Perspective

Caretaker daughters of mothers who are going through elderly dementia shouldn’t read and review books written by daughters of mothers who went through elderly dementia.

Sometimes, things are too close.

The review I wrote about The Geography of Memory, a Pilgrimage Through Alzheimers, took a lot out of me. It left me feeling blue and disconnected; not wanting to do anything. I consoled myself by playing the piano, and now I’m going to go spring my mother from Adult Day Care and spend the lunch hour with her.

But between the piano and the decision to go get my mother, I found this video. It gives what I needed: Perspective.

Maybe it will do the same for you.

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Pope Francis and Politicians

Every year at the beginning of session, I find a note on my desk on the House floor from someone I don’t know. “I am (name)” it says, “I will pray for you every day.”

I keep these notes and treasure them. When the votes get tough and the debate gets nasty, I pull them out of my desk drawer and look at them.

I went through a bad patch in my work as a legislator a few years back in which I felt isolated and alone, at odds with the other Democrats. It was a chore just to make myself get in the car and drive to work.

I had a thing I went through while I was driving to work. I put aside all my thoughts of my life outside that capitol building. I shut down my softer emotions and focused on the job ahead of me that day. When I stepped out of my car in the parking lot, I was Representative Hamilton, or more exactly, I was District 89 and its people.

I left the rest of me to pick up later on the drive home.

All during this time, people prayed for me. Many of them I don’t know, since it was a sort of informal prayer chain. But I made speeches from time to time and often a woman — it was almost always a woman — would come up to me afterwards and said, “I heard about you, and I want you to know that I pray for you.”

I believe I felt their prayers. I know absolutely that there were times when I sent a text to one of my prayer warriors and asked for prayers and then felt peace come over me like a calming hand not long afterwards.

Prayer is a force. It plugs us into the engine that drives the universe. The help it gives extends far beyond what the person who prays sees.

Pope Francis gave a homily at morning mass yesterday that every elected official should hear. He described exactly what servant leadership is for a politician. It is not about the elected official at all. It is about the people they serve. It is about trusting God enough to jump off those political cliffs and cast the hard votes that get you clawed up and attacked simply because you know that this is what the Gospels require of you.

Politics is a lion’s den of sorts, and politicians who follow Christ have to go into it with the spirit of Daniel. They need the courage of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego before the fiery furnace when they said “Our God will deliver us, and even if He does not deliver us, we still will not bow down to false gods.”

This takes, not ego, but humility. It is a humbling thing to love someone else who does not truly love you back to the point of true service to them. It is a humility of the soul to trust God rather than yourself and do what everyone, including you, knows is the stupid thing in order to follow Him.

The smart thing for Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego would have been to bow down to those idols with their fingers crossed and then ask for God’s forgiveness later. After all, they might have told themselves, being bound and tossed into a fiery furnace would just make us burnt ash, and we would be of no use to God like that. It is better that we live to serve Him another day.

But if they had made this obvious and smart compromise, they would have weakened the buckling faith of all God’s followers, everywhere. By taking the stand they did, they became a source of hope and strength.

I am sure they had no thoughts of all this at the time. I imagine that for them it was a moment of deepest humility. They laid their lives before God, “even if He does not save us,” and they took their chances.

That is what everyone who follows Christ in this life must do. It is required of elected officials that they do it over and over in a public arena where the arrows of hatred hit them from every direction.

They need our prayers. And we need to pray for them.

It is impossible to pray for someone diligently and continuously without at some level taking on their pain. It isn’t something you try to do or even want. It is a natural outcome of the grace of prayer. Praying for someone stills the demons that attack your own soul. You may not approve of the wrongs the people you pray for do, but you will not be able to hate them. Prayer shifts the whole scenario, turns the wheel, so that it is no longer about you vs this other person. It is about doing God’s will.

Praying for someone is a mercy, and like all mercy, it is, as Shakespeare said, twice blessed. It blesses the one who is prayed for, and perhaps even more profoundly, it blesses the one who prays.

Pray for our elected officials, including and most especially the ones that make you the maddest. Pray and don’t stop praying. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned in this life, it is that you will never come to the end of the surprises about what God can do with a human soul.

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The Church is a Widow, Seeking Her Bridegroom

In his homily at morning mass, Pope Francis described the Church this way: The Church is a widow, seeking her bridegroom. He went on to say some beautiful things about our mother and how we should seek her,

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Book Review: Coming Home to Wholeness

To join the discussion about Atchison Blue, or to order a copy, go here

BC AtchisonBlue 1

Life is hard. 

Life for Americans is not only hard, it is usually frantic. 

We are frantic, almost driven, people. I did not realize this until I went to a country where people live by a different internal clock. The contrast was stunning. 

Americans are certainly not the only people who race from deadline to goal to commitment to task. And we have a sense of self about how we do it that is our special grace among the driven places on this earth. But living here is a tough boogie.

Life is hard and it is fractured and in some ways desperate. Our nation is divided between the drop outs who just sit, and the doers who never sit at all. In both cases there is a kind of desperation and overwhelmed thing going on. In the case of the drop outs, overwhelmed is where they live and what they do. But for the doers, overwhelmed is the demon they fight every day. 

Judy Valente, the author of Atchison Blue, is an overwhelmed fighter. She is an astonishingly high achiever who has managed to carve out a flourishing career for herself in two competitive worlds: free lance writing and human interest broadcast reporting. 

Her private demons are a nagging dread of death and the great bugaboo of everyone; family problems. The major betrayal of her life was being laid off from her job at the Wall Street Journal the year after she was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Based on what she writes in this book, losing this job was an earthquake for Ms Valente, a wake-up call about trusting career to be the all-in-all of life. 

Her solution for her human woes is to seek the thing we lack in our American society: Wholeness. 

It is a simple fact that the abundant life that Christ offers us is based on a spiritual and emotional wholeness that the larger society (any larger society) can never provide. Anyone who wants to be whole must find a way to retreat at intervals from the squabbling bitterness of our workaday lives. Without these retreats, we slide into a kind of fractured insanity without being aware of it. I see this insanity quite often in the exceedingly fractured world of politics. In fact, there was a time, back before Jesus rescued me, when I was pretty sick with it myself. 

There is no permanent cure for this fractured-ness. It’s causes are so thoroughly woven into this fallen world and the way it treats people that no one anywhere can completely escape its pull. However, for overworked, over-stimulated Americans, it is particularly ubiquitous. We are a driven people. The fact that we in large part drive ourselves does not change this. 

Without retreats, stopping places, we become so fractured that the insanity of life becomes our own insanity. 

My retreat is simply going home. When I walk into my house and shut the door behind me, I leave the frantic outside world. Nobody inside those walls is going to attack me or betray me or go on the internet posting lies and accusations about me. Inside these walls, I am free of that. 

Ms Valente sought something akin to this when she went to the Benedictine monastery, Mount Scholastica, in Atchison Kansas.

I’m beginning to think that monasticism is a particularly good fit for writers. After all, writers are already contemplatives by nature and avocation long before the monastery bug bites them. 

For someone like Ms Valente, who is a poet and human observer writer, walking into the monastery must have been something akin to what I feel when I walk into my house. She must have known at some level that this was home. 

Atchison Blue is a lovely book written by a journalist-poet whose writerly skills enable her to tell the story without letting the poetry overwhelm it and still keep the romance of the contemplative life in the midst of the story. It’s a delicate balance; the kind of writing that probably comes naturally to a journalist-poet. 

Reading this book makes me want to pack my bags and head off to Atchison myself. I imagine it will do the same thing for many of its readers. 

Love stories are like that. They make you want a love of our own. 

In the final analysis, that’s what Atchison Blue is; the love story between one woman and monasticism. It is the tale of her homecoming to wholeness in the contemplative life at a Benedictine monastery. 

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The oblates of Mount Scholastica, Benedictine Monastery. Ms Valente is the one on the bottom right. 

9/11: Here’s Something I Don’t Want to Write About

Bin laden

 

9/11.

What a bitter cup.

It appears this nation will drink it to the dregs.

And then lick the cup.

As far as I’m concerned, the best moment of this whole thing was when I heard that Osama bin Laden was dead. Dead and dumped into the ocean to swim with the fishes.

I have no use for murdering monsters.

9/11 cost this country dearly. We have given up so much freedom to these murdering monsters. We are surveilled and patted down and searched; not to mention the lost lives, arms, legs and emotional wholeness of those we sent to fight this evil for us.

I remember the morning of 9/11. I watched the second plane hit the second tower and I knew; this was not random and it was not an accident. I heard that the Pentagon had been hit. I saw the towers fall. I heard there was another plane that had crashed.

And that was the miracle.

Once we saw through their lies, they couldn’t even handle our unarmed civilians. That planeload of people on Flight 93 fought back with boiling water and a food tray and they took those terrorists out on their way to destroy the Capitol.

That crash into the Pennsylvania countryside was the beginning of our resistance. It was the first time they faced Americans who knew the truth of who they were. It was the indicator of how badly they had miscalculated who we are and what we will do if war is forced upon us.

I was in the mood to do whatever after 9/11. I would have been willing, in the first rush of rage, to melt down the mountains of the Middle East to glass. But our president reacted like a president and not an enraged citizen. His initial response, to go into Afghanistan, was not only appropriate, it was controlled, considering what had happened.

This is America. Step on this soil to do harm and take the consequences.

That is my feeling.

Do not attempt, as Lincoln said, “to take a drink from the Ohio by force.”

We welcome people from all over the world. We help people all over the world.

But do not — ever — think that our kindness and our hospitality betokens an unwillingness to defend this country. That would be a mistake.

Today, on this anniversary of that day when someone dared to come onto American soil and kill 3,000 Americans, we are considering whether or not we should advance what has become an unending bleed of random military actions into yet another country. This time we are talking about military action in Syria.

We could, if we wanted, kill everything, everywhere. This country has that kind of power.

But the question is, should we? Not, should we kill everything, everywhere, which I think we all agree is not a good plan, but should we constantly and without much thought zap this little problem and that little problem and go here, there, and everywhere, firing off missiles and sending in troops for various, decidedly random, reasons?

Touch this homeland, defile America itself with your ancient hatreds and tribal feuds, and you will face us. That much is certain and non debatable. 

But we need lines — bright, shiny lines — about when enough is enough to our endless military engagements overseas. We need to understand, for ourselves and not for anyone else, what we are doing and why we are doing it when we use our military force.

Random wars are an inexcusable misuse of the lives and treasure that the American people have invested in their military and entrusted to their elected officials.

If I will not sacrifice one of my children to your random war — and I will not — then I do not have the right to sacrifice other people’s children to it, either. So long as the board of directors of General Dynamics and Raytheon and Halliburton and all their almost numberless cohorts do not have their children wearing those “boots on the ground” we keep talking about, then any war we engage in is unjust at the outset.

Take their kids out of their expensive private schools, take away the keys to their cars that cost more than my house and send them to Syria alongside the inner city kids and working-class kids who fight these wars. Insist that the newscasters who are pushing so hard for war, war, any war with anybody anytime, send their children to fight.

That might change the rhetoric a bit. If the people who are benefitting from these wars actually started paying part of the cost of them, it might adjust their thinking.

9/11 still makes me angry. Sadly, that anger is mixed now with a sense of betrayal by my own government.

I pray that this changes.

 

Don’t Stop Praying, But We May Be Out of the War-Making Woods

Way out

I don’t think there are any lambs in this particular gathering, but it appears as if the lions may decide to, if not lie down together, at least make war another day.

Presidents Putin of Russia, Rouhani of Iran and Assad of Syria have been talking about a proposal to remove chemical weapons from Syria to Russia for several days now. I first read about this before the weekend, but didn’t write about it because the sources were publications inside Russia that I didn’t know anything about.

Haaretz, an Israeli news outlet, has also been running stories about it. The proposal became quasi official yesterday and today the New York Times wrote that President Obama has “tentatively embraced” the idea.

I expect that the war-promoting members of the press (which is a substantial portion of the press) will react to this with an analysis that President Obama has been “weak” and went to Congress “looking for a way out,” etc. I want to say, in anticipation of that, that if this compromise works, a good portion of the reason why is that this president made the decision to involve the American people, through their representatives, in this debate.

I’ve been critical of this attempt to take this country into another unnecessary war from the outset. I expect that I am going to be equally critical of the inevitable future attempts to do the same thing. Our press has become a powerful lobby for armed intervention all over the globe. There is one cable news network in particular that never stops agitating for war. The place where they want this country to use armed force changes, but the demand that we do it is almost constant.

I am not a pacifist. I believe in self-defense.

I am most definitely a patriot. From the soles of my feet to the hair of my head, I am an American.

I believe without equivocation that if we do not take an honest and critical look at this situation, we are dooming ourselves. I’ll write more about this, but we are spending ourselves into bankruptcy to finance a war machine that is out of touch with reality. Then, we are being sold on wars and “military actions” one right after the other to use it and justify it.

War has become our major industry.

This cannot go on if we are to survive. We need an economy that is based on manufacturing the goods and services of the people of this country, not an economy that is based on manufacturing weapons.

As I said in the title of this post, Don’t stop Praying.

We are not out of the woods on this yet.

And the peacemakers in this situation are hardly peaceable people.

But it looks as if there is a real possibility that we will be able to avoid firing Tomahawk missiles at the people of Syria. There may even be a possibility that we can let them work out their own civil war without shedding American blood.

We need to continue praying for peace, and for our Christian brothers and sisters who are so very vulnerable in this war. I’ve read that President Assad has treated the Christian minority in Syria with tolerance and that the rebels have targeted Christian villages for attacks and attempts at forced conversions to Islam. Again, this information has come largely from the Russian press and the Russians have a stake in this war, so I’ve been slow to write about it.

But, the Christians in Syria who have contacted me have said much the same thing.

I am grateful to the Holy Father for his powerful leadership in this matter. I am also grateful to President Obama for making the decision to allow Congress to vote on it.

I hope that is a precedent-setting move that future presidents will take seriously.

Don’t stop praying. It appears to be working.

What We Need: Divine Mercy

I pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet every Friday. I also pray the main prayer after Communion. It is a beautiful prayer of atonement and Christ’s unending mercy towards us.

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Schedule for Pope Francis’ Vigil for Peace

EWTN will carry full coverage of Pope Francis’ Vigil for Peace today, beginning at 1 pm, Eastern time. 

The schedule for the Vigil is below. 

God bless Pope Francis. 

(Vatican Radio) On Saturday, 7 September, Pope Francis will preside over an evening of prayer in Saint Peter’s Square as part of the international day of prayer and fasting for peace in Syria and the world. The evening will include Eucharistic Adoration, recitation of the Rosary, and a period of silent meditation. Priests will also be available during the evening for those who wish to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

See below for the full schedule of the evening vigil:

5:45: Priests will hear confessions under the colonnade of Saint Peter’s Square.

6:30: Pope Francis’ appeal for peace will be read aloud.

7:00: The Pope begins the prayer service as Veni Creator Spiritus is sung. The icon Salus Populi Romani will then be processed into the Square, carried by four Swiss Guards. 

Pope Francis will then lead the recitation of the Rosary, followed by a meditation.

After a period of silent meditation, the Holy Father will then preside over Eucharistic Adoration, during which there will be readings from Scripture and responsorial prayers. 

Following the guided period of Adoration, there will be the recitation of the Office of Readings from the Liturgy of the Hours.

10:15: A period of silent prayer will be held before the vigil concludes with Benediction.

Text from page 
of the Vatican Radio website

http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2013/09/07/prayer_vigil_for_peace_with_pope_francis:_schedule/en1-726478 

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Pray and Fast for Peace: What Would Peace Look Like?

The Holy Father Pope Francis has called on all Catholics to pray and fast for peace tomorrow.

What exactly, other than “peace,” are we praying for?

The video below gives a few ideas, and I think they are good ones. What if the president used his considerable powers to convince other leaders around the world, beginning with our great ally Great Britain, and moving onward through the list of nations, including Russia to come together to demand a negotiated peace in Syria?

I don’t see, how, if everyone got together, that they could resist.

That would save lives, and it would prevent this nation of ours from enmeshing itself further in the cycle of violence that is tearing the Middle East apart. I am mindful of what President Dwight Eisenhower said:

Crises there will continue to be. In meeting them, whether foreign or domestic, great or small, there is a recurring temptation to feel that some spectacular and costly action could become the miraculous solution to all current difficulties.

America has reached the point where we seem to react to every problem around the globe with an almost automatic call to arms. There are teens in this country today who have never lived in a peacetime nation. We can not continue to try to solve every problem by firing off missiles.

The Holy Father is absolutely right: We should give negotiation an all-out effort.

War should be the last option we consider when faced with a crisis, not the first.

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Pope Francis: Pray and Fast for Peace

Blessed are the peacemakers. Jesus Christ

 

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For more information, check out Why I am Catholic and Seasons of Grace. 


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