Month: March 2014



I’m setting out this week for a week in the Monterey area on the central Coast.

Thursday night, 7 p.m., I’ll give a talk at San Carlos Cathedral, pictured above. The oldest building in California, the oldest jokes…No, seriously, I’m going to come up with some new ones on the long drive up. Everyone’s invited: Catholics, alkies, Catholic alkies, anti-Catholic alkies, non-alkies, non-Catholics.

On the way back home, I’ll stop in Santa Maria and spend a night or two with my friends from the Guadalupe Catholic Worker. More Lenten joy. I’m fasting (more or less) from sugar. 
Happy Cesar Chavez Day. It’s a state holiday in California, as it should be.




VAN GOGH, 1882

“I have to listen to her gossip, as I’m with her all the time, but I don’t worry about that. I”ve never had so much help as from this ugly and faded creature. For me she’s beautiful and I find in her exactly what I need. Life has marched over her body. Pain and visitations have marked it. Now I can get something out of it.”

–Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Anthon van Rappard



When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2000, my first thought was “I’m going to die.” 

My second was “I do not want to ‘battle” cancer.” 

I have my own battles. 

I didn’t want to fight a battle on behalf of big pharma, my war-obsessed culture, or the fear of being thought a nutbag. 

I wanted to acknowledge that to be diagnosed with cancer is a traumatic psychic blow. I wanted to educate myself. I wanted to come to grips with my mortality. I wanted, as I have always wanted, to act in freedom (a stretch, as I was panic-stricken) and to make the decisions I thought were right for me.  Not for anyone else. For me.  

As it turned out, I was incredibly lucky. My cancer was Grade 1, Stage 1. 

And STRIPPED, my new book, is a different kind of cancer memoir. It doesn’t describe chemo because I didn’t have chemo. It doesn’t describe radiation because I didn’t have radiation. 

I had the tumor removed and then, after reams of research and untold hours of anguished prayer,  I went against medical advice and declined all further treatment.

STRIPPED is about the long, slow process of coming to that decision–made on Palm Sunday, fourteen years ago.

It’s about the loss of a certain kind of innocence, the end of a marriage, the deepening of my faith, the vocation of writing.

In fact, it’s not a cancer memoir at all. It’s a memoir about coming to terms with this thought from Kierkegaard: “We come into this world with sealed orders.” 

Here’s an excerpt. I was living in Koreatown at the time and had just schlepped up, as I often did, to 8 o’clock Mass:

“One Monday morning in the parking lot of St. Basil’s I ran into my friend Frank, a 70-ish Irishman who looked like the angel in It’s a Wonderful Life, had been sober for years, and was squiring a fellow with a rat-like face who was clearly coming off a major bender. Frank was one of these hearty cradle Catholics who are always going off to Europe to visit shrines and talking about some miracle or other. He’d once lent me a very good book called Abandonment to Divine Providence, by a 17th-century priest named Jean Pierre de Caussade. I liked Frank.

Still, when he asked about my cancer and, right there in the parking lot, grabbed my arm and said, ‘Come here, let’s pray,’ I instinctively recoiled. In New England, where I come from, even your own parents don’t hug you, and I had never quite grown used to the touchy-feely ways of Southern Californians. But Frank got a hold of me, and then he made the hungover guy, who reeked of booze, come over, and we all put our arms around each other and Frank placed his free hand on the upper part of my chest and started pouring out a very heartfelt prayer. ‘Jesus, we ask you to help Heather,’ he said, with just a hint of a brogue. ‘You know she loves you SO MUCH, and we ask you to heal her: every tissue, every cell, every limb, every organ’…

Ten years ago—okay, one year ago—I would have died of embarrassment to be standing out in public praying with a geriatric Irish Catholic and some poor mangy drunk, but the great thing about having cancer is that situations that formerly might have seemed traumatic pale in comparison. Also, you very quickly realize you can no longer afford to scoff at anything or anybody that might even remotely have the capacity, and more to the point, willingness, to help.

After a few seconds I realized that to be embraced by these kind, well-meaning folks, who no doubt had many better things to do than take time out of their busy morning to comfort me, actually felt good. So afterward, I said, ‘Wow, Frank, I sure am glad we ran into each other!’ and shook the rat-faced guy’s hand, and we went our separate ways with smiles, waves and, on my part at least, a warm glow of gratitude.

Everything was fine until around two the next morning, when I got up to use the bathroom and thought,
That’s strange, I could swear I’m feeling a little nauseous.”


So far STRIPPED is available in paperback only.

You can buy it from amazon.

Or you can buy it from my very own createspace store. In which case I get higher royalties but you pay list price and forego the free shipping opp.

The ebook should be out next week: will keep you posted.
I’m working on a  trailer. 
A thousand thanks for the support.



God said on the seventh day to rest so I’m going to let the good Fr. Patrick Dooling give the homily today.

This is Day 1 of a 4-day series from Lent 2013. I feel everyone should know of Fr. Pat. He is Associate Pastor at San Carlos Cathedral in Monterey, has taught in such far-flung places as Samoa, and I’m sure has tons of credentials he has been too modest to mention.

Plus he’s funny.

You can find the rest of the series on youtube.



“Please help me dear God to be a good writer and to get something else accepted. That is so far from what I deserve, of course that I am naturally struck with the nerve of it. Contrition in me is largely imperfect. I know know if I’m ever sorry for a sing because it hurt You. That kind of contrition is better than none but it is selfish. To have the other kind, it is necessary to have knowledge, faith extraordinary. All boils down to grace, I suppose. Again asking God to help us be sorry for having hurt Him. I am afraid of pain and I suppose that is what we have to have to get grace. Give me the courage to stand the pain to get the grace, Oh Lord. Help me with this life that seems so treacherous, so disappointing.”
–Flannery O’Connor, A Prayer Journal





MATTHEW 17: 1-9

Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother,
and led them up a high mountain by themselves.
And he was transfigured before them;
his face shone like the sun
and his clothes became white as light.
And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them,
conversing with him.
Then Peter said to Jesus in reply,
“Lord, it is good that we are here.
If you wish, I will make three tents here,
one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
While he was still speaking, behold,
a bright cloud cast a shadow over them,
then from the cloud came a voice that said,
“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased;
listen to him.”
When the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate
and were very much afraid.
But Jesus came and touched them, saying,
“Rise, and do not be afraid.”
And when the disciples raised their eyes,
they saw no one else but Jesus alone.

As they were coming down from the mountain,
Jesus charged them,
“Do not tell the vision to anyone
until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”


My friend Maria, sober two years now, tells the following story. At the depth of her drinking, her two kids were taken away from her. The family is now re-united.

I HAD A BABY WHO DIED at birth in 1994. We named her Elly. My husband at the time was an incredibly spiritual person. He was like the Pied Piper. Very kind and giving. When the baby died, he wanted to name her Eleemosynary [meaning charitable; same root word as eleison]. Elly, Moss, in airy ways. He wrote a song about how she took us down so we could go forward. Elly was like an act of charity. In ways she saved the two of us. She saved us from each other and took us away from each other, which was probably going to happen away.

My husband had had a horribly alcoholic, workaholic dad. So he wouldn’t drink. And in those days, I wouldn’t drink either. I got remarried in 2001. Ben was born 2003. Clare was born 2004. I started drinking, badly, when Clare was born. My husband pretty much abandoned us after Clare was born. That’s not exactly why I drank, though that didn’t help.

I lost contact with God but never with Elly. She comes to me in profound ways every year on her birthday.

It was 2007. My husband was in China with his sick mother. I agreed to go there to visit, end of August. I was drinking heavily; I was in bad shape. I was incredibly depressed. Ben and Clare were with me, a 12-hour flight. On the plane I was thinking, Even though I’ve been abandoned, I’m going to China for the sake of his mother, our family, our kids. Clare was asleep on my lap; she was 2. Suddenly she woke up. and said, “Mom, I saw my sister.” I’d never told my kids about Elly. I’m thinking, Well okay, little children like to imagine they have an even littler sister. So I asked, “Are you talking about a baby sister?”

“No, a big sister,” Clare said. “She had white hair and blue eyes and she was wearing a long beautiful white dress and she was in a garden full of flowers and trees. She took my hand. I asked her, ‘Can I come play with you?’ And the girl said, ‘Yes—just not now.’ Then she let go of my hand and turned to go and behind her was a man. And he was clean, he was so so clean!

I felt like I was crystallized. I felt electrified. I almost wanted her to get off my lap, I felt so charged over.

“Mom,” Clare kept asking. “How did the man get so clean?”




“A friend e-mails me a link to some photos he thinks I’ll like. they are by George Silk, of fourteen-yea-old diver Kathy Flicker in Princeton University’s Dillon Pool in March 1962. The black-and-white images have a spirit-photography quality; the water displaces Flicker’s head, and refracts her body, inflating its size nightmarishly. What falls below the water’s surface is free of our usual grasp of physics. The pictures achieve something rarely articulated about the metaphysical state of swimming. The body, immersed, feels amplified, heavier and lighter at the same time. Weightless yet stronger.”

Leanne Shapton, Swimming Studies 



Here’s something cheerful for Lent, by way of my beloved friend Msgr. Thomas Terrence Richey: a quote from Karl Rahner.


“In despair, despair not. Let yourself accept everything; in reality it is only an acceptance of the finite and the futile. Make yourself block up every exit; only the exits to the finite, the paths that lead to what is really trackless, will be dammed up. Do not be frightened over the loneliness and abandonment of your interior dungeon, which seems to be so dead — like a grave. For if you stand firm, if you do not run from despair, if in despair over the idols which up to now you called God you do not despair in the true God, if you thus stand firm — this is already a wonder of grace — then you will suddenly perceive that your grave-dungeon only blocks the futile finiteness; you will become aware that your deadly void is only the breadth of God’s intimacy, that the silence is filled up by a word without words, by the one who is above all name and is all in all. That silence is God’s silence. It tells you that he is there.

That is the second thing you should do in your despair: notice that God is there. Know with faith that he is with you. Perceive that for a long time now he has been waiting for you in the deepest dungeon of your blocked-up heart, and that for a long time he has been quietly listening to you, even though you, after all the busy noise that we call our life, do not even let him get a word in edgewise, and his words to the man-you-were-until-now seem only deadly silence. You shall see that you by no means make a mistake if you give up your anxiety over yourself and your life, that you by no means make a mistake if you relax your hold on self, that you are by no means crushed with despair if once and for all you despair of yourself, of your wisdom and strength, and of the false image of God that is snatched away from you.

As if by a miracle, which must be renewed every day, you will perceive that you are with him. You will suddenly experience that your God-distance is in truth only the disappearance of the world before the dawning of God in your soul, and that the darkness is nothing but God’s brightness, that throws no shadow, and your lack of outlets is only the immeasurability of God, to whom no road is needed, because he is already there. You shall see that you should not try to run away from your empty heart, because he is already there, and so there can be no reason for you to flee from this blessed despair into a consolation that does not exist.

If we do this, then peace comes all by itself. Peace is the most genuine activity: the silence that is filled with God’s word, the trust that is no longer afraid, the sureness that no longer needs to be assured, and the strength that is powerful in weakness — it is, then, the life that rises through death. There is nothing more in us then but God; God and the almost imperceptible and yet all-filling faith that he is there, and that we are.”

–Karl Rahner, The Eternal Year, trans. John Shea (Burns & Oates).



From a reader in North Carolina:

‘”Thought you might like the following link of Winifred Atwell playing the piano. Maybe the whole world knows about Winifred Atwell, but I just discovered her when I heard her on my Pandora channel! With a little internet research I learned that she was a Trinidadian who was a highly regarded classical pianist, world famous ragtime player, and top recording artist in the 1950’s in England. She was also a lifelong Catholic, humble enough to play organ for her church, who always donated her time on Sundays to play concerts for charity.” 

Check it out!: The Black and White Rag (with Twelfth Street Rag):