Tuesday, May 2, 2017

MIRACLE CATS, SOUL MATES, AND CHOCOLATE BROWNIES


Confession: I’m not a fan of dogs. There, I've said it. As a recovering people pleaser, I practiced authenticity by giving up pretending to like dogs on social media for Lent. As ridiculous as that sounds, it brought me to this level where I can share that I’m an empath and, you know, a decent human being. As such, I totally get that you love your dogs as much as I love my cats. So, if you’re my social media friend and I “like” your dog photo, what I’m really liking is the love I see between you and your pet. Just so you know, just so we’re clear.

So, Seven, our 17-year-old, hyperthyroid cat with Irritable Bowel Disease died in the middle of Holy Week. This is spiritual post about the miracles and grace I received through my beloved pet as she overcame three separate life-threatening medical emergencies over the course of 2 ½ years and then passed peacefully away. But first, I want to share some tidbits about her veterinary care and our family.

Because so many of our Facebook friends were praying for her, Seven was blessed with cutting-edge veterinary care. Her treatments were not invasive, nor uncomfortable. Most of her medicines were applied topically to the skin of her inner ears. An easy-to-digest prescription canned food appeared on the market only months before her diagnosis. All the techs and vets we spoke with recognized Seven’s strength of heart and understood our goal to keep her healthy and comfortably with us as long as possible. They were also practical and repeatedly clear about how we would know when it was time to, you know.

Except one. Once when I called to discuss a change in Seven’s prescription, the partner vet got on the phone, read up on Seven’s treatment plan, and explained some medical stuff to me. Then he said, “Bottom line, if you micro-manage a lifeform’s health to the level you are doing with this cat, you can keep anything alive forever.”

Okay. Well. Not true. And, I understand you currently have an overloaded “dime-a-dozen” kitten room, so you don’t quite get why we’re going through all this. However, was that really a necessary comment?

Seven’s meds and food did cost a lot of money. But, all members of our family were on the same page here -- she was worth it.

Which brings me to my daughter who was 9 months old when we adopted Seven and her brother, Nelix, after I read a scrawled sign posted on the hairstylist’s shop door, “Marmalade kitten and gray sibling need home.”

I said aloud, “Those are our cats.” I just knew.

We have so many photos of Seven and Nelix in the thick of play with children. And cuddles galore. Thirteen years’ worth with Nelix and Seventeen with Seven. Definitely, a fair share of trouble as with any pet, but oh so much love. My daughter loved these cats as her own siblings/teddy bears/best friends. And when they died, it was as unbearable as you can imagine it would be for her. Nevertheless, she got through it each time, and I thank you for your prayers.

So, you can see what I’m not saying here, right? You can see why we would invest so much into this sweetie, right? After Seven’s last miraculous recovery in February, when we brought her in so the vets and techs could verify for us that she was indeed better, everyone was as excited about her recovery as we were. And the partner vet? He started telling random clients about the miracle cat they had in their care. And after, he wrote in their group sympathy card, “. . . She was so loved.”



Just so you know, just so we're clear. 

. . . . . 

Are you as relieved as I am that I was authentic without dropping the F-bomb?!

Speaking of authenticity, I have another confession. I’m struggling with being an authentically spiritual person.

I’ve accepted that by following my own saintly recipes for spiritual living and climbing those boulders along my path, I’ve become progressively more spiritual. I’ve accepted this and am ever so grateful, but I’m not used to it. And so, I struggle.

Recently, I was called on to share about myself in a church group and I said, “I’m pretty sure I’m an Earth Angel (empath) gifted with claircognizance (clear thinking/intuition).”

*crickets*

Another time, I was in a church group and someone shared that after all their years of study, they’ve concluded that the whole crucifixion and resurrection thing is a metaphor and never actually happened. And someone responded, “You know, I believe that, too. Let’s have some more wine and discuss it further.”

This type of thing makes me “run screaming” back home to my cats and social media where I find a photo of someone’s trip to Jerusalem taken in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre showing people praying near Golgotha, the site of Jesus’s Crucifixion.

Or another’s photo on the shore of the Sea of Galilee where the Risen Christ cooked and shared breakfast, forgave Peter, and asked him to feed his sheep.

And I go, ahhhhhh. Much better.

And then there’s Doreen Virtue, angel guide and author with multiple psychology degrees and years of experience. With Doreen’s guidance, I have tuned in to the same divine wavelength she’s receiving along with millions of other people, world-wide. Her daily oracle card readings and weekly video usually speak directly, not metaphorically, directly to what I’m experiencing at the time.

And yet, since discovering her when I researched for St. Michael and All Angels in 2013, there was a big something that caused me unease. She believed and taught that Jesus was an ascended master along with Archangel Michael, St. Francis, and Gandhi among others.

And I’m like, uh no. So, I’ve held myself back.

Something shifted in January of this year. She posted several videos about a life-altering vision she had of Jesus, one of herself being Baptized, and a couple promoting the “Anglican/Episcopalian” Church to which she and her husband now belong!

Yay! She’s a newbie!

Last month, Doreen recorded a different type of video -- no wicker chair, no flowing dress, no deck of cards. Instead, she wore jeans, a tee-shirt, no makeup, and sat on the ground in a field. She carefully explained that she had been wrong about Jesus being an ascended master. She understands now that Jesus Christ is God, the one and only. And she will be pulling her ascended masters books and oracle cards from bookstore shelves so she can rewrite them.

I mean! Wow.

I’m now all-the-way tuned in to Doreen Virtue’s guidance, and I’ve learned how to do my own Archangel Michael oracle card readings which I’m finding exceedingly helpful in all areas of my life.

But back to being my authentic self with groups of people. My pragmatic son often advises me to make friends outside of church as there’s only trouble to be found in having all your friends in one church basket. He’s right, of course. But, something kept drawing me to Church.

(And when I say Church, I mean the one holy catholic and apostolic Church, which includes all of them because I have faith and hope for the future that we may all be one.)

You see, I was searching for my new Calling. The one I needed now that I’m soon to be retired from my career as Full-Time Mom when my youngest leaves for college. I believed I would find it at Church. I believed I would be called by a person at Church who’d say, “Hey, I think you’d make a good deacon.”

Or, “You’re perfectly suited for youth ministry and we could use you on our team.”

Or, “We really need you to write your book for us.”

Okay, not so much anymore with the deacon thing because when I imagine myself wearing a clerical collar, I feel like I’m being choked. And the idea that after 20 years of volunteering in churches, I would continue to formally provide my time and efforts for free makes me tired.

And the book thing. Really, ack, publishing. It’s the nature of the beast.

The youth ministry thing, though. That one hurt. I would have liked the opportunity to make mistakes I could learn from, practice, improve, and grow into the role. But after three years of  trying to serve on the cusp while not being included, accepted, nor supported by the center, I’m exhausted. And, I’m done.

But the youth were worth it. They saw through my social anxiety (approval seeking/people pleasing addictions) to my authentic core. They seemed to understand me on a deeper level than I understood myself, and they loved me. I mean, they still do and all, but we’re friends now, on social media and in real life. I was all overly apologetic, and they were all, “You’re good.” I mean, mmmmmmm.

Doreen recently did a talk about how we should stop trying to fit into groups that don’t accept us. We should stand back to let our soul mates be attracted to us and seek us out because they want to spend time with us. She used the word “mates” as the Australians do, to mean “friends.”

I really like this concept. I have some people I can call soul friends as they read my writing, share their own deep thoughts, and hang out with me either on social media because they live far away, or in real life. I love these people, and I so appreciate their presence in my life. Sometimes, these people deliver divine messages to me. Sometimes, these people are not so much people, but cats.

Seven served a divine purpose in my life. In other words, her extended miraculous life helped me receive a long list of angelic and saintly messages, and her death, well, we’ll get to that.

Seven’s first medical emergency happened right around the time I began my spiritual journey when I felt so rejected, lost, confused, and afraid. Taking care of her was something I could focus on, something physical and mental I could do while I was so frustrated about not being able to forget about what happened to me no matter how hard I tried via sheer will to “just let it go.”

Over the last two and a half years, as her health ebbed and flowed, she hung out with me and demanded my attention. Her needs forced me to suffer through withdrawal symptoms of not going out every day to volunteer or socialize with some group or another so I could please them and earn their approval.

Slowly, but surely, it worked! I discovered I much prefer spending time at home -- reading, writing, praying, contemplating, cooking, baking, and social mediaing with my soul friends. Or hanging out with one or two at a time in real life.

I describe Seven’s last miraculous recovery in my Our Lady and the Blesseds of Fatima post which occurred while I was researching for it in early February. My research, among other things, convinced me to commit to praying the Rosary every day during Lent.

Because I dramatically increased my devotion to her, Mother Mary sent me gifts -- memories from childhood seen from a different perspective, spiritual insights, and assignments. See LOVE WARRIOR and PILGRIMAGE, if you haven’t already.

This was not an easy passage for me to travel through. So, I spent a lot of time sitting around with Seven doing laying-on-of-hands healing prayer (Reiki) for her and contemplating. She was such a sweetie, still a demand for attention, as in I couldn’t be gone from the house for more than two hours, but I didn’t mind.

I see now that she had become a “transition child” I needed to occupy myself with as I began adapting to the soon-to-be empty nest and a life in recovery.

On Palm Sunday, Seven lost her appetite and despite our best at-home efforts, she let us know on Holy Wednesday she was ready for us to take care of her one last time.

I spent from Wednesday to Friday somewhat in shock and focused on work and caring for my daughter. Then on Holy Saturday, I felt okay. I felt hopeful. I devoted myself to baking two batches of Communion Bread. I truly believed I had grieved enough for this cat and that on Sunday morning I would be filled with Easter joy.

And then I woke up on Sunday morning filled instead with a deep sadness and disappointment in myself. I cried three times before church. Then I cried there when two soul friends sat with me and gave space to my sadness and spoke about how they too had Easter-time losses, so they got me.

It pleased me to see my plentiful loaves of bread being consecrated and shared among so many regulars and visitors. I received Holy Communion. And still, no joy.

I was so embarrassed by my tears for a cat on Easter Sunday, I went to the lady’s room to hide.

As I wept, I prayed, “I’m sorry, Lord. I know she was just a cat.”  

He answered me, “Yeah, but she was yours.”

My dejected tears turned joyful with relief because He understood me. He called me close to Him, encouraged me, and listened.

I was so overwhelmed by His words, I cried most of the rest of the day.
..........

I told this story to a soul friend. When I got to the end and am crying as I relive it, she starts asking me questions:

“So that message you received in the Ladies Room at church, how did you receive it? Was it a coin on the floor, or something someone left near the sink, or a song playing over the loudspeaker? Did a butterfly land on a window? Did you see a cardinal outside?”

“No. I heard it in my head. The words just came to me.”

“Oh. Who’s “he?” Was it St. Francis, or St. Anthony, or St. Joseph?”

“No.”

“Was it Archangel Michael?”

“No.”

“Well, then . . .”

“It was Jesus.”

“Uh huh. And when did you hear His voice?”

“Shortly after receiving the Eucharist.”

“So, He had been made know to you . . .”

“In the breaking of the bread. Oh. My. God. It’s Jesus. He’s the Mate of my Soul.”

“This is what I’m saying.”

. . . . . . .

Confession: The above conversation happened between me and me (because I finally understand I’m a pretty cool person to hang out with) after two weeks’ worth of sitting around with my backup cat (whom, thankfully, has upped her game) and a pile of National Geographic magazines, upon reading a timely Gospel passage and homily.

Sometimes, I’m a bit slow on the uptake. But, you know, this is an unbelievably overwhelming new reality for me. I cannot describe my feelings literally or metaphorically. I’m not used to this intense level of Divine Love.

On top of all that, a soul friend told me he had reached a deeper connection to Jesus through my writing.

Wait. What? Who me? The slow on the uptake one? The one who knew Jesus was in her heart, but couldn’t hear Him speaking? The one who could only decipher messages sent by Him delivered via signs from Mother Mary, the Saints, and Angels because of all the boulders on the path between us? My writing?

In a word, yes.

Again, my mind is boggled.

I can’t . . . I don’t know how . . . It’s too much.

I need time.

Time to be with my Lord through His Word.

Time to retreat, travel, contemplate, and adapt.

Time to read books, mountain trails, social media, photographs, magazines, shorelines, expressions, horizons . . .

Time to reread my own writings from a new perspective and think, how did I come up with that? Oh right. I had help.

I remember this happened last year when I reread my St. Anthony from 2012. I was amazed at how well I wrote when I was still so spiritually clueless. I realize now the cluelessness was not lack of intelligence, it was addiction. That addiction had to get all up in my face and block my view of the road, until I finally had no choice but to deal with it. And so, I dealt with it.

In his SUNDAY SERMONS, St. Anthony preached about the sweetness of Jesus: 

The fruit of the bee is the Son of the Virgin. Blessed is the fruit of thy womb (Luke 1.42), it says; and Canticles 2: His fruit was sweet to my palate (Cant. 2.3). This fruit is sweet in its beginning, middle and end. It was sweet in the womb, sweet in the crib, sweet in the temple, sweet in Egypt, sweet in his Baptism, sweet in the desert, sweet in the word, sweet in miracles, sweet on the ass, sweet in the scourging, sweet on the Cross, sweet in the tomb, sweet in hell, and sweet in heaven. O sweet Jesus, what is more sweet than you are?

Maybe I enjoy baking sweets so much because when I share them, I’m mystically sharing the sweetness of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

It’s okay if you don’t see it that way. But for me, it’s a baby step in the right direction.

And so, let’s bake:

Chocolate Brownies

Use a metal, not glass, pan. Or, else!

Ingredients

¾ cup baking cocoa powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
2/3 cup butter, melted separately
½ boiling water
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Instructions

 1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place sheet of parchment paper into 13 x 9 metal baking pan. (Avoid glass pans as they cause uneven baking.)
 2. Combine cocoa and baking soda in a large bowl.
 3. Blend in first 1/3 cup butter.
 4. Add boiling water and stir until blended.
 5. Stir in sugars.
 6. Beat eggs, vanilla, and second cup of butter together. Stir into mixture.
 7. Combine flour and salt in a small bowl. Stir into mixture.
 8. Stir in chocolate chips.
 9. Pour batter into pan.
10. Bake 35-45 minutes. Test for doneness with a toothpick in the center. If it comes out with only a few crumbs on it, they’re done.
11. Cool in pan on wire rack for one hour.
12. Carefully lift out of pan by the edges of the parchment paper. Place onto cutting board and slice into 36 pieces.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

PILGRIMAGE: MY SEARCH FOR THE REAL POPE FRANCIS, MARK K. SHRIVER, AND PASTAFROLA (QUINCE JAM PIE) Spiritual Journey Book Review

With my grandmother Antoinetta Nolletti who dedicated me to Mary a long time ago.

PILGRIMAGE: MY SEARCH FOR THE REAL POPE FRANCIS, by Mark K. Shriver is a four-star, spiritual journey of the author’s attempt to figure out Pope Francis. Spoiler: He does it! Highly recommend!

Now, because this is my blog and I can stray from its made-up-by-me prescribed form, I’m going to share something that happened after posting my recent LOVE WARRIOR. I experienced a seismic shift in my being. It was as if I climbed over the biggest boulder on my spiritual path and the view was now completely different. But the climb -- writing and posting it was difficult. I experienced real fear. And then, I spent the first three days waiting for the fallout to happen, waiting for the negative judgement and disapproval. And when it didn’t happen, I took a deep breath, wrote a few letters, and did some long overdue chores.

I didn’t know what do with myself in light of my enlightenment about my addiction to shame avoidance/people pleasing/approval seeking. This addiction was nurtured in me, a born empath with an abusive, food-addicted mother who routinely threatened abandonment yet loved me with all her heart and an enabler father who regularly ordered, “Stop it! You’re right. But just do what Mom says.” Both had alcoholism in their families. The cycle is relentless.

Nevertheless, I broke it. I raised my children, not how I was raised, but how I should have been raised. They are gifted with empathic abilities and are excellent emotional caretakers of those in need. However, neither one truly gives a rat’s ass about what other people think of them. They are well acquainted with their authentic selves and so is everyone else. This is my greatest accomplishment.

But back to not knowing what to do with my own authentic self, maybe I was supposed to start a new post. Certainly, I wasn’t supposed to do what I really wanted to do which was laze around with a pile of magazines. And then I woke up on the fifth day with anxiety growing in the pit of my stomach. I believed this was “urgency from above” for me to read this Pope Francis book as fast as possible so I could write and share a post before Easter. That way, I’d have a “nice” post at the top of my blog list and not the f-bomb-filled-calling-out-of-folks that is my LOVE WARRIOR post.

At the same time, I was so tired. I really didn’t want to work so hard at the research and writing thing. But the anxiety increased and my immediately right now deadline loomed. So naturally, I distracted myself with too much social media, and there I saw a friend’s post in which he generally encouraged relaxation.

Normally, I reject any and all forms of anyone telling me to relax because when they are speaking to me, they usually mean “shut up.” As in, “That injustice you’re ranting about doesn’t really matter, so you should just relax about it.”

But this time it was different. I focused in and felt an angel put a hand on my heart and whisper, “Calm down. Breathe. Wait.”

And I did. I was able to do it! I put the book aside and relaxed with my family over the weekend. And I prayed. And I contemplated. And then my own words from my LOVE WARRIOR post smacked me in the face: “Let go of your ego and your fear of what people think about the real you. Quiet down and be still.”

I felt as if my friend had led me out of the bar and stood with me in the street until I recognized exactly where I had ended up. Again.

DAMMIT! You know, I gotta tell you, addiction sucks.

Wait. Let me do it authentically -- addiction fucking sucks.

Now, weeks later, I understand better that recovery takes practice. And help. And relapses. And practice, and help, and recognition, and baby steps of success. So, it is with great pride that I announce it took me a long time to finish reading the book and writing this post. It was, in fact, not a priority at all as I chose a deadline (because I make up my own deadlines because it’s my own blog) that was after Easter Sunday.

And, I’m learning to recognize the difference in the feeling of anxiety to produce an approval-seeking written work and the feeling of peaceful flow in divine written mission.


PILGRIMAGE: MY SEARCH FOR THE REAL POPE FRANCIS is more like an in-depth piece of journalistic research and less like a story which is why I highly recommend it but only give it four out of five stars. I’m a sucker for stories, especially stories that change my life such as LOVE WARRIOR by Glennon Doyle Melton.

As I transitioned my way between these two books, an expression I learned from a writer friend kept popping up, “Never ruin a good story with the truth.” Not that we should lie in our non-fiction works, but most of the truth should be skipped over because it’s boring.

And when I apply that rule to LOVE WARRIOR, I realized that Glennon glossed over the parts of her life story in which she studied, did the work, and earned a teaching degree in college. Colleges really don’t just hand these things out. Furthermore, she also held on to a teaching job and her students loved her. I get why she didn’t focus on these facts in her book, but it’s important for some of us to realize that we can have “hidden” addictions and still manage to do a pretty good job at the life thing. It seems like we’re fine, but we’re not.

Right, so. Pope Francis.

Pope Francis’s former name is Jorge Mario Bergoglio. He was born and raised by Italian immigrants in Buenos Aries, Argentina. His grandmother was devout and dedicated to celebrating the Saints and venerating the Blessed Virgin Mary among other “theology of the people” ways of worshiping, living her life, and teaching her grandchildren.

Jorge discerned his Call was coming via St. Ignatius and he was to become a Jesuit. In general, Jesuits are sophisticated and learned theologians striving to help as many people in as many societies as possible. The path to becoming a full Jesuit is well marked and takes about 12 years.

Jorge followed this path and found himself the head of a Jesuit school, Colegio Maximo, for many years where he had, let’s just say, some leadership issues. As in, he wasn’t good at it -- too stern, too authoritative.

So, he was transferred out of leadership and out of his beloved Buenos Aries.

I’m skipping a lot of the details, but what’s important is the marriage of the Jesuit theology and the everyday-person theology within Jorge Mario Bergoglio. Mark Shriver goes deep into his process of uncovering exactly what makes Pope Francis tick. This marriage within Jorge are the workings fueled by the Holy Spirit that made him repent his former leadership style and give up his Jesuit brotherhood to heed the call to become a bishop-at-large and follow a path that led to his current position.

That’s the gist, but I left out all the good parts about Jorge talking, helping, praying, and fighting for regular people. Especially the poor.

Mark interviewed many people who were connected to Jorge before he became pope and this is my favorite story. It’s told by Rabbi Alejandro Avruj of Comunidad Amijai, a congregation of Conservative Judaism in Buenos Aires who had many stories to tell Mark of working with Jorge Bergoglio, Bishop of Buenos Aires, before he became Francisco. Before, when his boots on the ground were shoes in the garbage of a shanty town where their joint efforts created a soup kitchen.

Later Rabbi Avruj and some social-activist fellows:

traveled together with about a hundred other people to visit the same places Francis was visiting in Jordan and Israel in May 2014, although they were not part of the official papal delegation. The rabbi told me that the trip itself sent “an unbelievable message. An unbelievable message! In two thousand years, the first time a pope went to Israel was John Paul II, twenty years after he became pope. For Francis, it was one of his first trips. Unbelievable!

We were in Jordan, it was the first place he went, and in Amman, they held this very impressive mass in the football stadium. There were about thirty or forty thousand people—people crying, people singing, flags—it was unbelievable. And I imagine that the forty thousand people in that stadium were the only forty thousand Catholics in all of Jordan!” He laughed. “Yes, ninety-nine percent of the population is Muslim. It was unbelievable. And when Bergoglio left the stadium, he began to go out in the popemobile, and then he saw me and stopped the car, and the Jordanians and the guards of the Vatican, they were going crazy, and he called to me, ‘Hey, hello!’”

The rabbi’s voice got louder and he started to gesticulate wildly.
As he was talking, I remembered Pope Francis saying in an interview that he was not accustomed to speaking to so many people; “I manage to look at individual persons, one at a time, to enter into personal contact with whomever I have in front of me. I’m not used to the masses.” When I first read those words, I thought there was no way he could focus on an individual person, but listening to this unbelievable story, I thought maybe both were telling the truth, as hard as it is to believe.

“Then I thought, in a country where ninety-nine percent of the population is Muslim, with the only forty thousand Catholic people there, Bergoglio gets out of the popemobile to hug a rabbi. It’s crazy! It’s crazy! It’s impossible.”

The rabbi jumped up, smiling and laughing.

“Imagine—here’s a guard with a gun, and I say to the guy, ‘Uh, the pope is calling me.’ He’s a Jordanian guy, I don’t know what language he speaks, and there are the Vatican guards. Somebody took me inside the barricade. I was with this friend of mine, right? Imagine, I have the pope there”—he gestured with his right hand—“and my friend here”—he gestured with his left hand—“with all the guards pushing him to keep him from coming with me. What do you do? What do you do? He’s the pope, I mean--”

I interrupted. “So you were being pushed toward the pope, who has gotten out of the popemobile to see you, and you are worried about your pal getting crushed by the security guards. Why are you worried about your friend?”

“I went for my friend because he had the camera,” the rabbi replied.

He laughed, hard, and so did I. The timing of the punchline was perfect. A seasoned comedian couldn’t have delivered it any better.

“Afterward, my friend says, ‘All those guys that go to the Vatican, they go and they have a solemn picture taken with the pope, you know, but this picture, with this smile, it was like—we were in the middle of the 21 shantytown.’”

“So what happened then?” I asked.

“He got out. I hadn’t seen him for a year and a half, but a lot of things happened during that time with this guy, right?” He shrugged and smiled sheepishly, accentuating the absurdity of the statement. “You have like twenty seconds to say something to the most important person in the world. What do you say to him in those twenty seconds? What do you say?”

“What did you say?” I asked.

“Ah, good question.” He enjoyed stringing me along. “I was there and I was thinking I needed a theological phrase for the ages, right? The perfect phrase. And before I could say anything he said, “Hey, Alé, how’s the family?’ He moved me twice in one minute. Right? Because first he stopped everything to talk to me, and then he asked the last question I would think of: ‘Hey, your family, how are they?’”

The room became quiet. Avruj stared at me, dumbfounded by the pope’s surprising question. Then he broke the silence. “I thought, what are you talking about? I said, ‘Well, good, the children have been asking after you.’”

His voice trailed off. He wasn’t smiling or animated now. He just looked at me, again, for a few seconds in silence.

“Maybe this is the big question we have to ask, ‘How’s the family?’ Because we are all family. This is the question, right?”

I looked into the rabbi’s eyes and I could see that he was tearing up. He was silent again.

“How’s the family?” he said again softly.

I understood the rabbi’s desire to come up with the most important, memorable thing to say to one of the most influential people in the world. It was a chance to impress the man, to make himself seem intelligent and insightful—that’s what I would have wanted to do. But what came out of the pope’s mouth was a purely human question: How is your family? There they were, in the Middle East, The Holy Land to the three major religions of the world, and Pope Francis asks him the simplest, yet most important, of questions.

Avruj broke the silence, saying that he hoped that when the pope had a meeting with the head of Israel and the head of Palestine, “maybe he will ask the same question, ‘Hey, how is your family?’ And maybe if they answer that question—well, maybe peace will come. It depends on how they answer the question about their family.”

He went quiet again for a few seconds, then shook his head as though to snap himself back to the present.

“And as a result of this trip, with the hundred of people that went with us, we raised the money to open two new soup kitchens.”
                                                        Pilgrimage, Page 192-195

This passage explains everything I need to know about a spiritual leader who chose the name of my beloved birthday patron, St. Francis of Assisi whom Jesus instructed, “Rebuild my church for it is in disrepair."

Speaking of the Roman Catholic Church, there was a moment when I was reading the section about Vatican I and Vatican II in PILGRIMAGE, when I thought, This is it. I’m taking that Roman Catholic confirmation class I missed out on right now as I’m reading this book.

And then I looked out the window and instead of a backyard koi pond and bird feeders, I saw my childhood front yard and across the street my best friend getting in the car with her mom. I remembered thinking that I had asked my mom to sign me up for the class three times. I told her how easy it would be to carpool. But, she didn’t do it. I watched them back up and drive off to confirmation class without me. And I knew somehow that it was over for me and church.

At the time, I didn’t even cry. It’s easy to accept not having your needs met if you’re raised to believe your needs aren’t worthy of attention. This caused me to forgive so quickly there was no accountability, amends making, or changing of behavior. Also, my parents couldn’t handle being called out on anything. Ever.

Sometimes when I tell someone about another’s treatment of me, their immediate response is, “Why did they do that to you?” And in answering the question I find myself cutting slack and taking blame. So, why didn’t my parents summon up enough effort to make a phone call and carpool me to confirmation class? It doesn’t matter. That is not my part of the story. Furthermore, I don’t believe I will answer the “Why did they do that to you?” question ever again.   

What matters is missing out on that class as a young teenager caused a twenty-year separation between me and church. And, as I looked out at our koi pond garden from my spot on the couch with my miracle cat beside me and her tail on my belly, I wept.

In my early thirties, I became an Episcopalian through a simple compromise with my Congregational-raised husband and a promise to our future children to raise them in church. My roots are now firmly planted in the Episcopal Church, primarily because everyone is welcome at the Communion Table.

And yet. Something unexplainable continued to draw me to Roman Catholicism. I figured it out when I was reading Brené Brown’s book on shame early in my spiritual journey. It was a memory of the priest at my first Holy Communion when I was about seven years old.

Somehow, I didn’t understand I also had to make my first confession the same day. So, I climbed into that confessional completely unprepared and terrified.

The priest waited for me to recite the prayer, and all I could do was cry. So, he led me through it, and I repeated it after him. Then he asked me what my sins were. I cried harder because I couldn’t say out loud, I’m just bad, but I don’t know what I’m doing wrong.

He asked me if I argued with my brothers. I said, “Yes.” So, he went on from there. And then, horror of horrors, he said he wanted to talk to me outside the church after mass.

I remember exiting the confessional and becoming even more distraught because I had to sit with my class and not with my family. I don’t remember receiving Holy Communion.

On the way outside, I told my family that the priest wanted to talk to me, “I think I’m in trouble.”

He called to me from across the parking lot. Mind you, I didn’t even know his name. He was not my Sunday school teacher. He was The Priest. So, I went over and looked up at him. He got down to my level and said, “Maria, God doesn’t get mad at us if we forget the words to prayers. He knows you are a good girl.” And in that moment, he became Jesus.

Because I was so young I imprinted this subconscious expectation onto all priests. This was the core of my problem with my former rector. He couldn’t be Jesus for me if, at the same time, he was being my disapproving, addictive “parent.”

Damn, this shit is heavy. Everyone break for a cup of tea!    

Quick, come back! It gets better, I promise. Thank God, it gets better.

Look, Jesus shows up for us in people all the time. Whether they’re helping us, or we’re helping them. But because of my First Holy Communion memory, Jesus resonates deeper for me when I recognize Him in a priest:

It happened almost three years ago, a few months after the church group rejection trauma that sparked my spiritual journey, when a seminarian at Winterlight did laying-on-of-hands healing prayers for me. He calmed me down enough to step out of confusion and panic and head towards self-discovery and awakening.

It happened the following summer when I lamented to the chaplain at Youth Week that I was too broken for the Church and he said, “We’re all broken! Jesus is broken! A perfect loaf of bread is useless until it’s broken and shared.”

It happened the next spring when I sent my priest friend a random email about southern sunshine at the exact moment he sent me a FB message about positive reactions to some of my writing. The exact same moment. I mean, what are the odds?!

It happened a couple of months ago, when my rector said to me, “I can tell that you are sometimes still sad and I wonder if you want to talk about it.”

It happened when my retired rector invited me to stay at her house in the mountains because she enjoys my company.

It happened when a priest let me forgive him. And vice versa. Then it happened again when we connected via our mutual devotion to the BVM.

Here’s a thought -- Maybe I’m not seeing these interactions through an over-active-imagination-fueled veil of addiction. Maybe I’m seeing these interactions at their core level where the divinity is. Maybe God IS love. And that’s all there is to it.


Speaking of miracles created from hope, when Jorge Bergoglio was the Rector at Colegio Maximo, he created a parish from a group of people and a shed where he set up an altar and held mass. Mark interviewed Maria del Carmen: 

who was involved from the outset in the creation of San José Patriarch Parish. “The streets at that time were full of potholes. When it rained, there was mud to walk through. Bergoglio could just as well be wearing a boot on one foot and a sneaker on the other because he was not concerned about his shoes. What concerned him were the people, above all, the children, the elderly, the poor. He was a pastor. One could say that it was the golden era because at the time there were many seminarians, many novices, and they would go out on Saturdays and Sundays to work in the neighborhoods, visiting home, ministering to needs."

She teared up at the memory, then wiped her eyes and continued: “We would make empanadas and sell them. Father Bergoglio would knead and bake pastafrola [a typical quince jam pie]. Because the parish progressed, other chapels were built. Father Bergoglio had such a broad and loving vision."

Maria showed me some notes that Bergoglio had signed. She proudly displayed them on a small kitchen table. Some were thank yous to merchants who had donated food or goods to San José Patriarch in the “golden years.” Maria said, “We didn’t have chairs in the parish, we had one little old broken chair, someone must have left it. Bergoglio would say, ‘Don’t worry. The day will come when we will get some chairs. The day will come.’

Well, one day going to work, I ran into a man that owns an important furniture shop in the city, and he said, ‘I can donate some benches, I can donate everything.’ And I returned happy to tell Father Bergoglio that we had benches. Then the floor donations appeared, and all the ceramic tiles, so little by little, the church was completed without any money, because people there were poor and all they could leave were a few coins.

Bergoglio always had a smile when he was given something. He was only concerned with moving forward, and he would always say that I should remember that the best weapon, the best cannon, to which nobody can put up a resistance, are fifty Hail Marys! Yes, the bullets against which there is no protection, right, are fifty Hail Marys. He would say, ‘Remember, fifty Hail Marys, fifty Hail Marys, remember the cannon!’” – Pilgrimage, Page 133-136

Remember also that devoting yourself to an activity in the name of God is prayer in action. So, in honor of Pope Francis who shows us with every beat of his living heart how to be hope for the future in action, let's bake:

Pastafrola (Quince Jam Pie)

(More photos below.)

Note: In Argentina, the easily-available, traditional jam of choice is quince, a fruit similar to apples and pears. I went with pear, which is somewhat exotic yet available in U.S. grocery stores. You can either purchase quince jam in a specialty store or use any fruit jam that appeals.

Ingredients

2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 stick butter (1/2 cup), chilled
2 eggs
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
¾ cup fruit jam

Instructions

 1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9-inch pie or tart pan.

 2. Mix flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl.

 3. Blend cold butter into dry ingredients with a pastry cutter or two knives.

 4. Combine eggs, milk, and vanilla together in a cup. Mix with fork. Pour into bowl with dry ingredients.

 5. Mix with clean hands until mixture becomes a uniform ball, not too dry or sticky. (Add a little milk or flour, as needed.)

 6. Roll out the dough with a rolling pin until about ½ inch thick. Slide dough into pan. Cut away extra dough so sides of pan are partially exposed.

 7. Spread jam evenly over the dough.

 8. Reform dough scrapes into ball. Roll out to ¼ inch thick or so. Cut into strips and place onto jam in a crisscross pattern.

 9. Bake at 350 degrees F. for about 30 minutes, until golden brown.

10. Cool on rack until warm or room temperature. Slice to serve.





Sad News:

Dearworthy readers, you may know our miracle cat, Seven, from my recent Blesseds of Fatima or my earlier Tempting Fate posts. She died in the middle of Holy Week, twelve days after we celebrated her reaching her 17th birthday in great spirits and activity.

There is so much I want to share about God’s grace in Seven’s extended miraculous life and her peaceful passing, but first I need time to do its thing on me.

Meanwhile, I know you understand how sad I am about the loss of this cat we adopted when our baby was 9 months old. I wonder if, in your understanding, you could pray for the baby who grew into a beautiful young woman and misses her “sister” terribly. We’d appreciate it. 

Monday, March 20, 2017

LOVE WARRIOR, GLENNON DOYLE MELTON, AND HOLY BASIL TEA Spiritual Journey Book Review


Fair warning: I’m stretching out of my usual format with this one.

LOVE WARRIOR by Glennon Doyle Melton is a five-star, life-changing, spiritual journey memoir. Highly recommend!

I wasn’t sure why I was supposed to read this book now in the middle of Lent. I mean, I had decided to take a sabbatical from spiritual research and writing during Lent to catch up on my pile o’ Nat Geos, practice praying the Rosary every day, and work on other nonwriting projects.

But then the angels, in their way, told me to take it out from the middle of my to-read book pile and read it. So I opened it and read the dedication:

For Grandma Alice, whose fingers danced across those beads and brought Mary to me

Oh, that’s why.

And then I turned the page and read the quote before the Prelude:

I am not afraid . . . I was born to do this. – Joan of Arc

Oh. Uh oh.

LOVE WARRIOR is a story of recovery including bad thoughts, addiction, betrayal, accountability, redemption, healing, and love. Why do people write these intense personal stories? Why do they put themselves through it again? They’re doing it for us. So we can recognize ourselves on their pages and learn through their examples. Glennon Doyle Melton IS a warrior and a hero.

Glennon’s defining moment happens on page 65:

I look up at the ceiling, hoping to see God, but I only see brown stains from a water leak. I close my eyes and remember Mary. She is holding her baby boy and she is smiling and her eyes insist that no one is angry with me, they’ve just been waiting for a yes. It’s time to begin, she is saying. But I am afraid and confused and young and single and pregnant. So am I, Mary says. And then, as I sit on the floor, I remember that today is Mother’s Day. This is the day. Let it be.

Oh, my God. This is a different version of my own spiritual journey guided by Mary. Glennon's is much more intense, but at their core level, our journeys are identical. At the core level, I’m Glennon and she’s me, and I turned the page knowing I was in for a bumpy ride.

Okay. And then there’s this next paragraph. Now, I did finish reading this whole page-turner of a journey, but my soul got stuck between page 67 and 68:  

I have decided that I’m ready to stop destroying myself and start creating. I have already accepted my invitation and no one will convince me again that I’m not worthy. Not ever again. I have been invited and I have said Yes. My yes is final. From now on, when I sense No – in a facial expression, in a tone of voice, in someone’s disapproval of me, in my own mind—my mental response will be, Fuck you. Fuck you is what I say to fear, to doubt, to shame, to every form of No, Glennon, not for you. Fuck you is all the language I have for now. It’s my shield. It’s my ode to Mary. It’s my prayer and my battle cry.

This passage spoke to me on so many levels, I needed to dive in and swim around in it for a while. Let’s start with “fuck,” a powerful word with many quality uses. 

For example, according to MythBusters, "Cursing aloud will allow a person to tolerate more pain than using mild language. Confirmed." Remember that the next time you stub your toe. Even if you’re at work in a library.
Another way the word “fuck” has value for me is when I drive over a suspension bridge. I keep my fear from reaching phobia level by singing my “fuck song” as I steer my way slowly, but not too slowly, in the right lane, but not too close to the guardrail, across the bridge. It’s goes like this, “Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuckity Fuck, FUCK, FUUUUCK, FUCK, fuck, fuck, fuckity fuck, fuck. Woot!”
As an expression, “Fuck you” empowers women because it shocks the patriarchy when we say it. I wish I had had the courage to say it to the faces that hurt me over the years. Perhaps if I had, I wouldn’t still be harboring so many bad memories that I say “Fuck you” to when they surface. (Although, I’m not knocking this technique as a tactic. Over time, it does work to eradicate bad memories.)
Like “Twanda” in Fried Green Tomatoes, instead of running after people asking them why they’re so mean to me, I could just say, “Fuck you,” or ram my car into their car in the parking lot multiple times until they come running out of the Winn Dixie to ask me if I’m crazy and I answer, “Face it, girls, I’m older and I have more insurance.”
But that’s a movie. In real life, “Fuck you” is a horribly mean expression. Don’t say it out loud unless absolutely necessary. Although, you can say it if you’re joking around and everyone’s in on the joke. It’s all about your tone and intention.
In the same way, be careful how you deliver other expressions with the underlying “Fuck you” intention. For example, if you’re a priest and a volunteer tells you that she's leaving the parish after 21 years because you wield shame like a sword and she’s done taking those hits, know that when you say “Go with God,” it sounds exactly like “Fuck you.” Funny also how that expression is the exact opposite of “I’m sorry. I’ll work towards reconciliation.”
Yeah, that happened to me. And yeah, the mental “Fuck you” was all the language I had for a long time. It was my shield. It was my ode to Mary. It was my prayer and my battle cry.

Let’s see, that happened about two years ago. Then about six months ago, I had a different type of falling out with another group and a priest. It was based on professional decisions and ultimately it was the best decision for my career. But at the time, I see now that I had imprinted my experience with my former priest onto the priest I was now dealing with. So, when he said, “I’m sorry. I hope we can still be friends.” I accepted out loud, but I was thinking, you don’t really want to be my friend, it’s shameful for laity to be friends with priests, plus it’s me we're talking about, and I’m not worthy of your attention.
Months passed. (Really bad Trump-filled months, just saying.) And then I started to become aware of various ways my priest friend was calling me back to the fold. For several weeks, I believed it was my imagination or unintentional coincidences. Reading LOVE WARRIOR showed me that his reaching out was authentic.
And so, I let him know that I appreciated his calling me back and I trusted him enough to return. He thanked me, then told me how his Lent was going and about a book he was reading. Because that’s what friends do, and that’s all I really wanted.
The whole thing made me realize that just like grief, recovery comes in waves, and I have wounds that run deep. Not only do I have to read LOVE WARRIOR again and again, I probably also need to attend recovery counseling or Adult Children of Alcoholics meetings.
One more thing:
Priests, you are walking around as representatives of Jesus Christ on Earth. Stop allowing your humility and your fear of engagement to get in the way of understanding this. I’m sorry you can never truly take off your collar, but that’s what you were called to do, that’s what you signed up for.
Some of you fear veneration so much, you don’t acknowledge the connections your flock makes between you and Jesus. On the other hand, some of you do, but you stand in an ego-based, prideful place. Don’t do that.  
You need to practice stepping yourselves back. Let go of your ego and your fear of what people think about the real you. Quiet down and be still.
Because when you do, you’ll remember that you aren’t wearing a costume and performing a role. You'll remember you ARE a priest. You’ll feel yourself truly open as a conduit for the Holy Spirit, and you’ll allow Jesus to serve through you. Relax and fall into His hands. He’s got you.
And with you in Him and Him in you, your unique expression of His Light will shine through and beam out onto others.
How do I know this? You preached it to me.

Okay, then.  

Tea Time!

Seriously, you don’t want to read this book with any type of numbing agent. No alcohol or recreational drugs. No eating while reading if you can help it. Drink plenty of water to flush any emotional toxins that may come up for you. You might have to set the book aside for a while as you process or act on what surfaces. You might realize you need counseling. You might not. Who knows.
Either way, I highly recommend the drinking of tea as you read or during your breaks.
Tea shows up throughout the book. Here’s my favorite passage from the beach:
“I carry my tea and snacks back to my blanket and as soon as I sit down, the sun hits the horizon and its white light shatters into all the colors of the rainbow.” Page 166
Tea is hydrating, warm, and comforting.
I’m all about Holy Basil or Tulsi tea. In India, it’s believed to be a sacred plant infused with healing powers. The box comes with “Blessings and Namaste!” Can’t beat that.
Whether you microwave your mug o’ tea, or boil a pot of water to sooth yourself via the whole tea-brewing experience, it’s all goodness.

Cheers to you, Glennon Doyle Melton! Thank you for your book.