Which way? A video about spiritual direction

A short post; I know I have been an inconsistent blogger. I’m trying to do what this video talks about at the beginning… slow down. Not really my thing to do, but I know that like the trees around me, leaves must be shed. My leaves are too many tasks and activities, too little time for peace.

Anyway, I think that spiritual direction is so important. I go about once per month and highly recommend it. Listen to these two spiritual directors talk about slowing down and much more. This will require you to sit still and pay attention for 7 minutes. Don’t worry – I did not want to stop either, but I am so glad that I did.

BRB!

keep-calm-and-i-ll-brb-3A long period of silence from your blogger friend, yes – that would be me. I was shocked when I realized that my last post went up on September 30.

*sigh*

I’ll be back soon. Thanks for sticking around, those of you who have stuck around!

One of the things that has kept me away, you know – besides my family, my day job, and that thing called sleep – has been some work for a publisher. Some of you may recall that last year my work was included in a volume entitled, Hungry and You Fed Me: Homilies and Reflections for Cycle C, featuring James Martin, SJ, and Richard Rohr, OFM. The book surpassed any expectations that we had for it, selling many copies and winning awards. The next volume is due out very soon, entitled, Naked and You Clothed Me: Homilies and Reflections for Cycle A. We have the same group of contributors, but have added some greatly talented people to our roster.

I’ll be back, more to follow.

Texting Church

ITNOTFATSATHS

No – this is not a word, it is a text. What does it mean?

In the Name of the Father, and The Son, and

the Holy Spirit.

Even as a tireless advocate of #chsocm – oh, I mean, Church Social Media – I am not crazy about the idea of texting during worship.

TextingJesusWhen I read this, my discomfort leaped: “It’s not uncommon to look out at the congregation and see everyone on their smartphones,” That might work in other churches, but something in me resists it in Roman Catholic liturgy. Am I being an uptight jerk? (Don’t answer that!) I try to view resistance as invitation, but this one… I’m not so sure. But why not explore the resistance to what I read at Mashable, in the post What Would Jesus Text?

To be an evangelizing church,I believe that we absolutely must be a church of social media, which is vital to spreading the Gospel. Jesus always went out to where the people were, the Apostles went forth to do the same. Of course there are boundaries and guidelines to follow – as there should be. Yet, we must prevail and be tireless in proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus, using all means possible. If God’s Spirit is with us, the work will be blessed.

imagesAn early adopter,I’ve been social media-ing for church since 2007. I have this blog and two parish blogs. One blog is for the parish where I worship, the other blog is for the parish where I work. My new favorite book is The Social Media Gospel: Spreading the Good News in New Ways, by Meredith Gould. I’ve been on podcasts and and also a DVD retreat, talking about this. In September, I will be offering a presentation, Faith and Facebook at the Dominican Retreat Center. I can’t shut up about it. In all of this I have met with welcome – but also a lot of resistance.Trust me – I know resistance. And I know I am feeling plenty of resistance about the idea of everyone looking at their phone during mass. Why?

We are taught that “The Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life.” We also know that mass calls for “conscious, active, and full participation of the faithful,” and the focus of that celebration is on Christ. I wouldn’t call someone on my phone during mass, why would I text them?

Mass is our communal feast, our meal. In those terms, what would you think if your family was texting friends during Thanksgiving dinner? I think that idea might be pretty abhorrent to many – which is analogous why I would resist texting in church as well.

I’m grateful for all the rich, vast, church social media work that goes on, but when I walk in those doors… Off. Goes. The. Phone. In this case, forget WWJD, I’m wondering what you would do. Text? Talk? Tweet? Or pray? Or all of the above?

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.