Retro-Post: Sr. Blanche's Desk

This week I’m re-posting one of my first blog posts. It’s been off my site for several years as I wanted to make a few edits, and then I just never got around to re-posting it. Some of you may have read it in That Mighty Heart.

My first ministry position was as a parish DRE in Clinton, Maryland. I was 23 when I started, and I honestly had no idea what I was doing. This essay is about my office at the parish, which I inherited from the matchless Sister Blanche Twigg, MHSH. The bookcases of Sr. Blanche’s office were lined with Little Rock Scripture Studies and Catechist Magazines, two publications I never dreamed that I would someday write for. What a beginning I had there, with co-workers who mentored me and parishioners who accepted me. What a place that was to be, sitting at Sr. Blanche’s desk!

* * * * * * * * * *

Sr. Blanche’s Desk

I will never forget my first “real” job interview. Fresh out of graduate school, I was applying for a parish position as a Director of Religious Education. I was 23 years old. 

The interview was by all accounts fairly average until I asked the pastor why the former D.R.E. left the position. He looked happy and sad, amused and wistful, all at the same time. “Sister Blanche served here for 25 years,” he told me. “She was 82 years old. She has gone to be with the Lord.” Later I would discover that Fr. Tom’s emotion was the result of a long and solid friendship with this formidable religious sister. Twenty years his elder, she called him “Tom” in a mother’s tone and ran the show as she liked. And she liked a tight ship.

In the coming months, I would hear many legends about Sr. Blanche – how every morning she “pointed” her car in the direction of the parish and drove to work; how no one could say no to her; how children obeyed her and parents feared her; how she was a force to be reckoned with; how much they loved her. Sr. Blanche was a gifted educator, a respected Scripture scholar, a master recruiter, a thrifty manager, a green thumb, a tough cookie, a trusted friend, a spiritual guide, a miracle worker.

My first day on the job, I walked into Sr. Blanche’s office. Her plants had been cared for, her books arranged neatly. I sat down at Sr. Blanche’s desk. It felt large and unfamiliar. Unsure what to do next, I opened the top drawer. I looked at all the things Sr. Blanche had left behind – things she had used so many times, things she kept at the ready. Who was I to clean out this desk? With whispered apologies to my predecessor, I began to pick up the items inside, one by one, trash can at the ready. But I couldn’t throw away much more than a few brittle rubber bands. Many of the items were unidentifiable or just really old. In her eyes, they might have a use someday. Who was I to decide they wouldn’t? 

This was my first encounter with Sr. Blanche. And in my own way, I encountered her many more times in the coming years. I was the opposite of this great lady – I was young, I was new, and it became obvious rather quickly that no one feared me. I needed her, I leaned on her in some inexpressible way. Her influence mentored me. Her legend challenged me. And all the while, those strange things in the top drawer comforted me – old things waiting to have some new use. 

I never tried to be Sr. Blanche. It would have been utterly futile. But I took care of her plants, I read some of her old books. I tried to care for her people, and sit earnestly in her chair, and make her proud in my own small ways. And in the years I occupied that desk, I happily left the top drawer just as it was. It contained treasures I did not yet understand. 

As I look back on that time, I like to imagine that together, Sr. Blanche and I were like the scribe training for the kingdom, like householders bringing out of our treasuries what is new and what is old (Matt. 13:52).

* * * * * * * * * *

Sr. Blanche Twigg (1917-1999) joined the Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart in 1936 and served as the Director of Religious Education at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Clinton, Maryland from 1974-1999.  Among other things, she was known for her thriftiness and her love of Scripture.

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Scott Eagan's Green Fire

It’s officially summer! Enjoy a seasonal poem from our friend Scott Eagan, farmer and poet at Madonna House in Combermere, Canada. For those of you who are new to the blog, you can enjoy more of Scott’s very personal, nature-inspired, religious poetry on my blog page by scrolling down and selecting “Scott Eagan’s Poetry” under “Blog Categories” along the right margin of the page.

Thanks as always to Scott for sharing his work.
 

Look at the green fire that moves across the spring earth.
Fed by sun and rain, it nonetheless arises from within.
-
 Fr. Robert Pelton – Circling the Sun

GREEN FIRE

I lie in bed, in the dark
and outside my open window
in the blackened spring night, fire
green fire is covering the hills
eating away at the dry wood of winter
spreading cool flames, a foliar carpet
breaking the frozen hold of many months
day growth, night passage.

I wonder as I lay there,
who minds the forest while we sleep
what force watches as men rest
and nocturnal life awakens
surely God must sleep sometime
so much work to be accomplished in
these long days of May, short
nights of solstice.

I rest my weary head upon the pillow
falling asleep is not easy while nighttime
mysteries unfold right outside,
my house all asleep, even the sun
has gone to bed, a few hours
and light will flow softly over the canopy
spring rain blessing leaves and roots
imperceptible growth.

I dream of thunder until early morning
visions of mighty forests and wide fields
a vast carpet of leaves, the secret life of plants and animals
springing to life under the power of sun and showers
heartfelt energies lifting the sleeping spirit
resurrection of what was dead and buried
peace arising as an ever new Sunday
and from within, an emerald fire signaling hope.

Scott Eagan
May 27, 2018

 Baby Queen Anne's Lace. Photo by Mary Weems, Simsbury, CT.

Baby Queen Anne's Lace. Photo by Mary Weems, Simsbury, CT.

They Worshiped But They Doubted

I’ve always appreciated Matthew’s resurrection narratives (see Matt 28), which include two powerful accounts of disciples worshiping the Risen Christ. In one such account, they literally embrace his feet in a deeply symbolic act of homage (28:9). In another story (which we heard in last Sunday’s Gospel) Matthew includes this wonderfully realistic statement: “When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted” (28:17).

This may strike us as odd. Worship and doubt are essentially opposites. Worship means you’re “all in.” You’ve decided. You believe. You’re in awe, fascinated, engaged. Worship is a total giving over of yourself. But doubt means you aren’t sure. You’re wavering. You hesitate. You’re afraid of something, or afraid of yourself. Doubt means you’re holding back.

 “They worshiped, but they doubted.”

This is what we do. It's a familiar human rhythm. We worship, but we doubt. We’re all in, and then we’re not. We believe, and then we waver. We’re in awe, then we’re afraid it isn’t real. We’re fascinated, then we wonder why. We’re engaged, then we falter. We start to give ourselves; we hold back.

The disciples were only human. They were simply and genuinely human, even at that moment, on a mountaintop, face to face with another human being who had (impossibly!) risen from the dead. They worshiped him glorious and glorified, but they doubted.

My brothers and sisters, don’t be ashamed in the moments you doubt, or when your worship does not achieve a total gift of yourself. Don’t be disappointed when you waver. Remember these disciples on the mountain. We know that they loved Jesus, and he loved them. In your worship and in your doubt, you love him too. In your moments of being human – high and low moments – moments in liturgy, moments at home, moments at work, moments in your car, moments alone in a quiet church, or at the beach, or lying awake at night in your bed – you worship, you doubt, you love the Risen Christ.

Worship and doubt, this unlikely pair, are as natural for humans as breathing, as living and dying. You are human, and he loves that about you. Haven’t you found that worship creates a relationship that leaves plenty of room for your doubt? So when you can, embrace his feet and do him homage (28:9). And when you can’t, be at peace. He embraces you.
 

“And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Matt 28:20).
 

Announcements

  • It’s great to be back with you after my hiatus due to our big move! We’re still busy getting settled, but we’re moved in and happy in our new home.
     
  • My Advent book is out! You can purchase it at Liturgical Press, Little Rock Scripture Study, or amazon.com. I’m currently working on a book in the same series about finding peace in a stressful world.
     
  • I’m enjoying my work with Little Rock Scripture Study! Cackie Upchurch, the Director of LRSS, recently interviewed me for Little Rock Connections. The interview is here.
     
  • Everyone is invited to a concert at my home parish in Milford, CT. The Saint Ann Choir will give an encore performance of their inspiring Pentecost Concert on June 21, 2018 at 7:00 p.m. (501 Naugatuck Ave., Milford). The concert is free. I promise you’ll be glad you came!
 Frances Watt. Mixed media painting. Courtesy  Sacred Art Pilgrim .

Frances Watt. Mixed media painting. Courtesy Sacred Art Pilgrim.

Blog on Hiatus until May

Happy Easter, all! He is risen!

Just a note to let you know that my blog will be on hiatus for a month or so while we pack up our house and move a few streets over to our new home! This is an exciting time for our family as the six of us find a little more space and settle into a place of our own. Please keep us in prayer during this Easter season as I will keep all of you.

Here’s a poem about “home” that my daughter Siobhan wrote for my husband years ago:

Poem for Daddy

Over the meadow, skip.
Over the rocks, hop.
Over the fields, run.
Over your home, stop.


Enjoy the beginnings of spring, and I’ll see you in May!

 You know you're a New England-er when you buy "a cape."

You know you're a New England-er when you buy "a cape."

This Holy Week: Just the Hem of His Garment

This Holy Week, remember those in the Gospel who only wanted to touch the tassle of his cloak, the hem of his garment (Matt 14:36). Some days, some years are like that. You may not feel that you can keep up with Jesus on the way to Golgotha. You may not feel that you can shoulder that heavy wooden cross. You may not feel that you succeed at walking along the path with him, or listening to him, or always doing what he asks. But do you see him passing by? Can you reach out your hand, like the woman who was ill for twelve long years? Perhaps – like her – you find yourself on the ground, reaching out – grasping, believing, stretching – “If only I could touch the hem of his garment, the tassle of his cloak” (Matt 9:21).

It is faith that has you there, reaching out for Jesus. And this year, that is enough. This Holy Week, accept where you are. Jesus will pass by that place.

And just as he was aware of every person who touched him (Lk 8:46), he is aware of you. He will take your hand and speak the words you need to hear: “Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace” (Lk 8:48).

This Holy Week, just the hem of his garment is enough.

  Trust in the Lord  by Liz Lemon Swindle. For more of Liz's beautiful art, visit  lizlemonswindle.org .   People brought to him all those who were sick and begged him that they might touch only the tassel on his cloak, and as many as touched it were healed (Matt 14:35-36).

Trust in the Lord by Liz Lemon Swindle. For more of Liz's beautiful art, visit lizlemonswindle.org.

People brought to him all those who were sick and begged him that they might touch only the tassel on his cloak, and as many as touched it were healed (Matt 14:35-36).