I finally realize I am a tomato plant. I am flowering, but I am not yet fruiting. That does not mean I am failing at being a tomato plant; it means I am growing. Not only is it natural, it is necessary. Pride and impatience leave me wanting to be fruitful now—but this is the stage in which virtues are grown. Without it (and accepting that it is a long, slow process), I will merely produce stunted humility and patience and prudence and—and everything necessary to become a truly fruitful tomato plant. Ironic, isn’t it, that if I do not embrace these days in which I often feel terribly incomplete and disappointing, I will not become all I can be.
Thus I show my young, delicate flowers to the sun and wait for the rain.
Imagine: already He has suffered verbal and physical battering, a scourging that has flayed His back into ribbons, and thorns skewered into His brow. And now His bleeding body must carry the heavy, rugged tool that is to ensure His death. He must drag it up through the streets of Jerusalem as He is slammed with bloodthirsty screams, knowing that escape from this agony is not yet at hand.
I have often wondered what part of His Passion Christ found the most difficult. And I believe it must have been the carrying of His cross.
I think I understand why, if only a little. As I find find myself carrying my weaknesses, I see how far I have come, but I also see how much farther I have to go. I can’t help but wonder if I will make it, for the road looks impossibly steep, and I continually stumble and cut my knees on sharp stones, barely able to pick myself up again. I am bleeding, bruised, struggling to remember why I should not give up.
And yet, somehow, hope is a smoking flame that refuses to be snuffed out. I cling to the promise that my weaknesses will eventually be put to death on that faraway hilltop—and then, only then, will my strengths rise. This promise was made by He who walked the Way before me, carrying the weaknesses of the world, who died only to rise in a glory that far surpassed His suffering.
He is the reason I do not give up. I am not suffering alone. No, He suffered first that I may unite my suffering with His.
I am learning how to make sourdough bread. Once upon a time, this was how all bread was made. Wild yeast is drawn from the air into a flour-water mixture and left to ferment in a jar on your countertop—thus everyone’s “starter” will taste slightly or muchly different, depending on your air.
Starter is much like prayer. Prayer looks different for one person to the next. But, just like the starter that needs to be fed a little flour every day to keep the hungry yeast happy, everyone needs to pray every day. Even if you only bake bread once a week—or go to Mass on Sunday—that starter needs to be fed or it will fall asleep. If starved, it won’t be good for baking, which is the point of it all. And so it is with your soul. A little prayer every day will keep you awake; fail to prayer and you will begin to drift into apathy. You will likely emerge from Mass as one helluva flat loaf.
But—praise God—there is an abundance of yeast in the air! If your soul has fallen asleep, you can always begin again.
At times, I feel I am floating in ink.
Have I been damned like the leviathan that Saint Columba banished into the deep? Am I to be forgotten here, forever aching to return to the light flickering far, far above?
And then I hear the smallest voice. It is like a gentle current rising from a crack in the ocean floor—rising to stir the water in which I find myself suspended. It says to me:
In the stillness is where you will find Me. In the silence where nothing can be heard but My voice, even be it the faintest whisper. Here, the sun cannot blind you, salty breezes cannot swoon you, crashing waves cannot deafen you. Here, you will discover who you are, for I dwell within you, and I am the Light who reveals all.
Here, only I AM.
And it is then that I realize I am breathing—I am alive. I am not lost.
I am found.
There is a window before my face, as there is before yours. Sometimes, I want to scream and punch through the glass. But it is thick; my scream is silent, my fist is bruised.
Sometimes, the glass is frosted and I see and understand only as much as a newborn understands its mother’s lullabies. By my own effort, I cannot dissolve the mystery, for it resides on the other side; I must wait for the veil to melt away and bless me with clarity.
Then there is night. There may be particles of starlight to ease the pain, or there may be nothing, and when there is nothing, I rock and weep and press my face to the glass and beg the light to return. It always does.
I have come to see that one’s home is a prison without the window. Many a soul has pulled a curtain over the window and turned away to artificial light, and I truly do not understand how they can go on. What of hope?
Sometimes, I see a face at the window. It is often mine—especially visible at night—and then ensues the bitterest struggle to see beyond my self. And then there are the euphoric moments when I see a face other than my own; I see a reflection: Nicholas. By his face I am reminded that he too is searching and that there is One more beautiful even than he.
I search, we search, and bask in His light when He is near; beg when He is far. But I think I know why He does not press His face to the glass of our earthly home: He must know our hearts would burst with longing to touch the Face of Love.
You want to be free, but what is freedom for?
You are roaming the world. You are drinking in this freedom, your heart flaming with life on the pinnacle of a mountain. But your heart yet yearns, for you are searching. Searching, searching for something, your heart driving you onward.
And then one day you discover a little gate in a stone wall. Your heart, which has been beating wildly all the while that you’ve roamed, suddenly is quiet in your chest. You lean against the gate and peer through.
You glimpse something beautiful, something more beautiful than anything you’ve yet seen. How is this, when you have traversed jungles and rivers and caves? You think you may understand: the world never belonged to you, but this—this is the place you have been searching for. And yet—there is a lock on the gate. And you do not have the key.
Suddenly, there is the warmth of a presence beside you. It is another—and when he opens his hand to reveal a key, you realize he is your other.
Together you enter into the hidden place beyond the wall. Here, in the secrecy of a garden, you discover that there is always something new to be found under every leaf, behind every rock, and even in the coolness behind the little waterfall. It is not nearly as vast as the world outside the garden, but in its smallness you realize something: the freedom that you knew before was only ever to carry you to this place where you and he are discovering, day after day, the intricate beauty of the garden that is yours and yours alone.
You realize that freedom exists for love.
I was given two gifts this Christmas that cannot be weighed. First, a flight to visit my family over two thousand miles away. There is a thing or two you should know about the Mallett home: it is saturated in warmth and light, food and wine, teasing and laughter, wisdom and beauty. Whether slurping Father’s Thai soup or nibbling Mother’s whipped shortbread, we shared many a conversation that reached the heights of a kite one moment and the depths of an anchor the next. We bantered over boardgames, ate late, woke late, played more boardgames, and throughout it all cached many more bright memories next to those already cherished (these newest including additions to the family, such as the seriously edible and ever-smiling Clara-Beara).
Yes, gifted with my family. And gifted, unexpectedly, with clarity of sight. Curled up on the couch against my husband’s chest, studying my loved ones, I suddenly saw them as God sees them. It was excruciating.
When Nicholas noted the tears glittering in my eyes, he took my hand and whisked me away to the refuge of our bedroom, where I found myself dissolving into weeping on his shoulder. I cannot remember the last time I cried with such intensity. But my heart was twisting, twisting, for just as I saw their souls as God sees them—in all their childlike beauty—I also saw how I have failed to love them as He loves them.
My poor husband—he held me close, murmuring sweet consolations that did not ease my tears. And then I began to laugh, nearly as deeply as I was crying, for even then, in my poverty, the Lord was gifting me with love. I remembered that He sees my soul just as I saw the souls of my loved ones.
I emerged from the bedroom, puffy-eyed and grinning, ready to play another boardgame with my beautiful, baffled family. I don’t think they understood any more than my husband did, this strange, seemingly random, spiritual experience. But not strange or random to me. Even now, I admit, tears are pricking my eyes, for the gifts that mean the most are truly those that are unexpected but just what you needed.
The old brick convent was immersed in a whirl of white, but we were warm in our nest, where I roasted lamb in white wine and baked nutty apple crisp. Today, the woods are sweet with icing. They are silent. But within many people, blue sky or not, the weather is yet whirling.
“Fear is contagious,” my husband said to me as we lay in bed, nose to nose. Yes, it is. It is no less a disease than cancer, burrowing its tumorous tendrils into one’s trust.
“I prefer a church that is bruised, hurting, and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church that is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.”
I wonder: have the words cried from the rooftop by Pope Francis truly been heard? Or have his words deflected off the confinement created by the very sickness he decried? The cancer of fear, spreading rapidly.
Many fear that the rock that is Peter is eroding—but I believe it is truly their trust in Christ who established the rock that is eroding. They are clinging to their own rock, their own security, and thus have closed the doors of their hearts to the streets. They are spotless, righteous, in their pure white hospital gowns—and dying inside.
Whirling, whirling. Fear is stirring the water, awakening the leviathan of the deep—that is, the desire to take control—but was it not Christ who calmed the storm? When the Apostles cried out in fear, it was Christ alone who could assure them that no matter what, He was in control. Two thousand years later, nothing has changed, for Christ is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. The rock that He established is as strong as it ever was and ever will be, because He promised that it would be: the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
We are not called to interrogate every act, every word, produced by Pope Francis—but to trust in Christ. It’s simple, and that’s precisely what our pope has been telling us. When we simply trust in Christ, the doors of our hearts are opened to the streets, where we the sick find our healing. Love, love, love, we are healed by love, in loving and being loved—when did this change? When will it ever change? Christ reached and He touched the leper, the blind, the maimed.
We the Church of this day are called to do no less.
Winter has come early to the island.
Finding ourselves snowed-in following our traditional wine-and-cheese with Nicholas’s relatives, his grandmother led us upstairs to the farthest corner of the pieced-together farmhouse. Tucked beneath the slanted roof of a bedroom smelling of nostalgia (musty comic books), my husband and I snuggled in the stifling darkness, toasty-warm in the stale bedding despite the snow tinkling against the window.
Awaking from a restless sleep (blamed on the lumpy pillows), we padded down the narrow staircase into the kitchen. Ordinarily, I would eat breakfast and get on with my day. But there is something about an old farmhouse that makes one stop, and sit, and keep sitting in the sunlight that has broken through the overcast to grace this retreat in the countryside.
I remember as a child, standing motionless at the bottom of the staircase in my own grandmother’s kitchen. Everyone else was either napping in the heat of the afternoon or tromping in the pasture with Grandpa. I was breathing the stillness of the interior of that beloved yellow farmhouse. And I was watching the stained-glass rose gently revolving at the window that peered out at the century-old evergreens (once believed to hide wolves in their shadows).
I think my soul grew wiser in those moments—I think my soul grew wiser in the kitchen of Nick’s grandmother. For I believe aging does not always occur through what you do . . . but sometimes through what you don’t do. When we sit a minute or two longer in that ladder-back chair and rest in the golden morning, we learn that life passes by as swiftly as we let it. We learn that when we abandon the frenetic rhythm of our daily schedule, we begin to hear the pulsing beat of the heart of God.
I confess that, in the busyness of life, I had forgotten just how much I yearn for simplicity. But it only took a few moments in the quiet of the farmhouse to remember that my heart is happiest when it is beating in time with God’s heart.
Human love is not an explosion. It is a series of sparks—and every spark rises to Heaven, for no matter how much you love your beloved, only God Himself can pervade every bit of your being as an inferno in a house.
Sparks. It is ridiculously easy to forget about the worth of sparks when we were created for the inferno of God. But they simply cannot be forgotten, for it is by sparks that we will catch fire. We must love in the little things, preparing ourselves for Love Himself.
Sparks: a tender kiss, fingers intertwined, an embrace by candlelight. But sparks also arise from the hammer honing me into a selfless lover: cutting the cucumber into round slices rather than long because that is how my husband likes them. Sparks: cuddling when I am antsy to write, rubbing his back when I am sleepy, biting my tongue from forming an unnecessary comment, or saying sorry for the second (or third) time today. And then, at times, there is no spark at all—only the steady glowing embers of love constant.
Now that I am a married woman, I understand more than ever that nothing and nobody can fill me in this life. There is a sadness in this, knowing that I must wait to be filled, but it is a happy sadness, because I know I am not alone. My husband is waiting with me.