Of Rain and Ropes

The soil of earth is parched and cracked,

The dust of earth runs dry;

The sandstorms on the barren sands,

Unblocked, beat hard and sigh.

 

The souls of earth are parched and thin,

Blown fast with pains and fears,

And still run dry in barren lives

Not whole enough for tears.

 

For while we shun the beat of rain,

Our soil shall be dry,

Devoid of sweetness, life, and grace,

A desert made of our own place,

The poison in a sickened face

Not well enough to cry.

 

My heart, like dirt, is drenched from clouds

Of present falling pain,

That saturate my helpless soul

With tears like winter rain;

 

But though it drink this shower cold

Until its soil floats free,

And melts away beneath the flood,

Dissolves as in the sea,

 

I had rather die of precious loss—

Blest ill to perish of!—

Than die like those in deserts bare,

Not well enough to weep or care,

Who gave to life a mere blank stare

And never learned to love.

 

What sky shone bright for ever?

What field stayed e’er in bloom?

What house so noble, high and strong

That Time proved not its doom?

 

E’en should the house or field stand

As long as should the world,

That too must crumble, slip and fall,

Down Time’s swift river whirled.

 

So no love that we joy on earth

Can be had free of tears,

But ever anguish is the cost,

For all things must sometime be lost

That come with passing years.

 

But by the Love that burns through wounds

In hands and feet and side,

Why should our souls then die of thirst

Because we never cried?

 

On earth the souls that never weep

I envy nothing of;

These souls cannot keep all they know,

For everything must come and go;

Their looks of stone can only show

They never learned to love.

 

But I will cherish every grace

That finds me through the years,

And when it passes on again,

I’ll honor it with tears.

 

For we shed e’en our hottest tears

Not as those who lack hope,

But we climb through this toilsome life

As a man climbs up a rope.

 

Though it be steep, and hard to cling,

And too easy to fall,

Above the rope must yet be bound,

Which speaks to us of solid ground,

And in our hope that this be found,

We climb the cliffside’s wall.

 

What’s at the top, no man can see,

Nor heart nor mind conceive,

Wherefore some climbers have denied

A top at all, and dropped and died

All rather than believe.

 

But though my clinging hands may bleed,

I still climb up with hope,

For when I nearly fail, a balm

Comes down and heals each bloody palm

From up above the rope.

 

And when I hear the shrieking winds

That blast my rope about,

Beyond their wails I hear a Voice

That overspeaks my doubt:

 

“Though it be steep, and hard to cling,

And too easy to fall,

I made the way for all your kind

Your joy by tears in faith to find,

Leave then your unbelief behind—

With Me you find your all.”

 

And then I look up wondering,

My heart leaps—could it be?—

All that I’ve lost throughout the climb,

Could it be waiting all the time,

Up at the top for me?

 

“Them you will find, but seek Me first,

And closely heed My call,

The heart that’s given first to Me

Can love the rest most perfectly,

Now take My Hand, though you can’t see—

In Me you find your all.”

 

So in the storm of bloody tears,

His words our hearts defend,

For in that Voice we recognize

The presence of a Friend.

Waiting in Peace for our Vocation

Originally published on Catholic Stand

“Why am I still waiting for my vocation?” I’ve heard variations on this question many times from friends and other young people searching for long-term places in the world. Why the waiting indeed? Reflecting on this lament impelled me to consider more deeply these times of waiting and what place they hold in our lives.

Long waits must be among the most frustrating experiences of human life, even in trivial cases like a check-out line. The time spent in waiting feels like simply a negative quantity, of which one eagerly awaits the end so one can get on to whatever one wants to be doing.

That frustration and longing is all the greater when the goal is one’s vocation. So many wait for the right job, the right potential spouse, the right religious order, or even some hint of what to do with their lives at all. As many young people have found, that waiting can go on for years with little or no sign of change, even after the most fervent prayer, research, and advice-seeking. When this happens, it’s easy and natural to ask what one is “doing wrong,” especially as friends and peers enter their various states in life, prompting one to wonder why one’s own search has been less successful.

In the two years since I graduated college, I’ve come to know this sorrow well: a long-time aspirant to religious life, I have yet to find a place in an order. However, through the longing and searching, our Lord has been gradually teaching me, leading me toward a peace deeper than having every question answered. By sharing here what I’ve learned, I hope to help other “seekers” find, here and now, the peace that is our heritage from Him (cf. John 14:27).

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Sunday by the Sea

I went to church down by the seacoast far;

After the bell rang, prayerful spirits fled:

The notes that sprang out from the steel guitar,

They bounced around like balls inside my head,

And all rolled off down some meandering way

Where neither ear nor tongue nor mind could follow;

Weary and vexed, my thoughts floated astray,

My hungry heart all overstuffed yet hollow.

No sense in all this jangling earthly show

Of Who it is behind that curtain dwells,

Whose might and glory round the planet go,

More so than solar fire or ocean swells.

Though folk come here with hearts pure as they can,

Yet this music draws man’s worship to man.

 

Two hours later, I made for the line

Where foaming breakers rush to meet the sand,

The burbling, tinkling shallows, clear and fine,

With softest breath of melting bubbles spanned.

And out beyond them, rumbling from the deep,

Great waves like organs swell their booming strain,

The mighty rhythm of their crash and leap—

How ancient and ageless the sea’s refrain.

Each sound keeps steady measure in its place,

And in sweet, solemn harmony they blend,

Forever singing canticles of grace,

Of unprobed wonder, glory without end.

On contemplation’s tide my heart floats free,

On the immortal music of the sea.

 

Oh, that the melodies we play and sing

In His house—He Whose Hand brought forth the waves—

Gave off a little of that hallowed ring

That man’s soul, hungering to worship, craves!

Patterns of steady grace would join the sounds,

That all our hearts and tongues might pray in song,

Harmonies like the waves that roll their rounds,

Made, by their very order, sweet and strong.

Their task, to lift the mortal mind and heart

On contemplation’s tide to the Divine,

Him Who in might and beauty reigns apart,

Yet deigns to dwell here veiled in bread and wine.

So may we learn in our own artistry

A lesson from the music of the sea.

The Aviator’s Reply

See original poem by Daniel Whitehead Hicky

No intimacy with the deeps of stars
Or meteors can mortal beings know.
Though engines lift this dusty flesh of ours
Through air, to heaven’s shores they cannot go.

I know my Lord prepares my home on high,
Fair beyond even skies of purest light,
Meanwhile, though I may be glad to fly,
I’ll be content on firm ground to alight.

Enchanted Glass

All we upon this earth are flooded round

By blinding sunbeams of Reality,

And yet our vision’s by our weakness bound,

So none takes in their blaze entirely.

 

But each receives some part, and we must work

To share the light among us as we may,

Burn off deceit and all confusion’s murk,

Pour forth the Truth, a white-gold noontime ray.

 

So we reflect it with small plates of glass,

And we call words these mirrors that we wield,

Given to us that we might freely pass

The beams in wisdom through thought’s motley field.

 

Then, with these words, a strange enchanting art

May turn them to reflect another way,

Beaming realities into the heart

By casting keener lights in subtle play,

 

An indirect beam, aimed at spirit’s sight,

A message in the language of the soul,

And we call verse this deep ecstatic light,

This piercing vision of the unseen whole.

 

In thoughtfulness and beauty it reveals

The knowledge that eludes our mundane speech,

Things every human heart by instinct feels,

But, while we think in prose, stay out of reach.

 

We plainly see the way a ship’s designed,

Of wood or iron, moved by fuel or sails,

But in poetic light, we further find

That it plows over dim and flooded vales

 

Like some magician’s chariot through the sky,

Yet wobbles there, fragile uncertain guest

Skirting a world’s surface, humble and shy,

In water-realms a little human nest;

 

Yet bravely it traverses the abyss

As if to leave the very world behind—

Contemplative reflections such as this

In everything a poem’s light can find.

 

Then let us use it to make bright and plain

The glory that all things hold deep in store,

And give the lie to those who would maintain

Our world is chemicals and nothing more.

 

To catch the rarest lights, let us arrange

Our words exquisitely, as if in dance,

Nor garble them into disorder strange

In shallow hope to startle some stray glance.

 

And if we use it with all care and grace,

Its power may burn through our spirits’ eyes

A light from high beyond the depths of space,

And leave us thankful, and a bit more wise.

Warmth in the World of Religious Sisters

Originally appeared on Catholic Stand

Like many things, the religious life is sometimes regarded with fear and suspicion because it is not known or understood. (Throughout this article, unless otherwise specified, I will use the word “religious” to refer to religious orders.) At their most bizarrely hideous, the caricatures look like the murderous albino monk of The Da Vinci Code’s opening scene. However, even in generally more openminded, tolerant circles—even among Catholics—questions and doubts may persist: Why do men and women disappear into these orders, and what are their lives like after they do so?

Regarding women’s religious communities, the negative conception I’ve most often encountered is that they are cold, without feelings, or that their feelings have been suppressed or drained out by the harshness of their life. The idea seems to be that their life is very disciplined, demanding and rigid, and therefore calls for someone ruthless with herself and others.

Now some may think this simply because they’ve had a poor sampling. Even merely seeing images of Mother Teresa’s radiant smile can demonstrate that the above is not the essential nature of a religious sister. Still, ideas that gain a significant hold want careful consideration. Two questions, then, are in order: what exactly is the popular negative image, and what relevance—if any—does it have to reality?

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Practicing Kindness in a Harsh World

Originally appeared on Catholic Stand

In recent months, the Holy Spirit has shown me some things about kindness through two mostly-isolated elderly people.

One, a friend from my family’s parish, has been confined to a nursing home of late. My father, in his capacity as a deacon, has been bringing her Communion on weekends, and my mother and I usually accompany him. Despite her physical ailments, this dear lady invariably greets us with smiles and concludes the visit with, “Thank you so very, very much for coming, and God bless you.”

Needless to say, hearing those words makes me feel good about having come. It also reminds me of the importance of being personally present to the lonely and suffering, of spending time with those whom the world has forgotten.

The second person was a homeless man whom I began to see on walks through our neighborhood. Bundled in a thick coat and hat in all weather, he would sit on a bench with his bags or walk slowly with a cart. I began trying to talk to him, thinking that he must be lonely, and knowing the importance of being present to someone abandoned. He appeared glad enough for the company, though he quickly refused anything like an offer of help, and seemed reluctant to discuss his own life. From what he did say, I became increasingly sure that he was not quite in his right mind.

Then, one day, I came walking along as usual and saw the man sitting with his bags, hunched over a camera. I turned and approached, whereupon he jerked upright and exclaimed, “What’s wrong? Why are you here?”

Confused, I stammered, “I’m walking in the park, as usual.”

“All right, that’s great, take care,” he said abruptly, and went back to fiddling with his camera.

My homeless acquaintance had rejected my attempts to be kind. I had extended the same toward him that I had toward our friend in the nursing home—an attentive, caring presence—but with the opposite outcome. I will probably never know why, but for me, the episode shed a multifaceted light on the Christian practice of kindness.

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Queen of Peace

White ocean-star, of radiance serene,
Still pool all diamond-clear and filled with light,
Enclosed garden where fairer Eden’s seen,

Bright tower, mountain-firm, in every fight
Immovable by raging of the foe,
Who guard and guide God’s servants through the night,

O Lady, look with love on us below,
Amid the fierce insanity of earth;
Too little peace do we who dwell here know.

My heart, like a small whirlwind from my birth
Of longings, pains, impulses, follies, fears,
Has of sweet stillness a deep, hungry dearth.

Wild winds of turmoil and storms of tears
Beset my way, and all my brethren’s ways,
And none knows how long till the tempest clears.

And all around us fierce contentions blaze,
From vicious, cruel hearts the fires abound,
As if to swallow earth in blackened days.

And we, in struggling, ourselves confound;
Our shadowed minds can’t find what makes for peace;
We helpless sheep, our bleats to heaven sound.

O shining Mother! bring us God’s release,
His saving mercy and His gracious power,
That Heaven’s light on poor earth may increase.

O you, who in the long-appointed hour
Gave us the Prince of Peace, hope’s burning star,
And give us still His grace’s golden shower,

O you who felt His cross’ crushing bar,
But deep down kept that radiance serene,
O show us where that peace and sweetness are.

Your flaming heart all sunlike, blessed Queen,
Beams warmly round us with celestial glow,
Pierces our darkness with its fire-rays keen.

And out from it, a strong and golden flow
Pours round and floods all souls who linger near;
‘Tis peace, joy, love, and freedom that run so.

For you, filled with your Son, make wondrous clear
That those who let Him fill their empty space
Will have the only Light that guides men here.

I see Him as I gaze upon your face,
My Queen, my Mother, bright with peace and grace.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

What exactly makes Taika Waititi’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople so much fun? I loved the film—based on Barry Crump’s novel Wild Pork and Watercress—long before I tried to puzzle out this question.

Perhaps it’s the premise, played out with such a wholehearted spirit of adventure: thirteen-year-old Ricky Baker, a de facto orphan under state supervision (Julian Dennison), and Hector Faulkner, the crotchety old man who’s ended up being responsible for him (Sam Neill), survive together for months in the New Zealand bush, on the run from authorities who want to relocate Ricky and believe Hector guilty of child abuse.

Perhaps it’s the lively dialogue, almost constantly snapping with wit. Perhaps it’s the gloriously rugged setting, the “majestical” New Zealand countryside—recognizably the same landscape where the Lord of the Rings films were shot. (Actually, that’s not the only connection, but . . . well, to say more would spoil a great moment.)

Perhaps it’s Ricky himself, full of quirky remarks, prone to mischief, but with a more sensitive side belying his tough, rebellious exterior—a sort of kindred spirit to the titular heroine of Lilo and Stitch. It may also be his developing relationship with his “Uncle” Hector, who initially wants nothing to do either with outlaw life or with Ricky, but finds an unexpected grace in the latter . . . and even the former.

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The Transformative Power of Memory

Originally appeared on Catholic Stand

“When you and I met, the meeting was over very shortly, it was nothing. Now it is growing something as we remember it . . . What it will be when I remember it as I lie down to die, what it makes in me all my days till then—that is the real meeting. The other is only the beginning of it.”

Those words from C. S. Lewis’ Out of the Silent Planet present a thought we may seldom consider. Memories are not merely records or images of things gone, like photos on a wall. They develop inside us and become parts of us; they can change our lives in the present and the future.

Why should that be? Of course years gone by were important as they happened, but how can they continue to affect us, in a real, tangible way, after they have passed? Do they matter enough to warrant thought and discussion? After all, the past is gone; we must live in the present.

While that statement is certainly true, we sometimes also find that we need to develop our understanding of our past to better live a whole, healthy life in the present. Each life is a story, and how we understand the previous chapters does much to determine how we see ourselves and our world.

Memories can do this in two main ways. They can preserve wholesome and precious times, treasures to enrich us in the future. They can also become dangerous when they store our experiences of darkness and injuries, in which case they require healing.

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