Table manners and global sisterhood

Over eight years ago, I had a conversation about table manners that continues to challenge me.

At the time I was a canonical novice and fairly new to religious life. During that stage of formation, I was trying to make sense of what it meant to be a Catholic sister and sort through my ideals. I was in a period of serious discernment about whether this religious lifestyle would satisfy my deepest desires, to take a vow of poverty and to serve the poor.

Then, in a somewhat ordinary conversation about table manners, I learned one of my most important lessons about what it means to be sister. The sister was outlining her expectations for mealtimes. As she did, she casually mentioned her conviction that…

 [This is the beginning of my latest column for the online newspaper, Global Sisters Report.  Continue reading here.]

Franciscan Global Local Group

Someone else’s Jackie: a soliloquy to my newborn daughter

As I came walking down the hall to return to you just now, returning triumphant with the coffee I set out to retrieve, I saw another expectant father sitting outside the operating room … sitting outside the room in his scrubs, waiting to start his new life, waiting as I was waiting just a short day ago. Just a day ago, yesterday, the day you and I met. I remember standing where he was standing, being nervous as he was nervous, trying to look brave as he was trying to look brave. My heart went out to him, and I prayed every good thing for him. I sincerely and deeply wished him peace. And you might not understand why, but this is very good news. It was in the wake of this moment, my dear daughter, that I felt a great flash of hope.

Jackie 2You see my love; I had one great fear when I heard you would be born. I had one great fear about what will happen to me now that I have accepted this new mantle of fatherhood.

My fear wasn’t that I wouldn’t love you—I knew I’d love you. I hear some fathers worry about that, but I didn’t. I knew I’d love you more than I’ve ever loved anyone or anything. I have already loved you, since that first moment when your mommy told me you were begotten.

My fear wasn’t that I wouldn’t be a good daddy. I figured I’d be at least a pretty good daddy. The most important thing you need in order to be a good daddy is to truly want to be one, and the biggest factor in truly wanting to be one is loving your child. And as I said, I have love for you in abundance. If I have that—and I do—then I’m sure I will put in the work and the study and the sacrifice I’ll need in order to be a good father for you.

No, my fear wasn’t really about you at all. Can you keep a secret, my daughter? For this is the sort of thing we should perhaps not share. You see; my fear was that I would no longer love them. Them. They. Everyone else. Everyone not in this room with you and I right now. My fear, my little princess, was that my deep and devouring love for you would drown out any love I might have ever felt for a stranger, or even a friend. I was afraid that the universal love our Master preaches, and which I have tried to practice, would be abandoned in favor of total focus on you. I was scared that I would abandon charity and agape in favor of isolating, albeit passionate, tribalism. I was terrified that the big, bright, burning torch of my love for you would consume all, and the small candles of love I might have felt for anyone else would snuff out altogether.

I saw my future self, and I feared him. I saw myself wide-eyed and deranged, frothing and screaming “Let the world starve as long as my little girl is fed! Let the world freeze as long as my little girl is warm! I will kill, steal, bite, and claw an innocent if it will give her even the slightest comfort or advantage!”

I have seen it happen. Maybe not to the degree I imagined it in my nightmares, but I have seen it happen nonetheless. People have children and they close themselves off from the ministry they did before, from those they loved before. All of sudden the ills of the world don’t seem so bad: feeding the hungry of the world doesn’t seem so pressing, as long as your child’s belly is full; fixing the broken schools of the world doesn’t seem that important, as long as your child is enrolled in a good one. Such people laugh to themselves. “Ha! Remember the quests of our younger days? Ha ha! Remember our naiveté and foolishness?” It’s a selfishness that is able to wrap itself in selflessness because it’s other-directed—you want this for your child, not yourself, so how could it be wrong?

But “your neighbor” does not end with “your kin.”

I have also seen people rise above. In quiet heroism they do not neglect their children, but neither do they turn their backs on the world. Their family includes all of Jesus’ mothers and brothers and sisters, not just the ones who share their blood.

I know that I have not been, nor will ever be, a perfect Christian. But I can now safely say that I will not abandon the Way because of you. In looking at that man in the hallway, I thought to myself, “He is waiting for his Jackie.” And it dawned on me that everyone, everywhere, is somebody else’s Jackie. At some point, maybe only on the day they were born, someone loved them the way I love you now. And, even if not a single human ever has, God loves them that way. If the wonderful rumors of God’s love are true He might love them even more than that (though such a thing is, admittedly, hard to imagine).

And the knowledge of that love unsettles something within me. How can I turn my back on someone else’s Jackie when they are in need? How can I look away from a cold or tired Jackie? How can I refuse a Jackie who needs help or comfort? My love for you does not weaken my desire to serve; rather, it bolsters it … it is teaching me a new lesson about what love is and toward what it calls us. If I am too much a sinner to see Christ in all of my brothers, perhaps I can at least start by seeing you in all of my sisters.

When Jesus asked for food (or, how I realized Easter is an ordinary thing)

Sometimes the Easter story is just plain unbelievable to me.

Doubts invade my prayer and distract me from the whole point of the story— of the entire core of my faith. Questions multiply in my mind exponentially. Why did some people recognize Jesus while others didn’t? Why is the Easter story so different in each Gospel? How did it really happen? Did it even happen at all? What if the whole “resurrection thing” is just metaphor? What if Jesus didn’t really come back in his body, but people just explained it that way because they had trouble understanding what they were feeling after Jesus was killed?

Then he said to them, “Why are you troubled?
And why do questions arise in your hearts?”

I guess I’m a lot like Jesus’ friends who had trouble believing their eyes, who remained cynical even when God himself spoke directly to them. Forget “you gotta see it to believe it” or “you had to be there,” sometimes we don’t even believe the goodness that is right in front of our faces.

“Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself.
Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones
as you can see I have.”

Maybe I have Easter questions because I am feeling desperate for a big, dramatic miracle. I want some happy headlines that restore all my faith that goodness is the strongest force. Terrorists repent and destroy all weapons. Cancer cure available for free to all in need. Malnourished children restored to perfect health. Billionaires give everything to the poor. Gun shops go out of business.  

Apparently I have high expectations and big dreams. Maybe the truth is that I wouldn’t even recognize a miracle if it happened right in front of my face. Perhaps I need someone to show me what’s real and how God’s masterpieces surround me.

And as he said this,
he showed them his hands and his feet.

Yes! God’s beauty is all around me, all the time, in the ordinary things. I don’t have to look too far to find something beautiful. I can easily experience wonder and awe for the goodness of God’s creation. My students are listening and working hard. Buds are opening and flowers are blooming. The food pantry is well stocked. The sun is shining and the sky is a beautiful blue. Life is good!

… they were … incredulous for joy and were amazed …

So much goodness is happening around me, but, how am I part of this? Jesus is God, so above me, so beyond me. I am small. I am nothing. I am just a person with very human needs and wants.

… he asked them, “Have you anything here to eat?”
They gave him a piece of baked fish; 
he took it and ate it in front of them.

Photo credit: cookingforkeeps.com

And he is human too! He shows up, announces “Peace,” and then asks his friends for a snack! This is the Resurrected Jesus I can get behind, that I can believe in–the teacher who pauses in the profound, steps into the ordinary, and asks his pals for some food. Not only is he alive and human, but he’s a beggar too!

Now I know–or at least I am starting to get it: Easter is actually an ordinary thing.

Even though the first Easter Sunday changed everything, the Truth that must inform my daily living is the part of the story where Jesus models how to be fully human. Easter may not end all human suffering, but it should change how we are with each other. Easter is a human thing, a holy and profound moment that is just as basic as showing up uninvited and asking for a snack!

Amen! Alleluia!

An empty tomb

Happy Easter!

On this Holy Saturday the Easter story, read from the Gospel of Mark, left me more confused than comforted. This is how Mark tells it: early on the third morning, three women come to the tomb with spices to care for Jesus’ corpse. They worry about how they’re going to move that impossible stone. But what do they find? An empty tomb. No angel. No Jesus. No blinding light or writing in the sky. Just a man in white telling them that Jesus is gone, that he has been raised and has gone before them to Galilee. What do the women do? “Then they went out and fled from the tomb, seized with trembling and bewilderment. They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid” (Mark 16:8).

Sculpture image printed with permission of artist M.J. Anderson
Image of sculpture (created for Church of the Resurrection, Solon, Ohio) printed with permission of artist M.J. Anderson

And that’s it. The very last words in our earliest written Gospel. “Afraid.” What are we supposed to do with that? Well, usually we skip over it. We prefer the confident glorified Jesus in the Gospel of John. We just don’t know what to do with an empty tomb and silent women that run away. The early Gospel writers even tacked on an ending (Mark 16:9-20) crafted from bits of other Gospel passages, to make people feel better. In this added ending there is a resurrected Jesus standing at the tomb. The disciples still struggle to believe but at least Jesus is visible. What are we to do with silence, and darkness, and an empty tomb?

But what if the Gospel of Mark was meant to end that way? What if the empty tomb itself is enough proof that Jesus is raised from the dead? What if the women’s reaction was actually an expression of faithful witness? What if it is all right that sometimes you cannot find words for the “bewildering” mystery of God? What if to flee the tomb in “utter amazement” is a legitimate way to live our Gospel faith? What if we just speak really poor Greek (which definitely describes me) and the word translated here as “fear” is more accurately and consistently described as God-inspired awe?

Mary, Mary, and Salome did not fail. Because, actually, they did tell someone the good news of Jesus’ victory over death. They told it with their lives. How do we know that? Because the church started, which is something the first readers of Mark would have known for sure. They were the church. They were gathering in homes and telling these mind-blowing stories, breaking bread, healing the sick, and willing to risk their lives for this Jesus they talked about. Sometimes, they even died for him—just ask our brothers and sisters in Syria, Kenya, and Libya what they know about that.

What is enough for me to believe that Jesus has smashed death to pieces? I do not need to see his risen body in front of me. I do not even need any archeological or scientific proof. The overpowering awe that shook those three women on that early morning still reverberates in my own small heart. Their utter amazement was a spark that started a wildfire that cannot be stopped. I know Jesus is alive. I know that he brings freedom, light, and truth to all, usually in unexpected ways. As unexpected as an empty tomb. That is enough.

Holy Week in images

This is a Holy Week, a week to review all of salvation history. This is a week to enter into the story of Jesus’ last week in Jerusalem.

Jesus, who is our love and savior, has experienced the grit, the suffering, the mystery and mess of our human living. With active imagination and prayerful hearts, we remember how Jesus is a God of the material world.

We ponder the beauty and simplicity of the materials we encounter each day. And, we pray and wonder. Did Jesus know things like these too?

"Palms" photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
“palms” photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
"ancient steps" photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
“ancient and modern steps” photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
"stones" photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
“something like upper room stones” photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
"a way in the woods" Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
“in the garden” Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
"cross in the colosseum" photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
“cross in the colosseum” photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
"to warm us" photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
“to warm us” photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
"the cock crowed" photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
“the cock crowed” photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
"open tomb" photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
“open tomb” photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
"joyful, beautiful life" photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
“joyful, beautiful life” photo by Julia Walsh FSPA

Have a blessed Triduum and Happy Easter everyone!