Prayer community

To pray a Catholic prayer is to pray in community with the whole Church: past, present and future. If we mean what we say and say what we mean, we truly are a Catholic — that is universal — Church.

I pray it when I first wake up in the morning. I pray it during morning and evening prayers as I follow them with the Magnificat. I pray it during the Rosary and the Divine Mercy Chaplet. The Our Father is a prayer given to us by Jesus Himself. Yet, as a single person praying all by my lonesome (except for my cat Vera), I continue to start the prayer with Our. I don’t start it as My Father, but Our Father, indicating more than just me. Why is it so important that we call God as Our Father, especially if we want to have a personal relationship with Him? But watch any two-year-old with a toy they claim as “mine” and it makes perfect sense for the Church to continually remind us that we are a family of God. I may be saying the Our Father in the comfort of my home, but someone else could be walking to work and saying it at the same time that I am. Or a Mass on the other side of the world may be reciting the same lines that I am at the same time I do. It’s rather amazing to think we join others across the globe as we all pray the same prayer, even if it’s in a different language.

While the Our Father may be the most obvious of Catholic prayers, it was the Grace before meals that really got me started thinking about the language used in them. “Bless us, O Lord, and these Thy gifts, which we are about to receive from Thy bounty, through Christ our Lord. Amen.” I say this prayer before each meal, and I started to notice all the plural references. I tried changing it up so that it used singular language, but I would inevitably leave one word as plural, usually the “our”. For this prayer, I thought about using the excuse that I was praying on Vera’s behalf as well, but she usually eats before I do and she only gets morning and evening meals. So who are the “us” we are asking to be blessed and who is it that is receiving the gifts of nourishment? It was then I realized that the most basic of prayers had Our as the first word. Even in the Hail Mary, we ask her to “pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of our death.”  

We could be exclusive and say we are only praying using pluralistic language on behalf of other Catholics, but I think it goes beyond who we know, beyond our denomination as Roman Catholics, and even beyond Christianity itself. While we may be joining other like-minded individuals even if we are unaware they are praying the same way, our pluralistic language is inclusive to all God’s children, regardless of creed, perhaps even beyond the boundaries of time and space. Likewise, any prayers said by those who came before us, along with those that will be said in the future include a plea to God on our behalf. God, who is beyond time and space, gathers all our prayers together. In His Love, He unites us and our prayers. Those who wish for singularity, wish separation from the prayer community and run the risk of imitating Satan, the one who scatters. 

Through prayer, we are never alone before God. Let us mean the words we proclaim to include all of God’s children, drawing strength in numbers from those praying along with us. 

Beautiful Rosary

While the Rosary is a beautiful prayer and a powerful weapon against sin, it can also be quite intimidating to those who haven’t experienced it.

If you were asked to say the Apostles Creed, while it is lengthy, it is doable. How about adding six Glory Be prayers? They are so quick, you could offer to say a dozen! If six Our Father prayers were added to the seven prayers, that still doesn’t seem like that many prayers to say. Now add 53 Hail Mary prayers plus the Hail, Holy Queen prayer and beads of anxious sweat may start forming on your brow. Just like someone who wants to start running or exercising needs to build up endurance, to pray a Rosary you need to learn how to meditate and keep a focused concentration. 

One way to start saying the Rosary slowly is to start off with the beginning prayers: the Apostles Creed, the Our Father, a Hail Mary for each of the three theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity, and finish with a Glory Be. Once you get that pattern down, then add one decade which consists of an Our Father, ten Hail Mary prayers, and a Glory Be. One of the benefits of saying the Rosary is learning to meditate. This is the time to start practicing meditation by selecting one of the mysteries to be mindful of as you are praying the decade. The Rosary has four sets of five mysteries to contemplate. The Joyful mysteries reflect on the incarnation and childhood of Jesus. The Luminous mysteries are a journey through Jesus’ ministry. The Sorrowful mysteries  focus on the Passion and death of Jesus; while the Glorious cover lives of Jesus and Mary starting with His resurrection. By practicing just one mystery at first, you can better train yourself to notice when your mind wanders away from the mystery you are praying.

While each day of the week does have a mystery assigned to it, you are not required to limit yourself to only praying those mysteries, regardless of whether you’re praying just a decade or the whole Rosary. There are some people that say all four sets of mysteries every day; that’s over 200 Hail Mary prayers plus four times all the other prayers! Perhaps that’s a challenge you would like to work up to committing yourself to praying. Or you may find it totally overwhelming to faithfully pray even a decade in a day. No matter where you fall in the spectrum, you can benefit from the prayer. 

The Rosary is Mary’s gift to us to walk with her in getting to know her Son, Jesus. This is the way Mary leads us to Him, by slowly teaching us to focus on all He has done for us. Perhaps you used to say the Rosary daily but it has been replaced with Scripture reading, and that’s okay. The Rosary can be a journey leading us in and through Scripture. If we can only commit our time to one thing, it’s okay to pick something other than the Rosary, provided that you are deepening your relationship with Jesus. The beads of the Rosary can also be used for praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet as well.

The month of October is dedicated to the Holy Rosary, so if you haven’t tried praying this way, I encourage you to begin, no matter how small, while meditating on one of the mysteries. There are plenty of references online and apps available for your smartphone or tablet to help get you going. And if it’s been awhile since you have regularly prayed the Rosary, perhaps make a special effort this month to reconnect with this powerful tool of prayer.  

Location matters

I woke up Sunday  intending to go to the early Mass at my church. I incorrectly remembered the starting time and got there 30 minutes before its scheduled start. As I was looking around a near empty church, I noticed something that has been there the entire time I’ve belonged to the parish, yet it was like I was seeing it for the first time.

The worship space in my church is an open circle with the altar in the center and pews around it. There is a separate room off to the side that contains the tabernacle. If I sit in a particular section of the worship space, I can see the tabernacle through the glass doors, unless there are too many tall people sitting in the section between. As I gazed over to the tabernacle, I realized the baptismal font was running. This is not unusual as the water is usually circulated before and after Mass. The location of the font happens to be between my usual seat and the tabernacle. What a wonderful sense of physical illustration: we need to be baptized in order to have a relationship with God and fully participate in the Catholic life. We need to make a choice to live our baptismal promises every day in order to get to heaven. As the tabernacle contains the consecrated hosts, it is the closest thing to heaven we have on earth. I also noticed that the crucifix that is carried into the worship space at the beginning of Mass was in its stand just beyond the baptismal font. From my direction, it was as if the church was saying you need to be baptized, pick up your cross and carry it through to heaven (the tabernacle). 

I’ve sat in that general area many times before for Mass, and I never realized how all those items aligned. Churches have been built to raise the awareness of the parishioners and to teach them specifics of the faith. Many of the stain-glass windows are intended to teach about the life of Jesus or of a saint. Some churches are built in the shape of a cross, so that at the very heart of worship, the congregation takes the shape of salvation. When we attend Mass, are we aware of how our surroundings lift us up in worship? Many of us are creatures of habit, sitting in the same area week after week at the same Mass, but why is that location special to you? Can you describe why you chose that spot, or did it choose you? I choose to sit in the section I do because I can get at least a glimpse of the tabernacle. With people sitting in the next section, I don’t always get a complete and unobscured view like I did when I was early. Perhaps the other sections of the church would prompt different thoughts for reflection if I sat in them.

While the most important element is to be wholly present during the Mass and for the Eucharist, where you choose or end up sitting may add significance as you open your heart and mind to the Holy Spirit and let Him reveal Himself to you.

Glamorized evil?

Here’s the question of the day: is Disney’s Cruella movie a depiction of glamorized evil, or is it an invitation to get to know a character typically perceived as an enemy in the way God would see and love her? Perhaps the correct answer isn’t one or the other, but both.

I did enjoy watching the movie, as it was lively and had a good storyline. Originally named Estella, Cruella was the name her adopted mother would use when Estella’s behavior was negative towards others. After being orphaned, Estella used the persona of Cruella deVil to avenge the death of her adopted mother, Catherine, and ultimately taking the name Cruella on permanently. 

When the movie ended, my first thought was that it was glorifying bad behavior; that stealing and creating havoc is acceptable. Especially since the very end is a triumph for Cruella as she buries her original persona of Estella. It is a happy ending for Cruella as she gets everything she has wanted. She’s embraced what she believes is her true self, one of mischief and trouble, rather than the qualities Catherine encouraged her to practice, kindness and compassion. Evil qualities are prominent in her birth mother, the Baroness, and even after realizing that she was responsible for Catherine’s death, Cruella still seeks that lifestyle for herself. 

Even as a youngster, Estella was a troubled girl. She would promise her mother that she would behave, but it was like she couldn’t help herself. If she didn’t instigate the trouble, she would respond to it as she encountered it. Estella’s adopted mother sees the gift she has for fashion and encourages that in the young child. She tries to nurture Estella out of her bad behavior. The scenes from her early days provide insight to a person who is struggling with the battle of good and evil. It’s this perspective that makes me see how God can love those that other people consider a hated enemy. God sees the total person, what they are capable of, and what their struggles are.  

I know it’s only a story and it has to end with Estella transforming into Cruella, but in some ways this movie excuses bad behavior, or at the very least makes it acceptable. I guess Disney, being who they are, has to have a happy ending, but I think it could have been written to be more foreboding, rather than gleefully happy. There are moments where Cruella does realize that she needs to be good to her friends, going as far as apologizing to them. Though goodness resides within her soul, she’s chosen to embrace the evil persona. 

I don’t want to say that I liked the movie, but it does make a person think about those they dislike or consider an enemy, and wonder what their story is. Many factors have gone into making them into the troublesome people they are today. While the movie is geared more for children due to the main character being the villain of 101 Dalmatians, I’d say its message is more for adults, as it makes them think about the choices they’ve made and how they’ve made them. It also reminds us that everyone struggles and that we only see the aspects of their character that they choose to show to the world. There is so much more that makes up each individual. 

As Catholics, we are called to love our enemies and treat them as fellow children of God. Movies like Cruella, can give us insight and help us develop compassion to make every effort to love all people the way that God loves us.

Whack-a-sin

In a recent video by Fr. Mike Schmitz, The Price of Forgiveness, he calls a distinction between saying “Sorry” and asking for forgiveness. When reflecting on this, the oddest thought popped into my head: the game of whack-a-mole, only instead of moles, it was our sins.

Originally created in Japan in the 1970’s, the whack-a-mole game typically features a number of holes from where moles randomly pop up and the player uses a mallet to strike the mole back into the hole. The timing of the moles popping up increases with play until the time limit is reached, usually well beyond a person’s ability to correctly see and strike the mole when it pops up. 

In trying to live a life of faith and avoid sin, we can end up in a pattern similar to the game. When we seriously approach the sacrament of reconciliation, we commit to avoiding sinning in the same way again. While thankfully God does not limit how many times we can be forgiven for the same sin, we are still obliged to try avoiding it. Sometimes we pick one sin to focus on, investigating the whys and hows in order to determine what we need to do to elude the sin again. Then when we feel confident, we pick another sin to focus on, only to realize we’ve relapsed into the sin we thought we conquered. It can be incredibly frustrating, just like a game of whack-a-mole, where our sins keep popping up despite all of our efforts. 

Perhaps the whack-a-mole effect is when we say “Sorry” to God, even being contrite, but feeling that the habitual sin is too strong to avoid. If we take the weight of that sin into our spiritual hands and own it, as Fr. Mike describes, could we dig deeper into that sin and allow God’s grace to penetrate and slowly heal us? Can we imagine our lives without committing that sin? Or, is it like a nicely worn pair of slippers that we insist on wearing, simply because they are comfortable? Perhaps we are convinced that we are solely responsible for changing ourselves and we are trying to prove to God that we can change. Or just maybe, we see the sin as a challenge and enjoy playing the game, flirting with the sin despite its tendency to frustrate us. 

The objection could be raised as St. Paul said in his second letter to the Corinthians that “a thorn was given me in the flesh, as messenger of Satan, to harass me, to keep me from being too elated.” Even after begging God to remove it, God replied, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor 12: 7-9) God can certainly use our sin patterns to teach us compassion for others, compassion for ourselves, and to bring us closer to Him. However, most of us are not like Paul, nor do we enjoy the same type of relationship with God  he did. I think the most important take-away from Paul’s statement, is that he, too, was a sinner even after he converted to follow Jesus Christ. We should use this as a tool to deflect discouragement when we find ourselves repeating the same sin, but not use it as an excuse to continue sinning and taking God’s mercy for granted.  

I don’t want to play games with God’s mercy. The price Jesus willingly paid for my sins and the relationship I strive to have with Him requires me to seek His forgiveness, His mercy, and His help. Eternal life with Him is too precious to risk in an endeavor that has no winner. 

Laughter in the Bible

I didn’t expect to see the word laugh that often in the Bible. After over 245 episodes of the Bible in a Year podcast, it was the last chapter of Daniel that caught me by surprise. Daniel laughed at the king for his belief in Bel, the god of the Babylonians.

I was familiar with a few of the stories in Daniel, but this one was new to me. The king, who is friends with Daniel, inquires as to why Daniel does not believe Bel to be a living god, based on the amount of food the god consumes. “Daniel began to laugh. ‘Do not be deceived, O king,’ he said; ‘it is only clay inside and bronze outside; it has never taken any food or drink.’” (Dan 14:7) The king is enraged and suggests that the priest prove that Daniel is blaspheming, with the result being either the death of the priests or the death of Daniel. The priests agree and have the king set the food out in the temple and secure the door with his signet. Prior to the sealing of the door, Daniel has ashes distributed on the floor. The next day the seal is unbroken when the king and Daniel return. At first the king is delighted to see the food consumed. “But Daniel laughed and kept the king from entering. ‘Look at the floor,’ he said; ‘whose footprints are these?’ ‘I see the footprints of men, women, and children!’ said the king.” (Dan 14:19-20) The priests then show the hidden entrance by which they and their families come and consume the food, which results in their death.

Not just once, but twice does Daniel laugh in reaction to the king. At first it seems an odd reaction, yet there could be multiple reasons for this. The beginning of the chapter does indicate that Daniel is friends with the sovereign. Perhaps the friendship is so deep, that Daniel’s reaction is one that we would all share if someone we were close to had an incorrect assumption. I don’t think Daniel is laughing at the king, as if the king was inferior to Daniel’s wisdom. I think it shows the true bond of friendship that Daniel had with the king, including laughing at each other’s moments of silliness. 

Another possibility is Daniel’s age. He has been in the courts of several of the Babylonian kings. Perhaps his laughter was more from a wise person who sees the passionate, and stubborn, beliefs of youth. I’m not as fond of this possibility because it does lend itself to Daniel thinking himself superior to the king. Even if Daniel’s age gave  him a higher level of wisdom than the king, the rest of the book of Daniel doesn’t show him as the type to have a superiority complex. 

Lastly, Daniel may have laughed because of his firm belief in the Lord God of his ancestors. Previous stories of Daniel also illustrate wise methods for addressing those who are lying. Perhaps his wisdom is divinely inspired due to his complete and total worship of the one, true God. Daniel relies on God for everything, and even though his life was threatened because of his worship, he was unwavering in his beliefs. Throughout the various rulers, Daniel held fast to his belief in God, and was rewarded with positions of power and relationship with kings. This is the kind of faith in God that I want, one that will have me laughing despite having my earthly life at risk. 

Whether it was one reason or a combination of all three, it was nice to see laughter in the Bible. Perhaps it’s also a bit of a challenge to us to cultivate strong friendships with others, so that we can explore others’ feelings and beliefs and share the good news of our beliefs with them in return.

Practicing patience

I think I’m a remedial student when it comes to the virtue of patience. As much as I think I am relaxed in most circumstances, I am surprised when I find myself anxious and frustrated.

As I got in line at the grocery store the other day, I could see the large, dark clouds gathering above. While the drive home was a short three minutes away, I did feel a bit annoyed as the woman in front of me allowed her child to reach into the cart and put things on the conveyor belt. In looking back, the small child was rather cute, and had to step up on the rail of the cart above the wheels in order to be tall enough to reach a hand over the side of the cart to pull whatever was high enough to grasp. One item at a time was all the child could handle. Thankfully the woman was putting most of the items on the conveyor, but the slow pace of the child, as well as the woman keeping an eye out, seemed to make her progress slow. I made it home just as large drops of rain started coming down from the sky, but at least it was before the heavens really opened up for it to pour. It was a little exercise, a practice in patience, and I felt like I failed it. Who cares if I get a little wet bringing in the groceries? It’s not like anything I have will melt in the rain. I didn’t have a long journey home, and while I don’t like thunderstorms, being in a car is probably the safest place I can be. Even though my irritation was minor, it’s that much less peace I have for whenever the next practice of patience comes my way.

Patience is a key virtue for letting go and letting God handle your life. I pray for it every morning, “O Jesus, I surrender myself to you, take care of everything.” Yet even when I know there is nothing I can do, instead of relaxing and looking at the change of routine as an opportunity for a different perspective, I am anxious and feel troubled and frustrated. Waiting for a repair person is something that should not bring stress and worry, and yet it does. Even when a window of time is given, it makes every minute waiting both an eternity and lightning fast. Every time I check out the window for the company’s van, I feel like I’m checking a pot on the stove to see if it’s boiling yet. The repair person will not come any quicker if I continue to look out the window. My home is not that big that I cannot hear the doorbell from every room in the house. As the minutes tick by, it’s hard not to think about the possibility of what’s wrong and how much it will be to fix it. All of it is out of my hands. I cannot affect any of it. So why is my peace so disturbed? Why can’t I relax and let God handle everything? And then I remember: this is practice, perhaps even a little exam in patience. 

I can’t control or affect the weather. I need to be mindful of it, but I cannot fear it or let worry about it run my life. And like the weather, there is a plethora of things that are outside of my control. The only thing I can control is my response to them. God, in His eternal wisdom, will continue to try and teach me to rely on Him. I am thankful He chooses these types of challenges for me, and thankful that He is merciful when my response is less than what it should be. 

Not feeling it

The other day started out rather frustrating. Nothing big or terrible, but just little things that put me in a cranky mood. I told God I didn’t want to be cranky, yet as the day progressed the little things kept getting more and more aggravating. Why was this happening?

We all have bad days and while I tried to chalk it up to being one of those days, it was still hard to plow through. I was glad it was a weekend so that I wasn’t grumpy with work colleagues, but even that thought didn’t lighten my spirit. I used my favorite mug,  but my smile seemed bittersweet. I had some chocolate as a treat after lunch, but it was rather unsatisfying. I worked on my spinning wheel and even making the progress I did, I felt no better then when I first started out the day. It almost seemed like the more I tried, the more miserable I felt, which then made me feel even more miserable because I was feeling miserable.

As I began to reflect on my feelings, I realized that just because my favorite mug didn’t make me happy, doesn’t mean I’ll never use it again. The same goes for eating chocolate, as I know in the future it will taste lovely and bring a smile to my face. I have way too much wool that is practically calling my name, so when I get a spare hour or so, I know I will enjoy the creative process of making yarn and knitting or weaving it. My feelings may enhance or challenge the things I use, consume, and do, but they are not the only indicator. The same is true for religion. While feelings of joy and peace serve to enhance our relationship with God, they do not define it.

I did tell God that I didn’t want to be cranky, yet He allowed it. He allowed me to eat, drink, and work with a sad spirit. No, that was not cruel of Him, as it illustrated to me that I shouldn’t base decisions on feelings. I have a relationship with Him and I put my trust in Him, not how I feel. It also seemed to underscore Peter’s response into this past Sunday’s Gospel, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68-69)

At the end of the day, I did feel a sense of peace because of being thankful. I appreciate the opportunity to trust in God when I am cranky. Thankful I did not blame Him for my bad mood, or that it stayed the whole day when I asked Him to make it go away. Thankful for the chance to practice being poor in spirit, that is not being addicted to happy feelings. And, perhaps most of all, that tomorrow is another day and I’ll have another chance of making it a bright one.

Deposit of faith

The end of Matthew’s Gospel could be used as the statement to sum up the Catholic Church: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

The words recorded by Matthew were received by the Apostles. After being filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the emboldened disciples not only preached, but also most gave their lives for the faith. The direction is not just to the Jewish people, but all people. The call for baptism is a visible sign of the person’s change towards a life in relationship with Jesus. The baptized now become part of the community with the Divine. The teachings are more than the Mosaic Law followed by the Jews, but a law taken to a higher level, a law of being: the Beatitudes. Jesus promises His presence will remain, not just in the memory of the Apostles, but alive in the community — through the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, as well as the guidance of the Holy Spirit leading the Church. 

I’ve heard it on more than one occasion the suggestion that the Catholic Church is an old fuddy-duddy institution and needs to get with the times. The wheels of change seem to move too slowly in the Catholic Church. Yet the whole point of the Church is to preserve what Jesus taught and to continue teaching in each generation. Upon the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Pope John Paul II says, “Guarding the deposit of faith is the mission which the Lord entrusted to His Church, and which she fulfills in every age.” The revised Catechism is rich and deep, and is a product of the inspiration wrought from the Second Vatican Council. I love the words Pope John Paul II uses in describing it. “The principal task entrusted to the Council by Pope John XXIII was to guard and present better the precious deposit of Christian doctrine in order to make it more accessible to the Christian faithful and to all people of good will. For this reason the Council was not first of all to condemn the errors of the time, but above all to strive calmly to show the strength and beauty of the doctrine of the faith.” (emphasis added)

While some may think reading the Catechism is a great way to fall asleep, that can be said of any textbook someone tries to read for entertainment. The Catechism is not a story, rather it contains an in-depth plunge into each line of the creed, each of the sacraments, the necessities of living a moral life, the ten Commandments, as well as an entire section dedicated to prayer. This amazing tool can inspire the faithful and help guide and clarify when questions arise. It illustrates why we can’t ask the Church to change based on what our secular culture wants. 

In each generation the practices of the Church look a bit different, especially when compared to the societal ways of each time. I think it can be hard in our modern standards to realize just how rebellious Jesus was. No man would even talk to a woman who was not in his family, yet Jesus spoke to many, healing them too. While charity does have its roots in the Jewish faith, the Christian tradition took it to new levels. Today, it is so commonplace, it has become ordinary —  part of the fabric of what it means to be human. It is upon us Catholics to continue, as members of the Church, making disciples of all nations, by our being. As we observe the commandments of Jesus, we continue weaving the fabric of the Divine into our world.  

The faith is a true treasure, and the Church not only guards it against the cultural weaknesses in each era, but celebrates and brings to life all those who seek its wealth. I’m looking forward to seeing what the Holy Spirit will inspire next!

Faces and veils

I finished reading C.S. Lewis’ Till We Have Faces, the feature book of the Word on Fire Institute Book Club. This was my first time participating in the book club and it was the author that drew me in. I’ve read a number of Lewis’ works, and while I’d like to say this time was the first time I read the book, it’s actually the first time I actually finished the book. 

The novel is a retelling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche, and while I was not familiar with the original, I believe the story does stand on its own. As I began reading the story, it did seem rather familiar to me, but I couldn’t figure out how. I started the novel on my tablet and then began to wonder if I had the physical book. I found that, indeed I did, complete with a bookmark not far into the story. It is written from the point of view of Orual, a princess of Glome who is documenting how the gods have wronged her, especially the local goddess Ungit. One thing is made clear: from a young age Orual has been judged by all as ugly.

As the oldest daughter of a King who only has daughters, Orual has little value in her world. A Greek slave who is brought in to help with correspondence becomes her tutor, not just in reading and writing, but also in philosophy and religion, discouraging belief in the local goddess. When the King’s second wife dies in childbirth with yet another daughter, Orual becomes a doting mother figure to the girl she refers to as Psyche. Together with the grandfatherly figure of the Greek slave, Orual pours out all her love onto Psyche. But the love that is given is with a price. Orual expects Psyche to listen and obey her since she took it upon herself to raise the girl. What seems like an idyllic life, is really ownership and manipulation masquerading as love. 

When Orual’s expectations cause a rift and banishment from Psyche, she takes to wearing a veil constantly. She succeeds her father to become Queen of Glome. While it seems her reign was a benefit to her subjects, her lifetime was spent harboring resentment to the goddess and to Psyche. “Weakness, and work, are two comforts the gods have not taken from us,” she says. While I can understand that work can be a comfort, I’m still trying to see how weakness can be comforting. Perhaps in wearing the veil to hide her ugliness, which she perceives as her weakness, she finds comfort that she can see others while they cannot see her. 

What struck me most about this tale is that even though it takes place in a pre-Christian era, it could be a modern day story. With so many self-help programs and a culture that seeks its own interests, Orual is the figure of what life is like for so many who are just seeking to fulfill the “I.” The veil, to me, is a barrier so that she is not judged on her looks, yet extends beyond that to prevent her from truly seeing the others around her. The judgement passed on her for her looks is doubled back to everyone she encounters in the expectation of what-have-you-done-for-me. Prior to her death, she is given the opportunity to present her case, not just to the gods and goddesses, but to all who have passed before her as well, including her father and the Greek slave. It is at that time that her veil is removed and she begins to see the error of what she considered love. Love is willing the good of the other as other, not in a manipulation of what we want of them. It’s only when we truly see another person, without any veil or barrier of expectation, that we can love them with a pure heart.

One of my favorite parts of the story is in Orual’s later years, as she attends to Ungit’s feast. A peasant woman comes, rather dirty and disheveled, to plead her cause before the goddess. At first Orual is annoyed by the woman’s appearance; it is a sacred time, doesn’t the woman know she should clean herself up to present herself before the goddess? Yet after laying prostrate and crying before the statue, the woman arises with a serenity that intrigues Orual. The woman responds to her questions by saying, “Ungit has given me great comfort. There’s no goddess like Ungit.” 

Usually in reading books, you want to cheer for the narrator or the main character. However, from a vantage point of faith, it was hard to do this with one who is so anti-religion. Yet her attitude does give the opportunity for one to pause in reflection as to what one believes and why they believe it. While it is not a Christian story, there are Christian themes within the book. It was also beneficial to be able to discuss with others in the book club as we were reading the story to get their insight. I believe this is one of those stories that I can read again and again, finding different meanings and perspectives each time.