Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Old Stamp Collectors

"Old stamp collectors never die," I said to a friend one evening; "they just get returned to Sender."  She immediately popped back with: "Nancy, that was first class!"  

I am an old stamp collector, I'll admit it, even though the collection is long gone.  I suspect the fascination hit with my first postcard from an aunt vacationing an entire state away.  I saved the card (after all, receiving my own mail then was a Very Big Deal).  Having a great time, said aunty; the weather is good.  Wish you were here... and oh, how I wished it too.  Such exotic lands my relatives visited.  Ohio!  Peoria!  Kansas!  Des Moines!  The very names were colorful, as were the stamps on their cards.  I began a collection of both, poring over paper fragments of adventure on lazy afternoons. 

I knew I loved to travel; never mind that I never did.  I loved caves, too, although I'd never been in one.  I loved astronomy even if my view was limited to the blob of quivery moon I tried to focus on through a cardboard cereal-premium "telescope." ("send in 3 boxtops and 25 cents").  My sense of adventure was unbounded.  Actual travel?  Well, that was limited by my dad's job and a second-hand Chevrolet.  

My stamp collection is gone now, and I am very practical.  I buy stamps I really like, then stick them on envelopes to put them to good use.  I no longer have to imagine travel, I simply call it up from memories.  I've gone to numerous states and well beyond.. even to the other side of the earth.  Maybe I'll travel a lot more - who knows?  But regardless, there will always remain one Great Adventure.  I just pray for grace to look forward with anticipation to that one, and to the amazing experience of seeing face to Face my Sender.  He is bigger than the earth, more brilliant than the moon, grander than Des Moines.

"And men go abroad to admire the heights and mountains, the mighty billows of the sea, the long courses of rivers, the vast compass of the ocean, and the circular motion of the stars, and yet pass themselves by..."  (St. Augustine) 

(photo from US postal service via Wikimedia Commons)

Thursday, February 23, 2012

the glory on which they gaze

"Eternal incomprehensible God, I believe, and confess, and adore Thee, as being infinitely more wonderful, resourceful, and immense than this universe which I see.  I look into the depths of space in which the stars are scattered about, and I understand that I should be millions upon millions of years in creeping along from one end of it to another, if a bridge were thrown across it....  

"But all, all that is in these worlds, high and low, are but an atom compared with the grandeur, the height and depth, the glory, on which Thy saints are gazing in their contemplation of Thee."  (John Henry Newman)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

erasing the board

As I stand poised at the edge of Lent, I find myself reflecting upon the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  Today I stumbled across this from Charles de Foucauld: 

“When you want to write on a blackboard, you must first wipe off what is written there.”  

Several things occur to me as I read this.  First of all:  chalk is not permanent.  Nor are my sins.  Once the “board” has been erased, the original mistakes can no longer be read. 

Second:  a blackboard cannot be erased unless something is done.  Someone has to actually take action and clean the board.

Third:  a chalkboard eraser is not a steel wool pad.  It is soft.  It’s made to clean the board, not harm it.  If a blackboard could feel, I doubt it would cry “ouch.”

“God,” wrote St. Gregory the Great, “scourges our faults with strokes of love, to cleanse us from our iniquities.” 

Strokes of love.  Not lashes and paddles, but strokes of love.

Jesus wants to erase every one of my sins.  He knows I cannot do it on my own.  He has given the Sacrament of Reconciliation as a (gentle, loving, healing) Eraser.  I pray, on the eve of this Lenten season, for the grace to “confess my sins, do penance, and amend my life."  May Our Lord write what HE wants on my life; may He make it totally His own. 

(This post is part of Catholic Blog Day.  Clicking on this line will take you to another site, where you can find other bloggers' reflections on Lenten penance and reconciliation)

Monday, February 20, 2012

this weekend, I missed....

It's a good thing I don't believe in 'fate,' lest I be accused of tempting it.  It is the providence of God that I believe in - therefore I can safely tell you that this weekend I missed snow.  

It had been promised (the snow), just as it had a number of times this season.  I was awaiting a whirling white visitation, splendidly cold, one to kiss my lips numb and leave them frozen.  Not the sort of thing one normally looks forward to, I admit, unless the season has been uncannily mild.  Or unless one happens to be a coziness addict - an appreciator of warm teas and soft blankets and the homey sense of well being that comes with thawing toes.

At this time of year, I normally feel starved for springtime. I grow weary of frozen air.  I get distressed by hazardous road conditions and threatened safety and cancelled plans.  But I do enjoy finding refuge from chill.  I like to look out from a sheltering house upon a world gone white.  

I hope I won't be writing soon to say there's been a drastic change.  But this weekend, I missed snow.  

(photo © 2010 N Shuman)

Sunday, February 19, 2012

I Kiss the Faded Ink

Going through a few of my old letters tonight, I felt I was opening a long sealed treasure chest.  What a grand jewel is a letter!  Every one is a gift, a precious slice of life.

One letter among all the rest stood out as my favorite; no contest.  That would be the following from my husband, written while we were dating.  He was twenty years old. 

December 25...Dear Nancy, "Wanna know something?  Last night when we were at our respective midnight masses we were twenty miles apart, but really we were together.  We both heard mass and received the Christ child in communion - and that’s about the closest bond anyone can have - and the best!  I’d say we’re pretty lucky!" 

So would I, my darling.  So would I.  

"I listen and my hand thy letter presses; 
I, time-worn woman, touch it with caresses. 
I kiss the faded ink of its addresses."  

(Susan Emory, "An Old Woman's Answer to a Letter from her Girlhood")

Friday, February 17, 2012

nearer than I can imagine

Just as I rush from a busy day to a dinner out, I find myself running across the following letter:

"During your meals or during any daily duty, lift your heart up to Him, because even the least remembrance will please Him.  You don't have to pray out loud; He's nearer than you can imagine."  (letter from Brother Lawrence)

And now.... away I go......

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

True North

France, 1600s:  "Ships at sea have a mariner's needle which always points to the north.  Although the ship may be headed south, the needle never fails to point north.  It sometimes seems that the soul at prayer is going straight south, since it is greatly bothered by distractions.  Nevertheless the highest point of the spirit always looks toward God, WHO IS ITS NORTH.  People who are the most advanced in the spiritual life often have such great temptations, even against faith, that it seems to them that their whole soul consents to these temptations.  Yet they still resist at the deepest level of their being.  Even though all their other faculties and powers may be filled with distractions, their spirit is praying."  (from St. Francis de Sales, emphasis mine)

Monday, February 13, 2012

my holy Valentine

It's a grand time for letters.  Letters, notes, valentines bursting with verse and humor and pop-up-song.  I love every one of them.  On Valentine's Day, give me hearts, give me roses, give me rhyme.

As a child, collecting valentines to line up on my dresser, I would count the cards and sort them and arrange.  Valentines from friends were put where I could see them readily; ones from boys I liked were given pride of place.  It was not unheard of for a girl to receive two or more valentines from the same young man:  a definite sign of not-so-secret love. 

"The Bible is a letter from Almighty God to His creatures,"  wrote Pope St. Gregory.  I read this today and think, if this is the case, then what a missive!  The length of it.. the poetry... the repeated declarations of total and absolute LOVE. 

"I have loved you with an everlasting love... I am constant in My affection for you."  (Jeremiah 31:3)

"Though the mountains leave their place and the hills be shaken, My love shall never leave you."  (Isaiah 5410)

"My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow Me.  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.  No one shall snatch them out of my hand."  (John 10:27-28)

I can turn page after page of Scripture and find such love.  Love that would suffer and die for me, declaring itself over and over and over - a definite sign of not at all secret Love.  

This is Love that deserves first place in my heart.  This Valentine's day, I shall (anew) accept it.  And I pray for grace to give love in return.  

Through prayer, through acts of charity, through aspirations of love and praise, I hope to give Our Lord a number of "valentines"... repeated declarations of a not-so-secret love. 

Saturday, February 11, 2012

a rose in winter

France, April 1622: "Plant Jesus Christ crucified in your heart, and all the crosses of this world will seem to be roses."  (letter of St. Francis de Sales)

"The sun looks at a rose, along with a thousand million other flowers, just as much as if it looked upon the rose alone. And God, though He loves a countless number of other souls, does not pour out His love upon one soul less than if He loved that soul alone..."  (St. Francis de Sales)

Thursday, February 9, 2012

do not refuse to hear....

Letter to the Hebrews:  "Do not refuse to hear Him Who speaks."  (12:25) 

I am struck by the word "refused" used here.  I mean:  imagine God speaking to me and me not just missing the call - but actually refusing to hear it! 

Actually, I can imagine that all too well.

It doesn't take a long memory, on my part, to see myself with head ducked, eyes downcast, pretending I don't know what is being asked of me.  I've never heard a physical "voice" from God, but I have detected the gentle call of One inviting me to live as He asks, to treat others as He wishes, to give Him a moment of prayer. 

But gosh, I'm so busy.  Maybe later, just a little later.  

If Jesus were standing right in front of me, would I say "Nice to see you, but you caught me just dashing out the door.  Oh, and I meant to tell you - I had a reason for not doing what you asked the other day... after all, what would people have thought?  And oh... excuse me just a minute, will you?  I think I heard the phone....."

The thing is - Jesus IS standing right in front of me.  Right now.  He is closer than I could possibly imagine.  

How will I respond?

Monday, February 6, 2012

A Thank You Note

USA, 2012: Dear Pen Friend, 

    Today's letter is from me. Just me.  Not me "and" anyone; only little old me.  
    I've received an airletter (the kind that's written in pen and gets delivered to a metal box outside the house) urging me to take good care of myself.  Because, said the writer, "I could not bear to be without my penfriend!"  
    I immediately thought back through years of correspondence.  Paul was only the beginning.  After him, there was a string of pen-pals.  One of these sent me copies (several years ago) of ALL of the letters I'd sent her over these many years.  I read them with laughter and more than a touch of nostalgia; also with the sure knowledge that only God could have turned such a scatter-penned youngster as I was into a writer.  "I have heard about the British 'Beatles,'" I once told her... "I hope someday I can hear their music."   "President Kennedy was shot, tell me if you've heard about it over there."   "I went swimming today and the dog died" (no connection between these last two events).
     I went on to write letters to friends and boyfriends.  To people met through writing and travels.  And now, as I thank God to have such a privilege, here I am clicking away on a keyboard to you. 
     I suppose you can consider this a thank you note.  Thanks for making a few mouse-clicks and opening this letter. 
     I pray (I genuinely do) that the Lord will take good care of you. 
     Because "I could not bear to be without my penfriend....."  


Sunday, February 5, 2012

fix your eyes on...

France; 1600s: "Do not get all worked up about the future disasters of this world, which may never occur anyway; when and if they do occur, God will give you the strength to bear them.  Jesus commanded St. Peter to walk on the water but Peter, frightened by a gust of wind and the storm, almost drowned.  Then he pleaded with the Lord, Who said to him, 'what little faith you have - why did you falter?'  And putting forth His hand, He saved him (Matthew 14:31).  If God asks you to walk on the turbulent waters of adversity, do not doubt, do not fear, because God is with you.  Have courage and you will be safe." ... letter of St. Francis de Sales

"Fix your eyes on Jesus"... letter to the Hebrews 3:1

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Castle Delivery

Spain, 9 September 1576:  "I can truthfully say that your letters are such a consolation.  When I read the one and thought there were no more, I myself was surprised by the happiness I felt when I discovered another one; it was as as though I hadn't received the first.  You should then realize that your letters are a kind of recreation for me." ... from a letter of St. Teresa of Avila  

Finding these words today, I was surprised (and delighted) to learn that they were written by the  same woman who said, in that very year, "While in prayer one day, I felt my soul to be so deep in God that it didn't seem there was a world..." (from 'Spiritual Testimonies') 

St. Teresa of Avila, as we know, was one of the great mystics of the Church.  She experienced extraordinary depths of prayer and left us a map to the Interior Castle.  If anyone was ever "lost in God," it was she.  Yet she found happiness in the pages of a letter!  Being a lifelong lover of correspondence, I am thrilled to know that this was the case.

I suppose my delight is because I am an "aspirant" to the Interior Castle.  I would like it to be my home, my residence, my permanent address.  

It's nice to know that even the Castle gets mail.  

Thursday, February 2, 2012

and the bird sings

"The other day, the little birds were singing in the woods.  I began to weep... I thought within myself, the good God has made you to sing, and you sing.  Yet man, who was created that he might love God, loves Him not!"... from St. John Vianney 

I have always loved birds. Back when I was penciling the first "breadbox letters," I had a parakeet in a cage in my room.  I especially loved to watch him sleep.  He would turn his head backwards and tuck beak into feathers, turn into a ball of fluff, and look like soft green velvet.  Every maternal instinct I had came bursting forth at such moments, and I tried to reach into the cage to stroke this wondrous grass-green creature.  But no.  He would not allow it.  He was always rather afraid of me, running to the other side of the cage when I approached.

When it comes to allowing God to love me completely, I wonder if I'm just a bit like that bird.  Oh, I don't mean to be.  I intend to love God with all my heart.  I was created to love Him, and that is what I want more than anything to do.  But sometimes, as I feel Him approaching more closely - could it be that I feel just a wee twinge of fear?

My Father's "Paternal Heart" ...  the Heart of the One Who MADE me ... longs to hold my heart close.  He wants me to experience the peace that comes from loving Him.  And so, at this very moment, I make again the decision to do so.  I will love Him.  By His grace, I will trust Him.

And who knows?  I might even sing.... 

" much more important you are than the birds..!"  (Luke 12: 24)

(painting on this post, by Henriette Browne, is in public domain)