Healing: Near and Far

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​One of the wonderful things about visiting a place steeped in saints is finding a new one; an unheard of one, at least unheard of by me. When I mentioned to our cousins about traveling to Wales to pilgrimage at my confirmation saint’s holy well, he immediately scoffed. “Ach, why ya goin’ there? We’ave one just up the road; that way, then left.”

When we returned from Wales, we indeed went right up the road and discovered a place of quiet beauty, spirituality pressing down from the clouds and whispering through the grass of the graveyard. Set between a field of sheep and a tremendous lake – Lough Neagh – and just below the ruins of an old church was the holy well of St. Olcan.

St. Olcan was a contemporary of St. Patrick. It is said that Patrick found Olcan as a baby with his deceased mother. He became a disciple of Patrick’s and founded the Armoy Monastery in Antrim, very near where his well stands today. After travels to Rome and Gaul, he was ordained by Patrick and became the first bishop in Ireland. Another story is that his mother was Patrick’sw sister, but of course, there’s no real way to verify that. Patrick did have a warm spot for Olcan, having taken him under his wing, becoming his mentor and in addition, gave to him some of the relics of Sts. Peter and Paul that had been in Armagh.

St. Olcan’s feast day is June 29, which corresponds with the pilgrimage to his shrine between May Eve and June 29 and the day that the water has risen so far that the amber pebbles overflow onto the land, making them easier to access. Pilgrims would come during that time for three consecutive days, walking the stations, bathing in the well, and praying for healing.

L-R: Holy water from St. Olcan’s well, two pebbles from the well and one stone from the Cranfield Church. (c)2017


Olcan blessed the well with healing properties.
The rising water brings the stones, and swallowing a pebble protects one from drowning, women in childbirth, and having them in homes protects them from fire and burglary.

I was told to bring a rag or some sort of cloth, dip it in the well, and wash the area on my body that needed healing. Then I was to tie the rag onto the tree (where there were dozens of other rags), and when it deteriorated, my affliction would be healed. While some holy wells are meant to drink, I’m not sure that this is one of those wells. Certainly, the directions do not include drinking or ingesting, and when I collected some for my ailment, it was brownish and had sediment floating in it. By contrast, the two other wells I visited were much cleaner and were meant to be drank.

He is also said to be buried at the church on the hill above the well. What’s left of the Cranfield Church is the ruins of a 13th century church, but that church was built and stands on the site of an earlier church.

Saint Olcan’s Well and Shrine on the shores of Lough Neagh adjacent to a sheep farm, just below the ruins of Cranfield Church. (c)2017


One of the things that amazed me about this church, and really many of the medieval buildings that I’ve visited is the sturdiness. Most are without roofs, and Cranfield was no exception, but the walls stood tall; sturdy. I am a toucher, and I ran my fingers along the cold stones, and leaned through window spaces and on walls to get just the right pictures at just the right angles, and I never felt unsafe.
Today, I was reminded of St. Olcan and his Holy Well when I attended my parish’s semi-annual  Anointing Mass. It was well attended. There is Scripture, music, a blessing and the anointing of the oil of the infirm and receving the Eucharist. There is also a community lunch. Today was turkey and mashed potatoes. I could eat turkey and mashed potatoes every day. I find the camaraderie and the fellowship of the meal as well as the coming together of our community just as healing as the prayers and the anointing.

Clockwise: From the anointing mass: Turkey luncheon, Music: I Know That My Redeemer Lives, Ornament table favor. (c)2017


Tomorrow, I will post pictures of St. Olcan’s well and the Cranfield Church. For now, take a few moments, and just be with your thoughts or no thoughts. Take a few breaths, and recharge. Don’t forget to exhale.

Travel Thursday – Anxiety

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​As much as I love the idea of traveling, and the actual visiting places, the anxiety associated with the anticipation of planning is one of the most debilitating and horrible things to deal with. It’s something that needs to get done, or the trip itself is a no-go, but starting the planning…

And it isn’t even the actual planning. I love the listmaking, and the reading the tour books, researching what i want to do when I get there. It’s the starting. The monumental decision of putting the money into non-refundable tickets. Hitting that send or buy or submit button takes three times as long as filling out the information on the forms.

In the case of our Ireland trip this summer, it isn’t just buying plane tickets; it’s renting a car. There’s the anxiety of finalizing the search with a credit card number, but there is also the shortness of breath and shaking hands just thinking about driving in the UK again.

After eight years back, I thought I was ready. The memory a cry in the distance, but the closer it gets to reserving a car and planning a route from the airport to the cousins and the cities, and the ferry to Wales, my stomach jumps up into my throat and I feel a choking sensation. I can’t imagine what it will be like to get on the plane with this feeling gnawing at me.

It’s almost unbearable, and there is no earthly reason to feel this way at this moment, weeks in advance of actually having to do it.

My kids are coming, so compiled in all of that stress is the stress of pretending that there is nothing to be anxious about to soothe their own normal, rational fears, so I must hide my own, some irrational fears, but fears all the same.

I feel quite sick writing about it right now.

I vividly remember the white knuckles, the terror of every intersection, every roundabout, reminding myself to breathe, the post-it note on the dashboard telling me to turn into the left lane, always the left lane, thanking G-d at every church passed, the slight sound of scraping as I inched too close to the town wall.

It’s all coming back to me.

Not the feelings a few years later that maybe I could do it again; I got through it once, and it wasn’t that bad, but the anxious screaming IT WAS THAT BAD, PLEASE DON’T MAKE ME!!!

But as with all things, it will be okay.

Between that time and now, I have received many tools to get me through this one little hitch that seems so overwhelming, but I can get through it; I know it.

One of those is a diagnosis and treatment for the elevated anxiety that falls into the not quite normal range of emotion and brain chemistry as well as the same for depression, not entirely unrelated, but the destination will assist in alleviating any extra. I have a therapy session planned for a week prior as well as reconciliation with my priest. Not for anything specific, but you know…anxiety and such.

Another thing was something I heard at one of my first masses, actually it was at my first healing mass, the anointing of the sick. My entire life, no matter how severe, no  matter how stressful, no matter how bad, I would tell myself that it would be okay. I didn’t necessarily believe it, but just saying it to myself did have a calming affect.

At that first anointing, my priest quoted St. Julian of Norwich, subseequently a new found favorite of mine.

All will be well.

All will be well.

In all manner of things,

all will be well.

How perfect, and how needed, then and now.

Yes, I’m still anxious, and som of it will be debilitating, but all will be well.

Instagramming Across May

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When I first heard about Instagram, I thought, oh no, not another social media thingy. But once I began to use it, I really enjoyed it. Especially the way I can post directly from it to my Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Because those two latter ones are more anonymous than my FB, I do need to be careful not to post any identifying information or at least to be aware of it when I do.

In getting my new smartphone, I’ve discovered that its camera is better than my camera-camera and my Kindle camera and having 4G that actually works is the bonus, so I’ve been using it more lately. I also love the way the layout on multiple pictures looks. It lets me be creative and really use my imagination.

This May has been incredibly busy as you’ve read in the posts I’ve made and in the lack of posts I haven’t made. But I have managed to make Instagram posts because they are just so easy to upload.

I wanted to share them with you.

As a writer, I hate the saying, but sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words.

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Anointing Mass

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This was my fourth or fifth anointing mass. Our church holds these twice a year. it is a lovely mass with music and inspiration and no matter what the ailment – whether physical or mental, whether relief is granted, there is always some form of healing whether it be spiritually, in our hearts, or simply through the camaraderie of joining with so many others for a beautiful morning and then socially at lunch.

The tables are always set beautifully with a seasonal centerpiece, or rather smaller items across the table that we take home at the end. There are also inspirational cards to remind us of our anointing and also of G-d’s presence in our lives, supporting or comforting us and more.

At my first anointing mass, in my priest’s homily, he mentioned Julian Of Norwich and her saying: All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.

This reminded me of myself. Whatever huge thing is happening, my response is always, it will be okay. I don’t always believe it outwardly, but it centers me into striving for it. There are always worse things. I will get through this. For a long time I had forgotten this, but that first anointing mass, at the time I called it a healing mass, was exactly what I’d needed, and it gave me something to carry with me as well as someone to look into.

After returning home yesterday, and after an hour and a half last week with Brother Mickey McGrath, I was inspired to draw.

The first photo is what we received at the luncheon, and the second is my art that I created last night.

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Retreat, Day 2: Anointing Mass

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My church has a twice yearly Anointing Mass for anointing the sick. It is also called a Healing Mass. Everyone is welcome whether for a physical or a mental ailment. Many of the neighboring nursing homes and assisted living centers bring in their residents for this special mass. This was my third one. I go for both my depression and my knee pain.

Obviously this is for people of the Catholic faith, but belief or not I still think it is a wonderful experience of community and sharing our joy which halves our pain*. Seating is every other pew so the priests can move through to anoint and offer the Eucharist.

There is music and singing; there are prayers and scripture reading. It’s a Mass so it includes the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

The Mass is followed by lunch. I usually attend alone, so it’s always a surprise who I will be sitting with. So many people go to so much trouble, cooking, setting everything up, decorating. There are prayer cards and a favor to take home. One of the volunteers makes them. They are so thoughtful and creative; it makes me want to go home and create something.

In yesterday’s writing, I mentioned having an object to help with meditation and contemplation. Today we were given a small medal with a cutout of a cross. I have been given this week’s object, I see.

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I encourage you to look up today’s readings. They are always a link from the past history to our daily lives. One of the things I enjoy about going to Mass so often (usually four times a week) is that despite the words being thousands of years old, they still speak to me. I relate to them on a regular, almost daily, basis.

First Reading: Lamentations 3:17-23

Second Reading: James 5:13-16

Gospel: Mark 7:31-37

My prayer

card:

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Julian of Norwich is one of my favorite mystics. Her work is said to be the first one written in English by a woman (1395).

One of my favorite of her quotations struck me when I first heard it. Ironically, when I am in a pessimistic mood, I will still often say that everything will work out; it will be okay.
Her words:

“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well”

is so close to my own sentiment that I did a double take the first time I heard it, which was appropriately at my first healing mass.

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[Borrowed and paraphrased with permission from Dumbledore’s Army and the Year of Darkness.]

My First Anointing Mass

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Last week I attended my first Anointing Mass. I actually considered not going. My sick doesn’t seem as serious as other people’s sick. I have chronic health problems and a new one that has cropped up recently; something I need to think on, talk about, weigh pros and cons, and make decisions on, but because it has all of those steps it feels more like a business decision or planning a vacation rather than an illness.

I don’t know at what point I dismissed that as bullshit. That ridiculous my problems aren’t worth mentioning that so many of us do without thinking. We should not need to be beat over the head to take care of ourselves, both mentally and physically.

The anointing mass is for anyone who wants G-d’s help with whatever medical problem they’re having.

Even before I became as religious as I am now, I understood how important positive thinking is for health and curing illness. Studies have shown that even patients who didn’t know that they were being prayed for still did better than those that weren’t prayed for. Certainly, even non-believers can’t argue that prayer couldn’t hurt.

Still, it was very last minute that I decided to go. I needed to sign up since there would be lunch following the mass and they needed a head count.

Everyone I spoke to had told me how spiritual, how lovely, how beautiful this mass was. It hadn’t prepared me for the truly comforting feelings that the mass held and filled me with.

It was very similar to a Sunday Mass with the music ministry in attendance. However, we were seated in every other pew. People were helped to their seats so I ended up sitting with people I’d never met before. There were many elderly and wheelchair bound in attendance, several coming from the two nearby nursing homes and rehabilitation centers. There were many people from different parishes who come solely for this healing mass.

The Father went around the entire chapel and greeted everyone already sitting. He asked the woman next to me if they came with me to which we both replied, no, we’ve just met.

There were special readings that were incredibly moving. There wasn’t so much a homily as an encouragement to rely on G-d and to trust that all will be well. He quoted that from Julian of Norwich, and I found the simple words a necessary mantra for the rest of my week:

“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well”

It didn’t take long that I discovered why we were seated in alternating rows. That way, we didn’t need to leave our seats to receive the anointing and the Eucharist. It was a very kind gesture for so many of the attendees would have had trouble processing to the altar for the traditional communion.

First, one Father came through the aisle in front of us. He anointed our foreheads with the cross (similar to receiving ashes) and then also the palms of our hands. He spoke quietly and despite saying the same blessing to everyone, it sounded personal and more meaningful than I’d expected.

I didn’t feel better per se, although of course, I hadn’t expected to, but I did feel as if I’d received a shield; an additional protection, not only for the illness, but for the ability to make the decisions to move towards wellness.

After everyone was anointed and after the Eucharist was prepared, the second Father came to our side to give us the body of Christ with a Eucharistic minister following with the blood. I received a large pizza shaped piece and I carefully broke it, ate a piece, broke it again, ate a second piece, and placed the last piece on my tongue when I was offered the cup. I like to keep a bit of host in my mouth and swirl the wine with it. There’s no real reason for this – the host practically melts on your tongue, but I think, for me, there is something sacred about combining the body and blood and as it glides down my throat, there is a warm feeling. It is not a burning, but it remains and fades slowly as I meditate or pray while the host is replaced in the tabernacle.

After this, we all walked over the parish center together, steadying non-cane arms, pushing wheelchairs, holding doors open and lending a hand wherever needed. At first, I sat alone as I usually do when I know no one, but Anne Marie, the woman who was randomly put next to me for the mass came over and invited me to their table. I was glad for the company and even gladder that they were strangers. It made the day that much more distinct from the regular daily mass.

It was really a beautiful experience and if I need a boost of strength to carry on with my health decisions and getting well, I can think back on this day and reflect on it.

I have comfort in the prayers, in the fellowship of those of us joining together to combine our strengths and share them. It was very encouraging and I will rely on it in the upcoming months to support me in the trying times that are ahead.