Inspire 2021. January.

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Gratitude Art. (c)2021

Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.

– – Melody Beattie

What can we look forward to in this new year?

Beginning tomorrow, everything.

I’m optimistic. A new President and Vice President will be sworn in at noon tomorrow, and thus begins 100 days.

100 Days of mask wearing.

100 Days of vaccinations.

100 Days of returning to ourselves and becoming better.

A new year to set goals, to take chances, to create.

I’m looking forward.

Instead of publishing Election Connection today, I will publish the last one (unless times require updates) next week with ways we can continue to be civic minded every day, not only every four years. Persist, Stand up, Speak out, Rise up. Together, we can make things better.

Rightness

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There are times when things don’t work that should and you more or less know that they don’t work even though you also know they should, but you can’t figure out why or what the problem is. Or how to make it better.

We know the opposite too.

This holds true for many things, both tangible and un- , but for me this week, it was a pair of pictures, both Mary, both by the same artist, my friend, Brother Mickey McGrath.

I had attended a weekend retreat under his direction in 2019. His retreats always include his artwork related to the weekend subject.

One of the pictures that I was drawn to was Mary, Queen of the Prophets. It was blue and yellow-gold and swirly and I was perfectly captivated by it.

Mary, Queen of the Prophets
(c)2020 Bro. Mickey McGrath
Trinity Stores
Link attached to picture.

I ordered a print, framed it and hung it in its place.

Every time I looked at it I got a twinge of unease. Nothing specific. Nothing sinister. Just something not quite right.

The feelings I was getting made no sense.

I had wanted the picture for some time. I knew exactly where it would go when it came. But I don’t know. There was something undefined and uncomfortable when I looked at it despite its beauty.

And I lived with it even though I considered trading it back with the picture that originally hung in that space. I think I thought I would eventually change it.

Recently, Brother Mickey created a new Mary art. This one was Mary, Untier of Knots. Our Lady, Untier of Knots is my personal favorite of Marian devotions. I feel an overwhelming devotion to her. I have cards, coins, and medals of this devotion.

Mary, Our Lady, Untier of Knots
(c)2020 Bro. Mickey McGrath
Trinity Stores
Link attached to picture.

For Christmas, I decided ot use a little of my gift money to order the print. I bought a frame and it arrived very quickly. Having nothing to do with the Queen of Prophets in particular, that spot was where it would hang – behind the chair in my corner office. It was time for change and Mary, Untier of Knots was *my* Mary.

As soon as it came I hung it on the wall.

The first time I looked at it from across the room, I felt a calmness wash over me.

There was serenity and feelings from deep within me.

I brought the other picture up to my bedroom. The walls are yellow and I thought it would fit with the blues and the yellow-gold and the swirls of the print. I propped it up against the wall on the floor beside my bed, intending to leave it until I could figure out where in the room exactly it would go.

Then something happened.

I looked at it – Mary’s face, Mary’s hands, the swirling of the background.

Even resting on the floor, it was home. I was full of emotion seeing it in this temporary place, but still…its place.

Wherever I would hang it in my bedroom it would fit; it would be perfect.

Things have a place and when they’re in the wrong one, you know it. Even if you don’t actively know it or the reasons for the discomfort, you feel something real, and eventually with a little nudge, these things can be righted.

They find a way.

Even a random switching of two unrelated things.

And when they are righted, you know that too.

Star of Wonder, Star of Night

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Tonight is a unique opportunity to see the conjunction of the planets, Saturn and Jupiter, looking in the sky to some people like a large star, perhaps the same Christmas Star the three wise men (kings, shepherds) saw that guided them to Jesus’ birthplace.

In my neck of the woods, the Northeast USA, sunset is at 4:25pm, and the best time to see the star/conjunction is an hour past sunset looking towards the southwestern sky. With binoculars, you may also be able to see Jupiter’s four large moons.

Some links to read about this special sight while you’re waiting for sunset:

From NASA: The Great Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn. They also have a few links to watch it live if you can’t get outside to see it as well as other informational links.

The Great Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn 2020: Fun Facts

Here’s How You Can See the ‘Christmas Star’ in the Night Sky

Apologies for my quick drawn rendition of a Christmas Star. (c)2020

Inspire. December.

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There are many ways to inspire this month. It starts somewhat in darkness as the nights get longer and the days shorter, but my birthday was last week, so there were birthday candles. Advent began a few days before that and the church has their advent wreath with two of the four candles lit now. In two days is the first night of Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, and it also marks the anniversary of my mother’s death when I will light a Yartzeit candle for her, and then of course, Christmas two weeks after that.

There are many ways to bring light into our lives in this darkest season in what seems to be a very dark year. It may be that the older we get, the more we notice that our childhood heroes keep dying. I remember my mother making comment on that many years ago when she was in her fifties. I am noticing it now, but I don’t know if it’s my age or the year that 2020 has been.

In some ways, the year has stood still, or at least it’s seemed like that with how slowly it’s passing by, and it seems that every week is a new loss: Childhood heroes like Curly Neal of the Harlem Globetrotters, Chuck Yeager, Little Richard, actors that I enjoyed watching on my own and with my mother: Stan Kirsch, Kirk Douglas, Fred Willard, Phyllis George, James Lipton, Orson Bean, and Olivia de Havilland to name but a few.

And those that really hit me hard, whose deaths I still carry with me in some way or form: Jerry Stiller, Grant Imahara, Tomie de Paola, Chadwick Boseman, John Lewis, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and so many others including a dear friend who died just last week.

And yet, we continue on, as we do.

I am attending a three week Advent program on Zoom that includes music, prayer, reflection, journaling, and breakout groups. It is affording me the time, the facilitator calls it the gift of time, the ability to sit still, in quiet, and reflect. Contemplate.

And so I will pass that on to you right now.

Take fifteen minutes. Set a timer if you need to, and just stop. You can come back to this post after the fifteen minutes are finished, but take the time and sit with yourself (and with G-d if you like, but you don’t have to).

– – Fifteen minutes of quiet – –

Did you light a candle? Listen to music? Pray? Think? Draw or color?

This morning, I did all of these things and I was inspired, even just a little, to finish this post.

Some things that inspired me this week:

“Always keep your eyes open. Keep watching. Because whatever you see can inspire you.”

— Grace Coddington
Advent Wreath art. (c)2020
Stained Glass Window. Immaculate Conception, Mary. (c)2020
The light shining on the Advent Wreath. (c)2020

Who Are The Saints We Turn To?

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When I was young, I loved to read about Joan of Arc. It was many years before I discovered she was a saint. It just wasn’t part of my growing up to associate her with religion; not really. I know she talked to G-d; I mean, so did I! I wasn’t Christian so I didn’t grow up attending church. But I knew Joan of Arc. She was a part of my girlhood, like Anne Frank, another young girl, someone I could relate to who also died too young. These were my heroes.

In my recent years of finding Catholicism and spirituality, I’ve added to my “collection” of saints and saintly people. I love hearing that saints are just like us. I’ve also learned that they are an outgrowth of their times. Sometimes their lives are huge and important and sometimes their deaths are, but in a lot of times, they are just ordinary people who do or preach extraordinary things. I know that today is All Saints Day, but I was still taken aback by the number of times I was called by the saints in the last two weeks.

Once I put this topic on my calendar a few weeks ago, I spent a lot of time thinking about it and the saints I look to in my life. They do change depending on the circumstances. I didn’t start reading on any of them in particular, but I looked at the saints for the day, seeing which feast days were coming up and thought a lot of who I felt the closest to.

Throughout October, I had been attending weekly zoom presentations on Diversity in Spirituality. Last week’s lecture was given by Dr. Kim Harris of Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California. Her focus was on Black Americans, their experience, their worship, and their saints (and lack thereof). In addition to music and talk of the ancestors, Dr. Harris also asked the following question:

In our troubled and tumultuous times, what kinds of saints do we need or what kinds of saints do we need to be?

I was stunned into silence. That is very nearly the exact question I put on my calendar, the one that I’ve been contemplating on for the past two weeks, and here it was as our breakout room assignment!

What kinds of saints do we need in our lives right now indeed?

In conjunction to that synchronism and along with all of these thought provoking happenings, yesterday, I also attended a scheduled Day of Reflection centered on walking and praying with the saints. I had been looking forward to this day for several weeks and it did not disappoint. It also led me in my continuation of thinking about the saints and who I feel the closest to.

This was a question that I had been giving a lot of thought to, although in my mind I hadn’t phrased it quite like that at all. I’ll share a few thoughts with you.

I’ve mentioned Joan of Arc earlier. I was always enthralled by her hearing voices and following as well as being able to command an army. Maybe it was because I grew up in the feminist wave of the 70s that it seemed impossible to ignore and easy to admire.

St. Kateri Tekakwitha is a newer, local saint. Her birthplace is in upstate New York at the village where the North American Jesuit Martyrs died although they weren’t there at the same time. The spring where St. Kateri was baptized is there, and I am hoping to be in good enough shape to go through the woods to the spring sometime in 2021.

St. Elen is my personal saint, the patron of travelers and roads. I chose her for my saint’s name for my confirmation in 2014. Upon finding her, I found so many things about her that I could relate to as well as having been in her homeland, literally where she walked the earth although I did not know it at the time. I was fortunate to be able to pilgrimage to one of her holy wells in Wales in 2017, and it still gives me pause when I remember my times there.

Maximilian Kolbe and Edith Stein draw me back to my Jewishness and my Jewish upbringing. I know that Maximilian Kolbe wasn’t Jewish but he was killed in the camps in Nazi Germany as was Edith Stein. It reminds me that others (in Edith Stein’s case) have walked a similar path to mine.

I was drawn to Mary, Untier of Knots through Pope Francis’ devotion, and it has only grown stronger over the years. There is something very familiar about untying knots as a mother from shoelaces to necklaces to yarn and in needlework, not to mention the untying and smoothing that goes along metaphorically.

St. Dafydd is, of course, the patron saint of Wales, a place that I feel connected to since I first set foot there in 1987.

And finally, in this moment at least, Mary Magdalene. I didn’t know much about her; her life was co-opted a bit and confused with others, but what I do know and believe is that she followed Jesus from very early on. She was the first of his disciples to see him after his Resurrection, and she brought the word of his Resurrection to the apostles, becoming the first to bring the Holy Word of Jesus to others after his death. I love that she is the Apostle to the Apostles and that she is in history as someone who can possibly convert hearts to allow women priest and preachers.

Which saints are you drawn to during these difficult times of chaos and uncertainity?

Art is mine based on the song:
Saints Of God In Glory
Frank Brownstead · Bernadette Farrell · St. Thomas More Group, 1991.
(c)2020

Listen here.

Inspire. July.

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Original art. kbwriting. (c)2020

“There’s a million things I haven’t done, but just you wait.”

Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton: An American Musical

Throughout this pandemic, I have written and arted and journaled and prayed, usually with no rhyme or reason, letting the time at home and the mood of the day take the lead.

Last week, I volunteered, but was also asked and encouraged to write something for our weekly Cursillo newsletter. Our lay director decided to start it during the pandemic to keep everyone in touch.

I was happy to do it, but it took forever to start it. I had three drafts about online retreats; just a paragraph each. I skipped two lines to try again, and then it was July 3rd.

Our day revolved around watching Hamilton on Disney+. It was the premiere and for those of us unable to see the Tony Awared winning Broadway or the traveling shows, it would be the first time to view its magnificence.

I woke my family with shouts of “It’s Hamiltime!

And that began the piece that would eventually make it into the newsletter.

It was inspired in subtle ways, and then it just came to me while sitting at the keyboard.

Inspiration is everywhere.

Let it catch you when you’re least expecting it.