As a mother comforts its child, so shall I comfort you:
You will see, and your heart will rejoice,
and your bones will flourish like living grass.
A multitude of images crowd my mind this morning as I meditate on this passage from Lauds, the morning prayer. Mostly, though, I am seeing groups of women. Mother-circles, I might call them, reflecting in my life this attribute of the eternal I AM. Beginning with circles of girlfriends from childhood, this blessing of women in my life continued on to include my Sisters of St. Joseph, the Wisdom House Community, a women’s book club that has sustained me since I moved to Oregon, a monastic community of Cistercian women at the Redwood Monastery on the California coast, and most recently a women’s bible study group here in the Applegate Valley.
Some of them wondered at first why, Catholic as I am, I’d joined their study at the little bible church. Maybe they still wonder, but I can tell they are comfortable with my presence among them. At first perhaps they figured I was on my way out of Catholicism and would make my home among them. And this would not have been a surprising move once I experienced the depth of their love and compassion for one another. Who wouldn’t want to be part of that? “Look at those Christians, how they love one another!”
There’s Martha, perfectly named, with the milk chocolate voice and wise heart who has the gift of clarity. Penny, who through suffering has been blessed with compassion. Michelle, quick with ideas as a talk show host, joyous, spiked hair tipped with burgundy, and a singing voice that can melt your heart. Connie of the tender soul who lightens our way and helps us laugh. Becky, the down to earth, the sincere. Lorraine, who is intense in her faith and whose laughter, when it comes, is a sunray breaking through. Cecile, filled with wonder and intelligent thought. Anne, the writer of biblical meditations. Vickie, whose heart burns with love of God. And more…those more quiet women whose stillness sustains us.
All together this circle of women is an image of God the Mother of whom Isaiah speaks, a community of blessing for me during all the time I’ve been grieving John’s passing. As a mother comforts its child, so shall I comfort you:
Much of this week I’ve been thinking of paradox, and here’s another one: unbeknownst to these women who would have been glad to have me join them even more fully, they were greatly responsible for leading me back to the sacramental life of Catholic Christianity. Their deep faith and love led me to a recognition of how deeply I missed Eucharistic worship -- the celebration and fulfillment of everything they mean to me. And so I found a little Catholic parish about twenty-five miles from Sunshine Hill where the people are also joyous and compassionate, where the mission statement matches my faith and understanding, and where the priest is humble and compassionate and obviously loved by the people.
Back when I was a Sister of St. Joseph, a Eucharistic spirituality was the hallmark of our community. I’m marked with that, sealed with it, still identified by that sacrament. There are ways in which I feel I’ve never left it, and ways I feel I’ve been away for so long I don’t know how I lived with the absence. I’ve always treasured the words penned by T.S. Eliot in his Four Quartets, “The end of all our exploring will be to arrive at the place where we started, and know it for the first time.”
This morning I’m realizing that the “knowing for the first time” comes with the wider and yet more focused vision of which Isaiah speaks. It’s no secret that over the years I’ve been critical of the Catholic church, and in many ways I still am. I hope for a renewal that could take five hundred years. So reality is to let it be, let the process continue, and it will continue to continue without me, or this entire generation, or the next or the next. It continues as I live out my own faith in this stream which grows wider and wider as I become old. It includes the ages of the past with people both common and extraordinary. It includes the sins and the heroism. It includes the future of our hope. It joins with other expressions of faith through those of us who widen ourselves to join our hearts and spirits with others. For God will not be limited. And the circles of our small human lives can become more open and inclusive the longer that we live.