Reaching Out

The Pilgrim Christmas

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          It’s the season when Christmas carols waft over and around us, and a quickening in our spirits anticipate the happy day. People merrily busy with gifts and plans for dinners and reunions, happy panic of the much not done yet. Cards being bought, gifts to be wrapped. Homes we pass, busy ovens, busy windows. New drapes, streamers, fresh cakes and cookies, evergreens being dressed. Christmas wreathes its magic, all and sundry caught up in the hope, love and joy it heralds.

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          But for some of us, our place is in the frost just outside of that circle of enveloping Christmas joy. To watch from the periphery. With aching hearts to see the Yuletide light twirl around, and choose to not settle on us. To see everyone else caught up in the giddy joy of the festive days, and wonder what we did wrong to not feel as light and as free and as hopeful. Within us we carry a quiet hurt that God’s magic wand somehow missed us. We hurt that we seem to carry burdens not cast on others. New burdens, old ones from years and old years before. Always us, the choice beast of burden. The grief inside us is a hurt we try to damp down and hide, because it seems to uncharitable to mar the beauty of the season with something that shouldn’t be there. It’s a shame we try to camouflage, that the joy everyone is experiencing is withheld from us, and it’s a wart we don’t want others to see.

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          So, some of us retreat from the world during the season of goldreds. Why inflict our black of hopelessness and despair on others? we ask ourselves. Why beg sympathy from the abundance of the joyful? We retreat, and we hope no one notices because we have no answers to their prodding queries. We retreat out of shame because we bear the black mark of sorrow, a defect that stands out more in the face of so much surrounding merriment. We retreat and hide because it’s much easier on everyone this way.

          But if retreat from cheer is not an option in the Christmas season,  we might plaster on a smile, pretend an ebullience that is not there, so as not to be singled out for a Yuletide inquisition. It gives us anonymity, and allows us to blend into the background of happy. No worries here, move on, please, we grin till it hurts. Pretense buys us the relief of space and time away from the reality of the emptiness in our own lives, where lives a barrenness that refuses to die. And so, we laugh along with others, and hope the hollowness doesn’t show, and pretend to love and be loved.

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          Yet, nothing blinds us from seeing that emptiness has a weight that bears down harder than fullness.

          And the cross bites deep into our wounded shoulders.

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          In our little nook in the frost, an ancient truth almost escapes us ~ Christmas is not about us. A Christian pilgrim Christmas is about Love. Love born of holy obedience. Love blossoming and flourishing in the kingdom of hardship. Love birthed to bring joy to sorrowing hearts.

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          A Christian Christmas is the wounded pilgrim taking Jesus-joy to the fellow wounded. It is the meal we cook for the lonely when we too only have emptiness to return to. It is the card we send to someone who needs to know love, although ours is the address everyone forgets. It is the prayers we sob for broken hearts in other homes when our own children have broken our hearts. The gentle empathy offered by a lonely widow whose husband will never return, to a young, frazzled wife whose husband works far from home.

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          The pilgrim Christmas is taking love to where it has long been dead. To coax life and joy back into bitter deserts. To inject hope and resurrect life. It is to love even as we weep from our own unhealed wounds. It is to draw from our own pain to touch the sometimes, lesser wounds of others.

          And this sowing of Jesus-joy in souls is inadequate if it comes from a filled heart, for there’s sometimes, nothing more dispiriting than to receive from material abundance, because it underscores a grieving soul’s squalor.

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          So, it is precisely when we feel we are running on empty, that the purest giving can we bequeath to others. The parchedness of our own waiting for Jesus-joy must lead us to a Bernadette response ~ to dig streams of Lourdes in the lives of other pilgrims, so that they may receive the gifts of healing and hope. Our seemingly empty lives must never lead us away from the pilgrim path of giving, onto the dark alleys of self, because to feel our barrenness is to be filled with God, and this Light must be shared.

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          The pilgrim Christmas is the antithesis of the world’s Christmas. Ours is a light for the poor, and a holly wreath of tender charity foreign to the world we occupy, and it will earn us ridicule and derision. But it is the way of heaven that for the sunrise joy of Christmas to bloom in us, we must first take it in obedience to where God wills us, and sow it in hearts not ours, so that the mourner’s dirge be transformed into a Gloria.

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          For the Christmas cannot come to us before it comes to others.

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Wipe My Blood

From the time Jesus appeared to me in the dark of 1999, sometimes, like a tiny breeze weaving its way through a room, the memory of the vision would come back, and with it, the mental imprint of Our Lady wiping the Wounds of Her Son. Yet, as one year folded into the next, marked by events both happy and sorrowful, I never went beyond the memory of the visions and the release accorded to me. I was too preoccupied with my remaining, ever increasing battles to really search for the meaning to Wipe My Blood.

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In November 2010, as the aging year began to wind down, I sensed an interior longing to pray the Rosary using only the Sorrowful Mysteries. The grief held in for so long, needed an outlet. Not just any release, but a release into Heaven’s comfort. I was inexplicably drawn to pray the Sorrowful Mysteries but didn’t understand why.

Then, Mother Teresa’s Come Be My Light came into my life, and I read and read, and the light began to shy in.

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One day, deep in the night hours, I sensed an awareness leaning against my soul. I put the book down and stared at the Divine Mercy picture on my wall and waited. Then, it came. An unseen finger traced the words, Wipe My Blood, on my soul again, and life was breathed into them. The words from so long ago began to throb in my soul, like a caged bird seeking release in understanding.

How, Lord? How do I wipe Thy Blood?

In response, I again felt the pressure of the words, Wipe My Blood. The images from Mother Teresa’s book swam before me. I saw the old saint and the love she took into the slums. Her struggles. Her faith. Then, I knew. Wipe My Blood was the bell chime of absolute freedom, telling me it was time to flee the confines of my childhood cage, every one of it, and to go out and love like I have never before. It was a call of Love, to love.

In a motion of light, month after month, year after year, from that day on, an unseen angel lifted the veil to places where I was to answer the call, Wipe My Blood.

I saw the children I had birthed after years of barrenness. I saw the tired, dogged determination to do what was best for them. I saw all too clearly the frustrations, the anger when things didn’t go my way. The hate for myself when I couldn’t enjoy my own wee ones. Wipe My Blood. God wanted me to love and enjoy my children. To feel the tickle of bubbles from a baby’s trumpet-lips. To enjoy the buttons that wouldn’t button over fat tummies. To lean into the paws that batted my face, telling me baby didn’t want to sleep but play. Love them, Jesus said. Love them differently from before.

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Cook for the family, He continued. Cook the way you want. So, I began to cook differently. Cooked away from the shadows of remembered recriminations. Simple things. Simple cakes. Some flat, some with so many holes I wondered how they stayed together.The patter of feet into the kitchen. Happy squeals over a favourite dish coming, eager peeking into the oven. Cook for the family. Wipe My Blood.

The call sounded again.

I sought to make my husband and children happy. I sang to them. Sang funny songs with made up lyrics. Blessed with a voice like an old fishing trawler, I am no Whitney Houston, but sang I did because it produced horrified giggles, tickled funnies. It was no longer about waiting to be happy before I made others happy. It was about stepping outside of my circle of grey, and taking the Light I didn’t feel, to where it was needed. And when my doggy-loving child begged me to sing her Patti Page’s How Much is That Doggy In The Window as I brushed her teeth,  I saw that creaking-door voice or not, He wanted me to make my baby happy, and to find happiness in that, because it meant wiping His Blood.

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And from my home, the angel led me further out. He took me to those who chose to suffer away from the gaze of others. To hold and to pray for them as they weathered the storm. To stay by their side because others had long left.

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One day, the angel had me follow him to an old path, rutted in weeds and wildflowers. I was led to write again, after long forgotten years. To find release and freedom. To ponder mysteries by writing. To read my thoughts and learn who I truly was. And then, slowly, to write to heal others. Most of my adult life, I had received letters from home. Letters that should never have been written because they left me with a blackness long after they had been crushed and thrown away. To wipe my Lord’s Blood, He wanted me to write peace, to bring others the gold of joy and giggles, because the best way to purge the past was not to paper over, or to bury it, but to set it on a standard, like Moses did with the bronze snakes in the desert, and to use it to heal others.

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As I obeyed the call, I began to heal. And slowly, I began to see glimpses of Heaven.

But Wiping My Blood was not as much about personal healing as it was about ministering to wounded-ness. There are far too many beaten and left for dead, many who mourn in the shadows.

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There are far too many tears than there are hands to wipe them away, and to tilt lips in an upwards curve of a smile. The sorrows of this earth are many, and they cannot wait till I am healed completely before they are attended to.

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My Lord calls, and with no delay or hesitation, His summons must be answered.

SOAR A SOUL FREE

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A true story of a man haunted by the past, whose life had been totally miserable due to the harrowing burden of guilt……

A priest in California was preparing to go to bed on a Sunday night after a busy day when the phone rang. It was a nurse at the hospital which was a couple of hours drive away. A man was dying. He was a Catholic and would “Father” come. The priest was reluctant because there was a storm raging outside. But he decided to go. Upon arrival he entered the room of the dying man. He introduced himself and was gruffly told to “go to hell.” The conditions of the storm had worsened, so the priest decided he would hang around for a while. An hour later he approached the man again. “I am a Catholic priest. You are dying. Are you sure I can’t help you in any way?” Again the man rebuked him, demanding that he be left alone. For some reason the priest decided he would try once more. He waited another hour. Then he entered the room for the last time. To his surprise the man responded, “Well, I may as well tell you.” Then he began to relate the story of his life. Forty years previously he worked on a railway signals box. Everything was done manually in those days. It was Christmas time, and he had been drinking. When the train was approaching he pulled the wrong lever. The train went down the wrong track and collided into a car as it was crossing the lines. A woman and her two children were killed instantly. He told the priest that from that day onwards he had lived with the guilt of that accident. He kept to himself, never married, and gave up on life. He lived in quiet despair.

The priest, who had been listening very intently, asked him a few more questions about the date and time of the accident. Then he said to the dying man, “I want you to listen closely to me. You did not know this. But there was another little boy in that car. He lived. And when he grew up he became a priest. And he is speaking with you right now! And I want you to know, I forgive you.”

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          That man, who had spent his whole life in such an awful prison of self-hate, guilt and self-recrimination, was able to hear from the priest the words of forgiveness that set him free. He was finally able to forgive himself as he not only heard the words of absolution from the priest, but also the words of forgiveness from the little boy who had lost his mother and siblings in an accident 40 years previously. He died in peace…

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          When you live in the darkness of depression and despair, when the Light shines in, even a sliver of it, it is deeply welcomed for it liberates the imprisoned soul. There are so many of us living within prisons. Trapped by ourselves. Trapped by others. We grieve and rant for we are unable to find the key to the lock of our dark, dank cells.

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          There are too many sitting in prisons, and too few holding the keys to unlock those prison cells. And this is why, even as we live imprisoned lives, we must strive to release others. We cannot wait to be free ourselves before we free others. We need not wait! And if we know the pain of being imprisoned, it must never be our wish to see others share our fate. Guard against it we must, that perverse joy of seeing other souls suffer as we do. No comfort must we seek in seeing the numbers increase in prisons like ours.

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And even if that sordid wish lives in a secret crevice within us, we must turn away from it and not give it life, for it makes no sense to welcome death for others while we fight it ourselves.

Even as we stumble along the lonely terrain of Calvary, even as we bleed and hurt, we must train our wounded-ness to find joy in freeing other imprisoned souls.

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To watch in peace through our own prison bars, that other soul soar free. To welcome that inevitable sting of sorrow that others are free whilst we aren’t. For that sting is not selfishness; it is our wounded-ness.

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And when we have freed others, and if that Sting comes – that they are free and we arent, we must know that angels stand in gentle wait to take our pain.

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          Our wounded-ness in all its forms, our own imprisonment, must never hold us back from freeing others. We are both prisoners as well as jailers. We might not possess the keys to our own freedom, but we have with us that which can unlock other cells not ours.

And unlock them we must.

For to free others is to love Him.

To free others, is to free ourselves.