Figs and Roses

Someone wrote a Facebook post this morning about her breakfast of figs and yogurt.  It brought this memory to mind.

The man stood each night in the shadows in the alley between his house and the house next door, only about four or five houses from the one we lived in.  An elderly man.  I remember him always wearing a jacket and tie, as well as a hat, but it would seem strange if he wore that during warm weather.

I was nine or 10 years old at the time.  I’d see him every night when I was walking the dog in the evening.  You could easily pass and not see him if you weren’t looking in his direction, he was that still.  Truth be told, I was a bit frightened of this specter as I passed him.  I was not the only one; most of the kids on the block avoided him.

But one night I said hi as I passed him, and after that, greeted him each time with a waved hand or a word as I walked past with my dog.  He would respond with a silent movement of his hand in return greeting.

Then one  night he motioned me over.  I was a little leery, but walked a little in his direction.  Right next to him in front of his house was a beautiful rose bush.  He snipped one off and gave it to me.  We exchanged a few words and I went on.  After that, when roses were in season, I’d sometimes get another.  Then one night, when I walked by, he waved me over with a smile and held out a dish that had something on it I had never seen – a fresh fig.  He apparently had a fig tree in his backyard and it was fig season.

I loved figs the way we had them at the holidays – dried figs sliced open, with a piece or two of walnut meat inserted and powered sugar dusted on top.  They were really good.  I never thought about what figs looked or tasted like before they were dried.  As good as those holiday figs were, they were nothing compared to the wonder of a fresh fig.

I’ve loved fresh figs ever since; I almost dance with delight when I see them in a store.  And almost every time I eat one, I think of that elderly man, long dead by now.

I think he just appreciated someone saying hello.  And a rose or a fig was his way of saying thank you.


Season of Creation

What Pope Francis is calling “the Season of Creation” began on September 1 and continues through October 4.  the Pope is encouraging Christians around the world to pray for the care of creation and to consider ways to act.

You can find the full text of Pope Francis’ statement here. message, and I encourage you to read the message in its entirety, reflecting on how you will respond to his invitation.

Among the key themes of his statement are the following:

  • We care all called to protect creation, and we have not been doing such a great job in doing so.  He writes, “Something good in the eyes of God has become something exploitable in human hands.”
  • This is a time to enhance of efforts toward sustainability.  Francis encourages us to adopt “simpler and more respectful lifestyles.”
  • This is a time to urge our governments to enact better climate policies.  He encourages “prophetic actions” to, among other things, encourage governmental measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

How will you respond to the call – during this Season of Creation and beyond?


What Are You Washing Your Hands of

We just returned from a river cruise on the Rhine, and my vacation included visits to a number of churches, basilicas and cathedrals.  While I’m too jetlagged to share any intelligent commentary, I thought I would share several images that particularly struck me.

I liked each for different reasons.  The fourth one – someone’s rendition of Pilate washing his hands – totally arrested me.  As I looked at it, I could feel Jesus asking, “What are you washing your hands of?”

Good question to ask ourselves.

My Friend Martha

Today is the Memorial of St. Martha, friend to Jesus and sister to Lazarus and Mary.

We meet Martha in two primary episodes in the Bible: the first when Jesus is dining at the home of his friends, and the second when Jesus show up after the death of Lazarus.

The first episode is a short one. Luke tells us:

As they continued their journey he entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary who sat beside the Lord at his feed listening to him speak. Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” The Lord said to her in reply, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.

It is interesting that when Jesus chides Martha, he didn’t say, “Why can’t you just be like Mary?” (Something more than one parent or teacher has said about a child when comparing the child to a sibling.) I suspect Jesus knew Martha never could be Mary, just as Mary never could be Martha.

We do need to recognize at the outset that we are all different. We possess different gifts and personalities.  The common reaction to this Gospel episode, when Jesus tells Martha that Mary has chosen the better part is to say what Jesus didn’t say: Silly Martha – she should have been more like her sister Mary.

But we need to remember something. It may be that she needed to let go of some worry and anxiety.  But here is a woman in a time when women didn’t speak up to men, and they certainly didn’t chastise them. Yet Mary has the boldness to speak her piece with Jesus. Many women of her time would have held their tongue. But Martha spoke what was on her mind, understanding that being in relationship with Jesus means speaking what is actually on our mind and in our heart. Not saying only what we think we are supposed to say.

We can’t move forward with God unless we are honest about what is troubling us. It may be that Martha’s point was misplaced; indeed, from Jesus’ reaction we know it was. But that doesn’t change that had she stayed silent, she would not have learned from Jesus. Only her honesty and courage in speaking up allowed her to do that.

So Martha represents honesty and boldness.

She also represents a take-charge organization and efficiency that the world could not operate without. Someone does have to do the cooking, change the sheets if Jesus and his friends are going to stay overnight. Someone had to make sure there is enough wine for everyone and so on. Martha, in the words of Joanna Weaver “is an administrator extraordinaire – a whirling dervish of efficiency with a touch of Tasmanian she-devil thrown in to motivate the servants.”

So we do need Mary’s receptivity and ability to just sit at Jesus’ feet.  But we also all need some Martha in us.

So on this day, let us learn from Martha – as well as from her sister Mary.



Pursue the Authentic

I saw the poem Advice to Myself by Louise Erdrich posted as part of the Minnesota Institute of Art’s Exhibit of Native Women Artists.   It contains some good wisdom.

Leave the dishes.
Let the celery rot in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator
and an earthen scum harden on the kitchen floor.
Leave the black crumbs in the bottom of the toaster.
Throw the cracked bowl out and don’t patch the cup.
Don’t patch anything. Don’t mend. Buy safety pins.
Don’t even sew on a button.
Let the wind have its way, then the earth
that invades as dust and then the dead
foaming up in gray rolls underneath the couch.
Talk to them. Tell them they are welcome.
Don’t keep all the pieces of the puzzles
or the doll’s tiny shoes in pairs, don’t worry
who uses whose toothbrush or if anything
matches, at all.
Except one word to another. Or a thought.
Pursue the authentic-decide first
what is authentic,
then go after it with all your heart.
Your heart, that place
you don’t even think of cleaning out.
That closet stuffed with savage mementos.
Don’t sort the paper clips from screws from saved baby teeth
or worry if we’re all eating cereal for dinner
again. Don’t answer the telephone, ever,
or weep over anything at all that breaks.
Pink molds will grow within those sealed cartons
in the refrigerator. Accept new forms of life
and talk to the dead
who drift in through the screened windows, who collect
patiently on the tops of food jars and books.
Recycle the mail, don’t read it, don’t read anything
except what destroys
the insulation between yourself and your experience
or what pulls down or what strikes at or what shatters
this ruse you call necessity.

Note: The MIA exhibit, Hearts of our People: Native Women Artists , will be open through August 18.  It is well worth a visit.

What Do We Stand For?

Today the United States celebrates Independence Day, the day we celebrate our birth as an independent nation.

It is a good day on which to ask ourselves what we stand for.

The most recognizable phrase we associate with the Statue of Liberty is

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

We can’t make a claim we stand for those words, as we allow refugees and migrants to sit in unsanitary and unsafe conditions at our border, and allow children to be separated from their parents.

Our Declaration of Independence claims

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

We certainly don’t stand for that – and even when those words were penned, they didn’t really mean every one.

We have a slogan of “one person, one vote) which supposedly means that one person’s voting power is roughly equivalent to another’s within the same state.  But gerrymandering and efforts to disenfranchise minority voters have given lie to that.

So what do we stand for?

I know what I stand for as a Christian.  But I no longer know what the United States stands for.  It certainly doesn’t mean what I thought it did growing up.

As I said, good day to ask the question.

The Mad Dance

Last evening I and the other women on the team leading the Ignatian Colleagues Program five-day retreat offered a prayer service titled In the Voices of Women.  It included song, scripture, readings, a litany to anonymous women, a beautiful ritual of flower offering.

As part of the service, I shared a short piece written by my now-deceased mother-in-law back in 1932, when she was 18 years old.  Even then, she was an extraordinary women in so many ways.

Someone last night said to me, “That piece you read should be published.”  The comment prompted me to share it here with you.  I do so with love, admiration, and gratitude for all Mom/Betty/Nana gave to all of us who were part of her family

Here is the story written by Elizabeth Rocky (later Drueding), on February 12, 1932:

The Mad Dance

             In a small village, once upon a time, a group of young men assembled to see who could excel in dancing.  Every family in that village had a father or a son participating in the contest; and the excitement was high.

            When the dance began, each contestant felt light-hearted and sure that he could win.  As each one watched his neighbors, however, he quickened his pace and lost some of his jaunty self-assurance in the effort to excel.

            At first, the onlookers laughed and joked, citing the abilities of one and the awkwardness of another.  Soon, however, the dancers were whirling around feverishly, until the dance was frenzied.

            The spectators, realizing that their husbands, and fathers, and sons had worked themselves up to a dangerous, uncontrollable pace, became worried.  Suppose that one should fall and be trampled on by the others!  Suppose that the dancers should whirl themselves into the midst of the onlookers!

            After some discussion, all the women ran to their houses and returned with pans and ladles.  Huddled in an excited group they caught the rhythm of the mad dance and beat it out with their pots and pans.  Gradually, they decreased the rhythm until the dancers, conscious of the outside influence, slowed and finally stopped.

            Surely the women were ingenious.  Maybe women always are.  Maybe they ought to start beating out the rhythm of world peace on their pots and pans.