Murmurs & Mystery

[First posted in June 2014 on]

The chanting of women floated through the small, white-plaster chapel with its barrel-like wood ceiling, lovingly restored to a semblance of its 13th-century dignity. I walked slowly and wide-eyed through the Beguinage Church of Saint Agnes in the little Belgian village of Sint-Truiden.

St. Agnes

Women permeate the place—not only their haunting recorded voices, but also their images. Adorning every column and corner are paintings and frescoes depicting their witness. On one column, the biblical Mary and Elizabeth, both pregnant with babies and with hope, greet one another. On another, Veronica dries Jesus’ tears as he falls under the weight of the cross. Saints Catherine and Agnes and Helena are there. And upon entering the sacred site, you can’t miss the disturbing image of Saint Agatha, looking to heaven and praying while being tortured by her Inquisitors.

How, I wondered, has this place survived for eight hundred years?—this simple chapel that celebrates womanhood, in all its faith and strength, its anguish and vulnerability. What joy, what courage, what tears must have bathed that holy site through the centuries. And what a blessing it was to walk amid the spirits of the Beguines, the ancient women who created it. Continue reading

“Welcome to the Funraiser!”

[First posted in September 2012 on]

My friend Jody, who has Down syndrome, took his place on the stage last night in front of an appreciative crowd. His parents had tuned his guitar in a unique way, so that he could strum it without fretting any chords and still sound more or less melodious. He sang with gusto his all-time favorite: “This Little Light of Mine.” And he shone. When he was done, he worked the room, tackling a throng of adoring fans with hugs and high-fives.

Welcome to the FunraiserJody graduated from high school in May at the age of 21. The commencement ceremony for him and a dozen of his friends was an extraordinary event. It began with all the graduating students making their way down the long aisle one at a time to take their seats on the stage. One pushed his friend in a wheelchair. Another struggled behind a walker, stepping slowly and with determination, a broad smile filling her face, while the audience of families and friends cheered her on.

Every student was given the opportunity to make a short speech on that momentous day. Most gave thanks to their parents and teachers. One young man tried to hand his diploma back to the principal, but all the others received them with beaming pride. Jody held his up right in front of his face while the cameras clicked away. Continue reading