ADVENT

Christmas of the Poor

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         Some short weeks back, I had been so bogged down by my studies. It hurt me that after all these years fighting to keep my professional work out of Advent, it was now the stress and worry over my own studies that was encroaching upon this time of silence and watching. I was exhausted, I looked like a ghoul from severe lack of sleep and I could barely think of baking or cooking for Christmas. But thanks to the fervent prayers of my loved ones and dearest friends here, there were 2 miracles and I was freed from the worst of it. Overwhelmed by relief, I wanted more good to come out of this early Christmas gift of freedom. In this relief, a tiny memory tapped at my heart. It was about a Mexican legend I had read about 3 years before, about the miracle of poinsettias.

…a very poor child, Pepita, who wistfully longed to lay a gift at Baby Jesus’ crib at her church during Christmas Eve service. Some accounts say that it was her angel who then told her to pick some weeds from the roadside and present them to the Child King. When the little girl hesitated, the angel encouraged her, telling her that, Even the smallest gift from a heart that loves would make Jesus happy.

          In obedience, yet, still embarrassed, Pepita made a little bouquet of the weeds which she took into church later that night, shyly laying it at the bottom of the nativity scene.

          Suddenly, the bouquet of weeds no eye would heed burst into bright red flowers known today as poinsettias. It was a miracle seen by all present. The common and the ordinary was transformed into something of luminous beauty by pure, simple love. In that miracle, everyone at that time and over the centuries, saw the kiss of heaven on a little urchin’s gift from the heart that sought nothing but to love her Saviour.

          It dawned on me that unless I did something more with my days, I was going to arrive at Jesus’ Crib filled with my own needs and concerns, and yet be empty handed. So, I turned to God to ask Him what He wanted of me this Christmas. Slowly, I became aware of a tapping against my window,

Christmas of the Poor

          Honestly, after such a difficult year, all I wanted was a miraculous burst of huge good news come Christmas, and end to all the severe crosses we have borne so far. I wanted to rise above my exhaustion and frozen spirit and revel in last minute Christmas shopping, make up Christmas menus and think about Christmas trips and visits. Instead, it was 

Christmas of the Poor

laid down quietly and ever so gently, by the door of my heart.

          While I didn’t groan in disappointment, my spirits did droop. How long more, Lord? I asked. How long more must we endure? Is 14 years, and the last 4 months of sheer agony not enough for You? In answer, once again came the quiet,

Christmas of the Poor

          Thankfully, one of the blessings of being more grateful and thankful for everything in life is a heart that cannot lie upon the rug of whine for too long. I soon took myself in hand and joined the crowds of others long busy in trying to help other folks have a better Christmas.

          I figured I’d offer one Divine Mercy chaplet a day and the night’s family Rosary for a person in need. The first 2 came quickly enough, but after that, there seemed to be no specific name. So, on the 3rd day, I offered the chaplet for the Holy Souls of Purgatory. Then, came the 4th day but still no name. Do You not want me to pray, Lord? I asked, puzzled. In answer, the Angel opened my eyes. I learned of 2 people almost drowning in despair. And in a quick moment, I was moved to join the others already gathered there, to reach in and do what I could to help.

          And just like that, something shifted on the home front. Where I was once so tuckered out and listless, I found myself baking again. To the daily cooking and cleaning, a freshened vigour came. Even with my studies, I found myself calmly chipping away at the work that needed to get done.

          Today is a green and silver day, rendered by soft December rains. It is a day that lends itself to quiet thoughts and a listening heart. Into this velvet softness, a gentle hand tucks into my heart once more,

Christmas of the Poor

          We are all poor, whether we realise it or not. Even in our richness and perceived wealth, there will be fields of poverty somewhere in our lives. This we sometimes see, often not. But I think the angels take these poverties of ours and lay them by the doors of other hearts, even as they bring to us the poor of the world. 

          And when we sense the light rise upon our own hearts, it is because someone was moved by our poverty to share their light with us. It is because someone didn’t choose to look away or didn’t get too busy.

          It is because someone out there was poor enough to see our poverty, moved to share what little they had of their own light with us.

Feed Souls

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          A strange, blurry dream yesterday showed me preparing meals for Muslim memorial gatherings. It was a fuzzy dream, but long enough for me to remember its central theme: the preparation of food for this particular reason.

          I awakened wondering if I should shrug it off; after all, it was November 30, the last day of November when Catholics remember the souls of those gone, in a deeper, special way. I reasoned that if God really wanted me to do something about it, He’d have alerted me sooner. Besides, something else about the dream didn’t make sense – the memorial gatherings – because Muslims here rarely organise memorial get-together’s for their dead. They are very quick to bury their dead, often even before family members can gather. And the grieving are hurried to healing. Memorials are not the done thing.

          But something about the dream lingered on, just like the one about boys in prison. Gentle, like a soft breath against my hours. Not forcing me to focus on it, yet quietly willing me to turn my heart towards it.

          Given what our life here is like with Muslims in this country, I had scant desire to pray or do anything as in the dream. Yet, in issues concerning the departed, my heart bends in a strange softness; the call of their souls one I cannot turn away from, no matter what their faith or creed.

          It was no different this time. Although the rest of me scowled in rebellion, my heart ignored me and went ahead.

          I tried the easy way out first.

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let Thy perpetual Light shine upon them.

May their souls rest in peace.

          The prayer faded out of reach pretty quickly, but I couldn’t be sure if it was just me or something more. If it was my reluctance asserting itself, then my offering for these particular departed souls needed to be something I did not actively think about. So, I stood before my altar and offered up my day for the souls. I thought I’d make it a busy chore day, pushing myself with the Christmas cleaning, especially the bits I wasn’t too keen on – to deepen the element of sacrifice of the day for those souls.

          My hours of the 30th of November instead slid into gentle, languid ease. The heavy work day I planned simply misted away. Apart from the daily ‘usuals’, I got nothing else done. It was not due to apathy; more like my plans for the day were moved out of my reach.

          The prayer didn’t fit, the offering didn’t work out. I must have read the dream wrong, I thought ruefully to myself. It was just a dream, not a call from heaven.

          As those thoughts tread through my mind, an old dream came before me, of a coming reunion, a dark day of approaching danger, yet also a day where I saw our beloved long gone, living with us once more, in happy play with the other children, yet not too busy to give me a hug.

          Then, from behind me, in the dream, appeared a Muslim man, dressed in almost white. His hands stretched out in a gesture of heartfelt pleading, he said,

“At least you can see them. Give us some hope too.”

          So many, many times since that dream of 2015 on the eve of the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, I’ve pondered those strange words from the unknown man, At least you can see them. Give us some hope too.

          What hope was he referring to? Hope of seeing those gone alive once more amongst us?

          Why could he not see them?

          How did he know I could?

          And how was I to give him the hope of this seeing?

          Years later, no clear answer was forthcoming.

          But this new November dream was still here, asking me for something for Muslim souls. What it was, I didn’t know, but I suspected it was something that was not a part of Islam.

          On last night of old November, as the night rains mouthed a soft chorus outside, I read something about the Holy Souls that I have never come across before.

For the souls in Purgatory then, Holy Communion is one precious personal gift which they can receive from us. Who can tell how helpful Holy Communions are toward their liberation? One day St. Mary Magdalene de’Pazzi’s dead father appeared to her and said that one hundred and seven Holy Communions were necessary for him to be able to leave Purgatory. When the last of the one hundred and seven was offered for him, the Saint saw her father ascend to Heaven. ~ http://www.marys-touch.com/Eucharist/ch3.htm

          In a fall of Light, I suddenly saw and understood something I hadn’t before.

          This year, I’ve been moved to do something odd- to ask God permission each time I went to receive Holy Communion, to bring along Poor Souls. I had not read about this practice anywhere before, nor heard of it done by someone. In fact, every time I prayed to “bring along” a Poor Soul, I thought I was bone mad. But in the depths of my heart, I also wondered if coming with me to receive Holy Communion placed the departed souls as close to Jesus as possible, at least for a few moments, thus momentarily appeasing their flaming sorrows at the separation of atonement.

          I wasn’t even sure if this act was theologically sound but I was confident that if it wasn’t, God would right it Himself.

          Yesterday, upon reading the above passage, it became very clear that taking the souls for Holy Communion was not an act of madness. It was an asking of God.

To enable the expiation of sins through the power of the Holy Eucharist

          There are many written accounts of Saints like Padre Pio who tell of souls serving their Purgatory by expiating in very specific ways, of sins committed during their time on earth. I personally know this to be true, although I do not know if what I saw was Purgatory or Hell itself.

          But until last night, I had not known that we on earth can help to expiate for sins against the Holy Eucharist by the receiving It on behalf of the Poor Souls of Purgatory. And now, it appears that even in death, we can give Jesus to souls – including Muslims, for whom Jesus is a prophet, not the Messiah.

          Every year, I seek to know what Advent my Lord asks of me. This year was no different. Today, on this first day of Advent, an answer begins to take form. The memorial meals I saw myself preparing in yesterday’s dream was significant. I’m being asked to feed souls – but with the Eucharist.

          But it is what a priest does.

          I’m no priest and I’m not about to ordain myself.

         But as a sinner who was long ago taught to love and care for the souls of the departed, I am now being asked to feed them through my faith and belief in the presence and power of Jesus alive in the Holy Eucharist. As I receive my Jesus in Holy Communion,  carrying with me the departed in my heart, in a supernatural way, in a way I do not understand yet believe, they too will receive Jesus.

          Even Muslims.

          And by this open that final window to eternal freedom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Noel~Light

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          In the world today, there are many hearts that dwell in dark hollows. Weighed down by the Hadean anchors of sorrow, loss, anger, hatred, jealousy, guilt, and even indifference. Day and night, hour by hour, these hearts seek life in the dead, plumbing the depths of a strangling emptiness, in search of the light of Hope.

          Many years ago, I went through a phase of being awakened at 3 am every single night. I went to bed exhausted, and it didn’t make sense that short hours later, I would be roused from deep slumber when I wasn’t ready to wake up. Often, it was the acrid smell of smoke that shook me out of sleep.

          The smell of smoke without fire.

          But I was not afraid or troubled much.

          Every time it happened, I sought the light of prayer. For myself. For others.

          One such night, on a whim, I decided to send Light into homes. In my mind, I pictured dwelling after dwelling  – of loved ones and friends, and even those I disliked,  – and I said a prayer of Light for each. Suddenly, something took over the prayer. I felt I was being led to each homestead that I had prayed for. There I was shown the actual fire lit everywhere the match of my prayer touched kindling.

          In some homes, the fire was small, and burned neatly and restrainedly. I was given to understand that the fire was not allowed to burn with abandon; something in the hearts of those who dwelled there dampened holy fire. Then,  there was another home, where the match lit a fire so huge and powerful, it was startling. As I gazed at those determined flames, I felt this written on my heart: Purification. Indeed, a short time later, the family began facing deep trials.

          But there was another home where I sent the prayer of light, yet, no fire did it kindle. I stood in the shadows beyond the house, and looked at the deep, unyielding darkness before me. I didn’t ask for an explanation then, but received understanding months later – no fire could light there because the doyen of the family indulged in occultism.

          I prayed this same prayer over the years, a couple of times, but I was never shown this vision again.

          Today, this grey morning, rains fall outside, dew~ing away the dust and distraction of harried months. The clouds tip their water jars in benevolence, blessing the trees and grasses into bursts of emeralds and hunters, and flowers coyly unfurl the livened yellows, pinks, reds and blues of their petal~sheaths. A dew whisper travels from leaf to bud, awakening that which has fallen into the slumber of despair and despondency.

          As I drink in this reawakening to life, I wonder, if it is not time now, to once more send the angels out again, bearing the prayer of the Noel~light  ~  a Child waiting to be born in the yearning stables of every heart.

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.

Angels Came By

It has been an angel of a Christmas.

Angels in pictures, angels in a blog, angels in places I never would have expected. They’ve slowed me down, a gentle touch on my shoulder to tell me work is not all there is to life. They’ve come this Advent, come in the blue-gold breezes and in the melody of resting birds; in the hush of long grasses that grow on our hills. They’ve been the lamp that continues to glow long after lights in the home have been switched off. Angels were that spark of Advent joy within me, joy I’d thought I’d long since outgrown.

Angels made me do what I had never before done – decorate my kitchen! Always guided by a dull sense of practicality, I let go this year, if only a little. We got us three little boxes of little joy-bells, and strung them up in red ribbons on cabinet doors and door handles. 2 little gift tea cloths in festive reds and whites found their place in my kitchen too. And unseen angels kept our kitchen lighted all through.

Thirty people ate, slept and made merry in our little home amongst the quiet greens last Christmas. Thirty people, young and old, brought us an Angel warmth like never before. Its gentle glow banished into the shadows the hurts and pains of yesteryears, and gently nudged us to gratitude, thanksgiving and hope for the new year.

ADVENT CALENDAR IN MY HEAD

A friend told me about the Advent Calendar. I wondered how I could work that into my cramped schedule. Then, I got to thinking  about what the AC meant – making time for Little Things. Things which I take for granted but which are needed for life to go on. Baking with the kids, short trips to the grocery store with kids, their first independent buying trip, getiing them coloring pics, making an angel book for a fast-growing boy. Then, the Little Things of me-time: time to savour the beauty of rain-wet zinnias and jasmines, fresh green grass, hallowed beauty of fruit trees where baby long gone used to play under, clouds that make shapes of hopes in the blue skies.

So, this year, the conscious mental Advent Calendar came to be.