Prayers and Praise Rose and Fell

shutterstock_163027622Sitting in my oratory, I finished the Salve Regina prayer. I then looked from the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe out the window at a gray winter’s morning. I felt heavy that morning, down, and I didn’t know why. Kissing the blue millefiori rosary in my hand, I returned it to the porcelain dish, and the beads chimed against its sides. I picked up the Liturgy of the Hours from the table and rested the book unopened on my lap next to the long-haired silver cat purring in her sleep.

Thoughts drifted, memories came and went, prayers and praise rose and fell. Somehow, conflicted in the solitude, I felt grateful and sad.

Again I looked out the window. The morning’s light had increased and I saw it was snowing. A delightful memory filled my heart…

I was seven again, lying on my back on the Flexible Flyer sled and wearing a one piece red-quilted snowsuit. It was early morning, very early. Snow had fallen through the night and when I woke the flakes were still coming down. In my excitement I’d hastily bundled-up, pajamas underneath, and in the pre-dawn light left the house without breakfast. No one would be at the hill and I could play freely.

Two blocks away was Martin Road Park and a sizeable hill for sledding. Up and down I went a dozen times or more, until I lay panting and happily spent beyond its skirt. Rolling over on the sled I faced the clouds and giggled as snowflakes landed on eyelashes, and cried with a love so deep there were no words. The only thing I could hear that morning was my heartbeat and breathing. Snow is quiet and it quieted a world that was, for me, hard and loud. At the age of seven I had experienced, for the first time, the sensation of peace.

Since that moment, snow has carried for me that memory of peacefulness. It quiets the world. It slows people down.

My focus returned to the oratory and fell upon my grandmother’s gold-tone crucifix. The snow outside continued and I wondered if manna had fallen the same way in the desert—if it lightly built up on stems and leaves and covered the ground. I wondered, too, at the conflicted People of God who praised and soon griped at that perfect gift grown tiresome.

And I see in myself how often I gripe about something that is ultimately for my good—forgiveness for example. Forgiveness, much like gathering up manna can be a chore, and tiresome in its repetition. But ultimately it brings what we need, and I know how grateful I am that forgiveness exists.

I stood and walked to the window and watched the snow coming down and make white all that seemed dead and dark. I felt again the peace the seven-year-old me knew, of gently falling grace.

(There were several small crises throughout this week, and multiple deadlines had to be met. I fell short accomplishing everything that needed doing, and today’s blog post was one. This column appeared November 2013, and I rather liked it.)

Image by Leonid Ikan, courtesy 

Who has the Map?

Grand Teton, 1978. Image by Margaret Rose Realy, Obl. OSB. All rights reserved.

Grand Teton, 1978. Image by Margaret Rose Realy, Obl. OSB. All rights reserved.

Journeys—Mary and Joseph’s, the wise men, Jesus’ cousin John, and Jesus himself. In the past few weeks everybody we read about in the Bible is on a journey following a path—and probably prayed to remain watchful on a course laden with misdirection.

I was 28 in 1982. This picture was taken while we waited at the ranger station for a canoe portage permit into the backwoods of Massasauga Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada.

Massasauga, Canada, 1981.

Massasauga, Canada, 1982.

All of my vacations in the late 70s and early 80s were spent in the wilderness backpacking through the Rocky Mountain range or on portages in southeastern Canada.

The remote trails, the challenges of the deep woods, the raw beauty of nature and geological formations were what drew me. The views often reduced me to silent wonder—well that and the shortness of breath from climbing.

When travelling within an area that required a backwoods permit, you understood that the path you were about to take would not be a casual stroll along a groomed trail. The rangers would question you and your companions about your knowledge of wilderness protocol and emergency procedures, and set your check-in date. If you were not at the designated ranger station within 48 hours of that time, a very-expensive-if-you-were-not-dead search party would be sent.

We were aware that we would be embarking on a journey that demanded watchfulness. The paths were rarely level. Runoffs were rapid and deafening. Rocky outcroppings often concealed the trail’s next entry point. Miss the mark and you were lost.

The dangers were not to be taken lightly. Protocol in bear and lion country began with women hikers kept off trail during menses. Backpacks were hung from ten-foot limbs, and meals were never eaten near a campsite. Precautions against danger were essential. The full responsibility of personal safety was all yours. Make a mistake and it could be a week before you were found. There were no cells phones back then, and a “dead zone” had a whole different meaning.

We were always attentive along those narrow trails. To hike the backwoods was to see beyond the glorious view. It was to watch for patterns, to observe changes, to see abundant beauty with its shadowed threat.

When we journey we are open for wonderment. But the fullness of the experience is gained in learning from where the wonderment comes. There is more to walking a path than simply observing its beauty.

The journey of faith is much the same. It is not just about the beauty of the symbols and sacraments. It is a path of knowledge and the wisdom to recognize danger. It is to know when a path is turning in a direction that takes us away from safety, and to avoid missing the mark.

We know the summit to which the Holy story leads. May we always be attentive, and pray to recognize what direction leads us home.


Fertility God Missing the Mark

001He was a dear friend from college and delightfully quirky. He was six foot eight, brilliant, perceptive, with a quick and witty sense of humor, and never disrespectful. He was the gentlest of souls and a devout Catholic of Polish descent.

I liked to think he saw me as a little sister. Even though I was several years older I was considerably more naïve about…well a lot of things outside Detroit’s city limits. On the long walks across campus he would often mentor, more accurately tutor me about chemistry, microbiology and research. I lacked in formal education, but he would encourage that I more than made up for it with a willingness to learn.

We remand friends through those college and graduate years, and met twice after he returned home to Indiana. When I’d phone him, his mother, who usually answered, would yell “It’s your Michigan Margaret!” I’d always meant to ask him how many Margarets he knew.

The other day, pulling out the Christmas boxes to repack the decorations, I discovered in the bottom of one a little leather pouch tucked into a plastic storage bag. I recognized it immediately as the last Christmas gift received from my friend—the last I’d ever heard from him.

It was a strange gift. He, as a devout Catholic, had gently tried to persuade me to return to my childhood faith. This gift was a Native American medicine bag—a spirituality that we had discussed, but that I was never really drawn to, either. When I had peeked inside the deer skin pouch there were tiny stones and a small turquoise bear. I remembered thinking then, how odd, and put it aside. That was over three decades ago.

Picking up the plastic bag from the bottom of the box, I removed the soft leather pouch and remembered a friendship long past. I smiled at the thought of him, an indisputably chaste man, giving me, a remnant of a woman from Detroit, a gift with the fertility god, Kokopelli, embossed on the flap.

As I am prone to do, I began praying for him while removing the little treasures from the tiny purse. I had no idea about the symbolisms of the stones or coins, or the why—at what I thought the bottom of the pouch—of a scrap of cotton cloth.004 Rubbing the pouch with my thumb, I felt something still inside. My fingers were too thick to fit within, so I tipped it up and a necklace chain flowed into my palm. A thrill ran through me, the same sort of feeling as when I saw that dear man waiting to walk me across campus.

I pulled gently on the necklace. Whatever was attached was too big to easily pass through the small opening. Pinching the bottom of the pouch, I wiggled the jewelry out and discovered a solid silver cross. I smiled, and then cried; I had never acknowledged his precious gift.

For over thirty years the cross and his affection had lain hidden. But now, here was my old friend, come again, to remind me of the preciousness of my soul.

What ever family fills his life, where ever he may be, may the Lord bless him and keep him, may the Lord’s light always shine upon him and grant him peace. 005