Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Happy Ignatius Day!

Most of this post is from last year:
Today is the feast day of St. Ignatius of Loyola  in the Roman Catholic Church.  And anyone who reads this blog knows that Ignatian spirituality has had a huge impact on me, so it's a pleasure to honor his day, which just happens to come two days after my birthday.

I often wish that we followed a similar practice of celebration in the Protestant Church.  Having attended many Catholic masses in my time, I've heard lots of stories about saints, stories which connect the people of today's church with those of their tradition and history.  

In the Methodist church to which I belonged for a long time, we heard at least a couple of sermons each year about John Wesley.  So I do know about his heart being strangely warmed, and I know a bit about his mother, Susannah Wesley, and his brother Charles Wesley, famous in his own right as a hymn writer. When I went to the boarding school founded by evangelist D.L. Moody, we were all well versed in his life and thought.

But on the whole, we Protestants don't spend a lot of time dwelling upon our forefathers and foremothers in the faith.
In seminary a few years ago, I spent a term doing an independent study on Ignatius of Loyola and John Calvin.  They lived during the same half-century and were even students in Paris at the same time.  When I asked on one of my professors for some assistance in researching Calvin, I mentioned that he seems to have written little about his personal life.  "Of course not!" said professor replied indignantly.  "One who preaches the Word of God should not be focused upon himself!" (What does that say about we who blog, I wonder?)

In reality, Ignatius might have agreed with that professor. I know that Ignatius was reluctant to provide information to the chronicler of his Autobiography ~ but I, for one, am grateful that he was persuaded to do so.  While others have commented upon his apparent stern taskmaster rigidity, I always think of him as an affectionate older brother.  Knowing the story of his life makes his work infinitely more accessible and inspiring in light of the twists and turns of our own.

Today's header comes courtesy of Fran of There Will Be Bread.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Maternal Suicide - Part III

Parts I and II are here and here.  If you want to read a bit from someone with experience with this sad topic, take a look at Cindy's comment after Part II.


First-year law students generally spend a significant portion of time in their year-long course in criminal law on the subject of mens rea, the intent required to establish the commission of a crime.  The baffling matter of intent lies at the root of the horror with which we respond to an act of suicide.  Most of us grew up with believing that suicide is an intentional act, a belief reflected in the common phrase "commit suicide."  And that it is not only an intentional act, but a criminal act and a violation of the primary tenets of all spiritual traditions.

Thankfully, today we possess at least the rudiments of an understanding of and compassion for the consequences of mental illness.  We haven't progressed far in either, but most of us understand that depression and related illnesses are in fact, precisely that: illnesses.  Slowly, ever so slowly, we are coming to recognize, difficult as it is for us to grasp, that most people who die of suicide do not "commit" it anymore than others commit cancer or commit heart disease.

"Why did she do it?" we ask.  "How could she leave her husband, her children, her friends?"

The answer, I think, must be that she did not. Where suicide is concerned, "intent" does not mean what it usually means.

Of course, to know that is to deepen the anguish that follows.  It is no comfort to  know that someone was so completely altered by pain in the hours before her death that she was no longer capable of being herself.


I wonder, sometimes, whether there is anything more difficult in human experience than to survive a loved one's suicide.  Even in the concentration camps of World War II, human dignity and God's love triumphed in the form of the will to survive.

Last night, I was reading a short biographical sketch of Pope Gregory the Great (540-604).  During the latter years of his life, the plague was rampant in Rome, as it was in England during the life of Julian of Norwich (1342-c.1416).  Such pervasive, dreadful, almost unfathomable suffering.  And yet people sought to live.

To live in the shadow of a suicide is to live with the knowledge that sometimes that desire to live is extinguished, even in the face of our own fierce and protective love.

If one is Christian, one can turn to Romans 8:38-39.  Nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God.  Perhaps it is a wildly wonderful thing, in the midst of a life lived in what seems to be a smoldering ruin, that we are called to live that conviction with a depth that most people are not required to contemplate.


For a day or two after I began to write these posts, two titles were ironically juxtaposed in my sidebar.  My own, "Maternal Suicide" and, just beneath it, one from Ignatian Spirituality, "Finding Beauty Amid Suffering."  The latter is a short reflection on words of Etty Hillesum, one of those few writers whom one can trust on the topic of transformative suffering.

It seems to me that for those who care for children whose mothers have died of suicide, the profound gift to be found in that relationship and work is the call to find, to create, to communicate, to instill, a sense of beauty in the face of incomprehensible suffering.

We must remember that before the loss of her ability to comprehend and to intend with rationality, before her unwitting descent into a sadness and desolation so great that it swallowed up her instinct to survive, a woman was a mother whose love for her children would have consistently outshone any concern for herself.

And we must know that, since we cannot be separated from God's love, then we cannot be separated from the loves within that love.

It doesn't feel that way ~ not at all.  Not to those left behind.  Most especially not to the children. 

It is a monumental task, one requiring great reserves of strength and hope, to be the ones who stand in for a mother so broken that she could no longer care for her own children, and to extend her love to them when she is no longer here to do it herself.

But it is a gift, the call to be so completely poured out in love for children marked by such tragedy.

It is a gift, the call to be present to those who understand nothing and who behave badly, those who shut down and turn away, those for whom the unanswerable "Why?" will reverberate throughout long lives still ahead.

It is a call to which almost no one responds.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Far Voices Calling (Sermon)

My congregation is celebrating an anniversary week-end: the Methodists have been here for 180 years, the Presbyterians for 175, and and we've been together as a merged church for 80 years.  We are an aging congregation, and I am working to maintain our orientation outward at a time when the temptation is to close ranks and take care of ourselves.


Happy Anniversary, Everyone!  

As we began to prepare for this week-end, NY revealed herself to be our researcher extraordinaire. She delved into the cupboards and drawers in which our historical documents are contained -- themselves a testament to MF, our faithful chronicler -- and surfaced periodically with new finds and new information.  Among her findings were news articles describing our 25th anniversary celebration in 1957, at which the Rev. Dr. Alfred Swan, who had preached at our dedication service in 1932, returned to preach a sermon entitled “Far Voices Calling.”   

Hmmmm, I thought; we could do that again.  “Far Voices Calling”: That’s a great, evocative title for an anniversary sermon.  We didn’t find the sermon itself, or even the bulletin, which might have identified the scriptural text from which Dr. Swan preached, but maybe that’s good.  No temptation to repeat the past when we don’t know what it was!  But a good starting point for our present.

I did find out a bit about Dr. Swan.  His parents lived here; his father was the pastor of the Presbyterian Church from 1916 – 1921. Dr. Swan himself was to become the pastor of the First Congregational Church in Madison, Wisconsin. He was invited to return home to preach the dedication sermon, and then he was invited back twenty-five years later to preach for the anniversary.  I’m thinking that in another 20 years, I can come back and preach from this title again for our 100th!  

Our text this morning is an example of how profoundly the lectionary passages, set years ago by a committee, sometimes reach out to us in our present circumstances.  It’s from the Epistle to the Ephesians, a letter ascribed to the apostle Paul and ostensibly directed toward the community of Ephesus in ancient Greece.  Interestingly, today’s passage is written in the form of a prayer, the prayer of an evangelist and pastor for a church for which he cares deeply.  Let’s listen to the words of Ephesians 3, verses 14 – 21:

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name.  I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Now there’s a far voice calling!  A voice from 2,000 years ago, a voice passionately concerned about the church, a voice that speaks to other far voices.  Who might those others be, and what does Paul say to them?  To us?

I think that some of today’s “far voices calling” might be those of eighty years ago, those voices of the women and men who merged two churches to form the one that we know today.  And those “far voices calling” might be those of the future, those of eighty years hence, to whom we leave our legacy of faith and commitment.  And, perhaps most importantly of all, those “far voices calling” might be some of those that are not so far away, geographically or chronologically, but are perhaps far away in experience – those with whom we are called to share God’s abundance and to whom we are called to proclaim God’s love.

“May God grant that you be strengthened,” Paul prays, “strengthened through God’s Spirit.”  Let’s ponder for a moment those Presbyterians and Methodists of eighty years ago.  Talk about being strengthened through the power of the Spirit!  It was the Depression.  There was no money.  BM told me that his family moved every year or so – every time his parents could find a house where the rent was a dollar less.  And while some of us have talked about how the Depression was a little easier on folks in the country who could produce their own food than on those in the city who had neither the land nor the know-how of what to do with it, not all families out here owned land and farmed.  And money was scarce even when food was available.

And yet, those people, our ancestors in faith, embarked upon a phenomenal project.  A project that required a lot of labor and cost a lot of money.  Men and boys raising and moving the Presbyterian church from across 302 to connect it to the Methodist sanctuary here.  Women cooking up an endless stream of chicken dinners and oyster suppers to raise funds. Families sacrificing to pledge to the building fund.  We should  honor the sense of community that built this church, but we should also remember that the work was God’s, and that the motivation behind it came from the Holy Spirit.  It was through the Spirit that the people were inspired and strengthened to build community and unity, and to address their challenges by working together.  They set an example to which we all might pay attention today.

Those people of the Depression era, those far voices call out to others.  They ring out with today’s words from Paul. Paul prays that Christ may dwell in our hearts as we are being rooted and grounded in love.  Intriguing words for pilgrims, for people on a journey, as we have called ourselves all year.  Images of dwelling, of being rooted and grounded – like  trees which grow in one place for hundreds of years.  What can these words mean to us?

It’s tempting to hear these words and to look backward, to rest in a kind of sentimental remembrance of those voices calling from eighty years ago.  “That Christ may dwell in us” – we can stay right here, in this exquisite and beautifully cared for building.  “That we be rooted and grounded in love” – like trees, we don’t have to move.  We can grow upward and outward right where we are, right as we were planted by those brave and determined church members of eighty years ago. That would be nice, wouldn’t it?

But remember, “far voices” are not just those of the past.  They are also the voices of the distant future, and the voices of the present.  And to what do they call us, we pilgrims on the Christian journey?

“Dwelling” is a beautiful image for Christ’s presence in our lives.  In the Gospel of John, Jesus tells his disciples that he and his Father will dwell, will make their home, with anyone who loves him.  They will come and settle in, curl up before the fireplace, and rest in peace in those who love Jesus.  But what else does Jesus say?  That “the Son of man has to no place in which to rest his head.”  That we are to “go forth and make disciples of all nations.”  If Christ dwells in us, then we are called to dwell in the world.  

And what about being “rooted and grounded?”  Does Paul, that great traveler in the Mediterranean world, mean that in love we are rooted and grounded in one geographical location?  Does he mean that we dig in our heels right here and wait for the world to show up at our door?

I don’t think so.  

I don’t know, and neither do any of us, who those far voices of eighty years hence might be.  But I know that we are called to branch and leaf out in ways that prepare the way for Jesus to dwell in those people of the future.  And we do that not by standing still like trees, but by following the example of the indwelling Christ who roots us in love, and by taking him out into the world beyond these four walls.

If Christ is dwelling in us, if he has made himself at home, set up a kitchen and plumped up the pillows of his bed in our lives, then we are called to carry him as a flame of love into the world.  If we have been given the great grace of roots in the Christian faith and a foundation in Christ in this church, in this wonderfully sacred building, then we are called to fling its doors wide and travel outward.

Where do we go?  Who are the far voices of today?

Some of them really are far away, geographically speaking.  They are the voices of the orphans in Rwanda, about whom D came to speak this spring, and whom we generously support as they become trained in the skills needed for the adult world.  They are the voices of schoolchildren in Liberia, to whose educations we are contributing through the purchase of a truck and the building of classrooms so that their hopes can be realized.

And some of them are close, geographically, but far in experience.

Think about the mission speakers who joined us last May, and what they told us about far voices.  Let’s start with the Food Bank.  Most of us are doing just fine where food is concerned.  In fact, if the trunk of my car when I leave the Bs’ house is any indication, we are more than fine.  Zucchini, anyone?  But there are hungry people in this county.  People whose voices have not been nourished by newly ripened apples and just-harvested potatoes.  If we are rooted and grounded in love, then we are also called to share what comes out of the ground, literally as well as spiritually.

What about ACCESS?  We all live in comfortable homes, homes that are warm in the winter – and perhaps too warm this summer!  Even those of us who live in nursing care or assisted living sleep in comfortable beds, have the use of private bathrooms, and are able to store our belongings where they are immediately accessible to us.  But we have neighbors who share in none of those benefits.  People who live close by in miles, but far away in experience.  The Beatitudes tell us that they may be more blessed than we are.  “Blessed are the poor,” Jesus tells us in the Gospel of Luke.  “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” he says in Matthew.  Well, we may not be poor in the literal, U.S. Census definition of the word.  But if Jesus dwells in us, we are called to be poor in spirit, which means we are to understand that his indwelling in our lives means that we are called to do some out-dwelling ourselves.  

And finally, what about Hospice?  A lot of us don’t like to talk about hospice; it means death and dying; it means decisions and events we don’t care to contemplate.  And yet, Jesus tells us, also in the Beatitudes, “Blessed are those who mourn.”  Hospice, as we learned during our May mission month, is a place of respite and care for both the dying and for those who mourn their loss.  Jesus, who dwells in us, invites us to journey with those at the end of life and those dear to them.  More far voices calling us.  Voices not so far geographically – hospice is about a ten minute drive from here.  But for many of us, voices far from where we prefer to be.   Voices to whom we are asked to carry the love in which we are so firmly rooted and grounded.

Paul’s words, Paul’s prayer for the church of Ephesus, and his prayer for us today, concludes with a phrase he uses frequently: that we may know the love of Christ so that we may be filled with the fullness of God. Filled with the fullness of God.  Fullness that comes from the love of Christ.

When Christ comes to dwell with us, he does not come to cramp our style, to take up the spare bedroom, to clean out the refrigerator.  When he invites us into the church, into his mission in the world, he is not seeking to sap our energy or to deplete our resources.  Not at all! His love calls us to be filled, to be filled with the fullness of God.  To be rooted and grounded in a love that gives us the firmest of foundations from which to move outward and to share God’s abundance.

That fullness, that love of the indwelling Christ, is responsible for the building in which we worship this morning. Those voices calling to us from the past say to us:  Look at the work of the Lord!  And let’s do – let’s look around for a minute.  Look at the beauty of the windows, the sheen of the woodwork, the glow of the cross.  Look at the archway that marks the physical merger of two congregations, two groups of people who chose unity over division.  Look at the building that has housed eighty years of worship, of Sunday school, of fellowship, of joys and of sorrows, all shared as a people of God. Look at what God has given us, through the power of God’s Spirit and the hard work of our church ancestors.

And then listen to the far voices calling from the future and from the present: from Africa and from our own county.  The voices of the poor and the hungry, the homeless and the dying.   The voices that might see this beautiful building as a beacon of hope, as the place from which we are called forth in order to share God’s great love, in both words and action.  

This building was not intended by those long ago voices as a monument to something long past.  It is not intended by God to be a museum for those in the present, or as a historical site for those calling from the future.  This building is a springboard from which we are called to carry the indwelling Christ into the future and into the world. This is a building whose voices, past present, and future, voices wrapped in the loving power of the Holy Spirit, call forth

 Unity, not divisiveness  
 Hope, not despair
 Optimism, not pessimism

 They call forth: joy in the presence of God.

And so:  Let’s enjoy our anniversary today!  Let’s celebrate the far voices it represents, voices from the long ago past who shaped our present, and voices from our community, our world, and the distant future with whom we are called to share the fullness of God.  And let us pray together, as Paul did so long ago, that God use what God has built here to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.  Amen.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Maternal Suicide - Part II

Part I is here.

Now I am moving toward territory of which I know little.  I know what it is like to lose a mother when one is a child, and I know what it is like to lose someone to suicide.  But put the two together?  What can we do for a bereaved child in such a situation?

Let's start with a few points about mother-loss, exclusive of suicide.

First, children do grieve, and they grieve intensely.  But it looks different than in does in adults. When I reflect upon my childhood, I recollect it as having been awash in sadness.  But I also see images of children running and playing in fields and woods, children jumping on and off the school bus, children playing their games and building their treehouses and meeting in their clubs.  We looked like ordinary children, and in many ways we were ~ which may have fooled the adults into thinking that we were in all ways just like our friends. We weren't.

Today there is excellent therapeutic support for children of loss, support that simply did not exist fifty years ago.  But a lot of adults are reluctant to access it -- too busy, too inconvenient, too distant, the kids are fine.  I would simply say: Think again.  Actually, I would say: Make it your highest priority.

Here are some things I do know from experience and training, as both a child and as an educator and a family lawyer:

Children don't articulate things in the ways that adults do.  They don't have the vocabulary.  But kids draw and color, and kids play with dolls and stuffed animals and toy figures, and kids act out stories.  A child may never come to an adult and say, "I miss my mommy."  But a child may develop an elaborate and extended drama with her stuffed animals that would tell us far more than that simple sentence would, if we but knew how to look.

Children try to protect the adults they love.  You may not feel protected when the police car pulls up at 2:00 a.m. with your teenager, slightly drunk and recently busted for shoplifting, in the back seat.  But for reasons perhaps known to adolescent psychiatrists, but not to the rest of us, our children are far more likely to try to protect our feelings by engaging in unacceptable behavior than by "using their words" and saying, "I need my dad.  I don't need a step-dad I didn't choose." 

Children need support.  We have become very fond, as a society, of saying that "children are resilient."  And they are.  But how much resilience do you want to force?  If you've experienced a marital break-up, or lost a job, or sustained a serious injury, or survived a serious illness, didn't you need help?  One of the signs of adult maturity is that we know how to ask for help, and how to accept it ~ but children are not adults.  They don't know how to ask, and if help doesn't come their way, they conclude that matters are up to them.  Think about Jem and Scout and Dill.  Even they ~ self-reliant as they were, and every one of them missing a parent ~ even they needed Boo Radley.

A second major point: Mother-loss is for a lifetime and it's largely invisible.  Many of my adult friends have lost their mothers in the last decade or so, and those friends have been devastated.  The women who were in many ways their best friends and who shared in most of the critical junctures of their lives are gone.  But for a child, there is no one to fill that place at those times:

Dates, jobs, graduations, relationships, college and grad schools, weddings, jobs and careers, pregnancies and adoptions and babies, adult crises.  

Every once in awhile, like about once a decade, someone will tell me something about my mother and how she might have felt about something in my life.  "How do you know?" I wonder.  "What was she like?  What did she care about?"  No one wants to say.

I have probably missed my mother more in the last four years than I did in the preceding forty-eight.  I remember ~ unbelievably, I do remember this ~ that after both she and my baby brother were killed in the accident, a couple of people said that she would have found it unbearable to go on without her baby.  Well, I have to do that, and I would like it if she were here to help me.  My surviving children and I talk all the time, but I haven't talked to my own mother since October 5, 1960.

On the upside:

Really?  There's an upside?  

There sort of is.

Another thing Hope Edelman discusses in Motherless Daughters is the fact that girls who lose their mothers tend either to be crushed into lives of sadness and dissatisfaction or to become remarkably strong and self-sufficent.  Some are done in  by the lack of a cookie-baking caregiver and role-model.  Others in the same situation break free of traditional female roles and become ~ hmmm . . .  lawyers and pastors, for instance.  Doctors.  Artists.  Engineers.  Corporate executives.

Support comes in many different forms.  I missed out on a lot after my mother died, but I was still given an incredible education, courtesy of  my school-obsessed father, and many opportunities to see the world, thanks to my grandmother's frustration with my grandfather's refusal to hop into a boat or onto a plane.  In fact, my six years in boarding school and my many summers spent at some distance away are probably a direct consequence of my mother's absence.  She would have insisted upon schools and summers closer to home; my stepmother couldn't wait to say sayonara to all children in her vicinity.  

That means that one could conceivably argue that my passionate commitment to a life of faith, my fascination with interfaith dialogue, my determination to forge a legal career that would provide me with independence, and my life today as a pastor and spiritual director crossing two major religious traditions, all started in the midst of a deadly collision on a country road.

One could argue that. I'm not sure that I would.

(And my brother, who has also turned our childhood catastrophe into an adulthood of meaningful work and contribution to the world, might argue the same.  But he's a Republican, so I'm definitely not sure about that.  ;)  )

But what I would argue, with conviction and experience both behind me, is that a child who loses his or her mother is not doomed to a lifetime of failure and hopelessness. Quite the contrary.

The more help, the better, though.

Next, I'll finally get to the point.  Suicide loss.

Minimalist (Friday Five)

I'm in the  midst of some heavy stuff on this blog, and today's RevGals Friday Five offers a chance for a break.  Sally posts the following:

 We are packing to move, boxes are everywhere, stuff has been taken to charity shops, more needs to go to the tip. Once again I am asking myself where all this stuff has come from, once again I'm thinking that I should really reduce and simplify.

So bearing in mind you are allowed the Bible, a bed + linen, a functioning kitchen, and a comfy chair, clothes within reason ( no dragging last centuries wardrobe in case), and probably essential today a lap-top OR computer  choose one from each of the following as your luxuries:

1. A book

Since I would have a considerable Kindle library on my laptop and iphone (see below), I'll go for an art book that exceeds the limits of that technology.  Sometime in the near future I'm going to post about a beautiful book I received as an ordination gift, and that just might be the one I'd choose in these circumstances: And Grace Will Lead Me Home: Images of the Prodigal Son.

2. A piece of music (albums/ sets allowed)

If I were limited to one, I suppose that it would be Dvorak's New World Symphony, which seems to be the one to which I turn most in all kinds of life circumstances.  I'm not sure how I would do without Tchiakovsky's Fifth or the entire Beatles collection, however.


3. Piece of electronic/ tech equipment

iphone: email, blogging, internet, texting, FB, music, Kindle. . . .

4. luxury item of clothing

Where am I going?  I'm thinking a fabulous pair of leather boots, but if we're talking someplace tropical, I suppose I'd go for a great necklace instead.

5. One item of your choice - it can be as normal or as weird as you'd like

My camera, of course.

Bonus: I see that I have had to leave behind all my family photographs and art.  I'm not going anywhere!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Maternal Suicide - Part I

How might we help a child who suffers this most monstrous of losses?

Several years ago, I attended a benefit luncheon for a program for bereaved chidlren at which Hope Edelman, author of Motherless Daughters, was the featured speaker.  All of the women at my table had lost our mothers when we were very young, and we noticed  immediately that we all speak a similar language when we are together. We had all practically inhaled Hope's book and, if I recall correctly, we all shared two major life experiences consequent to the deaths of our mothers.

First, our fathers had all remarried quickly.  Two of us had fathers who had been widowed twice, and the second re-marriages had come about even more quickly than the first.  We all shared the feeling, documented repeatedly in the book, of having lost a father as well as a mother.  I don't know whether things have changed in an era of increased attention to the emotional lives of fathers and their connections to their children, but we all related the same narrative: fathers ill-equipped to deal with the trauma of unexpected and early loss who turned to other women for comfort, children shunted aside in favor of new wives, step-children given short shrift in contrast to biological children.  I'm not whining or seeking sympathy.  These are simple facts, experienced almost identically by every woman at a table for ten.

Secondly, we had all "learned" through our early experience of bereavement that our own feelings were untrustworthy.  Again, almost identical narratives, narratives repeatedly documented by Hope Edelman in her interviews with other women. Each of us had understood our mother to be the center of the universe, someone adored by all who knew her.  Then our young mothers died, and their names were seldom mentioned again.  They were replaced by stepmothers, and our homes and lives were re-arranged. As small girls, or even, in some cases, as adolescents, we did not know to read these circumstances as indicative of adult incompetence in the face of terrible loss. We interpreted them to mean that we had been wrong about the importance of our mothers and that, contrary to our impressions, they had been insignificant to those who knew them.  Next step in our childish reasoning:  If we could be so completely wrong about something so important, we were most likely wrong about everything else.  Our skills of analysis and evaluation were completely unreliable.

I probably don't need to tell you that for those of us at that luncheon table, all of us mothers ourselves at that point, the journey back to a sense of self-worth and self-confidence had been long and rocky.

Think about it this way: Adolescents Acting Out.

Now, let's add to the mix: a child's mother dies of suicide. This has just happened in my friend Karen's community, and she and I have engaged in a bit of conversation about it.  This new dimension is so enormous that . . .  it's going to require another post.  Tomorrow.

Suicide Grief

I was working on another post when my friend Karen posted this, which I hope you'll read.

Karen and I have been friends for quite awhile, "meeting" with a small group of bereaved moms online to talk about our losses.  Karen's gorgeous and gifted son Joey died a few months before Josh did, of a complication of epilepsy unknown to his family until that awful event.

I'll admit that when I first read her post, I was a little disheartened.  We have talked so frequently and with such intimacy; how could she not know what it is like, to lose a loved one to suicide?  

And then I remembered.  Much as I rail against that phrase that so often comes my way ~ "I can't imagine" ~ it actually reflects an honest truth.  People can't.

I go about my life.  I love my surviving children, I try to recognize their pain, and I celebrate their triumphs.  I sobbed through my daughter's graduation from her master's program, realizing that almost no one there knows the courage and determination it took her to complete that work.  Probably even she herself doesn't recognize what she's done.  I have wonderful work to do, all of it a great gift of God.

But there's not a day that passes that I don't ask: How did I not know? 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Just Call Me Lopez - Book Available!

Don't forget ~ if you'd like a free copy of the new book, Just Call me Lopez, add your name to the comments here.  I notice that an awful lot of people read that post without leaving a comment.  It's true that an ebook version is available for free at Loyola press this week, and if you are impatient to the degree that I am, you may have already gone that route.  But if you'd like a tangible copy to hold in your hands, this is the place.

On a personal note: it was my year with the  Ignatian Spiritual Exercises that ultimately propelled me into seminary. Yesterday, making the five-hour round trip to Pittsburgh, I was astonished by the recollection that I had done that every week for three years, and twice every other week during my first year, when I was also taking my Wednesday class in spiritual direction back in Cleveland.   If you get involved with Ignatius, you may find yourself responding with considerable intensity to that famous question of Mary Oliver's, "What is it that you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Women and Seminary

Back to seminary for me today, for the first time in two years.  One of my friends was diagnosed with an extremely aggressive form of breast cancer a few days after her graduation this past spring, so two of us showed up to have lunch with her and offer a little support for her journey.

Meanwhile, on Facebook a group of women (me included) have offered some suggestions in response to a question from someone about to start seminary, wondering what no one told her that she should know.  Lots of great ideas posted for her.

But from today's lunch table, the advice might look like:  Try not to be a single parent.  Try not to let one of your children die.  Try not to get breast cancer.

And make friends; they'll be there when those things happen anyway.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Just Call Me Lopez ~ Book Giveaway!

How is it that we discover and pursue an experience that transforms our lives?  For most of us, an introduction is made by someone we respect or admire, someone who transmits to us a deep passion for something of significance in their own lives.  Certainly in the context of faith, it is often a beloved teacher or pastor or writer who conveys to us a depth of commitment that inspires in us a deep longing for a similar engagement ~ be it with Scripture, or liturgy, or theology, or a form of spirituality.  Ignatian spirituality, for instance.

Perhaps Margaret Silf is about to become such a person for you. In her new book, Just Call Me Lopez, this well-known expert on Ignatian spirituality offers an easily accessible introduction to the 16th-century life of Catholic saint Ignatius of Loyola and to the major themes that dominate his work.  The book is a combination of time-travel fiction and introduction to Ignatian principles.  Ignatius himself, dressed in garb reflective of the various ages and stages of his life, appears sporadically to the narrator, a contemporary woman who, providentially, makes her professional living by helping others narrate and interpret their spiritual stories. Her experience enables her to help Ignatius articulate his.  She is at the same time personally contending with real life dilemmas familiar to many of us, so that she in turn gives Ignatius the opportunity to suggest ways in which she might address her own challenges.

When Ignatius drops in to visit, their conversations range across the many adventures, false starts, and challenges that formed one of the great spiritual masters of Christian history. At the same time, they delve into the multitude of insights which we now think of as distinctly Ignatian.  Imaginative prayer?  We learned it from Ignatius.  Principles of discernment?  Almost everything addressing the topic of discernment today has an Ignatian origin, whether recognized or not.  An understanding of spiritual consolation and desolation?  Ignatius is the man.

For the past several days, Margaret Silf and Paul Campbell, S.J. have been engaged in a blogalogue conversation over at People for Others.  On Friday, Paul asked Margaret, "If you had to identify one crucial insight of Ignatian spirituality, what would it be?"  Margaret suggests a number of possibilities; allow me to share one of my favorites:

I was introduced to Ignatius by someone who conveys the Ignatian narrative and spirituality with deep reverence and great good humor, and I began to make the Spiritual Exercises with that then-professor of mine while I was also taking a graduate course from him on Ignatian spirituality.  

What blew me away, lured me in, and completely altered my direction in life was the discovery that my own life experience was of value, that it was ~ and is ~ the raw material with which God works, and that it is the venue through which Jesus reaches out to me.  

I chuckled when we began to read Ignatius' autobiography in class, observing his many mishaps and missteps, and then, thanks to the care of a spiritual director who listened to mine as though they were of some import, began to understand what Ignatius was saying: experience matters.  We can learn to interpret and understand our experience and our feelings about it as among the ways in which God speaks to us.  We can learn to understand how our desires reflect God's desires for us.  "What do you want?" asks Jesus.  "Important question!" insists Ignatius.

There's a lovely passage fairly early in Just Call Me Lopez in which the narrator reflects upon the bond that she has discovered with Ignatius:

"Its strength and invincibility came from the Spirit of God flowing through it.  Its fragility and its tenderness came from our own humanity.  Together, these can draw the human spirit back from the brink of destruction to the threshold of new understanding" (79).  Indeed: the value of the human experience of friendship in the Lord when understood in light of the activity of the Holy Spirit.


If you'd like to read more about the book, it's being celebrated on various Loyola Press blogs this coming week.  If you'd like to read a personal reflection by another reader, you'll find it at Quantum Theology.  If you'd like to purchase the book, Loyola Press is offering a 30% discount through August 31; use code word LOPEZ.  

And if you'd like a free copy, I've got one to give away!  (Actually, Loyola Press will send it to you, which means that you're a good deal more likely to receive it than you might if you had to depend upon me.) Just leave a comment and, while you're at it, tell us what you like or what makes you curious about Ignatian spirituality. I'll pull a name out of a magic hat on Sunday.  And there's a giveaway at Quantum Theology as well.


Full disclosure: I received a copy of the book and an invitation to give another one away from Loyola Press, with no further obligation on my part.  I also gained an enjoyable read and the re-activiation of some wonderful memories.  The second image above is a photograph (July 2006) of the restored Church of St. Denis in Monmartre (Paris), where Ignatius and his first companions made their first vows to God and to one another, thus initiating the formation of the Society of Jesus.  You can read about it on page 170 of Just Call Me Lopez.

Pirates and the Law Student in My House

Yes, for real, pirates.  Real pirates.

Gregarious Son is a law student, about to embark upon his third and final year of school.  Fascinated by the courses he took in international law this past year, and much influenced by a professor who has served as a consultant to courts trying piracy cases, he decided to try to invent a summer internship for himself.  And, as he puts it, approximately 200 emails later he was off to The Seychelles for the summer to clerk for a judge who has, as it turns out, has concluded two piracy cases this summer.

The Seychelles is a small nation made up of an archipelago of 115 islands, three of them inhabited, in the Indian Ocean, east of the African continent and north of Madagascar.  Matt posted a map after a French naval crewmember involved in the first case of the summer testified that Seychelles was located in the Atlantic off the coast of Brazil.  He said that the attorneys all found her testimony quite amusing, but the judge did not.

If you have heard of The Seychelles, it may be because William and Kate honeymooned there!  Matt is spending the summer in a small rented condo on one of the most spectacular islands on earth.

He's been able to enjoy the natural beauty of the islands ~

how is it that we don't live in a place where you could step out one door into a lake and out another onto a beach? ~

while working in a tropical island courthouse, in contrast to an American high rise

and attending the celebrations for Seychelles National Day.  The Republic of Seychelles gained its independence from Britain in 1976.  Its history as a target of European colonial aspirations is reflected in its British court system and French and Creole languages.  English is the official language of the government.

Piracy is a crime subject to international jurisdiction, because it takes place on the "high seas" ~ which I thought was a Pirates of the Caribbean phrase intended to heighten drama, but is actually a legal term for "international waters."  The Seychelles has been eager to take on a role of responsibility in prosecuting pirates, given its proximity to Somalia, the source of much pirate activity, but has little in the way of resources to enable such litigation.  A U.N. grant pays for many of the administrative costs of the court, but there is no money for legal staff.  Matt is there on a grant and loan combination.  This is not a financially lucrative summer for him, but the experience is, as the commercial says, priceless.  The judge for whom he works has been  extraordinarily generous in sharing the workload, showing him around, and including him in all aspects of the cases, which raise many issues not yet determined by treaty, statute, or precedent.  Herewith, some of the evidence in the case just concluded:

In what looks to have been perhaps the highlight of the summer, Matt and the Judge

spent a day on a French reconnaissance vessel

to observe a training exercise in pirate capture, which involves helicopters and ski-doos (when Matt posted this, he referenced The Ride of the Valkyries)

and to discuss evidence-gathering requirements with the ship's captain and crew.

I don't know about the rest of you attorneys out there, but I have no recollection of my legal internships looking anything like Matt's!