All you need is love

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I wrote every day for a week, silence, for nearly two weeks.

Slowly but surely, I am returning.

We were on vacation, and while random thoughts of trying to blog would bubble up here and there, I decided to be on vacation.

And now I am trying very hard not to be on vacation!

Our trip was great for many reasons, not the least of which is because our family gets to be together in a different way. Oh, we have our moments, but we also love being together – and this trip was great for each of us individually and communally.

We went to London, with a quick side trip to Glasgow, Scotland. I used to go to London all the time; first as a tourist and Anglophile, and later because I had some close English friends. I went so frequently, and with such ease, that I never imagined that I would stop going, but life changed one day and I did. My last visit prior to this one was in June of 1996. Where did 17 years go?

JacintaFran7Sept2011It was great to be back, but I felt sharply aware of some losses. Of my close friends, one has died, and I felt her absence – as well as her presence – very sharply. Ironically, she was almost never in London during my frequent visits; she was living in Hong Kong at the time, but I met her during my first visit to the city in 1980, and our friendship spanned so many years. The last time I saw her was when she visited Massachusetts in September 2011; she knew that she was dying. She lived very purposefully until she died in late August 2012. The above photo was taken during that last visit.

imagesMy other friends were relatives by marriage of hers who became friends of mine in their own right. Slowly things changed over time, we drifted apart and lost touch. I had one other friend, and I lost her on my own. It is a long story, and it is a sad story, because it reminds me of how depression and ennui can bear down so very hard upon us, and we just let go. That is for another day. Maybe.

My husband and stepdaughter had never been to the UK before. What a gift it was to watch them experience the great city of London for the first time!

The trip happened because of some money that came to us via the death of my husband’s sister, Olga; another element of sadness. It is interesting to experience how these things can punctuate our lives. You must see the theme I am weaving, one of strands of sadness and loss that interweave with joy. This is the essence of life, and if one follows Christ, this is at the heart of the Cross and Resurrection. Life. Death. Life.

Abbey-Road-Album-Cover-One of our journeys was to Abbey Road, the famous street crossing in front of Abbey Road Studios. Ten prior trips to London and it had never ONCE occurred to me to go to Abbey Road! What fun it was to do something new for all of us.

If you have never been there, the first thing you may feel is pity for anyone trying to drive down the reasonably busy road. It is full of people trying to cross the street and have their photo taken. There is even an Abbey Road webcam! See for yourself!

In front of the Abbey Road studios, the wall is whitewashed and full of graffiti. I imagine it is re-whitewashed often, and full of new graffiti just as often! We each added our own bits to the wall, but I also studied a lot of what had been written by others. I had a major earworm going because of one Beatles’ song that was referenced by many of the graffiti writers, and it should be obvious what song that is due to the title of this post.

That is why I gasped when I saw this particular piece of graffiti, on the stonework, where you are not supposed to be writing anything.

abbeyroadolgaOlga. Mark’s sister’s name. Olga, whose death made our trip possible. Olga, whom we would rather have with us, than not, even if it meant not going to London, even though we were loving London. And thinking of Olga with every step.

Now I am not going all woooo-woooo magic superstitious on you, but I do think of these things as moments of grace. I suddenly felt as if I were in a thin place.

I’m going to try to retain the grace of that moment. You can’t “hold on to it,” such things can not be stored, perhaps retained is not even the right word. Whatever it is, as I make my way back to daily life, I hope that I can remember that love is all we need, because while I talk a good game about that, my inner churning would reveal otherwise.

This post feels so unwieldy, so in need of a lot of editing, so much reduction, and very much in need of a point… but none of this comes to me, and the clock keeps ticking. So that is how I will leave you, as I ponder the memories of a marvelous journey. All you need is love – love is all you need.

The Great “I Want”

Imagine if we truly listened to this particular commandment:

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, his male or female slave, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.-Exodus 20:17

No, I’m not trying to get us to be biblical literalists, but I do think that this commandment bears some thought, prayer, and reflection. Perhaps the reason I bring this up is that I am a world-class coveter of the highest degree.

When I write, I do most of my work in at the kitchen table. One of my biggest covets is a renovated kitchen. You have no idea just how much I want that kitchen. WANT! NOW! Recently I visited with some family members in another state, and I was awed by what they had done with their kitchen. I have to actively remind myself not to think about it, or else I will start doing some obsessed-kitchen-covet.

tumblr_mj6w56oYaq1qa502no1_400The hard part is, at least as I see it, is how we live in a culture immersed in advertising and planned obsolescence based appliances, with an economy hell-bent on growth that comes more from spending than saving. Everything around us tells us that we “deserve” the best and that we should go pursue it. There are more than a few practical and spiritual problems contained therein.

Lately I have been struggling with my own “I-want” impulse, the coveting of that kitchen, not to mention a dozen other things that I long for. Another thing that sits on my heart these days is television advertising and the concept of coveting. It really bothers me, even when I am drawn into the seductive wanting offered by these commercials.

Here is one example, the commercial for the iPhone which touts that “every day, more photos are taken with the iPhone than any other camera.” It is alluring for me to watch, because I am one of those people who uses their iPhone to take zillions of photos. This is not all bad, but there is something inherently narcissistic about it. And I think of the great luxury of owning such a thing, when other people have nothing to eat. Now that obsessive picture taking is even more offensive to me – and yes, I’m the one doing it.

I’m not one for making things all good or all bad, but I have to wonder about the price to the soul of such things. God did ask us not to covet for a reason. Not because “things” are inherently good, but an endless longing for such things is such a barrier between us and God.

When we covet, it seems to me as if we put blackout shade on the window to the soul where God gazes in, and we redirect our energy to someplace else where there is a false light. That false light catches our attention and it will not let go, or rather – we will not let go.

Somehow this ties to a kind of productivity (oh here I go, all Martha and Mary again!) that appeals to humans, especially American humans. If I work hard enough I can get this or that. A new kitchen, a new iPhone, a new pair of shoes, a new car. This is another barrier to God, the one where we allow ourselves the egotistical audacity to believe that we are the ones who make things happen.

Now I’m not saying that God does nothing, and I’m not saying a new car is a bad thing, and I’m not saying that productivity is a problem.

The problem it seems to me is this great “I want” that turns it all into some kind of false pursuit that leads us away from God. I’m not sure that I have any real solution, save the hairshirt and the hut in the woods that is off the grid… but I don’t think that that is a solution either. The hairshirt implies we can even create our own suffering, and the retreat to the woods isn’t so great either. Some are meant to be hermits, but to be Catholic is to be of and in the world, so I don’t buy that withdrawing from society thing.

Perhaps awareness is a starting point, letting go of some things that distract us, and turning more intentionally towards God is a must. It is hard to ignore the barrage of messages that elicit and feed this great “I want,” but to ignore the problems associated with the constant urging of desire, is to live with a great spiritual challenge.

What are your thoughts about how to do this in a world based on making us want our neighbor’s every material good?

Martha or Mary?

(Originally posted at Catholic Sensibility, where I am guest hosting the blog all week while blog host and author, Todd Flowerday is on retreat. I will publish posts that he has already written, along with some original content of my own.)

Last week someone mentioned to me that they dreaded this weekend because they could not bear to hear another “stupid Martha and Mary” homily. While I don’t feel quite that strongly, I can understand where they were coming from. Some of us are weary of lining up on either side of the Martha/Mary divide.

st-martha-and-st-maryAs a woman with an active life in the Church, I am often asked the question, “Are you a Martha or a Mary?” As a woman with strong feelings about the either/or and both/and of faith, I think that it is a challenge to hear another Martha or Mary question. Must I be kneeling at the feet of Christ alone, or simply running myself ragged in the kitchen?

Forgive my tone, but it is frustrating to hear the pigeon-holing, even if it is offered with the utmost kindness and curiosity.

A little over 1o years ago I created an online screen name for a dating site. At 45 I was pretty certain that this was the way to go. Trying to be clever, I came up with “Busy Girl On The Go.” Frankly, I was a bit too amused with myself with that one. *shudders* Oh well, it seemed apt enough; I was nearly always traveling for work in those days, frenetic as all get out, going here and there with my body. My heart it seems, was as scattered to the four winds as well. I felt very productive and accomplished, but sometimes resentful. Very Martha!

Oddly enough, my single state also brought me no shortage of time alone as well. Many a weekend found me holed up in my house, reading, working in my garden, and then reading some more. I would go to the gym or to exercise class, sometimes I would take very long walks. It was all very restful and contemplative, very quiet and peaceful, very connected to faith. Very Mary!

Martha and Mary were like two poles in those days, with me leaping from one back to the other. I suppose that if asked the dreaded question at that time, I would have favored Martha on the surface, but longing to be more Mary.

Today I am married and what a completely different existence I live! (No, we did not meet online with my cute moniker as the allure.) Things are busy now, but in other ways, minus the travel. My alone time is greatly reduced, but much richer than it was. Very Martha and Mary all at once, the great both/and.

God calls us to many things. We each have different gifts and it is easy to line up according to those gifts, designating ourselves as Martha or Mary, and moving on. The homily that I just heard on this text has given me reason to think more about this story and about who we are. Must we take a side? And if so, how can we not want to see poor Martha in another light. How easy it is to get lost in being “busy” which translates into being productive. Is there a more American virtue than productivity? We love that one, and how we disdain the lazy!

Somehow “busy” can become not the new black, but the new holy. Some of us are busy doing good works, not stopping to reflect. This is not done with a poor intention for the most part. We just have to watch our ego however, which might feel a bit too good about all the items checked off our list in the name of God. Contemplative time, the great “do nothingness” of it all, can seem suspect. Are we really listening to God? Or are we being lazy, hoping that Martha will get on the stick and cook us some dinner?

And I know that for me, there is a manic element to this. What I might try to see as my contemplative time is really another bout of ennui or some kind of acedia. Not that this is all bad either; sometimes the field must be left fallow. Perhaps it is that very thought that is at the heart of the Mary part for me.

This may be when Jesus addresses us all, as he does with his disciples in Mark 6:31, when he said:

“Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.”

Note that Jesus does not say to stop doing things altogether; he says to “rest a while.” Jesus never told Martha to stop cooking either, did he?

How can we know the fruit of work without the fruit of being in contact with God? The mystics among us can perhaps do or be both at once it appears. I do think that for most of us, for men and women, for Marthas and Marys of both genders, we are called to balance. And all the work in the world cannot be balanced without that deep and intimate contact with God.

To find that connect, perhaps we need to find ourselves sitting at the feet of Jesus, truly listening. Mary understood that, and I would like to believe that following that encounter, Martha did, too.

Today, like every other day, will find me negotiating the sometimes serpentine pathways between my Martha and my Mary, but both women are present, right there with the Spirit. All that any of us can do is to be tuned into whatever prompts we get from God, knowing when to work or sit, trying to cooperate. How easy that is to say. How hard that is to do.

I think of Todd on his retreat, wishing him all the Mary time in the world, finding refreshment and peace, sitting at the feet of God.

Santo subito? Santo lentamente?

santo-subitoThe cries of “Santo Subito!” (Sainthood now!) have been heard from the moment that Bl. John Paul II died in April of 2005. Now it appears, things may be moving forward, with a possible canonization on December 8, 2013. Typically, there is a five year wait before any work towards the beatification and ultimate canonization occurs, but Bl. John Paul II was put on a fast track, despite what was said, was his desire to the contrary. Others may also cry out, “Santo Lentamente!” (Sainthood slowly!)

jphome1As you might imagine, many people are thrilled beyond belief, and believe that this has already taken too long. Yet, there are others who are more skeptical.

ijohnro001p1It looks like there is a chance that Bl. John XXIII could be canonized the same day, bringing joy to some, and horror to others.

Bl. John Paul II’s case has moved so quickly, and Bl. John XXIII has moved so slowly. Some will complain that Bl. John Paul II should not have to share the spotlight with Bl. John XXIII. Some will complain about the same thing, but in reverse. Some Catholics will want to hurry Bl. John XXIII’s long simmering cause, and others will want to slow Bl. John Paul II’s.

Allow me to offer this observation… By canonizing both of them on the same day, the desire to assuage divisions between those who love either one or the other of these former popes may be met. Or not. Perhaps it will further inflame the divide.That there should be a divide is a very sad thing, but for many there is.

What do you think? Is there a divide? Or are we, as we are called to be, One in Christ? That’s the tricky part, isn’t it? And that in general, may be the best wisdom discerned from subito or lentamente; fast may be satisfying, but slow may make more sense – at least in situations, if not in sainthood.

The Last of a Long Line of Women

(This post was originally published at the blog, Catholic Sensibility, as part of the Two Weeks of Worthy Women series.)

A group of Beguines.

A group of Beguines.

During the 12th century, groups of women began to form for common life; they were called The Beguines. At this time, when single women entered religious life because they were single, and not necessarily because they were called, the Beguines stood out. These women did not enter the same kind of enclosure, they did not take vows, they did not renounce wealth if they had it, nor were they denied entrance if they lacked wealth. What they did do was to form communities of women, dedicated to God and to one another, but in a way that was very different from monastic life at that time.

Living in groups of small houses, that together was called a Beguinage, they did go through a novitiate of sorts. They went through a period of formation and then lived alone in small dwellings in the enclosure. Apparently there was no one foundress, constitution, or rule. These women broke every boundary of propriety by their very being, yet they simply carried on. At a time when woman had no social currency, the various Beguinages that sprung up were markedly different than any other thing at the time. The women were engaged in charitable work, and did have lives of prayer. Mechthild of Magdeburg was a Beguine and mystic, whose legacy lives on today. (I mentioned Mechtild in one of my Worthy Women posts last year.) Beguines created a life where they could live freely – not under the power of marriage or of a monastery. It was an independence otherwise unknown to women of that time.

So what does all this have to do with Two Weeks of Worthy Women today?

On April 14, at the age of 92, Marcella Pattyn died; she was the last Beguine in Europe, at the end of a line that extended for over 800 years. How did she come to this?

Mont-Saint-Amand-lez-GandIn 1941 she entered the Beguinage in Ghent. Pattyn had been born in the Belgian Congo in 1920. The one thing that stood between her and her call to religious life was her eyesight; she was essentially blind, and that precluded her from entering a convent or monastery. She was able to gain entry to the Beguines at age 20, and there she stayed for her life.

It was from all accounts a simple life. She had a loom and would weave cloth; she knitted and sewed. There are some people in the world who hold something special relating to Marcella Pattyn – the Beguine dolls that she created from fabric and thread that she sold. Gifted with some musical acumen, she played the organ, as well as some other instruments. And she enjoyed making others feel loved and comforted; she often visited the sick and infirm, entertaining them with music. With all of this there was a life of foundational prayer and faith.

20130427_OBP002_0If this all sounds a little idyllic, perhaps it is. When I see this image of Marcella Pattyn, decked out in her full Beguine regalia, and I see that smile, I am reminded of the kind of freedom that cannot be bought or earned. This is the freedom of a life of total surrender in God. If the life she lived made her infirmities seem small, and the ability to live generously flourished as a result of her choices, that makes for one worthy woman if you ask me.

The Intention Driven Life

imagesWhen Rick Warren’s book, The Purpose Driven Life, was published in 1997, I had no interest in reading it. No disrespect, but his spirituality holds little appeal to me. That did not stop many people from giving me a copy; I had at least four copies at one point; all very well intended gifts.

No – I never did read the book. And the whole purpose driven thing remains suspect in my mind. Yes – we need a purpose, but something about the title does not set well with me.

About a week or so ago, I read a newsletter and saw a familiar name. I thought about how fond I was of that person; he is someone I really respect and admire – and I genuinely like him.  He had a positive influence on me when I was in grad school. That said, I do not know him so well. On a whim, I decided to email him and see if we could meet for coffee or something. He replied in the affirmative, and we set a date/time for today. I decided to take the day off from work, so I had no timing issues to deal with.

As it happened, I needed to meet with another friend, who just happens to work across the street from where I needed to be. I saw her, which was delightful, and then walked over to this gentleman’s office. It occurred to me as I walked over that I had no real purpose for this visit. I just genuinely wanted to say hello and have a conversation with this person. Suddenly I became nervous – my whim of an appointment had no purpose! Would I be wasting his time? He is kind of busy as I understand it. I began to wonder what I was thinking. Could I make up a purpose? That seemed wrong at many levels – not to mention, this came to me as I walked in the main door of the building where his office was.

I was graciously welcomed by his assistant; he was on the phone. It was a little anxiety provoking as I wondered how I would say that I had no purpose other than wanting to have a conversation.

Since when did two people having a conversation need to have a real purpose?

Moments later he was at the door way, welcoming me in,and offering me a seat. Figuring that small talk would get in the way of real talk, I outed myself, saying, “I don’t really have a purpose today. I just wanted to talk to you.” A broad smile spread across his face, kind of like a time-lapse photo of a sunrise. Phew! Was I ever relieved!

As it happens, he was actually very pleased that all that we were going to do was talk about nothing in particular. Thus our conversation began, with no real small talk. We traversed many topics – faith, life, politics, faith again. We spoke about things that we had done, and about a shared experience that we had, which was more or less how we knew each other. He spoke about a retreat the he had given (which I wanted to know more about, but we never got back to that). I know someone who used to work at the retreat center where he was, which is not in our area. Bringing this up, we discovered we had this mutual friend. (OK, he knows the man in real life; I only know him via Facebook and blogging.) We found this shared connection to be a small gift – like a small “s” sacrament that we shared.

Suddenly an hour had ticked by, but it felt like minutes. We discussed so many things, we touched on some deep and difficult situations, and we also laughed and spoke about the joy of life.  As I got up to leave, he thanked me for making the effort to come to see him, and said that we should meet up again.

As I left, feeling very happy, it struck me that what so often can seem like purpose is really something else. While that something else may not always be bad, it is not always good either.

The full title of Rick Warren’s book is, “The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth am I Here For?”  So – what are we here for?

What I think I am here for, what I hope for, is more like an intention driven life. The kind of intentionality that brings forth the Spirit in life is a beautiful thing. This is the intentionality that calls us to lives of generosity and service. If I have a “purpose” I hope that that it is to live with intention, which seems to have a more powerful place in my heart. There is so much to discuss there, that is another blog post, or another 20 blog posts.

Today I am just happy for a lovely day, all built around having a conversation that was full of intention, purpose or no purpose. As the day draws to a close, I can saw with gratitude, there may not have been a real point today, but there was always that intention.

PS – I did have a third social event today – I had a meet up with fellow blogger Allison, from Rambling Follower! She and her son were here, they are on a journey. We had met before. In case you are wondering, she is great!

A Woman of Courage and Light

This post was originally published at Catholic Sensibility, for the series, Two Weeks of Worthy Women. Todd Flowerday, host and publisher over there has asked me to contribute a couple of pieces; this is the first one.

648Imagine that you are born in a place that sometimes belongs to one country, Romania, but at other times belongs to another country, Hungary. Imagine that you are born as a secular Hungarian Jew in such a place, and that you live a completely middle class life. You have the gifts and benefits of education, well being, exemplary parents who teach you about the arts and about how to live a generous life oriented to the common good. Imagine further that because of a challenge in public school, you find yourself at a Catholic boarding school, and you are attracted to Jesus Christ.

If this all sounds like a slightly offbeat and made up tale, it is anything but! Such are the circumstances of the early life of Sister Judith Fenyvesi. She was born in Salonta, Romania in 1923, the third child of a pharmacist and a musician, and lived a life that earns her a place in these days of worthy women.

The words “religious freedom” are thrown around with incredible ease these days, but what do these words really mean? How and when is our freedom impeded or curtailed? Are we killed or imprisoned for our religious convictions? How does a long history of a lack of such freedom, make itself manifest in our lives today?

d95e4310fca091f064424010.LThese are things that I thought about as I plowed through the pages of Sister Judith Fenyvesi’s biography, A Journey of Light in the Darkness. While Judith was growing in faith that was oriented towards Christ, the backdrop of history was that Romania and Hungary were in a tug of war for the place where she lived. On top of all of this, there was the growing threat of Nazism, and communism. Life was chaotic, uncertain, and fraught with danger.

Although she had become Catholic and had plans to enter into formation with the Sisters of Our Lady of Sion, Judith wanted to become a doctor. Because of her heritage, she was denied entry into medical school. She studied at the School of Social Work instead, which was run by the Sisters of Social Service. It was in this way that her first efforts were directed at the catechesis of adults and children, and also of establishing a children’s home in Cluj, Transylvania. In this work, she apparently had a tremendous influence on the faithful, and on other catechists and teachers. This was all done prior to any profession into the Sisters of Our Lady of Sion, although she considered this her community.

Holocaust_Yellow_BadgeIn what was to be a defining moment for Judith and for the Sisters of Social Service, Judith still had to wear a yellow star that identified her as a Jew. This was something that would put her in real danger. It was at this time that despite the danger to the sisters, they welcomed her to the novitiate, as if she was a novice. This act of charitable shelter changed the course of many things.

Judith was faced with a stark choice. Enter and possibly be spared the fate of so many Jews, or be safe. This also meant choosing to not join her family, who were back home and being moved into the ghetto, and ultimately deported from their beloved Salonta. Many efforts were made to save the Fenyvesi family, directed by the sisters, but Judith’s mother, sisters and grandmother all died in concentration camps.

Yet, Judith lived, but her challenges were not over. She continued her faith and vocation journey, and also became involved in the Catholic Resistance movement during the communist takeover in Romania. Judith and two other women religious ended up becoming carriers of secret messages between priests and bishops, whose ties to Rome were severed by the communist regime.

In 1951 she was arrested for her activities and held under the harshest conditions for 28 months of interrogation and deprivation. This yielded her an authentic blow to religious and any other kind of freedom – a ten-year sentence as a political prisoner.

In all this time she apparently never turned to hatred, and while she struggled with how cruel humans could be to one another, she persisted. Her faith and commitment to God and to God’s people was profound, and her suffering was not without redemption. That said, her suffering, physical and emotional, was quite intense.

During her imprisonment, her prayerful presence was a consolation to other prisoners. She had befriended two women in prison, who were sisters, not religious but biological, and they were instrumental in a later chapter of Judith’s life. Nonetheless, she did suffer greatly, felt the pain of losing everything.

A release from prison in 1961 offered little in the way of real freedom or consolation. Now Judith found herself with little or no support on the outside, with almost no contact with her congregation. She was truly alone and it was yet another very difficult chapter of life. Approaching 40, she was unsure of where she would go and how she would live.

The years of prison and isolation from her community and the loss of her family, truly created someone who was adrift. The authorities forced her to live in a particular place and it was difficult to find work. Her life as a sister was still not fully realized in any way. As a former political prisoner she was always suspect and under observation. Despite some periodic visits to her community in Cluj, she remained disconnected. Yet her faith persisted, and she was blessed with people who did support her in various ways.

In a strange turn of events, she found herself among a group of Jews who were being released to Austria. The Romanian communist government would be paid for this act, and thus their false humanitarian action came to be! Once in Vienna, she established contact with her community and the tide began to turn for Judith. In an ironic situation, her Jewish roots, which led to her first persecution, also gained her freedom.

In Vienna Judith studied English and prepared for a new life; in 1964 she was able to move to Buffalo, NY to live with the Sisters of Social Service. It is here where her life truly turns, but that is not the story that I am here to tell you today. You can read all about that in her autobiography. (If the Sisters of Social Service sound familiar to you, it is because they have their own worthy story. Sister Simone Campell of Nuns on the Bus fame belongs to this order.)

What strikes me is that in Judith we find a woman, persecuted at many levels – for being a Jew, for being a woman religious, for being a Catholic. And even at her worst, she found the light of Christ to guide her on through many circumstances.

Always relying on God, Judith prevails. As we consider these two weeks of worthy women, Judith holds a place of honor among them. May she rest in the peace of the God that gave her a long and rich life, of many chapters, may her memory forever be a blessing. May she and others inspire us all.

“The song to my God continues to be sung. It is a song of gratitude for the blessings I have received as a member of the Sisters of Social Service.”
Sister Judith Fenyvesi

Take time to nourish your soul and spirit this summer

Sölle, Prof. Dr. DorotheeLast year at this time, I was pretty emotionally pretty decompensated. Long story, it does not matter why, and I’m good now. The one thing that I felt like I needed to do was to go on a retreat, which I did. Seven full days of monastic silence… ahhhh. That kind of retreat is a luxury, and one I don’t have the time for now.

So what do we do when we don’t have the time, or if it feels as if we don’t have the time to go away? How can we take the time to nourish our souls and spirits?

Here is one idea… Sign up for Soelle in Summer: Challenge and Wonder.

Who or what is Soelle, you may ask? That means:

Dorothee Soelle (1928-2003) was a German theologian, poet, peace activist, and Protestant Christian with Catholic, secular, humanist, and Jewish companions and allies; she was also a friend, teacher, spouse, mother, socialist, and from mid-life on, feminist.

She had me at Soelle! And she kept me at “challenge and wonder.” I love that description. I first learned about Soelle from theologian Jane Redmont, who is facilitating this online offering. This hybrid course and retreat begins on June 17 and runs through July 31. Jane is an experienced online facilitator and retreat leader, who will guide you on this spiritual journey.

The beauty of online retreats is that you can set aside time for this that suits your schedule.

For more details and sign up information, please see Jane’s website -  here.  If you want to learn more about online retreats, check this link from NCR. (Please note, you will find me speaking about another one of Jane’s retreats in the article, so I am not unbiased, but on the other hand, I have experienced this!)

The Feast of the Visitation

This post ran last year, but I am running it again today. Blessings of this feast to you!

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children for ever.

What a fitting end to this Marian month, we celebrate the Visitation today, when Mary “set out in haste” to see her cousin Elizabeth. The feast of the Visitation conjures up visions of two cousins, meeting and embracing. Like so many Marian stories, it is so easy to make it into something too sweet and pretty. This is one of the dangers of over-sentimentalizing something that is so deeply profound. For me, this story is at once, extraordinary, and ordinary.

In 2004, I had the good fortune to visit both Nazareth and Ein Kerem (Elizabeth’s home town). What struck me was the distance between the cities, and the terrain. This was not a simple walk from here to there; this was serious travel and not easy. Of course, we could ask, what journey of Mary’s was ever easy?

Another thing that strikes me is Mary’s eternal “yes,” her fiat, which means, “let it be done.” There is such immediacy to her responses. When I think of so many other people in the Scriptures, there is some hesitation in many, the word no comes from others. I think of Moses, Jeremiah, Jonah… and that is just the tip of the Scriptural iceberg!

Mary is clear – yes. She says yes to God when told she will bear the Christ child, she then says yes to make this journey to her cousin.

What I am also forced to consider is my own hesitation in life and often my own “no!” Mary is a model for immediacy, and Elizabeth is too. It is always about God first and then our response. That’s why we can’t make ourselves holy or “get saved.” Jesus has already done this and we simply need to open our heart to the yes, with hesitation or not, we must say yes. Mary and Elizabeth. They both respond like that. Uncomplicated. Clear. Direct. God-focused, God-centered.

Their cooperation with grace requires courage, humility, inner authority, intuition, deep faith. Very remarkable, very beautiful.

So on this day, let us remember the speed and clarity that Mary and Elizabeth have in responding to God. And let us all remember that it is about responding, not doing it ourselves.

How do we respond to God? How do we respond to one another?


As you ponder that question, allow me to add this. I am always heartened to remember that the public recitation of the Magnificat was against the law in Guatemala in the 1980s. These words that I leave you with are from author Kathleen Norris‘s book, Amazing Grace:

Mary utters a song so powerful that its meaning still resonates in profound and disturbing ways. In the twentieth century Mary’s “Magnificat” became a cornerstone of liberation theology, so much so that during the 1980′s the government of Guatemala found its message so subversive that it banned its recitation in public worship.

The Magnificat reminds us that what we most value, all that gives us status – power, pride, strength and wealth – can be a barrier to receiving what God has in store for us. If we have it all, or think we can buy it all, there will be no Christmas for us. If we are full of ourselves, there will be no room for God to enter our hearts at Christmas. Mary’s prayer of praise, like many of the psalms, calls us to consider our true condition: God is God, and we are the creatures God formed out of earth. The nations are but nations, and even the power of a mighty army cannot save us. We all return to dust. And if we hope to rise in God’s new creation, where love and justice will reign triumphant, our responsibility, here and now, is to reject the temptation to employ power and force and oppression against those weaker than ourselves. We honour the Incarnation best by honouring God’s image in all people, and seeking to make this world into a place of welcome for the Prince of Peace.” (p. 113-114 in “God With Us”).

What are you doing?

I made a stealth trip to NYC. I always feel badly when I can’t see everyone, but some friends were in from Texas and they asked me to come on down, stay in their hotel room, and do the town. It was just an overnight and I have a great husband who says “have fun!”

There were a lot more words here, but I did not save them and something funky happened and they went away. *sigh* Oh well. Here are some photos of the trip.

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Then when I came home I just wanted to go walking with the dog. So I did. This is what we see when we walk around our ‘hood. It is not NYC, but this is my home now. I love it! That’s what I’m doing. What are you doing?