All the Holy is Hidden

Asian MadonnaThe Blessed Mother statue is only twelve inches tall. Finding a place to store it for Lent shouldn’t have been that hard. At a Catholic Writers Guild Conference I’d bought this smaller version of the original from the Korean woman who was the sculptor.

The soft light from the candles in my prayer space enhanced the artist’s design. The hands of Mother Mary are against her chest, tipped back in a way that gives the impression of an opening lotus flower. Her head is tilted, her Asian eyes and delicate smile are directed at baby Jesus standing in the blossom of her hands.

Setting the statue on a side table, I changed over the altar. The green linens of Ordinary Time that covered my altar for a brief four weeks after Christmas are again folded away. The bottles of holy water from Lourdes, Fatima, and my grandmother’s cabinet are nestled in a draw below the altar along with silk flowers, holy cards, crocheted cross bookmarks, and a small framed picture of Blessed Mother Teresa.

Honoring the traditions of Lent, I’ve placed deep purple cloths on the altar and over the sacred images on the walls. I hesitated before covering the lithograph of St. Mary Magdalene. This saint has journeyed with me since childhood and we greet each other every morning as I enter the room to pray. I carefully drape a cloth over the print of Divine Mercy and as I do so offer prayers for the precious souls in Purgatory. My room feels empty. The absence of Other sharing my prayers is pronounced.

Everything is readied except for the twelve inch Madonna. I hold her tight to my chest as I bend down to look in lower cabinets for storage space. I continue to hold her as I walk from one room to another and then back trying to find a safe place for her to rest. Standing in the prayer room with its purple linens, Mary pressed near my heart, I realized I was tearing up.

A memory comes of when I was a child. I had a favored stuffed toy, a sleeping white kitty with pink nose and slanted embroidered eyes. From bed to sand box to washer and back to my hands it would travel. A day came when I was to visit grandmother and my Kitty was placed in a grocery bag along with my clothes. I wanted to carry my Kitty in my arms, I didn’t want to let go. As long as I held her, near and tight, I was safe.

I felt a little silly at 60 welling up with tears as I stood there holding the statue. I had a new appreciation for the self-conscious tears of a friend who was preparing to move to a smaller house. She was taking down her family pictures from the stairway wall and was feeling the absence of loving memories even before they were boxed.

My desiring to hold close a sense of safety was once again the motion of my arms. I didn’t want to let go of the Madonna, I didn’t want to be without that statue in my sight for the forty days of Lent. I wanted to embrace, as nearly as I could this side of heaven, the nearness of my Holy Mother.

(Image by Margaret Rose Realy, Obl. OSB. All rights reserved. Column first appeared 2/13.)

Parsnip and Apple Soup, a Sweeter Fare for Meatless Fridays

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI love apples! Seriously. Love them almost more than chocolate. Biting into a warm, crisp, just picked apple in autumn is only one step away from doing the same in summer with tomatoes.

Living in Michigan, where apple production ranks number three in the States, the harvest of this fruit peaks in late September through early October. There are so many apples to choose from that I would have a great time every week at the farm markets buying mixed bags. I’ve long since given up storing a bushel of apples through the winter, buying instead a few specialty varieties each week.

Apples are wonderful to teach the youngest of children about our faith. When you cut an apple in half along the equatorial plane, the cross section in the core looks like a star; the five-pointed Epiphany Star. The five seeds inside the five-pointed star stand for the five wounds of Christ.

Children love stars, and while stars are not traditionally associated with the Lenten season, there is a weekly program for children, six and up, called The Seven Stars of Lent. This worship resource helps to prepare children’s’ hearts to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ.

A second apple story used to teach about the Trinity is cut an apple in half from top to bottom and note the three parts: skin, meat and seeds. The outer skin represents the Father who encompasses all, Jesus is the meat of the fruit that feeds us, and the seeds are the Holy Spirit that when planted, will bring new life. An apple wouldn’t be an apple if any one of these elements was missing; so, too, with the Trinity.

Now, since you’re cutting up all those apples for educational purposes, how about a recipe! This is a savory and sweet soup more for the adult pallet; try cutting the spices by half for kids.

Parsnip and Apple Soup

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup chopped sweet onion (Vidalia is best)

2 1/2 cups (about a pound) peeled and chopped Pink Lady apples (or any slightly tart apple is fine—Granny Smiths are too sour!)

1 tablespoon curry powder

1 1/2 teaspoons grated peeled fresh ginger or 1/2 teaspoon dry

3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

3 1/2 cups (about 1 1/2 pounds) chopped peeled parsnip

1 clove garlic finely chopped

4 cups chicken broth

1 cup apple cider (don’t use apple juice)

1/4 teaspoon salt (optional)

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Sour cream dollops when serving

In a stock pot, sauté onions in oil until tender. Add apples, curry, ginger, and cardamom.  Simmer for about a minute to dissolve spices, stirring constantly. Add broth, parsnips, garlic, and cider. Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes or until parsnips are tender. CAREFULLY blend soup until smooth using a blender (or use an immersion blender). Serve with sour cream.

A side note here, I like to use oven roasted parsnips. They tend to be sweeter and lend a fuller flavor to the soup. Of course, your stove-top cooking time will be reduced.

This column, in totality, originally ran the autumn of 2013. I thought the soup sounded perfect for Lent!

(Image courtesy morguefile.com)

Laetare Rocks

Image Margaret Rose Realy, Obl. OSB. All rights reserved.

We’ve passed Laetare Sunday, the fourth week of Lent, and still I’ve not been able to adhere to its disciplines: fasting, almsgiving, and prayer. My usual prayer and abstinence routines are securely in place. It is the extras, so important to this spiritual season of faith, that are lacking.

The other morning after Lauds and a rosary, rising from my chair, I stood at the home altar. Drawing the sanctuary light that hung from the wall towards me, I blew out the candle. The holy images that would draw me into prayer hung above and were hidden behind purple cloths. Their hidden faces echoed the distance I felt from the observance Lent.

I touched the arrangement of objects placed on the altar. On a wood box covered by linens was an eight inch rock with angular surfaces of pink and black, on which set three square-cut iron spikes.

The book Way of the Cross, by Pope Benedict, was propped open to the image of the eighth station—Jesus meets the women. Here the suffering Christ was concerned with the weakness of those women. I shuddered remembering his words, “…weep for yourselves and your children…” It is chilling to know that his suffering brought to us in ours would be our only comfort. I wondered if those women, like me, focus on the gentleness of God and minimized the mystery of evil and pain in our world.

On the altar is a path of fourteen stones, representative of each step of the Passion. I picked one up, smooth and cold in my palm, and rubbed my thumb over its surface. These rocks suggest the austere realities of the life of Christ, and moments of our own: The hardness some paths take, the coldness of the journey, that every path has a beginning and an end.

Flat and dark, each stone has its own weight. As do each of our challenges, as do the Stations-of-the-Cross. All are hard and, depending on our frame of mind, can halt our progression under the burden.

I turn and look out the window. Laetare Sunday has passed. It marks a time to rejoice in the middle of Lent, a time to see the joy to come as the Pascal Mystery lives out.

The stone in my hand has warmed. It, along with the thirteen others, holds many silent prayers. The little path of stones is like a Lenten rosary. Each stone passes through the hand, and a memory through the heart. The images may be brutal and sad, but each is softened with gratitude. Had Christ not suffered, I would have no way to God. Had my life not been demanding, my soul would not have sought Our Lord.

It was the hardness of life that had brought me to joy. I look to the rock in my hand and rejoice.

 

I’m Having Trouble with Penance

Image courtesy Ann Davich.

I am always eager for Lent to begin, literally so for the lengthening of days, and also for the increase of Light in my soul.  It was during those holy weeks before Easter that significant life changes occurred. The most recent event was becoming a Benedictine oblate.

In years past my offerings to God were challenging but not too hard to fulfill. I loved to pray, so doing more increased peace. Sharing is part of my nature, and charitable donations only need be varied from year to year. And I willingly fasted from wants…although the one year fasting from coffee nearly did me in! My attempts to observe Lent were not always perfect, but I was all-in in the effort.

This year Lent feels soft. I haven’t been able to feel the penitential nature of the season. I’m failing horribly at fasting. Each morning I promise to do better, and hours later haven’t. The added prayerful readings are more lackadaisical than focused; words float and drift in thoughts unrelated to the topic. And I have yet to begin a service to the poor.

I was preoccupied the first two weeks of Lent preparing spiritually for my final promise as a Benedictine oblate. My excitement overrode the “suffering” of the season. When I listened to Audrey Assad’s CD Fortunate Fall, O Happy Fault (Felix Culpa) filled my heart with such joy that diverting the happiness proved impossible.

I feel as if I have entered Easter without the Via Dolorosa.

This year I am being carried aloft in celebrating the Messiah and shielded from the ugliness of the road to Golgotha. Each time I try to turn down that dusty path, a Bible verse comes to mind. When Jesus said, “Can you make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? The days will come, when the bridegroom is [gone]…” (Luke 5:34-35). This year it is like that, a softening of rules while love is at hand.

The Vacare Deo of Lent, the emptying oneself for God, still abides. This is the Lent that the vacant space is filled with the gift of God’ love and not darkened by the suffering of Jesus. This is the year that the denying of self is replaced with charitableness—to be given out, full measure, shaken down.

It is a Lent not of giving-up but of taking-up. A more loving observance than I have ever known. And I keep thinking there should be some of that good-old-Catholic-guilt in all this. I pray my soul is not sleeping as I go along my happy, merry way.

My soul, my soul, arise! Why are you sleeping? The end is drawing near, and you will be confounded. Awake, then and be watchful, that Christ our God may spare you, Who is everywhere present and fills all things.

(Kontakion from the Great Penitential Canon of St. Andrew of Crete)

 

 

Asian Madonna

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

The Blessed Mother statue is only twelve inches tall. Finding a place to store it for Lent shouldn’t have been that hard. At a Catholic Writers Guild Conference I’d bought this smaller version of the original from the Korean woman who was the sculptor.

The soft light from the candles in my prayer space enhanced the artist’s design. The hands of Mother Mary are against her chest, tipped back in a way that gives the impression of an opening lotus flower. Her head is tilted, her Asian eyes and delicate smile are directed at baby Jesus standing in the blossom of her hands.

Setting the statue on a side table, I changed over the altar. The green linens of Ordinary Time that covered my altar for a brief four weeks after Christmas are again folded away. The bottles of holy water from Lourdes, Fatima, and my grandmother’s cabinet are nestled in a draw below the altar along with silk flowers, holy cards, crocheted cross bookmarks, and a small framed picture of Blessed Mother Teresa.

Honoring the traditions of Lent, I’ve placed deep purple cloths on the altar and over the sacred images on the walls. I hesitated before covering the lithograph of St. Mary Magdalene. This saint has journeyed with me since childhood and we greet each other every morning as I enter the room to pray. I carefully drape a cloth over the print of Divine Mercy and as I do so offer prayers for the precious souls in Purgatory. My room feels empty. The absence of Other sharing my prayers is pronounced.

Everything is readied except for the twelve inch Madonna. I hold her tight to my chest as I bend down to look in lower cabinets for storage space. I continue to hold her as I walk from one room to another and then back trying to find a safe place for her to rest. Standing in the prayer room with its purple linens, Mary pressed near my heart, I realized I was tearing up.

A memory comes of when I was a child. I had a favored stuffed toy, a sleeping white kitty with pink nose and slanted embroidered eyes. From bed to sand box to washer and back to my hands it would travel. A day came when I was to visit grandmother and my Kitty was placed in a grocery bag along with my clothes. I wanted to carry my Kitty in my arms, I didn’t want to let go. As long as I held her…near and tight…I was safe.

I felt a little silly at 60 welling up with tears as I stood there holding the statue. I had a new appreciation for the self-conscious tears of a friend who was preparing to move to a smaller house. She was taking down her family pictures from the stairway wall and was feeling the absence of loving memories even before they were boxed.

My desiring to hold close a sense of safety was once again the motion of my arms. I didn’t want to let go of the Madonna, I didn’t want to be without that statue in my sight for the forty days of Lent. I wanted to embrace, as nearly as I could this side of heaven, the nearness of my Holy Mother.