The Annunciation by Mikhail Vasilevich Nesterov

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for He has looked with favor on His humble servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed,
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is His Name.
He has mercy on those who fear Him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
He has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich He has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of His servant Israel
for He has remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise He made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children for ever.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever.
Amen, Alleluia.
Magnificat anima mea Dominum;
Et exultavit spiritus meus in Deo salutari meo,
Quia respexit humilitatem ancillae suae; ecce enim ex hoc beatam me dicent omnes generationes.
Quia fecit mihi magna qui potens est, et sanctum nomen ejus,
Et misericordia ejus a progenie in progenies timentibus eum.
Fecit potentiam in bracchio suo;
Dispersit superbos mente cordis sui.
Deposuit potentes de sede, et exaltavit humiles.
Esurientes implevit bonis, et divites dimisit inanes.
Suscepit Israel, puerum suum, recordatus misericordiae suae,
Sicut locutus est ad patres nostros, Abraham et semini ejus in saecula.

We are not God; seek higher.

I put my question to the earth, and it replied, "I am not he";
I questioned everything it held, and they confessed the same.
I questioned the sea and the deep,
and the teeming live creatures that crawl,
and they replied,
"We are not God; seek higher."
I questioned the gusty winds,
and every breeze with all its flying creatures told me,
"Anaximenes was wrong: I am not God."
To the sky I put my question, to the sun, moon, stars,
but they denied me: "We are not the God you seek."
And to all things  which stood around the portals of my flesh I said,
"tell me of my God.
You are not he, but tell me something of him."
They lifted their mighty voices and cried,
"He made us."
My questioning was my attentive spirit,
and their reply, their beauty.

THE CONFESSIONS 
Saint Augustine

The Saints have so much to teach us. I’m grateful for my stint in the Protestant churches, but they get it wrong by lowercasing the saints. There seems to be a decidedly self-focused take on a personal relationship with Jesus and the Bible. At first I found this refreshing. I did not like knowing that there were people who were “better” or further along spiritually. I loved the devotionals that coached one to “listen to one’s inner voice.” That came in quite handy at times — especially when I wanted to do something a bit un-saintly.

Stripped down to my personal relationship with God, within a white-washed church building devoid of elevating beauty, and listening (half-listening) to a witty pastor’s weekly take on a Bible passage, I often left church thinking I could definitely do this whole thing at home by the fire with my dogs. People sang rousing sort-of modern tunes with guitar hooks borrowed from the latest pop-rock songs on secular radio and raised their hands above their heads caught up in a personal thing with God, I guess, but I was never feeling “it” that strongly.

Zack’s not going to church.

I made a few really good friends attending those churches and know for a fact that, in many ways, they are far further along the spiritual path in thought and action than I am, but there really was no point (as far as I could see) in showing up. The table was just that. A table with cubed rye bread and grape juice. Sometimes I went to church hungry and vied for the biggest cut of bread and gulped down the sickly sweet juice with a less than reverent relish.

Maybe it’s just that simple isn’t always best. Where in creation is there any simple? Are sunsets simple? How about kittens? A pomegranate? Melancholy (or for that matter any personal feeling I happen to be having at this moment)?

If simplicity were the greatest good then we would never get past basic multiplication in third grade. The early church, despite the seeming simplicity of the Nativity scene, came out of the Jewish Temple with an insanely rich and complex tradition — a tradition thrown away or underexamined by my Protestant friends. Oh, so much they miss!

When I briefly became a missionary (for about two seconds), I stood with the others, inside a Catholic Church in a Nicaraguan town square, as if the group of us were heroes penetrating Hell. My fellow missionaries murmured about Catholics worshiping images of saints and even worse, the Virgin Mary. As a cradle Catholic I knew this was an untrue over-simplification and misunderstanding, but at the time I deferred to them because it suited me.

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
Romans 11:33

Catholics don’t worship the Saints. The Saints are beautiful creatures, like eagles and elephants, who point us to the Creator. When artists and writers create beauty, they too, point to some longing for eternity; a longing for truth, goodness and beauty that comes to us now only fleetingly: When we stand watching waves lash the shore. When a person halts traffic to let a raccoon and her babies cross the road. When we stand in a cathedral contemplating the talents of the hundreds of creators it took to bring Heaven down to mingle with the frail beings on earth.

The BIG Saints tap into that something deep, eternal and essential. You don’t even have to be Catholic to accept this. We have no problem capitalizing our own names or applauding the idols that our secularized society puts before us.

The Saints are beautiful creations. They are a treasure to embrace for the richness of their wisdom and experience. I will not deprive myself of them any longer:

But what am I loving when I love you? Not beauty of body nor transient grace, not this fair light which is now so friendly to my eyes, not melodious song in all its lovely harmonies, not the sweet fragrance of flowers or ointments or spices, not manna or honey, not limbs that draw me to carnal embrace: none of these do I love when I love my God. And yet I do love a kind of light, a kind of voice, a certain fragrance, a food and an embrace, when I love my God: a light, voice, fragrance, food and embrace for my inmost self, where something limited to no place shines into my mind, where something not snatched away by passing time sings to me, where something no breath blows away yeilds to me its scent, where there is a savor undiminished by famished eating, and where I am clasped in a union from which no satiety can tear me away. This is what I love, when I love my God.”

Saint Augustine

Sirach on Pride

What is too sublime for you, do not seek;

do not reach into things that are hidden from you.


What is committed to you, pay heed to;

what is hidden is not your concern.


In matters that are beyond you do not meddle,

when you have been shown more than you can understand.

SIRACH 3:21-23

Sometimes I get in way over my head. Everyone is suddenly a commentator or inquisitioner, all knowing and easily hoodwinked. We evangelize to each other offering theories and statistics — statistics that can seem to prove the opposite to opposing factions. I’ve never once won the day by being snarky to my children and try not to bring that side of myself to my interactions with friends online — though this has been tough. I’ve failed a few times to step back a second before diving into debates that are pointless.

When the proud are afflicted, there is no cure;

for they are offshoots of an evil plant.

SIRACH 28

For a long time now we’ve glorified self-esteem. As if having special feelings for ourselves would bring peace on Earth! The opposite is true. When we think our limited intellects are capable of digesting propaganda and at the same time able to realize our personal blindspots it’s called pride. Of course sometimes we might hit on a truth, but in this swirling new world of endless ideas and imagery we kid ourselves if we think we have all the answers — for ourselves or the people we judge without taking the time for backstory.

Over Thanksgiving I realized that one of the harsh opinions I shared with a family member may have actually hurt her though I hadn’t meant for her to take it personally. My first thought was that she was being ridiculously sensitive and basically stupid. Now I love this person, but that’s where my mind went. I knew in order to save the holiday I had to address the situation with her — I did it grudgingly. She had to be convinced to answer my call. Yet when we spoke it became impossible to remain unmoved. The voice on the other end of the phone was human, familiar. She was making her best effort too. We didn’t try to convince each other of anything. We agreed to disagree on some pretty significant issues.

When she forgave me there was a little part of me that felt annoyed that she didn’t ask me for forgiveness — that pride again. We promised to go for lunch after the holidays. We said we loved each other.

Pride is a horrible affliction. It’s more contageous than any virus, more repulsive than the worst politician because we all have it. There is no cure, only home remedies that sometimes allow for hurts to scab over.

I love the internet. I love pretty pictures and captivating stories. But I also feel drawn to controversy and foul play. Even though it’s not the end of the year yet, I’m resolving to leave alone online debating. Unless I can be face-to-face or at least hear the voice of a real human over the phone I’m going to keep snarky commentary to myself.

The kindness people have done crosses their paths later on;

should they stumble, they will find support.

SIRACH 31
How everyone feels when you’re being snarky …

“Whatever you do, think of the glory of God as your main goal.” St. John Bosco

Do you want to romanticize your life? Here’s a way to do it. It’s not the burden I once thought it might be. I was the burden. My pride, my striving, my need to produce worthwhile things for the fleeting praise I’d receive. I didn’t believe in a yoke being light. A yoke meant work and I was certain it had to be done one way. My way. The idea of bringing glory to anyone but me seemed disappointing. Yet the glory was short-lived, elusive and exhausting. I wasn’t even doing things I felt called to do.

"Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

When you are called to something, the suffering should not make you more and more miserable. You know those times when you decide to do the right thing and yet it doesn’t feel right to you at all? I’ve done that more times than I can count. Sometimes I would even convince myself that God had commanded me to do such and such a thing when he hadn’t said a word.


The feel of God’s yoke is the difference between feeling content in the flow and feeling miserably tired, frustrated and angry. I’ve tried putting mini horse harnesses on sheep. They just don’t like it. I’ve often ended up like my sheep when I’ve avoided what I’ve been put here to do. The things I’ve done that seemed more selfless sometimes have been the very worst things I could have done because my motives were wrong. Often the noble things I’ve picked for myself are carefully disguised ways to avoid the fear of creating something authentic — that might not please others or be any good at all.


The world needs people who are doing things for the glory of God. So often I’ve taken on tasks that are horrible as a way of doing penance for time spent creating things I love and enjoy. This inner exchange system has usually put me on the losing end of things. What’s worse is that there’s been no glory for anyone involved.


I could say I was trying to please God, but that’s a lie. I was afraid of being me. Afraid of being called selfish or lacking in talent. So I chose things that either impressed others or filled my days with drudgery. No one asked me to do this. Even on great days of peak creativity I sought to downplay the joy of following the call that had always been there.


Why do we do this to ourselves? Life on a micro scale, minus the news (which I’ve been fasting from) is pretty incredible today. September makes everything golden. There’s a breeze outside my window. The flower seeds I scattered with glorious abandon this spring are calling in the bees and Monarchs. I never put limits on scattering flower seeds. I don’t think of myself as a gardener so my ego stays put. The flowers bring glory to God not me. I love them. I don’t need them to reflect me at all.


I thought I had to make my creative call burdensome even after years of reading about the Pharisees! Bringing glory to God is taking those pictures because you love taking photos. It’s that page written because you love your characters the way God loves you. Oxen clearing fields of old tree stumps for the gentle farmer who knows just how to carve the right yoke and how to give the proper feed and encouragement are happy oxen.


Of course we all have a certain amount of drudgery in life, but I noticed today that without the added burdens I place on tasks, I can do them more effortlessly. I’ve realized that doing things you love with gratitude instead of fear and guilt brings the most glory to God.


How about you? I’d love to know if you have struggled with guilt as a creative Do you “even things out” by taking on more than you can handle? How do you get in God’s flow?

“The worst of all fears is the fear of living.” Theodore Roosevelt

Spring has come despite the fear swirling around the parking lots littered with tossed away masks anytime I venture off the farm and into the “real world.” I try not to believe too strongly in this real world created by men and women who will never be held accountable for the tales they tell.

I choose to believe that I will live here until it is time for me to go. I do my best to tread lightly upon other people’s fears because I have so often fallen prey to the habit and weird allure of fear and victimhood. Yet there came a time after the worst things happened that I realized I would survive. I had to decide if the pain of fear was truly the companion I would take with me on the rest of the journey.

There were many frosty days of fear promised, but I began to notice the new and emerald growth in the valleys. I used to fight my fears by diving into deep pools to see if I’d swim or sink in the tangles of worldly cares and ambitions. And then I realized these acts of daring and fight were useless and silly.

To live without any longer needing to prove to the egotistical monsters my value was truly the most fearless thing I could do. People debate health topics and kill friendships. I believe what I believe and get on with my life. Maybe I will die tomorrow. Who knows? I may as well be nice to people especially if they are still gripped in fear.

If I finish a project or don’t it no longer matters. This worry used to keep me from even starting. The Y2K scare, the 9-11 scare, the illness and disease scares — and still I am here. Don’t get me wrong. I mourn the death of my uncle who died after getting the shot and for others who died from sickness. Yet I know we all will die and that it will seem unfair or terrible. In the meantime I like having goals.

I still want to make tons of money writing so that I can buy a pond. I still haven’t figured out how to do that yet. I’m writing a novel that I’m thoroughly engrossed in, yet for now it is enough to love my characters and immerse myself in research.

As an artist and writer I no longer fear living or dying. I only fear not creating, not sharing, not encouraging beauty, goodness and truth — wherever that takes me.

I encourage you today if you are fearful to accept that the emotion is only useful to a point. Sometimes talking to a friend helps or turning off the news. We are all born to create — to bring a little heaven to earth for each other — don’t deny us what only you can offer.

Since my daughter is still in the mental health facility I’ve had time to not only write, but to make crafty things for the sheer fun of it:

Over the winter I started making gourd head dolls too. Little Zack has been wanting to kill them for weeks and yesterday he climbed up and got one!

Have a wonderfully fearless week!

The Cry of the Deer (St. Patrick’s Breastplate)

I arise today 
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
of the Creator of creation.

I arise today
Through the strength of Christ's birth with His baptism,
Through the strength of His crucifixion with His burial,
Through the strength of His resurrection with His ascension,
Through the strength of His descent for the judgment of doom.

I arise today
Through the strength of the love of cherubim,
In the obedience of angels,
In the service of archangels,
In the hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In the prayers of patriarchs,
In the predictions of prophets,
In the preaching of apostles,
In the faith of confessors,
In the innocence of holy virgins,
In the deeds of righteous men.

I arise today, through
The strength of heaven,
The light of the sun,
The radiance of the moon,
The splendor of fire,
The speed of lightning,
The swiftness of wind,
The depth of the sea,
The stability of the earth,
The firmness of rock.

I arise today, through
God's strength to pilot me,
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's host to save me
From snares of devils,
From temptation of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
afar and near.

I summon today
All these powers between me and those evils,
Against every cruel and merciless power
that may oppose my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom,
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man's body and soul;
Christ to shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that there may come to me an abundance of reward.

Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

The Unknown Soldier

One sharp pain. One utterance of surprise. Oh.
He leaves no great philosophies. There are no medals, no headstone.
Only a few strings left attached to this world.

Letters in government files
The sacrifice a mother makes to prove her relation to the boy whose life is opened up on paper
for a pension she is denied.

Is it invasion to hang on their every word --  
the words of intimacy and filial love in these letters?
I am his family too and he is mine.

These strings scribbled on cheap, creased stationery
little ways of knowing a great deal (though I knew him
without knowing it all my life ).

Apologizing for his handwriting and blaming his pen.
Butter from a country doctor as he sits in a hospital bed.
No letters from home yet.

Despair in one string, bravado in another;
A book sent home to remember him by and
I'm a tuff buck now.

Have brother plant these pair seeds
They be big as a fist and
From Vermont.
 
He spells as he spoke:
haint, dast, Upstate I be
The book cost me dear.

The last string of words
money sent home for mother's new house
never be afraid to ask, I gladly go without.

He is my muse and my relation
All these years later a picture is found
and we look the same.

I've known him and I have no doubts.
Never question God's creative force,
or His happy coincidences.

The heavens open sometimes
and the saints speak and pray --
happy for reunion.



Yet we are courageous, and we would rather leave the body and go home to the Lord.

2 Corinthians 5:8

For Further Reading:

DO THE SAINTS PRAY FOR US?

WHY SAINTS PRAY FOR US

THE BIBLE SUPPORTS PRAYING TO THE SAINTS

Therefore I Exist

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A dying barn …

Yesterday was the beginning of Lent for Christians.

This was the first time in years (or maybe ever) that I was excited to get the ashes smeared on my forehead. Going back to Confession was a big step for me since for the longest time I hated the idea of a priesthood set apart. I wanted to be on equal footing with everyone and liked the idea of having “accountability partners” who basically were just as flawed and untrained as me.

It’s a rare friend who tells you the truth about your missteps.

The priest I went to see was pretty hardcore (in a nice way). He didn’t downplay my tendency to jump into family gossip and self-righteous back-stabbing of my adult siblings. After all everyone in the family does it. The priest shook his head. “No, that’s a bad sin.” Of course he was far more eloquent about it.

Friends tend to help you find excuses for your bad behavior. After a while all of my “accountability partners” became suspect. It started to bother me when they soft-pedaled around things. I’ve done the same, thinking to myself this person is a train wreck but not saying it. I mean, calling someone a train wreck isn’t helpful anyway, but you know what I mean. I didn’t have the faith that the friendship could survive an honest appraisal of the person’s behavior.

A priest at Mass recently talked about how draining  it was in this time of priest shortages and bad-apple priests to carry the weight of parishioners’ sins. Until I “got” the sacredness of the priests’ position I would not have understood what he was saying. He intercedes for us! Now that is a burden for sure!

Last night I took my puppy to her PUPPY CLASS. You can follow her on INSTAGRAM here: Comfychi_golden

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Down … stay … good Comfy!

I was tempted to wipe the ashes from my head. I was torn because some teach that wearing your faith on your sleeve (or forehead) is offensive to the sensibilities of others, and I so enjoy being liked. Some say you should proclaim your faith in actions and behavior. In the end, since I’ve decided to fully embrace traditional Catholic culture I went ahead and wore the ashes to class.

Totally by coincidence, the judge who was involved in the adoption of our daughter was taking the same class with his tiny pug-like dog Wolfgang (which is the cutest name ever). It’s always funny to see people outside of where you put them in your head. Obviously the judge doesn’t wear his robes to class (and he doesn’t command the same authority with his dog that he does in the courtroom).

He smiled when he saw the ashes (by now I had forgotten them). “Oh, I forgot today was Ash Wednesday,” he said, “but I went to a Fat Tuesday pancake dinner last night. It was really good.” He sheepishly laughed again. How could he have forgotten after a full night of pancakes? I laughed too.

We all care so much about what people think. 🙂 As a writer I care about every last review and fret when people on Amazon find the few negative reviews from when I first published MY NOVEL “helpful” because this lands those reviews as Top Reviews. I tried to explain to an Amazon rep that it would be better to set the default on reviews to Most Recent (since my book has been thoroughly re-edited and getting good reviews for a while now) but to no avail.

I found this this helpful:

“To realize how desperately we depend on the ‘existence’ that recognition by others gives us, and how hopeless we are without it until God gives us feet to stand alone on. I have those feet sometimes, but once again, let me realize that there is no absolute ‘standing alone’ — only awful poverty and insecurity and clinging to God in one’s need of others, and greater appreciation of the smallest and most insignificant of communal verities.” THOMAS MERTON

Going to puppy school has been a good thing for me. The tendency to keep in my hermitage actually makes me more desirous of outside praise and notoriety. I don’t want to be that bitter person who compares likes on Instagram and lives for new followers, but it’s an easy trap to fall into. At puppy class everyone goes without their authoritative robes. We are all at least partially dependent on the whims of the puppies. Learning to let your guard down and take your lickings and laugh when you can’t make puppies stay is the best kind of humbling experience. And in this most insignificant of communal experiences I find, as I already know but forget, that we are all the same and live in this mystery of loneliness and friendship.

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