Books & Reading

On the feast of the Annunciation

DSC_0210In one of his Advent homilies, Bernard of Clairvaux offers a stirring presentation of the drama of this moment. After the error of our first parents, the whole world was shrouded in darkness, under the dominion of death. Now God seeks to enter the world anew. He knocks at Mary’s door. He needs human freedom. The only way he can redeem man, who was created free, is by means of a free “yes” to his will. In creating freedom, he made himself in a certain sense dependent upon man. His power is tied to the unenforcable “yes” of a human being. So Bernard portrays heaven and earth as it were holding its breath at this moment of the question addressed to Mary. Will she say yes? She hesitates … will her humility hold her back? Just this one—Bernard tells her—do not be humble but daring! Give us your “yes”! This is the crucial moment when, from her lips, from her heart, the answer comes: “Let it be to me according to your word.” It is the moment of free, humble yet magnanimous obedience in which the loftiest choice of human freedom is made.
(Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, Benedict XVI)

Motherhood · Writing

The way to happiness

Processed with VSCO with a7 presetThe recent silence on this little space can be attributed to the survival mode I feel like I have been operating in these last few weeks. It’s funny—as an adult, I think we tend to say that being a child is so easy. You don’t have to worry about anything, you get to play all day, you get to nap every day, etc. But from what I have seen of my sweet little girl’s last few months especially, growing and developing and discovering must be quite hard as well. Skipped naps and swollen gums and emotions that are not yet realized and understood have all brought us a rather difficult winter. Most days, I feel like I am just trying to make it to bedtime again, and then feel guilty that this is my mindset. I don’t know how to help my days feel any different, really, but I was reminded yesterday of what this season is offering to me if I have the courage and grace to accept it: happiness.

One of my husband’s colleagues who is becoming a wonderful friend to us reminded me yesterday that the life of Christ is a life of service, and it is in living the life that Christ lived that we find happiness. Being united more and more to Him means living more and more as He did. And I can see, although dimly, that the diapers, the cleaning, the neediness, the laundry, the midnight wakings, the meals, the bathtimes, are all moments of Christ offering His life to me. And in that life, there is happiness.


Humiliation and glorification

img_20170215_133308_394“The specifically Christian humility is learned in no other way than by formal and repeated humiliations.” (Hans Urs von Balthasar, To the Heart of the Mystery of Redemption)

It was in that moment—as the priest lifted the host high above his head so that it was in front of the crucifix on the back wall—that I saw it.

I saw that this crucified Lord, this humiliated Lord, hanging bloody and bowed on a cross of wood, is the same Lord who comes to us in the broken bread and the blood-red wine. He comes to us, again and again, humiliated, offering Himself to those who do not deserve Him. Yet He also comes glorified. He offers His glory to those who will join in His humiliation.

It is all too beautiful to comprehend, but let us try.

The cross is a scene of intense humiliation. The dictionary defines “to humiliate” as “to cause (a person) a painful loss of pride, self-respect, or dignity; mortify.” It is hard to think of Christ as being humiliated. Certainly He did not have any pride to lose as He suffered at Calvary. But He lost, and even gave up of his own will, all of His dignity. He hung on the cross—naked, cursed, despised, rejected. God Himself was humiliated before mankind.

So too, in a smaller way, the humiliated Lord comes to us in the the Holy Sacrament. He deigns to come to us through earthly substances; He condescends and gives up His dignity and allows His very being to be communicated through grain and the fruit of the vine. Even more humiliating, He enters people who do not deserve the purity and the majesty of the Lord. We hardly deserve to sit in His presence, let alone literally ingest Him and take His being into our very being.

Yet the beauty of Christ’s humiliation is that it is the source of His glorification. The humiliated Lord was glorified by the Father and is now sitting in glory among the angels and the saints. So, too, we praise Him daily for His humiliation. We glorify Him for His lowliness. Because He was cast-down, He is raised up.

Perhaps, in the same way, then, our moments of humiliation are those moments that are most pregnant with the chances for our own glorification. Changing dirty diapers, messing up at work, suffering ridicule for the sake of our beliefs, realizing again and again just how dark our hearts truly are. These are the things of humiliation. And so, too, they are the things of glorification, if we allow them to be.

Hans Urs von Balthasar writes of how Mary is often humiliated by Christ: when Jesus calls her “woman,” when He says His mother is those who hear God’s word, when He removes His sonship from her upon the cross (“Woman, behold your son!”). These humiliations, as Balthasar writes, are “constant training in the naked faith Mary will need under the Cross.” This training makes her able to say “yes” again and again to all that being the mother of the Lord means. “He himself is the first one to wield the sword that must pierce her. But how else would she have become ready to stand by the Cross, where not only her Son’s earthly failure, but also his abandonment by the God who sends him is revealed.” (Hans Urs von Balthasar, Mary, the Church at the Source)

Christ’s dealings with Mary, in a sense, seem utterly backwards. Yet they are His greatest love. For she suffers the deepest humiliations, culminating in the very death of her own son, yet she now knows the highest of glorifications. She lives with her son, in glory, the Queen of Heaven, Star of the Sea, Seat of Wisdom, Mystical Rose, Help of Christians. The humiliations that Mary suffered made her ready for glory.

So, too, do our humiliations. We must stand by the cross with Mary, and with her offer our “yes” to every humiliation that the Lord offers us as we know that He is inviting us, ever so generously, to glory.


Present sight, I

Processed with VSCO with lv01 presetThe incarnate Word is with us,
still speaking, is present
always, yet leaves no sign
but everything that is.
(Wendell Berry)

I have had this sort of subtle, yet constant, feeling as I go through my days that I should have a hobby, or some sort of activity that I do. The free time that I do have these days (read: the overlapping nap time that happens usually for an hour every afternoon) is primarily spent doing dishes, cleaning up the house, preparing dinner for the evening, and then maybe reading a page or two in a book. But even then, I feel like I ought to paint, or knit, or hand letter, or crochet, or make things. And I feel unsettled and unhappy because I feel like I don’t have a hobby or a “thing” of my own.

Recently I’ve been remembering that at one time in my life, I considered myself a photographer. And I would still like to be one today. I have three loaded film cameras that I got out again, and I thought I should get my digital out more often, as well. (My equipment is getting old and doesn’t work as well is it used to, so it tends to be frustrating more often than not, but alas!) I think I can pretty easily take an enjoyable, cute photo of my kids but mostly because they are so darn cute. But back before I had children, I took photos of things that I saw, and I want to get back into that. I want to notice the little pieces of beauty in each day, and to capture them. Perhaps sometimes for others to appreciate, but primarily for me to appreciate as I attempt to embrace the details of these days that feel so moment-to-moment and dictated by the needs and feelings of two little ones.

Maybe this is just another one of my “project ideas” that I usually begin and rarely continue for very long. But I hope not. Inspired by one of Wendell Berry’s Sabbath Poems, quoted at the beginning of this post, I hope to notice and capture at least a few times a week the signs that I see of beauty and incarnation around me. I want my present sight to be that which notices and embraces the entirety of this world that is so impregnated with glory and love.

So this little photo is my first entry.

Books & Reading

Written words, I

_smo1082-copyHere is the first in, I am sure, a number of small posts collecting words that I read and want to remember. To begin is a  rather sad poem, but I find the last lines incredibly striking.


After the storm and the new
stillness of the snow, he returns
to the graveyard, as though
he might lift the white coverlet,
slip in beside her as he used to do,
and again feel, beneath his hand,
her flesh quicken and turn warm.
But he is not her husband now.
To participate in resurrection, one
first must be dead. And he goes
back into the whitened world, alive.

The Rejected Husband, Wendell Berry


Five things I have learned from owning a house

Processed with VSCO with a9 presetLiving somewhere that owning a house is not only doable, but also makes more sense for our little family than renting somewhere has been quite a blessing. If we were anywhere else, we probably couldn’t own a house. So as we enter into this new stage of life, I am learning some things along the way:

1. We are adults.
No, my college loans didn’t do it. Marriage didn’t do it. Even having a kid didn’t quite do it. But owning a house makes me think we are actually adults now. The fact that a bank would loan us a huge chunk of change and trust us to pay it back feels a bit ridiculous, but apparently we’re old enough for that sort of thing.

2. Things take time.
When we first moved in, I had many aspirations for our little place. I could think of about twenty projects that I wanted to complete: things that I wanted to change, decorations I wanted to add, or even paint colors I wanted to try. I am the sort of person that wants to tackle a task immediately and just get it done, so a house has been quite a learning curve for me in that area. I simply cannot complete all the little projects I would like to—due to time and monetary constraints!—and so I am learning a lot of patience. Making beautiful things takes time, and unless you have Chip and Jo doing work for you, you can’t change an entire house overnight. (All the admiration goes to my very patient mother who 20 years later is finally beginning to have the home she always hoped for!)

3. If you don’t have the money for it, you don’t need it.
Another crucial lesson. This was how I learned to make decisions about what I did once we moved in. I wanted a rug, a pretty little nursery, a dresser, an accent chair, more art. All good and fine things, of course, but I found myself wanting them too much. (Also things like dehumidifiers and shop vacs were more important, sadly!) I looked at home decor websites constantly and dreamed of the perfect wall planters and baby nursery mobiles. But when I finally brought myself to accept that we simply don’t have the money for everything I want, I realized that perhaps that meant that I don’t need them. This doesn’t mean that it would be wrong for me to buy something pretty for my house when I can, but it does mean that I feel much more free to embrace the things that I do have instead always be dreaming of what I can’t have.

4. Dads are great.
So this wasn’t a new lesson. But when my dad (who lives 10 hours away!) asked for a to-do list and then came to my house and did them, I was reminded again that fathers are some of the best things in the world. My dad cleaned my sink drain, changed multiple batteries and lightbulbs, and installed a diaper sprayer on my toilet. (Things are glamorous around here, obviously.) Acts of service: becoming my love language very quickly these days.

5. Things matter. Things don’t matter.
I very quickly fall prey to the feelings that my home isn’t pretty enough or artistic enough or white enough. That daily scroll through my instagram feed often makes me think my home needs a few more gallery walls, more natural wood, marble counters, and wicker baskets under windows for my babies. It is easy for me to say “those things don’t matter.” But I know that isn’t true. The things in my home do matter. It matters that I create a beautiful, orderly, peaceful, useable space for my family. But it doesn’t matter that I don’t have a uniform aesthetic or a number of photogenic corners full of the perfect decor touches. (No matter how much I might love these things!) It doesn’t matter that my bedroom is blue (why?!), or that my couch is more of a “college dorm” couch than an “adult house” couch. It matters that my family finds peace, grace, love, and joy in these walls. It matters that my husband and children can live and thrive and grow here. And it matters that I remind myself of that daily.