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Mothers and “In Loves”

When I married RFC my mother, Dora Braun, barely spoke English and so it happened that she referred to my spouse as her “son in love” rather than son in law. When I attempted to correct her she simply pointed out that the law had nothing to do with it. “Love not law is what brought you together,” she proclaimed.

As time went on I was blessed with numerous “In Loves” and I came to realize that the love that brought them into my life is special and can even last beyond legal divorces.

Since my own divorce, decades ago, I have spent Easter with Eric, my oldest child and his family. That feast, being a moveable one, sometimes falls close to April Fools Day, their son Alex’s birthday.

Oma, (Mutti) used to refer to that part of our family as The Holy Family because of her deep admiration for the incredible patience Eric and Mary displayed as parents and the deep compassion they shared for and with each other. Over the years both my mother and I developed a deep bond with Mary.

This Easter season I realized again the importance of Love (Philia not Eros) as the foundational connection in all family matters.
Eros is the intense, passionate love, where romantic feelings come from. It is present in the beginning of relationships that are connected with sex and emotions. It is seldom a lasting love, but it can turn into that.

Philia is the love of friendship, that grows beyond good feelings to become a mutual commitment. A love of equals, united in a common purpose. Philia refers to love based on mutual respect, shared devotion, joint interest, and common values. It is the type of love required to create and protect families and tribes.

So when I think of all my “In Loves” I think of all those who share the desire to keep the family connected and share responsibility to heal when wounding occurs.

When Mutti died, I became the family matriarch and Mother’s Day has become bittersweet. Our children do celebrate me and I celebrate all mothers of grand and great children but deep down I feel like an orphaned child. I simply hope that my prayerful good wishes reach my mother wherever she might live on.

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Away from Home

Following our divorce I decided to spend holidays away from home: Thanksgiving with Christopher, Christmas with Stephen and our daughters (Gabriella, Noelle & Natalie), and Easter with Eric.

Home has taken on new meaning without the father in the house and during these pandemic times, the meaning of family shifted again.

Clint Smith writes in the March 22 issue of the Atlantic:

…with our climate on the cusp of irreversible catastrophe, I have spent more time than ever before contemplating how each of our fates is inextricably linked to the actions of everyone else. Home is more than simply the residence where we sleep. It is the people we hold, and the planet that holds us.

At first, letting go of having my home be the center of all family celebrations transformed into hosting an annual family reunion at Himmelblau Haus on Kelleys Island. Then, when I followed family & friends advice to sell HBH before turning 80, simply becoming more present, has become my Leitmotif.

As the kids were growing up, much of my time was dedicated to political endeavors, my spouses and my own. In retrospect I wish I had better understood the importance of mother’s presence in the lives of our children. In those years I saw a good mothers task to create space for growth and independence for children by setting the example myself. They did grow up and I am growing old and all of us are independent but what I neglected was to create a safe space of belonging.

I suppose we either recreate our own home of origin or its opposite depending on how happy or miserable we experienced our childhood selves to have been?

My father was no fun to be with, in fact wounded by his war experience he was demanding and destructive. My mother while present and loving, was unappreciated, stuck at home and powerless. When I fled home I wanted to be nothing like them and free to reinvent my own family and home.

In following my call to ordination I finally learned to appreciate the paradox of presence in both its fragility and strength. The two sides of Ordination finally set me free to follow my heart’s desire, not as parental/patriarchal presider and preacher, but as priestly presence.

I used to believe that satisfaction/happiness is getting what I want? But over the years I have come to realize that satisfaction/joy is wanting what I am given.

One of the insights that earned Daniel Kahnemann & Amos Tversky the 2002 Nobel Prize in Economics is that “…our urge for more is quite powerful, but stronger still is our resistance to less.”

This is why now I can honestly say, that I am deeply grateful for the hard lessons I learned from my parents, the many painful teachings, for better and for worse, I received from my spouse and the growing I was privileged to participate & witness with all our children and grandchildren.

I trust that as long as I have breath, just being lovingly present, close and away from home is enough. My promise to present & future great grandkids and other sentient being, in & around me is simply this:

From now on……with God’s help, I am going to be present in person and in spirit always.

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Open Heart Process

What helps me navigate through these dark times is the process of keeping an “open” heart.

Years ago we started a coalition of Ohio peace-making groups called OPEN (Ohio Peacemaking Education Network). The range of participants was extensive. Folks working against violence at home and abroad, folks educating each other in conflict resolution, folks remembering Sadako’s story of a thousand cranes, others working on transcultural and interdenominational understanding, anti racism educators and inter generational memory keepers working to never forget the horrors of the holocaust, mental health and disability advocates, and activists working against homelessness and exclusion of gay folks. Together we worked and on addiction recovery programs and many more needed changes. Lots of people of good will, intent on transforming boundaries into bridges.

In the year 2000 some of us created the Tyrian Network, a learning community whose mission continues to be to empower creativity healing and peace.

Then in 2002, after our Danube 7 ordination, Renie and other friends began to gather at monthly First Friday agape meals to learn about heart-based spiritualities and other ways to participate personally and politically by heart ❤️.

Over time we learned that open heart process is about trading fear for vulnerability and finding the courage to soften hardened hearts. We also came to value the present moment and change, rather than fear uncertainty.

Just recently I learned from Pema Chödrön a the simple way to find my way to reality. When depressed, fearful or anxious, just pause… take 3 deep breaths. Simple breath will bring you to the present moment where we can usually find something real to be grateful for.

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Providence will prevail

Putin, fearful and weak, means to do harm to democracy, but he too has to wake up and learn that evil never has the last word.

Watching Arnold Schwarzenegger call on Russians of good will to resist this criminal war, opened my eyes to another facet of my own misconception of who and what was to blame in my own family’s post World War I & II internalized hostility.

My fathers brother-in-law was so blinded by Hitler’s propaganda that in front of our whole family, kids and all, he pulled his revolver and would have shot down his wife’s brother had she not thrown herself in front of them. My grandmother on my father’s side, at heart a royalist to the end, always preferred her oldest son because he was a faithful patriot, a Nazi officer, a believer in autocracy to the end. Meanwhile, my grandmother on my mother’s side despised what Hitler and Nazis stood for, to the point of siding with the allied forces, including the Russians, occupying my home town.

To this day, I am uncertain what motivated my father to simply go underground. Perhaps he was fed up with the hypocrisy of Hitlers war? Perhaps he simply dreamed of a small place on neutral ground, real Lebensraum, breathing space? Perhaps, like some of the young Russian soldiers in Ukraine today, he no longer understood or believed monstrous, patriotic lies?

Still, to the end, our family never found the peace they fought for. My father’s mother never got along with my mother’s mother, and the brothers and brother-in-laws never again saw eye-to-eye politically.

Falling in love with an American, and worse yet an aspiring Democratic politician, turned out to be a temporary safe haven. Becoming an American was providence showing me a way beyond the old rebellions and revolutions, into Neuland. An escape beyond old empires and kingdoms toward new kin-doms. Still unresolved hatreds of the past are raging and continuing to poison the possibility of envisioning a beloved community.

Now, in my eighties, the best I can do is continuing to learn how to open my heart to the past and gratefully accept the lessons of the present. Grateful to my mother’s mother for teaching me to forgive enemies, my mother for opening my mind to new worlds, my father for refusing to obey wrong orders, my father’s mother for teaching me to value gold and appreciate the beauty and grandeur of past cultures.

Finally, a special word of thanks to my Italian stepmother for protecting my child’s soul and teaching me that all healing depends on empathy and learning by heart.

So, as I look at Cleveland’s skyline reflecting in the great Erie sea I trust that providence knows what She is doing. May young men like our mayor and old men like our president continue to envision healthy communities, and may we together dream to meet all peoples needs. Then with God’s help we will overcome what is ours to overcome.

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Ver Sacrum / Holy Spring

In 1897 the Vienna Secession was born. It was the second attempt, artists and creatives came together to honor beauty and youth in defiance to the old order.

The movement’s first publication in 1892 was named “Jugend” later the whole movement became known as “Jugendstil.” The concept of “Secession” came from the historical “secessio plebis” when dissatisfied roman citizens threatened to leave the city and create a new Rome outside the old walls.

Today in the reborn Austrian republic the motto above the entrance of the the new Secession structure reads again:

Der Zeit ihre Kunst
Der Kunst ihre Freiheit

It was forcefully removed twice. The first time in 1905 when the Klimt Group left and the second time in 1938 when Hitler occupied Austria.

The title “Ver Sacrum” comes from a poem by Ludwig Uhland entitled ,“Weihefruehling” (Holy Spring):

… you have heard what pleases god.
Go, get ready and listen to stillness.
You are the seeds of a new world.
The Holy Spring that god wills …

Between Ash Wednesday and Transfiguration we have come almost halfway through Lent 2022. And so far … just when we started to imagine light at the end of this darkness … more waves of hatred and violence wash over us and through us. How much more emptiness can we open ourselves to? Might we find new ways , greener pastures, if we learn to transfigure even righteous anger into empathy?

Might we voluntarily increase our capacity to share others’s experiences of shame, humiliation and pain by opening our hearts to the paranoid pain, experienced by the little boy inside Putin, born into the traumatic experience of twenty million WWII dead and becoming a man in the midst of the shame and humiliation of loosing the Soviet Union out of the blue?

Might we gratefully empathize with our own old, weary-yet-wise president and heed his call to limit our seemingly insatiable lust for violence and victories?

Might we find it in our hearts to turn over peacemaking to Jesus and spend more money helping him heal the wounds of war rather than continuing to waste our planets limited resources on making profits by selling guns at home and weapons abroad? Could we possibly awaken to the reality that humility rather than hubris is the way of true victory over personal ego and political egomania? Perhaps then we might learn to value solitude, rather than going it alone. Discover the hidden good god of the great silence and gentle breeze, rather than the noisy gods of addiction, violence, and bloody battle?

Could we then, one fine day, content ourselves with simply being human? Of the earth for now, co-creative and co-responsible for all life on earth.

Then together we might find better ways to worship the gifts of spring with rituals dedicated to beauty, rather than memorializing and immortalizing curse, violence, and death?

When a few days ago fasting and dealing with childhood trauma left me depleted and exhausted, my faithful friend Rannigan stopped by with blessings and Kaya Oakes’ 2021 book The Defiant Middle: How Women Claim Life’s In-betweens to Remake the World.

What a timely work! Oakes dedicated the book to her family’s young ones and to Mary Ward (1585-1645), my mothers role model, who lived and died simply asserting her hope that “in time girls will come to do much.”

And so, as my mother taught me the day my sister died: “dum spiro spero,” as long as she is breathing, there is hope.

And hope like ver sacrum, defiantly returns and gracefully keeps breathing life in-between faith and love.

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The Rose in the Vase

The rose in the vase
No longer blooms yet still dreams
To grow roots again

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Mariazell

When I graduated from Neuland Schule our class decided to forfeit a trip to Italy or to some other fancy vacation spot and instead chose to show our gratitude for passing our traumatizing matura exams by doing a pilgrimage to Mariazell, the almost 1,000 year old Marian shrine in Austria.

In 1157 Monk Magnus brought the small statue carved from lime-tree wood. She later came to this valley of the river Salza amid the northern Styrian Alps. He named her Maria in the cell which later became the name for settlement of Mariazell.

Joseph Haydn wrote a piece named the Mariazeller Mass. When the chapel that had grown into a gothic church was completely destroyed by the All Souls fire in 1827, the Magna Mater Austria herself, as she became known, escaped. She has survived all fires and wars so far.

In 1907 the rebuilt shrine was declared a Basilica Minor. In 1945 the red army vandalized the shrine and forced the defeated and demoralized, dirt poor inhabitants of the tiny town to house 5,000 men.

The memory of our Mariazell high school pilgrimage came back to me as I watched the red army on the March again terrorizing Ukrainians.

Since 1990, thanksgiving freedom pilgrimages from the former eastern block have annually made their way to Mariazell. As a child I was told that it was prayers to Magna Mater Mary that saved Austria from becoming absorbed into the former Soviet Union, and again that it was thanks to many fervent rosaries that Austria was eventually freed from foreign occupation altogether, and so transformed imperial nationalism into a neutral republic.

While political neutrality is only as effective as others respect for it, the attempt to renounce war is a worthy experiment that saved Switzerland from two world wars and might save Austria and Ukraine from the threat of a third one.

Neutrality is not indifference or disinterest, nor does it deny the importance of protecting political borders or personal boundaries. Neutrality is an exercise in empathy and detachment, a way of respecting self and others enough to help build bridges between warring factions.

It takes some degree of objectivity to make scientific discoveries. Perhaps rededicating themselves to political neutrality might help Ukrainians find a way out of the morass of violence and war Putin is inflicting on them?

My mother, Thea-Dora Prohaska-Braun was praying the rosary every day for us, her family, and throughout her final agony. As a little girl I learned to pray the beads on road trips with my foster mother Dr. Maria Scrivanich. May we all learn to invoke the ancient Magna Mater and entrust us and our world to her protection.

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When will we ever learn?

We are doomed to relive lessons we refuse to learn.

  1. No war has ever brought peace.
  2. Violence aggravates and magnifies any problem.

When victors humiliate losers they create the circumstances that fuel hate, resentments, and revenge. At home we struggle with the inevitable results of an unresolved civil war. Abroad we are up against unresolved World War I and World War II defeats.

The collapse and humiliation of the Soviet Union created the insanity festering in Putin’s brain, just like the daily beatings by his stepfather created the murderous paranoia of Hitler, and incessant put downs by his father created Trumps incapacity to accept even minor personal defeats much less major political ones.

This is toxic masculinity sweeping across the globe. While we need to defend against and respond to such phenomena, we need to be “cunning like serpents and gentle like doves.”

This is not an either/or proposition. Peace cannot thrive as long as the warrior mentality rules. Authoritarian dictators may be evil, but more likely every one of them is very sick. They need to personally be forcefully restrained.

Mercilessly humiliating whole nations only multiplies the trauma. Traumatized people create traumatizing systems. On 9/11 we had an opportunity to respond from this healthier paradigm. Instead we went to war. Brexit folks are still responding to the loss of the British empire and Austrians still dream of the good old days of the Emperor.

But the difference between us and Putin or Trump is that some of us have learned to be humble without feeling humiliated. Some have learned that to love our enemies does not mean letting them violate us personally or politically. It simply means we recognize we are interdependent, or as Thich Nhat Hanh called it: interbeing.

Therefore it benefits us to act personally as human beings even when confronted by inhuman politics. Edith Stein wrote that “we must try to overcome evil in such a way as to benefit the evil doer.”

AA spirituality teaches us to ask: “God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

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Luke 1:26-38

Das offene Herz
Erlaubt Licht ins Innere
Die Knospe blüht auf

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Haiku Spirit

The red tulip 🌷 opens
Her eye to welcome by ❤️
This happy love day