Climbing the Summit

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I remembered being light headed and giddy. The man who had brought me to that secluded place held me tight as we leaned against the rocks of an adjoining mountainside. The air tickled my lungs in a way that a city girl—I was from Detroit—rarely experienced. There was a purity and thinness between where we stood on the alpine tundra, and God.

I had taken the summer off before beginning a graduate program at Michigan State University. He was a friend of a friend, a geologist, and worked as an oil drilling engineer—of sorts. He lived in Colorado and part of his job was hiking and surveying the land his company thought productive for drilling. He and his sister had planned several backwoods hiking adventures for the summer and he’d offered to fly me out to join them.

I had done a lot of hiking, cross-country skiing, and canoe portages around the Great Lakes. Not until that summer, over forty years ago, had I seen mountains. We backpacked several trails throughout the Rockies, Tetons, Pikes Peak, and the Big Horn. What I experienced that summer was exhilarating and grueling. And I had thought myself fit! One such hike took us from a sweltering near ninety degrees at the ranger’s station, to snow gear a day and a half up a mountain.

Those memories came forward during morning prayers while reflecting on church closings and the absence of communion, and recalling this, an earlier post, that centered on a reflection in Magnificat (Aug 2014, p.52) by Sherry A. Weddell. Her description of Pike’s Peak Barr Trail sent my thoughts to wandering along rocky paths, sitting on cliffs bordering raging rivers, through forests, and gasping at the sight of being surrounded by alpine tundra wildflowers.

Sherry wrote of the challenges to reach Pike’s Peak summit on foot.

A small child could be carried up Pikes Peak, but adults cannot simply wander up to the summit casually, much less passively. They have to spend some seriously strenuous hours covering nearly thirteen miles…nearly five thousand feet through foothills, the montane (forest), and then the sub-alpine zone before climbing another three thousand feet beyond the tree line.

The air at the summit is thin, having less oxygen. The farther one goes hiking the trail, the more challenging the journey becomes. I remembered this from personal experience. I had not been trained, physically conditioned, in high-altitude environments, so for my safety hiking up only went so far.  Even at that I’d felt the mild side of mountain sickness—lightheadedness. To reach a summit is not, as Sherry said, a casual thing. Learning and conditioning come first in order to persevere in thin air.

It is to that intentionality that she speaks regarding Communion:

I don’t think it is an accident that the Church uses the metaphor of a summit to convey the significance of the Eucharist. The Eucharist is described as the summit, the apex, and the pinnacle of the Christian life….Just as we have actively to climb a mountain summit, we have to make an intentional journey, properly prepared, fully to receive the inexhaustible grace to be found in the Eucharistic Christ.

Any mountain climber or backwoods hiker will tell you, preparation is everything.

With that, let us pray that through the intercession of St. Bernard of Menthon — who helped pilgrims journeying through the Swiss Alp — for the protection of all who travel in the mountains of this earth, and the mountains in our souls, that they be granted strength and fortitude as they seek Our Lord. Amen

Image by Beverly Lussier from Pixabay , Pikes Peak, Garden of the Gods Park.

For the Love of a God I hated, I remain Catholic

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These days being asked why remain Catholic is more a challenge than a question. Friends and peers have responded with personal stories of commitment rooted in the theology and beauty of our Church. Their speed of thought and brilliance in writing is astounding!

I’m a bit slower, and struggled in prayer to find words to fit the depth of my love for all our Church offers. My story for why I remain Catholic began with rage.

At ten I stormed through a darkened church, past the communion rail and, standing in the sanctuary, yelled at the crucifix “I hate you!” Four years later lost and hopeless, I became an emancipated child in the 1960s.

My only remaining connection with the Church (and my family) was my maternal grandmother. Because of my love for her, I did whatever she asked. As a teenager, that included accompanying her to Mass. I would often stop at the narthex’s massive doors and glare at the crucifix as Grandmother dipped worn calloused fingers into the holy water font.

“I’m not here for you,” was the snark I offered the Trinity. “I’m here for her.”

Standing up straight, I would proudly walk the length of the nave beside my grandmother to a pew near the front—she was under five feet tall—and sing with her from a shared cardboard hymnal. I still have that sheet, yellowed and permanently imbued with incense.

My wedding was to be a Catholic affair; the matriarchs would have nothing less. I wanted a garden wedding with a crown of flowers and veil of ribbons, a small reception with tea and cake. At age eighteen, with fourteen attendants, a priest-cousin flown in from Texas, hundreds of strangers filling the church, and several thousand dollars later, the wedding was had. It was a beautiful ceremony but not what I wanted—in a Catholic church.

The marriage ended three years later when my husband ran off with my brother’s wife.

Overly social and profoundly isolated, I found nothing to fill the massive gaping wounds to my heart. There was no family, no spouse, no children. I continued my solitary rage at God—a gnat flinging spit—and planned for a doctorate, financial independence, to be a feminist in full control. Then one day it all stopped. My rage, and my desires and drive to continue stopped, never, I intended, to begin again. I fully disconnected from the life I had constructed.

Somewhere from the recesses of a mind gone insane were the words of a catechism Nun—and I believed what she taught—that my eternity would be much worse than what was now my miserable life. And I hated God for leaving me without an option, hated His plan of free will, knew that, as a good parent will want to do, He’d tough-loved me until I turned around.

I did the only thing I knew to do and went to a Catholic church. I couldn’t bring myself to touch the holy water and don’t recall genuflecting or from where the rosary in my hand had come. I was on my knees in a pew, silent, angry, hurt, adrift and hopeless. Tears ran down the back of the pew in front of me. For an hour or more, without words, I emptied myself.

In that time, alone in the dark with only the glow from the dimly lit crucifix, I asked and owned the phrase from John’s Gospel. “Lord, to whom shall [I] go?”  And in asking realized how personal hate can be; I could not hate something that didn’t exist.

The conflict since childhood had always been between the brutality of men and the joy of nature, both God’s creation. Nature was the only place where I consistently found peace, where my longing to be loved—by whom I hated—escaped my control. When I experienced the beauty of mountains, wilderness, gardens, and oceans my soul would soar.  Now, thirty-some years later, my soul soars in that same way—in a way that I now find in Adoration, at Mass, and occasionally in the oratory when conversing with Jesus.

The intimacy with which I had hated God, has in time as intensely become love. And it has taken time—as water unto rock to wear away the edges.

My coming home to the Catholic Church has been incremental. With guidance, I began to grasp the beauty of our signs and symbols, the freeing nature of our catechism, the liberation of surrendering to God. And all in all, I found in our Church the lessons of fortitude in forgiveness and with that an intimacy with God beyond human expression.

Why do I remain a Catholic? When you find true love, when you find a truth and a joy ever present and easily held, there is a greater insanity in turning away.

Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay .

(2015)

In Hope of Being Pruned

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I love to prune. It’s like art to me, a hope filled art. Each cut is intended to produce either a directional growth, to form and shape hardwoods for beauty, or to enhance the bearing of fruit.

Sometimes with ornamental trees a whole section of limb that rubs against another will need to be removed, allowing the stronger limb to develop more fully. At other times the interior has become so cluttered with unnecessary branches that they block the light from reaching deep inside. More often if pruning has been done regularly, it is a simple nip here or there to keep things growing as they should.

When doing light pruning I look at the bud that would be just behind the cut and estimate its future growth pattern. Will it grow backwards and into the interior? Does it face out and up toward the sun? I imagine and calculate the plant’s development before daring to trim it back.

I like to get an overall view of the condition and shape of a tree as I work. On more than one occasion the Groundskeeper at the retreat center where I had volunteered,  had lovingly chided me as I repeatedly circled my object of renovation. Maybe I do take too seriously the ramifications of my pruning efforts. But like other things in my life, I do not want to throw things off balance through carelessness or haste.

Back then, as now, I contemplate being pruned as I pruned or, of being cut to the ground and starting anew. As I have done, so God too rings-me-round, looking to balance growth.

My interior life had become overcrowded with things of this world hampering the light of God from shining in where needed. Other things needed to be completely removed so there would be more productive fruitfulness.

Drawing closer to God as I worked, I learn that in His pruning he too wants beneficial maturing, purposefully directed.

Image by David Mark from Pixabay 

An Earth Embroidered with Prayers

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I stooped at the waist to pull a few weeds. A twinge in my back caused me to stagger a bit so I lowered to kneeling and moved closer the flowers—a familiar intimacy.

The rose next to me was Tuscany, a maroon heirloom rose, its richly perfumed center was fluffy with gold pollen. The base of the dark velvety petals were tipped with white where the keel connected to the calyx. It gave the illusion of light radiating from its center. ‘Tuscany Superb’ is a polite shrub rose that remains relatively compact, at about four feet high and wide, and its stems are covered in hairy prickles rather than the usual woody thorns.

I worked my way a little farther down the garden bed, scooching along to where the Oriental lilies ‘Pink Pearl’ grew. The oversize anther pads floated on fine pale green filaments above the white edged petals. A humming bird zoomed in, took a couple quick sips from the lily’s trumpet and darted off.

The roses and the lilies, the fragrances known in July, rustled enough of me into the moment that the anxieties of the past few weeks eased.

I had been nearly consumed by worries, what were perceived as potential threats. A ghost from decades ago had returned to haunt, and fear bit hard like a hungry dog on grizzled bone.

I’d become terribly upset and thrown off balance, losing the comfortable peace so well known in my days. I attempted to regain perspective through regimented worship: intercessory praying, rosary, Liturgy of the Hours, Mass, and Adoration. Tentatively I reached out for prayer and shared the situation with a group of peers. They acknowledged my fears and began their own intercessions on my behalf.

In all this, it wasn’t until I lowered myself to the ground did the tension seep away.

To kneel on soil—instead of on padded wood—is to join oneself intimately with the Creator, to lean into, and on to, God. To arch the back and offer ones hands to toil with joy or tears, distracted, alone, loved or not is to embroider the earth with prayer.

We are placed upon this sod of love spared from the Garden of Eden. For as low as our lives are from the heavens, we are, always, the humus of the earth—from it and to it, nourished and nourishing, full circle in the created affections of God. We scratch upon it. And not all scratching is fruitful and not all seeding sprouts.

It is the effort to draw closer to God that brings us to our knees. And every prayer waters the ground that rears us to our sainthood.

Image by Mammiya from Pixabay 

(2017)

 

Saint Therese’s Prayer for Priests

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O Jesus, Eternal Priest, keep your priests within the shelter of your Most Sacred Heart, where none can touch them.  Keep unstained their anointed hands, which daily touch your Sacred Body.  Keep unsullied their lips daily tinged with your Precious Blood.  Keep pure and unworldly their hearts, sealed with the sublime mark of the priesthood.  Let your Holy Love surround and protect them from the world’s contagion.  Bless their labors with abundant fruit, and may the souls to whom they minister be their joy and consolation here, and their everlasting crown in the hereafter.  Amen.

~St. Therese of the Child Jesus

Image by Dorothée QUENNESSON from Pixabay