Archive for November, 2011

early Advent

Out for a walk this morning I was thinking, “It doesn’t feel like Advent yet.” Already halfway through the first week but I’m not feeling it.  The First Sunday of Advent liturgy seemed overshadowed by all the hype about the “new liturgy”.  Also by some fluke there was no music at the parish we attended. But the homily was very good- about the plans we make for a season like this and the laugh we give God about that…better to let God unfold Advent in your life!

So as I walked I determined to make a start of Advent, first of all by being aware that ’tis the season.  I hummed “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” as I walked along the dry irrigation ditch, looking at the harvested cotton fields.  I enjoyed the sunny morning after a long, cold dark night.  I noticed that several fields have been plowed and prepared for a planting. It raised a sense of patient expectation in me. We are still 3 weeks from the shortest day of the year so there is plenty of time to develop a longing for light.

Be aware.  Be available.  Be prepared.  Be willing to wait in darkness.  Be hopeful.  ‘Tis the season.


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new year’s eve

In the litugical year this is new year’s eve. It was in my mind as I headed outside after breakfast on a beautiful New Mexico November day. I had a project to complete before the old year ended and Advent begins. The garden beds were a tangled mess of half-frozen tomato and chile plants, bent-over tomato cages and dry weeds. The old tiller had finally returned from the small engine repair shop. I put on garden gloves for the occasion and prepared to pull up the cages and weeds so I could plow up the soil to be ready for spring.

To my surprise the plants were still producing. There were more chiles than would fit in the pouch of my hoodie- and the hoodie was peeled off quickly as I got to work. At one point I sat down to root through the weeds and leaves in search of cherry tomatoes and it occurred to me that I had sat in that very spot so often last spring and summer, sometimes in search of tiny weeds and other times in search of the dreaded tomato worms. I have watched the cycle of birth-life-death in this little patch.  The paschal mystery of the garden.

After picking the end of the harvest and pulling up the stubborn tomato cages–and somewhat reluctantly the still-green vines and plants–I approached the tiller.  I don’t have a very good history with getting engines going if there’s a pull-rope involved. Plus, the tiller was sitting where Joe had left it two or three weeks ago after giving me a little demo to show that it was indeed repaired. The first pull resulted in a little cough from the engine, but I smelled gas so I was encouraged. Several pulls later I was ready to quit but then I saw those beds ready and waiting so I adjusted the choke and tried again. Bingo!

I spent the next hour or so walking, pushing, dragging the tiller over the five beds. The ground is good and it was gratifying work.  The dead cornstalks from my “field of dreams” went into the compost before I churned up the soil. Finally I raked each bed smooth. It’s like tucking them in for a winter rest.

All the while I was aware of being so grateful: for the beauty and bounty of the earth, for the hours enjoyed in the garden this year, for the gift of being healthy enough to dig it by hand and to till it with the machine, for the wonder of life and its seasons. It was good work.

Now I’m ready to open the door on another Advent. The ground outside has been prepared.  It’s time to do the inner work- again.


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all souls

Yesterday on the Feast of All Souls we celebrated mass at the fence that is the border between the United States and Mexico.  It was the 13th annual gathering and one of the largest I can remember.  Each year, however, those of us who attend on the U.S. side have been pushed further back from the fence.  While our brothers and sisters in Mexico sit or stood right up against the twelve foot high barricade, we were admonished to “stay back” almost thirty feet by the border patrol agents who were present in force, armed and in uniform as well as in plainclothes.  “Why?” some Annunciation House volunteers dared to ask. “For your safety,” they were told. “Sometimes there are some dangerous people in that crowd.” I wonder where the real danger lies?

At the sign of peace many of us ignored that warning.  How could we not?  How could we stand behind the orange danger cones when we saw the faces of friends the other side of that fence, waiting for us? Moments earlier when Bishop Ramirez prayed the words of consecration I looked across the divide and through the fence as he said, “This is my body, broken for you.  This is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant.”  We are the Body and Blood of Christ.  We, on both sides of the fence, are one Body, one Spirit in Christ.  “What will separate us from the love of Christ?”  No one prevented us from crossing that stretch of sand and reaching fingertips through the fence. “Paz de Cristo!”

After receiving the Eucharist I heard the familiar opening chords of the communion meditation song and my eyes filled with tears.  “You shall cross the barren desert and you shall not die of thirst. You shall wander far in safety though you do not know the way. You shall speak your words in foreign lands and all will understand. You shall see the face of God and live. Be not afraid. I go before you always. Come, follow me and I will give you rest.”  Here we were in a desert where many have died of thirst, where many have lost their way, where they have been misunderstood, where they have looked for the compassionate face of God and been refused.

We remembered those souls yesterday at the fence.  May they forgive us now as they rest in eternal peace.  And dare we ask them to pray for us?  Pray that we have strength in the convictions of our faith that call us to “be not afraid” as we advocate for immigration reform;  to “be not afraid” in admitting and treating our national addiction to drugs; to “be not afraid” in confessing that our economy runs on the sale of weapons and depends on the imposition of trade agreements that are anything but “free”.

May we remember the challenge of Pope Paul VI: “How then will the cry of the poor find an echo in your lives? That cry must, first of all, bar you from whatever would be a compromise with any form of social injustice.”

May these souls pray for us to “be not afraid” in raising our voices and crossing whatever borders divide the Body of Christ.

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always a miracle

Christopher Joel, 10/29/11: 7 # 12 oz

Last Saturday, October 29, we had the privilege of welcoming Christopher into the world. Yessenia, his mother, has been a part of our lives for the past ten years since she came to the U.S. from Guatemala.  Of all the ups and downs of life that we have shared, the journey of this pregnancy has been the most joyful and the most peaceful. It was only in the last few weeks of the pregnancy that Yessenia returned to stay with us until delivery. We were able to share those days of waiting and wondering with her. We saw her making the last minute preparations- and through Skype we saw her husband Boris doing the same at their home in Anapra, Mexico.

Saturday morning was Yessenia’s due date. We had planned a Halloween party at the Santo Niño project in Anapra and before we left she was having contractions every 10 minutes. By late afternoon when we returned they were every 5 so we packed up her things and headed to the hospital. She was already four centimeters dilated on the first exam so we knew that this was the real thing. The birthing room had plenty of space for us and the laptops we had packed to establish Skype connections with Boris.

The sounds of the fetal heart monitor and Yessenia’s breathing through the contractions brought back memories of so many days and nights spent with other mamas in labor and delivery wards over the years.  I can’t say that I miss the feeling of hyper-vigilance, anticipating what might or might not happen with each phase of labor. Maybe that’s why so many doctors prefer to control the birth process with drugs.  When you choose a path of accompaniment, which midwives understand so much better than many doctors, you commit to being close at hand to read the signs that don’t show up on a monitor. The change in breath, the look in the eyes, the point of mysterious transition to a place deep inside where I can only imagine women through the ages have found the strength to endure pain and to push new life into this world.

Yessenia’s labor was classic.  It was like watching a perfectly choreographed dance and she knew the steps though she had never practiced them before.  Very little coaching was needed.  Just reassurance.  “Can I do this?”  Yes, you can. Si, se puede. “Can I endure this?” Yes, you can.  She found her center and it was amazing to see her go there.

The room was prepared and the doctor arrived, like a technician. He was irritated that the patient had not accepted the epidural anesthesia. “Why not?” he complained.  It was not a proud moment for my profession. Yessenia was frightened.  “She doesn’t need it.  She’s a strong Guatemalteca,” I said looking deep into Yessenia’s eyes.  “That’s old-fashioned,” he growled.  Well, I thought, birthing is about the most old-fashioned thing on earth.

And so we closed our community circle tight around Yessenia as she began to push.  She made steady progress despite the grumblings from the physician. We filled her ears with encouragement and it wasn’t long before the baby’s head appeared. He was born.  Then the doctor quickly handed him off to the nurses to be cleaned and suctioned.  Except for one rather begrudging ‘congratulations” there was little reaction from the obstetrician.  He went about the business of the placenta and repair. But the rest of us were caught up in the miracle: Christopher is born!  The pain of childbirth overshadowed by such joy and relief and gratitude.

Soon it was just us again, with the mama and child- and the papa weeping on Skype- rejoicing together at the miracle we had witnessed.  Well done, Yessenia and Boris! Welcome, little Christ-bearer!  Birth is always a miracle, but so much more miraculous when those you love are at the center of it all.

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