Saturday, September 29, 2012

Saved by A Big Jar of Mustard

We all know the parable about having faith the size of a mustard seed.  A mustard seed is really small.  So small, if you dropped one while cooking,  it might be hard to find it.  This is not a story about small things.  I'm not very good with small things.

I was once told that my problems stem from attacking a difficult situation with a sledge hammer, while others are using stilettos.  And this story is about how a really big, industrial, restaurant-size jar of mustard changed my life, and brought me back to faith and family.  I'm thinking about it today because I ran into the priest who gave me that mustard.  His name is Father Dave Reeson.

In 1986 I was in my second of three years working toward an MFA in Acting at the University of Louisville. In that theater department I was surrounded by people who practiced magic, members of a coven of witches.  I was regularly bothered by spirits appearing around me.  Homosexuals and bisexuals of every stripe were my closest friends.  I still remember Louisville as one of the darkest places on the planet.  My parents were always begging me to quit and come home.  I had a fellowship and a job, and didn't want to leave without my degree.

My brother Tim died on either the last day of November or the 1st of December, 1986.  I think it happened earlier rather than later because I had spent the two days crying for no apparent reason. After receiving the call from my Dad,  I called some of my colleagues to have them spread the word that I would be gone for a while.  They came over, Marian carrying an unopened bottle of 12 year old Pinch.  They helped me take care of the logistics of packing and travel.  And Marian gave me A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy to read on the plane.  I did read it.  I don't remember it.

Safely at home, I was curiously out of sync with the rest of my family.  I wanted to turn everything into a joke.  I rode the edge of hysterical laughter to tears.  I was sitting on the couch in the family room next to my Grandma when Father Dave Reeson came in.  He had been helping my parents with funeral arrangements in  the dining room.  He asked if there was anything he could do for any of us.

You might not be familiar with the custom of bringing food to the family of the deceased.  It is a Nebraska thing.  We had been receiving and storing chicken tetrazzini and sliced hams most of the morning.  So when Fr. Dave asked his question, only one thing came to mind.  "Well Father, we've got an awful lot of ham.  We could really use some mustard."  Everyone tried to laugh.  Or maybe they just looked shocked.  I don't really know.

Fr. Dave came back a few hours later with the jar of mustard.  One Gallon.

I mention this today because I happened to run into Fr. Dave Reeson at a funeral my son was serving at our parish.  I had to re-introduce myself, but he is still in touch with much of my family.  I told him I wanted to thank him for the mustard.  He didn't remember and I burst into tears as I told the story.  I probably seemed like a raving lunatic talking about 26 year old mustard.

But that mustard  was an act of kindness, with humor, and faith that started me on my way back home to the church.

I know Jesus says we only need a mustard seed.  But I needed the whole gallon.  Thanks Fr. Dave.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Writing on Hands

By now most of us will have noticed this silly trend of writing on hands for Obama.  More personal than a bumper sticker, more temporary than a tattoo, writing on hands is a strange practice.  When do people write on their hands?  I have a few examples from my own experience.

I used to write appointments and assignments on my hands or arms when I was in high school and college.  I was a theater major, so I was expected to be eccentric.  Sometimes I wrote the lyrics of a favorite song on my jeans.  I was young and trying to be on the weird side of hip.  When I belatedly became an adult, such writing stopped.

My husband is a field tech for a local internet provider.  He writes on the palm of his hands occasionally.  For him it is an expedient way to recall a phone number or address when he is in a rush.  It happens only on stressful days, a few times a year.  Notice he writes on his palms, because he doesn't want to show it to the world.

I remember people writing on various body parts in order to cheat on tests.  The really committed cheats in all girl schools wrote on their thighs, because no teacher would ever ask a girl to lift her skirt in class.

So this is what this trend of writing on hands for Obama means to me:  By writing on your hands you have revealed your desire to seem weirdly hip, forgetful, stressed, and a lying cheat.

That is also an accurate assessment of Obama's statements on the Middle East, our economy, and his supporters during the last week.  Amazing how it all comes together.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

What We Can Learn from the Middle Ages

I don't really know enough about the Crusades to make a correlation between today's politics and the last time the West was at war with Islamic countries.  But I do love Medieval literature, and particularly the plays from Quem Queritas through Everyman.  It was a time when Catholic themes were expected in drama.  More time should be spent sharing these tales and plays with young students.

I love the pictures I see in my mind as I read.  Sir Gawain rides forth to face what he believes is certain death at the hands of the Green Knight.  On his shield is a Pentacle to represent the Five Wounds of Christ, the Five jJoys of Mary, and the Five Decades of the rosary.  On the inside of his shield is a painting of the Blessed Virgin holding the Child  Jesus.  He travels alone, beginning after Mass on All Saints Day, and ending at a strange castle after praying for a place to hear Mass on Christmas Eve.  This is a warrior of incredible virtue.  He is a model for us in this wild age.

I love the Castle of Perseverance.  From his birth, Man is lured by the temptations of the World.  He is distracted by Flesh, and responds to Lechery.  The Devil shows Man his best offers, and Man is drawn to Covetousness.  In the end, Man struggles free with the help of God and resides in Perseverance until he departs from this life.

I even enjoy the very obscure plays of Hrosvitha.  She was an Icelandic nun who rewrote the plays of Plautus to entertain the sisters in the convent.  She clearly enjoyed a good laugh.

At a time in which our Catholic faith is rocked by schism and heresy akin to the Protestant Reformation, and we are at war with Islam as we were during the Crusades, I recommend taking time to look back at the literature of the Middle Ages.  Perhaps we will hear the angels telling us not to look for Jesus in the tomb, as they do in Quem Queritas.  Or maybe we will, like Everyman, find we are carrying Good Deeds with us to our final judgement.  Hopefully our Good Deeds will be more robust than the character in Everyman.