I thoroughly enjoyed walking in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure this morning in downtown Cincinnati. Although it had been quite a few years since I last participated, today’s experience was very much like previous times. The chilly drizzle at the outset did not dampen the spirit of hope and celebration among the crowd. Crossing back over the Ohio River on the Central Bridge provided a panoramic view encompassing thousands of pink-attired folks, many at the finish to our left and still more behind us on the route crossing into Kentucky on the Purple People Bridge to our right. I found myself wishing that Archbishop Schnurr could have been there to witness the power of this event. He and other bishops have said that Catholic groups may not support the Komen Race due to concerns about funds being used to support embryonic stem cell research. The Komen Foundation has not given money for this purpose before but does not exclude it as a possibility. The Race for the Cure does more than raise money. It brings breast cancer into the public view in ways that are helpful and pastoral. I wonder if the archbishop would think differently if he observed the signs people of all ages had pinned to the backs of their shirts stating they were walking or running “in memory of” or “in celebration of” specific women in their lives who have had breast cancer. Many listed multiple names. Most touching to me was a boy about eight years old running “in memory of my mom.” Bald women or women in head scarves walked the course too, warriors of courage and strength. At moments I found myself starting to choke up. I was lucky to be with a team celebrating the successful breast cancer surgery of my sister-in-law Joni just this past spring. We wore bright pink t-shirts adorned with plastic jewels and colorful ribbons that reflected her vibrant presence in our lives. At the finish, she and two others in the group entered the designated survivor lane to receive medals. The Race for the Cure’s goal is to raise money for research and services in the future, but in the present it remembers those who have died, rallies around those who suffer, and affirms life for survivors. I say, amen!
Archives for September 2011
As a Birthing From Within instructor, I taught a series of innovative pain coping techniques developed by founder Pam England, drawn from her meditation practice. Most involved variations on mindfulness, and as incentive to really develop the habit of using them, expectant parents practiced these techniques in class while holding ice cubes in their hand. One of my favorites, called “Non-Focused Awareness” encourages you to notice the full spectrum of whatever experience you’re in, rather than focusing narrowly on only one aspect. In labor, this means being aware of all sensations and stimuli, not only the pain. You just name them internally without any judgment. The woman might notice the sound of a CD playing, feel the touch of massage on her back, the taste of juice, etc. It sounds simple, but you have to practice to be able to summon the concentration needed to use this technique in a highly stressful situation like labor. Happily, opportunities are everywhere – in line at the grocery store, while stuck in traffic, in the dentist’s chair – and I continue to find Non-Focused Awareness a calming practice.
I was in anguish about the new Roman Missal’s coming implementation when I began this blog nearly a year ago. I wondered if I could remain Catholic with such stilted wording in the liturgy, if anger at the oppressive process that led to it would drive me away. Last week at mass, we sang the new Holy, Holy and Mystery of Faith for the first time, and my own lack of reaction surprised me. I even kind of liked the tune. Today, singing these responses again, I realized that I had been blessed with an unconscious, gradual process of Non-Focused Awareness in relation to the church. More and more I notice other things besides the words of the liturgy that mean a lot to me in the parish – the dearly familiar faces of people I’ve been worshiping with for years, a new generation of young ones toddling around the narthex, the dedicated work of our St. Vincent de Paul conference and other ministry groups to alleviate suffering nearby and around the globe.
Beyond my parish, this new, wider awareness encompasses attending neighborhood prayer services and engaging with an online monastic community, the Abbey of the Arts. Christine Valters Paintner, the abbess, is a writer, artist, retreat director, spiritual director and teacher. She offers online and live classes on contemplative practice, especially combined with expressive arts. This week I signed up for her free 7-day e-course that’s an introduction to contemplative practice in daily life, The Monk in the World. Each daily e-mail provides an image, quotes and suggestions for reflection. Today’s e-mail concluded with this lovely prayer by Christine.
Holy Giver of Silence
Sustain me in these sacred spaces
and embrace me with your presence.
I pause each day to listen to your whisperings
which call me to a deepened way of being.
I enter the quiet and ask for the courage to respond
to what I discover in that tabernacle of time.
Photo courtesy of AlicePopkorn2 via Flickr under a Creative Commons license
Every year at this time, I recollect what a perfectly beautiful September day it was. Driving my children to school that morning, I remember feeling grateful that the academic year had settled into a positive routine, especially for our youngest starting full-day kindergarten. The blue, blue sky affirmed that all was well. An hour later, in the grocery store checkout, I heard about the planes, and the sky took on a menacing, cruel hue, mocking my earlier contentment. I spent the day talking on the phone with friends and listening to NPR, alternately teary and trembling with fear and numb with shock. I watched a little bit of TV coverage but found the images so disturbing that I turned it off.
This week, prompted by the many 9/11 remembrances that I keep reading, I began to wonder if anything had really changed for me as a result of the Sept. 11 attacks and was surprised to realize that it had. Moving beyond the “where were you when” memories, I recalled the deep angst of the ensuing weeks and months, marked especially by a strong though undefined desire to “do something.” Such a horrific event seemed to call for some kind of gesture. The actions that emerged have become so much a part of my life I had nearly forgotten that they originated with 9/11.
The first was to begin composting. At an intuitive level, in response to such destruction I needed to care for the earth. I ordered online a large black plastic composter called the “Earth Machine,” and I remember assembling it at our old house and placing it amidst a grouping of fir trees. When we moved two years later, I insisted that we take the composter. Disassembling it and spreading the composted material amongst the trees, I marveled at the rich soil that had been created from our kitchen scraps. We collect them in old coffee containers on the counter and empty them as needed into the composter. That task, walking out through the garage around the corner of the house to the composter’s current home behind three large viburnum bushes, then opening up the round container, still feels sacramental to me. It strikes me now that reverence here is fitting, in recognition that few actual remains of those who died that day were able to be identified and properly buried.
My other response to 9/11 was to finally take the plunge into homeschooling the following fall. I had been considering the idea for a couple years, driven by a desire for a less pressured lifestyle, but doubts remained. Could we do it? Would it be a mistake? I remember being very moved by accounts of the cell phone calls made by those in the planes and the Towers, saying their last “I love you’s” when the end was imminent. The question, “If I died tomorrow, what would I want to be doing with my life?” didn’t seem too extreme against such a stark reminder of how abruptly loved ones can be taken from us. I am deeply grateful for the gift of time with my children during our six years of homeschooling.
Do these actions really mean anything in the larger scheme of things? Possibly not, but the realization that growth and life, however localized, were nurtured in the aftermath of tragedy bolsters a bit of hope for the decade ahead.