so what now? 

Almost a year ago today, I received my Master of Arts in Theology from St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minnesota. Actually, to be precise, my degree is a Master of Arts in Theology with a Concentration in Spirituality and a Certificate in Pastoral Theology. It took me six years to get that darn degree, thanks to fibromyalgia, bouts of chronic migraine, neck surgery after a car accident, and a quite nasty depression relapse.

Several things sustained me during this time: My husband’s unfailing support; the help and support of the incredible staff and faculty at St. Kate’s; and my belief that I was called, called by God, to pastoral care as a chaplain. I’d worked as a chaplain at the V.A. one summer in 1997 and for part of the previous summer in Oncology and General Medical-Surgical at a hospital in St. Paul. I loved it, loved it, even on the toughest, most exhausting days.

My fibromyalgia kept getting worse in my twenties and forced me to drop out of graduate school and give up on my dream of becoming a chaplain. But by my late thirties, new medications were  definitely easing the fibromyalgia pain and I remember telling my mom, before she died, that I was planning to go back and get my M.A., and she was so pleased!

And so I did. But in the end my pain defeats me again..not just fibromyalgia, but myofascial pain syndrome, multiple problems in my cervical spine, chronic migraines (yes, my Botox shots help, but I still get about ten a month). I can’t even volunteer, because I don’t know whether or not I’ll be well enough on any given day to appear when I say I will.

I’m angry. And frustrated. I’m not sorry I got my degree, because I love theology, and the knowledge and skills I gained, nothing–not even fibromyalgia–can take away from me. But I want so badly to use my degree to make a difference in the world, to help others to feel God’s love and mercy. It is so painful to mourn the loss of a dream…and to attempt to discern what God has in mind to take its place.

a world transformed

Happy Easter Monday!

One of my theology professors used to refer to Christians as “Easter People”. Which we are, of course, since the death and resurrection of Christ are the founding events of our faith. But what does it mean, really…what are the implications for our everyday lives?

It means that we are never without hope. It means that all creation is redeemed and sanctified. It means that the final goodbye of death is, in reality, not forever, that Christ by his rising from the dead has forever conquered death, that although we may be parted from our loved ones for a time, someday we will be together again. It means that we have faith that our final destiny is to live forever with God, that our death is, in fact,  a homecoming. And it means that we are loved, infinitely, amazingly, wonderfully loved by God, in manner far beyond our limited human comprehension.

So the question remains: How do we live our lives in response to the Easter event? I think it was C.S. Lewis who said that the serious business of Christianity is joy. Joy because our world is forever transformed, that no matter how ugly the news is, no matter how awful the presidential race becomes, we know that ultimately we are redeemed, that God calls us each by name. It doesn’t mean that it’s wrong somehow to feel sadness, grief, anger, discouragement…all normal human emotions. It certainly doesn’t mean it’s some kind of sin to suffer from mental illnesses like depression and anxiety. It simply means that we understand that loss and grief, trauma, physical pain and illness,even evil, don’t have the last word; the God who loves us each beyond our wildest imaginings and who never leaves us does. So how can we possibly, if we really believe what we say we do, live our lives in any other way but in joyful, hopeful gratitude?

Easter

Break the box and shed the nard;
Stop not now to count the cost;
Hither bring pearl, opal, sard;
Reck not what the poor have lost;
Upon Christ throw it all away:
Know ye, this is Easter Day.

Build His church and deck His shrine,
Empty though it be on earth;
Ye have kept your choicest wine–
Let it flow for heavenly mirth;
Pluck the harp and breathe the horn:
Know ye not ’tis Easter morn?

Gather gladness from skies;
Take a lesson from the ground;
Flowers do open their heavenward eyes
And a Spring-time joy have found;
Earth throws Winter’s robes away,
Decks herself for Easter Day.

Beauty now for ashes wear,
Perfumes for the garb of woe,
Chaplets for dishevelled hair,
Dances for sad footsteps slow:
Open wide your hearts that they
Let in joy this Easter Day.

Seek God’s house in happy throng;
Crowded let His table be;
Mingle praises, prayer and song,
Singing to the Trinity.
Henceforth, let your souls always
Make each morn an Easter Day.
(Gerard Manley Hopkins)*

*Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889) was a Jesuit priest and English poet

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theology and science

I don’t trust a theologian who dismisses the beauty of science or a scientist who doesn’t believe in the power of mystery.

–Bene Brown 

Graduation Dinner Reflection

At our graduation dinner last night the other four Master’s in Theology graduates and I were asked to submit short reflection related to our time as students and now graduates of the Theology Master’s Program at St, Catherine University. I wound up writing mine straight from the heart, so I’m afraid it was less about my favorite class or my most uplifting experience, but at least it had the virtue of being honest.

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I must admit that last week’s graduation was bittersweet. I was thrilled to be graduating, oh my goodness, yes, especially with my family there, and with my friend Sherri (who was absolutely glowing and stunningly beautiful); but at the same time I was fighting a migraine and on some fairly heavy-duty painkillers (!) and my fibromyalgia had me so sore that we went straight home afterwards instead of going out—where I sat around in my brand-new academic robes and hood and gorged myself on takeout pizza and watched bad WWII movies on Netflix with my husband George. Okay, so that part was fun, actually, and I wish we had thought to take photos of me stuffing mushroom pizza in my face wearing my graduation regalia!
The bittersweet part is that people keep asking me what is next, and I stumble around, trying to come up with something funny to say, and I’m at a loss. The dream that has kept me going, through the myriad of chronic pain conditions that has required me to drop classes and seek numerous extensions and medical leaves of absence (thanks Bill! (our super-understanding theology department head)) has been pastoral ministry, especially the idea of chaplaincy. That’s the whole reason I entered this program. And now these chronic pain conditions are making it impossible for me to hold down even a part-time job. Or be a reliable volunteer, much less work full-time as a hospice chaplain. So there is triumph in the degree, but grief and uncertainty when i contemplate my immediate future.
Still, there are several treasures  I will take away from this outstanding program to help guide me in my coming journey. I have met so many amazing, compassionate, loving people here at St. Kate’s, both faculty and students, who I am honored to count as role models, mentors, and friends. I know that your prayers go with me, just as mine go with you, and that our journeys together do not end here, but in many ways have only just begun. I am excited to continue growing as both a scholar of theology and as a pastoral minister. My studies here have opened so many doors! I feel I have only dunked my toe in the water. And, too, I will take all of your stories with me. I have had a rough time, yes. But I am not the only one. So many of you have done battle with your own pain, and done it with immense grace and courage, and I cannot tell you how much I admire you and will continue to do so for the rest of my life. Finally, I take with me the knowledge that I need to trust in the process, as Deb (my mentor and pastoral ministry prof.) told me recently. This is very difficult for me, (trust is not my strong point) but I know she is right—I need to learn to take better care of myself, and learn to trust that the Holy Spirit will lead me in the right direction, even if I don’t know where in the heck I am going now, beyond more physical therapy. After all, Someone helped me through comps!

easing back into writing…

It’s been so long since I’ve written anything here, thanks in large part to my old friends the chronic migraines,  I don’t know where to start. I’m completely flummoxed. I do have one bit of news, actually one very large bit of news: I finished my Master’s in Theology!! Until I got the phone call from my advisor telling me I passed my comprehensive exams, I really didn’t think I could do it. 

After all of the  setbacks–shingles (yikes!), depression relapses, chronic migraines, my neck injury, neck surgery, and subsequent neck pain, and good old fibromyalgia–I think I had lost my belief in myself. And strangely, now that I’ve achieved one of my dreams, I feel at loose ends a bit, wondering what comes next? What will be my personal legend, to paraphrase Paulo Coelho?

  

free will

Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having

–C.S. Lewis

The love between my husband George and his developmentally disabled brother Greg is one of the sweetest things I have ever seen. It is a love freely given, which, as C.S. Lewis points out, is the only kind worth having.

New interview shows why the pope is so beloved

All I can say, as a practicing Catholic, is, Wow. Pope Francis is a true pastor at heart, “eager to love and be loved” as Fr. James Martin writes. And the fact is, he didn’t say anything out of line with the teachings of the Second Vatican Council. I see more of a change in emphasis than doctrine. If you see the Catholic Church as a community of pilgrims seeking “an invitation to encounter a person: Jesus Christ“, well then, you might hear hints of “aggiornamento” and St. Pope John XXIII (not to mention St. Francis of Assisi). I certainly do.

 

books: 2009

  1. The Eucharist and the Hunger of the World, Monika K. Hellwig
  2. Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews, Paula Fredriksen
  3. The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus, Amy-Jill Levine
  4. Fortress Introduction to The Gospels, Mark Allan Powell
  5. Social Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, Bruce J. Malina and Richard Rohrbach
  6. John, the Maverick Gospel, Robert Kysar
  7. Written that you May Believe: Encountering Jesus in the Fourth Gospel, Sandra M. Schneiders, IHM
  8. The Middle Ages, Morris Bishop
  9. Models of the Church, Avery Dulles, SJ
  10. The Sacred Pipe, Joseph Brown
  11. A New Christian Paradigm: The Making of Post-Protestant Christianity, Ben M. Carter
  12. Jesus and the Quest for Meaning, Thomas H. West
  13. The Church Unfinished: Ecclesiology Through the Centuries, Bernard K. Prusak
  14. Salt: A World History, Mark Kurlansky
  15. Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World, Mark Kurlansky
  16. Jesus as a Figure in History: How Modern Historians View the Man from Galilee, Mark Kurlansky
  17. Paul–A Jew on the Margins, Calvin J. Roetzel
  18. The Spirituality of Paul, Thomas H. Tobin
  19. Navigating Paul: An Introduction to Key Theological Concepts, Jouette M. Bassler
  20. Angela’s Ashes, Frank McCourt
  21. The Hollow Crown: A History of Britain in the Late Middle Ages, Miri Rubin
  22. Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom, John O’Donohue
  23. The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million, Daniel Mendelsohn
  24. Whitethorn Woods, Maeve Binchy
  25. Saxons, Vikings, and Celts: The Genetic Roots of Britain & Ireland, Bryan Sykes
  26. The Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafon
  27. The Rule of Four, Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason
  28. The Children of Henry VIII, Alison Weir
  29. On Hitler’s Mountain: Overcoming the Legacy of a Nazi Childhood, Irmgard A. Hunt
  30. My Life with the Saints, James Martin, SJ
  31. The Monster of Florence: A True Story, Douglas Preston with Mario Spezi
  32. Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter, Thomas Cahill
  33. How the Irish Saved Civilization, Thomas Cahill
  34. Christianity Rediscovered, Vincent J. Donovan
  35. Doors to the Sacred: A Historical Introduction to Sacraments in the Catholic Church, Joseph Martos
  36. The Catholic Myth: The Behavior and Beliefs of American Catholics, Andrew Greeley
  37. The Amber Room: The Fate of the World’s Greatest Lost Treasure, Catherine Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy
  38. No Place Like Home, Mary Higgins Clark
  39. The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History, John Barry
  40. The Last Knight: The Twilight of the Middles Ages and the Birth of the Modern Era, Norman Cantor
  41. Soldier from the War Returning: The Greatest Generation’s Troubled Homecoming from World War II, Thomas Childers
  42. The Basque History of the World, Mark Kurlansky
  43. Catherine the Great: Love, Sex, and Power, Virginia Rounding
  44. Elizabeth and Mary: Cousins, Rivals, and Queens, Jane Dunn
  45. Devil’s Brood, Sharon Kay Penman
  46. Falls the Shadow: A Novel, Sharon Kay Penman
  47. Queen Emma and the Vikings: Power, Love and Greed in 11th Century England, Harriet O’Brien
  48. Time and Chance, Sharon Kay Penman
  49. Dragon’s Lair, Sharon Kay Penman
  50. The Queen’s Man: A Medieval Mystery, Sharon Kay Penman
  51. When Christ and his Saints Slept, Sharon Kay Penman
  52. The Reckoning, Sharon Kay Penman
  53. The Sunne in Splendor: A Novel of Richard III, Sharon Kay Penman
  54. The Year 1000: What Life was Like at the Turn of the First Millennium, Robert Lacey and Danny Danziger
  55. Here be Dragons, Sharon Kay Penman
  56. Walking on a Rolling Deck: Life on the Ark, Kathy Berken
  57. The Civilization of the Middle Ages, Norman Cantor
  58. Mistress of the Monarchy: The Life of Katherine Swynford, Duchess of Lancaster, Alison Weir
  59. Lucia: A Venetian Life in the Age of Napoleon, Andrea D. Robilant
  60. A Venetian Affair: A True Tale of Forbidden Love in the 18th Century, Andrea D. Robilant
  61. The Gift of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels, Thomas Cahill
  62. Restoration London: From Poverty to Pets, from Medicine to Magic, from Slang to Sex, from Wallpaper to Women’s Rights, Liza Picard
  63. The Seville Communion, Arturo Perez-Oerveto
  64. In the Wake of the Plague: The Black Death and the World it Made, Norman Cantor
  65. The Lady Elizabeth: A Novel, Alison Weir
  66. Faith and Treason: The Story of the Gunpowder Plot, Antonia Fraser
  67. Blue Iris: Poems and Essays, Mary Oliver

This year’s list is dedicated to some of my favorite fellow bookworms: Aunts Barb and Jo, Emilie, Liz P., Liz H., Roxane S., and Kristine.

But most of all, this list is dedicated to my darling sister-in-law Fran, who shares my intense love of books and often subsidizes my Barnes and Noble habit, and to my mom, who instilled in me a love of the power of words and the magic of language, as well as an intense curiosity about the world around me.