Be Still, Cease Striving

This past weekend I was on retreat at Pyramid Life Center in Paradox, NY. Tucked into the Adirondacks, this “thin place” is a source of restoration of my soul. I took this photo when I arrived.

Our retreat director was Mary DeTurris Poust, who is many things – the Director of Communications for the Diocese of Albany, a skilled and prolific writer, a gifted yoga teacher, and more. Her website is Not Strictly Spiritual. Early in the retreat we were talking about the Psalm verse 46:10, “Be still, and know that I am God. It is a favorite for many of us.

Mary then pointed us to a translation found in the NASB. That version says this, “Cease striving, and know that I am God.”

WHOA

That one really hit me hard. Cease striving? Sheesh, striving is the American way. In his first letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul tells them to keep striving. What’s a person to do? Thankfully we can understand this in the truly Catholic and universal matter of both/and, not only either/or.

This reminder to cease striving and/or to be still is God’s way of saying that we must stop and let God be God. Easy to say and think, but so very hard to live – at least for me.

Today I want to remember – and share – this notion when I want to push harder, insist on more, when my frustration mounts and peaks. God is in it all with me, and only God is God. We all might go more deeply into our lives of faith by taking a deep breath and being quiet. In a world that gets louder by the second, in workplaces and homes full of stress, in a time of great division, there is only one way. Know that God is God. Forever.

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Neither toil nor spin…

Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your lifespan? Why are you anxious about clothes? Learn from the way the wildflowers grow. They do not work or spin.Matthew 6:27-28

What a great reminder as we wind down our summer (or winter for you readers below the equator) and head into another season. This rose grows in an untended and poorly managed garden bed at the back of my house. It is interesting to note that year after year, I do literally nothing to this rosebush and yet each summer it produces the most lovely blooms.

God calls us to just be and to worry not. That’s a challenge for me as worrying is deeply embedded in me. Yet as I grow older I do see the wisdom in it and I do not worry as much. Sure we all have work to do, but it is essential to remember that what we do is always in response in what God has done and is doing.

Wishing you peace and the joy of just being.

The Power Button

I know, I have not been around for awhile again! Life happens, but here I am at least for today. May this post find readers old and new doing well in these crazy days.

The topic of power is one that I think about a lot. Power is often perceived in terms like good or bad. As a culture we tend to reward and respect power, but not always good power! People amass power and often use it as a force for destruction. One need not look far – church, politics, life, any community – we can see where someone gets some power and misuses it, intentionally or not. I am not a huge Star Wars person, but I love the imagery of “the force” and how it must be used for good.

So much of our culture and society are hierarchal in nature that we often must unlearn what we have learned about power – I think that is essentially at the heart of the Gospel. Jesus was not into power for the grab, but to use the power for good to always serve others.

Currently I am listening to the podcast from Christianity Today called “Who Killed Mars Hill?” If you are unfamiliar, Mars Hill was a Seattle megachurch that began in the 90’s. It had a dramatic rise and period of growth and a hard tumble due to its leader and founder, Mark Driscoll. It is something I knew a little bit about, and I am finding that the podcast is eye opening – I recommend it.

It got me thinking about problems that we have in the Catholic church. Power is a problem here too, but that is the same in all worship congregations. Even the apostles were prone to wanting to get “the best seats.” Jesus saw otherwise and did not see a rise to power as the goal. Life given for life, death into new life – that was the thing.

When I came to work here at the church in 2008, with no church experience, a priest I knew told me that I should be cautious as I would be one of the most powerful people there. I did not believe him – but he was correct. I see that power as privilege, and I hope to never use it to harm another. My aim is to serve Christ by serving others and that means loving those who may be difficult to love, welcoming all, and making this a place people want to come to. I’m no hero, and I can be a royal pain, but I am given a lot of grace.

There are many in the church who do not intentionally misuse power – in fact they are unware of their misuse of it. Of course there are others who use it nefariously and that is a huge problem.

I’m not sure what the solution to all of this is. I am distressed by abuse of power in church but also in the world – politics in general is a power laden nightmare. But then again so is every other environment, it just might not be so visible.

Trust me I have not always used power for good. I do not believe I purposefully used it as a cudgel, but like anything, I had a lot to learn about it as I grew older and up. Maybe that is why this is such an important topic to me. What do you think about power and how do you deal with it? Both your own and the power around you? We must interact with it and I imagine that God’s ultimate kingdom is a place where total balance is present. Here, we must learn to sort it out and that is a lifelong journey. We just need to be sure that when we press our internal power button, or respond to other’s power, we are guided by good.


Thanks for reading. As usual, I will try to be back more frequently. Peace and God bless you all! If you are here for the first time due to Give Us This Day – thank you!

Resilience again

“In spite of illness, in spite even of the archenemy sorrow, one can remain alive long past the usual date of disintegration if one is unafraid of change, insatiable in intellectual curiosity, interested in big things, and happy in small ways.”
― Edith Wharton

This notion of resilience has taken root in me. It seems elementary, but I’m just thinking about it in a more deliberate way, trying to be more intentional about it. Years ago I was obsessed with willow trees because of their nature, which seemed resilient to me. They would bend a great deal before breaking, or so I was told. And if they did break, apparently the broken piece would take root. Did I check these facts? No – I just went with the idea of being more flexible and that when broken, taking root was always possible in order to grow new life. Very Easter-like themes from my past, but not always well applied.

Edith Wharton’s words seen at the top of the post have meant a lot to me over the years. I would like to think I am innately curious, I wish I could believe that I am unafraid of change – but like most of us, I resist it. Sure, I can put on a good show of it, but am I really open to change? Yet to be a follower of Jesus means an ongoing journey of change, transformation, that old metanoia – whether we believe we want it or need it! Change is one thing we can always count on.

Ascension is coming up this week. Here in New York we celebrate Ascension on Thursday, but many Catholic dioceses have moved it to Sunday. In 1998 I was in Los Angeles, looking for an apartment of all things, and I realized it was Ascension Thursday. Finding myself near a church, I went in to attend mass – the recording on the phone said “Holy Days at 9am and 12noon.” Sitting in the cool quiet I prayed and prayed, looked at my watch, I was waiting, but it was 12:10 and no sign of anything. A maintenance worker came through and I asked him about mass. The man looked at me and asked, why did I think it was a Holy Day? That was my first introduction to Ascension Thursday being moved on the calendar.

Me, I love this time. Ascension – Jesus ascends and the disciples remain. Can you imagine how awestruck they must have felt? He just took off and once again they were left to their own devices, with some words about the Holy Spirit. We have been building up to this in our Scripture for days now. I experience this time of waiting, this liminal space of no longer and not yet as a gift. Each year I make a novena from Thursday to Pentecost, praying for the wisdom of the Holy Spirit to come. It is not like magic, the answers are not always clear, but they are always there – like Jesus on Ascension. Visible or invisible, always there.

In the meantime, I will try to keep that curiosity and flexibility thing going. Like following Jesus, it does not always make sense or come easily, but given the choices, it is the only way to go in my way of seeing things. Wharton’s words remind me of the resilience needed for the journey of every day. May we all press on in this spirit, alive in the moment, ready for what comes.

Resilience rising

“Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people,
who have received the Holy Spirit even as we have?” -Acts of the Apostles 10:47

Despite being in the Easter season, I have been a bit discouraged about the state of the church. There is so much division and it is wearing me down. Yet, when I saw today’s first reading from Acts, I took heart.

Church is a field hospital, to quote Pope Francis, a place for the weary, the longing, the marginalized, the poor. Guess what, no matter our station in life, we are all of these things at various times whether we realize it or not. I’m always heartened to read this passage from Acts as a reminder that “God shows no partiality.” How could God? When I tell people that God loves each of us equally, no matter how bad we are, they often go pale and silent, or shake their heads no no no. Mostly because they feel unworthy, not because they are deeming another unworthy. I’m glad that I never fully appropriated a fear of an angry and capricious God, but I worry because so many people have done so.

Back to my field hospital imagery, I see church as a place where we come to be healed, to share, to offer ourselves completely – both at church and in life. The Eucharist is at the heart of it all, our divine nourishment. We bring ourselves as the offering as Christ has done, the broken off piece that we receive is what makes us whole and one in Christ. The dynamism always makes me tingle with excitement, even when I am at my discouraged worse! God is always waiting to feed us, tend to us, heal us, bind us up with love – no matter what. Sure we have to offer ourselves in utter vulnerability, our hearts open to reveal our wrongs that God will make right. That’s the hard part – not God.

On Saturday I was at the supermarket and ran into my former professor, friend, and priest, Richard Vosko. He lives nearby and I often see him amidst the spices or the pasta! This time he was in line ahead of me, I wasn’t sure it was him – masks! “Richard… ” I said tentatively, and he immediately said “Hello Fran!” What a delight to encounter him. He asked me how I was feel about church and I shrugged (paraphrasing here), admitting to my discouragement. Ever the people pleaser, after telling him that I still loved my job, I added that I always try to have hope.

Richard, never one to mince words, shook his head. He told me an anecdote about hope, one he has shared before – a reminder that hope is not always what is needed. Then he offered an alternative – resilience. “How about that?” he asked. Immediately I experienced an interior shift, knowing that resilience is precisely what I needed to focus on.

Trust me, I am still as Catholic as I ever was. And I do love my job, although it is exhausting as we labor on during Covid-19 and a lot of diocesan changes. As anyone who is friends with me or my spouse and daughter will tell you, I am a difficult person when I love someone or something. Critically examining everything and asking way too many questions, probing deeply. I do it to myself too. It is no different with the Church, I have issues and I discuss them with Jesus at length in prayer.

Today I awakened to a real Mother’s Day surprise. I cried when I saw what Mark and Erica had done for me. Then I went off to pray. As I did I was aware, thanks to all the moments that had preceded that one in recent days and the current moment, that it was not hope rising in my heart, but a desire for resilience. That’s what I will be praying and living with, a necessary adjustment, a refocus – a calibration actually.

My wish and prayer for you is to find resilience – or whatever you need to find, whether in nature, a pew, or even the grocery store.

A quick appeal for women

Here we are at the end of the day and I am just getting to this… luckily, it will not be “stale” later or tomorrow. Today is International Women’s Day, #IWD2021. In support of that I am asking you to consider a donation to an appeal a friend of mine is making.

In the early 80’s I worked with Dave and we became fast friends. Over the years we would be in touch and then not. Thanks to Facebook, a more constant connection was established. A little over a year ago, he and his wife RW became “citizens of the world.” They are literally traveling around the world, working for a time at various Workaway assignments. Of course Covid made their first assignment in Morocco a VERY long one. They have had such rich experiences, finally leaving Morocco, then going to London, Northern Ireland, and then Madagascar. Currently they are in Arusha, Tanzania and they are working on a volunteer charity project. Here’s where the appeal comes in.

I’ll let Dave himself give you a better explanation, but what they are doing are raising funds to help women and children. Here is one small example:

“Your contributions to CWCD are already at work. This morning we purchased enough sanitary pad kits to make a difference to 60 young girls. They only had enough left for 6 girls so it was greatly appreciated and tears and “bless you” were exchanged. Mama Hindu wishes that you could all be here for her to thank in person and maybe even cook for you. There’s a lot more to do but we are so thankful that we could accomplish something so soon. Asante Sana!”

Without sanitary hygiene, education and work, both women and children are subject to poverty, abuse, and more. Dave, RW, and another friend are pitching in to help. I hope you will join me in helping them from afar.

You can read about their project here at this link and you can donate there too. Please consider doing so, no amount is too small. If everyone who reads this sends in a few dollars, they would get a huge boost. And if anyone can send something larger, please do!

Thank you for your consideration. And if you cannot do anything, please think about simply sharing this through social media and email. Every little bit will help! Especially important to do on International Women’s Day!

A Stranger, And You Welcomed Me

Hello everyone, I know I have been a bit quiet – that is an understatement! Anyway, I am popping in to say I hope to get back to more regular blogging.

In the meantime I wanted to make sure you all knew about this relatively new book, A Stranger, And You Welcomed Me, Homilies and Reflections for Cycle B, edited by Deacon Jim Knipper, from Clear Faith Publishing. Featuring the work of many renown Christians including Richard Rohr, Daniel P. Horan, James Martin SJ, Nadia Bolz-Weber, Deacon Greg Kandra, Jan Richardson, Phyllis Zagano the artwork of Br. Mickey McGrath OSFS, and many more, there is something for everyone in this book. Other contributors include Michelle Francl, Kevin Ahern, Margaret Blackie, Becky Eldridge, and Rory Cooney. And oh yeah, me also! There are so many fine contributions in this book and I hope you will consider making a purchase.

Proceeds from the book will go to several charities that welcome the stranger among us. Despite changing tides and times, we have lived through a long era of rejection of the stranger. I know that many of us believe that the rejection of the stranger is the rejection of Christ himself.

This is the first installment of a three part series that follows the great success of Clear Faith’s first homiletic series which can be found here. That one can be purchased as a box set or individually. All homiletic series are based on the Catholic liturgical year, but have always included a wide variety of Christian authors, both ordained and lay. Each volume supports different kinds of charities and well over $100,000 has been donated from the initial three books alone.

Please support the work by purchasing a hard copy or Kindle version at this link. If you are in the greater Albany area, I have a small supply of books and would be happy to get one to you if we can work it out.

Thank you and I will look forward to writing in this space again soon!

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It is oh so quiet…

Greetings of peace to readers old and new, I hope that you and yours are well despite these tumultuous times.

It has been very quiet here on the blog. While my family and I are gratefully in good health, I have been in a bit of a creative void for a number of reasons. Other than writing for Give Us This Day, and one short piece for America Magazine, I ran out of creative steam.

May good health and peace be yours and may 2021 bring a new dawn. Thank you fro coming by.

Sealed in the Book of Life

Today I offer many prayers for our Jewish brothers and sisters around the world as they fast and pray on Yom Kippur.  For the past 10 days they have been praying and reflecting through the Days of Awe and now the holiest day is here. There is a fast that began last night, the Kol Nidre service ushered in this solemn moment.

Fasting, prayer, and repentance are intended to draw anyone who seeks God into the reality of life. It helps us to recognize our sin and confess, and God willing, be transformed. On this particular day, our Jewish brothers and sisters pray fervently to be sealed for another year in the Book of Life.

Such hope and desire is something for all of us, no matter how we seek it. Today may we all pray for such renewal and change so that we might bring good to the world. G’mar Chativah Tovah!

This is real

At sundown tonight, Rosh Hashanah begins. May all of our Jewish brothers and sisters be blessed with a sweet new year – we could all use that, right?

Each year I read the book cited in the link below. I find it an extremely important element of my spiritual life.  May we all find ways to embrace suffering; it spares no one. If that is not evident this year, I do not know if it ever will be.

My retreat from last weekend is still being processed, but this much is clear to me – honesty without shame, suffering with vulnerability, and offering ourselves openly to God and one another is the only way forward. May we soften, open, embrace – and be transformed. It is all very real, and we typically are, to riff off of Rabbi Alan Lew’s book title, completely unprepared. Yet God awaits us.

L’shana tovah to our Jewish friends. May peace prevail for all, may we each do our part of it, one surrender at a time.

“Our suffering, the unresolved element of our lives, is also from God. It is the instrument by which we are carried back to God, not something to be defended against, but rather to be embraced.”
― Alan Lew, This Is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared: The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation