Monday, November 24, 2008

W.

WRITING


Even as I begin this first sentence of a piece about writing, I begin to think that I have nothing to write. The question is whether to push through and perhaps find something in my meanderings that's worth giving to the world.

I have a strange relationship with writing. When I do write, I often get nice compliments. I suppose I'm not a bad writer. I keep a blog, though I don't post as often as other more prolific bloggers. I think that's because I don't like to write about nothing. God knows we don't need any more blogs about how cute a person's pet is or how my friend is being a jerk or how stupid people can be. I want to communicate something profound, something that I have to reach down into my heart to retrieve.

But life doesn't always feel profound, and profundity is often stumbled upon in the mundane. I suppose that means I need to allow myself to just write, whether I think I have much to say or not. Chances are, I'll find something, or something will find me.

So life is in the mundane. Nothing new being said there. Merton and Nouwen have said that better than me. But perhaps it's important to keep saying it in new ways. A small tree changing colours outside my window isn't just dying as it does every fall. It's bursting into flames, and if I stop to look at it for a while, I'll see that it's not being consumed. When I take the time to see that, I might hear the voice of God telling me that I'm standing on holy ground.

So perhaps my job as a writer, even a sporadic writer like me, is to find the burning bushes. I don't need to worry about how many people will read what I've written. I don't need to worry that the volume of my collected works could be read in a couple of hours. I simply need to write, because to write is to stop and take notice of the Angel of the Lord, burning like fire in the trees all around me. To write is to notice the profound lurking beneath the mundane and say, “I must go over to look at this remarkable sight.”

And maybe that's something worth giving.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

V

VALLEY

The Central California Valley stretches from Redding, in Northern California, all the way down to Bakersfield, not far from L.A. The northern section is known as Sacramento Valley, and its southern section is called the San Joaquin Valley. The meeting of these two sections is at a delta where the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers meet.

I live in the San Joaquin Valley. Geologically, a valley can sometimes be referred to as a depression. Sometimes, it feels as if I live in the San Joaquin Depression. I don't know exactly what it is, but it seems the valley I live in is a place where people feel trapped. All that pollution gets trapped in the valley with no place to go, and prevents you from seeing the foothills, the mountains, that are just a few miles away .

The airport I usually fly out of is in San Francisco. You drive through the Altamont pass to get to and from there, through the foothills. Sometimes, when I've been away for a while and feel refreshed and ready to come back to Modesto, I drive over those hills and start to feel the oppression and overwhelming sadness of the valley. For some reason, this valley seems to be a place where hope dies, and people lose vision for a real, full life. I hear story after story of people who came here hoping for work and a new life, who now only want to get out because work is scarce and life is hard.

Last Sunday morning, I took Chris to the airport. I was driving through the familiar Altamont pass, noticing the earliest signs of green coming to life on the brown hills. I rounded a bend and saw the wide open valley lying before me, and I suddenly realized something. Valleys supposed to be a place of life. The valley looked beautiful. It was green and full of life. It looked like a place of safety, sanctuary and refuge. It looked like a place where hope could gather.

The San Joaquin Valley is still very rich in agriculture. For all the orchards that have been stripped away for track housing, many more remain. There are rich farmlands here, some of the best in all of the United States. Clearly, this valley was never meant to be a place of stagnation and hopelessness.

God made this valley. What God makes is good. He said so. He surrounded it with mountains to remind us of his greatness, and he gave it these rivers to remind us of new life. The Central Valley is not the Valley of the Shadow of Death, nor the Vale of Tears. It's a place of life, if we remember the life in it. It can be a place of hope and renewal. By our own choice, we can co-operate with God in making it so.

I live in the valley, and I choose life.

Monday, November 10, 2008

U

UNABLE.

I'm unable to hold it together lately.

I mentioned in my last entry that I've cried a lot. I think the tears I've been shedding are an answer to a prayer. Many of my tears are not sad ones, but come from an overwhelming grace that reduces me to a joyful sobbing.

In the last month, I've been getting to know a new friend I met on Ninth Street. “Maximilian” is an honest and kind-hearted man who has experienced God in the last year in new ways. His heart has opened up to God and God has begun a real work in him. He also battles drug addiction. I love this guy a lot, and my heart yearns and breaks to see him completely free.

In all of this, I've asked God to give me a real and true hope for Max, a hope that is grounded in the reality of what will be. In answer to my prayer, God has shown me Arley. I've written about Arley before. Three years ago, he was just another wino in the park. Today, he's a strong man of God, filled with a love that flows from him like water from the temple. Lately, I can hardly think about Arley without breaking down. The reality of what God has done in his life overwhelms me. It overwhelms me that I had anything whatsoever to do with that work. I feel absolutely humbled and honoured to know and love Arley. I can't take any credit for what God has done, and yet the Father saw fit to make me part of Arley's story of redemption.

The other day, Arley and my friends and I sat by the river and prayed. Maximilian was on my mind, and when Arley began praying for him, I wept. Arley's story is different than Max's, but the heart of it is the same. Arley can pray for him in a way that is very special. I know that when Arley prays for someone who's in the midst of heartbreak and addiction, God listens.

I know that my friend will be okay. I know God will set him free. I know that it may take some time, but I'm sure it will happen. I only need to look at Arley, so free and alive, to be assured of how God tells a good story.

Hope is real and advancing upon us. I can try to despair, but I am unable.

Monday, October 27, 2008

another T

TEARS.


I've noticed over the last few days how close I am to tears. I'm not particularly sad or emotionally distraught, but it seems that a song, an image, even a few musical notes can produce a drastic emotional reaction in an instant, one that I didn't even know was there.

Classically, this is a hard time of the year for me. Tomorrow is October 28th. The year that date became significant and linked with a wound was 1993. I was 19, just starting to catch a glimpse of who I was and who I might become. My brother was 24. While Andre and I were always close, as it was just the two of us growing up, it seemed as if I was finally crossing the great divide of the five years between us. Twenty-one is drastically different than 16, but 24 is not so distant from 19. I was connecting with him in a more meaningful way than I had for the last several years. It felt good to be becoming a friend, and not just a younger brother.

Andre loved to drive fast. He was in a local racing club, and his little car even had sponsors. I think he came alive behind the steering wheel in a way that I'm sure only he could have expressed. He was also in his early 20's, and anyone in their 30's can attest to what a dangerous time of their lives that was. You're learning what it is to be an adult, but you still want to be a reckless kid. Andre was no exception, and he did not reserve his “need for speed” for the race track. On those back Ontario roads, heck, even on those front Ontario roads, he liked to cut loose. He had, I'm pretty sure on more than one occasion, escaped a speeding ticket by actually outrunning a police car. I know. Wow.

Those in their 30's get to tell such stories while smiling and shaking their heads at how foolish they were at that age, and how God's hand must have been on them to prevent tragedy. I know God's hand was on Andre, too. But it ended differently for him.

Andre had been finding his place in God over the last year of his life. We had grown up in a Christian family, but we had also experienced a lot of frustrating church life. Some of this frustration happened because Dad wouldn't back down from what he believed was right. In retrospect, I think he probably was right much of the time. As Andre got older, he had to sort out the church b.s. from what is the living heart of God.

What gets us through these periods of confusion and frustration is friendship, and for much of Andre's short adult life, he did not have that. Close friends drifted away as life took them in different directions, and some drifted not because of distance, but self-interest. He was left on his own to figure things out.

In the last few months of his life, though, Andre had begun doing carpentry work with a former youth pastor of his. I still don't know what their conversations were like. I've often thought of contacting this man and asking him about that time. Whatever they talked about, I saw a light in Andre's face that I had not seen in a long time. He just seemed so at ease. At peace. Situations weren't bothering him like they did before. He smiled easily, and I felt like he was proud that I was his brother.

And he still loved to drive fast.

That Thursday night was no exception. As far as I know the situation, it seemed that he had been speeding down a back road when a police car spotted him and turned on his flashers to pull him over. Andre had received his share of speeding tickets over the years, which always frustrated the people around him. I think he just didn't want to come home with another one, and knowing that he had done this successfully before, he tried to outrun a police car.

Oh, the foolish things we do when we're 24.

I don't know exactly how the accident happened. One theory I remember hearing was that something on the floor boards rolled underneath the brake pedal while rounding a corner. Most likely, he hit some loose gravel and simply lost control. He slid off the road and into a small tree. He died instantly.

A doorbell rang that night. Mom and Dad went down to answer it, and I remained at the top of the stairs. A police officer was at the door. I don't remember hearing what he said, I just remember hearing my mom crying out and swooning. I heard someone say, “We need to go up and tell Aaron.” But I had already heard.

I stood there in the hall at the top of the stairs. There was a mirror there, and I remember looking at myself and saying, “Andre's dead.” Reality seemed to draw itself away from me, and I had to look into the mirror and say it again. “Andre's dead.” I ran to the farthest room in the small house and collapsed on the floor, crying. “Please, God, wake me up,” I said. “Please wake me up.” I don't recall many details after that.

That was fifteen years ago. Some years the pain is so fresh that it feels like it was last week. Some years it feels like a wound that's healed. Some years are like this one, where it seems there's a healing sweetness in the tears, though they fall all the same.

I suppose I'm still praying for God to wake me up, and I know he will one day. “He's okay,” is what the former youth pastor said at the funeral. “He's perfect.”

Many people, as I've taken my journey into Catholicism, have asked me about the theology surrounding the communion of the saints. “Do you really think dead people pray for you?” No, I don't think dead people pray for me. I think alive people do. On October 28th, 1993, Andre truly came alive behind the wheel.

Friday, September 19, 2008

T

TRUTH

This is the truth:

I write this as I lay on a borrowed bed, typing at a computer half paid for by me, half paid by my parents. Of course the half paid by me is actually from people who love me and give freely. But back to my borrowed bed. It has a quilt resting on it, a very nice one of blue and red and grey. It too was given, years ago, by a strange lady, but given in kindness nonetheless. I read by a lamp purchased as a gift to me. It rests on an old suitcase that doubles as a night stand. The old night stand once belonged to my great grandmother, and bears her name inside it.

Even the pillows I rest my head upon were a gift. I can recall only purchasing one of them. (I have four on this bed right now, and I'm not sure how that happened.) I sleep in a room I didn't earn. I live with a family that somehow loves me. I've watched their oldest grow since he was an infant, and last night he was given a Timothy Award. It means he's a really good kid. Unearned, I watch the middle boy laugh. Unearned, I watch little Stella dance.

I look around this room. There's a cross on the wall to my left. On the front is the inscription “Amazing Love,” but I love it most for the writings on the back. It contains a note from my father and mother, a private blessing. Above this cross is a picture of my brother. He's sitting on the bow of a boat, turning back for a moment and smiling, inviting me into the joy of the water. I didn't earn him, either. He came with the world when I met it.

There's a lot in my life I didn't earn. The quiet night outside. The cool breeze from my window. My lungs and the air that fills them.

To be honest, I have nothing. But in truth...

Monday, September 01, 2008

S

STEPPING OUT

The wind was fierce, and the waves were large. The boat rocked violently as the events of the last few days reeled through his mind. Yesterday he had heard of John the Baptist's death. Today his teacher and friend somehow fed a huge crowd with a little fish and bread. Joy can be confusing when it follows so closely on the heals of grief.

Peter didn't know John well, but what he did know of John made his death all the more confusing. He was such a good man, and a good man unlike any good man he had known before. If Peter didn't know better, he might have simply dismissed John as raving and insane. Yet this crazy man's heart pounded out love like it was his very life, and anyone in earshot could hear the drumming.

And such a ridiculous death. A girl does a striptease for a king, and demands someone's head on a platter in return. So the rumour mill had said, anyway. Peter couldn't help but feel a rising anger and contempt for this king, so weak, with such cruelty in the name of saving face.

His thoughts turned again to this particular day. He remembered the faces of the hungry. He thought of that little girl in particular, who smiled so brightly when he gave her a piece of bread. She was only one of many, and yet what she was given was just for her. He remembered the taste of the bread. It was perfect, better than his mother made. Or at least as good. In any case, it was warm and tasted like Heaven on such a grey and blustery day.

Peter remembered Jesus' face. The smiles of the healed sick gave his teacher joy, but there was a great weariness underneath it, a sadness deep at its core. Jesus hadn't intended to do any work that day. He only wanted to be alone and mourn his friend and brother. But of course, his solitude never lasted long once someone spotted him.

Peter uttered a prayer under his breath. “God, please help my friend.”

A splash of sea water licked his hands, and he remembered the wind. He thought of his life since he met this man. It was so much more than what he thought it could be. He feared for how much more it might become. God, please help me. I'm afraid.

He looked out at the sea. The moon was bright, and the clouds were being swept along by the unrelenting winds. He closed his eyes against the spray of the brine, wiping them with his dirty sleeve.

He looked up again and gasped. A man came walking toward him over the dark waters. He squinted his eyes, peering through the water's mist and the moonlight. It was no trick of the shadows. There was a figure in the distance, walking towards him. He felt his heart hammering within him.

“Oh my God.” he whispered. “It's John.”

Peter had heard stories of the souls of righteous men visiting people soon after their death. Sometimes to comfort, other times to rebuke. Whatever the cause, the thought of seeing John the Baptist walking across the water scared him senseless. John was a frightening man in life. What would he be like in death? John, I'm sorry! he thought. Whatever it is, I'm sorry!

Matthew, who never really liked traveling by boat, was crouched beside him, trying not to get sick. Peter turned to him and spoke, trying in vain to keep the tremolo out of his voice. “Do you see that? Am I insane or is there someone walking out there?”

“What are you...? Oh my God!” cried Matthew.

“It's John.” said Peter. “Dear God, it's John, isn't it?”

The others began to crowd around the edge of the boat to see what was agitating the tax man and fisherman. As each caught sight of it, a communal gasp was heard above the wind. Hands covered mouths, while more than one man screeched like a frightened child as the figure came closer.

When the apparition spoke, the boat shuddered.

“Take heart! It's me!”

Peter's hand trembled as he held the edge of the boat, partly from fear, partly from the cold, but mostly from the feeling that something incredible was going to happen. “Lord, if it's you,” he called out, “tell me to come out there on the water!”

His friends turned their eyes from the ghostly figure for the first time, and stared at him.

“Tell me to come out there!” he called again.

The figure was closer now. It rose and fell with the waves. Peter could see the man's face now. Indeed, it was familiar. When this face smiled, his doubt vanished before Jesus even gave his response.

“Well come on out!”

The excitement that made his hands shake seemed to gather and shoot all at once into his heart. He stood, and hopped over the edge of the boat as a man would hop a fence.

“Peter!!!” John cried.

But there he was, just over the side of the boat, on all fours, floating on the water. A low chuckle rose from his gut as he stared at his hands, firmly resting upon the water. He looked up at Jesus and laughed. Jesus, standing just a few meters away now, was laughing too.

“Oh!” he chortled, as he realized he was beginning to drift and spin in the wave's current. Quickly, he lifted his weight from his hands and stood. The water held firm beneath him as the waves lifted his right leg slightly, now his left. He looked at the other man standing on the water, who was still smiling, and began to walk towards his Rabbi. This was definitely not the ghost of the Baptist, but he could almost hear John's wild laughter.

His thoughts went back to John, but this time they were not bitter thoughts about his death. He imagined John standing in the river, baptizing this man who was now not immersed in water, but standing comfortably upon it. He thought of the dove which came down, and that voice, the voice like pealing thunder and quiet rain. “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

Peter looked intently into the eyes of this Beloved Son. His laughter subsiding, his joy increasing, he walked carefully upon the swirling waters toward the one who made his heart alive, strong, and daring.

But the wind blew hard upon the waves, and he lost his footing. He fell hard upon the water, though it was forgiving. Jesus stood not far from him, but the wind seemed to blow harder now, and Peter's clothes were soaked from the spray of the windy waters. With some difficulty, he stood up again and advanced toward Jesus. The wind seemed determined to undermine this miracle. A great wave lifted Jesus high upon the horizon, and as his teacher descended again, he realized the wave was heading for himself next.

Peter felt himself suddenly lifted high, while his stomach remained 8 feet below him. At the crest of the surf, he felt the strongest wind yet, and once again lost his footing. Rolling down the side of the wave, a surge of fright came over him. The wind is going to kill me!

“LORD! SAVE ME!!” he yelled as his right leg crashed through the surface of the water.

Instantly, he felt a strong arm lifting him up, and a strong voice laughing.

“Oh, Peter Little Faith!" he chuckled. "You were doing so well! Why did you doubt?” He took Peter into his embrace and laughed again. Jesus could hardly get his sentence out now, he was laughing so hard. “You should... have seen yourself.... Oohh my goodness. Ahhh....”

Peter blushed in spite of himself, trying in vain to hold back a smile as he walked, now in his friend's embrace, back to the boat. Jesus, still laughing, helped him in first, then climbed over the edge of the boat himself. As he did so, the wind died.

The two sat on the bench, chuckling. “Shut up!” said Peter, smiling. “Come on!”

But this only made Jesus laugh all the more. “Peter,” he said proudly, “That was magnificent.”

The disciples stared in awe at Jesus. “You really are God's Son!” said Matthew in a whisper.

But they were getting used to strange things happening around Jesus, so they also stared at Peter, the crazy man who had jumped out of a boat in the middle of a wind storm. As the boat drifted on in the quiet night, something else was carried across the serene and moonlit waters: the laughter of a man of little faith.



Saturday, August 09, 2008

R

REACHING

Dear God, help me always to reach. If I am not always destined to attain, let my destiny be to always be reaching.

I want to always feel unsettled, because I don't want to settle for anything. A friend once told me, “You're kind of a cake-and-eat-it-too guy.” It's true, and this can be a source of frustration for me and for my friends when it keeps me from acting. I inwardly whine and outwardly do nothing. I'm often not quite content with the way things are, or the way they are expected to be, or the way things usually are. But I'm coming to accept this about myself.

My friend also told me there's nothing wrong with being a cake-and-eat-it-too kind of guy. After all, cake was made to be eaten. Somewhere in this, there is an important aspect of who I've been made to be. God put it there, and he put it there with specific purpose in mind. The task I've been given in this life will not be attained if I am not programmed to be reaching, to not be satisfied, and in all that to be facing new fears. God knows I won't run out of fears to conquer before I die. I'll just keep uncovering new ones.

And perhaps when I reach heaven, I'll have some cake and eat it.

But I want to always be reaching. I think it's the only way that I can be truly alive. If I felt I've attained it (whatever “it” is), then I'll be going nowhere, and I'll lose it. I want always to have enough longing that I never stop walking, and enough peace that I enjoy where I am.

So God, just help me to long for the right things: For justice. For mercy. For love.

Most of all, Dear God, let me long for your Heart. It's all that I want to reach.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Q

QUOTIDIAN

I know what you're thinking, and you're right. What the heck does quotidian mean? If you already knew, you are a thoroughly impressive literary type. I just found the word myself. (Thank-you, Dashboard Dictionary). It means “of or occurring every day; daily; ordinary or everyday, esp. when mundane.” I'm glad I found this word (quite by accident I might add), because it perfectly describes the kind of beauty I was struck with last night.

I purchased a bicycle a few weeks ago, a nice one. At least to me it's pretty nice. It's not a Wal-Mart cheapocycle anyway. I don't have a vehicle, so I often depend on our giant Ford E-350 diesel ministry van, affectionately dubbed Van Diesel. Diesel is currently floating around the $5 to $5.20 a gallon mark right now, so I'm trying to curb my use of the van.

I've been enjoying getting around on the old bike. It's only a bit of a pain when I feel like I'm riding through Oklahoma (you know, where the wind goes sweepin' down the plain?). What I like about riding a bike is that it's a nice pace at which to see the world. It's fast enough that it doesn't take an hour to get to the office (only about 15 minutes), and it's slow enough that you can actually experience the environment around you. Sometimes I just plan on getting a little lost, and follow the canals through the orchards, taking the little side roads and paths here and there. Trees all over. Hawks screeching when you approach. The occasional beer bottle.

As I rode around last night I was struck by a different kind of beauty, a variety that's easy to miss. A quotidian beauty, if you will. I took a ride through the suburbs. Did you know that people still do things in their front yards? It was so refreshing just to ride through the neighbourhood, catching glimpses of people's lives. A man peacefully watering his lawn. A woman working in her flower garden. A family sitting by their front door, listening to mariachi music on the radio. I rode by the park, and there were kids playing basketball, a family playing football, and people just smiling and being together. It was truly delightful.

I was recently reminded of a quote from Thomas Merton. As he sat observing people one day, he reflected on how they were all walking around, not knowing that they were “shining like the sun.” I believe we're like bluebirds sometimes. Flying around, completely unaware of how beautiful we are, how fearfully and wonderfully created.

I'm watching that happen even now, as I sit with my laptop in a book store cafe. There's a man across the room sitting with a frail man in a wheel chair. He's flipping through magazines, letting his elderly friend look with him, not saying a word. Guns & Ammo, PC Gamer. I don't think the old fella is all that interested in PC Gamer, but he's here with a friend, and that's beautiful. Guns & Ammo/PC Gamer Guy doesn't know it, but he's sitting there, belly filling out his red, double-XL shirt, shining like the sun.

There are things that are easy to see as beautiful. Mountains and oceans and sunsets. But mountains and oceans and sunsets are of greater pleasure to God when he watches us watch them. Remember, he didn't merely speak people into being as he did the moon and sun. He made us by hand, and kissed us into life. We are his glory, and the whole world is filled with quotidian beauty.

Monday, June 09, 2008

P

PRESENTS

“What do you get for the man who has everything?”

This is what Chris said about our homeless friend Arley. Well, not homeless homeless, but homeless. He lives in a “hobo shack” in his sister's back yard. It's set by a tree in the back corner, a high, wooden fence on either side. He's made two walls of scrap wood, a roof out of blue tarps, and a curtained entrance. Inside is a bed he's assembled from a few pieces of foam, a little TV, a microwave, and a coffee table made from a camper's table-top and a couple of milk crates.

He has guard dogs, too. They keep his place safe, and scare off intruders. Sometimes they scrap with each other, but are generally good-natured. One wears a hat and smokes. They are 6 inches long and made of plastic. Also, they are dinosaurs.

He reads a lot, and likes to watch King of the Hill.

He has everything he needs, and all that he wants.

Say what you will about Franciscan simplicity, this man's got it. This, however, makes it fairly difficult to select a birthday gift of some kind. He really doesn't want much, if anything. I knew he could use some new shorts, but that doesn't feel like a proper Birthday Present.

So I gave him one of my old books, Under the Overpass. It's a little memoir by a college kid who decided to be homeless for six months. I thought he might appreciate it. Chris's son Joshua sent along a Toy Story dinosaur, sure to be a good friend for the guard dogs.

We thought we'd take him to lunch, with his choice of fried chicken or Hometown Buffet. He chose the buffet. Let me tell you, it's really something to see this man work The Hometown. Why go back for another plate when you can just load up two from the start? Why not try dipping your hot dog wieney in chocolate milk? And why can't a man put jalepeƱos on his ice cream? He's not insane or anything. He's a hobo. They're free spirits.

We asked him what the best memory of the last year was for him. He thought for a long time. Finally, he said, “Well it's any of those days of the week that I get to spend with you guys. With my Christian friends. With people that actually love me. I see other people through the week and talk, but nobody treats me like you guys do. I enjoy that more than anything. I really do.”

Arley often says things that make me get all quiet inside, and look at the floor for a second, and then look up at him with my bottom lip putting a little extra pressure on my top lip. You know that feeling? The feeling of such affection and humility that someone so full of these qualities can illicit? Anyway, he's really good at that.

I suppose that's what you get for a man who has everything. Honour. Affection. Love. It's the only thing you can give to the poor in spirit. Heaven already belongs to them, so just give them your presence.

Monday, May 26, 2008

O

OPEN

My ribcage opens like a cemetery gate, and sets my heart loose into a world that is limitless, and into a God that is freedom.

Everything is possible because a tomb, like my heart, was opened from the inside.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A New Blog I Give You

Hi, everyone.

Just a note to let you know that I'll keep writing about my Ireland trip (and others) on a new blog, so just glonk on to this: frateraaron.blogspot.com. Yes, that's Latin for 'Brother Aaron'. It's really hard to come up with a blog title that's not completely pretentious when so many have already been taken.

Anyhoo, I'll keep going with the alphabet here, and write about my travels on the new one.

One more thing, if anyone's reading this, drop me a comment and let me know where you are. It's fun to know these things.

Peace and All Good.

Aaron

Thursday, May 15, 2008

From Cashel To Cromane: Part Two

“It's really friggin' cold,” I said to myself.

I had been standing outside at Moll's Gap for some time, hoping for a response to my outward-stuck thumb. Just then, a car with a couple in it pulled up. They slowed down. Hope rose within me. Then came the apologetic look on the young, bearded man's face. It said, “Sorry, we're just pulling into the parking area.”

Dang.

I remained standing as the couple walked past me and into the shop and cafe. We exchanged smiles. My backpack got heavier.

I stood for a few minutes more, with no takers. The cafe stood there, too. All nice, with its inside having no howling Irish wind whatsoever. The debate for a hitcher in this situation is always this: Do I go inside and warm up? It's so nice in there. But what if while I'm in there, the car of my dreams comes along, and I miss the all-important ride?

It wasn't much of a debate. I was very cold. Besides, what if I met my ride inside?

I walked up the steps and in through the glass doors. Oh my. It was so very inside in there. No wind. No cold. Only dresses and sweaters and trinkets to buy, and toilets to go pee in, and a cafe upstairs. I lugged my backpack and book bag upstairs, and stood at the counter.

Pies. Scones. Chocolate. Tasty things. All under glass, looking lovely. But what I really wanted was a nice, warm drink.

The cashier and I small-talked, while the couple that had apologetically passed me by sat with their goodies.

“I'm trying to get to Kenmare,” I said as I looked over the pies, “but no luck yet.”

“Well take some time to warm up here.”

“Yeah. You know, I think a hot chocolate sounds pretty good right now.”

While the Cafe Lady prepared my drink, I set my bags down at a table a short distance from the apologetic couple. Oh, the simple pleasure of setting down a heavy load.

I paid for my hot chocolate, and delicately carried her back to my table. I call this hot chocolate “her” because, in that moment, this was no ordinary hot chocolate. Tastefully poised with hunk of solid chocolate resting gracefully upon a bed of pure, white, whipped cream, she was a classy, tasty lady. Even the overflowing goodness running down her sides only made her more appealing.

I sat with a beautiful view of the mountains and valleys below. Thankfulness for my life and the fullness thereof rose to the surface. I reached into my book bag, and pulled out my Bible to read and re-read a psalm that took on more meaning for me with each passing day.

The 23rd Psalm.

The Lord is my shepherd;
there is nothing I lack.
In green pastures you let me graze;
to safe waters you lead me;
you restore my strength.
You guide me along the right path
for the sake of your name.
Even though I walk through a dark valley,
I fear no harm for you are at my side;
your rod and staff give me courage.

You set a table before me
as my enemies watch;
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overfl...

Tap, tap.

I look up over my shoulder and up at the apologetic lady. She spoke with an English accent and said, “Excuse me, did I hear you say you're trying to get to Kenmare?”

“Uhm... Yes. Yes I am.”

“Would you like a ride?”

“Sure! Are you going that way?”

“No, but we can take you there. It's only 10 K.”

“Thank-you!”

My cup overflows.

I walked with them to their little car, and climbed in the back seat. As we drove along, we began to get to know each other.

Mark and Carol-Ann were from London, and they were here in Ireland on vacation. They had fallen in love here 10 years ago, and were revisiting some of the places they had been. They were so warm and friendly. I was suspicious of something...

I told them about my journey so far, how I was getting around, the hostels I was staying at, and the conversation came around to what I did back home.

“I work with a group called Youth With A Mission...”

“Oh! YWAM!” came the response from the front seats.

I knew it. My suspicions were correct. These people were admitted Christians. They went on to tell me they had many friends who had been involved with YWAM.

We were now nearing Kenmare, and Carol-Ann seemed to be asking Mark something with her eyes. She seemed to get an answer.

“We're staying in a rented house just over in Dingle Bay,” she said somewhat tentatively, “It has four bedrooms and we're only using one. Would you like to stay with us tonight?”

“Does Johnny hate Jazz??? Of course I would you beautiful, crazy Brit!!!”

Well, I didn't quite say that. I said something like, “Um, well, I would not refuse a kindness. I'd love to!”

And so we drove through downtown Kenmare, the town I had thought was my destination, passing the hostels, where I might have stayed that night. We eventually came to the very small town, well, more like an ocean-side settlement of nice houses called Cromane.

We pulled into the driveway of the house. Palm trees swayed in the evening breeze. Yes, palm trees.

The car stopped, and the cool evening air greeted me as I climbed out from the back seat. Mark unlocked the side door, and we walked into the house. Oh my, it was nice. A great big, kitchen with a wood stove. A family room with a fireplace. A sitting room. And then, upstairs.

Bedrooms. A sitting room with a view of the bay. There was my bedroom. A great big Queen sized bed covered in an inviting white comforter sat across from a lovely, oh-so-private bathroom. I almost cried.

I showered and shaved while Mark and Carol-Ann prepared dinner. I put on some fresh clothes and came downstairs for dinner. I put my dirty clothes in the washing machine, and quietly rejoiced at the fact that though I was wearing my last clean pair of undies, there would be fresh ones waiting for me in the morning.

Supper smelled delicious, and tasted just as good. We laughed and told stories. Later we sat in the living room and got a little fire going. They told me about how they met in church, and then how they began to fall in love a few years later on a motorcycle trip through Ireland.

It was past midnight when we called it a night.

I slipped into my soft, warm bed. It was so soft, so warm, so... bed. I couldn't believe that all of what had happened today had in fact happened in a single day. From Cashel, to Killarney, to Kenmare and to Cromane, the Lord was my shepherd.

There was nothing I lacked.


video

Saturday, April 26, 2008

From Cashel To Cromane, Part One

I am back in California now, and there are still plenty of stories to tell about Ireland. I would really like to get as many of them down as possible, but I know myself. If I set out to write out each day chronologically, I won't get far. So I'll tell them as they come to me. Some time later, my editor can arrange them. I'll be the best storyteller I can be.

I woke up in Cashel on a bright, Wednesday morning. I stayed in what was definitely the nicest hostel I'd been in. I said good-bye to Roger, a lonely Canadian man I'd met the night before. Of course, his story is another story. I attempted to give him a little Good News Gospel of Luke, but he bolted. "I'm not religious!" PING! (that was a bullet-like sound effect of him running.) I don't often attempt such blatant things, but I figured there's a time for it. Oh well. We're called not to succeed but to try.

I walked for perhaps thirty minutes through the small town of Cashel to the other side, where I was hoping I'd get a westbound lift in the direction of Killarney, perhaps through Tipperary. Whether it was a long way there would depend on my fortunes in thumbing. My goal was to reach the Ring of Kerry, a beautiful coastal range that everyone told me I had to see.

The last time I hitched, I had purchased a red marker that didn't really work, and made a little maple leaf on a piece of cardboard. It's good to let people know you're a visitor, and not just a local axe murderer.

I walked to a roundabout, and put out my thumb, with my maple leaf proudly displayed. Hmm.... Not... much... traffic... here. Maple leaves won't help the traffic pick up, will they. Well, I trust in the Lord, not traffic patterns, right? I thought I just felt like walking anyway, so I stuck out my thumb and walked.

Nuthin'.

Eventually I came to another roundabout, with a sign pointing in the direction of Tipperary. Aha. More traffic here. Very good.

Soon a little red car pulled over. As I approached the door, I noticed the driver grab a small, wooden stick from the back seat and put it next to him. It looked like a coffee table leg. Now, I would have been more concerned if not for remembering my friend Jimmy. This is exactly what he would have done. Safety first. This guy doesn't know if I'm a psycho.

Stephen turned out to be a good man. Serious, but friendly. I even noticed him cross himself quickly as we passed a church. We chatted, and he mentioned what almost every person who picked me up mentioned. "I used to hitch a lot." He got me as far Tipperary without beating me to death. It was not such a long way, after all.

After just a few minutes, a great, big lorry rolled up. "Sweet!" I was hoping I'd get a ride in a big rig some time. I climbed in and was greeted by a young man with a strong brogue named Eddy. We talked, and he took me to Limerick. Ah, Limerick. If only I'd known what would happen in Limerick just a few days later.

I climbed out of Eddy's truck, and walked to the other side of the roundabout, and under an overpass. I waited for about 20 minutes, holding my little cardboard maple leaf, standing by a big road sign, my finger pointed at "Killarney: 120 km".

A little van pulled over, and I hopped in. He was going all the way to Killarney. Thank-you, Lord.

David was a working man. His business was glass and glass installation. His company provided the windows for one of Ireland's major airports, and he received a few phone calls while we drove.

David's wife and daughter lived in Germany. Though the split was amicable, a split is still a split. We talked about hitching, and how few people do it anymore.

"Just ten years ago, you used to see people thumbing all the time, but now everybody's got their own car. No one does it anymore. The country's changed. People are more materialistic now. You gotta have the house and the car and all the nice things. All that gets you is a separation and a daughter in another country."

I had a really good time with David. We stopped at a petrol station, where he bought me a coffee and a chocolate bar. Later on we stopped at a lookout point to take a couple pictures.

We eventually pulled into Killarney, a place where Bing Crosby claims it is good to spend Christmas, and David asked a cabby where the tourist office was. He figured that would be the best place for me to find my way around from. I half wanted to invite him to hang out for a while, but he had a client he had to see. I stepped out of the van and grabbed my bags. A solid handshake later, David was pulling away.

I approached the tourist office to figure out where the heck I should go. I knew I needed to see the Ring of Kerry, but it's big and I didn't know where to begin. The girl at the desk pointed me in the direction of Kenmare, a small town at the edge of the Ring. There would be hostels there.

And so I was walking out of town again, thumb poised for a hitch. I stood next to a field where a lone horse casually ate his grass, and only gave me a passing glance. It took a while, but I was quite surprised when the person that decided to pick me up was a girl with a toddler in the back.

Sasha had done a lot of hitching, so she wasn't afraid of picking me up. We drove one of the windiest roads I'd been on, which is saying a lot. It was a breathtaking drive through thick trees, beside mountains, and next to rivers. Sasha and her son got me as far as Moll's Gap, a place on a mountain where the road divides.

It was very, very windy and cold.

I put the flaps down on my old newsies cap, stood by road, and hoped for the best.

Little did I know, that the best was yet to come.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Sleeping Under The Stars in Limerick.


I was in Dingle for a few days, with many other stories to tell, but I'll tell the one I just wrote out in an email for my new friend Simon.

I walked with Simon to the roundabout, said bye, and walked up the road a bit. I looked back. There was another hitcher behind me. He looked like a local. I asked him where he was heading and he said Anascaul. I wished him luck and thought I'd either wait him out, as nobody stops for 2 guys, or if I found you I'd see if you wanted to run up there.

Anyway, I walked around the corner, I saw Robert, the guy who practically got me to Dingle two days before! He's a 68 year old Irish guy who's never seen his country, so he's driving all over the country. He ended up giving me a ride to Tralee, and purposefully took the scenic route for me. I got another ride from Tralee to Newcastle West. I stepped out of the car, and what's across the road but a little circus tent. "Why not." think I. I went to the circus. It was so cool! It was the kind of circus that hasn't existed in the States for 50 years. Just a small, family-run circus. It was absolutely magical. Balancing acts, ponies, spinning plates, clowns. I was even brought up with a couple other guys to assist the clown.

I sat next to Billy and his little daughter, and I had a great time. When it was over, I walked back across the road and pulled out my little Canadian flag sign with 'Limerick' written on it.

Billy pulled up.

"My daughter said, 'It's too cold for that man to be hitch hiking, Daddy.' So you've got her to thank."

Billy and Sarah took me to Limerick.

If you do an internet search, Limerick will appear to be like every other town in this country. Full of hostels. The internet lies. I realized quickly that I was in need of a small miracle. I walked to a Best Western to see if they'd know anything. They didn't. There's nothing. I eventually walked to the Franciscan church, where mass was about to begin. Two women stood out front collecting for a charity. I asked them if they knew of anything. Nope.

I was very tired and my back was aching, so I decided to just go in for mass and trust God for a miracle. After mass, I pulled out my bible and once again read the 23rd Psalm. As I read on to Psalm 25, I felt a tap on my shoulder. The young lady from the charity asked me if I wanted to stay with her tonight.

"Uhh... Sure!" says I.

"Please don't be a weirdo." says she.

After walking to the bus station and trying to reach hostels in Galway just in case, and realizing they were all full, we set off for her brother's apartment. She was staying there tonight. It was good to have a while to walk and talk and make sure neither of us was said 'weirdo'.

We sat and watched Conan O'Brien and some Irish talk show and I went to a nice, warm bed. I pulled out my Liturgy prayers, and noticed the glow-stickers on the wall. I turned out the lights, and realized I was sleeping under the stars.

An angel came to me in the form of a vegetarian atheist bran flake.

Now I know how Jesus will feel when he'll say, "I was a stranger, and you took me in."

Then there's how I got to Galway and met a lady on the bus from Alaska who gave me 50 Euro when we pulled into Galway, but that's another story.


video

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Good Shepherd and Hitchhiking.


So I've been in lovely Glendolough for a couple days. I did some work for them, and they gave me a free bed. It's an amazing place. But that's another blog.

Yesterday, I went to a small mass in a small church, and a lovely young Irish woman sang the 23rd Psalm, and I nearly cried. But again, that's another story.

After mass, I walked back to the hostel, gathered up my things and said good-bye to Trish, Tara and Pam. I walked up to the crossroads, stuck my thumb out and then the second car picked me up. And really, it was the first viable car, as the first one was a single lady. Pretty cool. Mick, a white-haired Irishman with a smallish black dog in the back, drove me for 45 minutes or so, and we had good conversation and enjoyed the scenery.

Next, I waited near a gas station for 20 minutes before Eddie picked me up. Divorced father of 7, his oldest son was 22 when he died. Drowned, and had been missing for 10 days. Murder is suspected. He's in court to try to see his other children. Nice guy.

Eddie dropped me off, and then I had the longest wait in my hitching career. It was probably at least an hour or more. It started off very nice and sunny and I was standing by a green field with lambs scampering about. Then the rain came, and they sky darkened. I don't expect cars with women or children to stop, but single guys? Come on! Help a brother out! I was not despairing, but I was starting to figure out what I needed to do if it got too dark and I was stranded. There was a farmhouse whose door I could knock on. "Just tell me what to do, Lord." "Stick your thumb out."

A young guy in a working-mans sporty car drove by. Then I heard a beep. There he was. God's Servant in a blue sports car. I hopped in and Djyann gave me a ride. I actually have little idea what his name was. His accent was so thick, I couldn't quite get it when I tried to repeat it back. It could be Dan, or Dean, or Dirty Diana for all I know. Anyway, he was a nice guy. He let me off in the next town, where I found a washroom in a gas station and bought a cup of coffee. The sun was out again.

I looked out from a hillside view of the beautiful small town and its big, old, stone church just across the way. I sipped my coffee and smiled. After 15 minutes or so, a nice little grey car pulled up, and I jumped in. David, as I later learned his name, was a well-kept man. Actually, he looked a bit like Le Chiffre from Casino Royale, but pleasant and without the weird bleeding-tears thing. We talked, and I told him all about my work back home, my friends, and my life. He took me all the way to Kilkenny.

As we're pulling into town, he asks, "Would you like something to eat? My treat?"

So we went to a nice old hotel in Kilkenny, and I had fish and chips. Steady conversation for a long time, and then desert and before I could say a word, an Irish coffee. Mmm. We walked out of the hotel and into the street, and found a pub. I was starting to think of what I might need to say if this got weird. He was being really nice to me. That being said, I wasn't overly concerned. I really wasn't getting any kind of off-setting vibe from him. I know when someone's a big weirdo or starting to get creepy. I think he was truly just nice, and probably a little fascinated by my story.

Anyway, he took me to Kyteler's pub and bought me a pint, while a lively Irish, middle-aged trio sang folk songs loudly. One of the musicians said about me, "And over here is Colin Farrel!"

I finished my pint, we walked back to his car, and he drove me to a hostel just down the street. I checked in, and when I came back out to get my bags, he and all my luggage was gone. Just kidding. I got my bags, and he handed me a folded-up Euro and said "This is just a little something." I only had time to say thank-you, and he was waving good-bye. I checked the Euro's he gave me. Two fifties. No kiddin'.

I checked in to the hostel, and brought my bags upstairs. While I was very thankful for the Irish coffee, I knew it would be some time before I'd be able to sleep. So, I headed out the door and walked for a minute back down to Kyteler's. The band was playing, and I had a Smithwicks ("Smithicks").

Did you ever have a dream come true that you didn't even know you had?

They sang some American tunes, and when they began Ring of Fire, the singer called me up to sing. So I sang Johnny Cash in a pub, with a folk band, in Kilkenny, Ireland.

Folks, it just doesn't get any better than that.

Afterwards, I stood outside the pub smoking my pipe. The fellow from the band that called me up paid me the highest compliment as he walked away. "You should be an Irishman!"

I came back to the hostel, and as I lay in bed (for what turned out to be hours. thanks, Irish coffee.), I literally could not stop smiling. I started the day not knowing where I would be or how I would get there, and ended it singing Ring of Fire in a pub in Kilkenny.

Truly, He restoreth my soul.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

A BREAK FROM THE ALPHABET...

...while I'm in Ireland.

Captain's Log, Supplemental.

Today I moved into the Citi Hostel. I sit on my bunk bed as I write. I am very tired.

I saw the Book of Kells today at Trinity College. The college has been around since the 1600's. The Book of Kells, and illuminated manuscript of the four gospels, has been around since 800. It was pretty amazing.

I did a lot of walking today, trying to stay awake until it was actually night time here. Observances:

Everybody's really, really Irish.
Everybody smokes.
Everybody looks cool. Many look like they could kick your A.

Till next time...

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

M

MARY

Mary,
Full of Grace,
stands by her Son.
The wedding feast has need of wine.

“We need more wine,” she tells him.
“What is this to you and me?” he asks her.

She smiles.
“Do what he tells you,” she tells her servants.

He shakes his head.
Water is turned to wine.

Mary,
Full of Grace,
stands by her Son.
The Wedding Feast has need of wine.

“Behold, your son.” he tells her with a smile,
and his beloved disciple takes her into his home.

Through tears, she smiles.
“Do what he tells you,” she whispers to her sons.

He lowers his head.
His side is pierced.

The Wedding Feast is given wine,
and he has saved the best until last.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

L

LOVE

I have a thought, a theory, that I've been mulling over for a long time.

What if it's all Love? The Whole Thing. Heaven and Hell and everything in between. What if it's all Love, and what if all this Love is fire?

Most images of Hell are associated with fire. Purgatorial language often refers to a cleansing fire. The Bible speaks of the refiner's fire. What can this fire be but Love? You could say it is wrath, but isn't anger or wrath simply an action born from a Perfect Love trying to make things right?

What if Heaven is fire, too? What if it's all Love, and our experience of Heaven or Hell or purgation is dependent on our response to Love?

I see it in life. I see how people respond to love. I have watched, often in tears, as friends respond angrily, even violently, to acts of Love. Call it pride or sin nature, but their response to an act of Love is painful and isolating. If they could have let go of self for just a moment, they could have been embraced and changed by Love. Instead, they are only burned by it.

C.S. Lewis sees Hell as isolation, a complete cutting off of relationship. In The Great Divorce (which you should take a couple hours and read as soon as you finish this entry), Hell is shown as an ever-expanding neighbourhood, with each house becoming increasingly distant from the next until your next door neigbour is an infinity of miles away. I've seen this happen here on earth. In response to Love, a person becomes distant, desperately holding on to what they are comfortable with and rejecting right relationship. Certainly, they've been covered in Love, but only feel it as though burning coals were dumped on their head.

For one who can't stand this Love, who wants no part of it, what could be more Hell than to know there's nothing you can do to keep this Love from loving you? His Love knows no bounds.

Others respond to this same Love and embrace it, no matter how much it burns. They are willing to go through the pain Love can cause, if it means that they can be True. When I went through a time when I needed my friends to see things more clearly than I was seeing them, my friends honesty in Love burned. By God's grace, I ultimately chose to let it burn. In the end, I was changed. I let go of the things in my heart that were causing the pain. Like gold encrusted in garbage, only the bad stuff burns. As long as I'm alive, this process will continue.

Then there's Heaven. Isn't it fire, too? We tend to think of Heaven, even those of us who think we're 'enlightened', as a geographical place, but isn't it simply God's Love? What could be more heavenly than to be wrapped completely in the Love of God? Certainly, this Love is fire. Gold is not burned by fire. It welcomes fire. For one purified by this Love, it is Heaven itself, for whatever is pure has no need to fear the flame.

Friday, January 18, 2008

K

KISSES: Joyful Mysteries

Finding Him

She had not seen her son in three days. She and her husband had been looking everywhere, trying hard not to let the worst images into their minds.

"His name's Yeshua. Dark hair, big eyes. Have you seen him?"

"There's a boy in the temple who's been talking with the priests the last two days. I haven't seen his parents."

"Thank-you," she said, and ran to the temple.

Sure enough, he was there, talking with the priests. She stopped for a moment, holding her husband's arm, and watched him. He looked older than he did just three days before. As he pointed at the scrolls, his brow furrowed, she realized something. He was not just asking questions, he was answering them. Somehow, her twelve year old boy had the look of an old man, vital and wise.

He looked up and caught her eye, and he smiled like a boy. She ran to him, tears welling and breaking.

"My God! We were worried sick! What were you thinking?!"

"I thought you knew I'd be here,” he says, confused, “in my Father's place."

She looked into those huge, innocent eyes, took these words, locked them deep in her heart, and covered him with kisses.




Dedication

Her husband held her as she gave her son into the arms of the priest. The child was barely a month old. Fragile and small, wrapped in his blanket, he kept his eyes shut tight. A tiny mouth opened wide in a big yawn, and he blinked his eyes open from his deep sleep. Tiny fists stretched out as his eyes stared at the stranger, with the kind of serious look that only an infant can give. This day he was to be dedicated to God.

The old man held the newborn. He began to speak the words of dedication, but his voice broke. There was silence for a long moment, and then he said something unexpected.

"Look at him." His beard shook with his quivering lip. "This little boy is destined for the rise of many in Israel. Destined to be a sign that is opposed.” He looked deeply into the Mother's eyes. "And a sword will pierce your soul too, so that the secret thoughts of many will be laid bare."

"A sword will pierce your soul."

These words did not surprise her. She looked at this tiny boy. Such depth of joy could not come unaccompanied by a measure of grief.

She pressed her lips to her son's infant brow, and whispered.

"Let it be done as You have said."




Nativity

The shepherds had left hours ago. It was 3 o'clock in the morning, and she was exhausted. She would still be sleeping, but some lowing cattle had awakened her. Her husband Joseph had made a bed of straw, covering it with a blanket. Somehow, in his embrace, it was comfortable. He slept beside her, snoring just a little.

She rubbed her eyes and lifted her head to check on the baby. There he was, a swaddling bundle, sleeping comfortably in a feeding trough. She remembered what she had been told about this little boy, and how it was repeated by the dirty old shepherds.

She laughed silently at the thought of these men running through town, ranting about her little baby, but as she looked upon this little boy, the depth their proclamation rose from her heart and crept into the corners of her eyes.

Placing her fingers softly on his cheek, she echoed a proclamation:

"Glory to God in the highest. Peace to those on whom his favour rests," she whispered, and kissed the Christ's tiny head.




Visitation
Elizabeth sat alone as she gently ran her hands over her belly. Her son was resting within her.

Over the years, she had been told many times that it was impossible for her to bear a child. Her husband held her in her tears over a miscarriage more than once. Now, being well past a child-bearing age, she had resigned herself to a life prone to loneliness.

That is, until her husband came home from the temple unable to speak, crying and laughing and kissing her everywhere. Since that day, the impossible seemed to be a laughing matter. When she heard that her cousin Mary, so young and so pure, was to have a son, and that no Man was the father, she did not disbelieve the girl.

Now, six months later, Mary stood at her door, beaming. "Elizabeth!"

The young girl's greeting was like music, and Elizabeth felt her unlikely baby dance inside her. "Oh!" she cried as she ran to greet her. "Blessed are you among women! And blessed is the fruit of your womb!"

Old Elizabeth kissed little Mary's cheeks. Laughing and crying, they did what was only fitting when two such impossibilities meet. They sang.

Annunciation

She sat beneath a blossoming almond tree as the wind blew its soft, white petals all around her. She loved to do this, she once told her mother, because it felt like God was giving her kisses.

Tomorrow would be her fifteenth birthday, though it never seemed that any age quite fit her. There was always something both very young and very old about her. Her mother had long noticed it. Her daughter never merely walked through a day. She took things in, as a child may take them in, eyes wide. But then she seemed to ponder them, too, like a wise old woman.

She lay almost sleeping, her thoughts nested around the almond tree, its falling blossoms caressing her cheeks. This is a good place to rest, she thought, and she began to feel as though she were in the presence of Love Itself. And so, when she opened her eyes to see an angel, she was not alarmed. She was only alarmed at his greeting.

"Hello, Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with you."

She drew a breath. Humility accepts praise with caution.

"Don't be afraid, Mary," said the angel, who seemed to be made of light and almond blossoms. His voice was like a song, and he smiled as he spoke. "You are going to have a son, and you will name him Jesus."

The song pierced her soul. "He will be called Great...” he continued, and he used words such as “Son of the Most High God” and “King” about this boy she was to have.

Mary spoke. "But... I... I'm a virgin. How can this be?"

He smiled again. "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and God's power will rest upon you... For there is nothing God cannot do." He stopped speaking, and he seemed to be waiting for a reply. Good News is never presumptuous.

In the stillness, she could feel her fifteen-year-old heart beating within her. "I am the Lord's servant," she finally answered. "May it be done as you have said."

It seemed the angel bowed in courtesy as he left her, and she was left with the sent of the tree she had sat under that day. There was no one in the room now, except Love. She took a deep breath. Love came, and covered her with a kiss.