As I prepare to leave the first month of this new year, hoping for increasingly positive turns of events, I will ponder Eckhart Tolle’s thought for today, thinking it holds great meaning for me and maybe for others. He says: “You do not become good by trying to be good, but by finding the goodness that is already within you and allowing that goodness to emerge.” I believe many of us could benefit from that thought. Dig deep if you will and try to look from God’s point of view!
We are in the midst of a dangerously frigid blast of weather, a polar vortex, I’ve been told. This condition, google tells me, was made famous from an arctic blast in 2015 and is now making a comeback. The “polar vortex” gets its name from a counter-clockwise spin—a rotating bubble of cold air around the North Pole that was scheduled to break off and head into much of the United States for the second half of January. It seems that—although somewhat late—it has arrived here in New York. Actually, we will have a temperature high of 10 degrees today but wind chills will put us deep into the negative category calling us all to stay inside.
Just after having read about the weather, I picked up one of the little books that gives me hope. Today it’s the one called Morning Prayer, Evening Praise, from Paulist Press that has been bouncing around our house since 1997. Flipping through the somewhat yellowed pages, I happened upon the familiar St Patrick’s Breastplate. Perhaps you know it: Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ in quiet, Christ in danger, Christ in hearts of all that love me…
It goes on, but as I read that much I had a sensation of a great blanket being wrapped around me and the blanket was Christ. It was a blanket of wool, as if from a sheep on one side and of warmth on the other. A lovely image for me today…May you be similarly wrapped in God’s grace!
Sometimes it’s hard to think about what to write in the morning but some days are full of promise and offer many things to consider. Today I am faced with a plethora of options (not the least of which is the opportunity to use the interesting word “plethora.”)
- One of the websites I see in my email every day is optimize.me, written by the brilliant Brian Johnson. Today he used the first quote he ever memorized, which happens to be the first quote that I ever memorized as well! Of course, I have to share it with you. (Because it’s Shakespeare, I will leave it in the original, exclusive male language.) He says: This above all, to thine own self be true. And it must follow as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man. We can use a little advice like that these days.
- Today Christians in many lands celebrate the great scholar/saint Thomas Aquinas whose writings are studied by theologians and students the world over even today – eight centuries after his death. It is said, however, that at the end of his life in 1274, Thomas had a mystical vision that caused him to stop writing and enter into silence. When he was asked to continue his writing, he answered, “I cannot, for everything I have written seems to me like straw.” It seems that he was overcome with a love that could not be described in any human language. We would do well sometimes to consider the value of silence as an approach to God.
- In the devotional pamphlet Living Faith, I found this prayer of St. Thomas Aquinas that seems appropriate for today. Perhaps you may claim it as your own: Grant me, O Lord, my God, a mind to know you, a heart to seek you, wisdom to find you, conduct pleasing to you, faithful perseverance in waiting for you, and a hope of finally embracing you. Amen.
Much to contemplate in celebration of this great Saint!
Every three years, the lectionary readings cycle around to my favorites—special to me for the meaning of the words, the feelings of hope in them or some particular memory they invoke. Today’s selection from Paul’s second letter to Timothy is very significant as it speaks lovingly to Timothy of the positive influence of the feminine role models in Timothy’s family: his mother, Eunice and his grandmother, Lois. Paul was speaking with great fervor about Timothy’s faith that was passed down from these two women. (“I yearn to see you again…as I recall your sincere faith that first lived in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and that I am confident lives also in you.”)
As children we knew that in some form all of our names were to be given to honor a saint and, quite often as well, a relative or other special person in our family’s life. Thus, my sister was named Paula because my uncle Paul had been killed in World War II around the time of her birth and my brother’s name was John after his father. My mother was rather in favor of other criteria: names that would never devolve into nicknames, for example, or even names of famous people like movie stars or those she thought beautiful like Heather or Valerie…There was never any question for my brother. Although she would have preferred Stephen or Victor, it was clear to all that—in biblical greatness—”his name is John.”
There seemed no real reason for my name, however. I was happy to have St. Ann, mother of the Blessed Virgin and grandmother of Jesus, for my patron but that is my middle name. And as I got older, I was happy not to be named Theresa or Marie or any of the other names attached to multiple girls in my school classes. I was always, throughout my school life, the only Lois in my class. I did, however, cringe occasionally when I heard, “Hey, Lois, where’s Superman?” from someone I presumed was making fun of me, So imagine my surprise when, in adulthood, I saw that Timothy’s grandmother was Lois—right there in print in the Bible! I’m still happy to claim St. Ann as my patron but adding Lois to my tribe makes me consider—now that I am clearly in the age of grandmothers—the qualities of a good grandmother, since I have two great women to emulate in this role.
Do you like—or have you lived into accepting—your given name? Who are those great people, even if not of your same name, to whom you look for ways to give example to younger people? If you could choose any name at all to hear God call you, what would it be? Might you make a practice of hearing your God-given name as you pray?
Sometimes I worry about this task I have taken on, wanting to say something every day that will be useful to at least one of the people who reads my words. Then I think of that phrase: my words. They are never just mine—these words that come to me sometimes with little or no effort, and sometimes as if I were a woman in labor, seeming to push each one out with a mighty force, in order to convey a thought, a feeling or an image. I know I can never adequately express the effect that the sun has on the mountain outside my window, especially on a frigid day like today when some of the frozen trees create a zigzag path to the top that only a nimble giant would attempt to scale.
Today, on the feast that notes the conversion of St Paul, I wonder how he felt when trying to express his experience of the light that changed his life that day on the road to Damascus…or on any day that followed. There are lines in the Scriptures that can touch our hearts with a power that we cannot understand but only recognize. There are poems that take our breath away and lines that when put to music move our bodies even without our consent because they cause such a stirring in our souls.
So today I celebrate those women and men down through the ages who have given us the gift of language and the facility to make words do for us what we cannot do ourselves to express and praise and love and explain ourselves—especially to the One in whom we live and move and have our being. (Acts of the Apostles: 17:22-28)
The temperature outside could be construed as NOTHING. It reads 0 degrees F. Not too hot. Not too cold…just a perfect place to start building a day. (How ridiculous a mis-reading! One could easily get frostbite if not bundled up from head to toe.) The bluejays on the deck are already hard at work tap, tap, tapping away at the suet cakes. How they survive the day without broken beaks and roaring headaches is a mystery to me! Let me start again…
This time I could use the temperature outside as an excuse for inaction. It looks like a beautiful day outside. The sky is blue and the sun is shining…but it’s so cold as to make it impossible to move from my chair: a day to lament arthritic limbs and a headache at least serious enough for some over-the-counter drug…Excuses abound…
There is, however, a tiny beating sound inside of me that indicates discomfort with inertia. I can hardly hear the sound but I know there is more to this life than this chair and my rocking…rocking. I wonder if perhaps this is a moment like it was the day Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: “This is the time of fulfillment: The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe…” It is Mark who is recounting this day when Jesus passed by the Sea of Galilee and seeing Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea, he said to them, Come after me and I will make you fishers of men. (MK 1) They left their nets that day and became the first apostles, following Jesus to the end. No more sitting around looking out the window, wishing it was warmer outside. No more watching the birds and wondering about their headaches, just getting out of their chairs and getting to work—following that voice that is the best invitation ever offered.
As I sit to write at the very end of the morning, I am feeling blessed for the hour-long phone conversation I had this morning with my sister. We talked about good things in the family and the country that had happened over the past week. We even laughed a lot—an experience that has been severely lacking lately… It’s very cold here this morning; we’re in the grip of an arctic blast, they say. I was glad that I got out of bed when I did, however because, looking out the window onto the back yard, I thought I was in a Disney movie like Fantasia where teapots swirl in a wild musical dance and the snowflakes are huge and blinding! I was in the midst of a very energetic squall – happy to be watching from inside! It was an altogether pleasant morning.
As our new President, Joe Biden, begins to re-establish order to the political system and the life of the nation, we hear the words of The Letter to the Hebrews which proclaims a new covenant. It could be a message for us today as we read or hear God’s promise: I will put my laws in their minds and I will write it upon their hearts. I will be their God and they shall be my people…all shall know me from the least to the greatest…
It feels a bit like a mighty wind has blown through the country and dissipated the heavy fog that has covered us for so long. It is also in some ways as if we have awakened from a long sleep. Some of us are still a bit groggy and slow-moving, but our desire is now awakened for the future. May our resolve be strengthened and our hearts be turned to know again how great is our God and faithful in good times and bad. May we have learned this truth as the sun begins to shine again.
Today is a day to rejoice in the ability of the human spirit to rise to challenge and see what promise there is in each day. We had a day of ceremony yesterday here in the United States of America. It was a day of gratitude for technology and creativity, a day to participate in the unfolding of a new day, a new reality. I sat in our living room all day, unwilling to miss a moment of what was happening in the transition of leadership in government. It had to be simple and we had to intuit the smiles on faces that were masked but that was easy to do because we knew a new day had dawned and the eyes of the country were shining with hope.
President Biden said at one point that he had been asked recently to describe the United States in one word. His answer was: POSSIBILITY. If he had been asked to expand his answer to a sentence, I have no doubt that he might have said, “All things are possible for those who love God.” That’s how I feel today. It’s as if we have hardly been able to breathe lately and now we understand a way forward: one breath at a time.
On Sunday – the day before yesterday – I wanted very much to write something of value about Thea Bowman, but I failed. The night before I had participated in a zoom call prayer service honoring her memory and in preparation for Martin Luther King Day, a time for parades and the singing of such songs as “We shall overcome…someday.” I watched a video of Sister Thea’s address to the Conference of Catholic Bishops who were appropriately edified by the truth she spoke months before her death in 1989. I watched Doctor King’s address the day before he died when he assured the world that he had “been to the mountain” and was not afraid of what might happen to him as he continued to tell the truth of what was needed for the defeat of racism. I watched the news in disbelief and saw again and again the angry mob – different moments but the same hatred – breaching the Capitol building walls in Washington, D.C. on January 6th, feeling helpless and wondering how we could have sunk to such a state of chaos.
I could find nothing to write on either day as I considered the danger facing President-elect Biden and what should be deep joy for Kamala Harris as the first woman Vice-President. It seems that we are placing all of our hopes for “fixing” the country on them. Perhaps by tomorrow I will again find a hope without the fear for them and stand – on shaky legs but at least standing – to attend the Inauguration of those two honorable people.
I was drinking my coffee as I wrote the above and, because I think anything can speak, I noticed that I put my coffee mug on the small journal already sitting on my side table, so I picked it (the mug) up again to reveal the message on the flower-strewn cover. It says, “With God all things are possible.” I rest my case and offer my prayer to join with yours for our country and the world on this day and tomorrow.