Saturday, December 30, 2006


The last day of the this year is also Epiphany Sunday, a day I find appropriate to celebrate all the ways I've seen God at work this past year, and a time to resolve to pay better attention in the coming year.

Just what is Epiphany?

I explained it to my Sunday school class something like this:

Epiphany is really about two things. The first is honoring those wise folks so long ago who strapped their treasures to camels’ backs, climbed on and journeyed toward something––a king they suspected––because they had an inkling, saw a sign in the stars. They weren’t sure what to expect, but they knew when they found that child, Jesus. He was the one they’d set out for.

The second part is recognition. The wow-this-baby-has-a-royal-purpose-this-baby-is-part-of-God’s-plan recognition that we can experience in our own lives. We call these God moments Epiphanies.

So, do you get it, about Epiphany? I asked and summarized. It’s the holiday when we celebrate those wise people finding Jesus (and when we can finally pack away our nativity sets) and it’s the aha moment, when you realize God is there doing something important, something that will change your life, or the way you understand life.

“Wait,” one girl said. “Let me get this straight. If God is everywhere, and in everything, then isn’t every moment an Epiphany?”

Aha! And we wonder why God sent a child.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

The Gift of Words

Jesus, like the magi, and the little drummer child, I bring you a gift. I pray it will be of use in this world. The wrapping isn’t fancy, the package not designed to sell. What I have are words, words that I unfold before you. Words about a life, mine, that has been transformed by a life, yours. The words of epiphanies, of God moments that have changed me from Herod––fearful and wanting control because I never really had it––into a mother Mary, willing to say yes to God even when I don’t understand how the plan is to come about.

I bring to the manger words you will need when you are older, words that will thread you to humanity and to your divine essence, words to balance you between worlds. I bring you words that are the story of struggle and triumph of each person who has made their way to you.

I drop to my knees under the weight of them, wrapped in a tattered cloth I have tied around my arm like the Shema of my ancestors. Then one by one I tuck words like Thank You into the corners of the straw around your sleeping frame. Your little fist opens for a moment, reaching for a word to hold tight to your chest. You choose Love.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Kneeling At the Manger

For twenty-one years I have knelt at the manger, my heart bowed before the infant Jesus. Before that, for me, Christmas was a present exchange a time when holiday cheer, pumpkin pie, decorations and department store Santa Clauses were supposed to be enough. But choruses of silver bells and gifts of clothing were never rich enough, full enough to set my spirit singing.

I remember the first Christmas after God laid claim to me; it finally became meaningful. That cold sunny morning I sang carols to myself, and it was as though God pushed into my wounded heart and held the pain, letting me know I wouldn’t have to heal alone.

That’s how it was when God sent Jesus the first time, a helpless infant born to bring healing. But who would listen? Would he be able to lead us to reconciliation without having to give up his life? And what kind of God would require such a sacrifice from a beloved child? I couldn’t see back then that there were gifts in death, that the living can be healed by the life of those gone before, and of this particular one, Jesus, somehow still alive.

Growing up I knew loss but I didn’t know how to let something die. I carried my losses as though they were treasures. My life was held together with scotch tape and band aids, wounds were all I had to make me me.

That is why I needed the manger, a place to stop trying to be perfect, a place to kneel and give over the things I carried. At first, all I could offer was brokenness, a mosaic of myself made from shards of abandonment and fear. That is what I gave God.

And this is what God gave me––a husband who loved me and didn’t leave like my parents and step-parents had and babies, two babies to hold and tend. Holy infants who touched their tiny hands to my cheeks, who cooed and smiled and cried. Infants to cuddle and rock and sing to. And while I did this, God held me and sang to me and wiped the tears from my cheeks. God slowly, year by year, took every wound, every hurt and helped me mend and polish and overcome. Then ever so gently, God suggested I leave those things at the manger along with all the gifts from wise people.

Others might lay their burdens at the cross, but my gifts belong at the birth scene. My awe and gratitude begin not with sacrificial death, but with amazement that such hope was born at all. Such hope in the form of the infant Jesus, such hope inside myself that I scarcely believe it.

The hope started small, like a baby, so I come crawling to the manger. I look into the straw at the beautiful child then ask, because I need to be told, “Are you sure? Is this for real? Dare I believe?”

“Yes,” answers the mother, Mary, who is younger and more confident than I am. She strokes Jesus’ head and pats my hand.

“Yes,” answers Joseph who has built a fire, changed the straw and found blankets for Mary and the baby.

“Oh, yes,” answer the wise men and women who kneel around the barn, unwrapping their satchels, revealing herbs, ointments, jewels, presenting all gifts precious and fitting.

“Oh yes, we’re sure,” they say. “We’ve been watching, we’ve been waiting, paying attention. This is definitely it. The beginning of something incredible.”

They take down their cooking pots and provisions. The savory smell of their cooking begins to compete with straw and hay and animal and smoke. “Will you stay and eat with us?” they ask.

I look around the barn crowded with strangers, their skin alabaster and copper and twilight, shining in the lamplight. The straw is scratchy under my knees; the lip of the manger is brittle and splintered. I am nobody, just a girl in a faded dress looking for a reason to hope.

“Yes,” I say. “Oh, yes. I will stay.”

©Cathy Warner 2006

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Hark, What's With Those Angels?

I was an enthusiastic choir member in elementary school, performing in concerts and singing at Leisure World each December. I even had a solo in the Christmas concert on the second verse of What Child is This.

At home, we had a set of paper angel ornaments, in pink, yellow and blue with fuzzy flocked dots on their dresses. They stood about two inches high with yellow curls stapled to their paper heads and gold paper wings stapled to their backs. They held guitars or autoharps, or my favorite, white microphones with red tips in their outstretched pipe cleaner hands.

Sitting cross-legged on our beige shag carpet, I placed the angels on risers made of empty ornament boxes, separating the altos from the first and second sopranos. Then I sang for them, a one-girl Mormon Tabernacle choir belting out every Christmas carol I knew.

I had all the popular carols like Joy to the World, Silent Night, and Angels We Have Heard on High memorized to the fourth verse, including one verse of O Come All Ye Faithful in Latin. I was alone, waiting for my sister to come home from a friend’s and my mom to come from work. Singing that hour, I didn’t feel alone, I felt as though I was part of something. It was a great concert.

By my enthusiastic refrains, you would’ve thought I was a true believer, a girl who shined her Sears’ catalog shoes, dressed in her best corduroy jumper and walked the three blocks to the Assembly of God, collecting attendance stars at Sunday school and memorizing Bible verses by the score. You would’ve been wrong.

I went to guitar mass sometimes with my Catholic friend across the street. Less often, I rode in the rear-facing station wagon bench with my neighbor on our way to a Presbyterian church somewhere across the freeway. All I knew about church was that I didn’t belong. About God, I knew even less.

When I grew up, my mother divided the old ornaments between my sister and me. When we got to the faded paper angels, she divided the mandolin and harp-playing angels in two equal piles. As a child, I hadn’t guessed the instruments quite right; that was okay. But when we got to my favorite angels, the microphone angels, both she and my sister said they were holding candles. They said the painted red tips were obviously flames.

After that, the angels lost their appeal. I’d begun to realize there was something missing in my life. The kind of thing a college degree, political activism, good deeds and a good husband couldn’t satisfy. The kind of thing that belting out Christmas carols hinted at.

The angels hung from my tree, holding only candles. You have to get really close to a candle to see much. You have to be brave and intentional to get that close to an angel, or whoever, is holding the flame. It’d be as scary as walking into a church alone and uninvited looking for God.

I wanted angels with microphones, a dozen of them, flying around the neighborhood, singing out good news and giving me direction from a safe distance. I didn’t want to get too close or personal.

But that’s what God does at Christmas, gets down in the straw and muck and has the nerve to insist on birthing something new and wrinkled and helpless smack in the middle of our overburdened lives. You can’t get more personal than that.

God came to me in the shower, which is almost as strange as showing up in a manger. It was as though the angels set aside their microphones, grabbed some buckets, filled them with love and poured them down. Once that happened, I had no choice but to believe.

God’s message of love is everywhere right now. It’s on radio stations 24 hours a day interspersed between I’ll Be Home for Christmas and Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer. It’s in the voices of those holding candles in the dark and singing on Christmas Eve.

Throughout time, we who walk in the darkness are given hope of great light. May that light, however and in whomever it is revealed, shine brightly.

©Cathy Warner 2006

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Let Every Heart Prepare Some Room

I was up against the deadline last year, delivering groceries and “Stocking gifts” to Valley Churches United Missions. The donor parking spots were full as was the parking lot. Driving up the unfamiliar street all I saw was No parking. No room anywhere. I pulled into VCUM’s parking lot half blocked with orange cones and No Parking signs, hoping to ask one of the volunteers if they knew where I might park. I’m in luck, I thought, recognizing four of the five.

I rolled down my windows and before I could say, “Hi, Mrs. X,” she snapped, “You can’t park here.”

The man I didn’t know approached the passenger window. “You can’t park here,” he yelled.
Then Mr. X pushed his way forward yelling, “You can’t park here. We’re expecting a truck.”

Shocked by the yelling, surprised they didn’t recognize me, I said “I just need to turn around,” and shaking inched my minivan forward.

Then a woman I call Ma yelled to Mr. X, “She can’t park here.”

“I’m just turning around,” I said loudly at the same time he said, “She’s going to turn around.”

“No she’s not,” said Ma, “she’s going to hit the posts.”

My fight or flight response kicked in and said Fight and Flight! I put the car in reverse and in my nastiest most facetious voice, I shouted, “You know, your welcoming attitude really makes it easy for people to make donations!” I punched the gas pedal, flew backward into the street, then took off up the street, ironically named Love Creek Road.

I desperately wanted to go home, but I had to deliver the groceries and gifts. I parked several blocks away, clutched my bags and marched down the street, chest heaving, gulping between sobs. I was deeply ashamed of my outburst and walked past the parking lot fast as I could, staring straight ahead. I delivered my bags, filled out my donation form and left the building thankful the episode was almost over.

As I walked back on the far side of the street, Mrs. X called to me cheerfully as though greeting a long lost friend. I was shocked. How could she possibly, after what they’d just done?

“Hi,” I said, a mean bitter Hi with no trace of friendship or forgiveness.

Driving home I tried to figure out how decent people––the volunteers and me––out to do good deeds for strangers, failed to extend care and compassion to people not on our lists. I needed a little grace in that parking lot, a little understanding, a little room to maneuver, a little time to think. Who knows why I didn’t receive it, maybe I was the 50th car that’d disrupted their preparations. Maybe they were too cold and cranky.

I thought about complaining to VCUM or writing Mrs. X and telling her why my “Hi,” had been so malicious, but I wanted to get beyond my hurt without blaming others. I didn’t want to hold onto the wound and to the way it made me feel sick in the bones. I needed to extend a little grace, so I prayed and took my Relaxed Wanderer Chinese herbs, and calmed down eventually.

Later I called a friend, who, in her usual wisdom said, “God always reminds us that we’re human.”

When I think about Christ’s coming, I think of a line in Joy to the World, “Let every heart prepare him room.” If Christ was there in the parking lot, and I’m sure he was, I did a rotten job of preparing room. Thankfully God has more hands and feet in this world than mine, and thank God I’m not alone in my failings.

Our ancestors in the faith were just as human and imperfect. Folks back when Jesus arrived were expecting a different kind of Messiah and overburdened Innkeepers were turning away lodgers left and right. Mary and Joseph needed a little grace when they arrived in Bethlehem to pay taxes, tired and hugely pregnant. They got very little grace, a tiny bit of room, a cow stall out back. It was the best that Innkeeper could do, and because God can take our little and make it more, it turned out to be enough.

As we journey toward Christmas with all the busyness and stress it can bring, let every heart prepare some room, and may that some be enough.

©Cathy Warner 2005

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Making Every Day Holy

The Christmas I was five, Santa delivered an easel and finger paints to my Grandparents’ house, where we always celebrated. Early on Christmas morning, before the grownups woke, my younger sister and I crept into the living room and finger painted the carpet. Our actions become legend, retold annually throughout my Grandparents’ lifetimes. I could repeat the story verbatim, although I have no memory of the event!

Thinking about the holidays in the generic, I realize their celebrations began in a fashion similar to my finger painting episode––as something to be remembered for generations to come. Of course, the early Christians, and the Pilgrims were celebrating and remembering events of great significance to their cultures and communities and creating rituals to make those days shine in memory, so filled with glow of spirit they could easily be plucked from a calendar of ordinary days.

That’s one drawback of holidays. They’re fixed in number and assigned to specific dates. Who wants to be so limited when Holy Days can happen anytime? If you’re anything like me, some of the most profound events in your life happened on ordinary days. Days that began like any other, but now are infused with reason to remember, to celebrate or mourn––bringing us closer to God, the source of our being.

In the 2003 edition of Pushcart Prize: Best of the Small Presses, Andrea Hollander Budy, author of the essay, “The Hickeys on Sally Palermo’s Neck: Some Thoughts on Beauty and the Creative Life,” writes:

“I can’t quite experience what I experience until I write about it. Even our most vivid experience is in danger of transience if we don’t learn how to hold onto it. Writing is one approach...all art, in fact––is an attempt to call us out of our ourselves, or rather, to call us into the deepest places in ourselves.”

I can’t quite experience what I experience until I write about it. Ditto. The memories and events I’ve chosen to capture through writing––prayers, poetry, memoir, fiction, and journaling––have become holy to me. Since 1986, I’ve composed a Christmas newsletter that has grown exponentially along with my family, and helps me to remember moments with them that otherwise might be lost to me. This is why, unlike normal people, I can’t revert to mailing a family photo Christmas card with a quick note on the back.

Much like flipping through a photo album with it’s owner and hearing the stories behind the pictures, I return at least annually to my family’s newsletter. Here are some holy moments recorded in our December 1995 issue:

Letter from the Editor (me)
One recent Sunday night, I was folding laundry with a heavy heart, thinking of all the prayer concerns lifted up that morning, when I heard Chrislynn calling out from her bed: ‘I love you Mommy. I love you Daddy. I love you Jennifer. I love you Roscoe. I love you Expo (the last two being our cats). I love you even when you’re not with me. I love you even when you’re far away. Because that’s what love is.’”

Mommy Interviews Chrislynn [age 41/2]
Q: Tell me about God.
A: He loves you and Jesus always loves you too. And that is the Christ. And Jesus is alive, and we’re glad he’s alive, but he’s not on earth. I think that when baby Jesus was born, God picked the name for Mary and Joseph. The shepherds looked when the Angels told them, they looked around and to the right and saw the road to Bethlehem. And that’s what I think Christmas is.

Mommy Interviews Jennifer [age 7 1/2]
Q: What does Christmas mean?
A: We celebrate because it’s Baby Jesus’ birthday. When the angels came and told the shepherds he was born, they followed the angels. We have a play in church every year to show what it means and our church does Christmas caroling.
Q: What does Christmas mean to you?
A: That Santa comes.
Q: Tell me about God.
A: God is a spirit. God is love. We study about him in church. God loves everybody and the animals. You pray God.
Q: You pray God?
A: Yes.

I lead spiritual writing workshops that I’ve chosen to call “Holy Ink,” because I believe the act of preserving our memories our thoughts and our feelings is a sacred activity, reuniting us with essential part of ourselves that necessarily brings us in union with God.

Writing is not the only creative act that leads us to the holy. Music, dance, performance and visual arts, storytelling and more birth the holy from our experience. As you gather with loved ones to celebrate the holidays, you bear holy gifts in your arms; the gifts of your words, your story, your life and your journey alongside others on this path toward God.

May you create space to celebrate holy ink, holy paint, holy photos, holy food and holy exchanges every day.

©Cathy Warner 2006

Saturday, November 25, 2006

My Grandfather's Prayer

When we gather around the table on Thanksgiving, none of us really knowing how to pray together, I remember and miss my grandfather. It was my grandfather who prayed for me, who prayed for our whole family. His prayer was as lush and full as his voice and thick white hair. Our precious heavenly father he would begin after we’d joined hands around the dinner table, and on from there. Sometimes he spoke for so long I couldn’t keep my eyes closed, and I’d squint at my grandmother’s china through my eyelashes. The plates were white with pink rosebuds and gray leaves.

I thought the leaves should’ve been green, instead of gray, but I didn’t really think about my grandfather’s prayer and what I thought it should say instead. I did wonder sometimes what it would be like to have a heavenly father, or a precious heavenly father, which must’ve meant you liked him better than a regular father, the kind in heaven, or the kind like my father, who drove around in his squad car looking for bad guys, a father who kept his gun in his sock drawer and took my sister and me miniature golfing on his weekends after he left us.

My grandfather wasn’t even my real grandfather, if I wanted to think about it. He married my mother’s mother when I was three and my little sister and I were their flower girls. Not that I remembered it, but they had pictures in frames on the wall in the sewing room where I could see them, and that made it real, and my grandfather was realer to me than any father, precious heavenly or not.

Whether he really prayed too long or not, I really don’t know, because everything grownup takes forever when you are a kid, until you are a teenager, then everything is just boring. My grandfather liked to thank his precious heavenly father, who I figured out was God, if there was such a thing. My grandfather liked to thank God for the most ordinary things, that my mom and my sister and my father, before he left, and I were there for dinner, that we had arrived safely, even though we only lived 45 minutes away off the 405 and my father was a good driver and our car had never broken down. He would ask God to send us home safely, and it seemed to me that if there were a God, that God would be too busy and too important taking care of the movie stars who lived nearby, or the President, who lived far away, to be interested much in whether or not we’d get stuck in traffic.

My grandfather always ended his prayer by saying, “Thank you for the food prepared here. Bless it too our bodies. Amen.” Well, I knew that my grandmother was the one who got up early on Thanksgiving and Christmas and stuffed the turkey and put it in the oven. She was the one who shopped at Von’s, the one who mashed the potatoes, baked the pies, whisked the gravy. It seemed to me that she was the one we should be thanking.

And what did it mean to bless the food to our bodies? Was it protection from overeating or botulism? Magic that would keep us from the Alka Seltzer or groaning, “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing”?

I heard that prayer with its standard opening and closing and very subtle variations in the middle at every dinner my grandparents served at their home, even if it was just my sister and me visiting with no other grownups in sight.

I didn’t know then that my grandfather was living out a spiritual practice. I didn’t know that deep down I wished I had the faith to pray like my grandfather did. I didn’t know that I would find God, or rather that I would be found, even found out, by God. I don’t call the God who found me precious or heavenly or even father. I think that’s because I don’t have an image of God in my head, or maybe we’re not close enough for me to think of God as family, and head of my family at that. But the God I know is as constant as my grandfather, and my grandfather’s precious heavenly father. Like his God, mine never seems to tire of the mundane details of my life, or my continual thanks.

Thank you for finding me, I tell God. Thank you for my grandfather. Thank you for all he taught me even when I didn’t think I was paying attention.

©2006 Cathy Warner

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Was That You, Jesus?

I spent the last week at the Academy for Spiritual Formation exploring, in part, my spiritual journey. I was raised in a spiritual void, even considering myself an athiest for a few years. I keep hearing that God is and was in all things, even when we don't recognize or can't name it. I finally saw God in my life and in the world when I was twenty-three and wrote this poem about the years before that.

Was That You, Jesus?

Listen! I am standing at the door knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me. ––Revelation 3:20

Maybe you were standing at the door for a long time
for a very long time but I didn’t see you
didn’t hear you over the clattering footsteps
of all the people walking in and out of my life

Maybe you rang the buzzer but my wires were disconnected
Maybe I opened the door but someone else
brushed in past you so I dated him

Maybe you knocked but I never heard
because I wasn’t home I hadn’t yet learned
to live in that house my house
with the gaping hole where the soul was supposed to be

Maybe you knocked but I was too tired
or too busy to answer and you had to stop
for just a moment because your knuckles were bruised and bleeding

Maybe when I thought I heard you
it was only the echo of your last knock
so that by the time I made it to the door I thought
no one was there

Maybe I heard you knock and considered letting you in
but I’d hidden the key to the door of my heart
or maybe the lock had been broken too many times

Maybe you didn’t really barge in
Maybe I’m the one who unscrewed the hinges
so that the door only looked closed

Maybe that’s why it seemed like you showed up
all of a sudden and finally one small sharp rap
toppling the door and you didn’t mind
walking in barefoot over the splinters

©Cathy Warner 2006

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

There's More To Us Than Our Brokenness

When he has nothing better to do, my dog chews and chews one spot on his right leg. His fur is clumpy and wet there, bloodied pink skin peeking through. It’s possible that he once had an injury, or even a fleabite there, something worthy of gnawing. Now, though, all the attention and worry is simply habit.

People are that way, too. As we age, conversations focus on aches and pains––bursitis, arthritis, cholesterol levels and high blood pressure. It’s almost a rite of passage to reach the place where one’s world narrows to comparisons of doctor’s visits and the minutia of one’s health with a capital H.

As I juggle acupuncture, naturopath, physical therapy and chiropractor appointments for my own litany of ailments, I think such attention to our physical failings can be bad for our spirits, if not our bodies. Like my dog, we become fixated on what is wrong, ignoring what is going well. Our worldview then is dictated by how we feel, and our outlook can become as constricted as our arteries.

A clergy friend recently noted, “We have become a culture bound together by our woundedness.” We find ways to relate to one another based on how we’ve been hurt. You have cancer; so do I. Your kid ran away; so did mine. You were abused by a lover; so was I. It is comforting to find others who understand our pain, who have experienced our particular trauma. If we’re going to overcome our addictions or our wounds, we do need people who have shared our misery.

Twelve step groups demonstrate excellently this aspect of community healing. We need help in the form of other people, and in the form of the higher power beyond ourselves [I call it God] if we are going to stop licking our wounds and move forward with our lives. Left to our own devices, we’ll act like my dog, keeping that wound fresh.

We all know people who wear their pain as if printed on their T-shirts: Hit by a drunk driver; life ruined. Husband ran out; life ruined. Small business failed; life ruined. Viet Nam Vet; life ruined. But it’s dangerous to define who we are by our brokenness. When we do, we box ourselves into permanent suffering. We circumvent the healing process, never allowing a scab and then a scar to form.

We all know people who recount their old injury as though it occurred yesterday. And us unsuspecting folks who are new to the story, do think it happened yesterday. Usually, our reaction––outrage, sympathy, or offer of help––encourages those stuck in pain to remain there. Why? Because it’s a place where they can make human connection.

We all crave that connection. We want to be known and understood at deep levels. And, in a culture built on drama and reality shows and TV news that tout our pain and suffering in front of total strangers, forming relationships based on healthy behaviors and the wholeness of the person sounds incredibly boring.

If we don’t have our pain then what do we have? If we don’t have the story of our pain then what do we have to offer?

That’s where faith comes in. Belief that life can offer something beyond our familiar suffering. Faith that the tremendous effort it takes to break our familiar patterns is worth the risk, and the belief that growth––in and of itself––is worthwhile. My congregation states it this way in our core values and beliefs, “We find more grace in searching than in certainty––in questions than in answers.” We give ourselves permission to not know the answers, but to journey toward healing.

The body is cunningly designed to heal from injury. The soul, when we allow it, also has tremendous capacity to heal. Spiritual healing can be so subtle, that we often don’t notice it ourselves. It’s only when we look back that we can see where we’ve come from.

Other times, spiritual healing is so dramatic, we experience a fundamental shift in ourselves. Religions talk of dying to oneself and being born again, or born into eternal life. In the Old Testament, God says, “Behold I make all things new.”

You and I have seen this transformation in the lives of people who share their journeys with us. They tell how their brokenness led to healing, and the healing led to a passion for helping others, like the former drug addict who now counsels at-risk teens.

New life awaits when we have the courage to break out of our old patterns. Now, if only my dog would get the message.

©Cathy Warner 2006

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Failure To Obey

A few weeks ago, I took my youngest daughter, proud holder of brand new driving permit, to the Goodwill in Santa Cruz to buy a Halloween costume before a doctor’s appointment. We finished our errand, climbed into our recently purchased car and I looped around the block. There was a sign posted with the stop sign, “Right Turn Only.” I did not want to turn right. I wanted to turn left, to head back the way I’d come so I could drive across town to the doctor’s office. If I turned right, I’d be forced into the maize of one-way downtown streets that I’m not familiar with. I wanted familiarity. I wanted to do what I wanted to do.

“Argh,” I said contemplating at the stop sign. “I don’t want to turn right.”

“Then don’t,” my daughter answered.

I looked around, no cars to be seen in any direction. I could make a left turn and be on my way. I turned left, made it one block to the signal to the right turn lane that would take me across town and saw flashing lights in my rear view.

“Oh no,” I said. “Are they after me?”

The motorcycle cop pulled up alongside me, gestured and mouthed “Pull over.”

“They’re after me,” I said.

The light changed. I pulled into the first driveway and parked. I rolled down the window, cut the engine, grabbed my purse from the backseat and fished out my wallet. He asked for my license, registration and proof of insurance. Hands shaking, I slid my license from its plastic sheath and gave it to him.

“We just bought this car,” I said and don’t have the registration yet. I handed him a DMV form from the old owner. I shuffled through the car paperwork. “I don’t have the proof of insurance yet either.” I offered him my insurance card.

“This doesn’t have an expiration date,” he said.

“I’ll see if I have anything else.” I fumbled through all the cards in my wallet. Nothing else.

“Do you know why I pulled you over?” he demanded.

“Because I didn’t go right through the intersection,” I answered, too embarrassed to admit that I'd turned left.

“You made a left turn,” he said. “What else was posted at the stop sign?”

“A right turn only sign.”

“Is there any good reason why you didn’t go right?”

No, I thought. There’s absolutely no good reason. “Just that I didn’t know where I was going if I turned right.”

My ticket says “Failure To Obey Sign or Signal.” It’s my first ticket in nearly thirty years of driving, and I totally deserve it. That’s the humiliating thing. I’ve accidentally run stop signs, red lights, and have driven the speed everyone else is driving that’s above the speed limit. But, I have never before so willfully broken the law. My daughter learned a valuable driving lesson. And I’m struggling with my life lesson.

My father was a sheriff until retirement and I like to think of myself as a law-abiding citizen, a person who will do the right thing. I like to think of myself as a person who will follow God’s laws as well. Even if I don’t know exactly what I’m being called to do, there are the 10 Commandments and other scriptures that provide the guidelines for right living, for staying out of trouble. But I wonder if I really will follow them. I didn’t follow the law; I didn’t turn right because it didn’t serve my purposes. How many of us are like that? It’s a whole lot easier to follow when the path leads to where you want to go. I don’t want to be lost, confused about where I’m headed, on the road or in life.

In his famous prayer, Thomas Merton wrote, “I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me.” That’s true for most of us most of the time. We think we have an idea, or a plan, we think we know, but we’re not in control. Merton continues, “I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire [to please you.] And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it.”

Odd as it seems, we have more freedom to live full lives, to discover who we really are and who God has intended us to become when we follow the rules, when we try to please God. We have a structure, a grounding, a guidance for our lives that allows us to move beyond the dos and don’ts of behavior to discover our unique gifts and passions. When we ignore those guidelines for life, we spend a lot of time and energy running into trouble and trying to get ourselves back on track. We’re saddled with broken relationships with people and with God.

The law, as I understand it, will allow me to attend Traffic School and the ticket won’t show up on my record unless I get another one within 18 months. There is some grace there, and I appreciate it. Thankfully, God’s grace comes without restrictions. For that, we can echo the words of the arcade game creatures in Toy Story, “You have saved our lives and we are eternally grateful.”

©Cathy Warner 2006

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Harvesting the Abundance in Our Lives

Fall is here and the harvest is on! The squirrels in my backyard are going at it, scampering down the hillside and into the garden, the pair of them snatching up stray acorns. Stuffing the acorns in their cheeks, they bounce away looking for the perfect spot to bury their treasure, which based on the multitude of sprouts last spring, is under my fledgling Japanese maple.

Most of the time, most of us are like my backyard friends. We want that acorn, whatever it is––monetary success, school excellence, athletic acclaim, workplace recognition, home d├ęcor worthy of House Beautiful––clenched tight in our hands, or between our teeth, up close where we can touch and taste it. We grasp that nut and squirrel it safely away because we don’t believe there’s more where it came from.

In the Christian spiritual tradition, Jesus told his followers, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food and the body is more than clothing…Instead strive for [God’s] kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.” (Read Luke 12:22-34 for the whole story.)

We might say that’s all well and good, but what did a guy in first century Palestine know about mortgage payments and stock market crashes and economic downturns and layoffs, unemployment and endless shopping at the mall? How can we trust in goodness and provision when we live in a culture that thrives on lack and spending, when even if we have enough money, we’re told we can never be truly happy until we buy the right car, the right clothes, the right zip-code, the right lifestyle?

Maybe there’s a lesson in my backyard. I want to believe the reason that so much of the squirrel’s stash turned into seedlings last season was that they paused in their frantic activity long enough to notice that everything they needed and more was available to them through the generosity of our Creator.

I hope that when I wasn’t looking they bounded closer to the house risking an occasional encounter with my cats and found the hundreds of acorns littering the ground just off my deck. Enough acorns to feed a squadron of squirrels or a small band of Ohlone there for the taking because, (1) unlike the Ohlone, I didn’t have the time or inclination to become intimate with acorn mush, and (2) I was too lazy to rake everything into my yard waste bin.

Depending on your point of view, that acorn pile is either (1) a royal pain––when you’re trying to pull up seedlings by their scrawny foot-long roots––or, more accurately, (2) ABUNDANCE!

Believing in abundance, believing there is a stockpile of goodness and grace can be risky, especially when the material evidence around us suggests otherwise. From a squirrel’s perspective, acorns are scarce in the outer limits of my garden. But, for the squirrel willing to venture beyond the familiar and comfortable perimeter into the heart of the garden, evidence of God’s extravagant generosity is littered everywhere.

I want to be one of the brave squirrels, willing to trust the unknown. I want to be like Rocky (that fearless squirrel of cartoon fame), flying planes and seeing the world from a new vantage point. I want to look up from my hectic scramble of transporting children, folding laundry, grocery shopping, cooking, paying bills, grooming pets, typing, filing, and all the other daily activities that conspire to keep me at a distance from God and abundance.

I want to be the consummate Zen squirrel, schooled in the art of prayer, squat on my haunches, front paws in the air, neck craned, nose to the wind, sniffing the chill in the autumn air. I want to breathe in and out and notice the joy and beauty that is as others have said, “the sacrament of the present moment.”

This harvest season is as good a time as any to take stock of our lives. As we rush from office to errands to commute traffic to school play to post office, let’s squeeze in time for quiet and reflection. What do we really need and do we have it? If we seem far from God and abundance seems lacking, perhaps it’s time to change our choices.

©Cathy Warner 2006

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Temptations

We had our first rain of the season last week, and the first rain always fills me with a bit of trepidation. What is that wet stuff falling from the sky, and am I really supposed to go out in it? I can avoid the first rain, but in Boulder Creek, where our annual rainfall is often well over 60 inches each year, I have to learn to live with it.

In that way, the first rain of the season reminds me of baptism; there's something different going in our lives after we've been rained on and we have to deal with it. In Matthew’s gospel, the first thing Jesus does after being baptized is set off into the wild for prayer and fasting. In The Message translation Eugene Peterson titles this “The Test.” Other translations call it “The Temptation.”

In my mind, the story takes life as a music video with the band, The Temptations cast as the devil. The Temptations wear white tuxedos and holding pitchforks. While Jesus is fasting, praying and hiking, they sing with dance routines. “I’ll give you an easy way to get what God promises, just follow me,” they croon.

Then Jesus is taking a final in a classroom of students scribbling essays and bubbling answers to multiple-choice questions. They look nervous, doubtful, tapping pencils on desks, erasing answers. Jesus finishes in record time, leans back with a confident half-smile and scratches his ear with his pencil. He’s answered all the questions correctly receiving 157% for counters to the Temptation’s selective scripture quoting.

The scene would move to a garden, and the Temptations would shrivel like weeds sprayed with Roundup when Jesus finally shouts, “Beat it!”

The angels would come, floating in a bubble, like Glenda in the Wizard of Oz. The angels would be the band The Fifth Dimension. Age of Aquarius would be reworked with lyrics like, “Do not be afraid,” and “God will be there through all the good and bad, joy and grief.”

The angels would disappear, and Jesus would wake up on the beach and hear a seagull squawk, a message that John the Baptist had been arrested and he’s needed now, to pick up John’s banner. Jesus would march through a forest with animals surrounding him, like in Snow White. The animals would wave goodbye as Jesus stepped onto the asphalt of a rural highway into a waiting bus. When it reached the big city, he’d jump off and stand in the median on a busy street, stretch out his arms and yell, “Change your life. God’s kingdom is near!”

How do tests show up for us? I’m always making choices from the mundane––which laundry detergent to buy, to the life altering––where to live. Am I asking the right questions, do I know the best answers? What if, like in multiple choice there’s more than one right answer? We’re each unique; won’t the questions and the answers be different for me than they are for you?

What about tempations? I have difficulty identifying devils. Other than no-brainers like addiction and adultery, what constitutes temptation? I simply can’t believe carbs are evil incarnate. Rather than specific temptations or tests, I can see the Scripture pattern applies to you and me as well as to Jesus. The devil, or political systems that promote injustice, or the consumer culture, or whomever is at odds with God’s plan for whole living, continually taunts us with promises, or with threats, and dangles whatever it might be that appears to fulfill all our needs and desires.

We like Jesus, have to continually say we won’t take that offer of superficial happiness, the easy route to success, power, fame, love. We must tell the temptations what we value, and in doing so we remind ourselves that nothing is gained by compromising our souls. Our lives won’t be easy. We’ll always our motives, asking whether a choice will lead us closer or further from God and a whole and healthy life.

There are days when I’m tempted to stay in bed and sleep until it is over. “It” being anything I feel inadequate to cope with. Then angels come, ordinary people like you and me, and I remember that there is room for joy and hope.

I wait for a sign, like the seagull flying over Jesus’ head, to tell me what God wants done with my life. Most of the time, the signs are like shuffling forward in a checkout line. I just have to trust I’m headed to the right counter.
We can stand in line together, you with brown rice and tofu, you with chocolate chips and celery, me with French bread and cheddar cheese, wearing my Goretex rain jacket, all of us preparing to feast with God, each of us bringing something different to the banquet.

©Cathy Warner 2006

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Potato Vine

I held hands with my grandfather. His hand firm and warm, his hair white and wavy, his weathered leather Bible in the hand that wasn’t holding mine. My grandmother held my other hand, walked in heels that clicked, her slender fingers entwined with mine. She wore her hat pinned on her red hair, like Lucy Ricardo, only not as whiny.

We walked across a parking lot, rapidly filling with Buicks and Oldsmobiles and couples in their 50’s. We walked across the sidewalk, across a campus that was bigger than my elementary school, into the largest room I had ever been in, filled with rows and rows of wooden benches. The sounds of organ music and hushed voices floated in the air, like an aroma one breathed. Church.

Church was a cavernous building with a man in a suit far ahead of me, thundering in a voice that made me climb into my grandfather’s lap. The booming voice, the tops of heads, those are all I remember of that sanctuary.

And of the Sunday school my grandmother walked me to midway through the service? I remember the classroom was upstairs. I remember the aggregate stairs, the small rocks felt in relief against the worn soles of my Sears catalogue shoes. And in the room? I remember the potato vine. The half-potato, balanced over a clean peanut butter jar filled with water, its white roots extending into the jar, while above, a vine traveled up the wall, over the windows, past the bulletin board, large and green, sending tendrils in tight circles around whatever was in its path.

If the teacher had said, “This is the nature of God, it creeps everywhere, it will find you and wrap its love around you no matter where you are,” would I have understood it then? Instead, they told me something else, and for the life of me, I can’t remember what it was.

©Cathy Warner 2004

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Healing the Bent Over Woman

A First Person Imagining from the Gospel of Luke 13:10-17

The road was dusty and I noticed every pebble, every crack under my bare feet. I saw the claw marks of chickens, the hoof prints of donkeys as I passed the empty marketplace, plodding to the synagogue. I heard the chatter of voices, of my family, but no one spoke to me. The youngest skipped ahead to throw stones along the road, my son and his wife walked stick straight ahead of me. I could not see above their legs, their smooth gait, a rhythm I couldn’t follow.

I slunk into the back of the synagogue, with the women, the old women, widows and outcasts, because my condition brought dishonor to my family. If I were righteous, they said, I wouldn’t be bent over. God was punishing me they said, for some transgressions rooted so deeply in the underbelly of my soul that I did not know what they were.

I couldn’t believe that was true and if any one looked into my eyes, they would’ve known that. But no one looked into my eyes. I was only the top of a head, someone to be looked over and ignored. It must have been two years since I’d spoken, and I was the only one who noticed, who mourned at all the absence of words. I had nothing to say and no one to say it to. The spirit that had crippled my body had paralyzed my soul.

When I was a child I’d loved synagogue, the chanting, the prayers, the burnt smell of candles and sacrifices. I was sure that the rabbis and priests kept God alive there. I came, always came. My family was devout, a model for our community. But I’d felt nothing for years; only the claustrophobia of the women’s section, the smell of perfume, the oppressive heat, and the whine of babies.

That morning I felt Jesus’ eyes bore into me. How he saw me, how he noticed me, I never knew. I’m sure my son wondered the same thing, and worried our family’s status would suffer as a consequence.

“Woman, come here,” said Jesus.

The dormant spirit in my heart leapt awake at his command and I obeyed. His hands on my shoulders were like lightning striking rock, breaking me open, and searing something black within me until it disintegrated, became ash and blew away at the sound of his voice.

“My sister, you are healed.”

I stood straight, like a curled new sprout of grain that opens tall. Then I said, “Praise to you, Lord, who heals body and soul.” My rusty voice traveled through the synagogue and echoed in the faces of the men and women. I stood tall, my voice no longer swallowed into the ground, swallowed into silence.

There was a clamor among the rabbis but I didn’t hear them. I stood by Jesus and there in his sphere of light, I felt whole, I felt cherished. I felt that God had loved me all along, especially in my suffering.

Then the crowd cheered and my son and the men from our village descended upon Jesus, ferrying him from the synagogue into the sunlit outdoors, the Sabbath disrupted with celebration. I stood straight as a pillar while the crowd swept past. The leaders fumed and rattled about in the synagogue until the last of us stragglers, the infirm, the outcast, shuffled and blinked into the daylight.

I stood, staring at the treetops I hadn’t seen in so long. The wondrous sky was dotted with clouds and the sun glowed like a golden crown. I stepped onto the path toward home. It was exactly the same, yet entirely new, as I was myself.

©Cathy Warner 2006

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Creativity Isn't Optional

This essay originally appeared in The Santa Cruz Sentinel November 2002

My husband recently took up woodturning and received a supply catalogue last week that announced, “The woodworking season is fast approaching.” Being new to the endeavor, he hadn’t realized it was a seasonal activity. As I thought about it, it made perfect sense. How better to chase away the winter doldrums than coaxing something new and beautiful into existence with a lathe and a block of walnut?

Our creativity feeds our spirits. But, all to often we diminish our creative endeavors, saying, “They’re only hobbies,” and push them aside like half-empty paints and partially finished needlepoint to make room for real life: jobs, bills, laundry, homework, meetings, sports, Scouts and church. When we ignore our creativity, our spirits suffer. We say no to the joy and abundance our creator intended for us. In the New Testament, Jesus says, “I have come that you might have life and have it abundantly.”

We are offered this abundance and countless ways to be creative every day, if we open ourselves to it. My family is full of creative types who are passionate about their interests. My grandfather collected cacti and worked with wood, my grandmother always has a project, from gold-leafing picture frames to making birdhouses, my mother-in-law built a house, carves gourds, sketches, paints, sews, weaves pine needle baskets, my mother propagates plants, designs landscaping plans, and creates metal garden art with a plasma cutter, my step-father is a champion wood-turner, my father writes short stories, and the list goes on.

My family doesn’t see their creative acts as hobbies tacked onto life, the first thing to get dropped when there are too many demands. They make time to pursue the activities they love, and every Christmas give away their labors of love. My relatives let their light shine, allowing the work of their hands and hearts to be a blessing for others.

It was difficult to find my place surrounded by such talent. I felt compelled to find a hobby. After several instances of sewing in zippers backward, I stopped making my own clothes. When I took a drawing class and wasn’t the next Picasso at the end of eight weeks, I quit. I dabbled in beadwork, photography, and watercolor. None of it took. Then I took up cross-stitch, mainly because no one in my family did. But I had an urge, an unsettling twitch to do something more that I kept pushing into a broom closet in my mind. I was busy remodeling our house with my husband, raising two children, volunteering in their classrooms, serving on church committees and teaching Sunday school. I didn’t want to take on something else. Each December I wrote an eight-page holiday newsletter, complete with photos and top ten lists, and the twitch quieted for a while.

Then the twitch turned into a tap, God poking me in the shoulder, tugging on my ear and scolding like an irritated teacher, “Write.” “Maybe, in a few years, when I have time,” I said, which translated to no, which it turns out, wasn’t an acceptable answer. I was afraid that my abilities were too small and insignificant to make a difference, to God, or to the world. But God wouldn’t take no for an answer, and I began to write.

Realigning myself was terribly difficult. I had to bind and gag my inner critic in order for my creative self to sit at the computer and write sentimental drivel each day. I had to trust that my writing was necessary and important, even if no one else ever read a word. I made time to write; I never would have “found” it any other way. Despite my fears of doing too much, I still had time for my family and my church; in fact the time I had for them was better, because I was pursuing my passion.

For me, saying yes to writing was saying yes to God, the creative force that dwells in all of us. In her book, Seeing in the Dark, United Methodist Bishop Beverly Shamana says, “We are the offspring of a creative God whose hand print is stamped indelibly on our soul, marking us for continuing creativity in the world.” The more each of us say yes to our creative longings, the more joy and abundance we experience, not only within ourselves, but in our actions and interactions with the world.

Creativity isn’t optional; it’s a requirement for a whole and meaningful life. So, pick up a needle, a hammer, a crochet hook, a violin, or a block of walnut. The season is fast approaching.

©Cathy Warner 2002

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Need a Little Help, God Bless

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells of a time when the blessed will be invited to, “inherit the kingdom,” because, “I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.

The righteous respond confused, “But when did we see you thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick or in prison?

The answer, “When you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me.

Jesus’ words challenge me. Recently I had to tell a homeless woman she couldn't camp in the church parking lot. I offered her prayer and money for a tow truck. Hardly enough considering her great need. I keep a handful of Powerbars in my car and offer them to the men I see with cardboard signs reading: “Need a little help. God bless,” at the freeway exits. I know it's not enough? What is, or could be. I wonder.

When did I see you Jesus? Are you the man standing at the freeway off-ramp with a cardboard sign?
Need a little help. God bless.”

When did I see you Jesus? Are you the single mom with a blown head gasket and no way to get to work?
“Need a little help. God bless.”

When did I see you Jesus? Are you the son agonizing over his mother in the nursing home?
“Need a little help. God bless.”

When did I see you Jesus? Are you my friend’s aunt booked in county jail for drunk driving? “Need a little help. God bless.”

When did I see you Jesus? Are you the latchkey kid with a can of spray paint a blank wall and all afternoon?
“Need a little help. God bless.”

When did I see you Jesus? Are you my shut-in eighty-five year old neighbor with no children and an arthritic cat?
“Need a little help. God bless.”

When did I see you Jesus? Are you the orphan in West Angola eager for a hot breakfast and the alphabet at the Methodist school?
“Need a little help. God bless.”

When did I see you Jesus? Are you the Tsunami survivor, the Katrina survivor digging her possessions out of the mud?
“Need a little help. God bless.”

When did I see you Jesus? Are you the shopkeeper in Iraq with the shot out windows?
“Need a little help. God bless.”

“Need a little help. God bless.”
O Jesus, you are everywhere I go. In everyone I meet, you turn up with your empty hands and starving heart, wanting, needing. Your need is so great, I’m afraid it will consume me, will take everything I have until I’m all given out.
“Need a little help. God bless.”

Dear Jesus, how can I be faithful, how can I call myself Christian when there are times my compassion runs dry and I turn away? Those times I just can’t see you, just can’t know your pain. It is too much to bear.
“Need a little help. God bless.”

“Need a little help.”
And Jesus, you answer my questions with your life. You calm my fears with your words. You gave what you had––healing power, stories, parables, that pointed the way toward full living. You opened yourself to receive––meals, lodging, blessing. You said to give what I have––time, prayer, cash, compassion, my story––whatever it might be and I will receive an overflowing portion in return.
“God bless”.

You pressed your followers, your friends, your family into service for God, Jesus, but you didn’t send them alone. You sent them in twos and threes and later the first church communities were formed to do your work, together. Shoulder to shoulder sharing and bearing the burdens and the blessings.
“Need a little help. God bless.”

So Jesus, here I am, and not just me. Here we are. Jesus, we are here because of you. You have marked our lives, called us your own. You have left us with more to do than can ever be done. But you have also left us with indelible hope stamped on our hearts. In faith we thank you and offer our prayer.
“Need a little help. God bless.”

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Confessions of a Video Fanatic

Originally published in The Valley Press June 2004

I confess: I love movies. My favorite evening activity is curling up on the couch with my family and a good movie. Now that summer vacation is here, I can make a healthy dent in my Netflix DVD rental queue––currently 200 titles!

Maybe my early conditioning––Brady Bunch, Partridge Family and Bewitched is responsible for my fanaticism. I tell myself I should read more novels, they seem nobler, but they take too long. I “read” most of my literature via books on tape while shuttling my kids––I’ve been slogging through the 17 tapes of the latest Harry Potter since May 21.

With a movie though, in a mere two hours I’ve digested a complete story and have something to contemplate while I brush my teeth and drift to sleep. Plus, I like to think movies serve a higher purpose––the modern day equivalent of myths, folktales, legends and sacred stories that hint at the nature of the human spirit and the essence of the divine.

Movies that take me to the pivotal time(s) in a person’s life stay with me, just like Bible stories. In the Old Testament, God used Moses, who ran and hid, and was a disaster at public speaking, to call for justice. I see God crying out for justice in the character of Norma Rae who jeopardizes her job and marriage to support a union in the factory where she works, and in Erin Brockovich who despite being unqualified and all wrong for the job, takes on PG&E because it’s the right thing to do.

There’s no denying our humanity––we’re flawed. But that hasn’t stopped God from working through us. I think of prominent Old Testament David, the shepherd who became king and rebuilt the Temple and was victorious in battle, and who also ordered Bathsheba to sleep with him and had her husband killed while he was at it. I rent Thirteen Days and Evita and am again reminded that God is at work in our flawed leaders.

Jonah ran from God when God said, “Go to Ninevah, which has gone you-know-where in a hand basket, and preach my wrath.” It took three days in the belly of whale before Jonah said okay, and even then he didn’t like the way God forgave the Ninevites and spared them so easily. I think of the three Stouffer boys’ death defying pranks that led to their PBS series chronicled in the movie Wild America; and of the inmates who find self-worth gardening in Greenfingers and I’m reminded that redemption is never beyond God’s reach.

In the New Testament, Jesus traveled with a band of ordinary people; four we know were fisherman, one a tax collector. Many people, with varying levels of understanding of “the cause,” joined him. Most of them remain anonymous to us. They weren’t scholars, they weren’t credentialed, they simply had a hunger for deeper meaning in their lives. Jesus called them to listen to the longings of their hearts and to try to understand the kingdom of God, even though they didn’t get it right most of the time.

I see this passion played out again and again on the screen. In Mr. Holland’s Opus, his great work is the impact he’s had as a teacher and not the masterpiece he set out to compose. Sally Field plays a struggling widow in Places in the Heart who opens her heart and home to strangers, forming relationships that last beyond death. The two uncles and nephew in Secondhand Lions, wary and suspicious from bitter experience, come to know unconditional love. And Billy Elliott absolutely must dance, no matter what the cost.

The website Hollywood Jesus explores the meeting of spirituality and popular culture––cinema, music, and TV––using reviews, clips and trailers. Check it out before you visit the video store. Then microwave some popcorn, settle into the recliner, grab the remote and have a video-fest. It’s good for the soul!

©2004 Cathy Warner

Are You Ready to Frog?

Back to school has a new meaning for me this year. My oldest daughter is off to college and living in a dorm in San Francisco. It was odd leaving her in a room on the fifth floor of a building, looking out on traffic and pedestrians below, when the view from our home in the Santa Cruz Mountains is a cow, a pasture, and a few houses.

She’s ready for the adventure, keeping herself as occupied as she can in the week before her roommate arrives and classes begin. I on the other hand, don’t know if I’m ready for adventure. I’m at home, washing and folding the laundry she left behind, half-expecting to see her in her room, or at least signs of her in dirty dishes on the counter, even though I call her every night there and know she’s not here.

It’s only been a week and I know it’s too early to tell how this adjustment is going to play itself out for her, for me, for the rest of the family at home––father and sister. But, I’m already experiencing a new form of prayer, a kind of prayer that seems most practical from a distance, a kind of prayer that is a shift for me, a very verbal person. It’s a prayer of touch. As I change her dirty sheets and put away the laundry she left behind, touching each item of hers becomes a prayer, a wordless lifting of her to God, like Mufasa, and later Simba in the Lion King lifting their young atop Pride Rock.

In the pride rock of Jennifer’s bedroom, I hold her pillowcase, her socks, the T-shirt she got from the orthodontist when her braces came off, before I put them in their drawers and am reminded of her baptism when Pastor Lorraine held her high overhead. I marveled at this gift from God, how amazing it was to have her in my life, and how daunting at times to raise her.

I hold her things, as if I’m holding her up for the world to see, and for God to claim again. As if God needs reminding that she’s one of the family; that God’s got some responsibilities to her. I’m the one who needs reminding. Jennifer was God’s all along, but mine too. I’ve spent years talking, advising and praying for and with her. I’ve listened to her, and to God too I hope, but now, without her in the house and with her beginning an independent life in the world, it’s time for wordless prayer, for a deep quiet. It’s time for a space to open up in my life in which I trust and entrust my daughter in and to the world. It’s time to trust and entrust my daughter in and to God.

In other words, it’s time––ready or not, to FROG––to Fully Rely On God.

©2006 Cathy Warner

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Psalm 84

For August 27, 2006
Lectionary Year B
12th Sunday after Pentecost

Psalm 84

The house of the Holy One is where I want to be.
I crave the quiet, the soul-at-rest-feeling
of this space set aside to focus our sights and spirits
on the maker of all things.
My bones leap and my heart beats
with a melody set in rhythm by the ancient drummer.

Twig by twig I would build a nest
and raise my young here
secure and happy in the creator’s palm.
Day and night, like a mockingbird
I would sing every song of joy
dance every step of praise
brimming with the wild happiness
of those who live in God’s home.

What joy is discovered by those
who chart their journeys with God
as their compass! Highways open
in their hearts and they travel straight
for the promised land.

For them, deserts are not dry and lifeless
but blooming valleys with hidden springs
and deep wells to quench their thirst.
They will never be far from nourishment
and all signs will point to God.

Hear me as I give praise Great One,
may your ears know my thanks.
If I could spend one day like a shadow
alongside you, I’d be happier than if I’d spent
a thousand years in any paradise on earth.
Oh, Ultimate host, I’d rather answer your door
and show in your guests without even catching
a glimpse of your sleeve than to own
the penthouse suite in a high rolling city.

The one beyond our understanding is brighter
than the sun, and provides a shield for our eyes
beckoning us closer.

God is generous with all that we need
keeping nothing from those who live in right

Gracious giver of abundant life, those who trust you
will always be satisfied.

©Cathy Warner 2006

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Psalm 111

For August 20, 2006
Lectionary year B
11th Sunday after Pentecost

Psalm 111

Way to go, God!
Hey, everybody in the congregation,
I want to tell you, right here, right now
that God’s made a miracle of my life and
I’m eternally grateful. Don’t you know it, too?
Read the Bible and see just how long God’s been at it.

Isn’t the world beautiful? Isn’t creation amazing?
And what about the way God treats us?
Unlimited second chances. Wow, that’s mercy.
And food––the manna that dropped from heaven
when the people wandered in the desert
and the bread we get too, through prayer
and scripture and story.

Talk about promise keepers, God’s the original!
The Covenant King! Come into the fold, follow
a few rules and you’ll never be lost and alone again.

And our heritage, now that’s rich. You could study
the scriptures your entire life and never stop learning
something new about how faithful and trustworthy
God is. We can look forward, knowing
that as in the past, God is always with us
just waiting to welcome us home.

And when you stop to think about how huge
and all encompassing God’s reach can be
well that’s intimidating, scary even.
But that’s a good thing; humility is a great place
to start understanding wisdom.
We should practice that; it will expand our understanding.
The more we understand, the more we’ll shout out
“Wow, God, you’re truly amazing!”

©2006 Cathy Warner

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Guns and Ammo

We pull off the freeway for Taco Bell, fast food my entire family will eat.
“Look,” I say and point at a sign screaming Guns and Ammo next door to The Bell.

We stare at the black and white camouflaged store, standing out like an itchy trigger finger and muse about the businesses in that half-block of Camden Avenue.

First is the 76 Station, and you will need a full tank of gas for the high-speed getaway after you do what you might do with guns and ammo.

Next is the Assembly of God church, where you will need to pray, begging forgiveness for what you are about to do with guns and ammo.

Then there is Taco Bell, where you will drop food on the butterflies in your stomach fluttering about your decision to use guns and ammo.

From there it’s only a few steps to the gun store where you can purchase all the firepower you need to lodge a complaint against anyone anywhere.

We pile out of our minivan, order all we want and stuff our faces. While my family finishes, I wait for the cashier to unlock the restroom out back and notice a man in the dumpster pen, pawing through bags of trash wet with dripping soda.

As I empty my bladder, I wonder why he’s not brandishing a gun filled with ammo, shouting at the jittery cashier, “Give me one of everything, to go.”

It’s a wonder, really, that we’re not all rioting because I have enough and he is hungry.

I wash my hands and retrieve all the money from my purse, knowing more is just an ATM away. “Sir,” I will say, “would you like some money for dinner?”

Three dollars and I will sleep better imagining him eat a tortilla whole and hot filled with steaming beans.

When I open the bathroom door, the man is gone and my family is walking toward our car.
“Did you see him?” I ask. “The man looking for food?”

“No,” they answer.

We buckle up, cruise past the dumpster, and I think of him, the hungry man, with a few handfuls of lettuce and cold burrito briquettes.

We drive past the guns and ammo store, its neon flickering in the window. Closed.

I can’t decide whether to thank God for that or not.

©Cathy Warner 2004

Psalm 130

For August 13, 2006
Lectionary Year B
10th Sunday after Pentecost

Psalm 130

Everything’s a mess. God, do you hear me?
Do you see me here in the pits?
I’m crying all the time, and I’m crying to you.
My life isn’t working and there’s
no end in sight.

Help me, God, but please don’t inventory
all my mistakes and bad decisions.
I’m only human; don’t count that against me.
If you did, we’d all be sunk.

Thank God, thank you God, for forgiveness.
Without it, I’d never get out of the garbage heap.
And without forgiveness, it would be difficult
to think so highly of you.

I’m waiting for you God, not always patiently.
My soul is restless, it wants to be wrapped tight in yours
and like I said, my life is lousy.

All my hopes are pinned on you.
I’ve done everything in my power
and it’s not enough. So here I am
like an insomniac waiting for morning
so I can get on with it. But I’m waiting
with even more anticipation than that.
I won’t know who I am or what I’m supposed to do
until you get here.

Hey, everyone, I’ve bet everything I have
all that I am on God! God is where the hope is.
God’s the one with the power to melt hearts,
to change lives, to make enemies friends,
to right wrongs, to make something new
and beautiful from death and despair.
God’s the train. All aboard!

©Cathy Warner 2006

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Psalm 14

For July 30, 2006
Lectionary year B
8th Sunday after Pentecost

Psalm 14

What shall we do when everyone says,
“There is no God,” and the governments
are corrupt, abandoning the poor and downtrodden,
committing crimes with impunity
concerned only with personal gain?

God is looking, searching the world
to find a leader, someone, anyone
who is looking for God, who wants to learn
the ways of justice, who will act with wisdom.

God’s hands are empty, there is no one
to lift up, no one who is living right.
Everyone is breaking commandments
ignoring the law.

God cries out, “How can this be? Stop
all you evildoers who gobble up my people
as if they were bread, chewing them up
to feed your greed. Won’t one of you stop
this insatiable feeding and call out to me?”

Even if the powerful won’t stop
they won’t have the last word. God will.
God stands always with those who try to live right.
God is the refuge for the sick, the hungry
the poor, providing comfort when people won’t.

A time will come for deliverance.
God will embrace those who suffer.
God will enrich the poor. Good will lead
those who will follow. In time we will rejoice.

©Cathy Warner 2006

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

National Cathedral


I spent the summer of 1981 at a University exchange program, attending classes in Washington, D.C. One Sunday, one of my dorm-mates wanted to worship at the National Cathedral. I’d never been to church as an adult. It’d been five years since I’d been inside a church at all, and only then because I was their youth janitor. I was always a visitor, an interloper. I didn’t belong and I knew it.

The Cathedral was huge and filled with so many people it was like going to the National Ballet. Men wore suits and women sported nice dresses. I had on one of my spaghetti strap California girl sundresses, my defense against the oppressive humidity and heat. There were microphones and speakers, maybe TV monitors, I don’t remember.

What I do remember, and what I found so strange at the time, was that it didn’t feel completely foreign to me. I was a twenty-year-old atheist. I thought faith was an excuse not to think for oneself. I didn’t want any part of it. I went to the Cathedral simply because everyone else went.

The Scripture was the one on love. Now I know its 1 Corinthians 13. Then I knew it was the only one I recalled hearing before. Go to a few weddings and it becomes a theme. Didn’t the Bible have anything else to say?

I didn’t get the whole looking in mirror darkly bit. But what I thought love should be and what the Bible said love should be were pretty similar. The preacher said things about love and I remember that my scalp began to tingle in that huge Cathedral.

With all those people hearing the same words about love, I expected that the world would look different to us, and that we would act differently in it. I thought that love would take over and something––I don’t know what––would happen––that traffic outside would cease, or all of us strangers would stand up and look into each other’s eyes, instead of shuffling out in our own little groups anxious to get back to our own little lives.

Afterward, people acted the same, as if we’d never heard the words about love. Or if we did, we didn’t know how to act them out in our bodies. We were just a crowd, trying not to trample each other.

©Cathy Warner 2006

On Hospitality

A Reflection

Jesus talks to me in stories because I am, like his old friends around Galilee, a little slow on the uptake.

“Sit down,” he says and I join him on the lawn under the cherry trees while pink petals flutter to the ground. He knows that I already know the image of how he’d like to gather us under wing like a mother hen, but that being raised in the suburbs, perhaps it’s not the best metaphor for me. So he tries it again with a different slant.

“Cathy,” he says, “God’s hospitality is like this––It’s like your 89 year old grandmother dying in her hospital bed, brittle as a baby chick, who pecked her way back to consciousness whenever a doctor, nurse, or chaplain entered the room, who opened her milky eyes and said with all the pride she could muster, ‘Have you met my granddaughter? She came all this way just to see me.’ And then, satisfied that the world knew how precious and beloved you are, she drifted back into the world between worlds.”

Then Jesus stands, brushes the blossoms from his hair and walks away. As he disappears from view, my first thought is that he is inordinately fond of poultry, but then I am left remembering my grandmother who actually did have a bantam hen in a corner of her San Fernando Valley yard when I was a little girl. Back then I visited her for a week every summer. She bought me the Lucky Charms cereal my mother never would, and took me to wondrous places like Griffith Observatory and Chatsworth Park.

I thought I had gone to my grandmother’s bedside to minister to her in her last days. Instead, just like always, I was welcomed, blessed, and made holy, gathered in by love’s hospitality.

First published in Voices and Silences newsletter of the Clergy/Diaconal Women in Ministry, California/Nevada Annual Conference, Spring 2006

Monday, July 10, 2006

Psalm 24

For July 16, 2006
Lectionary Year B
6th Sunday after Pentecost

Psalm 24

Everywhere you look everything is God’s.
From the big bang that began it all
to the waters that covered the earth
then receded to form oceans and rivers
and the creatures born in water that crawled
upon land and winged through the air.
Are any of us worthy to stand in the presence
of such majesty? Can any of us climb
the Holy hill and survey the creator’s glory?
Yes, is the answer! The ones who labor
to bring about good for their brothers and sisters,
not just for themselves. The ones who fill
their hearts with compassion, not vengeance.
The ones who do not feed their spirits
on power, money and control.
The ones who do not lie under oath,
nor mislead others, nor deceive themselves.
These are the ones who will receive
the blessing of God’s good company,
who will know that God is with them
in all their hours. They will walk through life
with each other, seeking the face of the Holy One.

©Cathy Warner 2006

Friday, July 07, 2006

The Story Gatherer

short fiction

Once upon a time in a far off kingdom, there lived a hardworking farmer and his wife. They had twelve children, and although the man worked from dawn to dusk tending the king's fields, they often ate little more than broth for supper and were exceedingly poor. The time soon came for the eldest daughter to leave home and make her way in the world. She was so fair of face and gentle of disposition, that her father went to the king to inquire if she might be employed in the palace.

“What assets does she have to recommend her?” asked the king when her father appeared before him.

“She is a most attentive and sympathetic listener,” her father replied. “In fact, she is named Litanea, because of her empathetic hearing.”

So, the king employed her to accompany his guests at tea, that they might have an obedient audience for their tales, while he attended to important matters of the kingdom.

So good was Litanea at listening to stories, exclaiming and weeping, nodding and ahhing at the appropriate moments, she soon became in demand at all royal functions. The courtiers would present their stories, as though delicately wrapped jewels, and the young girl would examine each word gently, and then place them in her bodice next to her heart for safekeeping. The royal court began to take Litanea into their strictest confidence, for she never gossiped or revealed a word of the stories to anyone. The courtiers grew bold and told her their tales of travail, tragic stories of battles lost, villages burned, poor relations in debtor's prison, children taken by mysterious illnesses. She listened so excellently, as the tellers moaned and sobbed their sad stories that when they finished, they would dab at their eyes with linen handkerchiefs and find themselves quite refreshed, their burdens having been removed.

This being so, word spread throughout the kingdom, and young Litanea soon had a multitude of stories to carry. They filled her bodice, her apron, her pockets, and she began to carry them in baskets. She kept the tales with her always, and collected fresh stories daily. There were stories of famine and fires, of family feuds and disease that destroyed villages. The girl gazed at all these stories, memorized their details, formed their images in her mind and kept them intact for their originators.

Soon, her baskets were overflowing and she began carrying the stories in a large peddler's sack. The increasing weight on her back caused her to stoop, and with each new story, she lost her youthful beauty. She carried stories of women forced to marry and to carry the children of men who hated them. She held stories of brothers who plotted to kill each other and their fathers’ for inheritance. Years passed. Litanea sprouted hideous whiskers and wiry gray hair. She grew weary and wrinkled from dragging about stories of love lost, minds bent by power and greed, and lives stolen.

She became an object of ridicule and scorn. People ran from her, but still they threw their stories at her feet. She was banished from the village, and slept by day in a secret cave at the foot of a large mountain. Each night under the cover of darkness, Litanea climbed down the mountain and crept slowly through the streets where the villagers left their stories piled high. Quietly she gathered stories, stuffing them into her enormous bag, leaving the streets clean and sparkling in the morning light.

One night, the weight of her story bag grew so immense that Litanea was forced to crawl up the hillside to her home. The sun was rising when she finally pulled the monstrous story bag in behind her. The bag was so huge and heavy that it lodged in the entrance completely sealing the cave. But, by this time Litanea was so exhausted from gathering stories, she fell into a deep sleep. When she awoke, she found that her heart had hardened and she refused to listen to the stories calling to her from the bag. Litanea closed her ears, listened no more and the stories became stone, sealing her inside.

Litanea sat in the cave alone with the stone stories and her hardened heart soon spread to her eyes, her ears, her mouth, her hands and her feet. Until, one day, she had turned entirely into stone. There she remained for seven years. Then, one day, a man appeared beside her. He shone in the darkness like an opal in sunlight and addressed her.

“My beloved Litanea,” he said. “Thank you for your kindness. Thank you for your caring. Thank you for carrying these stories.”

He sat next to her and touched her stony hand. “These tales you have heard, these burdens you have carried, they were never meant for you to keep. This is what comes from trying to hold all the world’s ills in your heart. You have only the power to carry your own stories, to change your own life. I have come from the one who has all power. I have come from the one who has created all stories. I have come to teach you how to let go of your stories, how to let go of your fears and your pain, so that you might have life, and be freed from this prison of stone.”

Then the man told Litanea story upon story. He told her stories of lost coins found under rugs and rejoicing, of lost sheep found by shepherds and rejoicing, of lost sons returned safely to their fathers and rejoicing. He told stories of a different kind of kingdom. Stories where the weak were lifted up and the mighty brought low, stories in which children were wise, and wise ones were fools. He told Litanea stories of cups and bread shared among friends, of kings becoming servants. He spoke of followers, critics, betrayal and death. But even these dark tales ended with new life and great rejoicing. All the while he spoke, he held Litanea's hand, and slowly, she turned from stone back into flesh.

Then the man stood and began ripping loose the stories Litanea had carried into her cave. Each stone story he pulled from the wall became water that flowed from his hands onto the floor of the cave. The stories formed a puddle that rose to Litanea's ankles. The puddle formed a pool that reached her waist, and the pool became a pond, which rose to her chin.

Litanea wanted to cry out for the man to stop, surely they would both drown in the lake of stories, but she could not open her mouth to speak. And, just as the water rose to her nostrils and it seemed they would surely drown, the stone wall burst from the water's force. The flood of stories broke open the cave, and stones were swept away, forming a river with its headwaters at the man’s feet. Then all was quiet. Litanea looked at her reflection in the still pool below, and saw to her amazement that she had been restored to her original form. Her wrinkles, her whiskers, her wiry hair and bent back had vanished. She threw back her head and laughed, for the first time in many years.

Then she ran down the mountain, following the path of the river, which lead to the village. “Come bring your stories to the riverside,” Litanea shouted. “Lay your tales before the one who can take your burdens, your sorrows and turn them into waters of joy. For I have been healed by this man and his story water.”

The people came streaming out of their houses; their arms piled high with stories. They followed Litanea up the river, up the mountain, until they saw the man, radiant and beautiful, standing in the river with his arms open wide.

“Come, follow me,” he said.

And the people jumped into the river with their stories of stone.

They let go of their stones, and watched them sink. Their pain, their sickness, their injury, floated away. And the stones remained, scattered along the bed and banks of the river. They had become smooth where they were once jagged and beautiful where they were once ugly.

The people emerged from the river, rejoicing and wet, shouting and dripping and free. They returned again and again to that river, to that man, story after story, year after year. The people waded in the water, sprinkled it on infant brows and gave thanks. They raised their cups, shared their loaves of bread and gave thanks. They raised their voices in song and praise for the man and the gift of life he gave them and they whispered the story in the quiet places of their hearts.

And then, one day, out of thankfulness for all he had done for them, the people began to bring the man gifts. They brought new stories. Tales of relationships restored, of fences mended, of hopes for peace between enemies. These stories became wood, and with the wood, the people built a bridge across the river.

Then the people themselves crossed the river and became story spreaders. Their stories were uttered from tongue to scribe to typewriter and traveled over heartland and heartache, across landscapes and landslides. Their stories survived the eyes of sentries and centuries as word spread into kingdoms far and wide of the man who turned stone into water and sorrow into seed. And the people came from all corners of the world, from North and South and East and West. Generation after generation they came. They came to meet the man who was sent to bring life and hope to all who were in danger of being turned to stone. Always the people found him, standing in the water with his arms outstretched.

“Come, my beloved,” the man forever said. “Behold the river and its source."

©Cathy Warner 2oo4

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Psalm 48

I've begun a project to write the Psalms in my own words. It's a daunting endeavor, so I decided to follow the Lectionary. For those of you unfamiliar with it, the Lectionary is a series of Bible readings used by many denominations for Sunday worship. It is designed to take us through much of the Bible in a three year cycle.

Lectionary Psalm for July 9, 2006
Year B 5th Sunday after Pentecost

Psalm 48

Great is our God who created the universe
and the natural world of our planet.
Such a designer is worthy of our praise
our wonder our awe and marvel.
Let us bow our hearts and heads
in the places of human design
that beckon us to remember
God’s mighty hand in all that we do and are.
Fortresses and castles, kingdoms and ruins
the terror of the armies as God was invoked
to the battlefield to destroy or defend
each one in their belief.
The joy of the victors, the dismay
of those conquered, the grief of all
mourning their dead.
God bore witness to it all
and God exists, the foundation of all
we construct––Temples, museums, marketplaces,
trade towers, galleries, churches, mosques.
If you walk all about them, attentive
to detail you will find sacred in the space.
Take the next generation by the hand
guide them to the signs you have seen
both subtle and shouting
and say with all confidence,
“God dwells here!”
God dwells in our structures, our scriptures,
our hearts, our minds, our memories.
This great God of history is also the God
of your story. Forever and ever.

©Cathy Warner 2006

Saturday, July 01, 2006

That Jesus and Me

short fiction

Some folks, they say Jesus lives in your heart. I don’t know about that, but I know that he lives in my hands like they’re burning with fever and he curls up in the back of my neck. Sometimes, when he’s happy, he makes the skin behind my knees and elbows shrink up. Sometimes, he crawls right up my scalp and it itches like the head lice. I know exactly when he moved in. It was mid-September because the pippins were ripe and I kept sending my oldest boy, DJ, up the ladder and we filled my apron. It was Friday night because I always made apple pie on Fridays, and it was 1950 ‘cause I was with child––for the fourth time.

I’d wiped the baby’s nose and sent her to the porch with the kitten and a saucer of milk. I was alone in the kitchen washing the dinner dishes, trying to be real calm and breathing deep after Bull stormed out yelling that my pie wasn’t fit for the chickens. My hands were all red and chapped and I broke a glass in the soapy water and cut my finger. “Oh, Lord, just what I need.” I wrapped my stinging finger up in the dishtowel and pressed it against my chest.

And then there was this thought: not a voice coming out of a burning bush at Moses or out of the clouds at John the Baptist, but this thought that sure wasn’t mine. It arrived all at once: Why are you persecuting me? My hands felt like they were burnin’ up. I told the thought I wasn’t persecuting no Jesus, but it just said back to me: Why are you trying to poison your husband?

My scalp got all crawly. Ipecac isn’t really poison I argued, just gives Bull the stomach cramps and makes him vomit so he’ll leave me alone. I don’t care what the Bible says, I thought back, I just can’t submit to my husband no more. O you of little faith. He told me––without words you understand––to take the towel off my hand. The cut was gone; the towel was clean. Then he curled up at the back of my neck and went to sleep for a long time.

When he woke up again, about a month later, Bull was dead. I didn’t kill him; I put away the Ipecac after Jesus came in the dishwater. Jesus didn’t do it either. It was a train: smashed Bull and his truck all to hell. Bull had been sparkly like crystal but with all the cuts sharp as broken glass and he’d hated me for being soft and soaking up his hard words. I didn’t cry over him until Jesus woke up and he was so sad, he weighed down my shoulders, thinking: Bull, if only you’d taken a different road.

I packed up the kids and moved out to my cousin’s in Carson City and met Billy who sold insurance and sang in the choir at the First Methodist Church. His hands and temperament were softer than mine and he married me on February 14, 1951 down at the courthouse a month before Little Billy was born. I had that Jesus tingle a lot when Billy sang, and when he kissed me, and when we delivered barrels of toys to the Salvation Army at Christmas. We were mostly happy for thirty years until he died. I still go to his little church on Minnesota Street. Jesus, he loves church, stretching down my back sometimes, in a hurry to float me up through the pressed tin ceiling when everybody’s praying Our Father, who art in heaven. I keep my eyes open so God can’t play tricks. I’m not levitating in church, I’m always telling that Jesus. I smooth my hair a lot and people tell me, “Etta Mae, you’re so vain about your hair.” It’s not that; it’s them crawly spirit lice.

That Jesus, he’s been with me nearly fifty years and I keep waiting for him to say Give away all you own and become a missionary to Africa. But instead he just tells me to make my famous coleslaw for the potluck supper, to smile and shake hands with the visitors, and bake a casserole for the new widows.

In the Bible, Jesus says, “I am the vine.” I’m dead sure he meant ivy. Ivy crawls over rusted bicycles with bent rims, burned out cars and broken lawnmowers. You leave that ivy alone and the suckers cling and creep and take over. In a couple years you got this big hedge, hiding all the ugly stuff underneath ‘til it rots away, like it was never there. Jesus, he just came in and covered up my old rotten life with Bull and before that, too, so all I remember is Carson City, like I came to life here.

It’s not all peach cobbler and hymn sings. I was kinda aimless after Billy died, 'til the Methodist Women got me knitting afghans for the orphans in Romania. Little Billy died last year of a heart attack. My other three and the grandkids moved back to Missouri and don't visit much, and I have arthritis something terrible. Still, every night I read my Bible and thank Jesus.

Lately, I been praying for Rita. I kept flinching when I read where Jesus says, "Love one another." Lord knows I try, but the thoughts I have about Rita aren’t always charitable. She ran around on three husbands and wouldn’t take advice from Old Reverend Brady before he retired. I wanted to tell her, “You got to follow Jesus for things to get better,” but I didn’t know how. A year or two ago she hooked up with Spencer. He would remind me of Bull if I allowed myself to think back on it. Well, I could see she got on the wrong of side his fist some.
She said she was just clumsy, tripping over tricycles at her daycare and the like. She sat next to me in church last week, wouldn’t take off her sunglasses, said she had a migraine and the light hurt her eyes. The Jesus in me woke up full force, shouting Open your heart. My hands were burnin’, all of me went white hot and faint, like sure this is when I’d float to the ceiling and call down from on high. Don’t make me do this Jesus, I thought. But he flashed pictures in my head of dirty dishwater and healed cuts.

“Reverend Henderson?” I stood up in the middle of her sermon. She stopped talking and everyone looked at me. “I’m sorry to interrupt, but our sister Rita here needs healing, and she needs it now.” I sort of pulled Rita up and hugged her, long and swaying and the Jesus energy flooded through me, making me crawly, but something else, too. I could feel Rita’s stiff back and hard arms sighing down and she started crying while we pressed our chins into each other’s shoulders. Reverend Henderson said something and then I felt hands on my shoulders and knew they must be on Rita too. Jesus poured through me, out and in, and I saw pictures. The cripple being lowered through the roof on a mat and being healed, Jesus spitting into his hands and touching the blind man’s eyes to restore his sight, and the bleeding woman touching the hem of Jesus’ robe. Then I saw Jesus smile through his tears as the people slowly peeled off me and Rita. Then he shrunk down and settled in this pit at the center of me.

I sat down and Rita reached for my hand. She took off her sunglasses and I could see her black eye. Reverend Henderson walked back to the pulpit and started preaching again. I can’t even remember what she said; I felt all aglow like a firefly. That Jesus curled up in my neck and went to sleep but I swear I felt something prickly like cactus needles pokin’ around my heart.

©Cathy Warner 2003