Unwelcome Epiphany

Ms. Shirley, twice widowed, is almost blind
and lives in a Catholic retirement home
just about a mile from our house
Mom lives with us
they were on a spiritual retreat
at their women’s Catholic college
when whispers began to ignite
embers of excitement and worry
some hurried to the radios in their dorm rooms
commuter students like Mom huddled together
in cars with radios

The Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor.

I was in a sophomore geometry class
at my all girls Catholic high school
when the scratchy intercom came on
in my memory the principal said nothing first
I just remember trying to make out what was being said
on the radio held up to the intercom
slow to understand the muffled words
I was still puzzled
when screams and cries began to ignite
through the building

President Kennedy had been shot.

Alone at home
buried deep in a data analysis project
I was focused only on my desktop computer
when the ringing phone startled me
my daughter living in Toronto was almost hysterical
telling me I had to leave NOW
and come back to Canada
I was confused and impatient
my irritation ignited
as I tried to calm her down

The Twin Towers were falling.

Wednesday afternoon
i-pad open on my lap
I was listening to a news conference
Virginia’s governor talking
about COVID-19 cases and vaccination plans
my step-daughter sat nearby
working on her laptop
when news breaks ignited
across my screen

Our Capitol had been breached.

They Needed No Star

They followed no star
Brought no gifts
Spoke to neither
King nor angel

But when Mary was sick
Sarah cooked dinner
While Adah entertained the busy toddler

When Joseph was injured
Rebecca helped bandage the wound
While Naomi distracted the worried boy

When their almost-adolescent disappeared
Ruth comforted them
While Leah searched the caravan

When Mary stood
“Near the cross of Jesus”
She stood with her sister,
With Mary of Clopas,
With Mary Magdalene

They needed no star
They brought no gifts
They heeded not king nor angel
They just helped

Hebrews 11:1

When
the substance of faith
becomes myth
through the years

As
the evidence of the unseen
becomes distorted
through my tears

How
can I rely
on prophets or politicians
on priests or pundits
on popes or presidents

Are
today’s truths
tomorrow’s myths
as yesterday’s certainties
are today’s lies

I struggle
for balance
against hurricane winds

Lashed
by my rope of psalms
to faith’s once steady
mast

Here I Sit

Here I sit
in bed
surrounded by books
paper and electronic
scribbling in my small notebook

Not for me
Luther’s drama
No one forces me to speak
Without horns
“Hier stehe ich.”
“Ich kann nicht anders.”

And yet
here I sit
in my comfortable private bed
in my warm well-lit room
in the 21st century new world
with conscience captive to the Word of God
not trusting pope or councils
no less than that long ago
misogynist anti-Semitic
totally foreign proto-German

Sitting in my comfortable bed
scribbling in my small notebook
no one holding me to account
nonetheless I silently shout
to Pope and priests
with my sisters
Here I stand.
I cannot do otherwise.

Cana Questions

Do I need the wine
Or can I find salvation
In the water?

Do I need authority
Or can I find power
In serving?

Do I need doctrine
Or can I find religion
In doubt?

Do I need the storm
Blowing wild through my life
Or can I find God
In the whisper
Tickling my faith’s ear?

Do I need Christmas celebration
Or can I find peace
In Advent waiting?

About Those Sheep And Goats

Matt 25:31-46

Jesus called God Sovereign and said that at the end of days God will separate the sheep from the goats, putting the sheep on his right hand and the goats on the left. God will praise the sheep for all they have done for him and curse the goats for all they have failed to do.

Neither group understood what in the world, or in their lives, he was talking about. They had all gone to church, they had all tithed, they had all prayed and obeyed the law, they had all been faithful to their family. And none of them – not one of them – had ever even seen God, much less clothed or fed him, visited him when he was sick or in prison.

Those sheep, they were plenty grateful to be praised, they knew they deserved praise, but he was praising them for all the wrong things. He was praising them for things that had never happened. What about those Sunday mornings when all they wanted was another hour’s sleep but instead they got up and went to church? What about that year when they changed their vacation plans to help with the fund raiser for the church roof? What about knowing the Ten Commandments by heart, saying the rosary, grace before meals? Listen, if there’s going to be a reward, it should be for predictable, expected achievements.

The goats agreed completely. What in heaven’s name was he talking about? Wasn’t it enough that the kids went to Catholic School – and that cost a pretty penny, believe you me — when public school would have been cheaper, and had a better football team? Wasn’t it enough that they stayed in the church through all the scandals, even when they learned that Father What-a-waste, that handsome young priest in charge of the youth ministry, was more of a wastrel than a waste? Wasn’t it enough that they never cheated on taxes, always paid their debts, and what about contributing more than their share to that neighborhood fence? What was all this business about feeding and clothing, helping and visiting God? God doesn’t need any help!

Now I like goats as much as sheep, maybe even better. And I happen to be left-handed. So I always felt this parable was harsh on goats and on left hands. But, boy, God really got them, didn’t he? “Whatever you did for the least of these, you did for me.”

I hope the light turns green before I have to stop. That guy with the sign that says he’s homeless is at the intersection again. But he has a cell phone and how does he get out here to a suburban shopping center anyway. I’ve heard it’s an organized scam and I donate to the Food Bank regularly. Phew, thank goodness, the light is green.

The Big Shift

January rushed into February
Everyone wanting less hurry and more quiet
If only I could stay home for just one day
Movement pushes days too fast
Too much to do in too many places
Please, God, slow my life down

Then March
Slowed into April
Slumped into May
Shambled into June
Shuffled into July
Stumbled into August
Stalled into September
Slackened into October
Slumbered into November

As we await the sweet wakening vaccine kiss

Jane To Me

Jane was
briefly
my mother-in-law
twice married
a lawyer of a generation before mine
when almost no women
went to law school

Jane was
Herself
northern
not merely northern but
the antipode
southern woman

She loved telling stories
about herself
(She was mother to six children
stepmother to more
but her stories were her own)

She lived large
in her small farming community

Disorganized and usually disheveled
she was
not to put too fine a point on it
not a housekeeper
nor did she feel responsible
for organizing her lawyer husband

She was noisy and nosy
boisterous and brilliant
no Tarzan’s mate
But her tree-swinger
jungle-dweller
animal-tamer
Self

How strange to her
that nineteen year old unexpected
daughter-in-law
turned on, tuned in, dropped out
hippie with Southern young lady
(Southern Catholic young lady)
sensibilities

She taught me to ride
bareback, of course

She taught me to observe
not just watch

She taught me to examine
not just protest

She taught me to do more than survive
when her son left for greener pastures
(in the shape of my friend Sherri)

One day
long before internet made searches easy
she took me to a university
spent a day pouring over a tome
with me
her soon to be ex daughter-in-law
a book of scholarship possibilities
finding all I might qualify for
(My own parents having given up on me)

We found some
I applied
filled out the forms
huddled on a chair
using a barely cleared corner
of Jane’s disheveled desk
Jane watched
from her lawyer’s chair
ridiculously masculine to me
(Never mind my Gloria Steinem pretensions)
behind her lawyer’s desk

I got a scholarship
finished university
the rest, as they say
is history

But not Jane
two decades dead
Jane still lives
for me
never just history

Parenthetically

The President says our election was fraudulent.
(Our 2 year old grandson calls us Baba and Boppy.)

COVID-19 is surging all across the United States.
(Our Christmas cactus has buds that may bloom for Thanksgiving.)

Too many people are out of work.
(The wind chimes in our magnolia ring softly today.)

Police still kill too many dark skinned people too quickly.
(My yoga mat is a little darker shade but almost the same texture as orange peel.)

The environment may not support life at the end of the century.
(I love the prickly feel of my husband’s short beard.)

(I only feel safe inside my parentheses.)
But then I feel selfish.

Virginia Autumn

Through golden green trees
we drive the two lane highway
to the old farms
past villages
always historical in Virginia
in and out of tree dappled sunshine
reminding me of that poem by that Jesuit
but the afternoon is too lazy for me to remember
names or titles.

Those stone posts have stood at the entrance road
since the early 1800s
but the row of mailboxes just beyond
are just a few years old.

On one side is the turn-off to the recessed farm
closest to the road but recessed from the river
the colonial water highway
On the other side, the debris left
by recent loggers
the long deep wound
not yet softened by new growth.

Slower now we wind
through sunshine and trees
as men and women have for centuries
We turn at the next set of stone posts
drive through a gap in the old stone wall
the wall my husband repaired
stone by flat stone
rebuilding what other hands laid
centuries before.

We pass my favorite oak
not really special except to me
it stands at the end of the driveway
to the house that once was ours
the manager’s house.

Just beyond is the family’s house
that began as an 18th century hunting lodge
on land gifted by the king
the same family still owns the land
the house
the business
my husband helped build.

The same family
welcomes us back always
so we drive confident past the barn
that is on the national historic registry
across the train tracks
built after the colonial canal was drained
built to accommodate the newer faster rail transport
back in the 19th century

Through the farmland to the river
to the delight of our two year old grandson
abandoning the car
we slip down the muddy grassy sides
to the rocky shore
and spend the Indian summer afternoon
watching a 2 year old throw ever bigger rocks
into the river.

I take off his shoes and socks
and mine
so we can dangle our feet in the cold water
my long legs from the big rock
his short ones from the little rock

Driving home
we pass again the family’s home
300 and more years after the land grant
still owned by the same family
We pass my favorite old oak
at the turn for the manager’s house
occupied by another family now
but we are always welcome here
We pass the stone wall
rebuilt by my husband
built first by enslaved black men
We drive through the stone posts
erected by those enslaved men
We look through the trees to where
the slave chapel once stood
and beyond that we know are the few small
leaning half-buried gravestones
in what remains of the slave cemetery

How many of the black people
in these small historic villages
share blood with those
who built those walls
laid those posts
cleared that land
planted now harvested trees
lie unnamed in forgotten graves

We drive through sun and shade
tree filtered

White owners still
keep house and land
Generous people
Kind people
Proud people
Seen and heard

Black slaves disappear
Unless you squint
past the blinding white
into the dark past
Generous people
Strong people
Proud people
Unseen, unheard