A lock is certainly an outward symbol of security.
For a year and a half I’ve paused at this tree next to this creek bank in these Virginia woods, wondering when it was finally going to fall, what storm would prove to be too much for an ancient root system, which wind gust would push it over. I’ve also wondered about its history. How long has it been standing here, how many birds has it harbored in nests, how many generations of children have attempted to climb it? Has a rope every been tied to its branches so children could swing out over the water? How many winters has it been covered in snow? How many springs saw it leaf out into a cacophony of brilliant new green leaves?
The trees here grow very tall and very strong. They tower above me for as far as I can see, testimonies to strength and the ability to weather many storms and weather conditions. For decades on end they go from seed to sapling to mature trees, the strongest among them bending with the wind, firmly rooted in the soil beneath them.
Sometime in the few weeks since I last walked this trail that final wind gust came along or perhaps the day simply came when nothing was left to hold it up anymore. I like to think that it went down in a mighty gust of wind, with all the noise and fanfare it deserved on its final journey back into the ground it emerged from as a tiny sprout.
Although it now lies fallen, it still speaks loud and clear about all the years it stood, tall and resilient to nature’s forces.
I’m a big believer in traditions.
As a military family our surroundings changed constantly. Each move brought new experiences and ways to celebrate the Christmas season so things that happened within our family every single year were essential to defining our sense of home during the holidays…..homemade Chex Mix, the tree with the careful placing of ornaments collected over the years, watching It’s A Wonderful Life and White Christmas, making butter cookies and countless batches of english toffee, the sending and receiving of cards that connect us to people all over the world, the choir singing Christmas carols at mass, a house that glows with tiny white lights, both inside and out.
Except this year it’s all different.
Christmas is in storage.
I’m a cradle Catholic.
My cousin is a priest, my oldest sister is a nun, my father-in-law is a Deacon and my dad was a Eucharistic Minister. Many people in both my and my husband’s families have served both faithfully and well, in many capacities, through many generations.
I went to a Catholic school from first grade through my senior year in high school; my first day of college was the first time since kindergarten I’d attended class without wearing a uniform. I sang in the choir and was a lector at mass. I made all the sacraments when it was time, attended mass several times a week, and spent just about every family summer vacation in close proximity to a convent.
I was married in a Catholic church and raised my children in the Catholic faith but going to mass often felt like more of a habit or an obligation, not something I looked forward to doing. I frequently felt like I was doing it as an example to my children, because I was supposed to, or out of that good old Catholic guilt.
There are two exceptions to that. Most of my husband’s military assignments were less than two years. Many times they were only a year or perhaps eighteen months. In the two assignments that lasted longer than that I joined the choir and found church families but even then I’m not sure I approached mass with anticipation.
Life has slowed down for a period of time now that my husband is retired from the military. He isn’t done working and I know things will change but for this interlude we’re living life at a very different pace from the last thirty-five years.
For the first time in ages we’ve physically registered in a civilian parish rather than just showing up on Sunday. I don’t know a single person in the rather large congregation but something has drawn me to this place of worship every Sunday with more joy than I’ve experienced in quite some time. Being there centers me. I’m not wondering when the hour will be over so I can get to my checklist for the day.
It’s a beautiful place to worship.
And oddly enough, even without knowing anyone, I’m feeling a connection and the power of a church full of believers.
I’ve been saying the Our Father for all of my life but last Sunday I actually listened to and felt the voices around me raised up in prayer. It struck me that this time I was really and truly joining my voice with others and feeling the power of that collective prayer.
How have I managed to miss this for most of my life? Did I need this particular Lenten season and this particular season of my own life to arrive before I was ready to pay attention? Or perhaps knowing I would move held me back in all those parishes I attended, but only watched from the shadows. It was easier to emotionally attach myself to military organizations than it was to form those attachments in a church. Somehow it was safer and when the inevitable move came along, it would be easier to say goodbye to people who not only understood, but expected those goodbyes.
Was I just not ready? If so, it certainly took me a very long time to get there.
Sorta makes me want to go back a few decades and have a conversation with my younger self.
And Father Gerry, if you’re reading this with a smile on your face, I believe it’s justified.
In color, this grid of grids pushed and pulled and fought. In black and white it compliments and converses and works together as a whole.
I can’t help but compare it to Pope Francis being in the US. Wouldn’t it be miraculous if his presence caused all of us to put aside political agendas and differences, in the interests of all segments of society learning how to listen to each other, instead of just hearing ourselves?
“Pope Francis is an extraordinary learner, listener and self-doubter. The best part of this week will be watching him relate to people, how he listens deeply and learns from them, how he sees them both in their great sinfulness but also with endless mercy and self-emptying love.”
Quoted from this New York Times Op Ed article by David Brooks: Pope Francis, The Prince of the Personal
Inspiration. No other words required.