Monica E. Smith

Monica E. Smith

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Lip Service

The question is, are all the toasts we make,  promises we utter, the resolutions we list year after year after year simply pretty words? Is it just the scripted thing to do because we've always done it, because this is what one does on New Year's Eve? Do our vows simply fall from our mouths like confetti to decorate our New Year celebrations, or rise in the night air, only to burst when the clock strikes midnight? I think the power of a truly new, joyful, prosperous and meaningful future lies in contrition for past misdeeds and the desire and heart, wisdom, spirit, truth and determination with which we speak these words. Anything less is simply lip service.      

           Lip Service
(Thoughts upon a New Year's Eve)

After all is said and done
And the last toast is uttered,
After the final resolution
We are no better, no worse than before
This ceremonious passing of time
Stubbornly entrenched in old ways,
We cheer on the new
While our hearts remain unchanged,
Our minds unyielding,
Our souls secluded
In prisons of self-complacency.
And together we go our separate ways
With cups raised high in celebration,
Looking toward a new mediocrity.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Reclamation




(Music: "Silent Night" by Tim Janis, piano)

My husband, Scott, and I were recently watching the 1951 version of A Christmas Carol, which is actually entitled, simply, Scrooge. We love how there are subtle differences in each of the versions of this beloved story. For instance, in the 1951 version, when Jacob Marley and the other spirits conversed with Ebenezer Scrooge, they spoke of his "reclamation". We smiled, enjoying the variance of another era, and loved the sound of the word, talking about how that word is never used anymore. I've been thinking about the word ever since.

For the first time this year, it snowed that same night; I couldn't sleep and headed outside to watch the falling snow. I could feel my spirits lift, my heart sore as I watched in excitement like a child, the silvery flecks in the bright light at the back door of our house; the snow was soft and brilliant and fluttered so gently to the gelid ground below. And as the snow collected on the grass, the light reclaimed it as stars sparkling from the heavens, even in the place where my feet disturbed its purity. I could not get the melody of Silent Night out of my head, but sang instead "silent night, snowy night...". It was absolutely beautiful: the snow, the profound quietude and the sweet melody of a silent night. I wondered if the composer might have known that his creation would resound forever, as the Composer of the song of life knew that His creation would forever live...

I can't imagine Christmas without singing Silent Night. There are few songs that can dispel the darkness and elevate as it does; and I pray the world awakens before there truly are no more silent nightsin song or in life.

Christmas, as any earthly joy, is fleeting. So let us all, with Ebenezer Scrooge, keep Christmas in our hearts, and promise to "live in the Past, the Present and the Future", allowing the spirits of all three to "strive within us!". My Christmas wish is that all hearts remain open to the love born this silent, holy night. May we all know the true joy and peace of the season, as we become increasingly aware that our reclamation can be solely found swaddled, in the sweet, soft hay of a lowly manger.


("Reclamation" to be recited, or sung to the melody of "Silent Night")

Reclamation
(by Monica E. Smith)

Silent night, snowy night
All is still, soft and white
Round the world people gather with smiles
Accepting God's love in the gift of a child
Waiting for crying to cease
Longing for heavenly peace

Silent night, snowy night
Heaven's love, shining bright
In the darkness a single star
Leading His people from near and far
Jesus be our guide
While with you we ever abide

Silent night, snowy night
God's own child, in our sight
All the world glows with heavenly grace
Dispelling the darkness of this lowly place
Christ has come to earth
Reclaiming our lives by His birth

Merry Christmas! And may God bless us all. Every one!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

All is Not Calm...

Wouldn't it be nice if that night for which we wait each year was truly a silent, holy night? What would it take to make it so?

For so many, Christmas has been diminished to getting the best sale on Black Friday, and now, Cyber Monday. How sad. How meaningless and empty. And at the same time, we're so caught up in the wrongs of others, offended that we have been wished "Happy Holidays!" rather than "Merry Christmas!". In the scheme of things, does it really matter? If you feel moved to wish someone "Merry Christmas!" do it. Why be so concerned, certain that the person who wishes you "Happy Holidays!" in return is using the wrong words? Does that, somehow, take away from your Christmas celebration? Can you honestly say you know what is in that person's heart? I think it a bit self-righteous to assume a person who greets you with "Happy Holidays" is attacking Christianity. People have been saying it for years with the simple and kind intent of spreading holiday cheer, and now, suddenly it becomes anathema. We seem to be missing the forest for the Christmas trees. I believe Jesus Christ seems to be more concerned with a person's heart rather than his choice of words. Is the person who greets another with "Merry Christmas" somehow a better Christian than one who does not? Wouldn't actually living the Gospel in our own lives be a much more productive and magnetic defense of Christ?


There are so many opportunities during the Christmas season for us to do this, so many ways to enhance our own Christmas traditions and activities, and give them life again. There are so many opportunities to stand in solidarity with those who hunger and thirst, or are in need in any way, and that do not take away from our celebrations, but in fact, enrich them.  There are so many ways to embrace those less fortunate than we are and include them in our lives, so many opportunities for us to "be" Christ. Ebenezer Scrooge learned this before it  was too late. Will we? Here are just two of which I have recently become aware.


Seven-year-old Nathan Elfrink has been fighting brain cancer for about five years. He is losing his battle. His Christmas wish is to receive one million Christmas cards before he dies. What an enormous wish for a little boy. What a small wish to grant. I intend to send Nathan a card and, perhaps, a little gift. If anyone else wishes to do so, you may reach Nathan at 2415 Taylor Blair Road; West Jefferson, Ohio 43162. And while you're at it, please, pass the word.


Linda Gibbons languishes in a Canadian prison for the unspeakable crime of standing outside of an abortion clinic and praying for the people who come and go there. She is witnessing to the Gospel in opposition to the Canadian *"bubble zone" law. St. Paul entreats us to encourage one another and build each other up (1 Thessalonians 5:11). How much would a simple Christmas card and greeting encourage Linda Gibbons and make her Christmas more joyful! Cards can be sent to her at:


Attention: Linda Gibbons
Vanier Center for Women
655 Martin Street, Box 1040
Milton, Ontario
L9T 5E6, CANADA


(This prison normally incarcerates those who are convicted of drug-related crimes, so the following requirements are in place for correspondence):


Do not use stickers of any kind on envelope or card

Do not send laminated materials

Do not ask direct questions about daily activities at the detention center

Put your address also directly in the card or letter, because sometimes the mail sorter keeps the envelopes and Linda cannot write back if she chooses to do so

Monetary gifts to Linda must be a money order made out to "Linda Gibbons". The detention center deposits the money directly into her account. She uses any donations she might receive for envelopes and stamps.

Linda cannot receive books or pro-life materials that show post-abortion photos

I certainly do not condemn our respective Christmas traditions; I love the sound of carols, the snow and ornaments on a tree, the brightly colored lights and the personal traditions I grew up with, and still continue to this day with my family. It simply would not be Christmas without them! These are all beautiful and joyful ways to keep Christmas in our hearts. I don't believe it matters that Jesus was not actually born on December 25, nor does it matter how the celebration of His birth came about. It does not matter whether someone wishes you "Merry Christmas!" or "Happy Holidays!" or "Peace". What matters is that "it is", that He is. What matters is that we celebrate His birth with joy and love, compassion and benevolence, as He lived. After all the shopping, the baking, the decorating, it is good to keep in mind that all our preparation and celebration is centered, and should focus around the birth of Jesus Christ. So, "What ought we to do?" Let joy and gladness show forth in you. You are called to be the presence of Jesus. (Luke 3:10-18).

Peace, and Merry Christmas!


(*about bubble zone laws)

Monday, November 30, 2009

Sustenance

I've known Molly for about seven years. We met through a pen-pal organization online. We became friends, but I've never actually met her. I did call her once out of the blue just to surprise her. It was fun and quite enjoyable, hearing her gasp and laugh and yell "Monica!" in disbelief over the phone line. She was not one to hide emotion. It made my day; and I think it made hers, too. Over the years I've often thought of planning a short visit to "Moonshine Road" in  Pennsylvania, where she lives, to have a girls' weekend and really get to know each other better. Molly died on Thanksgiving Day.


Molly loved her son. And she loved her cats. And her garden, from which emerged some fine, down-home Pennsylvania cookin'. I could almost smell her creations when she described them in letters. She loved to cook and camp and was a great organizer, always in charge of some event or another, like the yearly dinners to make money for the Jonestown fire department. Such a kind soul, she was.


She had her share—maybe more—of heartache, suffering many physical and emotional illnesses, struggles of one kind or another.  Through our letters, we allowed each other to rant and rave and cry, to be human, to be ourselves. And she loved my poetry. She trusted me with her most personal demons, and though  I cried over her letters many times, I always looked forward to them, because they gave me an opportunity to pray with her and for her, to encourage her, to help her know God, laugh with her, to think about and examine the angels and demons in my own life, and let Molly know she was a person of worth, that I considered her a gift in my life.


No, we never met, but she called me "friend", and my life has been richer for the knowing  of Molly. Her unexpected passing has left a void in my life. And much sadness. But there are no "I wish I would have..." moments—except for, maybe, having a chance to answer her last letter—no being sorry I did not respond to her or become more involved. There are no thoughts of "if only...". We do not know the day nor the hour (Matthew 25:13), and I am thankful I did not hesitate to engage her, to get to know her, to express love and friendship. 


Eternal repose and blessed memory, my friend. May you now know the peace you craved during your life on earth.


I had a friend once. Her name was Molly.


Sustenance


Our daily bread
Is not food alone
But that which nourishes the soul.
It is the very manna that falls from heaven
And seasons our lives, filling the hungry
With the sweetness of an embrace,
The richness of a kind gesture,
A hearty smile.
It is the cool, clear water
Flowing from the heart no longer a rock,
Quenching our thirst for love,
Giving us purpose
And a reason to believe.






Sunday, October 18, 2009

Throwing out the Baby with the Bath Water

Actually, I don't normally "rant" here. But I heard what I thought to be a disturbing news story the other day, one that, I believe, goes deeper than the incident itself, one that doesn't bode well for the moral direction of our country.

It seems a college student at the University of New Hampshire had hung a United States flag on the wall outside his dorm room window. He wanted to support and honor his father, who had served in the military for 20 years.  No, that is not disturbing to me (had I been that young man's parent, I would have been extremely proud). What is disturbing is that the university forced him to take it down. It seems their policy prohibits "television or radio antennae and any other objects which are placed outside the room window or anywhere on the exterior of the building or adjacent grounds." Comforting to know, especially in these dark days of terrorism, that our American flag has now been put into the category of miscellaneous objects which obstruct. I certainly believe in authority, guidance and ethical behavior.  But there is an element of "the greater good" here that is being sorely overlooked.

It seems that this policy is in place because the university can't have all sorts of inappropriate things being hung everywhere, not that that United States flag is inappropriate of course, as the UNH administrators say; but if they allowed one object, they'd have to allow everything.

This morning I heard of the Chester City, Pennsylvania firefighter who has been suspended without pay because he refused to take down the American flag decal from his locker. This is the new policy because of a recent racially offensive cartoon posted by a colleague.

The fire commisioner stated the policy remains in effect because "How do we know what offends who?" he said. "I have to play Solomon here." I see two things wrong with this:

One, there is an inherent danger in blanket policies such as these. They are made without much thought and out of fear and our need to control. Are we to refrain from speaking truth, or displaying or expressing what is righteous and good in fear that those who oppose might become offended? Are we no longer "allowed" to express positive and encouraging thoughts? Do we not encourage evil when we are afraid to speak of truth and fidelity and integrity?

Two, Solomon spoke with wisdom.



Monday, September 28, 2009

Honoring Nature

Our connection with nature is a strong one. Henry David Thoreau felt that we can never have enough of nature. I agree! We take comfort in her coolness, warm ourselves in the heat of her sun, are awed by her beauty and amazed and frightened by her power and anger; and we respect her wisdom. What person has not longed to "get away from it all" when life's pressures become too demanding? And what are our first thoughts in the search to escape life's burdens: to the woods, the lake, the beach, the mountains and the sea—to nature! It's like coming home.


In his book, My First Summer in the Sierra (1911), John Muir states "We are now in the mountains and they are in us, kindling enthusiasm, making every nerve quiver, filling every pore and cell of us. Our flesh-and-bone tabernacle seems transparent as glass to the beauty about us, as if truly an inseparable part of it, thrilling with the air and trees, streams and rocks, in the waves of sun—a part of all nature...".


I believe, as the physicist, philosopher, G.C. Lichtenberg once remarked, that when we look at nature, we are observing ourselves. I also believe that there is but one Architect of the entire natural world, that when we honor nature, we honor ourselves, and ultimately, we honor our God. It was from the earth we came, and when our lives here end, it is to the earth our physical bodies will return, for we are kindred...

"Honoring Nature", a Video by Monica E. Smith
(music: "Night Rain" by Jim Brickman)


Oh, To Be a Noble Tree

Oh, to be a noble tree
And never have to bend a knee
In the bonds of slavery

Or know the pain of poverty

Regarded as a thing of beauty
Lovely for the eye to see
Not concerned with vanity
Each accepted as he would be

Oh, to be a noble tree
Akin to sun and stars and sea
No fear of inequality
For such royal pedigree

With difference each one’s majesty
And color, just variety
To live a life forever free
Oh, to be a noble tree




Come October

Copper and gold, these riches I treasure
More than any earthly pleasure
Come October they shimmer in fields of grain
A harvest of color, in nature they reign
Behold their beauty, store the memory, look fast
But the blink of an eye and the season has passed



Her Majesty

In the midst
Of her evergreen entourage
Stood the Maple
Majestic brilliance
Glowing as if ablaze
Yet not consumed
By her radiance
Nor could October’s hoarfrost

Cool the intensity
Of such perfection
And I, how blessed
To have gazed upon
Such royal pedigree



Consecration

a solitary leaf,
lovely in death
as it was in life,
tinged with tears
from an early autumn
frost flutters, featherlike
to it's resting place
on the gelid ground,

unaware
it has given its life
that winter might once
again draw breath



Reason and Rhyme


Where is the reason, the rhyme
in a world that honors force?
Look to the wind.

in a world that glorifies might?
Look to the mountains.

in a world that praises power?
Look to the sea.


in a world still seeking beauty?
Look to the flowers of the field.

in a world struggling to be free?
Look to the birds of the air.

Where is the reason, the rhyme
in a world desperately in need of love?
Seek God within yourself.

(poems and some text excerpted from Kindred: A Family Portrait by Monica E. Smith)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Haiku for You and Tanka, Too


I love shorter poems for their ability to tell a story, or set a scene (that furthers one's imagination) with just a few words. So it is only natural that I would be drawn to Haiku and Tanka. These ancient Japanese poems have been around for hundreds and hundreds of years, and I find the forms can be brought into the present without any difficulty at all.

Haiku are an ancient form of Japanese unrhymed poetry. They usually will contain a season word ("kigo"), and capture the essence of a moment; they deal with nature itself, or human nature. Older than Haiku, Tanka are similar in nature in that they evoke a moment or mark an occasion, and do so with brevity and musicality. They are always written about nature, the seasons, love, sadness or other strong emotions. There are many specifications for writing these little verses, which I won't go into here. (if you would like to know more about them, there is a wealth of information online).

Autumn has always been my favorite season, and it seems to be so with many writers. There is a seemingly endless supply of writings when googling "autumn". I'd like to mark the passing of yet another summer with a few verses of my own.

Here in Ohio, we're experiencing an early autumn this year. And I couldn't be happier! It seems like we always are in a hurry to get to the next new thing around the corner. But by doing that, we lose sight of what's happening now, and miss so many gifts given by the present. I will not rush autumn away this year with expectation of other good things to come. I intend to enjoy each new colorful day as it unfolds before me.

I have always loved the preparation, the anticipation of things to come almost more than the actual happenings themselves; and it is no less so than with the changing of seasons. Autumn is a death of what was, yes, but also a new birth. Actually, autumn, more than any other season, is a preparation for new life (as is death, I believe). I see it in the changing colors, the dying off of vegetation, the birds and other animals flying or scurrying here and there seemingly planning, organizing, preparing for what is to come.

On a recent camera shoot, I was in awe of what I heard and saw when I actually focused on what was going on around me. I felt I was in another world. Rather than simply walking through nature, taking it for granted, almost ignoring the life around me, I put myself into the picture and became a part of it, celebrated life with all my senses. Leaves were falling, and I enjoyed their smooth windings and turnings and the whoosh as they floated to the earth below. Rain was ever so lightly patting down the drying grasses; and rather than trying to escape it, as we so often do, I welcomed and enjoyed each cool droplet on my skin. Birds and other animals were in a rhythm of busy-ness, calling out to each other and the wind seemed to speak to all of nature, telling it to hurry, hurry, prepare, prepare...

Seemingly, nature gave the call to change course, and all responded. This is remarkable to witness, and no less exciting year after year. I hope your autumn will be as joyful and joy-filled as mine this year.




Two Tanka


I wipe away drops
of moisture from my forehead
the heat of August
steadily fades into fall
as I slowly age with time


the cicada's song
shortens with each passing day
the cycle completes
as his days come to an end
in the waning August heat




Four Haiku

autumn comes calling
mother nature cleans her house...
scattered maple leaves


the tree frogs call out,
serenading each other—
summer is over


gray clouds break apart
cold wind blows in from the north
autumn has arrived


flower petals fade
as autumn approaches

little by little




(music excerpt in this video: The Song of the Japanese Autumn
(Yasuo Kawahara)
from The Concert at the Church of Villamediana (Spain)
recorded August 25, 2005


Early Autumn in West Liberty, Ohio

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Sweet Oleander


Oleander, also called rose bay (Nerium Oleander), assbane and in Persian, kahrzarah, is a lovely and sweet-smelling white, purple or pink flower. The bush on which it grows has leathery lance-shaped leaves and long seed pods. Oleander is a native of India, but is now naturalized in many warm countries. It grows wild along the sides and hollows of ravines in Afghanistan. Ironically, despite its beauty and sweet smell, it is among the most poisonous and deadly of plants.


Lament of a Soldier Son
(for Patrick)

Sadly, it is not the aromatic lavender I remember
That suspends me in this mystifying languor,
But only the sweet, deceptive oleander

As deadly as it is fragrant
That cunningly deceives me into believing
I walk among the flowers of my mother's garden.
Oh, to know such blissful tranquility again!
Here, when I lie, I lie in fear
In parched and withered deserts.
No verdant fields gracefully swaying in the breeze
No mellifluous birdsong awakening me from sleep
No dulcet tones of wind through pine
No misty rains to cool my heated brow
Only longing and ephemeral dreams of home,
And that wicked perfume of wild oleander
Wafting through the unsettling sands of Afghanistan.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Ballerina

In the spring
When she was a child
I wanted her to be a ballerina
So she put on a tutu                                                                             
And toe shoes
And danced for me

As the heat of summer rose
With light of day
She feverishly wanted to grow up
To be like me
And I wanted her
To be like me

When it was autumn
And the winds blew strong
She dressed in jeans and sweatshirts
And a Superman hat
And I told her
Not to fly so fast

Now, with winter near
I bid the passing of days
Alone to freeze
For she is, at long last,
Becoming who she was created to be
And I want her, simply, to be


("Ballerina" adapted from Days of Fine Gray Ash, by Monica E. Smith)

Monday, August 10, 2009

Tumbling (into the Vale of Years)

Forty years ago this year I was a senior in high school, with my whole life ahead of me. As I look back on those days, the events seem almost like a play. There were times I played the part my way, and times I simply followed the "director", but never knowing how the story might end. It was such an exciting time, filled with endless possibilities. Mostly, I had no idea what I wanted to do, where I wanted to go, let alone who I was.

One would think, though, I might have learned those things through the years.Today at 58 years olda senior yet againI like to believe (when my darker side is hibernating) that I still have my whole life ahead of me. But I still do not know what I want to do, where I want to go; and, sometimes, I'm not so sure of who I am. There are the obvious descriptions of course: sister, wife, mother, grandmother. But those are just labels. Memories are flooding back these days, and I look back over all the experiences in my life and wonder if they are simply disjointed occurrences, or if they are connected in some way. People tend to believe that with age comes wisdom, that everything is clearer and more understood. Not me. It seems I have more questions now than I did when I was in high school.

These days, everything seems to spark a memory. This year, especially, I have experienced births, reunions, marriage, the passing of people I seem to have known for a lifetime
—new life beginning, all. The stories are familiar, but I remember playing a different part in the original. And that's kind of bittersweet. We all enjoy being the "star" now and then, don't we? But there is something to be said for character actors. There would be no story without them. They give the story a sense of reality and familiarity (and, perhaps, a bit of spice!) without distracting from it. That takes experience. And as we get older, that is one thing we certainly have.

I think, for the most part, memories are, perhaps, the gifts of a life well-lived, even though they can be painful at times. If so, then I have lived a good life (so far), because the memories just seem to come tumbling back without end, casting their recollections, their tears, their smiles. And I'm definitely ready to make more. Quiet on the set...and, ACTION!


Tumbling


They come tumbling

stumbling

on a beggars night

rumbling

like the thunder in my head

memories

jumbling my thoughts

into confusion


Quiet!


But they will not hear

they cast their recollections

near

(and leave me

with a borrowed tear)

unrepentant

for their intrusion



Peace,
Monica

* "Tumbling" from Days of Fine Gray Ash


Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Resurrection

There is a pond
in a field on State Route 287 that I love. A few years ago, it wasn't there, but a small corn field grew in its place. The land was very low in this area, and during one very wet summer it flooded, killing all the corn. I remember going by each day and watching the corn plants hanging lower and lower, dying a little bit more each time I passed, and thinking how terrible this loss was.

Eventually, the corn succumbed totally, and could hardly be seen for the pool of water that enveloped it. The summer was an unusually wet one, so the little pond never actually drained completely; in fact, it grew wider with each new rainfall. I wondered if the people who owned this property would end up filling it with more soil, and build it up again so they would be able to plant more crops. But that never happened. It was left to nature.

Strangely enough, the little pond never completely drained, and remained even throughout the autumn and winter months and into the following spring. And each time I passed I wondered what would become of that once green field. I missed seeing the corn plants swaying in the breeze. Oh, there is plenty more corn around these parts, but it was just the thought of a living thing dying that made me sad. Little by little, though, the pond seemed to become prettier, with all types of marshy plants growing around it. It looked natural, like it belonged there, as if, maybe, this is what it was meant to be all along.

Over the course of another year or two, the little pond continued to grow and become deeper. I watched with more and more curiosity each subsequent year. Eventually I began to see a few birds stop by, and then some families of ducks. It was certainly not unusual to see the Canadian geese stop to rest on their way from here to there in spring and autumn, either. The ducks are regulars now, some of the geese stay year-round and in the past couple years I have even seen some blue heron and a snowy egret wading at the water's edge. I saw the egret only once; perhaps the little lake was a convenient stopover on his journey. But the blue heron have been there a few times.

I look forward to each new spring, watching the increasing families of ducks and geese move in, wondering what other new birds and animals might adopt this place as home. It's funny, but I rarely think about that corn field anymore. I missed it at first. But the lake has grown into a beautiful natural surrounding, the perfect home for a lot of creatures. I love looking at it on bright sunny days, the water sparkling, the ducks and geese floating along, young ones trailing in their wake. And I'm hoping that snowy egret decides to stop by again one of these days. I haven't been able to catch him on film yet, but if he returns I will.

Odd, something seems vaguely familiar to me. I can't shake the feeling that I have heard this story before. Something about being dried and withered, diseased and suffering, dying, changing, living again in a new form... 

Happy Easter everyone.


Where Once a Lowland Corn Field Stood

There is a limpid pool
Where once
A lowland corn field
Stood languishing
In marshy soil,
Drained of its sweetness
And finally succumbing
Under a midsummer
Jasmine sun.

It is said that life
Must run its course,
That out of death
Will come new life.
And so it is
Where once
A lowland corn field
Stood, another now
Draws breath.

'Twas washed away
What could not flower,
But the land was not
Left barren.
Life is sustained
Through nature's wisdom,
Change its only order, for
Where once
A lowland corn field
Stood, the snowy egret
Now is boarder.

 



Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow...

Spring has sprung, but someone forgot to notify Mother Nature! Here it is, not a week before Easter, we are well into April and this was outside when I awoke this morning. Living in Ohio, you just have to laugh sometimes.

With my woodfire stoked, my wee warm dog by my side and the hot coffee percolating in the pot, I am good to go; but in an attempt to awaken spring, or, perhaps, scare off winter, I offer the following few words as a nudge.

Sanguine Expectation

He waited, imagining
In breathless anticipation
As each silken layer
Was slowly,
Almost painfully
Peeled away
To reveal
The delicate gift
Flowering within.  
As if to sense
He could take no more,
The tiny green bud
Finally, mercifully burst
Into a profusion of color

Spring had sprung!

("Sanguine Expectation" from Kindred: A Family Portrait)
 

Sunday, April 05, 2009

The King of Glory Enters...


Immaculate Conception Parish; North Lewisburg, Ohio (Diocese of Cincinnati)

A Lenten Journey
(with permission)
by Paula D. Oshinski

We walk beside our Blessed Lord Jesus as He makes His entrance into Jerusalem amid the waving palms and pussy willows, hearing the shouts of "Hosanna!". 
 
Our Journey takes us to the Last Supper in the Upper Room where Jesus will give us the Greatest Gift, the Holy Eucharist, the Gift of Himself.
 
We once again journey to the Garden of Gethsemane to comfort Our Lord as He waits for what He knows will happen--where He asks His Father, as we all have asked at moments in our own lives, to take this Cup from Him...The tramping of the soldiers' feet startle us and make us realize that we are on the Way of the Cross . . .
 
The blows of His scourging make our souls cry out for mercy for Him. We stand with Our Lord at the trial. We weep and whisper, "Ecce Homo" (Behold the Man!) And as Barrabas is given his freedom and the crowd shouts, "Crucify Him", our tears speak silent volumes...
 
We walk with Our Lord as He stumbles under the weight of the Cross and falls three times, and our hearts yearn to help Him carry It, as did Simon of Cyrene. 
 
We run to Him, as Veronica did, and wipe His Precious Face with the Veil, imprinting the Icon of His Divine Humanity on our hearts.  
 
We hear Our Lord consoling the weeping women--the Great Consoler Comforts us in the midst of His unspeakable suffering. And then, we see the anguished face of His Blessed Mother as she beholds her Son and Our Lord, and Her Heart is broken. She weeps, for Him and for us . . . 
 
Suddenly, we are where we would never desire to be, on the hill of Golgotha, shaken by the deafening strikes of the hammers driving the nails into the Hands of Our Lord--the Hands of Healing, the Hands of Love. The Cry of Love pierces the air as the nails are driven into the Feet of the Master. . .
 
Time stops. We feel the excruciating Crown of Thorns as it causes Our Lord to endure indescribable pain. We feel great sorrow and pain piercing the Heart of the Blessed Mother as we stand beside her and John at the foot of the Cross. Jesus Forgives Us! We see the gathering darkness and hear the Seven Last Words of Our Lord on the Cross. Then, Jesus speaks: "It Is Finished." The earth trembles. . . 
 
We walk with Joseph of Arimathea to take down the Body of Our Lord. Jesus is anointed with sweet-smelling fragrance, wrapped in fine linen, and is laid in the Tomb. How can this be, that the Creator of All, Our God, is buried?!
 
In the midst of our great grief, we are wrapped in a shroud of peace. We remember Our Lord's Promises. Sunday morning dawns, and we walk to the Tomb with the women. The Tomb is bathed in Holy Light. The stone has been rolled away. The Angel exclaims, "Behold! He Is Not Here! He Is Risen! Alleluia!" The Resurrection of Our Lord is accomplished, and we shall rise with Him at the end of our Journey to Eternal Life. Christos Voskrese! Voistinnu Voskrese! Christ Is Risen! Indeed He Is Risen!
(for Byzantine Catholic Easter references, see also Byzantine Catholic Church


Thursday, March 12, 2009

I Am Your Child

Mother's Day is yet two months away. But March, unbelievably, marks the fourth anniversary of my mother's death, and I have been thinking of her a great deal these last few days. Be that as it may, what mother should only be remembered on one day? I dedicate this entry to her.

My mother never made a mistake, though she thought otherwise. I know this because everything she did, or said, or felt was genuine, from the heart and born from love. I think I even knew this as a child. Even then, I did not want to let her down. She just seemed to have a goodness about her that is seldom found. She was an exceedingly kind and loving woman who truly loved people and enjoyed their company. She loved fully and without limit, even though we, her children, may not have always made the wisest choices in our lives. In fact, those were the times I felt her love even more strongly. It never cooled, never wavered. I admired her so for her constancy, her quiet courage.

I think what is sometimes mistakenly believed to be "playing favorites" is simply a mother who is in touch with her children, and knowing instinctively, intuitively—by guess and by God—when a particular child needs more. My mother was such a woman.

And when I was sad and she would hold me, the touch of her hands was so warm and comforting. I think I miss that most of all. It was a safe place to be when I was a child, and even more so as an adult, facing the many challenges of life. She (along with my father) instilled in her children the mettle to succeed, and planted the seeds of faith so necessary in living a life of meaning and purpose. Somehow just to be with her gave me the strength and courage and desire to go on even when it seemed too hard, or when things made no sense. I wanted to please her, to be like her. Her strength of character was amazing and I don't remember ever hearing her say a negative thing about anyone, except herself. Often, especially in her later days, when my mother felt she failed at something or did or said something she believed was "stupid", or she became forgetful, she would severely chastise herself. She saw those moments as weakness; I saw them as simply human.

It's very difficult to lose someone who has such an impact on your life, and not a day goes by that I don't think of her, say a prayer for her, remember her, miss her. She will always be my mother, my friend, and though I fall far short, my role model. And my dearest mother, always and forever, I Am Your Child...

Monday, March 02, 2009

Silent March


Top to Bottom: Maple Farm and Mad River on State Route 287 in West Liberty, Ohio (Logan County)

No time of year presents a more certain dose of reality, or reminds us more strongly that nature does not abide by our timetable, than March. This morning, with warm thoughts and dreams of spring still in my head (despite needing the extra down quilt on my bed last night), I awoke to frozen pipes in the bathroom and Bernie's cable (with which we chain her outside) snapped completely in half from the cold. Apparently, much to my dismay, March has decided to forgo the "in like a lamb" scenario this year.

The Mad River still has patches of ice where the river seems only to be a little trickle of water left over from a late winter rainfall. Local weather reports still talk of wind chills, and the choicest logs from a recent truckload of wood are burning furiously in the wood stove. But living in the country, and with an open mind, one begins to notice the early heralds of spring around this time of year, assuring that, indeed, spring is just around the corner.

I love driving down State Route 287 through West Liberty, Ohio. Though it can be tricky to maneuver the hills and winding curves after a fresh snow, beauty is nonetheless lurking, even in winter. This stretch of road is a buffet for the eyes, at times wooded areas or fields and wide-open spaces, at times artistically spaced farmhouses—sometimes new and impeccable, sometimes in need of repair (and offering a certain beauty of their own). In autumn the trees here are especially bright and colorful and I find it hard to keep my eyes on the winding roads when driving. Even in winter after a new snow, the hills and valleys are lambent in the sun or moonlight, evidence of the simple shimmering purity which remains in nature. Depending on whether you're traveling through this area in mid-summer or early October, also on the menu are rows and rows of corn, alternating from emerald green to a deep coppery, almost incandescent glow in the shining sun. The daylillies and little clumps of multi-colored wild flowers in spring and summer are quite profuse, fragrant and especially lovely.

As in all of life, one thing you can always count on in nature is change, and while I don't like change, I always look forward to and am excited by the change of seasons. It signals a new beginning fertile with possibility, and adds a little spice to my routine. But I always seem to be caught off guard by one particular presentiment of spring, which, after living here for 20 years I should well expect: the bright red pails which suddenly appear in a large grove of maple trees on Route 287. They are a surprising and welcome burst of color in the otherwise dull gray-brown of winter's coup de grĂ¢ce. It's time for maple syrup again, and all things warm and sweet. It's March, sweetest of months, flowing like syrup into our midst, allowing us to savor life's fullness once again.



Silent March

Though she may arrive
Silently, lamb-like
March cannot hide

Her bright red pails
Handily hung
Give her away,

Announce her arrival
With the pomp and ceremony
Of a royal entourage,
Signaling the time
For mapling once again

March, sweetest of months,
Flows like syrup into our midst
Allowing us to savor life’s fullness

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

All That Remains...

I recently watched one of my favorite movies, The Remains of the Day, for the third time. I remember seeing it for the first time with my mother in 1993 in the theatre. As the final music played on and the credits rolled, we each sat silently in our seats in the dark for the longest time unable to emit anything vocal except a sigh, virtually paralyzed from the emotional impact. The feeling was not watered down, seeing this movie for the third time.

The story is about a man who lives his life quite perfunctorily, sadly devoid of anything but his day-to-day routine. "Stevens" is head butler at the estate of the politically engaged Lord Darlington during pre-WWII England. So rigid is he (Stevens) that he is not moved by a request for friendship, the tragic death of his father, his master's misguided Nazi sympathies or the pleadings of his own heart. Unfortunately, in his attempt to avoid pain, he has also avoided life. The movie ends, many years later, with Stevens regretting his life as a "spectator", and his attempt to amend, perhaps counteract what his actions--or lack thereof--had wrought. Through Stevens (and his determination to bring justice to the world by simply serving his master and humanity) we are nudged into thoughts of our own moral responsibility. Is it enough to just do our duty, to follow rules, to do what is expected of us? Is this what life is about?

This is the story of us all, in that we can sometimes go through life without any enjoyment, any involvement or connection with what truly matters, leaving us to ask "Is that all there is?". Are we afraid to even say "hello" to another person, to make eye contact, to let people into our lives? Do we take the time to actually engage another person, to listen and respond, or do we say "Hi, how are you" as if it was part of a script and simply walk away without expecting or wanting an answer? Sometimes all it takes is one word, one smile, one gesture to change someone's life--and maybe your own.

Too often we let our preconceived notions about people dictate whether we will acknowledge them. And we certainly don't like to become involved in anything if there is the slightest chance we will be inconvenienced, or might get hurt. It's sad, really, because we can miss out on so much because of our fears and misguided judgments.

Some years ago, one of my sons had attended a concert and was outside mingling with people afterward. A woman came up to him and began rattling on about nothing really discernible. She smelled odd and looked dirty and went on and on about nothing in particular. But he listened, nodded, smiled and talked with her. This went on for a few minutes and then she left. But before walking away, she turned to him and said "Thank you for saving my life.".

If, indeed "all the world's a stage" as Shakespeare said, (As You Like It) I, for one, certainly always walk on stage heart in hand. This does not always bring about applause immediately--maybe not at all. And sometimes my role causes more pain than anything else. Suffice it to say that I may never win the award for best actress, but I can honestly say that being a player is much more gratifying than just watching the show.


So Cold the Winter

so cold the winter
so cold
the hearts of some
afraid
the ice will melt

so cold are some
so frightened
to offer love
cautious
of giving too much

so protected are they
so sad
the hearts of some
safe
and empty without love