Catholic Things

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Father Dooley's temporary church

Father Dooley's temporary church

Religious Differences

Sister Alma Rose is not a Roman Catholic, but she is telling Father Dooley and me that she used to want to be a nun “in the worst way.” (Ha ha.)

“Oh?” Father Dooley says interestedly, raising one eyebrow, which, I don’t know HOW he does that, but of course I don’t know how to whistle, either, though I can do cartwheels one-handed. “What changed your mind?”

I have made Father Dooley promise to always keep me informed of his whereabouts, if one of us moves out of Hilltop, so that when the Pope allows priests to get married I can get to his city on the next plane. Father Dooley's, not the Pope's

I have made Father Dooley promise to always keep me informed of his whereabouts, if one of us moves out of Hilltop, so that when the Pope allows priests to get married I can jet to his city on the next plane. Father Dooley's, not the Pope's

“The wardrobe,” Sister Alma Rose says, “because, really, can y’all picture what I’d look like in one of them outfits? A giant beetle, is what I’d look like.”

Father Dooley laughs and says that many nuns just wear regular street clothes these days, and Sister Alma Rose says that would take all the fun out of it. Like, why be a doctor if you’re not going to wear a white lab coat and a stethoscope?

Father Dooley is spending a lot of time sitting on Sister Alma Rose’s porch this fall because his church, Saints Peter and Paul, had a bad fire and no one can go into the building.

They are having church, or, whaddayacallit, Mass, and, I guess, Confession and Catechism and the Inquisition and the other stuff that Catholics do, in an empty warehouse that used to be Hilltop Elementary School when Mama and Daddy were kids.

But Father Dooley’s paper files and computer and desk, et cetera, all got burnt to a Frito, and he has this lackey priest-in-waiting who is taking care of that little administrative problem while he, Father Dooley, sits on Sister Alma Rose’s porch and drinks Mr. Truman LaFollette’s indescribable lemonade.

The Catechism Lesson, Jules-Alexis Muenier 1890

The Catechism Lesson, by Jules-Alexis Muenier 1890

But Father Dooley is not slacking off, oh, no, he is here on church business, because we are talking about Catholic things, two in particular: (1) the execution of heretics by means of setting fire to them, and (2) the Divine Office (Liturgy of the Hours), which, unlike Father Dooley’s office, is extant.

Transubstantiation is NOT “a way for commuters to get to work”

Lady Jane Grey (above) and Queen Mary each believed that the other's soul was damned. And they MEANT it! The Reformers had piled up a lot of grievances over the centuries during which the Roman Catholic Church had amassed power, money, and land. It was the rule rather than the exception for popes and cardinals to have mistresses, if not secret wives and children. Priests lined their pockets with "indulgences" — money from their Flocks for the wiping away of sins.

Lady Jane Grey (above, looking a bit peaked) and Queen Mary each believed that the other's soul was damned. And they MEANT it! The Reformers had piled up a lot of grievances over the centuries during which the Roman Catholic Church had amassed power, money, and land. It was the rule rather than the exception for popes and cardinals to have mistresses, if not secret wives and children. Priests lined their pockets with "indulgences" — money from their Flocks for the wiping away of sins.

Father Dooley and I have been debating the following question:

Why did Lady Jane Grey have to die?

And the short answer, we agree, is that Lady Jane, a Protestant, made quite a point of NOT believing in transubstantiation and a few other points of Roman Catholic doctrine at a time when a VERY Catholic queen, Mary I, was on the throne in England. (That’s “Mary the First,” not “Mary Eye.”)

Transubstantiation is the alleged changing of the bread and wine served at holy communion into the actual body and blood of Christ.

NOW: It’s not like Catholics believe that the bread turns into, like, skin and fingers and toes and the wine gets all thick and red and has little platelets swimming around in it. Father Dooley says that the substance of the “host” and the wine changes but not their their appearance or texture.

I, personally, do not care, and neither does Sister Alma Rose, who dislikes discussing doctrinal issues.

She says that we all believe in the same God, who created the universe as an expression of divine love, and that God knows and cares about us each individually, and that God makes his love known to us through grace… and if we can agree on that, why aren’t we having a big ecumenical party and celebrating instead of arguing about minor details?

A medieval Mass being celebrated by a bishop

A medieval Mass being celebrated by a bishop

Father Dooley says several things in response, which I will summarize:

  1. Everybody DOESN’T agree with that, what Sister Alma Rose says, and in fact some of it could be considered “doctrine.” (Sister Alma Rose snorts.)
  2. Our actions have consequences: Like, if you stick your hand in a pot of boiling water, your hand will burn.
  3. We are all screwing up (Father Dooley’s words) all the time, acting in unloving ways. Love is a miracle, a gift of grace, and cannot be deserved. If we always got what we deserved, we would be crackers.
  4. Jesus’ life and teachings, death, and resurrection are proof of a higher law, which is that God’s love is greater than the law of consequences; or, rather, that God, through Jesus, paid the piper so that we wouldn’t have to go around weighed down by guilt and anxiety. This only works if we admit we behaved badly (confession) and want very much not to keep behaving badly (repentance), and if we accept the sacrifice (communion) and are grateful for it. That is the freedom Jesus promised; that is the Good News.
  5. We are likely to take communion more to heart — to be blown away by the liberating acceptance of God’s sacrifice for our sakes — if we believe that the bread is Jesus’ body and the wine is his blood, than if we are just eating stale bread crumbs and drinking grape juice.
  6. This is not all just a matter of collecting chits for the Afterlife. Salvation is here and now, overcoming sickness and all manner of other here-and-now penalties for less-than-perfect behavior.

Well, I say to Father Dooley, this is all fine and good, but I still don’t think it’s worth having your head chopped off over. Transubstantiation is not even in the Bible, after all. Jesus said, at the Last Supper, “This is my body, broken for you,” but he was always speaking metaphorically, saying stuff like, “I am the vine and you are the branches,” et cetera.

The  Last Supper, Leonardo da Vinci, 1498

The Last Supper, by Leonardo da Vinci 1498

The Nine Days’ Queen

King Edward VI of England, William Scrots, c. 1550

King Edward VI of England, by William Scrots c. 1550

Lady Jane Grey was the Queen of England for nine days in 1553, after Edward VI and before Mary I, “Bloody Mary,” as she came to be called. (For more information, see “Historical Background,” below.)

Lady Jane did not want to be queen. She was only sixteen, and she was indeed a staunch Protestant, but a group of greedy grownups, including her own parents, made her marry this awful man, Lord Guilford Dudley, and then persuaded the ruling council to name her queen, and so queen she was, for nine days, until Mary Tudor swept down upon London with several thousand of the faithful, and, voila, Mary was queen and Jane was imprisoned in the Tower of London, convicted of high treason, and sentenced to death.

Mary and Jane were cousins, and Mary really did not want to execute Jane, knowing that Jane was made queen over her own objections. Mary told Jane she would let her off the hook if Jane would just convert to the True Faith, Roman Catholicism, and to tell you the truth, if I’d been Jane, I would have said, fine, okay, but I would have had my fingers crossed and then I would have gone back to my cozy life of studying Protestant doctrine and having my servants do my laundry and cook my meals. But Jane, a better woman than I, or a more stubborn one, refused.

A 15th-century representation of the Tower of London. Shown is the White Tower, begun by William the Conquerer in 1078. The White Tower still stands, but it is now part of a large complex of buildings that comprise "The Tower"

A 15th-century representation of the Tower of London. Shown is the White Tower, begun by William the Conquerer in 1078. The White Tower still stands, but it is now part of a large complex of buildings that comprise "The Tower"

Jane was mostly concerned with doctrinal issues. She could not accept the Roman Catholic belief in transubstantiation — plus, she had an illegal English translation of the Bible, and she was studying Greek and Hebrew so that she could read the original biblical texts rather than translations. The Catholic Church didn’t want lay persons reading the Bible at all, because if they read it than they would begin to interpret it.

Verdict: A sad waste of a young life

My debate with Father Dooley is no debate at all, as it turns out, because we pretty much agree about Lady Jane.

“Two things,” says Father Dooley, holding up two fingers so I won’t forget that he has two points to make.

“First, it’s hard for our modern ecumenical way of thinking to understand how radical it was to depart in any way from Catholic doctrine. For centuries, the Catholic church had been the ONLY Christian church, and it was not used to being disagreed with. In fact, when Henry VIII broke with the church, the Pope excommunicated him, and all of England with him. Heaven, according to the church, was not available to those who had been excommunicated.

Death by burning

Death by burning

“Second, even in the context of her time, and I believe she was beheaded in the 1550s, Lady Jane could have saved herself in good conscience. As brilliant a scholar as she was, she was also very young and very new to the heady freedom of Protestant thinking. Even her Protestant teachers warned her that she was excessively dogmatic. It’s very sad, really, especially since Elizabeth would be queen within a few years, and the policy of her reign was one of tolerance.”

Mary Tudor — Queen Mary I, or “Bloody Mary,” as she has become known — was merciful to her cousin Jane in having her beheaded. Before the end of Mary’s reign, almost three hundred “heretics” would be burned on street corners, in full view of the populace.

Eternal damnation

Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer and founder of Christian Science

Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer and founder of Christian Science

Mary seems to have sincerely believed that her reign of terror was saving souls from eternal damnation — not the souls of those being burned, it was too late for them — but the souls of those who looked on, who heard the screams and smelled the charred flesh.

Sister Alma Rose has no patience with preachers of hellfire and damnation. She believes that we grow spiritually over a succession of earthly incarnations. Thus she does not believe that ANY souls are consigned eternally to hell. She likes to quote Mary Baker Eddy on the subject:

Does Divine Love commit a fraud on humanity by making man inclined to sin, and then punishing him for it? …In common justice, we must admit that God will not punish man for doing what he created man capable of doing, and knew from the outset that man would do. God is “of purer eyes than to behold evil.”  —Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, 356:25 ff.

To be continued… Praying the Hours (the Divine Office)

The Book of Hours of Catherine of Cleves, c. 1440

The Book of Hours of Catherine of Cleves, c. 1440

Historical Background — The Man Who Would Be Pope

Anne Boleyn, the second wife of King Henry VIII of England, was beheaded May 19, 1536, at the Tower of London

Anne Boleyn, the second wife of King Henry VIII of England, was beheaded May 19, 1536, at the Tower of London

I have been reading a lot of historical fiction about England (c. 1150 – 1600) lately, and I’ve read, like, five books in a row about Anne Boleyn

—because it’s so much fun to find out which authors think that

  • (a) Anne Boleyn was a world-class B-word (Daddy won’t let me say or spell the B-word that rhymes with witch, but then he also didn’t think that I should be reading about Anne Boleyn because if he had his way I’d still be reading Thomas the Tank Engine and playing with Barbies, which, excuse me, are way more obscene than Anne Boleyn), and (b) Henry VIII the longsuffering husband, as opposed to those authors who think that
  • (a) Anne Boleyn was June Cleaver in tights — no, wait, it was Henry who wore tights — and (b) Henry was a cruel tyrant.
Henry VIII, King of England, born 1491, reigned 1509-1547

Henry VIII, King of England, born 1491, reigned 1509-1547

The truth is that Henry was a spoiled baby, and spoiled babies are often tyrants. But because he was the King of England and not an ACTUAL baby, his tyrannical acts had lasting and tragic consequences, inasmuch as there was no one with the authority to send him to bed without his supper.

Henry established the Church of England, as separate from the Roman Catholic Church, with himself as the Supreme Head.

He’d been waiting six years for the Pope to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon so that he could marry Anne Boleyn and make her queen and force her by intimidation and other methods that hardly ever work to have healthy baby boys.

Finally, tired of waiting for the Pope, he said, in effect, “I’ll just make up my OWN church and marry Anne and dissolve the wealthy monasteries and seize all their stuff.”

But he, Henry, did not mean for church doctrine or worship to change at all. He was not in sympathy with reformers such as Martin Luther. The English Reformation, however, got away from him. Once started, it couldn’t be stopped.

* * *

The Succession


Jane Seymour, Queen Consort of England 1536-1537

Jane Seymour, Queen Consort of England 1536-1537

When Henry died, AT LONG LAST, his only legitimate son, Edward Tudor, became Edward VI, King of England.

Edward, whose mother was Jane Seymour (Henry’s third wife; she died a few weeks after giving birth), was only nine years old and he didn’t really run the country… a bunch of greedy grownups made all the political decisions.

But Edward was a committed Protestant and so while he was king the real Reformers in England were more active.

At age fifteen, after he had been king for only six years, Edward died of a lung disease (probably tuberculosis).

Then all hell broke loose.

Henry’s elder daughter Mary Tudor was next in line in the Succession (the list of who gets to be in charge of England when the current ruler dies; see diagram above), but everybody knew that she would restore Catholic rule and persecute Protestants, of whom there were growing numbers.

Mary Tudor, Queen of France, daughter of Henry VII of England, sister of Henry VIII, wife of Louis XII of France and then of Charles Brandon, 1st duke of Suffolk; Mary and Charles were the maternal grandparents of Lady Jane Grey

Mary Tudor, Queen of France, daughter of Henry VII of England, sister of Henry VIII, wife of Louis XII of France and then of Charles Brandon, 1st duke of Suffolk; Mary and Charles were the maternal grandparents of Lady Jane Grey

Lady Jane Grey was the granddaughter of Henry’s sister Mary, and she (Jane) had a legitimate claim to the throne if you took the position that Mary Tudor and Elizabeth, who was next on the list after Mary, were bastards (sorry, Daddy), which, technically, they were since Henry’s marriages to their mothers had been annulled.

As explained above, Lady Jane was basically manhandled to the throne by the evil John Dudley, First Duke of Northumberland, the father of Guilford Dudley, whom Jane was forced to marry. When the time of reckoning came, father and son were executed along with Lady Jane, though I doubt whether Queen Mary had many regrets about ridding the kingdom of those two.

Guilford’s brother Robert Dudley, First Earl of Leicester, was cut from different cloth. He was a man of intelligence and character (the rumors that he killed his first wife, Mary, have been judged by history to be false). He and Queen Elizabeth had been childhood friends, and it is generally believed that they had a lifelong love affair that was never consummated.

Eventually he married Lettice Knollys, a granddaughter of Lady Mary Boleyn, Anne’s sister.

I, Fanny

I, Fanny


Fanny in Lust

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Shine a little light

Shine a little light

Whether you accept or reject it, God’s Love for you is permanent. After God has forgiven me, granted me His Compassion and showered His Blessings upon me, then I have to feel at every moment God’s Love. I have to feel that the One who has forgiven me, shown me His Compassion, and blessed me, really cares for me. If I feel that God really loves me, then only can I have true and abiding happiness. The Creator is all love for His creation. But the creation quite often does not feel it or realize it. Since I am part of God’s creation, it is my… duty to feel God’s Love at every moment. Only then will I try to become good, divine, and perfect, and please Him in His own way. Sri Chinmoy, 1931-2007 [emphasis is the editor’s]

I will experience love as a light that begins in my heart and spreads out as far as my awareness can reach; as images arise in my mind, I will send love and light in their direction. —Adapted from The Book of Secrets: Unlocking the Hidden Dimensions of Your Life, by Deepak Chopra (Harmony Books, 2004)


I Will Send Love and Light

I guess I’m a late bloomer. I don’t have any bazooms yet, and until recently I wasn’t interested in boys except as pals.

Whereas, Mama told me once, while she was ironing Daddy’s dress shirt with a tender expression people don’t usually wear while they’re ironing, she was eight years old when she fell in love with Daddy.

Nebraska windmill

Nebraska windmill

It was the day he and his brothers were out riding their bicycles and they stopped to ask Sister Alma Rose if they could have some water from her pump. (Sister Alma Rose still has a working windmill next to the house and several more out in the fields, so she can pump water up out of the wells without electricity.)

Mama was drinking lemonade on the porch with Sister Alma Rose, who graciously asked the boys if they’d rather have lemonade instead of pump water. They said, “No, thank you, Ma’am,” and scooped water from the pump into their mouths and splashed it on their faces.

They were about to ride off when Mama asked if she could run over home and get her bike and ride along with them. Isaiah and Jesse just laughed and did some wheelies to show off, then turned and went lickety-split down the hill. But Daddy stayed behind and told Mama she could ride with him if she wanted to. So they crossed the road and got Mama’s bike and went all the way to La Mesa and had cherry phosphates at the Rexall. (From The Ancients, Part 1: Daddy Pete, by Mary Campbell)


Vintage sign, 1920s

Lust is not love

Apparently I am changing hormonally, though it doesn’t show on the outside, as far as I can tell. My (ha-ha) bustline, waist, and hips are exactly the same size, which is about seven inches, and I have to wear belts to keep my jeans from falling down.

It used to be that when I saw romantic scenes in movies I would close my eyes and plug my ears and ask Pablo, or whomever I was with, to tell me when the mushy part was over. Suddenly I am wildly interested in mush, and there is this one part of The Runaway Bride where Richard Gere is just looking at Julia Roberts and the hairs on my arms stand on end.

Richard Gere, Julia Roberts

Richard Gere, Julia Roberts

I have seen this part of the movie about thirty times because my friend Tootie (you do not want to know why she is called “Tootie”) owns the video and we watch it every time I spend the night at her house because she, like me, has just gotten interested in boys as sex objects. (If there is one thing that Sister Alma Rose has taught me, it is that lust is not love.) [Note to Mama and Daddy, if you are reading this, I don’t mean “sex objects” literally, okay, I just mean hotties, foxes… um… heartthrobs.]

So although I am not quite 12 years old I am in lust with David Harkness, whom everyone calls “Lefty” because, naturally, he is left-handed and is a really good baseball player and he throws and bats left-handed but can switch to batting right-handed in the blink of an eye. And all of a sudden, life, which had, for me, always consisted of childhood and was therefore not terribly complicated, got terribly complicated.

So what I did was, so that I’d be able to have sparkling conversations with Lefty, I studied up on baseball, and left-handed baseball players, and especially switch-hitters, notably Mickey Mantle, who played his entire career for the New York Yankees and who was the American League‘s Most Valuable Player three times.

Coming of age


The Persian Gulf (NASA)

Before I got this crush on Lefty, I never, ever thought about what other people thought about me. When I was comfortable with someone, then that someone became my friend. When I was uncomfortable with someone, then I avoided that person. Hilltop Elementary School is so small that there aren’t really “cliques” like those I’ve read about at larger schools… so there’s no “in crowd” and there are no popularity contests. Smart kids seem to hang around with other smart kids because they sort of speak the same language, not because they’re snobs or think they’re better than someone who is great at, say, running track but totally does not get algebra.

Barbie house that costs more than a year of college

Barbie house that costs more than a year of college

Every once in a while a family will move to Hilltop from someplace like the Persian Gulf or Africa, and Sister Alma Rose always knows about it and tells me to be especially kind to their kids, which is how I met Mehrnaz, whose lovely name means “the sun’s glory.”

Mehrnaz is about my age, but she couldn’t wait to move to America because in America she would be able to have a Barbie doll.

I had outgrown my Barbie dolls, of which I had maybe twenty (including Air Force Barbie and Ken, who are African-American, and two Native-American Barbies, and then a bunch of other quasi-Barbies made of molded rubber or something).

So I gave them all to Mehrnaz, which made my little brother Johannes cry, and I’m ashamed to admit that it never occurred to me that Johannes would want to play with my Barbie dolls, although they’ve been sitting out in plain sight for years and Johannes never showed any interest in them until they were on their way out the door.

Fisher-Price dump truck

Fisher-Price dump truck

But Daddy, who tries to be broad-minded about these gender-role things, reverted to type and promised to buy him a dump truck, or it might have been a chain saw, I wasn’t really paying attention), and even though some of them (Barbies) had stupid hair because I had tried to cut or style it, and some had dislocated shoulders and compound fractures, Mehrnaz cried and hugged me and Mehrnaz’s mom cried and hugged me.

And they hadn’t even seen the Barbie house yet, or the closetful of other Barbie accessories (including Barbie’s T-bird convertible and the rest of her fleet plus a foot locker full of clothes, with the tiny shoes in plastic zipper bags meant for pills), which Daddy was going to bring over in his truck.

Barbie T-Bird,

Barbie T-Bird,

Boy crazy

But back to Lefty (or “but I digress” —I’ve always wanted to write “but I digress” in a story)… I had known Lefty for as long as I could remember and we always got along fine. Sometimes we walked home from school together — his family lives about a half-mile west of our farmhouse — but it wasn’t like we were boyfriend and girlfriend or anything.

And now I was writing our names in hearts with Magic Marker all over the inside cover of my school notebook and trying out my first name with his last name — “Fanny Harkness,” which isn’t too bad, especially if you consider that I could just as easily have fallen in lust with Tim Ranney — “Fanny Ranney”? I don’t think so — who is very cute, even though Tim’s dad puts a bowl over Tim’s head and cuts his hair so that he looks like Moe in the Three Stooges.

Gregory Peck, Roman Holiday, 1953

Gregory Peck, Roman Holiday, 1953

Suddenly, because of the Lefty thing, I am very self-conscious about my clothes and my hair and about not having any bazooms — and before this I have never had a self-conscious moment in my life, not even when I was in sixth grade and wearing these pretty white corduroy culottes that I had made in Camp Fire Girls, and our teacher, Mr. Lee, who looked like a young Gregory Peck, asked me to go up to the blackboard and solve a math problem, so I stood with my back to the class for a full five minutes working this problem, and when I sat down again, the dear, sweet boy who sat behind me, Larry Levin, leaned forward and whispered that there was a gigantic bloodstain on the back of my culottes. I thanked Larry and raised my hand, and when Mr. Lee called on me I just pointed to the door and he nodded and I stood and picked up my books and backed out of the classroom and kept walking backward until I reached the nurse’s office, and the nurse called Mama, who brought me clean clothes and Towelettes and “supplies,” and I freshened up and changed and went back to class and nobody ever said a word about it.

Puberty bites

I dropped my books...

I dropped my books...

But now I’m stuffing Kleenex in my bra and trying to pluck my eyebrows and wondering if Lefty is in lust with me the way I am in lust with him. So one day I am walking home from school by myself and it’s a day that baseball practice has been canceled, but I don’t know that, and I don’t even hear Lefty walking behind me until he says, “Hey, wait up, cute little Fanny,” which is what he has called me ever since he figured out what a double entendre is, and I am so startled I trip on my own foot and drop all my books, which has happened dozens of times, that’s why Lefty sneaks up like that, only this time, instead of laughing, I am embarrassed and I can’t think of a thing to say, not a thing. Whereas I would normally have said, “How about helping me pick up these books, Creep!” in a friendly way.

Sir Charles Bell, a Scottish surgeon, one of the first to identify the process of Bell's palse

Sir Charles Bell, a Scottish surgeon, one of the first to identify the process of Bell's palse

But I don’t have the presence of mind to say anything normal, because all kinds of other stuff is rattling around in my head. What’s happening is, I’m trying to see myself through his eyes and I’m wondering if I have bad breath and if any new zits have popped out today, and I can’t even meet his eyes. When I finally think of something to say, it’s totally lame, like, “How come you don’t have baseball practice today?” and I try on this dazzling smile I’ve been practicing, and he looks at me a little oddly and explains why he doesn’t have baseball practice and I’m not even listening because I’m still trying to crawl inside his head to see what he sees when he looks at me, and then, to my total and extreme humiliation, he says, “What’s wrong with your mouth? Hey, I’ll bet you have Bell’s palsy!” And he takes off running, like Bell’s palsy germs are going to leap onto his face. “See you, Fanny,” he calls back. I try to yell after him, hoarsely (he can’t hear me), “Mickey Mantle won the American League MVP award three times.” And as soon as he’s out of sight I sit down on the grassy shoulder of the road and burst into tears and get a few hundred chigger bites on my upper thighs along the edges of my underpants, and I’m thinking, I’m not ready for this, and wondering if it would make me a terrible, mean person if I asked Mehrnaz for my Barbies back.

Sister Alma Rose's virgin oak grassland

Sister Alma Rose's virgin oak grassland

I could barely see Sister Alma Rose’s house from where I was sitting, because of her undisturbed oak grassland that she is so proud of, but I can see Sister Alma Rose, wearing one of the big, flowing gold dresses she makes, so that she looks a bit like an oak herself, and I can feel her eyes on me, and they’re pulling me like she’s a magnet and I’m an iron filing, so I pick up my books and scratch my chigger bites in a very unlustful manner, and I drag my sorry self to her porch, feeling despised by Lefty and practically everyone else in the Western Hemisphere, except Sister Alma Rose and Mr. Truman LaFollette, and of course the latter has already made my frosty glass of lemonade appear and then vanished, which no one the size of a sequoia should be able to do the way he does.

Love is a gift

My face is tear-streaked and I’m sniffling and wiping my nose on the sleeve of the ice-blue boatneck sweater I had worn that day to make Lefty fall in lust with me, but I don’t have to explain anything to Sister Alma Rose. She sees all, she knows all.

Lavender; photo, fir0002

Lavender; photo, fir0002

“Miss Fanny,” she said, handing me a clean, lavender-scented hankie for blowing my nose, “y’all just lost part of yourself in that boy — the watcher part, the observing, outward, interested part. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men can’t put Miss Fanny together again. Who’s the only one who can do that?”

“I am,” I said miserably, folding my arms on the green wicker table and laying my head down on them, “by the grace of God.”

“And right now y’all can’t put yourself together because parts of y’all are still with David Harkness, thinking about how y’all can look and act and smile and smell like lilacs and otherwise perform for him like a trained seal next time so that he’ll fall at y’all’s feet. Fanny, there are women in this world who can manipulate men into loving them. Praise God, y’all ain’t one of them women. Because if y’all get all tangled up into wanting to be loved, y’all got nothing left to love with.

“Now y’all listen to me, Fanny, because I ‘most never lecture y’all, do I?”

I shook my head, as well as I could with it buried in my arms on the table.

“All right, then. Next time y’all catch yourself trying to be good enough, to look pretty enough… next time y’all start performing… stop right then, and remind yourself that love is a gift; y’all can’t earn it.

Love is a gift

Love is a gift

“Then silently say this prayer, as many times as y’all need to, and I don’t care if y’all are in the middle of a conversation with David Harkness or in the middle of y’alls presidential-nomination-acceptance speech, and y’all look like a blinkin’ idiot, y’all say this prayer silent in y’all’s head. Y’all know the prayer I mean, don’t y’all?”

I picked my head up off the table so I could nod.

“Then say it with me, Fanny.”

So together we said this prayer, which Sister Alma Rose calls my getting-myself-back-together prayer:

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from thy presence,
and take not thy Holy Spirit from me.
Restore in me the joy of thy salvation,
and uphold me with thy free spirit.

Me, Fanny, just being me

Me, Fanny, just being me

They say that kids hardly ever learn from their elders and that each generation makes all the mistakes that the previous generation made. But from that day to this I have never, not once, tried to shape myself into something I wasn’t in order to win approval or to be loved. I have never, as Sister Alma Rose has said it, “put someone else on a pedestal” made of my “own stuff.” I have, instead, tried to love purely and generously, have tried to radiate love “as far as my awareness can reach,” and I never (hardly) worry about whether I am getting love back in equal measure.

This is not me saying, “Hey, aren’t I just the most wonderful thing!” No, it’s two other things entirely:

  1. It’s easy, and it makes life much more fun, to be one of the watchers instead of one of the watched.
  2. Somebody wise, I can’t remember who, said that most neuroses come from worrying about what other people think of you.

Sister Alma Rose has a framed cross-stitch in her hallway, exquisitely embroidered and decorated, and it says, “Human affection is not poured forth vainly, even though it meet no return. Love enriches the nature, enlarging, purifying, and elevating it. —Mary Baker Eddy

Harvest moon

Harvest moon

We sat quietly until the moon rose — a huge harvest moon that seemed to fill the eastern sky. “Lookit that,” said Sister Alma Rose. “The Ancients say that if a heart beats pure, the moon can feel its throbbing; and the moon grows strong and governs the tides; and in the end, Miss Fanny,” she said, touching my cheek, “love really does make the world go ‘round.”

Giving Yourself Away

Giving Yourself Away

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How to Be in Love

Sister Alma Rose Prays for ‘Heartbroken’ to Grow Up

Q. Sister Alma Rose, will you pray for my boyfriend to fall in love with me again? –Heartbroken in the Hebrides

A. No. But Sister Alma Rose prays, here and now, for your happiness. She prays for your eyes to be opened. She prays for you to see that the entire universe, every bloomin’ atom and each and every spirit, is in love with you.

Now you just lie down, close your eyes, inhale and exhale deeply from your abdomen, and feel how good it is to breathe, and be grateful to your Creator for giving you air and lungs.

Y’all are struggling

That’s a bad sign. The McKinneys down the road was always struggling. Elmer McKinney had to have a clean cup for his coffee. Every time he had a cup of coffee, he took a new cup out of the cupboard, and he drank about fifteen cups of coffee a day, and he’d just leave the cups lying around. One evening, Marcella McKinney gathered up all them cups in a paper sack, took the sack outside, and throwed them china cups, one by one, at Elmer’s pickup truck. I think she would of throwed them at his head, except she couldn’t stomach the sight of blood.

Sure, relationships take work. But, like Sister Alma Rose’s Daddy Pete always says, struggle and work ain’t the same thing. Relationships need patience, he says. They need grownups.

Grownups don’t struggle

They communicate. They learn and adapt to the other’s way of communicating. They don’t try to remake or to fix each other. Yet when something’s bothering them, they say so—not to change the other person, just to make themselves understood.

That way they don’t need to go out and buy new coffee cups.

Grownups understand…

… that it often seems like they’re giving more than they’re getting. Yet they also open their arms and embrace what they DO get. Elmer McKinney always bought a big bouquet of flowers for Marcella on her birthday. You know what she’d say when she got them? “How come you never bring me an orchid corsage on Mother’s Day like Chester O’Dell gives Daisy?” Or she’d say, “What am I supposed to do with these flowers? What we need is a new sump pump. These flowers ain’t gonna drain the water out of the basement, are they?”

Grownups don’t think that love has to be earned

They know that love is a gift from God.

Louanne Enright, who teaches third grade at Hilltop Elementary, is a sweet thing, and pretty, too, and smart as they come, except it always bothered her that she had skinny legs and bony knees. When Jeff Enright, who owns Hilltop Drug & Sundries, hired a lady pharmacist with curvy legs and little bitty ankles, Louanne ‘bout went out of her mind. She’d go into the store every day after school to see if the lady pharmacist, whose name was Deborah, was wearing a short skirt, and if she was, Louanne wouldn’t speak to Jeff for the whole evening.

One night Jeff didn’t come home after work. He called Louanne and told her he was at her (Louanne’s) mother’s house and he was gonna stay at Louanne’s mother’s house until Louanne came to her senses and realized that he, Jeff, loved her (Louanne) not because of her knees but because he just DID, except she (Louanne) was driving him crazy, and he wasn’t about to fire Deborah, who was a very fine pharmacist, just so he could get some conversation and dinner, and maybe a little kissy-kissy, when he went home to Louanne at night, and besides, Jeff told Louanne, Deborah had B.O.

Grownups do not need a mate in order to feel complete

Yet grownups can love fully without fearing rejection. “Human affection is not poured forth vainly, even though it meet no return. Love enriches the nature, enlarging, purifying, and elevating it.” (Mary Baker Eddy)

Grownups don’t need drama in their relationships

If they need drama, they take up acting, or skydiving. They don’t do like Toby Lee, who was engaged to Franny Tarkis, the EMT, who had about all the drama in her job that a body could stand, but she always had a warm smile and a hot meal for Toby when he came by, and he loved her plenty, but he liked to stir things up, so he’d guzzle Southern Comfort down at the Town Tap and then he’d make googoo eyes at Shirley Trout, the bartender, or steal a smooch from her sister Lurlene, and make sure Franny found out about it, from her uncle, Kit Crowell, who owned the Town Tap, and then Franny would throw her diamond engagement ring at Toby, but she always took him back after he mooned around awhile and sent her candy and flowers, until she got fed up with the whole thing, and she up and married Marcus Ranney, the city clerk, who collected butterflies, and it turned out she would have married Marcus years earlier but she didn’t want to be Franny Ranney, so in the end she decided to do that hyphenated-name thing and now she’s Franny Tarkis-Ranney and he’s Marcus Tarkis-Ranney, which ain’t much better, but it seems to suit the two of them (actually, now the three of them) and that’s all that counts, ain’t it?