“Now he comes to be born in the narrowness of our lives, to be incarnate in us, to give his love to the world through us, through our flesh and blood. That is one meaning of the Incarnation. The reason why we are where we are this Christmas, in this house, family, office, workroom, hospital, or camp, is because it is here in this place that Christ wants to be born, from here that he wants his life to begin again in the world. … We did not choose this place — Christ has chosen it. We did not choose these people — Christ has chosen them.”
— Caryll Houselander, “The Mother of Christ”
I’m not sure I ever chose LA. When I moved here in 1990, I was newly married. My brother, a contractor who lived in the South Bay, had given us tickets from Boston as a honeymoon gift. He’d offered my carpenter husband a job.
LA was the last place I, a lifelong New Englander, ever thought I’d end up. Yet bit by bit the place, in all its unfathomable, sprawling mystery, grew on me.
I underwent so many dark nights, so much searching and suffering here, not because LA is an especially harsh place; rather, because I’m human, that over time the very city came to be incorporated into my bones and blood, and vice versa.
In recovery programs, I’d experienced the interesting phenomenon that I was not healed by people I had hand-picked, but by whoever happened to walk through the door on any given day.
That rough concept of the Mystical Body prepared me well to come into the Church, which I did in 1996. So did the traits with which I seem to have emerged from the womb: my love of nature, my propensity for the outcast, the hypersensitivity that has made for so much pain but also for so much consolation and joy.
All that brought to bear when I was asked in 2014 to write this weekly arts and culture column for Angelus (at that time The Tidings). I’d always walked the city, always closely observed my neighbors, always befriended the flora and fauna of our freeways, alleys, deserts, and coast.
Not in a showy, let’s-start-a-lifestyle-brand way, but in a way that was very much on a par with the Mass: the invisible North Star around which my days had come to be ordered. From the beginning, I had been fascinated by the way Mass is both in plain sight and hidden from the eyes of the world; the perfect intersection of our life here on earth and the life that is to come.
It is from the Mass that I have gone forth to explore: to walk, drive, take the train, and fly; to bring home what I’ve seen, heard, and learned; and to write this weekly column.
I’m no longer a wife; I’ve never been a mother. But the Church, as the Church inevitably does, has found a place for me. And not only found a place, but showered down gifts, as Christ promises “in good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over.” I get to see the best of LA, to talk to its best people, to have my faith in humankind restored again and again.
I didn’t choose this job; the job chose me. The gift is that I can drive anywhere in the city and feel invisibly connected to it.
Say I happen to be in Palos Verdes: I remember well the lovely Saturday morning I spent at the South Coast Botanic Garden and then the gracious lady in the office saw the piece and sent a thank you note! I’m at noon Mass at the cathedral, oh there is Sal Soria at the organ who once spared me the time for a conversation and, talking about music, we both cried.
I’m in Culver City where, since the day several years ago I got to sit down and chat with curator David Wilson, the Museum of Jurassic Technology has retained a special place in my heart.
There are the Little Sisters of the Poor in San Pedro, tenderly caring for the elderly; and ultramarathoner Geoff Cordner running through the San Gabriels; and woodworker Sam Maloof, though he died in 2009, still making chairs in Alta Loma; and Marta Becket perpetually dancing at the Amargosa Opera House in Death Valley.
Any weekly columnist will tell you: we agonize, we lose sleep, we are never really at rest.
But every once in a while, I’ll be at some random noon Mass, somewhere in the city, and afterward a stray person will come up and hesitantly say, “Are you Heather? I have to say I just love your arts and culture column. I really responded to the one about (fill in the blank: Pasadena’s Arlington Garden, ‘that place in Montecito where you went on retreat,’ the Sriracha Sauce Tour).”
That always makes my day, because that is Christ coming to be born in the narrowness of my tiny, mostly uneventful life. That is Christ giving his love to the world through me, through my flesh and blood.