Archive for November, 2008|Monthly archive page

Those Wedding Toasts


Fear. The fear of trying something new.  I sat next to my two-and-a-half year old niece at Thanksgiving dinner, watching her, surrounded by food she had never tasted.  Her grandmother thinks she is especially smart.  She has seen a few babies along the way.  My niece did not have much success overcoming her fear of the unknown.  With the food.   

Performance. Fear.  Later in the night, I watched a DVD of my own performance from 18 months back as I sang a song at a piano party to close the night, a birthday party with a gathering of maybe 100 people.  I don’t sing outside my own home.  Some relatives who love to sing had expectation of a performance, that I would sing, and a particular song.  As to singing in front of a crowd, I caved in to the pressure.  I remembered the stage fright as I watched.  I did the closing number.  The crowd did not get the song which was expected, since I love spontaneity.  It was not so much the performance as the song that I had chosen.  The crowd went home happy, reacting like I had written a song they had never heard.    

Anniversaries.  My parents were married on November 25th.  My maternal grandmother was married on November 17th.  Her husband died on November 24th, who I never met.  My paternal grandparents were married on November 26th.  Two sisters were married in the last days of November.  The most recent wedding was 6 years ago.  And like every married person, at some point you ask, “Who is this person I am sleeping with? The person I love?  But the real question is, “Do you love me?”  We write about it.  Talk about it.  Share it.  The experience.  What it is that you love?  The depth of it.  Prove it!  But how? 


When I was six, my maternal grandmother assembled her family to commemorate the death of her husband in late November with a Mass.  My mother continued that tradition when my father died.  Last night was the night.  It is always at the very end of a liturgical year. 


And Mass is followed with dinner in a restaurant.  At some point my sister offered a toast to my dad.  I thought it seemed shallow, though it was an honest attempt at commemoration.  I put into perspective afterward what had happened this night, last night, maybe throughout the nights of any human.  People have always struggled how to communicate the significant.  This restaurant had been the site of this sister’s prenuptial dinner.  Those wedding toasts were an attempt to communicate the significant, with words.  People have always struggled with how to  communicate the significant.  It seemed a lot like the struggle with how to pray. 

People have always struggled passing along the manner how to pray.  The way was not inherited but learned.  I am not sure my one sister has figured out yet that the Mass was supposed to be the toast.  From the days of Abraham, people have struggled with the way to pray.  Once it had involved sacrificing the best calf, the best lamb.  And this banquet was really no different.

In a sense, I saw my mother’s position last night in the center of the table, more of less saying, “I helped to create this.  Now what?  How can I pass along what I know?  How can I communicate the significant?  Before I am gone?”  To a two-and-a-half year old?  With the food.  At Thanksgiving, filled with their fear of the unknown.

As the bill came last night, when my mother paid the bill, I realized that the answers to the questions had been all along at the Mass. 

On Passing the Turkey


Passing it on.  Thanksgiving was about passing it on.  In one country in North America.  Passing it on.  Inheritence, in the days of vanishing wealth, in the days of vast materialism. 


My dining room table was passed along to me by my grandparents.  I think it had belonged to my grandfather’s father.  I was named after him.  He was born in the decade after the Civil War.  I think there was a time years ago where the family celebrated Thanksgiving at this table.  Soon thereafter my parents were hosting most every holiday dinner.


Turkey.  We had always had turkey on Thanksgiving.  One Thanksgiving when I was about 6-years old, the family photograph appeared on the front page of one section of the newspaper, with my father cutting the turkey.  I discovered once I graduated college that not every family did have turkey.  I think my dad felt like he had worn his religion on his shirtsleeves with that photo, and that his family would always have turkey.  Turkey was always the meal on Thanksgiving and Christmas at the home where I grew up.  But my dad never carved another turkey after the photo was taken.  Maybe he heard from the local PETA group.   


Ties.  Hats.  The generations before mine had men who wore ties and hats.  Maybe it was the influence of John F. Kennedy but I always avoid hats.  Even when the temperature is minus 20 degrees.  Fahrenheit.  But I have been pretty traditional in wearing ties.  On Christmas Eve, until the past few years.  Now I keep the tie in the pocket.  A lot of the rituals that I grew up with are being discarded.  The torch has been passed to a new generation. 


Ties. Hats.  Turkey.  Rituals.  I have been living in the shadows of a Catholic church, since 1987.  A lot like my grandmother.  Since 1991 my view mirrored that of my grandmother’s, when I knew her, with a view of the Catholic church across the street.  She worked for the priests in the rectory, and she lived across the street.  The pastor at the church where I worship had come from that parish was he was a young man.  He wrote one Sunday in his parish bulletin that he was looking for a woman to iron the altar cloth, and all the other things that were ironed, like when he was a young priest.  He referred to my grandmother by name, about 20 years after her death.             


Deoxyribonucleic acid had not been discovered for most of my grandmother’s life.  Or at least what to call it.  Somewhere along the line physicians discovered that family medical history was important.  Genetics can determine life and death.  For cancer.  For arteriosclerotic coronary artery disease.  At the time of Darwin’s writing, nothing was known of this theory of inheritance called genetics.  Her genes could determine my longetivity, and she probably never even heard the terminology. 


The passion.  DNA.  Passing it on.  When that moment of love, when the DNA was formed.  In one moment.  Who would have thought?  The inward and outward signs of DNA. 


Over the river and through the woods.  To grandmother’s house.  The horse knows the way.  The moon revolves around the earth, the earth around the sun as one but many planets.  It took a few generations to discover all of this out.  But the horse knew the way.  The predictability of the solar system.  There was an animal sense about it.  


Rituals.  Rituals were a part of history.  There was a mystery in the rituals.  History seldom has a prominent place in the life of a young person, and because history never had a prominent place at the table, rituals, family medical history, and the meaning were often forgotten, or not passed along.  The family dog often sensed things that your teen-ager never seemed to grasp.  If the world was 10 million years old, the location of the revolution of the earth was known only over the last 500 years, in black and white.   


Thanksgiving was a day that was all about relationships.  And people brought together.  In good times and bad.  It was a day to stop and give thanks and praise.  For the revolutions of another year.  For those of us who are alive.  Together.   Few people ever really talk about passing on ritual along with its meaning.  Few people ever really talk of the mystery in relationships.  Without its meaning, relationships and ritual would just be another motion, in a world still spinning on its regular axis, at its regular speed, in the solar system.  When it came to passing on traditions, real life examples were more affective.  Dining room tables.  Turkey.  Darwin.  The fittest who survive.  Passing on ritual, from loved ones who have passed. 


DNA.  Passing it on.  Seeing it in the kids.  Where the invisible became visble.  That invisible that was felt all along.  The mystery in the ritual.  Was it why I got that table which was now to me an outward signs of mystery.  A Sacrament?  The “seen” in the years before I had figured out the mystery, of the “unseen.”


Tonight an Italian-American brother-in-law and his wife are hosting Thanksgiving for the first time.  Everyone is waiting to see if he and his wife prepare turkey.

Irish Mist

I was late to church on Sunday. Instead I slowed down to listen to a show, “On the Media,” on National Public Radio. A listener from Omaha had written about a prior piece on the show, relating how he had been asked to give a Victim’s Impact Statement following the death of a very close friend. He stated that he had elected not to make a statement to the court, expressing the impact of this death, of this life, for him which had been huge, but he was cognizant that if the young man who had been killed had been homeless, then the court was not serving justice, was appealing only to the emotions of the survivors, judging the worth of a life that the court had no business making, attempting perhaps to placate the survivors.

Yeah, I was late and had I missed the entrance hymn, which had been the reason I chose to attend this Mass in the first place. The Feast of Christ the King had touched my heart for the past ten years. My father had died two days before this feast. In 1998. Five days short of his 48th wedding anniversary. In the interval of the death on Friday morning and his Monday funeral, the family had planned the liturgy for the funeral Mass on that Saturday before. For the funeral on a Monday evening, the family had elected a reading from the Old Testament as well as the responsorial Psalm song between the readings which I had suggested.

That responsorial Psalm was part of the liturgy today, connecting me to that funeral Mass. This Catholic parish had hired a brass section for the end of the liturgical year celebration. Now horns in Mass recently had an effect on me in liturgical celebrations. It was as if it was a call that awakened my heart. And horns are not often heard in ordinary time in liturgical celebrations — for me, over the past 12 months of this liturgical year, on Christmas and at a wedding.

Once I had today missed all but the end of the opening hymn — “Rejoice, the Lord is King” — I thought I was safe for the day from any public display of emotion. At least until that Marty Haugen Responsorial Psalm, “Shepard Me, O Lord” was sung. And throughout the Mass today I was struck by the connection of Father and Son. In the readings. And with my father to me. The older I got the celebration of the Mass as a celebration, the subtleness of the language in the ritual — what the hierarchy called the mystery but never really explained — grew on me.

Ten years ago they had had the brass come in for The Feast of Christ the King. In the interval of the death on Friday morning and his Monday funeral. That day was actually the first time I had been in any church to pray since my dad had died. And it was a song played after communion which that day in 1998 had touched me, on the Feast of Christ the King.

As they say, I lost it. I openly was weeping. Probably more an unrelenting Irish mist but for what seemed like a long time, in the movement of the post communion song composed by Jacques Berthier, “Jesus Remember Me.” In retrospect, I am glad it did not occur at the funeral. As a man, I do not like to be seen weeping. But ever since that day, this particular church had a claim on me for this The Feast of Christ the King.

What any non-Christian would miss it, was that Passover, the Last Supper, was a celebration of life. The Gloria, this Victim’s Impact Statement, was the connection of the Son to the Father. In faith. In hope. In love. The subtleness of the mystery. The readings: The humanness of Jesus. God in His incredible subtleness, day in and day out. Until you eventually figured some things out. You seldom saw writers of Scripture noting the death of a carpenter on a cross. His medium. The medium that he chose to work with in his every day life. Jesus had not become a preacher when he was done with his schooling. The wood was the medium that Jesus of Nazareth had worked with every day. A carpenter like his own father before him, like Noah. His art. In his life. And in his death. It was the subtleness of God that so many missed. In a new creation.

What had claimed me today, was Paul reflecting on the human, “Death came through man, the resurrection of the dead came also through man.” The reality of it all. On the same earth that I walked on. A real HUMAN BEING had redeemed humanity. The Gospel reading about the Final Judgment, judging the worth of a life that the court, no human jury, could make: ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.’

And what had caused me to be late as I listened to what seemed to be a comment about a Victim’s Impact Statement, as I heard the connection between “Shepard Me, O Lord” sung today and my father’s funeral Mass, a reflection of a life, the golden brass which had grabbed my heart strings, making connections between Father and Son, the impact of this death, of this life, which had been everything. To me. My dad. This Feast of Christ the King. That Victim’s Impact Statement, which claimed me today. The HUMAN. And the divine.

This mysterious celebration was all about the resurrection of the dead.


Religion Blogs


Gold Bond Stamps

Ten items or less.  The supermarkets in Minnesota were better than anything I ever saw when I was living in Chicago.  The selections were wide.  Those ten items or less lines were never in the big city.  Supermarkets here were fun.  And this city was the birthplace of Gold Bond Stamps which later helped developed the Radison Hotel Chain.

I live in Minnesota.  We never have earthquakes here.  The ground pretty much felt mostly soft and gentle, until it froze at this time of year.  And then nothing much moved.  The days of inertia were just beginning, based upon the temperature this week.   It was Thanksgiving week.  And the supermarkets would be crowded. 


From hearing the news this month, I half expect a few beggars at this year’s Thanksgiving dinner.  Like some of those corporations who were seeking billions but had not gotten theirs yet.  Like some of those corporations who had announced layoffs.  Like some of those corporations who once argued for protection before the United States Supreme Court, asking that the 14th amendment be applied for them.  And they had got that protection under the 14th amendment.   It must have been hard times then too, as those personal rights, human rights, of the 14th Amendment were granted to corporations by the United States Supreme Court.  Panics happened.

Auto companies looking for attention.  Financial attention.  Without much of a plan.  Without many questions when facing what could be their Last Judgment Day.  Dysfunction occurred in relationships when people quit communicating.   Then people, people looking for attention, somewhere, did stupid things.  Until we miss the subtleness. 


Most guys learn at some point that the female species wants to be noticed.  At some point after puberty, a girl is in a place like a supermarket and can tell a guy is checking them out?  At least in the days when they gave out Gold Bond stamps.  Guys of all ages would  subtlely check the women out, at the checkout counter. When a guy was checking a woman out, it wasn’t really that bad.  Jackie Kennedy’s second husband was an old Greek.    When they are young, most girls had loved the attention.  Inside every woman is an awkward little girl who seeks approval not FOR her appearance but OF her appearance.  Some men actually learn these signs of subtleness, with age.  Over history, most women have always sought that approval mostly from husbands.  Many men never learned the subtleness.  Some women did not like that about their own species, of the approval seeking.  It was one of the newer judgments around, from a historic perspective.   


Today is the end of the liturgical year.  We have reached the end of time.  The reading would be about the Last Judgment.  The Feast of Christ the King.  I don’t know about you, but there was so much I wanted to say.  Before the end.  Yeah, people did stupid things.  There was a lot of greed and fear around.  This year especially. 


God in His subtle ways, in the days with so much blaring pre-recorded music, with so many televised events, this God beyond comprehension of even the contemplatives, in these times.  Beyond my total focus.  The distractions.  The things that break my focus, the things in my vision.  And I loved the distractions of the unobstructed and the obstructed views.  The 2 curling matches this week.  The hockey game last night.

The subtleness of flavor.  The differences in people.  The subtleness, in reading.  In art.  In food.  It was Sunday morning and I was drinking Scottish Breakfast Tea, a tea named after the people who drink it.  It certainly was not grown in Scotland.  Those Scots know their tea.  It was all about marketing.  And they sold it in these Minnesota grocery stores. last night.

In the newspaper today, a government report on Thursday warned of a “catastrophic” quake in the United States, which had nothing to do with Wall Street. FEMA spokesperson Mary Margaret Walker said, “People who live in these areas,” in reference to that zone in the southeast corner of Missouri near New Madrid, “and the people who build in these areas certainly need to take into better account that at some time there is … expected to be a catastrophic earthquake in that area, and they’d better be prepared for it.” Because a major quake which shifted the course of the Mississippi River and rang church bells on the East Coast had occurred in 1811 and 1812. And not just one. In states where the ground also pretty much felt mostly soft and gentle.

Speaking of ringing church bells, there would be horns today on the Feast of Christ the King where I worship. The horns say so much what I wanted to say. Before my end. That the year was great. This was the celebration that Psalm Sunday was supposed to be. If God had not been so subtle about what redemption was going to mean.

The Last Judgment. I half expected a subtleness in the questions. It was always the question. What are you looking for? Did you ever know God? Did you ever love God? The question about identity, and ultimately who I wanted to be. Did you ever change much during the time that you knew Him? How about this year?
What most impressed you about Him? How about this year?Did you ever find out who you were meant to be? How did you serve God? How about this year? What was He after in your life? Did you ever shift your course, dramatically? This year? Did the ground and the rain mostly feel gentle around your home? And how did you do on the finals, this semester?

There were a ton of questions all along. Subtle ones. My image was that of the redemption center. For Gold Bond Stamps. Presenting your stamps to the authorities. “What exactly did you want here?”
Those brass horns shake my foundation on this Sunday every year like they seldom do in ordinary time.

Copyright © 2010.

Religion Blogs

Identity Based Upon Money


I have a friend who took a vow of poverty 22 years ago.  The first vow was actually taken at least 10 years before that.  And no he was not married.   We had lunch a few weeks ago.  After a touching on a lot of the fiscal concerns in the world, as much as how they affected his job, he asked me at the end of lunch how much my identity was based upon money.  It was a good question.  Afterwards, it hit me that he really might have asked, subtlely, why I was not a priest like him. 


His job was going to become more difficult in the years ahead. My friend had a job where 80% of his time was spent raising money.  Even though he had taken a vow of poverty.  If you worked for a religious institution, the people and their children expected a standard of living in the buildings where they would spend time in formation. 


So how much of my identity was based upon money?  I don’t think any of my central identity is.  But in a sense, money was a language that we all communicated in.  It was how we exchanged things, beyond words.  It was a way of understanding.  Money reflected values of a community.  And values were always debated.  Even if you were Catholic, you had to question why an archbishop would seek more than $30 million dollars for his cathedral.  In a sense the size of the cathedral was part of the mystery that non-believers never understood.  It was why many said the Catholic church had a lot of wealth.  The generosity of Christians could not be grasped by non-believers.  But even Catholics questioned the $30 million campaign when the money could have been better served through corporate works of mercy.  But I think the campaign which happened in St. Paul, and yes, in Minneapolis, had been successful.  Were these just Americans who felt that God deserved a place of worship to reflect their idea of value, the standard of living, in the place where they had come to worship God?   


A standard of living:  I was not sure if a standard in this case referred to some kind of flag, as my unabridged dictionary might suggest.  In visiting college campuses in this decade, I was stunned at what had happened at the university that I had attended.  I authentically love the institution.  But I think “they” now have too much.  The university reflected a lot about this generation of American society.  Abundance.  In the buildings where the children of my generation were spending time in formation, the dorms were nothing like we had had.   There were no aging halls of instructions.  The leaders of this institution had maintained the past well.  But I am not sure if the past was still recognizable.  I was not certain if something had been lost in the transformation.  I was not sure anyone deserved all this.  When there were places like Bolivia


Now I have donated to my university’s appeal for funding since I had graduated, through 2005.   I have since sent my donation, their donation, to a university in Bolivia, one of the poorest countries in the world.  This school, Unidad Academica Campesina, did not have alumni like me to solicit funding.  It was a part of the world where slavery had still existed in 1953.  The Carmen Pampa Fund in St. Paul raised money for this school which seemed to have strong ties to Augsburg College in Minneapolis, the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, as well as the Catholic community of St. Paul-Minneapolis.  And I also had really seen the 3rd world up close in 2006, after I had seen in 2005 the abundance all around the campus where I had spent 4 years, which had been so proudly displayed at an alumni reunion.     


The people overseeing my university, who had taken vows of poverty, had to contend with alumni and their children who carried expectations of a standard of living.  The job of those people overseeing my university who had exchanged things, beyond words, in their vows of poverty, was balancing the needs of the real world with the expectations of their financial supporters, and seeking recruits interested in learning the ideals of this academic Jesuit Catholic institution.  


In one sense, the Jesuits are, with a subtleness that is missed by most, asking each day to their student how much an identity, their identity, was based upon money.  And why there were not more priests.



In a show today about fidelity and infidelity on Minnesota Public Radio, I heard the guest speak of the desires of everyone for an intimate relationship.  The show just as well could have been about a relationship between God and the individual.   

  • It is a dangerous process opening to someone.  There is a need to risk in a relationship before you can be comfortable, have efficient sex, and before you can be truly intimate. 
  • Most guys have unbelievable ignorance about their lover.  Women use conversation to get close.  Men do not. 
  • Part of the learning process of marriage is to face the truth that all people are imperfect, all people face one day a disappointment in themselves or in a part of that love.  A relationship was learning how to deal with those imperfections and life’s problem.  This process is present in all marriages.   And that was where the theme of forgiveness comes in. 
  • Coming slowly to the revelation…of my imperfections.  Of the partner’s imperfections.  And talking about them.  Trying to do better. 
  • There is magic revealing yourself to someone else.  A therapist role, as an interpreter when a marriage becomes stressed, is to make it safe to communicate about everything, including sexual fantasy, emotions….What is it that you talk to this person about? 
  • There is always a need for a closeness ritual, or you are having trouble getting attention from your lover.
  • A man has a need for sexual interaction, revealing embarrassing things, how foolish he is.  These are the endearing things for a woman to hear.  When the foolish no longer is revealed, ways to stay close are lost. 
  • The crisis in a marriage IS part of the process of becoming a human being.  It develops character.  Ideas as to what is appropriate in a marriage come from families that we have lived in, and are distorted by movies and TV.  
  • Problems in marriage do not make people have affairs.  The lies and dishonesty in an affair do more damage than the sex in an affair. 
  • People who get out of the habit of talking to their spouse are vulnerable to infidelity.
  • Women desire more, who are lonely inside their marriage
  • Infidelity: the looking, the touching, the lying, but the desire to meet that person when intimacy, when the dearth of the soul was again revealed, to fill a void. 
  • Touched.  To be truly touched, and its affect on the heart. 
  • People trained for honesty and fidelity need to be shown how to communicate efficiently.  Too often an answer is an invitation to stop thinking about something, to stop talking, to stop wondering about the mysery of your lover.  The mystery was in the ongoing questions.    


Intimacy.  It was waking up in the morning realizing how lucky you were in this life.  Realizing how lucky you were, to have that person next to you.  Especially in modern times, in a pop culture of meaningless junk. 


Intimacy.  It involved giving thanks and praise.  At last once a week.  If not every day.  And meaning it.  In good times, and in bad.  It often was harder to stop in good times and pass on a compliment.  There was a daily numbness that set in, when a lot of us just quit seeing all the things close by.   The things that were always there.


It could become the normal human experience to quit expressing thanks.  It happened when a certain sense of humility was lost.  And humility was harder to hold on in the modern world than your 401K. 


Intimacy.  Learning monogamy.  Prayer and sex were a lot alike.  Monogamy.  Montheism.  Revelation.  Of my imperfections.  And of hers.  Slowly over time.  No marriage was perfect.  Because the 2 people are imperfect.  That was also the revelation that most people came to in their relationship with God.



<a href="

The Real Disabled List


I live a rather storied life, it struck me this week.  I know a fairly large number of the celebrated.  I live in St. Paul.  I walked by Garrison Keillor’s house twice today.  He moved about 3 blocks further away this summer.  I have a fondness for the writing of F. Scott Fitzgerald and the themes he wrote about.  In reflection, I see I have lived a life a lot like Fitzgerald.  I now live in the neighborhood he grew up in.  I went to a prep school on this side of the river not all that different than the one he attended, with the sons of the pillars of this society.  I call a plumber named McQuillan and learn later it was the family of his maternal grandmother.  I drink in the same establishments that he did, almost 100 years later.  But not like he did.  And my liquor store is where he took dance lessons as a kid.  But I don’t really dance.  I do attend birthday parties with live music of nationally acclaimed bands in backyards, when I feel like the Great Gatsby must be in the crowd (where I still owe thank you notes, two months

later).  And today I read where F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald had lived where I now live when daughter Frances was born in 1921.  Yeah, the same buidling.  


After the Roaring 20s, Fitzgerald wrote in troubling times.  He never had quite the success again in the 1930s as he did before the Great Depression.  Maybe his stories no longer reflected real life to struggling people.  Maybe people couldn’t afford to buy books or magazines.  Maybe the people that Fitzgerald wrote about, schooled as Fitzgerald was schooled, who earned incomes way beyond anyone’s worth, spent lavishly on things they never really needed, the leaders of their day, the people who created the mess, no longer mattered to the populace.  The rest of the people were busy looking for scapegoats, more so in Europe than in the United States.  


The world had changed.  A lot of thing no longer felt relevant in the real world.   


Financial cancer.  Denial.  Anger. People and their capacity to change. 


Recessions and ill health seemed the same.  Rest and recovery.  And look around at the world.  It was a lot like the landscape.  There was always change.  It was part of the mystery.  The world was always changing. 


“What does it matter.  You can’t do anything anyway.”  About the system of money.  About the rising or falling values of homes, of stocks.  Or the fall. 


We all have a spiritual nature.  For the most part, it is tied into lifelong relationships and the Truth.  A relationship is either true or it is not.  


Ernest Becker in 1974 won the Pulitzer Prize for The Denial of Death.  The idea of death, the fear of it, haunts the human animal like nothing else.  Death faces us with annihilation, a loss of self.  In a new day of fear over shelter, these fears are spreading to food and to basic survival.   Death faces us with annihilation, a lot like a really bad recession.  Some helped others in times of storms, those caught on the seas, of those caught in burning buildings.  The image of this decade was that day at the World Trade Center.  Now we were moving to a new day when business was in effect throwing workers out of buildings, to try and survive.  We had lived through times of mergers and acquisitions, leveraged buyouts, when business were more concerned about saving the boats caught in the storms than the people caught in the boats.  Over leveraged businesses concerned about saving their boats, choosing who to save.  When the boats did not seem sturdy.  Watching all of this, watching the people in the boats was worse than feeling pain myself.  On the seas, the rule once was women and children first. 


Suffering taught something mysterious.  Salvation was not some far off concept but was real.  It was all about suffering and helping those caught in the storm.  Darwin’s Theory was in the end wrong.  We were all gonna die.  Some live longer.  Suddenly, Darwin’s Theory is better understood.  In tough economic times, nobody had health insurance.  What bodies best adjust to cold temperatures when there is no heat?  Health care for few.  Life like in most of Asia.  Suffering is back.  It never really left.  It just seemed like a mirage in the distance.  But ultimately, death that haunts the human animal like nothing else was supplemented by hunger, thirst, and by cold. 


The Gospel reading on Sunday had been based on the release of fears and finding riches:  trusting God whose suffering taught something mysterious. 


Ill health.  No one knew how severe the illness.  Rest and recovery was the prescription.  Moving towards gradual acceptance.  

The Interrogatories


Whereas the morning yesterday had started with shattered glass and a mug from a Russian art exhibit, the evening had ended watching the movie, “The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming.”  Speaking of mystery. 


Shattered glass:  It was 24 hours ago that a framed print fell, shattering glass.  This morning, in an unrelated note, there was shattered glass all around the garage that I park my car in along with about 50 other cars.  The glass all around the garage, different I had hoped, had also been there last Sunday.  In some cultures the people do not ask questions like why.  Why the glass is here?  Why did the frame fall yesterday?  There was nothing that had happened in the time surrounding the incident that I could see that caused this occurrence.  The frame had been in its place for perhaps ten years.  On the Richter scale, even though I do not think any kind of earthquake had happened, even though the Richter scale was not being used much any more, this was an insignificant event. 


If this had been a traumatic event, with loss of life, a real earthquake, I had come to know places on earth that the “why” question was never asked.  I had learned through a trip two years ago of the Filipino culture that never seemed to ask the “why” question.  I suspect throughout Asia, fate was accepted a lot better, without question than it was in the western culture.  I attribute the questioning to the Judaic culture, the search for answers, the conversation back and forth, the questioning of God in prayer.  Other cultures seemed afraid to ask.  Christians and Jews, the Chosen People, had come to expect more.


Women…Mystery …The why question.  I mentioned the conclusion of law that women were really mysterious, based upon the facts presented over time by my attorney.  He only understands his wife 35% of the time.  He has been married close to 20 years.  In the modern age, women had been taught along with men how to be independent, to fend for themselves, in a harsh world where Darwin concluded survival was for the fit.  Independent until they needed no one.  Was there a sense of suffering with the onset of menstruation into the female body?  Why is the lining of the endometrium shed regularly?  In Asia, this fate was accepted unquestioned.  But is that why women seemed so mysterious, even to each other?  Always changing, at least physically?


I went to bed watching this movie of an American age that did have a fear of the Russians.  I had traveled to the former Eastern bloc, saw the Slavic women, and wondered about that mystery of the Russia soul.  I thought of other fears of that post war age.  Civil rights marches and voter registration.  Americans then identified a fear of race, whites of blacks. African-Americans of whites.  In a large sense, this was the fear of the unknown.  Russian history had held much of the same brutality that the African-American had suffered here, but not on skin color.  Anger resulted.  Violence.  Based upon wrongs. Crime and punishment.  When tough guys liked to intimidate and not explain.  Many a Caucasian never suffered this institutional fear of authority spoken of felt in the African-American community until having to deal with the Internal Revenue Service. A fear because no one ever had listened.  Fears always seemed to have some historical base of injustice. And people who did not want to take time to examine the injustice.       


In the world of ruptured relationships, was there a fear of a day of not being needed.  Was there a fear present of being cut by what was shattered yesterday?  How many divorces were based upon the missing questions from the husband?  How many divorces were based upon a missing feeling of need? 


Journalists , interpreters, and spouses did ask questions about significant events.  To ask the questions to significant people was what it was all about.  So wasn’t it ironic that faith was something you didn’t talk about.   For most Americans, it is just not something that you do… until maybe you lost something, because you tried to keep it a separate part of your life.   Faith was mostly for me, if you came from the public school system?   To be like some kind of bath with candles was not understanding an intention from where faith came.   And it might explain a lot of problems around here.   So less and less people dug deep.   And more and more I try to assimilate into the secular world?  But feeling insecure, living without the deepness of knowing someone?   Depressed.   Over not belonging?        


I had come to expect more in a relationship, based upon the answers.  Most of us absolutely desired relationships that stirred something from within.  Journalists , interpreters, and spouses did ask questions to figure out the mystery. And so did lawyers.  Ultimately, interpreters, journalists, lawyers and spouses kept questioning, because the answers in the conversation back and forth seemed holy.   It was all part of the search for the Truth.

The Season Finale


In 1776, the American colonies proclaimed a declaration of independence from the British.  It took about another 150 years, following the women suffrage movement, but women then began to work on independence.  It was happening all over the world.  As a result, birth control was practiced, women went to work just to survive, and divorced rates rose.  The popes looked on with astonishment.  All Christian denominations saw disinterest.  People got busier trying to earn an income to survive.  The developed world quit having kids.  Zero population set in for Western Europe. And now the next season was coming upon us in another liturgical calendar.  There was the potential of over one billion viewers of this Roman Catholic series which occurred at least on Super Sunday. 


A new season with over 52 installments was coming to discover the mystery of God and sex, politics and religion.  But first the current season had to come to an end.  There never had been more suspense. 


If you have missed the recent installment, the world economy had been brought to the brink.  The G7 nations had expanded to the G20 to address the crisis.  New characters were going to take over the government of the largest consuming economy in the world whose economic leadership was now threatened.  With the G20, even the leaders did not know everyone.  Was that Asian guy Chinese or Korean?  Were any of the G20 currently at war?    Viewers were encouraged to watch each week.  The network based in Rome had yet to offer any repeat shows on YouTube or Slingbox. 


Critics were wondering if this independence of not just women was needed to reduce population. But what about the ensuing depression?   How would the characters deal with it, especially with the developing economic disaster threatening every part of the world?     


Audience share had been down over the past few years with the internet draining the younger generations.  Sponsors were expecting if not hoping that viewership would increase over the final weeks of this season.  And then carry over to the next liturgical season, especially in light of the upcoming holidays.  At least in the cold days of winter, the mystery of lights in darkness, the mystery in the Christmas story, the mystery between married couples, even with the suffering of women with men, still seemed somewhat worthwhile and drew a wider audience each December.  At the start of the season, it all once again seemed about the romance according to those who had read the early script for the new season.  And the wooing would be back. 

The Mystery of


Mystery in the morning.  At dawn.  Seen in the reflection of the lake before the wind awakes.  Invisible amidst the noonday sunshine.  But truly felt. 


I was about to write something about “mystery” that I felt upon rising, before the muse had vanished like a Saturday cloud.  Then the frame print in the living room fell to the floor, scattering glass through the room.  There were mundane things to address, shattered glass.  The mystery that I had in mind was not heard or seen, but felt. 


Two years ago I went to an art exhibit on Russia.  “Miriskusstva: Russia’s Age of Elegance.”  I bought a coffee mug there that I saw this morning for the first time since the purchase. 


Russia.  About 6 years ago I sat down to write a historic novel.  I never quite reached the end.  The story was set in Russia at the time of its conversion from communism to capitalism.  It was a time when oligarchs took over and vied for power with the government, as Russia opened up to the media.  It was the wild wild west, an era of scarce jobs, of power plays between the Russian Mafia, of massive fluctuations in currency value, of new political parties moving in to fill the void of the past.  The culmination of the story was to be the day in August 1998 when all these investment bankers fled, when the Russian government defaulted on more than $40 billion in government-backed securities.  It was a time of panic.  That panic has seemed much more real in the current financial times.  And in all of my reading there always was reference to the mystery of the Russian soul.  What it meant?  In a nation where there was so little religious practice.  A son or daughter did not get admitted to Moscow State University, the Harvard of the East, unless they had connections to the Party.  Public policy was party members could not be seen in Orthodox churches.  Yet there always was reference to the mystery of the Russian soul. 


Last night there were two shows on public television.  The first show was “God On Trial.”  Set in Auschwitz, one prisoner declares that God should be put on trial for letting his people down. Another prisoner, a rabbi, explains that challenging God is not without precedent and he proceeds to set about establishing a rabbinical court, which requires three judges.  To hear lines expressed in a concentration camp, “God is here suffering with us.  He is here in the suffering.”  At the time, who believed that goodness would win out?  Where does all this evil, all this goodness come? “Let there be something that they cannot take away from you.  Do not let them take your God.”  (See


 Last night there was a second show on public television about a Philadelphia artist who was contacted and offered the chance to spend a summer in the Irish town of Ballycastle to paint the landscape.  Stuart Shils was his name.  He actually could stay as long as he wanted.  So the invitation stated.  The message that an artist creates and sends out to various parts of the world in art was a sense of that mystery about a place.  He went to Ireland.  What the TV show showed as well as what the artist expressed were comments of the ever changing landscape.  The light.  The changing light as the clouds moved over head.  I listened to this Philadelphia painter, this Jew, talk about the land here around Ballycastle which grabbed hold of his soul, and express what it brought out of him.  He felt connected to this part of the world that he never imagined existed.  And he saw something in the people there that he felt in his own people, a pain inherited from the past.  In 1975 Jill Urich put together Ireland: A Terrible Beauty, about the same time her husband, Leon, was writing the historic novel, Trinity.  Painters saw what Jill Urich tried to capture in photos of the Irish landscape.  Ireland:  A Terrible Beauty could just as well be a title all about God’s mystery. 


Mystery.  The mystery of creation was as deep as the ocean.  The degree of His mystery was every bit as comparable to His power and might.   Sometimes shattered.  In Auschwitz.  In Russia.  In Ireland.  Or here in my living room.  Mystery, as powerful as the Irish sky, in a Ballycastle that regularly had world famous people drawn to its neighborhood. 


Mystery.  I lived in a town where gusset plates held together bridges every day and no one gave them a first much less second thought, until they no longer worked.  Or did, prior to August 1, 2007.  Bridges for the most part could be ignored at speed of 55 miles per hour or more, the way most of us lived life once we acquired driver’s licenses.  It was not always so in this world.  


Mystery.  It was everywhere.  There was mystery.  Suffering taught something mysterious.  Pain was inherited from the past.  In the guy in the wheel chair.  Or on all matters of health, physical, mental, fiscal, spiritual.  There was mystery in the caring.  The different degree of the caring in each human.   And the degree of this caring about someone was the mystery.


Pain was inherited from the past.  Suffering taught something mysterious.  In this show about the artist in Ireland, Stuart Shils made reference to the Midrash, and the importance to him attending a showing to hear the commentary on his own art.  And the Midrash, he said, was the commentary on the Torah.  What did people say about the work?   In a sense, the mystery of life was the commentary here on creation.  The degree of caring.  You and I were the Midrash.

Religion Blogs