Happy St. Anthony Day - Why Do We Pray to These Saints?

My Internet J-card is missing and I'm praying to St. Anthony to help me find it.  It always works.  I think about my lost article and then utter those words that Sister Andrew Marie taught me in second grade ... "Good Saint Anthony, please come around. Something is lost and can't be found."

I'm relatively certain I'll have that J-card in my hand before the day's end, and I've already searched everywhere for it. But when I've tried my best and still can't find it, I call in the big guns --- St. Anthony of Padua.

Is it St. Anthony helping me from some mystical dimension, or is it a superstition?  Some of my colleagues would say that the prayer triggers my own psychic abilities to dig up where I actually left said lost article from the recesses of my subconscious mind.  Maybe.

It's probably a little of both.  But don't sell St. Anthony of Padua short.  He is a spirit guide - one who reaches past the veil that separates this world from the eternal world and connects with us when we ask.  He's always been a guide for me.  I have the icon pictured above sitting on my dresser. I have another image of him hanging over my desk and still another hanging in my living room.  Then there's my St. Anthony statue in my columbine garden.  St. Anthony obsessed?  Perhaps.  But these holy reminders of him around my house help me make that spiritual connection.

But I digress...  back to why we pray to the Saints.

If you don't believe in God or a higher power or a Divine Creator, then this won't mean much to you.  But if you think there's more to this world than what we "physically" see, then think about an eternal world the lies just behind this one.  It's all around us - present to us ... we just can't see it.  In that world are guides who can help us along our path in this world.  These guides can be angels, or saints or the spirits of our ancestors.  These guides sit in the presence of the Divine Creator many of us refer to as God.  They join their intentions / prayers with ours, but because they are already in that eternal world, they make our prayers stronger.  In simple terms, they help us from heaven.
The Saints are like stars. Christ conceals them in a hidden place so that they might not shine before their time. But they're always there, ready to do so.  ~St. Anthony of Padua

That's why we pray to the saints. They aren't a replacement for God or Goddess or whatever you perceive the Diving Creator to be. They are helpers, guides, spiritual friends. And St. Anthony of Padua is one of the worlds most popular saints. So evidently, he delivers.

St. Anthony's Bascilica in Padua - 5 Million pilgrims a year visit
St. Anthony of Padua was born in Lisbon around 1195 and he joined the Franciscan Order in 1220 when St. Francis of Assisi was running the order.  Anthony showed talent for preaching and teaching, but the Franciscans called to"public service" not preaching.  In order to best use Anthony's oratory talents, St. Francis sent him off to Bologna to teach theology to the Brothers there.  His ability to publicly speak with passion and persuasion became legendary.  There is even an old story that tells of creatures in the sea coming to surface of the water to hear the golden words of Anthony.  

The birds are like saints who fly to heaven on the wings of contemplation, who are so removed from the world that they have no business on earth.  ~St. Anthony of Padua

I talk to St. Anthony when I need a friend, a confessor, when I have to make a tough decision.  And it may sound crazy, but in my heart I can hear him answer back... always leading me, challenging me.  He's a soul friend... an Anam Cara.  I usually talk to St. Anthony before I write something I think is important.  I have this quote from one of his sermons taped on to my computer to remind me that everything I write should be written with care - that all writing matters because it becomes a permanent creation as soon as the letters hit the page. 
Be like the sun. Shed light, but also warmth.  
Interesting that the Feast of St. Anthony also falls on the birthday of the Irish writer and poet William Butler Yeats.  Two inspiring men when it comes to writing.  I wonder if Yeats ever works as a spirit guide?

Remembering Mama - And All Women Making Hard Choices

Anita Granados
Fifty five years ago today, a young widow left her three little children with her sister and traveled to Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland to have a baby that only a few people in her large family knew about.  That baby was me.

My mother, Anita was born into a wonderful clan made up mostly of Spaniards - very Catholic and very engaged in St. Bernard's Church and the Riverdale community.  In 1959, having a baby out of wedlock was a serious scandal that shamed the family.  Having a baby out of wedlock when the father was married to another woman and had children of his own, was barely speakable.

I guess there is no adjective for having met said married father in your choir - he was a tenor, you were an alto.  Suffice it to say, my grandparents were beside themselves with worry about the potential shame this pregnancy would bring to my mother and their family. 

They hounded her about this shame while she was pregnant.  It was a sign of the times, and I've learned to reflect on these situations and the people in them taking "the times" into account. This makes me admire my mother for being a woman of her time who did the unthinkable out of love.

My grandparents insisted she give me up for adoption and tell no one of the pregnancy.  She had no other support - so she had no other options. How alone she must have felt.  She'd given up a baby before --- my brother, John.  She had a teen pregnancy and my grandparents sent her away to St. Vincent DePaul's in Baltimore.  She gave birth to him there and named him "John."  John's adoptive parents kept that name, and he grew up to be a great guy, a wonderful husband and father, and a successful businessman.  We met him later when he reached out to find Mama.

My mother married the love of her life when she was eighteen and had three children by the time she was twenty-two.  There was no happier couple than they, I'm told.  Tragically, her husband was killed in the line duty as a DC Fireman just six years after they were married.  He was 29 and she 26. She never got over that blow. She managed to settle herself in a community near her parents, and gradually got out again and started to make friends.  She went back to the church choir, and she and my father had a wild affair. She loved him.  In the few conversations I ever had with my mother about my father she said only three things.  He was very handsome. He was so much fun.  He had the most beautiful singing voice she'd ever heard.

When I got to know my father, I found these things to be so true.  Handsome he was.  And he was virtual party.  The first time I heard him sing was at the Holiday Inn restaurant in Waterloo when he spontaneously (in public) broke out into "Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the kind of Cre- aaaaaa- tion" as if he were Luciano Pavarotti at the Met. Though I was mortified at the time - as most adolescents would be, I remember thinking, "Wow! What a voice."

I never asked my mother if she expected my father to leave his wife and family and marry her once she discovered she was pregnant.  I suspect that she wouldn't have answered that question. What she told me and what he told me were the same well-crafted story.  They both decided that the best thing for me was to give me up for adoption. Although, my father added the "I had no idea she would go back and get you" footnote to his version.

No one will ever know the back-story to that love affair and how they dealt with a baby coming into the picture.  It doesn't really matter anyway because it's the oldest story in the world lived by many married men and the women who loved them.  I do know that my father loved his wife, deeply. He not only told me, but I could hear it in his voice when he talked about his life.  My parents' entanglement was one of those love affairs that occurs, and then ends when the unthinkable happens and everyone comes to their senses... and the woman - who is now the mother - is left to deal with consequences. 

My mother told me how she had to have labor induced so that she could schedule the birth.  She couldn't risk going into labor because there was no one to support her, to take her to the hospital, to tend the children.  She couldn't even see the family doctor because he was everyone's family doctor. She had to travel outside the community for medical care in order to keep her horrible secret from dripping shame into her family's insular world.  So she confided in her sister Chi-chi and asked her to come stay with kids.  Chi-chi was her sole support - and her soul support.  When Chi-chi arrived by bus from Texas, my mother said good-bye and drove herself to Bethesda to have labor induced the next day.

I was born on April 26, 1959.  My mother got to hold me and feed me for two days before the Daughters of Charity came to take me away.  She told me how she cried from the time I was born until she left the hospital saying, "I can't believe I had that many tears."  She did it all alone, because that's what women did in those days.  They were the brunt of everyone's judgement -- and people wielded judgements freely.  

I was shuttled off by the Sisters to St. Ann's Infant and Maternity home, and Mama went back to her home in Riverdale without a baby. During the months when the Sisters were trying to find adoptive parents, my mother went to St. Ann's every Sunday to visit me. She told me that the nuns wouldn't let her hold me, but that she could look at me through the glass.  It was during these visits that she noticed they'd assigned my care to one of the young unwed mothers waiting to deliver there.  That unwed mother started calling me "Mindy" and the rest of St. Ann's staff followed suit.   Baby names at St. Ann's were temporary because adoptive parents would choose a permanent name for each child.

Mama gave me the name Maryanne when I was born.  She told me that she'd named me after the two most blessed mothers who ever lived - Jesus' mother and his grandmother. She said, "I prayed to them before you were born and told them that I would name you after them if they would always take care of you."  Maryanne was my birth name, but for my time at St. Ann's I was Mindy.

When I was about four months old, St. Ann's found adoptive parents.  My mother was devastated.  My Aunt Chi-chi convinced my mother to follow her heart and not sign the papers yielding her rights.  Chi-chi assured my mother that they'd come up with some kind of plan to bring me home.  They did.  They crafted a story about how I was the baby of an American GI and German woman that Chi-chi and her husband knew when stationed in Germany.  The mother died in childbirth and the father couldn't take care of a little baby.  Chi-chi told my Mama about me.  Mama said she'd adopt me.  So Chi-chi and her husband brought me to America and I legally became Mama's adopted "German" child.  (I'm laughing as I type this.)

Crazy as it sounds, that's the story they told the family, and it stuck.  Mama retrieved me from St. Ann's when I was about six months old (according to her).  She had this picture taken of me at Woodward and Lothrop's shortly after she brought me home.  She told me it reminded her of how happy she was to finally have me back.  It hung on the living room wall in our house in Riverdale until she finally sold it when I was in my forties (the house - not the picture). Now it hangs in my bedroom as a reminder of Mama and me and the strength of a mother's love.

Eventually, my grandparents lightened up and forgot all about the scandal.  I'm pretty sure my mother's four brothers believed the adoption story at least for a time. I had to set one of them straight just a few years ago who still believed it.

Since I was used to the name Mindy, Mama let that stick.  It's not my legal name, but it's what I've always been called since that unwed mother at St. Ann's gave me the name. When I asked the normal "how did I come into the world" questions that other kids ask their mothers, Mama told me "I picked you out of a bunch of babies.  There was a big room, full of babies and I walked around and around until I saw the prettiest one - and that was you.  And you were the one I took home."

Perhaps I'd have had a better life with adoptive parents.  I might have had more opportunities, finished college, made more money, had a few letters after my name, been less a hog for attention and not so much an over-achiever. But I wouldn't trade one minute of life in this crazy clan for any other family.  And I wouldn't have chosen another mother.  She found a way to to keep me with her, to rise above the shame and scandal and to make it all seem like a magical beginning to me... from picking me out of a slew of babies to the "coming home" picture, to how I got my name.

Every year around this time I think about our beginning together  - Mama and me. I think about what it must have been like for her to go through nine months of pregnancy alone with no man to stand beside her, with her parents ashamed, no friends to confide in.  I imagine her driving to a hospital in another county -- passing all of the cherry blossoms and Redbuds as the landscape budded new life. But she had to be ashamed of herself and the new life she was bringing into the world.  The  mother-child bond shamed us both.  The only absolution for the sin of adultery was to sever the tie.

What I can't seem to imagine is the agony of birthing a child, drawing her to yourself, holding her and feeding her all under a pall of shame. No visitors, no happy family rallying around this miraculous birth - no one to help you count the fingers and toes and say who she looks like, no joy, no celebration --- and then doing the unthinkable.  Handing that helpless little part of yourself over to strangers knowing you'll never see her again.

Here's to Mama who did the hard thing and kept her baby in a time when unwed mothers who gave into maternal instincts were judged harshly and deemed selfish. Mama gave me the wonderful gift of my true family. And here's to all women who have singularly shouldered the responsibility, shame and consequences of out-of-wedlock pregnancies.  And kudos to the Daughters of Charity and the St. Ann's staff who have been picking up the broken pieces of shattered lives and reshaping them into new beginnings and happy endings since they opened Washington DC's first foundling home in 1860. 

And praise for those who the give the comfort and support of soul friendship to these women who are so harshly judged, especially my Aunt Chi-chi who was there for my mother to lean on, who convinced her to follow her heart, and who helped her find a way to do what she was meant to do.

And a good word for my Daddy, who did the best he could in his time, was always kind to me, loved me and made me laugh.   My mother never spoke an ill word about him.

I can't imagine having different parents.  I was a musician most of my life and rested on the talent of my ancestors.  I come from a long line of musicians, music teachers, and pastoral ministers, and spent over 20 years in music ministry.  Though I moved away from Riverdale when I was fifteen, my very first job as a choir director brought me back to St. Bernard's where my parents met.  I returned to direct the same choir they were in. It was 30 years later, and there were two singers left in the choir who were there when my parents were members.  They had no idea.

I didn't tell them. 

Merry Christmas From Marion Station - 2013

Merry Christmas from Marion Station, that little hamlet on Maryland’s Eastern Shore set between Westover and Crisfield that was named for a little girl whose father donated land for a railroad station. When local officials asked him what he wanted to name the station he said, “Marion after my daughter.”  A town grew up around that train station, a town that was an important agricultural shipping hub, particularly for strawberries.  Strawberry barons built ornate Victorian homes flanking the lane across from the station.   The locals called it “Millionaire’s Row.”  It’s the same lane Dan and I live on today some hundred years after the boom when all that wealth was created, though it’s a bit more humble in its surroundings these days.  The spirits of those who built Marion Station still creep into this old landscape, and little Marion Horsey’s name lives on through all of us who call Marion Station home.  There’s a palpable connection to the past here.  And somehow, we sense that we belong in this particular place.

2013 was a year of beginnings for us … and a few sad endings.  We lost our Uncle Sonny (Lou Granados) last summer.  We remember him for hosting our Granados clan every Easter when we were kids, and for preserving much of the Granados heritage so that we 500+ living Granados descendants of Ramon and Maria Concepcion could feel that connection with our ancestors.  Every time I made my way down to Ocean City to see Uncle Sonny he’d have a family story to share.  I’ll miss those visits.  While it’s a sad ending for the Granados’, those stories and family memories he left us will help keep us connected.  

As one life left us, a new life arrived.  This year we welcomed grandchild #9 – Catalina Morgan who has the face of an angel.  She belongs to Al and Ruthie who live in Georgia.  Dan and I haven’t met her yet but we’re excited that she’ll be visiting this Christmas with her big sister, Bailea.  Our eldest grandchild, Ben is graduating high school and has decided to serve his country in the US Army. We’re so proud of the young man he’s become. His 11-year old brother Connor spent a week with us and made us remember how fun eleven year olds are.  Like most his age, Connor thinks deeply about things, has a lot of wisdom and can have fun without feeling awkward about it.  He hasn’t quite reached that age where he think most adults are stupid.  He’s young enough to find the wonder in flying a kite old enough to do it with style and skill.   

Last summer our 9-year-old twin granddaughters Mia and Grace came to stay with us while Amber (their mother) interned at the Crisfield Pharmacy.   We did the beach (often), we rode bikes through Janes Island, flew kites at the Inlet, went to the Boardwalk, rode all the rides at Jolly Roger, did Theater Camp, toured St. Michaels, Oxford, Cambridge, and almost all of the Queen Anne’s County nature trails.  We rode the Lewes Ferry to Cape May and the twins got a tour of the Bridge and visit with the captain (thanks Shari).  We went to the Sea Glass Festival, a ghost tour in Berlin, a cemetery walk in Crisfield, fishing with Grandpa, ice cream in Chincoteague, and snowballs and fireworks in Crisfield. We watched all the Harry Potter movies and created enough artwork to fill a gallery.   

 I saw the twins last month and asked them, “What was your favorite thing of all that we did last summer?”  I recounted much of what I mentioned above to refresh their memories.  Mia said her favorite thing was coming into my office in the morning and talking when it was just the two of us.  Grace said, “My favorite thing was the walks we took at night when it was dark and we could see the stars.”  Go figure. All that entertainment and what they liked best was staying at home.  This made me realize that the entertainment was really for me, trying to squeeze every bit of fun out of our time together… to make important memories.  Silly me.  I was missing that the strongest part of lifelong memories is the people you spend it with, not so much the place you visited or the things you did.  The memories of being with people who teach us about ourselves are the stuff that life is made of. And I learned a lot about me this summer. It was one of the best summers of my life.  

Primrose's sweet little face.

 And the grandchildren keep coming.  We expect grandchild #10 to arrive in a few weeks.  Lara and David are having a baby girl next month.  Her name is Primrose.  She will be sleeping in her mother’s crib, wearing her mother’s baby clothes and hugging the teddy bear Lara used to hold.  Primrose’s arrival is much anticipated and her 3-year-old big brother Tristan (aka Muffin Man) is getting excited about the arrival.  Lara dug out her old Cabbage Patch doll from our attic and gave it to Tristan so he could have a baby too.  He feeds it, puts it to bed, wheels it around in his little shopping cart and occasionally spanks it for being bad.  Then hugs it, kisses it and says, “Awww, don’t cwy baby.  It’s okay.”  That kid should have an agent. Though Tristan looks like his daddy he has his mother’s laugh.  Could it really be that long ago that I was hearing her little laugh?  My love lived inside that little girl’s laughter. Now I see it coming around again only now it’s her love inside Tristan’s laughter …. and time circles around us.

All our grown kids are doing well though we don’t see them as often as we’d like. We keep in touch weekly (sometimes daily) via Facebook, texting and Facetime. 

This year I launched a series of ghost walks in Eastern Shore towns.  We named the series Chesapeake Ghost Walks, and due to the current popularity of ghost walks, they were very successful. I led a total of 29 tours in 2013 through Easton, Cambridge, St. Michaels, Denton, Crisfield, Princess Anne, Pocomoke City, Snow Hill, Berlin and Ocean City.  All but three sold out.  In September I led a tour through the northern region of Ireland and got some great press coverage, one media outlet stating that our Thin Places –Discover the North tour was the most comprehensive commercial tour of Northern Ireland that anyone knew about.  Both of these successes gave Dan and I the courage to officially start a tour company - Travel Hag Tours (Dan wishes the name was different). Through the company we’ll run Chesapeake Ghost Walks, tours of Ireland and eventually local group tours targeted at women who want to travel with girlfriends.   Dan is doing all the behind the scenes research and admin work while I craft the itineraries and develop the products.  So far, so good.

One of our friends asked me why I keep going back to Ireland. Why not Scotland, Wales, France?  I didn’t have an answer.  Then I started to think … “Am I in a rut?”  But on day 3 of our Ireland tour this year we visited Glencolmcille on the Slieve League Peninsula in County Donegal.  As my tour group scattered, exploring the glen, the graves and the old stones, I walked around  to the back of St. Columba’s Church and looked out across that glen. In one single moment I knew why I kept returning to Ireland.  In some strange way, I ‘m connected to that land. There’s magic in the landscape. It transforms me.  It transforms Dan.  Why go somewhere else? 

The Dark Hedges - County Antrim

The picture on the front of our card this year was taken last year in Northern Ireland.  It’s known as the Dark Hedges, and is Northern Ireland’s most photographed spot.  This lane leading to an old County Antrim plantation is lined with beech trees that were planted in the 1750s.  They’ve now grown to create the ethereal canopy of silver-limbed branches.  The Dark Hedges was the setting showing the Kingsroad to Winterfell in the Game of Thrones series.  It captures that “sense of the otherworld”  - the thin places where the two worlds mingle in the magical Irish landscape.  The picture of Dan and me on the inside of the card was taken on our anniversary at the Rock of Cashel in County Tipperary.   This year we’re running two tours to Ireland, one in May – Discover the North repeating much of the 2013 tour but with an overnight stay on Tory Island, and a 2nd tour in September – Castles, Saints and Druids where we’ll visit 7 castles (including an overnight visit at Barberstown Castle), 10 monastic settlements and 8 megalithic sites.  We’d love for you to join us.  You can see the complete itinerary at www.thinplacestour.com  <---  shameless plug.

An Irish friend told me that he missed the days when Christmas was celebrated with only food, friends and the Christmas candle in the window.  The current commercialism clutters his Christmas experience.  I told him I loved the glitz, the lights, the trees, the carols, the decorations, the cards, the parties --- and yes, the presents.  Sure some people make Christmas all about things but those folks would have difficulty with any kind of Christmas because their hearts empty.  But for me the lights and decorations create an anticipation of something great to come, they frame a meaningful experience. And there’s something about seeing a wrapped gift with your name on it.  What’s more personal than your name, handwritten on a tag attached to a gift someone chose for you – a gift they wrapped in pretty paper to make it a surprise? Exchanging gifts gives us joy.  Presents are the physical manifestation of love, like a wedding ring or a sliver cup for a new baby or new bike for 7 year old.  

The Christmas glitz provides a backdrop for an experience of remembering  - remembering our blessings, remembering that there is value in this crazy life as long as we cling to love, remembering that there’s always hope no matter how bad things seem, remembering a little boy who was born away from home to frightened young parents who had to run for their lives shortly after his birth, who didn’t even have a shirt to clothe him in – the same little boy who grew up and told the world to welcome the stranger, include the marginalized, liberate the oppressed, feed the hungry, comfort those who mourn, to stop judging and start loving.

Christmas is the road we follow back home every year. It’s the place we stop to remember the good things when time circles around us. Christmas is about connection and knowing every good thing in life comes through connection. It's knowing that nothing is ever accomplished or gained without being connected to others. No one rises from the ashes of despair without relying on a friend.  It’s what we hunger for – connection to our ancestors, to the land, to those we love, to nature, to our Creator.  And sadly it’s a time of despair for those who can’t grab onto anything because their disconnection is magnified by a world of people seemingly fixated on remembering everything they ever loved. 

Here’s to being connected to you, our friends and family.  Though we many not see you often, you matter to us.  Nothing is ever lost to the heart, which is why we can pick up where we left off the next time we’re together and know our affection for each other has not changed even though our hair continues to grey and our faces have a few more lines.  May your new year be blessed with connections that fill your life with joy and love and laughter.   

May your road be easy, may you find new friends and may all your Christmas wishes come true.   

May God bless you and those you love. 

Dan and Mindie Burgoyne
Marion Station, MD
December 19, 2013

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