Nail in My Foot

When I was a child, I remember my dad often bringing home items that were destined for the company surplus office furnishings pile.  This included large rolls of office grade carpet — where offices had been remodeled and the carpet discarded.  Often, the unworn carpet was an area large enough for a small room in my house.  The carpet would lie rolled up on our carport waiting to be used.

I remember once, when I was about seven, it was Winter and I was wearing black patent leather boots that zipped up just below my knees.  My parents were going out and I was going to spend the evening at my cousin’s house — they lived just around the block from my home.  While waiting for my parents outside, I walked around on top of the carpet rolls — like a balance beam — until my foot slipped down into the center — down onto baseboard stripping that still had protruding nails.   My breath sucked in — fearful, as I quickly pulled my leg up.  I had to pull my boot off the baseboard.  I was pretty sure a nail had pierced the sole of my boot  — but nothing hurt.  Maybe it was okay.  I didn’t want to look to see so I remained silent and told no one.

My parents dropped me off at my cousin’s house and we settled in with Jiffy Pop to watch Disney’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.  Stretched out on the floor, I put it out of my mind.  But, my cousin’s were comfortable — shoeless — wearing socks — except for me.  My cousin’s mother grew suspicious that I’d not taken off my boots.  With little questioning, I blurted that I may have stepped on a nail.  This was quickly confirmed when my boot was pulled off to reveal a bloody sock.  I had waited long enough that my parents were afraid of infection and I was taken for a tetanus shot.  I was severely scolded for keeping silent so long.

Really, this encapsulates the way I’ve often approached unpleasant things in my life.  Don’t look.  Pretend it didn’t happen.  Don’t take the risk.  Don’t be a bother to anyone.  Don’t disturb my peaceful space.  If I don’t see it, it can’t hurt — it didn’t really happen.

Somehow I became the peacemaker of my family and that is the cross I bear.  Perhaps I have this resistance to the unpleasant to thank.   The burden of soothing hurt feelings — negotiating truces.   Softening the blow of bad news.  As the life of a close relative unraveled from alcohol, drugs, and mental imbalance; my peaceful space was all but gone — a knot in my stomach every time the phone rang.  The time came that no one could pretend there was not a problem.  The eyes of my mother desperate for hope for this loved one.  Saying that God is still in control and yet wondering why this cross is getting heavier.  More nails — not just my foot any longer.  Drawn into spiritual warfare — pulled to my knees in prayer ranting against Satan and pleading with God.

The nail in my foot is hurting now.  I close my eyes and I’m there again.

Today I am a Catholic and a Franciscan, but, years before I was either — I learned to pray the “Our Father” and “Make Me An Instrument” at AA meetings where my mother and I supported our family member.  I’ve stood between life and death with this loved one as we cycled through good times and bad — rehab here and there — hoping for a good year , or longer.   Now is as good as its been in a long time.

We all sat in family counseling once as part of one of the rehab programs — three generations of brokenness, hurt, and resentment.   The counselor looked at me and said, ‘You are the peacemaker.’  This diagnosis left me feeling less spiritual and more clinical.  Less angelic and more secular.   Yet I was affirmed and validated.

The nail in my foot — I exhale — less fear — more hope.

Peacemaker.

As they led him away they took hold of a certain Simon, a Cyrenian, who was coming in from the country; and after laying the cross on him, they made him carry it behind Jesus. — Luke 23:26

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Love Has Come

I’ve still been thinking about Rich Mullins and the quote that I used in my last article.

“… My openness to Catholicism was very scary to me because, when you grow up in a church where they don’t even put up a cross, many things were foreign to me.” — — Rich Mullins:  An Arrow Pointing to Heaven, p. 46

I kept thinking about how I could relate to this observation.  The church I grew up in — where I was baptised — was very simple and unadorned.  The baptismal is behind the choir loft — there is a big mural of a river and trees.   There is the pulpit and the “remembrance table.”  Were it not for the baptismal pool, remembrance table and church pews, it could have been any court house or music hall.  My childhood Bible had a page that showed pictures of all different kinds of Christian symbols.  The crosses — Coptic, Maltese, budded, anchor, Peter, — Peter, wow.  I’m looking at it now.  I do have the cross of Peter — upside down with keys.  There is no cross of crucifixion — the one associated with Catholic churches. When we celebrated the Lord’s Supper and heard the words, “This is my body….. This is my blood,” I imagined being at the crucifixion.

My first encounter with the body of Christ, on the cross, was the first time I entered a Catholic church.  I wrote about that in my reflection on Sacred Heart.   My next encounters were a few years later on my first trip to Italy.  After that, it was in my own parish where I attended my first Mass.  I’ve heard it said that the “empty cross” is the cross of the resurrection.  We celebrate Christ is risen.  I’ve seen the cross of the resurrection in Catholic churches — Jesus is still on it — a resurrected figure of Christ.  I am fully convinced that you cannot celebrate the resurrection without first meditating on the suffering and crucifixion.   Many of the things that once seemed foreign to me are now a source of great comfort — reminders of God’s love for me.

I have posted a Rich Mullins tribute video by Caedmon’s Call.  They perform his song Hope to Carry On. The song begins with “I can see Jesus — hanging on the cross,  I can see Jesus — hanging on the cross, I can see Jesus — hanging on the cross — He came looking for the lost — and Love has come — Love has come — And he’s given me hope to carry on.”  The video is interspersed with images of the band with Rich and concludes with their reflections on how he inspired them.

Good Friday – Behold the Wood

 I wrote the below after attending Good Friday services at my parish in 2001.  I was on the front pew and watched as everyone processed forward to venerate the cross.  The only music playing was a cello.

 

StPhilip crucifix

BEHOLD THE WOOD

 

Oh did you know?

Yes, you must have known.

Exactly the hour.

The day you died for me.

 

I celebrate

 

We come forward

Form all walks of life

Couples holding hands

Parents toting children

Friends together

Coming two by two

 

I celebrate

 

Even the frail, the weak, the lame

Walking with a cane

Assisted in wheelchairs

The Deacon’s helping hands

“Come all ye heavy laden, I will give you rest . . .”

 

I celebrate

 

Bended knees and signs of faith

Gently lean to kiss the wood

Some reverent and some playful

From aged feeble steps

To children’s joyful skipping

We come

 

I celebrate

 

The cello swells up and down

My heart beats in rhythm

I watch them come

 

And I celebrate.

 

 

– Stfrancisgirl

Good Friday 4/13/01

Holy Land Pilgrim Journal Day 5

Continuing with Day 5 of excerpts from my February 2000 Jubilee year Holy Land pilgrimage journal.

Day 5 – Saturday, 2/19/00 Jerusalem/Mt. of Olives/Bethlehem/Shepherd’s Field

Today was the most emotional day yet.  We began on the Mt. of Olives and walked the Palm Sunday path.  We paused as Father read the scripture where the disciples acquire a donkey for Jesus.  We visit the Church of the Pater Noster and recite the “Our Father.”  We visited the place where Jesus wept over Jerusalem and continued to the Garden of Gethsemane and the Church of Jesus’ Agony . . . the place of His betrayal and arrest . . . “Not My will, but, Thine.” 

We travel to the Church of Peter in Gallicunti [Peter’s Denial] which is built over the excavation site of the House of Caiaphas the High Priest.  This is the first place to which Jesus was taken after His arrest and imprisoned overnight.  The excavations allowed us to descend down into the dungeon region and reflect on the night Jesus spent before being sent to Pilate.  In the dungeon, we gathered as Father read Psalm 88.  With my back to the wall, I slid to a sitting position and closed my eyes while hanging on to every word.  I’ve always thought more about Jesus and His agony in the garden, but, never much about that night immediately after the arrest – the lonely night.  I could feel the cold from the wall through my coat.  It would have been completely dark.  Tears came as I absorbed these images in my mind and my heart.  Once outside, I was bursting with immense sorrow.  Everyone in our group scattered in tears as we were powerfully moved by the Spirit.  We stood on the steps that lead to Caiaphas’ house from the City of David.  From there we can look back across to the Mt. of Olives and know that this was the beginning of the long walk to the crucifixion.  Jesus led bound, battered, and mocked through the streets and up those steps – the scattering of the disciples.  Peter “follows from afar” and quickly slides into denial, “No, I don’t know the man.” 

From here, we traveled to Bethlehem and visited the Church of the Nativity at Manger Square, which is the place of His birth.  It lifts our spirits to think now of the birth.  Mass on this day was at the Shepherd’s Field where, according to the Priest who greeted us, “It’s always Christmas.”  We sing the Lamb of God to the tune of Silent Night.  To be physically present with all the places I’ve only read about in the Bible is overwhelming.  Today my soul has been ripped and bared open.  God has drawn me ever closer to the mysteries of His great love.  I feel these are the experiences God is using to draw me closer than I believed possible.  I feel His powerful love and arms wrapped tight around me.

There is not a lot I can add other than to say just typing these memories have brought the tears again.  I was enveloped in the Gospel “red letters”, the words of Jesus, to which I grew up with as a Baptist in my King James Bible.  Less than a year after my reception into the Roman Catholic Church, a Holy Communion that is the anemnesis of Christs’ Passion, I find myself physically in Israel.  Receiving Holy Communion here was exponential to me in a spiritual sense.  Here the physical and spiritual united for me. 

The Church of Pater Noster remembers Jesus teaching us how to pray.  The “Our Father” is represented in many languages on tiled artwork on the walls.  I remember at Shepherd’s Field, I finally thought to myself, “Franciscans are everywhere.”  I briefly commented on the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land in a prior post.  I got used to seeing the now familiar habits in most of the Holy Places where we visited and/or celebrated Mass. 

I would encourage you to read and pray Psalm 88.  In those words, I felt a certain union with Christ as we gathered in the prison dungeon.

My Reflection from Sacred Heart Catholic Church; Beginnings of Conversion

If you have read my post of July 13th, my conversion story, I made a mention of having written this article.  This was written about 9 years prior to my entering the RCIA program.  I believe our Neophyte Mass was held at this parish.  Amazingly, in the summer of 1999, this is also the same parish where I attended my first Secular Franciscan meeting of the Immaculate Conception Fraternity.   God has his ways….

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Inside Sacred Heart

 

At the age of 24 [1989], I went into my very first Catholic Church.  A young executive of my company had died suddenly.  My employer arranged to have a memorial prayer service at Sacred Hearth Catholic Church.  It was across the street from our office.  The visit to this church affected me so that I wrote a reflection afterwards.  I remember wondering how the Holy Spirit could have affected me so much in a Catholic Church.  I was still under the impression that we did not share the same salvation.  I was not anti-Catholic — just aware of a separation.  I had little understanding of the Catholic faith.  The following is the reflection I wrote:

Crucified With Christ

            As we go through life, there are people and events that make lasting impressions on our lives.  Sometimes it is just to make you stop and think about the gift of life itself.    There was one such event, for which I will forever remember the experience.  I desired to document for future reflections.

 

            Many of my coworkers walked from our office to the Sacred Heart Church in Atlanta to attend the memorial service of a young executive from our company.  A heart attack had suddenly taken his life.  I can remember looking around at the expressions of disbelief and shock on the faces of my coworkers.  No one could accept this had happened to one so young and with a promising career.  At only thirty-one, he was well liked by all and the picture of health.  I began to dwell on the uncertainty of life and how important it is always to be ready.

 

            It was summer 1989 and a very hot day.  It was welcome relief as we entered the church.  I’d never been inside a Catholic Church before and I was in awe at the beautiful architecture and adornments surrounding me.  As we were seated and waiting for the service to begin, I allowed my attention to wander and absorb my surroundings.  The many stained glass windows depicted Biblical scenes.  The windows were alive with the early afternoon sun and colors were radiantly splashed all about inside. Orange light flickered from large brass candelabras on either side of the altar.  The high vaulted ceiling sweetly echoed the pipe organ music.  There were doors leading to the back of the church through which robed men passed in and out.  The focal point of this scene was a life-size statue of Jesus on the cross.  Every time one of the men passed in front of the cross, he bowed on his knee in reverence.  Never once did they fail to do this in all the many times they passed by the cross.  I was deeply moved by this simple gesture.  Daily living in humble reverence of Christ would make such a difference in our own lives.  How could I take that simple gesture and make it part of my daily life?  I wondered.

 

            The memorial service began with prayer and Psalms recited in unison.  As the service progressed, my attention was increasingly compelled to the cross.  It was so incredibly human and real.  So lost was I in staring at this statue of Christ, I felt removed from those around me and imagined being present at the crucifixion of Christ.  Every sermon and song I’d ever heard detailing the event played through my mind.  The Son of God, who was a young man and had done no wrong, was mocked and His name cursed.  Jesus’ body was beaten by His accusers and lashed with whips.  I heard the sound of nails and the hammer striking.  A crown of thorns was pressed into the flesh of His forehead and the sword pierced a wound in His side.  I’ve always heard, if you stare at something long enough, it will seem to move.  It seemed I saw His chest rising and falling, struggling for each breath.  His family and disciples all gathered watching in stunned disbelief at this cruel death.  What was His mother Mary thinking?  He was her son.  But, He was God’s son.  The sculptor had captured both anguish and compassion of the face of Jesus.  I could hear the plea, “Father forgive them for they know not what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)  My tears came knowing Jesus had done this for me and I am unworthy of such a great gift.  So ashamed was I for knowing I had not done enough in my Christian life.  I had invited Christ into my life when I was eight years old.  I was soon Baptized and joined the church.  I thought, I am again experiencing that same feeling.  I was that child once again.   The cross of Jesus always has the power to convict our lives and open the door to our soul.  The pain I felt was enormous.  But, somewhere in my mind, the Spirit reminded me of the words of John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.”  The reality of the greatness of God’s love was a feeling that consumed me.  Silently, I thanked God for sending Jesus. 

 

Through this love, I was compelled again to look at the cross.    This time; however, I lifted my eyes even higher above the cross.  I then saw what I had not yet noticed.  Up in the great domed ceiling, directly above the cross, was a magnificent stained glass window.  It was of Christ ascending to heaven.  It was a reminder to look beyond the cross to the risen Savior.  He looked down on the cross with eyes full of love and arms stretched forth as if in an invitation to believe the work of the cross. 

[I’ve since returned to the Sacred Heart Church and participated in Mass.  I realize now the image up in the ceiling was not of the Ascension.  It is the Sacred Heart of Jesus.]

 

 

 

 

            Philippians 2:8-11 says, “And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Therefore; also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”  At that moment, when we will finally be in His presence, we will bow in reverence not worthy to look upon His face.  Yet, His love for us is so great, we will be lifted up to praise the name of Jesus to the glory of God our Father.

 

            I walked back to work feeling much differently than before.  What was to be a memorial of life passing, became a celebration of life eternal.  I’d experienced a renewal in my soul of the vows I’d made as a child.  This marked for me a deepening of my commitment.    “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me.”  Amen.

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            I submitted the above reflection as a short story to a Christian single’s magazine, which is published by a Baptist publishing company.  It was returned with a short note that read, “O.K., Pretty good, but, we already have enough ‘salvation experience’ stories.”  I was crushed.  That comment did not reflect the spirit of my experience.  I thought of terse replies such as, “Gee, we wouldn’t want too many salvations now would we?”  In retrospect, maybe it was the Catholic part they didn’t like.