dropped.

“Otis!” we shouted.

Nothing.

He was gone.

Within minutes we were canvassing the neighborhood. I was barefoot, jogging on the sidewalks, hollering, “Otis! Here, boy!”

None of our neighbors had seen him.

My wife and I split up to cover more ground, cruising side streets in our respective vehicles. We were circling the neighborhood while horrific scenarios were dancing in our heads.

In a moment like this, you find yourself acting irrationally. You find yourself losing your own sanity.

“Dear Lord,” you say aloud. “Please don’t let him go toward the highway.”

So you patrol the highway. After 30 minutes of searching, you start blaming yourself. You mentally flog yourself.

You tell yourself that if ONLY you would have reinforced the fence, he wouldn’t have escaped. If ONLY you wouldn’t have let him into the backyard without supervision, this wouldn’t have happened. If ONLY you would have been a more responsible dog owner.

“I’m such an IDIOT!” you say, pounding your hands on the steering wheel.

You’re lavishly and thoroughly panicking now. Your palms are clammy. Your heart is beating like a Sousa march. Your mind is going into dim corners.

You’re envisioning the corpse of your best friend, lying on Highway 31, limp, his little ribcage crushed. You’re envisioning red stuff saturating his white fur. You’re sick now. Physically ill.

Because you’re remembering when you once had a dog escape from your backyard a couple decades ago. He got hit by an SUV but was not killed instantly. He died in your wife’s arms. You are reliving that private hell all over again.

Now it’s been two hours.

Nobody has seen your dog. Everyone keeps giving you that frowny-faced look, telling you that if they see him they’ll call you.

One of your neighbors can clearly tell you’ve been crying and she starts praying for you in her front yard. This is sweet, but she is Pentecostal so she prays longer than anyone else in Western civilization and your legs start to fall asleep.

And still you keep looking. You visit local gas stations. You visit businesses. You knock on doors. “I’m sorry,” everyone says. “Haven’t seen any dogs.”

And eventually, you go home.

Because what else can you do? It’s been half a day now, the sun is setting and you’re nauseous. You stagger into the bathroom and kneel before the toilet because you feel like puking. But nothing comes up.

Later that night, you’re sitting on your sofa, lost in a morbid daze. Your eyes are puffy, and you realize you were supposed to be writing a response letter to a kid named Joe, but you can’t do it. Because your heart has been removed with a garden shovel.

Your dog is missing. Your dog is likely dead. Your dog IS dead, and it’s all your fault.

Then…

A tiny thought occurs to you. It’s a small thought. An infinitesimal thought. A nanoscopic thought. A thought so small you almost ignore it. But you don’t.

Something makes you stand. Something makes you go outside. Something causes you to make a beeline for your backyard shed. You were in the shed earlier today, doing yard work. Could it be?

The crickets are screaming. It’s nighttime. You unlock the shed door and 80 pounds of canine muscle shoots from the door and hits you like a steel cannonball. You fall onto the ground.

You are weeping.

“OTIS!” you shout.

He licks your face.

Your mind and body are so flooded with inexpressibly potent joy hormones that, if it weren’t for the laws of biology, they would cause your entire circulatory system to explode.

And in this intense moment, you realize that you cannot recall being this happy before. Not ever. You might never be this happy again.

Because, you see, what once was lost is now found.

And that, my friend, is how God feels about you.

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