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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Five Suns Over the Void

I, Amata of Telraum, write what I have seen that others may know it. Let them make of it what they will, but I think it was not given for me alone. It seems only a dream, yet it must have been more than a dream, for things are different now than when I lay down last night.

I am nineteen years old, crippled in my legs, but able with my hands. I live by sewing, and stay in the upper room of the innkeeper at Telraum. I came here on my own many years ago, and have survived on my own through most of my life. But last night I learned what I could not do on my own. That was the price of joy.

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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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To our Lady of Lourdes

High above earth’s wastes of mire,
‘Mid the scintillating stars,
You shine with the fairest fire,
Purest daughter born of ours;
Once a veiled light in our midst,
Now a beacon from the height,
Would you thin our murk and mist
From the heavens with your light?

No, your light is love’s warm flame,
Living, potent, surging out;
‘Twas on its account you came
Through the shadows round about:
To a hollow bare and bleak,
In the year’s gray, dreary time,
Sickened souls you came to seek
And heal with your light sublime.

By your humble messenger,
Frail flesh housing strength of grace,
You caused slumb’ring hearts to stir
From the night with piercing rays.
Those who hearkened and drew near
Found, at your feet, mercy’s spring,
Heav’nly water running clear,
Poured for flesh’s suffering.

But still more, your burning soul
Yearned to cure their spirits’ ills,
By love’s fire to make them whole,
Cleanse their hearts, make straight their wills.
Your bright hands reached down to pull
Men out from sin’s foul night,
Tear them free, and see them full
Of your Son’s celestial light!

Still you labor ceaselessly
For your children in the night,
O bright Queen, may I too be
Cleansed and healed and set aright!
So let me, like Bernadette,
Bear your blessed rays afar,
That all lost souls may come yet
Where your Son is, where you are!

The Home-lights

As wanderers in weary dark
Look up to see the glow
Of lamps in windows of their town
And feel its nearness so,

Or sailors on long voyages
Strain eyes for their own land,
And hail with joy the twinkling port
That tells them ‘tis at hand,

So I, when wand’ring weary as
Some soul on road or foam,
Look out into the evening sky
To see lights of my home.

For there it is, where I belong,
And where I look to be;
A worn traveler here, I lift
Eyes thither eagerly.

For wheresoever I go here,
‘Tis never truly far
From my true home; so I recall
When I behold a star.

No rolling dark of stormy clouds
Can stain or smear their glow.
Their fair power safeguards my heart
From ugliness below.

No dark of sorrow on the way
Can their beauty obscure,
And lights of joys inflame me to
Look upward more and more,

Up to the splendid lights of home,
The guiding glow sublime,
The fullness of all radiance,
Rest past the road of time.

For there—let it set me alight—
He is, Who fills my heart,
My great Beloved Lover Who
Is all my joy, my part.

There, too, my Mother sweet and fair,
Star-lily bright and pure,
And all my blessed brethren who
Have gone this way before.

All this I see when I look up
Into the evening sky,
And feel fresh strength to love and live,
For I live and know why.

When earthly sun veils o’er the lights,
I’ll hold them in my mind,
That they may light me from within,
Help me my way to find.

To reach my shining home at last
No toil will I spare,
Nor other wanderers to aid,
Till all reach fullness there.

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