The Care of Reassembling

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Many years ago I made small stained glass windows. The vibrancy of the material—its waves, ripples, and bubbles diffusing light—was a feast of color to the eyes.

In workshops I learned how a small scratch directionally drawn would allow the glass to break in desired ways. I was fascinated by this breaking apart almost more than the construction of the final windows. There was some sort of comfort in watching the separation take place—a knowing that from a larger, undefined unit of glass I would construct a mosaic of joy.

With the small wheeled etching tool I would guide the scratch on the colorful glass from edge to edge. Then, with the small metal ball on the opposite end of the tool, I would gently tap, tap, tap as the fracture snaked along the barely visible line until the desired piece would fall away.

Great care had to be taken handling the glass at the moment of the initial break. The edges of both pieces were razor sharp and could cause significant harm if you were not careful. If the glass were improperly fractured, slivers of glass would shatter and pierce one’s hands or arms.

One would then smooth the edges of the broken-off piece and assemble it with others in a specific pattern. All these separate pieces were forming a vibrant and new window that light would bring to life.

Many of us may experience a breaking or shattering at some time in our lives. A significant piece of who and what we are is cut away somehow and only the purest pieces, those desired for another purpose, remain.

There has been for me, and for other women of a certain age, a reassembling from intentionally fractured and broken pieces. Pieces separated from an unrefined mass, and the sharp dangerous edges skillfully smoothed and purposely arranged by the Master’s Hand.

For all of us, each broken piece will reveal its own beauty in the Light, within a final construction that reveals a radiant new whole.

Image by Verdani from Pixabay .

Duplicity and Blue Orchids

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While looking at orchids online I again saw the culturally-dyed-blues and remembered this incident from a few years back. I’m relearning the lessons of duplicity and dying to self as aging gains grown and tolerance shortens.

In the west window atop the stairs are shelves for growing houseplants, one being a white phalaenopsis orchid. I am drawn to the simple elegance of its white flowers along a gently arching stem.

Shopping at Meijer’s a few days ago I walked through the florist section. On a three tiered table were white orchids that had had their stems injected with dye. Their flowers were a garish crayon blue or purple and the leaves a greenish-black. I thought they looked absurd.

A woman shuffled into the area. Her thin and sunken appearance offended me—she smelled like a hangover from a two day binge, and her clothes told the same story. With exaggerated gestures she loudly proclaimed the beauty of the blue-dyed orchids.

When she had finished her monologue I looked at her, and without care told her they were an abomination and ugly. She prepared to do battle. Perfectly annoyed, I rolled my eyes and walked away.

It wasn’t until I was half way across the store that I stopped…what had I just done? Why in the world had I thought it permissible to be so rude? So judgmental? It would have been so easy to simply nod in agreement and allowed her continued happiness over blue orchids.

It is the irregular kind of people that bring out the worst in me. There are times when my reaction is not very Christian, and immediately after I think, “Who am I?!” My heart holds one truth and my actions speak much louder of another.

It’s the problem of duplicity, which again had come to the surface while I prepared to become an oblate. What is the identity, the wholeness of my true self that I will bring to the altar on the day I profess? Who am I as a gift offered to God?

Not a very good one when I behave like that.

A lot of this questioning is about regaining an identity that was not nurtured. An identity lost in formative years when patterns of dysfunction were laid down and cemented with doubts. I remember a day when I had come early to Adoration and unexpectedly found the therapist I had been working with was also there to pray. I felt compelled to express my gratitude for his guidance, and the words I spoke surprised me. I thanked him “for healing who I am.”

Who is the “I am” that I bring to God? Before the altar, in Adoration, or in receiving communion there is a singularity to my personhood—I am fully exposed, fully vulnerable, and fully intimate with Our Lord. In the presence of an unfamiliar world much of who I am is hidden on the stage of anxiety.

My gift of self being offered to God was first his gift, whole and complete, to me. It is not for him to discover who I am, but for me to find and give back what I can of that wholeness. To be the entire person he imagined into existence is to live an honest identity.

I question myself often. Are decisions fear based or grounded in truth? Do I embrace the identity of celibacy because I have not outgrown the fear of intimacy? Is my comfort with solitude in line with my nature or an avoidance of further harm? Do I choose being anonymous in the process of bringing souls to God out of humility or because I am apprehensive to proclaim The Word? I believe my striving is in earnest and that Truth will bear out—eventually.

Today’s ugly truth is that I judged the Love-Blue-Orchids-Lady. I regret my uncharitable behavior and pray the Lord never considers me with such flippancy.

Image by nitli from Pixabay 

To Map a Journey in to Deep Wilderness

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

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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.

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

Botany, Fertility God, and the Cross

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He 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; we were both Botany and Plant Pathology majors. I lacked in formal education, having never attended high school, 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 four 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 forty 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.

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First image by Pexels from Pixabay . All others by Margaret Rose Realy, Obl. OSB. All rights reserved.

Pursuing the Hidden through Advent

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On gloomy winter days I often drive country lanes. This time of year several farms have Christmas decorations up and some even decorate the out-buildings.

One such barnyard was filled with a gaggle of kids squealing and running towards an old oak tree. By the looks of it, hide-and-seek had not gone out of fashion with this family. We’ve all played the game as children and know that it’s not only about seeking concealed friends, but about knowing where the designated “It” child was in relation to the home base.

There has been an unrelenting question, more like a small battle, simmering about my prayers. It has to do with pursuing the hidden: how do I serve Our Lord—find him really—in daily life? To hunger for Christ is to seek him, to long for him.

There is a directionality to love. It matters that I not draw Our Lord into relationship with me, but that I give myself in relationship to him. And to this end work must be done.

My visits to the care home for women had become predictable. The ladies watched for me on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. Several of them noted my absence over a Thanksgiving week. And yet, being with the women had not become routine for me. As I don’t have the experience of being a mother or a caretaker, tolerance for basic humanity often escaped me. I am easily overwhelmed by my senses. I have yet to become accustomed to—not cringe from—grubby hands clasping mine or odorous sick rooms. I’ve not yet mastered Jesus in the smells.

To hunger for Christ is to seek him. He is felt in the oratory and in prayer, but that is not where we find him. The living breathing Jesus is found, hidden, beneath the rubble of humanity. Christ is loved and found in the land of the living.

To desire Our Lord is to seek his love here in this realm before our eternity. To have found enough of his love is to make our purgatory short.

I wonder where I am that I keep asking “Where are you Lord?”

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay