In the Woods // Living Water

Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst;
the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.

—John 4:13-14

It is March. It is Lent. I have a rare day off without my little buddy, and I can hear the woods calling to me. I long to be a small fragile human among the giant rugged trees, to follow the old familiar paths, to hear the first tentative sounds of spring.

I enter the woods and find that spring is still trapped under ice and snow. I slip and slide my way along the glassed-over path, finding my footing where I can. There is only ice, and snow, and squelching mud. I feel a little disappointed—”This is not what I had in mind!” I say to myself, to the woods, to God. None of the spring birds are singing in the woods. It is silent and lonely.

But, the sun is shining, and the breeze is not too harsh. As I walk along I begin to notice little signs of a stirring world. I see buds clinging to the tips of the bare branches. The scent of pine rises in the air as my shoes crush the few fallen branches that have been freed from winter’s grip. Deep in the woods the stillness is punctured by the sound of water rushing, and I find a little stream that is running and running, down from the hills. There is life in the sound of the water rushing away to the sea.

If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.’ (John 7:37) It is Lent and I am preparing to be received into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil; I am seeking living water. As I walk in the woods I feel as though I am being watched—lately, I always seem to feel this way. In the woods, in the car, as I drift off to sleep—the closer I get to the appointed time, the more intensely I feel like every cell in my body is being scrutinized.

The Church calls these final weeks of preparation the period of purification and enlightenment—a time to draw closer to God. I really thought I was as close to God as a person could be but, actually, no. It turns out there’s always more room for God. Sure, He pushes some things out to make space for Himself, but the more of Him there is, the less of everything else I seem to want.

It is Lent, and it is good to remember that the things of the world make a lot of promises they can’t keep. If you fill your cup with anything but God’s living water, you can drink and drink . . . and nothing but your thirst will remain.

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The sound of spring!

Advent & Christmastide

When I visualize the year, it’s a bit like a clock and the Christmas season is at the very top. Yes, Christmastide is the pinnacle of the year, but in the past I’ve been frustrated about how rushed and superficial it can feel. This year I really wanted to slow.things.down. and also to be more mindful of the liturgical seasons that under-gird our “secular” experience of the season.

We took our time with Advent, slowly constructing what would become the manger scene over the course of the four weeks. We built from the ground up, bringing in first stones, then plants, then animals, and finally humankind. The Blessed Virgin Mary slowly made her way along the Advent spiral, leaving tiny roses in her wake. You don’t need to explain these things to children—they are closer to the Mystery than are most of the adults around them. We did not get our Christmas tree.

We also celebrated the saints of Advent—St. Nicholas and St. Lucia—preparing special dishes and enjoying our little rituals that come around just once a year on their feast days. We made ornaments for the Christmas tree: Beautiful red felt roses, dried orange slices, and pepparkakor with white icing. Still, we did not get our Christmas tree.

The week before Christmas I started to worry that we had waited too long to get a tree. Then my husband’s parents pointed out that they had seen an ad in our local paper for a cut-your-own Christmas tree farm that was planning to be open through Christmas Eve. How wonderful! What a gift to us. On December 23rd, we finally got our Christmas tree (and met some adorable alpacas, too).

On Christmas Eve Day we decorated our tree with lights and the roses, oranges, and cookie ornaments we had made. When no one was looking, I slipped six red candles onto the ends of the branches. When we came home from Mass in the early evening, the whole family gathered by the tree and we lit the candles. The room filled with a warm glow. Zane said, “Mama, our tree has everything on it that you said it would.” We listened to Christmas music and the kids joked and played with each other. It truly was the pinnacle of my year, and a memory I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

On Christmas morning we opened our presents and Zane fed the birds (thanks, Lynn!). We headed out to spend the day with family. The Twelve Days of Christmas passed in a blur, as we celebrated the New Year and the kids went back to school. On Twelfth Night we mulled cider and enjoyed it that evening when we lit the candles on the tree for the last time. We toasted each other—waes hael—and watched the season slowly burn away.

Epiphany came and went and then the following weekend we took down the Christmas tree and put it outside. We left the homemade treats on the branches as little gifts for our furry friends. It didn’t take long for them to disappear—I guess squirrels like pepparkakor, too.

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Halloween 2018

This year we had a panda and a vampire. As usual, my mom did an amazing job on Zane’s costume, which was his second choice after first requesting to be a prehistoric sea scorpion . . . We suggested he choose something that was a) easier to make, and b) actually recognizable. Lillia assembled her own costume from stuff we had around the house and did her own makeup. Lillia chose not to go trick-or-treating this year, but she had a great time handing out candy at my parents’ house, and we had fun taking pictures out in the woods—she looks quite menacing, no?

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Lillia’s 15th Birthday

I can hardly believe it, but Lillia turned 15 this year! In just three short years she’ll be an adult. By this time next year she’ll probably have her driver’s license. The older my children get, the faster the time passes or seems to pass. It’s fascinating to watch Lillia’s life eclipse my most vivid memories from my own childhood—those of my teenage years.

Fifteen is a wonderful age. Lillia makes me laugh every day—really laugh, sometimes until I’m practically in tears. She is boisterous and full of life when she’s at her best. She has a compassionate heart and loves animals. She worries a lot about the state of the world and she struggles, like many of us do, to find her place in it. Whatever path she takes in life, it will certainly be an interesting, offbeat, absolutely unique one. We love you, Lillia! Happy Birthday!

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Angels Among Us

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. . . each soul is both a kingdom in itself
And part of some incorporating whole that
Feels and has a face and lets it live forever . . .
. . . an unseen presence
Tracing out the contours of a world erased . . .

—from “Falling Water” by John Koethe

The New England Aster is a lovely wildflower. Its scientific name, Aster novae-angliae, employs the latin root aster or star to gesture toward the frame of delicate petals that radiate from each golden face. Asters are blooming right now where I live, and probably inherited their common name—Michaelmas daisy—from a cousin that grows in Europe and blooms around the same time—that is, the Michaelmas season.

The Michaelmas daisy is startlingly beautiful to behold and yet its splendor so often goes unseen. Its colors are striking, and range from deep purple, to pink, to a glorious pale lavender. And, still, as often as not we walk—or drive—right past them. They flourish in thickets of weeds that gird disused industrial buildings, in clumps of foliage that spring up in abandoned lots, along the sunlit edges of highways and byways, concealed in out-of-the-way places where no one thinks to look for beauty. There they wait in the shadows of showier blooms, patiently growing taller as the summer months tick along, before they suddenly burst into color just as the growing year comes to an end. They are stars on Earth, the last glorious rays of warmth and light in a darkening world.

As the name suggests, the Michaelmas daisy blooms simultaneously with the Church’s annual celebration of angels. Today is the Feast of Sts. Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, Archangels (or St. Michael and All Angels), also known as Michaelmas (pron. Mick-el-mas). It is one of my favorite feast days of the Church year. We are so often preoccupied with human endeavors, and it’s wonderful to take a whole day and remember that we’re not alone down here. More than ever, we need the angels’ guidance and protection—St. Michael, ora pro nobis (pray for us)!

Like the Michaelmas daisy hiding in plain sight the angels also are hidden from us, though their work is visible in our lives if we look for it. St. Jerome, in his commentaries on the Gospel of Matthew, wrote, ” . . . How great the dignity of the soul, since each one has from his birth an angel commissioned to guard it.” It is reassuring to know that despite the strife, devastating loneliness, frustration, disappointment, and anguish that seems to accompany modern life, there are heavenly beings watching over us and aiding us in our struggles.

Even if we can’t see something, can we be sure it doesn’t exist? Does the Michaelmas daisy not bloom in spite of our disregard for it? We might someday catch a glimpse of an angel—perhaps in the same way we might see the flash of purple petals on a hillside in early autumn as we drive by—but not be quite sure just exactly what it was that we saw. Once I learned to see the Michaelmas daisy, I could see them everywhere. Perhaps the same is true of angels; we simply need to learn how to see them.

Yes, I believe that angels are among us—do you?

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