First There Is the Fall

I fell out through the bottom of my life this past year.

All the things I’m used to reaching for to buffer such a fall were gone: ideas about myself and God and the world, the props that have always sufficed to shore up my ego, even people I love who are closest to me (but only because I took them out on my way down).

Falling out of the bottom of my own life was a deadweight drop into nothingness. And nothingness, I discovered, has its own variations on pain – dull and pounding at times, razor-sharp and severing at others. But always there, ricocheting off the canyon walls of my hollow self.

I’d probably still be falling if I hadn’t been caught by a story. More specifically, a Bible story. One that I first heard with milk and cookies before bedtime when I was a child.

At the time, it seemed disconnected from any world I moved through.

After all whose father has a beard down to his waist, wears robes and sandals,and stands at the end of a gravel road day and night waiting for the return of a renegade son.

However, forty-five years later that childhood story was there for when I needed it. It came in bits and pieces. Flotsam washed up on a beach. When the grain I was feeding to calves looked more appetizing than the oatmeal I had at home. Or when I saw the turn-off on the highway and the long stretch of road that led back to my husband and kids. Or when I encountered the crossed arms and scowling brows of disapproving “older brothers”.

In a recent blog post I heroically called myself an outlier in the Christian tradition, living at an outpost on the edge off faith. I distanced myself from the centre. I claimed that it would suffice for me to dip into aesthetic treasures of my religious heritage the way one might dip into the assortment of cheeses in the fridge door.

That was then. This is now. Life is like that: then and now. Then, I thought I could go it alone in my little cabin out on the frontier. Now, I understand more clearly that a frontier only exists because a centre holds it.

When a sacred story catches you in crisis it brings you back to the triage ward of the spiritual tradition it represents like wounded soldiers brought in on stretchers from the field of battle.

For someone from the First Nations, that might mean coming back to ceremonies.
For a Jewish person it might be coming back to a Passover meal with mother lighting the first candle at the head of the table.
For me, as a Catholic of seven years, it meant being carried back to the sacraments. Most importantly to the sacrament of marriage, but there was a stop before that: the sacrament of reconciliation.

This required making a phone call to my parish priest:
“Hello, Father Gino. This is Tama.”
Father Gino hadn’t heard from me in six months. If he was surprised to hear my voice on the end of the line he didn’t show it.
“I need to make confession.”
Father Gino offered only to clear his schedule to make room for me.

Thank God. No preaching or I-told-you-sos, no explanations or gushing or chiding. No preliminary salutations even. No anything that would diminish or crowd out my quivering request.

When I arrive at the church Father Gino invites me into his office. This is a first for me. I’ve always knelt in the confessional booth off the sanctuary. However Italian mass is scheduled to start in 10 minutes and the sanctuary is abuzz with incoming over-50s.

I sit across the desk from Father Gino and don’t look up.
“Father, forgive me for I have sinned….”
An unorganized array of sorrows begin to spill out of me. Sobs trip over each other as though to get in on the action. I intentionally didn’t rehearse or even pre-think what I was going to say. I wanted my words to be as raw and close to the source as possible. I’m not sure if there is any coherence to the story I am trying to tell but I’m think Father gets the main point: I’ve made a mangled mess of my life.

Then I’m finished. And suddenly everything is quiet. Inside and out.

There is a box of Kleenex on Father Gino’s desk. Obviously I’m not the first person to sit in this chair and speak of self-inflicted wreckage. I reach for a tissue and blow.

“Tama”, Father Gino’s voice is in keeping with the stillness, “Your place at the table was always set for you. I knew you would come home.”

And there is was. The turning point in the story, in my story. The pivotal centre: a vigil kept, a welcome extended, a heart opened wide.

He continues with some prescribed wisdom on marriage and repentance and restoration. This sort of washes over me.

Silence again. Nice. Then it suddenly dawns on me that Father Gino is waiting for me to recite the prayer of contrition. Shoot. I always forget about that part and seven years on I still don’t have it memorized. I don’t even know the first line.

We are both aware that we have gone overtime and the Italian nonnas will be getting antsy.

“How about I say it on your behalf and you follow along?” Father offers.
“Does that count?” I ask ridiculously.
“Why not?” Father Gino laughs in the spirit of “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath”.

He motors through the prayer, with good Catholic pragmatism. I catch only snatches:
O my God, I am heartily sorry….I detest all of my sins….I firmly resolve with the help of Thy grace….

Back out in the sanctuary Father Gino disappears into an anteroom high-five-ing some of the seniors on his way down the aisle. I slide into a pew behind a row of rosary clutching Italian grandmothers.
Mass begins in a language I don’t comprehend. That doesn’t matter. What matters is that I am back at the table. The Italian vowels, long and rounded, roll over me like one of those handheld massage rollers that you find in the mall at Christmas and wonder whether to buy the person who has everything.

I think it was the 15th century mystic, Julian of Norwich who said “First there is the fall, and then we recover from the fall. Both are the mercy of God.”





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  1. Poul Guttesen says:

    Simply beautiful; I am very encouraged, hearing of that grace that waits us after we have “made a mangled mess of” our lives.

  2. Terry Chute says:

    This is beautiful. Worth a few tears. It was through this story of the Loving Father and Rembrandt’s painting that Marilyn’s brother “returned”. A copy of the painting is in our living room and Henri Noeuwen’s meditation on the painting is something we have read and shared with others a number of times. Thank God for your priest who clearly understands the meaning of Grace, … and now you do as well.

    • Tama says:

      Thanks Terry. In my experience we only ever understand in layers. I am grateful for this layer. I’m sure there are many more to go.

  3. Joan says:

    The beauty of your words, so magnificently expressed, cannot be matched this side of Heaven but on the other side,……… no words at all can express the Joy of the Lord!

  4. Nancy says:

    Aw man! So raw! Thank you for your courage in sharing dear Tama! May you feel the light of love shining on you!
    St. Teresa of Avila says, “The strength given by obedience usually lessens the difficulty of things that seem impossible”.
    Many blessings on you!

  5. Nancy Wu says:

    Hugs to you Tama for your courage and strength in sharing this. Thank you! I trust it will be a comfort to others who read it as well. When I saw the supporting image, I immediately thought of Henri Nouwen’s book, “The Return of the Prodigal Son”, my husband’s favorite book. Take care, be well and may God bless you in miraculous ways, as he always does.

  6. Sylvia Dannelley-McCree says:

    Tama I rejoice with you that the peace that passes all understanding has been returned to you through your honesty, seeking forgiveness and the grace of our wonderful Saviour and Lord and heavenly Father!!! This is so written as to help others that may need to know of this grace and the restoration that comes in our lives over and over in many ways. God bless and keep you and your family. Thanks for putting this in writing and sharing it with all those that God will choose to bless others with in the coming days, weeks, months and years!!! God has given much to you and He has great purpose for you in your life, you have a definite gift of being able to write the words with God’s help that perhaps God wants you to use this gift. I love you and thank again for your open heart and sharing.

  7. Lucy Marzitelli says:

    Tama I feel just like you did…I have been lost for the last 2 years, depression, tears, anxiety, hurting the people so love….I felt it all! The only thing that has held me together is my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ & my Rosary prayers to our blessed Mother.
    Your courageous story is beautiful and may God bless you and your family always!

  8. Michael says:

    Yah yah, but who cares about all that?!? The important question is… did you return to your husband and kids ?!?

    • Tama says:

      Wow. You are right, Michael.That is the important question. I am returning. Theirs was the first embrace and I hope, in this lifetime, will be my last.

  9. catherine hawley says:

    I just LOVE this … and especially your Time with Fr . Gino .
    I have messed up so much in my past … and it can still ” haunt” me at times , especially when first waking up . But oh how I love bringing it to the vast beyond-the-planetary-systems place of silence before Mass . And letting Jesus Be Himself there with me … in it all

    • Tama says:

      Thanks for chiming in Dennis. (Though I have to admit that’s a bit too much theology for me. I left off on formulas and equations some time ago in favour of stories.)

  10. Francis Tam says:

    Life is rough sometimes and we all do something wrong in our lifetime.
    Just believe God will help us to get through what is really hurting us, and stay strong and walking one foot in front ot the other.
    God’s grace will pull you through.

  11. Paul Carline says:

    Tama, your great writing (like: a frontier only exists because a centre holds it.) was wonderfully eclipsed by your honesty, vulnerability and your pointing us to that Centre so gloriously heavy with the universe’s totality of truth and grace. No frontiers for me. I’m an older brother. I look centred but have been far from it. Thankfully falls also come to us. I ran out of earn-my-way energy. Idols of morality and service led and left me far from the joyful feast of forgiveness. Angst and anger over my lonely lot surfaced. The Father came out and pleaded. I was missed, wanted. “O Love that will not let me go, I rest my weary soul in Thee…” Ever listened to Audry Assad’s “Fortunate Fall” album?

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