Hope

Set Me Free

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Thus says the Lord GOD:
But a very little while,
and Lebanon shall be changed into an orchard,
and the orchard be regarded as a forest!
On that day the deaf shall hear
the words of a book;
And out of gloom and darkness,
the eyes of the blind shall see.
The lowly will ever find joy in the LORD,
and the poor rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.
For the tyrant will be no more
and the arrogant will have gone;   ~  Isaiah 29:17 – 20

          Oh dear Lord, I pray almost incessantly these days, Let that come to pass. That the tyrants and the arrogant at work be gone. Twenty years and counting, I cannot go on anymore. So many times, I imagined leaving this place. There were opportunities – but I turned away from each one for they would have taken me away from my husband and children. Any move would have entailed a long commute. With my husband already working away from home, my long hours would have broken and splintered this life we worked so hard to build. And each time I turned away from the hope of freedom to return to my prison cell of work, I knew this was the price of putting family first. Yet, it was also a price I would willingly pay over and over for choosing family.

         …the tyrant will be no more
and the arrogant will have gone

          Today though, a deep weariness overwhelms me. It contrasts sharply with my happiness and the heightening inner skip of my spirit as Advent deepens towards Christmas. This tells me how wrong it is to feel so afraid of work – simply because of those in charge – not work itself. If there’s anything I’ve learned this difficult year it is that I have an enormous capacity for work even if I often don’t realise it, and that I can adapt and succeed, despite being rather slow in understanding so many things.

          Yet, what blights my day and wounds me continuously is the arrogance of my superiors in the way they force us to bend to their whim. There are no productive discussions, little respect for genuine effort but plenty of meddling and interference. Today, it is very clear that what I am struggling with is not my inability to work nor is it my inability to be obedient to authority. We welcomed a new boss early this year, and like most new leaders, he had his own ideas of what he wanted implemented in our organization. This otherwise gentle and likable guy didn’t really take the time to understand what we were already doing and if anything needed change. Yet, I didn’t have a problem adapting to his vision and direction. For a while that puzzled me. What this new boss was asking had put me under extra pressure but I seemed able to comply and cope – cheerily too. By contrast, I was in a constant state of tension, fear and anger when working under my other superiors.

… the tyrant

          Today, I understand why: I am struggling under tyrannical authority. That, for me, is the mark of the beast that differentiates those others from my new boss – tyranny.

For tyranny is born of narcissism and narcissism is the plague that has taken so much away from me.

          God has told us to love one another, to love our enemies, to love those who do us harm. But is there a demarcation between this love and subjection to tyranny? Jesus loved in every instance of His life, right to His death on the Cross – but He never allowed Himself to be subject to the tyrannical authority of the Pharisees. He didn’t bend to their vision of God and of life. He didn’t walk the paths they set out.

          How do I do as Jesus did?

          I think I have tried to love, albeit imperfectly. This mottled love I’ve mustered under the pain of sacrifice for those who do me harm has not been a tale spanning a mere few years. It’s been twenty years. But there’s no escaping the fact that my twenty years wilts in comparison to the Israelites’ suffering of forty years in the desert. Held up against that gold standard of what suffering truly is, mine sure seems like a petulant whine.

          And still I cannot rise to my feet, suitably shamed to contrition. Please GodI can’t go on anymore, for today, I know my enemy’s name. Having lived in the chokehold of fear for most of my life, I don’t want to be a prisoner to tyranny any longer.

          Yet, with eight long years left to retirement and no other work options, I have nowhere to go.

…the tyrant will be no more
and the arrogant will have gone…

          Please, Lord. Please, take them away.

          Set me free.

I am Sending Him

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I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you….Perhaps this is why he was away from you for a while, that you might have him back forever… ~ Philemon 1: 12, 15

          There are days that begin and end much the same way, in simple breaths that do not stray too far from the gate. While this past Thursday began in the hope of being a quick and efficiently worked day, by afternoon, it was clear to me that I wasn’t going home early from work.

          Like beads being threaded together to make a necklace, came the tasks, one by one. In a madness that can only come out of my country, without warning, a week back, schools were suddenly shut and most of the country was placed under movement control order again. Overnight, state borders were sealed, and inter district travel curbed in many states except in ours. Those of us in the government service were told to work from home but our state being a green zone, there was some flexibility. So, I opted to go into work on Thursday to take care of some paper work. I figured I’d be done and out by lunch time.

          Instead, it was almost 8 at night when I finally drove home. It wasn’t just the work that forced the late hour. In my tiredness, I made  a few mistakes too. As everyone knows, it’s always easier to prevent mistakes than to mop up the mess. But the only way for me to do that was to have a clear head and I didn’t, not that Thursday. The sudden lockdown announcement the previous Sunday afternoon had dunked me head first into the barrel. I had just one day to sort out the younger kids and make strict study plans for them while rushing to re-start my personal online work platforms. It should have been happy news for me, an inveterate homebody, a respite from the work place I dislike, but after months of political roiling, I didn’t appreciate the short notice and the ambiguity of it all.

I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you

          By early that Thursday afternoon, I was already wondering where was the heart God had promised me. When you hide your old grief inside, and carry on as well as you can, yet all the while searching the skies for signs of a mystical return, when you read of such a promise just that morning, well, you expect the day to go really well and smooth.

          Instead, there I was, working feverishly, unsure if I could meet my own deadlines, deafened to even birdsong.

Where is my Heart, Lord, I asked, where is he?

Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep…
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there.

Den no die, Mama

          Where is my Heart, Lord? Where is he?

          A little slowly at first, but surely, the knots untangled. One by resolute one, things got done and buttoned close. As the day blushed into sunset, I began to sense something had changed. The air around me had stilled. Then, I sensed a presence beside me and within me, soft, gentle yet firm and strong.

Den no die, Mama

          There was still much to get through, but I was now miraculously clear-headed. I zipped across town, stop after stop, ticking things off my list. I was calm and collected. Despite the falling shadows and the deserted office, no frisson of alarm creased my spirit.

I am sending him

          When I finally pulled into my home driveway, the sun had gone to his sleep. I was too tired to arch my head towards the skies and search for the faithful diamonds that never fail to burn their gaze from velvet depths. But my little home was ablaze in warm, happy lights and my children had swarmed out to get me out of the car. There were little stories which needed telling and hearing right there on the front lawn. There were little grievances which needed only the balm of an attentive heart. I had received so much and I had even more to give. How much richer I was for that!

          However frayed and difficult that day had been, I had come to its night with a deep peace that left no space unsweetened. As Paul’s words to Philemon about Onesimus tread before me, that night I learned in a deeper way that however tragic our losses, our loving God leaves no gaping hole unfilled. 

          Yet, to get to this point of knowing and acceptance, a road must be travelled, a journey undertaken. There is a time for each step and for each fall. No amount of rushing can get us here. No amount of support can shorten the  distance. Every tear we shed, every question we send to heaven, is another step forward on this journey of seeking the return of what we have lost.

Perhaps this is why he was away from you for a while,

that you might have him back forever.

It is Time

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          Around after 3 in the morning, my husband and I and all our children finally went to bed, after keeping vigil with our American friends. At my window, to have one last look at a sky soon to bloom into new dawn, a half moon smiled down at me from her pink couch in the high skies.

          For some reason, my heart skipped in a little jump of sweetness.

          And with that I felt the words,

It is time.

          I wasn’t sure what it meant, and at past 3 in the morning, wasn’t up to prodding it open. Yet, hours later, when night had long passed its secrets over to day, it became clearer.

There is an appointed time for everything,

and a time for every affair under the heavens.

…a time to heal;

a time to tear down, and a time to build.

A time to weep, and a time to laugh;

a time to mourn, and a time to dance.

A time to rend, and a time to sew…

Even If in Bits and Pieces

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Many times I found myself praying the Holy Rosary (even if in bits and pieces, the Holy Mother of God knows well how to sort them out)…   Dr. Mario Enzler, former Swiss Guard

          Quiet minutes to myself, the first of this new October. After 9 days of grindingly hard work and unexpected tumults, everything stills this morning. The only speck across this silent dawn is that we have to make that trek into the city. I’d rather stay home, sleep in a bit, get some rest and put the house into better order, but it’s a necessary trip.

          I say my first prayers of the day at my altar. It’s Saturday so I seal my heart in Mother Mary’s, my little Saturday offertory. Since it will be a long drive to the city, I remind myself to say a few Hail Mary’s along the way. Although I’ve done my daily readings and said my prayers all week, it has been one of those weeks with too much crammed into it. Despite the trip we will make today, despite the mental list in my head ready to be ticked off, I know I need to slow my step and quieten down, for the gullies of my heart are dry and in need of wetness.

          A sudden, bright white~gold in the outside sky catches my eye. The sun is coming up from its eastern bed, reminding me that we have to get going soon, when I find myself reading an article about a former Swiss guard and his faith in the Rosary.

Many times I found myself praying the Holy Rosary (even if in bits and pieces, the Holy Mother of God knows well how to sort them out)…  

          Without warning, tears prick my eyes.

          All these days, I’ve tried to keep my heart in God’s. I’ve prayed and prayed, but in drifts and drabs,

in bits and pieces

          Each time, I’ve called for my guardian angel. Called for him to join his prayers to mine and to carry my meagre efforts to heaven, because I knew that my prayers this week were especially small and paltry indeed, paling before the great needs of this week.

even if in bits and pieces, the Holy Mother of God knows well how to sort them out

          And with those words, my Heavenly Mother blew her breath over my weariness. With those words, I fell against Her maternal heart.

          So often this week, I had entreated heaven to scrub clean my offerings of myself. So often, I had scraped the earth of my days to find something of value, something I hadn’t held back for myself, something I hadn’t tainted with my many sins.

          I felt I had given so little to my God all of these 9 days.

          Yet, my beloved Mother was now telling me She had received each morsel of my heart, of my days lived in the depth of unexpected storms, and in unexpected joys too. Of the unseen work of hours and hours upon end. In the many falls and in the struggle to rise once more and start over each time.

          Bits and pieces. Each one received and sorted out.

A Time for New Roads

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There is an appointed time for everything,

and a time for every affair under the heavens.

a time to embrace, and a time to be far from embraces.   ~  Ecclesiastes 3: 1, 5

          September closes her petals tonight. She has lived her month heroically, going from one difficult day to the next. She will soon draw her last breath for the year, before sinking into grateful slumber.

          Before another year comes.

          This will be a September I will always remember, marked in the way July is, yet differently. A very difficult and stressful September, yet dimpled so beautifully with pretty joys and warm loves. Autumn has come to many of those dear to me. As the leaves sweeten into their farewell hues, many have begun preparing for the coming winter. Putting away things of summer and pulling out winter wears and supplies. Saying goodbye to one season and welcoming the next.

A time for every affair under the heavens

          October pearls open tomorrow, but for now, I have these final hours of September, going gently to her deserved rest. Many things crowd our doorway. For once, I do not get fussy and set about clearing them away for they will soon be gone. When October morning raises its eyes to the awakening sun tomorrow, our lives will forever change in the way it has changed for so many families. We will weather it, as we have so many other shifts. There will be happy days, and days when even the softest rain must fall, for life must sing different notes for it to mean something.

          It is night, when after small chores, I slip away into the embrace of my garden. So much has happened this September, and more will come for sure, but for now, all I wanted was some still minutes to gather up the thoughts which needed keeping, and to release the ones that were ready to go. I sat in my old chair by the flowers’ edge and looked up at the dark night sky, so oddly visible now after the big trees in our garden had endured a great pruning. This had been another great change for us. To see huge portions of branches so familiar to us now cut away to make way for new life. Not pleasant but necessary.

… the winter is past,
the rains are over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth,
the time of pruning the vines has come,
and the song of the dove is heard in our land.
The fig tree puts forth its figs,
and the vines, in bloom, give forth fragrance.
Arise, My beloved, My beautiful one,
and come!   ~   Song of Songs 2: 11 – 13

           Above me, the grey~white clouds gather in huge swathes and puffs, in silent trysts, yielding me no account of their words. Even the moon and stars are unseen, busy in their chambers. It is night, yet even the heavens are about their business.

          I can feel a storm is building. The air is humid and quietly restless. Soon, it is time to get up and go back inside. We still have some ways to go before we are done for the night. I make my way past the marigold bushes and vines of old-fashioned roses pressing their kisses towards the old house. My beloved zinnias lean towards me as I pass them, even in the night smiling their love into my heart.

All will be well

          Softly, gently, sweetly, September leads us to roads not travelled yet.

          Then, she slips back to her Maker.

Wait and Watch. Hope and Trust.

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Beside a stricken field I stood;
On the torn turf, on grass and wood,
Hung heavily the dew of blood.

Still in their fresh mounds lay the slain,
But all the air was quick with pain
And gusty sighs and tearful rain.

Two angels, each with drooping head
And folded wings and noiseless tread,
Watched by that valley of the dead.

The one, with forehead saintly bland
And lips of blessing, not command,
Leaned, weeping, on her olive wand.

The other’s brows were scarred and knit,
His restless eyes were watch-fires lit,
His hands for battle-gauntlets fit.

‘How long!’ — I knew the voice of Peace, —
‘Is there no respite? no release?
When shall the hopeless quarrel cease?

‘O brother! if thine eye can see,
Tell how and when the end shall be,
What hope remains for thee and me.’

‘Why watch to see who win or fall?
I shake the dust against them all,
I leave them to their senseless brawl.’

‘Nay,’ Peace implored: ‘yet longer wait;
The doom is near, the stake is great:
God knoweth if it be too late.

‘Still wait and watch; the way prepare
Where I with folded wings of prayer
May follow, weaponless and bare.’

A rustling as of wings in flight,
An upward gleam of lessening white,
So passed the vision, sound and sight.

But round me, like a silver bell
Rung down the listening sky to tell
Of holy help, a sweet voice fell.

‘Still hope and trust,’ it sang; ‘the rod
Must fall, the wine-press must be trod,
But all is possible with God!’   ~  The Watchers, John Greenleaf Whittier

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.