The Gift of Faith

i-have-learned-that-faith-means-trusting-in-advanceToday’s Gospel from Matthew, chapter 9, verses 18-26, although short, is full of action, and a real economy of language. We hear three things that we have heard in other places at other times, but they are compacted for us here.

In the space of 8 verses we hear about an official asking for Jesus’ help with his ailing daughter, a woman suffering from hemorrhages touching Jesus and being cured, and then Jesus gets to the official’s house where he encounters a crowd acting as if the girl is dead. He dispels that notion, and they mock him. That did not deter Jesus, and he entered the house, curing the girl.

Got FaithThe undercurrent of the entire matter is faith, which is coincidentally the essence of the new papal encyclical, Lumen Fidei. Faith – the essence of what we need, and yet, not something that we can understand with our intellect or with reason.

Which brings me back to today’s Gospel – full of action, and not so many words. Yet, we read, we ponder, we pray, we study. I started the encyclical, but I’m going slowly. In the meantime, how do we have faith? There is a question for the ages. Yet, some of us do. I think of mine as a gift, for which I am grateful.

What is faith to you?

My Own View From Om to Amen – Yoga, the Catholic Church, Mary DeTurris Poust and Me

Albany area resident and Catholic writer par excellence, Mary DeTurris Poust has written about her Catholicism and her yoga practice.  (The first link is to Patheos, but you can also read it at Mary’s own blog or at OSV Daily Take.) This is always a controversial pairing with many saying that yoga is antithetical to Catholic teachings; some even call it outright dangerous. In both response and support, I am writing my own yoga story, from my very Catholic perspective.

I will be completely honest by saying that I had many physical and mental issues that stem from childhood sexual abuse. God has blessed me richly with healing and grace. That said, I suffered from many physical issues and stress for many years.

As it happened, extremely overweight and unhappy at the time, 9/11 struck and I was in NYC. While 5 miles north of the imminent danger, I suffered a resurgence of PTSD. God knows I prayed and prayed and cried out for healing. I was in therapy at the time, but somehow yoga kept calling to me, but I was afraid to go. Then one day, I mustered up the courage and went to a local studio.

My life was never the same after that.

It never occurred to me that yoga was antithetical to my Catholic faith. In fact, if anything, it reminded me what is important about organized religion and my own faith practice. Take Mass for example – I attend weekly, daily when I can. People ask me if I go because I am afraid of hell! Hardly! Liturgy is essential because my faith is not enlivened and practiced alone!

Yoga is similar – I can watch all the yoga DVDs in the world, but nothing takes the place of a class in a studio. It is about community, presence and service as I came to understand it.

Yoga helped to heal me deeply and in many ways and I experienced in and through the context of my Catholicism, not separate from it. Idol worship? Evil? Hardly – all is seen and experienced through Christ for me.

Allow me to relay two anecdotes about my old yoga practice, most of which happened at The Birchwood Center in Nyack, NY. One took place on the 1st anniversary of 9/11. As I sat in the studio, looking out over the Hudson, the same Hudson that the WTC apparently used as a navigational tool, I made some transition from fear and rage and pain into some peace. The blue of the sky, the peace of the clouds could not be taken from me. I was transformed. Was it some false God? Or was it the presence of Christ as I was in a place where grace flooded in?

The second took place some years later, probably 2007. My life had experienced numerous changes and transitions and healing. That said, I still had (and have) my moments. One day I just couldn’t sink into my yoga; it was a hard class for me to surrender to. At the end of class, we were in savasana, or corpse pose, that pose of rest and repose.

My favorite yoga instructor was Charlene Bradin.  I’ve taken so many yoga classes, so many from great teachers, but Charlene stands alone in my mind; she is remarkable. In any case, as we were quiet, Charlene would bring bolsters to anyone who wanted to place them under their knees. As she placed mine, she touched my leg to adjust it ever-so-slightly. It was at that moment I began to weep. Her touch was so healing and helped me to release a wave of something that I needed to let go of. Let go, Let God as the saying goes. That small touch was grace unleashed for me that day.

For me the ultimate thing is that our catholicity invites us to be fully in the world with our faith. Most things can be integrated. No I am not talking about relativism, but I am talking about how to be and remain fully rooted in the incarnate world as a Roman Catholic. Which also means I can take a yoga class and not be a party to evil or idol worship! Yoga is about surrender, community, service and love. None of these things go against my faith and in fact support it.

Yoga has healed me and my faith is the most healing balm, the love of Christ. The two are not incompatible for me.

What say you?

Blogger Meet Up – Albany Style, All the Way from New Zealand

If there is one thing I love, it is blogger meet up time. I have been very blessed to have met numerous blog friends over these past 3+ years. To see but a small bit of this chronicled, you can refer to this post from August.

When I first started blogging in May of 2007 I would write about my faith, but that was not really the focus of the blog. Mostly I blogged about politics back then, but I did find myself soon thrust into the midst of a wonderful world of Episcopalian/Anglican bloggers. So much of who I am and what I do out here is because of this diverse group of people. If you did check out that link from August, you will see me with a few of my Episcopal friends.

Yesterday I had the chance to meet yet another one of them, Brian Ralph, who authors the blog Noble Wolf. For those of you who do not know Brian, he is a retired teacher. He was living in the Blue Mountains, outside of Sydney, Australia, who recently moved to Dunedin, New Zealand. He is in the midst of a pretty significant around the world trip and his travels brought him through Albany for a day. Speaking of all of this, I do urge a visit to Brian’s blog to read about his amazing trip through Europe, including Germany, the UK and Scandinavia.

Brian in Starbucks in downtown Albany, NY

It was a great delight to meet this lovely man!  After picking him up from the train station, we went to his hotel in Albany so that he could drop his bags and off we went on a sunny afternoon. I got to see parts of this city that I never see!

As with so many blogger meet ups, it was an easy connection to just start talking. We already knew a fair amount about each others lives, including faith, family and travel history! Brian has the most engaging smile and a very warm heart.

Our first stop (but of course!) was a church, St. Peter’s Episcopal. We walked all around the Capital, Empire State Plaza and in and around some of the city streets. This is The Egg, a famous Albany performing arts venue and visual landmark. We tried to see the Roman Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, but it is still undergoing renovations and was not open.

Honestly, I have spent almost no time in Albany – seriously. How sad is that!? I have not been to The Egg and I had never (hangs head in shame) walked around Empire State Plaza before. For the record, I have also never been to the Cathedral before either – I know, go figure!

So it took a visit from a gentleman from halfway around the world to get me there!

It was so easy to talk with Brian. We talked about many things – his trip, our blogging roots and connections, his recent move from Australia to New Zealand. We spoke of many common blogging friends like Grandmere Mimi, Fr. Bosco Peters, Doxy, Paul, Jack and Mad Priest.  We talked about people who don’t really blog any more but who we think so highly of, such as Alcibiades and Dan. (Dan’s blog  is not there anymore!)

Brian and I spent a lot of time talking about how important our faith is to each of us and how there are many challenges to our faith practices. I expressed how grateful I was to be here in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany and how my current job and grad school pursuits are truly the work of grace. Brian talked about the hypocrisy he encountered and his experiences among the Sydney Anglicans and how different it is to be in Dunedin.  He also spoke at length about his work and how accepted he was among Catholics when he taught at a Catholic school in Sydney.

What a strange and wonderful thing this all is and I am very grateful for all the people that I have met via blogging and Facebook. The irony of all this is that I was supposed to have coffee yesterday with another person I met online and who lives in Albany, Maureen. I had to postpone that because of Brian’s visit. And I consider that I am still figuring out how to have a meet up (although we did meet briefly) with Mary DeTurris Poust who lives locally. And how that even though we have tried, Dan Sloan and I have yet to have a proper meet up… He lives 3 hours away, Brian lives almost 9000 miles away! Brian did not realize that Dan was in NYC or he would have tried to connect with him too.

Well I have rambled on and on here. In summation, a fine time was had and I continue to consider social media my mission field. I’m not here to convert you, but I will say, you – all of you – pretty much always convert me.

What a gift! Happy and safe travels Brian!

The Realization of What is Hoped For, Evidence of Things Not Seen – the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

And Isaac brought her [Rebecca] to the tent of Sarah, his mother. All the days in which Sarah lived, there was a cloud attached to the entrance of her tent. Since she died, the cloud ceased; and when Rebecca came, the cloud returned. All the days in which Sarah lived, the doors of the entrance [to her tent] were open to the wind (ruah)….  And all the days in which Sarah lived, there was a blessing sent through the dough [with which she baked]…. All the days in which Sarah lived, there was a light burning from one Shabbat evening to the next Shabbat evening….” (Genesis Rabbah 80:16 on Genesis 24:67).- From Stories of our Ancestors at MyJewishLearning.com

The idea of a cloud at the entrance to Sarah’s tent intrigues me. Are you reminded of the mystery of God and the power of the unseen and transcendent when you consider this? I know that I am. 

We are celebrating the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time this weekend – with themes of ancestors and of faith in the readings. And we do specifically hear about our ancestors, Abraham and Sarah!

In the First Reading from Wisdom we are given a short reminder of the faith of our ancestors. Each generation, from one to the next, is connected and interdependent. We stand on the shoulders of the giants who came before us. Someday we may be giants or at least regular sized ones, whose shoulders are the standing ground of the future. It is communion – we are all connected and it matters.

In the Hebrews reading from St. Paul gets straight to the point:

Brothers and sisters:
Faith is the realization of what is hoped for
and evidence of things not seen.
Because of it the ancients were well attested.

Faith and our ancestors… always intertwined, connected. This reading is pretty long but the point is clear if we pay attention. Abraham and Sarah were called out to places that they had no information about. And what did they do?

Off they went! Paul says: “By faith Abraham obeyed…” I am always on about the etymology of obedience, which tells us that obedience is rooted in listening.  As I understand faith and the journey of Abraham and Sarah, listening would have been required. Yet it is something that it is hard for us to do as humans, isn’t it?

The focus is on Abraham but it is Sarah that captivates me today. It was one thing for Abraham to listen but clearly they were in this together and she had to have her own faith. I love the imagery of the cloud before her tent. It reminds me that we have to enter into the mystery with faith in order to gain the wisdom.

The midrash in the first paragraph reference reminds us of ruah – or wind. Wind and wisdom are often symbolically connected in Scripture, think Pentecost! See this, from that first source:

These characteristics of Sarah’s (and later Rebecca’s) tent are parallel to characteristics of the Tabernacle and Temple. Sarah’s bread is like the shewbread, the light prefigures the Menorah, and the wind resembles the Holy Spirit, ruah hakodesh. In particular, the cloud mentioned in the midrash alludes to the cloud of the Shekhinah, the personified aspect of God that is imminent. The Shekhinah is an aspect of God specifically associated with the Tabernacle and Temple. The book of Exodus ends with the completion of the Mishkan and the Israelites witnessing a cloud descending upon the tent (Exodus 40:34-38). Linguistically, the word Mishkan (literally, a dwelling place) has the same root as Shekhinah, and both of these terms draw on the idea that God can be experienced as close-by, not only as transcendent

Our faith invites us into the cloud and we, like our ancestors, can experience God as close-by… with that very faith and promise that has been offered to us over the ages.

The very long and powerful Gospel from Luke offers us many things to consider.  First of all – following our theme of faith – real faith, Jesus says what he so often says… “Do not be afraid…”

Do. Not. Be. Afraid.  Sit with that, listen with obedience.

We are told using many metaphors, to be ready, be prepared, have faith. And we are also told this:

“…Much will be required of the person entrusted with much,
and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.”

This is a reminder for us all- we have been entrusted with much by the virtue of being Christians. It has been given to us and much will be required. This does not mean constant suffering, it means many things, not the least of which is the obedience and faith that is demanded of us who have enjoyed every fruit of grace.

So where does this leave us?  What is required? Perhaps it is as simple as it is complicated. We need to listen, we need to be obedient, we need to have faith, we need to go where we are called – which puts our obedience, faith and listening into action. And we must know that the cloud of mystery and wisdom will guide us to where we are called and that we must not be afraid.

As with most things we are invited to by God, it is easier said than done. With faith in that which is unseen but yet most evident, let us go forth.

Mary the Mother of God

January 1 is the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God. If you read these pages you know I have been very Mary-ish of late. Of late? I am *always* very Mary-ish. Once I had a Protestant boyfriend who wanted me to join his church and my constant reply would be “No Mary? No Fran.”

It’s not idolatry, but I can see how some might see it that way.

Today I read a heart-stoppingly great post by Eileen at Episcopalifem in which she shared some thoughts about Mary. One of the things that comes up is the image of Mary that we are given, which is so disturbingly saccharine and one-dimensional.

In any case, I have written/spoken about Mary twice recently – here and here, if you wish to have a look. Both times I address some of this perceived weakness, if that is the right word. It is easy to get caught up in that and give up on Mary, but Mary is the one who spoke to me when I was returning to Church and I stick with her.

I mean let’s face it – God could have gone down a lot of roads to find ways to enflesh the spirit. Even going the traditional pregnant woman route – he could have chosen a woman from a higher class… but no. God, being God – used the unlikely and goes with a very young woman who comes from Galilee. That is a theological statement- anything that comes from Galilee and not Jerusalem is “lesser than.” This was no mistake.

So he calls upon this young girl, one from the margins and that is how God is made human. When people question my love of Mary and my Roman Catholic faith I want to point them here and say – “Are you kidding me? This is so outrageous! Extreme and unlikely and how could I not be completely in love with all of this?”

Which brings us back to our feast day on New Year’s Day… This feast, once again celebrating Mary the Mother of God, the Theotokos – the God bearer. All the sweet little images can come and go; this is a woman of some serious substance and the way that God is made manifest in human form, through her. Wow. 

It is completely radical and subversive in so many ways! All hidden in plain sight – amid the little lady dressed in blue devotional materials. No offense to those by the way- I had to enter in through that door. I bought the whole thing hook, line and sinker.  However, like any meaningful, intimate relationship some level of maturation is required. You can’t stay where you were when you met if you expect to be in relationship in an authentic way – right?

So I think of Mary as many things – sweet, subservient and meek is not among them. As for the virginal – I will quote myself here, referring to one of the links from above:

We are all called to give birth to the Christ in some way, from our own virgin territory. Oh – that. It doesn’t matter, we all have virgin territory, those places in our souls, however seemingly tiny and shrouded, where we have the tender untouched, flesh given to us by God.

If I distill this down it is that we all must find our inner virgin. The very word is so loaded in our culture – enough for a whole other post sometime. Face it – we disdain virgins in our culture, we do. And by doing so, we disdain a very essential part of our own inner being.

Our virginity – and I am speaking very broadly here – is not something to quickly rid ourselves of and be done with, like an old and slightly embarrassing piece of clothing.  Think about this and reflect on what this might mean.

In any case, if we get lost in the little lady, the virginal as expressed through the context of patriarchy and oppression- well then we might lose the thread of Mary. And if we do, we lose something essential. She is the golden thread that really pulls the true Golden Thread into the weaving.

Before I go, I must point you to another post that is must-read material. Michael Iafrate is an amazing young Catholic writer who blogs at Vox Nova (a blog I often have trouble reading) and at his own place, catholicanarchy.org. I highly, highly recommend reading his work.

In any case, he did an end of year post that pointed me back to something he wrote in September, about the Rosary. You can find that here. It is a rich piece of writing and he shares this post from Brother Vito, a Capuchin, who suggests the Subversive Mysteries for the Rosary. Oh my – go read this, it is amazing!

Well I have gone on far too long – no wonder someone I know calls me “Ramblin’ Rose.”  Anyway, it is the Feast of Mary the Mother of God and I am delighted to begin this year celebrating her.

Happy New Year to all.

Happy New Year Everyone – A Short Post When I Can Find Signs of Redemption Even In Liza Minelli

This is my very favorite version of this song, I love it. I first heard it on a Broadway Cares Christmas CD that I bought a few years back. (I highly recommend that disc.)

Liza Minelli and Alan Cumming are so deliciously campy and fun and the song just sounds great. I am more than a little obsessed with Liza… Oh so tragic and always so triumphant. As a little girl I loved Judy Garland and I really loved when Liza would appear with her on TV, those big eyes that scream out “I’m screwed” and “I’m alive” all at once.

I think that evidence of God is found everywhere and no I am not saying that in a pantheistic way; I am speaking of evidence of resurrection and hope in all kinds of things. If you can’t see signs of redemption and resurrection in Liza then please keep looking! It is all there.

Faith is not about a single triumph alone – although that is what the Cross is. Our faith is about the ongoing Cross and the constancy of birth (Christmas), death and resurrection(Easter) that is found in all life. And amen to that.

God turns up all all kinds of unlikely places, Liza Minelli included.

Anyway, leave it to me to turn a campy-LizawithaZ post into a sermon!

Some good karma brought this video my way and I share it with you this New Year’s Eve 2009! Happy 2010!

Saints and Sinners – The Ted Kennedy Edition


“There are no saints without a past. There are no sinners without a future.” – Unknown

My blogfriend Deacon Greg Kandra tells me that Oscar Wilde said this. I trust Greg, but I could not find it attributable to Wilde, so I will just say unknown and keep looking.

**Update** Greg Kandra to the rescue… Here is the source for the quote. Thanks DGK!

Ted Kennedy, requiscat in pacem. A legendary man has left this earthly life and the quote at the top of this post really seems to ring true, along with the great editorial cartoon from John DeRosier, right here from our Albany, NY newspaper.

People often want to put someone on a pedestal or to throw them down the garbage disposal. You can see many instances of both of those things during this Ted Kennedy coverage. I have read some things that make him sound like a god, other things that make him out to be the devil incarnate.

Ted Kennedy did some messed up things – no doubt about it. Ted Kennedy also did some truly amazing things – no doubt about it. The question becomes whether or not one can be redeemed.

As a Catholic Christian I absolutely believe that we are all redeemable… In fact we have already been redeemed, it is ours to accept that grace and then to live it. I can’t enter the channels of anyone else’s soul nor can one enter my own.

And redemption doesn’t happen one day, like an item checked off of a to-do list. It is a daily journey and one that Ted Kennedy, like anyone else, had to make.

And in the end, it has nothing to do with what “I” can do. It is important for me to be the best person that I can be, something I fall woefully short of on a very regular basis. No wonder so many have no interest in God, worship and a life of faith seem an endless exercise of tasks that may or may not work.

Frankly all this endless do-gooding in order to please God can take the focus off of God. It is then put it on the humans doing these tasks, which results in a large number of very self-righteous people.

Ted was flawed and he was brilliant. Which is pretty much the human condition one way or another, saint and sinner all in one and he kept doing all those good works. He seemed to do them from a deep place and for that I have to give him a lot of credit. We will never know what happened in his heart and soul from the darker days of long ago.

So for me – in the end I think that Ted Kennedy redeemed himself. He never got to be president but he got to grow into a great man. That he did not get to be president may have been his greatest gift, that took a lot of pressure off! No matter what his station in life, he never forgot the little guy who, unlike the Kennedy family, had no money, no connections, no hope. Hope is the elemental Christian virtue and Ted and embodied hope, that is a gift. And that is also Catholic Social Justice teaching at its very best!

It occurs to me that Friday, the day this post goes up, is the Feast Day of Saint Augustine, one who knew his own sinner and saint path very well.

The words of the Song of Farewell come to mind… “May the choirs of angels come to greet you, may they speed you to paradise. May the Lord enfold you in His mercy, may you find Eternal Light…”

This song is frequently used as a song of sending at Catholic funeral liturgies; it is one of my favorites.

You can listen to that if you wish, click below. (Before I publish, I thank fellow blogger Contemplative Catholic, who has a post up that influenced what I wrote here today.

Song of Farewell – Duncan Archard [Organ]