Two Mule-Loads of Earth & tears in my teacup
This morning, I sat at my desk in the office. I’m still sitting here.
I began the day with a cup of tea, in that tacky way where the string hangs over the side of the cup because I know I can get two cups out of one bag, and I am too lazy to take the bag out between uses.
The desk is a mess. It has my husband’s things scattered all over it, which I understand. I just moved back home from Chicago, and my desk was fair game. The year-long contract position is done. I needed my family. They needed me. But mostly, I needed to halt the every-weekend-twelve-hour-round-trip commute from St. Louis to Chicago.
But I sat at my desk this morning, and my heart was heavy.
I miss it. I miss … what?
What is it that I miss?
I wasn’t sure, but I have felt it for a couple of days. Not quite myself. Still transitioning, I suppose.
My Missal is in a wooden crate on the top of my desk, so I reached into the box, picked up my Missal and read today’s readings. That’s a start. A step in figuring out what is wrong with me.
Then I picked up my copy of The St. Louis Review, my hometown archdiocesan newspaper. It has been a lifetime since I had the time to read this at my leisure.
I skimmed articles. Admired Lisa Johnston’s photography. Wished I had some of the “Reclaimed and Respected” sacred items they have retired from a decommissioned church in the Archdiocese of St. Louis. I love that stuff.
I fantasized about doing a show on EWTN with my friends Elizabeth Westhoff and Lisa Johnston. We would be like American Pickers, only we would go into the dusty corners of old churches and monasteries and uncover hidden treasures. They would explain each treasure to me, each pre-Vatican II gem. “See this, Denise, this was used for…” They would be the teachers, I the student. The convert. I have been Catholic since 2005, but I still feel the newness and beauty of discovery. The show would be a huge hit. We are all sentimental. We are all in love with the past. We all cling to Mother Church and want to know the stories of those years before we were born into the family.
I fell short of coveting the stained-glass windows in the pictures and staying too long in a dreamy world of EWTN programming called “Lost Catholic Gems Across America,”
And I landed on the Archbishop’s column. It was about St. Francis of Assisi. Feast day, October 4.
That’s today, I realized.
And my eyes filled with tears.
St. Francis, the saint who loved the Holy Land so dearly that even today, the Franciscans have custody of the Christian holy sites. They hold these gems in their hands and preserve them for you and for me. They say, “Come and see. Come and worship where it all began.”
I’m crying again as I write these words. I’m crying because the land still has my heart. It still calls to me. I need to go. I need to be there. And now, I don’t know how that will happen. But my feet must walk those dusty paths. I must see Magdala again. I felt Mary Magdalene when I was there. I must gaze at Mt. Arbel from a boat on the Sea of Galilee. I feel Jesus there.
I must walk the Stations of the Cross. In Jerusalem.
Last week, I visited the Cardinal Rigali Center. I took some time to pray in the chapel before a meeting. I noticed the Stations of the Cross. Station Number Seven was directly across from where I knelt.
I stood up, thinking of Jerusalem, and walked to the station. And then the next. And then another. It was out of order, but that is how it is for those in Jerusalem. The disks with the Roman numerals are here and there, and you come up on them in an out-of-order sort of way, and they seem to come to you in an out-of-context way as well.
Only the pilgrims who deliberately walk the Stations encounter them one-by-one.
And St. Francis was back in my head. And the article. And the brown robes and the Custos and the ache I feel that will not go away.
I simply cannot understand why a Catholic would go through life without following in the footsteps of St. Francis… let alone Jesus Christ.
We walk those footsteps spiritually, leaning on readings and artwork to take us there.
But the “there” is still there!
Now, I’m back to crying again, because that reality is so amazing, so incredibly awesome in the truest sense of that word, that I cannot believe I have resigned a position that literally paid me to go there every year.
Oh, yeah. Family. The long commute. The Archdiocese of St. Louis is home and Chicago never really was home.
But, Lord. I ache.
Enough of this article that reminds me of the Holy Land. I turn the page. There is a Mass Mob coming up on October 9. Another article about volleyball at St. Pius. More photos in the insert about reclaiming old Church treasures.
And then, an article by Bishop Hermann on next Sunday’s readings.
Naaman. I know this story. His wife’s servant girl is an Israelite. And when her mistress’ husband falls ill with leprosy, she begs her mistress to tell Naaman about a prophet in Israel who can heal him.
A little girl. A servant child. And yet, she remembered the old stories. The treasures of her home and the faith she was born into. The gems hidden back home. Reclaiming the sacred for others.
And Naaman listens to the child. He goes to Israel and finds Elisha. When Elisha tells him to bathe in the Jordan River, he scoffs at that. What is that river to him? His homeland has far greater bodies of water. The Jordan seems to be nothing. A stream that flows from the Sea of Galilee and into the Dead Sea.
Naaman almost leaves in disgust without so much as dipping his foot in the water.
But his traveling companion urges him… “Master, you have come this far…”
And, of course, Naaman is healed of the leprosy when he bathes in the Jordan River.
When Elisha refuses his gifts, Naaman asks for a gift in return. What is it?
Oh, Sweet Jesus, I am crying again.
He asks for two mule-loads of earth.
Of Holy Land.
I’m home today, in a messy, messy office. On my desk is a miniature Pieta. On the wall, a sketch of the Visitation. On the shelves, two statues of the flight to Egypt from Bethlehem. A shofar. A miniature Ark of the Covenant that holds my Rosary. A statue of St. Jude. My father’s Jerusalem Bible. —- All of it, my two mule-loads of earth from the Holy Land.
I’m going back. Lord willing, I will go back.
Blessed Feast of St. Francis of Assisi.