Tag Archives: faith

Walled cities

I am drawn to walled cities.

I first became aware of this attraction when I visited Krakow, Poland, thirteen years ago and stayed inside the walls. Even though the walls are no longer intact, a park surrounds the Old City and marks where the walls had once been. I felt safe being inside the Old City.

On my second visit to Krakow a year later, I stayed outside the walls. Every morning, I crossed over into the Old City, and something about being inside the walls felt secure to me.

A few years later, a friend visited Carcassone, a walled city in France, and sent me videos. As soon as I saw the videos, I knew I wanted to visit. It took a few years, but I went last spring, and I specifically chose to travel with Overseas Adventure Travels (O.A.T.) because they offered the opportunity to stay inside the walls of Carcassone.

The tour started further north, though, in Angers, another city with walls. Once again, I felt drawn to being within the walls. When we got to Carcassone, I felt completely at home within the walls.

Last month, I visited Avignon, another walled city, and I again found myself drawn to the inside.

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Avignon, France

And then last week, I visited Italy and spent a few days in Lucca, a walled city in Tuscany.

The walls around Lucca are intact and the top of the wall is a wide path where people walk, run or bike. I walked the path several times during my stay, enjoying the views of the Old City below.

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One of the gates into the walled city of Lucca, named after St. Donato
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Inside the gate, I came across this fireplace and painting.

Not only is Lucca surrounded by a wall, but beyond the walls are mountains, creating the impression of a double boundary.

What is it that draws me to these enclosed places?

Walking the path on the walls of Lucca one day, I pondered the mystery of my attraction to walled cities, and I thought about growing up in Detroit.

Detroit is anything but walled, but there were certain streets which I never crossed. I stayed within the confines of an area around my house, never venturing beyond Woodward Avenue or Eight Mile Road. Without being told to, I had created my own walls.

Awareness brings an invitation, and my awareness of being drawn to walled cities and of creating physical boundaries, makes me think about other walls I have built—not necessarily physical walls but any kind of boundary that gives me a sense of security.

I find myself asking if my walls are a matter of security or a limitation, and if I being invited to step out from beyond the walls and take a chance on what is on the other side.

Mutual admiration society

Someone was telling me about a friend who had died, sharing the admirable characteristics this person had, which made me think of my own friends and what I admire about them.

One of my friends, someone I have known for almost fifty years, endured a debilitating disease when she was in her fifties. She recovered, but she was left financially depleted, and so she took a job overseas where she could make enough money to restore her retirement nest egg. I am not sure I could have uprooted myself and lived in the different places she lived, and I admire her courage and determination.

Another friend has incredible clarity about her values. When I think about standing up for what one believes, I think of her. She is unwavering in her commitment and untiring in deepening her knowledge about the issues that shape her life. I admire her clarity and commitment.

My dog died two years ago and rather than get another dog, I started dog sitting—inspired by the woman who had been my dog-sitter. Her love of dogs is pure, and the joy she gets from them is delightful to see. She helped shape me into the dog-lover I have become and she inspires me by her willingness to tell the world how much she loves dogs. I admire her childlike love of dogs and her freedom to express that love.

Several friends have lived in non-traditional communities—such as Catholic Worker Houses and l’Arche—and I admire their ability to successfully navigate community living.

Several friends inspire me by their generosity. One friend loves to cook and to share what she cooks, and another loves to garden and has helped me in my garden. I admire people who find their passion and are generous in sharing it.

I could go on and on, but I will stop there and invite you to think of your friends and what you admire in them. And once you have a good list going, start telling your friends what you admire about them. Perhaps they, in return, will share what they admire about you, and you can start you own mutual admiration society.

All that positive energy has the potential to transform us and our world.

Discovering my path

Ever since I was eight years old, I knew that God had called me in some special way. I didn’t know how the “call” happened. I just knew that God had chosen me, and I could see that I was different from my brothers and friends in certain ways—mostly in my desire to spend time in church and to talk to God.

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I felt a closeness to Jesus, and I knew instinctively that he was with me. I thought of him as a brother who “got me,” who related to my vulnerability and my feelings of helplessness.

When he cried out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” I heard an echo of my own cry. Like me, Jesus was an innocent victim. And even though I felt chosen by God and closely connected to God, I still went through my life experiences on my own.

Knowing that God was with me was a comfort, but I understood that God was not going to take away the difficulties of my life. God was not going to make my dad stop drinking or make my mom protect me. God was not going to change my “bad-touch” uncle or prevent my being abused.

Yes, God was with me, Jesus was with me, and I was also on my own. It was a mystery.

Why God had chosen me was a mystery, too. Why me? A poor girl from the east side of Detroit who had no special talents or skills.

At one point, I thought I could escape to a convent, but I have a lousy singing voice and I thought being able to sing was a requirement of being a nun. (I did not go to Catholic school, so I had no first-hand experience with nuns.) I was stuck living the life I had, playing the hand I had been dealt.

I envied Jesus because he had a clear sense of his mission, of why God had sent him. Me? I had no sense of my mission.

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Finding the path I was meant to walk has been a life-long quest.

When I read St. Paul’s letters about our different gifts (Romans 12:6) I could hardly relate. What gifts did I have that could help build God’s kingdom? I wasn’t a teacher, a healer, a prophet or a preacher. What was my gift? Another mystery.

Now, here I am at seventy years old, looking back on the path I have walked. Over time, my gifts and talents revealed themselves through the events of everyday life. Over time, I have been able to let go of unrealistic expectations, the “shoulds” and “oughts,” and accepted what is.

I am now comfortable in my own skin and grateful for my life.

I recently completed an Internship in Ignatian Spirituality and hope to help others discern the path God is inviting them to walk, to help identify their gifts and to affirm that God can be found in all things.

Living excessively

My daily walk includes a path through a park along the shore of Lake Saint Clair, a lake so large I cannot see the opposite shore. The other day, the sky was overcast and the lake a dull gray, when, all of a sudden, the sun broke through the clouds, shining on the water, and the water shimmered. Where seconds before there had only been dullness, now the water sparkled, and I stopped to look.

Three words popped into my mind: Think BIG thoughts!

Vast is the sky overhead and the water at my feet, inviting me to be expansive, to live in the abundance that our God offers us. It was a mystical moment.

Our culture encourages people to think big thoughts about success, possessions, money—building financial portfolios, expanding business, growing wealth—all with an eye toward more money and bigger things—houses, cars, etc. Excessiveness is a word we tend to associate with wealth and the way wealthy people spend their money—mansions, yachts, elaborate vacations, expensive clothes.

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But what if we focused our big thoughts on building, expanding and growing love, forgiveness, acceptance and compassion. What if we were excessive with kindness, gratitude and mercy? What if we focused our wants on others instead of ourselves? What if we thought big thoughts about goodness, curiosity and generosity? Pie in the sky? Perhaps.

As I walked home from the lake that day, I passed the elementary school near my house and noticed words stenciled on the sidewalk. The school district has a character-building program focused on developing positive habits in the children and more than a dozen sidewalk blocks had words on them.

I remembered back to the beginning of the pandemic when children wrote messages of hope in sidewalk chalk.

We all need daily reminders to develop positive character traits.

What does all this mean for me? What BIG thoughts am I meant to be thinking? What positive character traits am I meant to be developing? What can I do that will help spread the message of Jesus to love, forgive, accept, hope, trust, persevere?

We are only as sick as our secrets

Secrets have been on my mind for the past year, ever since my mother revealed a secret she had been keeping for almost fifty years—which sparked my own awareness of a secret I had been keeping even longer.

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Since then, I seem to be very aware of others’ secrets and how often people shade the truth or tell half-truths to frame things in a different light.

For example, I recently attended a talk about Etty Hillesum, a woman who lived in Amsterdam during World War II. The speaker talked of Etty’s affair with her professor but failed to mention that Etty had had an abortion. I wondered why. Etty wrote about the abortion; it was not a secret, yet this person recalling Etty’s life left out this detail.

Was she trying to protect Etty by not talking about the abortion? Did she have feelings of shame around abortion that led her to omit it? This presentation was at a Catholic retreat center, and I wondered if the setting and the audience prompted this omission. But why did she include the details of the affair? It was all a mystery to me.  

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Secrets abound in the British detective tv shows I watch. Often, some secret is being kept which is key to solving the mystery.  “Why didn’t you tell us?” the detective asks in exasperation when the secret finally comes out. The detective doesn’t care that the grandfather had a child with the maid or that the mother had a wild past or that the children have squandered their inheritance. The detective just wants the facts and not an edited version of history.

It seems that we can be our own worst judges when it comes to our secrets, believing that the worst will happen if our secrets are revealed.

The truth is that we are the same people we were before our secrets were revealed, and those who love us will continue to love us once they know our secrets.

People may be surprised or even shocked to learn of some traumatic event in our past. They may have to adjust their image of us. They may review the relationship in light of new information, but if they really love us, they will get over their shock and adjust their image. They will remember that we are the same person we were before they knew our secrets.

I have always been open about being a rape survivor, but not everyone in my life knows about it, mostly because it does not come up in everyday conversation and because I have moved around a lot. The “getting to know you” phase of new friendships don’t usually include talk of rape or other traumas, so while my history is not a secret for me, it usually doesn’t come up until a relationship is established.

My goal is to have nothing to fear, nothing to prove and nothing to hide. I desire to live transparently, holding nothing back and keeping no secrets.

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About love

Soon after we met,

Ted asked me out to dinner.

I said “yes;”

he heard “no,”

and forever after he was convinced

that I was not interested in him romantically.

Maybe I wasn’t,

because we became just friends.

Good friends,

travelling companions,

confidants,

soulmates in a way,

but never lovers.

In some ways, I think he knew me better than I knew myself.

He would tell me that I was crushing on someone before I had any idea—

or was it rather that because he suggested a crush, I developed one? Hmm.

He was always generous in his gift-giving

(I remember the day, soon after moving into my new house,

arriving home from work and seeing

a gigantic Tiffany’s box on my patio).

Ted ate at fine restaurants, traveled first-class and generally lived large.

But he never forgot his working-class roots—

he claimed to be the first man in his family to wear a tie to work

(having been a lawyer before he opened his bookstore).

He supported numerous non-profits and schools, usually requesting anonymity.

“Don’t let your right hand…”

Ted was a fan of all things Hitchcock.

One time, we met up in San Francisco to recapture the scenes in Vertigo.

We visited all the sights and stayed at the hotel in the movie.

He thought because I am a Madeline,

I should pose for the Madeline shots

(like pretending I was going to jump into the water beneath the Golden Gate Bridge).

He would have been happy if I wore a blond wig for the picture,

but I drew the line.

He wanted me to move to southern Oregon

and work with him in his bookstore.

If that was a test, I failed.

Oregon?

Too far (three flights each way).

Still, we talked several times a week

until he got esophageal cancer,

and then we talked several times a day

until he had to get a trach

and talking was too difficult for him.

Then just I talked.

We only argued once in the thirty-two years I knew him.

Mostly, he made me laugh and helped me enjoy life.

He trusted me, and he loved me.

I loved him, too,

and I miss him every day.

Be seen and heard

Shh.

Be quiet.

Don’t speak.

Be seen and not heard.

Make yourself small.

Cower in the corner.

Become invisible.

Keep the little girl inside you little.

This is my beloved Son; listen to him, God said of Jesus.

Did God say of me, This is my beloved daughter; listen to her?

But who can hear me when I am being quiet?

How can you listen to me when I am not speaking?

If I remain tucked in the corner, trying to be invisible,

how can I spread God’s message of love and forgiveness?

God whispers to me.

Think big thoughts.

Speak up.

Make yourself seen and heard.

Give us joy

Give us joy to balance our affliction, for the years when we knew misfortune. Psalm 90:15

A few months ago, I was talking with a man who had lived a charmed life. He had grown up in a loving home with parents who cared deeply for him and desired the best for him. He had a wonderful education and excelled in his career. He had good friends, got married, had children, travelled and basically did all the things he wanted to do. Everything was going so well—until he was diagnosed with an illness that ended his career and eventually his marriage. As the disease progressed, he became more physically incapacitated and had to hire aides to help him at home.

He told me about one of his aides, a woman whose life had the opposite trajectory from his. Her early life was full of affliction and misfortune. She had grown up in a home without love where she was abused in every way imaginable. She lacked education and family support. Eventually, she ended up in prison. After leaving prison, she entered a treatment program that enabled her to turn her life around and move in a different direction. Now she supports herself by taking care of vulnerable people. She has found love and is engaged to be married.

This man, with his Job-like challenges, has a wonderful attitude and outlook on life. When his career ended, he went back to school so he could begin a second career, one that was not dependent on his physical abilities. His body is failing, but his mind is still thriving.

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As he and I talked, I thought about how some of us know affliction and misfortune early in life, while others face them later.

This man told me he and his aide talk about how their lives have intersected because of his illness, how they would never have gotten to know one another in the way they do if he had not become sick. He believes that her story is the more amazing because she has overcome so much; he is in awe of her.

I stand in awe of both of them. He, for his positive attitude in the face of a debilitating disease; she, for her determination to overcome her past and create a new life for herself.

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Not anywhere as extreme as his aide’s, but my early life was marked by chaos and trauma. I was a shy child and very anxious. School was a nightmare to me socially, although I loved learning, and being in school felt safe. My unresolved childhood trauma made me vulnerable to abuse as a young adult.

Like his aide, I finally feel I have come into my own. I am confident in what I learned from my career, pursuing things that interest me, comfortable in my own skin and living in joy.

How about you? Did you know misfortune early in life or later? Do you know joy now which balances out past afflictions?

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Shh, it’s a secret

Just days before my mother died last year, she revealed a secret to me, a secret she had kept for almost fifty years, a secret that flipped a light switch in my brain. Suddenly, I could look at events from fifty years ago and see them in a different light.

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The clarity was almost blinding, and I wanted to explore the implications of what I had learned, but my mother was dying, and I needed to pay attention to what was happening right in front of me instead of examining events from the past. So, I tucked her secret away.

And then one day last fall, her secret came rushing back to me like a tidal wave.

I was overwhelmed with a truth I had never even considered, a truth that explained my father’s attitude toward me after I got divorced. I realized that my life could have gone in an entirely different direction had I known then what my mother had revealed before her death.

I was hurt and angry.

Moreover, my mother’s secret dislodged a secret that I had been keeping for more than fifty years, a secret I was not consciously aware I was keeping.

Suddenly, disparate pieces of my early twenties fell into place like cogs on a gear. I had great clarity about my early life and things that had happened to me that had shaped the rest of my life.

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At family gatherings, my younger brother liked to point to my mother and then to me and say, “Tree, apple.”

My mother was great at denial and at keeping secrets. She denied anything bad that happened to her and would not risk disclosing an unattractive (or downright ugly) truth about someone, in case it might be embarrassing (or possibly illegal). She protected people who were not worthy of protection, and she taught me to do the same.

Like my mother, I am a great secret keeper, a steel trap for people’s confidences, and I have held sacred the secrets people have shared with me over the years.

What I know about secrets, though, is that the shame attached to them can turn something innocent into something sinister, and I know how shame can paralyze.  

A few years ago, when I finally said the name of the man who raped me, I realized I had been protecting him by not saying his name; I was keeping it secret.

Saying his name—revealing the secret—broke the power of shame over me.

Back to the tree…apple scenario.

I have spent my adult life trying to unlearn my mother’s lessons, trying to be more honest and forthcoming. I have gone to ACOA meetings and worked the steps. I know that we are only as sick as our secrets, and I have tried to live transparently, without secrets.

And yet now I am faced with two new secrets from my past.

But those events are no longer buried, and I have begun talking about what happened to me.

What the future will bring

I learned to sew in Home Economics class when I was eleven years old, and I continued to sew for the next 40 years—until I got a job that required travel more than half of the year. When I was at home, I had too much catching up to do to sit and sew.

For me, sewing requires dedicated time and a certain state of mind. I need to be able to focus on what I am making. Sewing gives me the most pleasure when I can spend an hour or two (or more) at my sewing machine.

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Knitting has taken up some of the space I would have devoted to sewing; gardening has taken up some as well. They are both creative outlets for me, but they are not sewing.

Sewing was spiritual for me. I thought it was almost miraculous that I could take a rectangular piece of fabric and in as little as a half hour, turn that piece of fabric into a skirt. The idea of something being transformed into something else spoke to me of God’s creating from nothing and of God’s being able to reshape us (I love the image of God as a potter, creating something from a lump of clay).

I have other hobbies I can do while doing something else (I can knit while watching television, for example, or read a book while I am in a waiting room) but sewing requires its own space and time without distractions.

By the time my friend Jim got brain cancer, I hadn’t done any serious sewing for about ten years. We had not talked about my sewing, so I was surprised when, a few days before he died, he said, “I hope you sew again.” It seemed to come out of left field, but when I reflect on it now, I can see what he saw—my life was fuller when I sewed. I was more myself with that creative outlet.

But since he died ten years ago, I still have not started sewing again.

Then one day in France three months ago, I had the thought, “I want to sew.” A few days later, I was in a baby shop looking at hand-sewn bibs, and again I thought, “I want to sew.”

Ironically, that morning at prayer, two Scriptures had spoken to me:

Isaiah 43:16-17: Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; see I am doing something new, and

Philippians 3:14: Just one thing, forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead….

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Sewing is from my past; could it also be in my future?

Is it time for me to return to this hobby of old, even to see if it is still something that brings me joy?

Do you have a hobby from your youth that still calls to you? That still engages your imagination and fosters a sense of creativity?