Sight, Sound and Beyond

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St. Francis Preaching to the Birds – Gioto di Bondone (c.1267-1337)

“We were taught that animals don’t go to heaven because they don’t have souls, ” my mother once told me.  She and my father had attended at 12 years of Catholic School.  My father also continued on to attend a Catholic College.  Then there is me who attended Public School and attended regular college, so what do I know right?

As a Roman Catholic, one of the things I struggle with the question of whether or not animals are included in God’s plan of salvation.  In other words, do they go to heaven or do they cease to exist all together after physical death?  I have received mixed answers from various sources.  Some people have told me that animals do not have souls because they lack free will.  Some, like St Thomas Aquinas, have mentioned that while animals do have souls, their souls are not immortal.  Therefore, when they die, their souls die as well.  Then there are a couple priests who have told me that, yes, animals do go to heaven because God is Love and thus He would never destroy that which He creates.

The thought of animals, especially my two avian companions, ceasing to exist after physical death is an upsetting thought for me.  I don’t know why I am so sensitive about it.  I am probably the only Catholic who prays for animals.  Animals have been a great service to us, providing us with transportation, clothing and food.  I pray for them all because like us, they are God’s creatures too.  Whenever I learn of an an animal companion who has passed away, I pray he or she has been reunited with God in Heaven.

One friend once said something like, “Oh I understand why you feel this way.  It’s okay to love your birds.  After all, you don’t have children.”  Perhaps, if I were married with children, I might sing a different tune about animals right?  Nah, I doubt it.

Another friend of mine said: “Well, you believe that your birds go to Heaven because you can’t stand the thought of never seeing them again after they die.”  I have to admit, she was partially right, but my ideas are not purely based on emotional attachment.

The Garden of Eden

In the bible, there are examples of God’s love for animals.  In the book of Genesis, God created everything: time, space, land and sea, vegetation, birds, sea creatures, land animals and human beings.  God created everything and everything was good.  Why was it good?  Everything was good because God created it.  It was not something that to be earned.  Prior to the fall of our parents, Adam and Eve, everyone lived in perfect communion with God.  You could say that all living creatures were in a perfect state of grace where there was no separation between God and them.  It is quite beautiful to think about, but this paradise didn’t last long.  After the fall of our parents,  the world became cursed and evil began to spread.  Thus we human beings became separated from God.

I imagine Heaven to be an extension of the Garden of Eden, which was meant to be an eternal paradise for God to live among all creation in perfect harmony.   If this is how it was in the beginning, why would God not want to include all creation in His kingdom yet to come?  The book of Revelations tells us that there will be a New Heaven and a New Earth.  Surely at the very least, our non human brethren would be included in the New Earth.  Wouldn’t you think?

Noah’s Ark

Everyone is familiar with the story of Noah, the guy that was chosen by God to build an ark or large boat for his family and himself to escape the great flood that God was going to send in response to humanity’s wickedness.  Because of Noah’s righteousness, He and his family would be spared.  Oh and wait, quite a few others were spared as well.  Who else came along for the ride in Noah’s ark?  Animals of course.  Remember that?  God told Noah to gather two of every kind.  This is quite interesting don’t you think?  God can create anything out of nothing.  I mean that’s how the earth came about right?  He could have easily told Noah to forget about the animals and just gather his family.  I mean after the flood ended, God could just recreate new animals right?  Why would God include the animals to be part of Noah’s ark?

This story illustrate God’s mercy and saving power for not just human beings but for all creation.  God is a lover of all creation.  His love is inclusive, not exclusive.

Someone once told me that animals reflect the innocence of God.  Sure, they don’t have a free will as we human beings do, but animals have something that we as human beings lack: the ability to live in the present moment.  Animals don’t fret about the future or get stuck in the past the way we do.  They live completely in the present moment and to continuously live in the present moment is to truly be in the presence of God.

St. Francis of Assisi

Why did St Francis address animals as his brothers and sisters?  Why did he treat them with such respect?  St. Francis viewed animals as part of God’s family.  He said of animals:

“Not to hurt our humble brethren is our first duty to them, but to stop there is not enough. We have a higher mission — to be of service to them wherever they require it.”

It is his love and respect for animals that makes him one of my favorite saints.

I had Sunny and Nikki blessed the day prior to the feast of St Francis to confirm their membership of God’s Family.  I got a lot of laughs from people but it felt like the right thing to do.   To learn more about Sunny and Nikki’s blessing read “To Bless or Not to Bless”

Why Do I Want Sunny and NIkki to Go to Heaven?

When you love someone, even a small bird whose head is smaller than your eyeball, you want only the best for him or her.  Many cannot understand what it means to love a small creature like a small parrot.  It is really not that much different from loving a human being.  Sure they do not have our intelligence, but they have the integrity, innocence and curiosity of young children.  Living with Sunny and Nikki is like living with two permanent two-year-old children!

Sunny and Nikki will both be 13 years old next year, and I love them more now than I did when I first adopted them.   I often include them in some of my spiritual practices, which include reading passages from the bible.  This probably sounds ridiculous to many, but in Chapter 16, verse 15 in Mark’s Gospel Jesus did say:

“Go into all the world and proclaim the good news] to the whole creation.”

Well, the last I checked, the whole of creation included birds.

Anyway, I digress from the question at hand.  Why do I want Sunny and Nikki to go to Heaven?  I want the best for them, and what could be better than to be in eternal and perfect communion with God?

My wish for the girls going to heaven does not primarily stem from my wish for them to be with me, but rather to be well taken care of by God and be included in His plan of salvation.  I have had dreams about what it will be like after I die.  The dream is set in the future, and I do get to heaven.  In the dreams I do see those who have gone before me: family, friends and the animals I have known and loved.  For a short moment I see the girls.  All my loved ones are there, but they are not the main focus.  My main focus is being with God, the source of all Good and who is Love.  I believe that when we go to Heaven it will be exactly like attending Mass.  We will be in attendance as one family, which includes the angels, saints, and our non human brethren, but our focus will be on the one who has created us.  He is the reason that we love in the first place.

At the end of the musical, Les Misérables, a memorable line is sung:

“To love another person is to see the face of God.”

To love anyone, including something as small as bird is to know the love of God.  Like animals, we human beings are creatures.  We are all of God’s creatures and compared to His infinite power and love, we are but a speck of dust, but like I love two little birds, God loves all his creatures both great and small.

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excerpt of  “In the Beginning” from Images

A year or so ago, I was riding in the car with one of my friends who has the same first name as I do.  I don’t remember the exact sequence of the conversation, but I went from talking about God to talking about one of my music composition projects.  “Gee Jen, ” she said, “I am surprised you don’t write religious music.”

I always wondered that myself.  Honestly, I never wrote anything that would be considered religious.  I never wrote a Mass or anything like that.  Many of the great composers have already written such wonderful works, so I never felt the need to write any sacred music myself.  I was always trying to find my own voice and do something different.  The fact that I had not written or was even considering writing any sacred music seemed quite bizarre to me.  After all, I am active in my church’s music ministry.

The topic of music and God, also came up in a discussion I had with my spiritual director some time ago.  She mentioned how music can be a form of prayer and worship and used King David as an example.  While The Ark of the Covenant was being brought to Jerusalem, he danced before the Lord .

“As the ark of the Lord came into the city of David, Michal the daughter of Saul looked out of the window, and saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord;”2 Samuel 6:16

“Oh, but I don’t compose religious music,” I told her, “and much of the music I play would be considered secular.”  She had told me that my performance and compositions didn’t have to be of a religious nature to be considered a form of prayer.  It seemed really strange to view my own music as a form of prayer or praise to God.  I have studied music written for The Church, is considered sacred since it was clearly directed to our Lord.  However, when I began to think more about the process of composing and the art of performance being forms of prayer, the more it seemed possible.

God is the source of all creation and I believe all things come from God as well.  For example, I just finished recording a CD of original piano music that will be coming out next month.  If at least one of the compositions would be called “good,” I couldn’t take all the credit.  The closest sacred work that I have composed that is included on the disc is Images, a collection of seven piano pieces inspired by my pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  Each piece was inspired by either a specific place, moment or feeing during my visit.   It isn’t written for the Mass or anything like that, but I would consider it sacred because it was inspired holy places and spiritual experiences.  It is a trip that transformed me in many ways.  The scriptures came alive and I felt it brought me closer with the Lord.

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excerpt from Revelation

For me, the art of composing and performing is a spiritual collaboration between man and God.  Sometimes the two can be completely in sync with one another where the music just flows freely and effortlessly.  This rarely happens to me, but when it does, the experience is awesome.  An examples of this happened to me in 2011 when I was writing a piece for the North/South Chamber Orchestra called Revelations.  The ideas for this composition seemed to pour out into my head and I simply followed where the music led me.  There seriously had to be strong Divine Intervention for that work.  I called it Revelations because it literally was revealed to me.  Was it revealed to me by God?  I would like to think so!

As for performance, the mind is truly in the present moment and only when the mind is in the present moment can one be in the presence of God.  I can recall many performances in which I felt very well connected with the piano and truly in the moment where I was able to connect with the audience and other musicians who were performing with me.  This is what I love about playing chamber music, there is more of a sense of community, a kind of joining together in group prayer.  In my best performances, all sense of time is lost because I am completely immersed in this heavenly world.

Much of my music comes from my own personal experiences, and even though I have free will, God is still the author of my life since He created me and knows everything about me.  Much of my music is inspired by my two avian companions, Sunny and Nikki, and who created them?  I think our Lord smiled when He imagined those two!  He seems to work His hand in everything.  Man may have built the first piano, but who created man and gave him the ability to imagine such ideas?  Our ability to create comes from the Creator.  After all, we are made in His image.  Therefore, when anyone creates a something that would be considered beautiful, powerful or a masterpiece, it is not simply just a human effort, but a collaboration between God and man.  Where there is collaboration there must be a dialogue of some kind, and when one engages with a dialogue with the Lord, that is called prayer.

As I write this, I recall a gift my mother gave me one Christmas.  I was a pillow that read the following: “Music, a Celebration of the Soul”  I couldn’t agree more, for when the soul is in perfect alignment with God, it truly has a reason to celebrate.

My True Love

2000px-Heart_corazón.svgSo I a couple months ago, I was practicing with my band, which consists of a few parishioners from my parish.  Two of my bandmates are members of the Knights of Columbus, and one of them mentioned that the knights would like for us to play at their Valentine’s Day Diner.

“I can do it!” I said in excitement, “I never have plans on Valentine’s Day!”  Despite my happy disposition, I was admitting to what seemed to be an unfortunate truth.  I have never that special kind of love. Well, I have had many but all of them were unrequited loves.

I was a late bloomer in life and didn’t go out on my first date until I was nearly 23 years old. Were my parents strict about dating?  Heck no! That’s seriously how long it took me to get a date.  In high school, I had many crushes but because of my unpopularity, I was shy around the opposite sex.  In college, I had many interests but many of the guys on campus were either taken or gay.

I have never had a steady boyfriend.  I came close a few times, but it never worked out the way I hoped it would.  So as you can see, I have never earned the title as being a man’s girlfriend or sweetheart.  When it comes to that kind of love, my life has been a series of disappointments and it started at a fairly young age.  When I was about eleven years old, I had my first broken heart when my childhood friend of many years rejected my idea of us marrying in the future because of my poor vision.  Yes, I know I was just a kid and he was just a kid as well, but those words pierced my heart because I was rejected based on something that I could not help.  Being born with both a hearing and visual impairment just happened to me.  It was not something I chose.  It simply just is and I prefer to be defined by my choices, not by my circumstances.

I always thought that unrequited love would get easier with age, but I have learned that is not always the case. I can remember one instance that wasn’t all that long ago in which the pain of unrequited love was almost unbearable. In fact it was so painful that the emotional hurt and stress caused me to experience physical pain in my chest. At one point I thought that the pain would lead to a heart attack.  I kept praying to God to help heal both the physical and emotional pain go away.  It took months and many nights of crying before I began heal.  I remember pleading with Him: “Lord, please do not allow me to ever fall in love ever again, unless the guy actually wants to be in a relationship with me.”

Then a light went off in my head. God wants to be in a relationship with each one of us. God loves each of us so much, but do we all respond to His call to be in a relationship with Him?  Only one who loves us so much would come down into our existence, suffer and die so that we could live in eternal love with Him.  I can recall what a Franciscan Friar once told me on my 34th birthday: “Jennifer, always remember that Jesus loves you.  He died for you.”

During that time that I was dealing with the chest pain, which was clearly due to a broken heart, I had a very powerful dream one night that was the source of great healing that began to take place in my life.  I was standing outside my home when I suddenly saw Jesus, Himself standing before me. He stood tall, clothed in red garments that had gold trim and I, like a little child, ran to Him and He scooped me up in His arms and held me close to His heart.  My eyes filled with tears as I held my arms around Him, my chin resting on His shoulder.  I felt so small and yet so precious to Him and as He held me I noticed how high off the ground I was. It was a very beautiful and emotional encounter, and the interesting part is that no words were spoken. No words were spoken at all, and yet I knew He truly loved me.  I also felt a deep sense of understanding from Him for He knew all too well the pain of unrequited love.  He knew what it was like to have His love handed back to Him.  He knew what the sting of humiliation felt like.  Our pains became united because we both understood each others suffering.

From that experience on, I have focused less on trying to win the heart of a man, but rather to focus on the heart of He who already gave me His heart in His death and resurrection.  He is the one who still continues to love me despite my faults and mistakes, and He has not forsaken me.  I want so much to please Him not because I want Him to love me but because He already does love me.  He loved me then, He loves me now and He will love me in the future.

Why must I concern myself with finding the love of my life when I already have a Great Love in my life already?  Yes, finding love in this life is a good thing, but it is not needed for survival.  Without my Lord, I am dead.  He is the reason I exist and He is the source of everything I have for He is the ultimate gift giver.  He gave me my music, my birds, my friends, my parents, my family, etc.

Therefore, I do not make it my life goal to find a guy and get married.  If it happens, it happens, but if doesn’t that is fine too.  Being single is not the worst thing that can happen to a person and it doesn’t make a person less lovable than someone who is married or in a romantic relationship.  Unfortunately, it took me a long time to realize this.

People have asked me: “Why don’t you have a boyfriend?” or “Why aren’t you married yet?”  I answer them by saying: “I don’t need a man because I have the Lord.” They give a little laugh and a smile, but I am actually being serious.  All my life, I wanted a love that’s eternal and I have had it this entire time. I am sorry it took me so long to figure it out.

VaticanFlagI always knew I was different and it wasn’t my physical disabilities that made me different from other people.  I acted much different and liked different things.  I was different in how I viewed and understood the world around me.  I was a rebel, but not in a way that you think.  I was not a trouble maker, but a truth seeker.  Despite having two impaired senses, I sought to see and understand the world as it truly was and not how it appeared to be.  Unfortunately, I saw a lot of things that did not please me.  People liked to copy each other and rejected living like their true selves.  We are all different and unrepeatable and yet I saw people trying to make themselves repeatable and trying to fit some kind of a mold or set of standards that stemmed from the ideas of media and pop culture.  If the majority of people were going left, I would go right and if they stepped forward, I stepped back.  As much as I tried to be like the majority, it never felt right.  To conform to the ways of others felt very unnatural to me and as much as I tried to fit in, I could never manage to do it.

As a child, I was classified as being weird and I had hardly any friends.  I spent much of my high school career studying and when I look back, I wish I had not taken my studies so seriously and had a little more fun.  My social life was on the verge of extinction.  My idea of having a good time on a Friday night was doing trigonometry.  I had a hunger for knowledge and loved to think.  I often retreated in my own little world, which was fun because not only did I know all the people there, but I was very well-liked.

At 34, I still feel like an outsider looking in, but even more so as a Roman Catholic.  Why is this?  Well, it seems that my Catholic contemporaries are light years ahead of me.  They are either married or in religious life. I still have no clue what my calling is.  My mother says that the single life is a vocation.  Well, I don’t feel like it is because it is not talked about much.  The church seems to celebrate the married and religious states of life.  I can count the number of never married, single lay Catholics that I know on one hand. When I am in church, most of the female attendees are married and those who are single are widows, so they were married and became single by circumstance.  I really don’t know many single lay woman above the age of 30 in my parish.

My whole family is Catholic, but everyone in my family above the age of 30 are married and most of them have children.  In fact most of them have two children. That seems to be the magic number in my family.  Even my parents are each one of two children.  When I am around my family, I feel like I am a leftover on Noah’s Ark.  I am the only single person excluding my young cousins, nieces and nephew, who are all under the age of 18. It is really difficult to fit in a family where everyone is grouped into pairs. I even have TWO female birds that are best buddies.  Honestly, I wasn’t planning on having two birds though.  I thought I would stop at one, but Sunny flew into my life unexpectedly and became part of my family.

Since I made my confirmation, my father has been telling me to enter the convent and become a nun. Whenever I mention that there is a chance that I could get married, he would tell me that the convent is for me.  Most parents want their children to be married. My mother doesn’t put any pressure on me to do anything, but I will confess, I often feel pressure from my father to become a nun.  I feel guilty that I don’t feel drawn to the religious life, and I honestly don’t understand why I don’t feel any sort of connection to it. It would make perfect sense for me to become a nun or a sister right?  I love God, I am active in the church and I am unmarried. There’s my loophole, I should just make my move right?  Honestly, something is holding me back.  Like in my school days, to go that route doesn’t feel natural to me. It might feel right in the future but not right now.  Right now, becoming a nun or a sister, would be going against my own will.  But what about God’s will? Aren’t I supposed to conform my will to the will of God?  This is the part that always gets me.  If in fact our Lord wants for me to become a nun or sister, I don’t want to rebel against Him and His plan for me?  People have even told me that our Lord could be speaking through my father, but somehow, I highly doubt that God was speaking through my father when he said: “If you become a nun, then I will go to heaven.”

One of the anxieties I experience as a single lay Catholic is the idea of a “missed vocation”.  Did I miss my calling?  Did God give me an invitation to follow Him down a certain path that would lead me to my vocation and did I not accept that invitation?  Did I miss an opportunity that God provided for me that would ultimately help me decide between married or religious life?  I imagine finding my vocation to be like catching a train.  I am racing down the train platform to catch it and find that I have missed it.  Now I must wait for the next train to come to lead me to my destination, but will there be a next train or was that the last train altogether?  Did I totally miss my vocation completely? Am I doomed to live out the rest of my Catholic life trying to catch that train that may never arrive again?  That thought makes me feel as useless as an appendix and I don’t even have an appendix!  It ruptured in 1996, which was a complete blessing, but that is another story.  Anyway, I can only hope that I get a second chance to get on that train.  I want so badly to have a purpose.  In my school days, I wanted to fit in with my peers, now I seem to struggle with fitting in the Catholic Church.  I can’t help but think that my vocation is uniquely my own and being a single lay person will allow me to follow that unique path wherever it may take me.  Is it silly to think that?

Besides sharing music, I really want to focus primarily on learning more about my faith and strengthening my relationship with God.  Unfortunately, I never had the privilege of attending a Catholic school so I am trying to catch up on my Catholic education. There is so much I do not know, but I am learning a lot. A friend of mine likened me to being a recent convert to the Catholic faith because of my enthusiasm and hunger to learn more about my faith.  I often call myself a Born Again Catholic. Yes, I am a cradle catholic but it wasn’t until I was 29 years old, coming out of a deep depression that I spiritually began to shift.  I became more involved in my parish and when I was almost 32 years old, my father and I participated in the Charismatic Renewal together.  It was here that my faith was completely renewed and set on fire.  From that point on, I became more interested in learning more about God and how to strengthen my relationship with Him.  Let’s just hope that if I don’t find my spiritual vocation before I leave this earth, our Lord won’t say something like this to me: “Dude!  I can’t believe you didn’t figure it out!”  If He were to say that to me, I think I would have to say something like: “Lord, you know how clueless I am.  Surely you already know that I would never figure it out.”

Despite not knowing for certain what my actual spiritual vocation is, I can, in the meantime, try to live my life focusing on the universal calling: the call to holiness. We are all called to holiness regardless of if you live the single, married or religious life. I hope that each day I live, I live according to God’s will. It isn’t easy you know. I always find myself stumbling a lot. I am far from perfect and need major graces from our Lord to enable me to live intended. Because He loves me so much and died for me, I want no more than to please Him. I have faith that in His own given time, He will reveal His plan for me.

On Being Special

you-are-special_2500_1024x768I have a confession to make. Quite often in my life, I feel the need to be special. Yes, at my age, I still dream of being special and influential. I dream of being loved or just being liked by other people. I still enjoy being praised for a job well done and yes, I even enjoy a complement. I also enjoy receiving physical affection from those I care about. Children are not the only ones who like to be kissed, cuddled and fussed over.  I am very fortunate that Sunny and Nikki give me little feathered cuddles, beaky kisses. and greet me with happy chirps when I walk through the door.

When I was a child, I would dream about being liked and recognized as a great person.  I was the only one in my class who had both a hearing and visual impairment, but I wanted to show everyone that I could still be great despite my physical challenges.

As I teenager, I dreamt about being a hero and making a difference.  I am sad to admit that my motivation for greatness was for my own personal pleasure.  I always felt like I was standing in the shadows and I wanted so badly to stand in the light. I wanted to be valuable and viewed myself as a kind of diamond in the rough.

I think all of us want to have an interesting story to share with the world.  I did and a lot of times I still do. I am the youngest of three girls and my eldest sister was often hailed as a legend and inspiration.  Like me, she has a hearing and visual impairment, but the oldest child always goes first and she did everything before me.  I grew up hearing about how wonderful she was from teachers and would be greeted with phrases like “I don’t know you, but I know your sister.  She is a amazing.” After hearing that, I wanted to be amazing too.

In my twenties, I become more competitive trying to make my mark. It was during my twenties when I become very serious about my music and wanted to be recognized as a pianist and composer. I wanted to get ahead, and I still wanted so much for others to like me. I have learned that getting people to like me or what I do isn’t that easy.  However, ticking people off is a piece of cake!

Even at the age of 34, I sometimes still find myself wishing to be special and when this happens, I stop dead in my tracks because I don’t want to get caught in that vicious cycle again. To run after this idea of being special is foolish because while we think that achieving it will bring us piece, it really does not. It is a trick, an illusion, much like many of the commercials we see on television that convince us to buy stuff we really do not need.

Yes, we all experience this need to be special at some point in our lives. Being special is linked to wanting to be loved and everyone wants to be loved. But I have noticed how the things of this world change and if we cling to the things of this world, we will never find peace.  We must seek something or more specifically Someone who is unchanging and remains constant in our lives and this Someone is beyond this physical world.

It is amazing how many people have come in and out of my life and how my dreams and life circumstances have changed throughout the years. As a child I dreamt of being accepted and liked by everyone. As a teen and as a young adult, I dreamt of challenging the conventional ideas held by our society and making a difference in the world. And now as I emerge into a fuller adulthood, my goal is be to know, love and serve God and to demonstrate Christ’s love through acts of kindness and service to others.  My dream is to become a saint and to go to heaven.  To achieve these things will be very difficult, but in the end it will be well worth the effort.

I often still recall the words my mother said when I was a young: It all adds up in the end. Yes, God has last word in the end, not the world and for the last couple years, I have been asking our Lord for His much needed assistance:

Lord, help me to see myself as you see me, not as the world sees me and help me to become the person that You created me to be.

Perhaps we all should stop concerning ourselves with being special to the world and focus more on the reality that we are already special to God. We are all so small compared to Him and yet He loves us so much. Compared to the infinite power and wisdom of God, we are a bunch of airheads and yet He loves each one of us. To him we are so precious, so precious that He came down into our own existence and died for every one of us. If that cannot make each one of us feel special, I do not know what else can.  It is the perfect love story.

After leaving this world, I wish to be remembered, recognized and loved by none other than the one who is responsible for my existence in the first place, the one who died for me so that I could live forever with Him. I hope that what I do in this world does not matter so much to those who live in this world, but to He and all those who live in Heaven because in the end, that is where I want to be.

Santa Claus

shutterstock_63655702 [преобразованный]I was having an engaging conversation with a few of my coworkers about this imaginary old man dressed in a red suit, who children believe bring them presents on Christmas Eve.  One of my co-workers asked: “How old were you when you found out?” She was referring to the age we all found out that he really didn’t exist.

“I don’t remember, ” one of my coworkers answered.

“I was 9 years old, ” my voice rang out, “I was devastated.”

Like most children, I believed in Santa Claus. I truly believed in his existence wholeheartedly, and I remember leaving milk and cookies out for him on Christmas Eve before going to sleep and finding an empty glass and clean plate on Christmas morning along with a personal note from him written in large printed letters.  I also remember writing a letter to Santa Claus that I put in the mail.  I sealed the letter inside an envelope, and on the envelop, I wrote his name and address, which is The North Pole.  I clearly remember happily putting my sealed envelope inside the mailbox.  Imagine my delight when I received a response in the mail a few weeks later.

As I grew older, I remember hearing my older sisters say that Santa Claus didn’t really exist, but my my faith remained strong and unshaken.  After all, if my parents and teachers told me he was real, then he truly existed, right?

Finally one day, when I was 9 years old, I asked my mother if what I heard others saying about Santa Claus being fake was actually true.  Was he really just a story?  Given my age, my mother told me the truth and my heart sank. How could my parents and the other adults in my life lie to me and string me along for all those years?  I remember being taught to believe the reality of the story of the Angel Gabriel, Mary and Jesus. Was that just a story too?  A lot of questions arose in my mind and I felt cheated.  Even as a child, I detested lies. I was taught to always tell the truth and was now finding out that my parents been fooling me for all those years.

I remember telling one of my teachers when I found out.  She said, “Oh but Jennifer, it’s still fun to believe.”  I tried to embrace that idea, but it never erased the other questions that came into my mind.  There was a brief period in my life, where I questioned the existence of God.  It was a year before my confirmation and I remember asking myself, what if it was just a made up story?  It wasn’t until I had a powerful dream one night that I began to feel more secure in my faith.

But now that I am an adult, I can’t help but look around at young children today during this time of year as they eagerly wait for Santa Claus to bring them their Christmas gifts.  My nieces and nephew are young and believe he exists.  While visiting my two older nieces, ages 8 and 5, they introduced me to the Elf on the Shelf, a little elf sent from Santa Claus to be his eyes so he can see who is being naughty and who is being nice. Apparently, parents are supposed to move the elf each night to give the illusion that the elf is watching.

“It’s a girl, ” my oldest niece told me.

“Oh wow, ” I said, trying to sound enthusiastic.

“We can’t touch her, ” she explained to me.

“Why not?” I asked, “Will she explode?”  She had me curious now.  I really wanted to know what kind of lies kids are being fed these days.  My niece explained to me that if the elf were to be touched, the life inside of her would leave.  I really didn’t understand it, and again, I began to remember when I was her age, when I believed in Santa Claus and the elves who helped him at his toy shop. I remember being told that Santa could see me at all times. He was practically like God.  After my two-second trip down memory lane, I thought to myself, “I don’t want to be around when she finds out the truth,”

When I find myself among children and Santa Claus pops into the conversation, I prefer referring to him as St. Nicholas, the 4th Century bishop of Myra in Asia Minor, known for his generosity and who had a reputation for secret gift giving.  A truly humble soul, whenever people thanked him for his generosity, he always gave credit to God.  I believe his spirit visits us all during the Christmas season. Today, December 6th, is his feast day.

But Santa Claus, elves and Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer?  While I am completely fine with children hearing the stories, I would not encourage them to believe this to be a reality.  Imagine my shock when I found out that the letter I received in the mail from Santa Claus was actually from the post office!  Sure, my parents consumed the milk and cookies and wrote the letters that I found on Christmas morning, but now the post office was in on it too?  That was just taking it too far. It is amazing how a little harmless fib can grow into a whopper.  Have we forgotten the Eighth Commandment altogether?  It states “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” aka YOU SHALL NOT LIE!  I don’t care if you think it is fun to encourage them to believe that Santa, his sleigh, his reindeer, and his elves are real, it’s still a lie.  Why?  Because it isn’t true.

“Oh Jennifer, you are making too much of this,” people tell me, “You are taking this way too seriously.”  Then they add, “Santa is what makes Christmas more fun and magical for children.” Hold on a second. Where is Jesus Christ in all this?  It seems that Santa Claus is steeling His thunder!  Children seem to be more into Santa Claus than their own Lord and Savior!  Santa has become like a God.  I mean he is watching you all the time and you have to be good because Santa is watching right?  But the holiday is called CHRISTmas.  Jesus is the reason for the season, not Santa Claus.

In addition to creating a false idol, Santa Clause just adds more commercialism to Christmas.  Christmas has seemed to become more about just receiving presents.  When I hear children talk about Christmas it is mostly about what they want to get and very rarely about what they want to give.  They have made their Christmas lists of all the things they want Santa to bring them and this is encouraged by adults.

I realize that the majority of people see no harm in children believing in the existence of Santa Claus.  After reading this post, you most likely think I am nuts and sound like a 21st Century pharisee, but please be assured that I am not trying to force my thinking on you.  My job here is not to convince, but to inform.  I am simply presenting a different view based on my own personal experience.  Perhaps you will agree, perhaps you won’t.  I am putting it out there for your consideration.

As a child, I did enjoy the stories of Santa and Christmas was certainly a magical time, but I think children can experience the magic of Christmas without being fed lies.  Even at my age, Christmas is still a magical time of year as I eagerly await the coming of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Looking back, I wish that that as a child, my focus was more on Christ and less on Santa Claus. That’s just my two cents.

And I close by saying this: May the peace of our Lord be with you now and always, and may the New Year be filled with health and joy!

Dream City by Paul Klee

Dream City
by Paul Klee

Last night I dreamt that I was caring for a chicken that would eventually become a source of food for my parents and me.  The chicken was freely wandering around the kitchen and seemed to be content. Then, I realized I needed to find a good-sized crate or cage for the chicken, so that he wouldn’t end up pooping all over the place.  I picked him up and carried him in my arms while I searched for what needed.  The chicken became a new friend and thought to myself: “I don’t want this chicken to be slaughtered.”

This was the only dream that I was able to recall last night, and after writing it down and thinking about its meaning, I feel a sense of healing and reconciliation from the inner turmoil that I had experienced earlier this week.

The chicken in the dream represents fear.  You have heard the phrase: “Don’t be such a chicken!”  I never quite understood the origin of that phrase, but in my experience, birds seem to be easily frightened. It doesn’t take much to send Sunny and Nikki in the opposite direction.  Maybe I will start using the phrase: “Don’t be such a parrot!  Squawk!  Squawk! Squawk!”

Anyway, let’s get back to the subject. The chicken in my dream represents my fears such as my fear of inadequacy and fear of negative judgement from others.  My holding the chicken symbolizes my taking responsibility and taking care of these negative feelings rather than resisting them or “slaughtering” them.

I found it interesting that the dream took place in the kitchen, a place for nourishment.  A lot of my dreams take place in the bathroom, a place for cleansing.  However, nourishment is necessary for healing and spiritual growth.

It’s been one heck of a roller coaster ride these last few days, but in the end I think I came out a winner.  I guess you gotta have break down before you can have a break through.  Well, I thinks St Peter says better here:

“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, establish, and strengthen you.” – 1 Peter 5:10

I have also found a way to “build a bridge” between my interest of dreams and my spiritual life.  Up until now, I kind of kept dreams separate from my other spiritual practices.  Yes, there were some occasions I felt that God spoke to me a dream, but I didn’t think that all my dreams could God speaking to me by using the dream world in its entirety.  Working with Br. Don helped me to see this connection, and I discovered a way in which I can integrate dreams into my prayer life, asking God for specific guidance.

When our last session ended, Br. Don gave me an extra copy of a book he had that he recommended for me to read. The book is by John A Sanford and is titled Dreams: God’s Forgotten Language. This book sounds like it is right up my alley, and I look forward to reading it!

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