Tag Archives: Spirituality

“Sightseeing”

She was a wisp of a woman, greatly advanced in years, wrapped in a plain gray coat, and with a simple scarf covering her head.  She slipped into the building unnoticed, except by me.

I had never traveled internationally before and was spending my first full day in St. Petersburg, Russia.  Since the conference at which I was to speak would not begin until the next day, my host graciously proposed a driving tour of the magnificent city.  Along the way, we came to a Russian Orthodox Church, and our driver was instructed to stop so that I could see the beautiful icons therein.

As we entered, I was immediately captivated by the religious imagery all around me.  I walked from icon to icon drinking in the stories each piece told – familiar stories given new life by an artist’s hand.  In another part of the church, a wedding rehearsal was taking place; and, that too drew my attention as I considered the sacred covenant for which two young people were preparing.

At one point, the main door opened just enough to allow the old woman to enter.  I’m not sure why I felt drawn to watch her, but I did.  She crept along the wall purposefully, approaching a life-size icon of Jesus on the cross.  Once there, this frail woman, who had grown up amidst state-enforced atheism, who had survived Stalin’s murderous reign, who had endured the terrible blockade of her city by the Germans during World War II, and who – no doubt – dealt every day with crushing poverty, knelt and humbly kissed the feet of her Christ.  I was awestruck – and, honestly, a bit ashamed.

Since that day, I have visited many countries and seen many memorable sights.  None has ever moved me more.

“All Shall Be Well”

“All shall be well. And, all shall be well. And, all manner of things shall be well.”

These eschatological words were spoken by Jesus to (and through) Julian of Norwich while she was engaged in mystical prayer. I hold them very close to my heart and find in them a definitive statement about God’s goodness and good intentions for the world.

We may quarrel, but all shall be well.

We may struggle, but all shall be well.

We may suffer, but all shall be well.

We may be so wrapped up in our own selfish pursuits that we miss God’s blessings in the moment, but all shall be well.

We may be discouraged and lonely, but all shall be well.

We may doubt, but all shall be well.

Life’s burdens may sometimes seem too heavy to bear, but all shall be well.

We may be divided ideologically, politically, and theologically, but all shall be well.

We may ache to find a deeper purpose in life, but all shall be well.

We may question our own ability to accomplish the tasks before us, but all shall be well.

We may be wilting under the judgment and criticism of others, but all shall be well.

We may be experiencing terrible grief, but all shall be well.

Ultimately, all manner of things shall be well.

“Dementia’s Curious Lesson”

Loving someone stricken with dementia is a curious journey. The disease not only robs a person of precious memories, but it also can tear down some of the afflicted person’s personal boundaries.

A few months ago, I was visiting my Mom in the nursing home, and we were having a nice chat about family matters. I mentioned that her ninth great-grandchild would soon be born, and she smiled.

“Really? Who is having a baby?” she asked.

I told her that her granddaughter, Sarah, Christine’s daughter, would soon be having her first child. Her expression changed when Christine’s name was mentioned.

“She’s gone, isn’t she?” she asked.

We talked a bit about Christine’s short life and, in an attempt to console my Mom, I mentioned that she would be reunited with Chris in heaven. Then, something unexpected happened.

My Mom not only gave me the gift of life, she also passed along her strong Catholic faith. Many factors/voices have contributed to my faith formation, but I first learned of God’s great love sitting on my mother’s knee.

Even during family crises, my Mom’s faith was always an anchor. She was a daily communicant, a woman of prayer, and, for many people, an instrument of God’s mercy and love. In fact, even in her diminished capacity, she continues to minister – through tenderness and contagious joy – to her fellow residents in the nursing home today.

“Do you think it’s true?” she asked (about heaven). “You know, when you’re in your eighties…” and her voice trailed off.

I couldn’t believe it! For the first time in my life, I heard my Mom express doubt about God and God’s promises. Dementia made that possible.

Though we may be guarded in sharing our personal struggles in this area, doubt is always a part of the life of faith. In fact, I have discovered that it is precisely my doubts that draw me further along the journey, that cause me to seek answers to some of life’s – and faith’s – deepest questions.

“I believe; help my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24) With these brutally honest words, a desperate father cried out to Jesus on behalf of his afflicted child. His words could also be my words every day of my life. And now, I have my mentor’s (i.e., my Mom’s) example to let me know that it’s okay to voice that very human struggle. Again, dementia made that possible.

I looked at my Mom and encouraged her to hold fast to what she has treasured her whole life. Now, it is my turn to minister.