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A Gift of Love

By Cindy Beck

"It's time," my sister whispered, and I was instantly awake, my heart pounding frantically in my chest. It was 4:00 a.m., and I wondered how I could have ever slept so late. After all, it was Christmas morning. I should have been awake hours ago.

We crept down the hall as quickly as we could. In the back of the house, our parents slept peacefully. I had been waiting for this day all year, marking off the days on my calendar as they passed, one by one. I had watched every Christmas special on TV, from Charlie Brown to Rudolph, and now that Christmas morning was finally here, I could hardly contain myself. I wanted to laugh, I wanted to play and, perhaps most of all, I wanted to rip open my presents.

As we approached the den, my sister put a single finger to her lips and whispered, "Santa might still be here." I nodded in complete understanding. At six, I knew all about Santa and his magic. At eleven, my sister was trying to give me my dream.

When we finally walked into the den, my first instinct was to rush toward the presents that were stacked oh-so-carefully around the room, but something made me hesitate. Instead of rushing forward, I stared in wonder at the room, wanting this single moment to last as long as it could. My sister stood quietly beside me, and we stared at the beautiful tree that we had decorated together weeks before. The lights shimmered, the ornaments sparkled, and our golden angel sat just slightly off-centre on the top of the tree. It was the most perfect sight I'd ever seen.

On a nearby table, the cookies that we'd left for Santa were gone, and a small note read, "Thank you. Merry Christmas!"

My eyes widened in amazement at the note, for I was sure that I had finally found real proof of the jolly man's existence. Yet before I could truly marvel over the letter, my sister was handing me a small package. "It's from me," she whispered with a shy smile.

With trembling fingers, I slowly opened the package, carefully preserving the green bow. Inside, I found my sister's favourite necklace. It was a small heart on a golden chain. She had received the present from our grandfather two years before. My eyes filled at the sight. Santa's note was forgotten.

She put her arm around me. "He was going to give you one this year, but -" she stopped, and carefully wiped her eyes, "he just did not get a chance." He had died on Easter morning - the heart attack had been a harsh shock to our family. Our mother still cried quietly when she thought no one was watching. My sister squared her slender shoulders with a brave air. "So, I thought you might like to have mine."

I held the necklace as if it were made of the finest gold in the world. It seemed to shine even brighter than the lights on our tree.

"Let me help you," she said as she moved to put the necklace around my neck.

The small heart felt warm against my skin, almost like it was alive. In my mind, I could see my grandfather. He'd loved Christmas, and he had always given each of us a special surprise on Christmas day.

"Consider this his surprise," my sister told me as if she'd read my mind.

I grabbed her hand and held onto her with all of the strength that I possessed.

When our parents finally made their way into the den two hours later, they saw a beautiful Christmas tree, a dozen unopened gifts, and two sisters holding each other tight.

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A Journey of Friendship

By Steven B. Wiley

Curt and I have the kind of friendship that I wish everyone would be able to experience. It embodies the true meaning of partnership - trust, caring, risk-taking and all else that friendship could embrace in our hurried and harried lives.

Our friendship began many years ago. We met while attending different high schools, through competitive sports, and we had a mutual respect for each other's athletic abilities. As the years progressed, we became the best of friends. Curt was best man in my wedding, and I was his a few years later when he married my sister's roommate. He is also the godfather of my son, Nicholas. And yet the event that most exemplifies our partnership and solidified our friendship happened over 25 years ago, when we were young and in our carefree 20s.

Curt and I were attending a pool party at the local Swim and Racquet Club. He had just won the door prize, a beautiful new watch. We were walking to the car, joking about the party, and Curt turned to me and said, "Steve, you've had a few cocktails, buddy - maybe I should drive." At first I thought he was joking, but since Curt is definitely the wiser of us, I respected his sober judgment.

"Good idea," I said, and handed him the keys.

Once I was settled in the passenger seat and Curt behind the wheel, he said, "I'm going to need your help because I'm not sure how to get to your house from here."

"No problem," I responded.

Curt started the car and we were off - not without the usual first-time shifting jerks and stalls, stops and starts. The next 10 miles seemed like a hundred as I prompted Curt with directions - left now, slow down, right pretty soon, speed up and so on. The important thing is that we got home safely that night.

Ten years later at my wedding, Curt brought tears to the eyes of 400 guests as he told the story of our partnership and how we drove home together that night. Why such a remarkable story? We've all, I hope, offered our keys when we knew we shouldn't drive. But you see, my friend Curt is blind. He has been since birth and never sat behind the wheel of a car before that night.

Today, Curt is one of the top executives at General Motors in New York, and I travel around the country inspiring salespeople to form long-lasting partnerships and friendships with their clients. Our willingness to take risks and trust in each other continues to bring meaning and joy to the journey of friendship.

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Symbiosis

By Ricky Keen

Nine-year-old Samantha Brock sat nervously in the school bus and looked out the window searching hopefully for her younger sister, Mitzi. Most of the schoolchildren on that route had already boarded the bus, but Samantha still saw no sign of her little sister. Her growing concern soon escalated into worry as Samantha watched the last youngster climb into the bus.

Mitzi was only six, and Samantha was very protective of her. During times like this, however, Samantha thought it took lots of determination to remain focused and ignore persistent thoughts of just how much trouble a little sister can be. Quite often she'd had to remind herself that Mitzi was, after all, only a child, and that therefore the only responsible thing she could do was remain alert to keeping her younger sister out of trouble.

A little earlier, a caravan of bright yellow school busses made its way from Harding Middle School to Watson Primary, where Samantha now sat anxiously on bus number 8. The sisters' regular bus, number 16, had broken down, and a replacement bus was sent to Harding. Samantha would have missed it herself, except that she had been sensible enough to follow some of the older girls whom she recognized from earlier rides on her bus. She knew how important it was for her to always be aware of her surroundings.

She also knew that panicking would not help her to find her sister, so she let the last little boy take his seat before she calmly but quickly walked up the narrow aisle between the long, green seats. Reaching the bus driver, Miss Cochran, who was at that instant pulling the lever to close the bus door, Samantha asked her to stop, going on to explain that her sister had not yet boarded.

The driver noticed that the child was almost in tears, so she spoke slowly and calmly, smiling like a kindly grandmother. Samantha listened closely, her eyes trained on Miss Cochran's wrinkled face. She knew how much adults like you to look directly at them when they expect you to listen to what they're saying.

However, Miss Cochran was suggesting that Mitzi had ridden home with her mother, "Something y'all have done before. Right, sweetheart?"

Samantha listened patiently without interrupting, though she knew that their mom had not picked Mitzi up today; she just knew it. She was positive that Mitzi had missed this bus because it "doesn't say number 16." Now that it was her turn to speak, she said that their mom wouldn't pick up just one of them and she certainly wouldn't do so without telling the other one ahead of time. She pleaded with Miss Cochran to let her go find Mitzi.

The driver glanced at the impatient children, bouncing up and down in their seats and shouting for her to "get rolling." Then she turned back to the small, solitary figure whose eyes were pleading quietly for help. Miss Cochran's heart was not made of stone, so she agreed, but cautioned Samantha to hurry.

The other busses were pulling out as Samantha flew down the steps and out of the bus. Pausing, she turned and thanked Miss Cochran, and in a flash she was inside the schoolhouse. Her footsteps echoed sombrely as she walked the empty hall, pausing in front of each classroom doorway just long enough to check for Mitzi. Approaching the end of the hall, Samantha heard the sound of Mitzi's voice, so she hurried to the last door.

There sat little Mitzi, slumped over and swallowed up by the chair beside her teacher's desk. Between tearful outbursts Mitzi was trying to explain that she had looked for her bus but didn't find it. Suddenly, she stopped talking and turned around. When Mitzi saw Samantha, she ran to her big sister and hugged her tightly. Mitzi's tiny body convulsed as she sobbed with joy.

Samantha suppressed a gasp of relief, then took her sister's hand and led her outside. Mitzi dried her cheeks, and Samantha fought back the pool of tears that had welled up in her eyes and threatened to cascade down her face.

After the pair appeared outside, school bus number 8 erupted in a riot of childish jeers, taunting the two girls for delaying playtime at home. As Mitzi lowered her head, Samantha tightened her grip on her sister's small hand and in her bravest voice said, "It's all right, Mitzi; I'm right beside you."

Samantha looked through the open bus doors to see Miss Cochran smiling warmly. With her sister still in hand, Samantha climbed the steps and paused at the front of the aisle. Defiantly, she scanned each face in front of her until the last voice was silenced. Mitzi raised her head, followed her sister down the aisle, and sat beside her until they safely stepped off the bus in front of their home.

Samantha was thinking how it seemed like only yesterday when all of that had happened, but now, fifteen years later, she was walking towards Mitzi to comfort her once again. Minutes away from walking down the aisle and becoming a married woman, Mitzi had been no longer able to stem the flood of emotions inside her; she had burst into tears and flung herself onto a huge, overstuffed chair. Samantha thought how fragile Mitzi appeared slumped over and sobbing uncontrollably. No wonder she recalled that earlier, childhood day.

Samantha took her sister's hand and led her in front of the full-length mirror. As the pair gazed on the radiant image that Mitzi presented in the glass, Mitzi dried her cheeks.

Their eyes met in the mirror, and all at once both girls burst into laughter. Then tears again. Then tears mixed with laughter. Throwing their arms around each other, they lingered in the sweetness of their embrace.

Mitzi sniffled, then giggled and whispered into Samantha's ear: "This reminds me of the day when, well, you probably don't even remember, but, the time you found me at school when I was lost and would have missed the bus, except that you came back to take my hand and. . . ." Mitzi burst into tears again.

Samantha didn't bother to fight back the pool of tears that welled up in her eyes and cascaded down her face. She tightened her arms around her sister's delicate body and in her most loving voice, "It's all right Mitzi, I am right beside you."

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My Best Friend

By Andrew Galanoulos

The agony of the final round set in off the first tee. It wasn't Sunday. There was no tournament. It was just me and Matt, my golf partner of three years, not to mention my best friend since the third grade.

We had entered the world of golf as two youngsters with cheap clubs, inspired by our fathers' stories of birdies, three-hundred-yard drives, and near-holes-in-one. For some reason these tales failed to hold true when we played with them.

Expecting to go out and conquer the game, Matt and I were quite surprised (not to mention angry) when we found ourselves humbled by a little white ball. Over time though, our swings became more controlled, good shots became more frequent, scores lower and our friendship stronger.

That summer, we entered a junior golf tour. We soon realized how much we had to learn, and how much we wanted to win. We had been in the game for two years already, and we figured all we needed was some fine-tuning to give our game the extra edge.

We played almost every day after school that year with the hope that the hard work would pay off with victory on the tour next summer. Then we got the news.

"Andrew, my dad's being transferred to Charlotte right after school," Matt said when he broke the news to me. He was moving away following our freshman year and right before the golf season would start. We had only a month left together, so we decided to make the most of it. Golf was the only way we knew how to enjoy ourselves without facing the sorrow of separation. No matter what is going on, golf helps you forget by making you concentrate on the task at hand - beating the guy you're playing with - and that was good enough for us.

We played and the time flew, and soon we found ourselves in what we realized was our final round together. We had tried to ignore it for so long, but now it hung over us. The only way to shake it was to continue the eighteen.

When all was said and done, we finished the game. Our scores were average. He beat me by three strokes.

Matt had to be home so he could wake up early in the morning and head out. We stood at the practice green waiting for his mother to come get him. Finally, she arrived.

"It was a pleasure playing with you." I held out my hand. He shook, and then I half-hugged him, like boys do when they want to be men. I saw him off the next morning.

He played on a tour at his new home, and I competed also. One day, I received a letter in the mail. It was a scorecard and a picture of the leader board. Matt was atop it. He finally won.

Over the years, I received many scorecards from Matt (unfortunately more than I sent him). I keep them in my golf bag for good luck.

I guess the magic of golf isn't the course, or the swing, or the sound you hear when you hit a solid 3-iron. It's the feeling you get when you beat your best friend, or lose to him, for that matter.

And sooner or later you realize that you didn't play every week because you were golfers, you played because you were friends.

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One Determined Angel

By Dorothy Rose

She looked so fragile and helpless. I was told she didn't even speak English. Olga and her family had come from Puerto Rico to receive the expert medical care that was unavailable in her own country.

I was working in the intensive care unit of our local children's hospital, as one of Olga's nurses. I couldn't help but think how frightened this little girl must feel with all those scary tubes, machines and monitors around her. When she opened her eyes, she was incredibly beautiful. Smiling back at me with big brown eyes, she spoke a universal language.

When her mother arrived early the next morning, she said to me, "My husband must return to Puerto Rico. He needs to go back to work. I'll stay here, near Olga, with her sister and brother, so she can get the medical help she needs to stay alive." As we talked, I discovered that Olga's mother was the only one in her household who spoke English.

The family had been staying at the Ronald McDonald House but would soon need to move into more permanent housing. Since they didn't have anyone else to help them set up housekeeping, I volunteered.

As I attempted to help get an apartment for Olga's family, I was told, "It's impossible. The child's mother isn't working, and the father doesn't even live in this country."

After I told this story to some of my nurse-friends, one of them contacted our local newspaper. One columnist promised he would write their story, but added, "This will be my last column of this sort. These stories just don't sell papers anymore."

That's when Becky, our determined angel, arrived. She was a vibrant, talkative and charming volunteer. We talked, and immediately she had some excellent ideas. As we concluded our conversation, she said, "Oh, by the way, I have cancer, but I'm under treatment."

Despite her condition, Becky took charge. She not only found housing for Olga and her family, but also helped with everything else they needed. I asked myself, How could this woman do so much when she has such difficulties of her own?

Becky got the children enrolled in a bilingual program and was able to find the mother a job close to home. When winter set in, Becky would go home from work, start dinner, check on the children and then call Olga's mother to see if she had a ride home from the hospital. If she didn't, Becky would bring her home.

When Olga's father returned to stay in the United States, Becky enrolled the entire family in a bilingual program and was instrumental in obtaining a job for the father. Becky and her husband even obtained a dependable used car for the family, so they could become more self-reliant.

In December, Becky asked her coworkers to adopt Olga's family for Christmas. The generosity of many volunteers provided a wonderful Christmas that year. Her kindness didn't stop there; Becky continued to do wonderful things for this family.

In April 2000, I was invited to attend the annual Jefferson Awards luncheon. Five outstanding volunteers from each state are nominated, and one is selected to represent his or her state in the national competition in Washington, DC. Not only was Becky chosen, but also she won the top award. She not only helped this family in need, but she also helped many others fight their own battles with cancer.

In 1980, Becky was diagnosed with Stage III ovarian cancer. The doctors weren't optimistic, but she was strong-willed and determined. Today, she continues to share her experiences, heartaches and triumphs. She is constantly placing the concerns and care of others before her own.

Becky is living proof that the human spirit can be remarkable, even under the most adverse conditions. Olga and her family thrive, thanks to a determined, kind-hearted woman.

[NOTE: For information on the Ronald McDonald House Charities, contact One Kroc Drive, Oak Brook, IL 60523; Web site: http://www.rmhc.com. For information on The Jefferson Awards, contact the American Institute for Public Service, 100 West 10th St., Suite 215, Wilmington, DE 1980; Web site: http://www.aips.org.]

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The Circus

By Dan Clark

Once when I was a teenager, my father and I were standing in line to buy tickets for the circus. Finally, there was only one family between us and the ticket counter. This family made a big impression on me. There were eight children, all probably under the age of 12. You could tell they didn't have a lot of money. Their clothes were not expensive, but they were clean. The children were well-behaved, all of them standing in line, two-by-two behind their parents, holding hands. They were excitedly jabbering about the clowns, elephants and other acts they would see that night. One could sense they had never been to the circus before. It promised to be a highlight of their young lives.

The father and mother were at the head of the pack standing proud as could be. The mother was holding her husband's hand, looking up at him as if to say, "You're my knight in shining armour." He was smiling and basking in pride, looking at her as if to reply, "You got that right."

The ticket lady asked the father how many tickets he wanted. He proudly responded, "Please let me buy eight children's tickets and two adult tickets so I can take my family to the circus."

The ticket lady quoted the price.

The man's wife let go of his hand, her head dropped, the man's lip began to quiver. The father leaned a little closer and asked, "How much did you say?"

The ticket lady again quoted the price.

The man didn't have enough money.

How was he supposed to turn and tell his eight kids that he didn't have enough money to take them to the circus?

Seeing what was going on, my dad put his hand into his pocket, pulled out a $20 bill and dropped it on the ground. (We were not wealthy in any sense of the word!) My father reached down, picked up the bill, tapped the man on the shoulder and said, "Excuse me, sir, this fell out of your pocket."

The man knew what was going on. He wasn't begging for a handout but certainly appreciated the help in a desperate, heartbreaking, embarrassing situation. He looked straight into my dad's eyes, took my dad's hand in both of his, squeezed tightly onto the $20 bill, and with his lip quivering and a tear streaming down his cheek, he replied, "Thank you, thank you, sir. This really means a lot to me and my family."

My father and I went back to our car and drove home. We didn't go to the circus that night, but we didn't go without.

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The Acceptance Of A Gift

- Susanna Tamaro

Unfortunately, I don't have a particularly happy memory of my first encounter with Catholic doctrine. I recall a freezing hall, the sing-song voice of a priest who was talking about strange stories which I could not follow through to the end and the chorus of our answers spoken out loud, always the same and always incomprehensible. Within me, there were already great and terrible questions which were boiling. Why is there evil? Why does everything end? Why are we born? Why do we die? And instead of answers, I only received some «stories» which were not able to draw me in their folds. I had been waiting for the beginning of catechism with great excitement, I hoped to receive some answers to my worries, but that excitement, afternoon after afternoon, parable after parable, was slowly dissipating, leaving me more and more unsatisfied and deluded.

There was no anger, nor rejection in that dissatisfaction, just bitterness of someone who doesn't feel respected in their desire to get closer to the Truth. On the way hope, I walked quickly, wrapped up in my thoughts. If God is good and loves us, why does he permit evil? Why does he force Abraham to lift his sword over his son Isaac? Why did Cain kill Abel? Why did Judas prefer a small pittance of money over the love of Jesus? I remember my childhood like a prolonged insomnia, sometimes I had the impression that my head would explode for the many questions floating in it, for the total absence of an adult who was capable of taking me by the hand and accompanying me through the answers. In this absolute solitude of mine, only two images were very peaceful for me: the Guardian Angel and the Holy Spirit. Both had vaporous, white wings, both lived next to men, but were not men, they flew above us, participating in the events of the earth without being captured, far from hate and betrayal which had killed Jesus.

In my book of doctrine, The Guardian Angel was represented next to a child who, having his books under his arm, is crossing the street to go to school. And so, effectively, I felt his presence in every moment of the day and night: behind, above me, to my right. He alleviated my solitude, to him, in a silent way, I spoke and asked advice. The Angle, however, was «easy» to understand. Less understandable was that strange dove which emanated light and who, in ways absolutely beyond my reach, was kin with Jesus and God and Abraham. The day of Confirmation I remember having raised my eyes to the sky to look for, amongst all the grey and fat pigeons of the city, my white dove. I anxiously waited for its ray of light: it was to have come down from the sky and illuminate my bewildered and frightened life, transforming it in a strong and courageous one, like a «soldier of Christ», as they used to say at the time in catechism. With Her, thanks to Her and for Her, I would have been able to confront any vicissitude without stopping and without being confused.

From that day of May, 32 years have gone by, a long enough time to look back and begin a period of reflection. That «trace» which at 20, at 30 years old is still not understandable in all its fullness, at 40 becomes clearly visible. As a certain distance is necessary for observation, to render the traces of a painting more worthy, so is the passing of time to better understand the action of the Holy Spirit in the restricted limits of our lives. Only in this way, that which seemed a fragment, becomes a situation of particular fundamental importance, only in this way does coincidence take flight leaving room for the trauma of a precious designed plan. Looking back at my life, if there was a precise moment in which I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit reflourish within me it was when I was about 23 years old, when I discovered within me the capacity of writing and communicating. I had never thought of it before, actually my interests were up to that moment focused on an opposite field.

I precisely remember the vanishing of the timidness which followed this discovery. Why me? I would ask myself. What do I have to do with this? But, at the same time, even, the great unreasonable certainty that the path which I needed to follow was this one. It felt a little as though two people lived within me: one who was totally certain about her incapacity and the other, strangely sure of the importance of what she was doing. We often speak so much about art, but so little about what happens in the soul of an artist. Why at a certain point, does a person discover that they have something inside themselves which makes them different from others? What is that thing? What sense does it have in the development of a life? With the passing of time I had to find the answers to all these questions, and so, slowly, I discovered that the artistic talent is a sort of double edged sword. If it is lived for that which it is - it’s a gift which encloses within it the mystery of gratuity - to whomever possesses it, it can bring them on a path of interior richness and extraordinary sharing with others. However, if it is lived like a personal merit, something which makes one different and superior to others, the road travelled by those people inevitably will wrap around them in a suffocating spiral. They myth, so deeply cultivated in this last century, of the artist absolute in their grandness, is therefore implicitly superior to others, it is nothing but the consequences of this subtle and demonic presumption.

Naturally, receiving the gift is only the beginning; the path which leads to rendering this gift explicit is often long and hard, full of suffering. And it requires total confidence in the charisma of the Holy Spirit - intellectual, science, council, fear of God, strength, piety, knowledge. Because even when you succeed to develop this talent, there are always insidious powers - vanity, pride and avarice, with all their dark consequences- waiting to lead to false values and confusion. You only need to abandon, even for a little while, the confidence and the support of the Spirit for humility to turn into its opposite, arrogance. I have never considered writing a job, nor could I ever do it. I know that it was something which has absorbed a certain part of my life and which has allowed me to communicate my feelings and reflections with a great number of people, in much of the world. I continue to consider it an extraordinary human and spiritual adventure, of which I have no merit, except that of having fully confided in the charisma, which is given to each one of us by the Holy Spirit.

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Love Is...

Some people think that the more you’re embraced, squeezed and touched, the more you’re loved. The more you are made the exclusive property of someone, the more you are cherished.

The more exclusive the relationship, the greater the love.

There are people like this:

The more they control you, the more they say they love you.

They don’t use the word control because that’s not nice,

But control is exactly what it is.

Your luck cause I have a nice way of putting it.

“You see it in high school kids who are in love with each other. They are just locked in 100 percent in each other’s company and if the guy or gal so much as looks out of the corner of his eye at anyone else, the other is hurt and offended and angry. You see? This terrible narrow and exclusive and jealous view of love is as if there are only three and one-half pounds of it in the world.

And I got all three and one-half pounds here and I don’t dare give up a bit of it.

Well, real love is the exact opposite of that. It’s the funny thing about it.

“The more you hold your hand open, the more mercury you can hold in your hand. And the tighter you squeeze it, the less room for the mercury there is. Well, it’s the same with this business of loving. And it’s an even funnier thing in the sense that the more you give it away, the more you have to give away. Because the faster you give it away, the faster it comes back tenfold. So the point of loving somebody is that when you are together, that’s great. But when you aren’t together, that’s great, too.”

Immature lovers always believe that they have to guard each other instead of guarding their love. They believe that by tying down the one they love, they can keep the beloved. They fail to understand that love cannot be tied, it cannot be controlled by the other.

How often do we see those insistent lovers who won’t take no for an answer. It’s as if they think that love is like a piece of furniture that they can take home and keep.

They are possessive and controlling. They attempt to put love into a bag and zip it up.

It doesn’t work, of course. Love isn’t like that.

It is living, breathing and dynamic.

Love is outgoing.

It is giving and sharing, not keeping.

It is growth-giving, not stifling.

Genuine love multiplies itself. It does not turn in on itself.

When lovers try to disguise control and call it love, it doesn’t work over the long term. Perhaps in the beginning it might, but sooner rather than later it backfires.

“The more love there is,” says me, “the more that comes out; the more you get back, so the more there is. And in that kind of situation, there is plenty for everybody.”

1. Don't think in terms of forever. Think of now, and forever will take care of itself. Recognize that all relationships cannot be forever. Recognize their temporary quality, but continue to act as if they are permanent.

2. Expect to invest a great deal of time and energy in your relationships. Lasting relationships don't just happen, they are created.

3. Respect the other person's relationships apart from you. If they are important to the one you care about, they should be important to you.

4. Never idealize others. They will never live up to your expectations.

5. Don't be afraid of giving. You can never give too much, if you're giving willingly.

6. Never force anyone to do anything for you "in the name of love." Love is not to be bargained for.

7. Don't allow experience to harden your heart; rather use it to become more aware and sensitive.

8. Don't lose touch with the craziness in you. This, with a large dose of caring, will assure that your relationship will never be boring.

9. Don't brood. Get on with living and loving. You don't have forever.

10. Always start a relationship by asking: Do I have ulterior motives for wanting to relate to this person? Is my caring conditional? Am I trying to escape something? Am I planning to change the person? Do I need this person to help me make up for a deficiency in myself? If your answer to any of these questions is "Yes", leave the person alone. He or she is better off without you.

11. Keep the child in you alive and playing.

12. Divorce, fighting, arguing will never solve your problems; better to try understanding, warmth and flexibility.

13. Stop going through life in self-pity, self-blame and "mea culpa" syndrome. We are not as bad as we think.

14. Write down all the reasons why you love each person you relate with. Then, when the going gets tough, take the list out and reread it. It resolves problems quickly.

15. Don't be afraid of disagreements and arguments, the only people who don't argue are people who don't care or are dead. In fact, don't have short arguments. Make certain they are thoroughly over and done with. After an argument is over, forget it.

16. Watch out for little irritations, they grow into destructive monsters. Verbalize them at once.

17. Let go of pride. It is usually false, creates barriers and prevents closeness.

18. Acknowledge the humanness of the other.

19. Exercise feelings. Feelings have meaning only as they are expressed in action.

20. Be compassionate. It is the sure way to understanding and acceptance.

21. See all criticism as positive for it leads to self-evaluation. You are always free to reject it if it is unfair or does not apply.

22. Expect what is reasonable, NOT what is perfect.

23. Stop playing games. A growing relationship can only be nurtured by GENUINENESS.

24. Even though you are only half of a relationship, you must remain a whole person, apart from the relationship.

25. Remember that moral and spiritual values don't restrict, they PROTECT.

26. What you learn about yourself will infinitely help in trying to understand others.

27. See problems as small MIRACLES which can bring about KNOWLEDGE AND CHANGE.

28. Don't allow your relationships to die of NEGLECT.

SOMEONE SAID:

"Love is supposed to be the most wonderful feeling. It should inspire you and give you joy and strength. But sometimes the things that give you joy can also hurt you in the end".

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The Worm

By Julie Long

I couldn't put the worm on. I prided myself on being a tomboy - I hated Barbies and baths, and loved climbing trees and playing with Tonka trucks - but something about sticking a hook through a wiggling worm gave me the heebie-jeebies. Dad had somehow understood, but how could I tell old Mr. Lyons, who never had any kids? I almost hadn't gone fishing with him because of it, but Mom talked me into it. Then, the closer we got to the river, the more it worried me.

It was nice of Mr. Lyons to take me fishing. Since my dad had died the fall before, it was just my mom and us four girls, and I knew we wouldn't go fishing or camping or canoeing anymore.

I missed my dad and had taken to hanging around Mr. Lyons's yard as he worked on building his houseboat. I loved the smell of sawdust and stain - a scent that was fading from my dad's unused workshop. I think Mr. Lyons liked my company, too. He'd be hammering a nail or planing wood with his eyes squinting in concentration until his dog Brownie would announce my arrival with a bark. When he'd look up and see it was me, he'd set his tools down and scratch his grey, scruffy chin and say he was glad I came by because he needed a break.

Mr. Lyons had finished the houseboat in the spring, and he'd already taken it down to the river. He pulled the truck up next to the houseboat.

"Well, how's she look?"

"Real nice, Mr. Lyons."

"We'll just fish right off the front bow. It's nice and shady there. The fish'll be keeping cool and waiting for a worm to wiggle on by."

We got the fishing poles out of the bed of the Ford. Mine was just the bamboo pole I had dug out from the camping supplies in the basement. Dad had tried to teach me how to cast his rod and reel but I had tangled the line up something awful. Maybe now that I had turned eleven I'd have better luck.

Mr. Lyons reached back in the truck bed for the tackle box, then reached in again and handed me the Styrofoam container of worms. I followed him down the bank and onto the boat, keeping an eye that the lid stayed on.

Once on the bow, Mr. Lyons started getting everything set up. Any minute now I'd have to admit to him my aversion to worms. Then he'd probably never ask me to go fishing again. He handed me my pole, then set the container between us and fished out a worm for his pole. Then, just when I was ready to confess, Mr. Lyons confessed to me instead.

"Always hate this part," he mumbled as he held the worm in one hand and his hook in the other. "It's silly, but stickin' the poor little guy with a hook makes me feel, I dunno what you'd call it. . . ."

"Like you have the heebie-jeebies?" I offered hopefully.

"That's it exactly. The heebie-jeebies. You get 'em, too?"

"A little," I admitted, relief washing over me.

"Yeah. I guess sometimes we gotta go through the bad to get to the good. Want me to hook your worm for ya?"

There it was. My way out. All I had to say was "yes" and I'd be off the hook and my worm would be on. But I felt bad making Mr. Lyons put the worm on if he hated it as much as me. So I reached into the cool dirt and picked up a fat worm between my fingers. I tried not to think about how slimy it felt as I quickly poked the hook through its middle and wiped my hand on my jeans.

I had done it! It definitely gave me the heebie-jeebies, but I had gotten through it. I looked up at Mr. Lyons. He gave me a wink. I grinned with pride and tossed my line in the water. The bad part was over.

Today, of course, I realize my mom must have shared my problem with Mr. Lyons; I'm fairly certain he didn't have a case of the heebie-jeebies at all. But I also know that he helped me grasp, on a child's level, the principle of persevering through the bad to get to the good. My mom and sisters and I never did fish together again; the days of camping and canoeing died with my father. But we struggled through the grief and, when we got through the bad, we eventually found other good times to enjoy as a family. And I continued to fish with Mr. Lyons… and bait my own hook.

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I Love You More

By Christie A. Hansen

Meet my daughter, Amanda. Four years old and a fountain of knowledge. The other day she was reciting a list of all the facts and titbits she has memorized. One plus one is two. If you mix yellow paint with blue you get green. Penguins can't fly... On and on she went.

Finally, she finished. "Mom," she said, looking very smug, "I know everything."

I let on as if I believed her, but chuckled to myself thinking of all the 'this and that's' that a four-year-old child couldn't possibly know. Comparing her four years to my almost three decades of life experiences, I felt sure I knew what she knew and then some.

Within a week, I'd learn I was wrong.

It all began as we were standing in front of the bathroom mirror, me fixing Amanda's fine, blonde hair. I was putting in the final elastic of a spunky pair of pony tails and finished with, "I love you, Amanda."

"And, I love you," she replied.

"Oh, yeah," I taunted, "well I love you more."

Her eyes lit up as she recognized the cue for the start of another "I love you more" match. "Nuh-uh," she laughed, "I love you the most."

"I love you bigger than a volcano!" I countered - a favourite family phrase in these battles of love.

"But, Mom, I love you from here to China." A country she's learning about thanks to our new neighbours up the street.

We volleyed back and forth a few favourite lines. "I love you more than peanut butter"... "Well, I love you more than television"... "I even love you more than bubble gum."

It was my turn again, and I made the move that usually brings victory.

"Too bad chickadee. I love you bigger than the universe!" On this day, however, Amanda was not going to give up. I could see she was thinking.

"Mom," she said in a quiet voice, "I love you more than myself."

I stopped. Dumbfounded. Overwhelmed by her sincerity.

Here I thought that I knew more than she did. I thought I knew at least everything that she knew. But I didn't know this. My four-year-old daughter knows more about love than her twenty-eight-year-old mom. And somehow she loves me more than herself.

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My Toughest Decision

By Kristina Dulcey

Mistakes, mistakes, mistakes. Everyone makes them. No one saw mine coming.

Overall, I was a really good kid. At fifteen, I was a sophomore at a Catholic high school and a member of the National Honor Society. I played softball and ran cross- country. I had, and still have, aspirations of becoming a doctor. If someone would have told me that at the age of fifteen I would become pregnant, I would have said they were crazy. Why would anyone do something so foolish? It's still hard for me to believe, but it happened.

October 11, 1997, was the day my daughter was born. I took one look at her, and it was love at first sight. It was so overwhelming - a flood of emotions that I have never experienced. I loved her in a way that could only be described as unconditional. I looked at her, and in my heart I knew that I could not give her all the things that she needed and deserved to have, no matter how badly I wanted to. Physically, emotionally and in every other way, I was not capable of being a mother. I knew what had to be done. Putting all my emotions aside and doing what I felt was best for my daughter, I decided to give her up for adoption.

Placing my baby in the arms of her mother was the hardest thing I've ever had to do. My very soul ached. Even though I still get to see my daughter because I am blessed with having an open adoption, the pain is still there. I can feel it burning inside me every day, when I think about Katelyn. I only hope that when she gets older, she realizes how much I love her. I love her more than anything in the world.

Today is my daughter's first Christmas. I won't be there to share with her the joy of this season, or to play Santa and open her presents for her (she's only two months old). In fact, I won't be there to see her first step, or hear her first word. I won't be there to take pictures on her first day of kindergarten. When she cries for her mommy, it won't be me that she wants. I know in my heart that I made the right choice. I just wish with all my heart that it was a choice I never had to make.

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The Hug of a Child

by Victoria Harnish Benson

As we drove across town, I prepared my two children for what they were about to see. A lady from our new church was dying of cancer, and I had volunteered to help her with the housework. "Annie has a tumour in her head, which has disfigured her face," I cautioned them.

Annie invited me to bring my children with me one day, as I had told her so much about them. "Most children are frightened by my appearance," she said. "But I will understand if they don't want to meet me."

I struggled for the words to describe Annie's appearance to my son and daughter. Then I remembered a movie I'd seen two years earlier with my son, when he was ten. I wanted him to understand that disabled people are like anyone else - their feelings can be hurt, too.

"David, remember the movie Mask about the boy with the facial deformity?"

"Yes, Mom. I think I know what to expect." His tone told me it was time to stop mothering him so much.

"What does a tumour look like?" Diane asked me.

Answering my nine-year-old daughter would be tricky. In order to prevent Diane's revulsion when she met Annie, I needed to prepare her just enough but not too much. I didn't want to frighten the child.

"Her tumour looks like the skin on the inside of your mouth. It sticks out from under her tongue and makes it hard for her to talk. You'll see it as soon as you meet her, but there's nothing to be afraid of. Remember, don't stare. I know you'll want to look at it . . . that's all right . . . just don't stare." Diane nodded. I knew she was trying to picture a tumour in her mind.

"Are you kids ready for this?" I asked as we pulled up to the curb.

"Yes, Mom," David said, sighing as only a preteen can.

Diane nodded and tried to reassure me. "Don't worry, Mommy. I'm not scared."

We entered the living room, where Annie was sitting in her recliner, her lap covered with note cards for her friends. I stood across the room with my children, aware that anything could happen next.

At the sight of my children, Annie's face brightened. "Oh, I'm so glad you came to visit," she said, dabbing a tissue at the drops of saliva that escaped from her twisted mouth.

Then it happened. I watched David stride across the room to Annie's chair, wrap his arms around her shoulders and press his cheek to her misshapen face. Smiling, he looked into her eyes and said, "I'm happy to meet you."

Just when I didn't think I could be more proud, Diane copied her big brother and gave Annie the precious, accepting hug of a child.

My throat tightened with emotion as I saw Annie's eyes well up with grateful tears. I had nothing to worry about.

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Who'll Water My Teardrops?

As I gave her a final hug, I could not hold back the tears. "I love you," I said.

Out of nowhere she said, "Will you water my teardrops?" This is our name for the plants she has sitting in the windows of her bedroom. The delicate vines cascade to the floor nearly covering one wall; the small, circular leaves and the fragile, lavender flowers resemble teardrops. We both knew what she was asking. Would her room be there when she returned, the same as she left it? Would her family be there for her as we always had been in the past? Would we drive and laugh and confide on the same familiar streets that surround the only home she has ever known?

Yes, we'll water your teardrops.

She turned toward her new life, and I turned toward home. As the mountains diminished in my rear-view mirror, so, too, did her presence. I became lonelier and emptier until the plains flattened my emotions. I managed to hold myself together for nearly twenty-six hours until the familiar sights of home brought cascades of tears.

Without her our streets are silent; our house is empty; my stomach is hollow.

Who'll water my teardrops?

- Win Herberg

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Hail Mary

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She was there at the Cross. Yet Protestants seldom talk about the mother of Jesus at Easter, or at most other times. But they are starting to now.

By David Van Biema

March 21 2005

Had the Rev. Brian Maguire hit on the idea 30 years ago, he might have found himself facing some very annoyed congregants. Four hundred fifty years ago, someone professing similar notions might even have been hanged.

The 35-year-old pastor’s brainstorm concerned a scheduling conflict on the day of the Annunciation. The holiday, which celebrates Mary’s learning from the angel Gabriel that she will give birth to the Messiah, always falls on March 25, precisely nine months before Christmas. But this year the 25th is also Good Friday, when Christians somberly recall that same Messiah’s Crucifixion.

Roman Catholicism, which traditionally observes both dates, has rules for this eventuality: Catholics worldwide will mark the Annunciation on April 4 this year. But Maguire is not Catholic; he is the pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Xenia, Ohio. And in light of what he calls “a beautiful, poetic opportunity,” he says that rather than preach on Jesus alone this Good Friday, he will bring in Mary as well. “If you have Jesus’ entrance and exit on the same day,” Maguire explains, “she should play a part in that—because she was the first and last disciple to reach out during his life.”

There is an elegance to this plan; Maguire, who attended Princeton Theological Seminary, is no theological naïf. But until quite recently, his decision to pair the gravest day on the Christian calendar with a Marian celebration would have struck most of his fellow Protestants as peculiar, if not doctrinally perverse. For roughly 300 years until the 1900s, Protestants, while granting Mary her indisputable place as the mother of Jesus, regarded any additional enthusiasm as tantamount to “Mariolatry,” the alleged (and allegedly nonbiblical) elevation of the Virgin to a status approaching Christ’s that some understood as a cause of their initial breaking with Catholicism. Even as open hostility largely abated in the U.S., some taboos prevailed. Beverly Gaventa, a professor of New Testament literature at Princeton, has portrayed Mary as the victim of “a Protestant conspiracy of silence: theologically, liturgically and devotionally.” Most Protestants (excluding some high-church Episcopalians) can identify with the experience of Kathleen Norris, an author who has written of her upbringing, “We dragged Mary out at Christmas ... and ... packed her safely in the crèche box for the rest of the year. We ... denied [her] place in Christian tradition and were disdainful of the reverence displayed for her, so public and emotional, by Catholics.”

But things have begun to change, and not just among theologians. Xenia, Ohio, is no radical hotbed. Campaign signs there still promote Bush, half the weekday-morning radio dial features conservative religious fare, and most of Westminster Presbyterian’s 300 members are middle-aged or older. Yet with a few exceptions, the 21 who recently gathered at the Rev. Maguire’s Bible class were fascinated by his thoughts on Mary. “I always thought of her as the first disciple,” said Corinne Whitesell, 74. “Rosaries and Hail Marys, that’s not right. [but] that total submission to God is one of the most beautiful things about her.” Said Gloria Wolff, 78: “We grew up in a time when women couldn’t be elected as church elders. It’s important to teach young women about the strong female role models in the church.” Remarked John Burtch, 75: Maguire is “the new guy on the block, and he’s got some interesting ideas. So we listen to him. We’re open to change.”

In a shift whose ideological breadth is unusual in the fragmented Protestant world, a long-standing wall around Mary appears to be eroding. It is not that Protestants are converting to Catholicism’s dramatic exaltation: the singing of Salve Regina, the Rosary’s Marian Mysteries, the entreaty to her in the Hail Mary to “pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.” Rather, a growing number of Christian thinkers who are neither Catholic nor Eastern Orthodox (another branch of faith to which Mary is central) have concluded that their various traditions have shortchanged her in the very arena in which Protestantism most prides itself: the careful and full reading of Scripture.

Arguments on the Virgin’s behalf have appeared in a flurry of scholarly essays and popular articles, on the covers of the usually conservative Christianity Today (headline: The Blessed Evangelical Mary) and the usually liberal Christian Century (st. mary for protestants). They are being preached, if not yet in many churches then in a denominational cross section—and not just at modest addresses like Maguire’s in Xenia but also from mighty pulpits like that at Chicago’s Fourth Presbyterian Church, where longtime senior pastor John Buchanan recently delivered a major message on the Virgin ending with the words “Hail Mary ... Blessed are you among us all.”

This could probably not have happened at some other time. Robert Jenson, author of the respected text Systematic Theology, chuckles when asked whether the pastor of his Lutheran youth would have approved of his (fairly extreme) position that Protestants, like Catholics, should pray for Mary’s intercession. “My pastor would have been horrified,” he says, adding, “The pastor was my father.” Yet today Catholics and Protestants feel freer to explore each other’s beliefs and practices. Feminism has encouraged popular speculations on the lives of female biblical figures and the role of the divine feminine (think The Red Tent and The Da Vinci Code). A growing interest, on both the Protestant right and left, in practices and texts from Christianity’s first 1,500 years has led to immersion in the habitual Marianism of the early and medieval church. And the influx of millions of Hispanic immigrants from Catholic cultures into Protestantism may eventually accelerate progress toward a pro-Marian tipping point—on whose other side may lie changes not just in sermon topic but in liturgy, personal piety and a re-evaluation of the actual messages of the Reformation.

The movement is not yet prevalent in the pews. And it has its critics. While granting that Mary shows up more in the New Testament than some churches recognize, Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Southern Seminary, charges that those who use her full record to justify new “theological constructions” around her are guilty of “overreaching,” “wishful thinking” and effectively “flirting with Catholic devotion.” Yet Lutheran theologian Carl Braaten, co-editor of an essay collection on what might be called Marian upgrade, claims, “We don’t have to go back to Catholicism. We can go back to our own roots and sources. It could be done without shocking the congregation. I can’t predict how exactly it will happen. Some of it will be good, and some of it may be bad. But I think it’s going to happen.”

They burned Mary in Walsingham in 1538. In a spate of iconoclasm ordered by King Henry VIII, the founder of Anglican Protestantism, his commissioners stormed the Catholic pilgrimage center in the east of Britain. Its famous statue of the Virgin warranted special treatment: she was transported to Chelsea and publicly immolated. Nine men who objected were reportedly executed. A local ballad went, “Sin is where Our Lady sate: Heaven is turned to hell ... Walsingham ... farewell.” Walsingham, says Joseph Leo Koerner, author of The Reformation of the Image, was just one example of an ire that extended through Europe for a century: other Marys were chopped up for kindling or paraded through bordellos before their destruction.

Mary was not always such a lightning rod. Early on, Christianity rallied around her importance. The Council of Ephesus in 431 affirmed her to be the Theotokos, or Mother of God. Admittedly, the move was less about her than him. It repudiated a specific heresy—that Mary’s son and the Messiah were two different beings—and in general it made the Incarnation much more immediate. God’s taking on human flesh became far less abstract when one discussed his human mother and the actual fact of his birth.

In time, Mary’s Mother of God role merged with several other potent personas. As monks meditated on Christ’s sufferings, Mary became a super co-sufferer, later dubbed Mater Dolorosa. She collected other titles: Queen of Heaven, Bride of Christ, Mother of Mercy, each reflecting a different attribute. Most important of those was as humanity’s merciful mediator. The church’s growing emphasis on Christ as the stern arbiter of Judgment Day left a kind of vacancy, and believers came to view Mary as a special pleader to him in our name. In 1568 Pope Pius V officially added to the popular Hail Mary prayer the line “pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.” Eventually, folk piety left doctrine in the dust, and believers intoned, “Our mother who art in heaven ...” Commented the horrified reformer Philipp Melancthon in the 1500s: “The fact of the matter is that in popular estimation, the Blessed Virgin has replaced Christ.”

Martin Luther was fond of Mary; he found in her a perfect example of God visiting his grace, unearned, upon the most humble. The former monk extrapolated that “Mary suckled God, rocked God to sleep, [and] prepared broth ... for God.” But his generation of reformers condemned the “abominable idolatry” of her role as heavenly intercessor. Disgusted by a church whose earthly middlemen sold indulgences for sins not yet committed, they also yearned to demote cosmic mediators who they felt diluted God’s sovereignty. And, as Fourth Presbyterian’s Buchanan observes, “Mary was a kind of point person for Catholicism, so she took the biggest hit.” Catholics defiantly boosted Mary to even greater heights, eventually promulgating two additional doctrines: in 1854, Mary’s Immaculate Conception, and as late as 1950, her bodily Assumption into heaven.

Over time, Protestant anathemas against Mary lovers gave way to a kind of sullen neglect of the Virgin. That was more pronounced among Presbyterians, some Baptists and others with a strong Calvinist tradition. (The Presbyterian Church U.S.A.’s 1991 Brief Statement of Faith praised the prophets, the Apostles and the Hebrew matriarch Sarah but omitted Mary.) Yet Protestants of all stripes could still appreciate a joke told by Harvard minister Peter Gomes about Jesus’ receiving a Protestant theologian at the pearly gates and making appropriate introductions: “Ah, Professor, I know you have met my father, but I don’t believe you know my mother.”

That was roughly the way beverly Gaventa found things in 1989 when the Princeton Scripture specialist was invited to write about Mary for a series called Personalities of the New Testament. She knew of the pulpit silence regarding the Virgin but was still somewhat shocked to find that her academic peers had been equally mute. “We were quite happy to yammer on about Mary Magdalene, about whom we know next to nothing,” she remembers, “and you would find a bajillion essays on Doubting Thomas. But there was very little on Mary’s presence at the Cross.” She was further bemused when callers invited her to speak at their churches. “I would offer to do something on Mary,” she says, “and there would be this embarrassed pause, and they would eventually say, ‘Oh, we’re mostly Protestant around here.’” In fact, she says, she approached her Mary work in “a Protestant sort of way. We pride ourselves on reading Scripture, so let’s read Scripture and see what we find.”

What she read—and what Protestants had been more or less skimming for centuries—was a skein of appearances longer and more strategically placed than those of any other character in the Gospels except Jesus. There is, of course, the Annunciation, where Mary’s earnest question “How shall this be, since I have no husband?” is followed (once Gabriel has answered) by her famous assent, “Let it be.” Less often preached or parsed was her interaction with her kinswoman Elizabeth, John the Baptist’s mother, or Mary’s hymn beginning “My soul magnifies the Lord” (hence its Latin title, the Magnificat), which in addition to the prediction “Generations shall call me blessed” presents a powerful vision of a God it describes as having “put down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of low degree ... filled the hungry with good things, and the rich ... sent empty away.”

While Mary’s role in the Nativity is recalled dutifully each December, largely overlooked is the subsequent presentation of Jesus at the temple, during which the righteous old man Simeon tells Mary that “a sword will pierce your own soul also.” Also neglected are her maternal frenzy when her 12-year-old son goes missing to debate the temple elders and her role at the wedding at Cana, where, at her behest, he performs (somewhat grudgingly) his first miracle, changing water into wine. The most striking omission, at least from Protestant sermons, is a recognition of the import of her role at the Cross. Although the first three Gospels don’t place Mary there by name, many readings assume she is one of the women who remain, watching Christ’s agony, after the male disciples have fled. In John’s Gospel she shares that witness with an unnamed disciple (often thought to be John), and Jesus, near death, commends them to each other, telling her, “Woman, behold your son!” and telling John, “Behold your mother.” Mary makes one final appearance, as the only named woman in a mostly male group gathered in an “upper room” who, guided by the Holy Spirit, will make up the new church.

Gaventa’s conclusion was that although Mary’s appearances can be brief and frustratingly devoid of anecdote, “there isn’t a figure comparable to her.” No major player appears earlier in the story, and none, she notes, “is present in all these key situations: at Jesus’ birth, at his death, in the upper room.” Protestant treatments, Gaventa asserted, tended to limit themselves to what God does through Mary rather than talk about Mary herself. “You could say the same thing about the Apostle Peter—that the stories are not really about him,” Gaventa says. “But that doesn’t keep people from talking about Peter as a role model from whom Christians can learn things.”

And so, in the book she finally wrote, Mary: Glimpses of the Mother of Jesus, and in essays and lectures, Gaventa began reviving or establishing Marian titles that, unlike Queen of Heaven, are more appropriate for Protestant use. One was First Disciple. Traditional commentary saw Mary’s “Let it be” primarily as a statement of obedience. But Gaventa, and many who followed, heard in it a thought-through acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah made long before any other believer’s. In a Christianity Today article, Timothy George, dean of Beeson Divinity School at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, paraphrases some of the original reformers, saying, “If she had not believed, she would not have conceived.”

Gaventa also focused on the Magnificat. At a minimum, the song would establish Mary as rhetorical heir to the Old Testament prophets, whose voice and social concerns it reflects. But Gaventa claims it makes the Virgin a prophet herself, both by her eloquence and in the enunciation of the idea that “in Jesus, God is overturning things as they are,” which will be one of Christ’s major subsequent themes. Scot McKnight, an evangelical moderate, has devoted a chapter of his own book, The Jesus Creed, to suggesting that the Magnificat contains “virtually every theme in Jesus’ teaching and ministry.” He imagines a kind of 1st century red-diaper baby: “I think she sang him to sleep with these kinds of songs and had a profound influence on him.”

Gaventa’s example has emboldened other writers. Her collection Blessed One: Protestant Perspectives on Mary (co-edited with Cynthia Rigby) presents a variety of feminist approaches. One slyly contrasts Mary’s situation with the standard conservative concept of “family values,” and another reinterprets the biblical refrain that “Mary kept these things to herself and pondered them” from a model of housewifely passivity into a deep mode of reflection and prayer specific to motherhood. A more conservative collection, Mary, Mother of God, edited by Braaten and Jenson, features several evangelical scholars striving to rehabilitate that Ephesian title. They believe Matthew and Luke fully support the description. But they also hope that calling Mary Mother of God reminds people that Jesus was God, refuting the modern tendency to see him as simply a wise man or teacher. Baptists, says George, should no longer fear common cause with conservative Catholics: “We face a common enemy—secularism and radical pluralism and the demotion of Scripture.”

Almost all the revisionists find Mary’s presence at the Crucifixion inspiring in a way that their denominations seldom acknowledge. Without elaborating on the Gospel stories (as even Michelangelo’s Pietà does, since the Bible doesn’t mention Mary’s reception of Jesus’ body), they explore the late-medieval notion that Mary’s excruciating presence during her son’s death kept Christian witness intact almost single-handedly through its darkest moment. Some focus on the absence of most of the male disciples. “She’s not just alongside the Apostles. She’s ahead of the Apostles,” says Braaten. Others are reconsidering Jesus’ words from the Cross to his mother and John. Protestantism has traditionally rejected the Catholic interpretation that in naming Mary John’s mother, Jesus transmuted her into the “mother of all believers.” But readers like George think it equally strained to conclude that he was merely looking after Mary’s extended care. “I think that John does to some extent represent the church and that the scene indicates that Mary is to be honored and given a kind of recognition in salvation history,” he says. “And I don’t think you have to be Roman Catholic to say it.”

The Rev. Donald Charles Lacy, 72, a Methodist minister, has been here before. In the early 1960s, as part of its Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church took several steps back from full-bore Marianism, maintaining the Virgin’s intercessory role, Immaculate Conception and Assumption but warning against “all false exaggeration” on her behalf (although the current Pope, it must be stressed, is a devoted Marian). Young Protestants like Lacy, discussing their apparent narrowing of differences with equally idealistic Catholics, were inspired to form new groups like the Ecumenical Society of the Blessed Virgin Mary. But the moment passed. Lacy was denounced by a superior as a “priest” and ousted as pastor by one of his congregations. His work was largely rejected by Methodist publications—until four years ago, when a Methodist house suddenly printed his Collected Works. “I stood alone for so many years,” Lacy says now. “It’s very gratifying to see [people] begin to come this way.”

Lacy attributes the revival to the Holy Spirit. If so, the Spirit may be working increasingly through intermarriage. Methodist Mark Eutsler, a Linden, Indiana, 4-H director (the program, affiliated with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, sponsors projects for young people) is a Lacy fan. He began investigating his Catholic wife’s faith when they married 17 years ago. He admires the Virgin’s combination of uncowed curiosity and openness to God’s will when Gabriel calls. “You know that bracelet, what would jesus do?” he asks. “There ought to be another one, how would mary react?”

Mary is also gaining popularity at Protestant divinity schools, where her icons adorn future pastors’ walls. Even evangelical publishing is interested. Although one house was leery of a Marian guide for teens by author Shannon Kubiak if its title referred even obliquely to Mary (“They didn’t want to come across as ever elevating Mary, and they didn’t know how to touch her without elevating her,” Kubiak says), a second snapped it up. God Called a Girl: How Mary Changed Her World and You Can Too will appear just after Easter.

There were 11 years between the day Mary Burks-Price, manager of pastoral-care education at a Louisville, Kentucky, hospital, gave birth to her own special child and the day a death seemed to cleave her soul. But together they turned her into a Marian Baptist. Growing up, Burks-Price knew the party line: avoid spiritual contemplation of Mary, since Catholics had turned her into a graven image. But in 1987, at a Christmas Eve service two years after her ordination as a minister, Burks-Price experienced a surge of identification. She had had a difficult pregnancy. And now, cradling her 4-month-old son in a back pew of the church she attended in Louisville, she felt for the first time that Mary’s pregnancy must have been as miraculous as Jesus’ birth.

Then in 1998 a close friend died in a plane crash. Burks-Price fled to a rural retreat center run by a local Catholic convent and late one night went walking, “sobbing and praying and asking why.” She found herself standing before a tall marble statue of Mary next to a barn. “Her hands were outstretched, and her face was looking down on me with this great compassion,” says Burks-Price. “I realized that she knew what it was like to see her son die on the Cross, to bear that sorrow and grief. I felt she was giving me a window into the compassion God had for me in my own experience.” Burks-Price is still a Baptist, but her office is filled with Marys: porcelain statuettes, laminated prayer cards, icons. She keeps a Rosary for Catholic patients, and sometimes, she says, “I know [the prayer] better than they do.”

Burks-Price was drawn by what may be the most meaningful Marian lure: access to a central Christian image of love, at birth and through death, that Protestantism never officially repudiated but from which it has been estranged almost from the start. The hunger for this is illustrated by the evangelical reception of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. Conservative pastors interviewed by Christianity Today particularly lauded its treatment of Mary, which featured scenes not found in Scripture: Mary witnessing her son’s scourging, sopping up his blood, kissing his bloody face—and her flashback, as Christ stumbles in carrying the Cross, to a moment in his boyhood when he fell and cried and she could cradle him in her arms.

There were 11 years between the day Mary Burks-Price, manager of pastoral-care education at a Louisville, Kentucky, hospital, gave birth to her own special child and the day a death seemed to cleave her soul. But together they turned her into a Marian Baptist. Growing up, Burks-Price knew the party line: avoid spiritual contemplation of Mary, since Catholics had turned her into a graven image. But in 1987, at a Christmas Eve service two years after her ordination as a minister, Burks-Price experienced a surge of identification. She had had a difficult pregnancy. And now, cradling her 4-month-old son in a back pew of the church she attended in Louisville, she felt for the first time that Mary’s pregnancy must have been as miraculous as Jesus’ birth.

Then in 1998 a close friend died in a plane crash. Burks-Price fled to a rural retreat center run by a local Catholic convent and late one night went walking, “sobbing and praying and asking why.” She found herself standing before a tall marble statue of Mary next to a barn. “Her hands were outstretched, and her face was looking down on me with this great compassion,” says Burks-Price. “I realized that she knew what it was like to see her son die on the Cross, to bear that sorrow and grief. I felt she was giving me a window into the compassion God had for me in my own experience.” Burks-Price is still a Baptist, but her office is filled with Marys: porcelain statuettes, laminated prayer cards, icons. She keeps a Rosary for Catholic patients, and sometimes, she says, “I know [the prayer] better than they do.”

Burks-Price was drawn by what may be the most meaningful Marian lure: access to a central Christian image of love, at birth and through death, that Protestantism never officially repudiated but from which it has been estranged almost from the start. The hunger for this is illustrated by the evangelical reception of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. Conservative pastors interviewed by Christianity Today particularly lauded its treatment of Mary, which featured scenes not found in Scripture: Mary witnessing her son’s scourging, sopping up his blood, kissing his bloody face—and her flashback, as Christ stumbles in carrying the Cross, to a moment in his boyhood when he fell and cried and she could cradle him in her arms.

That sequence also moved Fourth Presbyterian’s Buchanan, who preached last year, “We’re inclined, you and I, to think about our faith in terms of ideas and propositions and truth claims. [Yet] Mary reminds us that our faith is a response to a love that was expressed not in a carefully reasoned treatise but in a human life.” Mary, he said, is “a reminder to the mother whose son was killed in Iraq last week ... [to] children and wives and husbands who wait in fear and in hope. Let her be a reminder of the mercy and compassion and nearness of God.”

Yet it is such sentiments that most upset Southern Baptist theologian Mohler. He is underwhelmed by the Scripture-based reconsiderations of people like Gaventa. “Insofar as Evangelicals may have marginalized Mary’s presentation in the Bible, it needs to be recovered,” he concedes. “But the closer I look at the New Testament, the more convinced I am that it does not single her out for the kind of attention that is being proposed. We have not missed the point about her. To construct a new role for her is simply overreaching.”

He is most exasperated that “Mary is held forth as the maternal face of God, some dimension that is fundamentally absent from Scripture. God’s love is presented in biblical terms without any need for Mary as an intermediary. To suggest that need, even as ‘symbolic’ instead of doctrinal”—he pauses—“this is the Reformation in reverse. It’s simply profoundly unbiblical, and it leads to the worst excesses of Marian devotion.”

Mohler’s judgments may sound blunt, but his questions are legitimate Protestant ones. The point at which Marian respect turns into Marian veneration is more easily parsed by theoreticians than by believers trying to work out its practice. For instance, pro-Mary Protestants who claim not to use her as an intercessor but readily admit they recite the “pray for us sinners” line of the Hail Mary may be living a contradiction. Similarly, can seminarians whose walls boast Mary’s icon but whose crosses (like most Protestants’) omit the figure of her son truly be said to be keeping his primacy in mind? And when her Mother of God role is emphasized, is there an easy way to prevent her from transcending humble humanity and becoming semidivine in her own right?

In the end, Mary’s role may be less influenced by people like Mohler and Gaventa than by a group only now beginning to make its considerable Protestant presence felt. A man stands at the lectern at the El Amor de Dios church on Chicago’s South Side reading in Spanish, tears streaming down his cheeks. His text is a treatment of the Virgin Mary from one of the Bible’s apocryphal books. Another congregant follows, reciting his own verses to the Virgin from a dog-eared notebook filled with tiny, precise printing. Flanking the altar are two Mary statues with fresh roses at their feet, and hanging from the hands of the baby Jesus is a Rosary. The altar cover presents the church’s most stunning image: Mary again, this time totally surrounded by a multicolored halo, in the traditional iconography of the Our Lady of Guadalupe. The church is Methodist.

“Right now Marianism is not a front-burner issue for people revising liturgy in major denominations,” says Marian agitator Braaten. “But I think it will come in because of the great influx of Hispanics into Protestantism.” Indeed, there are some 8 million Protestant Hispanics in just the U.S. alone, with the count climbing. Many hail from Mexico, where the Guadalupan Lady is as much a national icon as a religious one, and are from historically Catholic families. El Amor de Dios’ pastor, the Rev. Jose Landaverde, says his Marian additions are “mainly cultural.” But “in the context of this neighborhood and embracing these people, this is what they need.” Our Lady, he says, “creates hope.” Church rolls have risen, Lazarus-like, from a dozen people to several hundred since he added the Mary elements.

Some of Landaverde’s fellow Methodists dismiss this new wrinkle. The Rev. Enrique Gonzales, pastor of El Mesias United Methodist in nearby Elgin, wrote a piece accompanying Christian Century’s Mary story asserting that Latin Protestants are especially wary of such enthusiasm because “the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not actually introduced to Roman Catholic people in Latin America because only Marian doctrines are taught to them.” Yet Ted Campbell, president of a local Methodist seminary in Evanston, Illinois, says, “This is a phenomenon that’s growing in a lot of Protestant churches.” When he first heard what was going on at El Amor de Dios, he confesses, he thought, “Cool.”

“It raises interesting theological points,” Campbell explains. “It gives us a chance to look at our doctrine and to ask, ‘What do we actually teach?’” Such reflections and questions will undoubtedly be heard more and more as Mary’s Protestant restoration builds, not just at Christmas or Good Friday but throughout the year.

— With reporting by Chris Maag/Xenia, Tim Padgett/Louisville, Maggie Sieger/Chicago and Sonja Steptoe/Los Angeles

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Strict ritual in days after death

The following is a look at the expected events in the days following a papal death.

Death

A pronouncement is made in Latin that the pope is dead and is certified by a physician.

The camerlengo, or chamberlain, then calls out the pontiff's baptismal name -- "Karol" for Pope John Paul II -- three times in a ritual to confirm there is no response. In the past, the camerlengo struck a silver hammer against the pope's forehead to confirm his death, but it's unclear if the ritual is still active.

The camerlengo then destroys the symbols of that papacy: the "Pescatorio," or Ring of the Fisherman, and the dies used to make lead seals for apostolic letters. The pope's quarters are sealed and funeral arrangements are begun by the camerlengo, the most important Vatican official until a new pope is elected. Spanish Cardinal Eduardo Martinez Somalo, 78, has been the camerlengo since 1993.

Vatican flags fly at half-staff. According to tradition, the Bronze Door at St. Peter's Basilica is closed.

Mourning period

An official nine-day mourning period, known as the "novemdiales," follows the death of a pope. The tradition dates back to ancient Rome and a ceremony held nine days after death. The pope's body lies in state in St. Peter's Basilica in the Clementine Chapel, which was begun by Michelangelo and completed by Giacomo Della Porta for the Jubilee in 1600.

After the death of John Paul I in 1978, an estimated 750,000 mourners filed past the body over three days. Many more could pay homage to John Paul II.

The funeral

The funeral and burial must be held between the fourth and sixth day after death except for unspecified "special reasons," according to rules established in 1996. Weather permitting, it will be held in St. Peter's Square. Many of the world's leaders and other dignitaries are expected to attend. Also on hand will be many of the Cardinals, who will select the new pope. During one part of the Mass, the ceremonial Swiss Guards, who wear distinctive purple-gold-and-red uniforms, kneel and dip their halberds with their right hand and salute with their left.

Burial

Most popes in recent centuries have chosen to be buried beneath St. Peter's Basilica. After the funeral, their lead-lined coffins -- which can weigh close to a half ton -- were carried through the "door of death" on the left side of the main altar in the basilica. A single bell is tolled. The coffin is lowered into a marble sarcophagus and covered by a huge stone slab. The Vatican has not clarified whether Pope John Paul II seeks such a burial. There is speculation that the Polish-born pontiff could choose to be interned in Krakow's Wavel Cathedral alongside Polish royalty.

Conclave

The Cardinals, the so-called "princes" of the church, gather to elect the new pope in the Sistine Chapel, whose frescoes include the famous ceiling by Michelangelo. The conclave, derived from the Latin words meaning "with a key," must begin no sooner than 15 days after the death of the pope and not more than 20. In the past, the Cardinals resided in makeshift sleeping quarters. For the next conclave, however, they will stay at St. Marthas House, a hotel-style guest facility within Vatican City.

The rules of the conclave are strict: no outside contact until a pope is elected. To counter modern eavesdropping devices, technicians will sweep the ancient halls and corridors for any telltale signs of surveillance. The cardinals file into the Sistine Chapel in their blood-red robes and conduct a private Mass before the voting begins. The ballots are tied together by needle and thread and burned with chemicals to make the smoke white or black. White signals to the world that a new pontiff has been elected. Only cardinals under the age of 80 are allowed to vote. A conclave held now would have 117 papal electors. The election of John Paul II took two days and eight ballots.

The next pope

John Paul II changed the rules to make a simple majority sufficient to elect a pope if no one gets the traditional two-thirds majority after 30 rounds of voting. Once a new pope is elected, he must say "Accepto," or I accept, to make it official. A senior cardinal will appear at the central window in St. Peter's Basilica and utter a sentence in Latin that ends with "Habemus papam" -- "We have a pope." Then he will continue in Latin and announce the name chosen by the new pope.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press.

Find this article at:

http://edition.cnn.com/2005/WORLD/europe/0...h.ap/index.html

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Gawd, those heart-warming stories made me tear *sniff*

Reminded me not to let my heart turn to stone, not to be blind to all the goodness there is in this world.

I'm such a sucker for these things dry.gif

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Growing Good Corn

James Bender, in his book How to Talk Well (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1994) relates the story of a farmer who grew award-winning corn. Each year he entered his corn in the state fair where it won a blue ribbon. One year a newspaper reporter interviewed him and learned something interesting about how he grew it.

The reporter discovered that the farmer shared his seed corn with his neighbours.

"How can you afford to share your best seed corn with your neighbours when they are entering corn in competition with yours each year?" the reporter asked.

"Why sir," said the farmer, "didn't you know? The wind picks up pollen from the ripening corn and swirls it from field to field. If my neighbours grow inferior corn, cross-pollination will steadily degrade the quality of my corn. If I am to grow good corn, I must help my neighbours grow good corn."

He is very much aware of the connectedness of life. His corn cannot improve unless his neighbour's corn also improves.

So it is in other dimensions. Those who choose to be at peace must help their neighbours to be at peace. Those who choose to live well must help others to live well, for the value of a life is measured by the lives it touches. And those who choose to be happy must help others to find happiness, for the welfare of each is bound up with the welfare of all.

The lesson for each of us is this: if we are to grow good corn, we must help our neighbours grow good corn.

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Tear Drops

Two tear drops were floating down the river. One tear drop said to the other, "I'm the tear drop of a girl who loved a man and lost him. Who are you?"

"I'm the teardrop of the man who regret letting a girl go."

She teardrop consoled, "There would come a time when we have to stop loving someone because we found out that they'd be happier if we let them go."

He teardrop replied, "But then you'll know that you miss someone very much when every time you think of that person, your heart breaks into pieces and just a quick 'Hello' from that person brings the broken pieces back."

She teardrop said, "It's really painful to say goodbye to someone else that you don't want to let go; but it's even more painful to ask someone to stay if you can never make the relationship work out the way it should be."

She continued, "LOVE? It's kind of complicated, but I'll tell you this: the second you're willing to make yourself miserable to make someone else happy, that's love right there."

He teardrop pondered and said, "You know, if I had the letters "HRT", I can add "EA" to get a "HEART" or a "U" and get "HURT". But I'd rather choose "U" and get "HURT" than have a "HEART" without "U".

She teardrop smiled and replied, "Giving someone all your love is not an assurance that she will love you back. Don't expect love in return, wait for it to grow in her heart, if it doesn't, be contented it grows in yours."

He teardrop continued, "She told me once, do not be too good, I will miss you. Don't be too caring; I might like you. Don't be too sweet; I might fall for you."

She teardrop smiled and said, "A heart truly in love never loses hope but always believes."

She teardrop continued, "If you love her please let her know because it hurts to love when you have to go. Take care of me. Don't go away because if you love me, you will stay. I love you and do you know why? You got me when you first said 'Hi'"

He teardrop said, "You are brave she teardrop, now I know it's always better to have found the courage to love even if you lose it in the end rather than never found love because you were too afraid of the challenge."

He teardrop continued further, "Did you know that the expression "Nothing" is the subconscious mind's way of saying, ‘I love you’? That's what I do, I told her NOTHING and because of that I lost her even though I love her. I cry for the time that she was almost mine, I cry for the memories I've left behind, I cry for the pain, the lost, the old and the new. I cry for the times I thought I had her!"

She teardrop consoled, "Relationships are like glass, sometimes it is better to leave them broken than try to hurt yourself putting it back together, or worse, have nothing strong to bind it together. You never lose in loving; you only lose in holding back."

He teardrop cried, “Now I know, I have learned. don't throw your back to love when it's already in front of you, don't drive it away from you because if you did, someday you'll think again why you let love fly away when it was once next to YOU."

Contributed By: stargazer99tang

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Hold my hand

A little girl and her father were crossing a bridge. The father was kind of scared so he asked his little daughter, "Sweetheart, please hold my hand so that you don't fall into the river." The little girl said, "No, Dad. You hold my hand." "What's the difference?" Asked the puzzled father.

"There's a big difference," replied the little girl. "If I hold your hand and something happens to me, chances are that I may let your hand go. But if you hold my hand, I know for sure that no matter what happens, you will never let my hand go."

In any relationship, the essence of trust is not in its bind, but in its bond. So hold the hand of the person whom you love rather than expecting them to hold yours.

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The Pope's Astrophysicist

MEET THE VATICAN PRIEST WHO SCANS THE HEAVENS FOR THE ORIGINS OF THE UNIVERSE. (HEY, GALILEO — WANT A JOB?)

By Margaret Wertheim

12/2002

We have come to meet the Pope. It's tourist season, and the Sistine Chapel is punishingly full. Visitors from around the world crowd together, ogling Michelangelo's ceiling. At the back of the chapel, our little group of scientists and theologians has gathered, a small knot trying to cohere against the jostling throng. Our audience with John Paul is the culmination of a weeklong conference on science and religion convened by the Vatican Observatory. Host and guide Father George Coyne glances nervously at his watch, then shepherds us through a hidden door and into a private chamber beyond — backstage at the Vatican.

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Father George Coyne, head of the Vatican Observatory Research Group

For nearly a quarter century, Coyne has been the director and senior scientist at the Vatican Observatory, the Roman Catholic Church's beachhead on the shores of astronomical research. The Church's interest in the stars dates back to well before Galileo's time. Five hundred years ago, papal astronomers in charge of fixing Easter's date noticed that the Julian calendar was getting out of sync with the stars, and in 1582 they replaced it with the Gregorian. In 1891, long after the Church had accepted the heliocentric universe, Pope Leo XIII officially founded the Observatory so that "everyone might see clearly that the Church and her Pastors are not opposed to true and solid science."

Today, the Vatican Observatory Research Group boasts 13 professional astronomers and cosmologists, all of them Jesuits. The group specializes in fields like galaxy formation and, to quote from their latest annual report, "the dynamics of inflationary universes with positive spatial curvature."

En route to His Holiness, we're led through endless miles of corridors, every yard the work of Italian master craftsmen. Around one corner, an entire wall erupts with rococo excess as, in front of us, Christ rises into the heavens, his feet hovering yards above the ground. "They really knew what miracles were back then," quips the English cosmologist Paul Davies. We walk on, marveling at the might of the Catholic Church congealed into aesthetic overload. Cardinals swoosh by swathed in deep-red satin. Bishops shimmer in rose-colored silk. Swiss Guards stand watch in multicolored velvet pantaloons.

Ruled by ritual and formality, the Vatican is the last living Renaissance court, and Coyne a courtier who haunts its inner sanctum. Ironically, though, it's science that got him here. As a Jesuit novitiate from Baltimore, his life consisted mostly of prayer and study. He pursued astronomy and theology with equal vigor, earning a PhD from Georgetown in 1962 and a priest's collar in 1965. In 1978, he became the director of the Vatican Observatory. Today, he also serves informally as science adviser to the Pope.

Our party is ushered into a room to await His Holiness. He enters accompanied by a burst of song - young priests chanting hosannas. Our conference has been wrestling with evolution, both biological and cosmological. And so has he, John Paul tells us. "The Church's Magisterium is directly concerned with the question of evolution, for it involves the conception of man." Though "Revelations teaches us that man was created in the image and likeness of God," says the Pope, "new knowledge has led us to realize that the theory of evolution is no longer a mere hypothesis." It's good to hear, but hardly breaking news. The Catholic Church has long accepted an evolutionary worldview, complete with descent from apes and a big bang beginning. John Paul in particular has championed science and lent his personal support to "Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action," a decade-long program of which our conference is a part.

As the Pope finishes speaking, Coyne approaches the dais. Their lives have followed similar paths: Both were rigorously schooled in theology and philosophy, both speak multiple languages, and both hail from humble backgrounds. But what a difference a throne makes — without hesitation, Father Coyne drops to his knees to kiss his superior's ring. As a Jesuit, he is bound by absolute obedience to the Pontiff. Symbolic, ritualized, and utterly expected by a priest, it's an act of self-abnegation that seems shockingly out of place in a scientist. In this gesture lurks a fundamental tension: How can Coyne live both in the hierarchical world of the Catholic Church and the egalitarian world of science, where there is no higher authority?

The Vatican Observatory Research Group conducts its fieldwork light-years away from Roman opulence, at the University of Arizona. From the campus in downtown Tucson, it's an easy drive to Kitt Peak, site of the world's largest collection of optical telescopes. Father Coyne picks me up in the VORG 4x4 early in the day, before it gets too hot to travel comfortably. Hurtling across the Sonoran Desert, I nurse an herbal tea. Coyne's been up since 5 am, biking 12 miles and then running 3 more, as he does each day. He's 69 years old.

At 6,875 feet, Kitt Peak is the highest point in the Quinlan range. Twenty-two optical and two radio telescopes cluster atop the mountain, including the university's 90-inch reflector, the Bok. The VORG has a special interest in the evolution of galaxies, and with the Bok they are studying the formation rate of nearby stars.

The question of origin is also of central interest to the Vatican — and has been since the beginning of the Church. For the medievals in particular, the celestial heavens were a metaphor for the theological heaven. During the 16th and 17th centuries, the study of the stars was regarded almost as a branch of theology — "this divine rather than human science," Copernicus called it. Johannes Kepler, the founder of modern astrophysics, famously declared: "For a long time I wanted to become a theologian. Now, behold how through my efforts God is being celebrated in astronomy." Half a century later, Isaac Newton himself attributed the force of gravity to God.

Coyne, too, sees the material world as a manifestation of divine will. "The human person participates in the mystery of God, and so does the universe," he says. But he has no time for creationists and other biblical literalists and is exasperated by those who want to put limits on scientific inquiry. "I have friends who pray that science will never discover or explain certain things. I don't understand that," he declares. "Nothing we learn about the universe threatens our faith. It only enriches it."

But what if we discover other intelligent beings? When NASA scientists announced they had evidence of life on Mars, commentators indulged in an orgy of speculation about the downfall of Christianity should E.T. ever pay us a call. Coyne is amused when I raise the subject. He points out that Catholic theologians considered this question as long ago as the 13th century and unanimously concluded that life in "other worlds" would cause no theological crisis. Since God was a god of plenitude, the great medieval thinkers believed, if other worlds existed they ought to be inhabited.

"In the theological tradition established by Saint Paul," Coyne tells me, "the whole of nature is groaning toward the Christ. That is usually interpreted in an anthropocentric way, but it does not have to be." The question for the medievals was not whether Christianity would collapse, Coyne says, but whether each world would need "its own instantiation of the Christ." Would an intelligent starfish race need a starfish Jesus, or would the human son of Mary be the Savior for all beings? Theologians are still divided, but like Thomas Aquinas, who first pondered the question of alien life, Coyne feels confident that his faith is secure from extraterrestrial attack.

Over the years, Coyne's studies have dovetailed with our growing desire for off-world contact. In the early 1960s, he was working on the surface chemistry of the moon, a subject of special interest to NASA, which was trying to locate a landing site for the Apollo missions. Later, his research shifted to the formation of stars and the evolution of protoplanetary discs, now a major topic in astrobiology. Planets, it's assumed, are the first requirement for any form of life.

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Today, the Vatican Observatory is surveying all the galaxies in the neighborhood of the Milky Way. This is the distinctly unglamorous end of astronomy, which is increasingly obsessed with getting back to the big bang. The farther out in space one looks, the further back in time one sees; and the Beginning is where big reputations are made. By concentrating on nearby galaxies, the Vatican group is expanding what we know about the contemporary universe, which is as far from that apogee as it's possible to get. The VORG's research is unlikely to win any Nobels, but it's important work for astronomy as a discipline.

More than anything, it is this aspect of the VORG that sets it apart. In an age of Everest-sized egos, modesty is in short supply. Yet it is a natural outgrowth of what Ignatius of Loyola stressed as a central aspect of Jesuit life: "ministry," or service to the community. In the 16th century, the original Jesuits tended the poor and the sick; for Coyne and his colleagues, astronomy is their form of community service.

As an astronomer, Coyne has focused on small problems, but as a theologian he has always pursued life's big questions: Why are we here? Where did we come from? Is there a higher purpose? For Coyne and others, the issue is whether science can answer these questions.

In A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking famously argues that his theories make God redundant. Specifically, he says that his "no-boundary cosmology" removes the need for a Creator. If there is no definitive origin to the universe, then there is no need for an originating power.

In the early 1980s, the Vatican invited Hawking to a conference where he, too, had an audience with the Pope. The synthesizer had yet to be installed, and Hawking was still speaking through his own disintegrating vocal cords. Apparently John Paul had trouble understanding and knelt down beside Hawking's wheelchair to hear him better, prompting one scientist to deadpan that "things certainly have changed since Galileo."

Father Coyne was also at the conference. Like most, he is impressed by Hawking's mental agility and does not quibble with his physics. Nonetheless, he finds Hawking's grasp of theology sorely lacking. It is "just silly," Coyne says, "to suggest that this kind of cosmological theory does away with God." Later, Coyne admonished Hawking: "Stephen, God is not a boundary condition."

Coyne rejects much of the current discussion about science and religion. Echoing Immanuel Kant, he insists that belief in God is independent of anything scientists discover. More than two centuries ago, Kant argued that science could never disprove the existence of God. But neither, he said, could it prove Him. That hasn't stopped many people from trying, and today there is a new fashion for the so-called anthropic principle.

Anthropic arguments are based on the notion that the universe has been specially tailored for the emergence of life. On both the cosmological and subatomic scales, from the force of gravity to electromagnetic bonds, the universe is shaped by powers that seem finely tuned for life to evolve. Evidence of an intelligent consciousness that built the very laws of nature?

Coyne dismisses this idea as well. "To imagine a Creator twiddling with the constants of nature is a bit like thinking of God as making a big pot of soup," he declares with a rare flash of sarcasm. A bit more onion, a bit less salt, and presto, the perfect gazpacho. "It's a return to the old vision of a watchmaker God, only it's even more fundamentalist. Because what happens if it turns out there is a perfectly logical explanation for these values of the gravitational constant and so on? Then there'd be even less room for God." In other words, if God is grounded in data, then He is immediately subject to revision every time we get new data — and data tends to improve over time. Coyne sums up his objection to this God of the gaps with an elegant economy: "God is not information," he says. "God is love."

What's missing in "this privileging of the cognitive over the empathetic," as Coyne puts it, is the concept of faith. The crux of the problem is that belief in God requires a leap outside anything science can describe or prove. Coyne insists that this leap does not happen on its own and does not sustain itself. For him at least, it must be continually rekindled: "I thank God constantly that He chose me. But it is not a rock of ages. It's something I have to renew every day."

What Coyne calls "the gift of faith" troubled his old friend Carl Sagan, who once asked him, "George, how come God chose you and not me?" If God is so generous, Sagan wondered, then why has He not extended this gift to us all? Coyne's answer: He has. "God chooses everyone sooner or later," he told Sagan, "but not everyone realizes it." Then, with the solicitude that only a true believer could show toward an avowed atheist, Coyne finished his thought. "I hope, Carl," he said, "that when God chooses you, you will recognize it."

Margaret Wertheim (margaretw@pobox.com) is the author of The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace: A History of Space From Dante to the Internet.

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The "Stray's Prayer"

Dear God,

Please send me somebody who'll care. I am tired of running; I am sick with despair. My body is aching; it is so wreaked with pain.

And dear God,

I pray as I run in the rain, that somebody would love me and give me a home, a warm cosy bed and a big juicy bone. My last owner tied me all day in the yard. Sometimes, with no water, oh God that was really hard! So, I chewed my leash God and I ran away. To rummage in garbage and live as a stray. But now God, I am tired, hungry and cold and I am afraid that I'll never grow old. They have chased me with sticks and hit me with stones while I run the streets just looking for bones. I am not really bad God; please help if you can, for I have become just a victim of man. I am wormy dear God and am ridden with fleas. All I want is an owner to please. If you find one for me God, I'll try to be good. I won't chew their shoes but I'll do as I should. I'll love them, protect them and try to obey when they tell me to sit, to lie down or to stay. I don't think I'll make it too long on my own cause I am getting so weak and I am so all alone. Each night as I sleep in the bushes, I cry cause I am so afraid God that I am going to die. I have so much love and devotion to give, that I should be given a new chance to live.

So dear God,

Please, answer my prayer. Send me someone who will really care.

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My Wife has a delicious home-cooked meal planned for Easter tomorrow. Of course, she isn't the one doing the cooking. It's amazing what you can get for a hundred and eighty dollars per person. They even bring a picnic table. So the lawn furniture that I spent three thousand dollars on can remain in the garage, never touched. And my Wife can just sit there painting her toenails, and we still get to eat. My parents are here for the weekend, which explains why I'm in the office on Saturday afternoon. Dad is wandering the halls, looking for dust that the cleaning staff missed. He loves when he visits and I let him come to work with me. He misses this. I mean, it was never this intense for him, but he misses the atmosphere. He misses having a secretary. He misses having a set of people hanging on his every word. He misses having a reason to wake up in the morning, somewhere to go, someone to talk to. So I bring him here, let him run free, flip through stacks of paper, help me out on a case I don't really need his help on, make him feel marginally useful. I think he appreciates it.

I'll bring him back again on Monday or Tuesday, when there are more people in the office, and let him tell some stories about what it was like back in the day. "Before computers, we had to type out every contract by hand...." Right, dad, it was you, at the typewriter, not some woman making four dollars a week and having to cope with your partner's unwanted advances at the Christmas party. Dad was a good guy. His partner was a creep. Dad tolerated him for way too long, never quite getting up the courage to confront him about anything. His partner ruined the practice for the two of them. They haven't spoken in years. But I'll indulge Dad's stories, and his revisionist history. He doesn't understand the lifestyle today, the added pressure, the around-the-clock nature of the business. He's still stuck in the 1960s.

He was a better father than I am. Mom says he was always at work, but that's not how I remember it. I remember him being there, more often than not. I don't remember work getting in the way when I had a birthday party, or a baseball game, or graduation. I don't even know if I really knew what Dad did until I got to high school. It wasn't something that interfered with life. Meanwhile, my son knows the names of my top ten clients and how many hours I've billed each of them in the past fiscal year. my daughter knows how many times they've been cited for violations under OSHA and how much they've had to pay in fines. It's not as easy as it was before e-mail, before globalization, before this became more than just a job. There's a pressure that wasn't there for Dad, without a seven-figure mortgage, $25,000 private school tuition, $180/person Easter lunches in the backyard....

So while Dad's roaming the hallway, and Mom's with the kids in the shopping mall, buying them who-knows-what and letting them get body parts pierced that I can't even imagine, I'm getting a few hours of catch-up work done so I don't have it on my mind all weekend. I'm realizing I know Conference Room 24B better than I know my living room. I know where the cell phone reception is strongest, I know which chairs wobble, I know which cabinet the extra legal pads are in. I know which window to look out to see the people having more fun than I am, living lives with perhaps a bit less purpose, but more happiness. Sometimes I wish I didn't have quite so much ambition, and was okay settling for a meaningless existence of tennis matches and long drives along the coast. That everything didn't have to have some grander purpose, some goal in mind. It goes by so quickly, what does it matter anyway? No one's going to remember what I accomplish whether I'm chairman of the firm or I sell pottery on the beach. But I'm not like that. Dad wasn't like that, despite the lower pressure at a place like this back then. He wanted to make a mark, somehow. I don't think he realized until too late that what he spent his life doing largely just didn't matter. I mean, it mattered to us -- we got to live in a nice house, in the right neighborhood, go to the right schools... but it didn't matter to the world whether the insurance company won its case or not, whether the settlement was good, whether the contracts were airtight. It was just a means to an end. And this is the end. An old man wandering the halls hoping for someone to tell him he matters.

I like the conference room. There's a peacefulness to it, when it's Saturday afternoon and the file folders aren't covering the desks, and there aren't four paralegals in here stamping every sheet with the "sign here" stickers. Or a client pacing the room, wondering why we have to reprint sheet 74, and why we can't get this done any faster. Maybe I need a conference room at home. For the kids to do their homework, for my Wife to hide the shoes I told her not to buy but she bought anyway, for Dad to act out his own Chairman of the Firm fantasies whenever he comes to visit.

Or maybe I just need a $180/person lunch, complete with its own picnic table. Can't possibly be worth it, but can't possibly be worse than having to do it myself, I suppose.

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