Thursday, December 7, 2017

An Exhausting Day

My mother was in a deep sleep when I visited the nursing home. Her head rested on her right arm, and she was unresponsive to my voice, my touch, or the visit of the nursing staff. For fifteen minutes, she slumped over exhausted. Finally, her head started bobbing when I sang songs from the "Jersey Boys" and massaged her cold hands.

I went to her room to get a couple of blankets to throw over her. She came too when she felt warm enough and I was able to snap this photo of her. She liked my hat and her blanket.

She needed to be adjusted in her chair because she was sore and she asked me to massage her legs. They were hurting her badly.

She then said, "I was sleeping," so I asked, "What do you dream about?" A big smile came over her. "The kids when they were so young."

I said, "You were happy then." "Yes."

"Are you happy now?" "O, yes. Mostly. Yes, I'm happy."

Then she fell back to sleep.

After eating some of the chocolates I brought for her, I went to see Gordon, whose wife is actively dying. He was happy to see me. He introduced me to his family and I went in to pray with him and his wife and to help her along the way. We chatted more and it was time for him to spend some last moments with his beloved bridge. It was sad, and at the same time, very touching.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Winter Reimagined

To see photos of Tower Hill's Winter Reimagined, click on the link below:

2. TH #2            

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Advent Resources

General Advent Website
A wonderful website full of all kinds of Advent materials from Creighton University. It will take some time to look through it to find things you want. 

“Arts & Faith: Advent.” A series of videos linking works of art to the Sunday readings. Scroll down and click on each week of Advent and on Christmas, choosing Cycle B for 2017. Approximately three minutes each. Suitable for adults and teenagers. From Loyola Press.

Advent in Two Minutes. Fast-paced, informative, and entertaining video on Advent from Busted Halo. Older children and young adults might especially appreciate this one. You have to be able to read the words as they fly across the screen, so it's not for children.
Advent: Waiting for Jesus. An Advent music video (slide show to music of Mumford & Sons) from the Dublin Roman Catholic Archdiocese. Again, you need to be able to read.
The Christmas Poem. This video for young children is based on a booklet published by the Bible Society (England and Wales) in 2015. What makes this retelling different is that it starts with creation, shows humankind’s need for a Savior, and ends with references to the adult Jesus, so that the nativity story is told in the context of salvation history.

Advent Calendars
One-page printable Advent calendar with suggestions of things to do and Bible verses to look up. Can be used by families and also by individual adults. Each year this calendar is published it includes a poem; look here for the poems on all the previous calendars
Several templates for blank Advent calendars so that adults or children can color or doodle thoughts on each day of Advent. From Praying in Color, the website of an author who encourages drawing as prayer.

Jesse Trees

This Jesse tree project includes not just printable Jesse tree ornaments but also printable reflections to go with each day. The reflections and the number of ornaments are specifically for Advent 2017, beginning on 3 December. From the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Erie, Pennsylvania.
You can use this as a sort of “virtual” Jesse tree. For each day of Advent you can look at a picture, read a short reflection, and look up the Bible story or stories listed. The days are given as Monday in the first week of Advent, etc., so it can be used any year. The last week is a full seven days, however, so if you want to finish it on time you will need to double up on the third week. From the Loyola Press website.

Advent Prayers, Advent Wreaths, Advent Devotions
A family Advent prayer, an Advent wreath blessing, and a prayer for each week of Advent, from Loyola Press.  The printer-friendly versions have extremely small print, so printing directly from the website may be better.
One-page printable sheet (pdf) with instructions for making an Advent wreath and prayers to use with the wreath. From the website of a Disciples of Christ pastor.
Celebrating Advent in the Home. From the website of King of Peace Episcopal Church in Kingsland, Georgia: “This 8-page brochureis designed for families to use in celebrating the season of Advent. It may be reproduced free of charge as long as the copyright notice is included. The .PDF file contains four 8.5 x 11 pages to create the 8-page booklet. Pages one and two create a service booklet for use with the Advent wreath. Pages three and four create a booklet with additional Advent information and suggestions. This information is also available in web page form [with colored pictures].” (Best suited for families whose children are above a very young age.)
Make a paper Advent wreath for children. Read the instructions, scrolling down past the photos to find the printable pages. From the website of a Catholic school teacher.
Scroll down to find two thoughtful Advent prayers, printable either as one-page colored posters or as small cards (four to a page). From at Xavier University. Nice for giving away. (You may also like some other prayers available for printing here!)

Four Gifts for You This Advent. Weekly Advent devotional readings from Loyola Press. You can read them online or print them.
Weekly devotions from the American Bible Society, based on the Gospel of Mark. Suggested craft activities are included.

Advent Music
It’s hard to find listening music specifically for Advent, not Christmas. Listen here to 90 minutes of choral music for Advent, much of it based on hymns. Great to play while doing Christmas preparations such as baking, wrapping presents, or decorating. From Concordia Publishing House.
Great O Antiphons
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
A video for each one of the Great O Antiphons, made by the Society of Saint John the Evangelist (Episcopal monks) in Cambridge. Each video is about ten minutes, except for the short introduction on Dec. 16. For adults and young people.

Printable Nativity Scenes

Simple line drawings of figures that can be colored, cut out, and glued around toilet-paper rolls (or cut-up paper towel rolls) to stand up. For very young children this is probably the best one I have found. From Catholic Icing, a website maintained by an individual Roman Catholic mother.
Stable and figures to cut out. A bit sturdier if printed on stiff paper but will work fine on regular paper and will look good even without coloring. For all ages. From Made by Joel, a paper craft website maintained by Joel Henriques.

Monday, December 4, 2017

"Leaving the Holy Land," by Mary Lou Ashur

Leaving the Holy Land.

I am leaving the Holy Land
Leaving behind sneakers dusted with white earth.
And waffled footprints on the hill of Salome's spite.
Whose fiery sunset is framed
In centurion olive trees.

I am leaving the Holy Land
Leaving zaatar’s bite and rose water’s kiss.
And the clamor of Sepulchure's pilgrims
Beneath smoked stained ceilings.
Cacophonous chants in tongues
And ardent cries of hope for children’s children

I am leaving the Holy Land
Leaving time set aside to to know that place of Jesus,
And walk on arid soil made sacred by His footsteps
Confirming life amidst in ruins and walls -
Silent witnesses to revolution.

I am leaving the Holy Land
Leaving the well where a Samaritan drew kind water.
And Lazarus inner tomb - empty and still.
And the Bethlehem’s hill of shepherds' awakening -
Palestine's walled off places - that lack intrinsic peace.

I am leaving holy land
Sunglasses sunk in the Sea of Galilee,
No respect, no mourning follows me
Only my exhale remains, mingled with prayers
And a tear.

I go to holy land,
Expecting the promises made on black rock hills -
Blessings to poor and peacemakers
The place of prayers and ancestors
Still alone, less afraid.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Messiah concert: Satisfaction

We concluded our slate of Messiah concerts this weekend. As a chorister, it was remarkable to look out into the audience to see faces of satisfaction. Some faces were smiling; others were serene; some were prayerful; some had looks of astonishment upon the. It is truly a gift to delight so many people with beautiful notes.

The soloists were superb and we were fortunate to have them sing with us: Erin Smith, Soprano; Ray Bauwens, Tenor; and Thomas Jones, Baritone. Our conductor, Sonja Dahlgren Pryor, is outstanding in her artistry, especially as she celebrated her 86th birthday a week ago.

While the chorus sang very well, everyone's attention was riveted upon the faces and voices of the Honors Youth Choir, ages 10-18, because of the purity of their sound and for the hope they provide for the future. Parents, grandparents, family, and friends beamed when the children sang.

Customarily, audience members withhold their applause until the end of the sections of the performance. One family was enthusiastic and applauded every piece at the start of the concert, but they found they were lone clappers. At the end of the concert, one woman from this family thanked the soprano soloist and said, "This is my first time at a concert. My heart was exploding as I heard the pieces and I just wanted to clap to every note, but I realized I was not supposed to do so. I had to clap in my heart and I'm just so excited for my first concert. Thank you. Thank you."

It is quite a joy though to gaze upon the faces of the audience. It is like waking up on Christmas morning to see children find a Christmas tree overflowing with brightly decorated gifts. Well, those smiles and expressions are gifts to us. We are glad we gave you a gift to cherish. Merry Christmas.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Alert and Hungry

I sat down next to my sleeping mother and softly touched her arm and she suddenly opened her eyes and was full of energy. Normally, I sit with her and rub her arms and massage her legs and after a while, she groggily wakes up, but not today. The nursing staff said she has been joyful this week and very engaged. They reported that she has been eating very well and is enjoying her food.

A yellow cake with chocolate frosting sat in front of her. When she saw it, her eyes widened and she smiled. She began to eat it, most especially the part with the chocolate frosting. I supplemented her cake with a few Hershey drops. At one point she opened her mouth and I placed a drop in her gaping mouth and was surprised. I said, "I thought you wanted another one," but she replied, "I was yawning." Then we laughed.

As she was cold, I brought her two blanket throws and she exclaimed that she felt so good now. One of the blankets was red and green and I said it looks like Christmas. A woman came by and wanted to go outside, but the nurse, "But it is cold outside." My mother began to sing, "Baby, it's cold outside." She started laughing and said, "I like that song."

Then she pointed to the Christmas hangings around the building, so I started singing a few songs and she began to sing with me. She said, "I never thought I could sing Christmas songs, but I do like them, and I now know that I know the words." She sang Silent Night, Rudolph, Angels we have heard on High, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, and then said, "I really like Silver Bells." So we sang that.

She said, "You must sing some of those songs at church." I do. I told her I was singing in a concert this weekend and then I started to sing some of the Messiah songs. She kept time as I sang them, nodding her head, and tapping her foot.

That led into Communion, when she said, "O, that is good."

She reached out and held my hand and with a surprised look said, "Your hands are very warm. Mine are so cold." Hold my hand then and I'll warm you up.

She saw a photo of a baby on the table and said, "O, he is so cute. Isn't he adorable? He looks like one of my babies. My babies are handsome. That is because they come from me. O, they are good looking."

She then talked about food again, so I brought up some Italian pastries. Do you like cannolis? Well, her scrunched up face told me no. What about pistachio cookies and pizzelles? Yeah. I like those. How about torrone. Slurp. Do you have any? I don't see them anymore. "Well, I sometimes, have one. I really like them? "

"Does Ma make them for you?" Yes, she does. "That is nice. Why does she do that?" Well, she knows I like them? "Does she make them for Rich?" I don't think he likes them, but she'll make them if she knows you like them. "Maybe she'll make some for the girls." I think that would make her very happy.

One of the nurses came by to say goodbye as she was going home for the day. She told us about her husband and that she was looking forward to a day of rest.

We did a little more singing and she conked out. I waited to see if she would wake up again, but she was out soundly. She had her oxygen, she was warmed up, and she was well fed. She seemed very happy.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

The Time is Coming

My mother gasped when she saw me and immediately burst into tears. The nurse said, "Those are tears of joy, mummy." My mother said to me, "I didn't think I would see you again. It has been so long." We embraced as she cried.

She was alert and chipper, but those moments fade suddenly. We shared a few Hershey Drop chocolate candies and she was looking for her dog, Lulu, to feed a drop. Since the dog did not come, she ate it instead. I said, "We can feed her when she comes back."

I asked how she was doing, and she said, "Well, I'm dying." "Do you think that will happen soon?" "Yes, I'm not ready yet, but I feel it." "What is it like?" "It is just coming on."

"Are you afraid of anything?" "Not really." "Is there anything you would like to say before you go?" "I've said everything that I need to say. Everyone knows I love them. No, all is good." She continued, "I meet so many good people here. Most are very kind, and they really like me. I feel good when people like me, and many do." She asks a nearby resident, "Do you like me?" She nodded, and my mother said, "and I like you too. It is really about liking people and caring for them."

I looked around to watch all the people who were visiting. A woman was visiting her mother, who is on the bossy side, but the mother became very tender around her child. Sons were holding their mother's hands and daughters were making their mothers laugh. Staff were attentive and caring. Lots of goodwill was being splashed around the center. People were very happy.

Two male residents died within the past week. One was very healthy and death came quickly for him; the other lingered in pain for a while, so death was merciful to take him.

I asked how my mother's legs were feeling and she said, "A little better, but everything is getting hard for me. It is overwhelming and I think it will end soon."

"It is OK for you to go. Your pain will be gone, and you'll feel better, and you'll remember us. And we'll remember you." I hope so.

"You'll see your Ma and Pa, and Betty, and Dawn Mari, and that will be a happy time." I hope so.

"You'll be close to God and to Jesus and you'll be able to see everything that we are doing. You'll be close to us from heaven as we stay on earth, but it won't be too long before we join you in the future." I hope so.

"And it is OK to let go. Jesus will be there to catch you as you pass from this life to the next. He'll hold you in his arms just as you held us when we were born. And what did you do? You held us close to your heart, you kissed us, you smelled us, you smiled at us, and Jesus will do the same with you. He'll be smiling at you when he holds you in his arms, and he will keep you safe." I hope so.

"And everything will be very fine." I want that.

"So, I want to say to you: I love you. I'm sorry for the ways I offended you, and I hope you forgive me. I forgive you too. I'm sorry. And mostly, I want to say: thank you." That's OK.

"Would you like to pray now and receive communion?" "Yes, please." We say the Lord's prayer and I offer he communion. After half a minute she says, "It is funny. The piece of communion is dead in my mouth, but it is so alive. It really is alive."

I gave her some moments in silence and her eyes became heavy. Then a nursing assistant came over to move her to her lunch table. I asked her for a hug and she sank into my arms.