Joseph Lisowski

April 16

This is the first day of a new plan to juice my spiritual life. In addition to beginning the day with a rosary, I'm going to try to have a dialogue, sort of a prayer time with Mary. I feel a bit goofy about doing something like this, and I have no idea how to start.

Aside from the Rosary, Mary, the mother of Jesus, has never really inspired all-out devotion in me, though May processions when I was a kid, and the blue of her gown in the statues, always were positive associations. I felt somewhat peaceful when in that presence. My mother, of course, was dedicated to Mary — she said recently to some of her old crones that Mary was her best friend. It's something I don't get.

When I try to imagine Mary or think about her life, I feel a bit blocked. Maybe the block is my own mother. I don't know. Aside from that, it's hard for me to pray. I don't mean saying actual prayers — God knows I recited enough of them and still do. But it's something blocking me from breaking through to the other side.

So, Mary, this is my prayer to you. Where do we begin? I'll try writing 15 minutes a day, in this vein, hoping that something may jar loose. OK?

April 17

Well, Mary, how's everything in heaven this morning? Could there be a shakeup of sorts? The reason I ask is because snow has been falling here. Quite unusual for mid-spring. And yes, I'm weary of it. I'm thinking of your life after Jesus died but skip back to those 3 years of his public life and wonder about the apprehension you must have felt knowing that he was causing a stir, making enemies left and right. My mind goes to the time after Jesus had risen and returned to God, His Father. Your husband dead, you lived in John's house, and waited. I'm wondering how long before the reunion with your son, how you spent your time? The intense grief that followed His arrest and death must have been crippling. What was it like seeing him appear so soon after being placed in the tomb? How often were you with him? What did you say to others who didn't see him? How did they react to you? I can imagine that the moment you saw your risen son was the most intense complete happiness that you ever had. How did you spend your days after that?

April 18

Do you know that my morning rosary is a prayer of Thanksgiving, along with these dialogues with you? Maybe you are hearing what I say, responding in unexpected ways that I am unaware. Yesterday, while driving home from work, after having received a notice that I would not be getting a research contract, I felt that this was a good thing — something to encourage humility and submission of heart that your good friend John of the Cross advocates. You are heralded, you know, as the perfect example of "submission of heart," with your response to the angel's announcement, "Thy will be done." How did you get to that point? Did it take a heavenly voice to knock your soul with such certain volume that you had, really, no other choice? You were quite young then, and it seems to me that young people are more open to calling or a strong idea, an illumination. Many of your saints say so about themselves, incidents of you coming to them when they were only children. Is that what happened with you? Did that angel knock just once or was he a frequent visitor, a regular friend who kept reminding you of God's plan and love?

I wonder if you knew how to read. I'll save that question for tomorrow, though.

April 19

On the question of reading, I suspect that you knew the rudiments of it. Regardless, you could still read the signs. I'm hitting a wall this morning, having difficulty making a connection to you. It's not like the phone is busy, but a number of things are buzzing in my mind, none really dealing with spiritual matters. I bet Jesus often had moments like this as a child, and I bet, too, that he would talk to you, besiege you with questions: "How come this? How come? How come, huh?" You know the way a seven-year-old, even if he knows the answers, will just ask to initiate conversation, to hear in language some kind of confirmation of his thoughts. And I imagine you laughing with your son and probably enjoying talking with him just for the sake of talking or laughing. Many happy moments. Which now leads me to think that with so much active thinking occurring with conversation, reading wasn't something really necessary, was it? Reading is a solitary activity most times. I do it for entertainment, to spike my imagination, less frequently to gain knowledge, which is often just plain dreary. But I do use it for spiritual meditation. You see where I'm going with this, don't you? What was your spiritual life like? I mean did you listen to holy texts being read, or read them yourself? What kind of prayers did you say?

April 20

My family is asleep, as they usually are, when I write to you. This morning is overcast with the promise of a long rain. Weather must have played a major role in your daily life, more drastically than it does in ours, where so many of our necessities are packaged. I'm wondering now about your dailyness, you know, at what time you rose, what you did first, whether you started the household going or slept in a bit. I believe one thing for sure, though, and that is when you woke, what you looked forward to most, was seeing your son. I bet there were many times when you simply watched him sleep, certainly when he was young and maybe, too, even when he was older. I feel this way about my son and don't think I'm just projecting.

It was your role, I imagine, to do all the cooking. What's for breakfast? Something hot or is it too early for that. Do you make a fire each morning? And what about Joseph? Does he start work early? Travel to jobs? Does he help out around the house? What is your relationship with him like? How do you talk to each other? What do you do together? How do you enjoy each other's company? Is he jealous of your relationship with Jesus? How do the kids from his first marriage take to you? Problems there? I bet there were more than a few. Or maybe not. Was the grace in you so strong that it emanated and put everyone nearby at peace? It's really hard for me to imagine the ordinariness of your life. Nothing has been written about it. Why should it have been? No one realized at the time how significant to the world you would become. Maybe that was best. And when you appeared to others later on, it was not to reveal these trivial things. Even so, I wonder and kind of marvel at the small delights you may have experienced on a daily basis.

April 21

Did you travel much aside from those early jaunts to escape persecution? Did you visit with relatives often? You probably didn't go many places that were more than a day's walk away. Did you own pack animals? Any kind of animals? With a mule, say, you could pack well enough to journey a distance. Were there such things as family vacations back then?

This morning we're going to Pittsburgh and are staying with my mother, one of your biggest fans. She's pretty excited about seeing us, especially our son. It's pretty simple for us — we just load up the car and drive 130 miles south. Rain is forecast for our trip and I hope it doesn't thunderstorm when we are on the road. We'll be sheltered inside the car, unlike you and your family traveling in the open. Were there many dangers for you along the way — thieves, wild beasts, etc.? What did the family do to pass time? Sing? Pray? Tell stories? Did you all travel in groups? Did Jesus have a toy to play with as you traveled? We're going to the library before we leave so our son will have plenty of books to read in the car. Well, we need to clean the house a bit before we leave, as I imagine you did too.

April 22

I spent the weekend with one of your best friends — my mother. She did an exceptionally fine job reading the epistles at Mass yesterday. And later she mentioned that when her friends were in labor, they would call out for their mothers. Not her. Instead, she called for you to help. Maybe I should have asked her more about her devotion to you. Maybe I will some time. Don't quite know how to ask, so that I would get an answer I would appreciate. I didn't tell her about these dialogues. I imagine some day I will. After all, she is my mother and her regard for you far surpasses my understanding. I hate to think that it's some kind of female-mother thing. But what do I know of such matters?

I don't want to stay on the subject of my ignorance. That would be too daunting, overwhelming. Rather, I want to escape time. Failing that, arrest it. Did you ever feel that way? Were you able to do it? I imagine that you were in eternal moments often. How did that balance with your everydayness? Hard at first, then easy, probably.

So, Mary, what kind of songs did you sing? What lullabies to your baby? My daughter has a baby and my other daughter will have one in 6 months. Please help them sing.

April 23

When I was in the Carnegie Art Museum, I noticed the many wonderful works of art, from the medieval period to 19th century Russian icons, depicting you and the baby Jesus. Madonna figures of many hues, many different expressions, but all of them stiff, none playful. I would have liked to see a portrait, say, of you bouncing the infant up in the air, both of you laughing. Surely, there must have been many times like that when Jesus was a toddler. Even breastfeeding the kid would be a happy event. Also, it's a shame that there haven't been paintings like Mary doing laundry, or Mary at the hearth, or Mary and Joseph hugging, or young Mary playing with a friend, or Mary in springtime, or Mary and Elizabeth chatting or Mary and Jesus making Sandcastles. What was it about the millennia that artists' imaginations never captured you playful, happy, hard working? I can't believe that you weren't those things. What's the deal here? Maybe I just haven't looked hard enough. Some painters somewhere must have tried to portray you as such.

April 24

It's much easier, you know, saying a rosary each morning in thanksgiving than it is writing these dialogues. On days when I'm tired or listless, I just rattle off the prayers and I'm done. Now I have to rouse my spiritual self, bring to consciousness some awareness of you. Jeez, what a whiner I can be! I should be happy with this opportunity. I imagine that you had flat, joyless moments too. Maybe not too many of them though. And I bet you simply accepted them, waited dutifully, allowing them to be replaced naturally by some higher consciousness. Joy. Was that the reward for your acceptance of God's will? Or was it sorrow at the recognition of the relative loneliness, the awareness of how few were Christ-kissed? Or both?

April 25

This morning I got an email from Pax Christi which quoted a church canon law that said only men can be ordained priest. The writer went on to say that this was an obstacle to divine grace and that we should pray for the ordination of women. I wonder what you think of this issue, you the woman so venerated by the Catholic Church. I have the feeling that you're not really interested in matters like this. A vocation, I imagine, is a call to the spirit to respond to the sweetness of God's love. How is this manifest in society? Well, maybe as Mother Teresa said, "the important thing is not what we do, but with how much love we do it." Yet, at the same time, isn't it true that people ought to be free to choose what work they do in society? If so, I can see how it would interfere with humility, i.e., the emptying of self to allow Grace to enter and permeate one's being. Many Christian religions don't have a problem with women ministers and this probably fuels the controversy within the Catholic Church. I think the issue is a moot one in light of the whole spirit of a person. Saying yes to God is a lot more complicated and deeper than getting a job in one of the organized religions, isn't it? I feel that you perhaps knew much better than others when you didn't take the lead in that early group of your son's followers and friends — this was something for lesser souls to struggle with; you, most likely, saw no need. How far off am I in thinking this way?

April 26

Maybe I ought to read more about the people who had lifetime devotions to you, about how they prayed to you. From an early age, I knew that the good nuns who taught me were visible signs (at least, they appeared to be) of devotion, and they regaled you as the mediatrix of all graces. That is, God showered us with benefits through you, the primary conduit, the intercessor. If you wanted to get to Jesus, you needed to ask his mother to intercede for you. That way you'd get what you want. I, too, prayed like this, but something seemed just a bit off about that. Maybe it's prayer as petition, asking for something, that rubs me the wrong way. Even to this day, I say prayers for people, asking the Lord's help and guidance. I stay away from asking things for myself. It's a contradiction actually: I feel it okay for help via divine providence to come to others, but not myself. This is not the kind of apparent humility that I value much. Also, it betrays, fundamentally, a lack of faith I guess. If the prayers don't work for other people, well, not that much personally has been invested, but if they don't work for me, then I'm led to despair? That's not quite it, but close. What I'm asking, I guess, is that how should I pray, Mary? I must have said a million "Hail Marys" but I don't quite get it.

April 27

When we go for our usual after dinner walk, my seven-year-old son always runs to your grotto at the college, kneels on the prayer bench, and says a Hail Mary out loud. All this without prompting. I look at the boy and my heart swells. Of course, that happens often in a variety of scenes. Each night, too, he says special prayers for the poor. What was that about your son saying, "Suffer not little children…." I wonder if you taught Jesus how to pray, and later he taught you. Were there special words you had him repeat? Was your prayer back then more like a conversation that you initiated and he joined? Did you say one line of a prescribed prayer and he say the next one? I taught my son the words to prayers years ago.

At nighttime we often pray by alternating phrases in The Angel Of God, Hail Mary, Our Father, and Glory Be (though lately, he's been rushing through them — something I remember doing as a kid). This simple, free action of him at the grotto, though, is a source of marvel to me, but I have a hard time following what seems to be his easy path. My head's often too heavy, my body too stiff and slow.

April 28

My daughter Julia has a young baby who she loves dearly. She recently sent a framed photo of herself and the child — precious. I see them so rarely. The distance separating us is too great, and her job doesn't allow time for travel. When Jesus was a young man, I assume he was gone for a while. Did he move to another location? Or was he with you until he began his public life at the age of thirty? If he was, what a treasure. If he wasn't, well, at least you were prepared for his absence those three years of his wandering ministry. You must have been lonely for him. My mother has had most of her children live close by most of their lives. Having so many makes it easier, I guess, not to miss those who are away. With Jesus your only child, however, the separations must have been hard. My first three children are adults, and I realize that their lives are their own. They really don't need me, certainly not as much as a child would. My son Yuzi is another story. I have not been away from him one day of his life. And boy, I don't ever want to be. As he gets older though, I know separations will be inevitable. Help me out with this, okay?

What a strange creature I am to be thinking of these things, because in the normal course of life, he's not going anywhere until college, and that's at least 10 years away!

April 29

Good morning. I'm sleepy today, my mind dull. A break from our normal Sunday routine. Instead of going to early Mass, we'll be attending Yuzi's friend's First Communion this afternoon. A special time, I'm sure. I can still remember mine and the big party afterwards. Did you have special liturgical events that you attended? Was Jesus bar mitzvahed? What were the significant events in the religious life of your community? How fully did you participate? What was it that you needed to do? Did you go to temple often? Was one near you? Who were Jesus's rabbis? When did he learn to read? Who taught him?

For someone who's not mentally awake, I sure have a lot of questions. With some effort, I guess, I could gather enough information to speculate a little more reasonably, but I know from living in a very modern world, that there are many variations of religious practices. Even within the same sect, people tend to do things privately. If there happened to be records of some folks who lived in your area, your contemporaries, there's no guarantee that your practices were the same as theirs. Of course, that such records exist is unlikely. So once again, I'm left with wonder, letting my imagination fill in or not fill in details. It's not like I can roll back the skein of time, traverse distance and see for myself. Really cool if I could, though.

April 30

Yesterday, I looked at the statue of you in church — typical pose with your hands at your side, palms up, slightly elevated. You were wearing a blue and white garment completely covering your body and about your head, a serene look on your face, which did not look Jewish. A standard depiction that I remember so well from my youth. I wonder who determined that this would be the standard Mary look and suspect that it had something to do with Lourdes or perhaps Fatima, your appearance to children. These apparitions are truly baffling. I confess ignorance of the details, never having studied the occasions. Why so rare? And then the more haunting question, why at all? A direct manifestation of yourself that would be made public.

I'm sure there have been all kinds of psychological speculations on why the visions occurred and regular efforts to explain away the phenomena.

Tomorrow begins the Church's celebration of your month, and I must admit I have always looked forward to it — something about its simple beauty that twangs my heartstrings.

May 1

Today the church celebrates your husband, St. Joseph the Worker. Legend has it that he was a quiet, diligent worker, a carpenter. In those days, that probably meant being itinerant, unless of course he was only a handy-man. Then he probably stayed put. Your relationship with him is a complete mystery. Did you have fun together? What did you do for entertainment? How was he present during Jesus's infancy, the toddler years? Later, was Jesus his apprentice? Did they travel together on jobs? Did they have fun together? These two main men in your life. Again I'm stumped by lack of information and a dull imagination. When did he die? How did that affect you? Jesus? History sort of portrays him as someone who was there in the shadows, not playing an active role in your lives. I can't believe that's true. With such a precocious boy, Joseph had to be bewildered, proud, a host of complex responses. When did he know that Jesus was the Christ? From the beginning, as we are lead to believe you knew? How often was this "knowledge" tested? Doubted? Forgotten?

This is the first day of "your" month, and I hope to write everyday to you in it. Then we'll see. Feel free to answer any time, okay?

May 2

Forgive me, Mary, this is going to be short. It's late and I must get ready for work. Were you ever rushed, tried to accomplish too much in too short a time? My schedule is off this morning. Maybe I can get back to you later today. It's evening now, and it took a while putting my son to bed; we seemed slightly out of sorts. I bet that feeling is not uncommon with you. Children tend to argue, bicker, cling, etc., with their mothers more than with their fathers, probably because of the familiarity among other things. Well, my mind is still having a hard time focusing. Disillusioning day at work. Why do I continue to expect justice, even simple fairness from the bosses? Sheer idiocy on my part. Oh, well. Maybe tomorrow I'll have something more interesting to say.

May 3

It's not quite dawn. No urgency, maybe just the weight of disappointment causing me to rise earlier than I would like. You must have experienced many disappointments in your life. On second thought, perhaps not. Perhaps you didn't have any ambitions, which certainly would be a good thing. If the Church is correct that you were conceived without original sin, could that mean that you never experienced the fall from grace, never lost sight of your intimacy with God, never were prone to desire? Very strange, very difficult to imagine. If so, what a tremendous aloneness, even loneliness, you must have sensed — all others that you met were marked by some stain of deficiency. Your compassion must have been a burden at times. Of course, it's hard for me to imagine the Eve in Eden before the Fall; you are the new Eve in a broken world; hardly paradise. It's, practically speaking, inconceivable to me. If all of that is true, how can I relate to you? What is the common ground of our being?

Last night, on our walk, I watched my son kneel at your statue and pray to you, which he did with his eyes squeezed closed and hands clasped. While we were racing and having athletic competitions, he scraped his knee slightly. We sat on a bench planning new events and he said, "wait a minute" and walked up the stairway to the student union about fifty yards away. He went inside for a minute, came back out, and yelled down to me if he could go inside and ask someone for a bandaid. I hesitated but said okay. Minutes later, I began to worry, so I walked inside, surprised by the big crowd of students gathered, and began looking for him. I searched both floors without success, kept looking outside at the bench where we had sat, asked people in offices if they had seen him. I thought of the three days Jesus was missing before you found him in the temple. When I looked next, he was sitting back on the bench. I shouted from the steps and ran toward him. His eyes were beginning to tear as he came to me, proud of the very large bandage that a cafeteria worker put on his knee. He initiated this exploration and I felt good that he had taken this step toward independence. He then told me that when he was four, he got lost in the grocery store, and when he was six he got lost in K-Mart, and now at seven he got lost at Mercyhurst. I said, no, he didn't get lost, it was me. He got his bandaid and came back to the bench where I was supposed to be. I left the bench and went looking for him, so it was me that really got lost. Yeah, he said after a moment, smiled, and we went back to making up athletic events for our competition. How terrible it must have been for you with Jesus missing for three days. After three minutes, I was already anxious enough to break my original faith in my son's ability to negotiate and accomplish what he set out to do.

May 4

The stress of winter is finally abating. Tree leaves are growing and we've been blessed by almost a week of summery days. A very fine beginning for your month. I wonder if May, indeed, was your favorite month — in northern climes it is to many. I don't know about your part of the world. It is very much a relief in any place, I imagine, that the harsh season is at last behind. Was your step a little lighter, your heart a little happier then?

Seasons are time markers, though. Did you think about age much? About you and Joseph growing old, which is different than watching your son change in so many delightful bounds. When a person reaches full height, age takes on a different dimension. Did you take notice much of your own physical changes? Sure, it's superficial, I know. But these kinds of changes do resonate. After your son's death, I imagine that you longed to be home with Him and the Father, but patiently marked the seasons, noticed the changes. Did He speak with you often after the resurrection? What an utterly joyful experience that must have been and continued to be. Maybe that is what is meant by grace.

May 5

Patience. My mind keeps coming back to that. It has an edge to it, though. If you were waiting for reunion with your son, wasn't the time spent doing so out of joint? By that I mean with an eye to the future, isn't the present, if not wasted, at least imperfect.

Well, my son was impatiently clamoring for breakfast, so I made bacon, eggs, and toast for us. He's satisfied now, as I guess I am as well. Later on today, we're going to my campus for a rededication of your grotto and a picnic. They ought to be a large crowd, not for the ceremony but for the softball and baseball tournaments, and the free food. Some, I feel, will be there for the dedication of your statue and will pray.

Thinking of formal prayer, I think I'll do a little research on prayers to you when our term is over, a little more than a week away. Until then, I'll stick with the Hail Mary and, of course, these little chats.

May 6

Good morning, Mary. The sun is fully alive today, and I found out a few minutes ago from my mother that she'll be going to May Crowning at our old parish later on. I loved that ceremony when I was a kid, the gathering in the gravel strewn driveway, our grade school girls in white dresses, we boys in white shirts, blue ties, blue pants. A statue of you on a flower strewn dias carried high by six men of the parish as we processed down 44th street and into the church singing "Immaculate Mary" with such feeling that one could almost expect to see your statue smile. Boy, you sure do get a lot of attention. It's incredible the countless billions of people over the millennia have turned to you in song and prayer. I've been adding my little squeak to that throng, and it's fine with me if you don't pay attention, though I feel that you do notice.

Yesterday, the rededication of your Lourdes statue was touching. I was glad to be there, and there seemed to be just the right number of people for the service. I truly hope that those present keep turning their inner eye and heart toward you. The priest told us that when we hear you singing we should stop and listen. I bet you had a lovely singing voice but wonder if you still sing.

May 7

A remarkable day yesterday, Mary. I'll share some of a parent's pride with you. At morning Mass, Yuzi for the first time followed along in the praying of the Mass, even singing the psalm and the hymns instead of reading his Children's Bible as he usually does. For the first time, as well, he went to the altar with other children during the homily and even answered two questions the priest had. And then, following the priest's instruction, when we got home, he prayed by himself for five minutes. How proud you must have been of Jesus when he first spoke out at Temple. But maybe not — you knew him to be the Christ, didn't you? Anyway, it surely must have been a delight.

Next, my son actually followed directions and was able to throw a ball, which is something he hadn't been able to do with any kind of confidence or success. It's something we're going to have to practice daily for a while. All the other boys around have been able to do that kind of thing for years, but I knew to wait rather than push him. He'd begin to learn when he got the idea and the desire.

Lastly, he took a shower by himself for the first time. Now how about that. What a day! There must have been countless times when you were delighted by your son. I wonder how much of a talker he was, how fascinated he was of the world about him. I'm wondering now about his playing. In what ways you two played together.

May 8

Your biggest fan is coming for a visit today. Linda is driving to Pittsburgh to get my mother. The weather looks rough — please watch over them and let it be a safe, easy, uneventful journey. My poetry reading is tonight, and that's the reason for the visit at this time, though I'm sure that my mother wants to spend time with her grandson and Linda too. It's later than usual this morning, so I need to stop now. Maybe I'll write to you later on today.

May 9

Last night Mom and I went to my poetry reading. I think she was pleased by what I read, especially the poem to her. I wonder if you had ever traveled to visit your son, when he was away doing his work. Except for the gospel, so little is known about his comings and goings, and virtually nothing at all before the age of 30. Virtually nothing is known of you. I imagine, though, that there had been separations, even long ones. If you traveled to see him, what kind of special things did he do to make you welcome? Providing food and shelter, certainly. Did he give you gifts? Those made by his own hand? Purchased? And you, did you bring him gifts? My mother brought me a huge bag of pistachios, my favorite nut.

Later today Linda is going to take my mother shopping for flowers, something easily transportable since she'll be returning home by bus tomorrow. This morning, I'm taking her to Mass — only have a few minutes to get ready. Bye.

May 10

My mother is saying her prayers now — give an hour a day to the Lord, she says. And does at least. A good plan, and it could be that my leaning toward the light has been influenced by her prayer life. I know she prays for me and my family, as well as for many others. And then she reads a series of prayers, usually on holy cards of various sorts that she carries in a thick envelope.

In twenty minutes or so, I'll be taking her to the bus station for her return trip home. A nice, short visit. It's been good seeing her and in good health, too. I wonder how often you saw your mother, probably daily, though Joseph did move the family around a bit. More or less, you most likely lived most of your life close by. Even in old age, did she want to take care of you? Of course, she must have been delighted to see you and especially her grandson. Did she dote on him? I bet. Did she teach him how to pray? What kind of prayers did she teach you? You see, I continue with these unanswerable questions. I'm just a kid at heart. And I thank God for that. It's wonderful to wonder, isn't it?

May 11

I woke in the middle of the night, staying awake for hours. Did you have nights like that? I don't believe so — it seems unlikely. You had always slept the sleep of the just, as the cliché goes. My thoughts were occupied by the considerations of applying for the job of academic dean. Really stupid of me to think those things, which made the thoughts all the more worse. I should have asked your guidance on the matter but didn't. Maybe I will now. Can any spiritual good come from this? I feel the administration at the school is morally bankrupt at the top, and it's manifest in myriad ways. Why would I want to be part of that? Some foolish notion to make a difference, to change the situation? Isn't that just a guise for ego-drive? As you know, I do want recognition but in a just, equitable way — the same for others. And I am striving for humility and submission of heart, as the quote from your great friend, John of the Cross, that is taped on my desk, constantly reminds me. What I feel best is that we "shake the dust from our shoes" at this place and move on. What do you think?

May 12

I don't know if it was a sign, but I had a good night's sleep. Yesterday, I talked with people on my campus, and later went to end of year retirement gathering. I listened and observed, noting the singular absence of any spiritual presence. The words "whited sepulcher" kept popping into my mind. Oh, well. I guess the world hasn't changed much since your time on earth. It must have been disheartening to you, knowing the gift you were given, and surrounded always by the pretense of spirituality. I hope, however, there were some people in your community of deep faith who were opened to the possibility of God's spirit working in their lives. Perhaps it's unkind of me to think that they were few. Again, what do I know of your world? It's raining this morning, almost cold. Even so, the inevitable beginning of spring is unstoppable. The trees are leaved, the grass thick. Expecting little outside activity, I'll be done early today it seems. On Thursday, we bought plants, mulch and soil which, I guess, will wait for another day. Did you plant flowers near your home? Vegetable or herbs? Did you like working your hands into the soil? We do — something elemental about it. We're not exactly good gardeners but we enjoy doing a little more each year. I bet many of your friends loved working the soil and were expert at it.

May 13

Today is Mother's Day in America, a day invented, I think, by a greeting card company. Later on this morning, I'll be talking with my son about what we can do for his mother, what gifts we might give. I think he'll be excited to do something special. Of course, he loves his mother best in the whole world. I wonder what kinds of little things Jesus did for you when he was a boy. Did he and Joseph carve something of beauty? Did they make a special piece of furniture that you'd like? Did he simply do little favors for you? I imagine that he was a very considerate son with little kindnesses abounding regularly. The Church, as you know, has valued your motherhood above all. I think that on this day, though, I'll be content just thinking about the little joys you regularly felt by the closeness of your young son. And I'll think, too, about the joys Linda gets from Yuzi's presence, though I feel the presents that he will give will hardly be spectacular. I'm going to phone my mother now and wish her a special, lovely day.

May 14

At Mass yesterday, during the prayer of the faithful, I asked you for help. It's very unlike me to do that. I have no problems praying for others, which I do on a daily basis, but for myself, well, that's another matter. Peculiar. I'm unsure if it's because of humility or pride: humility in that I'm unworthy, pride in that I don't believe that I need divine help; I expect to do it all myself. I suspect the latter. Horrible, isn't it? Anyway, I asked for your intercession to help us get jobs together. I looked up at your statue and you seemed to be smiling. Now I don't take that as a sign (ah, maybe I should) — I rarely look closely at your statues and maybe that particular one always had a smile on your face, which seems probably the case. I did notice the rosary draped over your folded hands and realized that I've lately substituted these dialogues for my regular morning rosary for thanksgiving for the manifold blessings I've received. I still say a decade before rising, though. I hope that this is acceptable to you.

Predictably, the homily at Mass was on mother love, in which you figured prominently. Mother love seems to be the key for many. Father love is hardly ever mentioned. When fathers are involved, it's more like duty or guidance or working as sacrifice for children. Even God the Father is rarely depicted as a primary fountain of love. I don't much care for that. Maybe we'll discuss this later.

May 15

It's the middle of your month, the weather still cool but most definitely spring. I'll be giving my last final exam this morning and have a persistent fantasy of shaking the dust off my shoes at this school. I realize that chances are slim, considering my age and sex, of getting a job elsewhere, but I have hope. How could I have misinterpreted that smile of yours? Anyway, I remind myself that if I am called, I will answer, which means I must do my best to act out God's plan for me. All of your good friends have done so, the people I admire best. It's not easy to join that crowd, to keep up, even to keep the group in sight. Any suggestions? I'm thinking of the Magnificat now — "My soul magnifies the Lord...." What a revelation for you it must have been to say such a thing, to hear the sound coming from deep within your body, the words filling the air like invisible showers of grace, falling on the heads of people open to the enormous possibility throughout millennia.

I am looking forward to the leisure time, which begins tomorrow, in pleasant weather. I have no special plans or even ambitions, though I'm tinkering with the notion of starting a new novel, a light-hearted, funny detective fiction. Way deep in my brain somewhere is also the notion of children's stories. For now, though, I feel it best to do nothing. To easily flow along with the grace of days. I wonder if your days were seamless, an effortless turning to whatever event presented itself. I know when your child was lost that couldn't have been the case, nor when he was tortured and killed (three days each time wasn't it — an eternity of separation — before reappearance). But the years, decades of the ordinary, I bet you handled with loving ease.

May 16

Why is the world so uniformly against faith, justice, selfless love, prayer that is not petition? Why does it so resist the action of the Holy Spirit? What makes it all the worse is the hypocrisy involved, the pretense of faith, justice, love that is insistently self-serving. The choices people make. Granted, most just slip into world values by assimilation, but that's hardly an excuse. Mary, why is it like this? It was hardly any different during your time on earth, but there are many more people now and we know it — we see and read about them daily. It is so fatiguing. The weight of the world crushes the spirit in most, and I would like to believe that most want to respond to the spirit in positive ways. Instead, they want other things more. How am I any different? Well, I'm thinking and writing this to you. Hardly qualifications for sainthood. Why are there so few saints recognized throughout history? They can easily be seen as a small, insignificant spattering of madmen and madwomen, out of step with the billions. What a job Jesus had! Lucky he died young, in that respect — so terribly unfair that he had to die at all. And you, living with the weight of the world — seeing everyday how far from transformation it was and still is. What did God the creator do here? It's all so dismal.

May 17

Dear Mary, I wonder how you respond to prayers. Many petition you and have for ages. With most, I imagine, it's a temporary thing. Gimme this, gimme that, etc. What makes you decide to respond and in what way? I'm unsure where I'm going with this. My mind is nowhere this morning. My eyes drift from the computer screen to the cold, gray rain slowly tumbling from the sky. Time to wake my son for school. Until tomorrow.

May 18

I've just read what I've written so far. Boy, I sure do ask a lot of questions, and whine, too. It's another one of those mornings when no thought, no feeling is insistent enough to assert itself in language. Yesterday, we made reservations to spend three days at the beach. That'll be the second week of June when we begin our marathon visiting children and family. I miss seeing Julia and the baby and wish that we lived closer to each other. Christa called last night to borrow money to bid on a house in Varina. She is a few months pregnant now, and was feeling ill. This house they hope to buy is 2 minutes away from her husband's new job, but as much as 40 minutes away from her job. Christa is pretty head-strong and makes decisions that I certainly would not. Please watch over her. Enter her heart, clear her mind so that she makes the best and happiest choices. Ok?

May 19

Graduation exercises today at the college, a celebration for students who have stayed the course. It is the school's most public ceremony. I wonder if there were similar events you attended. Weddings, I imagine, were the singular social occasion marking a change in life status. And we know about the one at Cana, that it occurred, not the details, except for the wine. A party nonetheless. Did you imbibe? Get a little light-headed? Suffer drunken fools gladly? What was your own wedding like? I suspect it wasn't as riotous as the one at Cana, though surely some ceremony must have taken place, a reception following. Such a young girl at the time, filled with the spirit, filled with the spirit of life growing within your womb. I imagine you sitting alone, hands lazily folded on your lap, waiting for the ceremony to begin. Maybe it was spring, the scent of flowers wafting in on the breeze, a garland, perhaps, for your head, a special dress. Did you already begin to talk to the child within? I'm sure you did when you started to feel him move. What kinds of things did you say? I hope my daughter talks often to the child inside her, that she laughs a lot, asks permission before eating something unusual or spicy. Take care of us, Mary, all of us who are still pregnant with hope, still moving in the womb, still trying to find a comfortable place.

May 20

Maybe I ought to spend more time in front of one of your statues in silent meditation, something upon which to fix my gaze, my senses. A physical stillness to allow chattering thoughts find their inevitable path down the drain. They, the thoughts I mean, buzz about like so many mosquitoes. For instance, right now my mind is flitting through recent and distant memories without focus, without any energy surge to direct this time to you. A mute dialogue. I feel like there is something I want to say to you this morning, but I have no idea what it is. You, of course, are quiet as usual, perhaps giving me a benign, amused look, the way a mother would, looking at her awkward, distracted child. I'm a bit old to be acting like a child, right? At Mass this morning I think I'll spend some time fixing my attention on your statue. Maybe my mind can sit still.

May 21

Partial success, I mean about my mind staying still. I did focus on your statue in church and noticed that your eyes appeared to be slightly open. After Mass, I went up close, and yes, there were, and a light brown color at that. This version of you a very pretty, thin, young woman, one that would have turned some heads on the street. Did you have to ward off the unwanted attentions of men? Were you homely looking? A beauty? Could you go unnoticed in a crowd? I very much doubt that last question. You must have emanated an aura of goodness, if not the divine. Who could not have recognized that? Were you vain in the ways young people are? Many of these questions, I know, come from a cultural predisposition of our times where appearance seem far more important than substance. There seems to be a universal cult of looking good, a prime commodity for success. But that's the world — preparing a face to meet the faces that you meet. How tiresome. I suspect, though, that these issues gave you little trouble and no concern. I imagine that you were clean and kept your young son clean, well-nourished, and dressed in Sunday best when going to Temple or wedding celebrations. On that subject, how often did you bathe? Was a daily grooming ritual part of your life? It would seem so because you probably did not want to bring undue attention to yourself and your family and wouldn't want to offend by offensive body odor. Maybe when you did laundry, you washed yourself. Pretty profane of me, isn't it, thinking these questions. Oh, well, I'll aim for more sacred thoughts later and when I write tomorrow.

May 22

It seems a long way to the holy. Perhaps I prefer too much the ordinary, the easy grace, simple quiet moments when the mind is relatively empty, the heart unburdened and lacking fire. Not exactly peace; certainly not the peace that passeth understanding. I guess, like most everyone else, I want to be comfortable. Unfortunately, most often that means little more than mindlessness. To be at rest is a good thing. Initially, I believe that was the reason for vacation, that is, to be vacant. Well, this morning feels like I'm getting a taste of that. Did your family take vacations? I somehow think not — that was an event reserved for the very wealthy. Sure, you took time out to visit family, attend celebrations. I wonder though about when you were a little girl, before the angel spoke, before Joseph, did your family — you were an only child, weren't you — go on extended trips, perhaps to the shore? I have the feeling that they were at least middle class, maybe because of the way most nuns who emulate you live, dainty napkins, doilies, silverware, etc., a motherhouse given to them by some wealthy patron. And the depiction of the clothes you wear are never rags but seem expensive. Appearances again — many culturally conditioned responses to you are all we have, and I'm left with speculation based on unreliable clues. I caution myself — why am I still concerned with the 10,000 things for there is a much greater meaning to your presence that I don't quite seem to get.

May 23

A dream woke me at 2 a.m., rather disturbing scenes in an island life. My immediate understanding was that we shouldn't go to the Bahamas. It would certainly be a bad career move for Linda. Yesterday she received notice that the College of the Bahamas was reviewing her application. My friend Ed said that Nassau was not a good place to be, and it should be our last choice. All these factors, no doubt, influenced my subconscious and hence the dream. Did you have warning dreams often? We are told that Joseph did, which led to your fleeing the slaughter of the innocents. We should pay attention to our dreams, shouldn't we? In one sense they may be nudgings of the Spirit, telling us to be aware. So difficult to find a right balance, to do what's best, to accept fully the consequences of our choices. I like to think that we are called toward something, rather than pulled away from some unpleasantness. What we are called toward, though, should be a greater light, a more positive fulfillment. Don't you agree? At the same time, the message of Joseph's dream of warning was get out of town quick! When he told you the dream and his proposed action, did you immediately support the decision? As a dutiful, young wife you most likely didn't doubt what you would do, but did you wholly agree? Were there reservations, mentally at least? Did the angel visit you in your sleep as well? Did you dialogue regularly with God or his angel emissaries? Was there a need for this or were you already so attuned to His will that you instinctively knew and acted correctly? There's not even an inkling of such certainty with us (or I should say me) in this respect, more like stumbling in the dark much of the time.

May 24

Today we commemorate the day your son ascended to heaven. Did you witness the event? It must have been very reassuring to all his friends, perhaps a bit sad too since he would no longer be walking among them. Especially so for you. Did you follow shortly thereafter? What was God's design for you after the Ascension? To encourage his followers to keep faith? To give spiritual guidance to John with whom you were now living? We know that he lived quite a long time. Did you tutor him on how to handle the visions he was to receive? The Revelations were so different in tone than the Gospel of love that he penned. As a writer, I know that this is possible, but I wonder where your hand or mind had an influence.

In a few minutes, I'll be going to early Mass, a prayerful recollection of that day when Jesus finally returned to the Father. My family is sleeping easily and though it's my job to wake my son at 7 for school, the time Mass begins, I feel that he'll rise on his own, as he has been doing lately. I leave off thinking of you, and that joyous, bittersweet event of long ago.

May 25

I'm thinking about time, how God may be the light that gives energy to our actions, how he radiates every moment that is now. His presence is the constant — it still remains after the moment has passed; it's there in the future waiting for us. Because he is everywhere, we often don't recognize him, taking him for granted. If literally God is light, the great gift of our universe, we are simply unreal without him; we can perceive or see nothing. Your apparitions, Mary, are usually associated with a bright light. Is this to accentuate the grace of the gift? The phenomenon of light itself and its refractions are what we note as time — amazing thought, isn't it? Your son has often been referred to metaphorically as the light of the world; why can't we take that literally? The substance of God is light, not a light, but light itself — no other. Various luminations such as candles, flashlights, the sun itself, are perhaps only refractions along the skein of time that indicate God's eternal presence. Maybe this is in part what your good friend John of the Cross meant about being so long in physical darkness — he began to understand the nature of light, the nature of God. Heady stuff for so early in the morning, isn't it?

May 26

Well Mary, we'll be going to Pittsburgh today so I won't be writing you tomorrow and maybe neither on Monday. I actually look forward to the surprise each morning of what I'll say, what you will prompt from me. The weather is to be unsettled, but this morning there are patches of blue sky, your color. That will all change — what doesn't? Except your son's love for us, his light we struggle too rarely to find and see by. No easy task, as you know quite well. I'm hoping it will be good seeing my daughter Christa, my mother, and other family members; that Yuzi will have a light, easy time, and that Linda will lose herself in conversation and laughter. I'm thinking now about the heart and mind moving toward something rather than away from something. Moving toward light rather than away from darkness — that I think is John of the Cross's lesson. We, in life circumstances, tend to flee or fight situations that are less than optimal. This creates a noisy atmosphere, one that can be rife with tension, distraction, grief. Better to remain where we are, to rest in the stasis, though leaning toward the possibility of light. I guess this is where hope comes in, not hope for any one particular thing or deliverance, but simply hope, that infusion of the Holy Spirit. We need to be aware enough that if a pinpoint of light does appear, then we can be connected to it. And by this contact, we may be pulled to a more thorough understanding. Maybe this is all that we are ever called to do.

May 29

How easy it seems to fall out of routine. On Sunday, I missed our little dialogue, Monday less so. This morning I was looking forward to getting back to it but found myself with little to say. The past few days in my childhood town brought back many memories, but wherever I looked there was a patina of decay, a sadness that seeped down from the surface and pooled near the center of my sense of self. I didn't fight this tendency. It was a life lived in another time, another place. Did you have this kind of experience when you revisited towns where you once lived? Maybe you didn't go back at all. After all, there may have been good reason not to. And after danger of persecution passed, you may have simply lived out your days in Nazareth. It's age, too, that bothers me. Here we are, hoping for a new beginning in our professional lives. If it happens, will our acceptance, contentment, purpose be different in a significant way? Will we have the energy to seek out new joy? Will we have finally found a place to settle? Of course, the opportunities may not present themselves and we are left again in isolation to adapt after a fashion, to keep on. Wherever the road leads us, though, we need your help, your guidance. You won't forsake us, will you? Even though we often forget who you are and how you lived?

May 30

I woke this morning with minor aches, which I immediately attributed to age. You, too, must have experienced such things, perhaps more so — morning stiffness, arthritis in wrists, hands, backache, etc., especially since you lived a life largely exposed to the elements. Minor irritants, unworthy of comment, yet I foolishly write about them now. It shows the kind of mental slough I've been in. The sun is shining brightly, though the air is cold. Perhaps later today, I'll do some yard work. I hear my son rising; it's the right time for him to get up and get ready for school. My desk is a complete mess and has been that way for a while. I should clean it today. See how mundane and scattered my thoughts are this morning? Hardly conditions to give glory to God, to celebrate his gifts to us. I imagine your husband Joseph having many days like this — just waking, going through the usual routine, no need to say anything to you, affectionately smiling at his young son, and then carrying on with the business of the day. During times like these perhaps it's good to have some kind of formalized meditation, a ritual that would somehow carry the dormant spirit to purpose more than would rote recitation of prayers or actions. I think that your friends in cloisters, convents, or monasteries do this sort of thing. It's a good practice. I, on the other hand, just bump into things.

May 31

It's the last day of the month proclaimed in your honor, and a calm, sunny morning it is. According to my original plan, this is the last time I write you. These dialogues have been quite interesting and actually something I looked forward to. Maybe that is enough, I mean as far as prayer goes; they accomplished their purpose. Though I must admit they did seem one-sided. And I asked lots of questions, ones that I didn't bother to research to answer. You have remained largely silent, as expected. Now I must decide how to approach my prayer life for the coming month. Go back simply to a morning rosary? Writing dialogues won't be feasible since we are doing a great deal of traveling in June. Morning mass? Well, maybe after our vacation, but by then the month will be practically over. I could speak rather than write dialogues. I'm unsure which direction I'll finally take but in the meantime, I guess I'll stick with the rosary. After all, there must be some sense to its popularity and your preference for it as prayer. So, now's the time to say, "see ya later. It's been rich." Boy, talk about going out with a whimper? Geesh!

Copyright by
Joseph Lisowski


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