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Aging

I thought I’d write a blog post on Monday when I arrived home after the flight back from Prague.  Didn’t happen and the jet lag since has made focusing on a post impossible.  Funny, when I was in my twenties and flying back and forth between the US and Asia, jet lag was never a problem.  (And here I am writing at 5:00 a.m., having been awake for at least two hours.)

And it is not just the jet lag.  Although we had many wonderful experiences on this vacation, it was also challenging in some ways, as I alluded to in an earlier post.  As I thought about it, I realized that some of it is attributed to aging.

Twenty years ago, if Dave and I got lost trying to get from one place to another in Italy, we thought it was an adventure.  (I still remember the dirt road to Trequanda that led nowhere.)  We laughed and didn’t worry about where we were.  This trip, getting lost was a cause of tension.

We never stay in chain-like hotels when we travel, always preferring small B&Bs in out of the way places.  I now realize I’m at a point where when the temperature is 100 degrees, going down to barely 90 at night, I’d rather be in some place that is air-conditioned than sweat through the night being bitten by mosquitos (since most places lack screens).

I could go on and on with examples, but the point is that this trip made me acknowledge the (perhaps obvious) reality that you just can’t ignore the aging process.  As we age, we change in how we react to things.   Maybe the way we used to travel is not the way we can travel anymore.

That doesn’t mean I won’t do another Camino – I’m still figuring out when in 2016 I might do one.  But it does mean I can’t assume that I’ll deal with everything as well as I did on the last one.  And it means I may have to make some accommodations along the way.

Today is the feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola, a saint who has been very influential in my spiritual development.

I quipped not long ago to my spiritual director, after sharing some of the experiences of my most recent retreat, “Is there anyone who ever has a realization Ignatius didn’t already have?”  An exaggeration, perhaps, but the truth is that Ignatius really got it, and there is a reason his Exercises have flourished and survived for centuries.

To be sure, some of Ignatius’ imagery and ways of talking about certain issues can benefit from adaptation (he was, after all, a 16th Century former soldier) to our times.  (Although Ignatius himself recognized the need for those directing the Spiritual Exercises to adapt them to the needs and qualities of those making the retreat, the need for adaptation today is greater than he could have imagined.)  But the fundamental aspects of the Exercises – the Principle and Foundation, the Call of Christ, The Two Standards and so forth – are as meaningful today as they were when Ignatius wrote them.

On this feast day I say a prayer of thanksgiving for all Ignatius and his Exercises have meant for me and for countless others. And I pray especially for all of the members of the Jesuit family.

We spent several hours this morning visiting the Jewish Museum in Prague. The museum is comprised of several synagogues as well as the old Jewish cemetery.

From restrictions on trade in the thirteenth century to pograms in the eighteenth century to the experience under Nazism, the Jews in Prague (as in many other parts of Europe) suffered greatly.

I can’t say it was a fun morning, but it was a powerful one. For me the most difficult was the Pinkasova synagogue. In the 1950s, the names of the more than 80,000 Czech and Moravian men woman and children who died in the Holicaust were inscribed on the walls of the synagogue.  Wall after wall through several rooms covered with names, grouped by families. I could barely breathe and certainly could not speak as I walked through, eyes brimming over with tears.

If that were not enough, the upper floor houses an exhibition of drawings by Jewish children interned in Terezon, a holding camp for those destined for the death camps further east. Pictures of the transport, of life in the camp, of death, of a hoped for life after the camp. (The adults in the camp tried to make things as “normal” as possible for the children; encouraging the children to draw as a way to deal with difficult emotions was part of that.) Many of the pictures had the birth and death dates of the children who drew them. Dead at age 8 or 10 or 6. It was heartbreaking.

I would love to believe we have grown to the point where something like this horror could never happen again. But then I look at what is happening in our world and know it is naive to think it could not.

The names are not legible, but here is one of the walls of the synagogue.  

Francis and Clare

I have traveled so many places over the decades, and I have seen more wonderful sights than I would have imagined as a child growing up in Brooklyn. But one of my favorites places remains Assisi.

Perhaps it is because Francis was my one connection to Christ during my years as a Buddhist.  Or that Clare has worked her way into Elena’s heart.

Perhaps it is the way the streets wind, with a staircase here, a little passage there. Perhaps it is the beauty of the Giotto frescos in the Basilica, or the peace at Eremi. 

Whatever the reasons, it is a very special place.

   

   

It is All Good

We want our vacations to be constantly wonderful, unadulterated joy. We plan for them, anticipate them eagerly and expect that everything will be perfect.

This vacation has been a bit challenging thus far.  We have been this week in an area we picked so as to hike but the  extreme heat has made that not feasible. The maps of the area seem written for those who already know where they are going, so we get lost pretty much every time we take the car out. When I did go out for a long walk yesterday morning, I took a bad fall. (I won’t describe what my knee looks like.)

On the other hand, we had great visits to castles and caves and some wonderful meals. I got to see Elena perform in an opera. Most importantly, it is time with my husband and daughter.

And today we are off to Assisi, a place I love!

Not perfect, but it is all good.

Today the Catholic Church celebrates one of the most maligned women in history: Mary Magdalene, faithful disciple of Jesus.  She was one of the people who followed Jesus wherever he went. One of the few who didn’t run away at the end, but who stayed at the foot the cross until he died. And she is the first person to whom Jesus appears after his resurrection – the appearance that we hear about in today’s Gospel.

It is a beautiful encounter.  In The Twelve Voices of Easter, Woodrow Kroll and Keity Ghormley have a chapter on Mary Magdalene, which among other things, describes that encounter in Mary’s voice.  I share here an excerpt, which you might use as a meditation for today’s Gospel.

…when we arrived at the tomb, we were shocked: The stone was not there, nor were any soldiers to be seen. The stone had been rolled away–taken right out of its trough and tipped over.

As we stood and wondered at what had happened to the stone, two men dressed in dazzling white robes suddenly appeared. These garments were not the togas of Roman soldiers, nor were they the long white robes of the Pharisees. These were not men at all, but angels of God.

We were overcome and we fell to the ground. But the angels reassured us. They reminded us how Jesus had said that He would rise again. One of the angels bid us to look inside the tomb and see for ourselves. I ran as fast as I could to tell Peter and John. When we returned, the other women were gone. We looked in the tomb. Empty. I was convinced that someone had stolen the body of Jesus. The linen garments Joseph had wrapped Him in were lying there, neatly folded in their places. But the tomb was empty.

Peter and John ran from the garden, but I remained. I had nowhere to go. What had happened to the Master? Could it be that He actually did rise from the dead, or had the soldiers taken His body away? My heart was overcome again with sorrow. I just stood there, weeping.

Then I heard a voice behind me ask, “Woman, why are you weeping?” I assumed it was the gardener. “Sir, what have you done with Him?” I asked, wiping my face.

It was fully light, but tears blurred my eyes. I turned, but could not see clearly. Then He called me by my name. “Mariam.” That was my Aramaic name, the name my parents and my friends called me. A gardener would not have spoken Aramaic to me. A Roman would not know my name. I knew that voice. I looked up. I saw Him. It was Jesus. I answered in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” I threw myself at His feet, weeping, laughing, not believing, believing. My Master, my Teacher, my Savior, my Lord. He was standing there alive….

He told me to go tell the others, and I did. Marvelous news. A wonder beyond all wonders. God has accomplished great things in our midst. Jesus is risen from the dead!

I thought these were lovely, although I am sure the pictures do not do justice.

   

The weather here is almost unbearably hot. But we have been finding some amazing spots that make us pause and smile and sing God’s glory.

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