The Song of the Desert

dots-by-barbara-w-on-flickrThe Word of God which is his comfort is also his distress. The liturgy, which is his joy and which reveals to him the glory of God, cannot fill a heart that has not previously been humbled and emptied by dread. Alleluia is the song of the desert.

—Thomas Merton, Contemplative Prayer

When the hospice nurse and social worker come to my parent’s home the first time, they are not what my sisters and I expect. Perhaps I was expecting a cliché: calm and restful sorts, hired because of their ability to show quiet dignity to patients who are dying. Instead, they are chatty and gregarious. Though their demeanor is initially surprising, there is a certain charm and assurance to their lack of worry about being so close to death; surely they also need a way to cope with the heavy burden of their job.

They are kind and highly knowledgeable, but they rush my mom through the heavy information about signing Do Not Resuscitate at Home forms, the different kinds of pain management options, and noticing the stages before death.

The nurse enthusiastically declares that she used to be afraid of morphine but she loves it now because of the relief it offers to suffering patients. I suppose it could seem jarring to someone newly acquainted with hospice care, but I think it’s necessary for my mom to hear. She’s been afraid of giving my father too much pain medication, afraid that she’ll be the one to kill him, not the cancer. [Read more…]

The Next Abraham

motherhood-by-barbara-w-on-flickrA few days ago, I was blessed to be present at my grandson Abraham’s bris, his ritual circumcision. The mohel, the rabbi who officiated at and performed the circumcision, explained to the family and friends gathered for the ceremony, explained that a bris is the way God signs God’s name on a Jewish male baby.

The day before the bris, women marched in solidarity all around the country and the world. Baby Abraham’s father, his uncle on his father’s side, and his oldest brother participated in the march in New York. So did the baby Abraham’s aunt on his mother’s side, uncle, and five-month-old niece. They were joined by baby Abraham’s stepmother on his mother’s side.

My wife, baby Abraham’s maternal grandmother, the baby’s biological grandfather on his mother’s side, and I stayed home with the newborn and his mother. At just a week old, baby Abraham was still too young to be taken to the march. And his mother was still recovering from the delivery. Had Abraham been a month or more old, I’m sure we all would have joined the rest of the family on the march. .

Everyone knows what happened on Friday January 20, the day before the women’s march.

It was a charged moment to witness the circumcision of a baby, marking the moment he ritualistically joined the Jewish people’s covenant with God. It was a charged moment to welcome a baby to the Divided States of America.

But this bris in particular was a deep moment of union, a moment that, for those present and for all those who will, God willing, get to know Abraham as he grows, marked, in its quiet way, a mending of the nation, even the world. This bris marked a moment of joining in love parts of the world that some would keep apart by instilling in us fear of certain others, by dividing the world simplistically, dangerously into friends and enemies. [Read more…]

Poetry Friday: “Sister Storm”

Lightning storm over dark neighborhoodI love the drama of this poem. Its title recalls St. Francis’s “Canticle of Brother Sun,” where Francis praises God through “Sister Moon,” “Brother Fire,” “Sister Water,” and so on. Jeanne Murray Walker’s Sister Storm, however, is violent and destructive—definitely not, in the poet’s view, an element through which to praise God. The poet talks back bravely to the lightening storm that is raging: “I defy you. Leave us alone / and tell your ugly cousin, war, / to leave our kids alone.” Then, in the poem’s final sentence of five lines, comes the powerfully constructive image with which the poet defies the storm: an image connecting people to one another and to the cosmos. The image is of the humble craft of knitting, which is made of interconnected loops “hooked” together. Walker envisions first her own house “knit to other houses”; then whole neighborhoods hooked together; then the entire human community “hooked to that bright creative engine, / to whose rule, before the sun, moon / and stars, we hold  out our hands.” I hear an echo here of the final line of Dante’s Divine Comedy: to that “love that moves the sun and the other stars.” This cosmic, divine love, in Walker’s vision, knits us all together in a creative work that overpowers the forces of destructiveness and death.

—Peggy Rosenthal [Read more…]

I Miss Gwen Ifill

20161219-gwen-ifill-on-wikimedia-creative-commonsFor Kate Keplinger

It is the blight man was born for
It is Margaret that you mourn for…
–“Spring and Fall,” Gerard Manley Hopkins

“I’m sorry for your loss,” my friend Dionne posted in response to a note I posted on Facebook.

I’d just come back on the redeye from the West Coast that morning, and stayed home from work to catch up on some sleep. I was puttering around in the kitchen in my nightgown, my mind in a fog, when I heard on the three o’clock newscast that journalist and news anchor Gwen Ifill had died.

I immediately called my husband, who was picking up the children from school, with the news.

Suddenly I felt even more at loose ends than I had on the morning after Election Day, stunned by yet another instance of how, overnight, the landscape around me had shifted. Except in this instance, the feeling of being unsettled hit me more forcefully.

Here’s what I posted on Facebook: “Memory eternal, Gwen Ifill. Our whole family will miss our Friday pizza nights with you.”

It didn’t occur to me until I saw Dionne’s response that it might appear that said Friday pizza nights might be with Ifill in person—as opposed to a picnic on Mommy and Daddy’s bed watching Washington Week. [Read more…]

Good Letters Is My Devotional

Image Glen OnlineBy Cathy Warner

I came to Christianity in my mid-twenties and joined a Protestant church whose denominational arm publishes devotional booklets that called to mind the copies of Watchtowers Jehovah’s Witnesses used to foist on me.

As a new believer, I was supposed to develop a disciplined spiritual life, the cornerstone being morning devotions: Rise at dawn, open the booklet, read the single line opening prayer, open the Bible to the selected lectionary verse, etc.

But I’m an insomniac who began my sleep-deprived days with a quick shower and breakfast eaten while commuting. I tossed the tiny booklets with their small font and facile prose in the recycling, unread.

By the early 2000s I was writing poetry, prayers, and meditations for my congregation and denomination. Finally, in the act of writing itself, I had found a form of spiritual discipline. I never woke at dawn, but I remained faithful to the practice.

Though I was adept at writing the devotional formula, it quickly began to feel constrictive. I wanted to read outside the “inspirational” genre. I began to hunger for risky, authentic, platitude-free writing that could inspire my own clumsy efforts.

I shared my longing with an artist-painter-pastor who recommended Image. [Read more…]