Remembering Jim Primosch

One year ago today, the world lost an amazing man: as kind as he was talented, which is a rare combination. Knowing that the mosaic of memory is made one tile at a time, I’m re-sharing a blog post that I wrote after an interaction with Jim in December of 2019. Perhaps those of you blessed to know him can respond with a “tile” (AKA memory) of your own.

The heavenly chorus got a serious upgrade when you changed venues, Jim. Rest in jubilation.


Throw It Aside

During last Sunday’s homily, Fr. Tim Lyons drew my attention to something in Mark’s Gospel that I’d never noticed before.

The healing of Bartimaeus is a deeply familiar tale–despite my having misspelled the man’s name in the manuscript of Finding God Abiding. (Thank God for copy editors!) Until now, however, I’ve always focused more on Jesus than on the man in need of healing.

I love the Lord’s courtesy in this story–asking the blind beggar, “What do you want me to do for you?” as if it’s not obvious. Jesus acknowledges that there could be something Bartimaeus wants more than sight. Maybe his mother is ill and he needs money for her care. Maybe he longs for a special someone to see him and return his affections. Why should we assume we know the deepest desire of his heart, if even Jesus politely asks? For that matter, why should we be so sure we know what anyone needs or wants, if we haven’t bothered to inquire?

That’s not where Fr. Tim went, however. Instead, he focused on the action of Bartimaeus, who “threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus.” Taking off his chasuble, Fr. Tim threw it to the ground several feet away, then asked: If you’re a blind man and you throw your cloak aside, how are you going to find it? What are you betting on?

What are you betting on; I love that! When Jesus says, at the end of the story, “Go your way; your faith has saved you,” maybe he’s not just talking about Bartimaeus’ persistent (and, to the crowd, annoying) cries for the Son of David’s attention. Maybe he’s not just praising the man’s willingness to voice his deepest desire and ask the impossible. Instead, maybe Jesus recognizes Bartimaeus’ saving faith in the very moment he throws aside his cloak–betting a true daily double on being given the sight to find it again.

“Master, I want to see,” Bartimaeus exclaims.

Do we? Want to see?

How clear do we want our vision to be? And what are we willing to throw aside to get it?

Right now, I’m reading Pope Francis’ pandemic-inspired book Let Us Dream: The Path to a Better Future. He divides the book into three sections: A Time to See ~ A Time to Choose ~ A Time to Act. In the first section, Francis suggests that there is something we need to do, if we want to see clearly. “You have to go to the edges of existence if you want to see the world as it is,” he insists. “I’ve always thought that the world looks clearer from the periphery, but in these last seven years as Pope, it has really hit home. You have to make for the margins if you want to find a new future” (p. 11).

This echoes something I recently read in Henri Nouwen’s Sabbatical Journey, in which he muses about the “new mysticism” of astronauts witnessing the big blue marble of Earth. “The observations made from outer space seem very similar to those made from ‘inner space.’ They both reveal the precariousness of life, the unity of the human family, and the responsibility of the ‘seer’” (p. 22).

So, how do we make for the margins, the periphery, the edges of existence–assuming we don’t have a spare million in the bank and Jeff Bezos on speed dial?

One way to do it is to peek through windows opened for us by writers, photographers, and journalists–anyone who can bring into clearer focus the reality of life beyond our personal bubble. They, too, can show us the precariousness of life, the unity of the human family, and the responsibility of those with eyes to see.

In just the first chapter of Let Us Dream, for example, Pope Francis takes us to a Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh and a shanty town in Argentina, to an island in the South Pacific being slowly obliterated by the rising seas of climate change and a small Italian village where fishermen are pulling tons of plastic refuse from the sea. Reading these stories and anticipating more in subsequent chapters I realized that, because Francis is Pope of the whole world, he doesn’t have the luxury of turning a blind eye anywhere. (How does he bear it?)

Where do we find such windows for ourselves? It could be as simple as being mindful about what we read and watch. With a little intentionality, we can resist the “click bait” of stories designed only to intensify our own echo chamber, pausing instead to absorb something that our initial impulse had nudged us to bypass.

Of course, we also make for the margins any time we create space for genuine encounter with someone whose life experience is significantly different from our own. In order to do that, however, we may need to throw some things aside. Preconceived notions. Assumptions of superiority. Any hope of remaining unmoved, unchallenged, unchanged. As I say in Finding God Abiding, “Sight requires proximity, but proximity is not enough. We need insight, and insight requires vulnerability.”

It’s not comfortable. Throw aside the protective cloak of privilege, and we may never find it again.

Or maybe, if we ask God for the grace to see clearly, we won’t need to.

A Different Kind of King

I’m working on a new dramatic monologue, re-telling the “Martha/Mary” incident (Luke 10:38-42) from Mary’s perspective. (I’ve spent the last twenty years channeling Martha; in the second half of life, it’s time to hang out with her sister for a while.) At one point, sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to him speak, Mary exclaims, “Jesus, I’d love to live in the Kingdom of God!”

Her point is that the kingdom Jesus is describing sounds so much better than the Roman Empire under which they are living. I remember my Scripture professor Hal Taussig explaining that a better translation for “Kingdom” or “Reign” of God would be “God’s Imperial Rule.” In other words, Jesus was being as pointed (and political) as if he showed up in DC talking about “the United States of God.”

Thinking of it that way helps me stop tripping over Jesus’ use of a term both too male and too antiquated for a modern democracy in which kings–and queens–appear mostly as fairy tales or figureheads (or compelling Netflix characters).

This weekend, the Catholic Church celebrated the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, more commonly known as the Feast of Christ the King. This feast was instituted in 1925 by Pope Pius XI in response to what he saw as two worrisome trends: secularism and nationalism.

Ninety-five years later, that still feels spot-on. What better feast to celebrate in the wake of this divisive election season?  The “kingship” of Christ reminds us that, although we must strive to elect leaders who will advance the common good, our buck does not stop at the Oval Office. God’s law of love must reign in our hearts, because our real citizenship is as members of God’s one human family.  As Scripture says, we are “fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19), a household which knows no borders or political parties. 

In my monologue, when Mary exclaims that she wants to live in the Kingdom of God, Jesus takes the conversation in an unnerving new direction by responding: “But you do! We all do. Just look around you; the Kingdom of God is in your midst.  You just have to believe it exists . . . then start acting like one of its very good citizens.”

What does it mean to act like a very good citizen of the Kingdom / Reign / Imperial Rule / United States of God? At a minimum, in this fraught, ongoing election season, it means setting aside partisan bitterness and refusing to label or demonize the other side. And it means going beyond ourselves in practical care for those with whom Jesus identified in today’s Gospel. Can we see and respond to Jesus, for example, in those whose lives are threatened by the COVID-19 pandemic and/or the plague of white supremacy?

Our liturgical year comes to a close this week, as Ordinary Time gives way to Advent. However exhausted this far-from-ordinary season has left you, I pray that you will be able to move gently into the days ahead, drawing solace and strength from the One to whom we owe our first and final allegiance.

May your Advent days be extraordinarily blessed.

Christine

Celebrating Easter at Home

Friends, this week I had the privilege of being interviewed by Lynn Rosen, co-owner of The Open Book Bookstore in Elkins Park. Lynn and I chatted about my book for a few minutes, but quickly moved on to talking about the challenge of celebrating Easter from home, when Holy Week is usually marked by such beautiful church services. If you have eleven minutes, check out our conversation on YouTube!

The Open Book is one of those indie gems, a true hub of literature, fun, and friendship in our neighborhood. Like many local businesses, they are finding lots of creative ways to stay afloat and generate digital content during the coronavirus shutdown. (They are also willing to do local delivery of in-stock items, so if you’re nearby and could use a new physical, audio, or e-book, consider supporting them!) You can also watch Lynn’s other author interviews and book recommendations at her new YouTube channel: Lynn Reads a Book!

Finally, I am enjoying doing my own daily audio recordings of Finding God in Ordinary Time along with new, fresh content. If you’d like to jump on in time for Holy Week, visit here.

As always, may your ordinary (and far from ordinary) days be extraordinarily blessed.

Just Keep Singing

“Calm down,” I told myself yesterday.  “How many times have we been over this?  You know it’s going to be there when you need it.  You blogged about it, for Pete’s sake.  Just keep singing!”

I was cantoring at St. Vincent’s, and the “it” was the Gospel acclamation (i.e. solo verse) to an alleluia that I’ve sung at least a hundred times.  But here was the problem: earlier in the week I’d cantored three Masses on retreat with the Ignatian Volunteer Corps, doing an alleluia that I’ve sung at least a thousand times, with a very similar acclamation.  As I sang the opening refrain (once myself, twice with the choir), I realized that I couldn’t anticipate the verse.  I had no idea what I was supposed to sing next.

I tried to hang onto the wisdom I shared last September in a blog post called Holding it Lightly:

It reminds me of lesson I’ve learned from cantoring at St. Vincent’s over the last nine years. I can’t tell you how often I used to get a wash of anxiety during a ridiculously familiar song—seriously, like the Our Father or the Gloria or the Holy Holy—when I realized that I couldn’t think how the next section began. But of course the reason I couldn’t hear that bit in my head is because I was busy singing the current bit. By the time I got to the worrisome part, the piano would be playing it and my brain would have caught up to the music. Sometimes it was touch-and-go; I’d take a deep breath and open my mouth still not certain what was supposed to come out next, but sure enough, out it came, right on time.

Eventually I accepted that if I could stay focused on what I was singing in the moment, the next one would be given to me. As in Luke 12:12: “For the holy Spirit will teach you in that moment what you should say.” Or, come to think of it, as in the Our Father itself, with its request for daily bread (not Costco-sized multi-loaf packages).

And then came the moment of truth.  The refrain ended.  Valerie, our choir director / piano player, nodded at me.  And the verse was nowhere to be found.  Blank slate.  Crickets. (Or–worse–crickets chirping the Celtic Alleluia instead of the Mass of Hope.)

So much for my wisdom, right?

But then a wonderful thing happened.  I gave Val the “I don’t know the verse” face (and yes, that’s a face:  panic-stricken eyes open wide; slight shake of the head) and she started to sing.  At which point, of course, the whole verse came flooding back into my brain and I was fine.

And so my wisdom from last September gets an addendum.   Sometimes God gives us what we need by having someone else hand it to us.

I experienced that reality in my book-life yesterday as well.  As my publication date is just shy of three months away, there is so much work I should be doing:  contacting bookstores, book bloggers, libraries and parishes; developing marketing materials, and strategizing creative ways to get the word out.  The unappealing task of self-promotion could be a full-time job.  Since I have a full-time job, however, I’m just doing what I can in the bits of time around the edges of my days.

But yesterday, out of the blue, I received a surprising email.  One of the lovely women I met on the IVC retreat (where I was also the speaker) went home to Northern Virginia and told a friend about me.  That woman pre-ordered Finding God in Ordinary Time on the strength of her friend’s recommendation, then invited me to exhibit at the Arlington Diocese’s “Future with Hope” Women’s Conference in October.  Suddenly, I have a chance to bring my book to a part of the country I hadn’t even dreamed of reaching.

Indeed, sometimes God gives us what we need by having someone else hand it to us.

And so I will continue to practice holding things lightly, stay open to the messengers of grace God sends my way, and pray that I can share that message with someone who needs it today.

How about you?  What do you need right now?  And who might need something you could easily give?

May this ordinary day be extraordinarily blessed!

Christine

 

 

On Valentine’s (Ash Wednes)day

You know I love Ordinary Time, but Lent’s nice too!  Here are my musings from today’s services at Gwynedd Mercy University.

Well here it is, Valentine’s (Ash Wednes)day.

Valentine’s Day, of course, is always February 14, but there are 35 possible dates on which Ash Wednesday can fall (36 in a leap year): anywhere from February 4 to March 10.

And yet the last time it fell on February 14th was 73 years ago, in 1945. (But get used to it; it’s going to happen twice more in the next eleven years.  Maybe God’s trying to send us a message!)

I’m not sure what the percentage of overlap is between people who care about Ash Wednesday and people who care about Valentine’s Day. Probably not as much as the Internet would have us believe. But if you Google “Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day,” the search results are pretty alarmist:

  • Feast or Fast?!?
  • Ash Wednesday falls on Valentine’s Day, but meat ban still in effect, Catholics told!
  • Valentine’s Day falls on Ash Wednesday, but you still have to practice the faith, religious leaders say!  (Thanks for that, Chicago Tribune.)

But the more I think about it, the more I think it’s actually not a conflict. And those who would make us believe it is are probably misunderstanding both days, and selling us—literally—on a very artificial, commercial understanding of love.

Every February, we’re told that we should “say it with flowers,” and the price of roses shoots up. Grocery stores’ seasonal aisles fill—on the day after Christmas—with giant heart-shaped boxes of chocolate.  Jewelry stores run commercials featuring gifts in the the “now I know you love me” price range.

But real love – romantic or otherwise – has never been about that stuff.  If you think about it, real love is much more akin to the three disciplines of Lent—prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Hang in there with me while I look at the three traditional practices of Valentine’s Day, and compare them with those of Lent.

Practice #1) Saying it with Flowers.
Whatever the “it” is that needs to be said, I’d rather have the words. Sincere words / meaningful conversation / shared vulnerability—things that don’t wither up and die by next Wednesday. It’s what we need in our personal relationships, romantic or otherwise, and it’s what we need in our relationship with God. Showing up. Saying what we feel. Listening for the response. Being vulnerable before the One we love.  That’s a pretty good description of prayer; what a wonderful way to spend a little extra time with God this season!

Practice #2) Buying Giant Boxes of Chocolate.
I do not understand why chocolate is invested with so much power—THE symbol of Valentine’s Day and THE thing to give up on Ash Wednesday for the rest of Lent. Real love is always more about sacrifice than consumption. And by sacrifice I don’t mean “Oh no, I can’t eat that; it’s Lent!”  I mean that we give up stuff for each other all the time. Parents give up sleep for their infants; teachers give up weekends for grading their students’ papers; housemates give up five minutes on the couch to actually do the dinner dishes; students give up whatever they were going to be doing when a friend needs a ride or a shoulder or a study partner. That’s the spirit in which we can frame our Lenten sacrifices, too . . . not setting up some sort of Olympic hurdle for ourselves, but simply asking what we can “give up” for a time in order to create more space in our hearts / minds / lives / schedules, so that we can be less self-indulgent, more responsive to the needs of those we love and, more importantly, those God loves (which is everyone).

Practice #3) Giving Expensive Jewelry.
TV commercials would have us believe that love is best expressed with a jaw-dropping price tag. We know that’s not true. But real love is generous. Love is open-eyed and openhearted. Love sees the need. The need of the person right in front of us, and the needs of people we will never meet. Love sees the need and responds—sometimes with money, other times with attention or service or time. Lent invites us to that kind of generosity, and calls it almsgiving.

So as we move into the season of Lent, go ahead and let this Valentine’s Ash Wednesday set the tone.

  • Carve out quality time with the God you love.
  • Give up something that gets in the way of your freedom to love.
  • And let that love overflow with generosity.

What could be more appropriate?

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

When I was a child, one of my favorite tales was a short story by William Dean Howells called “Christmas Every Day,”  in which a little girl gets her wish to have it be (you guessed it) Christmas every day for one year.

It doesn’t go well.

Because, as it turns out, people can only handle so much merriment, so much turkey and cranberries, so many tummy aches, and so much present-getting and -giving before getting sick of it all.

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