Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Other Mothers Under the Cross

The Romans erected three crosses on Golgotha the day Jesus of Nazareth was put to death. The middle cross bore the savior, and the other crosses bore thieves or criminals -- depending on the translation you read. All four Gospels narrate this event.

Though Luke mentions women who stood weeping at a distance, and John tells us that women, including Jesus’ mother Mary, stood weeping under Jesus’ cross, none of the Gospels mentions the other women who might have wept on Golgotha that day or in the potter’s field when Judas took his life.

The mothers not mentioned in the Gospels confront me as we approach the end of this Lenten season, and have done so since Sept. 18, 2001, when I became one of them. I now find myself standing with Mary, the sorrowing mother of the innocent victim, as well as with the mothers of the guilty. I do not know the role my daughter played in her death, nor have the police or medical examiner been able to determine how and why she died. There are, of course, several different possibilities -- none of which belong in the life of a funny, generous and loving but troubled young woman, the child who wept with me over the losses thousands of women experienced on Sept. 11, 2001, and whose violent death a week later united me with them.

Before Francesca died, I’d empathized with women who must bear the burden of unknowing, those whose children’s deaths remain unresolved. I also grieved for those who had no doubt, who knew their children died as victims of murder or war or suicide. I knew that they too had loved their children no matter what identity those children wore to death. I participated in their sorrow from a distance. Until Sept. 18, I had not considered that other mothers might have stood with Mary on Golgotha, or in the potter’s field, grieving their shattered children on the day Jesus died. I now know that when those three crosses cast their shadows across the horizons of the earth, they united all of us who mourn.

©Beryl Singleton Bissell

Adapted from an article published in the New Catholic Reporter, 2006

Thursday, February 11, 2016

What Ashes?

Photo by Kathleen Gray-Anderson

Ash Wednesday has come and gone: ash free. I was stunned this morning when reminded that I'd forgotten, stunned at how easily I can neglect certain religious rituals when at one time, as a cloistered nun, my life was anchored by such observances. My spiritual practice now focuses on meditation, Lectio Divina, and the effort to live mindfully. And while I am filled with gratitude for the profligate bounty of a divine creator and the freedom to choose how I will live, I miss the years I spent as a nun. Especially when Lent creeps in quietly, and ashes no longer thunder.  

It's been a slow slide away from ritual since I left religious life. Had it happened more swiftly, I might have clung more tightly to it. I wonder if this is only emotional nostalgia for the innocence of youth or a reminder that how I live and what I believe in is my responsibility -- a much harder, dry and emotionless effort.

This morning I pondered psalm 51. "Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness; in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offence. Create a clean heart for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me." 

Yes. I long for this clean heart, not a new heart freshly molded by God, but the heart God has given me. A heart willing to be cleansed and made steadfast. A heart not built on emotion and youthful longing, but on reflection and the ongoing effort to remain true to myself and to God.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Thomas Merton and the Eye of a photographer

In my last post I spoke of Thomas Merton's skill as a photographer and of his admonition to a friend, who was busily snapping photos of the woods in which they walked: "Stop looking and begin seeing."

He gave himself to others in the same way, approached them without expectation. He saw them. He did not try to interpret, alter, or improve them, but allowed them to be themselves. In Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander he wrote of an experience he had during one of his first excursions outside the monastery into Louisville, KY. I love the final lines.

“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud. . . if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.”

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Seeking to live in awareness

I've been away so long you might think I've fallen into Alice's rabbit hole. Unable to multi task, I've had to devote most of my time to working on The Glass Chrysalis. I hope this brief blog will renew my efforts to find room for God.

I read the following this morning and it moved me—presenting such a lovely synthesis  of what it means to live in awareness. God has given us he power to see with "such intense clarity." We have only to take the time to really look.

“Tree scrutiny . . . I stand apart and look; looking I respect almost to the point of love. But what I hope to be loving is God; not because he ‘made’ the tree, but because he gives me the power to see it with such intensity and clarity.”  -- Philip Toynbee “Part of a Journey”

Tree image by Prescott

Monday, July 20, 2015

Beryl's Summer 2015 Newsletter

Thanks to an abundance of rain, cool weather, and overcast skies the roadsides are blanketed with more color than I've ever seen before. Daisy’s, sweet clover, Birdseye trefoil, wild roses, hawkweed, fireweed, lupines in swaths or dancing together in the breeze. If you like walking, the scent can be quite intoxicating. If you're allergic, best to view from inside a car.

 Perhaps it is all this beauty, or maybe just the fact that I've finally finished the sequel to the Scent of God, that prompts me to take a break from single-minded focus to finish the book. Even as I fervidly worked on the manuscript and condensed each chapter into a few sentences for an expanded table of contents, you hovered behind the scenes, reminding me that I have a beautiful family, wonderful friends, and lovely acquaintances with whom I haven’t connected in close to six months.

It’s a paradox—humorous but sad—that as our lives grows shorter, time keeps picking up speed. I am no longer young enough to think I have a lot of living ahead of me. I’d like the sequel to be published while I'm still around, not posthumously. I no longer multitask, or rush from one activity to another. Now I view with mouth agape at all some people are able to accomplish. I wonder if they've made a pact with their alter ego (perhaps they have more than one) so that while one focuses on a single project, the other flits about picking up the slack and dreaming up a zillion other things to accomplish Now!

I've just returned from a ten-day silent retreat at St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville that focused entirely on the now: living each moment fully aware. Yet there is such a contradiction in the way we use that word “Now.” Not in its meaning, but as western culture defines it: Do it now! Such pressure does not allow for much awareness.

In answer to your many questions asking when the sequel to the Scent of God will be available, all I can say is “I'm working on it.” Have a blessed summer, one with just enough rain and heat to make it spectacular.

© Beryl Singleton Bissell 2015.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune named Beryl as a "Best of 2006 Minnesota Authors." Her book The Scent of God  was a “Notable” Book Sense selection for April 2006. Her second book, A View of the Lake was released in May 2011 and named a best regional book by the Minneapolis Star Tribune

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Scent of God free on Kindle 4/34-4/25

Once again, I can offer you free access to the Kindle version of The Scent of God. This free offer begins April 24 and lasts through April 25. Pass this information on to anyone who might be interested. Thank  you!