Light that Darkness Cannot Overcome

It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness At Christmas, New Years, winters solstice there is much talk of darkness and light

The days are short and the nights are long and in this time between Christmas and the new year the trees are still lit and the houses and lawns with their angels and reindeer and wreaths of light still shine in the darkness.

We begin again tomorrow. A fresh start. Take it from the top.

And we carry this past year, and all our past years, forward, with memories, with smiles, with tears, with love and forgiveness and the million moments of grace that once in a while we sit still long enough to feel, and be grateful: graceful.

I have written before of the prayers of monks and nuns whose job it is to keep the lights on. They are professional pray-ers. I am grateful for them and their quiet unseen work, raising incense and chanting prayer with their whole being to God, arguing our case to keep the lights on a little longer. And so far God has agreed.  Despite. In Mercy. In love. In the light that darkness cannot overcome.

In my fivety-five years of living, through all the trials and heartache and joys and uncountable blessings, through loved ones deaths and the miracles of birth, I believe.  I believe in the power of prayer, in the graces waiting to be poured out to us for the asking, and yes, of course, even if we don’t have enough faith to ask, the blessings still flow.

How can I say these things in light of war and starvation and fiscal cliffs and the gunning down of kindergartners and their teachers, and all the misery that only scrapes by the daily news programs?

Because there is love. Love in the little acts of kindness, in the big acts of generosity and heroism. In the blankets wrapped around shivering shoulders. In the gentle touch of my mother’s hand on my cheek, so long ago.  In conversations with my father, who now cannot speak, tethered to a respirator and feeding tube. In the squeals of delight when my grandchildren call out “Mamaw!” when they see me. In the cup of coffee my husband sets up for me each morning.

It is these small acts; all the small acts of love and tenderness, of generosity and forbearance, in kind words and hands held. The list is endless, the love is boundless.  In the face of darkness, we light a candle. And then another and another until we are bathed in the light of love, in the midst of pain, in the midst of tragedy.  It is these small acts of love, of prayer, of faith, of struggle that rise like incense to our God who came to live among us and open our hearts to love beyond understanding.

Keep the lights on. 

Excerpt October 11, 2012

Excerpt from my novel.  Setting, 1951. Jimmy was a week old when Maureen had her first day alone with him.

She settled in with him, positioning her arms in the rocker, a pillow supporting the little fellow. This morning, before Phil left for work, she made up a batch of bottles, mixing and stirring and pouring a days supply of ecru colored stuff that made her nostrils pinch when she smelled it. She warmed the bottle in a pan, squirted a little on her wrist to test the temperature and gathered up her hungry son.

She held him, squirming, crying, until he caught hold of the rubber nipple and settled into a rhythmic gulping. Soon, he was satisfied. Not quite ready to give up the bottle, but soothed enough to study his mother’s face.

He held her pinky with his tiny fingers. Strong. What a wonder. Someone so little can grab on so tight.  His lashes were drying from his hungry cries, fanned out like a star. He was content now. With her free hand she stroked his cheek, velvet against her finger.

Mother and son were all there was to the world. The two of them, bound, caught up in larger arms, graced in a haze of violet light.

Something opened in Maureen. Where, she could not say, but somewhere in her body, in her soul; a movement, an enlargement.  The only way to find this place was this, holding her tiny child in her arms, letting him break her heart.

The intensity, the consuming protective passion  for this child, almost annihilated her in its fierceness. It could not be possible for her to love anything or anyone else the way she loves this child. No one’s heart could be that big.


When I taught Baptism prep classes to parents and godparents way back when, part of my job was to relate the physical elements of the sacraments to the spiritual gifts. God works through the physical as a means of bestowing grace.  I find this a comfort, a reassurance, a reminder of God in the everyday objects such as water, wine, oil and touch as transmitters of a grace beyond our comprehension. Here's a little excerpt from my forthcoming novel:

“How we doin?

“Behind by four. But there’s time. Ohh!! Make that six.”

Jimmy’s face is pointed toward the television. No reaction to the shot. He holds the coke can in his hand. He’s not watching the game. He can’t. They’re way beyond basketball games in search of common ground. His right hand is getting jittery; the left is tucked under his thigh.

“Need a smoke.”

Jimmy goes through the kitchen to smoke on the back porch. First stop is the refrigerator to grab a beer. The long cold drink rushes down his throat, wave after wonderful wave. It hits his belly in a splash, immediately releasing its magic. There’s his old friend. Now he can relax, get his hands steady. He tosses the bottle cap toward the metal can. It pings and misses. He leaves it in the mud.

It’s dark. He turns right, to the aurora of street lamps along Forest Park Drive, to the diluted light pushing its way through the trees that have arbored this area for generations. Wind whips up under his shirt and slaps his back. Jimmy steps out from the awning. A smoldering cigarette in one hand, an empty beer bottle in the other, he raises his arms over his head breathing in the cold, clear, wet dirt smell. His upturned face receives the sharp needles of rain. A baptism.

The wind and rain pick up. A crackle of light breaks blue deep into Forest Park. Thunder reverberates his thin frame, tolling out the bell of him. Somewhere in there, somewhere in here, I still am. I still am.   

To Bear Witness

This post first appeared on Melissa Embry's blog: nojobforsissies.blogspot.com on July 30  

If you are at a writer’s conference and the first speaker of the weekend shares with you his ‘moment of grace’ where he received his commission in life, you should sit a little straighter, lean forward and tune up your hearing.

Luis Alberto Urrea went on a mission trip as a young man; he came back a writer.

What was this ‘moment of grace’, as he called it? He and his pastor were working among the most forgotten, the world’s cast-offs who lived and died in an actual garbage dump. Young Luis, notebook in hand, was writing his observations, thoughts, scenes, scribbling words on paper that he would turn into story. A resident of the dump asked what he was doing. Writing. About this place? This dump. About me? Yes, about this place and about you. “Tell someone I was here.”

Now, Mr. Urrea did not say that the sky opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him. But novice writer Luis knew that this moment, standing in a cathedral of trash, was his commission, his anointing, his sending forth. He was tuned in to the energy of the moment; he was paying attention. That is what we, as writers, are asked to do. Pay attention, and as my friend, the writer Bill Marvel, likes to say, bear witness.

We are to bear witness to history in its small moments and its large moments. Bear witness to people, to changes in the atmosphere, to changes in attitude. Pay attention to the new and to the ancient that threads through the now. Be an instrument of history, a commentator, a sense maker, a question raiser.

Writers sift through the materials of life and choose a bit of this to expand on, a bit of that to explore. We churn and tumble and wrestle with the stuff of life long after they have moved into silent history and then we snatch them back and give them a place on the page.

“Tell them I was here”’ is our common plea.

It is also our job.







Friend of Santa

What's the deal with dissing Santa? It's bad enough we can't have Nativity scenes, but now there's a major retailer putting Santa down.

I object.

I know, it's supposed to be humorous. But the defender in me always rises up when I see those ads about how the retailer can best Santa in the game of gift giving.

Just so you know: I'm a dyed in the wool, steeped in the DNA Catholic.

I love the sacramental infusion of the smells, the bells, the holiness of the ordinary, the ritual, the language,  the music, the art, the mysticism of Catholicism. And the gracious, non-deserved, no naughty and nice list of the Gift of Christmas.

And maybe, just maybe, that's why I love Santa Claus.

Long, long time ago, when I was a young mother of a two year old, I was standing in the back of the church, holding the Lectionary waiting to process up the aisle. Next to me was a woman, probably in her fifties, a kind of "church lady" with her sensible gray hair and plain grey skirt. It was Christmas morning and I was the lector at the 10:15 Mass, and she was a Eucharistic Minister.  I mentioned the fun of Christmas with my toddler daughter, the anticipation of Santa and the gifts.  She very plainly said, "oh we never bothered with all that with our kids. We emphasized the spiritual rather than the Santa aspect of Christmas."

She was of so sincere. And humorless. What a drag.

For just a moment I felt chastened. I had been corrected by my elder on the true nature of Christmas and what's important to teach children. But that didn't last long.

What's more Christian, more holy even, than a saint spreading the blessings of God on a world deeply in need of reminders of love?

We are physical, that is, incarnate, beings  not spirits just renting out space in a body--we need the sights sounds touch excitement, magic, yes magic, of Christmas and the  concrete expressions of love and undeserved gifts.

So when folks complain about the secularization of Christmas, I wish they'd leave Santa out of it. He's a holy man. A wise man. A magi.

And, man oh man, he's one of the best teachers of the holy that we've got.

Merry, Merry everyone.