Reflecting

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​With borrowed car I was able to attend my first retreat/workshop of the year! There is another one next week, but what brought me to keyboard was what happened when I arrived and then when I left, and on leaving I realized that it is something of a habit for me.

Each time is different. The subjects are different; the program director is often someone new, although not this time. I always walk in, greet the greeter, settle into my seat, drop my things, and return to the entrance to pay my fee and sign in.

When I arrived on Thursday, I was greeted by the associate with such joy that it almost took me aback. I missed last month, and I guess I had forgotten to email that I was coming since I was already registered, but her joy became my joy at belonging in this place; with these people. It filled me.

Upon leaving, I take more time than I should. I put away my tea cup and throw out my napkins. I say goodbye and I slowly return to my car. Then I sit in the car, whether it’s for two minutes or ten. On this day, I read from my daily Lenten reflection book that I hadn’t the time to read in the morning when I woke up. As I began to drive away, I saw the windmill/hermitage, its stones stark against the gray sky and the bare branches of the many trees that will fill in the coming weeks. I pulled over and took a picture, similar to the one you see here.

Windmill/Hermitage. (c)2019


It just spoke to me.
About halfway home, I realized that the car was very quiet.

It occurred to me that I never turn on the radio after an event at the retreat center. I continue to be at the retreat for my commute home, not wanting the morning (or the day; or the weekend) to end. It stays with me until…

I don’t really notice the changeover, but at some point on the drive, the stillness of the retreat house, the words of wisdom, the spirit, and the calm make way for the lists in my head that had been pushed aside temporarily. Once I realize that the retreat moments are gone, I’m practically home.

On this day, however, I decided to jot down a few thoughts, those very thoughts that you’re reading, and prolong the wonder of the spirit before writing the checks and making the phone calls.

I’ve been waiting to be called to post this. As you’ve already read, this was written during Lent this past spring, but it could have been written any time in the last few years. Every time I’ve returned to the “house” I’ve thought about this, and always meant to post it, but never did for whatever reason.

Now, I’m back at the House for my first weekend of the year. I say that as if I go on many weekends throughout the year. I do not. I’d love to do more, but that is simply not financially feasible.

When I walked in this time, I was greeted (by one sister and one associate) and I checked in. My son brought my suitcase down the hall to my room and after inspecting the recliner and deemed it worthy of his admiration, he hugged me goodbye and left. He asked if I wanted the door closed (I did not) and then I was alone. I usually unpack a few things so I’m not living out of a suitcase for the two and a half days, but today, I just sat in the recliner. I knew how it felt from the last weekend I was here, and I had requested this room mainly because of this chair. I almost never sit in the chair. I don’t find the wooden rockers comfortable and the side chairs just don’t make me feel whatever it is that I’m looking for, but when I sat in this chair, it was perfect. Not so comfortable that I’d fall asleep or so uncomfortable that I couldn’t relax or contemplate the weekend, but, like Goldilocks, I found it just right.

I sat.

Not for very long, but it only took a moment or two to feel it; that feeling of belonging. Of the world drifting away for a few moments. It was like a release of …everything – the bills, the kids, the politics, the lists; it all melted away. I didn’t notice it happening; I just knew that it did.

Whatever the subject of the retreat is, while it’s important and interesting, and giving me something to both hold onto and to reach for, it is only part of the retreat experience. Last night, we talked about resting, but not resting as in sleeping or brushing off this day and getting ready for the next; the resting that comes through meditation, which isn’t legs crossed on the floor, eyes closed, hands still, although it is that for some. It is the meditation that is contemplation, that is searching, but quietly, letting it come to me rather than my running after something that I can’t see. It’s a refresh, a recharge, but it is also more than that.

Through my bedroom window there is a copse of trees and through them there is a parking lot. I know this, but when I looked out this morning in the very early morning light, it looked like a lake and its stillness brought me stillness and it reminded me that wherever I am can be where I want to be.

Things are not what they appear to be. (c)2019


When I wake up at 5:30 in the morning, I typically roll over and return to sleep while I can. For an instant I think I’ll get up and write, but I never do. Not even here, but today that is what I’m doing. It’s five-thirty and this is what I’m doing, and it feels perfectly just right.
Once I finish, which is coming very quickly, I am going to put on a long sweater and sit out in the courtyard. I picture myself with a warm mug of tea but I know that I’m not getting the tea; I just want a few minutes outside feeling the breeze that I see blowing the leaves around. That’s how I will start today.

Good morning.

My Easter Bag

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​It’s hard to believe that Easter was only one week ago. Most of my Holy Week was spent in church between morning prayer services, the parish community dinner, evening prayer and mass. There is a lot going on and a lot packed into the second half of the week following Palm Sunday. The three days of Holy Week prior to Easter Sunday is called the Triduum, which is basically one long service beginning on Holy Thursday with the sign of the Cross and ending at the Easter Vigil on Saturday night the same way. At our parish we have hospitality or receptions on Saturday morning and evening, the former in celebration of the lighting the Easter fire and the latter in celebration of welcoming the new members to the Catholic church through the RCIA program.

It’s very fulfilling and spiritual, but it’s long and it’s tiring. Since my first Vigil, one of my yearly customs is that I will bring a small tote bag along with my usual purse to carry a water, cough drops, tissues. I’ll add my worship booklet so I have it for the entire three days.

At some point during Holy Week, I’ll realize that I don’t really need my pocketbook if I toss my wallet and kindle and phone and other necessities into the tote bag. That way I only have one bag to carry and keep track of.

Genius, right?

Well, every year, I’m surprised by the time Saturday afternoon rolls around at how heavy this tote bag is. I don’t realize it’s getting heavier as I add things one at a time until the very end when I go to grab it out of the car, and it pulls me back in.

Here is a picture of it when I arrived at church for the lighting of the Easter fire on Saturday morning:

The inside of my Easter bag on Holy Saturday morning. (c)2019

It has my large wallet, kindle, hearing aids, extra batteries for the hearing aids, clipboard and pad if the urge to write grabs hold of me, a pen, packet of tissues, bag of cough drops, daily reflection book for Lent, cell phone, rosary, Triduum worship aid, any of the other worship aids that I’ve collected during the week, bottle of cold water, umbrella for the upcoming rain (it wasn’t raining when I arrived but it was raining very hard when we all went outside to light the fire). I think there may have been a few other odds and ends in there. All I know is it was really heavy by the time I pulled it out of the back seat.
Admittedly, and embarrassingly, this one week later, it still has stuff in it, and needs to be completely emptied and put away. It doesn’t have much, but still, it’s long past time.

Tragedy

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We were at a work event for my son’s job this afternoon when I found out that the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris was on fire. Just the view on the computer screen with the white smoke, the bright orange flames licking the stones and rising higher and higher was speech stopping; it was mind-numbing to me. I have a sensitivity to viewing buildings burning. I think it brings me to 9/11, it brings me to California wildfire devastation, and with television and social media it brings it literally into our fingertips.

As of this writing, I believe the two towers have been saved even though the spire collapsed. One of the rose stained glass windows was destroyed, but three remained. The statues that had been on the spire were removed four days ago as part of the renovation. The art, artifacts, and holy relics were saved after being removed during the fire. These are all good things.

This church is nearly one thousand years old. The person who laid the first stone was not alive at its completion. As it has been before, it will be rebuilt because like the church of people remains in perpetuity, the building will be repaired, rebuilt, and it won’t be the last time. The idea, the ideal of the church family lives on in the people who will return to Notre Dame.

In the meantime, we can mourn the physical building as we mourn the death of a loved one and know it will rise again.

I have never been to Notre Dame in Paris, France, but my son visited while on a school trip in his senior year in high school. Knowing how close I am to my own local church and my Catholic devotion brought this home for my souvenir from his visit, ironically also during Holy Week. It sits on my bookshelf where I look at it every now and then, and after seeing the cathedral burning, upon coming home I took this pewter replica in my hand and turned it over, touching the carvings, pressing on the spire, tracing the cuneiform. It was sad and comforting at the same time. (c)2019

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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Sixth Anniversary of Pope Francis

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Click to visit an article on Pope Francis’ coat of arms and motto. He kept both coat of arms and motto from his time as Cardinal with the addition of papal symbols. MISERANDO ATQUE ELIGENDO translates to “he saw him through the eyes of mercy and chose him” from a writing of St. Bede. All Rights Reserved, Vatican and Pope Francis. (c)2019

Jorge Mario Bergolio was chosen as the 266th Pope after Pope Benedict XVI resigned his position of Pope in 2013. Jorge was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1936 to Mario and Maria Bergolio. He had four siblings: two brothers, and two sisters. 
Cardinal Bergolio chose Francis as his papal name after St. Francis of Assisi, indicating his concern for and his commitment to the poor. His focus is towards the poor, and the church meeting its people where they are as well as encouraging mercy by and for Catholics worldwide.

Pope Francis is also a pope of many firsts: he is the first Pope who is a Jesuit; he is the first from the Americas as well as the first from the Southern Hemisphere. He is also the first pope from outside of Europe since the 8th century.

You can find Pope Francis on Twitter and on the Vatican website, where you can read all of his writings (as well as other Popes) and homilies. I’m currently in the middle of reading Gaudete et Exsultate (Rejoice and Be Glad; an Apostolic Exhortation on the call to holiness.) The website is a fascinating virtual pilgrimage of its own.

He was inaugurated as Pope in 2013, on March 19. That was nearly exactly one year since I had been visiting and praying at my church.

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