The Labyrinth That Wasn’t

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It may be less apparent on here than in my home but I have become obsessed extremely interested in labyrinths and praying them. I’ve always been a fan of mazes, whether on paper placemats in restaurants or as part of playing Dungeons & Dragons, sketching out the corridors of some space hoping not to meet any deadly monsters. My return to labyrinths began quite by accident at a church women’s breakfast meeting. There was a courtyard with a labyrinth at that church. I was intrigued although I didn’t walk that one at the time. I did plan a prayer one for during our summer vacation, and that was the first one I actually prayed through. The previous three were simply to get a feel for the twists and turns, plan out when prayers were appropriate, and along the way, before I had even prayed on the labyrinthine path I had the flicker of a book (as if I needed any more prompts in my writing notebook).

I will be writing more about my experiences and sharing photographs of the wonderful places I’ve discovered. I’ve planned a few day-long road trips to visit others and we’re returning to Canada where I’ll be able to pilgrimage to and pray at least one, possibly two more. In the meantime, I found the listing for one in a nearby city. My husband has been asking to go to this city to do some shopping, and I’ve been reluctant, but after finding the labyrinth, I acquiesced.

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Preview: Labyrinths

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At one of the church groups I attend, we rotate among members’ churches. The most recent one was this past June, and I was delightfully surprised to see a labyrinth in their courtyard. I didn’t walk among it; I simply admired it from afar and took a few photos.

While planning my family’s vacation to Toronto, Ontario, Canada, I tried to find a shrine or a religious destination that I could take some time for myself to meditate and pray. I really enjoyed the spiritual time that I had in Ireland, and I would like to…not replicate it, but have that become a tradition on my travels. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find anything that spoke to me. I did however, find a public labyrinth in a park as well as about half a dozen more in the surrounding area of Toronto.

I began to think about how I wanted to approach it, and before I knew it, I was doing research into labyrinths as part of religion, as part of spirituality, as part of history, and discovered to my wonder that we have several within easy driving distance.

I’ve been taking notes and taking pictures, and it may turn into some kind of a book in the future. In the meantime, this is the first labyrinth that caught my eye, and I’m sure that I’ll share more in the coming weeks.

Enjoy the last week of official summer.

Mary Magdalene

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​I have always been intrigued by Mary Magdalene, maybe because with all the followers of Jesus she kind of stood out. She wasn’t his mother or other family member; she wasn’t the daughter or spouse of one of his followers, but she seemed to drift in and out of the Gospels much the way the other Apostles did. She was from the same area as most of the Apostles, near the Sea of Galilee, probably from the fishing town of Magdala, which appears to give her its name.

While Jesus didn’t particularly send her on mission work away from him as he did with the other Apostles, she was there to witness His ministry and evangelize about it, traveling after the Resurrection to the far reaches of Gaul, preaching His Word there, and then spending her final years in prayer and contemplation in a cave in France, near Arles, called Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. Prior to her thirty years of solitude, she preached and taught after arriving in a rudderless boat, showing us modern Catholics the inclusion of women preachers from the beginning. (One needs only look to St. Brigid and St. Hildegard of Bingen for two examples that Mary was not the only woman in this role). Her journey is not well documented, and as with much of her life is sometimes conflated with both Mary of Bethany and the sinful woman (from Luke’s Gospel). However, she is mentioned by name twelve times throughout all four Gospels suggesting that had she been anyone else, it would have been mentioned. It took until 1969 when the conflation was officially removed by Pope Paul VI and she was acknowledged on her own.

For a long time, and sometimes even today, she was thought to be a prostitute or the wife of Jesus, both of which are deemed historically inaccurate. On the other hand, she was beset by seven demons, all of which Jesus drove away. She may have chosen to follow him after he performed this miracle and returned her to herself. Either way, she appears to have been a part of his earthly ministry for most of his time and then after. Unfortunately, she left behind no writings of her own.

I also find the stories of her prominence in Jesus’ discipleship believable because of John and Paul’s depiction of her in such an important and dominant part of the resurrection narrative. I have observed both of them to be sexist and dismissive of women, and so I think their inclusion of Mary gives more weight to her role as well as a stronger plausibility in my mind. In fact, in the Gospel of John, he characterizes her as the first apostle.

In appearing in all four Gospels as she did, she is shown from different perspectives and parts of the whole story of what she witnessed. Being the earliest of the four, I’m more inclined to agree with Mark’s image of the empty tomb rather than some of the other representations.

She traveled alongside Jesus as he led his ministry both as witness and disciple. She isn’t seen in a woman’s role (as Martha and Mary were in their household). She also is not an elder wise woman or a mother like Elizabeth. She asks for little if anything unlike the mother of Apostles, James and John. In fact, Luke’s Gospel talks about her support of Jesus’ ministry financially.

She remained in Jerusalem and near to Jesus for the crucifixion, his burial, and resurrection. She is the one who discovered that his tomb was empty and was the first witness of that event, and upon further scrutiny discovered Jesus himself, although she did not recognize him at first. He directed her to return to the other apostles and announce his return. She was the first one to testify to his Resurrection, and in telling the Good News to the Apostles, she is rightly called the Apostle to the Apostles.

Her feast day is today, and a few of her patronages are close to my own heart. In addition to places she is patron of, she also watches over and intercedes for apothecaries, contemplative life, converts, and women.

Today’s Readings:

Collect 

O God, whose Only Begotten Son entrusted Mary Magdalene before all others with announcing the great joy of the Resurrection, grant, we pray, that through her intercession and example we may proclaim the living Christ and come to see him reigning in your glory. Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
John 20:1-2, 11-18 

On the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him.”Mary stayed outside the tomb weeping. And as she wept, she bent over into the tomb and saw two angels in white sitting there, one at the head and one at the feet where the Body of Jesus had been. And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?”She said to them, “They have taken my Lord, and I don’t know where they laid him.”When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus there, but did not know it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?”She thought it was the gardener and said to him, “Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him.”Jesus said to her, “Mary!”She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni,”which means Teacher. Jesus said to her, “Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,”and then reported what he told her.

Further reading:

Who was Mary Magdalene?
Unknown Role of Christian Women in the Early Church
Thoughts on Women in Ministry
Did the Vatican Hide Art that Depicted Female Priests?

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.

Writer Recs – Michelle Francl-Donnay

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​I don’t know Michelle Francl-Donnay personally, she is the friend and a writing colleague of a friend, but I have had the pleasure of reading some of her writings especially around Lenten and Easter times.

I learned of her writing about a year ago from my aforementioned (and linked to) friend when I read Not by Bread Alone for Lent 2018, the daily reflection book published by Liturgical Press. My parish has been giving out these little books at each Lent and Advent (and this year for Easter) for a couple of years now, and they are by far my favorite seasonal devotional, and Michelle Francl-Donnay is by far my favorite writer of these little books (no offense to the other wonderful writers in other years). I’m excited that she will be writing the next Lent book for 2020!

I’m currently reading the multi-author book form the same publisher for the Easter season where she is the writer for the first section.

I love her writing, the way she conveys not only the spirituality but the humanity, the day to day humanness that is similar to what and how I’m inspired to write about my faith journey. She is also a scientist, a professor of chemistry at Bryn Mawr College and co-hosts a series of conversations with Director of the Vatican Observatory, Guy Consolmagno, SJ about Catholic scientists, and with that scientific background brings something of the vastness of the universe to G-d’s world and really expresses both the faraway-ness of G-d as well as the intimacy. I am always left wanting more as I continue to ruminate on her reflections.

You will not be disappointed when you check her out.

Writing on Spirituality and Contemplative Life

Quantum Theology

Science Writing

The Culture of Chemistry

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.