Empty, Open Hands

Well it sure has been a while! I’ll admit, this break was not necessarily planned or intended. It just sort of happened. I try to make this blog as close to God speaking through me as possible. So if I’m inspired to write, I write. If I’m not, I try not to force the issue. I’ve been inspired off and on during this impromptu hiatus, but haven’t found the motivation to write about it.

Until today. And I hope it sticks. Because I have some exciting news to share at the end.

This morning, Ben and I got the kids up early for daily Mass. You may recall that we moved back in January. Our new parish is a very active, welcoming community. There is a school attached to the parish and the students attend Mass throughout the week. Each grade/groups of grades go once a week. On Wednesdays, as today happens to be, the youngest students attend Mass.

When the older kids go, they are the ones who lector and serve. The little ones, however, are not old enough yet. Therefore, the homeschooling families traditionally handle these duties on Wednesdays. I love this inclusion of the homeschool families. Of course, we signed up to participate.

On this particular morning, Rosie (age 9) and John (age 10), had prepared to lector and served respectively. However when we arrived we were told by the custodian that Father was away, something had come up, and there wouldn’t be Mass. The kids were disappointed and understandably so.

The lights were off in the church. Only the tabernacle candle and the prayer intention candles at a few statues along the walls were lit. It’s October and we were still early enough in the morning for light to be faint and mysterious. Instead of going home, I suggested we go into the darkened church.

We went in and sat down. After a few minutes of not silence, I started a Rosary. Conveniently, I noticed that we have 4 main statues surrounding the pews – The Blessed Mother, Joseph holding the Child Jesus, a version of the Infant of Prague, and Jesus’ Sacred Heart. We did our first decade in the pews facing the tabernacle. We then began a traveling Rosary, stopping at each statue for a decade.

Our final stop was with Joseph. I was leading again, but standing behind the kids. Clare (age 7), was in front of me, using her hands to keep track of the Hail Mary’s. As she got to the 5th, instead of closing that had and moving on to the next, or just starting over, she kept it open. Then, when she reached the 10th, she kept both hands open and extended for the duration of the prayer.

I was so struck by the simplicity of her posture, yet it’s profound message. I wish I could have taken a picture. Here was a young girl, praying, with hands open and empty, ready to receive the graces bestowed upon her. She did not feel the need to work for the grace, she wasn’t proving she was good enough or worthy enough. It was a very St. Terese of Lisieux moment.

After we finished, Clare came up to me. “I liked that Mommy,” was all she said. I hope she keeps this attitude of prayer. The emptiness, the openness. What a witness to me and my own feeble attempts at proving my worth or being concerned over my accomplishments. God doesn’t need those. He just needs my hands to be ready to receive His gifts.

Speaking of gifts, I’m excited to share that Advent Journals are back and nearly finished! This year we are shaking things up with a brand new format I was inspired to create (truly inspired – I heard this phrase on a knitting podcast of all places and it became a fully fledged Advent journal. Only God can do that!). Remember the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books from when you were a kid? This is going to be similar. The key phrase is “Embrace Your Own Pace.” I’ll be sharing more as I get closer to pushing publish. These will continue to be completely and totally free, as usual. So get excited and please share the good news with your friends, family and parish!

Ode to Joy

There are some songs everyone knows. They are more than classics, they are somehow part of the fundamental human experience. One of those songs is Ode to Joy, by Beethoven. It has so many different lyric sets, is sung in nearly every key and language. When you hear this song, you know the rhythm, the next notes, even if you aren’t a musician. 

This morning, a new pianist was sitting at the piano before Mass began. She was playing Ode to Joy. However, the tempo was a bit off. Not all the chords resolved exactly on point. Some parts were a bit faster than necessary, others slower. As a musician, I found myself judging the music. “It’s not bad,” I told myself, “but it sure isn’t great either. Is this what we are in for all of Mass?” Can you hear my sigh of relief when the regular pianist walked over for the entrance hymn?

What a way to start the Eucharist. While I consider myself a musician, piano is not my instrument of choice. There is no way I could play Ode to Joy, or any other piece of music for that matter, with as much competency as the young woman did before Mass began. There I was, judging her mistakes and inconsistent melody, while my own life’s song was full of discord. 

I enjoy analogies to life being a grand song, or a large tapestry – that life is some great work of art that we all participate in but are unable to see or hear the whole of, that is God’s job. But how often do we find ourselves trying to assume the role of the master, while we are but students? 

At the conclusion of Mass, my sigh of relief turned to a sigh of doubt. The young woman was back and at the piano. Ode to Joy was the final song. She had been practicing before Mass. “Oh man, I hope this goes ok.” I thought to myself. 

What a doubter I was! The cantor announced the song, everyone raised their books and voices. It was beautiful. Were there wrong notes, maybe. Did I hear them? No. I was too busy being embraced by the swell of music coming from my whole community. Together, we made this music in praise to God. Together, we became one voice. Was every voice on pitch, probably not. Was my own perfect? For sure not! 

God intended us for community. To work together, to sing together, to praise together. Not one of us is perfect and it is not our place to judge one another’s lack of perfection. I hope that at some point today, you feel the embrace of your community as you work together, whoever and wherever your community is. Together, we are striving to get to the Kingdom of God. 

Daily Graces. kktaliaferro.wordpress.com

Impossible Prophecies to Show the Way

Well it’s been a while and a lot has changed since I shared the Lenten devotionals for this year. We’ve moved to Kansas as Ben will be flying a new plane for the Air Force. We also were blessed in March to have baby number 6 join the clan. Nathan Patrick is doing wonderfully and just started smiling this week. He has filled our family with so much joy as each sibling squeals with delight when he gives them his goofy baby grin.

Ben has had a significant amount of training for his new assignment which has kept him from home. We continue to marvel at how fortunate and blessed we are to have parents with such flexible schedules. I am not sure how we all would have survived without the help of our moms and dads during this time. Big shout out to our families – we love you!

Perhaps you are already in the know, but only since my mom was with me to help with the kids did I begin watching the TV series The Chosen. My mom mentioned watching the first few episodes and enjoying it, though hadn’t gotten far and wanted to start at the beginning again. I hadn’t watched any and had some reservations about how the story would be told. But, I went along with her desire and I am so glad that I did!

I have found many things fascinating about this show. I love how it’s asking the viewer to really pause and consider all that went into following Jesus. The logistics, the questions, the backgrounds and social complications. I have found most of the assumptions and explorations into the lives of the apostles to be plausible and worth considering. I also very much appreciate that the writer has found consultants from Jewish, Evangelical and Catholic backgrounds to help find balance and respect for the vast range of tradition encompassed in these stories.

I have especially enjoyed seeing how Mary has been involved in the story. While she isn’t in every episode, she is clearly one of the group and the apostles listen to what she has to say.

I watched the most recent episode as of this posting (Season 2 Episode 4) twice because I wanted to catch everything in a conversation Jesus has with the apostles and Mary over dinner. Big James (James the son of Zebedee) questions Jesus about the feasibility of a particular prophecy concerning Jews and Gentiles coming together being fulfilled. “How can this be possible?” He and the other apostles ask, looking expectantly at Jesus. After going back and forth a few times, it’s not Jesus who ultimately satisfies them, it’s Mary. Mary looks around the table and simply says,

I know a thing or two about prophecies that sound impossible.

The impact of Mary’s words, of her presence at the table, cannot be overstated. I can imagine now, better than before, just how radical Jesus’ very presence was for the apostles. If they truly believed that Jesus was the Messiah, then all the old prophecies about about peace among nations, Jews and Greeks coming together, lame walking and the blind seeing – everything ought to be coming true.

They had witnessed healings, so those prophecies seemed easy now. They had experienced them firsthand. But others seemed more impossible to come true. How could all the nations come together to worship the King, they were enemies after all.

The power of Mary’s witness to the possibility of the impossible causes everyone to expand their imagination. Not only is the Messiah present before us, but here is His mother. She, who is human, draws them into the impossibility of what happened to her so that she can direct them to her Son, the fruit of that impossibility.

There is a famous Byzantine icon of Mary which is called the Hodegetria, translated from Greek to mean, “The One who Shows the Way.” I love this icon of Mary in all it’s forms. Mary is shown holding Jesus. While Mary is the larger of the two, you are still drawn to the figure of Christ because of how Mary is positioned. Her eyes are fixed on you, the one experiencing the icon. Her hand not holding Jesus is extended, her fingers often a bit elongated, in an open hand gesture toward her Son. She is not the point, her purpose isn’t to draw attention to herself. She is there to draw you in through her gaze and then gently bring you to her Son, the Messiah. In this moment of the show, I was immediately felt the iconic weight of what she said and how she said it. She was not drawing attention to her own prophecy’s fulfillment, but rather used it to gently draw the apostles into that new space of the possible that Jesus was trying to present to them.

Virgin Mary Directress Icon

Virgin Mary, Directeress

For a show that is not explicitly Catholic, I found this a very Catholic moment and I loved it! If you haven’t given The Chosen a try, I highly encourage you to. The first few episodes, in my opinion, take some getting used to as the show settles in. It really hits its stride around episode 4 or 5 and has an awesome conclusion to Season 1.

I’d love to know your thoughts about the show! Have you watched it, what did you like or dislike. Did you have any particularly moving moments? The app is free to download and watch all the episodes. Or you can find most of them on YouTube.

Daily Graces. kktaliaferro.wordpress.com