“None of us Lives the Life that He Had Intended”

So you liked The Power of Myth...

So you liked The Power of Myth… (Photo credit: jay mann)

Reading from one of my favorite writers, mythologists and lecturers, Joseph Campbell, I remember:
“[Life] seems to have had an order, to have been composed by someone, and those events that were merely accidental when they happened turn out to be the main elements in a consistent plot. Who composed this plot? Just as your dreams are composed, so your whole life has been composed by the will within you. Just as the people who you met by chance became effective agents in the structuring of your life, so you have been the agent in the structuring of other lives. And the whole thing gears together like one big symphony, everything influencing and structuring everything else. It’s as though our lives were the dream of a single dreamer in which all of the dream characters are dreaming too. And so everything links to everything else moved out of the will in nature…It is as though there were an intention behind it yet it is all by chance. None of us lives the life that he had intended.”

Reading the Campbell quote seemed to connect to my thoughts this week when my siblings and I received a final draft of a tribute to my father Bob Gallagher.  Of his many talents, Bob loved to bring out his baritone voice and sing.  Nowhere did he enjoy doing so as when he started the “Boy’s Choir” in 1972 at St. John the Evangelist Church.  Every Saturday night at the 5:15 p.m. mass, the “Boys” – adult men who enjoyed singing — walked up the stairs into the choir loft with cymbals, drums and their sheet music to add their own version of musical prayer to the mass.  As Bob became ill, then wheelchair-bound, the choir carried on, electing a new director after he died nearly 20 years ago on Christmas Eve, 1993.  Last year — 40 some years after the choir began, Ron DeLain, one of the original “Boys”, reached out to my sister Susie and I.  It seemed the choir had reached its end and Ron wanted to create a memory of its existence.  He asked for our help to remember the details, and edit the copy, of a tribute he put together to commemorate all those years of song.

It was also a tribute to Dad.  Twenty some years after his death, they still remembered him and his earthly contributions.  If only we could all be so lucky.  But I wonder:  was it the life Dad intended?  Filled with family, business success, more than a few pranks and a great deal of laughter as well as the very real challenges of a debilitating illness that lead to his death at 65.  So somber and sad.  And still, someone from that inter-connected circle of his life remembered and found a way to keep his memory alive.  Maybe it is as Joseph Campbell says, “one big symphony, everything influencing and structuring everything else.”

Thank you Ron DeLain.

DeLain Ronald-Original GB Boys Choir-035316-035317-(160627)

Drumming Away that Blue Moon

Taken by Apollo 8 crewmember Bill Anders on De...

Taken by Apollo 8 crew member Bill Anders on December 24, 1968, showing the Earth seemingly rising above the lunar surface. Note that this phenomenon is only visible from someone in orbit around the Moon. Because of the Moon’s synchronous rotation about the Earth (i.e., the same side of the Moon is always facing the Earth), no Earthrise can be observed by a stationary observer on the surface of the Moon. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Has anyone here had an unusually chaotic August?” Marilee the Shaman asked those of us assembled for the Friday night class.  Almost every hand went up.  “Well, that would be normal during a blue moon, especially this one,” she said with a chortle.  Friday marked the first blue moon since 2009, something I reflected on in my August post, What Happens Once in a Blue Moon?With two funerals and assorted other chaos this month, the blue moon worried me.  Everything seemed askew, even up-for-grabs.  When I saw the flyer at the European Market in Chesterton for the Shamanic Drumming Circle at East Wind Studios, well, I just had to sign up.  I don’t know about you but I had never been to a Shamanic Drumming Session.  But like so many “out-there” things in the universe, I quickly learned that shamanic drumming had a following all its own.  In fact, there are fascinating explanations of how the drumming affects our brain waves and creates an ideal state for spiritual expression.

Yet, the week before the drumming, another set-back presented itself.  My parents and my dear friend Urban Schumacher died.  Not only were Urb and his wife Judy our long-time neighbors, we Gallagher children had a Schumacher in almost all of our class years.  And, as the local funeral director in Green Bay, Urb helped bury my mother, father and an assortment of dear relatives.  After my parents’ deaths, I grew close with Judy and Urb, visiting them often when I returned to Green Bay.  Even though he was 81 at his death, Urb’s death was difficult to handle.Obituary photo of Urban J. Schumacher, 1930 - 2012, Green Bay, WI

It wasn’t a question of whether I would attend, but how early I should leave Chicago to make the 11 a.m. funeral mass in Green Bay on August 30th.  If there were going to be two funerals in August, this was something that simply happened ‘once in a blue moon,’ however sad it was.

By 6 am, I was on the road with my son Mack.  Mack didn’t start school until the next week and had grudgingly agreed to accompany me on the funeral road trip, the promise of a pre-season Green Bay Packers game that evening as his reward.  We arrived early to the funeral mass.  “It’s all old people,” Mack whispered as we entered our pew.  He was right, there was an older crowd already seated.  As the 11 am hour neared, the church filled to standing room only.  Ten priests, including the Bishop, brought the casket down the aisle.  There was no question of Urb’s place in the community or in heaven — he was a man of great kindness and compassion, remembered and cherished by all.  We remembered his wit and great humor at the luncheon following the mass, reminiscing with his wife, six children and many close friends and family members.

When Mack and I left Green Bay the next day, we were ready to take the trek back home.  As we neared the Chicago border, I couldn’t help but think of the Toronto funeral I’d attended earlier in the month and the many signs we say on the way.

“Mom, look,” Mack pointed at a long black car pulling up next to ours on the Expressway.  It was of course a hearse and I shook my head in amazement.  As we pulled closer to it, we both saw the sign in its back window.  “Rest in peace,” it read.  Unlike the signs in Canada — of overt death, some fear and a glimpse to eternity — this one seemed to signal some much-needed closure.   “Quick, take a picture,” I said, handing Mack the camera.  He bobbled it a bit and we got only one shot.

 

Just then, I heard the Shaman’s voice, bringing us back from our drumming trance.  “There is a gret deal going on in the universe right now, the energy is very tense as we integrate new levels of consciousness into our world,” she said.  “It should all be integrated by the winter solstice in December.  Until then, buckle your seatbelts.”

We had drummed and meditated for nearly an hour and half that night.  It was August 31st and the blue moon rose high in the sky.  In the end, the blue moon had brought me back home to Green Bay for a funeral and reconnected me to many good friends from the past.  It made me thing about who I had been and who I had become through the years.  Not only had I crossed an international border that month, I realized that the connections through time never really changed, that you could pick up with someone as if the years hadn’t intervened, that as much as we all changed, we all were growing into current selves all the time.

Mack wasn’t sure what to make of the drumming and meditations, which would be only normal for a boy of 14.  I’m not sure I knew what to make of them either.  The drumming was soothing and the burning sage in the air — meant to cleanse and purify — smelled good.  Things seemed calmer as Mack and I got in the car to drive home.  The blue moon would not be back for a long time, and that was alright too.

From Stove to Studio

“That’s so interesting.  How did you get into acting?” is the usual comment and question I’m asked when people find out that I do voice over, tv commercials and the occasional film.  There is a long answer and a short answer.  Most people receive the short answer — I fell into it.

The long answer is the reason I write Anne on Fire.  It answers the question:  How does burning your leg on a stove at 2 years old lead one to the acting world?

From the research and interviews I’ve conducted, I learned that when my mother found me on the stove, sealed to it by the sole of my shoe and burning, I was in shock, unable to say a word or call out for help.  As time went on, my wounds healed and I was a normal kid in every respect.  Except that no one ever talked about the accident.  Without that context, I was left alone to create my own meaning for the event.

Everything might have gone on just fine, had my mother not asked me to make her two promises on her deathbed.  “Don’t fight with your sisters,” she implored, a request that seemed incredibly difficult to me as the youngest of three girls.  I reluctantly agreed.  “Use your talents.  Promise me,” she asked, as we pressed on the morphine drip that eased her pain in those final days.  That request seemed the easier of the two, especially since I’d always fancied myself as the creative one of her five children.

She passed.  Time passed.

Now and then, I would have the distinct impression that she was whispering to me from beyond.  Mostly I shrugged these moments off.  Raised as a traditional Catholic, I certainly believed in the after-life.  But the teachings were that we humans got just one shot at life, then pass on to our eternal future, where by all accounts, we  wait in joyful hope of the coming of the rest of our loved ones to the pearly gates.  There was no talk of secret messages passed along to those of us left behind.  Eternal life meant we each went along in our separate domains.  But what if she was trying to tell me something?

It was Christ Church in Alexandria, Virginia, old as the country itself where my cousin got married.  He asked me to do a reading at the wedding and I’d read it over many times in preparation.  Since elementary school, I had a long history of being asked to read in church and it always exhilarated me.

I climbed up to the church’s pulpit and pressed the reading flat with my hand.  And then it happened.  I looked up and somehow, some way, time was frozen.  The people in the pews were frozen.  Everything was silent and un-moving.  I didn’t talk.  I couldn’t talk.  I felt as if I’d been in this place before.   A soft whisper in my ear and I heard her, “Use your talents.  You are not doing what I asked.”

Fumbling now and with shaky hands, I looked up to see the people moving, waiting for me to begin.  I did.  I read each word slowly and carefully, feeling a powerful surge as I ended the piece.

As I stepped back down to my seat, my legs wobbled and I noticed I was sweating.  I looked around for acknowledgement but the ceremony just continued on.  Something had happened and I needed to find out what it was.

I didn’t know it then but the acting career I never thought about before was about to begin.

NEXT:  Part 2

Messages from the Universe

Abstract Colorful Universe Wallpaper - TTdesign

Detours, challenges, and crisis, Anne, are simply covers for miracles that had no other way of reaching you.
It’s all good,    

The Universe


Every day I get an inspirational email from the universe.  Seriously, I do.  More often than not, it’s like the “universe” knows just what I’m thinking and just what to send me.  Uncanny it is.  I’d like to think I’m unique but roughly 400,000 people in about 200 countries get these emails too.  You can sign up at www.tut.com and I think it is worth doing.

Here’s another good one from www.tut.com

If I told you there have been no mistakes, that I understand every decision you’ve ever made, and that the challenges you’ve faced, you’ve faced for everyone, would you listen?

If I told you that what you dream of, I dream of for you, that the only things “meant to be” are what you decide upon, and that all that stands between you and the life of your dreams are the thoughts you choose to think, would you try to understand?

And if I told you that you are never alone, that there are angels who sing your name in praise, and that I couldn’t possibly be any more proud of you than I already am, would you believe me?   Would you? Even if I pulled your leg, made you blush, and winked between the lines?
Then I shall…   The Universe

Universe

Solipsism and the Stars

Partial solar eclipse after the eclipse was ge...

Image via Wikipedia

When concepts linger around in my noggin, that usually tells me I need to write about them.

There was something about the knowledge that there was a solar eclipse on the very day of my accident on November 23, 1965 that stuck with me, almost frightened me if you will as I waited, quasi-bated breath and all, for last week’s November 25th partial solar eclipse.  What did it mean, if it meant anything at all?

And that’s where solipsism came in.  While I think my friend Todd was trying to dissuade me from my own thoughts, our random philosophical discussion of the long-forgotten (to me, at least) concept of solipsism only served to encourage my need to write about the stars once again.  The stars and solipsism — a thick pot of stew that I couldn’t get my mind to move away from.

As  Todd explained, solipsism says that my own subjective reality is a fine guide point.  That is, if I wanted to worry about a solar eclipse — was it coming back to haunt me? —  it certainly wouldn’t bother him.   I had forgotten this ole theory from Philosophy 101 and he kindly reminded me that it meant there is no objective reality.  There is a longer and more philosophically complex explanation but trust me, I’m saving you from it.

To his way of thinking, knowing that everyone has a different point of view, makes it easier to understand and accept the universe.  So if I wanted to wax on about the stars (again), he could easily accept it and most likely ignore it, letting me or anyone else wallow in our own subjective reality.

Armed with that odd confidence, I still wanted to see what I could discover about solar eclipses.

If you can believe it, NASA actually maintains a list of solar eclipses of historical interest (http://eclpse.fsfc.nasa.gov/SEhistory/SEhistory.html) so I wasn’t completely batty to wonder about these things.

The Babylonians were the first to discover that eclipses belong to a larger pattern with a beginning, middle and end. Each eclipse belongs to a series of eclipses and each series has its own unique characteristics.  A solar eclipse signifies a fresh start which can also bring about radical change, like a new chapter beginning in your life — which was certainly true of my “accident eclipse”.  The effects of a solar eclipse appear in the outward expression of our circumstances and can present us with very exciting and joyous developments. What develops due to a solar eclipse will be visible to you and others in your life. On the other hand, if a solar eclipse afflicts planets in your birth chart, the message of the eclipse could present a challenge that to overcome before something new develops. To be best of my understanding, my “accident eclipse” occurred in a key part of my birth chart.

The eclipse that happened the day of my accident is actually part of a series of eclipses called the Saros Cycle, repeating every 18 years and 11 days. The series started with partial solar eclipse on August 13, 1208. It contains annular eclipses from March 17, 1569 through March 12, 2146, hybrid on March 23, 2164 and April 3, 2183 and total eclipses from April 14, 2200 through June 19, 2308. The series ends at member 71 as a partial eclipse on September 25, 2470.

And what does itbeing in a Saros Cycle mean?

  • Those same Babylonian astrologers found it was very important to study an eclipse in the context of the Saros Family that contains it. The entire cycle has a “personality” all its own that colors each individual chart. This Saros personality is based on the first eclipse in the Saros Family (a birth chart for the entire cycle, so to speak) and each eclipse in the Family is helping to advance this initial chart to the next level. This may help explain why all eclipses are not created equal — there are about 80 different Families in action, each with a different pedigree.
  • When looking at an upcoming eclipse, check out its Saros buddy from 18+ years ago. Family members in a Saros are connected and carry some of the same energy threads. Checking your “Saros return” every 18 years can provide illuminating information about long-term cycles in your life.

On www.astrologywithin.com, I learned that solar eclipses have some “rules”:

  • Astrology defines the lasting effects of an eclipse by its duration. The general rules for the duration of a solar eclipse is that the energy affects your circumstances one year for every hour of the eclipses duration, up to 3 ½ years.  The eclipse in my case lasted only minutes so its effect would have been less than a year.
  • Another rule is that eclipses last from one solar eclipse until the next.
  • While eclipse energy is often felt within a month on either side of the eclipse day, there are hot spots they may trigger events related to the eclipse. Those hot spots are when the sun squares the eclipse degree about 90 days later, although you may hear something a within a few days on either side of that date.
  • You should expect the message of an eclipse to show itself within one month of the eclipse, or taking up to six months to complete if an eclipse touches your chart in a personal way. You should also be aware that the eclipse may affect that area of your life indefinitely — which in my case it did, but in a way I now view as positively.
  • Not everyone is influenced by every eclipse, but we all experience eclipses at different times in our lives. The universe gives each of us fresh starts and challenges even when we don’t recognize the need for change.

After reading this, I felt encouraged — hopeful even.  In my solipsistic view, I guess I would say the long and short of it is that “S(&*(  happens” and it happens to everyone.  There may be a cycle of eclipses that lasts over centuries but it seems the good comes with the um, challenging.  Sounds a lot like life to me however anyone may slice it.

But it wasn’t until I stumbled on a website called “Janet’s Planets (www.janetszodiac.com)” that I finally felt relieved, that I hadn’t stumbled on to an evil or fated astrological cycle.

All of you Sadge’s (Note:  I am a Sagittarius) out there will have the Solar Eclipse of Nov 25 right on top of your Sun.  This can be a good thing.  This is the time to get rewarded for your achievements.  This eclipse will give you the confidence to go after your hearts desire.   Sadge is one of the most optimistic of signs.  The ruler of Sadge is Jupiter, the big, fat, happy planet.  When I get stuck in my dark, little, Saturn tunnel, Sadge comes along and opens up vistas and possibilities I never thought of before. Their view of the world is boundless. 

If I don’t have a Sadge around to do this for me, then I read my favorite Sadge of all time and let her describe what it’s like to be high on life. 

I taste a liquor never brewed,
From tankards scooped in pearl;
Not all the vats upon the Rhine
Yield such an alcohol!

Inebriate of air am I,
And debauchee of dew,
Reeling, through endless summer days,
From inns of molten blue.

When landlords turn the drunken bee
Out of the foxglove’s door,
When butterflies renounce their drams,
I shall but drink the more!

Till seraphs swing their snowy hats,
And saints to windows run,
To see the little tippler
Leaning against the sun

Emily Dickinson

……………………………………………………………………….

I’m glad I did a little astrological rambling.  It left me only a little confused.

Strange Signs and Silver Linings

Every cloud has a silver lining

It had been years since I’d spoken to Larry when an email popped up about his new position.  As quickly as it arrived in my in-box, I picked up the telephone to ask him about his new job.  It was an exciting position that allowed Larry to return to his journalism roots and run a news editorial operation.  We dished about our early careers in writing and Larry even asked me contribute on a freelance basis to his new news outlet.

When he asked what I had been up to lately, I told him about my Anne on Fire blog.  It was then that our conversation took a different and wholly unexpected turn.  He had never known about my accident.  Telling him about my experience jogged something in him and his story unfolded.

Larry was 15 when he came home from school and heard a knock on the door of his Iowa home.  A friend told him his younger sister had been hit by a car.  By the time he ran the half-mile and found her, she was fading in and out of consciousness.  Larry asked someone to call and ambulance.  As they sped to the hospital, Larry’s sister moaned in pain, her pelvis and internal organs shattered.  As doctors worked to save her life, Larry called his parents and told them what had happened — as his sister walked home from school, a run-away kid they knew had stolen his parents car and hit her at about 50 miles an hour.  Larry’s sister died 48 hours later, never regaining consciousness.

Larry sunk into a period of grief that seemed to never end.  “It was totally unfair.  My sister was only 13.  It was the worst thing that had ever happened to me in my life and it left an incredibly deep scar that I had no way to deal with.  I was too young to know how to grieve,” Larry told me.  “I became obsessed with getting revenge against the guy who killed my sister.”  The bitterness that rose up in Larry create a hair-trigger temper as he grew older.  “I could go into a complete rage at the snap of a finger,” he said.  It seemed only natural that the unresolved anger also lead Larry to drink.  “When you drink a lot, you don’t care and the pain goes away.”

Even by his mid-30s, the grief remained unbearable.  “I was in a lot of pain and it would surface as anger.  I would hang on to every frustrating thing that happened at work and in my fury, I would plot to get back at the person.  This backfired on me a lot and I got to the point where my life was not working and I had to do something,” he said.

In addition to being involved with a religious woman at the time who helped guide him to a new sense of faith, Larry found the courage to see a counselor.  “I started to get the feeling that my sister sensed my anger over what happened to her.  I felt that she didn’t want to be the cause of all the pain in my life.  This is very difficult to articulate but I started sending prayers to her and I got the distinct feeling that she received my messages and would send back her own messages to me in the form of coincidences and serendipity.”

Even though Larry had gone through anger management programs before, this counselor seemed to have a profound effect on him.  Under the counselor’s direction, Larry gathered up everything he had about his sister — photos, newspaper articles, letters — and re-lived the whole horrible experience by writing down all the details he could.  “The counselor told me that I had to grieve the experience so I could release it, that when things happen to you as a child, you have no filter and the experience goes right to your emotional core.  The impact lives on when you are an adult until you can sort it out and understand it,” Larry said.

“There is no question in my mind that my sister guided me to this counselor.”

I’ve known Larry for 15 or more years, always in a professional business capacity.  As he told his story, I couldn’t believe what I was learning and how we were connecting on a personal soul-to-soul level.  The details of Larry’s story were very different from mine but I could not deny the similarities in spiritual guidance.  I too felt guided to explore my own childhood experience, though I’ve always believe my guides have been my deceased parents.  “What they cannot tell us in life, they bring to us in death,” kept running through my mind.

“You know one of the most important things I’ve learned?” Larry asked me.  “You have to be open and aware.  Spirit speaks in whispers and quiet messages.  Now, I’m always looking for the small things to guide me,” he said.  “You know, I’m kind of guy’s guy and this has all taken a lot of work on my part and more than a little faith.  Whatever you call it — god, spirit, a higher power — it’s out there.”

Larry survived the worst experience of his life and that resonated with me.  “Larry, when you look at it all in retrospect, would you ever say that your experience was a gift?” I asked, mostly because that is the way I’ve come to think of my own accident.

Larry paused.

“I’ve never thought of it that way before but it’s true.  The key part of my story is that I survived.  It’s made me more confident.  When I am in a situation where I’m over my head, I can handle it.  I’d much rather have my sister here with me, but if that isn’t possible, I’m open to the gifts she keeps sending me,” he said.

The more I talk to people, the more certain I am that we all share the same experience.  The details are different and our solutions may vary.  More often than not, it seems as if the guides to a better, richer experience are there for us when we open the door.

Returning to Green Bay

Rainbow on I-43 North September 30, 2011

Since my parents passed away in the mid-1990s, my return visits to my hometown of Green Bay, WI are tied to special events rather than happenstance occurrences.  With a class reunion looming, I made plans with two St. Joseph Academy high school friends to attend the event together and didn’t initially give much thought to maximizing my time there.  But as the weekend approached, it seemed right to think about, and perhaps visit, some of the landmarks from childhood.

After all the research and thinking I’d already done for Anne on Fire, I decided to let the weekend unfold on its own rather than attempt to orchestrate anything.

As Barbie, Teresa and I hit Highway I-43 for the drive north, the largest and most beautiful rainbow appeared ahead of us (see photo above), symbolically beckoning us forth, or at the very least giving us a very good feeling about the weekend.  (For meaning on rainbows, see:   http://gurneyjourney.blogspot.com/2008/08/what-do-rainbows-mean.html and http://www.buzzle.com/articles/colors-of-the-rainbow-and-their-meaning.html) .  Our feeling was right on the money:  Green Bay had changed and expanded since our high school days but our connections to each other felt as if no time had passed. 

519 Spring Street, Green Bay, WI

On Saturday, we did some errands and then drove by the old neighborhood.  I hopped out of the car and took a picture of my old house at 519 Spring Street (above) and then we headed out of the city to visit Teresa’s parents for lunch.  For our entire childhood, Teresa and I lived across the street from one another, frequent refugees in each other’s houses and intertwined in the storylines of growing up.  Her parents had long since moved from the St. James neighborhood we shared and we pulled up to a cozy brown ranch with an enormous garden next to it.  The table was set for lunch and after a tour of the garden (and some choice pickings from the remaining harvest) we settled in to catch up and break bread. 

As lunch neared its close, Teresa’s dad turned and sincerely asked, “Now Annie, tell us what you are doing with yourself.”   After telling of husband and kids, I mentioned my Anne on Fire pursuits hoping they might have a remembrance or two to share.  I watched Teresa’s mom nodding and then she said, “I do remember how hard it was on your mother.  There was one day when I went across the street to visit and she told me she had just received a call from the Service League.  Just the day before I had received one as well and of course with all the kids I had, there was no time for me to be volunteering for other things but they must have been calling some of the neighborhood women.  After what had happened with you, there was of course no way your mother could have joined and she told them that.  They wanted her to know however that they were very busy because they were regularly visiting you in the hospital.  Well, your mother was about as mad as I’ve ever seen her.  ‘Gwen,’ she said ‘How could they?  If they really wanted to be of service, why wouldn’t they come to my home and watch my other two children so that I could visit my own daughter in the hospital?””

She continued, “Annie, I think your mother had a lot of stories like this.  There were things she wished people could have or would have done to help.  But in that day and time, we didn’t say what we wanted.  We accepted what was there.  I know there were many people who were there for her and we all tried to help her as much as we could.”

We talked some more about what they knew about the accident.  I wondered how many other friends and neighbors in Green Bay had bits and pieces of the story like Teresa’s parents did.    It meant so much to have these details, to hear their recollections; to fill in the context I had been seeking.  I wondered too why some people like Teresa’s parents were so forthcoming and others so resistant.   I wondered if I had enough stories and if not, where to probe for more.

With warm hugs and muddy shoes from the garden visit, we pulled out of the driveway and returned to our reunion adventure.  I squeezed in time to see my brother coach his son in a kiddie football game and visit with my sister and sister-in-law.  When my sister Susie invited me to church on Sunday, I met them at our old parish, St. John the Evangelist, before driving back to Chicago.

Everything about the visit felt right — the warmth of a small town, the ease of going from Point A to Point B and the connections with the people gathered there that weekend.  Even my own Anne on Fire story felt right, that things happened just as I’d been told they did, that people knew, remembered and cared.  If you let it happen, you can always be home.

St. John the Evangelist Church, Green Bay

Saved by an Angel: Book Review

18th century rendition of a guardian angel.

Image via Wikipedia

The light in the bedroom flickered and roused me from sleep.  It must have been 3:00 a.m.  I closed my eyes, hoping to fall back sleep.  Zzzzt.  The lights flickered on again but I defiantly kept my eyes closed.  Annoying, I thought and rolled over, confident I could find sleep and avoid the flickering lights for the rest of the night.  And then, the thought that completely woke me up flitted through my weary noggin:  “As you read Saved by an Angel, you’ll likely notice more of the interactions you have with your own guardian angels,” author Doreen Virtue (www.angeltherapy.com) wrote in the book’s preface.

Just a week earlier I started reading Saved by an Angel, somewhat sure it would be a quick read.  I was wrong.  Fourteen chapters are packed with individual, real life stories of people who, explains Virtue, have been saved or changed by angelic intervention.  Although I’d heard a great deal about Doreen Virtue and knew she was as much as of an “angel expert”  as any one could be — with a trove of angel-centered books to her credit — I had yet to personally read any of her material.  Although I consider myself a student of metaphysical books, angels had really not been my thing.

But there was beauty in starting my angel reading with more than a hundred stories from “real” people.  These first-person accounts span the gamut — from healing messages to help from mysterious strangers, from visions of deceased loved ones to answered prayers — and are tend short (a page or so in most cases) and simply written.  For example, in a story called Illumination, a young woman sees an ongoing car headed straight at her and then sees the car illuminate in a “glorious light” and knows her life will be spared.  It is.  As she tells her story, she relays, “Not that I don’t believe in angels, but nothing like that had ever happened to me!  I know now that my vision helped me more than I can understand…..” Sincere stories like this are not easy reads.  After I’d read a story or two, I put the book down to think about them.  What was the author’s motivation?  Why would they submit the story for publication?  In nearly every case, a single angel intervention changed someone’s life.  The compiled stories are compelling and inspirational, not at all what I expected when I considered reading the book.

Following the many stories, Part II of the book includes Virtue’s plan for readers to see their own angels.  At just 32 pages (of 253), it is the smallest section of the book and provides strategies for angel-viewing enhancement — Virtue says many of the same techniques she teaches in her popular seminars and programs.  Her seven-day plan includes stocking up on “earthly supplies and shop for foods that will enhance your psychic ability” including fruits and vegetables as well as specific meditations, journal writing, chanting and the like.  As someone who’s life was saved by an angel during an armed carjacking in 1995, Virtue has dedicated her life to researching and teaching about these sorts of experiences.  As she notes, when Baylor University conducted a survey of 1,700 American adults (many of whom didn’t consider themselves religious) in 2008, 55% reported that they have been “protected from harm by a guardian angel.”

Statistics aside, I enjoyed reading the real-life stories and felt a connection to each of them.

And so there I lay watching lights flicker in the middle of the night, half-wondering if an angel was going to appear or some other strange hijinx might ensue.  Slowly I folded the comforter back and crept over to the light switch.  Here I discovered that someone had left the dimmer switch on just a tad, which more than likely create the electrical charges from the lights.  Or had it?

When you read a book about angels, it’s important to keep your mind open.

Saved by an Angel by Doreen Virtue is available for purchase via Hay House (http://www.hayhouse.com/details.php?id=5614) and at www.amazon.com and www.barnesandnoble.com.

 From time to time, I review books from Hay House authors.  www.hayhouse.com   I received the book from Hay House for review purposes and was not financially compensated for this post. The opinions are completely my own based on my experience.

The Mass on the 14th for the Virgin Mary

Our Mother of Perpetual Help, a 15th Century M...

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The sky at 4 a.m. was nothing short of swimming-pool blue and I wondered if I should both to wake up my son Mack, who was only 13.  Since we had met Sister Mary Pastry last month at the European Market in Chesterton, IN, he insisted he wanted to attend the mass of the apparition.  After a few moments of thinking about it, I knocked on his bedroom door and whispered, “Do you really want to go to the Mass?” half-thinking he would roll over and go back to sleep.  But he woke up and dressed and we were in the car by 4:40 driving to the Austin neighborhood in Chicago.  It was eerily silent as we drove, increasingly moving into what I would call the ghetto area of Chicago, blighted and scary, black men standing on corners with no specific purpose.  As we pulled into the parking lot, it was just as Sister Mary said — police officers patrolled the lot and we slid into a parking spot, escorted into the church for the Mass of the Apparition. 

As we entered, a nun in full habit handed up a head set and I asked her what it was for.  She looked quizzically at me and I realized she spoke only French.  “Pour quoi?” I asked her and she only pointed us toward the pew.  My friend Gloria was already waiting for us in the pew and Mack and I silently slid in toward her.  We gave each other the “eye”.  What were we in for?

St. Mary de Frechou is the mother house of Fraternite Notre Dame in a dicey area of Chicago.  Across the street from a hospital, it seemed imposing with an iron gate enclosing the parking lot.  As Mack and I sat with Gloria, we took in the church.  The ceilings were low but dressed with religious murals and a massive set of organ pipes.  Soon, no less than 18 men in religious vestments entered the church in a processional.  Jean-Marie, the bishop, entered last with an elaborate peaked hat. 

The mass began in Latin and I gasped.  This was the traditional Latin mass.  I made a mental note — I had grown up and been married at St. Michael’s Church in DePere, Wisconsin via Father Hector Bolduc.   My children were baptized there as well, as much for convenience as the fact that a family member had started the church amid a great deal of Vatican II controversy.  I was not prepared for this.

It soon became apparent that the headphones were for simultaneous translation of the Latin and French mass into Spanish and English.  As I looked around, the predominant attendees were Hispanic with a high proportion of Filipino’s. This was one organized Church.

Personally, I like to think that I come to religion from a wide variety of spiritual traditions.  Raised as a Catholic, I have studied Buddhism, Judiasm, spiritualism and a wide variety of approaches.  I’ve come to believe that we are a conglomeration of experiences and that there is no right and wrong in belief, which would probably excommunicate me from the Catholic Church, particularly the Tridentine Mass I was currently experiencing.

As I looked in front of me, I saw at least 20 nuns in full garb — white for a high mass and the black habit.  It was something of a culture shock to witness and as much as I searched for Sister Mary Pastry, I could not differentiate her from the others lined up in front of me. 

Mostly what I thought about as the Mass progressed was the Bishop.  If he had truly seen an apparition of the Virgin Mary and been guided by her, what did it take to do a Mass of this magnitude every month? To commemorate the apparition?   It was impressive. 

As Mass concluded, two nuns appeared with hundreds of white and yellow roses — roses being the sign of Mary.  Bishop Jean Marie gave a rose to every one in attendance, including Mack and me.  I kissed his ring as he offered me a yellow rose, so schooled in Catholic tradition was I.  We looked up and it was already 7 a.m., two hours since the start of the mass.  Mack nudged me and asked if we could leave as the Bishop began the rosary.  We had already been there 2 hours and we were ready to go.

It was not at all as I expected in that the Mass was a high ritual, the kind of service where you get lost in ritual.  It was a meditation on a grand level, but maybe Mack and Gloria weren’t there as I was.  For me, it was a place to lose self and commune with a larger purpose.  I had to pull my awareness back to the church, if that makes any sense at all.  “Yes Mack, let’s get going I said as I came out of the trance.”  

For one of the first times in my life, I understood the rapture.  It could have been a yogi meditation as well.  It was a moment of leaving time and space, and spending time with a higher power.  Sister Mary Pastry told me that the Virgin Mary is there for these masses and I felt the presence in the quiet space of meditation.  If there is a power beyond us, it was here. 

I thought of fruit tartes and the Chesterton European Market where this all began.  Maybe there is magic to their pastry.  I’m okay with that.

Sister Mary Pastry and the Virgin Mary’s Appearance

French Fruit Tarte

As regular visitors to Chesterton, Indiana‘s European Market (www.chestertonseuropeanmarket.com) on Saturday’s, we’ve seen the pastry stand for years, nestled among the fruit and vegetable stands and directly across from the cheese stand.  It’s a curiosity in the heat of summer, staffed by a nun in full black habit and displaying an array of delicious French pastries, brioche, croissants, fruit tarts and the like.   When we passed by the stand and my kids asked, “Who is that nun?” I said the first thing that came to mind, “Oh, why that’s Sister Mary Pastry,” and immediately felt the heavy burden of Catholic guilt for making fun of a nun in full habit.  The name stuck.

When we visited the market last, I brought Mack my older son who usually prefers to sleep in on Saturday mornings.  As we passed the pastry stand, he paused to inspect the goodies and that’s when we realized that Sister Mary Pastry was French but spoke English well.  Excited, Mack turned to me and said, “Mom, speak to her in French.”  I hesitated, not wanting to pull out my limited French from study abroad in Paris and Aix-en-Provence from years ago.

“Oh, you speak French?” Sister smiled and we began a conversation in mixed French and English.  “How did you come to sell pastries at the market?” I asked.  Sister’s story unfolded.  Fraternite Notre Dame (www.fraternitenortredame.org), a French-based order with a mission of serving the poor, has its mother house in Chicago’s underserved Austin neighborhood.  As a way to raise funds for the order, the nuns began baking pastries to sell in the Chicagoland area.  The proceeds support their soup kitchen and other ministries for the poor. 

Jean Marie, the order’s bishop, is a mystic with internal stigmata.  Sister told me that in 1977, the Virgin Mary appeared to Jean Marie with spiritual messages to pass along to the faithful.  Now, on the 14th of every month, the Bishop celebrates the Mass of the Apparition at 5 a.m. at their Chicago church, 502 N. Central Avenue.  During the mass, Virgin Mary appears to the Bishop, delivering messages, graces and often miraculous healings.

“Would you like to come to our mass?” Sister asked me.  “Please come.  You would like it.”

The next mass is July 14th.  I plan to attend.