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Squeamish feelings laced my email to the Pastor of the College Church, requesting a Memorial Mass following my passing. A member since 1977, my departure thirty years later had been abrupt. There was this dream:

It is Sunday, at the College Church. Soon the Mass will begin. The noise is deafening: hundreds of parishioners chatter, musicians tune their instruments, and the choir rehearses. In the vestibule with others, I sit in my little red go-car, like the Shriners drive, and wait for the entrance procession to begin. With the signal, I rev my car and follow the one in front of me down the main aisle. Suddenly, my car veers off to the right, races past the others, makes a sharp turn at the sanctuary gates, and exits down the steps onto Lindell Boulevard.

 For months prior to this dream, I had been uneasy with the Sunday liturgy; it listed toward the theatrical, pumped me with excitement, and pulled me out of why I had come in the first place. The dream’s message seemed clear: Leave. It never occurred to me to speak with the pastor. In retrospect, however, the problem was mine.

Yesterday’s visit with Father Dan, however, reversed years of festering resentment, reconnected me with decades of worship that had sustained my chronic illness and pain, recalled old friends, and restored deep peace. “It’s not that often that I meet with the terminally ill who plan their own funerals,” Father Dan said handing me the guidebook he’d brought.

He understood far more than he thought. I’m relieved and grateful.

 

 

 

Readers can move an author’s hand to further flesh out a significant character depicted in one of her books. This happened to Heather Morris in her historical novel, The Tattooist at Auschwitz (2018). Within the wake of this New York Times Best Seller, millions of emails asked about Cilka, a close friend of Gita, another Slovakian Jew in the Nazi death camp.

Subsequent research afforded minimal information about Cilka Klein (1926-2004), fluent in six languages, outstanding for her physical beauty, and wise beyond her sixteen years. Not only did she survive nightly rapes by two senior commandants, not only was she responsible for the women in Hut 25 before being gassed, she survived until the camp’s 1945 liberation by the Soviet Army. However, her new interrogators judged her a collaborator and sentenced her to fifteen years of hard labor at the Vorkuta Gulag in Siberia.

 Here, Cilka’s Journey (2019), the novel begins, embellished by Morris’s secondhand research. Sparse prose engages her readers’ involvement as we follow Cilka, hardened to the core, her senses jaundiced, bereft of any vestige of the feminine. Yet, she adjusts, carefully, among her new captors and hut mates. Despite starvation diets, ragged clothing, long and brutal winters, despite death claiming overworked victims, Cilka’s presence empowers those around her to feel, even smile. Years pass. Occasional laughter trips the nightly gloom in their hut while crocheting threads torn from bed sheets into wall decorations.

Central to Cilka’s psychic transformation are a woman doctor, Yelena Georgiyevna, and Alexandr, another inmate. Through them, Cilka envisions a personal future that softens her into the loving woman she was destined to become.

Cilka’s Journey is a significant read for those involved in the Sacred work of transformation, one day at a time.

 

 

Like a newborn latching onto her mother’s nipple, contentment forms my psyche. Again, I’ve found the Source. I’ve only to milk Step III’s directive: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him. The decision gives me pause, even today.

Only when seated around the tables of AA did I discover my self-absorption and self-centeredness related to decades of living with chronic pain and illness. In no way could my will have developed: it resembled Swiss cheese. Bereft of energy, I allowed others to make decisions for me, then adjusted to the outcomes. Ill-fitting ones stressed my symptoms even more. With minimal understanding of Steps I and II, I began the arduous task of choice-making until finally grasping the import of Step III. I was becoming my own person.

But my terminal illness has sharpened the focus: Existentially, I am letting go of the only life that I’ve ever known, surrendering it within God’s care. This is also true of my choices.

Such living mandates full consciousness of my Caregiver, since the moment of death only occurs in the present, not the past or future, per Dr. Singh. My dawn practice of meditation, with deep breathing, opens onto an emerging sense of self—something to do with my eternal destiny.

Yet, shadow stuff from my unconscious intrudes into my awareness, stirring up angst, doubt, shallow breathing, plummeting me within the unmanageability of Step I. Once again, I return to the Source and suckle. Nourishment is always there.

 

 

 

 

 

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