Waiting for the Blessing

By Lisa Ampleman

Newborn First ChristmasOn Gaudete Sunday, the third Sunday of Advent, my church blesses expectant families. Rejoice, rejoice, we sing, Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel. A whole people waiting for a savior, families who are waiting for the birth of their baby. The rite is called the Blessing of a Child in the Womb, a small curled-up body in warmth and darkness.

For many years, though, the message to wait, to rejoice meant something very different to me: the lack of a child in the womb. Disappointment month after month.

I began to doubt that my husband and I would ever hold a baby in swaddling blankets. I clutched his hand more tightly as couples walked up the center aisle to be blessed in front of the congregation. Our hands formed the shape of the nursery rhyme: Here is the church; Here is the steeple. I pursed my lips and willed my stinging eyes to stay dry. Or, knowing it was coming, I asked my husband if we could attend another Mass, without the blessing.

Others in those pews, huddled in their winter coats under stark blue banners, have their own yearnings: for employment, for a spouse, for an end to pain or illness. Not all will see fulfillment by Christmas when the church fills with pines and poinsettias.

One of my favorite Psalms says, “I believe that I shall see the Lord’s goodness in the land of the living,” not in heaven, but here on earth. Some difficult days, I could hold that phrase like a warm heating stone in my cold torso. Many times, it felt like self-deception to say such things. [Read more...]

Monasticism in Lockdown America, Part 9: Psalms, In the End

Continued from yesterday

 

11826685814_171e060196_mThinking of the psalms as a way to cycle through the entire range of human experience, I recently brought them with me into juvenile detention.

The kids there, on Sunday afternoons, shuffle through automated doors wearing orange jumpsuits and pink booties and take their seats shyly around bolted-down steel tables with me.

These are boys and girls who have likely seen, and felt on their bodies, and heard, what no child should have to see or feel or hear. And after absorbing all they’ve endured and trying to maintain composure, they have probably been kicked out of classrooms for not watching their tongues. For small outbursts, foul language, bad attitudes. Now, in detention, they spend most of their time in lockdown, in cells of their own, alone. [Read more...]

Monasticism in Lockdown America, Part 8: Psalms, In the Beginning

4591112088_e1c7fb17da_mI always privately hated the psalms.

Most of them, anyway. As a teenager, I’d leaf through the Bible’s songbook quite often and feel it was full of self-pity and self-righteousness, often launching into bombastic praise of God and two lines later wishing curses on enemies. I didn’t understand why Christians still used the psalms, and so often.

As I got older, it was the worst part of visiting a monastery for me: hearing monks or nuns fill up so much of their time together chanting through these oft-sub-merciful prayers. The sentiments throughout the ancient songbook seemed so far from the heart Jesus teaches us to inhabit. They felt human, as Nietzsche said, all too human. Yet monasteries cycle through the entire Psalter month after month, year after year. [Read more...]

Is My Truth Your Truth?

meditationI do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.

—Wallace Stevens

 

Jewish Mindfulness Teacher Training Program instructions for this month:

“Choose a phrase from Psalm 30 or Hallel to begin and/or end your sitting practice every day. Use the same blessing every day. Memorize it. Notice if it changes your practice, if you recall it during the day, if it inspires awe or connection to life.”

How to choose?

Psalm 30: it’s shorter than Hallel, a section of the Jewish worship service, included on particularly joyous days such as the three pilgrimage festivals, in which all the psalms include the word hallel or the concept of praise. I can read Psalm 30 quickly and see if any verse calls out to me, and, if it does, I can work with that verse this month.

[Read more...]

Trouble Called Again Last Night

Carphone useTrouble called again last Thursday night. The number illuminated in the landline phone’s small window. Mother. She’s eighty-four now. Father’s eighty-seven. They sold their house—where we lived when I was in in high school—about twenty-five years ago. Moved into a condo. They’re still living in the condo, independently.

A few nights earlier, during one of my routine every-other-day-or-so phone calls with her, Mom told me that Dad had a cold. He’d spent most of the day sleeping.

Dad’s a big guy, height and girth, though his impressive belly has deflated considerably over the last few years: a few hospitalizations, a diminished appetite. Though he doesn’t complain about it, he suffers from painful arthritis. With a cane, which he uses reluctantly, he shuffles around the condo, and inches his way from condo to car to restaurant to cardiologist to condo to couch for TV. He hardly has the strength to push himself up from the sofa. Gravity is calling him home.

[Read more...]


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