If any one of you feels guilty

“If any one of you feels guilty and you know that you deserve it, fear not.  Look at Jesus Christ.  You only need to say, ‘Have mercy on me.’  Then, with the eyes of faith . . . see an unseen hand wipe out all your sins and misdemeanors.  You will realize you are in paradise because he who is merciful dwells in you.  Where he is, there is paradise.  It is as simple as that. …

Charlie Mackesy

“Faith assures us that when we come close to God with sorrow in our heart, his consuming fire cleanses everything in us.  His arms reach out and take us in and rock us back and forth.  We rest against his breast and are lulled by the heartbeats of God.” (Servant of God Catherine de Hueck Doherty)

Don’t miss Him

Reposting this from a few years ago:

This morning I was meditating on Simeon and Anna.  I know it’s Lent and not the Christmas season!  That was part of my meditation.  Simeon and Anna didn’t know, at the time, that it was the Christmas season.  It was just another day of prayer in the Temple.  But if Simeon had not been sensitive to the Holy Spirit, he would have missed the Child he had been waiting for all of his life.  Thinking about this made me pray that I wouldn’t miss Christ’s coming to me today in whatever guise He takes.  Let’s all keep watch for Him today.  Maybe we’ll find that it’s really Christmas during Lent.  *;) winking

The best thing to give up for Lent

I repost this every Lent.  It’s still the best recommendation as far as I am concerned.

This comes from a Magnificat article written by Fr. Peter John Cameron a few years ago.  I do not have time to quote the whole article (which is always dangerous because what you read will be edited), but I hope–especially those of you who despair of ever giving up what he suggests we give up–that you will find some hope in what he says:

Here’s what to give this Lent: the doubt that goes, “I can never get closer to God because I’m too sinful, too flawed, too weak.”  This is a lethal attitude, for it based on the false presumption that we can possess something of our own–that does not come from God–by which we can please God.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  Only what is from God can please God.  But as long as such error persists, we estrange ourselves from God.  Lent is not about lamenting our inadequacy.  Rather, it is a graced moment to receive from God what he is eager to give us so that we can live the friendship with him that he desires. . . .

He goes on to describe how often we try to substitute self-sufficiency for the lack that we find in ourselves–and this usually leads to an experience of darkness in our lives–“we may even wonder if God hates us.”  He allows the darkness in order to draw us back to him.  “The most reasonable thing we can do when that feeling strikes is “to renew our act of love and confidence in God’s love for us.  The Lord allows the darkness precisely to move us to unite ourselves all the more closely to him who alone is the Truth.”

Still–we panic!  We feel as if we are obliged to do for God what we know we are unable to do.  But the point of the pressure is to convince us to receive everything from God.  We can be sure that God himself is the one who, in his mercy, moves us to do what is not within our power.  This is the Father’s way of opening us a little more to himself by making us a little more in the likeness of his crucified Son.

For nothing glorifies God like the confidence in his mercy that we display when we feel indicted by our frailty and inability.  The experience of our hopelessness is a heaven-sent chance to exercise supremely confident trust.  God delights in giving us the grace to trust him.

Sadly, for those who refuse God’s gift of confidence, the darkness can turn to despair.  Yet even in despair the miracle of mercy is at work.  Father Jean-Baptiste Henri Lacordaire, the nineteenth-century Dominican priest who was responsible for the revival of the Order of Preachers in France after the French Revolution, makes this astonishing remark: “There is in despair a remnant of human greatness, because it includes a contempt for all created things, and consequently an indication of the incomparable capacity of our being.”  In our darkness, the incomparable capacity of our being will settle for nothing less than the embrace of the Infinite.  Like nothing else, our helplessness moves us to cry out for that embrace in confidence and trust.  The cry of forsakenness that Jesus emits from the cross is just this.

Saint Paul wrote, “We were left to feel like men condemned to death so that we might trust, not in ourselves, but in God who raises from the dead” (2 Cor 1.9, NAB).  That’s the point.  That’s the challenge of Lent.  God wants us to have the strength to believe in his love so much that we confidently beg for his mercy no matter how much we feel the horror of death in ourselves. . . .

Let us this Lent, in the face of all ours sins, our limitations, and our weakness cry out with Jesus, “My God, why have you forsaken me?”  And let us do so with certainty–not doubt or desperation–because our union with Christ crucified has given us the Way to approach reality.  In our asking we hold the Answer.

Peak and Valley

Barnstorming

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One sees great things from the valley, only small things from the peak.
— G. K. Chesterton

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It is all a matter of perspective
and what we perceive from where we stand:
it takes great strength and determination to climb the peak,
and look down upon the valley left far below
where even mountains seem diminished.

Yet what gives life meaning,
what encourages our faith,
and instills hope
is how we thrive while dwelling
deep in the darkest of valleys while
gazing up at the dream-like peaks.

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327934_2284811352045_97582906_o photo by Josh Scholten — view of Mt Shuksan from the top of Mt. Baker

327132_2284808111964_2141834584_o photo by Josh Scholten – dawn from the top of Mt. Baker, seeing its shadow to the west

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What’s good for the soul

Buying Flowers

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“There are always flowers for those who want to see them.”  Henri Matisse

“I love that you have flowers on your grocery list,” the nutritionist I’d been seeing said smiling as she looked over my list from my last trip to Trader Joe’s.  “Well, I always buy flowers,” I say, somewhat shyly but also with a bit of pride.

I didn’t always buy flowers.  I mostly bought them when we were entertaining in our small Brooklyn apartment.  It was often one of my husband’s chores to run out to the corner store and choose some flowers as I feverishly cleaned and got everything else ready to impress my guests.   I had a hard time deciding on a type of flower myself and would often defer to him even if we were together at the flower shop.

Besides the entertaining, he also bought me flowers quite often, and in fact, the day before he died, I had just tossed the last bouquet that he bought me before he left for his trip.  I realized and regretted that right away.  The last bouquet.  They must have started to look sad because I always used to tell him, and he rather liked it, “Nothing can brighten a room like fresh flowers, and nothing is more depressing in a room than dying, wilting flowers.”  I can still see him outside our apartment windows, his silhouette getting off the bus and holding the flowers.  I think he had done something “wrong,” and so I half expected them.  Still, I had smiled to myself when I saw him carrying the white paper cone in one hand.  They were pink carnations I think- or white maybe, with darker pink streaks through them.  It does get hard to remember.

Afterwards, I set up a memorial of sorts on the same table, spreading out all of the photos from the funeral in the black IKEA frames friends had bought for that purpose, and buying fresh flowers each week from the Whole Foods I walked to along the Hudson River.  It seems extravagant that I bought flowers as a newly widowed young mother with no source of income, and maybe it was- extravagant yet vital.  After putting my toddler to bed, I often stood before all the frames and flowers in the dark living room at night, shadows from the busy street outside running past, and said goodnight to him.

Later, when I changed the apartment around and it consisted mostly of play spaces for my daughter, I no longer kept all the photos in that spot, but I kept buying the flowers.  If we visited the cemetery, even if we went to buy fresh flowers as well, I pulled out a few from our own present bouquet to leave there, so that when we got home later, I could look at our bouquet and know that a few of those same flowers were there – with him.

Years before, while working in a cubicle at a publishing job that sucked the life out of me, I had discovered that flowers were transformative.  One morning, while walking my usual route from the subway at Union Square up to my building, I stopped to admire the pink peonies they were selling outside a small market.  On impulse, I was compelled to buy them and brought their softness and life into my cubicle of buzzing fluorescent light and stale air.  I felt a lightness and refreshment that entire day that I never forgot.

When you’re suffering, you cling to anything of comfort or beauty.  And isn’t something of genuine beauty also usually something of hope?  My husband used to tell me to eat whatever I felt like eating when I was sick rather than stick with toast and tea or chicken noodle soup.  “If you feel like pizza, eat that.  It’s good for the soul and you’ll get better,” he said.  In a small booklet I received at an arts conference, which is now a book called “On Becoming Generative”– artist and founder of International Arts Movement, Makoto Fujimura, begins his exploration on why we need to cultivate beauty in our lives by recounting his newlywed days, when money was particularly tight.  He was sitting in his small apartment worrying about paying the rent and buying food when his wife walked in with flowers:

‘How could you think of buying flowers if we can’t even eat!’ I remember saying, frustrated. …. I do not remember what we ended up eating that day, or that month (probably tuna fish.)

But I do remember that particular bouquet of flowers.  I painted them.”

“We need to feed our souls, too,” his wife had replied.

At my daughter’s first grade Thanksgiving party, I bring small bouquets of mixed fall mums wrapped in brown craft paper and twine for each table.  “In all my years teaching, no class parent has ever brought in flowers!” the teacher says.  I privately wince- no flowers?   The children keep moving the bouquets closer to themselves from the center of each table of about six kids.  “Are these real?” they ask- touching them.  “They are!”

Last winter I bring daffodils to a woman in our town who has just lost her husband to cancer.  She had a daughter in first grade at Audrey’s school at the time.  I hadn’t met her, but we had corresponded via email, and I leave the daffodils on her doorstep.  Another young widow who I meet through my last blog and is now a good friend sends me a journal last year for Christmas that gets me writing again.  I send her a set of three small white vases from CB2 with a note saying, “Buy flowers.”

This morning there are some lovely white ranunculus with a hint of pale green coloring, my current favorite flower, offered at my weekly trip to Trader Joe’s- beauty I gently place in the front of my shopping cart.  Beauty for $5.99.  (Yes, Trader Joe’s has great prices on flowers.) As I bring them inside my house, unload the groceries, and find a vase for them, this post occurs to me.  The quotes and ideas form like bullet points in my mind, and I jot them down.  Feeding my soul for $5.99.  Makoto painted his bouquet.  I write about mine.  It’s as though they possess an inherent creative energy that counteracts any destructive energy.

And tonight, as I write, I decide to look through iphoto to find a few photos of the flowers I’ve had over the last few years.  I am sure that I have at least a few, but I am shocked at how many I find.  They are not staged like a still life from the pages of Real Simple.  They are snapped quickly with my phone mostly, sometimes out of focus, and sometimes surrounded by the usual clutter of daily life- Legos, books, snacks.  I suppose when you see something beautiful, you want to take a photo of it.  Now that I’m sketching, I often find myself sitting at the dining room table sketching them and painting them with watercolors.  I sift through the months of the past four years on iphoto-  from the raw, early days of grief and through each season: pink and red tulips for Valentine’s day, daffodils in late February or March to cheer on spring as winter gets long, sunflowers in September, white hydrangeas I pair with red berries for Christmas, snap peas, irises, roses-  and I find what I really have is a journal of flowers.

The backgrounds change as we move from one apartment to another, as my daughter grows from a toddler to a six-year old girl.  The flowers have comforted me, and now they comfort me again.  I feel a strange sense of pride reviewing it- evidence that I have held it together better than I thought.  My life fell apart around me, but there were flowers on the table.  “I want Audrey to feel beauty and good things about this world,” my husband had written in an email a few weeks before he died.  The flowers help.  Seeing that I bought them, displayed them, and photographed them- assures me that hope has been here all along-  sometimes in a simple bowl or small glass vase, humble and often in the background- but also steadfast and striking.

Here they are:

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To see the rest of her photos, go here.