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.
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.
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.
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.
We’re a little more than halfway through Lent. I’ve mentioned before my difficulty in giving up bread. Fortunately, the additions I’ve made to my Lenten journey are working out much better than the bread. I have indeed attended the 9am daily mass unless I had a prior commitment. I’ve remained after mass on some days to join the other ladies who stay daily to pray the rosary. I read the Lenten reflection book my church provided. I’ve kept a Lenten journal, writing in it daily, and using it for notetaking on my retreats. I have also done some art projects. Once they’re completed, and I make room in my media files, I will share them here. I love the burst of creativity that the retreats give me.
Even just a two hour session once a week is enough to breathe a renewed spirit in me, and set me off on a project.
The month of March was full of spiritual opportunities. I was lucky to be able to attend a total of thirteen days of retreats or workshops. I’ve tried to go through the retreat center’s calendar, and I’m able to continue once a month through June. Just the idea that it’s available has me full of adrenaline to keep pushing.
As you can see, I also have my keyboard back, so I’m hoping to do a little catch up from last weekend, especially with my series: Emma Watson’s Book Club, The New 52 for weeks 12 and 13, and another book news. Those book news posts really help me organize my thoughts on the two books. They’re very jumbled up in my mind, I think due to the emotional level of both stories.
I was also asked last week to share my conversion story, which would mean talking to people, like an audience, and it’s not something I want to do, but I do kind of want to share it. When I talk about it, I get a lot of positive feedback, but I’m not sure I’m ready for it. However, after saying all that to the person suggesting my opening up, I did feel as though I might be able to in the future. That was definitely something that surprised me.
I can feel myself growing.
I will absolutely talk more about my church’s parish mission that occured in the early part of this week, but in short it focused on Pope Francis’ life and thoughts, which in general focus on mercy and forgiveness. I was truly blessed that i joined the church around the same time as Pope Francis’ choosing. He is a true inspiration to me, and the three days I spent immersed in his merciful ideas was really what I needed to end this half of Lent, and be able to continue down my path. Related to our parish mission, I will have a story of mercy and grace to share tomorrow.