Category Archives: Holidays and other fun times

The body of a woman

Like the majority of American women out there, I’ve got a few body issues.  It’s not like I wander around in a state of constant physical self-loathing, and there are plenty of things I really like about the way I look, but there are also a few key things I’m not wild about, particularly as middle age sets in.  I’m not going to name them here because I don’t want to dignify them that way; see, on a rational level I KNOW this is all very dumb, and most of the time I can just laugh at my insecurities and move on.

Then, other times, I can’t.

The sad thing is that this is not unique to me.  Take a look at this article and you’ll see that women all over the world struggle to feel good about their bodies (though not as many in South Africa as in the other nations in the study. What’s their secret?).

Anyhow, I say all of this because as I sat at the vigil Mass last night for the Feast of the Assumption — the day when we celebrate how Mary was assumed into heaven — it occurred to me that there was something about this feast day that I had never noticed before.

I realized that it was a feast day where we celebrate a woman’s body.

And I like that.  Even more: I need that.

I need the reminder that a woman’s body is worthy of respect and honor.

I need a chance to think about how my own body, this house for my soul, is something that does great things.  It walks and talks and touches and sees and smells and tastes and hears, processes that are amazing marvels when you really stop to think about them.

I need to honor the fact that this body has known pleasure and has known pain. It has needed surgery and medication and yet it keeps on ticking.  It engages with creation every day in ways I usually take for granted, even though I shouldn’t.

I want to honor the fact that this body has held four little lives inside it.   I mourn the two who were lost before they could be born, and yet I am forever grateful for the two who grew to term, two boys who happened to be sitting on either side of me during Mass as these thoughts washed over me.

I need to think about how my body holds a record of my forty-four years on this earth.  It’s there in the wrinkles, the gray hair, the random scars.  They all tell a story; my story.  I wouldn’t change that story for anything.

Honestly, I wasn’t expecting to think all of this during Mass.  I had gone because it was a Holy Day of Obligation, and I’m that kind of girl.  I didn’t expect to be sitting in the pew suddenly overwhelmed with gratitude that my faith has a day where we honor the body of a woman who was well past middle age.

But it does.  I love that it does.

And maybe this day is an invitation to me — and to you too, sister — to do the same.

The beauty below the surface

This coming Saturday is the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes.  As Mary feast days go, this one has a special place in my heart.

For one thing, I’ve a bit of an affinity for France. And, unlike most Marian apparition sites, I’ve actually visited Lourdes. In a very indirect and surprising way, that visit changed my life.  It was in Lourdes that the first little inkling of a “new Mary” entered my mind.  Thanks to Lourdes, I could start to see her as more than just the glacially perfect woman in the statues.  I started to see her as a woman who actually lived.

The Lourdes story is about Mary putting herself in the middle of the rock and grit, and finding what’s beautiful there.  I love how Mary appeared to the little shepherdess, a person no one ever thought was holy or special enough to have such a visitor.  Mary’s coming revealed that there was more to Bernadette than anyone suspected, including Bernadette herself.  Mary’s coming also tapped into the latent faith of the people of Lourdes, just as Bernadette tapped into the healing waters of the spring.   In a way, one could say that the Lourdes story is really about venturing below the surface, finding the beautiful depths that exist  there,  and harnessing them for good.

And that’s a lesson that never grows old.

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This is a rerun of a post from 2010.  (I guess I’ve been blogging for a long time, haven’t I?)

WAY more than three wise men

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My family subscribes to the theory that you can never have too many nativity scenes.   The nesting dolls, the little Peruvian one, the set carved out of wood from the Holy Land: they’re all on display this time of year.

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If you have to have a surplus of something, this isn’t a bad thing to have, is it?

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Happy-almost-Christmas!

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A mother’s touch

Detail from Song of the Angels by William Adolphe Bouguereau

Detail from Song of the Angels by William Adolphe Bouguereau

“I don’t know why God chose to enter the world as an infant; there are many possible reasons, I’m sure.  But I like to think that maybe it’s because God, too, wanted to feel the warmth of a mother’s touch.” 

— from Taste and See: Experiencing the Goodness of God with Our Five Senses

A blessed Mother’s Day to all.

Were we led all that way for Birth or Death?

Adoration of the Magi by Velazquez

Adoration of the Magi by Velazquez

A rerun of a post from — wow — 2011.  I guess I’ve been blogging for a while, haven’t I?

January 6th is the feast of the Epiphany, when we remember the three Magi who journeyed to find Jesus.    This marks the last of the twelve days of Christmas, though frankly, Christmas has felt like a  distant memory to me ever since I started back to school earlier this week.  Setting the alarm and getting up at dark o’clock is a real holiday buzzkill.

But enough complaining.  Since it’s the Epiphany, I’m going to get all spiritual here and talk about one of my favorite poems, “Journey of the Magi” by T.S. Eliot.  I’ve read lots of his writings over the years, notably his very long poem “The Waste Land,” which we studied for a few weeks (it’s that kind of poem) in  a college seminar class.   Eliot is not someone I read often, though a lot of his imagery makes me swoon with delight.  But “Journey of the Magi” — well, that’s one I read and re-read every holiday season.

It’s narrated by one of the Magi, reflecting on his trip to find the infant Jesus.  It wasn’t an easy trip; there was lots of sacrifice, and discomfort, and “times we regretted/The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,/And the silken girls bringing sherbet.”  And then, finally, he and his fellow travelers find the place where Jesus lives, and they see him, and he describes it as being “satisfactory.”

But then … in the last stanza, there’s a question, which goes right to the heart of the poem: “Were we led all that way for Birth or Death?”  And when you read the poem, you see so clearly how this journey has changed the narrator.  Things that were once comfortable are not so comfortable anymore.  His old life doesn’t feel quite right.  After the sacrifice and hardship of the journey, a journey which has  changed him without him even realizing it, he no longer feels at home in the life he used to lead.

That’s pretty much the Gospel message right there, isn’t it?  If we let ourselves be changed by the Incarnation and by the presence of  Jesus, it’s bound to feel a little uncomfortable.  The Gospel message challenges us to color outside the boundaries of our lives, to journey further into love and sacrifice than we’d go on our own.   Maybe this means letting go of grudges that we would love to nurse forever.  Maybe it means giving time or talent to serve people who can’t help themselves.  Maybe it means giving those of a different political or theological stripe the benefit of the doubt instead of shunting them into the category of Other. Overall, it means having a generosity of spirit, which is something that I often fail at doing.

But I try; I really do.   And though I haven’t encountered Christ in his infant form, as the Magi did, I encounter him every week at Mass.  I meet him over and over in the people who cross my paths — at work, at home, in the mall, everywhere.   And in every encounter, I’m challenged to let the old, petty me die so that a new, more generous me can be born.  This is a lifelong process, honestly.  It is a lesson that I learn and re-learn and re-re-learn.  And this poem is one of the ways — an especially beautiful one, at this time of year — that I am reminded to keep on trying.

(Note to poetry geeks: on this website you can listen to a recording of Eliot reading his own poem.)