Summer Catechism, an early religious experience

     Perhaps I was eight years old, perhaps it was June.  Not too hot yet, but summer vacation.  Our small town Catholic church, St. Bartholomew’s, had the honor of nuns coming out from the city to teach us catechism for a week.  We brought our breakfasts – this is what I remember with joy!  There was a grove of trees with picnic tables throughout, sun shining through.  The grass was still a bit dewy.  My mother sent my younger sister and I with little boxes of cereal and milk.  The boxes, rice krispies or cornflakes, would open along dotted lines forming a bowl with waxed paper lining; we’d open the milk cartons, pour the milk in, and have our breakfast.  All the tables were filled with children together eating this special outdoor breakfast.  Everything seemed shiny and lovely.
     After breakfast we went to class outdoors, which also seemed special.  We sat on folding chairs on the grass in the open sunshine.  I’d barely ever seen a nun before.  They seemed alright, not mean or scary, but not as personal as our classroom teachers at school.  They were intent on teaching us ideas they felt were very important, and those as much and clearly as possible in this short time.  We memorized the catechism and were given holy cards with pictures of saints as rewards. The catechism explained all about life and how we should live.  They told us how Jesus had suffered because Adam and Eve had eaten an apple when they were told not to and so we were all born in sin and couldn’t go to heaven when we die.  Jesus had made things OK for us with God again by his terrible death.
     After class we went into the church to do the Stations of the Cross alone and go to confession.  Doing the Stations was very painful for me physically.  I didn’t know if it was the same for everyone else.  I did it because I was told to.  I’d go to the first picture on the wall:  “Jesus is tried by Pilate”, and read the story, then kneel down as the book said to and read the prayer of love for Jesus. I’d stand up and move to the next picture, “Jesus is whipped”, look at the picture, read the story, kneel down and say the prayer of thanks to Jesus.  There were fourteen pictures, each more gory and sad than the one before. 
     After doing this spiritual exercise I’d try to go to Confession.  I was raised to be a “good girl” so I didn’t do much of anything others’ thought wrong, so going to Confession was hard.  I usually had to repeat the same sins over each time:  “I forgot to say my night prayers.  I was mad at my sister.”  Maybe I’d add a general “I disobeyed my parents”  but actually I never did this.  Confession was also lots of kneeling and physically hard for me, but I never told anyone about how my body hurt. I supposed everyone experienced their bodies the way I did.  Besides, I’d learned that it pleases God for us to suffer silently.  The example of Jesus’ suffering and dying to please God made this clear.
Many years later when I was sixteen it was finally discovered that I have a severe curvature in my lower back; my spine was almost falling off my pelvis!  Many, many times I had to do things that felt too much and were painful and exhausting, but I had meditated many times on the story of Jesus’ sufferings so I never complained about my own suffering.
     At summer catechism, after confessing our sins we were done for the morning and my mom would pick us up for lunch.  I did like learning about life and religion and the promise that God loves and cares for us.  It was fascinating to be close to these unusual women all covered in black with only their faces showing.  I dreaded doing the Stations of the Cross though the story touched me deeply. Confession made me feel guilty because I mostly had to lie to do it, not seeing anything clearly sinful in the way I lived.  Eating breakfast outdoors in the sunshine and dewy grass with other children still brings me joy to remember.
    All of these experiences were the ground upon which much thinking happened as the years went forward.  I endured suffering I should not have.  Finally it became too much and I spoke my true experience of my body and was able to get relief through surgery.  It took much more suffering yet to learn that The Source of my Life really is trying to lead me towards happiness and out of lifestyles and beliefs that value suffering for its own sake.  It would take much, much more experience and reflection to figure this out….

The Day I Fell Off My Bike

Walking was difficult now
so how could I enjoy the spring?
Was I forever banished from strolling through the woods?
From greeting the buttercups, the trilliums,
Spring Beauties, the May Apples?
“No way, Jose!”
For $30
I bought a bike from the sixth grade boy
next door.  His dad
adjusted the seat on this
old no-gear stop-with-your-pedal bike.
Not able to get my leg up and over I
sat it on the ground, stepped over and
pulled the bike up between my legs
And then:
Get those pedals right,
here at the top of the slanted drive,
hop up on that seat and I’m off!
Sailing down the drive into
the quiet street, no cars,
I’m pedaling happily and free!
I’m 71 and I can still ride a bike!
Around the corner onto the next quiet street,
wind and sun on my skin, in my hair, on my face,
I wave at the neighbors and they
Smile back and wave me on.
But down the way
I’m surprised to see where this
street is going – into
A car-busy street, I
see it coming up – Must either
stop or make a U.
A wide driveway offers
space for a turn and
I go for it,
for the U turn,
but  don’t   quite   make it.
Whoops,  Whoops I’m on the pavement
 really  hard.  My arms reach out to
   protect, to stop, bike on top of me, pain in shin,  blood?
      can’t tell, try to gather
         nerves and muscles back together quickly,
car coming down the way, pain actually
  pretty bad.  “Are you Okay, Ma’m,”  the young man asks
  passing very slowly in his car?
“I’m fine; thanks.” I lie and smile, and he
moves on and so do I,
walking my bike till
I’m stable enough to get on again.
I get on again,
Pedal with effort towards home,
afraid to look at my throbbing shin
but once again on wheels
and I’m still 71 and still
riding a bike!

Spring Poems

Imagine a magical universe in which we never die!  We live forever and whenever we want, we take different forms of our own choosing, in order to learn and grow in whatever ways we want to. 
In such a magical Universe,
Oh, I want to be a buttercup! A buttercup!  A buttercup!
O warm richness!
O passionate color!
O enthusiasm for Life!
I’ll plant myself by a watery place
  and laugh for joy.
I’ll glory in the singing birds,
the humming bees,
  the busy pesky flies,
   the tickling breeze.
And the sun’s salvation,
“Relish in the warmth of sun!”
my shining saffron face will sing.
“And don’t forget enthusiasm, passion.
Dance, swim, listen, sing, love,
    feel and sense.
      Celebrate like me,”  I’ll laugh,
I, the cheerful buttercup!
 I’d be honored to be a jack-in-the-pulpit.
Oracle of the woods.
With my tri-leaf behind,
erect, serene,
I’ll receive searching visitors.
From my rich roots
through my straight stem
into my waiting cup
will flow wisdom from our Mother Earth.
Whoever has the patience to sit before me
and ask a question
to them I’ll speak the truth.
Truth is solid ground,
Standing straight and quiet I’ll speak.
Who sits straight and quiet and opens their own cup
will receive my thoughts.
We’ll nod to each other respectfully,
they’ll pass on,
and I will wait
to be again an oracle for Wisdom.
Spring Beauty,
most delicate of all spring flowers,
early to appear,
how lovely to be her!
Small and sweet and dear,
my white five-petalled face with pink mint stripes
  will smile up like a shy girl-child
     at the awesome world around.
Simple, friendly,
I will open to the sun.
My thin stem will dance with the smallest breeze.
Never alone, I’ll live in a world of gentle friends
   like me,
all of us playing
in the sweet spring sun and wind and rain.
O beauty protected,
O tenderness extreme,
I will speak to all the world
of the great sensitivity
of The Source of All Life. 
I would love to be a white Anemone,
Daughter of the Wind.
Thin and graceful, dancing open,
    never shy.
Taller than my little sisters,
leaves much greener, fuller,
    bigger face,
my sunny yellow center begging to be pollinated:
“I am ready,
I am beautiful!
O come to me now, Life,”
I’ll say with guileless joy.
Free maiden of the forest,
I want to be seen,
not hidden.
I know my beauty,
O tell me how beautiful I am!
Notice me,
   my white loveliness up from the rich green floor.
Notice my readiness,
   my aliveness.
 Love me now in the springtime of my life.