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Palm Sunday - A Journey
3/24/2013 1:28:19 PM

Palm Sunday wasn’t just another ordinary religious calendar event when I was a kid. When Palm Sunday arrived it brought with it a satchel filled with mixed emotions to sort through.  The end of lent was near which meant desserts would soon reappear on the dinner table and I no longer had to decide whether breaking my pledge and eating that small piece of chocolate during lent was worth living with the guilt.

Palm Sunday meant learning new songs in choir and that it was time to shop for a new spring coat or receive a new-to-me spring coat from a cousin.  I loved shopping for the new pair of black patent leather shoes with the strap across the top, the small straw white hat with pink rosebuds, the white gloves with a dainty lace trim at the top that matched my new white dress socks.  Thoughts of Easter baskets with colorful jelly beans and marshmallow yellow chicks filled my head and I prayed the Easter Bunny would leave my favorite dark chocolate Easter egg filled with white coconut cream.

Yet, all of those pleasant thoughts were distractions from the emotional trauma I experienced during the week that began with Palm Sunday.  Never having had a tolerance for violence, the graphic descriptions and photos of the torture and crucifixion of Christ that were discussed and displayed at school and during church services during that week literally made me sick to my stomach and year after year I cringed when Palm Sunday arrived and found I had no option but to witness the violence all over again.

Ironically, many years later, after I had long since grown away from the religion of my youth, a serendipitous event in my life brought me to the Garden of Gethsemane in the foothills of the Mount of Olives in Israel.  On the grounds of the garden is a beautiful church built in the 1920s by the Franciscan Friars.  Inside the church is a large rock surrounded by a small black cast iron fence and there is a small sign which indicates that this rock may be the actual rock Christ was sitting on when the Roman guards came for him after he had been betrayed by Judas.  The name of the small church is the Basilica of Agony.

After visiting the church I walked back into the garden and sat on the ground on that cloudy weekday afternoon and looked across the Kidron Valley at the ancient walls of Jerusalem still standing under the Dome of the Rock after all these centuries.  I could see the large areas of archeological excavations and the ancient stairs that had recently been unearthed.  Stone steps that had been dated back to the time of Christ; steps that Christ most likely climbed.

Funny that I would find myself in that garden, on the Mount of Olives after all the emotional upheaval caused by my childhood reactions to the story of Palm Sunday and the week that followed.  It was thrilling to be there and it felt like a spiritual experience but then so many of the world’s religions began in Jerusalem that I suspect there are few people who could spend time in that city and not feel the spiritual connections.

Was Christ the Son of God?  I do not know.  I do know Christ lived and I walked where Christ walked and saw where Christ suffered.  I know Christ suffered an agonizing death and believed the suffering was for us.  How could we not love and respect those convictions?

When I started writing this I wasn’t thinking about that trip to Israel, this story just evolved as I continued to write.  Now as I reread this story and see where my life has taken me regarding Palm Sunday and the week that followed I have to admit I find it all quite amazing.

3/7/2013 2:41:07 PM
My maternal and paternal great grandparents came to the US from Ireland. I have never been, but lately I’ve been taking a virtual tour of the country looking for photos of the countryside and I’m reminded of my mom’s take on Ireland. 
I grew up in a house that celebrated St. Patrick’s Day with Irish music and a grand corn beef and cabbage dinner. Mom made soda bread and sent us girls off to school with a green bow in our hair and my brothers went off with a green ribbon pinned to their school uniform shirt. I know for a fact my green bow stayed on my head for the whole day, although I suspect it had a jauntier look as the day went on. My brothers, well, I’m not so sure how long those green ribbons lasted on their shirts. As my brothers grew older, there’s a strong possibility those green ribbons didn’t make it around the corner from the building where we lived.
Mom’s grandmother, who emigrated from Ireland during the potato famine, lived in the household where my mom grew up. I’ve only seen pictures of the thin austere woman but understand she could be a challenge. I suspect being a child in the same house with someone who witnessed the mass deaths and suffering caused by the Irish potato famine had an effect on mom because as proud as she was of her Irish heritage, she never felt the need to “see” Ireland. She would, in fact, temper her children’s tendency to romanticize Ireland by saying she didn’t understand people’s fantasies about Ireland, after all, millions of the Irish left that country and came to the US to live a better life.
Dad’s childhood was different. His mom died in the Spanish Flu epidemic in 1918 when he was 3 and he spent the next 5 years living in a children’s home. When his dad remarried and took dad and his sisters out of the home dad was already 8 years old. At 13 he left school and went to work to help support his four half-brothers, a new one arriving each year. Although dad’s ancestry was just as Irish as mom’s, I don’t think he celebrated it until he met mom.
So I am a third generation Irishwoman wandering around the land of my ancestors via the internet. As beautiful as the Irish landscape is, I can also see how difficult it would be to make a living from that harsh rocky soil.
Every now and then I get the urge to make a drastic move to another part of the world or another part of the country. As a young woman I made a few semi-drastic moves with mixed results which have left me a bit leery of following my impulses. Ten years ago I considered packing up and moving to Ireland. After all, it is the home of my ancestors, Irish blood runs through my veins and when I traveled in England and Scotland most people thought I was Irish until they heard my “American accent.” I could picture myself writing in front of a warm fire blazing in a stone fireplace in the living room of a thatched roofed cottage across the dirt road from sprawling green fields (you can see how I get myself in trouble).  
Ten years ago the computer industry in Ireland was booming. Young people were no longer leaving Ireland to build a life somewhere else; prosperity no longer depended on the soil and the seasons. They were attending college elsewhere and returning to live in Ireland. My son was just out of high school and warmed to the idea of moving to Ireland but somehow life continued on and we never built up the momentum to make the move.
I suspect most of us have a wish to see the homeland of our ancestors (my mom excluded, of course) and visit the towns where they were born. I came close a few decades ago when I was in northern England and could have taken the ferry to Northern Ireland, but it was the days of the Irish Republican Army, when bombings and gunfire occurred randomly in Northern Ireland and since I was traveling alone I decided traveling solo through Northern Ireland probably wasn’t one of my better ideas.
One day I hope to visit Ireland. In the meantime, I will continue our family traditions of celebrating on St. Patrick’s Day and being a proud Irish-American.
Go n-éirí an t-ádh leat! (Good luck to ya!)
The vacant office in Rome
3/2/2013 1:03:50 PM

I’ve been thinking about the Pope.  Not the ex-Pope who just “retired.” That’s just a man.  I’ve been thinking about the notion of a Pope.  The Office of the Pope that has thrived over the centuries; not the office that sits empty today.

I was raised Catholic and went to Catholic schools for 11 years.  I never knew much about other religions beyond the fact that they existed.  As a young adult I became disappointed with the dogma and hierarchy of the church and opted out of the whole idea of God, lacking the sophistication to separate the Baby from the bathwater.  I could not support an organization that believed I was inferior based on my gender or an organization that seemed to be losing touch with how difficult it is to be human.

Yet, somewhere deep down in the rubble of my religious foundation, a few threads of emotional wiring are still connected and I find myself feeling uncomfortable about that vacant office in Rome. It’s the answer to why it is vacant that makes me uncomfortable.

As I look around at all of the beautiful Catholic churches and their associated schools that are also empty, the pedophile scandal, the chastisement by the church of the good women who work so hard to bring hope and spirituality into the lives of the desperate that live among us and now this physical retreat by Benedict, it is the end of the Catholic church as I knew it.  Will it be redeemed? Will it rise from the ashes like a Phoenix?

It seems to me the only road to its survival as a viable religion is to go back to its roots; to do what it has always demanded of its followers, to go into that little brown booth and confess and ask for forgiveness.  To stop trying to hide its “sins” and stop pretending there’s nothing wrong.  Stop worrying about its wealth and power and go back to the beginning, to forgiveness, peace and love.

Since I believe all religions speak to the same God, and I have no idea what that God actually is, I believe in the end it really doesn’t matter what bucket we carry our faith around in, whether it’s Catholic, Episcopal, Methodist, Jewish, etc., yet, if we do chose to tie our faith to a particular star, we want to be damn sure they practice what they preach.

In the end, what sees us through is faith, regardless of what, if any, formal religion we choose; faith in the basic goodness of being human and faith that we are never truly alone.

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