5 Things That Too Shall Pass

Photo copyright Jean Howat Berry

When we were kids, and grieved some ill or injustice, my mother would say, “This too shall pass.” We never believed her, and she was always right.

I need her back. I’m feeling stuck in all kinds of impossibilities and griefs at present. That’s why my friend Jean’s photo—the phrase THIS IS ONLY TEMPORARY stenciled on a concrete barrier by the Great Miami River—speaks so strongly. The phrase carries the weight of consoling prophecy, and Jean’s discovery of it was a piece of lovely synchronicity. She was returning from a ceremonial walk to the riverbank with students in an urban art immersion camp. They had spent a week constructing colored sand paintings in the Buddhist and Native American traditions, and had just swept up their work and cast the sands into the river, a part of the ritual of this ephemeral art form. Jean and the artists and students were feeling a bit low at the loss of their work, and stumbling upon this piece of found street art felt like a hug.

I’m feeling low for opposite reasons—things don’t feel temporary enough—but I’m using the photo as a prompt to remind myself of 5 things that will pass, no matter how concrete-wall permanent they feel at the moment.

1. This Heat

Believe me, I know how whiny it is to complain about the heat wave that has locked the Midwest in an unbearable shirt of flame for what seems like two months, ratcheting up to new records every day. I have air conditioning, and didn’t lose power in the storms that passed through last weekend. I’m not homeless, or fighting in Afghanistan, or sweating in the fevered streets of Mumbai. I am not endangered by wildfires. But I am a large woman in a hot, humid city, and there is no better reminder of the woes of the flesh. This kind of heat scrambles my brains.

It’s supposed to break tomorrow night, though part of me can’t buy it. The climatologists say this might be the new normal. Dayton has already been reclassified one agricultural zone warmer this year. I make no claims about the causes of climate change—it’s way too hot to argue—but it’s undeniable we’re dealing with it in some form, for some duration.

But not for ever, or at least so I pray. I’m not generally swayed by hellfire-and-brimstone Christianity—I’m more with Dante in imagining hell to be the ice-cold aloneness of God-rejecting pride—but this kind of weather has me remembering Sr John Mark, in second grade, saying “You know how much it hurts when you touch a hot stove and burn your finger? Imagine that, a hundred times worse, all over, forever.” Oh. I want my longing for heaven to be all about union with God, but an eternal staycation in green pastures by restful waters makes a mighty fine motivation, too.

2. The November Presidential Election

Can all of Satan’s minions or all of Guantanamo’s interrogation enhancers come up with any worse torture than political campaign ads? Four more months of this? A pox on all your houses! Between Romney’s hiding behind Hillary Clinton’s skirts, er, pantsuits, and the President’s team ginning up more War on Women twaddle (“Economy? What economy? Look, a vagina under siege!”), I am so over it.

I know there are people on all sides claiming that the fate of the country, the Church, women, the planet hangs on this election. I can’t go there. I think we deflect too much responsibility for the Fate of Everything onto this one contest, when life is so much more complicated than that.  I don’t expect the culture wars to end on November 6, no matter who wins, though in the long run they too shall pass. In the short run, thank God, the damn ads will be gone . . . for a few months, anyway.

3. Catholic on Catholic Hate Crime

There are days—hot days, especially—when it seems we will never stop sniping at one another. We don’t wear the right clothes, or sing the right hymns, or pray in the right direction or language or translation, or serve the right poor, or respect the right individual conscience or magisterial authority, or use the right dishes, or bar Communion to the right people, or stand up for the right Catholic values. I’ve been spending more time looking at how the secular society vilifies Catholics, or how intolerant tolerant folks from other traditions can be toward us, because frankly it’s so disheartening to stay at the family table during the food fights.

It seems endless, but I know that these internecine wranglings are only temporary in the literal sense. The combatants have human shelf lives, and we will die off and take our quarrels with us. New ones may arise, but it will take a few generations to work up the level of sibling rivalry we’ve achieved in the 5o years since Vatican II. The Church, like the Dude, will endure.

4. Our Flight from Love

There’s been more evidence in the news this week of the weary world’s continued attempt to escape from love and life into the sterility of population control and the wasteland of mindless, heartless, meaningless sex. It’s been a long run, and like so many human ventures that turn out to be disastrous, it began with good intentions—or so we tell ourselves. Though it may seem that it’s too late to turn the juggernaut around, perhaps that’s not giving enough credit to natural law touched with grace, that alchemical wedding that works in each one of us like the seed growing secretly. Maybe the flight from love will collapse under its own impossible weight, and sooner rather than later.

I think I’ve seen a sign of change—as tiny and ambiguous as the “cloud the size of a hand” that signaled the end of Israel’s killing drought in Elijah’s day—at, of all places, the movie theater. I can’t write in too much detail about Moonrise Kingdom now without spoiling the wonder for folks whose benighted habitations the film hasn’t yet reached. But a second viewing only reinforces what struck me the first time: If such a king of hipster irony as Wes Anderson can give us so unabashed a celebration of the real magic of love and innocence and commitment and second chances as this, there’s hope.

5. The Long Loneliness

The thing I never believe will pass is at the root of all my ills and grievances, from heat waves to wanting to give Melinda Gates a good anti-genocidal shake—the lie that I am alone, that each of us is alone and powerless and unloved and stuck. Dorothy Day named that illusion “the long loneliness.” It’s my greatest and most unrelenting test of faith, believing that this loneliness is only temporary, and I have no resources to snap myself out of it.

So when, as now, I am up against the concrete barrier of Too Sad, Too Broke, Too Tired, Why Bother? I have to lean on the wisdom of others.

There’s Paul:

At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known. So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:12-13)

There’s Teresa of Avila:

Nada te turbe, nada te espante, todo se pasa,
Dios no se muda, la paciencia todo lo alcanza,
quien a Dios tiene nada le falta: sólo Dios basta.

Let nothing disturb you, let nothing affright you,
All things are passing, God alone never changes,
Patience obtains everything,
Who has God lacks nothing: God alone suffices.

And there’s Mom:

This too shall pass.


  • http://www.woodeene.blogspot.com Woodeene

    Ah, yes, the long loneliness. I think you must have a preview channel to my brain, because the last time I was going to write a blog about something, you beat me to it and now, here you are again! The Great Aloneness…I know it well. (Now I have to come up with a new take….darn you Joanne!)

  • Jenkins Minor

    You’ve hit on my mantra. Only mine is 7 lines, for the 7 beads in a “week” on my Anglican rosary:
    Let nothing disturb thee,
    Let nothing affright thee:
    All things are passing,
    Yet God never changeth.
    Patient endurance attaineth to all things;
    Whom God possesseth, in nothing is wanting:
    Alone, God sufficeth.
    This has taken me through an awful lot of rainy-night interstate-under-construction drives. (Both hands on wheel, both eyes on road; beads in head only!)

  • Bill

    Amen, rejoins the congregation+=:-)!

  • Mr. Patton

    About St. Paul…

    “There is no arguing with the pretenders to a divine knowledge and to a divine mission. They are possessed with the sin of pride, they have yielded to the perennial temptation. ” – Walter Lippmann

  • marilyn crawford

    Thank you again for getting just the right “note” – We are about the same age, with almost the same concerns at what seems like almost the same time each time you post. I look forward to every word you write.

  • http://jscafenette.com/ Manny

    O Joanna don’t feel despair. Last week you told me to not feel despair after that horrendous (at least horrendous to me) SCOTUS ruling and your words were in my ear all week. I even wound up bringing that feeling up at confession yesterday. How does that line from the St. Francis prayer go? Where there is despair, bring hope. Your words brought hope to me, though I still think the country is being flushed down the toilet, LOL. So now I see it all came from your mother’s heart.

    I don’t know which is worse, to live in a state that is so predetermined who it will support in an election (I live in NY) or in a battleground state where one has to suffer through all the political ads. I wish my vote would count for once, but then I don’t want to see those ads either.

    As to your number three, remember the beatitude on persecution, “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you (falsely) because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you. ” (Mat 5:11-12) And today’s second reading also made a similar point.

    As to your number 5, are you counting all your internet friends? It’s not quite like flesh and blood friends, but then again internet friends are here every day. I probably see my flesh and blood friends once a month at best. But I get to chat with my internet frineds almost daily.

    • joannemcportland

      Oh, Manny, you’re a gem. I’m glad we give each other hope.

  • http://jscafenette.com/ Manny

    Oops, when I said this in my first paragraph above “So now I see it all came from your mother’s heart,” I meant the hope you sent toward me all came from your mother. Pronouns can be a dangerous thing.

  • http://canepancakegravy.blogspot.com/ Howard

    Other things that, too, will pass. Here are 5 more of them:
    1. Wealth, both personal and national.
    2. Power. We weren’t always a superpower, and we won’t always be one.
    3. Peace. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan rquired deep sacrifices from some families, but affected most of the rest of the country little more than a sporting event. Our peace and security cannot last forever, though.
    4. Freedom of religion. It will come and go, but there will inevitably come a time for witnessing with one’s own blood again.
    5. Our form of government. NO MERE HUMAN CREATION LASTS FOREVER, and when disaster come upon us, it may happen faster than we would ever expect. NO ONE saw the end of the Soviet Union coming so quickly or so peacefully. It is likely that whatever succeeds our form of government will still call itself “the United States”, but it will bear no resemblance to anything Washington would have claimed credit for, just as the Holy Roman Empire and Imperial Russia bore no particular resemblance to the Empire founded by Caesar Augustus.

  • http://www.dymphnaswell.blogspot.com Dymphna

    Like the others, you have a gift of expressing where I am better than I can myself.
    1) I am totally tired of this heat, even though it has broken somewhat. Being middle aged and overweight doesn’t help much.
    2) I am despairing of politics. I can’t seem to escape it–especially at MASS. Our priest has not preached a non-political sermon for ages and ages. He even pulled the VBS kids out the other night for some sort of Fortnight thing. I am of 2 minds about this whole issue because, while I agree with the push for religious freedom, I really hunger for a nice, practical, scripture-based sermon and a life that is not filled with constant fear-mongering.
    3) All this leaves me feeling a bit guilty. I don’t want to be a Catholic-on-Catholic hater.
    4) It’s all about sex, isn’t it? Or at least that is what all the “cultural” voices are screaming at us. It gets exhausting.
    5) We are NOT alone. We have God, of course–and we have each other. The irony is, even as we find like-minded people on the internet, we still feel alone.

  • Kathmanwho

    What a blessing your thoughts and reflections always are. This one is no exception. The five subjects you write about certainly strike ‘home’ for me, too… The heat? Ugh. My electric bill is ridiculous, but at least I have air conditioning – and we should be out of this furnace before any of these other subjects run their due course. Elections/politics? What should we expect as candidates of all narcissistic persuasions run out to the ‘real world’ of Hollywood California for fundraising and soul-selling. Catholic-on-Catholic Hating? This one troubles me, too… as where would we be today if those early generations of Catholics, also accosted by Satan in their society, had ‘turned on’ each other rather than ‘turning to’ the Risen Christ. Flight from Love? Buying into the ‘freedom’ – promised in Sixties through contraception – was the real beginning of the war on women. As we are seeing today, no one completely escapes the ravages of war. I believe we are just now figuring out that love was one of the first casualties. And the long loneliness… another tool of Satan that remains largely unrecognized because it only involves each of us individually… I am reminded of the last two verses of ‘We Walk by Faith’:
    Help then, O Lord, our unbelief; And may our faith abound, To call on you when you are near and seek where you are found:
    That when our life of faith is done, I realms of clearer light, We may behold you as you are With full and endless sight.
    You are remembered in my prayers, KMW

  • http://rujutax.blogspot.in/ Sweety

    Beautiful and heartening…..

  • anna lisa

    Ah, the blogs. Sometimes I long for the days when my new book was tucked next to my pillow with a page turned down. Sometimes I ask myself why I click here and click there and absorb that little piece of information linked to that story or the scandalous headline next to it At the end of the day it can get exhausting. I start to make resolutions to keep my laptop shut down. Then I click on that one Catholic site where it is “hit or miss” and I find *this*. Your words refreshed me, thank you. Not that it’s hot here at all in coastal CA, we’ve been FREEZING. There was a high of 60 on the 4th of July :)! Thank you for quoting my favorite saint, and giving a plug to one of the sweetest little movies I’ve seen in a while.
    p.s. I bet it got cooler over there today, because it finally looks like we might get some sun.

    • joannemcportland

      Thank you! Yes, it did indeed get cooler today (hooray for 85!), which makes everything else look up.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/happycatholicbookshelf/ Julie D.

    Here’s the very next thing that your Mom and one of my besties, St. Teresa, would probably add … straight from Julian of Norwich (which is a tell because now everyone knows it): “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well”

  • RichardC

    My dad used to say the same things to me when I was going through tough times as a kid, “This too shall pass.”

    One thing that I found positive on the life issue is that Russia is now part of the battle against the UN in its death mongering policies.

  • http://mojavehicular.wordpress.com/ Bill M.

    This is one of those ‘desert island’ posts to be pasted into a doc file and berthed on my desktop.
    And as Father said at Mass yesterday morning, it’s hard to beat Corinthians . . .

  • J.H.M.O

    As therapy for anyone dismayed by “Catholic on Catholic Hate Crime”, may I recommend a delightful good-natured spoof of this sort of thing — hilarious on a first read, and quite droll even on subsequent reads — of a blog post I stumbled on in a Google search under “Simcha Fisher”: in “Web Results”, find the link-line “Defend Us in Battle…: Simcha Fisher – You Ain’t Cool!”, and click it.

  • Rob

    The “vagina under seige” line is going to make me chuckle for a looooong time, now that I’ve finally got my breath back from laughing so hard the first time. Another gem, Joanne.

  • Jo

    Between laughing out loud at your “Economy? What economy? Look, a vagina under siege!” comment,
    and feeling a kindred spirit within your “3. Catholic on Catholic Hate Crime” comments, you are my new blog crush.