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Hands have a way of shaping the history of where we’ve been: from the dimpled hands of a toddler mouthing everything in her reach, to the sinewy hands of a laborer plying his trade, to the willowy hands of a dancer enhancing her art, to the knowing hands of a father responding to his wiggly children.

And then there are other hands among us, set aside for matters of the spirit: those of the Jesuit priest James Keegan come to mind. He suffers from advanced Parkinson’s disease in a retirement home in Weston, Massachusetts. Decades of holding the Body and Blood of Christ during Mass, of holding the tormented sharing of others, of teaching others how to listen to the troubled, of holding on to his God in the face of debilitating illness that will culminate in death—all have marked his “scarred hands” with wisdom.

And even more significantly is the slim volume of his poems, These Hands (2017), drawn from the crucible of of his life. Nothing escapes his attention. The hands of his chaste spirit forage for precise words until the sought-for image bursts into consciousness and pleasures his readers. Such is God’s work firing his imagination and ours.

His concluding poem, And Give Our Best to Uncle, contains such a moment: “Before my teeth fall out/ and more joints start to click/ like a metronome collecting silence,/ I want to say, ‘I love you,’ once/ and have it understood/ the way the mirror/ understands my face.”

 

These Hands by James M. Keegan is available on Amazon. Even the book’s cover suggests a resurrection sunrise.

 

 

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We’re all inclined to stash: the catch-all drawer in the study; the jammed shelves in the front hall closet; the rusting bikes and tools in the garage; the dusky trunks in the attic; the bulging sacks in the basement; the faded shed in the backyard; the discolored boxes stashed in the annex; the stacks of recipes from House and Garden magazines bundled in the kitchen cupboards.

What compels us to hoard stuff we think we’ll use someday, especially when that “someday” rarely arrives?

A similar clutter can also occur in our psyches vacuuming social media for titillation, engorging the latest scandal from The Hill or undigested trivia, staring down our neighbor’s excesses—even Broadway productions of festering resentments.

And then we wonder why we seek medical or psychiatric attention: pills to fix us, an injection to mellow us, or even surgery to cut out the disorder.

Can it be about mindlessness?

There is a response to this disorder offered by a wise friend: “If in doubt, out!”

 

 

“Oh no! —Would look at that? —That’s me! —I can’t believe that!” It tickles, unmercifully, the heart, the mind, even the gut.

Even the presentation of these nine essays is a hoot. No serious authors use the color orange for their book jackets. Sky-blue graces the inside covers, the title page, the chapter titles, and page numbers; it also highlights the first letter of the word in each chapter’s opening paragraph. Lavender replaces the usual black print in the text.

Who is behind these reversals?

It is Anne Lamott, a prolific author, now in her sixties, “with bad hands and feet.” Again, she leads her readers into the intricacies of her seasoned psyche found on each page of Hallelujah Anyway – Rediscovering Mercy (2017). Wide-eyed, she does not flinch from life’s setbacks. Her soldering spirit enlists humor, the “wise counsel of teachers with flashlights,” the fruits of Eastern and Western spirituality, and the courage to change, with others, often—all within the mystery of heart-mercy that forgives and offers relief.

Anecdotes flesh out this process, often messy and unseemly.

Such tickling pries open the clinched heart and plummets it within deep prayer wherein mercy resides. We breathe, again.

 

 

Available on Amazon

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