Where Does God Live?

“My God! What a wonderful title and what a beautiful description… Servants of the Poor! It is the same as saying Servants of Jesus Christ, for He regards as done to Himself what is done to them. What did he do on earth but serve the poor?”

–St. Vincent de Paul

Does God live in _____? Our three year old has become fascinated with all the places that God lives. Each day we go through a litany of places where God might live. God lives in our hearts? Yes. Does God live in our mouths? Yes. Does God live in the big trees? Yes. Does God live in the little trees? Also, yes. Does God in the mountains? Yes. Does God live on the streets? Yes. In today’s Gospel, upon recognizing Jesus, the disciples ask him where he is staying so that they might go there and meet him there. Each time my daughter asks if Jesus lives somewhere, my answer is always yes. She takes delight in asking me ridiculous places that God might live– in the street, inside her mouth– she laughs and then tries to think of even more places. 

Today we commemorate St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, a woman religious who founded the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul and provided the framework for Catholic education in the United States. In a particular way, she and the Vincentian fathers  recognized Jesus in the poor. To care for and educate the poor (through schools, parishes, Meals on Wheels, social services, etc) is to care for Jesus in the poor, the migrant, the homeless. Does Jesus live on the street? Yes, Jesus lives on the street. 

My cousin (who is a Daughter of Charity) recently shared with me that one of their parishes in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district welcomes the homeless to sleep in the Church during the day. Oftentimes when the school Masses are happening, the homeless are asleep in the pews. “The Eucharist is present on the altar and in the pews,” she says.Just as John the Baptist proclaimed “Behold, the Lamb of God” in the person of Jesus, the Daughters of Charity proclaim “Behold, the Lamb of God” in the lives of the poor they serve. 

When we ask Jesus, “Where are you staying? Where do you live?” what response do we hear? Do I hear Jesus saying to me personally, “I want to live with you”? Do I hear Jesus saying, “Come and meet me in the streets, among the poor, with the forgotten”? 

Where is Jesus inviting me to meet him today?

For a great laugh and a fantastic image of joyful presence among the poor, watch local Daughters of Charity perform “Happy”. 

Unexpected Epiphany

“Do not love the world or the things of the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  Yet the world and its enticement are passing away.  But whoever does the will of God remains forever.”
1 JN 2:15, 17

My house is filled with the things of this world… overflowing in fact.  Our kids especially were recipients of the generosity of aunts, uncles, godparents, grandparents and friends. Due to the massively delayed mail, it seems like each day of the Christmas season has brought even more surprises. Since December 24 we have been putting LEGO sets together, riding scooters, and cuddling the multitude of new stuffed animals. 

But today the kids went to tend the grave of a dear family friend who died in February. We had promised the family we would remove a little Christmas tree before the groundskeepers would come to clear the flowers and decorations this week. Our six year old, Paul, had been asking to visit the grave and took his job today very seriously. The sight when we got out of the car was almost overwhelming. Nearly every grave was covered in Christmas decorations: tinsel trees, nativities, poinsettias. One arrangement even included the Grinch.   

Our four-year-old daughter Clare remarked, “it’s like a giant birthday party for all these people in heaven.”

After clearing the grave and replacing the tree with fresh flowers, we prepared to leave. But Paul wanted to stay longer “visiting” our beloved neighbor. Meanwhile, Clare noticed that the recent rain and wind had blown over a lot of the decorations on other graves. Ornaments had scattered into the grass and some had been crushed. She gently straightened and redecorated the trees. The kids imagined the people: who were they, how did they die? Did they have the coronavirus? 

These other families will never know a small child visited their loved one’s grave. Just being there drew out their own sense of compassion and kindness. I’ve already promised them a visit to the Sisters’ plot at another Catholic cemetery. They can’t wait to visit the graves of the Sisters they knew, but also the Sisters they never knew.  I didn’t set out to include a cemetery tour in the Octave of Christmas, but it turned out to be a wonderful gift. 

The wise men brought symbols of both life and death: gold, frankincense and myrrh. We watched other families bury their loved ones today. We looked around at the unique decorations and offerings on the tombs: tangible outpourings of love, grief, and healing. Our offering is small compared to the gifts the wise men carried to present to the newborn king. 

As I journey with the wise men towards the manger, what gift might I already be carrying with me? With whom might God be inviting me to share that gift? 

Is It You Who Will Build a House for Me?

Fourth Sunday of Advent
“Here I am living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God dwells in a tent!”  – 2 Samuel 7

The jangle of keys, the click of the lock on the front door, the rustle of the laundry basket. Small sounds like these have trained our one-year-old Matthew, “something is happening.” He comes running down the hall, slipping and sliding in his hurry to be involved. “Mama? Maaamaaa?!” Most of his life has been in quarantine. Outings are to the garage to load the washing machine, to the car to do a drive-up order at Target, and sometimes to grandma’s to be babysat while I work. There have been no baby music or tumbling classes. Unlike his older siblings, who had taken flights, gone to Disneyland, visited extended family on the opposite end of the state, Matthew’s life has been moving between the bedroom, the kitchen, the living room, and the most exciting part of the house: the garage. 

In March, I never could have imagined how small our world would shrink and for how long. My little shadow could barely roll over when this started, and now his footsteps thunder around the hallways. Our house doesn’t feel big enough for school, work, Zoom ballet class, and active kids.  The walls begin to feel like they are closing in on us. My world feels small, my house feels small, I feel small. I lament all the things that feel wrong with my house, beyond the endless ToDo lists and constant cleaning. 

In the first reading today, King David is horrified that the ark of the covenant is residing in a tent, while he lives in luxury. Through the Prophet Nathan, God tells David, “Is it you who will build a house for me?” I hear that query and wonder how I could answer.  All I have to offer Jesus is a couch with a sagging cushion and slightly chipped frame, a floor covered in Barbies, and bookshelves filled edge to edge with LEGOs.

What I have to offer Jesus seems so small: kitchen, family room, garage. The sacred space I have is the world that Matthew sees through his little eyes. This year, these four walls (and the people who dwell in them) are the only manger I have for the Holy Family.  It may be crowded, chaotic, and slightly sticky, but I trust it is a place that Jesus will want to come, to visit, to make a home. 

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

“Yes, and” or “Yes, but”

“She hears no voice, accepts no correction; In the LORD she has not trusted, to her God she has not drawn near… You need not be ashamed  of all your deeds, your rebellious actions against me.” ZEP 3:2,11

In Improv training, actors are taught the “yes, and” principle: to accept what is happening as reality and build off of that new information. This creativity and receptiveness is part of what makes improv spontaneous and fun. My daughter, on the other hand, takes the “yes, but” approach to any direction, correction, or vain pleading.

Me: “It’s time to clean up the toys.”
Her: “Oh, but the [imaginary] cat is still eating those legos for a snack.” 

Also me: “It’s time for a bath.”

Also her: “Yes, but, I’m Clare the Cat. Clare the kid is on vacation.”

Still me: “Okay, there is no more dessert today. I keep catching you eating chocolate chips out of the baking supplies.”
Still her: “Oh, that was Clare the Cat. I am Clare the Kid again and I have not had any dessert today.”

From an Improv sketch, this might be hilarious. In real life, the whole ordeal is infuriating, pull your hair out, crazy-making, frustration. She is relentless. When St. Ignatius talks about the false spirit wearing you down like a petulant child, this is the scenario he is referring to. It is not overtly evil, blatantly disregarding authority. She looks at me so sweetly, with a hopeful look in her eye, as if to say, “I bet you never thought of that?!” I resign myself to the fact that a four-year-old has already outsmarted me. I give in to her far more than I should because I am just so tired. Her “Yes, but…” closing off listening, cooperation, and co-creation. 

“Yes, and…” she is four. “Yes, and…” she is not an Improv actor. She is learning her ability to imagine, to impact the world around her. It is all necessary and – ultimately – good; but it is hard for the parent calling a daughter to listening, cooperation, and co-creation.

And then in all humility, I realize that I am no better in my conversations with God.  He just doesn’t give in to me the way I relent and give in to her. God is not wearied in the same way I am.

God: “You’ve been coasting along and not really allowing yourself to grow.”

Me: “Yes, but next year.”

Also God: “I know you are frustrated and discouraged right now. What is it that you are needing right now?”

Also me: “Yes but, let me moan and lament all the hard things a little longer. I am not really willing to fix them.”

Still God: “I love you just as you are. There is no need to change. I just want you to enjoy deeper peace, greater life, and gentle hope.”

Still me: “Yes but, that is scary and hard.”

The further we push God away, the more adrift we feel, and the harder it can be to realign ourselves. In the season of Advent, the readings invite us to make greater room to listen and hear God’s voice. When I read the line “She hears no voice, accepts no correction; In the LORD she has not trusted, to her God she has not drawn near…” I felt like I was hearing myself complain about my daughter. But more importantly, a few verses later, the prophet Zephaniah reminds us,  “You need not be ashamed  of all your deeds, your rebellious actions against me.” 

God takes all of Clare’s (and my) excuses, faults, and shortcomings and continues to reply, “Yes, and I still love you.” 

Beautiful Things

Friday of the First Week of Advent

“One thing I ask of the LORD… That I may gaze on the loveliness of the LORD and contemplate his temple.” – Psalm 27

“I am looking for things that are beautiful.” The eye rolls, the snarky replies, the know-it-all smirks. I get this kind of teenager attitude a lot from my four-year-old daughter. So many of the outfits I suggest for school or pajamas I offer that are seasonally appropriate are considered “not beautiful enough” for her. She even makes up words to reject my suggestions. “That is too harbor-saucy.” I still do not know what that means.  Recently, I discovered her painstakingly coloring her school shoes in with Crayola crayons. “They were too beige.” After a moment of frustration, I found myself gazing on loveliness. I took pictures of the formerly beige shoes to remember this moment in time.  Each day she has proudly worn them, I have smiled at her whimsy and appreciated her unique personality. 

Like her school shoes, I have felt beige, tired, and shabby. I am constantly lacking: at spending quality time with my husband and kids, at keeping the housework under control, at getting Christmas gifts purchased and mailed, and staying on top of important deadlines. Each day is filled with distractions and reminders of my own failures. As 2020 reaches a crescendo, I am tired and worn. I feel just a little too beige.


When I am discouraged by the current state of affairs or tempted to judge other people’s actions, the words of today’s Psalm shift my perspective. “That I may gaze on the loveliness of the LORD and contemplate his temple.” This world around us, even right now, is the place where God is in-dwelling in humankind. It is the world the Christ-child enters into.

I imagine God is looking into humanity: with all its fighting, suffering, illness, and loneliness. I imagine God seeing beyond those challenges to the dignity within each person, to the care between neighbors, to the willingness to go (far) beyond our individual and collective comfort zones for the sake of one another. 

Like my artist of a daughter, God sees the potential waiting to be unleashed- even within me. God looks into my beige heart and sees a myriad of color. “I am looking for something beautiful.” 

What if that something beautiful God is seeking, is me?

A Stolen Advent

Second Sunday of Advent, December 6, 2020

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief,

and then the heavens will pass away with a mighty roar

and the elements will be dissolved by fire,

and the earth and everything done on it will be found out. – Peter 3:10

The tracking numbers, the phone calls with the post office, emails with the seller. It did not seem possible, but it is official now. Someone has stolen our Advent. 

More precisely, someone stole the awesome, now sold-out Advent kit I ordered.  This kit was going to make our Advent…. So we could really immerse ourselves in the activities, prepare our children for the season when little else they expect is happening.  But instead, Advent was stolen.

Our long standing traditions are cancelled. My preparation for Christmas won’t involve gatherings with my closest friends and family members. There will be no lengthy meals or cross-country flights; no sitting on Santa’s lap or Nutcracker Ballet. I have not even entered a mall to purchase Christmas gifts. Instead I have bought most things online and ended up with fraud on my credit card too… My craft kit, my credit card, and many things I hold dear…. All of them stolen. 

I feel uneasy. If these things can so easily be stolen, if I can be taken advantage of like this, where else is my safety in jeopardy? In today’s  second reading, the false prophets instill doubt in the people. Maybe God isn’t even in control anymore? This is all no longer a part of salvation history.

But like a thief, God has snuck in where I least expected Him.  God has been stealing moments, forcing my eyes to see and my ears to hear. My eyes cannot ignore the long lines of cars backed up on city streets, awaiting the contactless distribution from the food pantry. My ears cannot forget the little boy on my son’s Zoom who casually mentions not having enough to eat. My heart aches for dear friends whose lives are crumbling like a house of cards right now. I feel the loneliness in being helpless. 

Like John the Baptist prepares the way for the Lord, the people around me are directing my attention towards what is still to come. A vaccine, a cure, peace. When tempted to despair, I am reminded  there is hope. 

My Advent was stolen, but not by porch pirates or cyber criminals. What I thought I needed for Advent was taken from me, and I’ve been invited by Jesus to something new. I was captured by the One who opens locked doors and barricaded hearts. 

What I’ve Been Looking For

And coming forward at that very time, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.  – Luke 2:38

For the past several years we have visited the San Jose “Christmas in the Park” with a close friend (our younger son’s godfather) on the day after Christmas. The 2-acre park in downtown San Jose is covered in animated figures and displays along with hundreds of trees decorated by community or school groups. The trees include handmade ornaments from Girl Scout Troops, tributes to recently deceased people, high school physics projects… you name it, someone has put it on a tree. We are always on the lookout for something truly unique, truly weird, and truly outrageous. This year, the winner was a dinosaur skeleton eating a donut with a nest full of Easter eggs. When I spotted it, I cried out “Dan! We have found the winner!” Each year we don’t know what we are looking for, but we know we will find it. 

In today’s readings, the prophetess Anna has spent years awaiting the Messiah. When Mary and Joseph arrive with the newborn child at the temple, she recognizes the truth before her. The redemption of Israel has come in ways that were unexpected, shocking, and even seemingly ridiculous.  From the very beginning of Jesus’ life, there were people who recognized Jesus for who He was… the salvation of Israel. We can assume that the prophetess was long deceased by the time of Jesus’ public ministry, and yet in her faith she glimpsed what was to come.

The gift of the Christ child makes for a charming Christmas pageant (that my own and so many other children participated in last week). Yet the readings today remind us that he has come to undertake a mission far more difficult, scandalous, and radical than being born to an unwed mother in unsavory conditions. I am tempted to try to understand the meaning of God’s plans, to rationalize the difficult things that have happened or to hold too fast to the gifts I have received out of fear of losing them.  Sometimes wrapping my mind and heart around God’s dreams (for me and others) feels like looking at a Christmas-Easter dinosaur skeleton eating sugary carbs. It makes no sense, it is ridiculous, but I know I can delight in it.

Do I sense God revealing himself to me in unexpected or surprising ways today?

Unashamed

“He was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame…” -Matthew 1:19

My sister recently received a Christmas card from a friend that included the line, “Most days I’m okay,” admitting how difficult the previous year had been for her. Moments of total honesty like this are rare amidst the typical glitter-covered, premium cardstock Christmas greetings filling the mailbox. There is a temptation to only report on the highlights of the previous year (and not the low points). In our annual family photos, we want our children perfectly posed and smiling sweetly. But the daily reality of our lives is messy, boogery, rambunctious chaos. Why sit demurely amidst the Christmas decorations when you could swim through the oversized ornaments with reckless abandon?  Around the family Christmas table (or the office holiday party punch bowl) we can feel pressured to put on a perfect face. To minimize the struggles we face. The fear of shame is greater than the desire for meaningful encounters. 

In today’s Gospel, Joseph tries to do the “right” thing that will save face and avoid scandal, while protecting Mary’s life and dignity. When the angel of the Lord appears to Joseph and confirms the deeper truths around Mary’s circumstances, the Lord is also calling Joseph to drag a scandalous situation into the light and claim it. To air the dirty laundry and take whatever grief may come in doing so.

The gift God has prepared for Joseph is beyond anything he could possibly imagine. Sometimes the righteous response means looking beyond the written law to the spirit, recognizing the deeper truth. Our Catholic tradition is filled with examples of saints, and other holy men and women, who protest unjust laws or practices. Those who face ridicule, arrest, and even martyrdom for standing with the poor, the marginalized, and the disenfranchised. It’s earnestly attempting to connect with the family members with whom we normally have conflict. 

Sometimes wrestling fear is as futile as wrangling a toddler into fancy clothes for a picture. What if we stopped allowing that fear to control us? 

Are there aspects of myself (or my beliefs) that I’m fearful of allowing others to see? What might it look like to live from a place of greater freedom, and less shame?