Today we celebrate the Celtic festival of Samhain, when the division between this world and the otherworld is at its thinnest, allowing spirits to pass through. Christians celebrate November 1 as All Saint’s Day and November 2 as All Souls. To mark this numinous time of year, I would like to share a story about Kikuchi-sensei, my Japanese tea ceremony teacher. A longer version of this story was originally published in Ascent Magazine, Issue 36, Fall 2007
The morning I went to the mortuary to see Kikuchi-Sensei, a cold wind whipped around the medieval cobblestone streets of the tiny Umbrian village. She had been fighting cancer for nearly a year and had finally surrendered at the age of 79. Dressed in a pale cinnamon kimono, she appeared so tiny in the lacquered coffin, framed by wild spring flowers that her daughter had picked from their garden, Sensei’s face was strong and peaceful; her mouth, set in her soft, unlined skin, was ready to break into one of her rare, indulging smiles.
Since Sensei had refused visitors during her treatment, I had just managed to accept life without our weekly tea ceremony lessons. But looking upon her still, frail frame, I hardly felt ready to surrender her forever. As I stood by her coffin, in my heart I thanked her for all she had taught me during the years we had spent together. I felt tremendously honored to have known her. Continue reading →
As I write these words, my 93-year-old mother is dying. We are separated by an entire continent and an entire ocean, 6000 miles apart. It is a tremendous challenge to not race onto a transatlantic flight to be by her side. But I realize that our distance now is a gift, for I have no other recourse but prayer and the willful and conscious act of radiating Light and Love.
Only a month ago, we were together in sunny California where I was visiting her for three weeks. While I was there, my mom told her Hospice care worker, “I’m having such a good time with Catherine that I forget to take my pain medicine.” Continue reading →
Women at the Tomb from a Syriac Gospel, Northern Iraq
For Western Christians around the world, this is Passion Week. (Eastern Christians celebrate next week.) Believers commemorate Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, the Passover meal, his crucifixion, death and resurrection. In Spain, there are elaborate and nightlong processions of masked penitents heaving gigantic statues depicting the suffering of Jesus and Mary. When I was living in Italy, I once had a friend visiting me who, after a day of sightseeing in Rome, said quite candidly, “I’m tired of every time I go into a church, I have to look at statue of a man being tortured and nailed to a cross.”
What might we understand from this disturbing image that seems to simultaneously fascinate and repel? First of all, it’s important to see the complete picture of the Passion. The story does not end with the crucifixion, but actually starts there. The Passion is only complete with the resurrection, but we tend to ignore this essential part of the story, preferring to dwell on the murderous nature of Jesus’ death. Does this sound familiar? Isn’t this just what the media does? Burying the good news until it’s impossible to see?