Tag Archives: faith

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?

God-joy-vulnerability

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….

God-trust-future

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?

Art outside museums

Throughout my travels in France, I visited several art museums, and I also noticed art in some unexpected places. The main street in Barbizon, for example, featured mosaic reproductions of works by artists who lived and woked in Barbizon in the 19th century.

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Barbizon-Art-France

Barbizon-Art-France

Honfleur sits along the northern end of the Seine River and this outdoor wall art is representative of the nautical feel of the town.

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In Angers, this artistic garden in what had been the moat around the castle drew my attention.

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This mural in Lyon covered an entire building.

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I was in Lyon during Holy Week and came upon these Stations of the Cross. The juxtaposition of this modern interpretation of the Passion of Jesus on the ancient pillars was striking.

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Lyon-France-travel

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In a holy place

When I walked into the Notre Dame Cathedral at Bayeux, France, two things happened.

First, I had a felt sense of the prayers that had been offered there over the years (the Cathedral was built in the 11th century), as if I was part of the communion of saints—I was joining my prayers to all the people who had prayed in this space over the centuries. Their prayers hung in the air, filling the vast space; I could almost hear their shouts of gratitude and cries of anguish. I walked into that communion of saints, and I prayed in gratitude for the opportunity to be there, to be part of this community of faith.

I was reminded of the tapestries in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels and imagined a parade of people from the past, heads bowed in prayer.

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One of the Communion of Saints tapestries in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, Los Angeles, California
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Tapestries line the interior of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels

(The Cathedral at Bayeux also has a tapestry, which depicts the adventures of William the Conqueror in 1066 and is now housed in a museum near the Cathedral.)

The second thing that happened when I walked into the Cathedral was a memory of a mystical vision I had almost forty years ago.

In the vision, I was in an old church like this one (I had been in Spain a few years earlier and had visited several churches like the one in Bayeux—stone walls, floors and pillars and no permanent pews or fabric to soften the church interior).

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Interior of Notre Dame Cathedral, Bayeux, France

When I had the vision, though, I was praying in the convent chapel at my parish in Pennsylvania.

In the vision, I saw myself lying prostrate on the floor of a medieval cathedral. I could feel how hard the stone was against my body and how cold it felt against my arms. Then, the floor began to shift and rise up, becoming a hand that was lifting me up, and I knew it was the hand of God. God said to me, “I will hold you.”

It was soon after that vision that I moved to a l’Arche community, and I thought of that vision many times during my time in l’Arche and how God held me.

Today is the feast of St. Norbert, an 11th century French priest who was known for his deep faith. The writing in the Liturgy of the Hours, says, “He spent many hours in contemplation of the divine mysteries and fearlessly spread the spiritual insights which were the fruit of his meditation.”

I wondered about the spiritual insights of my meditation, and then I remembered my vision. God will hold me.

God did hold me during my time in l’Arche, and I came away from that experience with a deep awareness of God’s care for me. Living in l’Arche was the most challenging thing I had ever done and also the most fruitful—I learned so much about myself.

The vision was a gift, a promise from God that I would be held. Almost forty years later, the vision still consoles me.

Extra touches

This was the first time I traveled with Overseas Advendure Travel (O.A.T.) and hopefully not my last. O.A.T. specializes in small groups and solo-travelers; we were eight people for our main tour (three more had planned to come but covid changed their plans), and I did not have to pay a “solo-supplement” to have my own room. Some other pluses were that we stayed in each location for several nights, giving me time to get to know a place a bit and also setting a comfortable travel pace. We did day trips and also participated in a number of activities that added interest to the trip.

In Barbizon, I took a sculpture class with Melanie Quentin.

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My artistic talents are somewhat limited; but it was great fun working with clay. I have a new appreciation for sculptors.

Bayeux is known for lace-making. We visited the Museum of Fine Arts and then I took a lace-making class with Cécile Roquier at the Lace Conservatory.

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Hand-made lace using bobbins. It took me a little bit of practice to learn the process of criss-crossing the bobbins to make a pattern.
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The project I worked on. The process is slow (perhaps because I was new); I added maybe six rows to this piece.
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Madame Roquier made these lace hearts and is selling them to raise money to support Ukrainian refugees.

From Carcassone (where we stayed inside the walled city), we ventured out to Chateau Auzias. We walked through the vineyard and learned about the pruning process. Then we toured the Cave, where the wine is made, and then we had the opportunity to mix our own red blend.

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Anastasia getting ready for our wine blending class.

At Maison Fleuret in Paris, we took a macaron-making class . Let me just say that making macarons is as much science as baking, and I have a new appreciation for all that goes into making them.

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The finished product!

Touring with O.A.T. was fun and educational. I am still on a “travel high” even though I have been home more than a month.

Life is changed in an instant

On Wednesday, April 6, my tour group traveled from Angers to Sarlat, France, with a stop at Oradour-sur-Glane. As I walked the deserted streets of this devastated village, I was taken back to September 11, 2001.

I was in New York City that day, having stayed overnight for work. I walked out of the apartment building on the east side a little before 9:00 a.m., planning to walk to Chinatown. I remember looking up at the sky and thinking, “what a beautiful day for a walk.” I didn’t know a plane had already crashed into the World Trade Center; I learned that one minute later when I walked across the street and into the office.

Life changed in those few minutes.

On June 10, 1944, life in Oradour-sur-Glane changed for the village’s residents. I could imagine the residents waking up that morning thinking it was like any other morning, and then some 200 Nazi’s surrounded their village and massacred the residents and destroyed the buildings. Only one woman survived.

The village has been left as it was that day, a memorial to the massacre.

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Memorial plaque in the village.

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Travel-Oradour-faith

Later that day, I heard about atrocities in Ukraine and thought of the people there who had woken up one day in February not knowing their lives would never be the same.

The stop in Oradour-sur-Glane was sobering, and for the next few days, my mind was preoccupied with the evil in the world—past and present.

Other times when life changed in an instant kept popping up—the day Jim was diagnosed with brain cancer, the day I was raped, the day Gerry was diagnosed with leukemia, the day I learned my husband had been unfaithful, the day my cousin was raped…a parade of life-altering events.

I allowed myself to feel the sadness for the people of Oradour-sur-Glane and the people of Ukraine—and for myself. In the middle of this wonderful, month-long trip to Europe, I held deep gratitude for this opportunity to see and learn.

I recognized the parallels in France’s life-altering events and my own, and I came to a deeper understanding of the need to honor my past, no matter how painful it might have been.

France is still coming to terms with their role in World War II. Likewise, I am coming to terms with my own history. I want to reveal the secrets I have held and move past the shame I have carried.

Walking the deserted streets of Oradour-sur-Glane reminded me to look at my past realistically and to acknowledge what happened to me. I remembered three questions from a grief retreat I attended: What was lost? What remains? What is possible?

French Churches

It seemed that most every town we visited had a beautiful church or cathedral. Some dated from medieval times and others were relatively new (19th century).

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Eglise Notre Dame de la Persévérence (St. Mary of Perseverance), Barbizon, France
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Bayeux Cathedral, built between the 12th and 16th centuries.
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Stained glass window on the Bayeux Cathedral
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St. Cecelia Cathedral in Albi was built in the 13th century. The outside looks more like a fort than a church, while the inside is full of ornate paintings, sculptures and carvings.
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Side altars inside the Albi Cathedral
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The Cathedral in Le Mans