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Allison Welch Feast Days Ink Slingers Mary Saints

Happy Feast of the Assumption!

When I taught high school theology, it was one of many vocabulary words that students got confused: Assumption, Ascension, Annunciation. To help them remember, I offered a type of mnemonic device.  

Which vocabulary word is used to describe when Jesus bodily rises to heaven and which word refers to Mary’s rising? The word with an “m” in it is the word referring to Mary’s rising, I offered. “I thought you said all of the Mysteries of the Rosary were about Jesus…?” one astute student said, catching me in an apparent contradiction about the 4th Glorious Mystery of the Rosary, the Assumption of Mary.  

Ah, but even the Assumption of Mary is ultimately about Jesus, I suggested. Everything about Mary points us to Jesus; she magnifies the Lord. While Jesus ascended into heaven by his own power, Mary was assumed, not by any power of her own, but by her son’s. Glorious mysteries about the power of God indeed! 

As the mother of two sons, it gives me great solace to know Jesus came back for his mother’s body at the end of her earthly life. After giving birth to her son, through and with her own body, Mary swaddled and nursed his, gently bathing and burping his flesh at the beginning of his earthly life. Again in his death she held and washed her son’s body, none other than the flesh of the only begotten Son of God. Of course Jesus would take care of his mother’s body at the end of her earthly life, after she had dedicated hers to caring for him.  You can’t out-give God.  

It’s hard to imagine it–a body ascending into heaven. While the bodily Assumption of Mary is part of our Catholic Tradition (dogmatically defined in 1950), there are Scriptural precedents for it, namely Enoch and Elijah in the Old Testament. And of course, the Ascension of Jesus in the New Testament. Both Scripture and Tradition–and the Ascension of Jesus and the Assumption of Mary–remind us today of our most ancient creed as the Apostles understood it:  “I believe in the resurrection of the body.” 

The resurrected Jesus was not a ghost, a disembodied spirit. Scripture tells us Thomas touched Jesus’ side and that Jesus ate with the disciples.  Some of the earliest heresies involved the denial of the physical world, dismissing it as evil. “Right teaching” tells us that God entered into his creation by putting on flesh

Two thousand years ago Jesus, began the process of sanctifying and redeeming the created world, pouring out his blood to reverse The Fall of humanity. He did this out of love for us so we might not know eternal death, but live with Him as bride forever. We were created for the Divine life, and while separated from this by sin, we are destined for eternal communion with God incarnate. (Of course we must confirm this destiny, in the flesh, by surrendering our our will and intellect to the will of God to be animated by His eternal Spirit.)

In the age of the Walking Dead, many of my students had a hard time accepting as good the resurrection of the body. Their cultural understanding of the body was that it is more of a cruel cage that contains and restricts the soul and that upon death, we would be freed once and for all from its confines. This is not Catholic teaching. St. Theresa of Avila wrote: “The spirit is not in the body, the body is in the spirit.”  While evil can destroy the soul (Mt 10:28), it is the spirit that gives life to the body and to the soul.    

Because of sin we are mortal, but that is not God’s original or redemptive plan for us. Thanks be to God, we joyfully await the resurrection of the body.  This is the witness of the martyrs, who willingly and generously gave of their flesh in the way of Christ. 

Mary was such a beautiful example of another kind of martyrdom, a “white martyrdom,” that dare I say motherhood itself, done well, models for humanity.  In fact Mary is a perfect example of how the spirit is intended to animate us, body and soul.  “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my savior” (Luke 1:46-47).  This is Mary’s yes to the will of God. Thanks to her Immaculate Conception, she is so full of grace that she gives birth to the “wholly other.” While this may fill us with wonder and hope, the bodily Assumption of Mary should not surprise us for she is the first of His many disciples.

In Catholic theological terms we are “bipartite”–composite beings made of body and soul. It is ironic that in our earthly life, we spend so much time preoccupied by the body and its needs, often disregarding the needs of the soul. Then in death, we quickly dismiss the body and cling to the idea of an eternal soul. May God, in the person of Jesus and with the help of the Holy Spirit, come to our aid. May our spiritual Mother, Mary, pray for us.

On this Feast of the Assumption, let us do as our Church compels us: let us feed and nourish our body and soul with the Bread of Angels in the Holy Eucharist. Let us joyfully surrender to the wisdom that calls us into Communion with God and his Church, fully embracing in humility both: the human and the divine, united as one. 

I’ll see you this Thursday at the intersection of heaven and earth!

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Allison Welch Ink Slingers

A Mom’s Reflections on the Final Four

A Mom's Reflection on the Final Four Pinterest

 

Oh, what a night it was. It began days before or was it a year or more?

In the Bible there are two words for time: chronos and kairos. The former is the quantitative sequential time that we are all accustomed to living in (or trapped in). But the story I want to tell is rooted in kairos, a time measured qualitatively, timelessly. It’s difficult to determine when the night began…

The Elite Eight

I didn’t grow up in a family that played or watched sports on TV. I married into the madness that is March. My marriage then gave birth to Friday Night Lights and Soccer Saturdays and Sundays…and Mondays, Tuesdays, and…Mother’s Days? Seriously?! I have learned to love sports because the people I love do.

So it was a big deal in our family when the University of Virginia made it to the Final Four this year. The last time it happened, my husband was a 3rd year student at UVA (it’s what the university calls its juniors). Fast-forward 35 chronos years and we now have two sons at UVA, one in his 4th year and another in his 1st . So naturally they texted us after the Elite Eight game and said they bought tickets to the Final Four.

A Mom's Reflection on the Final Four2I cherish the texts I get from my college sons. They arrive at my empty nest like carrier pigeons from distant lands, as magical as a letter from Harry Potter’s Hedwig. And they are almost as fantastical. Take the one I read after coming out of Mass a few months ago: “Don’t worry, Mom, I’m going skydiving with friends. I’ll call you when we land.” I immediately went back into church and got down on my knees.

So last weekend’s text shouldn’t have surprised me.

“Whaaaaaaaat?!” I texted back, “The game is in MINNEAPOLIS?!” I then proceeded to rain questions on their parade: “How are you going to get there? Where are you going to stay? How are you going to pay for it? What about classes?” Once again I had “mommed it all up” with pesky details, while dad wondered aloud if his college ID could still get him a student ticket to the Final Four.

A Mom's Reflection on the Final Four3But it had already been decided. My sons were going to make the 20-hour drive–one way–to watch what could be a mere 3-hour game. Oh, to be young. I cursed myself for having taken them on that cross country camping trip in middle school…for convincing my husband to let them travel to Spain while in high school. You reap what you sow. Now our babies were taking trips of their own and I was beside myself with worry.

Fearing the worst, I woke every few through the night and tracked their progress across the Midwest on the stalker app we all share. (Don’t judge.) Before drifting back to sleep, I would I refresh the screen several times to make sure their car was moving and not stuck in a ditch somewhere.

A wonderful friend suggested I imagine Jesus and Mary riding in the car with them. By the time they got to the mountains of West Virginia in the wee hours of the morning  (not even halfway to their destination), their car was crowded with the additions of St. Catherine Laboure, St. Therese of Lisieux, and St. Michael. Praise God and thanks be to the angels and saints, my boys left UVA at 5pm on a Friday and arrived at their hotel in Minnesota by 1pm the next day.

The Final Four

If you didn’t watch the Final Four game it’s not too late. It is, after all, a kairos story. In all the years I’ve not-so-graciously watched basketball, football, and soccer, I haven’t learned much. My interest lies primarily in the people. And if you’re not familiar with UVA’s basketball team, let me tell you about it.

I’ll start with the coach–the strikingly handsome Tony Bennett will draw in the most disinterested sports’ widows. And he is the calmest coach you ever saw. No maniacal hopping up and down like a wild boar on the sidelines, sweating through his clothes and spitting and cussing like a sailor. No, Tony’s chiseled face is one of utter coolness. Michelangelo’s David. “Calm is contagious,” he likes to say. 

Next I fell in love with Kihei Clark. If rosters are to be believed, he measures 5’9”, a modern day David among Goliaths. If you are the opposing team, he is like a gnat–all in your face and throwing you off your game. If he’s on your side, he’s more like Tinker Bell, sprinkling fairy dust on your dreams and desires. He doesn’t smile a lot and I can’t figure out how he is joy personified, but he is. Perhaps it’s because he is a joy to watch: number zero, coming in clutch against all odds. The young David everyone overlooked, a college freshman unheralded as a high school recruit. His plays are packed with personality and positivity. They are momentum-shifters that lift everyone watching out of their doubts it can be done.

If you like the brooding, serious type, there’s Ty Jerome: Masculine-filled fury on the court and in post-game interviews. And then there is that GUY. Kyle Guy, my new hero. I officially fell for him when he effortlessly dropped three free throws into the basket, nothing-but-net, in overtime with a half second left to win the Final Four game and usher his team into the National Championship for the first time in school history. (Not to mention that he gave my boys two more days to catch up sleep before making the 20-hour trek back to UVA. This mother thanks you, Kyle.) My older son watched courtside and said it looked like Kyle had ice running through his veins when he plunked in those baskets…while his opponent pantomimed the choke sign just feet behind him. I fell even harder for him when he admitted in interviews he was confident but terrified.

Then I read the heartbreaking letters he posted on Facebook a year ago, baring his soul after “the worst loss in the history of sports.” That’s how announcers and reporters refer to it EVERY time they’ve talked to or about UVA basketball players for the past year. As the only 1-seed in the history of basketball to lose to a 16-seed, the team’s devastating fall from grace occurred in front of millions of people.

The loss led to a mental breakdown for Kyle. Crippled by anxiety, crushed by public humiliation, and devastated by doubt, he literally collapsed sobbing on the hardwood floor at the end of that fateful first-round exit from the “big dance” last year. He was practically carried off the court by his teammates. It’s painful to read his brutally raw letters to himself, that he bravely shared with the world, detailing how that anxiety followed him back to campus, along with, if you can believe it, death threats. 

One of the more refreshing questions I’ve heard a reporter ask recently was about what Coach Bennett did to help Kyle overcome his anxiety. “Kyle-Guy-then” and “Kyle-Guy-now” is a study in transformation and redemption. His three consecutive free throws in overtime this year didn’t simply win UVA a ticket into the historic championship game, they effectively knocked last year’s weight off his and his team’s back. 

“What’s the secret to helping someone overcome that?” the reporter asked. Finally! A GREAT QUESTION! I don’t think anyone was prepared for coach’s answer.

“I pray for him,” Coach Bennett replied. Now this is some sports I can truly love.

If you didn’t catch the NCAA championship game, at least watch the highlight reel.  That’s my redheaded 4th year’s screaming face, painted blue and orange, filling the TV screen at the 17 seconds mark. Or you can wait for the movie because Hollywood couldn’t have scripted a better story with a more exhilarating ending. It’s a kairos tale that will thrill for decades.

Wahoo-Wah!

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Allison Welch Books Ink Slingers Reviews

12 Rules for Life: Chapter 2

She declared it in the middle of my misery like a National Holiday: “It’s ‘Be-Good-to-Allison-Day.’” Yes! Finally! Someone “gets me,” appreciates me, and understands my pain. And she has given me ammunition to confront others in my life: Be good to me! I am worthy of dignity and respect. Don’t you know it’s ‘Be-Good-to-Allison-Day?!”

As I looked into the eyes of the woman throwing me a lifeline, it occurred to me that she was talking to me, not to others in my life. Quickly the urge to get up and fight dissolved into the desire to be still. Be good to yourself, she encouraged me.  Sometimes when the world won’t or can’t give you what you need or deserve, you need to give it to yourself. Take a timeout or hot bath. Go for a walk. Treat yourself to a quiet cup of tea and a scone. Visit a friend. Be good to yourself.

It’s good advice. It’s why I keep a framed photo of myself as a little girl in my bedroom: How would you treat her, Allison? How would you talk to her? How would you allow others to treat and talk to her?

As women, we know we are soooo good at putting others first and neglecting ourselves–until we just can’t anymore.  Until someone takes advantage of us. Until discouragement and resentment rear their ugly heads and we snap. So much for Christian witness.

This is Jordan Peterson’s advice in Chapter 2 in his book, 12 Rules for Life: “Treat Yourself Like Someone You Are Responsible for Helping.” 

Peterson begins with the fact that we often take better care of our pets than ourselves. Ouch. In true philosopher style, he puts this current dilemma in the perspective of human history: today, our worldview is decidedly scientific and material. What can be measured and objectified is reality. Everything else is dismissed as superstition.

Spirituality IS Reality.

But as Peterson points out, for millennia humans have understood the “most fundamental elements of human life” to be subjective experience (emotions, dreams, pain, and joy). This is the stuff that best expresses the truth of existence. This is why the Bible was written in story form, as opposed to how we would likely record “Truth” today as a series of facts (names, dates, places and times).

Peterson presents the problem of pain as an argument that the subjective is reality. He dares us to consider that “pain matters more than matter matters.” Been there, done that. Has anyone ever tried to talk you out of your pain? Subjective, yes. Real? YES! Suffering, Peterson says, is “the irreducible truth of Being” we are still trying to understand.

Balance

As humans in this material world, we are uniquely created to operate in both the physical world (the domain of order) and the immaterial world (domain of chaos). We are both bodies and souls. Interestingly, Peterson points out that order is traditionally associated with masculinity and chaos with femininity. (He’s obviously never been to my house–I live with three males and creating order feels like my life’s work. As Barbara Bush described it: it’s like shoveling the sidewalk while it’s still snowing.)

This part hurts my head: Peterson says we have a “primordial knowledge of structured, creative opposition.” This knowledge, such as parent/child and male/female, predate humanity and major world religions throughout history have understood and illustrated this opposing tension:

  • The yin and yang symbol of Taoism, with its narrow, squiggly way between the opposing forces of light and dark;
  • The Star of David, which incorporates the male symbol (a triangle) intertwined with the female symbol (an upside-down triangle); and
  • Michelangelo’s Pieta, which expresses “the dual unity of male/female.”

According to Peterson, we live in this tension and attempt to walk with a balance that promotes unity.

The Fall

Enter: The Fall of Adam and Eve and the source of all our pain. Human beings have consciousness and free will. We are uniquely created to move through the material world by using our physical bodies to choose to either obey or disobey how God intended us to behave. The rest of creation did not get this gift of free will.  It is a gift I sometimes want to give back to God; sometimes I just wish he would just make me do what I ought.  It’s a brave prayer. The rest of creation must follow the laws of nature. Try telling a tree that it ought to not bloom when we have a couple weeks of mild weather in the middle of winter. Or holding the tree responsible when the premature blooms are destroyed when winter returns. Ridiculous, right? No more ridiculous than refusing to acknowledge that we ought to live by the Supremely Good Rules of Behavior God made for us.

C.S. Lewis referred to these spiritual rules of behavior, rules that govern actions not objects, as “Laws of Human Nature.” And failing to obey them has real consequences for ourselves, for others, and for creation. Sin, which is separation from good, happens as a result. To fail to accept these Laws of Human Nature is as ignorant as refusing to believe in the law of gravity and the consequences of disobeying it.

What is Wrong with the World Today?

Are you, too, feeling misery and pain because of the fallen nature of humanity? Are you overwhelmed with the state of society? “We have seen the enemy, after all,” Peterson says, “and ‘he is us.’” Amen. When G.K. Chesterton was asked 50 years ago what was wrong with the world, his answer was, “I am.”

Wow.  Imagine that response in the Garden of Eden. What would the world look like if we all accepted responsibility for our actions? If we concentrated on the beam in our own eye instead of the splinter in another’s?

While Peterson’s rules can sound cliché and I sense a real danger of too much talk of “self,” I still find them helpful. Have I created tyrants in my life by allowing others to mistreat me? Am I my own worst enemy and the biggest tyrant in my life? “It is not virtuous to be victimized by a bully, even if that bully is oneself,” Peterson says. Be good to yourself.

What I find missing most is the Christian perspective. How does one discern when to stand up and fight and when to let something go? What is the best way to confront bullies and tyrants in a way that doesn’t divide us into us v. them, winners and losers, or those who are good v. those who are bad? How do we know if the cross we are carrying is truly Christ’s or whether it is one of our own or another’s making? 

If 12 Rules for Life reads like a psychological self-help book, we should not be surprised. That is exactly where you’ll find it in the bookstore. While I miss the more in-depth discussion of how these rules fit in with the daily Christian walk, they certainly challenge me to think about it.

What are your thoughts, readers? 

Homework:

Be good to yourself.  Set some goals for yourself today and don’t forget to reward yourself for accomplishing them. Start small!

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Allison Allison Welch Conversion Evangelization Ink Slingers Offering your suffering Prayer Spiritual Growth

What I Learned in the Walmart Parking Lot

Life weighed heavy on me: the loss of employment and relationships and financial difficulties that go with it; a son’s medical issues and the looming threat of the death of his well-fought-for dream; aging parents with health problems. And within weeks, I would live in an empty nest for the first time in more than two decades. The best of life, it seemed, was behind me.

As I walked to my car feeling sorry for myself, I noticed an older woman shuffling slowly toward me. She was leaning heavily on her shopping cart like a walker. At the rate she moved, it would be at least a 10-minute trek just to enter the store. I should be grateful, I thought.

As I loaded my purchases into the car, I felt a persistent urge to offer her one of the small pink mums I shouldn’t have bought.

“Would you like some flowers?,” I asked awkwardly.

“I drive a truck; I don’t have any place to keep them,” she said matter-of-factly. “But thank you.”

I fought back the familiar feeling of failure. Clearly, the persistent urge to reach out to her hadn’t been from the Holy Spirit. Or was it? The prompting, it turns out, was not about what I had to offer her, but what she had to offer me.

“Have a blessed day,” she said, as though it were secret code for I’m a believer, too.

“You, too,” I replied. We’re family.

“I will,” she insisted, “Every day is blessed.”

There was a pause where I began to consider her attitude. How does she do it? As if answering my thought, she added, “Some days are just more blessed than others.”

Walmart parking lot wisdom.

The priceless, eternal wealth of the Saints offered freely in the superstore’s parking lot…who knew? The sermon on the plain, the sermon on the mount. It comes to us from the elderly, the infirm, and the poor. Surrounded by suffering, they are blessed. Happy. Low in the valley or high on the mountain, independent of circumstances, blessings abound.

This elderly, infirm, truck-driving woman reminded me that God is good. All the time. God created good. “All things work for good for those who love God” (Romans 8:28). What is good is the only thing that’s real; all else will pass. Perhaps St. Teresa of Avila said it best: “In light of heaven, the worst suffering on earth will be seen to be no more serious than one night in an inconvenient hotel.”

It’s okay to acknowledge the bad things that happen, but we should resist the temptation to dwell on them. “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil 4:8). This is where we are called to dwell: In the good. We must train our minds like athletes for the big game.

Consider this: Every.  Day.  Is.  Blessed. Some days are just more blessed than others. 

Homework:

What weighs heavily on you, readers?  It’s okay to acknowledge it, just don’t live there. Name the distractions and discouragements and offer them to God, asking him to do what he does best. He can transform them, making them work for our good. Amen and alleluia.

Now, go!  Collect your blessings!

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Allison Welch Ink Slingers

There Are No Bad People

There Are No Bad PeopleLooking through the rear view mirror of time, I can still see him as clearly today as I did nearly two decades ago. His sweet little toddler feet dangled ungrounded in the car seat. Surrounded by blue velour padding and securely strapped in according to the highest safety standards, he sat two rows behind me as we hurtled down the highway.

“There are no bad people, Mommy!” he protested adamantly.

In his short little life it was already an old argument. “You must not wander away from me in public, Sam, it’s simply not safe.” He was the most curious of children and after being strapped in his car seat I often relented to his refusal to be strapped into a shopping cart. A trip to Target contained both the stuff of my most beautifully ordered dreams and the most hellish of mommy nightmares.

He simply couldn’t understand why it was dangerous to wander off unaccompanied. Rules alone were no longer enough to restrain him; he wanted reason. Finally I broke down and blurted out, “There are bad people in the world, Sam!” For the record, if I had it to do over again I would respond differently.

I might as well have stripped the comfortable blue cushion from underneath him. “No!, he cried, “There are no bad people, Mommy!”   Immediately I felt guilty for shattering his safe little existence and worried, the way only first time mothers can, that I had psychologically damaged him beyond repair; that the entire shape of his view of reality had been permanently and negatively altered.

Nearly two decades later and having, so far anyway, safely raised my son, I consider the truth of his words. The black and white world of childish dreams and mommy nightmares has faded into grey and I contemplate the declaration of the purely innocent: “There are no bad people.”

It sounds crazy, I know, I watch the news. I see evidence to the contrary in the world around me. “Some men just want to watch the world burn,” said Batman’s butler.  He is a better friend than Job’s. Sometimes there is just no explaining evil.

And yet I try. A safe distance from personally experiencing such evils I can afford to contemplate that there are no bad people in the world. In an attempt to explain man’s evil choices I consider that there must be some terrible pain the perpetrator is suffering which they are compelled to manifest in the world around them in order to reconcile their reality. Either that, or something has biologically gone horribly wrong–while they can and should be prevented from inflicting evil, they are truly insane and therefore not free; they cannot be morally responsible for choosing their own actions and understanding consequences.

There are no bad people; I want to believe it. God makes everyone good. There are only people who confirm who God created them to be by freely choosing what is good, and people who don’t know or have forgotten who they really are. And here’s the rub: we all fall into both categories everyday. At some point my choices will warrant judgment on the state of my soul, but God alone reserves this right, and even so, he gives me to until my dying breath to make the right choice.

I don’t know if I could be so generous if I, or God forbid, my child, were on the receiving end of such evil. The pettiest of offenses are often stumbling blocks for me. I find it supremely difficult to fathom the love and mercy of an all powerful God who would forgive someone who brutally murdered His son; A God would pray for those who nailed him to a cross. “Forgive them” he begged his Father on their behalf, “they know not what they do.”

And yet that is precisely what I am called to do; to travel the high road of Calvary and so to participate in the redemption of the world. To bear witness to the unconditional love of a God who would shoulder others’ pain, acknowledging and carrying it in such a dignified way that the injustice can be clearly seen, inspiring those who witness it to join in carrying and correcting it. It is the work of the Body of Christ. God help me.

Homework:

Identify and acknowledge good things in those around you, especially those who you are tempted to label “bad.” Practice forgiveness; it is in giving that we receive.

Prayer:

God help me to see the good in all people and to call it out, even (especially) when they don’t seem to see it in themselves.  Give me the strength to stand up to injustice, and the wisdom to respond by refusing to return insult and injury. Help me to be courageous enough to follow you when doing so means suffering.