Celebrations, the Trinity, and a review of “The Feasts” (and a giveaway, too!)

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Celebrations are a big part of family life, and they’ve been on my mind a lot lately (my son Luke is on the cusp of his sixth birthday, a fact which he does not fail to remind us multiple times a day).  Even beyond birthdays, there are so many occasions we remember in our family: the day Scott and I had our first date, the day we got married, the days the boys were baptized, the day our beloved friend Mary passed away, the first day of the school year.  We mark these dates on the calendar; we remember them with rituals and photographs and –depending on the occasion –  gratitude or tears or smiles (sometimes all three).

Catholicism isn’t much different, really.  This is a massive family with a lot of things to remember: special events, special people, special truths.   And while it’s easy to overlook these feast days in the hectic pace of our busy lives, life is so much richer when we take time to recall and remember.

That’s why I love the new book The Feasts: How the Church Year Forms Us As Catholics by Cardinal Donald Wuerl and Mike Aquilina. It’s a celebration of the many feasts and seasons in the Christian calendar, everything from Advent to Easter to the Ascension and the many  Marian feasts.   “The feasts are to time what churches are to space,” the authors explain in the Introduction.  “They are moments we mark off as sacred.”  Wuerl and Aquilina explain why we humans crave and need these celebrations: “In the feasts we recognize that God has given us a good life, and we ‘have it abundantly.’ (John 10:10).  The feasts are a fixed occasion to indulge in the joy God made us to desire — and made us to possess in the end.”

Sign me up!

What’s so nice about this book is that it doesn’t just ponder the general importance of the feasts, it also takes a detailed look at some of the most beloved ones.  Wuerl and Aquilina zero their focus in on a sampling of feasts, solemnities, and memorials (these terms are all clearly explained in the book) for closer examination.  They share the history and the traditions of each feast day, also explaining the beliefs behind each one.  In so doing, they invite us to reflect on what — exactly — these feasts mean in our own lives.

Take, for example, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, which is celebrated the Sunday after Pentecost.

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Holy Trinity Window, St. Dominic’s Church, San Francisco. Photo courtesy of Scott Moyer.

The Holy Trinity is one of those truths that it’s pretty hard to get my head around.  (Actually, who am I kidding?  It’s impossible to get my head around.) As the authors explain,  God  “is one and yet is three divine persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” Three in one.

How does that work, exactly?  I have no idea.  And yet I believe in it, because — as I once said to a non-Catholic friend of mine — it’s just crazy enough to be true.  (She understood exactly what I meant.)  As the book puts it, “The truth about the Trinity is so mysterious that it exceeds human understanding.  It is inaccessible to unaided reason.”

And while I like reason in most things, I  have learned through forty-one years of living that there is a huge veil of mystery around this world, some things I’ll simply never know this side of the grave.  I am okay with that, because what matters with me is not the How but the What, and the Why.

I don’t know how God manages to be three separate persons in one.  But I like what that says: God is all about community.  Other people and other relationships matter, and no one is an island.   Even though my innate tendency is toward being an introvert, a life lived alone is not the life that is most healthy for me.  Family and friends and coworkers and neighbors and a broader community are vital: they stretch me, challenge me, enrich me.  I find God in those interactions, and I’m challenged to act like God for others as well.

As the authors write, “If we say that ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:16), we can do so only because we know that God is not a solitude, but a community, a plurality.”  And if God is a community, there are implications for us as well: to strive to be like God in our own interactions.  We’re challenged not to be remote from others but to engage, whether that’s with the son who wants to play blocks with us or the stranger who stops to ask directions even when we’re in a hurry.  We’re meant to remember ourselves as beings who operate in relation to  others, not spinning out there on our own.

That’s what the Trinity calls me to remember.  It’s a reminder I need, honestly, as I live out my life both in the smaller context of my immediate family and the larger context of a global one.   I’m glad there is a day in the calendar that is dedicated to this truth, and I’m grateful that this book invited me to ponder it more deeply.

Have I whet your appetite for feast days?  If you’re interested in reading The Feasts, you’re in luck:  Image Books has kindly donated a copy for me to give away.  To enter, just leave a comment in the comment section below.   Entries will close at midnight on Wednesday, September 17th, after which I’ll randomly choose a winner.  (Many thanks to Image Books for the review copy.  And I’m just one stop on the blog tour for the book, so be sure to check out the other blog-stops for more reflections on these fascinating feasts.)

And the winner of the “Mary and Me” giveaway is …

… Jill L!  Congratulations, Jill!

Thanks to all who entered.  I just may do this again sometime, so keep checking back.

And while you’re at it, have a terrific weekend.

Why I stink at resting

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I went to the doctor earlier this week to ask about this weird cold/respiratory thingy that has dragged on and on for weeks.  He gave the diagnosis I always hate to get: An unspecified virus, something that medicine won’t cure.  Nothing to do but wait it out.

“And you really should be staying home from work and resting,” he told me.

I almost burst out laughing.

“I’m a teacher,” I said. “Unless I’m dying or in labor, it’s just easier to go to work.”  He must have a teacher or two in his family, because he smiled sympathetically .

Later that day, I recalled our conversation. I realized that it touched on a few big truths: one about my profession, and one about myself.

Teaching may be one of the only jobs where it is just as much work to stay home sick as it is to go in.  A sick teacher gets the joy of writing directions and lesson plans, figuring out what a sub needs to know about the students in your class.  There’s the retweaking of the lessons you thought you’d be doing yourself, which  will have to be altered in the face of your absence (even the best sub won’t be able to give that background lecture on Victorian England).

Often, staying home affects the rest of the week’s lesson plans, too, as you realize you can’t do Thursday’s lesson unless you’ve adequately covered the stuff you were going to get to on Wednesday, and since someone else will be doing Wednesday’s lesson now, you have to make sure the kids learned everything you wanted them to learn before you go on.

This is why I teach when I’m sick.  It’s just too much work otherwise.

But this conversation with the doctor also touched on a truth about my non-professional self.  Even when I’m not teaching – when I’m home during summer, say– I’m simply not very good at taking it easy when I’m sick. 

Is this a female thing?  I think it might be.  Even though my husband is fabulous about taking care of the kids, there is still some very primal, very archaic part of my mind that seems to think that I need to be on top of it all, because I’m the mom, and the wife, and the woman.  I feel guilty about resting, even though no one is making me feel guilty but my own weird little mind.

And even if I’m home sick, I still notice things that need doing: the unmade bed, the teetering laundry baskets, the stuff in the entryway that needs organizing.  My husband has a higher tolerance for clutter than I do, which is good in some ways, but it also means that he’s not likely to take the initiative and de-messify on his own.   And when I’m not feeling good to begin with, I feel even worse when the floor is strewn with stuff.  This means that my ill little self ends up putting it away instead of hunkering down on the sofa with a blanket and an entire season of Monarch of the Glen.

All of this explains why — bizarre as it sounds – I don’t dread going to the hospital.   I look back with nostalgic fondness on last summer’s surgery, as well as on last year’s day spent in the ER for stomach pains. I’ve realized that being in the hospital is the only way that I can completely rest without guilt.   I can’t clean house if I’m hooked up to an IV, can I?  If you plotted my relaxation levels on a graph, my hospital stays would be right up there with my infrequent spa visits.   (“That’s really, really sad,” said my brother-in-law.)

He has a point.  If a friend of mine were to tell me all this, I’d tell her she needs to change.  I’d tell her she needs to be better about doing what the doctor ordered and – gasp! – resting for a while.  I’m not sure how, but I know I need to find some way  to chip away at these old thought patterns – some are actually more like  instinct patterns, not even thoughts – that make it so darn hard to stop taking care of everyone else and let others take care of me for a while.

Something to strive for, anyway.

Modern women and Mary: Win a copy of “Mary and Me: Catholic Women Reflect on the Mother of God”

Once upon a time, I wanted to know what young adult women thought about Mary.  (Mary as in Mother-of-God Mary.)  So I wrote an article about it.

Then, with the encouragement of an editor (who is herself named Mary!), I wrote a whole book about it.

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The process of writing it was eye-opening.  I talked to women from their twenties to their nineties, and heard their stories about who Mary is to them.  Those stories were poignant, affirming, at times raw, but always moving.  I came away with a deeper understanding of how much this young girl of Galilee keeps on inspiring women, even two thousand years later.   The whole experience proved that there’s so much power when women share their experiences of faith.

And since today is the day when Catholics have traditionally celebrated Mary’s birthday, it seemed like a terrific time to keep the sharing going.  So in honor of the day, I’m giving away a copy of Mary and Me: Catholic Women Reflect on the Mother of God to a lucky recipient!  

How do you enter?  All you need to do is leave a comment in the comment section below.  You don’t even have to say anything deep or clever (seriously, who can pull off deep or clever on a Monday?).   A simple “I’d love to enter!”  is all it takes.  Entries will remain open until Friday, September 12th, then I’ll randomly choose a winner.

So please add a comment, tell a friend, and –while you’re at it — spend a minute or two reflecting on your own experiences of Mary.  Maybe you could send her a little “Happy Birthday” while you’re at it.   (It would probably make her son very happy, don’t you think?)

A song for parents

Sometimes, when I tell my kids to put away their toys and I have to repeat myself five times before they actually do, I wonder if they hear anything I say.

And then there are other times when, completely out of the blue, they reference something I said months earlier.  It comes back, that obscure comment I made, and I’m always astonished to discover that the kids not only listen to what I say, they retain it.  It makes me realize that a parent’s words are more powerful than I tend to think.

That’s why I love this song.  It’s  by the incomparable Stephen Sondheim, sung here by the incomparable Bernadette Peters.

Careful the things you say 
Children will listen

Enjoy the music, the singing, and – if you’re a parent – the gentle reminder.