Mental Health Monday, Part 2: Sing of Mary: A Springtime Celebration

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These mental health Mondays have been giving me trouble each week. I’m struggling to find my balance, and each day brings a new horror of deaths and White House incompetence that quite honestly is beyond frustrating; I don’t want to overuse the word, but it is horrifying. It’s beyond anything that we’ve seen in my lifetime. For those of you who saw the New York Times cover commemorating the covid-19 death toll reaching 100,000, you can see and understand it’s devastation.

It’s been a difficult time for those of us already on the edge with our “everyday” mental health issues having to slog through isolation day after day, and then watching on television people doing the exact opposite and wondering what the whole point is. I understand. Some parts of my anxiety have subsided, but some parts of my depression are heightened a bit. Nothing that needs a med check, but enough that it’s noticeable, and it’s hard to center myself.

I would usually find a quiet corner in a Starbucks and write. However, the Starbucks dining rooms are closed, and writing just isn’t there for me. While pre-covid I would sit in the car and have lunch and read or write on my Kindle, I find that eating in the car when the car is respite from the home isolation is not giving me the mental boost that it once did. I don’t know if it will come back post-covid, but for now, I’ve put off that worrying for another time. I’m trying to stay in the present, and the writing…I hope it will come. I will occasionally jot down a few thoughts in a journal, and I’ve been publishing here, but the writing that I long for just isn’t available to me right now. I can’t slow my brain down enough to get through a sentence let alone a paragraph and I may have mentioned my overactive brain has also been keeping me from sleeping properly.

Our family did have a nice weekend. We went to the comic store (curbside) and then got takeout from a chicken place, went to the state park and had a picnic in our car. Despite what I said above about eating in the car, this was actually a lovely time and we had a nice drive to places not too near our home so it was a different view for everyone. The people around us seemed to be following covid protocols so there was no outside stress from counting the maskless faces.

Upon arriving home, I discovered an art and music presentation that I had missed, but luckily through the magic of technology and the internet, I was able to watch the video of it.

The art was by my favorite spiritual artist, Brother Mickey McGrath and I know that when I’m enamored by something I post about it a lot and I will readily admit to being a Bro. Mickey stan. The music was from Meredith Augustin. I’m providing the link below because I think that this presentation, while religious in nature was also very soothing and would be a beneficial mental health exercise for anyone. Brother MIckey’s voice in describing the artwork and Meredith’s singing really just lulled me into a different headspace, and the beauty of it I think transcends and invites non-religious people to enjoy it as well, and spend an hour with it, away from everything else that may be weighing on us right now. I would certainly encourage you to give it a try, at least through the first musical section. If it’s not for you, of course, stop the playback and find your own musical and art encounter.

I had originally planned to draw or doodle in my sketchbook while I watched it, but I was so caught up in the presentation and pulled so far into the pictures that I didn’t do anything but give myself over to it. I can always doodle tomorrow.

Give yourself that time to breathe.

Sing of Mary: A Springtime Celebration in Art, Story, and Song with Brother Mickey McGrath and Meredith Augustin

Laudato Si’ Week Book Rec

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In 2017, my friend Brother Mickey McGrath took Pope Francis’ Encyclical, Laudato Si’ and created a wonderful visual meditation using the Pope’s words and Brother Mickey’s art. It is just breathtaking. I would highly recommend reading and exploring it, especially if you can do it outdoors with the breeze ruffling your hair and the leaves on the trees.

Our Common Home is published by World Library Publications. From the back cover:

Our Common Home invites us to slow down, look areound us, and remember that all we see has been granted to us and is in our care.

Cover (c)2017-2020

Back Cover (c) 2017-2020

The Black Madonna

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As part of Mary’s month, I’d like to something written by my friend, Brother Mickey McGrath, artist and author. This article, titled We Need Images of the Black Madonna Now More Than Ever appeared in the March 5, 2018 issue of America Magazine. Below is one of the pictures that appeared with the article.

Our Lady of Montserrat. (c) Brother Mickey McGrath 2020

Ways to Pray with Prayer Cards

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I’ve mentioned my friend, Brother Mickey McGrath often. After one of his retreats I come away with a renewed sense of peace in myself and my faith as well as a renewed energy to expand my creativity. You often see that depicted on these pages with my photography and artistic attempts, some of which are quite good, and others….well, I tried.

One of his new products is a card set called Prayer Starters. Below the cut, you will be able to click on the picture to be taken to his website to purchase them if you are interested in that. Simply, they are a set of about thirty cards with an easel under the theme of Wise and Holy Women featuring the words of the four women Doctors of the Church, Sts. Hildegard of Bingen, Catherine of Siena, Theresa of Avila, and Therese Lisieux plus Dorothy Day and Sister Thea Bowman combined with Brother Mickey’s beautiful art.

I’ve been using them as a daily devotional although I haven’t swapped out the cards every morning. Sometimes I leave them up for a few days and let them speak to me as long as I can feel it. This usually lasts two days. 

I mention this because two cards ago I came across a quotation from St. Hildegard of Bingen:

“Only when we connect misery to our cravings can we begin to solve our dilemma.”

I did not understand its meaning. I read it again, and then went about my work. Whenever I passed by my dining room table, I read it again, paused a moment, thought to myself, again, that I do not understand this; what does this mean?

Some of you may read it the first time and think, of course, this is not hard, what is she not seeing?

Honestly, I didn’t know.

I began to read it a bit more slowly. I’d sit with it and read it out normally, then a bit slower, and then I’d emphasize the punctuation, adding in my own commas, like you would with a poem, each line paused for absorption. I think I did this for two full days. I still did not get it.

Simple words, but they simply weren’t reaching me.

I don’t know how many days passed, each day I’d read the card at least once, more likely twice. I stared at the card on the easel. I held the card between two fingertips. I read it over and over and over again.

One morning, probably about very nearly a week ago, I read it, each word on my tongue, my inserted comma giving pause, and as I reached the period at the end, my eyes opened wide.

It was there!

Right there the whole time.

And now that I’d seen it, I couldn’t unseen it; I couldn’t not understand the meaning, and the most significant part was how much it related to my life, to my cravings of things and thoughts and symbols and signs. Little things and big things, and there in all of it wasn’t misery but the idea that misery could be brought on with too much of the cravings or the opposite that if I think of the cravings as misery perhaps I’d crave less and therefore be satisfied with less. And maybe that’s not it at all, but that was what it was for me.

Because that’s what has happened in my life. I can feel it and I’m living it in some ways. I am not a pious, ascetic, silence seeker, but I also do not crave everything the way I once did. Not only do I prioritize secular, monetary and time things, but I am also prioritizing my faith in relation to my secular life as well as the items of faith that I want to follow and adopt into my lifestyle. That’s not to suggest a change in doctrine, but in a feeling of where I want my faith to bring me, and for me to bring to others.

Only when we connect misery to our cravings can we begin to solve our dilemma.

Card from Prayer Starters Wise and Holy Women Card Pack, Brother Mickey McGrath, All Rights Reserved. Photo mine. (c)2019

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12/52 – Brother Mickey McGrath

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Brother Mickey McGrath is an Oblate of St. Francis de Sales.

I was fortunate to meet Brother Mickey on my very first weekend retreat at the Dominican Retreat Center I go to. There was so much that I didn’t understand or know about the whole retreat experience. I was slightly withdrawn; I knew no one. I took my meals with people, but I was still alone. Now, that I’ve gone to more events, I recognize some of the people, I’m a little more comfortable in the physical place, but things are still new. I just discovered that there is a refrigerator for the retreatants to use. I’d say it’s taken me three years to find that out.

This first retreat, though was also an art experience. I do not art. I know after following me for as long as some of you have, you wonder why I say that, but I really don’t believe I have any talent. I’m too linear. I’m too much a writer.

This retreat changed all of that.

It was titled Drawing Closer to G-d, and its focus was on mandalas. Mickey had beautiful ones. I learned some art techniques, including to color outside the lines, to draw beyond the mandala border.Art is pictures and symbols and color, but it is also words, and I really enjoy the word art that I’ve done this year, especially my political and my scriptural.

Every time Brother Mickey directs a retreat in my area, I do my best to attend. That has given me the opportunity to become friends with him, enjoying warm greetings when we see each other. I’m a bit more talkative now, and I ask questions if I have any. I add to the discussion, and I art.

And I enjoy it so much that I do it at home. I find the coloring very calming, contemplative and prayerful.

Brother Mickey was and is my inspiration for stepping out of my comfort zone, for drawing a bit and coloring a bit, and truly moving closer to G-d as well as myself.

Brother Mickey’s works are available through his website.

The Best Laid Plans

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I’m on retreat this weekend. The subject is Wise and Holy Women. I had intended to make two posts or so this weekend, but G-d had other plans. When I  unpacked I  discovered that I did not have my keyboard. 

On Sunday, I  will write the twelfth week of the new 52 which was supposed to appear here today. Week 12 is a person, Brother Mickey McGrath, oblate and artist. He is our retreat director. He is wonderful and I will tell you of his influence on me over the last few years, opening my heart and creativity. 

In the meantime, follow the link in his name and look at his beautiful and spiritual art. 

Until next time, 

Blessings