Sunday, May 19, 2019

Lyme Disease Awareness Month: We Need "Awareness"

May is a month when people in temperate climates start spending more time outside. It's a flourishing time for all kinds of natural life. Trees, grass, animals, bugs, ticks...

Not surprisingly, "Lyme Disease Awareness Month" is an official designation for May in a number of Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic States in the USA (including my own dear Virginia). And it seems to be a common theme in many other places, and of course on the Internet.

I know that we're prompted to be aware of so many important things that it can be hard to keep up. Lyme is something, unfortunately, that I can't help "being aware of" not only in May, but throughout the year.

Frankly, I wish I could forget about it. But it keeps nudging me and poking me and demanding attention of some sort.

Actually, I have grown accustomed to coping with the persistent consequences of a Lyme Disease infection that went untreated for 17 years. We worked hard on fighting my infection in the previous decade (starting in 2004, when it was finally diagnosed) and I think we made some progress. Still, 17 years is a long time.

I have had to adapt, to reorient the pace of my life, to accept certain limits with the determination to be constructive - even to flourish in new ways - within those limits. It's a particular challenge, not so different from many kinds of challenges that many people face every day. All things considered, I'm doing okay. Things could have been a lot worse, and I have heard many stories from people who have endured (and continue to endure) more than I could bear.

But nobody in today's world needs to wait 17 years for a Lyme diagnosis. The awareness of this elusive, disturbing, frustrating, and in some cases catastrophic disease has grown significantly in our society. The population of the ticks that carry and transmit the bacteria that cause Lyme Disease, unfortunately, has also grown significantly.

We don't need to panic. We just need to be aware and take reasonable precautions. There are effective tick repellents now, and it's important to check for ticks after outdoor events, to be aware of early warning signs of Lyme infection, and to get treatment if necessary. The earlier the treatment, the better chance for full recovery.

For more information, check out the resources of the Global Lyme Alliance HERE.

Advances in research are very promising, but - once again - there needs to be more awareness so that this work gets more funding.

And while the "celebrity culture" is so often a source of negativity, it can be quite helpful when well-known persons share stories about their own struggles with illnesses and dedicate themselves to raising awareness as well as financial assistance for others in need. I'm impressed with all the hard work Avril Lavigne continues to do in this regard, even as she paces herself through her own remission while releasing new music.

Many of her fans would rather see her on another world tour, promoting her album, making more videos, or doing outrageous things that rock stars do to get attention and get their face on magazine covers. But fans will have to be patient with the new rhythms of Avril's life. She still has lots of music in her. Meanwhile she continues to show her face for the fight against Lyme Disease, to inform, support, and encourage others.

Click HERE to see video.

This is not easy. It's not easy for her. It's not helping her career. She would rather not talk about this stuff (and I understand why). But Avril, the perennial "rock chick," is turning out to be tough in ways she never expected. And I am grateful for her gritty vulnerability, which is real and not just part of "the show."

Saturday, May 18, 2019

A "Digital Putty Knife"

Here are the Blue Ridge Mountains rendered in what I refer to as a kind of "stucco expressionist" style.

I used computer graphics to make what looks like something you could do with stucco or paint and maybe a putty knife, but it would be messier, take a lot longer, and you'd have to be very talented.πŸ˜‰

Though I do think the digital work has its own challenges, and it's not exactly easy. I'm not entirely satisfied with this, but - like I always say - this blog is (among other things) my "workshop." #DigitalArt


Wednesday, May 15, 2019

May Flowers

Lovely little flowers still blooming in the midst of a green explosion. Here's an up-close look:



Back up the camera for pretty scenery everywhere. #BeautifulMay

Sunday, May 12, 2019

John Paul Graduates from College

So this really happened. John Paul Janaro graduated. From COLLEGE*!

(*note to people from outside the U.S.A., "college" in our country refers to "university" level education, as in "high-school-was-four-years-ago." I covered that graduation on this blog in 2015.)

When I began blogging in January 2011, John Paul was 13 years old. I used to write a lot more about the kids in those days, because they were all still kids.

Then they became adolescents (well, Josefina is still not quite there yet) and I have written less about them as they have grown older and developed their own stories.

Most recently, young adulthood is becoming the reality for the three oldest ones. They were all three students at Christendom this past year (John Paul as a Senior, Agnese as a Sophomore, and Lucia as a Freshman). They have jobs. They pay taxes. They drive. They vote. It's crazy!πŸ˜‰ How did this, like, happen... all of a sudden? As a young parent, you can start to feel like your kids are going to be children forever (a sometimes winsome, other times frightening feeling). Then, boom, they grow up.

Of course, life is always changing. Family life is always changing. Sometimes it's painful to "let go" of things, but eventually we start to learn that this is the way we grow. It's necessary, even though it can also be difficult.

Significant things have changed (in different ways) for our family just in the Spring of 2019. My father finished his earthly pilgrimage last month, and now my son has completed his undergraduate education. The former remains a source of grief and deepening of faith in Christ's victory over death; the latter is a more easily perceived cause for congratulations and celebration.

More than any of the other kids, John Paul has memories of my years as an active classroom teacher, before health issues brought on my very premature "retirement" and shift to my present engagements in research and writing. It has been some time since I participated in an academic ceremony at my own institution, but my son's graduation seemed a fitting occasion to put on my own cap and gown and join my colleagues once again.

It turned out to be a very rewarding experience.

Over the years, I had many pictures taken with graduating students outside the gym at Christendom College after commencement exercises. "My students" always held (and continue to hold) a special place in my heart. They remember John Paul as a baby and at various stages of his childhood. And though I never taught John Paul in a classroom, he likes to point out that he "had me as a professor" for the first 18 years of his life.πŸ˜‰

This is true. We've been having conversations of every kind since he learned to talk. And I have enjoyed hearing about his classes and his experiences during the past four years. I'm glad I was able to be part of his graduation ceremony.

Of course, the rest of the family was there too. Eileen and I are very proud of him, and grateful to God for all His blessings through the years.

Congratulations to John Paul and to the Class of 2019!


Friday, May 10, 2019

Christina Grimmie Continues to Inspire Us

Two years and eleven months after her death, these words of Christina Grimmie are more important than ever, and the number of people who are being "given to her" continues to grow.πŸ’š


Thursday, May 9, 2019

How Can I Pray When I Don't Know "What to Say"?

Sometimes it can be very hard to pray while going through difficulties in life. This may seem ironic, but it can happen, especially during long periods of illness, pain, or grief.

In the beginning, we say things like "Dear God, please change this situation!" Sometimes He does change it, but often enough He simply remains with us within the endurance of things that have to play themselves out in time.

This is when praying "gets awkward." It's especially disturbing for those of us who are trying to live our faith. We know that prayer is (or should be) a regular part of every day. Prayer is “conversation with God.”

But we find ourselves in ongoing situations of exhaustion, irascibility, or just feeling "dislocated" from everything. We may be full of questions we don't even know how to ask, or we even feel like we've forgotten the meaning of our own language.

Prayer is conversation with God. But we don't feel like having a conversation with anybody. Ugh!

One problem is that our prayer tends to be mostly a monologue, in which we praise the Lord, thank Him, declare that we love Him, and (here is often the "meat" of our one-sided "conversation") ask Him to take care of us; we "tell God" what we want, and what we hope for. We bring Him our intentions and the intentions of others.

It's normal and appropriate to pray for all these things. God is good, and He loves us. He is our Father. It's natural for us, as children, to turn to Him and ask Him to meet what we perceive to be our many needs in life.

Trials and sufferings, however, can confuse our ordinary discourse. Suddenly things are not what they seemed to be. And we become inarticulate: "God, I don't know what I need. I can't think of anything meaningful to say. I can only wail away in the dark and be powerless. Does that even 'count' as prayer?"

The truth is that the "conversation" of prayer is one that God initiates.

That does not mean that we are suddenly going to hear Him speaking inside our heads. Rather, God is always speaking, calling to us, drawing us to prayer. He speaks to our hearts. We begin to hear Him when we become more aware of our need for Him.

This is where the conversation of prayer begins: when our hearts cry out, “God, help!" Our hearts open up. We might not even be very coherent in our heads at the time, but our hearts are saying, "Lord, have mercy on me!”

We always need mercy. But the awareness of that need arises and intensifies in times of difficulties and brokenness and suffering. In these times, we begin to listen to God in the depths of ourselves. We begin to give Him space, and we permit Him to work on places within us that we usually try to hide from Him (and from ourselves).

The “ear of the heart” that hears God has a very simple shape: “Help. Have mercy on me. I need You.” We may not be able to articulate these words, but that inward groaning that seeks Him is the foundational response to the love He is continually offering to us.

That love has a name, the name of "salvation," Jesus - "God saves." He saves us by coming to dwell with us.

Jesus on the cross has entered forever, and understood comprehensively and unforgettably, each and every one of our cries. Jesus wants to stay with us.

We are precious to God in our weakness. He is so close to us when we are suffering. He carries us even closer to Him if we allow Him to enter inside of that need that groans within us.

He shapes us, in His way, and in His time.

And so our prayer is renewed as a more profound "conversation" with the God who creates us and redeems us. He develops with us an inner, mysterious dialogue that then gives intensity and real value to whatever words we manage to say, or even just the wordless endurance of our own wounds encompassed in His.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Thank You, Jean Vanier

Jean Vanier died early this morning, following a recent illness, at the age of 90.


A great soul. A humble human being. I will be forever grateful for his words, his witness, his life. 

God, grant him eternal rest in your peace.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Sorrow May Take "Mature" People By Surprise

Recently I was discussing how sometimes I still feel like a "kid inside," even though I'm 56 years old. I observed that this was a complex phenomenon for people around this age; one that involves many memories, psychological factors including gaps of immaturity in personality development, as well as the continuation within us of that essential human openness to reality. This openness enables us to see every day as new and full of promise.

We can see how "becoming like little children" corresponds to our humanity and to authentic human maturity (even while transforming it into the freedom of the children of God). In our human experience, however, it's not always so easy to distinguish or disentangle the "childlike" from the "childish."

Those of us who are over 55, who are "Young Seniors" (I may have coined a new term there πŸ˜‰), have begun to sense that we are entering a new phase in life. There are many positive aspects to this, of course, but new challenges also arise, sometimes in difficult, painful, and peculiar ways.

One thing that has struck me in particular over the past year (and especially the past month) is how sorrow can take us by surprise. This is a time of life when - more and more - we lose loved ones, as parents and other elders who have mentored us for our whole lives are called home to God.

It's difficult to be past middle age, to think of yourself as mature, and to find that the "kid inside you" has suddenly become an orphan. One part of you feels embarrassed and foolish that you should be so troubled: "this is not a tragedy, no one lives forever, they are in God's hand, you will see them again, etc. etc." Still, you grieve. You feel wounded. You feel a real sense of loss.

It takes different emotional forms at various times and for various people, but it's something we must endure just as surely as we will have to endure our own death.

It feels strange because it is strange. "God did not make death. Nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living" (Wisdom 1:13). Death came into the world because of sin. This is the tragedy of the human story that touches each of us personally.

Death drives down to our very bones the tragic aspect of life, even for us who firmly believe that this tragedy is not the end of the story.

We believe that Something Has Happened, not to take away physical death nor remove suffering but to transform them from within, to fashion out of them the ultimate ways of love, the path through which what is mortal is clothed in immortality.

God did not make death.

God became our brother and suffered death.

He passed through death and beyond death. He rose to eternal life, and we are called to join him "if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him" (Romans 8:17).

We will have much grief and many sorrows. It's human. Hopefully as we grow older we value what is human more, even when we don't understand it.

The Lord didn't say to us, "Do not suffer." He said, "Do not be afraid" (see e.g. Luke 12:7, Rev 1:17, et alia).

In the hard moments, the sorrowful moments, the incomprehensible moments, the desperate moments, the final moments, God is with us.

He is with us in the anguish, the awful solitude, the flesh and blood of all of it.

He is Jesus. He will carry us through.

Stay with him.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Jojo and the Tulips

Speaking of kids...

A long, long time ago, around this point in the year 2011, I took a picture of Josefina inspecting a tulip. It was really cute because the tulip was almost as tall as her (she was 4 years old).

Recently I convinced the now 12 year old Jojo to stand in a similar area near some similar tulips so I could revisit the old picture eight years later. Even though this was another "silly-daddy-idea," she decided to go along with it and be a good sport.πŸ˜‰

I'm glad she did. What a difference! As is clear from the collage below, she is still petite for her age, but she certainly has grown up a lot.

They've all grown so much since this blog began. We thank God for them!❤


Saturday, May 4, 2019

The Human Plea for a Life that Endures

The big themes are all here: prosperity and loss, begging God for mercy, the questions we ask in the face of the incomprehensible abyss of death, and then salvation - a mysterious event happens, the Lord himself intervenes and changes everything: "You have turned my mourning into dancing..."

The text from Psalm 30 that I have been pondering a bit today covers the whole ground.

In the light of the Resurrection we can glimpse what a wonderful and definitive transformation has taken place in and through Jesus.

"Will the dust praise you?" We know the agony of these questions and how they touch the center of the drama of being human. Indeed, God calls each one of us and sows a mysterious promise in our hearts even "before" we call upon him. He has made us for himself, and our hearts are restless... our humanity is "already" stirred to seek the Source that draws it beyond itself, even if we have never thought of God.

We cannot make peace with simply turning to dust. Every human gesture is either a demand or a plea for "something more," for a life that endures. But all the graveyards of human history testify to the limits of the power of our demands.

What we seek does not come from our own power or any power we can construct from the elements of this world. "All is Vanity," said the book of Ecclesiastes in 500 b.c. ... and a tattoo on the forearm of a girl from 2014 - 2016 a.d.

There remains the plea. 

We who believe in the Resurrection know the immense goodness - beyond all imagining - of the God who answers that plea.

We know by faith, not by sight; we walk toward it and adhere to it in hope - a hope that holds onto God moment by moment, on every step of the journey, especially the moments and the steps that are the most obscure and the most frightening. And we love this God who has already given us a foretaste of his ineffable goodness, the goodness which God is, the One who is Absolute Love.

He will give himself to anyone who asks, who seeks, who does not close themselves off in delusions of self-sufficiency, but takes up personally, as their own, the plea of the human heart. He will not withold himself; indeed he has already given himself completely.

God is good. All the time.

I said in my prosperity,
"I shall never be moved."
By your favor, O Lord,
you had established me as a strong mountain;
[but when] you hid your face;
I was dismayed.


To you, O Lord, I cried,
and to the Lord I made supplication:
“What profit is there in my death,
if I go down to the Pit?
Will the dust praise you?
Will it tell of your faithfulness?


"Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to me!
O Lord, be my helper!"


You have turned my mourning into dancing;
you have taken off my sackcloth
and clothed me with joy,
so that my soul may praise you and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever.


~Psalm 30:6-12

Friday, May 3, 2019

The Cranberries New and Final Album



Here's The Cranberries new (and finalπŸ’§) album, In the End, which was released earlier this week. 

At some point, I may write more about it. For now, suffice it to say that it's a real gift from the boys to all of us, and in honor of their lead singer and friend, the late Dolores O'Riordan. God grant her eternal rest.

I definitely wanted to buy it.πŸ’ΏπŸŽ΅

I'm glad CDs are still around. When you buy the CD, you have an Actual Thing. It even has a booklet. With pages. 

You can collect CDs, put them in display cases, and contemplate them.πŸ˜‰ They also sound better. And if there's an Apocalyptic Internet Hack some day, you've still got your music.πŸ˜‰πŸ’Ώ

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

I Still Feel Like a Kid "Inside" - Is That OK?

May is here.

Life is bursting out all over the place. Spring is a natural "festival" of renewal. But the feel and smell of the air is the same as it was twenty, thirty, forty, and - yes, I can now speak from my own experience - fifty years ago.

Often I still feel like a kid inside myself, and I think there's something true about that.

On the one hand, how much time is a half-century, really? Even in human history it seems like a small dot on a long line (not to mention cosmic history). Being 56 years old means I have "self-consciously experienced" life - more or less consistently - for the past half century.

Supposedly I have not only "grown up" over this time; I have even begun to grow old.

But the process of maturity is obscure and uneven for human beings. We grow in some ways, but we can also "revert" (at least in the sense of forgetting what we have learned), and in some aspects of our psychological and emotional development we can just "get stuck" - often a traumatic event inflicts inner wounds that atrophy certain capacities to experience and engage reality.

Or there are ways we don't grow because affluence and ease have allowed us to escape challenges in certain areas of life (or perhaps poverty and marginalization have prevented access to those challenges, or caused us to give up on the possibilities for growth).

Even in our unhindered maturity, however, how can we not recognize our smallness? I am supposedly an educated man, yet the older I get, the more I realize that I actually know very little (and the few things I might reasonably claim to know, I don't know very well).

So there are many aspects to this experience of "still feeling like a kid." Time is a funny thing. It seems to go so fast, and yet we have a vast store of memories that we can "bring to mind" in such a way that they seem vivid and "present." Remembering can be a melancoly or a happy experience. Very often, it's a strange combination of both.

We remember things when we feel the Spring air, the smell of flowers, the warm sun, the long evenings. After 50+ years these memories and their associations are full of life's beauty and tragedy, of many people we have known, of our successes and our failures. Even when we don't call anything particular to mind, it's all there, somewhere - at the edges of our consciousness or submerged under it.

At the same time, every day contains new possibilities. Reality is deeper than we know. If illness or age bring limitations in certain aspects of life, they also provide the opportunity to enter more fully into the richness of what remains at hand, and discover the wonders of so many things we ignored in the haste of our youth.

Here especially is the reason we can still have something of childhood within our hearts: we bring a life full of memory into the freshness of every day, of every moment. There is potentially a large space for the play of inner freedom, for understanding and compassion.

There is also a drama at this time of life: temptations to brood over the past, to "hoard" what we think we have achieved, to nurse grudges, seek vengeance, or be consumed by envy.

Above all, there is the temptation to cynicism. Focusing on our failures or else simply tired of life, we can withdraw into a protective fortress of routines and diversions, or sink into discouragement (something different from being afflicted by depression, a psychological illness that can affect people of all ages).

We must fight against these temptations and continue to nurture that fundamental fascination with reality that most fully expresses our humanity.

This is one aspect of Jesus's insistence that we must "become like little children." Of course this seems complicated on a natural human level; it is above all a matter of grace and the Holy Spirit. Even while grace takes us "beyond" all we can imagine by giving us a share in God's own life, it also validates and fulfills everything that is proper to our humanity. Thus, "spiritual childhood" corresponds to and vivifies the genuine human reality of maturity even for those who have already lived a good stretch of their earthly lives.

As we grow older, I don't think we "outgrow" things but rather we "grow into" new things, deeper things. Our whole lives are "still alive" - all the good we have done or experienced keeps growing, and our failures can heal because we can find forgiveness - if we are willing, also, to forgive.

At my age, the tendency is either to begin to fall (more or less willingly) into bitterness and cynicism, or to begin to find wisdom.

I'm always trying to sort one out from the other, honestly.

I think the challenge is to keep forgiving people - we have enough experience to know their limits, to know that they can't give us everything we feel like we need from them.

We may find that we don't like so many people anymore. But we have to choose to love them. This is not just a matter of blind willpower. It involves a realistic intellectual judgment that leads to appropriate forms of tolerance, acceptance, and affirmation.

People are different. People are all more or less weird - some are better at hiding it from others, and all of us are remarkably good at hiding it from ourselves. People are flawed. People are sinners. (Some) people are jerks. 

Love them anyway.

We don't need to turn into super extroverts, or run around going to parties and joining clubs (unless we want to). The "quiet life" may suit us better. But let's be open to people - it's reasonable to have "boundaries" and privacy out of respect for our own dignity, but let the criteria be drawn from a rational love for ourselves and those who have been entrusted to our responsibility, and not from self-shielding anger and frustration with others, which can so easily degenerate into a hidden contempt.

People will not be perfect, and they will vex us sometimes, but we cannot withdraw into isolation. We should trust in God and welcome people, accept them, accompany them. We might even take the risk of a little vulnerability with some people; we could reach out to befriend them and accept their friendship, and we could "forgive them ahead of time," so to speak, for (inevitably) disappointing us in some ways, for not measuring up, for trespassing against us. 

But really it's not all such a grim business. If we have a mature, realistic openness to people, they will surprise us. They will show us their talents, their ideals, their ardor, and their need for us to affirm them and mentor them. Their strengths, experience, and maturity will help us. We will begin to see them with compassion and understanding, and with a healthy dose of good humor.

Above all, we have to forgive the people who have hurt us in the past, to let go of the often unacknowledged tendency to "nurture" the pain and the anger, to take silent interior vengeance against the other. It will never give us peace.

(I should note that our forgiveness and openness and realistic judgment must not be naive; it should take full account of the need to protect ourselves from physical and mental abuse. Let's keep our eyes open, and if necessary get help to recognize these situations and not allow them to continue.)

We also need to "forgive ourselves" (which is so much harder than it sounds). We have to let go of the frustrations of the past and of our own failures. Most of us have a lot of stuff to let go of. We need to do what's necessary for our own healing and freedom.

All of this can be hard, but it's good. It reawakens our hope and our capacity to be surprised by life - to see all the good there is in reality and in other people.

Life is full of its deep down promise. We need to embrace that "kid inside us," which means we need to keep living, loving, and hoping ... every day.😊

Monday, April 29, 2019

Rose Study Number 9

Presenting the latest digital art experiment with the Rose. Here is "Rose Study Number 9" - VOILA:

And, as a bonus, a digital art rendering of a leaf from one of those transplanted Asian bushes that are very common in Virginia. These are ready for Summer.

Indeed, Summer is not far away!


Sunday, April 28, 2019

Love's Definitive Answer to all Violence...

Today marks the Octave of Easter, the special celebration dedicated to Divine Mercy, a day when we renew the joy of Easter and give glory to Jesus our merciful Savior.

The resurrection of Jesus is our hope, His victory is assured, and we hold fast to Him in faith and trust and love.

We trust in Him as we journey through this present life with its promise of fulfillment, its joys, and also with its fragility, with our ongoing struggle with our own weakness, with all the mystery, the strangeness, the obscurity, the sorrows, and the incomprehensible violence that tries in vain to annihilate the unconquerable victory of Love over death.

Today especially we must persevere in the prayer: "Jesus, I trust in You!"

Dear Jesus: Evil has flared up with special rage to persecute You in these recent days. With bombs and guns they come to make war against the joy of Easter, and they cause many tears and much pain and destruction among Your people, and also to others who gather in peace and with sincere hearts to pray and to seek the will of God the Father of us all.

The wicked wish to crucify You again, because they do not understand that Your wounds are already open forever in Your risen body, deeper than any malice could inflict. From those wounds comes the New World of mercy and forgiveness, transforming suffering and death, making even the greatest sorrow a passage to joy, and remaining forever as Love's definitive answer to all hatred and every form of violence.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Silence and New Life All Around Me

I'm pretty quiet these days.

This silence may last for a while, and there may be larger gaps between dates on the blog.

Or maybe I'll write a big post tomorrow. I don't know. I can't say what's going to happen tomorrow, or even five minutes from now.

So much of what goes through the mind is not worthy of attention. It generates too many foolish words, too much wasted energy.

The work of words: it is surely all straw, though I have no vision to compare it to, which means that I still need it. I don't think the time of the Great Silence has come for me yetThere are still many things to say. I just don't have words for them right now.

But there are tulips and dandelions everywhere, and all the wildflowers of the fields of Spring, briefly arrayed in their inimitable splendor.

I watch them, and try to learn from them.


Sunday, April 21, 2019

Beautiful Easter Sunday

It has been a beautiful Easter Sunday and beginning of the Easter Season.

Praised be Jesus Christ!


Saturday, April 20, 2019

Holy Saturday: We Wait in Hope

Digital art from the "Cross" series
Christ is buried.

The seed of the New Creation is sown in the depths of the earth.

And so, we wait in hope for the fulfillment of that Kingdom which has been inaugurated under the sign of the Cross.

He is the resurrection and the life. The depths of God's love - Absolute Love - are deeper than the darkest of graves, deeper than the whole abyss of death.

Tomorrow we rejoice in the victory of Christ, risen in the flesh. He makes us sons and daughters of His Father in the Spirit, and already in this world we begin to taste the transfigured life that is our destiny, the life of human persons suffused and transformed by Love.

The longer we remain in this world, the clearer it becomes to us that this is not our lasting home. Our loved ones go before us in death, which is still a painful mystery and yet in Christ, in Christ's transforming love, it has become the passage to fulfillment, to eternal life.

He lives. They live in Him. We also live in Him, even in the midst of this world, and so we live in hope. If we groan with sorrow, it is encompassed in the mystery of endurance, of suffering, of solidarity with the whole creation that waits with eager longing to be made new.

Love is breaking the hard ground that holds us, the limits and frustrations of this life that we fear, the sins by which we hold back and refuse to become larger than our own ego with its illusions of control.

Let us go forth without fear. All tombs - the tombs of our loved ones, the tomb where we buried my father recently, our own tombs - are destined to be empty, in the end. This is not our home. We are made for a New Creation.

"I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us. For creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God; for creation was made subject to futility, not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it, in hope that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that sees for itself is not hope. For who hopes for what one sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait with endurance" (Romans 8:19-25).

Friday, April 19, 2019

Good Friday: The "New Commandment" to Love as He Loves


"God is love. In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him. In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another. No one has ever seen God. Yet, if we love one another, God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us."

~ 1 John 4:8-11

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

"The Day You Slipped Away..."

It's Wednesday of Holy Week.

I have been feeling... unfocused. Dislocated. Like the ground under my feet is not quite the same. I feel the strangeness of death.

I woke up the other day and thought, "Dad is dead? That's not possible! It doesn't make any sense. He can't be dead. He's my Dad!"

Yes, I still have faith. But faith doesn't make suffering go away. It gives the capacity to endure, to go forward - somehow - in the midst of the night. It suffuses every human reality, including death and the gaps and shifts in the human relationships of those who remain behind. It sustains us on the peculiar, unpredictable road of grief.

But why do I have a picture above of two very different people who don't seem to have any obvious connection to each other? What do C. S. Lewis and the 19-year-old, early-aughts version of Avril Lavigne have in common?

Grief.

I have been reading Lewis's A Grief Observed. I saw it on the shelf. So I pulled it out and started reading it. It's his journal of his struggles following the death of his wife. His is a very different kind of loss, and many of its particular details don't resonate with anything in my own experience (though I can empathize). But Lewis, the great Christian apologist, does not hide the raw emotion or the darkness and strangeness of what he's going through.

I recognize the odd spectrum of feelings, which resemble in certain respects the symptoms of Major Depression. Lewis says that sometimes his grieving "feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting."

That's insightful. He also spends many paragraphs reasoning about the ways of God, acknowledging his incapacity to understand, and allowing for the fact of the anguish that human beings of flesh and blood, of time and history, must simply endure.

Lewis expresses in erudite terms his own experience of sorrow, without shrinking from its forcefulness.

Meanwhile, a song keeps coming into my head from 2004.

Here too is a genuine grieving, an experience of sorrow and loss. Avril Lavigne wrote "Slipped Away" after the death of her grandfather. She loved him very much.

The popular music song is a completely different form of expression, not one that ordinarily lends itself to long discursive insights. As for erudition, I have noted elsewhere that Avril's lyrics "read" very simply. They are not "stand-alone" poetry.

The song is a visceral, intuitive tonal painting of grief in its diverse hues. Vocal inflection above all gives the song its weight as a cry of bewilderment and pain, along with rhythmic structure and instrumentation. The emotions are universally accessible even while they maintain their raw and distinctly adolescent form.

Personally, I'm much affected by the almost echoing repetitions of the bridge leading into the final refrain. This section hits hard:

I had my wake up
Won't you wake up
I keep asking why
And I can't take it
It wasn't fake
It happened you passed by
Now you're gone, now you're gone
There you go, there you go
Somewhere I can't bring you back
Now you're gone, now you're gone
There you go, there you go
Somewhere you're not coming back
The day you slipped away
Was the day I found it won't be the same, no
The day you slipped away
Was the day that I found it won't be the same, oh
Nah nah, nah nah nah, nah nah
I miss you.

Once again, the way to appreciate this is to listen to her sing it (click below). I think I may find it cathartic, eventually, once the "invisible blanket between the world and me" removes itself.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Our King is Coming...


Palm Sunday. 

The GREAT WEEK has begun, during which we walk with Jesus from Jerusalem to the Cross to the silence of the tomb, and then ... the beginning of something totally new! 
⭐ # JourneyTowardsEaster2019

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Dad Was "Always Holding Me Up, With Love"



Today marks two years and ten months since Christina Grimmie's young life was taken from her and from this world. Now, as I mourn my own father's death, Christina's musical legacy gives me words that help me to be grateful for his love.

Here is what I would like to say to him:

"Dear Dad, you certainly 'held me up' all these many years - with your strength, quiet dedication, guidance, and help - whenever I was 'down' and 'done' and 'coming unplugged' (which happened a lot). You were there for me 'with love,' as you were for all of the family and for all of those entrusted to you.

"Since you were a faithful reader of my blog while you were still able, you knew about Christina Grimmie and read articles or saw memes/graphics I would post every month. Today, I use these words of hers to express in a clear and simple way my gratitude to you. 

"Christina wrote this song to Jesus, but she also realized that it applied to all the people who had been given to her in her life: her family, friends, and her supporters all over the world. She understood that Jesus was present in the humanity of others, and that He was also 'holding her up' through their love. 

"Of course you now understand these things far better than me, and you see in clear daylight the mysteries of this life that remain obscure and enigmatic for those of us who still journey through it. You have been drawn up by the Love that really does overcome all the violence and evil of this world. For you, fear has finally been banished. 

"May the Lord grant you eternal rest, and let perpetual light shine upon you. May He embrace you forever in His mercy. May Jesus reward you for being an instrument of His love in this world. And please, keep helping me, according to the new ways that God's wisdom and love make available to you.

"I love you Dad."

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Among the Rolling Hills

We buried Dad today, in the Catholic cemetery in nearby Winchester, here in the Shenandoah Valley among the rolling hills. My parents wanted their final resting places to be near where their children and grandchildren live.


Nature herself provided some flowers on the trees in front of the church. Rest in Peace, Dad.


Sunday, April 7, 2019

"Cross" no. 2

Here is another finished digital art piece in what is becoming my "series" of "abstract decorative crosses."

It's all I have right now. Everything else has kind of slowed down as we prepare to lay my father's body to rest this week.


Thursday, April 4, 2019

A Family, Finally Together Again

There are many aspects to my father's passing away yesterday, many memories that are flooding me, many feelings, sorrows and hope, prayer.

THIS PICTURE is, for me, a particular sign of hope and an ardent object of my prayer. This is the Janaro Family, my father's family, around the year 1943.

It shows a beautiful, still young, happy family. Beginning at top left: Walter Janaro (the First), his wife Lucy, and their oldest son Arnold. Bottom left are daughter Rosemary and son Walter (Jr.), my Dad (at about 8 years old).

I think this is the last picture of all of them together. Tragedy was soon to strike, and it would bring great and enduring sorrow to my Dad and his siblings.

In 1944, their father (Walter Sr.) fell ill and died, as did their mother (Lucy) two years later. Thankfully, there were lots of extended family in their Italian immigrant neighborhood in the Bronx. The three orphans stayed together with a grandmother. "La famiglia" took good care of them, and they raised my Dad well. 

But, though he rarely showed it, I know that he missed his parents deeply for the rest of his life. 

His sister Rosemary and brother Arnold grew up, had families too, and grandchildren, and passed away more recently (my Uncle Arnold just last year). When he heard about his brother's death, my Dad (already debilitated and living at Greenfield) said in an unusual lucid moment, "I'm all alone now." He said this with his two sons right in front of him, but we understood what he meant. We knew of his long sorrow. 

Yesterday, everything changed.

The mysterious and all-encompassing joy of being with God - which is my prayer for everyone in this family and my hope in Jesus Christ - also includes the great healing of all wounds and separations. Praying for their eternal rest and trusting in God's love and mercy, I like to picture this family FINALLY TOGETHER AGAIN after 75 years, henceforth never be parted. 

"Lord, for your faithful people life is changed, not ended" (Catholic Funeral Liturgy). God is good, all the time. And He loves us.❤➕

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Rest in Peace, Dad

My father died peacefully this morning, after a lengthy illness. He was three days short his 84th birthday.

➕Grant him eternal rest, O Lord. Jesus embrace him in your mercy.➕


Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Life, Death, and Solidarity

There is much that I have found helpful in Henri Nouwen's book, Our Greatest Gift: A Meditation on Dying and Caring.

Nouwen has a special gift for helping us to see how Jesus listens to our mental and emotional questions and embraces our weak, small, ordinary bewilderment and sorrow in the midst of our sufferings. The strangeness of living and dying touches the immense mystery of how God's love is transforming us and the world.

Here I quote one small passage, from pp. 32-33:

"People ask for solidarity, not only in life, but in death as well. Only when we are willing to let their dying help us to die well, will we be able to help them to live well.

"When we can face death with hope, we can live life with generosity.

"We all die poor. When we come to our final hours, nothing can help us survive. No amount of money, power, or influence can keep us from dying.

"This is true poverty.

"But Jesus said, 'Blessed are you who are poor, the kingdom of God is yours' (Luke 6:20). There is a blessing hidden in the poverty of dying. It is the blessing that makes us brothers and sisters in the same Kingdom. .

"It is the blessing we receive from others who die.

"It is the blessing we give to others when our time to die has come.

"It is the blessing that comes from the God whose life is everlasting."

Monday, April 1, 2019

Dad's Home for a Year



Here is a panoramic view of Greenfield Assisted Living in Strasburg, Virginia. What a wonderful home it has been for my Dad this past year, and a comfort to him and us amidst many difficulties. 

We are very grateful!❤

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Sunday of Joy

Laetare Sunday.

Rejoice! Rejoice in the middle of Lent, this season of prayer, penance, and preparation for the celebration of the event of our salvation, the event that defines who we are and is the source of our hope.

Rejoice, even as we walk with Jesus on the path of our own suffering, offering ourselves and whatever we are called to endure to God our Father, as He draws us by the Holy Spirit into a deeper participation in Christ's "Pascal Mystery" - the Event of His death and resurrection. Here God reveals and gives Himself as Love.

The Mystery who makes us and all things reveals Himself as "the Mystery of Unfathomable Love."

He always remains "Mystery," higher and deeper than our comprehension, but He is the super-luminous Mystery of Truth and Love who gives meaning and purpose to our lives. And He is the Mystery who shows His love for us by coming to dwell with us, the Mystery-made-flesh.

He is with us. Our very flesh is akin to His flesh, as we were created - each one of us, and all of us, every human being - to be His brothers and sisters.

And it is Unfathomable Love that takes up all our vulnerabilities and (for the sake of Love) bears them all the way to the end. He reveals the glory of Divine Love by taking upon Himself and enduring our weakness, our suffering, and even our sins by which we have separated ourselves from Him and one another.

God loves us. He is infinitely "deeper" (as Love) than our hatred and violence and selfishness and all the horrible wounds we inflict by sin, and He wants to be with us. He is also deeper than our sorrows, burdens, fears, and infirmities.
   
He is with us in our infirmities. Indeed He has made them His own by love, and has begun even now to transfigure them from within.

We who live an apparently insignificant life in this frail flesh, who grow old and sick and dispossessed of everything we thought we could control as we slip away into the obscurity of death - we are grains of wheat sown deep in the earth with Jesus in His death, and the mysterious power of His resurrection already begins to bear fruit in us.

So, rejoice! There is abundant reason for joy, Jesus is with us.

He is here, carrying us in our infirmities, because He wants to be with us. He does not love our suffering. He loves us. He is transforming our suffering, and He calls on us to trust in Him to continue and fulfill this work of purification and transfiguration He has begun in us.

Friday, March 29, 2019

"Falling Out" (Digital Art)

Here is an image I created that belongs in my "Peace and Security" series of digital abstracts (some of which remain unfinished). The effort that goes into crafting a work like this is actually quite intense.

This piece is called "Falling Out."


Tuesday, March 26, 2019

My Dad and Beethoven Have Been Good to Me

The image on the cover of this "high fidelity" 33.3 rpm vinyl record is one of the oldest images in my memory.

When I was very little (about four years old) my father and I used to listen to this record and few others he had of Beethoven, as well as Brahms, Dvorak, and others.

This is an early childhood memory, so I can't say how many times we actually listened to it.

But it was one of those archetypal childhood moments that made a lasting impression on me: this experience of being with my Dad listening to this music.

In that memory, both of us were "air conducting" along with the great Arturo Toscanini (who shows us how it's done on the cover of this brilliant recording of a performance at Carnegie Hall in 1951).

For more than fifty years of my life, My Dad and Beethoven have been there for me.

Today all of that came full circle.

I was at Dad's bedside. He was breathing slowly and sometimes opening his eyes. He is no longer responsive, or at least we can't really be sure whether or not he is trying to communicate; he can't speak, his eyes don't move even when they're open, nor does he make any other bodily gestures. But I think he can still hear. Whatever happens, I will never say that he's "gone" as long as he lives in his body, however precariously, with whatever fragility. His remaining with us in these last days is still precious.

He's getting a big boost of supplemental oxygen from a non-invasive tube under his nose. But the ongoing systemic complications of recent illnesses along with the accelerated ravages of dementia exacerbated by encephalopathy are bringing to a close his nearly-84-years-long pilgrimage in this life.

Dad is as comfortable as he can be, and does not appear to be in pain. He is being exceptionally well cared for by the staff at this beautiful home, and by the medical team that gently intervenes when necessary.

We spend as much time as we can with him. John Paul was here in the afternoon and he and I talked with each other and with "Papa" about John Paul's approaching graduation and other things. The "three generations of Janaro men" had some time together.

When I was with him for a stretch by myself, I decided to play some music.

It wasn't hard to find Toscanini conducting Beethoven's 7th Symphony on YouTube. So we listened to it together.

I have listened countless times in my life to this glorious piece of music, as interpreted by a multitude of conductors and orchestras. The music has many facets. But then and there, with my Dad, the brisk, bright, vigorous clarity of Toscanini's interpretation seemed to reawaken that rapport over shared music from my childhood.

I didn't see any dramatic signs from him (or any signs at all) that he was also remembering those days, but I wasn't expecting to.

It was just being with my Dad, and Beethoven, one more time.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Annunciation

HAPPY SOLEMNITY OF THE ANNUNCIATION!❤➕


"Let justice descend, O heavens, like dew from above, like gentle rain let the skies drop it down. Let the earth open and salvation bud forth; let justice also spring up! I the Lord, have created this" (Isaiah 45:8).

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Saint Oscar Romero: A Splendid Crown, a Sure Reward



I have posted some of these words before, these final prophetic words from the homily of St Oscar Romero preached in the hospital chapel where, moments later, he would suffer martyrdom on March 24, 1980.

These last words from this singularly courageous and wise bishop - what resounding authority they possess! These words were sealed with his own blood. They are words that summarize the supernatural heart of all his preaching, his work for the poor, his cries for justice for the people of El Salvador, his conviction that God's love is stronger than death.

He speaks of the Christian and human vocation, and the mysterious but ultimately enduring value of our efforts to build up the good in this world when we seek to do God's will, when we work with faith, hope, and love of God.

Death does not define us and need not defeat us. The Spirit of God will bring to fruition in the kingdom all the seeds of goodness we sow in this present life, when we live and act with the hope that holds fast to the Risen Jesus:
"This is the hope that inspires us as Christians. We know that every effort to improve society, especially when injustice and sin are so widespread, is an effort that God blesses, that God wants, that God requires of us....
"Of course, we must purify [our ideals and efforts] in Christianity and invest them with hope for what lies beyond because in that way they become stronger. For we have the assurance that we will never fail in all the work we do on earth if we infuse it with Christian hope. We will find it purified in that kingdom where our merit will be according to what we have done on this earth....
"I ask all of you, dear brothers and sisters, to view these things that are happening in our historical moment with a spirit of hope, generosity, and sacrifice. And let us do what we can. We can all do something and be more understanding....
"If we illuminate with Christian hope our intense longings for justice and peace and all that is good, then we can be sure that no one dies forever. If we have imbued our work with a sense of great faith, love of God, and hope for humanity, then all our endeavors will lead to the splendid crown that is the sure reward for the work of sowing truth, justice, love, and goodness on earth.
"Our work does not remain here; it is gathered and purified by the Spirit of God and returned to us as a reward."

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Saint Camillus is a Great Help to Us

Saint Camillus has quite a "Conversion Story" - somebody should write an article about him.⭐

But that will have to wait until next year.

Right now, we are getting a lot of "help" from this courageous servant of the sick and dying, founder of hospitals, pioneer in the development of compassionate health care, and above all lover of Jesus present in those who suffer.

He has become our friend in the midst of trials.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

The Universe is Changing...

I don't seem to have much energy to write. The universe is changing. My father is dying. I love you, Dad!

Lately I have been designing abstract decorative crosses. It's my mental exercise and expression. I don't know what else to say.