Feast Day of St. Mary Magdalene

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I fully intended to write a reflection today on Mary Magdalene. In the past she’s gotten a bad rap, mostly from historical inaccuracies, misogyny, and bad faith takes, and in more recent years is re-emerging as an inspirational saint for girls and women alike.

As I searched for previous links to share at the end today, I discovered something I wrote in 2019 that really contained all that I wanted to say and I decided to share that link instead.

Mary Magdalene.

Enjoy this feast day of the Apostle to the Apostles, and follow the links at the end of that original reflection to read more on Mary as well as women’s roles in the church.

Pandemic Artifacts – Part II (of III)

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Pandemic Artifacts – Part I (of III)

Part II:

Community: Neighbors, neighborhood, rainbows, household helpers, tools, the murder of George Floyd and ensuing protests.

By the second third of the pandemic timeline, community became more important and more visible, sometimes as basic as are my neighbors wearing masks/having parties but beyond that as well.

There was more waving at each other as more people were home during the day. There were phone calls from my parish checking on our needs. The same from the kids’ schools about school meals and available wifi. Our area, and many others put rainbows up in their windows or on their lawns to be instagrammed or facebooked with area code rainbow hashtags, like a mini-scavenger hunt (hello GISH). One family in the neighborhood bought prisms and left them out, socially distanced for neighbors walking by to help themselves to. I sat outside in the front of my house reading, meditating, praying, watching the local world go by. I heard kids in strollers, on bikes, and nearby church bells ringing.

After the murder of George Floyd, I saw one or two Black Lives Matter signs in my very white, seemingly unaffected area, although it made me realize that no one is, nor should be, unaffected by the murder of a Black man by the police. The quarantine and lockdown enabled many to protest, and despite right wing complaints about social distancing, there was not much of an uptick in covid cases due to protesting as compared to political rallies held indiscriminately on the other side of the aisle.

I continued adding to my covid resource center, and my family cooked some of the recipes I was sharing. I attended church online and began to attend remote retreats, which I found both a distraction and a new way of prayer and contemplation. I wish I could say I wrote more; Maybe I did write more, at least here, and I’m proud of my work here. I tried to let the world flow around me and not put too many expectations on myself. I was home for my kids in a greater way than usual even though I’ve been home for my kids since they were born. This was the first year family didn’t ask when I was getting one or encourage me in that way of theirs to get a job. I already have several, thank you very much. We rediscovered our teamness. Looking forward to next school year in a few short months, I’m going to miss them when they return to school which we expect them to.

We were also able to go on vacation at the end of the summer. We remained in New York State since we were comfortable with the rules put in place by the state for covid precautions. I’m not sure how much longer my adult son will be willing to go along with us, and we’re enjoying time as an entire family.

The Photos:

Timeline, Part II.
(Pink = Summer, Orange = Fall)
(c)2021
4-6: Prism, orange peeler, In This House/BLM sign
(c)2021

Prism from neighbor

We belong to a neighborhood Facebook group, and at the beginning of the pandemic there were many posts offering suggestions for how to entertain the kids, especially the younger ones who weren’t in remote school. One of the fun, community activities we included ourselves in was the #Rainbow project. Houses and businesses began to put rainbows in their windows, on their garages, painted on pallets, flown on flags and banners, and included a hashtag of the area code with the word rainbow so those of us walking throughout the neighborhood could take pictures of all the rainbows we found, and post it online – on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, that sort of thing on social media.

My artifact came from one of our neighbors in the Facebook group. The family bought several prisms online and put them at the end of their driveway in a bucket with a rainbow flag. They posted on the Facebook that they were to be taken whenever folks walked by on their neighborhood romps, but of course, to please take only one per family. They went quick! We were lucky to be able to get one on her second round. When it’s held in the sunlight, it makes rainbow reflections on the walls, windows, and other surfaces. Just looking at the clear glass teardrop shape makes me smile and think of how lucky we are to be in the place that we live. Also, rainbows are hope and promises of better times.


Orange peeler

We all discovered our kitchens again. I was reminded very much of the nesting that went on after 9/11: we stayed home, kept our families together, simplified our lives, and more than ever before, we cooked. At least that’s what happened in our house, both after 9/11 and during lockdown. I’ve mentioned before about Chef Jose Andres’ Recipes for the People on Twitter. While we were on vacation, we had clementine oranges in our breakfast bags provided by the hotel and I became obsessed with having a delicious, juicy orange almost daily.

I bought this great little tool while we were in Buffalo from a five and dime store. I couldn’t figure out how it worked at first, but it was labeled as an orange peeler for sixty-nine cents. If I knew how much I would love this little gadget, I would have bought fifty of them! Well, maybe not fifty, but a dozen. I’ve already put this five and dime on my list to pick up some more the next time we go through Buffalo (hopefully this summer on the way to Canada). It was one of those things that I didn’t know I needed until I had it. I will never peel another orange without this perfectly constructed tool. So simple. So easy.


BLM sign

About the time in the summer that political signs went up, I saw this same sign on my neighbor’s lawn. I didn’t know this neighbor, but I stopped by anyway to ask about it, thinking she had gotten it locally. At first, I think she thought I was complaining about the inclusivity of the sign. She was happier that I liked it and wanted one of my own. She got hers from Amazon, and mine arrived about twenty-four hours later. I added the American flag, and we’ve added more flags for Memorial Day weekend and then buntings for 4th of July. We’ll leave this sign and one or two of the Stars & Stripes until fall clean-up.

The entire sign reads:

In this house, we believe:
Black Lives Matter
Women’s Rights are Human Rights
No Human is Illegal
Science is Real
Love is Love
Kindness is Everything.

This one sign really says it all. Really, what more is there to say?


Part III coming soon.

The Feast Day of St. Kateri Tekakwitha

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St. Kateri Tekakwitha was the first Native American woman to be canonized. This was in 2012, the same year I joined the church with my ongoing attendance. It would be another two years before I came into full communion and participation.

There were many reasons that I was attracted to St. Kateri as I considered her among others while I discerned a confirmation name (ultimately choosing St. Elen of Caernarfon as many of you know).

I have always felt a connection to the Native American people and interested in their culture and spiritual practices. As kids our parents took us to the pow-wow out on Long Island with the Shinnecock Indians. It’s hard to live anywhere in New York State and not find nearby towns with Native names.

A gift from my friend in South Dakota. It is a dream catcher and it has helped me at times when I’ve had trouble sleeping. It is Native made near the sacred Black Hills.
(c)2021

Kateri was from nearby; just west of the Capital District. She was born in the village of Ossernenon, now known as Auriesville. The village is mapped out at the Martyrs Shrine. After a small pox epidemic killed her family and left her scarred, the remaining Mohawk burned the village and moved (as was done when a disease ran rampant through their homes).

They moved further west and to the other side of the river to what is now Fonda, above where the current Kateri Shrine is located in the village called Caughnawaga. The footprint of the village can be seen and can be reached either by car or by walking the trails to the village and the spring.

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Inspire. Surprise.

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The only thing that should surprise us is that there are still some things that can surprise us.

Francois de La Rochefoucauld

The kids will be out of school soon. Things are winding down just as the world is winding back up. People are talking about the return of Broadway, In The Heights is in theatres, and I’m considering going…TO…A…THEATRE. (Practice for Black Widow, which I’ve been informed we WILL see in theatres in a few weeks.) Vacations are being planned, and we may actually see our cousins for Thanksgiving.

With all that taken into consideration, I decided to give myself a morning. Take a short drive and visit one of our local labyrinths. The temperature was a perfect seventy-six degrees.

The labyrinth itself is nestled in a quiet park on a quiet street in a sleepy Victorian former Methodist camp village. The roads are narrow and people drive a little too fast going from one end of town to the other. There is small parking area and the park is a field of grass with several trees that houses the birds and squirrels. It’s very Disney Princess-y.

My plan was to walk the labyrinth, pray parts of it, and sit on one of the benches for a few minutes in the quiet; give myself a little time and space before the summer heat makes that less possible.

When I arrived I could see from a distance that something was slightly different. Some of the rocks that form the labyrinth looked odd, larger, shinier; they really stood out from a distance. The closer I got, the more my eyes widened with surprise at what I found. Much of the labyrinth’s rocks had been replaced, repositioned, new soil beneath them, and some of the rocks making the path had been painted with a variety of things – a Scripture verse, a saying, a bumper sticker sounding Love Wins, all matter of animals and insects, Celtic knots, flowers, and symbols. One rock even had a photograph of two men attached to it. There was a pinwheel and new, bursting with color potted plants.

I walked through, marveling at the changes, at the brightness of the painted rocks, and I took several pictures. Once I reached the center of the labyrinth, I stepped out and spent ten minutes on the bench facing the labyrinth (even though my eyes were closed most of the time) letting myself attempt centering prayer with rocks for my mind’s focus.

There were still a few more left to rejuvenate and I look forward to returning in a couple of weeks to find what other surprises are in store.


The Labyrinth that is Full of Surprises. One.
(c)2021
The Labyrinth that is Full of Surprises. Two.
(c)2021
The Labyrinth that is Full of Surprises. Three.
(c)2021

Mental Health Monday – Bhangra

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On this last day of Mental Health Awareness Month, I wanted to reiterate that we can use everyday to be aware of our mental health and changes that happen in our lives.

Think about and use the tools that help you on those bad or not-great days. We each have so much to offer to ourselves and to each other. I went back over the /mentalhealthmonday tag and rediscovered tools I hadn’t thought about in months.

One positive thing that I’ve been doing for several weeks is watching the one minute videos of Gurdeep Pandher on Twitter dancing the Bhangra.

Bhangra is an energetic folk dance originating in the Punjab region of the subcontinent of India and Pakistan. Its beginnings are with farmers during the harvest. There is kicking, leaping, and hand movements that all combine to create something that I can’t look away from.

Although I don’t watch everyday I find that when I scroll past his posts, I always stop to watch the dance and listen to the music. I can always find the time to pause for one minute and these videos cause a deep welling of joy from inside. They are truly uplifting. When I do watch them, which is often, they make my day better; they inspire me, they bring my thoughts to contemplation rather than the dispiriting noise that usually finds me online.

In addition to the joy the videos bring, I have watched the seasons of the Yukon, where Gurdeep lives, change from deep frozen winter to spring and grass and blue skies. In the video below, the Takhini River and mountains behind him took my breath away, and was one of the reasons that I decided to share this one with you today.



The following may be triggering to some people so please continue through to the link below with caution.

To read more about the tragedy he mentions in his prayer of the children discovered in Kamloops this week, follow the link.

Happy Feast Day of St. Elen

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St. Elen is my personal saint and patron. I’ve written about her on a pretty regular basis, so I’ll toss in a few links below to learn more.

In 2017, I was able to pilgrimage to one of her holy wells in Wales, this one in the town of Dolwyddelan. The picture I’m sharing will be one side of a prayer card I’m creating. I haven’t gotten the prayer finished yet, but I didn’t want to let today pass without acknowledgement.

St. Elen’s Well, Dolwyddelan, North Wales.
(c)2021

Ffynnon Elen, Dolwyddelan – This was the article from Wellhopper where I discovered the existence of this well. I’m indebted to the writer for the information that allowed me to pilgrimage there.

Elen of the Hosts – one of the first pieces I wrote on this site.

Mental Health Monday – Take a Moment…And Lift

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For the early part of Mother’s Day weekend I went on an overnight retreat. It’s billed as a Girls Night Out/Day of Reflection and it was a wonderful event. They hold this every year and this was the first time I went. The theme is usually dictated by the presenter and so last week was titled Called to Wonder and Joy and the next day’s reflection continued that theme and included active listening and storytelling.

In the discussion and micro-journaling, we answered the question, “What calls you with wonder and joy? What creates wondrous and joyful moments in your life?

In this context, it’s not necessarily that joy equals happy. Joy is a much broader concept. It is only recently that I find that deep profundity that is rooted in joy. For me it was the references to joy in scripture and spiritual learning and practice. The joy that comes to me during mass or meditation. It’s not the happiness of a fun time with friends or a vacation; it is something deeper that I’ve only recognized more recently.

In the things that you like, you will find others that like similar things or extraordinarily different things, but you will discover that you are not alone. You will find things that lift you up. You will remember things that you did that might have been scary, but you got through it. You might even do them again. What are the things that lift you up?

I give all of this to you as a way of introducing a mental health exercise and to remind of the broad nature of words that we take for granted. We may hear the word “joy” and think, ‘oh, that isn’t me – I am not that kind of person,’ but if you broadened your concept you may find, as I gradually did that I can be joyful in ways and I can find joy in things, both physical and spiritual.

So, I ask you: Where do you find Wonder and Joy?

I will share ten of the moments of wonder and/or joy, some I discovered on the retreat and others that have come to me as I write.

What I would like you to do today is to write your own down. Begin with five and go for as many as you’d like. It doesn’t need a formal journal or a notebook. Just grab a sheet of paper or the back of an envelope and a pen.

Nothing should stand in your way.

When you discover and remind yourself of the things you find wondrous and joyful, you can refer back to this list on your down days, take a deep breath, and keep going.

Here are mine (currently):

the lilacs in my backyard

labyrinths

Wales

sitting quietly with a cup of tea

rainbow shoelaces

I get a deep well of peace (but also joy) thinking on the devotion to Mary, Untier of Knots

waterfalls

planning a trip

sitting in my front yard, eyes closed, feeling the cool air, and just being

the smell of freshly cut grass

early morning sunshine when the birds are noisy

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.

Gratitude by Mary Oliver

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Mary Oliver’s Gratitude Poem came to my notice while I was searching for quotations on gratitude for another project. I am only familiar with Mary Oliver from one of her famous quotations that many religious people use in their meditations and artwork: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” and a short book that I borrowed from the library (Upstream: Selected Essays).

As I read this poem, and then read through it again I was distracted how each of Oliver’s stanzas answered a question. It was thought-provoking and contemplative and I immediately thought this would make a great writing exercise; a way to stretch myself whether as poetry or prose. A push like the daffodils poking through the soil.

I still don’t know for sure if her poem should be read prior to the answering of the questions, but I would suggest doing whatever feels right for you at the moment. Obviously you can’t unread the poem so make your choice with care.

I suppose you could answer the questions and then read the poem and perhaps go back a few days later with the questions again. It may be a nice exercise on its own to see if the original answers changed in the ensuing days along with another reading.

For me, I will read the poem and savor it and then I will continue the writing exercise. I plan to come back to the questions next month from a different perspective, perhaps on an outing or after church services. There are many ways to approach something as profound as Mary Oliver’s writings.

Mary Oliver’s poem appears below the highlighted questions and my answers to the questions appear below that.

In doing this exercise, I sat in the quiet, in the stillness and let the questions speak to me. What do you hear them speaking to you?

What did you notice?
What did you hear?
When did you admire?
What astonished you?
What would you like to see again?
What was most tender?
What was most wonderful?
What did you think was happening?


Mary Oliver – Gratitude Poem

What did you notice?

The dew-snail;
the low-flying sparrow;
the bat, on the wind, in the dark;
big-chested geese, in the V of sleekest performance;
the soft toad, patient in the hot sand;
the sweet-hungry ants;
the uproar of mice in the empty house;
the tin music of the cricket’s body;
the blouse of the goldenrod.

What did you hear?

The thrush greeting the morning;
the little bluebirds in their hot box;
the salty talk of the wren,
then the deep cup of the hour of silence.

When did you admire?

The oaks, letting down their dark and hairy fruit;
the carrot, rising in its elongated waist;
the onion, sheet after sheet, curved inward to the pale green wand;
at the end of summer the brassy dust, the almost liquid beauty of the flowers;
then the ferns, scrawned black by the frost.

What astonished you?

The swallows making their dip and turn over the water.

What would you like to see again?

My dog: her energy and exuberance, her willingness,
her language beyond all nimbleness of tongue,
her recklessness, her loyalty, her sweetness,
her strong legs, her curled black lip, her snap.

What was most tender?

Queen Anne’s lace, with its parsnip root;
the everlasting in its bonnets of wool;
the kinks and turns of the tupelo’s body;
the tall, blank banks of sand;
the clam, clamped down.

What was most wonderful?

The sea, and its wide shoulders;
the sea and its triangles;
the sea lying back on its long athlete’s spine.

What did you think was happening?

The green beast of the hummingbird;
the eye of the pond;
the wet face of the lily;
the bright, puckered knee of the broken oak;
the red tulip of the fox’s mouth;
the up-swing, the down-pour, the frayed sleeve of the first snow—

so the gods shake us from our sleep.

[Gratitude is copyrighted to Mary Oliver and her Estate and Publisher. No money is made on the use of this poem.]


I sat for some time and thought about the words in the questions. I decided to go back about one year and contemplate the pandemic in all the ways that the questions made me think about it. Some things have changed – more people out and about, masks (we weren’t wearing them a year ago or we were just starting), vaccinations. It’s good to look back as we begin the real recovery in so many ways – economically, yes, health, yes, but also emotionally. It feels like coming out of a shell or a shelter after a storm.

What did you notice?
the quiet.
my heartbeat.
no cars, no people walking, no dogs.
at the grocery, head down, everyone getting in and getting out.
tension.

What did you hear?
on my excursions to my front yard hearing the breeze,
the birds,
the church bells,
a stray car,
and one kid in a stroller says hi

When did you admire?
my kids doing their schoolwork at home.
the school district keeping it all together.
the grocery store workers.
Zoom.

What astonished you?
the incompetence.
the kindness.
the quiet of all of us at home at the same time.
how frightened I became, especially of the unknown.

What would you like to see again?
the retreat house
Canada
the inside of a Starbucks
church family

What was most tender?
my kids still cuddling just a little.
seeing Onward – the last movie I saw in theatres.
cooperation.

What was most wonderful?
not running out of toilet paper!
livestream masses,
Zoom retreats,
weekly telephone rosary.
information.
Dr. Fauci.
podcasts,
Books.

What did you think was happening?
the end of the world – just a little bit…
a reset,
a chance to re-prioritize,
re-engagement,
reflection.
expect the unexpected.
too much time and not enough.

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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