Soup’s On!

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For the last six Wednesdays, beginning with Ash Wednesday, my parish has been delivering soup weekly during Lent. Typically during Lent, they would have a noon Mass and then have a community soup lunch in the parish center, but since covid arrived last spring, this was their reaction to the cancelling: a limited delivery service for the remaining weeks of last year. In 2021, they started delivering right at the beginning.

It’s been a wonderful idea and example of works put into action. Every week, my family looks forward to seeing which soup is that week’s, and tasting something that we normally would not have made ourselves.

Since the kids are learning remotely, they are home to run outside when we hear the car in the driveway and bring in four soup-bowl sized containers filled with the steaming hot soup of the day along with four soft pieces of (usually sourdough) bread for dipping or spreading with butter on the side.

Every slurp of broth, every bite of fresh vegetables is a reminder of the greater community of the church. There are gatherings in the parish kitchen (covid protocols always in place), chopping, cooking, ladling, packaging, and delivering our midday bounty. And for us at home there is a brief respite from our individual remote workings to come together even for a moment for each of us to collect our containers, talk a minute about what kind of soup, and appreciate the greater community around us.

Creamy Vegetable Chowder, Hamburger Barley, Cheesy Potato & Corn Chowder, Tuscan White Bean, Rye bread, Corned Beef & Cabbage, and Chicken Pot Pie, Pastry round.
(c)2021

It is a time when all of us at home can come together to enjoy the offering midday, mid-week, mid-Lent. We share the same meal, unlike most lunches during the work and school day, and we ooh and aah as our taste buds come alive. A couple of times I was able to enjoy lunch with my kids when their lunches coincided with the delivery.

We find out that our parish cooks like pepper and/or garlic depending on the soup. In mid-March one of the soups that contained corn had the most delicious, crunchy kernels of corn. It tasted like summer corn and I savored every tiny bite. Chunks of tomato in the bean soup surprising me (in good ways) with its red broth rather than white. They were all delicious and filling and made for a wonderful, satisfying lunch. There was rye bread with the corned beef and cabbage soup and a cracker sized pie crust round to go with the chicken pot pie soup, both wonderful change-ups and delicious.

On the last day we received a cheerful card from the students in youth ministry. I’m already looking forward to next Lent and hoping that they do this again. I’m not ready to give up my weekly soup so I even made matzo ball soup on the weekend for Passover.

Card received from youth ministry.
(c)2021

I don’t have any of their recipes, but I’m sure varieties of them can be googled, so I will include the names of the weekly selections: Creamy Vegetable Chowder, Hamburger Barley, Cheesy Potato & Corn Chowder, Tuscan White Bean, Corned Beef & Cabbage, and Chicken Pot Pie.

The Easter Fire

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I didn’t know what to expect at my first Easter fire. It was nine years ago, and I still remember it as if it was this morning. I had decided on Tuesday of Holy Week to attend my first mass (thank you Tim for suggesting it), and then my second mass on Wednesday. I thought I was just getting into the groove of daily mass when I turned up on Thursday to what was a prayer service and not a mass. Holy Thursday Mass was at night. The same occurred Friday and Saturday mornings.

But Saturday morning was different. When I arrived there were already several people outside preparing the firewood, the kindling and the tall stone brazier for the lighting of the Easter fire. I didn’t know at the time that the fire is lit in the morning after the prayer service and tended to for the rest of the day by parishioners. This is done regardless to weather and I’ve seen some years in the rain, in the cold, in the wind; sometimes all three simultaneously.

At sundown, after burning all day, the fire is used to light the Paschal candle (this candle represents the light of Christ coming into the world), which is then carried into the church and is used to light all of the individual handheld tapered candles inside the church for the Easter Vigil. As an aside, the entire church is in darkness and as the candles are lit and the people in the pews are illuminated, it is a magnificent visual as well as spiritual to have the darkness overcome in the manifestation of the engulfing light, filling the entire church with the warm glow of hundreds of candles and the quiet singing (three times during the procession) of the light of Christ with the congregation responding, thanks be to G-d. After that, the Exsultet (the Easter Proclamation) is read or rather chanted.

Before any of that happens though, hours before, the priest lights the Easter fire in the presence of parishioners.

I was a few people back from the stone container that first year. I couldn’t see very well. I was wrapped up in a large scarf, trying to brace myself against the wind. It wasn’t strong enough to push anyone over, but it was just enough to be annoying to the priest and his assistants who were attempting to light the fire. It was also very, very cold. I still wasn’t sure if I belonged here.

I knew the moment the fire was lit. I felt something touch me inside. I couldn’t see it, and it was a split second or more before the exclamation of the crowd in the front let the rest of us all know it was lit. I heard the flint and stone, that sharp scraping that has to be done in just such a way to spark, and it took more than once or twice.

When the spark caught the paper and dry sticks I heard a whoosh sound, but it hadn’t come from the fire, and I felt that whoosh inside me. I was startled by it, I was chilled, and not by the cold. Something in me had changed or pulled me one metaphorical step forward. It wasn’t this moment that drew me to conversion, but this moment stands out as one of those unexplainable, miraculous openings to a wellspring of new emotions. Tears came involuntarily to my eyes.

It was deeply moving and as everyone moved back inside to the gathering space sharing coffee, bagels, and donuts, I was lost in my thoughts wondering what I had witnessed, what I was feeling emotionally, savoring the continuing shiver in my soul.

A Labyrinth for Your Thoughts

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A little over two years ago I discovered labyrinths. I happened upon one at a local church and it immediately drew me in and down the proverbial rabbit hole. I was fascinated by it. It wasn’t just the shape, the circular path, but also in this case the courtyard it was in. There were windows set in stone walls with worn wooden benches separated by narrow walls giving it a medieval structured look. Opposite the entrance to the courtyard were a pair of French doors and around the boundary of the space were a variety of plants and flowers. The first time I was there was a bright sunny day, but on my second visit when I actually prayed with the labyrinth it was much colder and overcast. It didn’t dampen my enthusiasm for my hour in the labyrinth and meditating in the courtyard.

I started reading about them, and in an unexpected coincidence I met a woman in my writing group who used to teach a workshop about labyrinths. She loaned me a few of her books for my reading that semester.

The first thing I learned in my studies is that labyrinths and mazes, though the words are often used interchangeably, are not the same thing. Mazes are meant to be a little confusing, they dead end and may have more than one path to get to the center and the goal or treasure. Labyrinths usually have one path to the center and then either a second path out or a reversal of the original path and the treasure is in the journey through the labyrinth rather than a golden prize.

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Murphy

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Murphy is not a friend of mine.

I don’t like him or his stupid law.

Who’s idea was it for a law elucidating that everything that can go wrong will go wrong, but as if that weren’t enough throwing in a little irony just to make the sweetness that much more bitter?

After setting my own alarm and getting reminded by my husband as well as a separate phone call reminder from my son, and having the internet cut out after I had filled in the entire registration form online, and then having to set up my mobile hot spot I was finally able to register to receive the covid vaccine.

I had been waiting for what seemed like forever, and while I am not glad to have a comorbidity to get at this place on the list,

I am still happy to be on my way to being vaccinated.

All was well.

Or so I thought.

I went to a Zoom workshop/lecture, and I did not feel well. I hadn’t felt well the night before, but it’s spring-ish, so of course I ignored it after taking several naps, and sleeping all night. That should have been my first clue. I don’t sleep all night.

As soon as the class ended, I ate a bowl of soup and parked myself in the recliner. I was hot.

Really hot.

My fever hit 101 on the forehead thermometer where 97 is normal. This was a fever. The screen was even red to let all lookers know there was a fever in the house.

Every half an hour or so, I had my daughter add a blanket on me.

I had my son bring me a pillow.

That was my second clue. No one argued. Not that I was very demanding, but still not one gripe, groan, or grouch. Also after delivering a blanket or pillow, they remained an extra moment. I must look really sick, I thought.

I ate nothing else the rest of the day or the next. By the time they came home that first night, I had been sweating so much, my clothes were drenched and the blankets were piled on the floor at the foot of the recliner. I had to put my clothes directly into the laundry basket.

How could I be sick?!

My vaccine appointment was in two weeks.

And then it occurred to me: did I have covid?

I told you I do not like this Murphy fellow. I finally get a vaccine appointment, and now I’m going to have covid?! I was not happy, but I was also very sick.

I went to the local Walgreen’s drive through and took a covid test. Twenty-four hours later, I found out it was NEGATIVE.

By then, my symptoms had pretty much subsided. I was really fine except for a low, dull headache which was cleared up with some Tylenol.

I spent the next business day catching up on a week’s worth of owed work: minutes for the committee I’m on, calling the doctor to make sure I was still able to be vaccinated, making appointments for my daughter, confirming my mammogram appointment for the end of the week.

A lot of, “I was sick all last week, I’m covid negative, should I…”

Fortunately, I’m good to go on everything.

On Tuesday, my daughter and I left early in the morning. She had appointments and between them we had breakfast and lunch plans and a little bit of school shopping – halfway through algebra and she needs a new calculator. We’ve been lucky; she’s been using her brother’s which we got from a friend of mine. High school calculators are expensive.

Murphy.

We went through the Starbucks drive through and I had my card in my hand to pay when the barista pointed to the car ahead of me who was just driving off and said, “That guy paid for your drinks.” I looked at my daughter and I knew the look on her face mirrored my own. Her eyebrows rose, her smile widened. She was happy, excited and we laughed and were shocked. I heard him say to the other cashier that they had a pay it forward going. My daughter wanted to pay for the person behind us. What else could I do? We continued the chain.

What was really remarkable about it was that I’d never had that happen before. I’ve offered to pay for people, I’ve donated gift cards to the customer behind me in Target, I’ve left money at the laundromat for strangers, but the excitement and the feeling of both being on the receiving end and the giving end of something so spontaneous and convivial was really something else; something special.

I think it meant even more coming off of the week I’d had. After getting progressively worse day by day and then returning to normal, it was so special to have this not-normal, not just kind or generous, but to have this joyfulness that comes with the unexpected was something that stayed with us all day.

It will continue to stay with me whenever I need something to lift me up. I will remember the stranger in the car in front of me at Starbucks ending a bad week and beginning a good one.

Don’t tell Murphy.

Praying the Stations of the Cross

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I committed to praying the Stations of the Cross every Friday. during Lent I have a few different ones that I’ve found and wanted to share today’s with you.

This was originally presented last year, early in the pandemic and parts of the talk reflect that. It is my friend Brother Mickey, and in the video he shares three different versions of the Stations.

The first version is the art from his book, A Light for My Path: Praying the Psalms on the Way to the Cross.

The second version is based on his trip to Kenya, and the third is a set of stained glass windows in a Vienna, Virginia church. There are also other pieces of art that he relates to the Stations.

Between each station, there is a momentary prayer that can be prayed along with him:

LORD, BY YOUR CROSS
AND RESURRECTION,
YOU HAVE SET US FREE.....

YOU ARE THE SAVIOR OF THE WORLD.

Presbyters

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Here we are in the first full week of Lent. I think we’re all getting used to the idea of what this year’s Lent entails. As I mentioned last week, I am trying to organize my thoughts around the Lenten pillars of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving and incorporating those pillars with the tripod of my way through Cursillo of piety, study, and action. Something the priest said at Monday’s mass stood out to me, and that was that we are all presbyters, as opposed to proselytizers. Public prayer, not conversion. That was the word [presbyter] used in that day’s Reading from the First Letter of Peter, and defined in Father’s homily as someone who prays in public. We may recognize that word as the basis for Presbyterian, a Protestant sect of Christianity.

If we are all called to be presbyters as Peter exalts us to “tend the flock of G-d in [our] midst” [1 Peter 5: 1-4], how do we reconcile that with Jesus’ call to not be like the hypocrites and go to our rooms and pray in private [Matt 6.6]?

How should, how can we pray in public and not become like those hypocrites?

As I set this aside earlier in the week, I thought about the ways in which I was praying in public and yet hoping to avoid hypocrisy. I am definitely thinking more about prayer and ways to be closer to G-d during these forty days leading up to the Easter Vigil. I spent time discerning what actions and tasks were important to me and which ones I needed to give up to make my time more effective and positive, not only for me, but for those people I would be working with.

Sometimes prayer is a conversation between yourself and G-d and sometimes it is contemplative, thinking on a scripture passage or meditation. We ask for things – petitions, we ask for things for others – intercessory prayer and sometimes we just sit in the quiet and hope G-d can understand what it is we’re seeking even if we don’t necessarily know.

On Wednesday night, I participated in a centering prayer group. We met on Zoom. I had been to a workshop on centering prayer last month, and this was a good opportunity to put what I learned into practice with others.
While we were each in our own spaces and muted, we were also all together, hearing the same reading, listening to the bell that started off our quiet, contemplative time, the screen sharing a single candle if we chose to keep our eyes open to see it. Solitary and in group at the same time.

Private and public.

Admittedly, I had some trouble focusing. My house was empty and silent. The group was silent, not even a buzz from the lights or clock in the room, no airplanes flying low overhead like they’d done all morning. And still, I needed to continue to draw on my sacred word to bring me back to my prayer. By the time, I felt settled, the bell rang and it was the end of the twenty minute sit (what the prayer time is called).

It reminded me of those early days of the pandemic, when the sun was out, the snow was gone, and the cold was bearable. I would take out my camp chair to the front lawn and just sit. On occasion I took a photo of the trees or the sky. I’d write in my journal. I’d pray the rosary.

But often, I would just sit, noticing each flutter of a breeze, each chirp of a bird, and before I even realized it, an hour had passed. I’d unconsciously been doing centering prayer a year ago, but didn’t have the language to name it then.

One way I can be a presbyter is to take my chair outside (when my lawn doesn’t have the mounds of snow that it currently has) with my prayer book and journal, my pashmina and just sit. Let myself be drawn into G-d’s world and let the nearby church bells lift me from my reverie and gently bring me back to this world refreshed.

Time to Reflect

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Ash Wednesday has arrived. It feels so early this year, but I suppose everything feels a bit jumbled during this pandemic year. As my priest said at mass this morning, things are different, but they’re also the same. Less people allowed at mass. Ashes distributed with a cotton swab (my parish) or sprinkled over your head (others). I didn’t make this morning’s mass in person although I planned to, and registered to attend. The ice on my car made different plans. I was able to watch the mass livestreamed and stopped by the church later in the afternoon to pick up a small vial of ashes. It was a do it yourself for me today.

I would have thought a year into the pandemic that I’d be an expert on reflections on any subject that came to mind, but when I went to write this on Tuesday, there was nothing. Sometimes reflections feel like journal entries, and I’ve been not great at journaling this past year. I’ve tried to keep checklists – masses attended, rosaries said, writing accomplished, but even that little bit has been a failing.

I hadn’t even decided what I’d be giving up, and then I gave myself an extension. Not anything canonical, but I think sometimes when we force ourselves to do things without the impetus of why we’re doing them, they lose something in the translation.

I spend a lot of time worrying about what I’m going to give up as if forty days without chocolate or soda is a hardship in the big picture of things, but on the other hand, I think that sacrifice should also be a sacrifice of time. What can I do to grow in my relationship with G-d? What are things that I can do for these forty days that will stay with me for the next forty? And then the next?

To begin for the readers waiting with bated breath, I’m not going to make my decision on what I”ll be offering to G-d for Lent until the first Sunday of Lent although I have a good idea what it will be and it wasn’t even on my original brainstorm list. By Sunday, I will have had some time to discern what I can accomplish from giving something up or trading it for something that is more positive and/or spiritual.

Lent is a forty day period where prayer, fasting, and almsgiving take the center of spiritual life. Despite being given dispensation from holy days and Sunday masses during the pandemic, I have still gone almost every week to the livestream mass. I was happily surprised to find it just as rewarding as going in person. In the summer, I began to attend Monday’s daily mass in person and I will continue to do that. Our church has done a great job of keeping things safe. I am very lucky with both my church and my children’s school.

In addition to the three pillars of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving since I’ve become a Cursillista, I try to incorporate the tripod of piety, study, and action into my everyday life, but moreso during Lent when our time is spent in communion with Jesus, and of course, ourselves.

I have some tools and links that I’d like to share with you to assist with your own Lenten journey. The first three I will be doing throughout Lent.

Daily Reflections for Lent: Not By Bread Alone 2021 by Mary DeTurris Poust

A Stranger and You Welcomed Me from Clear Faith Publishing

Along the Way: A Jesuit Prayer Pod – a weekly Lenten podcast from two Jesuit brothers

The Examen with Father James Martin, SJ – daily podcast with Fr. Jim Martin, SJ

Prayer of Spiritual Communion (this is what my parish uses for communion during their livestream masses for those of us participating at home):

I wish, my Lord, to receive you with the purity, humility, and devotion with which your most holy Mother received you, with the spirit and fervor of the saints. Amen

In addition to some of these, I am also going to praying the Rosary on Mondays and the Stations of the Cross on Fridays as well as committing to submit a reflection to my Cursillo group’s weekly digest. I will also (finally) begin reading A Pilgrimage to Eternity: From Canterbury to Rome in Search of a Faith by Timothy Egan. This was recommended a couple of years ago and I bought it then, but haven’t found the right time to start it. I’ve decided to make that time now.

I also intend to recommit to my writing, both spiritual and secular. Throughout the pandemic, I’ve kept consistent with this website, but my other writings have fallen on the wayside. I hope to rectify that over the next forty days.

I hope to bring you more in the coming days. Have a meaningful Lent.

Inspire. March.

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Some of my tools for this year’s Lenten Journey, including art from Bro. Mickey McGrath, my rosary, a key tab from my church, journal and Scripture gift, and really thoughtful and and prayerful daily devotions for Lent from Michelle Frankl-Donnay. (c)2020

“…the road that we seek is often the road we have already found.”

– Fr. James Martin, SJ, My Life with the Saints

Thoughts

One of things I’m learning through the Cursillo movement is how I can grow in relationship to Jesus through the three principles of piety, study, and action. These are key components of Cursillo, and while I did my weekend this past October, it is still taking me some time to regularly incorporate these into my life. I believe that I’ve always done them in varying degrees, but Cursillo has given me new eyes to see what it is I’m doing.

Lent is another way, a time of the year, to reflect on my relationships and what I do for myself in spiritual ways. The picture above illustrates some of my tools for my Lenten journey.

We are all obsessed, those of us who practice with giving up something for Lent. It is usually a food or a technology – social media, cell phone during dinner, etc. A lesser known thought is to add something to your life during Lent. This is only the first full week, and I am still discerning what I will add in addition to reading the daily devotional book my church gives us.

What have I given up?

Pizza. And bacon.

I didn’t even think about it. It just appeared in my head, and once it was there, I knew it was the right choice. My family still can’t believe it.

Adding?

I’m trying to journal a bit more, and heeding Brother Mickey’s advice to take fifteen minutes a day to just be with G-d. I’ll let you know how all of that goes.

In addition to prayer and fasting for these forty days, there is also almsgiving. I always support my church and my St. Vincent de Paul Society, but for this Lent, I will also be supporting RAICES, and I encourage all of you to take up that mantle. There are still children in cages; there are still families separated. RAICES is on the front lines with all kinds of help, and have been since the beginning of this nightmare.