“Who Are You?” Mentor and Memoir

window, portable

Who are you?

This is a question that my mentor, Mr. John D Meehan, asked me in one of a handful of face-to-face conversations that we had.  And when he posed it to me, different answers went through my mind.  All that I could really think of responding with, however, was, “me” – and that with a question mark at the end of it.  I chose not to give an answer out loud, just sat there thinking and waiting for him to continue.  I knew that he would.  He mentioned each of the ways that had flipped through my thoughts, the ways by which most people answered the question: professional identity, national identity, religious affiliation, familial or social association, maybe even a hobby.

But, Mr. Meehan said, none of these go to the heart of your true identity, to who you are.

He said that the truth of who we are is in relationship with Christ, then gave the example of Mary Magdalene.  She didn’t recognize Christ Resurrected, but as soon as he spoke her name, she knew him.  In this, Mr. Meehan was inviting me to find the answer of who I am.  Having been a teacher, I think that he could have spelled it out a bit more plainly to me.  If he had, maybe he would’ve said something like “you are a child of God”… but, then again, perhaps he knew that that answer would not have penetrated into my mind and heart because I had heard it too many times before.  Or, perhaps, he didn’t like that answer either, for the same connotative reasons that would have made me smirk.  I’ll never know now, because, last week, Mr. Meehan died. Continue reading

Your First Heartbeat: Human In Utero

You were once smaller than a grain of rice.

And, yes, you looked a little weird at this stage of your development.  But, make no mistake about it – you were you, human in every way, growing and thriving, intimately connected to your mother, your own heart beating with the drive for life.

Finding Shelter

After conception, your cells multiplied and divided quickly, changing you from a zygote to a blastocyst.  As you drifted freely in your mother’s womb, you grew more complex and caught onto the lining of your mother’s uterus, attaching yourself and burrowing in to this place of refuge.  The very touch of your presence caused a space to open for you so that you could nestle in for safety and continued life.  Your mother’s blood vessels, little capillaries, reached out toward you to begin giving you nourishment.  The placenta and umbilical cord began to form, creating that vital connection between you and your mother, without which you could not have grown, without which you could not have survived.

Although she probably didn’t even know of your existence yet, your mother was already mothering you, naturally, with the great biological gifts given to her as a woman.  It was her blood supply that gave you nutrients and through which your wastes were taken away.  She instinctively made room for you and for the continuation of your life.

Heart-To-Heart

In this same first month of your life, when you formed your first connection with a human being, your very own heart began to beat.  Think about it… This was truly the beginning of your life as a human being in relationship with others: another person began to give to you what you needed and take from you what you couldn’t handle on your own.  It is divinely poetic that it was at this moment in your life that you had your first heartbeat.  We say that we relate to one another through the heart.  Think of your mother’s blood vessels, which gave you your first nourishment, as her heart strings.  Your pull upon her heart strings made room for your life – for your own heart to begin to beat, too. Continue reading

Different Women in 2 Works of Art

How connected are you to your background, how intimate with your landscape?

I love pretty things.  I’m very much of the “girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes”[1] sensibility.  The turn of the twentieth century is my favorite time period with its lovely style of dress.  And that is probably one of the reasons why I love the art of Frank
Benson and have a copy of this painting, Summer, in my room:

New England, women, seashore, painting

Summer, Frank Benson

This New England scene of sun-bathed softness and breezy lightness pleasantly soothes me.  Even the colors match my summer decor.  But… in recently looking long at the print and studying it more closely, I found that I started to like it less.  There’s something about the expressions of the women in this impressionist painting that does not touch or move me at all.  I cannot imagine myself in that place with them because I don’t feel like they are really present in that place themselves. Continue reading

She at Pentecost

On creaking knees, worn with repeated hours on earthen floors making bread and coaxing coals into flame, she now knelt in the upper room in the city – and prayed.

“This is how you are to pray,” she remembered her mother telling her when she was but a little child, standing not much taller than her mother’s knees. The older woman had bent down and had put her warm, wrinkled hands on either side of her face, looking deeply and sweetly into her eyes as she had continued to speak. “You are to pray to the Lord your God with all of your heart, with all of your soul, and with all of your strength. You are to pray as you are to love – with your whole being and without ceasing. For you must remember that you are always and everywhere in the presence of God and His Infinite Love.”

Remembering, she lifted herself a little higher on her own aging knees and pressed her hands upon her heart. Lifting her eyes to the invisible heavens, she was keenly aware of Heaven’s listening. “For Love,” she prayed in her silent way, with every fiber and synapse-firing of her flesh, with the peaceful, fervent purity of her soul. Her own particular affection for the people around her, gathered closely together in the upper room, drowsy with their own prayer, radiated like the soft fragrance of a rose on a still summer day. “Oh, my God, that they may be healed, bound, and filled with Love… this is the prayer in the heart of your lowly handmaiden to whom You, Most Gracious and Good Father, gave the most precious and sublime gift, in all mercy and generosity. My Lord and my God, my Creator and my dearly beloved son, You who are Infinite and Eternal, You whom I love and adore beyond all measure, beyond imagining, may Your Holy, Perfect, Loving Will be made known brilliantly to those faithfully gathered here, those who have labored and loved with you, those faithfully awaiting the Holy Advocate to lead them out into the turbulent world and into the sure forming of Your Kingdom. This Advocate is Love, Love most holy, Love most pure, Love Divine. You are Love, Lord. You live and give Love – infuse Love into the hearts and minds of your faithful disciples here.”

The night wore on, and while some ate and others slept, all were praying. As they served, as they chewed, as they dreamed, every action, voluntary and involuntary, was an action of prayer, for all were caught up in the net of spiritual vigilance, awaiting the word of release – without even knowing exactly for what they were waiting. Though some were fearful, she knew, all had faith… faith and trust, trust and hope.

Before the cock crew his song of awakening, before the light of the sun broke the slumbering darkness, she lifted her unsleeping head again, the pain in her knees the joy of a deeply planted tree. Her heart in her chest lifted to God, her arms outstretched, she gazed sweetly and deeply with maternal love upon the men and women gathered in the dimness whose prayer, even as they slept, was for the power of illumination of mind, heart, and will. Her own tenderly loving face was radiant with her wordless prayer… “Oh, my Little One, Mighty Lord and Savior… The cavern of sorrow that hollowed so deeply at my heart has been filled to overflowing with everlasting joy! Ever sweet, ever kind, ever generous, You allow my heart to beat with yours… to beat with theirs… I suffer when you suffer and triumph when you triumph… And still I long as You long, I ache as You ache, for every heart to be restored, for every human to be healed of all division that can keep them from Your Love… I yearn for the hearts of these, your own dear friends, to be dispelled of all darkness and lack of understanding, to be filled with Light… with Truth… with Courage… with Love.”

The wonderful sparklings of her mind reach deeply into her heart, through the universe, and beyond… “Once, was I overshadowed by Your Power, oh, Most High, and always and everywhere am I embraced by You, enraptured by Your Love. My Beloved One… the more I gave wholeheartedly to You, the more You gave wholeheartedly to me. The sacrifice of the mother is the bliss of the child of God – I am she! You know my heart! Ready, willing, and able, always and everywhere, to love You, to receive You, to hold You – and to give You away when You will… and the child heart within me rejoices to serve You and to be loved so intimately and infinitely by You.”

Joyful tears welled up in her eyes from her blameless heart. “Your Spirit came personally to me once in intimate mystery, I trust and believe that You will come, now, and send forth Your Spirit again to overshadow and lift up Your disciples here. Enkindle in us the fire of Your Love, Your Word breathed in flame, that we may ceaselessly bear forth the transformative power of Your Love to the hearts of others, everywhere, for generations to come… Your will be done, my Lord. My heart is one with Yours… I hear Your Love whispering now, cooing softly in the coming wind…”

*          *          *

            So quiet was she…. So filled with Love from the moment that she was conceived in the womb of her mother…. With empty hands she had given herself wholly and completely to her Creator, had lovingly surrendered herself, body, mind, heart, and soul to God….

Above the heads of the disciples, tongues of fire burned… above the beautiful humility of her head, the fire burned with the wings of a dove, with the caress of hands, with a baby’s kiss.

Unpublished work copyright 2015 Christina Chase


 You may also like these posts, more imaginings of the life of Mary:

A Stranger Appears in the Making of the Bread

  in the cloud of glory a portal opens

 Pregnant

In the Ordinary: A First Friday Observance

“To see a world in a grain of sand

And a heaven in a wildflower,

Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,

and eternity in an hour.”

This is one of my favorite poems — even though I’m not entirely certain what it means. Good poetry is like that.  The words of William Blake may express some complex philosophy, for all I know, or their meaning may be simple and apparent: it is blessedness to see the extraordinary in the ordinary.

There is rich and awe-inspiring beauty in Creation. But, the transcendent experience of which William Blake speaks (I think) is more than marvelous delight in physical things.  We could simply be caught up in the wonder of a flower’s intricacy and how the forces of nature also bring forth bright, bursting blooms of stardust in galaxies near and far.  Knowing how vast and complex, how beyond our grasp, is the universe — and even a grain of sand — our minds may become overwhelmed and we may experience a rapturous feeling of awe.  All of the natural world is amazing — violets and pebbles, sand and oak trees, and all things and all of the energy that goes into their existence.  But… their existence… not the process, not the parameters, not the products, and not the pondering of these things — but, their existence… contemplating that is when the temporal can take us up to the transcendent.

“To see a heaven in a wild flower” and to hold “eternity in an hour” is more about mysticism than it is about the experience of awe we may feel in the exquisite beauty of what we know scientifically about the universe and the overwhelming vastness of what we don’t know yet.  The idea is not to relate the infinite to the finite or the eternal to the temporal.  I believe that the idea behind William Blake’s poem, the idea behind all sacred experiences of the transcendent, is to relate the finite to the infinite and the temporal to the eternal.  We are not to project our thoughts of the divine upon the mundane (like saying that God is Nature or the Universe) but, rather, project our thoughts beyond the mundane (even through the mundane) to the Divine.

The world is not for nothing. And I believe that matter matters to God.

There is heavenly delight — and then there is Heaven. There is the thrilling adventure of discovery, uncovering the secrets of processes and identities within — and then there is reality itself, existence itself.  To see the transcendent in the temporal is about something much more than how the brain reacts to ego-shattering greatness with a feeling of awe.  It’s about discovering what God wants to say to us personally in the daily living of our lives.

Eternity is not far off, like some experience that is distant from us. Eternity is now.  And now.  And now.  Infinity is not somewhere beyond our reach, impossible to be within.  Infinity is here.  And there.  And here.  And there.  Full and true transcendence is found in the opening of ourselves up to God, allowing God to reveal Divine realities and Mysteries to us.  Here and now.

This post is not meant to debate whether or not a personal God exists. Nor is it meant to further the discussion of whether or not even atheists can have experiences of the sacred.  I am simply reminding myself that the ways of God are visible everywhere — if I remember to look, not only with my eyes and other physical senses, but also with my heart, which is the core of my being, the interior space in which God and I dwell together alone.  So, as I ponder things with my brain, I must also — and, perhaps, first and foremost — ponder them in my heart.  Sometimes, the best explanations of things are not meant to explain, but, rather, to simply cause unutterable wonder — and gratitude — that there is something instead of nothing.  That I am.

The Infinite is. And, yet, so is your hand with its creased and fleshy palm.  The Eternal is.  And, yet, so are the several minutes of time during which you have read this post.  That is what truly amazes, inspires true wonder and true awe.  We have been brought into being by the Infinite/Eternal One!  With this epiphany, the mystics slip through portals of divine transcendence.  GOD’S INITIATIVE.  And God’s willingness to help us up to Him.

And so I take ordinary things as my faith facilitators on this First Friday of October.

Prayer

Oh, Uncreated Creator, oh, Uncaused Cause,

May I see the little lessons

that the ordinary things of every day can teach me

about myself, about life,

and about You.

May I be open to the Transcendent,

remembering always that you are immanent,

ever-present, with me always and everywhere,

revealing your love and Mysteries to me

in my heart.

Help me to see You.

Help me to hear You.

Amen.

[This has been part of the First Friday Facilitators series, to help me better celebrate the First Friday observation of the Consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.]

© 2014 Christina Chase

What Would You Do? A Holy Hour Moment

After I don’t know how long a lapse, perhaps as long a lapse as I have been consecrated to the Sacred Heart, I finally did, well, something of a holy hour. All I did was watch Catholic TV.  It was nothing intellectually stimulating or even inspiring.  It was more like something that wasn’t bad for me, which I had to get through.  And, yet, I was given, through God’s grace, a little (rather flooring) moment of insight.

A program about music was being aired, one that was filmed at a beautiful ArchAbbey. This caused me to think about all of the beautiful churches that are closing their doors in my area.  It’s been bothering me.  My own parish church is one that seems to always be threatened with the ax, because our income is low and the cost of maintaining the 120-year-old building — a beautiful building — is high. It’s strange to me how it seems as though the churches that are the least attractive to look at are the ones that are thriving, their doors safely open.  Of course, it’s not the beauty of a church that brings true worshipers within.  Art devotees may worship beautiful things, but God is not a work of art, nor a beautiful building.  God is God, who alone is worthy of worship.  And I do believe that God is grieved the most, not by the churches that are closing, but by the hearts that are closing.

Where is God truly to be worshiped?

Does the architecture of the church have to follow just such a pattern with just so many stained-glass windows done in just such a style? Are beautiful grounds with a beautiful landscape at the background necessary?  What kind of music is appropriate so that God may be worshiped?  Does it really matter?  No.  No matter how grand a cathedral or a church or a choir — God is always worshiped in the heart.

Which begs the question:

Are the doors of my heart open for worship?

A little later in the hour, I was wondering what God wants me to do. If, in true worship, I give myself to God, then what does that mean?  What will that look like, what will I be doing?  I remember Jesus’s conversation with Peter:

Jesus: “Peter, do you love me?”

Peter: “Lord, you know that I love you.”

Jesus: “Then, feed my sheep.”

So, how do I feed his sheep? If I am a writer, and I believe that I am a writer, then, perhaps, my act of writing is an act of evangelization.  It is a way of spreading the Gospel, the good news, a way of bearing Christ to people so that they may have an encounter with him.  It is, of course, not I who will produce such a moment, such an encounter, but God — God’s grace working through me.  Will that feed his sheep?  Is this what I’m supposed to do… because it seems to me that it isn’t direct and intimate enough.  It isn’t strong and vital enough… it just isn’t enough.

Along this line of thinking came this thought:

What would I do if I could do anything?

If I had the power to be some great and vital person, an extraordinary and active person of influence throughout the whole world, what would I do? Would I herd people into beautiful church buildings?  Would I guilt them or coerce them, trick, threaten, or cajole them into Divine worship and prayer in front of marble alters and gilded artistry?  No.

I would want to speak a word of kindness to people. I would want to soothe their souls, slake their feverish brows, heal their wounds, ease their burdens, and share in their woes.  I would want to love them.  And I would hope that, by loving them, they would love as well and know all of the truth, goodness, peace, joy — the fullness of life that is loving.

Sound familiar?

Yes, that’s right. I would want to love, so that they would love one another as I love them — and that, of course, is Christ.

Shocking.

God’s Way

God did not condescend to become one of us in order to push us together in places of worship so that we could recite and respond by rote, surrounded by pretty things. I do believe that God wants us to come together in our love of God and, with all of our skills and talents for beauty and inspiration, praise His Holy Name — so that we may then be further inspired to love God and one another and to go forth throughout the whole world to love.  The beginning and the point, the source and the summit of life, is love. Real love.

Sometimes, I wish that God had just come down in a more visibly or intellectually obvious way, with undeniable signs pointing toward the Church and toward doing what is right. Don’t you?  Everyone would just follow along then, a no-brainer.  But… that isn’t love.  And God is love.

God creates each and every one of us in His own divine image and likeness — by loving, through loving, for loving.  The holy heights, depths, and breadths of real love are most readily and joyfully received and lived through a committed life of faith and the practice of self surrender, self-sacrifice, self gift.  Knowing this, we see how Christ Jesus truly is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  Not everyone will “get it right” — but everyone is able to be loved and to love.  What God, in real love, wants for humankind is not so different from what we want for the world when we also love humbly, selflessly, and generously: to love and to be loved.

“Love one another as I have loved you.”

So, now I’m thinking that, maybe my acts of evangelization, my writing, won’t inspire people to come to the fullness of faith and life in the worship of God through the teachings and community of Christ in the Catholic Church — I don’t know. But, if what I do and say, if who I am, inspires someone to love, to really love… then God’s grace has worked through me and, in that tiny little moment, in that tiny little whisper, I am most closely emulating Christ.  I can’t always bring people to Christ — but I can always bring Christ to people.

And maybe that’s exactly what God wants from me.

© 2014 Christina Chase