Light beyond betrayal

Reflections on Life
By sister alies therese

Betrayal is a horrible experience. If you have not been betrayed, you are most fortunate; many, if not most of us have been.

The children massacred in Uvalde, the people killed in El Paso for being Hispanic or Buffalo for being Black, or Dachau for being Jewish, have certainly been betrayed. We have betrayed one another through poverty (food insecurity, unfair wages, poor health care), abortion, war, mass shootings and the death penalty, and, of course, abuse and poor eldercare. And perhaps the worst betrayal of all is convenient, rigid or complacent Christianity, Catholicism.

These keep us from friendship with God; expressed as a deepening groan or a desire to serve self. Can I set betrayal aside and learn to put others first? Will I ever be friends with God again? Where has the light of Epiphany gone? The Wise Ones chose the Light by betraying King Herod.

We can experience overpowering and challenging choices when on the road to recovery and we see that in AA or Al-anon, and various sorts of other helping communities. Depending upon how one is addicted or challenged can make choices toward recovery even more difficult. In his book “The Betrayal Bond” (1997), Dr. Patrick Carnes tells this little story:

Sister alies therese

“Tribal peoples in Africa put out slotted cages filled with fresh fruit. The cages are anchored securely to the ground. Monkeys discover the cages, reach in, and grab the fruit. Of course, they cannot retrieve the fruit because as long as the hand holds the fruit, it will not fit through the bars of the cage, the monkeys are trapped. They could let go of the fruit and escape, but they refused to let go … trauma bonds are similar….” (page 210)

We know from AA that even when one has been betrayed by family or others, institutions, and certainly booze/drugs recovery is essential to living in the light. We also know that Bill W. (co-founder of AA) received advice from Dr. Carl Jung to tell stories to be set free of strangulation by fear and intimidation. These stories might reveal how betrayal has featured in life and made friendships difficult. Perhaps the stories might show how one has become a betrayer.

So, what to do now? What have we refused to let go of in order to put betrayal in the past? Are we stuck in a trauma bond? Is the light ever to be seen again?

What is the way back to friendship? In order to restore our friendship God took on a human nature to teach us how to forgive. Betrayal features in Jesus’ life more than just the Garden. Each time followers rejected what He taught; the message of God was betrayed. When we don’t stop the tongues of gossip or stand for something we believe in, we betray not only others but our inner life. Certainly, we are betrayed when we continue any big lie…that green is yellow, yellow is green, perpetuating the lie and making our ability to follow the light more difficult.

Arthur Simon, in his book “How Much Is Enough?” (2003) relates this:

“A six-year-old boy, taken to an ER following an accident was given a glass of milk. ‘How deep shall I drink?’ he asked. He came from a very poor family in which something as precious as milk had to be shared with six brothers and sisters, drinking too deeply cheated others.” (page 132) Of course, his choice is to share or to betray his siblings. What will he do? What might I do?

George Eliot sometime in 1850 said: “What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult for each other?”

“Forgiveness,” says Christina Baldwin, “is the act of admitting we are like other people.” We mess up, we are selfish, and we might betray ourselves when forgiveness is not on the table. Servant of God, Dorothy Day (and Peter Maurin) remind us of a basic Catholic Worker tenant: make it easy for people to be good. There is no betrayal in that. No, it is the light.

Jesus showed us the way and as we move into this new year, we might have pause to remember that – on the night He was betrayed, He left us Himself in the Eucharist to be always with us.

In 1785, Anne Letitia Barbauld noted: “Nobody ought to be too old to improve; I should be sorry if I was, and I flatter myself I have already improved considerably by my travels….” I should very much like to improve … You?

(Sister alies therese is a canonically vowed hermit with days formed around prayer and writing.)

Mississippi agates

By sister alies therese

Did you know Jackson sits on an extinct volcano 2,900 feet under the Mississippi Coliseum, having erupted 75 million years ago and unlikely to blow any time soon? Well, who knows how many Mississippi agates (usually found in volcanic material) there might be?

Maybe you’d find a three-inch thunder-egg shape of varied colors. Agates are often rust-red from the oxidizing iron or yellow, brown, black, grey, pink and even sometimes green. White bands of quartz separate the colors. The translucence of the quartz allows light to shine through and even glow. Fossils are billions of years old, and many are found in our gravel pits. The Mississippi agate is a mere 323 million years old.

Sister alies therese

Shapes are important too, how the water has formed them in the streams as they travel down from the Nashville Dome in Tennessee to the Appalachian Mountains of Alabama. All these rivers are moving toward the gulf and their deposits are still to be discovered near where I live in Northeast Mississippi. They say these ancient gravel deposits were recycled by erosion and made new bars in modern rivers like the Tombigbee. Sometimes they were embedded in floating ice!

Treasures of the heart are frequently the result of much refining and pressure, often formed by the water of tears. Have you noticed? The diamond is beautifully created under pressure; who knew when the first person discovered the magnificent geode’s insides or that a bland and ‘regular-looking- outer- rock’ had a purple amethyst encrusted within?

Consider the Great Star of Africa, (Cullinan I), part of a larger diamond discovered beneath the earth in South Africa in 1905…the largest of the Crown Jewels we learned about during the passing of the queen. It was formed over 400 miles deep in the earth. Worth millions…whose money is it? South Africans think it’s theirs. Why not, it was a gift ‘taken’ from the people’s pocket.

What are the pressures we seem to be under that shave off our rough edges and when someone looks inside, they discover such magnificence? Servant of God Sister Thea Bowman reminds me of one whose guileless splendor exploded through the pressures!

I’ve always been a bit of a rockhound and often collected a small stone from places I’ve visited…a stone from St. Kevin’s Hermitage near Glendalough in Ireland (where his slab of sleeping rock remains), finding a rock with a fossil in a Kentucky creek. A friend brought me the plainest looking rock from her refugee camp in Iraq, another from Elijah’s cave on Mt. Carmel, and another from her workplace in Alaska.

The thing about these stones is that they are indeed plain, nothing could get a big WOW! They are a perfect example of ‘what you see is what you get’. Various sorts of collections like this provide us with ‘prayer-stones,’ reminding us of just who we are praying for. I have a stone from the gravel outside the prison in New Jersey where a friend was on death row. Another stone from Helen Keller’s place in Alabama, and one from a lonely wild cliff in Scotland. Other times I’ve challenged myself to collect perfectly round stones.

Markers have always shown up biblically, sometimes as treasures, sometimes as tablets of information, and sometimes as a place to rest while on an agonizing journey. Stones were piled up for altars and places of worship, as signals of the way to go, and as weapons of destruction; five small ones for David.
Houses, fences and walkways, birdhouses, prisons and barriers, abound in various cultures. We find stone spirals or labyrinths. There is a power in the stone, stability, and a substance not easily blown over even by the strongest of storms. Jesus is our ‘cornerstone.’ That is a forever thanksgiving gift!

Of course, the gems that come from deep within are still the natural resources of the nations, looked for and often sold on markets that do not respect the miner’s work. You might remember the issues around diamonds…were they ‘blood diamonds’ or not, one would ask the jeweler…some knew what you were talking about, and others either did not or ignored the question.

These natural resources were part of what was wanted by colonizers and those who came to take the land (and gem resources) from indigenous peoples and tribes. Rubies, emeralds, agates, diamonds and sapphires are among the beauty God created under the pressure of earth and stone.

Consider this from Exodus 28:15ff: “On the breastplate of decision, you shall have made you shall mount four rows of precious stones: in the first row a carnelian, a topaz, and an emerald; in the second a garnet, a sapphire and a beryl; in the third row a jacinth, an agate and an amethyst; the fourth a chrysolite, an onyx and a jasper…each stone engraved like a seal with the name of one of the twelve tribes.”

How do you mark your breastplate of decision? Have you discovered your deep withins? Have you turned your pressures and ‘I’m going to blow up’ into something extraordinarily beautiful? Well, even though the Mississippi state stone is petrified wood, the Mississippi agate is there for you to find. Goin’ lookin’?


(Sister alies therese is a canonically vowed hermit with days formed around prayer and writing.)

Christian marker: The Cross

By sister alies therese

On Aug. 9, 2022, we celebrate the feast day of Edith Stein (St. Sister Benedicta of the Cross, OCD), German (born, 1891, in Breslau in what is now Poland) intellectual, scholar, typhoid-nurse hospital worker and Jewess-cum-Catholic Christian (1922) and Carmelite (1933), who at 52 was taken to the Nazi chambers and murdered (1942). I like what Sister Joan Chittister, OSB, points out:

“The fact is Edith Stein is not important because she was martyred for anything. Edith Stein is not a light to take into the 21st century because she was killed by Nazis for whatever reason. Edith Stein is a pathway through darkness because of the courage it takes to critique your own.” (emphasis mine, A Passion for Life, Orbis, 1996)

She might be best known in Carmelite circles, unlike some of her more famous Sisters, Teresa of Avila, or Therese. That she was caught up with Bonhoeffer or Kolbe and others also annihilated for religious reasons during the Nazi regime, points to the highlights (1942) of the brutal reality of authoritarian politics. Though she had been smuggled to the Netherlands, she and her sister Rosa were found out and eventually reached Auschwitz where their earthly lives ended abruptly.

In the day (and maybe today as well?), a sister professing Carmelite life took a ‘title’ pointing her in a special direction within her prayer vocation … in this case ‘of the Cross’ was chosen and the fact that she was born on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, she had been on this path her whole life. She saw her life as one united with the suffering of God, the anguish of the innocent, and the prayer of the powerless. The Cross for her became the Christian marker where the greatest love had been shown, even to those who ravaged the world, who lived out of greed or insensitivity, who barreled through country after country demanding obedience and submission.

Mostly the Cross was the symbol of success, despite its narrow appearance, of the empathy theory she’d studied reminding people that to walk in another’s shoes across barriers (class, culture, ethnicity and…) is to accept a call to build together the beauty of peace. We ‘cross over,’ out of our zones into a graced place serving one another. The beauty of God, reflected in the common good, is torn asunder when the innocent are ravaged when lies become common currency for truth, and when hope seems impossible as attacking armies (of whatever kind) seek to dominate. Aren’t we just a bit too cozy with violence? Just look at Oklahoma, executing 25 men one a month (on Thursdays) for two years beginning this month. That the Cross reaches up and stretches out is a reminder that God is not just the God of ‘me’ but the God of ‘we’; when will we nourish one another and cease scrambling in darkness … perhaps they’ll come for me, for us?

In her book The Wisdom of the Cross, she remarks that through a process of death, all will come to life in Him if we are willing to give our lives.

She says, “This faith in the Crucified – united with devoted love – is for us the doorway to life and the beginning of the glory to come. The Cross is our only boast … But the cross is not the end: it is lifted high and shows us the way to heaven.” (ICS, Washington, 1996)

She had no illusion about what that meant for her, her sister Rosa and so many more; it meant death. Equally, she understood that through her tool of conversion (the autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila, 1921) she saw ‘the truth.’ Her mother was brought to tears at her conversion. ‘I’ve nothing to say against him (Jesus),’ she told Edith, ‘just that he claimed to be God.’

Before her conversion, during her years as a professor, she was very outspoken about women’s roles and wrote in the Ethos of Women’s Professions, for example: “One could say that every normal healthy woman can hold a position. And there is no profession which cannot be practiced by a woman.” (ICS) Not long after she would become unemployable because she was both woman and Jew. No place in academia for her. Does that sound familiar? How is the truth rejected? What can/not be taught? How do we ignore history?

Next month we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Cross on Sept. 14, and maybe our study of St. Benedicta might open to us deeper wisdom and help us put the suffering, especially targeted violence, at His Cross.
“As for what concerns our relations with our fellowman, the anguish in our neighbor’s soul must break all precepts. All that we do is a means to an end, but love is an end in itself because God is love.” (ICS)

(Sister alies therese is a canonically vowed hermit with days formed around prayer and writing.)