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​I hadn’t anticipated being absent for so long. I had several writing assignments on my calendar, and then life and a small, but insistent case of writer’s block decided that I would not be present online. I’ve also been a little worn down from what’s been going on in Washington, DC. Some days it’s just too much. We all need a breather sometimes.

I had intended to catch up Thursday, but on Thursday night, in the middle of my daughterr’s spring concert for chorus, the power went out after a flickering of lights that she put off to the “ghost” at school. The thunder was actually very quiet so it was something of a surprise, but the lightning was fierce.They finished the concert sans microphones with the light of the audience’s cell phones.Technolody at its best. Continue reading

Education or Retreat or Both?

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This is my second year.

There are still jitters and anxiety of what people think, how I look, that I don’t fit in the auditorium seats, but there is also familiarity. I know where to park. I know where the back door to the events center is so I can get to the air conditioning quicker. I know where to get my ID and my schedule and how to use the online interactive map. I remembered to print out the bathroom, food and wi-fi highlights.

I recognize people like the wonderful storyteller from my last retreat, and she recognized me. And waved. I’m taking two classes with her this week. I recognize the musicians and the introductory speakers from the Diocese. I recognize the Bishop who has a wonderful way of making you at east with a smile that illuminates how much he believes and the joy of bringing that to the people of our Diocese. The Bishop Emeritus has his own way, a little less smiley, but no less welcoming to a new face.

The chatter continues and I forget about what I’ve forgotten at home and fill my senses with the buzz around me. It could be cooler, but part of that is in my head. I people-watch. People hug, people wave, people wave back. I got my own hug from a familiar friend and smiles towards me from new ones.

We are all in good company and we know it. All friends here, though most not yet met. And this week of open minds and new ideas and history remembered begins with music and the opening prayer in Spanish. Gracias a Dios.

May 14th Reflection

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This campus is a dichotomy in practice. It is stone and marble and brick and lamp posts and tulips. Face one way and it’s the bustle of a city, traffic, walkers, bicycles, radios, chatter, convenience stores. Face the other way and it is green and benches and pastoral.

Today I will walk down the block to the church for Mass. This makes me happy. Shrill sirens scream behind the buildings, people chatter. I sit in partial sunlight under a big tree with rust colored leaves, comfortably, just enough sun in my eyes, warmth on my skin and a cool enough breeze that my decision to not bring a sweater is validated.

I look on at St. Rose, immortalized in stone, arms crossed, eyes closed, wondering about her. My Google list is long and she is at the top to learn about the woman for whom this campus is named for.

I close my eyes (and I hear Kansas – a by-product of a 70s childhood and A supernatural fandom), but only for a moment and the moment’s gone, but the moments here last a bit longer than a moment.

The parking is mostly good and I think about coming back here in later weeks as an inspirational place. Sit and be. Think and write.

Contentedness overlaps with excitability and the bells are ringing to announce the hour. I don’t have a ride home, and I am not worried in the least. This feeling reminds me of a similar day in Williamsburg. I haven’t reached the space of pure contentment and zero anxiety of that day, but this is very close. The winding paths and benches, the stone foundations and the brickwork, the root cellar doors and the leaves barely moving in the gentle breath of the air all remind me of Colonial Williamsburg. I thought it was the place a year ago – goodness it’s exactly a year ago to the day, isn’t it – I thought it was the pace – the childhood memories, being newlyweds, the home of my best friend but it is more than my life experiences as sitting her about five hundred miles north gives me nearly the same feels to grasp onto and gravitate towards.

It is this inner spirituality, inner peace inner light that comes on the breeze and adapts to my surroundings. The devil is in the details but really it is G-d in the details, doing without us noticing until our souls do in fact notice and feel that déjà vu to center us wherever we are.

Like right now.

And here.

Five Things I Learned About Myself Last Week

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  1. I can disagree and speak out and do it in an impassioned way without expressing disdain for the other side. I can also educate.
  2. Not only do I like the blending of faith and continued learning with writing, but I NEED it.
  3. I have more self-confidence than I thought I did.
  4. I’ve changed so much in the last two years, and I’ve also realized that I am ever evolving and the changes aren’t finished getting, like clay. I need time to breathe, like a fine wine and see where my journey has still yet to take me.
  5. I need the retreat. I need the alone, but not the isolated. I need to let the me be free, more free than I’ve let myself be before. I have much to offer.

Spring Enrichment 2014: An Introspection

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This is a list of the classes/workshops I took and the one thing I learned that I didn’t already know:

 

Keynote: Open the Door of Faith (intro with Bishop Edward Scharfenberger of the Albany Diocese, Keynote with Bishop Frank Caggiano of the Bridgeport, CT Diocese)

The themes that rang true for me were: Be open to the voice of G-d and there is no challenge that cannot become an opportunity.

Pope Francis’ The Joy of the Gospel (with Bishop Frank Caggiano)

“Joy is the deep abiding faith and contentment that everything will be alright.”

I realize that I’ve been absorbed in Supernatural themes and fandom, but what he said during this talk was “Family don’t end in blood [boy]” and I promise you, Brooklyn accent or no Brooklyn accent I heard this is Bobby’s voice.

The Judeo-Christian Contribution to the Rise of Science

The one thing that stood out to me isn’t the disagreement between the Church and the Secular or between Creation and Evolution. The conflict that arose wasn’t between science and faith; it was between the different faiths. The Church encouraged science and wanted to learn more. The Big Bang Theory was a phrase used to mock and deride the Belgium priest who was the scientist who came up with it in the first place.

It was also believed that the pursuit of science was a sacred duty – that was how to experience G-d.

Also, a very interesting statement that I would need a little more first-hand research on, but Father Pat stated that there was no gender assigned to Adam until the second person (commonly known as Eve) is created (read the Scriptures)

An Overview of the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola and a Contemporary Way to Pray Them

I’ve never been a fan of the idea of meditation and contemplation and this opened me up to trying it in bits and pieces. The journey of Ignatius of Loyola mirrored mine in an emotional way and it really struck me as parallel in ways. I’m interested in exploring the Spiritual Exercises a little more. We were given a shell to symbolize our pilgrimage, and I do often use objects to focus my thoughts and prayers, not necessarily religious objects like crosses and rosaries.

Thomas Merton’s Down to Earth “Christology from Above”

This ended up being more of an introduction to Merton, which was good for me who had never heard of him. He really spoke to my bias that you need to be religious and pious to find the comfort in G-d, and Merton was far from piety, but he still managed to take his hyperawareness and experimentation and find his religious and spiritual center and that leaves hope for the rest of us.

It is also a reminder that most Saints don’t start out that way (see St. Augustine).

Witnessing to Christ in the Digital Age: Strategies for Discipleship and Tactics for Evangelization

A Brand-New Parish for a Brand-Driven World

These two classes really showed me the link between church and secular life. All of the things we are doing with social media secularly can be done for our ministries and our parishes. It is more of a joining, a combining of our religious and secular lives rather than compartmentalizing them into an us vs. them scenario. It is also the reminder that all things can be used for good or ill, and it is up to us to use our skills and the available technology (see Ignatius of Loyola) to promote positivity and who we want to become instead of shunning them as too hard or difficult to learn or deciding that it doesn’t fit into the religious context. It ALL fits. We just have to figure out the best way to use it in what context.

How Catholics Read the Bible, Part 1: The Hebrew Scriptures

How Catholics Read the Bible, Part 2: The Christian Scriptures

How the Bible is set up, the historical context, a reminder that the Bible is written by humans and it is an interpretation and an ever-evolving document. There is also literary form to consider. These are all things that I never considered.

We are also prompted to take the Bible seriously, not literally.

Though He Slay me, I will hope in Him (Job)

My least favorite subject (and one that I didn’t realize was the subject of this workshop): end of life, pastoral care, bereavement. There was a great visual of our understanding of heaven is a hug. If you look at Jesus on the Cross, his arms are stretched out before in really a universal symbol of an embrace. It is an invitation, a welcoming.

This is not something that I considered before, but I can think back on one or two or three particular hugs that not only gave me comfort but took away pain, and the picture of Christ is less than I imagined as well as so much more.

History of Liturgy Part 1 and Part 2

This. My most favorite learning piece of this is how much of the current liturgy, prayer service, Mass has been part of the Mass since around the 3rd century. It’s worked so well for nearly two thousand years and really shows me the true belief and the specialness of Mass for me today.

Walking Through the doors of Faith with Jesus and Frodo: Praying with the Gospels and “The Lord of the Rings”

I am a huge fan of modernity and pop culture being connected to religious life – it isn’t separate but equal – it is two halves of the same coin. Just as pop culture changes, so must religion. I also enjoy seeing the parallels of the Lord of the Rings (and other pop culture works, see Supernatural) with Biblical texts and stories. For me, the movie visuals made more of an impact than the readings (which I’ve never done), but I also think there is a slippery slope not to make more of something that isn’t there and not to put words into the mouths of the artist (in this case, JRR Tolkien).

TED Panel: Open the Door of Faith (three viewpoints: theology, art and architecture and liturgy

I love the melding of different forks in the road into one theme. Of course, doors are one of my staunchest symbols of many things. Leaving one side to the other, finding hidden opportunities, looming large and scary but they don’t have to be, the different materials used in making the doors, the simplicity, the beauty, the attention to detail.

When you don’t know what is behind the door, that first hesitation is a tiny bit apprehensive mixed with excitement and wonder and once the door is opened, the introduction to all of the senses is there on the threshold and you still have the choice to close the door, but nine times out of ten you step through. Even that tenth time that you close the door; often we are drawn back and eventually enter. These are the roads in our lives leading us and greeting us and supporting us by providing nourishment along the way and sometimes offering us other doors with other choices or breaks from the journey, but at the end of the corridor, we still keep going.

Diocesan Spring Enrichment

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I spent four very full days last week at an enrichment program from our Diocese. It is primarily for the catechesis teachers, and I was fortunate to be offered the opportunity to participate. As a recent participant in the RCIA* program, I know that there is so much more to know and learn about Catholicism.

The theme of this year’s event was Open the Doors to Faith, which for me was a fitting first time. If you know anything about my thing for doors, I use their metaphor in a lot of my writing as well as being a sucker for a beautiful door. The picture below is the front of the church where the Mass was held with the Bishop on Wednesday.

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The workshop program opened with a prayer service with our new bishop and a keynote with Bishop Frank Caggiano from Bridgeport, Connecticut. Bishop Caggiano was a brilliant speaker and had a way of both reaching higher and bringing things down to earth. I gave up my morning break to hear him a second time at his regular panel.

I also took some two part workshops that showed me the history of the Biblical writings and the Liturgy. As someone who didn’t grow up in the faith, the history of the New Testament and the period of time after Jesus’ Resurrection are really a blank for me personally and I’m intrigued how the church came into being. And just to balance things out, on my last day I took a class entitled, “Walking with Jesus and Frodo: Praying with the Gospels and “The Lord of the Rings”.

There were other classes including Social Media in the church, the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola and an introduction to Thomas Merton. There was nothing that didn’t interest me and my copious notes prove that.

I also met people, not only the people I was introduced to by a friend, but a variety of people who simply reached out to me to say hello, to ask my background, to ask my opinion on something and I was a different person here, although I’m not sure if I was so different or that I was more me than I’ve been in the past.

I raised my hand. I asked questions. I offered my insight. I didn’t feel as though I was intruding as I usually do in these kinds of events, always feeling as though I don’t belong and everyone knows it. My confidence was in a great place, higher than it’s ever been. Even not being an expert in religion, I was still comfortable presenting my viewpoint and discussing my opinions with others who’ve been exposed to the language and the history of the church for their lifetimes.

I knew when to bite my tongue and when to correct people on their assumptions. For example, this was a program with the Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church. Talking about my pro-choice stance and the importance of reproductive rights would have been extraordinarily inappropriate of me. However, when a fellow attendee expressed a 1950s view of the mentally ill and the “excuse” of mental illness rather than a medical and physical problem, I did correct him. Even if I didn’t reach him, the other twenty people in the classroom heard what I said and might think twice the next time someone gives that erroneous outlook.

I was very confident and comfortable in everything I did during this week long enrichment, and really the word enrichment encompasses what I was doing through the learning as well as through being in the environment.

I drove myself on one day, got a ride from my spouse another and carpooled for two others. I had some workshops with my car pool driver (and godmother) and many without. I ate lunch with her and not; I sat next to people I met once, I sat alone. I contemplated in the gardens. I took photographs (which I will share with you over the next few days).

For those of you who’ve followed me when I’ve taken self-imposed writing retreats or gone to the IWWG*’s writer’s conference, this was very similar experience and yet not at all the same. I always come back excited and inspired and this week did that for me, but it did more than that.

It gave the professional immersion that I need as well as the ‘alone’ time that I also need to jump start my batteries. This week also gave me a faith basis for jump starting those batteries. I was in a state of constant excitement and inspiration. I have notes all over my book to look up things that I didn’t know about. I have writing prompts to organize and write. I have faith journaling to accomplish. I even got information about Cain and the Mark of Cain that I can use for a meta essay for the Supernatural fandom. This conference, workshop, enrichment, what4ever it wants to call itself was faith and writing and life and happy all rolled into one. It touched on all aspects of my life and creativity.

By the end of it, I was exhausted and my feet hurt, but I wanted another day to hear more, learn more and get more ideas to share with my readers.

I felt things that I haven’t felt…..well, I haven’t felt ever, and I’m looking forward to taking the push and running with it. I can still feel the excitement two days later.

I do believe that things will happen for a reason even if we don’t always see that reason.

Last year when I desperately needed a change, an impetus, something, I was very luckily granted a visit to my best friend in Virginia. This diocesan enrichment was perfectly timed since I wouldn’t be able to travel south this spring and I wondered how to gear myself up, how to incentivize myself. I am, however blessed to be able to visit him in the fall and I’m going to plan that as my next retreat using the themes that I’ve grasped this week to propel me through the upcoming summer.

For now, I have notes to transcribe, memoir homework to complete and enrichment things to write up, both for here and for my church’s blog.

 

*RCIA – Rite of Catholic Initiation for Adults

**IWWG – International Women’s Writing Guild