Wayward shepherd



“’And I’m the tyranny of evil men. But I’m tryin’. I’m tryin’ real hard to be a shepherd.’”  Pulp Fiction, Quentin Tarantino

As I did exactly a year ago(An Advent first), I began my Advent fast after evening Mass. The morning has been one of silence: the silence of a smartphone used merely as phone and not social media device, the silence involved with a nutritional cleanse, and as hoped annually, the silence of prayer. I prayed the Liturgy of the Hours for the first time in months.   It felt wonderful to be grateful and to be still.  However, soy realista and I own who I am.  This will be a struggle as it was last year(Ruining Advent.)  It’s possible that by tomorrow, my emotions will get the best of me and my thoughts will run ragged.  Como decia Cantinflas, ahi esta el detalle.

My biggest challenge isn’t my compulsion to be online.  It is my propensity for negative emotions and thoughts.

Gossip, sarcasm, and shade throwing may be humorous and entertaining but they also allow me to give voice and free reign to anger, resentment, and meanness. As evidenced by this year’s Kermit meme of the moment(and I do love me some Kermit, My love of Kermit memes), everyone struggles with their dark side.
73291699 I’m not the only one who feels that the f@#*ery is too much at times.  But I’m the only person who can control how I act and think given the situations and people around me.

Recently, within hours of declaring myself unwilling to deal with negative online conversations about the election(Holding the door open,) I became engaged in an online debate about immigration with someone I’ve known since the eighth grade. In the past, we’ve been able to respectfully disagree.  This time, I couldn’t believe the angry tone that was taken. While I pointed out facts, my acquaintance responded with vitriolic statements. When I realized I couldn’t argue with logic and reason, I took the step of silencing the discussion by blocking my account.

I flirted with the idea of sharing screen shots of the conversation or of composing a blog about the situation.  I’m glad I didn’t follow through on those actions. I would have gained nothing other than temporary satisfaction.  While I’m hilarious when I’m petty,  I do more good when I keep those cruel thoughts quiet.

The daily struggle will be one mostly within me.  I will have to be mindful and purposeful.  Every day, I will have the opportunity to be my best self.   Every day will be another day to sustain the peace offered by silence and compassion. May I fast from the noise of anger.

A Lenten miracle

As happens every Lent, my daughter’s school hosts the Stations of the Cross every Friday. An upper grade combines with a lower grade and the children read from Scripture, act out the scene, and help us to reflect. They charm us with the cuteness of the little ones and move us with the depth of insight of the older children. I have had to miss the last few events due to my work schedule.  Now that my daughter is an avid reader, she was assigned three stations to read with a 7thgrade partner. I’m sure I could have requested personal time in advance.  However, given recent developments, my boss and I now have a standing meeting with an individual every Friday.  Te puedes imaginar how I looked when I realized that I would be spending time with said person, rather than experiencing a Lenten tradition with my child. 
This Chihuahua is my spirit animal; I give this look when #icant
It’s not very Lenten or Catholic of me, I know, but I’m also the writer who brought you You’re Ruining My Advent. To make matters worse, my boss was unavailable to join the meeting and asked if I could handle it on my own.
Though I admit I wanted to say no, I couldn’t possibly handle it, I took a few moments to gather my thoughts before agreeing to move forward. So while my daughter took the microphone and read Scripture, I fought the urge to read this person.  
“Shade comes from reading…reading is the real art form of insult” Paris is Burning
I did not give out a piece of my mind. I conducted the meeting calmly and professionally.
Was it a Lenten miracle?  Grace?  Personal will?  All of the above.  I have the ability to choose how I act.  I have the ability to choose whether or not my emotions will control me or I will control them.  I choose to treat people with respect. I choose to leave another’s dignity intact.  In doing so, I commemorate the Stations of the Cross.  So while I would have preferred to be at the Stations of the Cross in person, I was with my daughter in spirit.  In reflection, I see how the Stations she was assigned speak to the situation I experienced.
The 3rd Station: Jesus falls for the first time
My faith journey has been one of struggle and failure. I have never pretended to be someone for whom faith and religious practice come easily.  I fall all the time.  Though I don’t fall quite like I did before I got my mind right, I have moments of weakness.  My anger against the co-worker or any other person who may have slighted me is a feeling with which I wrestle. I know it is not right to hold grudges or pass judgment. I am praying for those who anger me.  I am praying for a heart of forgiveness and compassion. 
The 4th Station: Jesus meets his mother
My faith journey has been shaped by those I love. My own mother taught me to pray. While her methods in doing so were not always gentle, they gave me words that have sustained during my most challenging trials. I wrapped a rosary around my arm when I went into labor with my daughter. I pray before every appointment, test, and medical procedure. I prayed before the Friday work meeting. Now that I’m a mother, I walk with my daughter in her faith journey. Together, we pray the rosary, attend Mass, read the Gospels, and talk about our faith.  When she struggles, I struggle.  When she hurts, I hurt. Love and faith are intertwined. 
The 5th Station: Simon helps Jesus carry the cross
Despite my personal struggles, I accept the call to serve others. I do so in my career. I do so in my personal life. I may want to decline sometimes. I may be angry, indignant, fearful, exhausted.  But I take up the cross. In doing so, I remember who I truly am. I am a person of faith and compassion. 
This struggle is Lent.  Lent is a time to accept our humanity in all its facets and to accept the call to love others.  Lent is a journey toward peace. 

YouTube Theology -Or- how making my own music video was spiritual exercise

“I let it fall, my heart
And as it fell, you rose to claim it
It was dark and I was over
Until you kissed my lips and you saved me” Adele
Last Good Friday, I spent a few hours perfecting a visual and musical reflection on Jesus Christ.  I tend to be verbal, articulating my thoughts into words.  Still, I found the project worthwhile. It made me weep, smile, and think.  It was also an experience I could share with my daughter, discussing the different images with her. To this day, she associates Adele’s “Set Fire to the Rain” with Jesus.
So just what did I mean?  I’ve had many a student put together a PowerPoint or music video to articulate her/his thoughts on a book and my attempt was no different.  In creating this video, I intended to produce a reflection of key images and themes related to my understanding and connection to Good Friday.  Lent has always been an important liturgical season for me; it resonates deeply with my life experience and my spiritual life. I’m well aware of the brokenness of my connection to the church; I have been in self-imposed exile from ministry since the second trimester of my pregnancy. I still attend Mass and nurture my prayer life.  I still seek Jesus.
Who is Jesus to me? He is a man of open and magnanimous heart. He is a beloved first and only child to his mother. He is the forgiveness of a loving father to his prodigal son(s).

Jesus is a lover of people and equalizer of society. He reached out to women, already second class citizens in a patriarchal society, especially those who were outcasts: the woman at the well, the woman with the hemorrhage, the adulteress who was going to be killed.  He preached truth and hope to everyone.

In recent history, I have recognized Jesus in the activism for a more equitable society.  Our world of failing economies and political battles is in need of a Good Shepherd, a wise rabbi, a teacher of the people.
And who is Jesus if not his Passion?  In the Sorrowful Mysteries of the rosary, the Stations of the Cross, countless stained glass windows and paintings, we experience the moments of Jesus’s suffering and death. Jesus is a political prisoner, tortured and stripped of human rights. He weeps in pain yet carries the cross with dignity. We are called to be the angel in Gethsemane, Veronica, Simon the Cyrenian, Joseph the Arimathean, Mary. We are called to love him. 

As for the song chosen, I’m sure many feel that a secular song is inadequate or even inappropriate. However, in revisiting the lyrics, I hear of the love between Jesus and humanity, of his sacrifice and pain, of the end of the relationship on Good Friday.  But I also hear of a love that inspired and challenged.  That first stanza may as well be me talking about Jesus. 
And so I wait for Easter.  

Judgment and mercy

My brother used to half-jokingly call me and one of my comadres,” the judge, the jury, and the executioner.” Why? Because we used to cut everyone, male and female, we weren’t feeling into sushi pieces. Chop! Except we didn’t need to get ghetto(though as I’ve gotten older, I find that side of me showing up at inopportune moments) about our mean-girl attitude. We were too smart. Better to be like Dorothy Parker and leave them wondering how words could be so gosh-darn hurtful yet hilarious. I’ve been judgmental. It’s a side of myself I’ve worked to overcome. Judgment shows a lack of compassion and mercy. It shows insecurity and cruelty. It’s a cheap glass house.

But what to do when you know something or someone is wrong? I don’t mean drag-queen wrong, “girl that outfit was all wrong” or go away in handcuffs wrong. Wrong in a way that hurts the person and therefore all those who love them? I have tried to show mercy to people doing wrong. I want to offer them my love and support. That can be exhausting.

Around Christmas, during this terrible winter, I made a difficult decision. I chose to cut the child of my heart out of my life. Now I have no children. But for 10 years, I have devoted my life to working with kids and inevitably, because of my tender heart and desire to nurture, I have taken a few under my wing. Of these, there are certain individuals whom I have brought into my personal life as friends and confidants. One I have gone so far as to call him my son. He has held me up when I’m drunker than I’ve been in over a decade. He has listened to me cry, cast threats, and rail against myself and the world. He has been a true friend. But my friend has written me text messages from the bottom of playgrounds and bottles. I recently reached out to him again–and find myself wondering if I’m an enabler.

Just this weekend, as a joint was passed around the lounge in the side room of a large SOMA club, I marveled at my complete lack of interest in substance abuse. My Lenten fast from alcohol has made the nightlife an interesting experiment in sociological research and being asked for rolling papers was duly noted in my mental notebook. Do I look the type? But I did not pass judgment. So why did I gasp when my homeboy T, feeling revelatory on our drive home, shared that my former crush Beautiful partakes of more than one illegal substance? It’s none of my business. He’s a grown-ass man. We’re nothing to each other except casual pals, linked by my brother and my last birthday. Does it make him any less attractive? I won’t lie. I am disappointed. But who am I to judge?

During my own recent struggles, I have not felt judged. Everyone has been compassionate and merciful. I need to send out my own love for others, especially when they hurt themselves.

Half an hour with the Devil

I do believe in the Devil. I’ve seen him. Live. Twice. Maybe a third time but it’s one I can’t remember at all and no one in the family will confirm my fear that something scary happened to me in Peru when I was ten. In any case, I have been afraid of the Devil for a long time. It started with a forbidden screening of The Exorcist when I was six years old. I had to sleep with a nightlight until I was eleven. Even now, nothing soothes me quite like light, be it a bright bulb in my bedroom painted like the sky or my favorite light, the sun. Being a good Catholic, I acknowledge the presence of evil in the world and I accept the existence of the Devil. Call it superstition or my trademark hysteria. But I know him. This week, I spent thirty minutes talking to him in my office.

The last time I encountered the Devil, I was ready to send a heavy glass ashtray into my monstrous ex-boyfriend’s skull. When his eyes burned into me with hatred, they were his cocaine-fueled glare but also the stare of someone else. Possession isn’t always about spinning heads and pea-soup vomit. We take evil into our bodies by choice. I know because to this day, I believe God kept me from giving in to that same awful presence. Had I surrendered, I might have assaulted Monster. I might have been taken away in handcuffs or on a stretcher and my life would have been different.

This week’s meeting with the Devil was different in many respects. I was not poised to attack anyone. The eyes that looked into my soul were filled with a mixture of fear, anger, pain, and sadness. There might have even been tears or perhaps those were mine. This time, I was talking to a child, one who was terribly defiant and loathsome, violently aggressive to everyone but me. I made every effort to convince him that his life of violence would end badly. I became a woman of great compassion. I truly felt love for this child who had threatened other lives. But I also felt the fear of something even more malevolent. In my heart, I begged for the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In my mind, I thought of Mary. Through my voice, I tried to be human to this boy–and to the evil. Because no matter how scared I was, I know that my tiny, weak humanity is my greatest strength.

I’m sicker than I have been in years. I can’t keep food down. It could be a virus, bad food, stress, all of these factors. Or it could be the aftermath of surviving yet another harrowing encounter with darkness.