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I don't know where prayers go,
	or what they do.
Do cats pray, while they sleep
	half-asleep in the sun?
Does the opossum pray as it
	crosses the street?
The sunflowers? The old black oak
	growing older every year?
I know I can walk through the world,
	along the shore or under the trees,
with my mind filled with things
	of little importance, in full
self-attendance. A condition I can't really
	call being alive.
Is a prayer a gift, or a petition,
	or does it matter?
The sunflowers blaze, maybe that's their way.
Maybe the cats are sound asleep. Maybe not.

While I was thinking this I happened to be standing
just outside my door, my notebook open,
which is the way I begin every morning.
Then a wren in the privet began to sing.
He was positively drenched in enthusiasm,
I don't know why. And yet, why not.
I wouldn't persuade you from whatever you believe
or whatever you don't. That's your business.
But I thought, of the wren's singing, what could this be
	if it isn't a prayer?
So I just listened, my pen in the air.

Mary Oliver, A Thousand Morning, 2012, p.3

Photo: New Yorker

Today is St Teresa of Avila’s Feast Day. One can find striking portraits of Teresa online, but I searched a portrait that would fit the prayer I am posting today.

I like to forward prayers and poems to friends near and far. I prepared an e-mail with the prayer you will find below. How would my friends receive it? To my young friends, it might feel irrelevant or it might remind them of someone they know. To my older friends, they might take it for themselves and possibly feel insulted. Of course, whether young or old, it might remind them of someone they know, and then laugh along with Teresa.

When, in celebration of Teresa’s Feast Day, I read it this morning to my husband after our morning prayers, we both laughed because we could each recognize what she said in ourselves.

Enough with the talking, here it is:

Growing Older

Lord, You know better than I myself
that I am growing older and will someday be old.
Keep me from the fatal habit of thinking
I must say something on every subject and on every occasion.

Release me from craving to
straighten out everybody’s affairs.
Make me thoughtful but not moody;
helpful but not bossy.

With my vast store of wisdom,
it seems a pity not to use it all;
but You know, Lord,
that I want a few friends at the end.
Keep my mind free from the recital of endless details;
give me wings to get to the point.

Seal my lips on my aches and pains;
they are increasing, and love of rehearsing them
is becoming sweeter as the years go by.

I dare not ask for improved memory,
but for a growing humility and a lessening cock-sureness
when my memory seems to clash with the memories of others.
Teach me the glorious lesson that occasionally I may be mistaken.

Keep me reasonably sweet, for a sour old person
is one of the crowning works of the devil.S
Give me the ability to see good things in unexpected places
and talents in unexpected people;
and give, O Lord, the grace to tell them so. Amen.

You can find the prayer here. Photo found here.

In her latest post, “Creativity During Advent”, Vinita Hampton Wright invites us to imagine that Jesus is going to be born in our neighborhood. The following is where my imagination took me.

It is a somber, grey, cold day in my part of the world. The hill behind my house is lost in a cloud. I can’t even imagine how the Jura looks this morning. It is a bit lonely in my big house, half of which is covered up by the painters’ tarp. A fire was started in the stove, with wettish bark. It created hoodles of smoke which started the fire alarm. The phone rang. The security agency calling to know if they were to phone the firemen. My husband was running all over the house opening windows to let the smoke escape.

This is when I heard the bell ring at the old front door. I rushed downstairs to answer, afraid a neighbor had been alarmed as well. But no, at the door, a man and a pregnant woman — both looking as if coming from a Southern country.

“My car just broke down. I was driving my wife to the closest hospital. I see you have a car in your driveway. Could you take us?” Suddenly the young woman clutches the front-door in pain. Water runs down her legs. “I can’t go further. I can’t.” Panic fills her eyes and her husband frantically racks his brain to find a solution. “I have a bedroom upstairs. Can you take her there?” He looks at me, afraid for her. Then, he takes her in his arms and follows me.

We walk through an empty corridor, a freshly painted staircase, another corridor, to our bedroom, where a wood fire sings in the stove. “But it’s your room,” he says. “I know, but it’s the only one I can offer you at this time.”

He helps her remove her clothes. I bring her a housedress she can lay down in. “Oh, dear, I believe the baby is coming.” While he talks to her soothingly, I call to my husband asking him to boil some water and prepare a basin. It will not be easy to find clean towels — they have all been put away for the renovation. I google “emergency birth at home” and we follow the instructions. Suddenly the head appears, the shoulders, the baby slips out — small, perfect, unique. He lets a cry out.

Now it is time to straighten up room to leave the mother and her baby boy in a safe environment. The baby is fast asleep on his mother, both exhausted and happy.

“Would you mind if I gave a few phone calls? Could my family come and see the new baby?” I nod and smile. Forgetting my usual selfishness, I can’t see any problem with more strangers coming to our house.

Within minutes, a couple of cars park outside, by the church. Her husband is waiting outside and take the new arrivals upstairs to the infant. A while later, our bedroom is filled with happy people, surrounding the mother and her baby in the bed. “A new life is a blessing to all,” they all repeat. There is kindness and joy flowing through the room and the whole incomplete house.

Our daughter and Sasha her dog are returning from their morning walk. Smelling something afoot, Sasha rushes upstairs barking. She’s coming to the bedroom and an older man bends toward her, calling her softly, his hand out to pet her. She calms down right away. Her mistress arrives just then and smiles at the man. She calls her dog and takes her back downstairs.

The visitors do not stay long, understanding the mother and her baby need to rest. The new Dad sits next to the two of them beaming. As the family and friends leave the house, the older man turns to me with a soft, gentle smile. “Thank you for inviting my son and his wife in. You’re very kind. If you have a prayer, tell God. I’m sure he’ll answer it.” I wave goodbye and they’re all gone.

I sit in the kitchen, pondering his suggestion. I know. “Dear God, give me the grace to open my house to those in need of a place to rest.”A


I march for the 17 that cannot

Millions of folks yesterday participated in the March For Our Lives in response to the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. So did my husband Paul and I.

We did it for different reasons.  Paul  looked back at what he had done, or not done, fifty years ago or so, and found himself not having been public enough on his views of the issues then. “This time I want to be on the right side of history.”

I went because Emma Gonzalez’s words shortly after the shooting: they moved me. I also went because of my two grandsons, who both feel part of the school shooting generation.

So we bought two tickets for Washington, DC and found ourselves with hundreds of thousands of other people: many high schoolers, of course, their teachers, their parents; women and men with their pussy hats; whole families whose children are old enough to get killed in school shootings since they have the age to go to school: 5-6 years old…

“I knew how to duck bullets, before I knew how to read,” said one very young black girl at the microphone.

I expected to march. In fact we stood still. Standing still for three hours is not that easy and it completely upset my iWatch which took those three hours standing still for ‘Move’… Maybe because my heart did the walking my legs couldn’t do.

I’m glad there were no politicians or celebrities on the stage. Well, there were celebrities, just not the Hollywood kind. Miley Cyrus sang — I had to ask two young students who she was. And I missed Ariane Grande. Sorry. I heard her, but didn’t get who she was. I would have liked to know, because I really admired her during and after the Manchester killings.

Most of all, I listened to the children who spoke to us. I realized that they were ‘witnessing’. I can’t think of anything more moving than someone witnessing.

I have heard poor women from the slums of Madras (now Chennai), witnessing about the moment they suddenly found the courage to stand tall and address their sisters in poverty about the harsh reality of their own lives.

I have heard women and men witnessing about Godde in their lives, as they gave a rollo during a Cursillo weekend.

I just didn’t expect to hear young boys and girls, from 9 to 18, I guess, witnessing about the excruciating pain which comes from losing a sibling or a friend to gun violence, the constant fear to be the next one, the stress that comes from having gone through it.

I fell asleep still hearing their voices . I’m going through today  their voices still ringing in my ears.

And I’m glad I’m still hearing them, because their voices, their stories, will help me keep the momentum going.

Everyone can read the many articles or watch the youtube videos about yesterday. I don’t want to repeat here what you can find elsewhere.

I just would like to mention the young Edna Chavez, from South L.A., who talked about her brother. She opened her speech in Spanish, and my “Puerto Rican” heart rejoiced to hear her words.

Or the young black boy who spoke so well, so articulately, about what it means to lose his big brother to gun fire.

Or the young black girl of 11 who talked of her beautiful dead sisters nobody else talks about, of the promise of their lives cut short…

I was taken by surprise by Martin Luther King, Jr.’s granddaughter. That little kid had us repeat after her four times, if I remember correctly, those words that she wanted us to say with passion. When we finally did what she expected of us, she told us we could give ourselves a round of applause.

When it came time to sing “Happy Birthday” for what would have been  Nicholas Dworet’s 18th birthday yesterday… tears came before the words…

There were also of course those six minutes + of silence during Emma Gonzalez’s speech. At first I thought it was a minute of silence, then I got that those minutes were the time it took the 19 years old killer to stop short the lives of those seventeen human beings .

I feel unfair not to mention everyone, every young girl, every young man who found the courage to stand up and witness to us what it means to live with the fear of guns in their lives. They each are now in my heart and I will find out, learn and remember their names. I do not want to forget one of them.

What I didn’t expect was the involvement of youngsters whose lives are threatened by gunfire not only in their schools, but in their neighborhoods. I heard them loud and clear. I am just not sure how I, a white grandmother, can come to the rescue to help their world be a safer place. But I heard them. They made sense to me, and I’m pretty sure they made sense to each person listening to them on Pennsylvania Avenue yesterday.

I feel grateful the Spirit moved us to go to Washington, DC yesterday. I saw a poster which said “Fuck your prayers.” I can’t say I feel comfortable with the words, but I understand the feeling behind them. What’s the point of prayers without actions?

Godde meant this world to be a good place. How did we let it come to the point it is at now? But the kids came along, and it’s our turn to listen, to learn, and help them in their “nonviolent revolution.”

Bless the Lord, all you angels, you ministers, who do his will. Ps. 103

October 2nd is the Memorial of the Holy Guardian Angels. While praying the readings of that day last month, I felt a movement in my heart. It suggested that I spend some time in silence every day with my guardian angel.

Do you believe in guardian angels?

My mother did. She named hers ‘François’. My maternal grandmother taught me a prayer her own father had given her, asking the good angel to look after my body while I am alive and to take care of my soul when I die. Even though I say this prayer pretty much every night, I cannot say that until the recent Memorial I nurtured a close relation with my guardian angel. To this day, he has no name.

Angels come in different ways, in both the Old and New Testaments, protecting, healing, guarding. They can be good or bad. Angels can also be found in daily life: someone appears out of nowhere, gives a break at a crucial time, and moves on. Who was that person? I expect everyone of us, hopefully, is an angel to someone at one time or another in the course of our life.

I had a powerful encounter (of a different kind) with an angel more than thirty years ago. I was living in Lima, Peru at the time and was writing a story on Eve. I had read Merlin Stone’s When God was a Woman. Her book had removed the scales from my eyes and unbound my mind. The story of Adam and Eve is a patriarchal story produced to destroy women’s myths and rites. A three or four-thousand year old myth had stopped being the burden it had been until then. The sinfulness I had inherited from Eve was a myth… Poof! Gone!

As I was thinking about Eve in the garden, I ‘saw’ that the snake was in fact an angel who happened to have a snake embroidered on his robe. The angel came upon Eve by accident. Why did he happen to be in the garden, I do not know. What the embroidered snake meant, I cannot say either. We are told that angels are neither male nor female. I am not sure about that. In our days of gay liberation, the idea that the angel might have been female adds a new twist to my story. But in Peru I imagined the angel as a male, without his being aware of it. God does not need angels to reproduce themselves. What angels do not know cannot hurt them.

Anyway. The angel comes across Eve. He has heard of God’s earthly creation: the sky, the ocean, the birds in the air, the fish in the sea, trees, and flowers. Everything so incredibly new, different from Heaven, and beautiful. Our angel is stunned by Eve’s beauty. In her virginal purity, she just sees the angel as one creation among others. She does not notice a difference. She does not question. Why would she? She takes for granted that he belongs in the garden, like everything else. The angel, on the other hand, cannot not keep his eyes away from Eve. He watches her for days, slightly annoyed at Adam’s presence, whom he sees as an dim-witted oaf, an awkward boor.

Comes the time when the angel finds Eve alone. They start spending time together. She enjoys his presence; he is not like from Adam; he seems to see something different in her, which makes her feel nice.

How does the angel think of suggesting to Eve to eat a fruit from the tree of good and evil? He wants her to be more like him and less like Adam. He hopes that through eating the apple from the tree, this will happen. Of course, he never imagines that Eve will offer Adam a bite from the apple. The angel never anticipates the repercussions. As we know, in the story, Adam and Eve are chased out of the Garden. The angel is expelled from heaven, forever reviled and feared.

In the days that I imagine the story, I could feel the connection between Eve and the angel, as if the two of them were with me in the kitchen as I was preparing dinner. In fact, as I really did not know what to ‘do’ with the angel’s presence which felt so real, I filed the story away and did return to it until now.

In more recent years, as I was preparing once again to walk the Camino, wondering whether my body would withstand one more time on the road to Santiago, I remember one day, lying on the ground in tears (and in pain). Suddenly, the play of light coming through the window did create, for a few moments, like a sparkling presence hovering over me, showering love and encouragement.

These days, when I think of my guardian angel who must have been getting white hair trying to protect me from myself (mainly), I dialogue, ask questions, wonder. Of course, by now, I do see the angel as a companion getting me ready for the hereafter. It is a nice feeling.

Is my guardian angel an imaginary friend, with whom I walk, dance, daydream? Does my guardian angel look at me the way the angel looked at Eve? Am I just a weird creation or someone with the incredible luck to have a divine spark hidden in the depths of my being, which makes me infinitely lovable?

I do not know. Still the movement in my heart on October 2nd remains a reality, something which did happen, an invitation to spend time with the invisible, this agent of the All-Loving…

Art: Benozzo Gozzoli (1421-1497, Angels

A marriage in the West usually starts like in the photo shown above. Girl meets boy. A strong physical attraction brings the two together. Sometimes, the relationship never quite moves beyond that passionate kiss. At other times, the girl and the boy decide to tie the knot and start a life together. Of course, mores have changed. Girl and boy can choose to live together and have children without getting married. It can also be girl with girl, or boy with boy. Woman and man happens too; love does not stop at age barriers. In fact, the variations are nearly infinite.

I can see these differences in the friends and relatives around me. Some have stayed happily married (with ups and downs, of course). Others are divorced, widowed, remarried. A few are single.

The idea of this post came to me while watching Korean dramas, which are usually very romantic. A kiss only comes after several episodes. A bed scene is very rare. So very different from French and Anglo-Saxon shows. Drama takes place, of course, through thwarted love (“les amours contrariés”).

One drama, Healer, particularly seized my imagination. The chemistry between the two young people is fabulous, pure in a way, and the attraction between the two is undeniable. Add to this, martial arts, a journalistic investigation, corrupted politicians, you have a great story.

A young couple who falls in love is delightful to watch. It is refreshing, charming, and inspiring in a way. This reminds me of the weekends of Marriage Preparation in which Paul and I participated. The young couples gained some insights in their relationship and were preparing to a life of Catholic bliss and challenges. For us, presenters, we were left at the end of the weekend with a renewal of our own marriage. Those young people’s delight in each other (most of the time ‘young’) was contagious.

As I reflected on the interaction of the two heroes in Healer, I realized that their age in the story was Paul’s and mine when we met. Like in the story, Paul was very attractive and I did turn him on. Then, I tried to imagine the heroes in the drama forty-five years later. How have their appearance changed? Are they still together? Do they have children? What did life bring to them that shook up or threatened their love for each other?

Watching Korean love stories has me revisit my own. Just today I was looking through our wedding photos. One gave me the thrill of a shiver: during the wedding reception, Paul and I are standing by friends sitting on benches in the field where we all have lunch. His left hand is on my shoulder. How wonderful this hand still feels today…

I have no idea really why Paul and I stayed married. My mother once told me, “You’re lucky: you got married for love”. I guess she hadn’t. True, neither he nor I fell in love with someone else, or became attracted enough to somebody to be tempted to leave our marriage.

I did not get married thinking that our marriage would last, however. Having seen my maternal grandparents and my parents unhappy in their own marriage, I had always thought that if it did not work out, unlike them, I would leave. Also, I felt pretty sure that after two years I would know everything there was to know about my spouse, and might not want to stay with him any further.

I was wrong, of course. I still don’t really know all there is to know about him. I did think of leaving sometimes over the past forty-five years, but I always gave myself more time — to be hurt. Six more months… In six months, I will see. I had my escape plans: how I would get from where I was to where I wanted to take refuge… It all got easier after the first twenty-five years. But it’s still possible to get really hurt now. Not today or yesterday, but even so.

Paul and I have succeeded where my grandparents and parents have not. I feel grateful for this ‘success’, but have no recipe to offer. I have seen how a broken marriage hurts those involved; how much of one’s self-esteem seems to be linked to marital success. Sometimes, of course, spouses are unaware of what is really going on in the mind and heart of their significant other. The revelation can be dumb-founding or heart-wrenching.

Among the many gifts that Godde has given me in the course of my life, staying married is one of them. The attraction of that first kiss is still there and somewhere inside of me, it is not only the sixty-nine years old woman who breathes, but also the twenty-fours years old who fell for this young American man and was, and still is, so very much turned on by him.

Thank you Godde for this.

Photo: Robert Doisneau (found here).

I am just back from the States, after spending some time in Manhattan. Our children have moved and we will now visit them there. Manhattan is a big change from Puerto Rico, where we spent fourteen years, off and on.

The idea of spending time in New York is thrilling: so much to do, so much to see. It is one thing to spend three days in New York and fill them with theater and museums. Living there is different. It is a move, basically. It is taking me time to adjust, to act, to mobilize, to start anew. A poor night and my day is shot. Lethargy sets in, and not much is achieved.

Life is good, and a bit unreal. We have a room with a view; we stay minutes from our children; everything needed is within a short walk. So yes, we’ve seen a ballet, movies, been to museums. I already have a to-do list when we return. What to keep our eyes out for…

The surprise came from the feeling I get from seeing homeless around where I live. They help me feel ‘home’ somehow. They ground me in reality. They remind me that they will be rich in heaven, and I will be poor. I will beg for their attention then.

I am grateful for their presence. They reveal the glitter of the big city for what it is. A few folks live at the top, while the rest struggles to make ends meet. And there are those who no longer have any ends to meet.

One Saturday morning we joined some thirty or forty other people at the rectory of our parish to hand out a bag with a few goodies to people on the street (a sandwich, a ticket for a McDonald’s meal, a t-shirt, a list of shelters, soup kitchens and showers). We went in small groups to Grand Central Station, Penn Station, the Port Authority, or stay in the neighborhood. Paul and I chose the fourth option. With three or four bright green bags to hand out, we set off to meet our street brothers and sisters.

Whereas I had come across several homeless folks in the previous days, that night it had rained and it had been cold, so we walked through empty streets. The people we were looking for had disappeared having found shelter somewhere. It took a bit of walking to meet those we were looking for.

I remember a young man, Tom, with so many pieces of luggage around him; or this tall black man, born in Kenya from a US father and a Kenyan mother. I joked with him that he had points in common with President Obama, which made him and his friend laugh. (Unfortunately, I have now forgotten his name.) I met Kenny on that day, next to a grocery store. A couple of days later, I saw him at another place, and he was surprised I remembered his name.

In each encounter, the point was not only to hand out the bag, but also to connect. Kenny was the one who needed most to talk, which is why I found easy to remember his name. He too was lugging around a heavy suitcase and a couple of bags. He had spent the night in a hospital because of a bad back following a work accident…

Before we started on our journey, still at the church, one group leader mentioned in passing how easy it is to become homeless in New York when one loses one’s job…

At the end of the morning, with still one green bag to give someone, on the door steps of the church, I came across a young black man, with dark sun glasses. He too had a black suitcase with two smaller bags stacked against the lifted handle. He looked ready to go on a business trip, but was hanging around other homeless. So I assumed that he was one himself. What took me to ask him if he lived on the streets? He found my question very rude, insulting, and stupid. Would anyone consider living on the streets and be run over by cars, he asked. Would I ask this very same question to a family member, to Jesus?

I was lost for words, thinking that indeed I would ask a loved one if he or she was living on the streets. Undoubtedly, Jesus was living on the streets… Which better question should I have asked him, I inquired. Angrily, he went on… The idea of having insulted him brought tears to my eyes and I found myself lost for words. After he rejected the food I was offering him, I walked away with a heavy heart.

This young man stayed with me most of that day. Our encounter churned in my mind and heart. He was angry, he was hurting. An old white woman, with a roof on her head and food in her fridge, was doing her thing, − and insulting him in the process.

I am ashamed somehow to admit that the presence of homeless in Manhattan makes this place beautiful to me. They, who have nothing, give me so much, just by walking the streets, sitting on bench, or begging for change with a piece of paper where it’s written that they feel so ashamed to have to do this.

How I wish I could be a fairy-godmother and change their grim reality into something warm and safe! I hope to find a way to make their life a tiny bit better. How can I receive so much from them and only give some change in return?

Photo: Midtown Manhattan from Weehawken, NJ, wikipedia

I, a prisoner for the Lord,
urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received…

Eph 4:1

To live in a manner worthy of the call you have received…

As Paul read this passage aloud this morning, my heart stopped. Am I truly living in a manner worthy of the call that I have received? I knew the answer even before I gave it. No.

Every so often, a line in a daily reading echoes through my whole being and does in me the work it is meant to do… As the rain and the snow… do not return… till they have watered the earth… so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but shall do what pleases me… (Is 55:10-11).

Last night at mass I felt quite unworthy and somewhat ‘removed’. The sermon was wonderful (oh, to hear a priest talk about poverty, homelessness, gay equality…). The activities of the parish are inspiring. Still my attention was somewhere else.

This morning’s reading realigned my time, interests, dreams, hopes, and velleities… Suddenly, Godde feels back in my life again. Her love is there; this very special attention, as if her eyes were on me, looking at me with kindness. The longing to do better, more… Magis, our friend Luís would say.

In recent months, I have taken a vacation from life. j’étais aux abonnés absents, disconnected from much of what my life used to be. A new passion has entered my life, a disordered affection of sorts. A Korean drama on Netflix introduced me several months ago to another world, country, language, history, lifestyle — and I fell in love with it. It has opened up a new window in my mind. I love it so much that I have dropped most other things. Hence the rub.

This new love has triggered me into looking at the other loves Life has brought me over the years. It started with the English language when I was twelve and spent three weeks in England. I returned many times. I worked in English, fell in love with an American in Geneva, and discovered the Anglo-Saxon world. Then came Spanish (Peru) , Hinduism (India), Catholicism (Cursillo and RCIA), Ignatian spirituality (our Jesuit friend Louis, CVX/PR, Manresa), and now K-drama.

I do not know where this new love will take me, but I trust it will take me somewhere, as every other passion has. I am learning Korean very slowly, reading about Korean society, following the news, and enjoying Hallyu (Korean pop culture). I don’t think I have had that much fun in years. I have no friends and relatives with whom I can share this passion, but I have such a grand time with it that it does not really matter. The only impact I have had on my family is that now we exclaim ‘Fighting!’ when we want to encourage each other (one of the few Korean words I can understand).

The letter to the Ephesians this morning came attached to the reality check which I face every day as I come across so many homeless on the streets of Manhattan (where we now spend some of our time). I know that I cannot let my life be consumed with this love which has come to brighten my final years. The time to end my vacation from life is here. Like every vacation, I come home with new ideas, new projects, ready to go back to be more present to those extraordinary gifts which Godde showers upon me and to which I want to respond.

It is time to go back to living more in a manner worthy of the call I have received.

Photo: Gian Ehrenzeller/EPA,


Statues in museums remind me of beautiful wild animals in zoos: they have been removed from their natural environments so that many folks who could not see them otherwise can have an idea of what they are. But museums and zoological gardens only give an approximation of the true nature of what is looked at.

I have never liked much to see animals prisoners behind bars. I always feel sad for them. I love going to museums and admire what I would never come close otherwise. Well, this was the case until I stood in front of a Ganesha and remembered my days in India when I learned of this generous and all powerful god.

Years ago, in a whim, I had prayed to Lord Ganesh. I found to my great surprise that my request had been granted. An Indian friend of mine explained then that Lord Ganesh cannot turned down a prayer. Possibly all prayers from all denominations and all corners of the planet end up in the same place. I don’t know. I trust in prayer, whether to the Blessed Virgin Mary, St Anthony of Padua, Saint James (of Compostela fame), or Lord Ganesh.

All these receivers of prayers can be found in museums. How often, however, does one think of praying to the St James that can be seen on the ground floor of the Met?

What is the difference between Mary Mother of Jesus in the Notre Dame Cathedral of Paris or in the Cloisters? Why would one pray in one place and not the other? Isn’t the statue representing the same holiness here or there?

This is what I felt the other day as I came upon this Lord Ganesh (I think). Suddenly, it was not just a museum piece standing there for my aesthetic and cultural pleasure. It was the representation of goodness incarnate, a God who can never say no to a prayer. So I bowed my head and prayed. I addressed my most heartfelt hope to the Remover of Obstacles. I felt a connection which I feel in churches and temples right there in the museum.

In the movie One Night At the Museum, the statues, animals, and scenes all become alive when the museum closes. What about the gods and goddesses, saints and holy women and men in all the world’s museums? Do they miss the place for which they were meant? Do they remember the prayers addressed to them, the ceremonies celebrated for them? Are they tamed forever once they are removed from their place of origin or do they remain just as sacred and powerful as they were before, in a reality of their own which we cannot even begin to imagine?

Art: Standing Ganesha, pre Angkor period, Cambodia, Metropolitan Museum of Art

The other evening we went to the supermarket. Every office worker working nearby had rushed to its aisles. Seven p.m. is definitely not the right time to go grocery shopping, if you can avoid it. Neither is the lunch hour. We bought what we needed and headed toward the cash registers where the lines looked like an airport on Christmas eve. As if heading toward the security check, I wove my way till I found a hole to slip in. I turned around and noticed Paul right behind me, just outside the queuing area. I lifted the elastic tape separating us, and invited him to move in with the shopping cart. At this point, a nice tall young black employee in charge of crowd control pointed out to us that we were jumping the queue. For this time, however, he would let this go.

I did not think anymore of it. I did not feel I had jumped the queue. I was in it and had invited Paul to join me. Paul, on the other hand, felt embarrassed for having done it. This was not right. It is only the following morning that he mentioned the incident, expressing then strong feelings which I had neither noticed nor imagined. After a few minutes, he muttered that he had to let ‘this’ go.

Jumping the queue runs in my DNA. It’s basically a sport in my country of origin, France. If it is no longer French, it’s very much deeply rooted in what I happen to be. (The French have gotten better when time comes to receive the Eucharist. Some time back, it was a free for all, as if there were a risk of running out of hosts).

I remember years ago, in my early teens, hopping on an English bus ahead of the queue and heading straight to the back of the bus. An irate older gentleman pointed me out to the conductor and I was asked to get off the bus. I never jumped a bus line in England again.

My mother liked to recall how in Dunkerque, in June of 1940, an English officer, gun in hand, asked a friend of hers to get off his ship because the soldier had rushed onto it without paying attention to the queue. Stranded on the beach, this friend ended up spending four years in a German prisoners’ camp. Still he did not to get killed like so many others.

Yesterday, we returned to the supermarket where throngs were shopping for Labor Day weekend. I headed for the lines, with the shopping cart, while Paul was running for something we had forgotten. No queue jumped this time.

I tend to jump queues without noticing it. If at all possible, it feels normal to make my way toward the head of the line… I am grateful that Paul shared his embarrassment. I will be more careful.

This led me to reflect on those reflexes we all have. I jump queues; a black youngster starts running away when a policeman calls him; a trader cannot resist the rush of the deal; a mother snaps angrily at her child because she’s scared. We all have reactions which are not helpful, but which at some other time came in handy and has become way of being.

Anything specific comes to your mind?

Art: Stephen Escher