Broken hands are a sure path to God

MarybrokenhandAfter my parents died and it came time to pack up all of their possessions, I found a small statue of Mary tucked away in the dark corner of a bedroom shelf – a memory from my youth. I had named her Our Lady of the Broken Hands.

She had not come through the years unscathed. Her hands, pressed together in prayer, were missing the fingers, and her torso, once broken completely in half, had been glued together by my dad at my mother’s insistence. She would never entertain the idea of throwing away her beautiful statue just because of a little thing like being broken in a few places.

For many years, Our Lady of the Broken Hands sat on my desk at work next to a second statue of Mary with a similar affliction. She has no hands. This small, delicately carved wooden statue was damaged in a move from one office to another. When I unwrapped her and saw that her hands were missing I could not help but stop to reflect on the two statues that now stood side by side in their imperfection.

They became, for me, a constant reminder of a painful and wonderful lesson – we, like they, are beautiful in our brokenness.

And broken we are, whether or not we are willing to admit it.

My broken statues of Mary remind me that my own imperfections are the vehicles for God’s work in me, and that with faith, patience, courage and passion we can each move beyond the limitations of our imperfections to fulfill all our God-given potential.

We are God’s creation, after all, as the very imperfect king, David, reminds us in his song to God: “Lord, you have searched me, you know me; you know when I sit and stand; you understand my thoughts from afar, my travels and my rest you mark; with all my ways you are familiar . . .You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb. I praise you, so wonderfully you made me; wonderful are your works! My very self you knew; my bones were not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, fashioned as in the depths of the earth. Your eyes foresaw my actions; in your book all are written down; my days were shaped, before one came to be.”

There is a reason for our imperfection. It keeps us close to God and allows God room to work in us.

But since I am always in need of reminding, I will be happy to make room next to Our Lady of the Broken Hands for any less-than-perfect statue that needs a home.

 “God expects but one thing of you, and that is that you should come out of yourself in so far as you are a created being and let God be God in you.”  Meister Eckhart


Google image from ngm.nationalgeographic.com


With love, we unfold from bud to flower

Sometimes you just need flowers.                                                                                                                                     Rosebud2

A friend told me that years ago, and I realized how right she was when I received an unexpected arrangement from my son at a time when I really needed some cheering up.

The arrangement arrived in an iridescent, translucent vase of eggplant. The flowers were glorious in varying hues of purple — indigo, violet and plum  — looking much like a Van Gogh painting of irises.

Throughout the day, and the coming week, I couldn’t help but smile whenever I looked at the small but breathtaking arrangement. Every time a new flower opened, there seemed to be new beauty in the room; a reminder of the expansive love of God.

But as one week moved into two, there were still some buds that hadn’t opened, and while they enjoyed a delicate beauty of their own, it seemed sad that soon the flowers would need to be discarded and the buds would end their lives without having achieved their full potential and beauty. People are like buds, I thought.

Certainly, we are each created by God for some purpose; we are planted here like seeds with the potential to blossom with a beauty well beyond that of any flower. But life itself often becomes the obstacle to full growth. Our spirits may flag under the consistent challenge of moving forward, of “becoming.” We become staid, even stagnant in our growth, afraid or unable to take whatever risks we need to take to fulfill our purpose.

That is where people have an advantage over flowers. We are reflective beings who have the ability to recognize our own needs, and we have others in our lives who can nurture our unfolding. We are capable of love.

Before I disposed of my lovely arrangement entirely, I did something I saw my mother do a hundred times with the forsythia cut from our backyard garden. I pulled out all the buds, without too much handling, cut their stems under water and put them in a smaller bowl on my desk. My mother would have added a drop of bleach or an aspirin. I added a little anti-bacterial mouthwash, courtesy of the Internet, and made sure I changed the water every few days.  Then I waited expectantly, having learned that encouraging buds to bloom takes time and attention.

It is no different with people, whether we are nurturing ourselves or someone else.

We do the work and then wait with expectant faith knowing a loving God planted the seed.


Never forget what is worth remembering

Throughout the years with an Irish father, I heard many an Irish blessing. He was fond of theseMuffinapron little lessons, and would often repeat one of his favorites over a cup of hot tea and a warm piece of apple pie: “May you never forget what is worth remembering, nor ever remember what is best forgotten.”

In time, this particular blessing took on new meaning for me, especially when, as a Hospice volunteer, I would visit patients during their final days in a nursing home.

It was here that I learned the often repeated lesson that life can be as difficult as it is beautiful, and where I began to understand the lesson my mother taught me over and over again as a child through her frequent visits to sick or lonely family members, friends or aquaintances.

My mother would enter a room with a smile to warm any heart, a plate of homemade Jiffy muffins and everyone would begin to feel better. She was love in a dime-store apron.

On one of the few occasions when I saw my dad get mad at her, it was because she had gone to the hospital to visit someone on Christmas Eve, and hadn’t returned before my bedtime. I couldn’t understand why he would be mad about that. Having my mom there, with muffins and presents, sounded to me like the best gift in the world for someone who might be facing Christmas alone.

That’s a heavy cross to bear, but life teaches us that crosses come in all shapes and sizes, some heavier than others, and we are all destined to carry one at some point in time. Perhaps the heaviest of all is loneliness, and the belief that we are forgotten.

When I was a catechist for children, I sometimes saw the fear of “forgotten” in the faces of students waiting for overdue parents. Often a young child would cry inconsolably believing they had been left behind.

But I saw this pain experienced most profoundly with a homebound friend—aged, infirm, fearful, lonely; a beautiful child of God who truly was left behind by family and friends.

On a particularly bad day she called to talk and her words will never leave me: “This is not living,” she said. “And if it is, I would rather die.”

She was living a forgotten life; one that was acutely empty and painful. For her, as for anyone who suffers from such loneliness, the pain is made worse, not simply by the absence of human love but more so by what that represents.

When we have been forgotten by family and friends alike it is not hard to believe that God has forgotten us, too.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote powerfully of that experience: "There is no human misery more strongly felt than the state of being forsaken by God. Nothing is so terrible as rejection by Him. It is a horror to live deserted by God and effaced from His mind.” 

His words recall the pleading, pain-filled cry of Christ as he hung dying on the cross, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

How often have we felt the need to speak the same words? How often and how deeply does the wound of loneliness rupture our hearts? In these moments of pain it is easy to believe that God has lost sight of, what we believe to be, our insignificant lives, but Heschel would not agree.

This prayerful man of God wrote of "Divine pathos," the grief and suffering of God with God's children and God's creation when they are in pain.

Anyone who has ever loved knows that this kind of suffering can only flow from love, for without love there can be no grief. The deeper the love, the more profound the grief.

It is comforting to believe that God knows our pain, feels our pain and holds our hearts and souls in the passionate embrace of divine love. It is from such an embrace that we are able to renew our strength and overcome our loneliness, so we can be God’s hands and feet and heart for people like my dear, lonely friend.

Even in the midst of our own pain, and sometimes because of it, we are all called to put God's love into life because every life is worth remembering.

How well we do that is up to us, but “forgotten” should never be anyone’s last memory.


In gratitude for a mother's love

For the past 20 years, I have written a column, Things My Father Taught Me, in memory of my
Mary_baby_jesus1dad, born out of the pain of grief following his sudden, unexpected death.

My mother, who died soon after, following years of fighting cancer, has waited patiently in the wings, as she did so often at my dance recitals, fully understanding how an only child, and daughter at that, can be so deeply attached to the most important man in her life. But, as I can hear her saying, enough is enough already.

She would point out, that as a mother myself, it is time to honor the ‘women” who have loved me, cared for me and led me to God more through their strength, their actions and their unassuming presence than through their words.

Through my memories of my own mother, I can imagine the memories Jesus must have carried of Mary – smiling, crying, cooking, telling stories, praying, singing, visiting the sick, always being there even when she couldn’t take away his pain.

Mary’s life made it possible for her to understand the heart of the mother and the wife. She knows our joys, our frustrations and our pain because she has shared in them all.

When I was younger, I didn't always appreciate that. I envied Mary more than honored her. But today, having grown older and wiser, and having raised six sons, I find myself turning time and again to the mother who understands both my tears and the heart that is often so full of love it threatens to burst.

Today, when life hands me more than I think I can bear, I remember Mary, standing at the foot of the cross that held her dying son, and I am grateful that Jesus’ words were not just meant for John: “Behold, your mother.”