Ancient God, How Young You Are

I can’t remember how or when I came across this poem written in 1983 by Jim Forest, legendary peace activist, biographer, and friend of Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day.  But I found it so kind and intimate in its portrayal of the loving relationship between creature and Creator. Jim has given me permission to share the poem, which was written while he was honeymooning with his wife Nancy in France. The poem was inspired by a sculpture at Chartres Cathedral (pictured below).

Ancient God, how young you are
I know your touch
It is in that motion of
your hands on my head
that I recognize you
and remember
that first day
when you called me Adam
and your knee
was my pillow
when I first opened
my eyes.

Jim’s most recent biography is At Play in the Lion’s Den: A Memoir and Biography of Daniel Berrigan. He is currently working on an autobiography. Visit Jim and Nancy at And see Jim’s collection of Adam & Eve art at

Pictured from left to right: The sculpture at Chartres that inspired Jim’s poem; a copy of the original, hand-written poem; Go On, Adam by Jack Baumgartner, shared with permission (visit Jack’s website here); The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo.

The Hardest Word

In 2006, I had two reconstructive hip surgeries (“triple pelvic osteotomy” for those who like to google). The first operation was a success hip-wise, but it was hard on my body. When I woke up in recovery, my pain was out of control. Over the next several days I had five or six blood transfusions, erratic heart rates, and pain. A lot of pain. I remember how lonely the pain felt, like no one else understood. I felt completely alone.

Six months later when I returned to the hospital to repeat the surgery on the other side, I remember looking into my surgeon’s eyes. He wasn’t the touchy-feely type. He wasn’t really a good listener. Not much of a talker either. But before we went into surgery he said something reassuring that—for him—probably required mustering forth and dusting off some nurturing spirit from deep within. I remember something firm, something I could hold onto, something like: “That’s not going to happen to you again. Not on my watch.” And then I told him the truth: “I trust you.”

As the anesthesia took effect and I drifted into unconsciousness, I felt deeply the reality of what I had done. Trust has no guarantees.

Trust may be the hardest thing we will ever do—harder even than love. Because trust so rarely comes with feel-good emotions. It is more often just a choice we make. But without it, we are utterly paralyzed. Without it we are so afraid, afraid of everything. This is no way to live.

Trust is not something that is cavalierly restored, once it has been broken. Sometimes it is never restored at all. But something happens when someone looks us in the eye, and from the heart, speaks restoring words—words like never again and not on my watch—and then does restoring things, like setting bones right, or listening, or being humble, or changing. Trust has no guarantees. But we are only half-alive if we never trust. Our whole human community is based on our ability to do this one hardest thing.

I pray that trust will be restored in our Church, and in the life of every person affected by the pain inflicted by and in this Body. Now we feel the cutting of the bones, the loneliness of the pain, the confusion of the aftermath. I pray for healing for every single one of us, so we can trust again, so we can be a healed, restored, strengthened, unafraid Body.

May God heal our Church and restore trust among us.

“I trust in God, I do not fear” (Ps 56:5).

A favorite picture of my husband and daughter, an image of trust.

A favorite picture of my husband and daughter, an image of trust.


  • Save the date for our One-Night Lenten Mission 2019! A Nor’easter got us in 2018, but we’re trying again! Hear 3 speakers and 1 wonderful choir! Wed., Mar. 13, 7:00 pm, 295 Benham St., Hamden, CT. Snow date is Mar. 15. For more information, go to

  • If you’re looking for a Lenten devotional for use by yourself or with a group, why not try my 3-session book Lent: Season of Transformation? It’s a nice, neat little package of Scripture, commentary, reflection questions, and prayers. You can buy it on amazon, or purchase it at for bulk rates!

  • Thanks for bearing with my slow blog pace! Someday when my kids are grown, I’ll miss these busy days! But for now, I’m just trying to keep up! Blessings, all!

The Last Gift of Christmas

This year, the last gift of Christmas was a Starburst.

Even more impractical than gold, frankincense, and myrrh was this gigantic chunk of sugar and food coloring left for a baby with no teeth.

Some years, Lego figures visit our manger. One year a tiny skateboard waited in the stable, in case Jesus wanted to ride it later. Barbie probably would have gone in too if she wasn’t so tall. But this year, just when I thought no one was paying any attention to the manger, the last gift of Christmas was left for the baby.

Not the yellow Starburst that no one wants. The red Starburst, the prize.

May the last gift of Christmas always be for the child in the manger. If it hurts a little to give it, then we know it came from deep within, from a place that wants more than what this world can give. And whatever we give him, may it come back to us in good measure—packed together, shaken down, overflowing, poured into our laps (Lk 6:38)!

About a week after Christmas, Eli retrieved the candy from the manger and began to unwrap it. “He said I could have it,” Eli told me.

About a week after Christmas, Eli retrieved the candy from the manger and began to unwrap it. “He said I could have it,” Eli told me.

And the Soul Felt Its Worth

In the book of Genesis, God’s first words to human beings after sin enters the world are: “Where are you?” (Gen 3:9).

Deeply emblematic of the rupture between humans and God, these probing words both sadden and inspire us. On one hand, we respond: “I’m sorry! I’m ashamed!” On the other: “I’m here, God! I’m here!”

It is in answer to both of these gut responses that Jesus has come. It is in response to both that he is born in us at Christmas. For God so loved the world that God also calls out: “I’m here!”

This Christmas, my prayer is that a reassurance, a peace that passes all understanding, will lodge in our hearts—a reassurance that there is no more need for God and for us to call out to each other with those heartbroken words: “Where are you?” No more rupture, no more shame. Christ our Savior is born . . . and the soul felt its worth!

Merry Christmas, all!

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Thank you to my friend Jeanne for sharing these words of encouragement from the New York Times: “Staying Catholic at Christmas.”

My December column for Catholic Digest is available online: “5 Bible Facts for Advent.”

The Saint Ann Choir will give a free Christmas concert on Sun., Dec. 30, 4:00 p.m., 501 Naugatuck Ave., Milford, CT. I look forward to seeing some of you there!

A note on today’s blog: The fact that God’s first words to Adam and Eve after they sinned were “Where are you?” is pointed about by Enzo Bianchi in his wonderful little book God, where are you? Practical Answers to Spiritual Questions. He says that God asks Adam and Eve where they are, but soon enough, we begin to ask God where he is! Christmas is an especially fruitful time to ponder these questions.

Saincilus Ishmael, Acrylic on Wood, Courtesy    Sacred Art Pilgrim   .

Saincilus Ishmael, Acrylic on Wood, Courtesy Sacred Art Pilgrim.

Advent Meditation: You Are the Light of the World

The following is one of the meditations I shared at my Advent programs this year. The theme for the evenings was light. Let’s pray for one other during this holy season of Light!

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If you spend enough time with the Scriptures, you’ll notice a pattern emerging. The pattern goes something like this: God loves you. Now what are you going to do about it?

It’s along the same lines as that iconic advice of Spiderman’s uncle: “With great power comes great responsibility.”

Or maybe it’s better said like this: God, who created the vast universe, created you in his own image, speaks to you with his own voice, knows how many hairs are on your head, knows when you sit and when you stand, holds you in the palm of his hand, hides you under the shadow of his wing, suffers for you, dies for you, rises from the dead for you, redeems and remakes you in his image, gives you a share in his life, treasures you above all things, speaks your name, calls you forth . . . will never leave you nor forsake you.

And you . . . what will you do about it? What will you do with all of this creation, redemption, calling forth, holding and dying and rising? What will you do with all of this . . . love?

The pattern is clear. Jesus himself employed it quite frequently. He said, “You didn’t choose me. I chose you! And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last” (John 15:16). Those words “I chose you” feel so good. But “go and bear fruit”? That’s harder. St. Paul wrote, “You were called to freedom, brothers and sisters. But don’t use this freedom for self-indulgence, but through love, become slaves to one another” (Gal 5:13). We like our freedom. But using our freedom to love others? That’s harder. St. James wrote, “Faith without works is dead” (Jas 2:17). Faith is abstract. Works, actions, are concrete. And as we know, Jesus said, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12). But he also said, “You are the light of the world” (Matt 5:14). We’re very comfortable with Jesus being the light. But us? That’s harder. It requires effort, work – bearing fruit, serving others, actions. It isn’t abstract. We either do it or we don’t. And we sometimes fail. We don’t like failing. So sometimes we’d just rather not be asked. We’d rather not be asked to be light.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house” (Matt 5:14-15).

Jesus, the Light of the World, dazzles us – as an infant in a manger, an itinerant preacher, a healer, a wonder-worker, a dying man, a Risen Lord, an ascended King, in heavenly bread, or returning to us in triumph – he dazzles us with his light. But we look at ourselves, and we may not be so dazzled. We look at each other, and we may not see the light.

Thomas Merton wrote about what he called a mystical experience. He said that one day he was standing on a street corner in Kentucky – it was in Louisville on the corner of Fourth and Walnut – and he writes: “I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine, and I was theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness…. Now I realize what we all are. If only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun” (Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander).

My brothers and sisters, it is no different here among us, in this church tonight. I see all of you shining like the sun! We all give off a different light. Some of us kind of glow. Some of us are a little more laser-like. Some of us twinkle, and some of us strobe. It doesn’t matter. We all shine.

And we don’t have to worry so much about failing to shine, failing to act, failing to bear fruit – not as long as we always have God by the hand, not as long as we love Jesus and we let him love us. Let him count the hairs on your head (Matt 10:30), let him hide you under the shadow of his wing (Ps 17:8), let his heart be ravished by one glance of your eyes, one bead of your necklace, as the Song of Solomon says (4:9). Let his compassion toward you grow warm and tender as he promises in the book of Hosea (11:8). Let him set you free as he promises his Truth will do (John 8:32). Because if you let God do these things, then you will shine. Because your beauty comes not just from you – that would be unbearable pressure – but your beauty, your light, comes from Christ. It’s unique, it’s your own, but it’s the light of Christ shining in and through you. So you never shine alone.

And you don’t have to be perfect. Remember the line from the Leonard Cohen song: “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in” (Anthem). It’s also how the light gets out. I can see the light of Christ shining even through your imperfections. I hope you can do the same for me.

You are the light of the world. Don’t hide under a basket. Set yourself on a lampstand, give light to all in the house. And then, Jesus says, your light will shine before others and they will glorify not you, but your heavenly Father (Matt 5:16).

Advent is a time of self-examination. That self-examination is not meant to become self-loathing or navel-gazing. It’s meant to open us up, to let the light in. If there’s a crack in everything, including ourselves, then let’s let the light into every crack, every imperfection, every opening, every need. Christ is coming – and he will be born not only to us but in us! So let’s be ready to bear Christ our light into the darkness of this world. Our winter, our darkness, our waiting needs this light. It’s time to be what we are. It’s time to be the light of the world.

St. Ann Church, Milford, CT
St. Robert Bellarmine Church, Windsor Locks, CT
Advent 2018

Reflection: Light has a purpose. It doesn’t just shine. It shines on something. It doesn’t just warm. It warms something. Where does your light shine? Are you letting the light of Christ into the cracks in your life, so his light can shine through you?

After this meditation, in Milford the Saint Ann Choir sang  “Go Light Your World” by Chris Rice . And in Windsor Locks, Brian Rucci sang “ Beautiful City” from Godspell (Schwartz) . Inspiring!

After this meditation, in Milford the Saint Ann Choir sang “Go Light Your World” by Chris Rice. And in Windsor Locks, Brian Rucci sang “Beautiful City” from Godspell (Schwartz). Inspiring!