Saturday, August 31, 2013

An insufficient thank you

Where do I even begin?

In the weeks before my dad's death, I wrote a lot, more than I'd written in a while. It, and vast amounts of prayer, helped keep my emotions, so often on the verge of being loosed, somewhat in check, at least while I was in public. I was mourning in advance, I think. Some of that will eventually make its way here. Other portions of it - like a post about his cancer and the affect it had on him that I began with the best of intentions but then devolved into some now-confessed anger - likely will not, at least not in its entirety.

I have heard myself, in the past weeks, referred to by some as a very private person, and I suppose that's true in some ways, although I don't see myself as such. I suppose people said it because I didn't broadcast my worries and feelings, or even the fact of my dad's cancer, to the general public. In that way, I think, I am like my dad, who didn't tell some people he was ill because he didn't want to be a pitiful center of attention. Or perhaps it's a lack of trust and a fear of opening myself up. My dad could be like that, too. But sometimes, it's a combination of things. Some things are too close to be shared, at least right away.

Anyway, one thing I do need to do is say thank you. I know so many words, but in the last several weeks I can't tell you how many times I have been moved beyond them. Whenever, anytime in the future, I find myself starting to feel down or otherwise woe-is-me sorry for myself, I need to remember these weeks, and the incredible amount of love that has been poured out upon me by my friends. I have lost count of how many of you (and this doesn't even begin to include family) went out of your way to do something, even something you think meaningless and insignificant, to make my or my family's life easier, to give me solace or make me laugh. If it is even a fraction of the love the Lord has for me, then I am beyond blessed.

I know I don't even know the half of the people who prayed for me, for my family and for the repose of my dad's soul - who are still praying. I do know that they have sustained me, and helped me keep focused on dad's salvation, rather than his absence. Thomas Merton says that, one day, when we, too, are gone, we will know all who have prayed for us. Some thank yous, in that case, may be delayed. :)

But there have been so many expressions of care and sympathy, beyond the prayers:
Cards came from coworkers -- one who bought be a beautiful orchid that was waiting on my desk when I came back to work this week -- and those who chipped in for a completely unexpected cash collection that they mailed to me at my mom's house.
Cards also arrived from friends who have had or will have masses said for the family and the repose of dad's soul.
My friend Nikki from high school, who I hadn't seen in I don't even know how many years but with whom I reconnected with via Facebook, came to the funeral and took some truly lovely pictures at the graveside - something I would, had I not been focused on the moment, still never thought to do, but a gift I will cherish always.
Michele, who not only baked yummy snacks, but who charmed the Olive Garden manager with her Louisiana Southern accent into giving us a backroom and free appetizers following the viewing, and then, at the reception after the funeral, essentially pushed me bodily into a chair and stood over me, bullying me (lovingly, truly) until I forked food into my mouth, because otherwise I wouldn't have had time for a bite, being too busy trying to be a polite hostess and visit with everyone there.
Pam had my lawn mowed while I was gone so I didn't face code enforcement fines for the jungle my yard already was when I left. Kim and the I'm-still-kinda-shocked-about-the -incredibleness care package.
Julia, Sarah & Michael -- who played the most gorgeous Bach-Gonoud "Ave Maria" on his violin at the funeral mass -- who dropped everything and who came to the funeral on flying trips; I'm so sorry we didn't actually have time for a real visit.
Several friends posted goofy things on Facebook or sent me emails with funny pins from Pinterest to cheer me, or let me alternately cry on the phone or ramble aimlessly in a more-than-my-usual discombobulated manner.
Joy, who I hadn't seen in probably three or four years, chatted with me over Vietnamese one night like we were still in high school and had only seen each other the day before.

So many others texted, emailed or posted condolences on Facebook. I have so much gratitude to so many people, and if I've left you out or not mentioned you by name, I'm sorry, and it isn't remotely meant as a slight. Some will be receiving thank-you notes (because I was raised in South, and that's what we do...and because I have your addresses), but for the moment, this more general one will have to suffice.

I love you all. Thank you.

Monday, August 05, 2013

Spiritual reading fail

I have not been doing well with my spiritual reading lately. Well, if lately means "this year."

Actually, I could go back farther than that, actually.

Because I keep track of the books I read (I know lots of people who do this, some via Goodreads, me in a blank journal), I can tell you that I started reading "The Confessions" of St. Augustine 1:14 a.m. on October 20, 2012.

I'm still on page 141.

Now, to be fair, it's pretty dense material. But I should really be finished by now, especially with as many vacations I've managed to haul it along since I started with the hopes of getting deeper into it (because St. Augustine's writing is amazing), but the last time I can actually recall cracking it open and reading/taking notes on it was in January. In February, I noted in my reading journal that "I will finish it!"

Although I think I'm even more at fault when it comes to Thomas Merton's "No Man is an Island." I bought it after reading (and loving) his "Seven Storey Mountain," but a pen and two boarding passes from flights to and from Oklahoma for Thanksgiving, 2011 mark both the page (62) and the rough date I left off reading. I just need to start over.

And don't even get me started on how many times I've started (and completely failed) to get into St. Thomas Aquinas. Even the "Shorter Summa" is beyond me. Is there a Summa for Dummies out there somewhere?

My lack of progress in these books doesn't stop me from wanting to expand my spiritual reading library, though. Not too terribly long ago, I bought both a biography of St. Rita of Cascia and "Love and Responsibility" written by Karol Wojtyla before he became Pope John Paul II (which reminds me I've only made meagre progress though his "Theology of the Body"). And whenever I get a copy of the Leaflet Missal catalog, the pages are soon dog-eared with other books I'd like to have.

You know that feeling you sometimes get when you know you need to do something? Anyway, this whole topic came about because I've been feeling the lack of serious spiritual reading lately. Beyond daily prayer and going to mass, spiritual reading, at least for me, helps me to see how the saints were open to His call and trusting in his grace, but oftentimes just like us, struggling to make sense of what God wanted them to do. Many incredibly smart men and women, too, have so much wisdom to share through their writings that can help lead us closer to Christ.

The book I finished reading most recently, although a novel, I would couch in the spiritual reading arena. I reread "Brideshead Revisited," by Evelyn Waugh, who converted to the Catholic Church.

Set in England between the two world wars, "Brideshead" is a very Catholic book about forgiveness and redemption, dealing as it does with the wealthy and aristocratic Flyte family, who are Catholic, seen through the eyes of the agnostic Charles Ryder, who is befriended by the younger son, Sebastian Flyte, while the two are students at Oxford. When I first read it in high school, while I went to church and was involved in youth group activities, I wasn't as passionate about my faith as I am now, and, while I knew and recognized the blatant Catholicism of it, much of the book's depth was lost on me at the time.

This time, was just floored by a)Waugh's amazing skill with language -- some of his prose just took my breath away, the bitingly dry and sometimes not-so-subtle comedy, the vocabulary (although Waugh allegedly poo-pooed the book after re-reading it several years following its publication) and, b) the simple yet powerful truths he conveys as Charles -- who is quite puzzled by this new world he's entered -- learns about the (sometimes ill-practiced) faith of his new friend and his family.

Still, I don't doubt it's the prompting of the Holy Spirit telling me to get back on the ball with more serious spiritual reading.

There is a wonderful book by Father Jean-Pierre de Caussade (1675-1751) called "Abandonment to Divine Providence," -- which, if you haven't read, I highly recommend -- and despite being written so long about, it is just full of sage advice. For example, on this particular topic, he says "If it is God's will that the present moment should be spent in reading, reading will exert a mystical power in the depths of the soul."

Not only can spiritual reading help you grow in your understanding and faith, but it can also help you explain the faith to others or, as de Caussade says, "builds up in me a kind of spiritual store which, in the future, will develop into a core of usefulness for myself and others."

In fact, in flipping through it's dog-eared, heavily underlines pages, various passages leap out at me, so full of beauty and comfort as I write this, I see so much that I need to be reminded of. Speaking of the Holy Spirit... :)

What are some of your favorite works of spiritual reading?