I was 12 years old and away at summer camp for the first time. She was the counselor assigned to my cabin. I remember her long dirty blond hair, wavy and wild. Her weathered hiking boots and the lilac shirt she tied around her waist each morning. Her birch-bark name tag read Marion, but we all chose French pseudonyms for our two-week cultural immersions. So I never knew her real name. She was blessedly kind, with that standard-issue camp-counselor caring heart. She let me sniffle into her shoulder one lonely night when I was feeling homesick. She probably did the same for every girl in our bunk, though we were all too cool to admit it in daylight. She didn't care when we giggled our way through quiet time. She ignored our whispering in English when we were supposed to be practicing French. She laughed when we gossiped about the boys in the bunk next door. And every night she sang to us. Like a ship on the harbor Like a mother and child Like a light in the darkness I'll hold you … [Read more...] about like a mother and child
First, gather the flowers. At Mass a few weeks ago, my oldest boy leaned into my side while we stood to say the creed together. I recited the words on the projector screen, still prompting us with the new translation of the prayer after decades of The Version We Used To Say. Absent-mindedly, I stumbled as happens so often, tripping over clumsy words that once were clear: "...he came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was born - dah! was incarnate! - of the Virgin Mary and became man." Without thinking, I rubbed the basketball of my belly in that unconscious instinct of expectant mothers. I thought about birth and babies and started to grumble about why we didn't say "born" anymore, why the abstract theological was deemed better than the concrete physical. Then I felt baby's quick jab to my right side, sharp enough to make me wince. And I felt my son's tired lean into my left side, heavy enough to make me shift my footing. And I realized. Maybe incarnate was a truer … [Read more...] about a bouquet of incarnations for mother’s day
This door marker greeted me on retreat last weekend. A small but important sign that I was in a place of hospitality, a hallmark of the Benedictines and their spirituality. Welcome. I thought about hospitality often while I was on retreat. When I saw the generous plates of snacks set out at every break. When one of the sisters helped me navigate their breviary books for evening prayer. When I noticed the basket of toiletries at the bathroom sink with a note to help yourself if you'd forgotten anything at home. Small gestures that convey a deeper embrace of the stranger as guest. . . . In his Rule for monastic orders, Saint Benedict writes that all guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ. I remember seeing these words engraved in stone near the Abbey Church at Saint John's when I first started graduate studies at the School of Theology. During the next three years of studying and then five years of working within a Benedictine community, I've learned plenty about … [Read more...] about my mom, my mother-in-law, and…st. benedict?
God of Ash Wednesday, whose hands first gathered dust to create us, whose Spirit breathed new life into brittle bones, whose fingers traced the sand to save a sinner, take the dirt of my life - the tempers lost, the doors slammed, the complaints muttered, the harsh words thrown, the dark doubts seethed - take all these flaws and failings and burn them blazing in the fire of forgiveness. Gather the dust that lingers, the ashes streaked across your healing hands, and trace the ancient cross once again across my forehead. Press its humbling love deep into my mind and heart, let it sink into my soul reminding me that life is fleeting as the dark grey dust. And when I see the same stark sign of sin and death marked on the soft faces of my children, let me breathe in the beauty of now, this present we have together, this gift of a life shared no matter how dark or dry it sometimes seems. Let the touch of another's hand on my bowed head remind me of resurrection, of hope and … [Read more...] about a mother’s prayer for ash wednesday