A Jew Prays in Venice, Part 2

Continued from yesterday.

On the pleasant train ride from Florence to Venice, my wife Laurie and I began to piece together a relaxed itinerary for our final days in Italy: the Jewish Ghetto—definitely; the Peggy Guggenheim Collection—pretty sure; the Doge’s Palace—we should (but haven’t we had enough history?); the Basilica di San Marco, the Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari—haven’t we seen enough churches?

As it turns out, we did make it into a church (more than one) in Venice, but it was only at Santa Maria della Salute—a church on which we stumbled while rushing to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection so we could see it and have plenty of time for the famous Jewish Ghetto in Venice—where I felt the tenacious need to maintain my separate, external, egotistic will relax.

There was a prayer to be said and I said it in this church built to honor the Virgin Mary for saving Venice from a plague that in 1629 to 1630 killed 47,000 residents; a third of Venice’s population.

In the presence of the Madonna of Healing, my eyes fixed on the sculptures above the main altar, fixed on one sculpted figure in particular: a woman below and to the right of the Madonna, her body turned away from the Madonna, her arms outstretched beyond the “frame” of the sculpture, into the void, in anguish, afflicted, her neck twisted so she could look back and up at the towering Virgin holding an infant in one arm.

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Blue Christmas

knit shawlA few years ago, I learned about a church—an Evangelical Free Church—that holds an annual evening service called Blue Christmas on December 21, the longest night of the year. It’s a service welcoming all who feel “blue” at Christmas-time, whether because of a personal loss or illness or addiction or any other sorrow. Anyone present at the service who requests prayers is wrapped in one of the shawls that the church’s prayer shawl group has been knitting all year. The shawl is theirs to keep, a constant reminder of God’s enfolding and healing love.

As soon as I heard about this service, I wanted to go. At the time, I was writing a book that became Knit One, Purl a Prayer: A Spirituality of Knitting, which includes discussion of the prayer shawl ministries that have sprung up at churches of all denominations around the country. The specifics of prayer shawl ministries differ, but in general knitters from the church gather regularly to knit shawls to give to people who are suffering in some way. The shawl, knit with prayer, is meant to wrap the recipient in God’s love. [Read more...]

Sarah Masen: The Trying Mark, Part 2

Guest Post

By Angela Doll Carlson

In yesterday’s interview with Sarah Masen, we chatted about her latest album, The Trying Mark, a mature reflection on a life full of longing, wonder and awe. Today we delve a little more into this new project as we discover what makes Sarah such a unique artist, including her deep thoughts on community, nurturing, and chicken keeping.

Angela Doll Carlson: The new album seems to be full of a sense of longing, most specifically seen in the lyrics of “The Way for Now”:

For now I am a field in winter waiting

This cold it is a shield

No man, no plow, no seed will find its way beneath me

For now I will not yield.

Can you tell me more about that?

[Read more...]

Cutting Away the Noise

Fifteen years ago, there was no end to the noise. It took a cutting to get me to silence.

I worked twelve-hour days and longer in an aircraft hangar on a flight line of hundreds of helicopters with the cacophony of auxiliary power units, the collision of metal, and rotor blades beating the air outside, sounds so loud earplugs and noise-canceling helmets were required.

After my shift I would climb into my car and turn on the radio, classic rock or country at a moderately high volume, and drive home to my condo. There I turned on CNN while making something simple for dinner. I watched the thirty-minute circuit and then left it on for company.

Other noise and other stories ensured I didn’t go too far into my own deadening loneliness. I found silence terrifying, though I didn’t see it that way then. I liked motion, and noise, and doing things. I talked a lot. That’s where I saw and added value, where my sense of self worth lay. [Read more...]

Holy Water

One must have faith and pray; the water will have no virtue without faith.”
–St. Bernadette

My daughter just finished a week at our local Catholic school’s day camp. She came home with a crèche she made from a shoebox, a St. Brigid’s cross of pipe cleaners, and a plastic bottle of holy water, blessed by the deacon.

“It’s not from Lourdes,” the catechist told us, apologetically. For Catholics, the spring at Lourdes—dug by the bare hands of St. Bernadette at the urging of Our Lady— is the champagne of holy water. I think the batch my daughter brought home actually came from the water fountain in the school hallway. I was sitting out there with my toddler when the volunteers filled the plastic basin.

My own elementary school was named for Our Lady of Lourdes, and Mary was our patron and mascot to the point of insanity. My memories of religious education consist almost entirely of stories of Marian apparitions and miracles. Even slumber party games of Bloody Mary conjured images of a glowing lady in a cave, whispering secrets. One of my best friends had an actual glow-in-the-dark Mary I made her hide in a drawer when I slept over. [Read more...]


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