Suffering

Shoulder To Stand On

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          Almost 2 weeks back, I felt a vague unease pass by my heart. There was so much to do then that I could not pay it much attention. Nevertheless, it hovered close by, biding its time to come forward. Later, in town, waiting in the car for one my children to run an errand, I sensed a quietening within me. Then, I felt a distinct press on my heart: someone was in need.

          Last week, there was another unexpected sign – someone in need – in New Zealand. My godparents and their families reside there. So did the family of another aunt who had passed away recently. Was it any of my loved ones? Or New Zealand in general, I wondered. I prayed. But again, work interfered.

          Still, even as I worked, one quote kept coming up,

Standing on the shoulders of giants

          Although I knew what the quote meant, I was certain that it was pointing to something else.

The giant souls we depend on to get us through our trials.

Something to do with those we rely on so much, the strong ones among us. Those who hold us up when we would fall, those who will us on when we lose hope. Who wipe our tears when the pain scales the highest walls, holding us close to their own worn and broken hearts, holding us tighter through prayers.

It is the caregiver, whispered my heart. The soul in need was a caregiver.

          On Friday, I received some good news concerning work that brought immense relief –  something big that had taken up quite a chunk of my time and attention had been cancelled. I had been locked too much within myself over that. Freed now, I flew to open my heart more to others.

          Then, a text came in and it became clear who needed me. My uncle in New Zealand. The family has faced so much over the past decades. My uncle patiently, with great love and faith, has led the way forward each time. But the recent trials they have endured have been one too many. Serious illnesses, an ill grandbaby, a business all but wiped out by Covid.

The heart of a caregiver is the biggest heart of all.

          Yet, it is that heart we often forget and that which we take for granted. Who holds a caregiver’s hand when life is hard for him, the difficult journey far from its end? Who loves her back to strength when her heart is broken and her vigour gone? To our eyes, the caregivers among us are the epitome of joy and endless grace in suffering, a tower of strength. Yet, we see only what we want to see. Hidden from ready sight is the price of a caregiver’s love. What is the hidden cost of loving and giving so much? What pains do they bear in silence so that they can be there for us? What do they keep away from us so that we can heal, so that we find our footing once again after a fall?

          The answers to each one of those questions will be varied, I know. I know something about my Uncle’s walk of fire, but every caregiver’s story, if he cares to share it, will speak to a common refrain of sacrifice, suffering and loss, endured in sweetness and silence, so that others may live on in hope and dignity.

          The caregiver cares for someone. But someone else must look out for the caregiver too. So, I go knocking on doors, to all the saints I’ve called upon, learned to trust and come to love over the years.

Help him

help him

help him

I call at each stop.

          When generous souls spare little thought for themselves, we must, for their sakes, for even a giant needs a shoulder to stand on.

In Every Season, Love

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          The world is in seasons, it seems, in more ways than one. If it’s summer for some, winter is hovering close for others.

          In the midst of our own peace and happiness, on a golden Friday, my Muslim next door neighbour informed me that his young son-in-law, a father to two young children, had contracted Covid and had been placed under induced coma. I cannot imagine how hard it must have been for the families involved. The fear of losing a boy they had come to love as their own was compounded by not being able to reach out and offer physical help to their daughter and their two grandbabies living so far away, due to the nationwide lockdown still in effect here. The morning after the most bitter of nights for them, my husband caught a glimpse of our neighbour’s wife. A soul with the most golden of hearts, her face was now shadowed with grief.

Life changed from one moment to the next

          I heard that comment made on tv by a loved one to one of those missing in the Florida condo collapse and I realised how often I had thought the same thing these past days. Sudden changes. Surprises. Shocks. In Florida, in the deepest golden blue of summer, bitter winter came. No comfort of months or weeks to prepare for the change. No gentle leading to the hard of cold and pain.

          Visiting my garden the day after the news, I worked at the beds away from our fence to assure my neighbours that I wasn’t looking for conversation. They already knew our family’s prayers were joined to their anguished pleas to God. Even in our own summer, we must do all we can for hearts wintered in.

          Today, unexpectedly, my neighbour sent us dinner over our fence. It was a heartwarming dish expertly made by his wife, one we have enjoyed multiple times over the years. It is also a time-consuming and painstaking dish to prepare, effort nearly impossible under the shadows of fear and sorrow. We immediately knew then that joy had come to them. I flew to my phone and heard their hope for myself. They were still not out of the woods yet, but hope had come.

From one moment to the next

          Steeping back and looking over all that has happened recently, I learn again that the seasons of life come to all, rich or poor, what marks us to receive more or less from each season not easily understood. How long the seasons stay is beyond anything we can determine, for they lodge at will, the summons to come and leave answered in obedience only to the Almighty.

          Someone tried to teach me a long time ago that a strong, unwavering faith and knowledge of sacred scriptures is a surefire way of facing down times of strife and difficulty. True as that may be for some people, it wasn’t for me. The wall of faith and knowledge that took me through early troubles all but crumbled later when God tested us 14 years ago. In standing before my God, all I had was my naked anguish and raw grief. There were days when Scripture shone light through the impenetrable darkness of debilitating grief; but there were many more when even much loved verses did not make sense, when it seemed like they made their way past the door of my waiting heart, pausing not.

          Today, I asked God once more what takes us through the seasons of life, and what helps us to leave our springs and summers to meet others in their own seasons.

          The answer came, as pure and clear as a new sunrise.

It is love.

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

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hour of Need

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…you easily forget My words and My promises to you. Call upon the Holy Spirit to keep My words and My promises alive in your heart, and to call them to mind in your hours of need.   ~  In Sinu Jesu

          Today, nearly 4 months from my last Friday afternoon trip to church, I was finally back in church on a Friday again, and there, I touched the sweetness of a homecoming, new to me. Since we are still in the recovery phase, there were no flowers in church. And yet, there was a gentle softness to the still air, a waiting love.

          It took me a long time to quieten down, there was much to say, though my words were few.

          In my ending minutes in that serene stillness, He slipped His words into my heart. Nothing stirred within me as my eyes went over all other words. Nothing until,

          …you easily forget My words and My promises to you. Call upon the Holy Spirit to keep My words and My promises alive in your heart, and to call them to mind in your hours of need. 

          And still, doubt tugged at me. What if I was seeing things where there were none? When you’re straining at hope, it’s easy to slip and misidentify. They were after all words He spoke to a Benedictine monk, not to me.

          My Lord knew I would doubt and He was ready for me.

When the Spirit of truth comes,
He will guide you to all truth
and remind you of all I told you.   ~  John 16:13A; 14:26D

          And just like that, the sliver of doubt disappeared.

Call upon the Holy Spirit to keep My words and My promises alive in your heart, and to call them to mind in your hours of need. 

          He alone knows how far ahead the undulating dunes of work stretch out. He alone knows how much it will take out of me. He alone knows how easily I will forget, and fret because of it. Call upon the Holy Spirit, says my Jesus to me on my first return to His Friday Heart.

          That in my hour of need, when I am most bereft, I will remember once more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lent 35 ~ He Has Heard

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In my distress I called upon the LORD
and cried out to my God;
From His temple He heard my voice,
and my cry to Him reached His ears.   ~  Psalm 18: 7

 

          An unearthly hush has descended here. Even the breezes caress the leaves in gentleness and silence. Only the birds delightfully chirp on unhindered. The First Friday of the month of April, the month of the Holy Eucharist. Ten days to Easter.

          What silence is this, I ponder and wonder, yet not really seeking an answer, for so very beautiful it is, this silence, this peace. Just being swathed in it suffices. Suddenly, nothing else matters, except being in the moment.

What silence is this?

          Softly, softly, it comes. It is the silence when heaven has heard.