Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A NOTE FROM MY BROTHER ROSS

ROSCOE, FRONT ROW, LEFT

You've met my brothers Joe and Allen. You've met my brother Geordie. And now let me introduce my brother Ross, who is a teacher back East, has several masters' degrees (one from Fuller Theological Seminary here in Pasadena), and is the father of the multi-talented, uber resourceful Allen, who we are all banking on to support us in our old age, i.e. as soon as he turns 16 in three years and can get a job.

He, Ross that is, is also thoughtful, insightful, generous, kind, a man of God, and an all-around good egg, as are all my brothers (there' one more--Tim lives in Bangkok!).

This is the beautiful response he wrote to my post of last week re our mother, aging, death, and existential loneliness. And hope. And joy. (Ross is also the one who unearthed that stellar photo of me at age 5 from the family archives). Am I not one lucky sister?

"Dear Heather,

I agree with what one reader wrote in response: "don't tinker with a thing." Each paragraph is a mini-essay in itself. Here is one. "We carry in our bodies a whole range of wounds, of hurt, of loneliness, of the continual daily onslaught of tiny slights and insults, of guilt for the slights and insults we impose on others. If you’re single, you carry the added weight, the secret shame, of knowing that that you are first in no-one’s heart. You walk the earth with billions of other people and you are first in no-one’s heart…As you age, I’m finding, what also comes up is a primal fear of appearing to be debilitated, weak, in need of help; a deep primordial limbic terror of being cast out of the herd and left to die, alone…"

Great food for thought! I love how you were able to tie up so many loose ends of your relationship with mom and vice versa, especially those bottled up feelings, some of which Mom struggled to release. I come away from your poignant and insightful blog entry convinced of the importance of openly sharing one's feelings--in all their dimensions--as we live life. To put it simply, it's okay to express anger, frustration, sadness, fear; it's okay to express joy, passion, happiness. It's okay to express our needs--for touch, for connection, for intimacy, for honesty. It's okay to admit to ourselves, as you do so eloquently, our vulnerabilities, our weaknesses, our mistakes, our doubts, our questions.

You mention paradox, and I believe, as you do , that this is an essential understanding if one is to grow spiritually. There is so much paradox in our walk with God. One of them is to realize, as your reflections help remind us, that no human love or touch can replace the infinitely more comprehensive and enduring love of God. The sorts of understanding you help us reflect on, as fellow sojourners with you, are focused on the importance of trying to understand ourselves...what is it that is behind our individual and collective pain, as human beings?

There is paradox in wanting to be first in someone's heart. Because while we all seem to want to feel that sensation, the greatest of all commandments, according to Jesus, are that we love God (the One who the psalmist intuited "knit us together in our mother's womb") with all our heart, mind, and strength; and that we love our neighbor as ourselves. Your writings help us remember to keep that in mind, and your writings also remind us of the many ways we deceive ourselves when we attempt to live life apart from God, when we don't keep trying to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Perhaps this need to be first in someone's heart can be more accurately understood as a need for connection. I keep coming back to that word "connection" lately. How about you? This life that we've been given is not some sort of cosmic coincidence. There must be some reason we are here. I believe that Jesus' life, ministry, and mission point us to what life is like and what our best response should be. Jesus showed in myriad ways that life is full of pain; it isn't fair. Jesus implies that there are many ways we deceive ourselves into thinking we truly love when we only concern ourselves with our "mate", (it's interesting that Jesus wasn't married). Jesus reminds us that we are to love as he loved, and that one's title, education, and socioeconomic status do not cut us any of us slack from the Jordan River call to repent.

While we want to be first in someone's heart, Jesus implied that we humans we miss the point when we do that. I believe that the higher connection, the stronger and more permanent--more authentic and sincere one-- is to seek to be connected to God. When we seek the God connection, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we will discover that we are connected to others, far more than we could ever imagine. That's a sensation which fills our whole being (heart, soul, body) with the love we truly seek; that's perhaps the "truth" that Jesus implied would "set us free. One of Jesus' key teachings, (and we as humans do ourselves a huge disservice, when we fail to learn from it), was to teach us that being born (physically) is one thing; being born anew spiritually is another.After all, "No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again." (John 3:3).

There is a paradox here we all must answer; one which you hint at is reflected in that human desire to be "first in someone's heart." Perhaps the mistake we make as humans comes from the effort to be "first in someone's heart" in the first place. Maybe Jesus mission involved trying to show us this erroneous thinking through his life and ministry- plunging the depths of human sinfulness by going to the cross on our behalf, calling out to and depending on God (Creator) in the process of dying and resurrection.

I believe we all need touch--there's nothing wrong with admitting it. You are wise to go the the masseuse. Even Jesus received touch. I am thinking of the woman who anointed his feet with her tears and with expensive perfume, drying his feet with her hair (in Luke, ch. 7) Since Jesus was from a culture where foot washing was common and he washed the disciples feet, touch was not something foreign to those who lived at the time and place. It's unfortunate we live in a culture where touch is such a "touchy subject" (no pun intended); it is seen as either taboo or on the opposite extreme as something which should have almost no limits and which can be exploited for profit. I believe that the affirmation that comes from giving and receiving hugs is closest to the kind of touch Jesus modeled in the washing of the disciples feet. It's a touch God knows we need, and it's interesting to note that Jesus calls on the disciples to wash one another's feet.

So, I applaud you, Heather, for your insights into life, your profound reflections on the trip to the massage shop, and for your honesty. Your insights about life are reflective of what Henri Nouwen wrote towards the end of his book The Inner Voice of Love: "What seemed such a curse has become a blessing. All the agony that threatened to destroy my life now seems like fertile ground for greater trust, stronger hope, and deeper love."

Peace and Power to you this day, and always,

Ross"
No, no, that's our beloved Ross on the LEFT...
OUR HOPE FOR THE FUTURE

17 comments:

  1. As I write this it's 3am something (EST). Another near sleepless night with its seemingly requisit demons and I have a living family all around me and a deep knowledge that I am loved by God, first, even when I can't feel that or have that keep ahead of the self deprecating thoughts or offer it all up fast enough to sleep enough to overcome the inertia of another glorious God given day. So, since I am up I put away the dishes, sorted someones laundry, ate some crackers and drank some milk and ended up reading this post. Thank you Ross for letting Heather post this.

    You know, I can't believe in just a few weeks I'll be the speaker for a parish Lenten Mission, me, dear God ... I hope I sleep before then. I hope I have something to say worth listening to. I hope they're in the mood for real and raw. (ironically?) I've called my set of talks *The Confident Catholic*

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  2. Heather, Ross, Allen, Kings, Owen--angels...Owen if you even stood up in silence, you'll tell them all...I'll remember you in my prayers...

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  3. What a wonderful letter! The depth of understanding Ross has of you (and I dare to say that you have of him) is blessing and gift, the fruit of a brother/sister relationship that has gone deeper than "blood" kinship to interpenetration of mind and heart.Sad to say, there are so many of us who are so afraid of the honesty, trust, mercy, and transparency that is required in order to connect at that level of friendship. We might touch it once in a while, and then back off, but to sustain it, and live on that level consistently, has to be the fruit of a courage born of prayer. Ross's letter (and your many entries) shows us it is possible! Thank you (and please thank him) for his witness and the inspiration it awakens.

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  4. Living with paradox -- so very Chestertonian! :)

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  5. Dearest Heather,

    Sorry to say that I have no time right now to compose the kind of thoughtful response your last several posts require- all so heartachingly truthtelling and loving and funny and and and....

    But just to tell you how much I love you and think and pray with you....

    All is well here, just preoccupied with life on the homefront.

    Sending you a big hug- look for the next one you get to also be from me!

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  6. Yes, Heather, you are one lucky sister. And we, your readers, are some lucky readers. Heather's post on Ma was the best of her writing I can recall (but I'm relatively new in reading this blog). Ross's complementary post on the same subject added richness, layers and depth, creating a kind of "whole" (the two posts) I'll return to from time to time for nourishment. Thank you both, blessings.

    John W. White
    Purcellville, VA

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  7. "The mind can find no limit in the one it yearns for. It cannot grasp him, and it cannot set any limit on its own desire and love. Yet as it strives to grasp and hold on to this endless goal, it feeds within itself a longing that knows no bounds and a love that can never be satisfied."
    --Symeon the New Theologian, 11th century monk and spiritual master

    Although sugar and coffee help, I find...
    No, but isn't he a treasure, my brother?...

    Owen, my prayers as well...maybe you could give a talk ABOUT the irony of naming your series "The Confident Catholic." Cause in one way I, for one, am confident, and in another way I'm not confident at all...I'm not sure any follower of Christ ever gets to be "confident"--in a worldly sense, that is...it'll all work out fine...God be with you!...

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  8. Heather,

    I love the closing of your brother's note -- "peace and power"!

    And he has made me take a second look at Nouwen's Inner Voice of Love, a book which I have always resisted, but from which I read today some few pages, with profit.

    A sad addendum. Today comes news of the death of the Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska at age 88. I thought of you immediately, as you prize her work. I shall read "Under One Small Star" and "In Praise of Dreams" as a kind of compline tonight, in her memory.

    blessings,
    dylan

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  9. Oh no! Wislawa died? Strange, this was one of those days that kept getting derailed...I'll go to 5:30 Mass for sure. Oh this is a loss...thanks for letting me know, Dylan...

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  10. Love your hope for the future. I have two like him, of the female variety. My wife and I fret about the state of the world and their future. We try not to, but we see looming disaster, persecution, etc.. It never occurred to me that in God's eyes they are His very hope. You nailed it on that one. Scales fell from my eyes.

    And the part about longing to be first in someone's heart, I believe your brother is right about that pain. If it's any consolation, I'm now certain that there is a permanent room in my heart with your name above the door. Don't know how it happened. God is good.

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  11. Owen, in the few months I've been reading this blog, and your comments from time to time, just know I would love to have you as a speaker during Lent. You know that He will have something to say--through you--be it real and raw, or otherwise. And, I think the topic "The Confident Catholic" is pregnant with meaning and loaded with possibility, as Heather suggested.

    John W. White
    Piurcellville, VA

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  12. @Heather, I didn't mean to hijack the combox but I do appreciate your posting that late night note and I very much appreciate the comments left by Stana, John and yourself. God bless you each. It's a pretty tough week as weeks these days go so the affirmations are a balm.

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  13. So glad you all got to meet the great Roscoe! Thanks for the warm response--he himself was beyond grateful and gratified--and stay tuned for an upcoming post on my adored nephew Allen...

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  14. Excellent writing appears to run in your family. Your brother's note to you is wonderful. Peace & Power.
    The ability to have both.

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  15. Lovely. You are so lucky to have a brother that can respond to you in such a perfect way. I am envious.

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