Monday, December 26, 2011

Where Are You in the Manger Scene?

Infant King

Poor, needy, hungering,

Shivers, cries, sucks, clings

To the mother’s warm mantle.

“Love Me.”

A look

Tender, loving, pondering

Believes, hopes, comforts, cherishes

The babe at her breast

Before she lays him in the manger.

There’s a tension in my heart as I write these words. This poem is supposed to represent in some humble form what's in my heart this Christmas. I feel sometimes that I am the child, clinging to the mother’s mantle, hungering for comfort, while at the same time, I am the young believer, called to hope, called to believe the message of an angel, and to adore the God who comes to me as a little child, a baby.

This poem is about the longing between the Christ Child and His mother Mary and between the Christ Child and us. The miracle of Christmas is that the God of the universe comes to us as a baby, fully human and fully divine, hungering after our love and adoration. He says to us in His great love, “See my love poured out for you? Love me in return.”

Mary answers with a look of tenderness, while she ponders the absurdity of the Messiah coming like this! Sometimes we put God in a box and then when we can't see his presence in our lives, we complain, "Where is God?" But God can't be confined to a box. He likes to surprise us and to come to us in unexpected ways to show us just how much He cares.

As Mary answers his cries of hunger, she wonders at the fact that her Lord takes His nourishment and sustenance from her – He who is the Bread of Life for the world. And as she gently lays Him down in the manger, the feeding trough of animals, she resigns herself with total trust to the Will of the Father. In that simple act, she is giving Him to the world, a world that is hungering for a savior.

She is laying him down before the shepherds, who are all of us – afraid, surprised, hurrying, searching, finding, peering, gazing, beholding, praising, pondering, worshiping...

Now you can do it…write a poem that represents what you’re feeling this Christmas. Where are you in the manger scene? Where are you in this season of Christmas celebrations, waiting, shopping, gift-wrapping, baking and falling snow? I’m passing on the drill to you, so warm up your poetry muscles!

Instructions: write a poem about God or your relationship to God this Christmas, using the following format.

A noun

Three adjectives

Four verbs

A phrase

One or more words that relate with the first noun

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Coffee Shop Phenomenon

My daily commute to work takes about three seconds (okay, 11 seconds, if you count the journey from my kitchen for breakfast to my room with my office desk.) Most days, in typical Flannery O'Conner fashion, I do my writing in the silence and solitude of my room.

Some days I splurge. I start the day with 8 a.m. Mass (also in Flannery O'Conner fashion) at a charming, little historic church named after St. Peter. Then I head downtown to an aroma-filled coffee shop, seeping with character. I settle into a nook and set up my laptop on a table, lit by a glowing lamp. Cozy, antique furniture adorns the rest of the place, and the walls are decorated with covers of old LIFE magazines - framed next to their matching murals on the wall. The faces of Mark Twain, John Wayne, Lucille Ball and Native American chiefs smile from the walls at me. Smells of bakery waft through the air from the warm ovens. Service comes right to my table, delivering delicious hot chai tea or steamed eggnog and a bagel. Then I write. What could be better?

Listening to the murmur of conversations and people enjoying each others' company warms my spirits and is a welcome hustle and bustle from the loneliness and solitude so prevalent in the writer’s life.

“Talent is nurtured in solitude, but character in the throws of the world,” said Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

The writer must find a balance between the contemplative life and the active life, achieving the perfect balance between what Benjamin Franklin said, “Write things worth reading or do things worth writing.”

Ultimately, we as artists must seek to be contemplatives in the heart of the world. The veins run in, past, and through us, carrying everything of the world throughout the body, while we try to make sense of it and relate the vision we see to others. Writing is about observing the intricacies of the human experience and illuminating the things seen and unseen, the mysteries hidden and revealed.

Writing is a mystery. Mysteries, like a sunset or newborn life are best contemplated in silence. So, too, the act of writing best takes place in silence. These luxuries we grant ourselves remind us of the joyous experience it is to write. They remind us of the world going on outside of our heads, widening our imagination’s horizons and splashing color on the landscape of our work. It is good. It is very good.

The friendly hostess is intrigued by the fact I’m a writer. “Your work must be so much fun and interesting!” she exclaims. She is fascinated by the “writer’s life,” reminding me, too, that yes, this is an exciting life despite bouts of loneliness. It is an inspiring life, a mysterious life, an old-fashioned life, a simple life.

Treat yourself today to something special, something out of the ordinary. Then rediscover joy again in your work and in your life.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Heaven Is Measured in a Mass

A few pews behind me in church one Sunday, a little boy, about three years old, piped up in the silence and asked quite audibly, "Are we in heaven?"

His dad answered, "We're in church," and those of us around them exchanged smiles and chuckles. 

I was struck wondering, what did that little child see that some of us missed? He looked around and, perhaps, the first thing he saw and felt were the hundreds of people around him making up the communion of saints called the Church Militant. In heaven there will be multitudes upon multitudes adoring God, with angels ministering to Him. 

Little Bret heard people saying the same lines, same prayers, standing, kneeling, and bowing as one. He saw unity. The words issued forth from their mouths as coming from a harmony within their hearts.

He heard singing and glorious music, proclaiming “Glory to God in the highest and peace to His people on earth.” The music ascended to the heights of the church’s arched ceiling. It was beautiful.

Then he saw “one like a son of man” dressed in long robes with a voice of authority standing in the very front. Bret thought he looked like the one “in charge.” He saw what looked like angels in white robes and hoods ministering and waiting on the One in Charge. Certainly, this must be God and this place must be…heaven! 

This little child had no knowledge of the greatest miracle he was about to witness take place on the altar. He had no idea that the God of the universe would take up residence here under the appearance of bread and wine in a sacramental way, and that we, the church, would eat at the table of the banquet of the Lamb, "who takes away the sins of the world." He didn't know that the priest was acting in the person of Christ even as a humble, servant of God himself, bringing us a taste and a foreshadowing of the heavenly banquet. But Bret heard, felt and saw something of God's presence, that this was like heaven.

Truly, children do have a special ability to see supernatural realities where we grown-ups sometimes fail. That is why Jesus preached that the kingdom of God belongs to such as these little children. Unless we become like little children, innocent and sincere, we will not see God nor the kingdom of heaven already here on earth. Purity is the means by which we can see God, His work and presence in our lives, His direction, and His beauty and know His joy. “Purity of heart is to will one thing,” said the philosopher Kierkegaard. Purity is our will perfectly in harmony with God’s will. It is total love. It is not divided. It is to be 100% concentrated.

When we go to Mass, do we feel divided between home and work and our spiritual life? Is there a rift that is preventing us from seeing God?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines purity in light of its relation between purity of heart (charity), purity of body (chastity), and purity of faith (“love of truth and orthodoxy of faith”) (2518). This purity then is an integration of flesh and spirit, body and soul, illuminating us to see more clearly the ways of God.

Every encounter with grace moves us in the right direction, closer to that purity of heart, purity of affections, purity of will and purity of intent with which we can see God.
How can we become like little children? All that is required is a simple ASK. Then let God surprise you with His grace.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The First Snowfall

There is something magical about the first snowfall of the season. Although it signals the start of a long, hard winter in Wisconsin, there is joy in the snowflakes and laughter in the skies!

Like a child, I wish to run outside and twirl around and to catch a snowflake on my outstretched hand!

Instead, I go out and take a drive to the nearby grocery store, dodging slushy puddles in the parking lot and keeping the windshield wipers in constant motion so I can see.

I buy some eggs for making dinner and then a bunch more. I am in the mood to stock up on food items while I am out in case the rest of the week is like this. I have this sudden desire to stock up on food and create a nesting place at home for the cold days ahead.

When I return, the rooftops are white, as though painted by some invisible hand. Only tiny, green shoots of grass poke out of the thin, white blanket on the ground. They stick their heads out for one last look at the earth, before they will have to settle under the snow and sleep until spring.

That is winter in Wisconsin for you. And I love it.

With every turn of the season, the Lord lets us write something new upon our lives. He gives us a fresh start to make of our lives something beautiful and enriching for others. “There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens…A time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away” (Eccl. 3:1, 6).

Casting away is always hard, but it brings with it the freedom of detachment and the coming of new surprises and adventures. As children gleefully exclaim about the falling snow, we can join them and the angels in singing hosannas as the earth is purified and baptized in white. “Though your sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow” (Is. 1:18).

From an unfinished draft of a poem I wrote:

The skies are shedding feathery snow,

Drawing closer the chambers above with those below,

Clothing the earth in bridal white and veiling you in lace of light.

Snowflakes, falling and landing on your uncovered head,

Blink under the street lamps – like pointed stars that

Twinkle in the night and then melt into the coming dawn –

So they glisten on your hair, suspended in Time for a precious, fleeting moment,

And I wonder aloud at nature’s touch of snowflakes on your hair.

I hope that we take delight in these magical moments of the turn of another season and stop to notice, and be amazed.