Thursday, March 31, 2011


"Trust the images that come from
God only knows where.
Share the stories
of childhood:
release them
so they can grow
in people's
minds and hearts
igniting imagination
and new hope."

Michael E.Moynahan "Orphaned Wisdom"

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

I can't do it!

picture by Kris

If the Gospel is about anything,it is about forgiveness.It is demanded of believers.This is the hard path that we choose when we follow Christ.And I am not sure it can be done just in our heads.The gospel says that,"My heavenly Father will treat you in exactly the same way unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart.",Mt 18:35.

So how do we do this?I found something that was very helpful to me in a book by Emmet Fox,"Around the Year with Emmet Fox."There are readings for each day and on a certain day I read this:If it is your will to forgive, then the greatest part is already done.Then do this:""Get by yourself,become quiet.Repeat any prayer that appeals to you ,or read a chapter of the Bible.Then quietly say,"I fully and freely forgive (mention the name);I loose him/her and let him/her go.I cast the burden aside .He is now free and I am free too.The Truth of Christ has set us both free and I thank God.""

I have done this and as I type these words my hands feel lighter, tears start to form in my eyes.This is when that big red balloon that you hold inside your heart starts to leave your chest and float into the blue glorious sky.The black tar that has been behind your eyes and has clouded everything you see, slowly melts into a small ball that eventually dissipates.Who knows what you will become, how free you will be when you do this.

The second suggestion is that if the offense or the person comes to mind, we need to pray for their good and let the thought go.I would suggest a third.We need to show that person some care, some token of love.This is forgiveness with your feet.A visit to the hospital room of a person who has hurt you deeply.A "thinking of you" card.

Perhaps it is too late for that.The person is no longer here.How about a tree planted in their name.Some effort to cement the deal.

In my view, there is more.Something that may be harder than all this.Can I forgive myself ?In today's reading from Daniel, the Israelites, have run into trouble once again and are on their knees begging once again to be the apple of God's eye after turning away from Him.Nothing in me condemns them because I have done the same thing.

Once, in Spiritual Direction,I met with a person who, late in life had come to know the Lord.She was so horribly burdened with her past life's sins.What I offered to her was my belief that when we are not connected to God, we don't have the power to resist sin.He knows that,so it might be better to focus on thanking Him for your new life.In a way, if we focus on our past life and transgressions we are paying attention to the author of Evil.If we are sorry,we must accept God's forgiveness.

It was God's work that my nephew,Paul,sent me Fox's book.That the suggestion on how to forgive fell on the birthday of the one person in the world that I desperately needed to pardon so that I could walk into her hushed hospital room and say good-bye.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

the thirst we all have

The water symbol is still being richly revealed in the Lenten scripture.Today is the story of the Samaritan woman at the well.

Christ says to her,"Everyone who drinks this water(the well) will be thirsty again.But whoever drinks the water I give him will never be thirsty;no, the water I give shall become a fountain within him,leaping up to provide eternal life."

Once, at a isolated retreat house in New York in 2005,a woman with grey hair walked a labyrinth.It was a warm summer day, and she was on a week-end retreat to learn about this prayer path.Trusting that the Lord knows her intent, she let go of all thought,all expectation and slowly her feet followed the twists and turns of the grass path,bordered by grey rocks.This thought comes to her,"You have a fountain of goodness in you.Learn how to make it more and how to let it flow."Having little idea what this meant she did understand that the goodness is really god-ness,His works in her that need to be shared.Puzzling this out is not something she can do right now.She must let it sit and trust that the way will become clear.

Two years ago, a friend challenged the seeker to start her own blog and somehow, she did and her first posts assuaged her grief at losing her only sister.As time went on, it became much more than that:a way of sharing her truth;of telling how her life became like the tugboat ,all bright, beautiful colors, with gold and stars surrounding her.A place to convey her deep faith in the Christ who saved her and guides her,a soft,gentle, smiling shepherd with Jim Caviezel's face.

This is what the spiritual life is like.One receives words,living words that are surprising and fathomless and you just go with them until you get it.And sometimes you won't get it in this life but you grab hold,hang on and go on the ride as the water wells up in you and overflows to do its work.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

the good man and his bell

"One of the treasured relics said to have belonged to Patrick-if one might admit the slightest whiff of myth-is the reliquary case in which his mass bell was once kept.We can imagine Patrick rousing his flock with a clanging cowbell and inviting them to come to morning Eucharist.The bell has long since disappeared but more precious by far is the sound of his own words ringing across fifteen centuries."John Skinner

In a small copse of trees I sit with my journal on my lap.The trees are gently swaying as is the grass.The bees aren't still but their hum is a welcome accompaniment to my thoughts.The clouds overhead are moving with the same wind that cools my cheek and
my solitude is rich and fruitful as I write.

The ground under me held my great-great grandparent's feet and their children's.They would go to America during the terrible famine of 1848 on a ship called the Wave.My great grandmother was 16 years old and never again would see the shore of Ireland.I have a photo of her stern,pinched face,brown hair pulled back tightly from her face.This was not an easy life they were going to.They were also escaping typhus which was sweeping their poor,damp and dark huts.Her mother would not escape and after crossing the ocean would die of typhus in New York City in 1857.

The bell of Patrick's faith called my ancestors to Mass for centuries.They could have stayed in Ireland and been fed by the English if they renounced the faith handed them by the Saint.They left.And I am here among the tombs and the silent grass.My ancestors spirits are here.I feel them.I yearn to know them.What singular courage to sail off to the unknown with nothing but family,faith.

There is a story of my grandmother performing a ritual that was handed down from her Irish women ancestors.If there was a fright about, you sprinkled everything with holy water.This night, a storm raged on Long Island so she grabbed her jar and watered down her children with bleach by mistake.Not a pretty sight, I would think.

Another bell rings and I get up to walk to the humble stone church, being called as those before me and as I move,I say this wonderful prayer of Patrick:

I arise today:

with God's strength to pilot my course.
with God's power to uphold me.
with God's wisdom to guide me.
with God's eye to give me seeing.
with God's ear for my hearing.
with God's word for me to speak.
with with God's hand to guard me.
with God's path to become my road.
with God's shield to to protect me.
with God's army to insure my salvation.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

your breakers and your billows passed over me

I love the imagery in scripture.Water has been the theme of the last several days and my musings;lush watered gardens,dropping down dew,raging streams,little red boats.Today it continues with whales,breakers and the erstwhile prophet,Jonah.

The Lord spoke to Jonah's heart that He wanted repentance preached to the people of Nineveh who were far from Him.Understandably, Jonah had other plans.I can read his mind:"What,What? They will stone me,they will mock me or worse ignore me.This is too much ,I must be hearing wrong.I think I'll flee to where I won't hear this ridiculous request.So he tries to escape in a boat and the rest is history.

I understand how difficult this is;to say what God wants said.The thought bubbles up inside you and you try to ignore it.It persists and no matter what you do, it keeps coming back.And with pounding heart, you make a call to someone you think so much of, to tell them of God's love.You do not have that kind of relationship with this friend and their opinion of you is important.You know what you say will be mocked in some way but you must call and you do.I found out,many years later, that the Spirit so loved this person that the call was transformative.

I think of when I have turned from God and how this description of Jonah's is apt:

"The waters swirled around me,threatening my life;the abyss enveloped me ;seaweed clung to my head....When my soul fainted within me ,I remembered the Lord;My prayer reached you in your holy temple".Jonah 2-6,8.

Isn't this what it feels like to be cut off from the Lord?Rudderless,being tossed about by every wind? Scratching around looking for that one thing that will make you happy?

The people of Nineveh reformed after Jonah finally took up his mission.Maybe it was the seaweed in his hair or the look of stark fear on the face of a man who had nearly drowned.Christ is telling us that we have a greater sign than Jonah,Himself.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

a toy store is no place for a red-painted tugboat

When I was a small child,my favorite Little Golden Book was Scuffy,the Tugboat.With his red body,blue smoke stack and big black eyes,he was real to me.The little boy who owned him took him from the toy store and let him loose in the stream by his house.Not only did he have black eyes but he had a will too and off he went in the Spring flooded creek to find adventure.And did he.He passed cows,women washing their clothes in the water, a town,loggers and finally he got caught in a terrible storm.Happily the story ends with him being scooped up by the boy who hangs off a pier in the city to rescue him.

This story enchanted me because my father made little wooden boats that my sister and I would release in the stream at our summer place and race after before they were whisked away.And the idea of a grand adventure always made my blood flow a little faster.

I thought of this today when I read a poem in my Lenten book,"Orphaned Wisdom",

"Get in the boat.
Don't take out the oars.
In fact,
throw them overboard.
Let the water carry you
where it will.
Be surprised.
Getting tense?
Does the suspense
kill you?
The current knows
where it is going."

And this is the spiritual life and it is frightening,letting go of control and trusting that "the current knows where it is going."

For many years, I held back what I knew was being asked of me,that I give my will and my heart to the Lord.In my naivete, I surmised that I would be sent to Africa where I did not want to go.It was a long time before I understood that if I was sent ,by the time that happened ,my heart would have been so charmed by His Love that I would have wanted nothing else.So I finally said yes and this is as profound an act as one can make.Everything changes and your little boat speeds up and you are now painted in bright yellow,pastel blue,gorgeous turquoise,and your smoke stack flies a flag with streams of gold and glittering stars.Angels and saints applaud your movement instead of washerwomen.

When you let go in this way, your future becomes an unknown.You will find yourself in Honduras taking blood for a diabetes screening.With your heart pounding,you will make a very difficult phone call that you do not want to make and the result will be unknown to you for twenty-five years.You will walk a labyrinth in Scotland and feel a deep peace.On another labyrinth walk it will be revealed that angels walk with you as you pray.An angel will relay a message from a much loved deceased dog.This is an adventure!

We look back at turning points and for me that assent was the most important.As Helen Keller said;"Life is an adventure or it is nothing."

Monday, March 14, 2011

hardened sponge

Forever, I have struggled with a mind that quickly goes to thoughts like this:"ewww, what a terrible make-up job that is,her lipstick makes an arch up to her nostrils."This, as I kneel in prayer before Mass starts.I have gotten better at this but I caught myself yesterday thinking,"how can she wear that awful flowered print and clunky heels."When I caught myself ,I administered a mental slap and got back to prayer.

Usually,I console myself that it only a thought but today's scripture laid that comfort to rest with this prayer:

"Let the word of my mouth and the thought of my heart find favor before you,O,Lord,my rock and my redeemer."Ps.19:15."

I think that I have figured out why this thought of my heart has to be as loving as my speech.I am supposed to have the mind of Christ.Can I imagine Him thinking in that manner?As I sit and speak to my Lord is He thinking of me in that way ?In heaven I believe that we will be able to read each other's minds.This is why I will not be allowed in right away because my judgmental thinking would make the rest of of the heavenly host cringe and that would not be the pure happiness we are promised.And do these negative thoughts not travel now in some way and add to the negative energy in the world?

There might be a remedy for my problem.Most of this thinking is aimed towards people I don't know.Starting tomorrow, I will counter this with a word of hello or a conversation.By the time I am finished I will know everyone and love them as He does.That will be my goal.

by self-inflicted deserts,
drop in
You gently,
imperceptibly,make your way
into hardened sponges."

Michael E. Moynahan S.J."Orphaned Wisdom"

Saturday, March 12, 2011

you shall be like a watered garden

Photo by Kris

Walking slowly up the narrow path,I am filled with uncertainty.What will this be like,praying with homeless women?It is spring and dogwoods bloom along Myrtle Street as I knock on the glass door.A few women are milling about in the front,smoking and I nod and smile.When I walk in the din is jarring.This is my first day of meeting with a Sister of Mercy who ministers to the women at the Day Shelter.For four years, I will come twice a month and gather with a handful of ladies to read the gospel for that day.It is a revelation.

The main room of the shelter is filled with chairs,leather sofas and sleeping bodies.The nun and I gather a group of seven or more and go into a small,narrow room with a few chairs,bare walls and an old steel desk pushed to the side.Sister has brought a plant to bring life to this largely unused space.We open with a prayer, a passage from scripture and then sit in silence."What do these words say to you,I ask?"One will speak and then slowly as tears flow, they will all begin to share.In that small room true things are taken out of their hearts and placed like jewels next to the open Bible.We listen.

The women we meet with stay in a night shelter but they must be out by 6:00A.M.Then they find their way to this day shelter where they can rest,pick through used clothes on the day the room is opened to them or read.At 11:30 A.M., they all jump up ,leave the room and wait on line for the bus to take them to another shelter for lunch and so it goes.

I was always nervous in the living room because there was a fog of tension hanging over everyone.Angry women ready to fight over a place on a sofa amid the women hiding themselves behind the books they got off a shelf.If you smiled,someone might snarl,"What are you looking at"?But in the narrow room, we were in sacred space and with the Bible open on the table,all of us knew it.These were women who for days may not have had a warm touch or even a conversation.After praying, all of us hugged in this white small heaven ,before they had to get back to earth which was the bus line.

What struck me about these courageous women was that never was an excuse given for their plight although some families did horrific harm to them.Their choices brought them to poverty,they said, and they wept for the wrong ones and missed chances.Admirable women in a difficult place.

I thought of this today because of the Saturday after Ash Wednesday scripture.Especially this:

"If you bestow bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted;
Then light shall rise for you in the darkness,
and the gloom shall become for you like mid-day;
Then the Lord will guide you always and give you plenty even on the parched land.
He will renew your strength,and you shall be like a watered garden,like a spring whose water never fails."Isaiah 58:10-11

What a beautifully moving promise.

Sister Pat has moved to another city and I am intimidated by the drive to Atlanta now but this Lent,these readings ,are really working on me.The poor was always part of the message.What are we doing to satisfy the afflicted? Well,I turned in pieces of gold a few months ago and got two hundred dollars which I have been hoarding,yes, hoarding.I think it's time to let some of that go.It's God's money anyway and He will see that it helps just the right person to give them hope.Amen!

Thursday, March 10, 2011


In April of 2007, I went on a retreat to a place 15 miles from my house.There were about twenty of us who set out that Friday night for a week-end in "Haiti".We walked a mile down a gravel path,pulling our luggage.The day was bright and cool and the walk was lovely.Then we arrived at our accommodations.A former missionary had built a small poor village out of bricks and sheets of tin and in open huts we slept with no electricity,an outhouse and dinner served on rocks.The dinner was typical island fare,spaghetti with kethcup.What was I doing here ?

On Saturday, we made bricks by hand with clay,water and a press.The bricks would be used to make other huts in case this "retreat" caught on.The last meal on the Sunday we were leaving was a bag passed around that contained the refuse collected from a youth retreat.We were to know in no uncertain terms that many of the island's people ate from the garbage dumps.Sticking my hand in and grabbing a half eaten Tostado was one of the hardest things I've ever done.Humbling and gross.

I think of this because, yesterday I came across a small, crudely hand made piece of fabric with the words Haiti sewn on it.This was given to me on the week-end by a young girl to whom I had offered one of my three jackets when I saw goosebumps on her arms.In return she, who had been to the real Haiti on a mission trip, gave me her precious memento but with a promise that I would pray for these poorest people.I have but not often enough.

Yesterday made me go deeper with this thought because it was a day of fast and I was hungry most of the day.It didn't feel good but I would lay a wager that most of Haiti feels that way every day.

Looking back, it is strange to me that those few days were very happy ones,despite the "deprivations".There was a strong bond between the group members,mostly women my age ,making bricks and sweating in the sun;eating garbage and having the courage to do that.And Haiti is now more real to me and I do pray for the Haitians.And I will never forget that small,crude special gift from a tender young girl.

I hope that Charlie Sheen does go to Haiti and helps out.And perhaps I need to fast more than just on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.All of this seems to tie in to the readings of today:

"Happy the man who follows not the counsel of the wicked
Nor walks in the way of sinners,nor sits in the company of the insolent, But
delights in the law of the Lord and meditates on his law night and day.
He is like a tree planted near running water
That yields its fruit in due season,and whose leaves never fade.
(Whatever he does,prospers.)Ps.1:1-3.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


I have been a Catholic for 68 years and today I found out what the word Lent means;it is an Anglo-Saxon word meaning Spring.And today there is just enough yellow,white and pink out in the woods to suggest this.Bradford pears are fuller with white puffs then I ever remember and those blessed daffodils are drooping with the raindrops on their petals.But fittingly for a day that starts a season of repentance and struggling to find what is truly important in life,it is grey and somber.

The word "focus" has been coming and going in my mind for a few days now,leading up to Lent.
And today, as John and I drove away from Dogwood Trace,an assisted living home, it came to me what a gift that is in a life.

We took ashes to a widowed shut-in from our church.Mona is 86 years old and is mostly blind and has some hearing loss.She uses a a walker and falls frequently.She couldn't go to church because of the bruises from her last fall.And yet, she is Springtime.She is laughter,listening,gratitude and sunshine.

A lit white candle,softly read scripture and then the ancient words were intoned:"Man, thou are dust and into dust you shall return.",while I signed her forehead with a black cross.We then sat in silence.

Mona is visited by many in our church and she always asks how we are and listens.She tells family stories and tales of the ladies she has lunch with;all in love and good humor.She should charge for the lessons in aging gracefully that she is giving me.She does not ruminate on her limitations.Her grace comes from her focus on prayer,her Lord and her family.This holy demeanor has developed over years of single-minded love of God and others.

When we were leaving,she thanked us and laughed, telling us that soon she would be ashes and so would we!Yes, and before that happens this is my prayer from today"s readings:

"A clean(singleminded)heart create for me,O God,
and a steadfast spirit renew within me." Ps 51:12

Sunday, March 6, 2011

somthing quite extraordinary

photo by Kris in Puerto Rico

A few years ago, my German friend sent me an article that she found detailing the visit of a Hindu holy man to a German mystic,Therese Neumann.She sent it because the mystic lived in Konnersreuth,in Bavaria, close to where my friend Hildegarde grew up.In school,she had learned all about Therese.The mystic died in 1962 and I found the article interesting but.......

In 1926, Therese received the stigmata which included bleeding from her side,hands and head where Christ's crown of thorns had rested.O.K.The bleeding happened every Friday as Therese experienced the Passion while in a trance. This is pretty extraordinary but saints ,including Francis ,have experienced this phenomenon.But to think of someone in this century experiencing this made me uneasy and a bit skeptical.I had a hard time with Therese but I did keep the article.

In February of this year, we sent flowers to John's sister on her 70th Birthday.Yesterday, we received a thank you note and a copy of a letter from John's brother who passed away over fifty years ago.He was in the F.B.I. in 1948 and was in Europe for a time.He wrote home to his parents about something that he had seen that impressed him deeply.On Good Friday, he and a group of Americans went to Konnersreuth to see Therese Neumann.

He said..."standing there watching her, I was awestruck.She sat up in bed ,looking for all the world just like a little old lady.She was clothed in a white robe,more like a sheet,which also ran about her head as a shawl...There were streams of blood coming from a wound in the palm of either hand and running up her arms.....the sheet about her head was also bloodstained from eight wounds in her head...she could not see or hear anyone.She seemed to be suffering great pain but yet ecstatically for the great blessing that she has, undoubtedly gives her great was a sight that I shall always treasure and remember."

How is it that something I was skeptical about is confirmed by a person who by all accounts was a devout and good man,John's older brother,in a letter wrtten in 1948?This letter would have meant nothing to me had I not already met this saint through my dear friend.

As a Catholic, I believe that saints exist in another place just as I believe my mother still exists.And it is my feeling that this saint has been"given" to me as a companion on this Lenten journey for a reason and in a way that I do not know.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

how important is my spiritual life?

In my yahoo mail box every day, I receive an e-mail from a writer who has a website that offers books and art for sale and musings for free.The site is called "Heron Dance" and just the name makes me smile.

Today, I opened his message and he asks this question,"What would my life be like if I defined success solely in spiritual terms?"I loved that question.I've been thinking it over and "spiritual terms" to me is a broad notion.Another way that I would phrase it would be, have I spent time on the look-out for the Lord today?

Right now, in the back yard under the slightly budding maple,are five plump robins who are splashing and carrying on in their orange and brown splendor.They might be relatives of the ones that sought worms in our summer green yard.Their call brings me right back to freedom,running,friends and laughter. Those birds are like a beautiful painting to me,they take me to another place.Robins and memories cascading from His hands.

This bubbling cauldron of success requires effort on my part.Responding when I am called to prayer,when I feel that nudge or just taking the time.Serving when called.Answering that small voice that tells me,"Do this,now."

Let me give you a Holy Spirit success story.Last week at Mass, I saw a young woman in front of me that I didn't know.We have been in this church for 40 years and know many faces.Before Mass, the priest urges us to turn to each other and say hello.I took the woman's hand and said ,"I'm Sharon, how are you.? She said, "Hi Sharon, I'm Monica."After church, she was talking to my husband and told him that I was the only person who had taken a moment to chat like that and she was very happy.Small thing but that Sunday was for me a spiritual success.

If we decide that the success we want is as a spiritual being, we have the rest of our lives to figure out how and to work it.I propose that this success is the one that provides the glow.That promotion you got, that raise, that lottery win, the home run that won the game.How long does that rush last?

Lately, I've been thinking that spiritual success might involve doing a chore around the house that I don't want to do at that very moment or that belongs to someone else.To live this fruitful life requires focus and so I am back to Lent and the focus I hope to have on spiritual matters.

What do you think of his question?What would your life look like if spiritual success was your only goal?What would the world look like?

Now, I am going to have a successful few minutes because I am going to leave you with my favorite quote by the artist Gwen John:

,"Do not have many little aims but the one great :to be a child of prayer and God's artist".

Thursday, March 3, 2011


In a week, the Church will begin a new season, a period taken out of the year for a specific purpose,repentance.This is not a warm fuzzy word.It implies guilt and need.This is one that causes me to want to turn away.If I need to repent then that means I am not the perfect being I think I am.Ouch.This is a time for me to turn and focus again on what is important.

Next Wednesday, the priest will put ashes on my forehead and in a very politically incorrect manner,will remind me that I am going to die.He will intone:"Remember man that you are dust and into dust you shall return"Whap!

It is my belief that Lent saved my mother's life.One year when I was 12 or so, she put away her Phillip Morris cigarettes and for forty days she was smokeless.She did this as a deprivation, a sacrifice to align herself with her sacrificial Lord.I wonder now how hard that was for her, a smoker since the age of twenty.Years later, when a relative was dying of lung issues, she stopped again for good.She knew that she could do it because of her previous experience.She was with us until the age of 83.

One Lent when I was a kid, I gave up The Long Ranger radio show,my favorite, for the fourty days.Lo and behold,in that time frame the story of how the Ranger became masked and found Tonto was to be revealed.I SO wanted to hear that! I did something else instead of listening and a small part of me knew that it took strength to make that sacrifice.That is a good thing for me to know about myself,I think;that I can say no to my whims.

Fr.Thomas Keating,a Trappist monk,says that to repent means to change the direction in which you are looking for happiness.Oh.It is going into the desert without my T.V,and P.C,with a minimum of distraction and seeking God.

I need this reminder each year and so I am getting ready.These words help:

Yet even now ,says the Lord,
return to me with all your heart,
with fasting,with weeping,and with mourning;
rend your hearts and not your clothing.
Return to the Lord,your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger,and abounding in steadfast love,
and relents from punishing.
Joel 2:12-13

This wonderful invitation is offered to all of us..."Come back,I am here and I have what you need for happiness.Just turn and you will find Me."