“The Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name.”
How on God’s green earth did we get to May 31st? This entire year I have felt about three days behind. January was cataract surgery. February was agreeing to participate in and make a presentation at the New York Encounter: a voluntary contribution that all told what with reading, researching, pondering, writing, travel, encountering, and follow-up, seemed to take the whole month out of my life.
There was the glorious March week in San Miguel de Allende, a “vacation” for which I dearly paid upon returning home to more piled-up appointments, obligations and work. There was the five-day April retreat in Las Cruces which, like all of these events, was both respite, balm and toil all rolled into one.
There was the specter of a three-day zoom writing workshop that will at last occur this coming weekend and for which I truly can’t wait; the upcoming week in Detroit June 20-27; and the three months in Ireland July through September.
There was dental work–for which I have now been reduced to going to Mexico: more on this tragicomedy later.
And there was the giving of two mornings on prayer to the Maryknollers in Los Altos, which was accomplished a couple of weeks ago: an interlude I’m still processing, and that I’m thinking of especially this morning.
The Feast of the Visitation celebrates the journey of Mary, pregnant with Jesus, across “the hill country” to stay with her cousin Elizabeth who miraculously, since she’s past child-bearing age, is six months pregnant with John the Baptisst.
Scattershot though I can be in some ways, with all things to do with writing, speaking or sacred obligations, I am what you might say hyper-conscientious. I so wanted to honor these incredible missionaries. I so wanted to present ideas and reflections with meat.
I had asked to stay a few extra days at their Center, just to drink in the ambience and landscape and community. And I agonized for months over what to say.
Right away after the first session, I got: You need to speak louder, and slower. Some of these guys have trouble hearing. Which is so typical of life, especially my life, reality, etc. Whatever your meaty reflections, maybe say them in such a way that they can be heard?
Moreover, hardly had I launched into the second session when one of the guys raised his hand, and said, “Can you just tell us your story?”
Hah! How many times had I told myself over the last few months, For the love of God, don’t natter on about yourself and your sordid story. You’ve already writen about a zillion books about it. Talk about THEM! Think of THEM!
Nonethless, make no mistake, I can, and will given half the chance, hold forth at insane length on various aspects of my checkered though glorious life.
So in a totally spontaneous, led-by-the-Holy-Spirit way, I kind of laid it out. The alcoholism, the quitting the job as a lawyer, the conversion, the vocation. But also the excruciating love addiction, the divorce, the twenty-plus years of celibacy, the cultural exile and, partly because Mother’s Day was still fresh in my mind, the abortions.
For those of you who don’t know, there were three, pre-conversion, obviously.
And they–Fern, Swallow, and Warren are their names–have turned out to be “rich wounds” (a phrase that caught my eye from an unremembered hymn).
I told how after decades of working through, repenting, and healing, I now stand with the real, actual mothers to be recognized on Mother’s Day. Clearly I am only fit to touch the hem of the garment of the actual mothers who have given birth, nursed, raised, formed, suffered untold anxiety, and made an inestimable contribution to the world by bearing their children to term and caring for them.
Even apart from my three unborn children, and my inability/incapacity remotely to make the sacrifice of real mothers, however, I do consider myself a spiritual mother and therefore worthy to stand.
And this past Mother’s Day, when I stood with tears streaming down my cheeks as always, I had a new thought, which was that in my way I have mothered those children. It’s not that I think of them every other second, but it is that I carry them in my womb and next to my breast.
My whole life in fact consists of an effort to become the mother they deserved, and a preparation to one day meet them. The felix culpa–happy fault–of my sin is that consequently, my celibacy, my exile, my writing, prayer, dentist’s appointments, daily chores, travel, all become part of a second-by-second labor of, a straining toward, love.
Whether I’m admiring a California buckeye, balancing my checkbook, or sweating tears of blood over an essay–it is all, in a sense, for them, and by extension, for all of life and all the world.
That’s why I’m incapable of seeing abortion merely, or in some sense at all, through the lens of politics. To be for all of life is to be full of a strange joy even in the midst of terrible suffering. My abortions will always be a wound for me–my central wound, in fact–but in God, all things are made new. That doesn’t mean the wound disappears. It means the wound is very slowly, and very mysteriously, transformed.
It means I have flowered forth in a way I’m not sure I could or would have without the wound.
Somehow Mary and Elizabeth and the Visitation are right in the middle of all that–or I’m right in the middle with them, wound(s) (the Lord knows there are others) and all.
It is an objective, verifiable fact–and if you followed me around, you would see–that anywhere I am sitting–in an airplane, a park, a church–within minutes a mother will appear with a squalling infant and/or two to three hyperactive pre-schoolers, and plunk down immediately in front of, in back of, or beside me.
Seriously, it’s uncanny, I used to try to avoid such groups, but now I calmly wait for them, and inevitably, the event comes to pass.
I used to wish the children would sit somewhere else and stop crying. Now I realize they–and their sainted mothers–have come to greet me.
To visit me.
To guard me.