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A solitary cardinal alighted on the plank fence in my back yard, then zoomed down upon the winter-ravaged grass; its redness quickened my heart, plunged me into stillness. I continued watching. Like a wise professor attired in scarlet robes, it discerned the next step and took it boldly. Then it was gone. I had been visited and I knew it. Rather than resume my work in the kitchen, I savored this intrusion.

The cardinal’s fiery presence recalled images of Christ Pantocrator (the Lawgiver), rendered in mosaics or frescoes, which still adorn domes and apses of medieval Eastern Orthodox churches. The dark outlines of Christ’s iconic eyes, his red tunic, his left hand holding the jeweled book of the New Testament, his right hand raised in blessing—Such was the demonstrable power that had inflamed the imaginations of worshipers, huddled below in the nave, whispering their prayers. Such moments sustained their lives of hardship until the next Mass.

Such still has the holding power to thwart evil, with its allure of dark power. Willingness to follow its sway freshens us with loving care and protection.

 

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The trappings of Valentine’s Day are upon us: candy hearts stamped with love notes, arrangements of scarlet roses and Babies Breath, chocolate-covered strawberries, intimate candle-light suppers, passionate verse, engagements, and so much more.

Within the buzz of this intoxication, however, few remember the third-century priest, martyr, and saint, Valentine, whose feast day Catholics celebrate on February 14. His work with Christians so vexed the Roman Emperor Claudius II that he sentenced him to death. Before his execution, however, he passed a note, signed “From your Valentine,” to the blind girl he had healed while in prison.

But are there more to such heart-quickenings than the observance of Valentine’s Day with its profane and sacred rituals?

What about those moments of blinding beauty enmeshed within riotous colors of a sunset hugging the wintry horizon? Within a newborn’s discovery of her mother’s nipple and latching onto it? Within piercing lyrics found in “A Simple Song,” from Bernstein’s Mass (1972)?

Like a natural sea sponge with a dense cell structure, the serene heart absorbs such subtle energies that enlarge its world; it sees afresh and thrives. From such heart-quickenings, we sense the Presence in our depths who loves us into our next breath. We can’t help but be grateful.

 

Such is the perspective of Leah Friedman, octogenarian author of this slim book of essays that is available on Amazon; its sepia photo of a framed drying bulb, one taken by her, portends to the richness found on each page.

Through the lens of seasoned wisdom, she counters the strictures of ageism with anecdotes from her kaleidoscopic life as an academic, wife, mother, widow, grand- and great-grandmother, photographer, author, lecturer, friend. Beneath them, stirs a vibrant and inquisitive spirit, because of which her aging readers readily identify with her. In unvarnished words she lays out the terrain of her sixties, seventies, and eighties, each with their tasks and challenges, not without losses and unexpected surprises. Referencing poets, psychologists, and theologians nuances her impressions within a larger frame.

An adept with life-long change, she can now say, “On one level I am awaiting my demise, while at a deeper level I am continually in the process of discovering who I really am.”

 

Available on Amazon

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