Taking the Road Less Travelled

January 19, 2016

The Road Less Traveled by Mary E Latela

So, Caroline told me that she saw a post on Google linked to findagrave.com, announcing your death as of August 5, 2014.  This was a shock, of course, because we all know we will not live forever, but when someone in our family circle dies, we hope that we will know about that right away. I suppose you and Mike & Nancy made some decisions about this … how would I know?

Mike, who seems to be doing well with his businesses, didn’t want to communicate over Twitter.. ok. So we have certainly remained interested in what has been happening with all of you, but our resources have come from google and an occasional post from your colleges. I am pleased to hear about Mike’s work, and his dedication to women in education and STEM classes.

I understand that Nancy is quite the experienced runner, and this is good, too.

You ended up in the Twin Cities, a lovely place to live, if a bit frigid in the winter. I wonder if you ever thought about the gift you squandered when you refused to accept me as truly your wife and the mother of the children.  I suspect not. I did love you so much.

I meant every word or our wedding vows. I assumed that you did, too.

Yet, your actions, even on the wedding day, were so off-putting that I was afraid I had made a terrible mistake.

Where do I begin in a conversation which is simply my writing my thoughts to one who is no longer around? I am assuming that I will write what I need to say. Period.  There is no follow-up. There is nor further discussion.

You did hurt me terribly, and you caused the children and me great unhappiness. I thought perhaps you were not mature enough to understand marriage, or that your parents and their squabbling had infected you, or something like that.

I DO believe in change, and I did – wrongly – believe that if I figured out how to make you happy, we would stay married, and give and receive the love we each yearned for.

You were despicable. You harmed me emotionally and spiritually. You damaged my spine so badly that I have pain nearly every day. I don’t know if your punching me in the face caused my vision problems but who knows.

I am relieved that I don’t have to deal with you anymore …. Instead there is so much that is incomplete.

CODA

WRITING

He claimed to be a strong Catholic, but he was not. He was abusive, mean, violent, etc.  The only comfort for me was that while taking care of our children, which I truly enjoyed, I was able to resurrect my passion for writing, and working in secret, and very hard, I was published regularly for my self-help, “inspirational books.” When, one day feeling discouraged about the writing game, I decided that everything I write would be with the intention of help others. In addition, life changed… not overnight, but within two years, my first book was published and thirteen more have followed.

During the separation and after the divorce, I was really isolated as my ex-husband kept the children away from me, the children whom I had cared for night and day since their birth, whom I had taught, had listened to, whom I still cherish.  I tried for the third time to do graduate school, working on a Certificate in Pastoral Ministry, which was a great program in developing counseling skills.

This is not what I planned. This is a messier version of the well-ordered life I wanted. This is a crazier (I use this word not as a mental health term but as slang for “confusing”) place than I ever expected to be, geographically, mentally, and emotionally.

The miracle of the grandchildren is an unexpected joy, and I love them so. I also realize that life is constantly changing and it’s better to focus on today than to worry about tomorrow. If only I could tone down the past, I would be calmer, more myself, less that frightened girl whose life I used to live.

During my convent years, my chronic depression, left untreated, melted into despair, and caused much distress as well as the accusation that I must be stuck on myself. Never was it considered that I was a survivor of a most horrible childhood, which still affects me even now.

How does a family react to a member who has claimed to be a victim of sexual abuse? The R.C. Church has gone through a long period of denial – which rubbed off on parents, insisting that abusers are rare, that victims are mentally unstable. If a parent is the perpetrator and the child is the victim what recourse has she (or he)? First, there is lack of life experience (in other words, the abuse starts so early in life that he child doesn’t understand or cannot resist.)  Second, sometimes the other parent is a Bystander, who is aware of abuse, but says nothing, does nothing, to help.

Eventually, several friends suggested I apply to seminary, and I was accepted. I wish I had told those people off. I decided to apply to Yale University and was accepted. I graduated with a Master of Divinity degree, and plenty of experience working in the inner city. I was qualified to be a church pastor and counselor. Of course, during my studies, I read about the shabby way the people treated the Prophets like Jeremiah and Amos, who wanted them to shut up or be killed. That was serving the Lord.  Actually, I was able to mesh that Biblical info with my life, which was certainly not a joyful jaunt on the way to “wholeness.”

I was finally able to address the stuff of my childhood with a terrific therapist…. I worked hard! He worked hard! My friends stood by me. My parents and I were not speaking. The children were not speaking to me. We just learned that ex-husband has died.

When we see others being harmed, we wish we could stop the violence, but we know … yes we know, that this scene will happen again and again … and either the perpetrator will kill his prey victim, or the victim will shrink away. A child whose personhood has been damaged will not rise to the podium and claim to speak “the word of the Lord.” This is not what I planned. This is a messier version of the well-ordered life I wanted. This is a crazier (I use this word not as a mental health term but as slang for “confusing”) place than I ever expected to be, geographically, mentally, and emotionally.

Clarissa Pinkola Estes, who wrote Women who Run with the Wolves, tells a fable about the stork. Sometimes the stork, so excited to be carrying a girl-child, accidentally drops her too soon or a little too late, and as a result, she grows up feeling as if she doesn’t really belong to this family. Estes calls this the “misplaced zygote theory.” I used to be a misplaced little girl. This must have been the wrong family, wrong mother who very quickly couldn’t stand me, who made me wear my hair very short like a boy, who hurt me in so many ways. Surely, I was not supposed to have this father, who took away my innocence, and who forced me to learn to “go away”/dissociate to survive my childhood.

It was a long, hard trip through the early years. The only place where I could be myself was in school. Yes, I am bright, but I was also a good little girl, a teacher’s dream.  I could get some of the calmness of school days when I read at home, especially in the summer, or when I sat with Grandma on her porch, listened to her, and learned to crochet. Through all these many years, I went from place to place, trying desperately to find a “home.” I didn’t know that you cannot erase the beginning, start over, re-form your parents, become a lovely, self-assured young woman….  without a great deal of pain and perseverance. I did persevere, except for the periods of despair, which were crippling. Even after I married – to the wrong man, quelle surprise! – I knew it was the wrong bus stop, and I had dropped into the wrong house with the wrong spouse.

And through the marriage and the long divorce, I kept looking for rescue, which never came. One day, dazed with depression, confused about where to turn, wanting to give up  – I had a turning point.  I finally realized that I must search inside myself to find myself, to be my true self. I never knew until then that I had a right to be happy.

Now, I still wonder why I am where I am. Well, of course, my vision is a challenge, and I cannot drive. For five years after I moved here, I could not write, could not bring myself to put words on paper. My daughter lives nearby, and the time with the grandchildren is precious, but I am on the edge of that family unit. When the boys come and have a sleepover it is wonderful, but my daughter still remembers the painful times when we were with her father and her siblings.  It is a mixture of sadness and joy.

I am blessed with several wonderful “girl friends” and we are so close, even though many miles separate us. My writing career has been successful, but there is so much more I have to say. I have stories to tell, but unless I find someone who wants to hear them, I fear they will be lost.  I realize that many 30-somethings ignore the parental input, but time goes by too quickly to count on some distance tomorrow to fill in the blanks. I am pretty content; I really enjoy teaching and counseling. I do feel alone and still deal with “the depression.” Of course, I go to book club, knitting, some churchy events, go for coffee at Starbucks.  I have the challenging gift of empathy, so I feel very deeply, and have to take care not to be swallowed up in someone else’s drama.

For tomorrow, I plan to deepen my contemplative side, not knowing how many more winters I have, or how many more birthdays. I fear that I will never again have a spouse, a partner to love and who loves me truly. I yearn for that, have had that kind of love before, but the prospects don’t look promising. Moreover, I surely do not want to be rejected one more time. I am afraid of dying, especially of dying a painful death. My daughter will not take care of me if I become frail. So I hope I can learn how to live each day as fully as possible and, when the time comes to “move on,” the passing will be bittersweet. I hope that at least one person who cares will be there. I hope that my chronic pain will not prevent me from spending my time with people I love and who care about me, that I will be able to travel a bit, and keep teaching as long as I can stand/see/talk, and writing as long as my mind is strong.

I’m thankful that I developed the perseverance and the oomph to complete my grad school, and for the good feeling of being an ordained minister – not with a great deal of power and authority, but with a voice that is clear and true, and a strong empathy and listening ear. I’m grateful that I am still teaching and that the challenges and joys keep coming.  I’m grateful for my students who teach me more and more.

I’m thankful when the grandkids yell to me, “Love you, Nana!” I am so thankful that I have wonderful photos of the grandchildren, including the latest school pictures. I am grateful that the sunrise and the sunset come, filling me with joy, and the bursting of colors. It love the wind and the rain and the snow, though I appreciate a hot cup of tea after being out in the weather. I am so thankful for music, and if there are not violins in heaven, I will protest. I am thankful for so much, for joy, for tears, for a comforting hug – give one, take one.

I’m happy to be able to use my hands ~ to play the piano, to write (but not so much with pen and paper as with computer ), to crochet and knit, to be nearly finished with a purple and variegated warm blanket for my friend. I’m happy to be able to tie pretty bows, and braid hair, and fix the table with flowers. I am particularly glad to know exactly where the Christmas tree stand is, for when the tree comes. I wish for all the people whose life intersects mine – even for a few moments – joy and peace, courage and stamina, love and good friends with whom to share it all!

I’m thankful that my daughter is in my life, and I love her dearly, and her husband, and the four beautiful grandchildren. I’m thankful for Michael and Nancy, wherever they are. I’m thankful for my sisters and my brother, for my cousins, and for the sweet memory of all my aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins. My brother has been a wonderful support to me over the years, from testifying at the divorce to regular phone visits and a very loving attitude.

 

ACHING HEART, WISE HEART

Reflection by Mary E. Latela, January 10, 2016

 

There are several people who were once very important to me, but they are missing from my life now. Every once in a while, I google them. No, it’s not snooping or talking. I call it checking in.  Even though we’ve been apart for many years, there is still some kind of soul-level connection, which I really don’t understand.

We learned last week that my ex-husband has died, not recently either, over a year ago. In all honesty, my initial reaction was, who will have sympathy for me? In other words, I was aware, very aware, that this loss was loneliness come to call again. And who would care? We said our “goodbyes” in court many years ago. I never would have allowed him to hurt me again. And now I am hurting, and it’s not my fault. And even though I am holding together, the hollowness hurts so badly.

Jack Kornfield, that wonderful Buddhist teacher, does not say we should quash or deny the aching heart. He writes: “The first thing you need to do when you’ve suffered loss or betrayal is to find a way to regain your wise heart so that you can let it hold the aching of your heart.”

Where is my wise heart? After feeling numb, then feeling “out of it” for a time, I have found it! I think it is the very same heart which was so wounded that I thought I wouldn’t survive, but I did survive. The Wise Heart is the heart which was so empty that I thought I’d never love any one again, and I do love. My wise heart has loosened my need for security and allowed me to experience – with less fear – the ebb and flow of life – the ups and downs, the highs and lows. Even when the dark night is sad, we can be sure that in the dawn, the light will be different. Our breath, which may be stressed, will be easier. I am waking up – not to the awfulness of life, but to the awe with which life swirls around, lifts us up, and sets us down, right side up.

Quotation from Jack Kornfield: https://www.jackkornfield.com/zen-aching-heart/

 

 

 

Mary Latela

ORPHAN

 

I never knew what it meant to be an orphan until middle school. Then some new classmates joined us in the huge Junior High School,  where my mother and aunts and uncles had come, where everyone from my part of town attended, as well as kids from new neighborhoods.

 

One of my new friends, Bonnie, told us that she was from the Children’s Home.

She did not have a father and mother. And as we got to know her,  it became clear that while most of us went home to Mom and Dad, or Grandma and Grandpa,

some children did not.

 

Yes, life in the Children’s Home was okay. The house parents loved the kids. There was a community of caring adults and children very much in need of caring. Bonnie was a really pleasant person… unlike most of us, she was Protestant, but she was still really nice. Questions started to form about these “others” we’d learned about in Catechism

who were “outside the fold,” another expression we did not understand. That’s another whole story.

 

I remember feeling afraid. What if there were no Mom and Dad? Heaven knows, our life at home was chaotic and noisy and well- unique- But the thought of having no one there to be OUR parents truly worried me. Besides, I know now, that people in the community used to take care of the orphans – by taking them in, and raising them.

My wonderful Aunt Florence told me that orphans did not go away somewhere when she was growing up.  A boy in the neighborhood lost his mother, and Mrs. Mauro –

Aunt Florence’s mother – was asked if they could take in another child.

Without hesitation, she agreed.  Aunt Florence said she never knew until she was an adult that her brother Charlie came from another mother. He was simply her big brother. There were twenty children in that family – yes, twenty – and Charlie was one of them.

 

In these May Gospels Jesus is portrayed as being deeply reluctant to leave his followers behind. He loves them. He will miss them. He will always be with them, but not in the same way he has been. He will take care of them as best he can. He wants to reassure them, yet he cannot deny the pain of separation from which they will suffer – and by implication from which he too will suffer.

 

He promises them that they will not be alone, he will send another to be their inspiration and guide, the advocate, the guardian, the spirit of truth. We can recognize that the Spirit of God will always be with the followers of Jesus. The Spirit’s invisible but powerful presence will be with them. This message was intended primarily for the early Christians who believed in Jesus but who lamented for his absence. It is also intended for us.

 

We are not alone. No matter how bad things might seem, Jesus is still with us. My challenge – and I know that of my clergy colleagues everywhere – Is how to integrate this promise of Jesus with the reality around us. There has been so much loss… near and far. In Joplin, our neighbors are pulling together lives which have been shattered by loss. In Oklahoma, Kansas, and other places people face loss and uncertainty. And our hearts were pulled toward Fargo, ND, where the folks were preparing for yet another record-breaking storm. And I couldn’t help but go back to what that was like for us, In the 1996 winter and following spring – fifteen blizzards, followed by what came to be called the 500 year floods.

 

Back then I wrote: The ravages of the winter, the blizzards and the floods…these have accumulated over a period of time. And even the sudden overturning of the expectation of the folks up and down the Red River Valley, that they would win the fight, was something we could not control.

 

So, we may be in the period of thinking, well, we survived. But is survival enough when so many have lost so much? Many people are reaching out to help, and for now, attention is focused on today’s survivors, as it was on the devastated Katrina aftermath, and Japan’s triple whammy – earthquake, tsunami, nuclear catastrophe.

 

The attention wears off quickly from CNN as another huge event takes over the front page. And people will be left behind to rebuild – for some, rebuild homes and businesses, for the rest of us, rebuild our lives.

 

And we may be wondering why our Lord seems to be so hard to grasp. Don’t we feel a little like orphans? Despite the temptation to think of this as some kind of punishment, This is not a test of faith. We are not weak in faith and trust. We say that we hope – sometimes we hope against hope – when the outcomes seems far away and bleak. The assault on our communities, on our families, on our children is REAL.

 

It’s not surprising: if we are discouraged and a little neglected. If we  are tired of this endless winter-spring-summer transition, If we are angry, confused, frustrated, worried. If we feel as if we have cannot face another death. We are all dealing with loss, That loss is different for each of us to be sure, but that grieving is real. The good news is that grieving isn’t stagnant… it  moves along, it moves to  a better place, somewhere down the road.

 

Many people find that this stack of blocks which has tumbled sets them back mentally and emotionally to an earlier time when they felt similar pain. For some, this may be  WWII, or Vietnam. For others, a more personal trauma is relived, The death  of a spouse or other loved one, The loss of a precious relationship. We may be feeling again some old grief,  which we thought had healed, but which is reopened by the present stress. This happens.

 

The question is how to deal with this sense of being vulnerable or helpless, or even “orphaned.” What heals wounds? Well, we know that time does. And I think we realize that admitting that we are dealing with a crisis, and figuring what we are feeling and thinking…that helps…And telling the story, and telling the story, and telling the story… And perhaps crying or shouting.

 

During this Easter season, – which continues, by the way – we have been considering how the disciples of Jesus dealt with his leaving them, and with coming to know him in a new way. We can certainly imagine that they reached back into their memories for times when Jesus was there to heal them, to take away their fears, to stop the winds and the waters, to calm the storm.

 

Remembering Jesus now certainly doesn’t erase whatever we struggle with. Remembering Jesus may very well help us in our healing process, and every healing is a process. I attended a workshop for clergy after the North Dakota experience, and a Red Cross disaster counselor asked the group, “How many of you have been affected by the floods?” And only a few hands went up.

 

“Wrong Answer!” said the worker. “You have all been affected ……” I do think, that when there is a disaster, we see more clearly than usual how we are all connected, how we are all brothers and sisters, children of the One God. When someone else suffers, we suffer, too. When someone else rejoices, we rejoice with them.

 

As our hearts continue to go out to those who seem to have it worse than we do… let’s not neglect our own pain, which is real… not magnify it, of course, but acknowledge it, and deal with it in a healthy manner. Actually, Jesus’ words meant to comfort his friends extend directly to us.

 

Rosemary Radford Reuther is a theologian, feminist philosopher, grounded in reality, filled with hope, and showing others how to be empowered with the spirit.

She says there are two things the church must do. One is to pass on the tradition from one generation to another. We might say this is like King Arthur’s song: “Ask ev’ry person if they’ve heard the story, and tell it loud and clear if they have not.”

Tell the story of Jesus to your children and your children’s children.

 

But that’s not all, says Reuther. There is a second thing the church must do. Be open to the winds of the Spirit by which the tradition comes alive in each generation. That is different than Camelot, deeper than memory. This is our hope – our hope against hope – for the future…And for each day. http://day1.org/936-i_will_not_leave_you_orphaned

 

 

 

A BLESSING

 

May you awaken to the mystery of being here and enter the quiet immensity of your own presence. May you have joy and peace in the temple of your senses. May you receive great encouragement when new frontiers beckon. May you respond to the call of your gift and find the courage to follow its path. May the flame of anger free you from falsity. May warmth of heart keep your presence aflame and may anxiety never linger about you. May your outer dignity mirror an inner dignity of soul. May you take time to celebrate the quiet miracles that seek no attention. May you be consoled in the secret symmetry of your soul. May you experience each day as a sacred gift woven around the heart of wonder.

~ John O’Donohue ~

 

(Anam Cara)

 

MY WEDDING DAY

On the wedding day, I did look lovely. But the party was hardly over when I awoke to reality. We were stopping at the apartment to change for the honeymoon when L demanded that I take off my wedding corsage. “What the heck?”  “Take it off. I don’t want everyone to know we were just married.

Before two weeks were over, I realized with the most awful emptiness that I had just made the worst mistake of my life. I had made a few, but this was the worst, and I am still living with the implications of that decision.

We met through “mutual friends” …. He was good-looking and very buttoned-up. All had to be just right…. Except for his habitual lateness. After awhile he told me he had been engaged before and she broke it off, calling him a “sex fiend.” I had never heard the word applied to anyone I knew. He was obsessed with sex, the cheating kind, like withdrawal, which was not in the manual for the rhythm method. He said he wanted to wait two years before having a baby, but he did nothing to prevent that from happening.

As any honest person will admit, the rhythm method is a pretty good way to get pregnant. And I did, within a couple of months of the wedding. When I realized I’d missed two periods, I went in for a test and it was positive. He said nothing at first, but I could tell from his clenched jaw that he was livid! What had I done wrong? I saw the doctor and she simply prescribed pre-natal vitamins. He threw me onto our king-sized bed and punched me hard, even in those places where a pregnant woman should not be harmed. Then he walked into the other room. For weeks, he taunted me with,  “You can’t count!” “It’s your fault!” “You messed up my plans!”

He told me about the first “girl” he’d been engaged to, and she even worked in the laboratory. When I saw her there one day, I could not believe she was the shrew he had described. She was quietly working her way through the stacks, trying to find the research for her own doctorate. She was pretty, blond, serious. L reminded me that she was not involved in real “research,” that she had sold out and become a writer for ACS periodical. She lived in D.C., and he knew it well.

So this was the “good man” I had married. The pregnancy was a huge inconvenience for him, and he never stopped his sarcastic remarks. I realized through the months that he was not ready to be a husband, or even to be a friend. He was a boy yet, and his family treated him like royalty one moment and like trash in the next moment.

Then I had a night of severe pain, nearly miscarried, went to the E.R., and was order to rest in bed for a few weeks. Eventually, my body settled, but my mind was ready to explode. What had caused this reaction?

During my fifth month, I decided to walk to the public library, just around the corner from our apartment. I borrowed as many books as I could carry – all on motherhood and babies. Returning home, I tossed my coat onto a chair. Then with some pillows to prop me up, I reclined on the gold shag rug with the books by my side. I selected one on childbirth and began to read, losing myself in the interesting narrative. At about page 80 or 90, I stopped in midsentence, and placed my hands on my slightly rounded abdomen. At that moment, I had an experience that was almost otherworldly. I thought, I have a baby insider me. Our baby is growing within me. I distinctly recall thinking this a strange sensation. Physically, I had felt pregnant from the beginning. There was never any question in my mind that a little one was within me. Why did this experience suddenly seem so real? No doubt, reading the book had brought home the fact that I would soon deliver this child. On the other hand, perhaps it was knowing that the little one was “showing.” I don’t know.

On the other hand, I had to give up my teaching job because of dizziness and nausea. I was extremely sleepy, which was to be expected, but my husband kept pushing me to be more active, not to take time to just rest.

The books about babies in the 1970s were a celebration of a new way of looking at the bond between mother and baby. Women were forgoing anesthesia to really “feel the experience.” With my back problems, I had nearly constant pain, and the deliveries were a strain. It was said that nursing baby was the way to go, so I tried, but what I had not anticipated was extreme tension after the births. I actually developed post-partum psychosis after the first birth. I knew I needed professional help.

When April 24, 1973 dawned it was lovely, and I wished I could just go back to bed. Yes, I had an epidural, but the birth was complicated. At a certain point, the nurse said, “Get the father out of here!” which was frightening to me, but a kindly resident said, “Everything will be fine,” and I wanted to believe him. The doctor was cursing, there was the sound of a vacuum, hoses, and pliers were used to pull him out. The cord was wrapped around his throat, but fortunately, once it was pulled away, he was breathing well and crying. The effect of this trauma was a birth defect: – his eye muscles were affected, and he needed to have surgery to correct that. Otherwise, he was beautiful – blue eyes which stayed blue, a little fuzz on his head, very sleepy, smooth baby skin, beautiful.

Two days after we brought our son home from the hospital, my husband went back to work and I was home alone with the baby for the first time. As soon as I heard the old sedan grumbling down the driveway, I felt very strange.

The tiny little boy was asleep with that quiet, peaceful baby sleep, complete with grins and grimaces. I went into the bathroom, showered, enjoying the suds and warm water. Then I tiptoed into the bedroom to see him again. I dressed quickly, pulling out each dresser drawer silently so as not to disturb him, yet wishing at the same time that he would awaken so I could hold him and talk to him again.

I pulled on soft slippers and went into the kitchen to do the breakfast dishes. More than once, I peeked at the little guy in the crib. When my chores ere finished. I put on a pot of coffee and went in again. I looked at him, and all the responsibility I felt for him suddenly weighed down on me, and I started to cry.

This is our baby. I am his mother. He needs me for everything – to burse him, to bathe him, to love him. I felt so unworthy, so inadequate. Tears spilled down my cheeks.

That first day alone with my son, I could hear him stirring as I finished my cup of coffee. His little baby cry beckoned me. Somehow, when he was awake and I knew he needed me, I felt stronger. In being busy with him, I felt able. This must be how all good mothers do it – just keep on mothering, minute by minute, day by day.

Even now, I sometimes worry about being a good enough mom. When I was tired or if the children were sick, I became frightened, wondering if I could handle all the challenges – most of them unplanned – that accompany caring for children. Fatigue seems to intensify those normal, human fears. The responsibilities are weighty, to be sure, but I believed – and still believe – that we are not alone in this world… we are all connected.

I did not know I was one of many mothers who were suffering abuse from the father of their child. One day I read an article in the paper about a place where you could call and someone would listen to your story.  The attitude at the time was that the only way to stop abuse was to leave.

I remember the exact day, the precise hour, when I realized that no matter what I did to try to make him happy, he was perfectly able and quite likely to kill me. N was a week old. We had the son and first daughter and I was happy that they were well. We sat down to a rather simple supper. He started to complain … this wasn’t done … how had I spent my time that day? Did I get any work done? “What? I have been taking care of our children all day!”

He stood up, went around behind me and dragged me through the living room into that little hallway outside the bedroom door, and he threw me onto the rug, and pressed his arm across my throat, really pressed. He was choking me. I knew that he had learned to kill in the military, but this was not supposed to be war. I did not pass out, I suppose because I was resisting him, but I was terrified down to my bones.

And that was the way I survived. When I was a victim of violence, I felt like I was slowly dying, not just my body, but also my soul. My sense of myself as a person was diminished by punches, chokeholds, blackened eyes, permanently damaged vertebrae. If you are lying on the ground and cannot move …. What do you do? You keep still, but your mind works. At first, you are desperate, you see death approaching. You feel like the big prison doors are clanging shut forever. You lack oxygen, you begin to panic ….

In addition, if you survive, if someone helps you up, or if you scrunch and crawl, inch by inch, you might pull yourself into a kneeling position. However, you cannot pray. You do not feel anything. You dare not explore the feelings, which are under your skin, in your gut, because you sense that one tear would melt you away.

Then I heard a story that saved my life. P. 164

The story that saved me was entitled “The Burning Bed.” (published 1/1/1980) by Faith McNulty, about Francine Hughes, a battered wife, who killed her husband after he made her burn her secretarial books with which she was trying to get a job so she could earn money and have a job. He didn’t want her to be more educated than he was.

The morning after the trial ended in which Francine Hughes was found not guilty, she was the guest on the Phil Donahue talk show, originating from Chicago. Donahue took on difficult topics, had guests with sad, terrible, or victorious stories. Members of the audience, mostly wives and mothers from the Midwest, asked questions and reacted. I watched every day I could.

When I turned on the TV that morning, after my husband had left for work and the children were playing, I sat very close and watched and listened to the horrifying story. It was the first time I had seen an actual TV report about an abusive marriage.

Francine Hughes looked dazed. Her face, even on our black and white TV,  was haunting.  She was so pale you had to wonder whether she would faint. She was coherent, but she spoke barely above a whisper.  The jury, after hearing her recount her story, had decided she was not guilty.

After a long, long history of her husband’s cruel abuse, Francine had finally set his bed afire when he finally fell asleep after a rampage in which he destroyed many of Francie’s things. What causes her to “snap” was his demand that she burn the textbooks she had purchased and hid from him, in order to take classes, to have job skills in order to get a job and leave him.

My marriage was another story of abuse, learned helplessness, fear for my life and for my children. I knew by that time that I was not alone, after I read a small item in the local newspaper about a hotline in my town where you could talk to someone if you were being abused.

What shocked me most about the Donahue show was the reaction of some of the women in the audience. They were judgmental. They chastised Ms. Hughes for not being a good, submissive wife. They condemned her for killing her husband, quoted Scripture, the Ten Commandments, etc. They yelled her, called her a coward. She simply listened.

Donahue stepped in and said, “I don’t believe what I am hearing. My audience, mostly women who are smart, caring, and knowledgeable, have heard this horrible story.  And you see her here, obviously the victim of horrifying abuse. Don’t you have any compassion?”

Francine Hughes’ story was turned into a book by Frances McNulty(1980), and later into a movie with Farrah Fawcett, entitled, The Burning Bed.

The entire episode was a wake-up call for our culture, a confirmation of the reality of spousal abuse, the depth to which an abuser would sink, the destruction of the victim’s self-worth, and sometimes breakdown or death at his hands.

During the divorcing years, time stood still, then ran away.

 

 

 

When we see others being harmed, we wish we could stop the violence, but we know … yes we know, that this scene will happen again and again … and either the perpetrator will kill their prey   victim, or the victim will shrink away. A child whose personhood has been damaged will not rise to the podium and claim to speak words of comfort to others.

Does non-violence work in his violent world? I have to say it does ….and I have to think this way because the alternative is to concede that there is so solution. If violence takes over, even the gentle are harmed, even the children and those children of tomorrow who might someday come into the world… may never live. This surely seems like a path to extinction.

There is a theory blowing around that the reason men kill crowds of women or children or anyone, is that they have something wrong with their masculinity. They are hyper-masculine. Leaving that sociological debate alone for now, I say that basically, there is something very wrong with a world in which we analyze, theorize, speculate about why children are dead, why women are raped, focusing on the actor of the violence. Yet, we do not come together to stop senseless killing, stop people from believing that they have the “freedom” to protect themselves with guns, knives, whenever they feel they night be killed. And they feel this way every night, every time they pass through a certain neighborhood, every time they  hear a noise in the night.

From that day onward, I knew that I could not wait to be rescued from my own situation. I had to end the abuse. As much as I regretted ending the marriage, I was already sure that I could be killed by my husband. It took some time; I made some false starts, but finally I restarted my life without him. Unfortunately, the divorce proceedings went on for two years, with many interruptions. Following the decision for joint legal custody, he kept the children from seeing me for quite a long time, which was contempt of court, but not really enforceable.

Media attention to some public perps has focused, it seems to me, on the frailty of the abuser, or his sinfulness. Doesn’t everyone know forgiveness is not free – you need to repent and “sin no more.” I shudder to think how children react during this period of inquiry, when they are scared; the assaults are somewhat predictable; and they believe they are to blame, and that there is no one who loves them enough to help.

Decades after a courageous survivor confronts those who committed or permitted the violations, they may be left off of the Thanksgiving invitation because their penchant for honesty is a bit intimidating. This is “the tip of the iceberg,” is it not?  I am open to discussion about this most critical area of family care. I condemn the victimization of children and mothers by sick people who have little incentive to change.

When we see others being harmed, we wish we could stop the violence, but we know … yes we know, that this scene will happen again and again … and either the perpetrator will kill his prey victim, or the victim will shrink away. A child whose personhood has been damaged will not rise to the podium and claim to speak “the word of the Lord.”

Lenore Walker wrote one of the first no holds barred books on domestic violence. She did make some controversial statements but basically, she told the victim she was not to blame for his violence. This was in the 1970s when people were taking another look at rape, when the victim was not automatically assumed to have provoked the violation.

Laura Davis, who now teaches writing and facilitates empowerment retreats teamed with Ellen Bass to write a manual to examine and tell the stories of women who had been sexually abused early in life and who were trying to heal, a very steep climb.

 

When I am tempted to chastise myself for marrying this sad man, I have to recall that I was young, innocent, and truly believed that if I was sincere in my love for him, that his words were the truth, that he loved me too. He wanted to be affectionate. He also wanted to run the show, to dominate all the conversations, to avoid many topics.

There was the Kidnapping. ML March 26, 2011

Is it a kidnapping if no one died?

Is it a kidnapping if I walked in, stupidly, and he pushed me the rest of the way?

Is it a kidnapping if when it was finally safe to leave, I had burned all my bridges and had nowhere else to go?

Is it a kidnapping if you go to Disneyworld with your kids? And to Busch Gardens? And to Sea World?

If you’ve been separated for a year and not slept together and he rapes you, does that mean the divorce is off because you had a sexual encounter?

If your heart is tugging at you, as you take in the scents of your children, and listen to their voices and want them so, and you know that you cannot leave, because he has trapped you, is it wrong to feel afraid and not yell?

Is it kidnapping if he’s already stolen your body and soul, heart and mind?

If he locks the door and blocks the way, and you really cannot get out,

do you have a choice?

And if he keeps you there week after week,

And if the police come and you don’t scream out,

And your brother drives up and you are restrained from calling out?

Is it a kidnapping?

Was it a crime? Yes, it was, and there was no justice and there was no resolution, and I still am hesitant to talk about it because at some level I still feel like a fool. I had let my hyper vigilant guard down for a few seconds, less than a minute, and it seemed that all the progress dissolved and the darkness enveloped me again and would not let go.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

It was about 7:30 on a dark winter evening, there in Northeast Connecticut. I pulled my car into the driveway in front of the house where he lived with our children, prepared to say goodnight to my beloved little ones after our Wednesday night supper visit. We were busy, talking excitedly, at the same time becoming a little quiet as the return to separate lives was imminent. Goodbye! Hello! When will I see you again?

I turned off the ignition and my heart thumped. My estranged husband in his Saab dream car pulled in behind me, with only a few inches to spare. “Been to the Laundromat. Help me get this stuff inside.” Without a thought, I dragged one of the duffel bags, leftover from the Air Force days, into the doorway. And before I could stop to think, he pushed me roughly into the open front entrance of the rented house, closed and locked the door behind me.

“I have to go.”

“No, you are staying!”

He took me into the spare bedroom, demanded that I hand him my shirt and slacks, and tossed me a robe, the robe which I had made for him back when I’d had hopes, velvet blue and deep red. It dawned on me that I was a hostage, perhaps. Phones were all unplugged. This was before cellphones. No computer – my technologically advanced guy was opposed to having one in the home. There was no point in yelling – scaring the children, and the house was far enough from the street that no one would hear – or even care.

I had my own apartment two miles away, and everything I owned was there. What had happened is my fault. I thought I had passed the point of danger. I did not have people to check on me. We’d been apart for almost exactly a year – should have realized that he, too, kept track of anniversaries, and would want what was his, no matter what. No, he would need to have the person he thought he owned – his wife, whom he’d turned from a shy, educated, intelligent girl into a voiceless woman with no one who really had any power to help her.

My family were fed up. Too many times, I had gone back – a victim of my own need to be near my children and to pray for a miracle. It was a broken record, until I finally saw the lawyer and filed the papers, and I waited upstairs with the kids as the sheriff served the paper and he made lengthy conversation with them about how a mistake had been made, then finally left and they left, and we pushed chairs against the doors, and I sat up all night waiting.

My role as the “different one” – the identified patient in a very dysfunctional family – was set in stone. I was accepted as the sick one, the depressed one, the one who picked the wrong guy and was stuck with him, with his over-inflated ego, the guy no one liked, but whom no one would confront.

After a full year of separation, several court appearances, a lawyer who was kind but influenced by big men who used big words to warn you to back off, we were no closer to our no-fault 90 day divorce than the night he was removed. He wanted to countersue for a legal annulment, which was his right as a citizen but which did not fit with our having born and raised three children.

The next day came and the children were on winter break so they were home from school. The week passed, very slowly, as he pulled me back into his bed, and I resorted to “mentally departing” during the unpleasantness, then dealing with yet another migraine. That’s when I started to think of myself as a polite time bomb – only implosion would be permitted, the ulcer, the migraines, the depression.

It sounds corny, perhaps, but I have to say it. I am an orphan. Yes, it’s true that my mother’s dementia is running its course, and she is in the final stages, graciously offered hospice care in the nursing home where she has resided/existed for the past seven and a half years.

In the past few days I have awakened to the reality that I have been an orphan for a long time. Mother was not there for me; father was definitely not there for me. There was no unconditional love, and no, I wasn’t especially needy or anything.

 

On my uncle’s 65th bday, there was a huge picnic planned. Of course I wanted to attend. I awakor that morning to pounding on my door. Half – asleep, I looked out carefully, and it was Dino, pushing the door in, pushing me into the bedroom. “The restraining order!”

“You’re not getting a dicovrs. The kids love living with me!”

With facial bruises, including a black eye, I called police. The office took way too long to fill our his report and when he finally left, I asked when he would be apprehending D. He said he had to interview him, listen to his side o fthe story and see if there was any substance to the complaint. He would let me know if he needed to talk to me again. Home invatson! Assault! Intimidation!

When I went over to Pete and Rose’s, I wore my sunglasses. My brother asked to see my face. He nodded. He had witnessed the bruises; he later testified about that.

 

 

 

 

 

WEDDING DAY

 

On the wedding day, I did look lovely. All the relatives came. The message of the day was based on a reading on trusting God. But the party was hardly over when I awoke to reality. We were stopping at the apartment to change for the honeymoon when L demanded that I take off my wedding corsage. “What the heck?”  “Take it off. I don’t want everyone to know we were just married. During our time away, he was focused on my shortfalls as a navigator. I reminded him that since I had never traveled, that was expecting too much.

After we returned, we got back to unpacking gifts and organizing the apartment. Before a month was over, I realized with the most awful emptiness that I had just made the worst mistake of my life. I had made a few, but this was the worst, and I am still living with the implications of that decision.

We met through “mutual friends” …. He was good-looking and very buttoned-up. For him, everyone else had to be just right…. Then again, he was habitually late. After a while he told me he had been engaged before and she broke it off, calling him a “sex fiend.” I had never heard the word applied to anyone I knew. He really was obsessed with sex, the cheating kind, the unwanted advances, withdrawal, which was not in the manual for the rhythm method.

As many honest people will admit, the rhythm method is a way to get pregnant. And I did, within a couple of months of the wedding. When I realized I’d missed two periods, I went in for a test and it was positive. He said nothing at first, but I grew frightened of his increasing anger. He spent the next months reminding me, “You can’t count!” “It’s your fault!” “You messed up my plans!”

He was livid! What had I done wrong? I saw the doctor and was prescribed pre-natal vitamins. He threw me onto our king-sized bed and punched me hard. He tried to choke me. Then he walked into the other room. For weeks, he taunted me with, “I thought you could count!”

Then I had a night of severe pain, a visit to the E.R., and orders from the doctor to rest in bed for a few weeks. Eventually, my body settled, but my mind was ready to explode. What had caused this reaction?

The pregnancy was a huge inconvenience for the father, and he never stopped his sarcastic remarks. I think he was not ready to be a husband, or even to be a friend. He was a boy yet, and his family treated him like royalty one moment and like trash in the next moment. I also had to give up my teaching job because of dizziness and nausea. I was extremely sleepy, which was to be expected, but my husband kept pushing me to be more active, not to take time to just rest.

The books about babies in the 1970s were a celebration of a new way of looking at the bond between mother and baby. Women were forging anesthesia to really “feel the experience.” With my back problems, I had nearly constant pain, and the deliveries were a strain. It was said that nursing baby was the way to go, so I tried, but what I had not planned on was extreme tension after the births. I actually developed post-partum psychosis after the birth of our son. I knew I needed professional help.

We had the gift of two daughters as well, and the pregnancies went well. I tried to be the best wife possible, but that is never the way to fix a broken marriage. As his occasional outbursts became more intense, I did fear for my life, but I was also angry. I deserved to live. He was not going to kill me.

I remember the exact day, the precise hour, when I realized that no matter what I did to try to make him happy, he was perfectly able and quite likely to kill me. Nancy was only a week old; I was recovering from delivering her. We had the son and first daughter and I was happy that they were well. We sat down to a rather simple supper. He started to complain … this wasn’t done … how had I spent my time that day? Did I get any work done? “What? I have been taking care of our children all day!”

He stood up, went around behind me and dragged me through the living room into that little hallway outside the bedroom door, and he threw me onto the rug, and pressed his arm across my throat, really pressed. He was choking me. I knew that he had learned to kill in the military, but this was not supposed to be war. I did not pass out, I suppose because I was resisting him, but I was terrified down to my bones.

And that became the way I lived. When I was a victim of violence, I felt like I was slowly dying, not just my body, but also my soul. My sense of myself as a person was diminished by punches, chokeholds, blackened eyes, permanently damaged vertebrae. If you are lying on the ground and cannot move …. What do you do? You keep still …. But your mind works, what happens? At first, you are desperate … you see death approaching …. You feel like the big prison doors are clanging shut forever …. You lack oxygen …. You begin to panic ….

In addition, if you survive, if someone helps you up, or if you scrunch and crawl, inch by inch, you might pull yourself into a kneeling position. However, you cannot pray. You do not feel anything. You dare not explore the feelings, which are under your skin, in your gut, because you sense that one tear would melt you away.

 

My body was hurt badly during those years. After Michael’s birth, my tail bone had been was broken; the following week, husband kicked me hard in the butt. He choked, hit, raped, kept me away from my relatives. My back, which has been problematic since my teen years was damaged badly by being slammed on the concrete floors in our apartment. I have a deteriorating spinal condition, several damaged and bulging discs, and for good measure from waist to neck, frozen spine. Many times I had black eyes, and I wonder if that had anything to do with my difficulties with vision in the past decade. I cannot lift more than 10 pounds. Pain is, well, chronic.  I have PTSD, probably from my childhood, when I lost time on several occasions, and my marriage which I remember in vivid detail until a major depressive episode in the late 1980s.

 

I was beginning to read and hear that the only way to stop this was to leave, so said the experts. But leaving him meant living out a drama played in which he focusd on trying to convince everyone that I was mentally unstable and he would do anything to fix out lives. It was a lie which was repeated frequently. The man could not keep a job, and every two years or so, I would be typing out his resume, and he would spend a year finding another job about which he would complain from day one.

I needed help, but my husband  prevented me. For months I was in depression. When his abuse became physical, I felt painted into a corner. I didn’t know where to turn…. I did not know there was any way to turn for help. One day I called the women’s center in town, and a lovely woman let me talk. After a while, she said they always tried to get a woman and her children safe. I took the children away to my parents’ home.  He arrived there tried fiercely to keep me away from my family.

He told me plainly that if I ever left, the children would stay with him and I would not see them again. The trauma of this first threat to my family – the children not being with me – frightened me deeply. This was not the first nor the last time I tried to leave him.

*********************

Then I heard a story that saved my life.

The story that saved me was entitled “The Burning Bed.” (published 1/1/1980) by Faith McNulty, about Francine Hughes, a battered wife, who killed her husband after he made her burn her secretarial books with which she was trying to get a job so she could earn money and have a job. He didn’t want her to be more educated than he was.

The morning after the trial ended in which Francine Hughes was found not guilty, she was the guest on the Phil Donahue talk show, originating from Chicago. Donahue took on difficult topics, had guests with sad, terrible, or victorious stories. Members of the audience, mostly wives and mothers from the Midwest, asked questions and reacted. I watched every day I could.

When I turned on the TV that morning, after my husband had left for work and the children were playing, I sat very close and watched and listened to the horrifying story. It was the first time I had seen an actual TV report about an abusive marriage.

Francine Hughes looked dazed. Her face, even on our black and white TV,  was haunting.  She was so pale you had to wonder whether she would faint. She was coherent, but she spoke barely above a whisper.  The jury, after hearing her recount her story, had decided she was not guilty.

After a long, long history of her husband’s cruel abuse, Francine had finally set his bed afire when he finally fell asleep after a rampage in which he destroyed many of Francie’s things. What causes her to “snap” was his demand that she burn the textbooks she had purchased and hid from him, in order to take classes, to have job skills in order to get a job and leave him.

My marriage was another story of abuse, learned helplessness, fear for my life and for my children. I knew by that time that I was not alone, after I read a small item in the local newspaper about a hotline in my town where you could talk to someone if you were being abused.

What shocked me most about the Donahue show was the reaction of some of the women in the audience. They were judgmental. They chastised Ms. Hughes for not being a good, submissive wife. They condemned her for killing her husband, quoted Scripture, the Ten Commandments, etc. They yelled her, called her a coward. She simply listened.

Donahue stepped in and said, “I don’t believe what I am hearing. My audience, mostly women who are smart, caring, and knowledgeable, have heard this horrible story.  And you see her here, obviously the victim of horrifying abuse. Don’t you have any compassion?”

Francine Hughes’ story was turned into a book by Frances McNulty(1980), and later into a movie with Farrah Fawcett, entitled, The Burning Bed.The entire episode was a wake-up call for our culture, a confirmation of the reality of spousal abuse, the depth to which an abuser would sink, the destruction of the victim’s self-worth, and sometimes breakdown or death at his hands.

From that day onward, I knew that I could not wait to be rescued from my own situation. I had to end the abuse. As much as I regretted ending the marriage, I was already sure that I could be killed by my husband. It took some time; I made some false starts, but finally I restarted my life without him. Unfortunately, he illegally kept the children from seeing me. Some years later the younger daughter returned to live with me. The others are still away, on their own somewhere in the Midwest. It still hurts, but I have gone beyond survival into a place of relative peace and hope.

 

Eventually, several friends suggested I apply to seminary, and I was accepted. I wish I had told those people off. I decided to apply to Yale University and was accepted. I graduated with a Master of Divinity degree, and plenty of experience working in the inner city. I was qualified to be a church pastor and counselor. Of course, during my studies, I read about the shabby way the people treated the Prophets like Jeremiah and Amos, who wanted them to shut up or be killed. That was serving the Lord.  Actually, I was able to mesh that Biblical info with my life, which was certainly not a joyful jaunt on the way to “wholeness.”

I was finally able to address the stuff of my childhood with a terrific therapist…. I worked hard! He worked hard! My friends stood by me. My parents and I were not speaking. The children were not speaking to me. We just learned that ex-husband has died.

When we see others being harmed, we wish we could stop the violence, but we know … yes we know, that this scene will happen again and again … and either the perpetrator will kill his prey victim, or the victim will shrink away. A child whose personhood has been damaged will not rise to the podium and claim to speak “the word of the Lord.” This is not what I planned. This is a messier version of the well-ordered life I wanted. This is a crazier (I use this word not as a mental health term but as slang for “confusing”) place than I ever expected to be, geographically, mentally, and emotionally.

Clarissa Pinkola Estes, who wrote Women who Run with the Wolves, tells a fable about the stork. Sometimes the stork, so excited to be carrying a girl-child, accidentally drops her too soon or a little too late, and as a result, she grows up feeling as if she doesn’t really belong to this family. Estes calls this the “misplaced zygote theory.” I used to be a misplaced little girl. This must have been the wrong family, wrong mother who very quickly couldn’t stand me, who made me wear my hair very short like a boy, who hurt me in so many ways. Surely, I was not supposed to have this father, who took away my innocence, and who forced me to learn to “go away”/dissociate to survive my childhood.

It was a long, hard trip through the early years. The only place where I could be myself was in school. Yes, I am bright, but I was also a good little girl, a teacher’s dream.  I could get some of the calmness of school days when I read at home, especially in the summer, or when I sat with Grandma on her porch, listened to her, and learned to crochet. Through all these many years, I went from place to place, trying desperately to find a “home.” I didn’t know that you cannot erase the beginning, start over, re-form your parents, become a lovely, self-assured young woman….  without a great deal of pain and perseverance. I did persevere, except for the periods of despair, which were crippling. Even after I married – to the wrong man, quelle surprise! – I knew it was the wrong bus stop, and I had dropped into the wrong house with the wrong spouse.

And through the marriage and the long divorce, I kept looking for rescue, which never came. One day, dazed with depression, confused about where to turn, wanting to give up  – I had a turning point.  I finally realized that I must search inside myself to find myself, to be my true self. I never knew until then that I had a right to be happy.

Now, I am much older, and I still wonder why I am where I am. Well, of course, my vision is a challenge, and I cannot drive. For five years after I moved here, I could not write, could not bring myself to put words on paper. My daughter lives nearby, and the time with the grandchildren is precious, but I am on the edge of that family unit. When the boys come and have a sleepover it is wonderful, but my daughter still remembers the painful times when we were with her father and her siblings.  It is a mixture of sadness and joy.

I am blessed with several wonderful “girl friends” and we are so close, even though many miles separate us. My writing career has been successful, but there is so much more I have to say. I have stories to tell, but unless I find someone who wants to hear them, I fear they will be lost.  I realize that many 30-somethings ignore the parental input, but time goes by too quickly to count on some distance tomorrow to fill in the blanks. I am pretty content; I really enjoy teaching and counseling. I do feel alone and still deal with “the depression.” Of course, I go to book club, knitting, some churchy events, go for coffee at Starbucks.  I have the challenging gift of empathy, so I feel very deeply, and have to take care not to be swallowed up in someone else’s drama.

For tomorrow, I plan to deepen my contemplative side, not knowing how many more winters I have, or how many more birthdays. I fear that I will never again have a spouse, a partner to love and who loves me truly. I yearn for that, have had that kind of love before, but the prospects don’t look promising. Moreover, I surely do not want to be rejected one more time. I am afraid of dying, especially of dying a painful death. My daughter will not take care of me if I become frail. So I hope I can learn how to live each day as fully as possible and, when the time comes to “move on,” the passing will be bittersweet. I hope that at least one person who cares will be there. I hope that my chronic pain will not prevent me from spending my time with people I love and who care about me, that I will be able to travel a bit, and keep teaching as long as I can stand/see/talk, and writing as long as my mind is strong.

I’m thankful that I developed the perseverance and the oomph to complete my grad school, and for the good feeling of being an ordained minister – not with a great deal of power and authority, but with a voice that is clear and true, and a strong empathy and listening ear. I’m grateful that I am still teaching and that the challenges and joys keep coming.  I’m grateful for my students who teach me more and more.

I’m thankful when the grandkids yell to me, “Love you, Nana!” I am so thankful that I have wonderful photos of the grandchildren, including the latest school pictures. I am grateful that the sunrise and the sunset come, filling me with joy, and the bursting of colors. It love the wind and the rain and the snow, though I appreciate a hot cup of tea after being out in the weather. I am so thankful for music, and if there are not violins in heaven, I will protest. I am thankful for so much, for joy, for tears, for a comforting hug – give one, take one.

I’m happy to be able to use my hands ~ to play the piano, to write (but not so much with pen and paper as with computer ), to crochet and knit, to be nearly finished with a purple and variegated warm blanket for my friend. I’m happy to be able to tie pretty bows, and braid hair, and fix the table with flowers. I am particularly glad to know exactly where the Christmas tree stand is, for when the tree comes. I wish for all the people whose life intersects mine – even for a few moments – joy and peace, courage and stamina, love and good friends with whom to share it all!

I’m thankful that my daughter is in my life, and I love her dearly, and her husband, and the four beautiful grandchildren. I’m thankful for Michael and Nancy, wherever they are. I’m thankful for my sisters and my brother, for my cousins, and for the sweet memory of all my aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins. My brother has been a wonderful support to me over the years, from testifying at the divorce to regular phone visits and a very loving attitude.

ORDINATION TO MINISTRY

ORDINATION TO MINISTRY

I was ordained as Pastor and Teacher on Sunday October 30th 1994 at Battell Chapel at Yale. My Committee on Ministry knew much of my story, and treated me like some amazing survivor. They obviously didn’t remember that people can eat you up, especially church people bent on power abuse, and even pastors who richly give of their care and support, preach from the head and heart, and sit with the dying.

In every one of my calls, I accepted with hope and confidence, gave generously, deep expanded by understanding of the people who want the church to be in their own names, and also able to sit with the dying and their families. I was pushed more than once from a church or institution job, usually because of “politics.” I kept trying until I could feel burnout starting to wear me down.

I wish I had left the church and kept walking, but that’s a very hard move. I tread very lightly now in religious circles and refuse to get involved in intense, egotistical committee work.

 

On the wedding day, I did look lovely. But the party was hardly over when I awoke to reality. We were stopping at the apartment to change for the honeymoon when L demanded that I take off my wedding corsage. “What the heck?”  “Take it off. I don’t want everyone to know we were just married.

Before two weeks were over, I realized with the most awful emptiness that I had just made the worst mistake of my life. I had made a few, but this was the worst, and I am still living with the implications of that decision.

We met through “mutual friends” …. He was good-looking and very buttoned-up. All had to be just right…. Except for his habitual lateness. After awhile he told me he had been engaged before and she broke it off, calling him a “sex fiend.” I had never heard the word applied to anyone I knew. He was obsessed with sex, the cheating kind, like withdrawal, which was not in the manual for the rhythm method. He said he wanted to wait two years before having a baby, but he did nothing to prevent that from happening.

As any honest person will admit, the rhythm method is a pretty good way to get pregnant. And I did, within a couple of months of the wedding. When I realized I’d missed two periods, I went in for a test and it was positive. He said nothing at first, but I could tell from his clenched jaw that he was livid! What had I done wrong? I saw the doctor and she simply prescribed pre-natal vitamins. He threw me onto our king-sized bed and punched me hard, even in those places where a pregnant woman should not be harmed. Then he walked into the other room. For weeks, he taunted me with,  “You can’t count!” “It’s your fault!” “You messed up my plans!”

So this was the “good man” I had married. The pregnancy was a huge inconvenience for him, and he never stopped his sarcastic remarks. I realized through the months that he was not ready to be a husband, or even to be a friend. He was a boy yet, and his family treated him like royalty one moment and like trash in the next moment.

Then I had a night of severe pain, nearly miscarried, went to the E.R., and was order to rest in bed for a few weeks. Eventually, my body settled, but my mind was ready to explode. What had caused this reaction?

During my fifth month, I decided to walk to the public library, just around the corner from our apartment. I borrowed as many books as I could carry – all on motherhood and babies. Returning home, I tossed my coat onto a chair. Then with some pillows to prop me up, I reclined on the gold shag rug with the books by my side. I selected one on childbirth and began to read, losing myself in the interesting narrative. At about page 80 or 90, I stopped in midsentence, and placed my hands on my slightly rounded abdomen. At that moment, I had an experience that was almost otherworldly. I thought, I have a baby insider me. Our baby is growing within me. I distinctly recall thinking this a strange sensation. Physically, I had felt pregnant from the beginning. There was never any question in my mind that a little one was within me. Why did this experience suddenly seem so real? No doubt, reading the book had brought home the fact that I would soon deliver this child. On the other hand, perhaps it was knowing that the little one was “showing.” I don’t know.

On the other hand, I had to give up my teaching job because of dizziness and nausea. I was extremely sleepy, which was to be expected, but my husband kept pushing me to be more active, not to take time to just rest.

The books about babies in the 1970s were a celebration of a new way of looking at the bond between mother and baby. Women were forgoing anesthesia to really “feel the experience.” With my back problems, I had nearly constant pain, and the deliveries were a strain. It was said that nursing baby was the way to go, so I tried, but what I had not anticipated was extreme tension after the births. I actually developed post-partum psychosis after the first birth. I knew I needed professional help.

When April 24, 1974 dawned it was lovely, and I wished I could just go back to bed. Yes, I had an epidural, but the birth was complicated. At a certain point, the nurse said, “Get the father out of here!” which was frightening to me, but a kindly resident said, “Everything will be fine,” and I wanted to believe him. The doctor was cursing, there was the sound of a vacuum, hoses, and pliers were used to pull him out. The cord was wrapped around his throat, but fortunately, once it was pulled away, he was breathing well and crying. The effect of this trauma was a birth defect: – his eye muscles were affected, and he needed to have surgery to correct that. Otherwise, he was beautiful – blue eyes which stayed blue, a little fuzz on his head, very sleepy, smooth baby skin, beautiful.

Two days after we brought our son home from the hospital, my husband went back to work and I was home alone with the baby for the first time. As soon as I heard the old sedan grumbling down the driveway, I felt very strange.

The tiny little boy was asleep with that quiet, peaceful baby sleep, complete with grins and grimaces. I went into the bathroom, showered, enjoying the suds and warm water. Then I tiptoed into the bedroom to see him again. I dressed quickly, pulling out each dresser drawer silently so as not to disturb him, yet wishing at the same time that he would awaken so I could hold him and talk to him again.

I pulled on soft slippers and went into the kitchen to do the breakfast dishes. More than once, I peeked at the little guy in the crib. When my chores ere finished. I put on a pot of coffee and went in again. I looked at him, and all the responsibility I felt for him suddenly weighed down on me, and I started to cry.

This is our baby. I am his mother. He needs me for everything – to burse him, to bathe him, to love him. I felt so unworthy, so inadequate. Tears spilled down my cheeks.

That first day alone with my son, I could hear him stirring as I finished my cup of coffee. His little baby cry beckoned me. Somehow, when he was awake and I knew he needed me, I felt stronger. In being busy with him, I felt able. This must be how all good mothers do it – just keep on mothering, minute by minute, day by day.

Even now, I sometimes worry about being a good enough mom. When I was tired or if the children were sick, I became frightened, wondering if I could handle all the challenges – most of them unplanned – that accompany caring for children. Fatigue seems to intensify those normal, human fears. The responsibilities are weighty, to be sure, but I believed – and still believe – that we are not alone in this world… we are all connected.

I did not know I was one of many mothers who were suffering abuse from the father of their child. One day I read an article in the paper about a place where you could call and someone would listen to your story.  The attitude at the time was that the only way to stop abuse was to leave.

The first time I left with the children, we took the train and were met at Penn Station by my parents and also by HUB, who had flown over. He promised – promised  my parents he would get a job in CT. He never admitted any abuse. And he deflected any question about that. He said, sadly(?) that I was stressed. I was homesick. I needed family…. In other words, this crazy escape came from my crazy mind. The truth was that the man could not keep a job, and every two years or so, I would be typing out his resume, and he would spend a year finding another job about which he would complain from day one. 

I remember the exact day, the precise hour, when I realized that no matter what I did to try to make him happy, he was perfectly able and quite likely to kill me. N was a week old. We had the son and first daughter and I was happy that they were well. We sat down to a rather simple supper. He started to complain … this wasn’t done … how had I spent my time that day? Did I get any work done? “What? I have been taking care of our children all day!”

He stood up, went around behind me and dragged me through the living room into that little hallway outside the bedroom door, and he threw me onto the rug, and pressed his arm across my throat, really pressed. He was choking me. I knew that he had learned to kill in the military, but this was not supposed to be war. I did not pass out, I suppose because I was resisting him, but I was terrified down to my bones.

And that was the way I survived. When I was a victim of violence, I felt like I was slowly dying, not just my body, but also my soul. My sense of myself as a person was diminished by punches, chokeholds, blackened eyes, permanently damaged vertebrae. If you are lying on the ground and cannot move …. What do you do? You keep still, but your mind works. At first, you are desperate, you see death approaching. You feel like the big prison doors are clanging shut forever. You lack oxygen, you begin to panic ….

In addition, if you survive, if someone helps you up, or if you scrunch and crawl, inch by inch, you might pull yourself into a kneeling position. However, you cannot pray. You do not feel anything. You dare not explore the feelings, which are under your skin, in your gut, because you sense that one tear would melt you away.

When we see others being harmed, we wish we could stop the violence, but we know … yes we know, that this scene will happen again and again … and either the perpetrator will kill their prey   victim, or the victim will shrink away. A child whose personhood has been damaged will not rise to the podium and claim to speak words of comfort to others.

Does non-violence work in his violent world? I have to say it does ….and I have to think this way because the alternative is to concede that there is so solution. If violence takes over, even the gentle are harmed, even the children and those children of tomorrow who might someday come into the world… may never live. This surely seems like a path to extinction.

There is a theory blowing around that the reason men kill crowds of women or children or anyone, is that they have something wrong with their masculinity. They are hyper-masculine. Leaving that sociological debate alone for now, I say that basically, there is something very wrong with a world in which we analyze, theorize, speculate about why children are dead, why women are raped, focusing on the actor of the violence. Yet, we do not come together to stop senseless killing, stop people from believing that they have the “freedom” to protect themselves with guns, knives, whenever they feel they night be killed. And they feel this way every night, every time they pass through a certain neighborhood, every time they  hear a noise in the night.

 

 

From that day onward, I knew that I could not wait to be rescued from my own situation. I had to end the abuse. As much as I regretted ending the marriage, I was already sure that I could be killed by my husband. It took some time; I made some false starts, but finally I restarted my life without him. Unfortunately, the divorce proceedings went on for two years, with many interruptions. Following the decision for joint legal custody, he kept the children from seeing me for quite a long time, which was contempt of court, but not really enforceable.

There is still pain, but I have moved into a place of relative peace and hope, which is like a new beginning. Some excellent and powerful stories about help that is not offered to victims of sexual abuse in big churches and other institutions. Check out, for example, a recent set of articles at HuffPost.

Let’s get more intimate. How does a family react to a member who has stated that he or she has been sexually abused? Answers vary, of course. The R.C. Church has gone through a long period of denial – which rubbed off on parents, that insists abusers are rare, that victims are mentally unstable, that priests should be forgiven, etc. If a parent is the perpetrator and the child is the victim what recourse has she (or he)? First, there is lack of life experience  (in other words, the abuse starts so early in life that he child doesn’t understand or cannot resist.)  Second, sometimes the other parent is a Bystander, who is aware of abuse, but says nothing, does nothing, to help.

Media attention to some public perps has focused, it seems to me, on the frailty of the abuser, or his sinfulness. Doesn’t everyone know forgiveness is not free – you need to repent and “sin no more.” I shudder to think how children react during this period of inquiry, when they are scared; the assaults are somewhat predictable; and they believe they are to blame, and that there is no one who loves them enough to help.

Decades after a courageous survivor confronts those who committed or permitted the violations, they may be left off of the Thanksgiving invitation because their penchant for honesty is a bit intimidating. This is “the tip of the iceberg,” is it not?  I am open to discussion about this most critical area of family care. I condemn the victimization of children and mothers by sick people who have little incentive to change.

Bottom line, I decided to apply to seminary, and was accepted. I graduated with a Master of Divinity degree, and plenty of experience working in the inner city. I was qualified to be a church pastor and counselor. Of course, during my studies, I read about the shabby way the people treated the Prophets like Jeremiah and Amos, who wanted them to shut up or be killed. That was serving the Lord.  Actually, I was able to mesh that Biblical info with my life, which was certainly not a joyful jaunt on the way to “wholeness.”

I was finally able to address the stuff of my childhood with a terrific therapist…. I worked hard! He worked hard! My friends stood by me. My parents and I were not speaking. The children were not speaking to me.

When we see others being harmed, we wish we could stop the violence, but we know … yes we know, that this scene will happen again and again … and either the perpetrator will kill his prey victim, or the victim will shrink away. A child whose personhood has been damaged will not rise to the podium and claim to speak “the word of the Lord.”

There is a theory blowing around that the reason men kill crowds of women or children or anyone, is that they have something wrong with their masculinity. They are hyper-masculine. Leaving that sociological debate alone for now, I say that basically, there is something very wrong with a world in which we analyze, theorize, speculate about why children are dead, why women are raped, focusing on the actor of the violence. Yet, we do not come together to stop senseless killing, stop people from believing that they have the “freedom” to protect themselves with guns, knives, whenever they feel they night be killed. And they feel this way every night, every time they pass through a certain neighborhood, every time they hear a noise in the night.

Lenore Walker wrote one of the first no holds barred books on domestic violence. She did make some controversial statements but basically, she told the victim she was not to blame for his violence. This was in the 1970s when people were taking another look at rape, when the victim was not automatically assumed to have provoked the violation.

 

 

Laura Davis, who now teaches writing and facilitates empowerment retreats teamed with Ellen Bass to write a manual to examine and tell the stories of women who had been sexually abused early in life and who were trying to heal, a very steep climb.

 

 

Then I heard a story that saved my life.

The story that saved me was entitled “The Burning Bed.” (published 1/1/1980) by Faith McNulty, about Francine Hughes, a battered wife, who killed her husband after he made her burn her secretarial books with which she was trying to get a job so she could earn money and have a job. He didn’t want her to be more educated than he was.

The morning after the trial ended in which Francine Hughes was found not guilty, she was the guest on the Phil Donahue talk show, originating from Chicago. Donahue took on difficult topics, had guests with sad, terrible, or victorious stories. Members of the audience, mostly wives and mothers from the Midwest, asked questions and reacted. I watched every day I could.

When I turned on the TV that morning, after my husband had left for work and the children were playing, I sat very close and watched and listened to the horrifying story. It was the first time I had seen an actual TV report about an abusive marriage.

Francine Hughes looked dazed. Her face, even on our black and white TV,  was haunting.  She was so pale you had to wonder whether she would faint. She was coherent, but she spoke barely above a whisper.  The jury, after hearing her recount her story, had decided she was not guilty.

After a long, long history of her husband’s cruel abuse, Francine had finally set his bed afire when he finally fell asleep after a rampage in which he destroyed many of Francie’s things. What causes her to “snap” was his demand that she burn the textbooks she had purchased and hid from him, in order to take classes, to have job skills in order to get a job and leave him.

My marriage was another story of abuse, learned helplessness, fear for my life and for my children. I knew by that time that I was not alone, after I read a small item in the local newspaper about a hotline in my town where you could talk to someone if you were being abused.

What shocked me most about the Donahue show  was the reaction of some of the women in the audience. They were judgmental. They chastised Ms. Hughes for not being a good, submissive wife. They condemned her for killing her husband, quoted Scripture, the Ten Commandments, etc. They yelled her, called her a coward. She simply listened.

Donahue stepped in and said, “I don’t believe what I am hearing. My audience, mostly women who are smart, caring, and knowledgeable, have heard this horrible story.  And you see her here, obviously the victim of horrifying abuse. Don’t you have any compassion?”

Francine Hughes’ story was turned into a book by Frances McNulty(1980), and later into a movie with Farrah Fawcett, entitled, The Burning Bed.The entire episode was a wake-up call for our culture, a confirmation of the reality of spousal abuse, the depth to which an abuser would sink, the destruction of the victim’s self-worth, and sometimes breakdown or death at his hands.

From that day onward, I knew that I could not wait to be rescued from my own situation. I had to end the abuse. As much as I regretted ending the marriage, I was already sure that I could be killed by my husband. It took some time; I made some false starts, but finally I restarted my life without him. Unfortunately, he illegally kept the children from seeing me. Some years later the younger daughter returned to live with me. The others are still away, on their own somewhere in the Midwest. It still hurts, but I have gone beyond survival into a place of relative peace and hope.

He introduced himself as a strong Catholic, but he was not. He was abusive, mean, violent, etc.  The only comfort for me was that while taking care of our children, which I truly enjoyed, I was able to resurrect my passion for writing, and working in secret, and very hard, I was published regularly for my self-help, “inspirational books.” When, one day feeling discouraged about the writing game, I decided that everything I write would be with the intention of help others. In addition, life changed… not overnight, but within two years, my first book was published and thirteen more have followed.

During the separation and after the divorce, I was really isolated as my ex-husband kept the children away from me.  I tried for the third time to do graduate school, working on a Certificate in Pastoral Ministry, which was a great program in developing counseling skills.

Bottom line, I decided to apply to seminary, and was accepted. I graduated with a Master of Divinity degree, and plenty of experience working in the inner city. I was qualified to be a church pastor and counselor. Of course, during my studies, I read about the shabby way the people treated the Prophets like Jeremiah and Amos, who wanted them to shut up or be killed. That was serving the Lord.  Actually, I was able to mesh that Biblical info with my life, which was certainly not a joyful jaunt on the way to “wholeness.”

I was finally able to address the stuff of my childhood with a terrific therapist…. I worked hard! He worked hard! My friends stood by me. My parents and I were not speaking. The children were not speaking to me.

 

I don’t think God is anything like I imagined, if there at all. I don’t think we are sinful, guilty creatures. That is rubbish! I teach; I serve as a counselor, particularly for other clergy who are learning the importance of self – care.

This is not what I planned. This is a messier version of the well-ordered life I wanted. This is a crazier (I use this word not as a mental health term but as slang for “confusing”) place than I ever expected to be, geographically, mentally, and emotionally.

The miracle of the grandchildren is an unexpected joy, and I love them so. I also realize that life is constantly changing and it’s better to focus on today than to worry about tomorrow. If only I could tone down the past, I would be calmer, more myself, less that frightened girl whose life I used to live.

During my convent years, my chronic depression, left untreated, melted into despair, and caused much distress as well as the accusation that I must be stuck on myself. Never was it considered that I was a survivor of a most horrible childhood, which still affects me even now.

 

UNCLE CARL’S SICKNESS & DEATH

AUNT ROSE, MOM, LATER  YEARS

 

Aunt Rose was exhausted from taking care of her son, taking care of Pete, taking care of her mother. She wanted Mary to help, but Mary refused … “we had our turn.” This was no logical reason. Both daughters wore themselves out serve the others …. Pain and discomfort were everyday visitors. They lived a block and a half apart, but they did not speak.

Their brother was not expected to – nor did he – help, not until later years when, divorced, he moved into grandma’s spare bedroom and took care of her when she work during the night. His time was his own, and they didn’t ask. He had a problem with alcohol … like so many of the sons of his neighbors, but he was such a sweet man that much was forgiven … at least from the perspective of his beloved nieces.

There was a period of time when I wondered about Mom and Rose, whether their time spent together tending to Carl would bring them together, but that time was tinged with resentment as well. Uncle was diagnosed with brain cancer, and after spending eight months in pain at the V.A., where he tried to keep up his spirits and where they all loved him, he was near the end. Ironically, he had remarried and they were SO happy. So he had a spouse to walk that part of his journey with him.

One day in May, he died. His daughters were broken-hearted. His nieces were as well. Rose had been unable to deal with her sadness at his impending death, and her own husband did not seem to care. Her uncle’s wife gave her a photo of smiling Uncle, taken at a wedding, which she kept with her other treasures.

 

It was a typical bad news phone call.

On Friday afternoon in early May, Dad called. He said, “What a beautiful day it is. [Pause]

“Uncle Carl  died this morning.”

Oh, no!

I was ironing; we were preparing for a short trip to a conference. Le decided we would not attend. We would stay with my parents while he was away.

I cried and cried. Carl had been my first sitter. He was loving and kind, and respectful. He had the most beautiful smile. He had a sadness, too, because his wife divorced him. They came to visit at the convent and he talked to me. I told him not to blame himself. Just take care of the girls, keep that job, and keep in touch. He was very nervous and ashamed. It was the first time anyone in the large family had ever had a divorce, so that was very sad, and very hard on everyone. WE were given no details. Carl took care of his daughters after work. Lorraine had her mother to help her with the children. And in public, they were friendly toward one another.

At Carl’s funeral, Grandma was still upset w/ Lorraine whom she blamed for breaking up the marriage, and the families stayed away from each other. Loraine sat in the row in front of our in church, and the daughter clung to her and cried.

 

 

BYSTANDER

“The Bystander Effect” is a term coined after the infamous and tragic Kitty Genovese case of 1965 that happened one late one night in Queens New York. In this case, Kitty Genovese, a twenty eight year old college graduate was coming home from work when she was attacked, raped and stabbed to death. She cried out for help and, although residents in the apartment building heard her pleas, no one helped with one exception. Someone yelled out the window to the attacker to leave her alone or they would call the police. The attacker ran off, the police were called, refused to believe anything serious happened and did not respond. While Miss Genovese lie on the ground, the attacker returned ten minutes later and stabbed her to death. Despite more cries for help no one responded.

There have even been a number of psychology experiments repeatedly demonstrating the same factor, that people do not respond if certain circumstances exist.

In this case, the right set of circumstances has to do with the size of the group observing an attack. The larger the group, the less likely is it that anyone will take action.  However, if there are only one or two people witnessing a crime, it is more likely someone will take action.

The deeper and more troubling question is why the bystander effect occurs?

Many theories have been put forward and among them are the following:

  1. Everyone is convinced that someone else will do something.
  2. There is a diffusion of responsibility in which the metaphor comes into play that, “No one rain drop believes it caused the flood.” Here, the larger the group, the less pressure each witness feels to do anything helpful.
  3. There is fear of victimization in which people avoid conflict because of the dread that they will be attacked if they help.
  4. The larger the group the more likely it is that everyone will look to everyone else for clues about what to do. In this case, observing no one taking action is translated into something like, “It is not appropriate for me to take action.”
  5. People create their socially acceptable reasons for not taking actions, such as, “Well, no one else is doing anything because: it’s a lover’s quarrel; its just teenage pranks; its just innocent play acting,….etc.”

I am old enough to remember when this was a real problem in the New York City subway system when gangs of teenagers would roam the trains late at night looking for victims to rape and rob. During these episodes, there were frequent circumstances in which bystanders took no action to protect the victim.

 

After World War II most of the Nazis convicted of war crimes claimed as their defense that they were just following orders. In the examples above and others in psychological research, there really does appear to be reality to “just following orders” due to the impact and importance of social approval versus disapproval and rejection felt by most human beings. What would you do if you found yourself witnessing these types of crimes? Would you stand and watch, walk away or intervene? I encourage your comments and observations.

MLK remembrance coming up on Monday.

I was reading in the Huff. Post that one of the tools Martin advocated using was nonviolence.

I remember the night  when the man was assassinated. I remember that Robert Kennedy out on the campaign trail, announced the death, because he was able to connect with the crowd in announcing the senseless killing, by reminding us that he too had lost a loved one by violence.

And here we are almost 50 years later, and Ferguson, Missouri, is the site of riots, assaults, serious injury, death, because a white police officer shot and killed a black young man. Whatever could be said about the details of that horrible encounter, we know – from afar – that sentiments run deep and wide. Injustice seems to have won again.

Does non-violence work in his violent world? I have to say it does ….and I have to think this way because the alternative is to concede that there is so solution. If violence takes over, even the gentle are harmed, even the children and those children of tomorrow who might someday come into the world… may never live. This surely seems like a path to extinction.

When I was a victim of violence, I felt like I was slowly dying, not just my body, but also my soul. My sense of myself as a person was diminished by punches, chokeholds, blackened eyes, permanently damaged vertebrae. If you are lying on the ground and cannot move …. What do you do? You keep still …. But your mind works, what happens? At first, you are desperate … you see death approaching …. You feel like the big prison doors are clanging shut forever …. You lack oxygen …. You begin to panic ….

In addition, if you survive, if someone helps you up, or if you scrunch and crawl, inch by inch, you might pull yourself into a kneeling position. However, you cannot pray. You do not feel anything. You dare not explore the feelings, which are under your skin, in your gut, because you sense that one tear would melt you away.

When we see others being harmed, we wish we could stop the violence, but we know … yes we know, that this scene will happen again and again … and either the perpetrator will kill their prey   victim, or the victim will shrink away. A child whose personhood has been damaged will not rise to the podium and claim to speak “the word of the Lord.”

There is a theory blowing around that the reason men kill crowds of women or children or anyone, is that they have something wrong with their masculinity. They are hyper-masculine. Leaving that sociological debate alone for now, I say that basically, there is something very wrong with a world in which we analyze, theorize, speculate about why children are dead, why women are raped, focusing on the actor of the violence. Yet, we do not come together to stop senseless killing, stop people from believing that they have the “freedom” to protect themselves with guns, knives, whenever they feel they night be killed. And they feel this way every night, every time they pass through a certain neighborhood, every time they  hear a noise in the night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

FROM OTHER SOURCES

 

Mary Ellen Latela @LatelaMary

The day of a child’s birth is like Christmas, new, wonderful, and exciting. Nearly everyone is delighted when a baby is born. For a long time, whenever I thought about the birth of Jesus, I concentrated on the peaceful, quiet, beautiful images of contemporary Christmas cards.

But every birth, even that one, is accompanied by some anxiety. Mary had her baby away from home, away from her parents, without any friends around. She and Joseph were alone that night, along under the stars, in a cave.

 

 

 

 

SPIRTUAL LIFE

 

Now I think we are as we are, incomplete, partly broken, with some little gifts like kindness or courage or something!!! but why would this life turn right side up only after we died?  Are we supposed to be satisfied with hints of joy, a bit of laughter, a shaky hold on contentment, always dealing with loss and pain, and more loss and pain, and a little bit of joy … on and on.

What if there is no afterward? What do those feelings I used to have mean? Are they a manifestation of deep needs never fulfilled, or a desire to be “special.”

I wasn’t sure of the definition of bedrock, assuming that it is the very solid, unbreakable foundation underneath all the changing parts of what is on the earth’s surface. Now bedrock is strong, but it is not immutable.  It can be affected by weathering, erosion, wind, water. If I apply this idea of people, or to myself, I would describe the changeable parts of what makes me that wonderful superb person as topsoil or regolith. Way down, if I were to go there, where it is dark, where the secret unbreakable stuff of souls is hiding, I might be surprised at what I saw.

Yes, I have had woundedness, and there are scars. I have been mistreated; I have been chiseled at times like a piece of soft marble with the hammers of unfriendly, crafty people and organizations. And yes, some watery stuff has leaked into the upper part, but the bedrock is strong enough to take all this and hold me up.

I thought first about those gorgeous homes on the dirt cliffs on the California coast, built with some foundation, surely, but not on really solid ground. In a horrific storm, the power of water and wind can push that mansion down into the ocean or onto the lovely Pacific Coast Highway. And all is lost. If the owner wants to rebuild, shouldn’t she rethink the whole plan?

For me, the truth is that deep down I am a compassionate and courageous woman. I am an older woman, so the richness is mostly mental and emotional …. Of course, I retain my lively sense of humor and perfect smile!  I listen to other people; I listen to the stories, even when, occasionally, the stories do not ring true or the narrator is just plain lying, but I can tell; and then I need to settle back on the bedrock, sit and center myself. Just because you are kind does not mean that you are a doormat.

I am empathic and intuitive (even deep down) and that is both a blessing and a challenge. I hurt for people I don’t even know very well. I fight against the odds against universally held social disorder, long-time criminal behavior, the tendency of cowardly people to abuse the gentle ones. As a younger person, I really thought we could end domestic violence. Now I know that it will take a cosmic shift for everyone to decide that reverence is for all, not just the strong and mighty.

 

MOM’s PERSONALITY

I think my mother was always busy, and that was what was expected then.

She was so busy that she exhausted herself –

In taking care of the four angels (my siblings and me),

and taking care of the house, and Dad,

and her parents, and school, etc.

The only time she took for herself came once a week,

when she and grandma went to the movies.

The justification for going out was that the theater owner

gave away pieces for a dinnerware set, or plain silverware, a piece at a time,

so you needed to be there.

Really, though, she did not model self-care.

Mothers were supposed to put everyone else first,

which usually meant no time to relax, read, or take a nap.

We know that’s not healthy.

We younger people know that taking a yoga class,

or planting an herb garden, or writing poetry

nourishes our spirit, and by extension, our ability to nurture others.

 

I’ve spoken before about Sylvia Boorstein,

the warm, wonderful Buddhist teacher,

who was interviewed about parenting.

She and her spouse have two adult children and a number of grandchildren.

 

She states: The best way to nurture children’s inner lives,,

is by taking care of our own inner selves for their sake.

At a public event in suburban Detroit, Krista Tippett from NPR interviewed Sylvia,

who is always close to a smile.

I actually assigned a you-tube video of Sylvia teaching the metta prayer

to my college students, and they loved it.

This prayer says, “May I feel safe.”

May I feel strong.

May I feel healthy.

May I live in peace.

p.s. And if I don’t feel healthy today, may I feel better tomorrow.

So many wise people have said this, but we may need a little nudge

as a reminder.

If we want to help others, we have to take care of our precious self.

 

This is not a day for just roses and chocolates.

Unfortunately, all is not well for many mothers.

In recent world developments, we are reminded of the real stories

of sadness and violence in families,

of mothers and children caught in the web of despair.

Recently, we heard about the mothers of the disappeared.

In South America in the mid-1970s, children were stolen from their homes,

perhaps given new identities, but gone.

Argentinian mothers and others are still vocally and aggressively speaking out

as a result of what is called the “dirty war.”

Mothers weeping for their children, and no one is helping, leaders remaining silent.

The mothers decided, after silently standing in the plaza in protest for quite some time,

to meet, but they had to do so secretly,

as they were not allowed to gather in public.

They actually marched in a counterclockwise circle

around the center of the square.

And they connected.

They became determined to expose the enemy, the oppressor.

Hebe Mascia, una Madre, By The World ⋅ November 19, 2010 ⋅

Indeed, the oppression shifted, but the children never returned.

Today we remember and honor mothers who are missing their children.

 

Sometimes I wonder if I could have done things differently

when I was a young mother or when my mother was ill – with a happier outcome.

If I had one more day with my mother or my son, would life be better?

If we had another long talk, might we have come to terms with our differences?

No, this is wasted energy.

Everything changes. Nothing stays the same.

The person I am today is far from the timid young girl I used to be.

The submissive, accepting without question believer

is replaced by a questioner, a seeker.

And you really cannot change the past.

We cannot change the past, but we can try to put our history into perspective.

 

If we actually had a re-do and avoided some suffering,

Surely we would have missed out on the precious times which we keep in our heart.

Bringing a child into the world, watching her grow into an independent woman,

is awesome and frightening …

and the not-knowing-ahead-of-time is part of the challenge.

After all, even our stumbling does bring us to a new understanding

that we cannot do this alone and we are not alone.

 

Just as a toddler takes his first steps toward Mommy,

because she’s always been worthy of trust,

we turned to our parents, other adults, and later on, to our friends.

Mostly, though, we have to figure out our own way.

We have to find that inner strength somehow to keep on.

 

I was finally able to address the stuff of my childhood with a terrific therapist…. I worked hard! He worked hard! My friends stood by me. My parents and I were not speaking. The children were not speaking to me.

Skip ahead 20 years to now. I still believe I am serving the Creator and all God’s adult kids. I don’t think God is anything like I imagined, if there at all. I don’t think we are sinful, guilty creatures. That is rubbish! I teach; I serve as a counselor, particularly for other clergy who are learning the importance of self – care.

This is not what I planned. This is a messier version of the well-ordered life I wanted. This is a crazier (I use this word not as a mental health term but as slang for “confusing”) place than I ever expected to be, geographically, mentally, and emotionally.

The miracle of the grandchildren is an unexpected joy, and I love them so. I also realize that life is constantly changing and it’s better to focus on today than to worry about tomorrow. If only I could tone down the past, I would be calmer, more myself, less that frightened girl whose life I used to live.

Where I Was

Clarissa Pinkola Estes, who wrote Women who Run with the Wolves, tells a fable about the stork. Sometimes the stork, so excited to be carrying a girl-child, accidentally drops her too soon or a little too late, and as a result, she grows up feeling as if she doesn’t really belong to this family. Estes calls this the “misplaced zygote theory.” I used to be a misplaced little girl.

This must have been the wrong family, wrong mother who very quickly couldn’t stand me, who made me wear my hair very short like a boy, who hurt me in so many ways. Surely, I was not supposed to have this father, who took away my innocence, and who forced me to learn to “go away”/dissociate to survive my childhood.

It was a long, hard trip through the early years. The only place where I could be myself was in school. Yes, I am bright, but I was also a good little girl, a teacher’s dream.  I could get some of the calmness of school days when I read at home, especially in the summer, or when I sat with Grandma on her porch, listened to her, and learned to crochet.

Through all these many years, I went from place to place, trying desperately to find a “home.” I didn’t know that you cannot erase the beginning, start over, re-form your parents, become a lovely, self-assured young woman….  without a great deal of pain and perseverance. I did persevere, except for the periods of despair, which were crippling. Even after I married – to the wrong man, quelle surprise! – I knew it was the wrong bus stop, and I had dropped into the wrong house with the wrong spouse.

And through the marriage and the long divorce, I kept looking for rescue, which never came. One day, dazed with depression, confused about where to turn, wanting to give up  – I had a turning point.  I finally realized that I must search inside myself to find myself, to be my true self. I never knew until then that I had a right to be happy.

Where I Am Now

Now, I am much older, and I still wonder why I am where I am. Well, of course, my vision is a challenge, and I cannot drive. For five years after I moved here, I could not write. My daughter lives nearby, and the time with the grandchildren is precious, but I am on the edge of that family unit. When the boys come and have a sleepover it is wonderful, but my daughter still remembers the painful times when we were with her father and her siblings.  It is a mixture of sadness and joy.

I am blessed with several wonderful “girl friends” and we are so close, even though many miles separate us. My writing career has been successful, but there is so much more I have to say. I have stories to tell, but unless I find someone who wants to hear them, I fear they will be lost.  I realize that many 30-somethings ignore the parental input, but time goes by too quickly to count on some distance tomorrow to fill in the blanks.

I am pretty content; I love my work, though I feel alone and still deal with “the depression.” Of course, I go to book club, knitting, some churchy events, go for coffee at Starbucks.  I have the challenging gift of empathy, so I feel very deeply, and have to take care not to be swallowed up in someone else’s drama.

Who I Am Becoming

For tomorrow, its plan to become more contemplative, spend more time in re winters I have, or how many more birthdays.

I fear that I will never again have a spouse, a partner to love and who loves me truly. I yearn for that, have had that kind of love before, but the prospects don’t look promising. Moreover, I surely do not want to be rejected one more time.

I am very much afraid of dying, especially of dying a painful death. My daughter will not take care of me if I become frail. So I hope I can learn how to live each day as fully as possible and, when the time comes to “move on,” the passing will be bittersweet. I hope that at least one person who cares will be there. I hope that my chronic pain will not prevent me from spending my time with people I love and who care about me, that I will be able to travel a bit, and keep teaching as long as I can stand/see/talk, and writing as long as my mind is strong.

As a prelude, I’ve started playing the piano again, and sketching. I love the wind and the sunset and the blooming of my rose of Sharon tree. I will buy more wind chimes, too.

 

 

I’m thankful that my daughter is in my life, and I love her dearly, and her husband, and the four beautiful grandchildren. I’m thankful for Michael and Nancy, wherever they are. I’m thankful for my sisters and my brother, for my cousins, and for the sweet memory of all my aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins.

I’m thankful that I developed the perseverance and the oomph to complete my grad school, and for the good feeling of being an ordained minister – not with a great deal of power and authority, but with a voice that is clear and true, and a strong empathy and listening ear. I’m grateful that I am still teaching and that the challenges and joys keep coming.  I’m grateful for my students who teach me more and more.

I’m thankful when Hannah yells out to me, “Love you, Nana!” and that her brothers and I made that tricky gingerbread house last night. I’m thankful for the little guy who will have his first birthday next month. I am so thankful that I have wonderful photos of the grandchildren, including the latest school pictures.

I am grateful that the sunrise and the sunset come, filling me with joy, and the bursting of colors. It love the wind and the rain and the snow, though I appreciate a hot cup of tea after being out in the weather. I am so thankful for music, and if there are not violins in heaven, I will protest. I am thankful for so much, for joy, for tears, for a comforting hug – give one, take one.

I’m happy to be able to use my hands ~ to play the piano, to write (but not so much with pen and paper as with computer ), to crochet and knit, to be nearly finished with a purple and variegated warm blanket for my friend. I’m happy to be able to tie pretty bows, and braid hair, and fix the table with flowers. I am particularly glad to know exactly where the Christmas tree stand is, for when the tree comes, maybe this Saturday.

I’m thankful that we woke up to a blanket of snow this morning, and the boys were here to see it!!!! I am thankful for hope, which I thought I had lost, then struggled with, then learned to realize that hope is in my heart and mind. I am thankful for love, for being able to love, and to receive kindnesses.

I wish for all the people whose life intersects mine – even for a few moments – joy and peace, courage and stamina, love and good friends with whom to share it all!

 

 

 

DEATHS OF PARENTS

November 11, 2011

Dear Margaret,

My Mom died on October 19th at Sr. Anne Virginie Grimes Health Center in New Haven (part of St. Raphael’s complex). It was another goodbye in a long series of goodbyes.

I had booked a trip for “one last visit” and arrived on Thursday, October 20th to learn that Mom had died the night before. We expected this …. For the previous month, she had not been eating or taking medication, then her breathing became labored. My brother and sisters were meeting with the Porto Funeral Home people while I was in the air. Robert told them that all the rituals had to be the weekend I was in CT.

At the wake (an Italian wake, where you visit with your cousins and aunts and friends and neighbors) we gathered. Mom was made to look radiant … or was it the freedom from all that stuff she had had to deal with for so long? My godmother, Triffie, and her sister Nancy came first. Then all the others.

The funeral mass was at St. Vincent de Paul Church in New Haven. It was the first time I was in the first car…. as the oldest, behind the hearse. I took communion (she says defiantly). The priest did not pretend to know my mother and referred to her as Mary Anna, which she definitely would not have liked. Interment at St. Agnes in Branford. We had luncheon at a nice seafood grill in Guilford. We didn’t think to take pictures though we had not been all together in about three years.

I stayed with Ellen, my friend in Tolland, which was wonderful. She is a dear, same age as Mom, but my Friend, unconditionally loving, not expecting anything from me, but giving comfort and a nice warm bed.

I had to fly back here on Monday the 20th and after I landed I realized that there was so much more to process. Fortunately, I had set up an appointment with Janie (therapist) for Tuesday.

So I don’t feel anything and yet I feel everything. I had this magical desire for “one more hug” from Mom, but she was not affectionate in that way. I am a little angry, sad, confused, etc., but in a subdued way. Time will pass and maybe this will make sense, or maybe it won’t.

I am well, had a long bout of sciatica in May-June. My daughter is expecting her third child, a girl, in March. That’s another long story. The boys, Angus (almost five) and Hamish (two, really two!) are precious and mischievous and never stay still…. Love them a lot.

Anyway, I haven’t really been able to write about this until this week, so you are receiving one of my first letters.I hope you are well and happy and taking care of yourself… oh I do miss the ocean!!!!

With a virtual hug,

Mary

 

Life  is too short to wake up with regrets.

Love the  people who treat you right.

Forget about the ones  who don’t.

Believe everything happens for a  reason.

If you get a second chance, grab it with  both hands.

If it changes your life, let  it.

Nobody said life would be  easy.

They just promised it would be worth  it.

 

Friends are like balloons.

Once you let  them go, you can’t get them back.

Send these balloons  to your friends.

Sh 9.10.11Mary Anna Latela MANGINO

 

MANGINO, Mary Anna Latela Mary Anna Latela Mangino, 87, of New Haven passed away October 19, 2011. Wife of the late Carmen Mangino. Mother of Robert (Ann) Mangino and Catherine (Walter) Lincoln both of Guilford, Mary Ellen Latela of Blue Springs, MO and Annette (Paul) Shapiro of Storrs.

Daughter of the late Domenic and Giovannina Buongiorno Latela. Sister of the late Rose Iovene and Carl Latela and her late nephew Andrew Iovene.

Also survived by six grandchildren and four great grandchildren. Prior to her retirement Mary worked for the former W.T. Grant Co.

Her funeral procession will leave the PORTO FUNERAL HOME, 234 Foxon Rd. (Rte 80) East Haven Saturday morning at 8:30. A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated in St. Vincent DePaul Church at 9:00. Interment will follow in St. Agnes Cemetery, Branford. Friends may call FRIDAY (TODAY) from 5-7 p.m.

Memorial Contributions may be made to the Sr. Anne Virginie Grimes Health Center, 1354 Chapel St., New Haven, CT 06511. Annette and Paul Shapiro will receive friends at their home, 140 Davis Rd., Storrs, CT between 6 and 9 p.m. on Sunday Oct. 23, 2011 with a prayer service at 7 p.m.

Sign Mary’s guestbook online at www.portofuneralhomes.net.

 

 

 

BACKGROUND MATERIAL FOR B&B LATELA FROM OTHER SOURCES

Is it me or did the world flip  over today? Mary E. Latela, October 19, 2015

My brother called this morning to chat, and to remind me that this is also the anniversary of Mom’s death four years ago, because he knows that I want to be reminded. I’ll say more about that time later on.

During chaplaincy training, I worked with a lady named Ruth on the Advanced Alzheimer’s Unit. She was so very confused, noisy, repetitive, yet somehow endearing.  I always greeted her. Toward the end, a nurse met me at the entrance of the ward and told me that Ruth seemed to be dying. Curtains were drawn around her bed. Soft classical music played. I was invited to sit with her as much as I liked. Over the next few days she seemed to rest, her eyes became clear blue, her skin almost glowed. It was as if all the distractive stuff of her illness had been peeled back. She was finding her freedom. She lay quietly, and in a couple of days I received word that Ruth had died during the night.

This morning, I took out the beautiful portrait I had taken of Mom on that Christmas  afternoon when we were all together at my brother’s home. There was so much stuff on the table and in the room, that I had to get in very close and had to crop the final picture. It came out beautifully, so well in fact that I made copies, encased them in mahogany frames, and sent them to the sibs.

I placed the photograph on my cedar chest, lit a pink candle, and sat and watched it for a while. What am I doing? Why am I mesmerized by this picture, by the scented candle, by unformed thoughts brushing through my mind?

Now I know. This is Mom – without speech, without that anger that exploded in her, a mystery about what she was thinking –  by then she didn’t know our names. This is Mom,  he brown eyes clear, alabaster skin lovely. She was losing her role in our family drama, bystander, non-protector, aloof, too tired to share herself with us. Requiescat in Pace.

 

When I was in the convent we had meditation for a half hour in the dark early mornings, and I remember trying to read the stories and think about them, sometimes focus on a line, or sometimes feeling something …. Longing, warmth, but never sharing what happened in that time/space/practice with anyone. Once in a while I would feel really good, and I thought that was what holy people felt. Of course, as a chronic depressive, I looked upon these mood elevations as a rare happening that bordered, at least in my mind, on the miraculous.

When I took up meditation again recently – in the past few years – it wasn’t about unity with God, getting a good rush of feeling, or anything. It was a suggestion from Buddhism … just breathe. Well, not just breathe, but pay attention to the breath – in and out-smile, etc. The in-out is common to spiritual practices – emptying out so you can fill up again…. Emptying out bad to make room for good…. Emptying out guilt to make room for a tiny bit of self

 

Holy, Holy Saturday

Posted on March 20, 2015by @LatelaMary

Holy, Holy Saturday

March 20, 2015

In our tradition, we mark Holy Week, the last week of Jesus’ earthly life, with sharp contrasts. On Sunday (Palm or Passion Sunday), we witness Jesus, bold as can be, processing into Jerusalem on a donkey. Palm leaves are strewn before him. The crowd of people surrounding him already know him. They are the ones who sat on the hillside to hear him teach. They are the people who brought their children to Jesus so that he could cure them. These are the mothers and fathers who worried about feeding their families, about staying out of the way of the Empire.

On Maundy Thursday (Holy Thursday), we celebrate the Last Supper of Jesus and his friends. They gather in secret, in some upper room. Women work all day to prepare the meal, which is their final Passover together.  These days, we focus on the gift which Jesus presents to those who celebrated that  meal – Holy Communion.  Breaking bread, the words come clearly: “This is my body, which will be broken for you.” Then, after the supper,  “This my blood, which will be shed for you.” Finally, we recall the invitation to a promise:  “Do this in memory of me.”

After what we call “Good Friday,” when the world is turned upside down with the suffering and death of Jesus, we go home in silence, stunned, unable to sort out the range of emotions – accepting Jesus, hearing him, clinging to him, then losing him.

Saturday, all is quiet. While contemporary shoppers run around buying food and goods for Easter celebration, we can choose another way. We can in some way, sit in silence, facing the East, waiting for the sun to rise on Easter morning, knowing what that means for us, as it has meant for all those who followed Jesus. Find a few moments to sit and wait, if you can. Find a time to just be there, thinking over why Easter means so much to you, what it’s like to know about Jesus from the stories of others, and what it means to take those stories to heart, and tell them to others by the way we live.

Holy Saturday

Storms pass, winds subside life abides.

See how the cottonwoods trees spread new leaves, fill the blank sky with emerald sheen as waving vines praise the living spirit of spring,

for soon the shrouded sun will flame through constraining mists and in glory rise to complete this forgiven world and set it free. (Steven Federle)

http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/holy-saturday-2/

 

Denise Levertov, “The Annunciation”

Posted on March 20, 2015by @LatelaMary

Denise Levertov,  1923–1997

During the course of a prolific career, Denise Levertov created a highly regarded body of poetry that reflects her beliefs as an artist and a humanist. Her work embraces a wide variety of genres and themes, including nature lyrics, love poems, protest poetry, and poetry inspired by her faith in God. “Dignity, reverence,and strength are words that come to mind as one gropes to characterize . . . one of America’s most respected poets,” wrote Amy Gerstler in the Los Angeles Times Book Review. Gerstler added that a “reader poking her nose into any Levertov book at random finds herself in the presence of a clear uncluttered voice—a voice committed to acute observation and engagement with the earthly, in all its attendant beauty, mystery and pain.”

World Literature Today contributor Doris Earnshaw once described Levertov as being “fitted by birth and political destiny to voice the terrors and pleasures of the twentieth century. . . . She [had] published poetry since the 1940s that [spoke] of the great contemporary themes: Eros, solitude, community, war.” Although born and raised in England, Levertov came to the United States when she was twenty-five years old, and all but her first few poetry collections have been described as thoroughly American. Early on, critics and colleagues alike detected an American idiom and style in her work, noting the influences of writers like William Carlos Williams, H. D. (Hilda Doolittle), Kenneth RexrothWallace Stevens, and the projectivist Black Mountain poets. With the onset of the turbulent 1960s, Levertov delved into socio-political poetry and continued writing in this sphere; in Modern American Women Poets Jean Gould called her “a poet of definite political and social consciousness.” However, Levertov refused to be labeled, and Rexroth once described her in With Eye and Earas “in fact classically independent.”

Because Levertov never received a formal education, her earliest literary influences can be traced to her home life in Ilford, England, a suburb of London. Levertov and her older sister, Olga, were educated by their Welsh mother, Beatrice Adelaide Spooner-Jones, until the age of thirteen. The girls further received sporadic religious training from their father, Paul Philip Levertoff, a Russian Jew who converted to Christianity and subsequently moved to England and became an Anglican minister. In the Dictionary of Literary Biography, Carolyn Matalene explained that “the education [Levertov] did receive seems, like Robert Browning‘s, made to order. Her mother read aloud to the family the great works of nineteenth-century fiction, and she read poetry, especially the lyrics of Tennyson. . . . Her father, a prolific writer in Hebrew, Russian, German, and English, used to buy secondhand books by the lot to obtain particular volumes. Levertov grew up surrounded by books and people talking about them in many languages.” It has been said that many of Levertov’s readers favor her lack of formal education because they see it as an impetus to verse that is consistently clear, precise, and accessible. According to Earnshaw, “Levertov seems never to have had to shake loose from an academic style of extreme ellipses and literary allusion, the self-conscious obscurity that the Provencal poets called ‘closed.’”

Levertov had confidence in her poetic abilities from the beginning, and several well-respected literary figures believed in her talents as well. Gould recorded Levertov’s “temerity” at the age of twelve when she sent several of her poems directly to T. S. Eliot: “She received a two-page typewritten letter from him, offering her ‘excellent advice.’ . . . His letter gave her renewed impetus for making poems and sending them out.” Other early supporters included critic Herbert Read, editor Charles Wrey Gardiner, and author Kenneth Rexroth. When Levertov had her first poem published in Poetry Quarterly in 1940, Rexroth professed: “In no time at all Herbert Read, Tambimutti, Charles Wrey Gardiner, and incidentally myself, were all in excited correspondence about her. She was the baby of the new Romanticism. Her poetry had about it a wistful Schwarmerei unlike anything in English except perhaps Matthew Arnold‘s ‘Dover Beach.’ It could be compared to the earliest poems of Rilke or some of the more melancholy songs of Brahms.”

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/denise-levertov

Poem: The Annunciation by Denise Levertov

We know the scene: the room, variously furnished, almost always a lecturn, a book; always the tall lily.

Arrived on solemn grandeur of great wings, the angelic ambassador, standing or hovering, whom she acknowledges, a guest.

But we are told of meek obedience. No one mentions courage The engendering Spirit did not enter her without consent. God waited.

She was free to accept or refuse, choice integral to humanness.

Aren’t there annunciations of one sort or another in most lives? Some unwillingly undertake great destinies, enact them in sullen pride, uncomprehending.

More often those moments when roads of light and storm open from darkness in a man or woman, are turned away from in dread, in a wave of weakness, in despair and with relief. Ordinary lives continue. God does not smite them. But the gates close, the pathway vanishes..

She had been a child who played, ate, spelt like any other child – but unlike others, wept only for pity, laughed in joy not triumpf. Compassion and intelligence fused in her, indivisible.

Called to a destiny more momentous than any in all of Time, she did not quail, only asked

a simple, “How can this be?” and gravely, courteously, took to heart the angel’s reply, perceiving instantly the astounding ministry she was offered:

to bear in her womb Infinite weight and lightness; to carry in hidden, finite inwardness, nine months of Eternity; to contain in slender vase of being, the sum of power – in narrow flesh, the sum of light.

Then bring to birth, push out into air, a Man-child needing, like any other, milk and love –

but who was God.

Mental Illness and the Writer

Posted on March 21, 2015by @LatelaMary

Mary Ellen Latela @LatelaMary

This is the first in a series of essays about our relationship with mental illness: about writing a character who struggles with a chronic mental illness, about understanding that diagnosis is complicated, individualized, and sometimes incorrect.:

PART ONE The Rush to Label “Mental Illness”

When there is a massive explosion in a land far away and hundreds of people die, we want to attribute the tragedy to individuals or groups that are “evil,” “bad,” “warped.” We do not label the perpetrators as possibly suffering from obsessions, delusions, or manic-depression.

When a teenager opens fire on a family after breaking up with a girlfriend, we do not judge him or her of committing an evil act or making a horrid decision. We openly wonder whether the perpetrator had a mental illness and whether that was the underlying cause of the tragedy.

Why the difference?

On December 14, 2012, twenty six people, twenty of them children ages six and seven  were shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. This tragedy shook us to the core. The shooter was a twenty-year old young man with a huge arsenal of weapons. He killed himself after shooting the others.

Initially, cries for gun-control reforms were loud and insistent, but no federal laws have been enacted to address issues like background checks and waiting periods. We as a society have done nothing to prevent this kind of loss from occurring in our schools again. Since that massacre, there have been other shootings – at schools, at big suburban malls. Multiple deaths and a shooter who is reclusive are often linked.

I watched the TV report unfolding on the day of the Newtown loss. I was distressed to see reporters approaching little children, whose brave teachers and aides were leading them from the scene, and asking them to describe what happened and whether they were afraid.

Then the guessing began. What was wrong with the perpetrator? What was wrong with his family? Was his mother to blame? Is it possible for a “good kid” to go on a rampage? Common knowledge – which is not the same as scientific certainty – is that this is not likely, unless  there is a mental impediment, a “mental illness.” Diagnosing a person who in life exhibited signs of mental illness is imperfect and incomplete. However, psychologists, social workers, pastors, who never met the young man flock to panels and freely offer their opinions. Parents of the lost children – in their grief and loss – express their near-certainty that something was very wrong with perpetrator.

Others – with only the nonprofessional’s store of information from books or from the internet, attempt to form a kind of diagnosis, by matching a list of symptoms with an illness. Perhaps the need for some kind of reasonable explanation – now – is favored over logic. Alternatively, perhaps, having some plausible explanation might cause us to feel less threatened by the rampant violence in society.

This “one size fits all” approach is out of line. Persons with mental illness are not all the same. Persons with similar clinical diagnoses of depression, manic-depression, sociopaths, and psychopaths – remain individuals. The label does not help us, And the nasty side effect is the branding of anyone who lives with and struggles with chronic mental illness as unfit for a place in day-to day life.

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Father Abraham

Posted on March 23, 2015by @LatelaMary

Father Abraham, March 20, 2011

The fullness of joy is to behold God in all. — Julian of Norwich

They say that if you decide to explore your family tree, be prepared for some surprises. Our Father … Abraham. Abraham is the father of the Jewish people, Abraham is the father of the Muslims. Jesus was a Jew, so Abraham is the father of Christians, too. The roots of the spiritual family tree of the people of Abraham started with a man and his wife who were too old to have children. Yet, they are called by God, to leave their home, to go away, to do what Yahweh  (Jewish name of God) asked them. Abraham is to be the father of many nations.

What happened? God’s call seems impossible. Abraham’s response is shocking. Sarah laughs. And so the story of a journey as people of God begins.

According to Bill Moyers, one of our favorite people, “God calls Abraham to leave his home, promising him that he will father a great nation. Abraham and his wife, Sarah, journey to Egypt ,where Abraham asks Sarah to pretend to be his sister for the sake of survival. “God is founding a dynasty, the beginnings of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. One might expect the storyteller to paint the First Family ten feet tall, with several coats of whitewash. But the picture we get of these men and women is uncomfortably human.There is so much marital conflict and sibling intrigue that they almost forfeit the call and fumble the promise. Yet the storyteller refuses to clean up their act. This is the amazing thing about the people of Genesis. The more we talk about them, the more they look like people we know –  — faces in the mirror.” http://www.pbs.org/wnet/genesis/program5.html

In order for Abram to become a great nation, he and Sarai will first have to have a child. Most of the drama that develops from this point forward in the plot focuses on how the characters—Abraham/Abram, Sarai/Sarah, God, and others —seek to bring this aspect of the promise to fulfillment. We know that Sara was a little impatient – her maidservant Hagar had a child with Abraham and his name was Ishmael. Sara was jealous or something about this, cast off Hagar and baby, and would have left them for dead. Her husband stepped in and gave Ishmael his own land and his own progeny, who were not to be enemies, but brothers, cousins. From the people of Ishmael began the Islamic families.

Chapter One of the Qur’an is the prayer of Muslims to Allah:

In the name of Allah, the Entirely Merciful, the Especially Merciful. [All] praise is [due] to Allah, Lord of the worlds – The Entirely Merciful, the Especially Merciful, Sovereign of the Day of Recompense. It is You we worship and You we ask for help. Guide us to the straight path – the path of those upon whom You have bestowed favor, not of those who have evoked [Your] anger or of those who are astray.

They are praying to the God of Abraham.

When Jewish people pray the Shema, they say:

Deuteronomy 6:4-9
Sh’ma Yis’ra’eil Adonai Eloheinu Adonai echad. Hear, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.
Barukh sheim k’vod malkhuto l’olam va’ed. Blessed be the Name of His glorious kingdom for ever and ever.
V’ahav’ta eit Adonai Elohekha b’khol l’vav’kha uv’khol naf’sh’kha uv’khol m’odekha. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
V’hayu had’varim ha’eileh asher anokhi m’tzav’kha hayom al l’vavekha. And these words that I command you today shall be in your heart.
V’shinan’tam l’vanekha v’dibar’ta bam And you shall teach them diligently to your children, and you shall speak of them
b’shiv’t’kha b’veitekha uv’lekh’t’kha vaderekh uv’shakh’b’kha uv’kumekha when you sit at home, and when you walk along the way, and when you lie down and when you rise up.
Uk’shar’tam l’ot al yadekha v’hayu l’totafot bein einekha. And you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be for frontlets between your eyes.
Ukh’tav’tam al m’zuzot beitekha uvish’arekha. And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Jesus, whose followers were later known as Christians, taught his friends a simple prayer. There are several versions. In the New Testament of the Bible, it reads as follows:  The Lord’s Prayer (Luke 11:2-4 scripture version)

2 And he said to them, When you say your prayers, say, Father, may your name be kept holy and your kingdom come.

3 Give us every day bread for our needs. 4 May we have forgiveness for our sins,

as we make free all those who are in debt to us. And let us not be put to the test.

(Luke Chapter 11 verses 2 to 4 from the Bible in Basic English, New Testament first published in 1941).

So, one man, Abraham, is the progenitor of a motley brood of contemporary Westerners. Though the history of humanity has seen Christians, Jews, and Muslims in conflict, war, and dissension, this is not what is meant to be. The final part of the Lord’s promise to Abraham states that the families of the earth will be blessed through Abram (12:3b). God makes promises to Abram and his descendants with the result that all of the peoples of the earth will benefit

The first nine verses from Genesis 12 tell the story of God’s call upon Abraham’s life, and it is a call repeated to each one of us. This is a call to move beyond three very human, powerful and deep-seated fears —fear of the unknown that we cannot control, fear of others who are different from us, and fear of personal powerlessness in the face of impossibilities.

The journey of Abraham bears semblance to the path of the seeker. It is a journey from clarity into a future of genuine and profound ignorance, a journey from what is owned to what is given away, from the known to the unknown, from the familiar to the stranger. In his journey, a person chooses to live without total control, without all the answers, and only the promised of the freedom to ask questions, a stranger in a strange land which will become a home.

When “Fargo” Came to Fargo

Posted on March 23, 2015by @LatelaMary

I have many, many stories. For now, I want to tell you what happened when “Fargo” came to Fargo.

My daughter and I had just moved to North Dakota so I could be the pastor of a church at the East end of the state. We decided to see the film “Fargo,” which had just been released. We wanted to be prepared in case some of the people in our town might be sharing opinions about the film.

Afterward, we agreed that while the film was quirky and there were some fine actors involved, the local people were made to look … well, backward.

When we asked a couple of the ladies we had met, they had either seen the film or not, but they all had decided. The word had gotten around that the movie was not made in North Dakota, but in Mahnomen, Minnesota, perhaps 30 miles east of the location in the title. Therefore, they claimed it was a fake, and didn’t have any opinion beyond that.

Who would have thought that the film would be up for several academy awards? “The People” decided – I don’t know enough about Fargo, the town, to know whose idea it was – to give the Hollywood observers what they were expecting. It was widely advertised that everyone was invited to ride through Fargo …. on farm wagons or tractors. Moms, Dads, kids, older folks were encouraged to wear those winter hats with the long ear covers, old-fashioned clothes – I think overalls were mandatory for men, and covered with layers of granny square Afghans.

There was even a warning on the 6PM news to be careful of traffic on I29 going south. It could be perilous!

Oh, what a night! Frances McDormand won Best Actress. The Coen brothers won an Oscar, too.

The next day life was back to “normal.” After all, It was not yet spring, so more snow would come, then the flooding of the Red River, then the summer, usually very hot or very rainy. Farmers were planning what they’d need for planting, renting equipment. Homemakers were preparing for spring teas and graduations already.

Still, people mentioned from time to time the excitement when “Fargo” came to Fargo.

Making Peace

Posted on March 25, 2015by @LatelaMary

peace is elusive

but sharing a loaf of bread

is something you can chew on (ML)

The struggle for world peace is something which people – politicians, poets, preachers, teenagers – understand. Peace, peace, and there is no peace. We are always fighting with one another, on the world stage.

Will it ever change? I believe peace can prevail. I believe peace starts in my heart, and I share that with my household, my neighborhood, and friends near & far. Gradually, the movement expands.

I was reading about a woman called “Peace Pilgrim” and noted in her quest a simple resolve – to spread peace. Peace Pilgrim is a real person. She wrote: “We who work for peace must not falter. We must continue to pray for peace and to act for peace in whatever way we can, we must continue to speak for peace and to live the way of peace; to inspire others, we must continue to think of peace and to know that peace is possible.”

Peace Pilgrim was a woman who spent her life walking to work for peace. She spread her message by the simple yet arduous act of walking. Wherever she went, people met her and seemed to really see her passion for peace. Here’s a little about her life:

Brief Chronology of Peace Pilgrim’s Life

§  1908: Born Mildred Lisette Norman on July 18, in Egg Harbor City, New Jersey, the eldest of three children.

§  1938: Preparations begin. “Living to give instead of to get.”

§  1952: First woman to walk the entire length of the Appalachian Trail in one season..

§  1953: Jan. 1: Takes Peace Pilgrim as her name. Begins first cross-country pilgrimage from Pasadena, CA.

§  1954: Forty-five day fast.

§  1955: Begins second pilgrimage from San Francisco, CA. Walks at least 100 miles in each state, visiting each state capital. Also walks in Mexico and Canada.

§  1957: Walks 1000 miles in Canada – 100 miles in each of the Canadian provinces.

§  1964: Completes 25,000 miles on foot for peace at Washington, D.C. Stops counting miles, but continues to walk cross-country pilgrimage routes.

§  1966: Begins fourth pilgrimage.

§  1969 Begins fifth pilgrimage.

§  1973: Begins sixth pilgrimage.

§  1976: Visits Alaska and Hawaii for the first time.

§  1978: Begins seventh pilgrimage.

§  1979: June: Alaska educational and inspirational tour.

§  1980: August: Hawaii educational and inspirational tour.

§  1981: Spring: Formally nominated for Nobel Peace Prize by a group of church leaders from Memphis,TN.

§  1981: July 7: Passes to “a freer life” near Knox. IN, while on her seventy cross-country walk.

This is a good time to remember that we don’t have to do incredible things to work for what we want to change in the world. We do have to make a decision, and we do need to persevere, no matter what. Think about it.

 

day I attended the memorial service for the New Testament scholar Marcus Borg.  It was one of the most beautiful and moving celebrations of the life and death of a person I have ever been privileged to witness.  I have never experienced such a tangible sense shared love and joy.

I have never actually met Marcus Borg, but for the last few years, I have been regularly attending and teaching in the church where Marcus was appointed as a Canon Theologian, and Marianne Borg served as a priest for many years.  They both left and retired to their home in Eastern Oregon before I arrived, but the impression of their presence remains.  I cannot possibly count the number of times I have heard someone in this parish say, “Marcus allowed me to be a Christian again,” or “Marcus’s work was such a relief to me,” or “Marcus helped me find my faith.”

I never, ever, expected to hear such things about a man who I associated with a school of New Testament interpretation with which I was uncomfortable, to say the least.  So uncomfortable that I was quite nervous about teaching in a place so shaped by his life’s work.  I had first heard of Marcus through the sometimes strident dismissal of the Jesus Seminar during my time at an evangelical seminary.  I admit that I didn’t spend much time reading about the method behind what seemed to me to be a mad system of colored beads.  The reality is that I was so taken aback by the vicious battle over scriptural literalism which surrounded me, a method of interpretation utterly non-sensical to the metaphorical and allegorical sensibilities of my Eastern Orthodox upbringing, that I could barely make sense of the difference between inerrancy and infallibility, much less grasp the challenge posed by the Jesus Seminar and its proponents.  I managed to pick up that the Jesus Seminar rejected the divinity of Jesus which deeply offended my Nicene sensibilities.  Overwhelmed by this strange new world, I shrugged my shoulders and buried myself theology (what Marcus referred to, though I didn’t know it, as the “post-Easter Jesus”) and ethics.

It was to my great surprise then, that a few months ago I started readingMeeting Jesus for the First Time.  I initially thought to read it because of Marcus’s unavoidable presence in my current ecclesial home.  I wanted to understand what was so appealing about his work.  More than understand his work, I wanted to understand the love for him and by him that is so tangible among those who heard him speak, who attended his classes. When someone says, “this person helped me reclaim my faith,” I think we should pay attention.  The fruits of the Spirit are precious and beautiful, and in my experience, sometimes too easy to ignore when they are not accompanied by the ‘right’ liturgy, the ‘right’ practice, the ‘right’ theology, the ‘right’ body, the ‘right’ belief.  This man and his work was clearly, evidently, and abundantly fruitful.

I am not going to discuss what I think of the book here, what I agree with (more than I anticipated) and what I disagree with (considerably less than I expected).  Instead, I simply want to say that I am so grateful to be in a parish shaped by two aspects of his work and life.  The first was repeated over and over again by those who offered remembrances today.   The second was barely touched upon but is, I think, so very important.

Over and over again today, I heard Marcus described as one who “loved to love, loved to hope, a lover of truth and beauty” (from Mindy Haidle).  As Marcus himself said, the Christian life is all “about loving God and loving what God loves.  It’s about becoming passionate about God and participating in God’s passion for a different kind of world, here and now” (Convictions: How I Learned What Matters Most).  This is the conviction of a theologian and scholar who spent decades enmeshed in a particularly vicious set of debates (sometimes, I think that biblical scholarship is among the most cruel of religious specialities), a man whose own faith was lost and then found in the most unexpected of ways.  His journey, so different than my own, has brought life and joy, love and faith to others.  And they, in turn, have made a home that welcomes and loves so many who have found themselves unloved and unwelcome in their previous homes.  This first aspect of his life, his abundant love, bears fruit that I am grateful to receive, even though we have never actually crossed paths.

I am all the more grateful since I suspect, had Marcus and I ever crossed paths, we might have quite strenuously disagreed with one another about a few key aspects of the Christian tradition.  Yet if the fruits of his life are any evidence, it would have been a most enjoyable disagreement.  Somehow, in the midst of a life and work full of strenuous opinion and controversial scholarship, Marcus leaves a legacy of free and fearless disagreement. Reading this, you might think that everyone at the parish agrees with Marcus.  This hardly the case.  One woman, sharing during a discussion ofMeeting Jesus, said that when she first read it years ago, it was so freeing. Today, she is rather shocked by what she now sees as a faulty reading of Jewish tradition.  She was not the only person to echo this trope of being-transformed-by-but-not-in-full-agreement-with Marcus’s work.  Over and over again, in this place so formed by Marcus, people were free to also say that they disagreed with him.  I suspect, had Marcus been there, everyone would have expected him to nod his head, discuss, challenge, perhaps continue to disagree, or possibly nuance a work written over two decades ago.  No one, not a one, seemed to think that disagreeing was a problem.  I learned today that Marcus was known to be so gracious in his disagreement that even his critics took him out for a beer in the evening after sparring with him during the day.

I come from a world where disagreement unacceptable, where challenge is quickly dismissed as heresy in the hopes of silencing uncomfortable truths, where ‘love’ permits, even encourages, condemnation without understanding in the name of remaining faithful to ‘tradition.’

Whatever I think of Marcus Borg’s scriptural, historical and theological arguments, I am grateful for his life and his death, for the legacy of love, disagreement, and loving disagreement that he leaves behind.

The Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor reminded us of Marcus’s own reflection on death: Christians are called to die unto God and hope for the best.  What of the future, Marcus asks, that which is beyond our lives?  “We leave that up to God.”

Marcus wisely trusted in God based on “insufficient information,” for, as we were reminded over and over again today, how can we ever really know?

I hope to be the kind of theologian that passionately wants to know, that wrestles in love and grace with those things that bring us face to face with God in Jesus again and again for the first time.  I hope to be the kind of person who can rest easy in the knowledge that I cannot ever really know, but will enjoy the effort of trying without fear, loving to love, loving to hope, a lover of truth and beauty.

Memory Eternal!

http://womenintheology.org/2015/03/23/memory-eternal-marcus-borg/

 

HILDEGARD OF BINGEN: A Saint for Our Times: Unleashing Her Power in the 21st Century [Paperback]

Posted on March 19, 2015by @LatelaMary

In Matthew Fox, we have a friend of Hildegard, a friend of mystics, prophets, and thinkers. This newest book on Hildegard offers a creative view of the woman from 1000 years ago. Imagine a conversation between Hildegard and Einstein, Hildegard and poet Mary Oliver, Hildegard and Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Hildegard and the Curia. While reading this lively and clear description of the woman, her philosophy, her interests and her achievements, I wondered whether and how she might help me to enrich my own feminist spirituality. I have to say that calling Hildegard a “Wild Woman” in the style of Clarissa Pinkola Estes was a direct arrow shot to my heart. That’s it! I thought.

A prophet is one who interferes. A mystic is one who lives the mysteries. A fully-developed person is like a mosaic –an elegant interaction among music, art, thought, leadership, dance, discourse, preaching, letter-writing, in-your-face directives, gentle “as a feather on the breath of God.”

Kings, popes, abbots, and bishops sought Hildegard for advice, and she went ahead and confronted them whether they asked for help or not. A follower of Martin Luther called her “the first Protestant” because she knew the church needed reform. As a writer, composer, philosopher, mystic, abbess, healer, artist, feminist, and student of science, Hildegard seemed to be ahead of her time. So did Galileo.

In 2006, former Pope Benedict XVI used Hildegard von Bingen to explain his view of women’s role in the church not as priests but as bearers of a “spiritual power” that enables them to, yes, even “criticize the bishops.”http://www.hildegard.org/BenedictXVI/BenedictXVI.html. Of course, Hildegard did nearly everything a priest did, except for the consecration of the bread and wine in Holy Communion. She did, after all, consecrate her life to the Cosmic Christ and bless the world with her gifts.

So I knew I would like Hildegard, recently recognized as a saint and as the fourth female doctor of the church, joining Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Avila, and Therese of Lisieux.  I am Italian-American; I love opera, but Puccini, not Wagner. I am a former Catholic; I love Gregorian chant, but until I heard Hildegard’s angelic chants, I had not associated chant with heartbeat.

Hildegard was a wounded woman as well. She alluded to her suffering, which is, after all, the lot of humanity, but did not dwell on it. It appears that she put the painful experiences into the mix of her life … something else to ponder, to sing about, to build up her courage, to keep her focus.

Finally, I love that Hildegard had “greening power.” The Holy Spirit is green and “we are like trees, she says, and the Holy Spirit is the capacity for juiciness, greenness, and moistness. The only sin is drying up.”(Matthew Fox, Hildegard of Bingen, Namaste: Vancouver, 2012). I highly recommend this book to all, and particularly to people like me, who still seek to sing and dance and shout out and reflect silently about Creation and our Spiritual Oneness.

Matthew Fox , Namaste: Vancouver. 2012

Whatever I do

Posted on March 19, 2015by @LatelaMary

January, 2013

When I was a teenager, helping one of the teaching nuns at the parish middle school with decorating her classroom, I had a challenge. Sister asked me to put up a bulletin board… you know, the old-fashioned kind, where you cut out all the letters, arrange them with a corresponding picture, and tack the message up. You did this about once a month, so that the children would have a new inspiration fairly often.

What were the words? I remember them well. “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”  (Colossians 3:17) NIV

My first (silent) reaction was …. So many letters! … Could this verse be any longer? Back then, I was not too familiar with the Pauline letters or I would have known that this was one of the author’s shorter lines. However, it took many hours to shape and cut the letters out of construction paper, put them into envelopes to keep them in order, go back to school, and tack them all on the bulletin board, along with a picture (which I do not remember.) Really, I’m happy I can remember the words.

Recently, I thought of these words when the subject of vocation or calling came up in a class. Some students were claiming that working to save lives was more like a vocation than selling furniture, because it was more “holy.” I did not agree, and said so … very carefully. You see, it does not matter what we do – whether it is lofty and “important” in the sight of the world or society, whether it is dreary and mundane. When a young mother tells you about folding eight loads of laundry because she got behind a little, she’s not just moving around linens. She is doing God’s work. It’s all about the intention, the reasoning, the motivation.

Why do you get up in the morning? Because you can, of course. And also because you want to … You know that there’s something you need to do, whether it will appear in national headlines or simply make life a little more joyful for your family. Whatever you do, if you do it with the  thought that this is where you are meant to be and your work is good. You will be giving thanks to the Cosmos/God/Higher Power – for the moon and the stars, for the grandchildren and your spouse, for your memories and your dreams, for the presence of people in our lives who remind us that “whatever” is more than enough.

Do We Pay Attention to Beauty in Unexpected Settings?

Posted on March 18, 2015by @LatelaMary

A man sat at a metro station in Washington DC and started to play the violin; it was a cold January morning. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, since it was rush hour, it was calculated that 1,100 people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.

Three minutes went by, and a middle aged man noticed there was musician playing. He slowed his pace, and stopped for a few seconds, and then hurried up to meet his schedule. A minute later, the violinist received his first dollar tip: a woman threw the money in the till and without stopping, and continued to walk. A few minutes later, someone leaned against the wall to listen to him, but the man looked at his watch and started to walk again. Clearly he was late for work.

The one who paid the most attention was a 3 year old boy. His mother tagged him along, hurried, but the kid stopped to look at the violinist. Finally, the mother pushed hard, and the child continued to walk, turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. All the parents, without exception, forced them to move on.

In the 45 minutes the musician played, only 6 people stopped and stayed for a while. About 20 gave him money, but continued to walk their normal pace. He collected $32. When he finished playing and silence took over, no one noticed it. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.

No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the most talented musicians in the world. He had just played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, on a violin worth $3.5 million dollars. Two days before his playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100.

This is a real story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste, and priorities of people. Questions bubble up: In a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize talent in an unexpected context? One concern: If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing the best music ever written, how many other things are we missing?”

Occupy Wall St. 1/8/12

 

 

Aramaic Lord’s Prayer

Posted on March 18, 2015by @LatelaMary

April 2012

Neil-Douglas Klotz is a teacher of world religion and a spiritual guide, aligned both with traditional Christianity and the Sufi tradition. He is known for writing about the Aramaic language which Jesus must have spoken, the language of his homeland, of ancient Semitic lands.

Klotz, in an interview with Tami Simon of Sounds True (NPR) talks about how his enthusiasm about this Aramaic perspective evolved.  He says, “When I started this work, I thought, “Well, it’s just a matter of a few different words.” I mean, they are important different words, as I mentioned. But then I began to say that it is a whole cosmology. It’s a whole way of looking. It’s a different psychology. It’s a different way of looking at time. It’s a completely different way of looking at time.

“The ancient Semites tended to look at time really not as a separate past, present, and future, but more as a, what I sometimes now call, ‘caravan time.’ That is that the past is pulsing ahead of us. The present is here now with us in a community with which we’re traveling. And the future is coming along behind us. So it’s almost exactly the opposite of the way Western philosophy looks at it, which is, ‘We’re heading toward the future and the past is behind us and it will never affect us again.’

No, [ancient peoples of the place where Jesus grew up] looked at it almost the opposite way. We’re falling in the footsteps of our ancestors, and then as the Native Americans sometimes say, ‘There are those who come along behind us or after us, and those are our children and our children’s children. We have to really be careful and pay attention to what we’re leaving for them.

“So it’s a whole huge shift, and this idea that there is no “being” verb [in Aramaic] is one of the biggest ones. What evolved in Greek philosophy, on which is based our Western philosophy and doctrines, was that there is a separateness, even of God, for the individual a soul, something that can be saved or invested or lost. Jesus had a deeper idea of the spiritual life … more oneness, less separateness….” For more info, see the website: www.abwoon.com

For Reflection  at Eastertide, some people enjoy the following, a kind of paraphrase, a meditative version of the Lord’s Prayer translated by Neil-Douglas-Klotz in his book Prayers of the Cosmos

O Birther! Father- Mother of the Cosmos

Focus your light within us – make it useful.

Create your reign of unity now-

through our fiery hearts and willing hands

Help us love beyond our ideals

and sprout acts of compassion for all creatures.

Animate the earth within us: we then

feel the Wisdom underneath supporting all.

Untangle the knots within

so that we can mend our hearts’ simple ties to each other.

Don’t let surface things delude us,

But free us from what holds us back from our true purpose.

Out of you, the astonishing fire,

Returning light and sound to the cosmos.      Amen.

 

September 11, 2002

Posted on March 18, 2015by @LatelaMary

Dear Colleagues:

On Tuesday, September  11, 2001, our University community came together with an outpouring of grief and compassion in reaction to the terrible events of that day. This year, on Wednesday, September 11, I invite all of you to join with us for a day of remembrance and reflection to recognize the first anniversary of the attacks. We will come together on the lawn in front of Gengras Student Union for the University’s morning remembrance of September 11 at 8:30 a.m.

This will be a simple ceremony during which we will remember the horrible attacks on New York and Washington. We will all participate by ringing small bells at 8:46 a.m. and a moment of silent reflection to commemorate the day and remember those who died. The event will close with music. Beginning at 10:30 a.m. in Suisman Lounge at Gengras Student Union, faculty, staff, and students will also be able to work with Delois

Traynum-Lindsey, assistant dean of students and director of  multicultural programs, to craft squares for a community quilt she will sew to commemorate September 11. At noon in Suisman Lounge we will then gather for a time of reflection.  Students will perform selections from A Ribbon of Hope, a heartfelt spoken word CD created last year to express theirfeelings and reactions to these terrible acts. The Student Government Association and University Dining Services are working together to gather donations from the University community for the September 11, 2001 Children’s Fund, Inc. For those interested in donating, look for Student Government Association tables at Suisman Lounge in Gengras Student Union, University Commons, and at the site of other September 11 events on campus throughout the day and evening.

The University’s day of remembrance will conclude with a candlelight vigil. Faculty and staff will to meet in the Sports Center lobby at 7:45 p.m. We will march beginning from the Sports Center at 8 p.m. to the lawn at Konover Campus Center. The vigil will begin approximately at 8:45 p.m. where there will be a microphone for personal reflections, poems, and songs. Last year, we were a community united by grief, by caring, and by our determination to make this a better world. This year, we come together to remember those who died and to recommit ourselves as a learning community to make this a better world for all of the world’s peoples.

Sincerely,

Walter HarrisonPresident

University of Hartford, Hartford, CT

Sometimes coming together, remembering, helps in the healing process.

Surely God is in this Place

Posted on March 17, 2015by @LatelaMary

“It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.” (Oriah Mountain Dreamer)

I‘ll tell you what I ache for, but first, let me tell you about my epiphany. It’s about dancing.

When I sat down to watch Frozen with my granddaughter, she pushed the Play button on the remote, gathered herself to her full two-and-a-half-year-old height, stretched her arms upward and out, and began to dance!

And she sang with Princess Anna and Princess Elsa. Our little one knows all the lyrics …. and she swirls like a butterfly. I always thought of myself as—to put it kindly, awkward. I took piano lessons, and there was little danger of falling off the bench. But I really, really, really wanted to dance!

Watching Frozen, I felt my heart start to sing, my eyes fill with bright tears, my soul trying to break free of my self -imposed limitations.

What I do know – with great certainty — is that when I do the work I love, writing, for example, I reach out for the thoughts, the feelings, and ideas, and sometimes, I catch something lovely ~ The choreography comes easily.

Oriah asks, “Mary, can you be with joy mine or your own?” She knows that I am afraid to dance with wildness, that I do yearn for ecstasy to fill me from head to toe. I stretch, reaching to the ends of the universe, to touch the sky, to feel silky lace around me, to reach higher and higher, and to land, oh so beautifully, on soft snow pillows.

Surely God is in this sacred space between breaths, though I think it’s too sweet for words! Can you feel it, too?

The Paradox of Pope Francis by Hans Kung

Posted on March 17, 2015by @LatelaMary

Hans Kung, theologian, was silenced by the Vatican for disagreeing with and writing about theological issues.

National Catholic Reporter

The paradox of Pope Francis

Pope Francis greets the crowd as he arrives to lead his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican May 1. The sign in the crowd in Italian says “Francesco, go rebuild my house,” a reference to Jesus’ words to St. Francis in an apparition.

A fresco by Giotto depicts Pope Innocent III giving approval to the first Franciscan rule and blessing St. Francis and his followers during their visit to Rome in 1209-1210. The fresco is located on the upper church of the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy. (CNS/Octavio Duran)

Hans Kung  |  May. 21, 2013

“Who could have imagined what has happened in the last weeks? When I decided, months ago, to resign all of my official duties on the occasion of my 85th birthday, I assumed I would never see fulfilled my dream that — after all the setbacks following the Second Vatican Council — the Catholic church would once again experience the kind of rejuvenation that it did under Pope John XXIII.

“Then my theological companion over so many decades, Joseph Ratzinger — both of us are now 85 — suddenly announced his resignation from the papal office effective at the end of February. And on March 19, St. Joseph’s feast day and my birthday, a new pope with the surprising and programmatic name Francis assumed this office. Has Jorge Mario Bergoglio considered why no pope has dared to choose the name of Francis until now? At any rate, the Argentine was aware that with the name of Francis he was connecting himself with Francis of Assisi, the world-famous 13th-century downshifter who had been the fun-loving, worldly son of a rich textile merchant in Assisi, until at the age of 24, he gave up his family, wealth and career, even giving his splendid clothes back to his father.

“It is astonishing how, from the first minute of his election, Pope Francis chose a new style: unlike his predecessor, no miter with gold and jewels, no ermine-trimmed cape, no made-to-measure red shoes and headwear, no magnificent throne. Astonishing, too, that the new pope deliberately abstains from solemn gestures and high-flown rhetoric and speaks in the language of the people. And finally it is astonishing how the new pope emphasizes his humanity: He asked for the prayers of the people before he gave them his blessing; settled his own hotel bill like anybody else; showed his friendliness to the cardinals in the coach, in their shared residence, at the official goodbye; washed the feet of young prisoners, including those of a young Muslim woman. A pope who demonstrates that he is a man with his feet on the ground.

“All this would have pleased Francis of Assisi and is the opposite of what Pope Innocent III (1198-1216) represented in his time. In 1209, Francis and 11 “lesser brothers” (fratres minores or friars minor) traveled to Rome to lay before Innocent their short rule, consisting entirely of quotations from the Bible, and to ask for papal approval for their way of life, living in poverty and preaching as lay preachers “according to the form of the Holy Gospel.” Innocent III, the duke of Segni, who was only 37 when he was elected pope, was a born ruler; he was a theologian educated in Paris, a shrewd lawyer, a clever speaker, a capable administrator and a sophisticated diplomat. No pope before or after him had ever had as much power as he had. Innocent completed the revolution from above initiated by Gregory VII in the 11th century (“the Gregorian Reform”). Instead of the title of “Successor of St. Peter,” Innocent preferred the title of “Vicar of Christ,” as used by every bishop or priest until the 12th century. Unlike in the first millennium and never acknowledged in the apostolic churches of the East, the pope since then has acted as the absolute ruler, lawgiver and judge of Christianity — until today. The triumphal pontificate of Innocent proved itself to be not only the high point but also the turning point.

“On the basis of a dream in which a small, insignificant member of an order saved the papal Basilica of St. John Lateran from collapsing — so it was told — the pope finally allowed the Rule of Francis of Assisi. He let this be known in the Consistory of Cardinals but never had it committed to paper. A different path In fact, Francis of Assisi represented the alternative to the Roman system. What would have happened if Innocent and his like had taken the Gospel seriously? Even if they had understood it spiritually rather than literally, his evangelical demands meant and still mean an immense challenge to the centralized, legalized, politicized and clericalized system of power that had taken over the cause of Christ in Rome since the 11th century. Innocent III was probably the only pope who, because of his unusual characteristics, could have directed the church along a completely different path, and this would have saved the papacies of the 14th and 15th centuries schism and exile, and the church in the 16th century the Protestant Reformation. Obviously, this would already have meant a paradigm shift for the Catholic church in the 13th century, a shift that instead of splitting the church would have renewed it, and at the same time reconciled the churches of East and West. Thus, the early Christian basic concerns of Francis of Assisi remain even today questions for the Catholic church and now for a pope who, indicating his intentions, has called himself Francis. It is above all about the three basic concerns of the Franciscan ideal that have to be taken seriously today: It is about poverty, humility and simplicity. This probably explains why no previous pope has dared to take the name of Francis: The expectations seem to be too high.

“That begs a second question: What does it mean for a pope today if he bravely takes the name of Francis? Of course the character of Francis of Assisi must not be idealized; he could be one-sided, eccentric, and he had his weaknesses, too. He is not the absolute standard. But his early Christian concerns must be taken seriously even if they need not be literally implemented but rather translated into modern times by pope and church.

  • Poverty: The church in the spirit of Innocent III meant a church of wealth, pomp and circumstance, acquisitiveness and financial scandal. In contrast, a church in the spirit of Francis means a church of transparent financial policies and modest frugality. A church that concerns itself above all with the poor, the weak and the marginalized. A church that does not pile up wealth and capital but instead actively fights poverty and offers its staff exemplary conditions of employment.
  • Humility: The church in the spirit of Innocent means a church of power and domination, bureaucracy and discrimination, repression and Inquisition. In contrast, a church in the spirit of Francis means a church of humanity, dialogue, brotherhood and sisterhood, hospitality for nonconformists; it means the unpretentious service of its leaders and social solidarity, a community that does not exclude new religious forces and ideas from the church but rather allows them to flourish.
  • Simplicity: The church in the spirit of Innocent means a church of dogmatic immovability, moralistic censure and legal hedging, a church of canon law regulating everything, a church of all-knowing scholastics and of fear. In contrast, a church in the spirit of Francis of Assisi means a church of good news and of joy, a theology based purely on the Gospel, a church that listens to people instead of indoctrinating from above, a church that does not only teach but one that constantly learns. …

“A third question presents itself today as much as then: Will a reform of the church not meet with serious opposition? Doubtless, he will thus awaken powerful opposition, above all in the powerhouse of the Roman Curia, opposition that is difficult to withstand. Those in power in the Vatican are not likely to abandon the power that has been accumulated since the Middle Ages. Curial pressures Francis of Assisi also had to experience the force of such curial pressures. He who wanted to free himself of everything by living in poverty clung more and more closely to “Holy Mother Church.” Not in confrontation with the hierarchy but rather in obedience to pope and Curia, he wanted to live in imitation of Jesus: in a life of poverty, in lay preaching. He and his followers even had themselves tonsured in order to enter the clerical state. In fact, this made preaching easier but on the other it encouraged the clericalization of the young community, which included more and more priests. So it is not surprising that the Franciscan community became increasingly integrated into the Roman system. Francis’ last years were overshadowed by the tensions between the original ideals of Jesus’ followers and the adaptation of his community to the existing type of monastic life. To do Francis justice: On Oct. 3, 1226, aged only 44, he died as poor as he had lived. Just 10 years previously, one year after the Fourth Lateran Council, Innocent III died unexpectedly at the age of 56. On July 16, 1216, his body was found in the Cathedral of Perugia: This pope who had known how to increase the power, property and wealth of the Holy See like no other before him was found deserted by all, naked, robbed by his own servants. A trumpet call signaling the transition from papal world domination to papal powerlessness: At the beginning of the 13th century there is Innocent III reigning in glory; at the end of the century, there is the megalomaniac Boniface VIII (1294-1303) arrested by the French; and then the 70-year exile in Avignon, France, and the Western schism with two and, finally, three popes. Barely two decades after Francis’ death, the Roman church seemed to almost completely domesticate the rapidly spreading Franciscan movement in Italy so that it quickly became a normal order at the service of papal politics, and even became a tool of the Inquisition. If it was possible for the Roman system to finally domesticate Francis of Assisi and his followers, then obviously it cannot be excluded that a Pope Francis could also be trapped in the Roman system that he is supposed to be reforming. Pope Francis: a paradox? Is it possible that a pope and a Francis, obviously opposites, can ever be reconciled? Only by an evangelically minded, reforming pope. To conclude, a fourth question: What is to be done if our expectations of reform are quashed from above? In any case, the time is past when pope and bishops could reckon with the obedience of the faithful. The 11th-century Gregorian Reform also introduced a certain mysticism of obedience: Obeying God means obeying the church and that means obeying the pope. Since that time, it has been drummed into Catholics that the obedience of all Christians to the pope is a cardinal virtue; commanding and enforcing obedience — by whatever means — has become the Roman style. But the medieval equation, “Obedience to God equals obedience to the church equals obedience to the pope,” patently contradicts the word of the apostle before the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem: “Man must obey God rather than other men.” We should then in no way fall into resignation; instead, faced with a lack of impulse toward reform from the top down, from the hierarchy, we must take the offensive, pushing for reform from the bottom up.

If Pope Francis tackles reforms, he will find he has the wide approval of people far beyond the Catholic church. However, if he just lets things continue as they are, without clearing the logjam of reforms as now in the case of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, then the call of “Time for outrage! Indignez-vous!” will ring out more and more in the Catholic church, provoking reforms from the bottom up that will be implemented without the approval of the hierarchy and frequently even in spite of the hierarchy’s attempts at circumvention. In the worst case — as I already wrote before this papal election — the Catholic church will experience a new ice age instead of a spring and run the risk of dwindling into a barely relevant large sect. [Theologian Fr. Hans Küng writes from Tübingen, Germany.]”

This story appeared in the May 24- June 6, 2013 print issue under the headline: The paradox of Pope Francis .

 

 

For Mom

Posted on March 16, 2015by @LatelaMary

Beannacht / Blessing by John O’Donohue

On the day when the weight deadens on your shoulders and you stumble, may the clay dance to balance you. And when your eyes freeze behind the grey window and the ghost of loss gets in to you, may a flock of colours, indigo, red, green, and azure blue come to awaken in you a meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays in the currach of thought and a stain of ocean blackens beneath you, may there come across the waters a path of yellow moonlight to bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours, may the clarity of light be yours, may the fluency of the ocean be yours, may the protection of the ancestors be yours. And so may a slow wind work these words of love around you, an invisible cloak to mind your life. — from Echoes of Memory, by John O’Donohue

 

Abuse is Not a Relationship Problem

Posted on March 16, 2015by @LatelaMary

Many organizations try to remedy abusive relationships with mediation and conflict resolution. Pam Rubin explains that this approach can do more harm than good:

“Conceiving of sexual violence and abuse as a relationship problem does not fit what’s actually going on. What’s going on in terms of male violence is a worldwide phenomenon. Men who choose to use violence often have a series of targets. There’s nothing unique about a particular target or victim; and, it’s very unfair to burden that victim as if they have to solve a relationship problem.” (LionsRoar.org)

Pam Rubin correctly identifies the flaws in an approach to ending violence against women which is relational, and which uses conflict resolution tools to address this tragic, widespread problem.

I thought about others who are victims of sexual abuse, namely children. Sadly, some parents (power people) use the crime of incest to introduce sexual acts into the father/daughter or father/son dynamic. Fathers are the protectors of their children; those who have the propensity to assault a child, even a toddler, are certainly condemned, at least in theory.

However, the victim in such a crime does not have the ability to even understand “relationship.” She cannot define, control, or stop a “relationship.” If she speaks of being hurt, she may not be believed. She may be accused of lying, of destroying the family. She may stop talking when she realizes that her voice is not heard at home. Mother and Father are not supposed to hurt, not supposed to come in the night, not supposed to force themselves into the tiny body, to invade and violate the sacred child. Total responsibility for the parental-child connection is with the adult; this is not a pier relationship; there is no informed consent; there are exceptions; this is not a “special situation.”

For adults who were molested in childhood, confusion about whom to trust may be a lifelong struggle. The other parent is often the knowing “bystander” who remains silent. Sometimes the pair work together to terrorize and scapegoat one child. They are often charming and everyone seems to like them, everyone who is outside the closed doors of their home.

Any attempt to lessen the incredibly common experience of violence in families should start with two elements – justice and compassion. It is unjust to molest a spouse, or a child; it is a crime. The victim is not someone to be interrogated like a suspect in an armed robbery, but as the innocent victim of a depraved adult who calls himself/herself a parent.

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Uncle Sal

Posted on March 15, 2015by @LatelaMary

The last time I saw my Uncle Sal was at a wake for another uncle. I’d been to this funeral parlor before; my father’s family used this place because they had a long friendship with the owner. I had a friend come with me, and she sat in the back of the room, telling me to take my time. As I was walking into the gathering of relatives and friends, looking for a place to sit quietly, Uncle Sal came over to me, gave me a hug, and took me by the hand. We sat together for a while. “I want to hold hands with my niece,” he said to his brother-in-law, who was sitting behind us.

We talked about our kids and our work a bit. We talked about the bicycle for two he had built when my sibs and I were kids. He asked me for the first ride around the neighborhood. We talked about their pet bunny which met an unhappy end. We talked about Christmas at grandma’s.

I asked how he was feeling. You see, we knew he was dying. He said that he’d had a transfusion and that should see him through the next few days. “Don’t worry, I’m all right.”

I knew – really – that this was our farewell. When it was time, my uncle walked me to the entrance and onto the porch of the funeral home. “I love you.” “I love you, too.”

“May the angels take you into paradise.”

Is Religion Evil? Is Religion Good?

Posted on March 14, 2015by @LatelaMary

Is Religion Evil? Is Religion Good? Weighing centuries of war, body counts, abusehttp://www.salon.com/2015/02/07/is_religion_evil_weighing_centuries_of_war_body_counts_abuse/ MICHAEL RUSE, Saturday, Feb 7, 2015 10:00 am cst

What’s good about religion? Does it lead to violence?….http://www.salon.com/2015/03/01/is_there_any_case_for_religion_christianity_islam_atheism_and_my_search_for_balance_and_truth/ Michael Ruse, Sunday, Mar 1, 2015 11:00 AM CST

Thanks to @AnneLeighParrish for posting these questions on Twitter. Here are my thoughts and analysis..

On the whole, the articles are very disorganized. First, I question the author’s credibility and ability to discuss the topic intelligently. He is a professor of philosophy and history of science, particularly biology. So he is not a scholar of world religions, nor comparative religions, nor of theology. These are all relevant. He does not give a definition of atheism, and that is a problem for the critical reader.

Some people give up believing in God or the Almighty because they a. were hurt by institutional religion, for example, abused by clergy, b.were forced to squelch all questions or doubts because they were called “sinful” c. tried to serve as a church/synagogue/temple leader and burned out because of the “politics of religion.” d.were victims in family life of domestic violence, sexual abuse, incest, and were not believed by the “leaders” they approached for help. e.suffer from depression/suicidal ideation/grief/alienation and are brushed aside… “If you had more faith, you would be happy all the time.” of “God can take away your depression.” f.are angry, but learned to push everything down, and so live silent, exhausted, hopeless life

I grew up in the Roman Catholic Church, where guilt, shame, and more guilt and shame were the tools used by Church (institutional) and individual priests, nuns, lay teachers, to make people behave.  After leaving the Catholic Church, I joined a moderate Protestant church, am an ordained minister, but the following factors led to my present perspective, which is to stay safe, enter into anything religious with great caution, and to speak out against those “churchy people” who tore down, and continue to tear down plain, ordinary, good people.

My very good friend and I talk about  this, about how religion wouldn’t be so bad without the “manmade” (and I do mean male) doctrines piled upon based spiritual values such as compassion, courage, seeking justice for marginalized individuals and groups of persons. For the GLBTQ good people, there is widespread concern, fear of sharing, and in many cases, ousting from religious institutions.

Back to the articles.  Bad things, horrid things have happened in the name of religion. Good things, very good things have happend in the name of religion. Perversions of religion to justify murder, mayhem, rape, mutilations, alienation – happen all too often. But I am pretty sure that whether religion is out there or not, it is not the primary cause.

If you got rid of all the people, then there would be no evil. I say this, of course, tongue in cheek, because in every “bunch” of people, some will habitually choose to do good, to mend the world a little in their own way. Others, whatever they give as their excuse, consistently choose to act in ways that are destructive.

You surely noticed that Prof. Ruse put Islam in a separate category, as intrinsically evil. As one who has studied the major world religions and spoken with people from various religious or unreligious communities, I can say with some certainty that the basics of Islam are as clean and as dangerous as any other religion.

I don’t know what God is like, but I am pretty sure that the orderly way of the cosmos is not some happy accident.  Humankind made a mistake in drawing God as Father, male, elderly when balanced, sound theologians have written convincingly that any God must have the full range of masculine/feminine qualities and MORE.

No adult is forced to declare him/herself as pro- or anti- religion/spirituality, or as a follower/nonfollower of God. I believe that part of our reason for being here is to “live the questions,” and see how they come out in our own lives and the lives of all the others near and far.

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I got lost quite a few times when I was driving alone, after college, after the marriage was over, etc. I used to think I had a bad sense of direction. I heard a term which seemed to describe me, namely, “directionally challenged.” That is simply a polite way of saying I got lost … often. But no! This is not pathology … it’s just how I am. With good directions, and sometimes help, I can find my way. Moreover, I learned that getting lost saved me from a couple of difficult situations.

I had worked for an agency on and off during graduate school, and when I returned to CT, I decided to apply to work there for a while again. My former boss and I had a great phone visit, and set up an interview. On the way, I got lost. I started to blame the DOT or whoever is responsible for taking away or adding exits to the highway. At the time, I simply rescheduled. The second time, I was ever so careful … and I got lost again! I was going to try for a third time, lest I add this “failure” to many other flaws I was trying to get rid of. Then I decided, perhaps this is not meant to be. After a while, I found another position, at a new place, with challenging work, and I never got lost getting there or going home.

Another time when I had a job interview, I actually made a “dry-run” to the place the day before the actual interview. But en route to the real interview, I got turned around and was an hour late. This was new territory for me. I had never been late for an interview, or late for ANYTHING. It had been a matter of principle to be on-time, if not early. Once seated opposite the   “boss-to-be” and listening to the job description, I realized that he was a senior pastor who was really looking for a younger woman to do the secondary things in the church, the activities he did not want to do anymore. I knew I was not that kind of younger woman. Not a good fit! They never called back to let me know, so I called and asked if the position had been filled; it had; I wished them well.

One time I made a wrong turn and it was great! I ended up in front of Dairy Queen. It was summer, very hot, and I felt almost blessed by this mistake. They were having a special on some kind of chocolate – peanut delight. This may not seem impressive, but taking the wrong turn was like getting a big birthday package when it’s not even your birthday.

Theories and Facts about “Domestic” Violence

Posted on March 9, 2015by @LatelaMary

In response to an article in Ms. Magazine, 2014, by Donna Decker

“In the Aftermath of Isla Vista,” In the Intro, Decker writes: “Feminists have long tried to show the link between misogyny, hypermasculinity and violence against women. This time, there was no mistaking the connections.”

Ironically the article begins with the words of poet Muriel Rukeyser in 1968: “What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.” I remember Rukeyser’s statement, and watched and participated in the unfolding of the women’s movement around “telling her story” privately, publicly, in legal settings, in education. By the late 1970s, the secret was out. Couples composed of a prominent man in business or politics and a well-educated, sophisticated woman who was his wife, housekeeper, child care worker, etc., looked to the outside world like the perfect couple. Behind closed doors, there was verbal, physical, and sexual violence against the female spouse.

In some excellent work on women and depression, evidence showed that many women suffered from depression because she was a victim of abuse, with a spouse who could keep her trapped by taking away her keys, her money, her access to other women, even to a job.

Ms. Decker refers to a series of tragic mass murders, one committed in 2014 by 22-year old Elliot Rodget  a day after putting out a UTube video aimed at women about his “war on women” and his intention to punish them for depriving him of sex, and other rejections. She points to the 1989 tragedy in which Marc Lepine killed 14 women at an engineering school because they were taking places from men and they were “feminists!”

Decker notes that the connection between these massacres with misogyny AND hypermasculinity was not in the headlines. Instead, groups of men assembled in rights groups to demand that they be seen as the superior person in a couple, and that women were to be insulted, denigrated, basically put in their place.

A link between hypermasculinity and misogyny has not been proven. No one, no series of studies, in fact no systematic research has shown a direct causal connection between young men who hate, then kill, women and men who assault, abuse, even kill their spouse. It is certainly an avenue worth following, but it does not really fit a long history of experiences by women.

After all these years, domestic violence has neither been eradicated nor reduced. In fact, in my work with teenagers, I frequently hear young women say that they have the power to deal with violence at home by striking back. As one who has worked through the decades to stop domestic violence, I now realize that this societal problem needs intense investigation, continued education, and raising our daughters to say no to violence in a relationship.

What I Need in Order to Write

Posted on March 9, 2015by @LatelaMary

March 3, 2015.

Pat Schneider, author, writes: “Solitude is an absolute necessity-the single most crucial necessity-for the writer. Only in the deepest solitude is it possible to achieve the utter surrender required for creative work. Writing at its deepest is a spiritual discipline, where the unconscious and the conscious mind merge, where what we currently call ‘left brain” and ‘right brain’ somehow leap the boundary, and dream becomes indistinguishable from rational thought…

“‘Solitude,’ however, does not always mean being physically alone. Thousands of times I have seen it in a writing workshop where we write together in silence. A kind of solitude happens there, where each of us works silently and protects the other’s privacy. In that setting, miracles happen: The writer writes clear, clean narrative; surprising juxtapositions; metaphoric images; insights that the writer does not perceive until it is read aloud and named by listeners.” (—Pat Schneider, Writing Alone and With Others)

For me, the “requirements” are different.

In order to write, first, I need to clarify something. The right-brain left-brain theory has been debunked. No one has been able to show , medically,  neuro-scientifically, that one side of the brain is more creative or analytical than the other.  Of course, people have made much $$$, a cottage industry, based on this hypothesis.

Schneider is writing about writing as a kind of creative miracle that requires certain conditions in order to be good or strong.  I know – don’t we all – that waiting for the very right moment, setting up the desk perfectly, using the best paper, selecting the  right font, the correct lamp, the most delightful background, such as the ocean or a sunset, do not make writing happen. They are lovely accessories, and they can help us to tune out the everyday routine, but they are unnecessary.

What I need in order to write is: The intention to write…. every day. The act of sitting down at  keyboard, desk, etc. Putting ink to paper, whether on the computer or the back of an envelope. Doing it!

If you practice the piano every day and you have a nugget of talent and joy in the activity, you will eventually become a pretty good pianist.

If you write every day, and if you are willing and able to look critically at your writing, cut it and paste it, throw away paragraphs, revise, perfect it, you may become a strong writer.

I need perseverance to write. I decide to write. I decide to write today. I decide each day whether to continue writing. My experience tells me that not writing leaves me a little empty inside, or perhaps too full of disorganized ideas,  to live calmly. These days, I have space, quiet, and time to write. When I didn’t have these, I wrote. I do not need much to write. I need to – simply? – write.

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“It always comes back to the same necessity: go deep enough and there is a bedrock of truth, however hard.” ― May Sarton

What is the bedrock of truth in your life right now? (1/6/2015)

I wasn’t sure of the definition of bedrock, assuming that it is the very solid, unbreakable foundation underneath all the changing parts of what is on the earth’s surface. Now bedrock is strong, but it is not immutable.  It can be affected by weathering, erosion, wind, water. If I apply this idea of people, or to myself, I would describe the changeable parts of what makes me that wonderful superb person as topsoil or regolith. Way down, if I were to go there, where it is dark, where the secret unbreakable stuff of souls is hiding, I might be surprised at what I saw.

Yes, I have had woundedness, and there are scars. I have been mistreated; I have been chiseled at times like a piece of soft marble with the hammers of unfriendly, crafty people and organizations. And yes, some watery stuff has leaked into the upper part, but the bedrock is strong enough to take all this and hold me up.

I thought first about those gorgeous homes on the dirt cliffs on the California coast, built with some foundation, surely, but not on really solid ground. In a horrific storm, the power of water and wind can push that mansion down into the ocean or onto the lovely Pacific Coast Highway. And all is lost. If the owner wants to rebuild, shouldn’t she rethink the whole plan?

For me, the truth is that deep down I am a compassionate and courageous woman. I am an older woman, so the richness is mostly mental and emotional …. Of course, I retain my lively sense of humor and perfect smile!  I listen to other people; I listen to the stories, even when, occasionally, the stories do not ring true or the narrator is just plain lying, but I can tell; and then I need to settle back on the bedrock, sit and center myself. Just because you are kind does not mean that you are a doormat.

I am empathic and intuitive (even deep down) and that is both a blessing and a challenge. I hurt for people I don’t even know very well. I fight against the odds against universally held social disorder, long-time criminal behavior, the tendency of cowardly people to abuse the gentle ones. As a younger person, I really thought we could end domestic violence. Now I know that it will take a cosmic shift for everyone to decide that reverence is for all, not just the strong and mighty.

← Must Read – Ghostwritten

The Bedrock of Truth →

Bright and Shiny Moments

Posted on March 9, 2015by @LatelaMary

(Excerpt from a Transfiguration Sunday sermon given on 2/15/2015) Today’s Gospel tells of a bright and shiny moment. It reminds us that even on a bumpy road, even when we are scared, one moment can plant itself into our mind and we will never forget. We also have an opportunity to understand Jesus more clearly, as he reveals who he is to his disciples. I remember a bright and shiny experience. I was in North Dakota, and we had gone down to Fargo to visit a lady in the hospital. Her daughter was driving. As we got onto I-29 going North, there it was, The Aurora Borealis! – not the full sky panorama, but a wonderful greenish, blue formation above us. I asked the driver, “Is that it?” and she said, “Yes, that’s it.” I will always remember that wonderful experience. We think that the sudden and unexplained brightness of Jesus’ clothing signals the presence of God. Whiteness here indicates a light not accessible to human beings. The appearance of Moses and Elijah not only exceeds the limits of what is thought possible,ut also connects Jesus with two of Israel’s major prophetic figures. It is something new for Peter, James and John who did not witness the baptism. Peter’s desire to prolong the moment is well intended because he is still not sure that this plan of Jesus will work. The story of the transfiguration follows a period of healing, and of moving from place to place. It is really a kind of crossroads. He knows which way he needs to go, but will the disciples understand, then accept the road ahead? For one shining moment the disciples are granted a foretaste of Jesus’ coming glory.  While the text does not tell us what motivated Peter’s response, I cannot help but think that Peter wanted to hold onto this moment of glory and to stop Jesus’ downward journey toward suffering and death. One of my favorite writers, Frederick Buechner, says: “It is as strange a scene as there is in the Gospels. Even without the voice from the cloud to explain it, they had no doubt what they were witnessing. It was Jesus of Nazareth all right, the man they’d tramped many a dusty mile with, whose mother and brothers they knew, the one they’d seen as hungry, tired, and footsore as the rest of them. But it was also the Messiah, the Christ, in his glory. It was the holiness of the man shining through his humanness, his face so afire with it they were almost blinded.” Even with us something like that happens once in a while.  “The face of a man walking with his grandchild in the park, of a woman baking bread, of sometimes even the unlikeliest person listening to a concert, say, or standing barefoot in the sand watching the waves roll in, or just having a hotdog at a Saturday baseball game in July. Every once in a while, something so touching, so incandescent, so alive transfigures the human face that it’s almost beyond bearing.” (Excerpt from Frederick Buechner’s book Whistling in the Dark, repub.in Beyond Words. (2012)

 

Living a Good Life – Words from a Teacher

Posted on March 9, 2015by @LatelaMary

Leading a Good Life ~ 14th Dalai Lama

Whether you believe in God or not does not matter so much,

whether you believe in Buddha or not does not matter so much;

as a Buddhist, whether you believe in reincarnation or not does not matter so much.

You must lead a good life.

And a good life does not mean just good food, good clothes, good shelter.

These are not sufficient.

A good motivation is what is needed:

compassion, without dogmatism, without complicated philosophy;

just understanding that others are human brothers and sisters

and respecting their rights and human dignity.

14th Dalai Lama from the book Kindness, Clarity, and Insight

A Story that Saved Me

Posted on March 9, 2015by @LatelaMary

Feb. 17, 2015

The story that saved me was entitled “The Burning Bed.” (published 1/1/1980) by Faith McNulty, about Francine Hughes, a battered wife, who killed her husband after he made her burn her secretarial books with which she was trying to get a job so she could earn money and have a job. He didn’t want her to be more educated than he was.

The morning after the trial ended in which Francine Hughes was found not guilty, she was the guest on the Phil Donahue talk show, originating from Chicago. Donahue took on difficult topics, had guests with sad, terrible, or victorious stories. Members of the audience, mostly wives and mothers from the Midwest, asked questions and reacted. I watched every day I could.

When I turned on the TV that morning, after my husband had left for work and the children were playing, I sat very close and watched and listened to the horrifying story. It was the first time I had seen an actual TV report about an abusive marriage.

Francine Hughes looked dazed. Her face, even on our black and white TV,  was haunting.  She was so pale you had to wonder whether she would faint. She was coherent, but she spoke barely above a whisper.  The jury, after hearing her recount her story, had decided she was not guilty.

After a long, long history of her husband’s cruel abuse, Francine had finally set his bed afire when he finally fell asleep after a rampage in which he destroyed many of Francie’s things. What causes her to “snap” was his demand that she burn the textbooks she had purchased and hid from him, in order to take classes, to have job skills in order to get a job and leave him.

My marriage was another story of abuse, learned helplessness, fear for my life and for my children. I knew by that time that I was not alone, after I read a small item in the local newspaper about a hotline in my town where you could talk to someone if you were being abused.

What shocked me most about the Donahue show  was the reaction of some of the women in the audience. They were judgmental. They chastised Ms. Hughes for not being a good, submissive wife. They condemned her for killing her husband, quoted Scripture, the Ten Commandments, etc. They yelled her, called her a coward. She simply listened.

Donahue stepped in and said, “I don’t believe what I am hearing! My audience, mostly women who are smart, caring, and knowledgeable, have heard this horrible story.  And you see her here, obviously the victim of horrifying abuse. Don’t you have any compassion?”

Francine Hughes’ story was turned into a book by Frances McNulty(1980), and later into a movie with Farrah Fawcett, entitled, The Burning Bed.The entire Donahue episode was a wake-up call for our culture, a confirmation of the reality of spousal abuse, the depth to which an abuser would sink, the destruction of the victim’s self-worth, and sometimes breakdown or death at his hands.

From that day onward, I knew that I could not wait to be rescued from my own situation. I had to end the abuse. As much as I regretted ending the marriage, I was already sure that I could be permanently damaged by my husband. It took some time; I made some false starts, but finally I restarted my life without him. Unfortunately, he illegally kept the children from seeing me. Some year s later the younger daughter returned to live with me. The others are still away, on their own somewhere. It still hurts, but I have gone beyond survival into a place of relative peace and hope.

← What is Important to Me – Note to an unknown child

A Story that Saved Me →

Aunts Who Raised Me

Posted on March 9, 2015by @LatelaMary

“The best classroom in the world is at the feet of an elderly person.” –Andy Rooney

January 27, 2015 Tell me about an elder you learned something from and what you learned.

She was my favorite aunt – Rose, my mother’s sister. I loved her so much. As  a young girl,  I wished that  I lived in her household, instead of ours

One Sunday when I’d returned to Connecticut after five years working in the Northern Plains, I was asked to help out at a church where I had done an internship, and I went.  It was a good forty-five minutes from where I lived.

The people were the same; many remembered me though nearly a decade had passed since I’d been there. After the service,  the co-pastor asked if I’d be willing to come twice a month and help. I said I’d think about it and get back to him.

On the way home, I stopped to have a cup of coffee with Aunt Rose, whose house of memories was on the way.  After my absence of nearly a decade, we had picked up right where we left off when I moved out to California after graduate school. We sat at her kitchen table with our cups of steaming coffee, catching up with the “small talk.” Then I told her about the request from the pastor.

She shouted to me, “Don’t you dare!”

I was shocked because Aunt Rose had never ever yelled at me.

I said, “Aunt Rose, why are you yelling?”

And she quickly collected herself, and said softly, “Because I used to do that. I used to say YES to everyone.” She reminded me that I had shared that I’d been feeling very stressed, and here I was considering adding to that stress.

Aunt Rose had known me all my life. She was my mother’s sister, but they had grown apart and they didn’t talk to one another. She had had a son, my cousin Andy, who died of cancer. She took care of him throughout those final two years. Our family never used the word cancer. Of course, I knew. And after a while, I mustered the courage to ask her if we could talk about Andy.  And we did. And I think it helped us both to heal a bit. Of course, she had taken care of her son. Andy died.

Years later, when Grandma was ailing, Aunt Rose took care of her.  Both women suffered from severe back problems, so the stress on my aunt of moving Grandma and even helping her into and out of the tub, took their toll.  Grandma died.

Through this time, when Uncle Pete was more and more frequently in the hospital because of his heart condition, of course she took care of him. Uncle Pete died.

On that Sunday in her kitchen, Rose told me that of course she had taken care of her son, and her mother, and her husband. But she didn’t need to say yes when someone asked her to do something for the PTA  since she was at home. She could say “No, I can’t!”  without feeling bad… When  someone from the church called and reminded her that she and Pete hadn’t been at church and asked where were they? She said calmly and surely: “My husband has a heart condition. We cannot be at Mass.”

She really woke my up! I was still saying “Yes,” this in spite of that bestseller, “When I Say No, I Feel Guilty.”  Even when I  managed to say no, I still brooded about it. Finally, I took some time and decided to have a (flexible) policy about requests, and believe me, requests come to me all the time. I am still working on this, but most of the time, I am able to make decisions more sensibly. Of course, in emergencies, I help out where I can..

For the most part, I try not to say yes if going someplace where lead to my feeling worse than when I was asked. I am not on automatic. I need to take care of myself ….only then, can I help others in a healthy way.

← How to Reach My Heart

Aunts Who Raised Me →

What is Important to Me – Note to an unknown child

Posted on March 9, 2015by @LatelaMary

Dearest Child,

I want to tell you a story. Really, I have many, many stories. I believe that our stories are the most important thing we can leave behind. This is a story about friendship. Friends are like the glue that keeps things stuck together, in a nice way. People are connected  – not by glue – but by love and understanding, patience and courage.

One time, my godmother, who was my Mom’s best friend, came to visit me when I was sick. She was a beautiful, happy, strong person. Whenever she came, there was laughter, and sometimes there were tears. She really understood me. I was a quiet little girl, then still rather quiet when I was a young adult. Later, I began to talk about what really mattered to me. I learned to listen carefully to others – to really pay attention. I tried to help whenever I could. My godmother brought me a pretty pink bathrobe, which I liked very much … yes, pink was my favorite color when I was younger – now, my favorite color is …. PURPLE!  We had tea and cookies that time, and when it was time for her to leave, my godmother said, “Remember, you are wonderful. I love you.”

Thinking or reflecting  was important to me. If you listen carefully, you will learn so much. If you remember what you heard, it may stay with you, if it is important. I needed silent time. I needed time to pray. I needed time to look at the deep blue sky, at the trees coming to life in springtime, at the little crocuses coming through the remaining snow.

Most of all, I needed time to be with my little ones – to be very busy with them – to teach them to paint and to admire their work and hear their explanations about how life works. I needed time to rest when they went home – to enjoy the new treasures for my memory box (which is in my heart), to sleep and dream, then to clean up after them. I never liked housecleaning very much, but after the kids came, I didn’t mind at all.

From my heart,

How to Reach My Heart

Posted on March 4, 2015by @LatelaMary

Jan. 13, 2015

Prompt: Write a Set of Directions to Your Heart

Write a set of directions to your heart.

Disclaimer: My heart has been broken several times, so it’s not easily opened.

If you want to be sure to enter,

bring with you one (and only one) of the following items from my treasure boxes,

tokens of special times in my life:

the charm bracelet that Aunt Rose bought for me when we went to Long Island;

the little notebook which my piano teacher wrote in each week;

a picture of Andy, before the illness;

the baptismal cross on a gold chain, from godmother Triffie;

the key to my little pink diary;

a handkerchief with a seashell inside;

my wedding ring;

some of grandpa’s Christmas cookies;

and something you have made.

After we meet and trust one another,

Come softly ~ knock gently on the front door  –

Never approach from behind!

I will lead you into my special room,

and invite you to sit in my other stuffed chair and talk.

We will have tea, perhaps orange spice, perhaps mint.

And if you listen, as I will listen.

And if you look at me, as I will look at you,

And if you hear my story and honestly convince me

that you like me just as I am,

then I will lean toward you

and take your hand.

Perhaps I will open my heart to you

and invite you to visit,

and perhaps to stay for awhile

I Believe in Miracles

Posted on March 4, 2015by @LatelaMary

Christmas Day, 2014

This afternoon when I spoke with my cousin who lives in Italy. I asked if he would be taking a walk to the beach tomorrow and he said he planned to. (A touch of envy rushed through me.)  Our frequent conversations end with “See you soon.” He is caregiver for his father, who is in failing health, and we find we can talk about that. He has become a treasured friend! And it all started because I believed in a dream.

It was the summer of 2003, when I traveled to Italy to visit my cousins on the SE border of Italy. This was after doing a couple of years of genealogy research. It was beautiful!  I will never forget the Adriatic Sea, that shade of blue, the sparkle on the water, the grandeur.  Therefore, the trip to Italy was a watershed event. Moreover, I expected to continue to have adventures.

I made plans to go back the following summer and teach at the University, but my father died the night before the trip was to start, so I cancelled the trip – not because I was forced to, but because I thought of DUTY before myself. I have not returned.

I gave up on dreams at some point in my life. When something wonderful happened, I just assumed it was an accident, even if it was something wonderful, like going to Yale for graduate school. Instead of dreaming about good things to come, I worried about what might block those good things from happening. I had plenty to do about my nightmares – fear them, try to wake from them, try to therapy out of them. I never had a dream about the future; I had a laundry list of fears and anxieties. I always expected that plans would fall through, and I would be stuck.

When I moved to the Midwest, I wanted to work on my research on the beloved Aleuts, the tribes of fishermen in the Alaskan Aleutian Islands. I have 10 or 20 pages written. I also have a thick and growing manuscript about “bystanders” and it is calling for attention. Now, I think I wonder if am getting too old.  I know it sounds silly, but remember, I have not been much of a dreamer, and the habit needs reinforcement.

Once I have a dream, I need to pull it into the realm of possibility. What made me visualize a book with my name on the title page? What made that come true?  I worked like heck and I kept the image before me.  A dream became a plan, which eventually became reality….. with a great deal of sweat, tears, frustrations, crumpled paper along the way.  Now, too, I have tools – personal confidence, no more whiteout, no manual typewriter, some money in the bank (not a lot), and a commitment to take care of myself. In addition, I have plenty of ideas.

I still dream of working at a retreat center where I could write, teach, counsel, and live … tick tock tick tock … time passes on. The next steps seem easy enough. Making a list; checking out possibilities; using online resources; expanding my connections. I know the place where Sharon Salzburg sometimes teaches in Barre, MA. I could go there for a visit, could I not? I am going to take another class with Sylvia Boorstein (online); could I not find a way to sit in the same room with her in California? And surely, surely, I could get a ride from the airport to Laura’s place for a retreat.

You know -if you know me at all – that I have been trying very hard to see the miracles in the present moment, to be more awake, to notice the good stuff. But the future?  I do have dreams … First, I need to want them enough to chase them down.

How I Managed to Write, No Matter What

Posted on March 4, 2015by @LatelaMary

December 19, 2014

Prompt: Tell me about the price you pay (or have paid) for being a writer.

I began to write because I had a wonderful English teacher in the eighth grade, the late Elizabeth Connellan. Besides all the readings and memorizing vocabulary, our teacher emphasizes good writing, including creative writing.  In the fall New Haven, (CT) used to have a Harvest Festival, which centered on the big football game between the rival teams of Hillhouse and Wilbur L. Cross HS. Along with the game were poster contests, poetry contests, and the Thanksgiving Prayer contest, which was especially for junior high students. One day in class, we were given our assignment, to write a Thanksgiving Prayer, which would be sent in to the citywide contest. I WON! I WON! I WON!

I was flabbergasted! A reporter from the New Haven Register, who asked about my family, my interests, etc, interviewed me. Dad accompanied me. I was featured in the official program book for the weeklong celebration. Then we went on with life as usual. However, I started writing for contests, civics, speeches, debate club.

I started writing creatively after my cousin Andy died. I know that I idealized him after he was gone, and that it took a long, long time to accept that he was a very good kid, almost another brother, who was stricken with cancer before there were effective cures. I wrote a 12-15 page set of essays and some poems.  I kept them with my diary, which was another type of writing altogether.

My voice was silent at home or silenced. I was not thought to have anything worth saying. In the religious community, reading novels or writing poetry was considered frivolous and worldly. After f five more years, I was bursting from my shell. It wasn’t delicate like a chick hatching from its egg. It was like an oozing, dripping wound, which never closed.

Back at home, I wrote a great deal. I even include my feelings. Skip ahead. After the children came, I decided to take up my writing again and see where it led me. I wrote poem after poem, about serious subjects. My interior life, which had been full to overflowing thrived on the writing. Hubby hated and resented this. He thought reading was a waste, forbade it (but we all know how to secretly read what we want to read.) He thought writing wouldn’t bring in any money.  Then I shifted into longer manuscripts, the “inspirational booklets.” Hubby would not let me buy typing paper (even though, who do you think typed his thesis on unnameable chemical?) He wouldn’t let me buy stamps. My friends gave me paper which they bought for me; I “stole” stamps from the big tolls we kept. I sent out manuscripts with SASA (self-addressed stamped envelopes), mailed them at the mailbox down our driveway, and hoped against hope that the returns/rejections would arrive on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday, so that he wouldn’t see them. By some good alignment of the stars, Hubby was on a business trip when I received the letter of acceptance about publication of my first book.  The kids, Mom, Dad, and I went out to lunch.

The bottom line is that I write what I write, because I just do. After the divorce, I wrote a little booklet in a month and it was grabbed up quickly – one of my best. These days I have quite a number of projects in mind, and feel a need to prioritize. It is hard work; I love it; sometimes it makes me VERY happy; other times it exercises my critical thinking; other times, it is like a “feather on the breath of God.” And I have to write. It is my gift. I do not compare with others, or judge others, and I try to be patient with myself.

It would be really nice my dear ones cared more about my writing, but I can’t help that …. I do not do magic.

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If Not for Their Love, I Would Not Be Who I Am

Posted on March 4, 2015by @LatelaMary

December 9, 2014

Prompt: Describe someone who made you feel loved. Make the description so vivid that the reader feels loved, too.

When my Aunt Rose died a few years ago, I was not able to travel to the funeral. I’ve written before how important it is to me to be with family when we have a loss. Aunt Rose was my favorite! My mother’s sister, she was calm, kind, and she knew me from before I was born. In fact, on the day when my mother went into labor with me, Aunt Rose called the appointed neighbor with the car, and she accompanied Mom, and stayed with her at Grace-New Haven Hospital. My father was still in the service, in the Aleutian Islands.  Uncle Pete (her husband, another jewel!)  liked to tell the story about how he arrived home from work that afternoon to find their apartment empty, with curtains all over. My Aunt had forgotten to leave a note, so he waited until, hours later, she called to tell him she was safe, Mom was fine, and I was their first little niece.

Over the years, through difficult times and times of joy, Aunt Rose and I walked through this life. Sometimes I wished she were my mother, but I suppose that was because as the “niece” I could be her friend. When her son Andy died, we were able to talk to one another when cancer was not talked about. Through the years, as I went into the valley and out again, she was always there in spirit.

I felt very sad, sitting at home, unable to get out to Connecticut for her funeral. My godmother would be there. My parents were still alive. Everyone in the family who was well enough would attend, and spend the whole day together reminiscing.

The funeral Mass and burial took place on a Friday. As I was sitting at home, sadly thinking about our time together, missing her and still being so thankful for her presence in my life, the phone rang. It was my sister Annette. She was calling because she said she knew that I must be feeling lonely for not being with them. So she asked if I’d like her to tell me the details – who was there, what people said. I said, “Of course!” She told me everything she could remember. She mentioned a slideshow that was running at the funeral home from years gone by.

Annette gave me such a lovely gift, and  as I have indicated before, she if very sensitive to the gestures of love which mean so much. A couple of weeks later, copies of the pictures from the slideshow arrived and I was able to enjoy them as well.Today (Monday) is Annette’s birthday. I love my other sister very much too, but Annette has never let me forget about her gentle, ever-present, loving spirit.

Inside the Real Me

Posted on March 4, 2015by @LatelaMary

December 2, 2014

Today’s Writing Prompt:  In the heat of living, what do you want to understand about your life? What one question has been underlying your journey through life-and why? What have you already learned in answer to that question?

How am I to live out my call to serve the Creator and humankind?

People are a little squeamish about using the word “call” to describe the almost imperceptible feeling that God is calling you. When I was growing up, the Catholic Church had ads inside the city buses, which showed either a young woman or a young man in shadow, with a dove over one shoulder and the single question, “Is God calling you?”

It used to be official teaching that the highest call for a human was for a man (only a man) to become a priest. Then came the “religious life,” nuns and brothers living in community and either focusing on prayer and contemplation or splitting their time between prayer and activity, usually teaching or nursing.  These communities have been thriving since the third century with the Benedictine monks and later, nuns. Thy lived celibate lives, and took vows of poverty and obedience. Poverty means sharing everything. Obedience meant… well, obedience to the Superior, to the hours, to the bells to the lights out, to the Holy Rule, to any priest, to the Pope.

The next level of call was to married life, of course with the expectation that the faithful couple would give birth to as many children as God sent. I thought of this as somewhat off, but single persons were only to remain so if they were caring for aged parents. How you met a husband, how you got into the seminary …. Well, that was left to God, too.

We have learned a great deal. Being single, which I am now, and have been since my sad divorce, enables me to concentrate more on my work, on helping others, and in keeping myself sane and healthy. I do spend time in silence, in reading, etc., and then there are the dishes and the laundry, which exist in every state in life.

During my convent years, my chronic depression, left untreated, melted into despair, and caused much distress as well as the accusation that I must be stuck on myself. Never was it considered that I was a survivor of a most horrible childhood, which still affects me even now.

Suddenly – no, he did not ride a white horse, nor was he particularly charming – a young man came along and soon we were married. He said he was a strong Catholic, but he was not. He was abusive, mean, violent, etc.  Fast forward now because I don’t want to tell that story again. One thing I want to say is that while I was home taking care of our children, I was able to  resurrect my passion for writing, and working in secret, and very hard, I was published regularly for my self-help, “inspirational books.” When, one day feeling discouraged about the writing game, I decided that everything I write would be with the intention of help others. In addition, life changed… not overnight, but within two years, my first book was published and thirteen more have followed.

As I’ve said before after the divorce I was really isolated as my ex-husband kept the children away from me, the children whom I had cared for night and day since their birth, whom I had taught, had listened to, whom I still cherish.  I tried for the third time to do graduate school, working on a Certificate in Pastoral Ministry, which was a great program in developing counseling skills.

Bottom line, I decided to apply to seminary, and was accepted. I graduated with a Master of Divinity degree, and plenty of experience working in the inner city. I was qualified to be a church pastor and counselor. Of course, during my studies, I read about the shabby way the people treated the Prophets like Jeremiah and Amos, who wanted them to shut up or be killed. That was serving the Lord.  Actually, I was able to mesh that Biblical info with my life, which was certainly not a joyful jaunt on the way to “wholeness.”

I was finally able to address the stuff of my childhood with a terrific therapist…. I worked hard! He worked hard! My friends stood by me. My parents and I were not speaking. The children were not speaking to me.

Skip ahead 20 years to now. I still believe I am serving the Creator and all God’s adult kids. I don’t think God is anything like I imagined, if there at all. I don’t think we are sinful, guilty creatures. That is rubbish! I teach; I serve as a counselor, particularly for other clergy who are learning the importance of self – care.

This is not what I planned. This is a messier version of the well-ordered life I wanted. This is a crazier (I use this word not as a mental health term but as slang for “confusing”) place than I ever expected to be, geographically, mentally, and emotionally.

The miracle of the grandchildren is an unexpected joy, and I love them so. I also realize that life is constantly changing and it’s better to focus on today than to worry about tomorrow. If only I could tone down the past, I would be calmer, more myself, less that frightened girl whose life I used to live.

I Thank You God

Posted on March 4, 2015by @LatelaMary

November 25, 2014

Prompt: Make a list of everything you’re grateful for right now, at this moment. Include small mundane things and the big things. Write it all down. Read it out loud to yourself or to someone who loves you.

It is 9:23PM on November 26th; tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day.

For today, I am thankful for Laura, and her book, The Courage to Heal, which actually gave me courage, and to her continuing empowering voice in this writing group. I am thankful for everyone who gets the courage to write here and wish them well. I am grateful to my 8thgrade English teacher, who first  encouraged me to write.

I’m thankful for my Anamcara and his continuing presence in our parallel journeys, for the opportunity to listen and to be heard.

I’m thankful that my daughter is in my life, and I love her dearly, and her husband, and the four beautiful grandchildren. I’m thankful for Michael and Nancy, wherever they are. I’m thankful for my sisters and my brother, for my cousins, and for the sweet memory of all my aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins.

I’m thankful that I developed the perseverance and the oomph to complete my grad school, and for the good feeling of being an ordained minister – not with a great deal of power and authority, but with a voice that is clear and true, and a strong empathy and listening ear. I’m grateful that I am still teaching and that the challenges and joys keep coming.  I’m grateful for my students who teach me more and more.

I’m thankful when Hannah yells out to me, “Love you, Nana!” and that her brothers and I made that tricky gingerbread house last night. I’m thankful for the little guy who will have his first birthday next month. I am so thankful that I have wonderful photos of the grandchildren, including the latest school pictures.

I am grateful that the sunrise and the sunset come, filling me with joy, and the bursting of colors. It love the wind and the rain and the snow, though I appreciate a hot cup of tea after being out in the weather. I am so thankful for music, and if there are not violins in heaven, I will protest. I am thankful for so much, for joy, for tears, for a comforting hug – give one, take one.

I’m happy to be able to use my hands ~ to play the piano, to write (but not so much with pen and paper as with computer ), to crochet and knit, to be nearly finished with a purple and variegated warm blanket for my friend. I’m happy to be able to tie pretty bows, and braid hair, and fix the table with flowers. I am particularly glad to know exactly where the Christmas tree stand is, for when the tree comes, maybe this Saturday.

I’m thankful that we woke up to a blanket of snow this morning, and the boys were here to see it!!!! I am thankful for hope, which I thought I had lost, then struggled with, then learned to realize that hope is in my heart and mind. I am thankful for love, for being able to love, and to receive kindnesses.

I wish for all the people whose life intersects mine – even for a few moments – joy and peace, courage and stamina, love and good friends with whom to share it all!

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Who Am I Really?

Posted on March 4, 2015by @LatelaMary

November 20, 2014

Prompt: My Many Lives

Where I Was

Clarissa Pinkola Estes, who wrote Women who Run with the Wolves, tells a fable about the stork. Sometimes the stork, so excited to be carrying a girl-child, accidentally drops her too soon or a little too late, and as a result, she grows up feeling as if she doesn’t really belong to this family. Estes calls this the “misplaced zygote theory.” I used to be a misplaced little girl.

This must have been the wrong family, wrong mother who very quickly couldn’t stand me, who made me wear my hair very short like a boy, who hurt me in so many ways. Surely, I was not supposed to have this father, who took away my innocence, and who forced me to learn to “go away”/dissociate to survive my childhood.

It was a long, hard trip through the early years. The only place where I could be myself was in school. Yes, I am bright, but I was also a good little girl, a teacher’s dream.  I could get some of the calmness of school days when I read at home, especially in the summer, or when I sat with Grandma on her porch, listened to her, and learned to crochet.

Through all these many years, I went from place to place, trying desperately to find a “home.” I didn’t know that you cannot erase the beginning, start over, re-form your parents, become a lovely, self-assured young woman….  without a great deal of pain and perseverance. I did persevere, except for the periods of despair, which were crippling. Even after I married – to the wrong man, quell surprise! – I knew it was the wrong bus stop, and I had dropped into the wrong house with the wrong spouse.

And through the marriage and the long divorce, I kept looking for rescue, which never came. One day, dazed with depression, confused about where to turn, wanting to give up  – I had a turning point.  I finally realized that I must search inside myself to find myself, to be my true self. I never knew until then that I had a right to be happy.

Where I Am Now

Now, I am much older, and I still wonder why I am where I am. Well, of course, my vision is a challenge, and I cannot drive. For five years after I moved here, I could not write. My daughter lives nearby, and the time with the grandchildren is precious, but I am on the edge of that family unit. When the boys come and have a sleepover it is wonderful, but my daughter still remembers the painful times when we were with her father and her siblings.  It is a mixture of sadness and joy.

I am blessed with several wonderful “girl friends” and we are so close, even though many miles separate us. My writing career has been successful, but there is so much more I have to say. I have stories to tell, but unless I find someone who wants to hear them, I fear they will be lost.  I realize that many 30-somethings ignore the parental input, but time goes by too quickly to count on some distance tomorrow to fill in the blanks.

I am pretty content; I love my work, though I feel alone and still deal with “the depression.” Of course, I go to book club, knitting, some churchy events, go for coffee at Starbucks.  I have the challenging gift of empathy, so I feel very deeply, and have to take care not to be swallowed up in someone else’s drama.

Who I Am Becoming

For tomorrow, its plan to become more contemplative, spend more time in the outdoors, watching the changing of seasons, always wondering how many more winters I have, or how many more birthdays.

I fear that I will never again have a spouse, a partner to love and who loves me truly. I yearn for that, have had that kind of love before, but the prospects don’t look promising. Moreover, I surely do not want to be rejected one more time.

I am very much afraid of dying, especially of dying a painful death. My daughter will not take care of me if I become frail. So I hope I can learn how to live each day as fully as possible and, when the time comes to “move on,” the passing will be bittersweet. I hope that at least one person who cares will be there. I hope that my chronic pain will not prevent me from spending my time with people I love and who care about me, that I will be able to travel a bit, and keep teaching as long as I can stand/see/talk, and writing as long as my mind is strong.

As a prelude, I’ve started playing the piano again, and sketching. I love the wind and the sunset and the blooming of my rose of Sharon tree. I will buy more wind chimes, too.

North Dakota – Bold Contrasts

Posted on March 4, 2015by @LatelaMary

October 28, 2014

Today’s Writing Prompt: Tell me about a place you knew intimately that you haven’t been to in at least ten years.

North Dakota

The pink purple inky blue long sunsets of summer. The bone chilling winds that pulled at my insides, but gave me energy, not exhaustion. The yellow field across the road … corn for feed … one day a smoky fire, set on purpose but they forgot to tell the neighbors.

Black coffee…. I had to add cream, yes, real cream … and muffins straight from the warming plate next to the oven. And rumegraut .. butter cream sugar  … so bad, and yet, so good … with anything from ice cream to oatmeal…

The sweet, constant scent of sugar beets until the harvest, gravel roads covered with tons of product on the way to make sugar. Sunflowers, awesome, taller than anyone in my clan …. Grown for the seeds, sent mostly to Japan…“Amber waves of grain” as well ….

The ice so thick that it took down the CBS tower and I cried loudly …. Decided to get cable for the long winter. 40 pound sacks filled by high school kids when the Red River melt came north, carrying the run-off and the melting feet of snow, pulling along branches, spilling over the shores, burning of Grand Forks, destruction of E. Grand Forks (Minnesota) …. President and governor and the FEMA director from the south who couldn’t understand why trailers were no good after October 1st.

Christmas eve wedding held at the Lutheran Church because of the crowd. Girls in midnight blue, bride and groom hugging both sets of parents after “the kiss.” Dinner at the family owned restaurant …Whiteouts so bad I couldn’t see Tom’s mother’s house … right over there. Snow so deep it had to be taken away in trucks…The lady with the firepole into her basement, Christmas all year, and kids invited to slide.

Funerals …. The whole town stopped, as if the clock, having been blocked by the loss, couldn’t  move until the final farewells.

Kids drinking  heavily, getting serious younger than our parents would have approved. Two major universities, but most stayed near home, not sure of whether Dad could spare them or whether they could take being alone out there in the cold.

Knowing that something was moving underneath us, but not sure what, until the talkers and the silent non-talkers nodded together and I had to pack up and move along

Can or Can’t

Posted on March 4, 2015by @LatelaMary

October 21, 2014

Prompt  Tell me about everything you can’t do. Now, in a second piece, tell me about everything you can do.J

I suppose I could make two lists – like shopping lists – with my CAN’T list a bit longer than my CAN list, just so I would spare myself from bragging.

I could place all the CAN DO’S with who or what empowers me to do them. Some people say, “I can do all things in [God] who strengthens me.” NRSV Or “I can’t smile without you, can’t live without you ~ apologies to Barry Manilow.

Instead, I have made other arrangements.

I CAN’T LIST

Can’t catch a baseball, football, soccer ball, or a fish.

Can’t dance, but my pals and I went to the Y to learn how to “Cha Cha” and “Jitterbug.” That helps me fit in these days.

Can’t drive, because my right eye is not functioning, but that’s not my fault. I suppose I can learn to be less frustrated about not having a ride, or public transportation.

Can’t lie, or as a “catty person” said about me, “She’s obsessed with telling the truth.”

Can’t get over missing my son and daughter … or knowing if we will see each other again.

Can’t let go of the past hurts from family, church, but also can’t tell anyone else to SHUT UP.

I CAN LIST

Learn and grow, and talk mostly sensibly, though at times in puns and mumbles.

Read, write, research, and stifle a yawn through my nose when forced to sit through someone else’s boring lecture.

Preach and teach because I am courageous and caring, and if things don’t go well, I figure that there’s little to no chance of dying from embarrassment.

Listen … and mostly, keep quiet when there’ nothing to say.

I can decide what to share and what to keep secret, so this is my complete list, for today.

Charlie and Me on the Streets of Boston

Posted on March 4, 2015by @LatelaMary

October 15, 2014

Prompt: Tell me about a mistake you made that ultimately opened a new door.

I love Boston! It’s such a great city, and I lived there some years ago, when I was single, taking graduate courses part-time. Driving around on a crisp Saturday afternoon, I headed through Watertown on my way back to Waltham, where I shared an apartment with another teacher. The only obstacle was the rotary.

There‘s something about a rotary that scares me…. As long as you pay attention, you can get through without getting lost or trapped. I was feeling confident, and I swept around the circle, but  couldn’t find the turnoff to Watertown, which was less than a mile from where we lived. I went around several times, staying  pretty calm…until I started thinking about Charlie.

The Kingston Trio had a great hit, “Charlie on the MTA” (Metropolitan Transit Authority) in which he boarded the streetcar for work, but couldn’t get off because he didn’t have the nickel to pay for the ride. His wife would come everyday and toss him a sandwich through the open window, but he was stuck. The cheerful refrain went something like this, “Oh, he may never return, oh, he’ll never return, and his fate is still unlearned. He may ride forever ‘neath the streets of Boston; he’s the man who never returned.”

I still love that song. I was never afraid of the rotary after that! I wish I could say that I was ready then to take up skydiving, but no, I rejoiced in the small victory.

So anxiety and uncontrolled laughter mixed together, and I relaxed, took the correct off lane, and arrived home safe and sound.

Mm

Hans Kung and the Embers

Posted on March 4, 2015by @LatelaMary

03/26/2005

Crisis in the Catholic Church

The Pope’s Contradictions

By Hans Küng

Outwardly Pope John Paul II, who has been actively involved in battling war and suppression, is a beacon of hope for those who long for freedom. Internally, however, his anti-reformist tenure has plunged the Roman Catholic church into an epochal credibility crisis.

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REUTERS

Don’t be fooled by the crowds: Millions have left the Catholic Church under Pope John Paul II’s leadership.

The Catholic church is in dire straits. The pope is deathly ill and deserves every bit of sympathy he can get. But the church must live on, and in light of the selection of a new pope, it will need a diagnosis, an unadorned insider analysis. The therapy will be discussed later.

Many marvel at the staying power of this highly fragile, partially paralyzed head of the Roman Catholic church, a man who, despite all medications, is barely able to speak. He is treated with a sort of reverence that would never be extended to an American president or a German chancellor in a similar state. Others feel put off by a man they see as an obstinate office bearer who, instead of accepting the Christian path to his own eternity, is using all means at his disposal to hold on to power in a largely undemocratic system.

Even for many Catholics, this pope at the end of his physical strength, refusing to relinquish his power, is the symbol of a fraudulent church that has calcified and become senile behind its glittering façade.

The festive mood that prevailed during the Second Vatican Council (1962 to 1965), or Vatican II, has disappeared. Vatican II’s outlook of renewal, ecumenical understanding and a general opening of the world now seems overcast and the future gloomy. Many have resigned themselves or even turned away out of frustration from this self-absorbed hierarchy. As a result, many people are confronted with an impossible set of alternatives: “play the game or leave the church.” New hope will only begin to take root when church officials in Rome and in the episcopacy reorient themselves toward the compass of the Gospel.

One of the few glimmers of hope has been the pope’s stance against the Iraq war and war in general. The role the Polish pope played in helping bring about the collapse of the Soviet empire is also emphasized, and rightly so. But it’s also heavily exaggerated by papal propagandists. After all, the Soviet regime did not fail because of the pope (before the arrival of Gorbachev, the pope was achieving about as little as he is now achieving in China), but instead imploded because of the Soviet system’s inherent economic and social contradictions.

In my view, Karol Wojtyla is not the greatest, but certainly the most contradictory, pope of the 20th century. A pope of many great gifts and many wrong decisions! To summarize his tenure and reduce it to a common denominator: His “foreign policy” demands conversion, reform and dialogue from the rest of the world. But this is sharply contradicted by his “domestic policy,” which is oriented toward the restoration of the pre-council status quo, obstructing reform, denying dialogue within the church, and absolute Roman dominance. This inconsistency is evident in many areas. While expressly acknowledging the positive sides of this pontificate, which, incidentally, have received plenty of official emphasis, I would like to focus on the nine most glaring contradictions:

HUMAN RIGHTS: Outwardly, John Paul II supports human rights, while inwardly withholding them from bishops, theologians and especially women.

The Vatican — once a resolute foe of human rights, but nowadays all too willing to become involved in European politics — has yet to sign the European Council’s Declaration of Human Rights. Far too many canons of the absolutist Roman church law of the Middle Ages would have to be amended first. The concept of separation of powers, the bedrock of all modern legal practice, is unknown in the Roman Catholic church. Due process is an unknown entity in the church. In disputes, one and the same Vatican agency functions as lawmaker, prosecutor and judge.

Consequences: A servile episcopate and intolerable legal conditions. Any pastor, theologian or layperson who enters into a legal dispute with the higher church courts has virtually no prospects of prevailing.

THE ROLE OF WOMEN: The great worshiper of the Virgin Mary preaches a noble concept of womanhood, but at the same time forbids women from practicing birth control and bars them from ordination.

Consequences: There is a rift between external conformism and internal autonomy of conscience. This results in bishops who lean towards Rome, alienating themselves from women, as was the case in the dispute surrounding the issue of abortion counseling (in 1999, the Pope ordered German bishops to close counseling centers that issued certificates to women that could later be used to get an abortion). This in turn leads to a growing exodus among those women who have so far remained faithful to the church.

SEXUAL MORALS: This pope, while preaching against mass poverty and suffering in the world, makes himself partially responsible for this suffering as a result of his attitudes toward birth control and explosive population growth.

During his many trips and in a speech to the 1994 United Nations Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, John Paul II declared his opposition to the pill and condoms. As a result, the pope, more than any other statesman, can be held partly responsible for uncontrolled population growth in some countries and the spread of AIDS in Africa.

Consequences: Even in traditionally Catholic countries like Ireland, Spain and Portugal, the pope’s and the Roman Catholic church’s rigorous sexual morals are openly or tacitly rejected.

CELIBACY AMONG PRIESTS: By propagating the traditional image of the celibate male priest, Karol Wojtyla bears the principal responsibility for the catastrophic dearth of priests, the collapse of spiritual welfare in many countries, and the many pedophilia scandals the church is no longer able to cover up.

Marriage is still forbidden to men who have agreed to devote their lives to the priesthood. This is only one example of how this pope, like others before him, is ignoring the teachings of the bible and the great Catholic tradition of the first millennium, which did not require office bearers to take a vow of celibacy. If someone, by virtue of his office, is forced to spend his life without a wife and children, there is a great risk that healthy integration of sexuality will fail, which can lead to pedophilic acts, for example.

Consequences: The ranks have been thinned and there is a lack of new blood in the Catholic church. Soon almost two-thirds of parishes, both in German-speaking countries and elsewhere, will be without an ordained pastor and regular celebrations of the Eucharist. It’s a deficiency that even the declining influx of priests from other countries (1,400 of Germany’s priests are from Poland, India and Africa) and the combining of parishes into “spiritual welfare units,” a highly unpopular trend among the faithful, can no longer hide. The number of newly ordained priests in Germany dropped from 366 in 1990 to 161 in 2003, and the average age of active priests today is now above 60.

ECUMENICAL MOVEMENT: The pope likes to be seen as a spokesman for the ecumenical movement. At the same time, however, he has weighed heavily on the Vatican’s relations with orthodox and reform churches, and has refused to recognize their ecclesiastical offices and Communion services.

The pope could heed the advice of several ecumenical study commissions and follow the practice of many local pastors by recognizing the offices and Communion services of non-Catholic churches and permitting Eucharistic hospitality. He could also tone down the Vatican’s excessive, medieval claim to power, in terms of doctrine and church leadership, vis-à-vis eastern European churches and reform churches, and could do away with the Vatican’s policy of sending Roman-Catholic bishops to regions dominated by the Russian Orthodox church.

The pope could do these things, but John Paul II doesn’t want to. Instead, he wants to preserve and even expand the Roman power system. For this reason, he resorts to a pious two-facedness: Rome’s politics of power and prestige are veiled by ecumenical soapbox speeches and empty gestures.

Consequences: Ecumenical understanding was blocked after the council, and relations with the Orthodox and Protestant churches were burdened to an appalling extent. The papacy, like its predecessors in the 11th and 16th centuries, is proving to be the greatest obstacle to unity among Christian churches in freedom and diversity.

PERSONNEL POLICY: As a suffragan bishop and later as archbishop of Krakow, Karol Wojtyla took part in the Second Vatican Council. But as pope, he disregarded the collegiality which had been agreed to there and instead celebrated the triumph of his papacy at the cost of the bishops.

With his “internal policies,” this Pope betrayed the council numerous times. Instead of using the conciliatory program words “Aggiornamento – Dialogue and Collegiality — ecumenical,” what’s valid now in doctrine and practice is “restoration, lectureship, obedience and re-Romanization.” The criteria for the appointment of a bishop is not the spirit of the gospel or pastoral open-mindedness, but rather to be absolutely loyal to the party line in Rome. Before their appointment, their fundamental conformity is tested based on a curial catalog of questions and they are sacrally sealed through a personal and unlimited pledge of obedience to the Pope that is tantamount to an oath to the “Fuehrer.”

The Pope’s friends among the German-speaking bishops include Cologne’s Cardinal Joachim Meisner, the Bishop of Fulda Johannes Dyba, who died in 2000, Hans Hermann Groer, who resigned from his post as Vienna’s cardinal in 1995 following allegations that he had sexually abused pupils years before and the Bishop of St. Poeltin, Kurt Krenn, who just lost his post after a sex scandal emerged in his priests’ seminary. Those are just the most spectacular mistakes of these pastorally devastating personnel policies, which have allowed the moral, intellectual and pastoral level of the episcopate to dangerously slip.

Consequences: A largely mediocre, ultra-conservative and servile episcopate is possibly the most serious burden of this overly long pontificate. The masses of cheering Catholics at the best-staged Pope manifestations should not deceive: Millions have left the church under this pontificate or they have withdrawn from religious life in opposition.

CLERICALISM: The Polish pope comes across as a deeply religious representative of a Christian Europe, but his triumphant appearances and his reactionary policies unintentionally promote hostility to the church and even an aversion to Christianity.

In the papal campaign of evangelization, which centers on a sexual morality that is out of step with the times, women, in particular, who do not share the Vatican’s position on controversial issues like birth control, abortion, divorce and artificial insemination are disparaged as promoters of a “culture of death.” As a result of its interventions — in Germany, for example, where it sought to influence politicians and the episcopacy in the dispute surrounding the issue of abortion counseling — the Roman Curia creates the impression that it has little respect for the legal separation of church and state. Indeed, the Vatican (using the European People’s Party as its mouthpiece) is also trying to exert pressure on the European Parliament by calling for the appointment of experts, in issues relating to abortion legislation, for example, who are especially loyal to Rome. Instead of entering the social mainstream everywhere by supporting reasonable solutions, the Roman Curia, through its proclamations and secret agitation (through nuntiatures, bishops’ conferences and “friends”), is in fact fueling the polarization between the pro-life and pro-choice movements, between moralists and libertines.

Consequences: Rome’s clericalist policy merely strengthens the position of dogmatic anti-clericalists and fundamentalist atheists. It also creates suspicion among believers that religion could be being misused for political ends.

NEW BLOOD IN THE CHURCH: As a charismatic communicator and media star, this pope is especially effective among young people, even as he grows older. But he achieves this by drawing in large part on the conservative “new movements” of Italian origin, the “Opus Dei” movement that originated in Spain, and an uncritical public loyal to the pope. All of this is symptomatic of the pope’s approach to dealing with the lay public and his inability to converse with his critics.

The major regional and international youth events sponsored by the new lay movements (Focolare, Comunione e Liberazione, St. Egidio, Regnum Christi) and supervised by the church hierarchy attract hundreds of thousands of young people, many of them well-meaning but far too many uncritical. In times when they lack convincing leadership figures, these young people are most impressed by a shared “event.” The personal magnetism of “John Paul Superstar” is usually more important than the content of the pope’s speeches, while their effects on parish life are minimal.

In keeping with his ideal of a uniform and obedient church, the pope sees the future of the church almost exclusively in these easily controlled, conservative lay movements. This includes the Vatican’s distancing itself from the Jesuit order, which is oriented toward the tenets of the council. Preferred by earlier popes, the Jesuits, because of their intellectual qualities, critical theology and liberal theological options, are now perceived as spanners in the works of the papal restoration policy.

Instead, Karol Wojtyla, even during his tenure as archbishop of Krakow, placed his full confidence in the financially powerful and influential, but undemocratic and secretive Opus Dei movement, a group linked to fascist regimes in the past and now especially active in the world of finance, politics and journalism. In fact, by granting Opus Dei special legal status, the pope even made the organization exempt from supervision by the church’s bishops.

Consequences: Young people from church groups and congregations (with the exception of alter servers), and especially the non-organized “average Catholics,” usually stay away from major youth get-togethers. Catholic youth organizations at odds with the Vatican are disciplined and starved when local bishops, at Rome’s behest, withhold their funding. The growing role of the archconservative and non-transparent Opus Dei movement in many institutions has created a climate of uncertainty and suspicion. Once-critical bishops have cozied up to Opus Dei, while laypeople who were once involved in the church have withdrawn in resignation.

SINS OF THE PAST: Despite the fact that in 2000 he forced himself through a public confession of the church’s historical transgressions, John Paul II has drawn almost no practical consequences from it.

The baroque and bombastic confession of the church’s transgressions, staged with cardinals in St. Peter’s Cathedral, remained vague, non-specific and ambiguous. The pope only asked for forgiveness for the transgressions of the “sons and daughters” of the church, but not for those of the “Holy Fathers,” those of the “church itself” and those of the hierarchies present at the event.

The pope never commented on the Curia’s dealings with the Mafia, and in fact contributed more to covering up than uncovering scandals and criminal behavior. The Vatican has also been extremely slow to prosecute pedophilia scandals involving Catholic clergy.

Consequences: The half-hearted papal confession remained without consequences, producing neither reversals nor action, only words.

For the Catholic church, this pontificate, despite its positive aspects, has on the whole proven to be a great disappointment and, ultimately, a disaster. As a result of his contradictions, this pope has deeply polarized the church, alienated it from countless people and plunged it into an epochal crisis — a structural crisis that, after a quarter century, is now revealing fatal deficits in terms of development and a tremendous need for reform.

Contrary to all intentions conveyed in the Second Vatican Council, the medieval Roman system, a power apparatus with totalitarian features, was restored through clever and ruthless personnel and academic policies. Bishops were brought into line, pastors overloaded, theologians muzzled, the laity deprived of their rights, women discriminated against, national synods and churchgoers’ requests ignored, along with sex scandals, prohibitions on discussion, liturgical spoon-feeding, a ban on sermons by lay theologians, incitement to denunciation, prevention of Holy Communion — “the world” can hardly be blamed for all of this!!

The upshot is that the Catholic church has completely lost the enormous credibility it once enjoyed under the papacy of John XXIII and in the wake of the Second Vatican Council.

If the next pope were to continue the policies of this pontificate, he would only reinforce an enormous backup of problems and turn the Catholic church’s current structural crisis into a hopeless situation. Instead, a new pope must decide in favor of a change in course and inspire the church to embark on new paths — in the spirit of John XXIII and in keeping with the impetus for reform brought about by the Second Vatican Council.

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The Good Girl, Part 1

Posted on February 22, 2015by @LatelaMary

When I was younger and immersed in my Roman Catholic upbringing, I learned (or thought I learned) some things about God and prayer. One point was that every prayer is answered…. The better you pray, the more likely to get what you asked for. Then I learned that every prayer is answered and the answers are YES, No, Not Now.

Somehow I needed to believe that Someone was listening to me …. besides myself … so I went on with the idea that surely god was listening and even ready to respond in some way.

I read about Therese of Lisieux, a girl who cam to be known as “The Little Flower” and her simple life, and how she became a saint by being ordinary in extraordinary ways…. And people who prayer to God with her as a friend had a special inside seat. I loved her story because she was so real… crying when she spilt her lunch tray, worried about her sisters,… losing her mother and adoring her father/Father.

She said she’d send down rose petals from heaven after death, that she would not end her searching for souls in need of prayer – ever.

Once dear Aunt Annie told me about her encounter with “Theresa” in the nursing home, and I realized she probably had encountered the Flower. Was this wishful thinking?

Why did I get into the habit of praying to grandma, and talking to Andy, and all? I supposed, first, because in life they had listened to me. Andy was simply a boy cousin, busy with his stuff and with my brother, who skyrocketed to “holiness” by dying of cancer at sixteen.  Idealize, I think they call it…. perhaps a personality disorder…. whatever..

When I was in the convent we had meditation for a half hour in the dark early mornings, and I remember trying to read the stories and think about them, sometimes focus on a line, or sometimes feeling something …. Longing, warmth, but never sharing what happened in that time/space/practice with anyone. Once in a while I would feel really good, and I thought that was what holy people felt. Of course, as a chronic depressive, I looked upon these mood elevations as a rare happening that bordered, at least in my mind, on the miraculous.

When I took up meditation again recently – in the past few years – it wasn’t about unity with God, getting a good rush of feeling, or anything. It was a suggestion from Buddhism … just breathe. Well, not just breathe, but pay attention to the breath – in and out-smile, etc. The in-out is common to spiritual practices – emptying out so you can fill up again…. Emptying out bad to make room for good…. Emptying out guilt to make room for a tiny bit of self-esteem …. Just a smidgeon.

When I was in North Dakota and my friend there whose daughter died told me about meeting with a medium, I was curious and open-mindedly listened and asked questions. During my rides up to Grand Forks or down to Fargo, I sometimes felt a really good calm …. Serenity, perhaps from getting away from the town where I lived in a glass house … or perhaps because there was a thin space there.

Thin space is where the sacred and the worldly are separated only slightly … where the spiritual is close to the surface. Native peoples believe this, and if ever there were a land full of ancestors, ND was it! There was something about the flat roads, which nonetheless had a quiet rhythm in the in-between times when there were neither blizzards nor blazing summer heat…. Something very comforting. I had my clearest thoughts along I 29.  One time I felt that Christie was nudging me about a picnic, where she abided…. And needed for me to share this. I felt such an urgency, that she was impatient that I talk to her father – that I actually stopped in and told him about the experience and he nodded…. She was like that … now! now! now!…. Do it now.

What if there is no afterward? What do those feelings I used to have mean? Are they a manifestation of deep needs never fulfilled, or a desire to be “special.”

Telling the Stories

Posted on February 22, 2015by @LatelaMary

I’ve heard that story before.

I hear that complaint sometimes, and I object, as if telling a story once or more than once is quite enough. However, that’s assuming that the story is composed only of the facts, the circumstances at the time the event took place.

Story is a recollection of something that changed us. A story has to be retold until it is heard. I have a story to tell, and I keep telling it until I believe it has been heard, really heard, and not while the half-listener” is texting or reading a book or folding laundry or trying to get off the phone in order to do something else..

“I have come to light a fire on this earth and how I yearn for that” said Jesus of Nazareth. Whatever he meant, he kept lighting fires, kept telling the stories, until they crawled under the skin, where some were warmed and others were irritated as hell.

I don’t know why I’m here or if my purpose really matters all that much. I do know that my life is full of stories – events which changed me – and these stories are needing to be heard, really heard, or I will burst. Does it matter if anyone listens? I don’t know. I think it does. To be a complete, whole, and healthy person, I need to be myself and I need to believe that my journey … which now intersects with the journeys of all the people in my circle … and theirs have a meaning together, more than the personal meaning to me.

I felt something deeply – sadness, wonder – after reading Stephen King’s very solid novel about time travel entitled 11/22/63. That story, about a man who time-travels to try to prevent the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy in Dallas, Texas, is part of my story. I remember the day,  do all the others who were conscious then …. Where I was and what I was doing and what I felt ….  lonely and yet somehow connected to the cosmos …. As people – strangers and friends – fled to churches or fled inside themselves, watching every televised moment of the unfolding of events in late fall of 1963, when I was eighteen. And suddenly the innocent, bright image that was like Camelot was covered with scarlet, then like grew very, very gray from that day onward.

I remember calling Aunt Rose to wish her Happy Birthday. She told me what she had just seen on TV. Walter Cronkite was interrupting the scheduled programming to announce that the President had been shot. Before I could formulate any verbal response, I mumbled something to my favorite aunt and said we’d talk later. Shaken beyond anything I’d known, I turned from the payphone to see my classmates, trickling into the day student lounge, telling them what I had heard, then having it affirmed over and over by girls who were just preparing to grab their book bags to go home and study all weekend long.  No homework was done that weekend. We were stunned…. Feeling nothing and everything. Some silly person said we should go to the chapel… I say “silly” because you can’t get something from a chapel that you cannot find in a small locker-room lounge where you could cry and hug your friends and wonder “out loud” what was happening to our world … to the whole world.

Maybe prayers could magically heal the President, mortally wounded, but they did not. Perhaps going to a chapel makes sense if you find courage there, but not if you go mechanically, to fade into the crowd, to squelch your deep-down need to scream, “It’s not fair!!!” Ladylike behavior trumped all back then, and we kept quiet … that is, we did not babble or let out meaningless, yet pungent curses.  We held it together. Oh, if only I’d been a woman and not a child then. If only I’d refused to stay go and simply taken the city bus home to Mom and Dad and sibs! Perhaps I wouldn’t still feel that I was cheated not only of my innocence and my President, but also my right to spend those next days in my own way, After the weekend, we returned to chaos.

 

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