Angelus poem published!

I am happy to announce that I have a new poem available online. I mentioned in this post that I had written and submitted a poem to The Ekphrastic Review in response to their biweekly challenge, a painting by Jean-Francois Millet titled “The Angelus”. For those who are unfamiliar with the term, ekphrastic poetry or prose is a piece based on another work of art, most often a piece of visual art. I have written a number of ekphrastic poems, due in large part to my experiences in residence at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art with the Boiler House Poets Collective.

The poems that Lorette C. Luzajic, the editor and founder of The Ekphrastic Review, selected are now available online here. It’s always amazing to see the creative and unique approach that each writer takes from the same prompt. There are certain elements that weave among the poems. I’m especially pleased that Kyle Laws, my poet-friend from Boiler House, also has a poem chosen for this challenge. Kyle writes ekphrastic poetry on a regular basis and was recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize by The Ekphrastic Review. It’s her eighth Pushcart nomination! It is an honor for me to be included with such distinguished poets and writers.

A note on my poem: The italicized lines are parts of the English translation of the Angelus prayer. The Catholic church I attended as a child observed the tradition of ringing the bells in a distinctive pattern three times a day to encourage people to pray the Angelus. The painting and the prayer inspired me to construct a narrative around the woman who appears in the painting.

If you are so moved, you may comment here or on the Top of JC’s Mind Facebook page.

What a week!

I started the year by posting for 33 days in a row, thanks largely to Linda’s Just Jot It January.

Then, I fell off the wagon.

Today, though, I am taking advantage of being kept inside by a snowstorm to try to process what has been a surreal week into a post.

On the personal side, my spouse B has been involved in a major workshop week with co-workers from the US and Germany, so he has been working loooong days, sometimes capped off by group dinners that run late into the evening. Between his schedule and working around the weather, things were already feeling unsettled here.

This just added to what has been a very unsettling week here in the United States. T and I had watched giant swaths of the impeachment trial of Donald Trump. The House managers who served as prosecutors were very methodical in laying out their case. The president’s defense team was much harder to follow and tended to be in conflict with both some of the evidence and some of what other members of the team had presented. Their arguments were often circular.

For example, one of the arguments that the president’s team was making against the second article of impeachment for obstruction of Congress was that the House should have gone to court to enforce their subpoenas. Meanwhile, a court case that the House had brought trying to enforce subpoenas in the ongoing investigation of Russian election interference saw the Justice Department lawyers arguing that the courts weren’t the proper remedy, that impeachment was! As Rep. Adam Schiff, who was leading the House managers, said, “You can’t make this stuff up.”

Because the Senate had voted not to call witnesses or request documents, the first part of the week was about senators being able to speak for ten minutes about their reasoning behind their upcoming trial vote on Wednesday. However, on Tuesday night, President Trump gave his State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress.

The State of the Union is usually a very formal and solemn opportunity for the president to lay out their agenda for the coming year, including what legislation they would like to see taken up by Congress and passed. It was obvious from the start that this address was not going to follow that norm, when the Congressional Republicans started chanting “four more years” before the president even began speaking.

Much of the president’s message mirrored his campaign speeches. As a reasonably well-informed citizen, I knew immediately that some of the things the president was claiming were not true. He tried to take credit for things that actually happened during the Obama administration. He said he would always protect health insurance for those with pre-existing conditions at the same time the Justice Department is in court trying to have those protections under the Affordable Care Act thrown out.

It was surreal.

The State of the Union often features special guests of the president who sit in the gallery near his family. Their stories are inspiring and heart-warming. President Trump added a twist, though, in that most of the people received a surprise reward.  This seemed to harken back to Donald Trump’s experience as a “reality show” celebrity. A couple of these surprises made me cringe. There was a girl, attending with her mom, who received a scholarship to attend a private school. Education is a wonderful thing and I am happy for this girl, but the president framed it as her leaving “a failing government school.” In the United States, we don’t call them “government schools”; we call them public schools. One of the responsibilities of our government is to provide free public education through primary and secondary school. If a public school is doing poorly, it is up to our government at all levels, working on behalf of the taxpayers, to ensure that the school is brought up to a high standard – for the good of those students and the general public. To see the president totally abrogate responsibility for our public schools, which serve the vast majority of US students, was disheartening.

The shocking part of the evening was the “surprise” awarding of the Presidential Medal of Freedom to talk radio personality Rush Limbaugh. This is the highest civilian honor in the United States and is usually given to individuals who have brought people together in a positive way. By contrast, Rush Limbaugh has been sowing division for decades. He regularly belittles people who don’t follow his particular brand of conservatism. [Fun fact: He once railed against a women’s prayer group of which I was a member. We were a small, local group getting lambasted on nationally syndicated radio. It was ironic, because his actions gave us more power and visibility and led to a 60 Minutes interview.] Limbaugh has recently revealed a stage 4 lung cancer diagnosis; it is appropriate to ask for prayers and well wishes on his behalf, but the Medal of Freedom is not an appropriate honor for so divisive a figure.

Speaking of prayer, yesterday was the National Prayer Breakfast, which is sort of an unusual occasion in and of itself, but I can’t give its history here as this post is already shaping up to be long. First, though, there needs to be a wrap-up of the impeachment trial.

As expected, Trump was not removed from office. All the Democratic and independent senators voted for removal on both counts. There had been hope that some of the more moderate Republicans would join them, especially on the abuse of power article. Several Republican senators, in opposition to the president’s assertion that his behavior was “perfect”, issued statements saying that what the president did was inappropriate but didn’t warrant removal from office so they were voting for acquittal.

In the end, one Republican, Utah senator and former presidential nominee Mitt Romney, did vote to remove the president on the abuse of power charge. In his ten-minute floor speech, he spoke about how difficult this decision was. He is a devout member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) and because he had sworn an oath to God to deliver “fair and impartial justice” and because the House managers had put forward convincing evidence of the president’s abuse of power, he decided that he must follow his conscience and vote to convict. He did not let political expediency deter him from his obligation to follow the dictates of his faith and the Constitution. He has faced immediate backlash from the president and other members of the Trump family, as well as from some of the conservative media. I appreciate Romney’s integrity. It took a lot of courage to vote against a president of one’s own party in an impeachment trial. Indeed, this is the first time that that has happened in the United States.

Which brings me back to the prayer breakfast…

The keynote had been on the subject of love and, in particular, the Christian call to love one’s enemies. When President Trump, who is ostensibly Christian, spoke, he proceeded to attack the faith of those he considers his enemies. After speaking about the impeachment, he said, ” I don’t like people who use their faith as justification for doing what they know is wrong.  Nor do I like people who say, ‘I pray for you,’ when they know that that’s not so.” This was a thinly veiled attack on Sen. Romney for his impeachment vote and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who, in answering questions from reporters has revealed that she prays every day for the president. Speaker Pelosi was sitting at the head table, only a few feet away from the president as he spoke. As a fellow Catholic, I admire Nancy Pelosi’s prayer life and don’t doubt for a minute that she sincerely prays for the president and for our country every day. That the president dismisses people of faith, equating his own viewpoint as being right and theirs as being “wrong”, compounds the damage that he has done to our country.

After President Clinton’s impeachment and trial, he apologized again to the country and made a plea for reconciliation and moving forward as a nation. (He was impeached for lying under oath about an affair.) By contrast, when President Trump spoke later in the day after the prayer breakfast, he did not admit any wrongdoing and blamed everything on Democrats and anyone else he considers an opponent.

At this point, without a unifying leader, I don’t know how Americans can fully come together as a nation to meet our challenges. I do want to point out, however, that, under Speaker Pelosi’s leadership, the House of Representatives has passed over 300 bills, the vast majority of which are bipartisan, that Majority Leader McConnell has refused to take up in the Senate. I am a member of NETWORK lobby for Catholic Social Justice. Every Congressional session, NETWORK scores the votes on ten bills that deal with social justice issues, such as fair pay, access to medical care, and equal justice. For the first time ever, this year they were unable to score the Senate because they hadn’t held votes on the bills that were companions to the House-passed bills. I and millions of other Americans expect and deserve more.

I swear that I did not spend the whole week on nothing but politics. I wrote a new poem in response to a challenge on The Ekphrastic Review. If it gets accepted, you can be sure there will be a link here at Top of JC’s Mind – and a mini-celebration that I managed to get a poem published in 2020.

Now, I think there is a snow shovel that is calling my name…

 

 

Remembering Nana in Slovenia

Our Smith College Alumnae Chorus tour of Slovenia was only a few weeks after the death of my mother, known here at Top of JC’s Mind as Nana. One of the things that was comforting to me was saying prayers for my mom at the various churches we visited. Sometimes, I was even able to light a candle in her memory.

In prior tour posts, I have shared some photos from some of the churches we visited, but I wanted to share a few more. The ceiling from the chapel of Ljubljana Castle:
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Most of the churches we saw on our trip had kneelers that were built into the wooden seats. I loved the curves of these pews from the Ljubljana castle chapel:
Ljubljana castle chapel pews

A cross silhouetted against Lake Bled in the entrance to the Mary of the Assumption:
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The beautifully painted Stations of the Cross there:
Stations of the Cross at Lake Bled

In Trieste, the organ and a bit of the rose window, which was a later addition to Saint Just, when technology had progressed enough to have that large an opening in the wall:

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Catholic altars contain relics, but one seldom sees them in such a conspicuous way:img_0233

A crucifix at St. George in Piran that had been restored from one of the older iterations of the church. I was struck by how contemporary designers have recalled this centuries-old style in their own work:
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The main altar:
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And the ceiling above the chancel:
chancel ceiling - St.George, Piran

There were two churches that I visited that were not part of the official tour. Because I was there as a pray-er rather than a tourist, I don’t have photos inside the churches, but they remain close to my heart. One was in Trieste, near the amphitheater ruins. Nana’s ethnic heritage was northern Italian, so it was special to be able to spend some quiet time in the church there. The other was when I went to Mass on our last morning in Ljubljana. It was comforting to be there as part of the congregation, even though they were speaking a language I didn’t know. All the same, I felt that the prayers in my heart were understood.

Besides my private prayer pilgrimage, I also silently dedicated my performances of the Duruflé Requiem to my mother.  This requiem is based on chants from the early church and is sung in Latin, as it would have been before the Second Vatican Council. Much of it is spare and meditative, beautiful but difficult to perform because the individual vocal lines are often exposed.

The most moving of these text for me is the “In Paradisum”, which is the final commendation of the deceased to God at the end of the funeral rite. The text translates:

May the Angels lead you into paradise:
may the martyrs receive you at your coming,
and lead you into the holy city, Jerusalem.

May the choir of Angels receive you,
and with Lazarus, who once was poor,
may you have everlasting rest.

At my mother’s funeral, this was the point at which I was most emotional, so I worried that I might have difficulty singing through it, especially as Duruflé sets the first stanza for sopranos only. I found, though, that it was comforting for me to bring my mother to mind at that moment, making the traditional prayer even more meaningful. In the powerful silence after we very quietly finished the piece, I could find peace.

father, farmer, and builder

This week, my daughters and I sang in the choir for the funeral of our friend Nancy’s dad. Nancy is a long-time church musician and liturgist, so many current and former choir members and friends arrived to support her by participating in the liturgy. We had 43 singers and 3 instrumentalists. The music was a beautiful and meaningful part of our prayers for Joe and being surrounded by so many musician-friends helped Nancy to play the funeral mass.

I know from personal experience how difficult it is to play for a loved one’s funeral or memorial. Because you have to concentrate on doing your job musically, some of the mourning that one would typically do at a funeral is deferred. My hope is that the memory of the music we shared will be a comfort to Nancy when she reflects on the funeral in the coming days.

The reflections offered centered around Joe’s roles in the community as a father of five children, a farmer in his younger years, and then a long-time builder of homes in our area. Each of these roles has many scriptural and faith references which were woven throughout the liturgy.

It was my privilege to write the universal prayer for the funeral. I served on the liturgy committee with Nancy for many years in our former parish and learned so much from her; I was honored that she asked me to write the petitionary prayer that closes the liturgy of the word.

Nancy and I have been supporting each other through an extended period of multi-generational family caretaking. Strangely, some of our most stressful periods have coincided. Fifteen years ago, I was staying at the hospital with one of my daughters when Joe had a serious stroke following heart surgery. I missed Nancy’s mom’s funeral when my mom had a heart attack while my dad was in the hospital for surgery. Now, Joe’s final illness and death happened while my mom is in a hospice residence.

I am truly thankful for Nancy’s support, friendship, and gracious example. I pray for solace and peace for Nancy and her family. Rest in peace, Joe.

flowers from Joe's funeral luncheon
Joe’s favorite color was blue, so there were blue hydrangeas and white roses on the tables at the funeral luncheon.

 

 

Not a beautiful Christmas present

On Tuesday, several members of clergy from different faith traditions held a noon-time prayer service, asking for Congress to seek justice in our tax code.

Then, we marched to the office of Claudia Tenney, who represents our district in the House of Representatives. Unlike some of the other Republican New York Congressmembers, she had voted for the House version of tax cuts, despite her opposition to cutting the deduction for state and local taxes. While the conference version of the bill restored partial deductibility for these taxes, it is problematic in many other ways as well, such as the repeal of the individual mandate for health insurance. All the bills have failed in terms of social justice, because most of the benefits go to the richest people and to corporations, which are getting permanent tax cuts while individuals are only getting temporary ones – and some people will actually have higher taxes even in the early years under this bills.

Hours after, Tenney voted for the bill, which passed the House, except that the bill had been rushed so much it didn’t conform to Senate rules, so the Senate passed it late Tuesday night and then the House had to vote again on Wednesday.

DT has described the bill as a “big beautiful Christmas present” for the American people, but, for many of us, it is not. The federal government, already in debt and deficit, will have less revenue coming in and Speaker Ryan is already talking about cuts to core safety net programs, which will most highly impact those at lower socioeconomic levels, children, and seniors.

The gifts of Christmas are supposed to be peace, joy, and good will to all.

A tax cut bill that is designed as a gift to big corporate and individual donors to politicians and their campaigns is not in accord with the true spirit of Christmas.

One-Liner Wednesday: a request

I would like to ask people to please send prayers, well wishes, and/or healing thoughts on behalf of my mom, Elinor, who will have an aortic valve replacement tomorrow.
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This (somewhat non-traditional application of a) post is part of Linda’s One-Liner Wednesday series. Thank you for your indulgence in presenting what is at the top of my mind and heart today and thank you to those who decide to contribute to the endeavor. To join in One-Liner Wednesday, please visit this link:  https://lindaghill.com/2016/10/12/one-liner-wednesday-i-thought-we-were-roommates/

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An unexpected writing assignment

I have been trying to balance my poetry and blog writing time – not terribly successfully as various personal and family health issues intervene.

Still, there are a couple of things I need to get done by Wednesday afternoon to prepare for a couple of poetry workshops.

And, I’m going to get to them, in a few minutes.

Really. I am.

What I spent my creative time this morning doing was writing a prayer.

In the days when I served on liturgy committee, I used to do this with some frequency, but it has been over a decade since I’ve done it on a regular basis.

Yesterday, I got a call asking me to write a prayer for the dedication of Mercy House, a new home for people who are dying but aren’t able to stay in their homes. Although the idea came from a local Catholic parish and it is housed in a former Catholic church complex, Mercy House is non-sectarian, accepting any person in need of their services. Still, it is appropriate for there to be a prayer at the ribbon-cutting and open house scheduled for this Sunday.

I thought about it yesterday and last night and wrote and edited a draft this morning. I sent it out and just got a call saying that the priest for whom I had written it loves it. I’m grateful for the opportunity to use my writing to serve others.

And, now, back to poetry…

 

Saint Francis Prayer

Because I have been (somewhat uncharacteristically) posting every day this month as part of Linda’s Just Jot It January, I have been more proactive than usual in planning my posts. I had a topic picked out for today and had written most of the post in my head.

Then, today happened.

My mom asked me this morning if I could send her a copy of the Prayer of Saint Francis, which a friend who recently passed away had chosen for her prayer card. I wrote a note to remind myself to do it and set out on a day of errands, a meeting, and an appointment.

I wasn’t expecting it, but it became a day when human needs for peace, love, compassion, healing, strength, and joy were placed before me again and again.

The best that I can hope to offer is to share the words of the Saint Francis Peace Prayer, which, while it is a Christian prayer, can also speak in large measure to people regardless of their belief system.

Prayer of Saint Francis

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled, as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved, as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Shared for my mom, for Wilhelmina, and for all those in need of any of the gifts that Francis calls for in this prayer.

In peace,
Joanne
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To join Just Jot It January, visit here:   http://lindaghill.com/2016/01/28/just-jot-it-january-28th-serendipity/

JJJ 2016

To find the rules for Just Jot It January, click here.

acceptance

On my way to church this morning, I heard a report on NPR about the fiftieth anniversary of the Vatican II document “Nostra Aetate” which was a declaration on the relationship of the Catholic Church with non-Christian religions. The report also reviewed the horrible treatment that the Catholic church had inflicted on other faiths, especially the Jewish people.

I am very grateful to have been born at a time when I do not remember the church being against other people because of their religious beliefs or lack of belief.  It saddens and upsets me that not all Catholics have accepted this now fifty-year-old teaching. This gives the impression that Catholics are still condemning others for not being Catholic or Christian, even though most of us do not. Rather, we accept all people of good will as together we strive for greater love and peace in the world.

One of my favorite things about Francis is that he shows this attitude to the world. He regularly meets with people of diverse faith traditions, agnostics, and atheists. He often prays in silence in settings that include people of many traditions so that he does not seem to be pushing Catholic prayer onto others. When he spoke in Washington on his recent trip to the United States, he asked the crowd and television viewers to pray for him or, if prayer was not part of their own belief system, to send positive thoughts.

People around the world recognize Francis as a spiritual leader, not just a Catholic leader, because he does care about every person and, as he terms it, “our common home.”  Although he was brought up in the pre-Vatican II church, he fully embraces and lives the council’s messages.

The message is needed now more than ever. There is so much to do to improve the lives of people and the planet. We, all people of good will, need to move forward together.

Remembrances on Sunday

Today would have been my friend Angie‘s 65th birthday and I just sent a contribution to her memorial fund. In the brief note that I sent to her family, I noted that I can’t imagine that Angie would have “retired” because she was all about love and service and would not have stopped doing that. I am honoring her memory today and remembering her family and friends who have been without her physical presence for over ten years.

As it happens, two of my college friends lost their mothers this month, one unexpectedly and one after a long period of illness, so I am sending thoughts and prayers out to Sally and Tricia, their moms, and their families.

Two friends are dealing with a sudden medical emergency with their loved ones. One’s husband’s life was saved by emergency open heart surgery. The other’s asymptomatic brother was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer at his first screening colonoscopy at age 50. Both men are facing a long road to recovery and I am holding them and their whole families in thought and prayer as well.

Yesterday, I attended vigil mass at St. Joseph’s, which was the long-time church home of my friend Marcia, whom we lost to ovarian cancer several years ago.  Last month was ovarian cancer awareness month, with several big fundraising events. There has been some progress in detection and treatment since Marcia died and I hope that the advances will help her descendants to lead long, healthy lives.

It’s a quiet Sunday morning. Soon, B and I will head up to Good Shepherd Village to visit Grandma, Nana, and Paco with an extra measure of thankfulness.