Monday, November 2, 2009

Springing Fresh from the Word

Go and find him when your patience and strength run out and you feel alone and helpless. Jesus is waiting for you in the chapel. Say to him, ‘Jesus, you know exactly what is going on. You are all I have, and you know all things. Come to my help.’ And then go, and don’t worry about how you are going to manage. That you have told God about it is enough. He has a good memory.

Jeanne Jugan, 1792-1879

Sometimes, late at night, after a hectic day when it seems like all six of us prefer to live in the same 400 square feet of the thousands of square feet that make up our house—newspapers, shoes, wrappers, preteen male wrestling and bodily emissions, iCarly, Farmtown on Facebook, iTunes updates watching the Flight of the Conchords, dance offs, sardines on the long couch with all 5 of us crunched hipbone to hipbone because Julia is sprawled in her princesshood on the short couch and nobody wants to sit by themselves on the yellow chair—I like to watch the Eternal World Television Network, particularly if there’s a mass on. The patterns and rhythms and words I don’t quite understand quiet me. They help me think in different ways, to approach what are familiar ideas in different clothing. Hearing ideas differently, I see them new.

Late Sunday night, after just spending what seemed like ten hours in close quarters and watching the Angels lose to the Yankees, I watched the Mass of Thanksgiving on from the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. I think this is in Washington D.C. The Mass, which was conducted by a very handsome cardinal with the longest fingers in silvery, almost light green robes, was to celebrate the canonization of Jeanne Jugan, the founder of the Little Sisters of the Poor. Even the phrase, the Little Sisters of the Poor soothed me. Lying there at almost midnight after a long Sunday evening, I was tiredly moved to make the acquaintance of Jeanne Jugan, and to watch the luminous faces of her Little Sisters of the Poor as they recited the portions of the Thanksgiving Mass.

I am to read later that each of these faces has professed vows of chastity, poverty and obedience, and a special fourth vow, that of hospitality. Their mission is to provide care to the elderly. In 32 countries and 202 homes, over 2,700 women have devoted their life to taking care of the elderly. I found out all these facts later, but still, I sensed light as I watched their eyes, their skin, their lips and hands. The faces of the nuns shone like pearls. I’m trying to think of another way to describe it, but I can’t. They were luminous, almost transparent. Devoid of make-up, of artifice, faces framed in grey and white wimples. I thought as I watched, “There is the beauty that comes from devoting one’s life to others, and to having a daily walk with God.” It’s a beauty of light.

Almost familiar phrases ran over my tired body and mind like water: “send these the angels and dark angels”; “Let us profess our faith,” whereupon the entire congregation stood to claim their belief in the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. Sister Constance Carolyn, of the Public Relations Office of the Little Sisters of the Poor in Bethesda, Maryland, says they’ll have the text next week. So, I’m waiting. I’ve tried to remember the phrases verbatim, but I can only faintly sense their presence. They spilled through the cracks in my soul, settling in the hollows.

Sometimes when I’m on the treadmill at the gym, I also turn to EWTN. I particularly like it when they’re saying the rosary. The combination of feet slapping the mat and the rhythmic voice of Mother Angelica and the Nuns of Olam jars something loose in my head. Almost as if the physical work of running and speaking sets my mind free quicker than if I were just thinking alone.

Today, I have been saying my rosary of sorts. The same prayer, over and over again. I sense today, as I work through my day, why the rosary beads. The anxiety that fuels the repeated petition would be released by rolling beads through my fingers. Or perhaps tugging on the edges of my prayer shawl. Or rolling my forelock between petitioning fingers. But I have none of those aids at my disposal. So I fold laundry. Each fold and crease a word. Each t-shirt added to the pile a sentence. After an hour, I have prayed my work to completion; the couches are filled with fabric petitions piled high and neat like an obsessive compulsive tidied up the Wailing Wall.

My behavior that morning reminds me of Catholic Lebanese Materia, a worried mother in Fall on Your Knees, who’s “always murmuring these days, her lips constantly moving, whether mending a sock or changing a nappy. Worst, while making her glacial way through town.” Her Protestant Scottish husband says to her, “Don’t be traipsing up Plummer Avenue nattering to yourself woman.” “I not talking to myself.” “Then who you talking to.” “Mary.”
In the cool dark of Mount Carmel Church, Materia . . . looks up into the serene alabaster face of Our Lady. Mary recites the Memorae: “Remember , O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your help or sought your intercession was left unaided. Inspired with this confidence, I fly unto you, O Virgin of virgins, my Mother; to you I come, before you I stand, sinful and sorrowful; O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in your mercy hear and answer me.”

Our Lady will think of something. Merciful are her ways.
I don’t pray to the Virgin Mary. But I know why Materia natters her way through her day. And I love this Memorae. I normally dress this idea in language that he will be on my right side and on my left, and he will buoy me up. Coming across the new words for the same idea, my ears and mind trip. I stumble to a stop to contemplate the imagery of fleeing to a divine source for protection and of seeking intercession. I stand still, moved, before the notion that “never was it known” that those who flee and those who seek have been “left unaided.” As I read this prayer in the novel, I felt to read it again, to pick it up, for my own daily walk.

This stone of “never was it known” along with worried Materia’s socks and Saint Jeanne Jugan’s God with the long memory and the faces of the Little Sisters of the Poor, I gather. They sit in the in pockets of my mind, waiting for when I will need them, to roll them again between the minutes of my day.

Title: Cat Stevens, from "Morning Has Broken."


  1. I was thinking about this post as I folded laundry and contemplated my ongoing quest to turn jobs that feel like daily drudgery (laundry, dishes, etc.) into thoughtFULL, deliberate acts of praise--since all things are spiritual to God, I would like to put more of that "everyday divinity" into my life.

    I also contemplated on how foreign the idea of praying to Mary, or a saint, or an ancestor was to me (having been raised LDS)--UNTIL my mom died, and I realized with sudden clarity, how easy it would be to pray to someone who knew me so well, and had such a vested interest in my happiness. Then I understood, and my love for, and compassion for my brothers and sisters--especially those who have been given harsh and incorrect ideas of the nature of God bloomed.

    I love to see people (of any faith) who are reflecting, and refracting the love of God into the world. It expands my heart to see how other people use their gifts.

  2. Oh Tessa, Thanks for such a beautiful post...what a treat to occupy my mind this afternoon...

  3. We believe in all truth, no matter to what subject it may refer. No sect or religious denomination in the world possesses a single principle of truth that we do not accept or that we will reject. We are willing to receive all truth, from whatever source it may come...

    Joseph F. Smith

    I came across this quote this morning as part of a discussion group I am in. I thought it pertinent.