Remembering Ruth

One of the highlights of my publishing career occurred in 1998, when I had the privilege of being invited to the cabin home of Billy and Ruth Bell Graham. At the time Servant was publishing a gift book with Ruth and her daughter Gigi, and it was hard not to dissolve in a mushy pile of goo and fan-girl all over myself when I entered that peaceful retreat and was warmly welcomed by Ruth herself. (Billy was on a trip at the time, as he often was.)

https://billygrahamlibrary.org/from-the-collection-of-ruth-bell-graham-divine-service/Living room of Billy and Ruth Bell Graham near Montreat NC (Photo Credit: Billy Graham Library)

She served iced tea on that hot July day, and I admired the mantel of the large stone fireplace and thought about the august company whose privilege it had been, before me, to sit in this space. She struck me as a deeply prayerful woman who made it possible behind the scenes for her husband to carry out a very public ministry — including counseling a half-dozen American presidents.

As a parting gift, Ruth gave me a volume of her poetry, which has a pride of place on my “fire shelf.” Here is one poem that seems particularly apt today:

There will be less someday —

much less,

and there will be More:

less to distract

and amuse;

More, to adore;

less to burden

and confuse;

More, to undo

the cluttering of centuries,

that we might view

again, That which star

and angels

pointed to;

we shall be poorer–

and richer;

stripped — and free:

for always there will be a Gift,

always

a Tree!

Ruth Bell Graham’s Collected Poems, p.127.

The Long Good-Bye

My parents and I in 2016.

Today’s first reading, on the Feast of All Souls, is comforts me today. At a time when both my parents are experiencing the physical and mental frailties of old age, this beautiful passage is reassuring: Better days are ahead.

The souls of the just are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them.

They seemed … to be dead; and their passing away was thought an affliction,

and their going forth from us, utter destruction. But they are at peace.

For if before men, indeed, they be punished, yet their hope full of immortality;

chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed

because God tried them an found them worthy of himself.

Wisdom 3:1-3

As a Catholic, I believe in the reality of purgatory. As a daughter who has walked with my mom through the slow goodbye that is dementia, I am confident that this life, too, can be a kind of refining fire. It took her more than seventy years for her eyes to be opened to the beauty and truth of the Catholic faith … but when at last she saw it, she embraced it of her own free will. And in that moment, a long-standing rift between us was healed.

So on this feast of All Souls, I am thankful to have experienced this miracle. And I am grateful that God saw fit, in the case of my family, to begin the healing in this life, rather than the next.

The Blessing of Witches

Joseph replied, “Do not fear. Can I take the place of God? Even though you meant harm to me, God meant it for good, to achieve this present end, the survival of many people.” Gen 50:19-20

As I write this, the news reports that thousands of women are plotting to cast a “binding spell” on the President to prevent him from being elected to a second term.  (A #MagicResistance was also reported in 2017 – perhaps if you want to blame someone for 2020, you might look a little farther afield than the White House. Play with the devil, ya gotta pay.)

Image by SplitShire from Pixabay

Meanwhile all across social media, Christians have decided not to take this current darkness lying down. Prayer groups have sprung up all over. “Praying for Justice Barrett & Family” has more than 18K members.  “Prayers for President Trump” has more than 24K, while “The Presidential Prayer Team” has over 41K.

Now, I leave it up to God to sort out what happens on November 4. I’ve done my part, having stood in line for three hours with my daughter to vote. But this morning my eyes flew open just after 6:30, and would not close again. That never happens. So I decided it was a sign, went down to my office, grabbed my rosary, and turned on the Divine Mercy Chaplet. Mom stirred, and I set aside the beads and went to help her with her morning routine. As she got up off the bed,  she wrapped her arms around me and just held on to steady herself. We stood there for several minutes as the music continued to pray:

For the sake of his sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.

Over and over, the words repeated the soothing refrain. Technically I wasn’t praying the Chaplet – my rosary beads were on the other side of the room. But as I held my mother close, I thought about the words of the prayer – and about how our bodies at that moment reflected the spiritual posture of those who know they have no power to help themselves. Through the Chaplet, we confess our utter dependence on the Almighty to drive away the shadow that is encroaching over the nation, and to revive  us again.

Lord, you bring the sun to shine on the good and the wicked alike. Your mercy extends beyond our understanding, for you are Father to us all. Open the eyes of those blind to your goodness, the ears of those deaf to your truth, and make straight the paths of those who have lost their way. Jesus, we trust in you.