Pray for His Soul

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          For some reason, 9/11 wouldn’t leave me this year.

          I’ve had some terribly busy days since last week. When work oversteps my coping boundaries, for some time, it renders me numb and too worn to care.

          But not this year. Not since I matched the image of a grieving Robert Peraza to my post, Every Tear. Several times in a day since the 11th of this year, I’ve returned to that image of a father, kneeling in sorrow, and perhaps relief, at finding that beloved name, etched in bronze, paying homage in a love only a true father can have for his child. Over and over, I have slipped away from busy, noise-filled hours to place my heart beside Mr. Peraza, willing him to at least share his grief with me, that his cross may be lightened.

          In almost every media article that accompanied that portrait of abject grief, I read Mr. Peraza’s words upon finding his son’s name at the North pool.

“I was just honoring Rob. … I was saying a prayer for his soul.”

I couldn’t stop going back to that moment of 9 years ago, so public, yet so private. A father praying for the soul of his son.

          Yet only today, did a question tug at my heart.

          Why did I keep coming back to that photo? Why that one – out of all the others? Why this anguished yearning to reach out and absorb all this man’s pain?

          On a whim, I decided to scour through the internet to see if there was something about Robert Peraza that I needed to know.

          It was as if someone had been waiting for just that. Almost immediately, I learned that Mr. Peraza had passed away in 2016. New thoughts then stole softly into my heart. To have worked so hard all those years, in the hopes of a happy retirement and maybe for a few more pearls on that necklace – a bit of travelling, more family time, quiet days to savour what work holds out of reach. Then, 9/11. Your loved one snatched away because the right to life means nothing to some.

          Still, even as I thought them, those thoughts slipped through and away, unwilling to stay. Even of the sadness I had felt from last week, barely a mist remained now.

          What had closed that door to that hidden world of grief?

          Slowly, quietly, someone pushed these words, like tiny vessels across my spirit.

I was saying a prayer for his soul.

          And then I understood.

Go to Jerusalem

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          I didn’t go to my day as I should have, singing songs of thanksgiving for nearly 50 years of relatively good health. Going in to work, despite my morning resolve to live my day well, I was soon affected by tiredness and some physical discomfort which made me a little crabby.

          It was not going to be an easy day for prayers much needed.

          Earlier at home, during a quick stop at a religious online forum, I learned of 3 people’s intense suffering. One was a mother whose son had been suffering from mental health issues for some time. Things had gotten progressively worse and last night, he attempted suicide. Miraculously, the rope had snapped. And a mother got another chance with her beloved boy.

          The third person was a young man I had been journeying with, trying to save him from himself. Many times before, this guy has told me how much he felt helped by my prayers – and I prayed and hoped it were so because as God never granted me the grace of knowing, I always felt unsure. Often I felt overwhelmed, as one often does in dealing with mental health tribulations. Yet, turning away from him was not an option – not when I have struggled with depression and God knows what else for so many years.

          This morning, after trying to be brave and positive for so long, the young guy collapsed and had to be admitted into a hospital. I don’t know how many on the forum guessed or knew that it was actually a mental health facility, a place he had been in many times before.

          So, the call to intense prayer was loud and clear. Trouble was, the day had gotten off to a prickly start, with one irritating thing after another happening. Certainly not a day when prayer would come easily.

          Just then, a dear friend from another organization, who shared the same birthdate, texted me at work.

          “Are you happy?” she asked me. “Because I am so very happy today.”

          I’ve had worse days but I certainly wasn’t happy, there was no faking it. I wondered how to be honest without denting my friend’s happy day. In the end, I did what I do best. I made a joke out of my discomfort and got a laugh out of her. But I refrained from sharing about the suffering souls and their crosses today, because however much I loved my friend and I knew she loved me too, sometimes the body of water that separates our faiths is more than a mere puddle. This morning, troubled by other people’s grief, the gulf between Christianity and Islam was too huge to be crossed and I didn’t even attempt it.

          Just as I was wondering how on earth was I to pray from my heart in the midst of much distractions, I recalled something someone had mentioned before:

The prayer of gazing

          When words are too difficult. When the pain is too deep. When all we can do is gaze upon the Crucifix, or at a statue of Jesus or Mother Mary or of one of our favourite saints, our gazing is prayer.

          But it was one I hadn’t tried before in the thorny thicket of work.

          Earlier, hearing of those people’s pain, I had invoked the aid of St. Pio, my spiritual father. Now, wanting to deepen that invocation, I sought a photo of the St. Pio’s tomb in Pietrelcina, Italy. For some reason, I wanted to kneel at a sacred place and offer up that mother, her son and the young man who once dreamed of being a lawyer to fight for the oppressed.

          For some undefined reason, I wanted to kneel at a tomb.

          Searching for that picture, I instead found myself at Christ’s Tomb in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

          It was not an earth shifting moment with powerful signs. It was just as if someone unseen to me had lifted the veil on my search, directing me here.

          It was the lightest of touches on my spirit.

          With a photo of the sacred aedifice deep within the heart of that church displayed clearly on my phone now, I kept the phone on my desk. As I worked, I kept going back to Jesus’ Tomb, taking to Him pain and sorrows.

          Over the course of the next hours, there was a slight shift. I began to take others to Jesus, specifically 2 people who have made life difficult for me and for my colleagues for too long.

          For the first time in a long, long while, absolutely nothing interfered with my praying. Not my tiredness nor discomfort. Not the buzz of life from a few feet away. Not my work even. In fact, work progressed smoothly. Prayer and work ran on two lines, together, yet never disrupting the other.

          Much later, packing up for the day, I suddenly realised that my heart felt incredibly light. I was still tired and there was so much work to be chipped away at in coming days and weeks.

          But the air had sweetened and gentled. Even as the sun burned hot, still voices hidden in spaces sang hymns of joy and peace, their silver notes falling in feather-light grace upon my heart.

          What weight of meaning this bears for those I carried to the sacred Tomb of Christ, I do not know. Will minds and spirits heal? Will life return? Will we escape our prisons?

          Heaven withholds this knowing from me. But for now, it matters not. What I’ve carried to the holiest of sepulchres today rests deep within it now. As does my own heart, in trusting peace.

          Late into the night, pondering this, an old memory rises. And with it,

Go to Jerusalem.

Blue~Sky Rose

         

          I couldn’t have picked a more beautiful day to plant my first rose cutting. I know how ridiculous that must sound to everyone who has planted roses hundreds of times. But it’s the truth and a beautiful one at that.

          I’ve always adored roses. Even as a young girl, I’ve loved them, especially the most common one in gardens where I grew up – the dark pink China variety. I remember one childhood incident. Both my parents worked and they had to leave home very early in the morning. I had begun attending kindy at that time and my parents had arranged for me to wait for my ride to the kindy, in my elderly neighbour’s house. Only I never stayed put inside the kindly old woman’s house. Captivated by all sorts of flowering plants this woman cultivated, I roamed in awe amongst her many pots.

          My favourite spot had to be the fat rosebush just by this lady’s iron gate. And one morning, just one fat, dark pink rose sat in luscious complacency atop its throne of dew-wet leaves.

          Now, if there was one thing I loved more than roses, it was the happy, cheery man who was my ride to school. He had a little carriage attached to his bicycle in which I sat, mostly alone, sometimes with another tiny companion. In all my years since those mirthful days, I’ve never known another happier person than that man with a heart of gold.

          I never knew his name, though. It never occurred to me to ask my father his name because back in those days, my father reserved his sparse stock of politeness only for the rich and he likely wouldn’t have known or cared either. People like the man who did our lawns, or the one who brought us our groceries, and this one who took me to school, were treated with condescension.

          Even as a child, I always winced at the way my parents treated the poor. If anything, even from that age, I felt very comfortable with the poor, and my parents’ treatment of them troubled me. I couldn’t understand just how people who had been poor themselves could forget their past so quickly.

          I liked my kindy-man. My mother often narrated the tale about hearing me chatter nonstop at the highest decibels with this man as he carefully took me in his carriage to school. Each day, to and from school, I told him all the little things that were so important to me and he was a cheery and intent listener. Now, I wonder exactly how much he understood because I spoke only English and he barely did. But not once did he let on. Instead, for a few minutes each day, this golden~souled person allowed me to enjoy being at the centre of someone’s universe.

          Something about his happiness must have touched me, I who seemed to find so many creative ways to upset my mother each day, I who could never please her.

          And so, that fateful morn my neighbour’s cherub rose sat high above its green kingdom, I saw the perfect gift for my old friend. Hearing his approaching bell, in a thrice, I plucked that gorgeous bloom from its lofty perch. Climbing into the carriage, I cheerily waved to the unsuspecting old lady who stood by her front door, readying to go to her morning prayers.

          Then, I gave the rose to the old man who laughed delightedly at it, promptly tucking it behind his ear. It was so funny to a five-year-old.

          Now, decades later, what stands out so clearly about that morning is the wide grin that almost split his face.

          The next morning, my old neighbour was waiting for me with a look I had never seen on her before. In measured tones that didn’t bode well for me, she asked if I had plucked her one and only rose. I told her I did and that I gave it to my kindy-man. Unmoved, she proceeded to very firmly tell me not to ever touch her flowers again as she wanted them for her prayer altar, where only the best flowers would do.

          The woman was well within her rights to set me straight on the do’s and don’ts of her kingdom, but being the ever sensitive child I was, the sting of her rebuke stayed long and bitter with me. It certainly didn’t help that she informed my mother about it, thus helpfully adding another bullet to my mother’s already impressive arsenal against me.

          Still, that did nothing to dampen my love for those old fashioned roses. Years later, we moved to another state where people led very busy lives and rosebushes became scant. I never thought of them much till I married a man who delighted in them.

          But even with marriage, roses were always more my husband’s thing. He took great pride in his and it never occurred to me to want to grow any of my own – till sometime last year – when I was seized with a strange madness to have my own roses.

          What I hadn’t known then was that the yearning for roses was my Heavenly Mother’s call to begin the building of a new life of freedom and joy. When the yearning took root in me, we hadn’t had roses in our garden for many long years, except for an old button rose bush my husband had been gifted with during his job posting down south. All the other roses he had grown so beautifully before had slowly died as we struggled through years of sorrow and grief. Although we mourned each rose death, it was all we could do to get up and go out to work each day during those dark years; to plant and to care for a garden was asking too much of us.

          More than ten years passed before I told my husband I wanted us to plant roses again. I told him I wanted to try and build something of my own that didn’t bear the stamp of formal work and all the drudgery I associated with it. So many people had testified to gardening being therapeutic, and in dire need of healing from the almost daily wounds of work, I strongly felt that better days for me lay in the kingdom of roses.

          My mistake was telling my husband about it.

          Although he agreed heartily with my suggestion, he wanted to be the one to pick out the plants for me and to set them out in a pot. And what was left unspoken but as certain, was that he would guide me as I cared for them.

          I knew just what guide meant.

          But that’s just who my husband is – careful, deliberate and exacting, his vision of our new garden flowers the total opposite to my vision of a wild decadence of roses growing in profusion.

          Granted, my husband has all the gardening-sense I don’t, and a whole lot more, but when our visions collided, my little rose-dream died an immediate death. My husband, though, went on to build up a beautiful rose patch from plants he had rescued from a closing down garden centre. I was so happy for him. Still, while I rejoiced over and enjoyed each new rose that bloomed now outside our front door, I never again thought about getting my own plant. There was no point to it if I had to go through my husband. I love my man dearly but I also wanted the freedom of planting and caring for my own roses, and the freedom of making mistakes even.

          But no fence was high enough to keep out the rose-whisperer I had married.

         Until today.

          Our Lady of Knock, Queen of Ireland, You gave hope to Your people in a time of distress, and comforted them in sorrow. You have inspired countless pilgrims to pray with confidence to Your divine Son, remembering His promise “Ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find.” Help me to remember that we are all pilgrims on the road to heaven. Fill me with love and concern for my brothers and sisters in Christ, especially those who live with me. Comfort me when I am sick or lonely or depressed. Teach me how to take part ever more reverently in the holy Mass. Pray for me now, and at the hour of my death. Amen.
Our Lady of Knock, pray for us.

           A few weeks ago, alone in church on a Friday, someone lightly tugged my heart towards the Knock apparition. I knew about it and made a mental note to look for a prayer to Our Lady of Knock. But soon, I forgot.

          Until this morning. This morning, the above prayer popped up. Remembering my intention, I said the prayer, tracing each line with my heart. Then, in case I missed something about the apparition, I looked it up.

They called it the silent apparition.

          Our Lady was silent, but through that silence, She communicated Her comforting presence to the broken and suffering. She didn’t need to use words to convince the suffering that She was with them.

          That understanding hovered like fine mist over my heart. I knew something was being whispered to me.

          A few short hours later, standing at my open window, enjoying the warm breezes play tag with each other, I suddenly saw that the clear afternoon sky was a vivid blue. It was sky-blue, but so rich and living a blue!

          The beauty of that sky caught my heart and spun it in a dance! I hastened outside. Indeed, my eyes had not fooled me. As my heart sang in harmony with the jubilant wind~sashes trailing their gusts and breaths ecstatically across the sky, I knew that the blue robes the sky wore was the sign of Our Lady’s presence.

          And then, I understood. Just like in Knock, She was telling me She was by my side, silent but ever present. In moments of joy and light. When the hours darkened. In my sadness. In hope.

          Then, She put out a gentle but firm Hand and seized my heart and turned it towards roses.

          Before I could even summon any hesitation or protest, my rose pot was ready and the first cutting sunk into moist soil. I carried it carefully and placed it just where the afternoon sun likes to linger, in a little spot within reach of my gaze as I cooked and washed and stilled myself.

          Just like that, my little rose plant came to be, in a moment so silver~quick. I hope she lives – and thrives – under my care, because she stands for many things:

          For all that I am hoping to change and improve about my old life. The way work controls me so much. The way I often miss so much of the beauty God places all around me. The noise within my heart.

          For bits of the old which I still want to adorn my present. My abiding memories of that loving, old kindy-man, faithful to his duties till the end. Even of my elderly neighbour and the way she loved her God by giving Him only the best. For that time when the pace of life was gentle and unhurried, and it was easier to love.

         For all the living that lies ahead of me.

          But most of all, because I feel this little plant was gifted to me by my Heavenly Mother, silently watchful, ever by my side even when life binds me tight and away from Her.

          I call my little friend Blue~Sky Rose. Because she came to be on this blue~gold day when the skies sang their hearts out in joyful ode to Heaven.

Gentle Roads

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          Today, I read an old post from my friend, Ann’s blog, Muddling Through My Middle Age. She was reminiscing about Halloween as a child and how things changed for her over the years. Like so many of Ann’s posts, this one made me reflect on my life, specifically on what I yearn for: a slower, gentler life.

          While Halloween is not part of life in my country except maybe in expatriate enclaves, what catches my heart each time Halloween comes around would be the beautiful photos of carved pumpkins adorning rural front porches as the waning orange of sunset reaches its twilight slumber. To me, those photos speak to a time of gentling. Of slowing down. Of savouring the ineffable sweetness of littleness and simplicity. A time to rest and to chuckle, to do things different to the daily dictates of regimented life.

          The all too brief months of sheltering at home due to Covid gave us that gift of time to live along gentle roads for once. Although often the hours at home seemed impossibly shorter, it was only because while they were filled with stressful formal work, they were also interspersed with the happiest hours for home and family.

          I miss that deeply now. We’re almost back to full work mode, and I’m not too thrilled about it. Yet, I’m also determined not to shut all those gates leading to those gently winding roads. Some aspects of that brief interlude God gifted us with must be brought into this new weave of roads beyond the gate. Since I am surrounded by people who now barely remember, much less treasure, the good of those slower days, it’s left to me to craft and fashion my present hours from the lessons I learned during sheltering. I can’t change people but I sure can cut the fabric of my now’s a little differently.

          This insight didn’t come quickly, though. But God was patient with me and took me to one lake of realisation after another, where I could review and contemplate how I had lived each day since the return to full time work.

          Slowly, my heart began to see things. Even more slowly but surely, I allowed myself to be released from old habits of behaviours.

          I’ve always been a workaholic. Coupled with guilt and a few other  burdens, my formal work has always followed me home, often forcing me to work well past midnight.

          But since June, when I returned to work, I’ve noticed a loathing to bring work home beyond the few times it was absolutely necessary. It suddenly felt as if I was sullying the purity of my hours at home by doing work that could wait. This reaction isn’t exactly new; but every time I’ve tried to stop working on reports and projects before, guilt has always won me over to the wrong side.

          Till now. If something from work needs to get done even at home, I do slog at it. But if it can wait, it certainly does, and I don’t quite have to fight myself to step away.

          That is not willpower. That is grace.

          Another emerging tint to my days is the spirit of thanksgiving and thankfulness that sits a little more securely over my heart now than it did before. Some time ago, I had an epiphany. Since we reopened, I struggled to get to work each day because it meant returning to the old, much of it detested. Before each new work day, I got myself into a twist thinking about all the sorry and sodden things waiting for me. Unfortunately, despite my penchant for imagining things, my work struggles weren’t pops out of my imagination; they were real and there was no escaping them.

          But slowly, my ingratitude towards the many gifts God tucked into my days, became clearer and clearer. I realisee that no matter how hard the return to the old was, it didn’t exempt me from thanksgiving.

          So, each time there was something to wince about, I tried to find something to be grateful for instead. It wasn’t always easy – not because the good and sweet were few and far between – but because I had gotten into the habit of casting about for greater and brighter jewels.

          Still, I’ve kept at it, and with my angel’s guiding heart, I think I’m getting to be a more thankful person.

          A long time ago, a good and holy priest had looked deep into my soul and saw well beyond what I was struggling to make sense of. He quietly told me that it was people’s jealousy that was souring so much that should have been sweet. When I asked him if there was hope of a miracle, Father had looked at me and nodded, saying, Yes, miracles will come  – but slowly.

          What he might have seen but didn’t explain at that time was also that those miracles would take a form different to what I envisioned.

          I believe that despite the disappointment and sadness which surround us, the time of miracles has begun – but not in the manner and magnitude akin to earthquakes, fires and wild winds. These miracles are beginning to unfold just like the soft, still sound Elijah heard from the depths of his cave of sorrow and pain. Through the protecting of our time at home, sacred to those we hold dear in our hearts. Through our little acts of thanksgiving throughout the day. And many more.

          All miracles are wrought by God, but their seeds begin first with us. I yearn so much for a slower, kinder, gentler life, the very one God showed me a glimpse of this year. But it is not His way to merely shake and break this earth to form a new home for us all.

          For miracles to grow and live, we must first seek gentle roads for ourselves. For every storm, earthquake and fire that we encounter, we ourselves must stand firm along the quiet paths of thanksgiving, charity and holy obedience.

          The world might have us believe otherwise, that a kinder world must begin with bending others into submission through force, fire and violence. But it doesn’t.

          This sweetly gentle life begins first with us. As we incline our hearts more and more towards the Spirit’s leading, we will begin to build new homes along the very roads we seek, formed from the soft, still sounds of God.

Look Up

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          Late yesterday evening, I felt a slight nudge to look up at the evening skies. So, I did, from my seat in the living room. There was more blue and white for such a late hour. But I didn’t bestir myself much beyond that. I had been at work from past 6 in the morning and it had been a full day. Now, dinner prep and other chores beckoned urgently.

          Then the phone rang and it was my husband. “Have you seen the clouds?” he asked. It had been a very exhausting day for him. He should have been home earlier but work had held him back. In such a state, I wouldn’t have given the evening skies more than a cursory glance.

          But something had caught his heart and tilted his eyes to the skies.

Have you seen the clouds?

          I tucked my duties aside for a while and stepped out. The entire evening sky wore a soft jacket of white and blue fleece. Here and there, the wan pink~sipped orange of sunset peeked out from behind the thick feathering in the sky. It was as if a massive angel were passing over us, his wings spread in formidable, yet gentle breadth.

Have you seen the clouds?

          Five quiet words that took me out of myself to a garden preparing for twilight’s farewells, warm breezes softly riding alongside the passing angel above. As I walked among flowers gently closing in for the night, peace dropped its sun~scented veils ever so lightly over my wearied heart. After sheltering at home for so long, the return to post-Covid life for our family meant going back to all the old thorns that continued to snag and pierce. Each day, I watched my husband and children return home, a little more quiet, a little more tired. Too worn to look up and rest hearts in the beauty above as the sun spilt the last of its rosy secrets among the white crests of clouds. Each day, we chugged on, helping one another with home chores, sprinkling our hearth with laughter and cheer, wilfully choosing to lift the light out of the heaviness of what the day had been.

          Some days, though, we forgot to give thanks for the very many things we had to be thankful for. Our jobs were intact, our health good, our love strong. We were not beset by the many problems suffered by others.

          And yet, our hearts were not overflowing with songs of thanksgiving.

          For a long while, I agonized over this. Haven’t we suffered enough to ripen our hearts for endless thankfulness? Did we need another piercing to realise how much we had and only then to return to the shores of gratitude and thanksgiving? What was keeping us from whispering thank you’s?

          Then, one day, it came to me.

During the shelter-at-home, we had touched heaven.

          And no one is ever the same after that.

          Despite the many difficulties of working from home and of adapting to new normal in daily life during the stay-home, a hidden door had quietly been opened, streaming a special light and new sweetness into our wearied depths.

          For close to three months, the angels had opened that unseen door at the lip of dawn each day. Each and every day, we had been bathed in its gentle and nurturing Love, our wounds bound, flagging spirits shored up.

          But one day, that old gate between our life and the world outside opened once more, and all the filth from the streets of life spilled inside. For a while, we were strong and brave, but each day, it’s taking a little more out of us to carry our crosses. Each day, the world tugs harder at our souls, chiding us for stubbornly resisting. Hardly have we cleared our inbox, when it clogs up again.

          Since sheltering at home, something has imperceptibly changed within us. Something within us is now recoiling from many the things of this world.

          How long more can we endure, I began to wonder more and more often in recent weeks. Then came the quiet question,

Have you seen the clouds?

          Five words that gentled my hours and told me that some things can wait awhile, even if the world bids that we believe otherwise. Five words that reminded me that life is not meant to be lived bound to draining busyness and to the selfish will of others.

          With those five words, Someone framed our hearts in his hands, and raised our eyes to heaven.

          Look up, said our gentle angel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angel to the Heart of Heaven

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          I awakened after an unusually long night’s sleep, to a quiet and misty Saturday morning. A Saturday of freedom. For the first time in long weeks, I finally had Saturday to be at home and not on the road, travelling to the city.

          At my altar to say my daily prayers, I remembered that Saturdays for me were for Our Lady. So, after I prayed my customary prayer to Jesus, I seal my heart in Yours, I added on another line, I seal my heart in the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

          The moment I said that, an image came to mind. An image of my husband and I driving in the city on Friday yesterday. If I am alone in the city on a Friday, with a quick call to my parish priest for permission, I always get to spend an hour in church. If my husband is with me, we still stop by at church but for a shorter time because my husband always has errands to run.

          Yesterday however, he had this one thing to be done and we felt it would take ages. Hence, we didn’t go to church. I didn’t feel any regret because our Friday trip to the city had come after a very tiring week for us both, and I wanted us to just settle our business there and get home. Furthermore, I didn’t even think of making a flying visit to church because my husband had a long drive ahead of him for outstation work on Sunday and I wanted us to get back to our town as quickly as possible so that he could get sufficient rest before his trip.

          But, this morning, after the prayer, I seal my heart in the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I suddenly wondered if I should have made more of an effort to be with Jesus in church yesterday, even for mere minutes.

          After my daily Readings, stopping by at my prayer nook for the saint quote of the day, I learned how important it was to God that I stepped into church when I could, even for the briefest of visits. Today’s quote was from a saint dear to me, and she got straight to the point.

          When you pass before a chapel and do not have time to stop for a while, tell your Guardian Angel to carry out your errand to Our Lord in the tabernacle. He will accomplish it and then still have time to catch up with you.   ~   St. Bernadette Soubirous

          I didn’t sense any sting of admonition; instead, I felt a gentle hand showing the path I should have taken but didn’t think of.

          Heaven had more to tell me. Touched by the quote, I went to add it to my collection of quotes. On my way there, I came across another file – Guardian Angel to Mass. I hadn’t the faintest idea what that was, so I opened it. It turned out to be a prayer I had typed up for the children at the beginning of the stay-home order. A prayer to be said because we could not longer attend Mass.

Prayer to one’s Guardian Angel when unable to attend Mass

O Holy Angel at my side
go to the church for me,
kneel at my place at Holy Mass,
where I desire to be,
At offertory in my stead,
take all I am and own
and place it as a sacrifice
upon the altar Throne.
At Holy Consecration’s bell
adore with Seraph’s love,
My Jesus hidden in the Host,
come down from heaven above.
And when the priest Communion takes
O bring my Lord to me,
that His sweet Heart may rest on mine
And I His temple be.

 

          Heaven’s rebuke would have been hard enough to bear, but this soft breath of Love sent instead, through the first thoughts at the altar this morning, through the quote and finally through that prayer, made me wish that I had put God first before any errand.

          Still, the gentle sweetness of Mother Mary that opened the eyes of my heart told me that Heaven understood that we couldn’t stop by at church yesterday – but there was a remedy for that for all time:

God had given us someone who could go in our stead.

          Someone who could and would carry our hearts, our burdens, our joys, to the feet of The Most High. For every tear, every sweetness we bequeath our waiting Jesus in silent churches the world over, we have an angel who will willingly and joyfully bear all to the Heart of Heaven.

          With a smile in my heart, I began to pack. Into an old and worn little basket went my offerings of sunshine and a few clouds. The sweetness and the difficult, the unexpected and the funny. The little rose~blooms God had hidden in my work days this week. The morning dream of hope of a superior who has brought us so much suffering. The prayers I should have said but didn’t. The stumbling that comes when you don’t pray enough and don’t trust enough.

          Into the basket woven from years of joy and tears, each one went. Done, I pressed it into my faithful, ever waiting heart’s love.

          Take my offering, I told my Angel.

          Take it to the Heart of Heaven.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Praise You In This Storm

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I was sure by now God

You would have reached down

And wiped our tears away

Stepped in and saved the day

But once again, I say Amen

And it’s still raining

And as the thunder rolls

I barely hear Your whisper through the rain

I’m with you

And as Your mercy falls

I raise my hands and praise the God who gives

And takes away

  

And I’ll praise You in this storm

And I will lift my hands

‘Cause You are who You are

No matter where I am

And every tear I’ve cried

You hold in your hand

You never left my side

And though my heart is torn

I will praise You in this storm

 

 I remember when I stumbled in the wind

You heard my cry You raised me up again

My strength is almost gone, how can I carry on?

If I can’t find you

But as the thunder rolls

I barely hear You whisper through the rain

I’m…

  

I remember when I stumbled in the wind

You heard my cry You raised me up again

My strength is almost gone, how can I carry on?

If I can’t find You

But as the thunder rolls

I barely hear You whisper through the rain

I’m with you

And as Your mercy falls

I raise my hands and praise the God who gives

And takes away

 

And I’ll praise You in this storm

And I will lift my hands

‘Cause You are who You are

No matter where I am

And every tear I’ve cried

You hold in Your hand

You never left my side

And though my heart is torn

I will praise You in this storm oh-oh

And though my heart is torn

I will praise You in this storm

 

I lift my eyes unto the hills

Where does my help come from?

My help comes from the Lord

The maker of heaven and earth

I lift my eyes unto the hills

Where does my help come from?

My help comes from the Lord

The maker of heaven and earth

 

And I’ll praise You in this storm

And I will lift my hands

‘Cause You are who You are

No matter where I am

And every tear I’ve cried

You hold in Your hand

You never left my side

And though my heart is torn

I will praise You in this storm, yea

 

And though my heart is torn

I will praise, I will praise You in this storm

I will praise You in this storm

Praise You in this storm

I will praise You in this storm.

          There are songs we bump into and there are songs that come looking for us. Praise You In This Storm by Natalie Grant is both for me.

Soon after it fell upon my ears last week, its anguished refrain, And I’ll praise You in this storm, was a light tap against my heart to ready it for this week: for the missteps, the exhaustion, things not quite working out despite my best efforts. As I played it on loop this week, even as I stumbled and made mistakes, I got up each time, and pressed little thanksgivings into my God’s Heart. There was still so much to be grateful for even as our lives became more and more difficult.

As a new day rose from the old, a new line in the song came to life.

I raise my hands and praise the God who gives

And takes away

          I’d listen to that line as I drove, as I worked, my eyes wet, my throat hurting from tears both old and fresh. Grief lives always. It never dies.

One afternoon, I wept into my pillow. Of the many things You could have done, You chose to give and then to take away. Why, God, why? No hand did I hold up against my old anguish. I felt I had lost so very much in this life. It seemed as if every single epoch of my life has been marked by loss. Just as I discovered some happiness, it would soon be taken away. But this loss…

I raise my hands and praise the God who gives

And takes away

          When I first heard those lines, I turned away from repeating them even as I continued to listen out for them. Then yesterday, driving home from a work day that had decided to live its own plan, so very, very tired, the song playing on, I raised my heart and whispered, You gave, You took away. Thank you. And tears came from the effort of forming the words I couldn’t bear to touch.

As soon as I had placed those words into Heaven’s heart, a light shone upon a new line, only that I heard it differently,

And every tear you’ve cried

I hold in My hand.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gift of Hope

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          A storm of sorts taught me a gentle yet potent lesson about the power of hope.

          About 2 weeks ago, one of my Muslim colleagues quietly let me in on a little secret in her heart: she was finally expecting her first baby after many years of marriage. While the news filled me with joy, there were frissons of worry too as my friend was experiencing intermittent bleeding. The government medical services in my town being what they are, I suggested that she seek a second opinion at a reputable hospital in the city, some hours away. I also recommended my gynaecologist at another medical facility in the same city, but I didn’t push it knowing fully well how deeply entrenched racial and religious biases are in this community here.

          My friend listened carefully but then came the weekend and a work week filled to the brim with another round of distractions. Unsurprisingly, she got caught up in a swirl of office parties, non-essential tasks and inane hysterics. Concerns were dismissed.

          This morning, I got a call from her, the quiver in her voice betraying her emotions as she told me that the doctor at the local hospital had told her the baby was gone. He had also administered an injection to ‘speed up the process’ and given her some pills as well. In pain and frightened, the woman had sought a second opinion at private clinic not known for much beyond an insensitive doctor. There, the doctor had performed an ultrasound and told my friend that something could still be seen in the womb.

          Now, my friend is hardly the sharpest knife in the drawer, and she hadn’t equipped herself with sufficient knowledge about foetal development. Hence, she didn’t ask the questions she should have. The local doctor’s words instead gave her hope that the baby was still alive; they also filled her with agonizing regret and anger that she hadn’t sought the services of a good doctor earlier.

          Thankfully, that second doctor knew she was out of her depth in this and wrote a referral letter to another private clinic, frequented by Muslims, in the city. It was on her way there that my colleague called me and told me about all that had happened.

          When I heard where she was going, with a firmness even I didn’t know I was capable of, I told my friend to forget about the place she had been referred to and to instead go to my doctor. Rudderless and in tears, her wits all about her, she now clung to me. She agreed to see my doctor, and asked for directions.

          This was where another little miracle took place. I am hopeless at reading maps and at giving directions. I can’t even correctly direct people to my own home. But on the phone at that moment, you wouldn’t have know that. The directions came out crisp and clear and more importantly, correct.

          An hour later, my friend called to say she had safely arrived and that my doctor would see her.

          I breathed a little easier. I knew that whatever happened, my friend would be safe. There were reputable Muslim gynaecologists in the city; I could have easily directed my friend to those of her own faith and she would have been in expert hands and everyone at work here would have clucked approvingly that she hadn’t besmirched herself or something at the hands of a non-Muslim. Yet, I sent her instead to not just a highly regarded non-Muslim specialist, but one who was also a devoted Christian – because I wanted her to be safe. Under this Christian doctor care, not only would she get the care and advice she needed, she would be made to understand the facts other doctors of her faith may prefer to gloss over.

          And whichever way this swung, I was certain only this doctor could bring heaven to her frightened heart.

Through him, she would receive Jesus.

          In the ensuing wait, despite the odds stacked against her, I prayed hard for a miracle. If it is Your will, I told the Divine Mercy, but He surely knew which outcome I was hoping for.

          There was so much riding on this baby.

          Some years back, this woman had caused a good deal of trouble to me. Angry and hurt, I had run to the Shrine of the Divine Mercy in Krakow, Poland, and laid bare my heart. Very quickly, the Lord had let me know that she was under some kind of spiritual attack. With my hurt no longer at the forefront, I was freed to pray for her to be released from whatever it was that was binding her.

          Once I began praying for her, the Lord allowed me to overhear bits and pieces of office conversations, and I learned that hers was a marriage in deep trouble. Although she clearly had a fondness for children, she adamantly refused to start a family. As the years went by, I knew my friend and her husband were drifting further and further apart.

          So, I began to pray for the gift of a child for her. When she told me the happy news weeks back, it was the sweetest news for more than one reason.

          But just like that, here we were in a sudden squall risen out of nowhere.

          A few hours later, I heard from my friend again. Her baby was indeed gone.

          This is not a community that can keep a secret. She must have texted the others at work, for I saw people huddled together, furtively whispering. Before long, people were airing their own miscarriage stories and although she wasn’t there to know it (and gladly), my friend was left to bear her cross alone. The workplace being what it was, concern and empathy were quickly spent and this woman’s closest friends then moved on the next revelry.

          Staring at her words, Could not be saved, grief came to life once more. Even if it was beyond others, I wanted to help my friend get through this.

          More than that, I wanted this baby to live. Not to come back to life from a miscarriage – but to live on, hidden in her mother’s heart. That was so important because the Muslims in my country subscribe to the belief that a foetus is just a clump of cells until the third or fourth month. That is why they seldom trouble themselves to do all the right things in the first trimester. That is also why many here think nothing of aborting a baby at this time – or even later. Even for those who lose a child for whatever reason, due to religious edicts against mourning, combined with a cavalier attitude towards the preciousness of life, that loss and that child is soon cast out from memory. They see grieving as weakness, not love.

          I didn’t want blatant lies to take root in my friend because lies devastate and kill the body and ultimately, the soul.

          So, I shared with her a truth I had come to learn:

That her baby would always love her.

And that they would meet some day.

          I didn’t tell her how I knew. That would have to be her journey. I just placed my words in the Spirit and released them from my heart. Still, I feared my words would seem strange to her, and that when the gaggle of so-called chums returned to feed on her sorrow, they would bury that wee baby and not allow it to live.

          Nonetheless, it was vital that I do what I had to do. And so I did.

          Surprisingly, so very surprisingly, my friend took my words to her heart once more.

          And then, she told me about my Christian gynaecologist and how he had helped her and her husband, who was very emotional, to understand what had happened. He didn’t shove the painful details out of sight, he didn’t assume they weren’t bright enough to understand. Instead, he gently walked with them as they came to terms with their pain and regret.

         Even at the end of such a harrowing day, this Muslim girl, raised in a climate of crippling suspicion and mistrust, could testify in love and joy, that a Christian doctor was the best. And then, she told me that despite the loss, the world suddenly seemed like a brighter place.

Jesus had truly touched her through the doctor!

          In a whisper of a moment, I went from sadness to exquisite joy! A baby had gone and yet, here I was shot through with gentle arrows of sun~bright happiness. I couldn’t understand my own feelings but it was clear that all 3 of us – this lady, her husband and I – were filled with a sudden, inexplicable light.

          In one moment, it came to me:

This is what the hope of heaven is like.

          Christian hope is not always privy to what lies beyond the bend, it knows not today what the morrow will bring. Yet it blooms, even in death, when we choose life as God wills. My friend and her husband had made that terrible, anguished journey to the city to save a baby that their faith did not fully acknowledge but whom their hearts had loved from that first day of knowing. That selfless Christian doctor they saw had said the words they needed to hear to keep their grieving hearts open to God’s gift of life.

         And even if her womb never loves another baby, I hope I helped my friend to understand that she is now a mother too, with one wee baby patiently waiting for her.