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It was last Sunday, an afternoon of frothy flowering: nubby red-buds interfacing with cobalt skies; branches of apple trees thick-sleeved with blossoms; crab-apples, resembling cones of raspberry sherbet; weeping cherries bowed in supplication; tulips parading their colors like drum majorettes; and creeping moss carpeting rock gardens with lavenders and pinks. Such richness evidenced the synchronicity of warmth, moisture, and rich soil.

The same afternoon also held another kind of frothy flowering, one offered by the Missouri Women’s Chorus under the direction of Scott Schoonover. The rose marble sanctuary of St. Gabriel Catholic Church in St. Louis, Missouri, afforded the singers a protective womb from which to joyfully proclaim the revelations of six mystics: Mary, Mother of Jesus; Cecilia; Margaret Queen of Scotland; Hildegard of Bingen; Julian of Norwich; and Teresa of Avila.

Like the synchronicity occurring outdoors, we experienced the fruit of the Chorus’s four-part harmony; it illumined the sacred texts with ecstasy and opened them to wordless communion with the Sacred—No matter the obvious limits of the notes and words to encompass the Ineffable.

Such robust flowering in spring’s coloration and in the voices of the Missouri Women’s Chorus evidenced a power in our midst that effaces smudges from our “unclean hearts.” Humbled, we rejoiced with the fourteenth-century-mystic Julian of Norwich: “All shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

 

 

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“Will you be my friend?” asked Raphael Simi who was confined to the psychiatric hospital at Saint-Jean-les-Deux-Jumeaux in Trosly, a southern suburb of Paris. Next to him stood Philippe Seux, both intellectually disabled and living in deplorable conditions. It was 1964.

A tall strapping professor of ethics listened. Already moved by visits to other institutions warehousing “idiots” and the unseemly, the question changed the direction of his life. Mindful of Jesus’s practical care for the poor, he bought a small house at the edge of a nearby forest and with his new friends set up housekeeping—a messy undertaking but one persevered in.

Daily, often humdrum, interacting dissolved barriers of fear and the customary manner of doing things, opened new inroads into the comic that they shared, and actualized the bedrock of their graced humanness: joy, love, tears, and freedom. From this experience evolved L’Arche (French word for The Ark—like Noah’s), and a quiet revolution was born.

After five decades, such radical care for the unlovely still inflames the psyche of its founder, Jean Vanier, now eight-eight years old. Others of like mind have entered into this movement and following prayerful discernment, developed other group homes in France and around the world. Today, L’Arche has over five thousand members who live in one hundred and fifty-one communities that are spread over five continents. Three of these communities are in St. Louis, Missouri.

This moving story has been captured in Randall Wright’s documentary, Summer in the Forest (2018) and can be seen at the Tivoli Theater in St. Louis, Missouri—another must see.

 

 

 

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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