Christmas Cycle

One Christmas Eve, after placing a small figure of baby Jesus in its resin manger at our house, my then 4 or 5-year-old nephew asked, “But… is he… alive?”  So much was said in his look of perplexity and disbelief – If Christmas is Jesus’s birthday, then where is he?  Shouldn’t he be growing up by now?  Also… if he was born 2000 years ago… then, maybe he should be dead – right?  Then why do we act like he’s a little newborn baby?  What is this weirdness???

Nativity scene, Christmas, Jesus in manger

Of course, there is something to be said about the Eternal Now, as well as our preparation for the Second Coming of the Lord – but that something is said in other places, I’m sure, with more scholarly expertise.  What I want to reflect upon in this post is the beauty and power of the newness of our celebrations – every single year. Continue reading

Hope, Part 1: The Four-Letter Word

Hope for a Cure

Another Labor Day has come and gone and with it, for me, vague feelings of nostalgia, anxious excitement, dread, and a kind of contempt for hopeful people. I was literally a poster child for neuromuscular disease. Here’s the proof on a national poster:

1980 poster MDA blog

And as Poster Child for my local chapter of the Muscular Dystrophy Association, in 1980 and 1982, I traveled the state of New Hampshire, smiling so long and so often that cheek-ache became a familiar sensation of childhood. The climax of my duties was to appear on our local cutaways of the Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon. Little, blonde, smiling and dimpled girl that I was, sitting in my wheelchair, I would look into the camera, speak into the microphone, and tell people to help fight MD.

It was at the MDA events and, especially, the Telethon, that I was surrounded by the hopeful people.

People used to tell me, with smiles, sweet voices, and encouragement, that I should keep hoping that a cure would be found for my disease and that I would be able to walk someday. But, I don’t remember having this as a real hope… maybe more like a fantastic wish. My mother tells me, however, that I once expressed belief that becoming Poster Child for MDA would mean that I would be able to walk. We can imagine, then, the disappointment that I must have felt at 5 years old when I became Poster Child and remained crippled – my hope so utterly unfulfilled.

An Amused Cynic

Despite having my hopes dashed, I want to make it clear that I was not a bitter child. I was generally and genuinely happy, finding joy in little things and easy to smile. I don’t even remember getting my hopes dashed. Whenever people mentioned that word “hope”, however, I remember within me an inner smirk of cynicism. Those people who were fighting so relentlessly for a cure, rallying me and believing that I would be able to walk one day – those people were sadly and foolishly falling for wishful thinking. And I never wanted to be a fool like that.

Entering my teen years and throughout those years, I developed a vague, unvoiced dislike for these hopeful people, overly enthusiastic, sappily patronizing people, so full of wishes and happy thoughts that any fairy would swear that they could fly.

Hope became a four-letter word to me. And somewhat amusing.

Hope of Heaven

There was another kind of hope that was introduced to me at an early age, because of my upbringing in the Catholic Church. The Christian understanding is that one’s ultimate and truest happiness will be found in Heaven. The sufferings we endure in this life will bring us great reward in the next. So, I remember, as a child, being taught and believing that I would walk in Heaven. My mother also tells me of my reaction on first hearing this from my older sister, when she came home excitedly one day from religious education. I was about 3 years old. On hearing from my sister that I would be able to walk after I died and went to Heaven, I exclained joyfully that I wanted to die. Hearing these words from her little daughter, my mother understandably tried to talk me out of my desire by informing me that she, my father, and my sister would not be with me in Heaven after I died. Loving my family so very much and only feeling comfortable and safe when I was with them, I stopped desiring Heaven.

That explains a lot, too.

Imagine There’s No Heaven

It is important to note that I have never truly wanted to die, for I have a natural and deep love for life, here and now. My general disposition is as a glass half-full kind of person. And I love what is real, because it is real. Not wanting to be a fool and not wanting to be cajoled, it isn’t much wonder that I became vehemently against the “comforting” hope of the afterlife.

“Poor thing,” people might say to me, “at least you know that you will have a wonderful life in Heaven where all your dreams will come true.” The hope of Heaven became something of a consolation prize for the losing hand that I was dealt or a kind of life-raft to which I was supposed to cling. But, I would have none of that. First of all, I knew that I, myself, was not a loser. Second of all, I didn’t want to cling to anything to help me “get through” life, as if I couldn’t hack it on my own. So opposed was I to this offered hope that it was one of the reasons that I became an atheist for a short while, around the age of 20. I wanted to prove that a didn’t need the vague hope of Heaven, that I didn’t need God to be happy. As John Lennon once sang, “Imagine there’s no Heaven – it’s easy if you try.”

Unexpected Cure

I have always loved the truth and will pursue it, no matter what. It isn’t that I hoped to find the truth, but, rather, that I was determined to uncover it. As an atheist, I really thought that I had revealed all the myths and fairytales and wishful thinking for the errors that they were, that I knew the truth.

But, the final discovery that I made was an unexpected and unwanted one: that which we call God is true. More on that story in another post. I have, thankfully, been cured of the spiritual deafness and blindness of atheism, although it was a long journey into Christianity. Now, as a believing Christian, devoted member of the Catholic Church, I still struggle with the belief that everything will be made “right” with eternal rewards in Heaven. By struggle, I mean that I don’t want to be coaxed into accepting suffering or into being good with the promise of some future treat, like a child. One thing I despise is to be patronized.

Now What?

But, if Hope is a theological virtue, then it can’t be a “four-letter word”. What do I do then, as a believer in Christ Jesus, with this thing called hope?

To be continued next week…

unpublished work © 2015 Christina Chase

What Is Holy Communion? How I’d like to Break It down to My Little Ones

Here is what I wish I was bold enough to say aloud about Holy Communion.

My nephews, ages 12 and nearly 10, seem to be uncomfortable around talk of religion – like their mother is and like I used to be. They go to Sunday Mass regularly because of their dad, but I don’t think they get it and I don’t think they like it. Did any of us as kids? Nobody broke it down for me when I was younger. So, here’s my attempt for them – at least on paper…

Holy Communion is spiritual food. Your soul needs to be healthy. Communion, or the Eucharist, gives you spiritual strength to help you to be brave, to be kind, to be merciful, to be generous, and to have wisdom to help you to make good decisions. In the consecrated bread and wine, Jesus gives you himself so that you can be powerful like him.

Now, of course, we’re only human. We make mistakes. We have flaws. And life isn’t always easy in this world. God knows. When Jesus lived among us, a human being like us, even though he is also God, he had it pretty rough sometimes. He and his family were poor. People made fun of him, thought he was crazy, spit at him, and beat him up. I mean – they even nailed him to a cross to die! But, even though Jesus got scared, tired, sad, even angry at times, and even though he terribly dreaded what he would have to suffer on the cross, so much so that he sweated blood – he got through it. He even got through death. Death had no power over him. He rose up from the dead, alive again, body and soul. And he now lives, in a mysterious way, in Heaven and gives himself to us, also in a mysterious way, in the Eucharist, so that we can be strong like him and get through anything, even death, and live forever.

Spiritual food doesn’t just help us get through the rough times. Holy Communion helps us to better enjoy the happy things of life, too, like love, laughter, fun, accomplishments, even forgiveness – which is a kind of joy because it’s so freeing. Spiritually strong, we can become more grateful, peaceful, and happier, because we carry a little bit of Heaven within us.

Remember that we can’t be truly healthy and truly happy unless we take care of both our bodies and our souls. We call Jesus the Bread of Life. And that’s why Jesus invites us to the altar to receive him in the Eucharist – to feed our souls, to help us to be strong, healthy, and happy, with his never-ending love always in our hearts.

Yup. I’d like to say all these things to my nephews… but I probably won’t be brave enough. Other people’s discomfort makes me uncomfortable, too.  Yes… I seem to be afraid of what children who love me will think of me.  Heavy sigh.

Maybe I need to listen to my own words and receive the courage that Jesus is giving to me when he feeds and strengthens my soul in the Eucharist….

© 2015 Christina Chase

Inside Out

I would like

to have grown

from the inside out.

To know myself,

with my eyes closed,

closed eye

before I explore

the external world

of color, shape, and sound.

To learn, internally,

to hold onto and release

my anger and grief,

before my fists are formed.
baby-fist

As a baby, I instinctively

clutched

the brightly colored toys,

and my hands learned

to handle.

I would rather have learned,

emotionally,

to stack my joys

into a castle precarious,

beautiful,

and when it falls,

to laugh and rebuild.

blocks classic Castle

It seems to me

that we have all grown

from the outside in,

and our construction

has suffered from it.

For think how easy it is to see a light in the midst of darkness,

And yet how difficult to see a hope in the midst of despair.

candle_light_jesus_2_by_hari4u2-d5r1gjs

unpublished work © 2014  Christina Chase
as first posted on ChaseChristina.com

Minecraft Cats and the Worship of God

Bear with me.

One weekend this summer, after having my nephews over to play on the Xbox and going to church the next day, the thought came to me that our relationship with God is a lot like a feature in the videogame called Minecraft. In that game, which is about mining, gathering, building and surviving in a PG landscape, a player can tame wild creatures, called ocelots, and change them into kitty cats. I tried to use this imagery from the ordinary lives of my little ones to teach them about Life Itself – and in the process, I learned something, too.

From the Minecraft Game

From the Minecraft Game

The Minecraft player has to trap the ocelot into a confined space and hold a fish, offering it to the creature. The wild creature will briefly look at the player and then go away into a corner, sometimes hesitating there a long while before coming back. Hearts will start to form over the creature’s head, indicating not only its desire for the offered fish, but also its growing affability toward the player. Sometimes, eye contact will be held between the ocelot and the player for several minutes, with many hearts floating up – and then the ocelot will skitter away again, turning its back on the player. The player will move in front of the creature again and wait some more. Sometimes, the waiting is quite long (and I’m impressed that my young nephews have had the patience to wait it out.) Then, finally, after much eye contact and a sea of hearts, just when you think it will never happen – the change occurs.

The spotted, wild creature has become a domesticated cat.

It even looks different, like a black-and-white cat, a siamese, or an orange tabby, although you never know what specific kind of kitty the ocelot will become until after the change. The transformed animal will follow the player wherever the player goes – it will even teleport through closed doors to be by the player’s side, unless the player makes the cat sit down before leaving. Wherever they may be sitting, the cats will always recognize the player passing by and meow.

So… how is this like our relationship with God?

Well, we are like wild creatures whom God desires to change into higher versions of ourselves. Sadly, too often, we totally ignore God and so never enter into a divinely loving and transforming relationship with Him. So we are never changed. But, God continually does things to get our attention. Sometimes, those things make us feel like we are stuck in confined spaces. It is right there, however, in that tough spot, that God is offering us something wonderful – something much more than fish or any perishable food. God offers us God’s very self and wants us to look at Him and receive His love.

God does this most directly and pointedly when He comes down from Heaven to live among us: Christ Jesus. In him, through him, and with him, we are able to intimately enter into loving relationship with God – as God offers Himself to us through the Incarnation and the Sacrifice on the Cross.  And, so, also, perpetually, God offers Godself to us in Holy Communion and through all of the Sacraments –  through the Church, the priests, and even through our fellow human beings who act in the loving ways of God.

What do we do in response?

Well, some desire might be stirred up within us (a heart or two may appear over our heads) but we often run away. We turn our backs on God.  Perhaps, we are afraid of the unknown – we are afraid of the pending transformation that we can sense in our souls. We are afraid that being transformed will mean that we will no longer be able to be ourselves – we want to do our own thing, wild, and we do not want to follow God’s will, tamed. But, what we don’t realize is that we only become fully ourselves through the transformative power of divine love – through the worship of God. We were never meant to be ocelots and we will never be truly joyful by remaining wild. We were always meant to be transformed by receiving God’s love and all that God has to offer us, to follow God’s will. Then, and only then, we are able to give divine love ourselves and know true, deep, and lasting joy.

Out Of the Mouths of Babes

I told my nephews (ages 11 and 8) a much shorter and simpler version of this thought, trying to use everything I can to catechize them.

Matthew, the oldest, looked at me with his big blue eyes and I knew that a part of him was uncomfortable with this kind of God talk (he is my cautious/studious one). But he was really listening and I believe that a seed was sown. Nathan, the youngest, was listening and thinking about what I said, too. And it made him remember what he did the last time that he transformed ocelots into cats. He tried to justify why he had kept killing the siamese cats after they had been transformed. I knew it was because he and Matthew only wanted one tabby cat and one black-and-white, to be like the real cats that they have at home. (And, yes – I could go through a whole lesson just from that! I admit it disturbed me when they were doing it, but I did have to remember that it’s just a game.) On the day that I gave the comparison to God’s love, however, Nathan told me why he did what he did in a different way.

I could see him, with a cute look on his face, trying to explain it in a way that would fit the analogy of my storytelling (he is my poet). He said that he killed the videogame cats because he had a demon in him – because he was the devil. That got a big grin from me and Matthew laughed. “That’s brilliant,” I said, “because it just goes to show you that you need to be careful what you worship. You may want something and obsess over it and worship it – but then it turns out to be the devil and it kills you.”

We are only to worship God, and we are to worship God with all of our hearts, with all of our souls, with all of our minds, and with all of our strength – nothing else will do for our fulfillment. For, as St. Augustine says, “Our hearts are restless, Lord, until they rest in You.”

© 2014 Christina Chase