…as I have done… so also must you do...
~ John 13: 15
…as I have done… so also must you do...
~ John 13: 15
Yesterday a woman from Crema phoned me to get news about her grandmother who is hospitalized and in serious conditions at the Sacco. She told me of her other grandmother, who died of Covid, and of her mother, who is in intensive care in Crema, and then she said, “You see, Doctor, at the beginning I was praying, but now I’ve stopped.”
I answered, “I understand, ma’am. Do not worry. I will be the one praying for her.” ~ Dr. Amedeo Capetti, A Letter from the Trenches, Luigi Sacco Hospital, Milan
An insistent whisper beats against my heart,
Step into the breach
My Christmas surprises came a little late this year – they came this week. Little things longed for, but on which I didn’t dare linger in yearning too long, lit up my tree the first week of 2017. Little gifts, left to surprise, in misted pockets along my path.
So, it has been a happy week. Tiring but happy. I flew to duties, I flew to tasks, with an energy I hadn’t felt in a long while. And it felt good to see things work out. It felt even better to see how I handled life when the road dipped unexpectedly around the bends.
I should have been up in the sky of a hundred blues, twirling next to the shy gold sun.
But I wasn’t.
Something was missing. I missed my Lord’s voice.
I missed Him in the press of spirit I sometimes feel when searching for Him. I missed Him in the unseen Hand on my will, holding me back from something. I missed Him in the songs sung by unseen voices somewhere deep within me.
This week, it certainly felt like He had released me to skip along my own path in wildflower meadows hiding a thousand surprises of light and joys. And skip and dance and spin I did, for it was great to feel light and unburdened for once.
Yet, I came to the quiet sunset of the week, feeling a slight emptiness, despite the successes and happiness of the busy days past, no sorrow or suffering casting their shadows. I didn’t feel abandoned. But I did feel as if my Lord had skipped town for a bit.
And the lights dimmed for me.
That was when I realized that as much as I longed to be carefree and in a perpetual jolly frolic, I only felt anchored to my God in suffering – whether it was through my own suffering or through the pains of others. In the days past, Heaven had blessed me with the freedom to wander unrestrained amongst dancing grasses and singing blooms, and even as I sang happy ditties, my spirit ached from an odd loss. The missing of something that had always been there. That should have been there, but it was not. It was much more than an attachment to something.
I was feeling the bereftness that binds a life lived away from the sun of suffering.
Today, I came late to the morning hours birthed from a cloud-festooned grey~blue sky. Hence, I missed my usual rest by God’s door, and that poked more than a bit at my heart. I didn’t like missing my morning Holy Hour of sorts. It wasn’t much, by any standards, and to not keep even that was to sink to a low I was not comfortable with. But there was no chance to slip away.
Deep in chores I had offered up in lieu of my still~time with Him, I sent God my yearning:
I want to pray. Not like this, on the go, but to really immerse myself in prayer.
The wish had barely left my heart when I heard unseen voices, singing a familiar song in a somber timbre. I leaned in to listen. It was the Litany of Saints. Sung by a choir hidden from sight. I recognized the tune, but while the voices were clear, the words were oddly muffled. I immediately wished I knew what the response was to each saint mentioned in the litany, because, while I didn’t know the Litany off by heart, but I knew enough saints to be able to concoct my own litany. I just needed to know what the response was. I could then pray as I worked.
On cue, the voices sang, St…Pray for us.
Pray for us. That was it.
About to begin the prayer, I felt an imperceptible tug on my spirit, like Someone was holding me back a wee bit. So, I stepped back from the choir, and tried to discern the message – if any. I thought perhaps it was to understand what to pray for, or to focus on a specific saint.
Instead, I felt I was led to focus on the hidden voices singing the litany. The mystery choir.
Who are they, I wondered. Angels? It didn’t seem so. Monks or priests singing it on recordings I have surely heard many times before? Quite possibly, yet, it didn’t feel that way.
I leaned in deeper.
And made out a quality of sorrow in their voices. Unmistakable notes of pleading woven through the grave cadences. Something familiar about them.
And once I had reached that, I felt my attention led to the next lamp:
Pray for us.
Angels wouldn’t ask us to pray for them.
And then I knew. Those were the voices of my friends, the Holy Souls.
When I had expressed the wish to pray deep, it was to sink deep into my friends’ and their children’s prayer needs, those I had been informed of. I had their faces before me, and I wanted to be there for them.
But it was not to them that God turned me to; He instead led me to the most loyal of my friends, the ones I love, yet, often forget. The ones in the deepest pain – the Poor Souls.
I had asked to be able to pray, to touch the pains of my friends and loved ones, for Jesus. And so, He answered me by letting the pleading prayer of the Holy Souls fall on my ears, so it may be my prayer too. To their suffering I was led, their song I joined.
And there I found Jesus. Home I have come.
I made a friend recently. Only I didn’t know it till later. I first found him through a humble entreaty to the Holy Spirit in a Consecration Novena I had said short weeks before. Later, in the hours of dry winds, I met him again in a prayer.
And still it didn’t clink that these bumpings were not mere coincidences.
Until I came face-to-face with him yet again in a quote by him, On your exceedingly great mercy, and on that alone, rests all my hope, used as a lead to the exquisite poem, Regarding Love by Cynthia Scodova in her blog, The Mad-Eyed Monk. From that quote, he led me down the poem till my eyes rested on
The infinitesimal sings its small song for You
Only then, belatedly, did it hit me that St. Augustine was calling out to me to get my attention, and his call had something to do with the way The infinitesimal sings its small song for You curled and settled into my heart .
I knew very little about him except that he was more than a trunk-load of headache and heartache to his mother, St. Monica. Then, he found God, and left the sordid life he had known and loved, for another of holy deeps that stripped him of all he had held close before.
Reading about him, getting to know him, I asked him what his reaching out to me meant. Was it to strip myself of more life-sapping petals? Was it to write more, speak more? What?
He held my eyes, and took me back to the little lamps he had lit as he drew me towards him.
∗ The simple prayer to the Holy Spirit in the Consecration Novena,
∗ The calling to the Holy Spirit to scatter its cheerful beams into my withering soul.
∗ And finally, The infinitesimal sings its small song for You
And then, the bead slid into its pod.
St. Augustine, great Doctor of the Church who occupied the highest of echelons of spiritual greatness, was calling me to the littles of life. To pare down life to what was truly important – the little calls heaven presses into my spirit. The ones I sadly, often forsake, seeking instead the heights of greatness in pastures not meant for me. The calls were the sacred duties of wife and mother which God had entrusted to me.
Every day since I found his prayer I had been praying for the infilling of the Holy Spirit. Now, St. Augustine was willing me to understand that for the Spirit to permeate every pore of my soul, I needed to return in cheerful obedience and humility, to tend to every one of the little holies of my life – the sacred calls woven into my marriage and motherhood. To attend to the littles of life was to allow a scattering of the Spirit’s cheerful beams, within every fold and crease of my walk on this earth.
St. Augustine had come in Mercy, to call me to return to the holiness of the littles. To fill with love and tenderness the golden cups set out for me in the Divine Will. He had come to teach me that every little act of love, every tiny sacrifice hidden for the Love of the Most High, would be like simple grains of sand the world might scoff at, but when purified, be transformed into pearls of little holies, woven one into another, to form the necklace of Eternal Life.
I was raised by parents who were never very comfortable with parenthood. Their joy in raising my siblings and I came in spots and spikes – and that too only when we said something funny or brought home a good report card. For the most part, it was all about fuming and grumbling. They let us know, in a variety of ways, that we were a burden their friends’ children never were.
I grew up never expecting tender, loving care if ever I fell sick, because even a cough brought on my mother’s temper and a dirge about how my illness kept her from a good night’s sleep. So, I learnt to stuff my face into a pillow and cough my lungs out into it, hoping to God that’d be the last cough ever. Even from a young age, I took my meds unsupervised; my dad sat in the living room and yelled the dosage from behind his newspaper. My mother, reluctantly cast in the role of cooking porridge for the sick child, was too busy being irritated that I had the nerve to fall ill, to ensure I didn’t overdose. Or under-medicate.
I can never recall my mother giving us our meds. Or helping to tie our laces. Or ironing our clothes. She was always in some storm over the burdens placed on her. But she cooked us good meals, and then, as we wolfed down our food hungrily, taught us to praise her cooking – to her and to our relatives and friends. For about thirteen years, she kept a clean and neat home – never as easy feat even with one child, what more with more, – but again, it was all about preening and keeping up appearances – Look at how well I keep the home – than it was about any benefit for us.
For my mother, caring for the family was never about selfless love. It was all about idolizing her.
When the Cat’s Away the Mice Will Play by Théophile-Emmanuel Duverger
Today, I, and so many others the world over, have the same responsibilities to mother our children. But there are differences. My siblings and I, being products of a different era, for the most part, kept still in church and other public places; my children have never understood the meaning of being still and silent. The moment they sit in the pew, the squirming and furtive fights begin. Out-of-the-side-of-the-mouth parenting is an art form I have perfected whenever we go out. Also, because of my children, I am the unabashed maestro at arranging my features into smiling gentleness whilst leaning towards the most recalcitrant of the lot, and saying through clenched teeth, Do you want to know what will happen if this behavior continues? When we get home, there’ll be a lecture on bad behavior and maybe some reduced tv time from already sparse viewing opportunities. And the erring one will climb into our lap to howl and sob a torrent at the injustice of it all, while we hold them close, struggling to choke down our laughter.
And remain unmoved by the tears, holding firm to the punishment.
But from us, never a lament that stretches into the week, about the undeserving shame brought onto parents.
Not because we’re model parents. Not because we’ve never felt mortification at the sight of one of our children attempting to do the overturned beetle routine over a denied request. Not because we’re saints with a turn-on-the-tap flow of patience.
But because that’s what children do. At least most of them. The whines, the howls, the squabbles, the misbehaving. Sniffles, measles, teething – all from one person, all in one week. Getting thrown off the bike. Falling off a tree. Getting stuck in a tree, so, so high up and screaming for the 8-month pregnant mother to come right now and get her down.
That’s all part of the repertoire of being a child.
Often, there are shadows and deep pain from having children, and caring for children. Miscarriages. Long hospital stays and endless tests for an unknown illness. Hope and desperation as you see the life that came from you slowly reach for an unseen hand not yours. The knifing pains and tears that never dry, years and years after burying your child.
Yet, those shadows too have their place in the Heaven and Calvary of raising children.
Pain is not supposed to visit only other people’s children, and to skip ours. Sorrow is bound inextricably to joy, and never is that more true than in raising and parenting children. For every joy, there will be a sorrow. For every sorrow, there will be a joy.
To love a child is to be there for them, through life-changing decisions, as well as through the everyday heroism of little things done without charge. To love them with every fibre of our being, through the redgolds of sun-joys and through the purple pain-wreathed years of deepest grief
To love a child is to touch heaven. A worn out Irish mother to twelve once expressed her worry to her priest that she wasn’t praying much due to the amount of time taken up for the home.
The old priest replied, Your children is your prayer.
When weariness binds each step, and people’s shenanigans get a bit much,
When every good done seems to come to naught, and hope begins to dry,
Another gentle hand on the arm, urging us up…..
by Alfred Joyce Kilmer (1886 – 1918)
Upon his will he binds a radiant chain,
For Freedom’s sake he is no longer free
It is his task, the slave of Liberty
With his own blood to wipe away a stain
That pain may cease, he yields his flesh to pain
To banish war, he must a warrior be
He dwells in Night, eternal Dawn to see,
And gladly dies, abundant life to gain.
What matters Death, if Freedom be not dead?
No flags are fair, if Freedom’s flag be furled
Who fights for Freedom, goes with joyful tread
To meet the fires of Hell against him hurled,
And has for captain Him whose thorn-wreathed head
Smiles from the Cross upon a conquered world.
June 14, 1918
Thoughts, Stories and Photography by Nancy Janiga
"So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day." 2 Corinthians 4:16
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