The Infinite Frog

 

 


The final words I heard last night before drifting off to sleep were these:“Just so you know – there’s a toad in the living room.”

Thus continues the never ending saga of my cat, Garfunkle, and his determination to bring us every conceivable essence of wild life.

Upon hearing those words, I didn’t open my eyes. All I could do was ask for clarification.

“Is it really a little toad, or is it big, like, you know, a bull frog?”

I don’t know why I asked, it really didn’t make a difference. There was an amphibian in my living room.

“A frog.”

I could hear the smile on his lips, the laughter in his voice.

“A frog. The Infinite Frog.” I smiled to myself then, it having conjured up a memory.

“What?”

But I was already asleep. My mind took me back to me standing at the altar of one of the city churches I managed, included in the armful of several that the Bishop intended on closing.

I was in the process of creating a poster containing different statutes within the church, as well as portraits of priests who had served the community. This little church, to me, looked no bigger than a garage. But it had been host to the grandest of weddings, the modest of baptisms, and the air had been filled with choirs of true little angels, singing for all the world to hear – or at least this part of the city. It was a conglomeration of memories and ideologies, and overlay of feelings captured by a photographer I had hired for this purpose.

He was also a musician, but was equally talented as an image weaver. He clicked and snapped and shot the pictures of statues and paintings, at every conceivable angle and level, sometimes twisting his body into unimaginable poses to get the perfect frame.

Every Catholic church has an “Infant of Prague” statue – it usually sits as a greeting to all who enter. Whenever I asked him to take a picture of this, however, he would look at me quizzically and seemed to blow it off.

I couldn’t understand his blatant refusal to take a picture of this very sentimental statue – and I asked him why.

“Why won’t you take a picture of the Infant of Prague?”

He looked at me and a smile began to fill his face.

“Say that again, will you?”

So I repeated The Infant of Prague and he then told me what his dilemma was.

In my own unenviable way, my Queens accent seems to come to the forefront of the most inopportune times.

“I thought you were saying “The Infinite Frog.”

We had a great laugh, and he continued to snap away. I never thought of it again until the announcement of the one visiting.

Which brings me back to my friend in the living room.

Hopefully he will have hopped out the way he came in, but I thought it odd that a frog would decide to spend the night.

I guess everyone needs an Infinite Frog to look after them.

© 2009 Eileen Loveman – 4/7/16

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The Little Church By Another Lake

images[1] (16)I love to get in the car and drive.

I could go for miles, sit for days behind the wheel. Taking in the sights and sounds and smells of little towns and hamlets, big city worries in my rear view mirror. It’s a form of therapy that only cost me as much as the fuel to gas up my car.

I had received an invitation by a preacher in a church 30 miles away from my city home. She wanted me to listen to her preach the Gospel for Palm Sunday. She had discovered several of my essays and felt a particular connection with a few of my pieces. She asked would I give her permission to use various passages in the context of her homily? Her lenten message and prelude to the most holiest of weeks in the catholic faith, the Triuudium, the week before Easter. She felt my words would connect with her congregation.

I was thrilled beyond words that she wanted to quote me. I was honored and jumped at the chance to drive out to her little country church, thirty miles from my safe haven and from the people I knew. It combined two of my favorite things to do. The aforementioned driving and another hobby of sorts. Checking out other churches and faiths other than my own.

I look at other faiths from time to time just out of curiosity. It’s not a time for comparison or one upmanship or to see which faith is “better.” I view it, rather, as a new way to visit with God.

The other part of the fun is checking out other catholic churches purely for architectural and aesthetic reasons. I like to see how other communities “do it”, as opposed to my own continuity. Again, not to compare, but to enjoy. I like to look at the various icons that particular community has chosen for worship and how they have adorned the altar, positioned the statues.

Someone used to tell me I could smell a Catholic Church ten miles away. They were amazed I could find these little sanctuaries set far back or in out of the way places, apart from main streets or highways. If they knew what my “secret” was, they would feel foolish indeed.

It’s simple. Churches usually have a giant cross erected atop the highest steeple of the building. They were put there for a reason; for the faithful to be able to find it. All one needs to do is look to the horizon and you will see it. It will call to you and lead you towards it.

After filling the car up with gas, checking the road map and filling my thermos with coffee, I drove off to the highway to begin my trek. It was a beautiful, sunny, Spring morning, the first after a long, dark winter. It was 9:00 a.m. and the mass I wanted to attend didn’t start until 11:30 a.m. Plenty of time to get lost in the journey and take in the aura of another place, where I envisioned time would be slower, roadways kinder, and space expansive.

I didn’t know what to expect, unaware of what I would find.

Little did I know my journey would lead me to a place of peace and great joy.

Little did I know, I was heading home.

 

I had arrived at the little church earlier than I expected.

Traffic was light and I had not gotten as lost as I thought I might, only making two wrong turns in the process.

Some street signs were missing, but I realized quickly the residents didn’t need the markers to take them on their frequent travels down familiar streets. They were on autopilot, unlike me, who have been lost most of the time.

I had taken a wrong turn somewhere and was in the middle of a field, with only some cows, ducks and two sheep to ask for directions. Not only was I no longer in Kansas, Dorothy, I was somewhere East of the Rockies.

Like my prayer so many times before, I asked God to please, set me on the right path.

Literally.

This time I really need the right road to get to where I need to go.

My soul was calling to that little church, and to see the woman preacher who had felt the connection with my words to proclaim to her parishioners. It wasn’t enough for her to tell me she was doing it. I had to hear it for myself.

I backtracked a few miles and came to a fork in the road.

All roadways unmarked, I took the chance and turned left.

Success! I had found the connecting roadway and continued on. Going a few more miles and feeling I was getting closer to my destination, my eyes began to scan the horizon before me, looking for the tell tale cross.

My eyes found the crucifix to the east, a turn off from the highway. I stayed on the road, adjusting the radio, as the music was fading away. Within minutes, I was lost again, ending up on a dirt road.

What is it, Lord? What are you trying to tell me?

Why I didn’t just give up and go home, I’ll never know. But I turned around, and found the right road again by looking for the cross.

Down steep hills and brown fields, for the rains had not yet fed the greenery, I ventured further down to a small clearing, where I would clearly see the white of the steeple.

I had found the church. Or had it found me?

 

It was nearly 10:30 a.m., an hour before the start of Mass. I pulled into the gravel parking lot, empty at this early hour. I drove to the furthest part of the lot and backed in. Turning the engine off, I sat back in my seat, unfastening my seat belt as I looked around me.

What a peaceful and sweet place, I thought. This was truly a respite for someone accustomed to the daily grind of doing the things that needed to be done. A woodpecker worked away on the tree behind me, his schizophrenic taptaptaptaptap a relaxing rhythm. I thought about the residents here and what led them to live here. How had they found it? It reminded me of the church I attended when I was a child.

The bells in the steeple began to toll the hour. Eleven o’clock, already?

A few cars began to pull into the parking lot, those obviously connected with the service.

A woman driving a Range Rover parked a few spaces over from me and smiled, her eyes questioning what are you doing here?

As she got out, she unloaded her equipment, a guitar and a canvas bag, marked with a G clef on one side, and sheet music on the other. Clearly, she was the church musician. Focused, but in no particular hurry, her determination to begin her task was not slowed by noticing the blonde woman in the car. She probably thought I was a city slicker, a refugee who had ended up on the wrong path and ended up in an unknown town.

For I immediately surmised I was overdressed, and would look ostentatious with my blue suit, matching pumps and handbag. I would stick out like a sore thumb, taking the attention off the task at hand and putting it on myself, had I gotten out of the car. The church was small, and would groan to hold 60 people. This was a place that did not boast of material possessions. It didn’t look like a struggling, poor city church. But they did not flaunt anything here. Just filled the building to the brim. Like when I was a kid.

“The service doesn’t start until 11:30” she said, not looking directly at me.

“Thank you. ” I answered, smiling as humbly as I could behind the visor.

“I wasn’t quite sure where this church was, so I came a little early. I’d like to sit out here for a while, if that’s ok.”

“Sure” she answered sweetly, finally meeting my gaze. “I just wanted you to know that.” With that, she went inside.

 

11:15 a.m. and the cars were beginning to arrive all at once, as if on cue and a gateway had been opened. They pulled into the gravel parking lot, filling in their predestined spaces, no white lines needed here. They glanced briefly my way, for this was a car that usually wasn’t there. I was probably parked in someone’s “space.” There was an air of mystery beginning to develop and I decided I like the anonymity, enjoying the feeling of being a stranger in a new land, my own Jerusalem.

I began to hear faint singing in the background, traditional old hymns sung on this day, Palm Sunday, the time of the Passion readings. The parishioners had gathered outside to begin the procession into the church, after having received a palm which had just been blessed. It had begun.

Mothers and fathers with young children, young newlyweds, and grandparents stood in line, awaiting to process in. I was frozen in my seat, for suddenly I felt so out of place, so disconnected from the people in the church, I couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t get out of the car.

I watched as the Priest and a woman dressed in red led the congregation into the little church. I surmised she was the preacher who had invited me, but now was not the time to chat or small talk, or thanking her for inviting me.

I sat a few minutes more in the car, timing the space between the opening prayer and the readings. The reading of the Passion was long on this Sunday, as it is every year, and I knew I would have a little time to sit before the Preacher would begin her homily.

I walked up to the front door and realized I would not be able go in and sit down. The people were standing, every pew full, and the closest I could get was to the vestibule. The doors were closed and I could see her face through the little window in either swinging door that led inside. But I could hear her strong, clear voice, as if I was standing next to her.

In the beginning, she didn’t see me. She read her homily, pausing at the places she wanted to make a point. She had begun by smiling and asking the question “Where do we go with this story?” and added her own interpretations.

When it came time to quote my words, she glimpsed my face in the window, our eyes locking for a brief moment. If she realized who I was, her face didn’t show it, never stopping to proclaim my belief to the congregation and confirm everything I had written.

She understood what I was saying. She understood my passion about the Passion.

What a wonderful gift she had given me. As she read my name, tears gathered in my eyes. I began to feel the peace and the warmth I had felt when I first pulled into the gravel parking lot, remembering the church of my youth. I have come home, I thought. I am home.

As soon as she finished, I turned to leave. Still not realizing she had spied me, she walked through the swinging doors to find me turning the corner to head towards my car.

“Eileen?” She asked in a faint voice, as Mass was continuing, the communion rites being read.

I turned to face her and my smile was from east to west. “Thank you” I said, as I hugged her. “Thank you for sharing my heart.”

“Thank you for writing it, and allowing me to proclaim it” she said. “You don’t have to leave, you know, you can come back inside.”

I know, I smiled. But not today. I will be back.

I will go back. I know now that I am welcome.

To the little Church in the country by the lake.

EPILOGUE

The town has grown and the Little Country Church was bursting at the seams – so it and another parish nearby combined their finances and spirits and built a much larger, more magnificent church in the center of the town.

I have been to the bigger church and it is indeed beautiful, and one can see the love and thought that went into the planning of the new worship space.  I will most likely go there for Easter this year again.  But I will always hold dear the feeling I had as I spied the preacher through the doorway, and hearing her read my words, interwoven through hers.

I am still passionate about the Passion.

 

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CAT DANCING AT THE LIMINAL

Friday, September 18, 2009

There’s a certain time of the morning which has no specific name.

It’s the time before the sun has peeked between the clouds, but after the darkness of the night. It’s not yet dawn. To call it pre-dawn would diminish the intensity of the feeling, as if it’s a false start. This moment in time stands on its own, silent yet powerful.

The air is hazy, no matter what the season, be it winter or summer. The feeling of throwing off blankets while still half asleep surrounds me, precious seconds of quiet and calm. Its counterpart has to be the same as twilight is for sunset.

It’s the time before the rooster crows, the time before the rest of the world has turned off the alarm to get up and go, do what needs to be done, before heading back home again, to watch the sunset. There’s a fairyland atmosphere, a sense of wonderment and awe before the brightness of the sun has shown it’s true face.

It’s the time when walks are taken, to smell the crisp of the leaves not yet fallen to the ground, the waves pounding on the shore. The air is electric with an oncoming storm, causing the wind to blow between the branches like a carnival pipe organ, resting on one note before it moves on to another. Branches slap against the sides of barns and houses, as if they know their place in this symphony of sounds. The orchestra of the Lake is magnificent.

The barn cats sing their own good morning song as they meow for their mother, or saying hello to the passers by. For now I can only call it Cat Morning, for I haven’t a clue what it’s called. But I know it’s by far my favorite time of the day.

There has to be a name to this time in the morning. Someone once said to me it could perhaps be called the liminal, the state of in-between. I don’t know if its accurate, but it seems fitting.

May our eyes open again tomorrow to view the miraculous liminal. The tangible example of peace.

Coming Home

According to the liturgical calendar for Christians, we have just entered the Easter season, and will soon move into what is known in Church teachings as “Ordinary Time.”  Between Advent and Easter the days are grouped within cycles which determine feast days, celebrations of saints and which portions of scripture are to be read.  Our days are filled with decorating the churches to signify the emphasis of the season and what themes are used for preaching, traditions and holidays, all of which can be found in a book called a Lectionary.

I was mad at the institutional Catholic Church for quite a while, the reasons for which are not important now.  My anger never lessened my belief in God, but it did cause me to look at organized religion with a more cynical eye.   I began to look around at other religions, and wondered if they ever felt the same thing I was feeling.

Having been on the other side of the altar, that of both servant and leader gave me an insider’s look of what the cleric and religious deal with.  I learned quickly that they are just like us lay folk; they get frustrated and angry with God, they question his motives and cry at his injustices.  But for the most part, faith is never shaken or weakened, and each day is celebrated for its uniqueness.

In my old position as a pastoral business manager, I managed four Catholic Churches.  All but one has been physically closed, the congregation moving to assemble in one church located within the heart of the city.  With each closure, our tears flowed as our hearts broke deeper and deeper.  For years I attended another denomination, determined to find another way to remove myself from the pain of dissolution and disillusion.

 

I immediately felt accepted by my new church family, but still struggled with the idea of belonging.  A reverent and gracious group, their invitations were sincere and their acknowledgment of inclusion was heartfelt.  I felt their love and hope they felt mine.  But it didn’t matter – my head understood, but my heart still had to catch up.

It never really did.  With each passing year of celebrations of Christmas, Easter and everything in between, I still felt the sadness of the loss of my home church, until finally realizing what had been gnawing at my gut every time I closed my eyes to pray.

An invitation to attend the reopening of my home church was received with both delight and sadness.  The old brick building, lined with stained glass windows and marble altars, had been renovated to allow for handicap accessibility, newer bright lighting and wider pews.  The new church encompassed the other churches, enveloping it and its congregations in a warm embrace.  It was a reminder of the change, for of the church and of myself.  I was reminded again that I was older, both emotionally and physically.

As I entered the home church earlier than the rest, I sat in the pew where I used to sit with my family.   I felt a calmness long forgotten, as the memories of old hymns and celebrations washed over me.  My history played in my mind, like an old movie from other time.  I was at peace.

Parishioners began milling in, one by one and taking their own designated favorite seats.  Choir members gathered in the area preparing to sing as the piano began to softly play the introduction to their first song of praise.

 

I glanced around and was surprised to see how some of them had grown!  How others had aged and some had no doubt quietly passed away.  My eyes began to tear up as my head, the reason why it was so hard for me to let go and let God, finally recognized the truth in my heart.

It was the people.  I missed the people.  Those whom I had served and those who had ministered to me were there.  It was as if they were waiting for me to return, as if I had never left.

So the fact we will soon enter into Ordinary Time is not lost on me.

Buildings and traditions, calendars and holidays do not make a church.

The people do.

Good Night, February

028The day started sunny and bright, but I knew the storm was coming my way.    The lake was calm with waves on sabbatical for the moment.

As I drove the distance to complete my first errand, it was obvious a lot of other people had the same idea.  The roads were busy with last minute shoppers to pick up supplies, to replenish and restock the cupboards of soups and gravies and sauces.  Macaroni and meat, chicken and salads,  I was well stocked and prepared for whatever storm would come.  Birdseed and suet, bread crumbs and bread crusts, all ready and waiting for friends both feathered and on four legs.   It is the end of February and one more month of winter at hand.  In western New York, the month of March arrives loud and drunk, and leaves quietly hungover.

The day passed easily with no veering off course, my destinations planned and completed, I headed back towards the lake and to home.  The air was getting cooler and the briskness of the temperature made itself known.  The waves were beginning to pick up steam, a soft roll that would eventually turn into a roar.

This is my favorite part of winter.  The sounds of waves create a loud and boisterous symphony in the background of my days.  It lulls me to sleep at night and reminds me of one of my favorite John Lennon songs;   I would sing it to my children when they were babies, and I have sung it to sick puppies on the mend.

It goes perfectly with the setting sun over my winter horizon, and I am full of love and gratitude every time I hear both the waves in my mind and the memory of the song in my soul.

It is a song of love and promise for yet another day to do it all over again.  I pray that I never get tired of it.

 

Now’s the time to say good night

Good night, sleep tight

Soon the sun turns out it lights

Good night, sleep tight

Dream sweet dreams for me

Dream sweet dreams for you

Close your eyes and I’ll close mine

Good night, sleep tight

Soon the moon will shine its light

Good night, sleep tight

Dream sweet dreams for me

Dream sweet dreams for you

Close your eyes and I’ll close mine

Good night, sleep tight

Soon the stars will shine so bright

Good night, sleep tight

Dream sweet dreams for me

Dream sweet dreams for you

Good night, February.

Good night.

 

 

 

 

 

Forgiveness

I’ve been thinking a lot about forgiveness lately, and what it really means.

It appears to be the ultimate test of character and faith to endure and survive such occurrences that make us question the very foundation of our character.  We are who we are because of the circumstances we are thrown into, and how we survive those situations.  In fact, it is not the situations themselves that form us, but how we react to them.   Others observing these situations may even benefit from the struggle to overcome and understand them.

There have been two separate instances of two different people in my life of late that have filled me with such sorrow and resentment it seemed impossible to ever really let go of what fueled it.   But it has been proven, once again, that sometimes we really don’t have as much control over the outcome as we think we might.

I know in my heart that I have already forgiven those who have asked for it.  To deny such forgiveness gives me power over them, a power I really don’t want.  I don’t want revenge or leverage; I don’t want to be holding all the cards or to have the last word.  I want it to be left in the past and not kept in the corner like a wayward pet.  I don’t want to take it out and shine it up every now and then, to refuel or recharge the anger, or renew the hurt associated with it.   Bitterness is a seductive suitor who is no longer welcome at my house.  Facing the interlopers at eye level and staring them down makes us stronger than we ever thought we could be.

Some acts are truly despicable and can only be forgiven by our creator.  Repeated actions are the symptoms of a larger problem and without remorse are not an act of repentance.

It may be one of the hardest gestures you will have to endure; but it is far better than the ultimate decision to harden our hearts to tolerance and understanding.  To hold on to hatred and regret poisons the soul and depletes our good karma.   It is the straight jacket from which we can never escape.

We have the power to relieve the burden of those seeking the forgiveness to do so with the simplest of gestures.  A genuine smile, a reassuring embrace, are all gifts we can give to those seeking it, as well as giving it to ourselves.

Jesus forgave; how can we not.  It does not demean us or make us look weak.  It strengthens our resolve to be better people, to forge ahead and make a future we can be proud of.

The past is the past because it has.

“He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love.”

Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

NEW EYES OF LAZARUS

The shortest sentence in the bible comes from verse John 11:35: “Jesus wept.”

It was in response to standing at the tomb of his dear friend upon arriving at Bethany, the home of Martha & Mary.

Lazarus had already been laid to rest for four days when Jesus proclaimed “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.

Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

Nothing else is ever written about Lazarus. There are no accounts of any good deeds he may have done; we don’t even know if he went on to live a Christian life. No notes about any farewell party or blessing for a safe journey.  One would hope he was eternally grateful and was mindful of the gift bestowed upon him – to be given a second chance in a world already wrought with violence and oppression. Perhaps it was his task to encourage belief among so much sorrow, to be living proof of the walking miracle he had become.

I’ve always wondered about how Lazarus felt about all that and if he felt the tremendous pressure, of the expectation to be perfect, as he is the only man ever brought back from the dead. Is it any wonder he disappeared and was never heard from again? There is also no record of when he died, and how old he was. Why didn’t he share any of his experiences with any of us? Did he marry? Have children? Did he become the model of the priest hood – to be chaste and unobtrusive, merely touching the lives of others and to teach them of the one who loves all?

Perhaps it is because we all have our own experiences unique to us alone. No one can really walk in our shoes.

The shortest sentence in the bible is indeed, “Jesus wept” but perhaps the most powerful. He wept for his friend, Lazarus, but he also cried for his friends Martha and Mary. To be able to do fix their pain, to bring back the one they loved so deeply as a testament to the power of God, is perhaps the greatest do over in the history of the world.

Although Jesus would bring back to life the 12-year old daughter of a leading citizen of Capharnaum (Matthew 9:24) and a widow’s son (Luke 7:12-16), Lazarus had been entombed and thought dead forever. The children were thought merely to be sleeping. Is this a metaphor to say changes can be made in our lives while we are young, or the fact that it is never too late, no matter how old we are?

Perhaps he wept because he knew he would never see his dear friend again. He was the true parent of a child so dearly loved, knowing he would have to release him upon the world, watch him fall and try to stand again, not being able to help him.

May we cherish all that we are and what we can be. Perhaps that is God’s greatest gift to us, besides Jesus himself, shown through the new eyes of Lazarus. Every day is a new day. Rise up and go out into the world, knowing you are not the first to do so, and God willing, will get to do it again tomorrow.