Monday, September 18, 2017

The Thief

Just like The Well, Stephanie Landsem's second book in the Living Water series, The Thief, drew me right in. While reading, I realized it would be hard to write a review about it because so much of what I love is the element of surprise, and it is challenging to share the power of the reading experience without giving away the details that would lessen the process of discovery for other readers. As a result, I will attempt to convey the experience by sharing generalities, rather than specifics. 

Landsem has a way of letting readers know what one of the focal biblical links will be fairly early on, but then that element occurs part way through the book and there is still a lot more that will happen and additional less obvious layers emerge. Or, in the case of this book, there was one element that I started to expect and anticipate, and it did happen toward the end but in a way I never would have imagined that carried so much more weight, provoking a stronger emotional reaction. 

I love that there is depth to her characters - that the inner tensions and conflicts in their lives are palpable. I appreciate seeing how they develop and are transformed through the course of the novel. It is powerful to see how they are irrevocably moved by recognizing aspects in others that they are drawn to (such as inner peace in great trials) but that they do not understand at all, leading them on an inquiry process to seek understanding and ultimately grow through the process. 

I have always enjoyed novels from multiple perspectives and this one switched back and forth between two main characters, being able to see glimpses into what they both understood and areas where there were gaps in their understanding of each other. This also leads to feeling more deeply connected to both vs. a sense of distance from the one whose perspective we do not see as closely. 

I am looking forward to reading the final novel in the series, The Tomb, as well as anticipating the release of the Advent version of Walk in Her Sandals with her contributions. 

Monday, September 11, 2017

The Power of Silence

I couldn't seem to keep a copy of The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise. I first heard about it in an Ignatius Press mailer. I was drawn to the description about the role of silence because through grieving a shift in my life and pondering why it was so hard, I realized that what I was longing for was more space for calm and silence in my life and then reflected on how I could invite more silence into the rhythms and routines of my days.

Then when I looked at the preview on Amazon and saw, "What virtue does Cardinal Sarah expect from the reading of this book? Humility" (p. 17) followed by the Litany of Humility, I instantly clicked to purchase. The Litany of Humility had also been a recent part of my journey - framing my thinking about different challenges and struggles, being able to recognize how my ego was coming into the picture and causing me to lose my sense of peace unnecessarily.

However, when the book arrived, I realized it would be the perfect going away gift for someone who was moving out of our community based on his model of spending quiet time in the church and him expressing how powerful Eucharistic Adoration had been for him, time spent contemplating our Lord in silence. He had a calming presence, and I thought he might love the book/that it would be a good fit for him. My reading would have to wait until another copy arrived.

When I was nearly finished with the book, I once again had the pull to pass it on to another person who seemed to love silence. This time it was to someone I had actually never talked to or officially met and as a result, I was shy to approach. I hesitated and went to reflect in the Adoration Chapel to capture some thinking about the daily Mass homily and thinking that when I finished, if he was still in the church, I would offer it to him. As I left the Adoration Chapel, he ended up walking out of the church into the same space. I passed the book along and realized that it would be the last time I would see him as he mentioned his visit had finished and he was leaving town that day. This time though I did not have to wait for another copy to arrive in the mail to continue reading as I had luckily noticed a little bit prior that the book was available on Formed.org. I loaded it on my Kindle and finished it.

The book is written as a series of questions from Nicolas Diat and answers from Cardinal Sarah developing into a deep consideration of the role of silence in connection to relationship with God. It focuses on how God speaks in the silence. I especially liked the book with regards to this as I have been thinking more intentionally about the awareness trying to understand God's will for my life and overall spiritual growth, and this book gave a lot of ideas to consider.

Responses are broken into smaller pieces and numbered, providing a means to note aspects of the book to revisit later for further reflection. The responses also draw in the wisdom of many others in order to show a glimpse into the previous body of literature woven in with his own thinking. Often it was apparent that responses were written specifically with priests and the religious in mind, but other times there was a more general feel, including a response that specifically addressed the role of silence in different vocations.

I know this is a book that I will want to revisit over time. I have considered I might even approach it by reading 1-2 of the numbered responses a day over a large span of time. In the book he also brings up the concept of God or nothing again and again - a concept he focused on in his earlier book by that title which is also available on Formed and has the same question and answer format with Nicolas Diat. Eventually, I would like to read that one as well.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

My Husband, My Dad, and My Priest

Early on in my marriage I remember the calm of my husband's voice saying, "Paz, paz, paz," the repetition of a single word - peace - in Spanish. I can't remember the context of why I was all worked up, but I remember his soothing words.

***

"I won't be able to come this weekend," I said a couple of years later, trying to get the words out without completely falling apart. I was in my 2nd year teaching in a new community with a newborn and a four year old while my husband was in Mexico for an extended stay. Trips to my parents' house 2 hours away on weekends were my lifeline. It helped me keep it all together. 

Yet, this weekend was going to be different. As I walked out of work and heard an odd hissing sound that I later realized was a nail through my tire, the disappointment and desperation started to rise. I picked up my girls and drove home before calling my dad to explain the scenario.

"Get in the car and go to Les Schwab to fix it," he said. 

"What? I can do that. I didn't think I could drive on it." I said.

The solution was so easy, but I had not yet stopped long enough to problem solve. I had only focused on getting my girls safely home and not driving my car, thinking I would have to call someone to come to me and that it would be a lengthier process. I didn't think about how Les Schwab was not much further than I had already driven to get the girls home and that there was still plenty of air in the tire. I didn't think about how the store would take drop-ins with an immediate need. Relief set in as I realized I would be able to have it quickly resolved and continue on with my weekend plans. 

Later my dad told me, "Man, I don't know why you worry about stuff like this."

***

Almost a decade later I had grown with regards to not worrying so much. I had been able to stay calm through my computer crashing on Mother's Day right as I was completing the last transcription of my last interview for my dissertation. I was able to relax and trust in the process when we moved back closer to home without knowing whether or not our house would sell. Yet, I still had plenty of room for growth, especially with the littler day to day.  

"For every problem there is a solution," my priest would say, along with a range of other comments, such as, "I don't know how you have time to worry about this," or "These are all little things."

***

Along my journey I have realized that I can conceptualize a worry-trust continuum. If I am worrying about something, it means I am not trusting in God enough. Now when I notice my worries, I try to re-direct my mind to God. At different phases and related to different layers of life, my husband, my dad, and my priest all contributed to helping me recognize that rather than allowing my mind drift to worry, I need to keep things in perspective and turn to peace. Jesus, I trust in you. 

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Ministry Through the Workshop Lens 3: Lifelong Disciples

Workshop teachers recognize that they are also works in progress who will always be learning and continuing on their own journeys. As such, they reflect on where they are at - their strengths, their accomplishments and areas for growth or to stretch themselves.

Reading workshop teachers talk about how readers have goals, as well as encourage readers to read different types of text for different purposes, including intentionally incorporating in some texts they know will be a stretch from time to time. Writing workshop teachers demonstrate how they reflect on their own author's craft and embrace the process. Once a priest talked to me about how it is important to remember effort over outcome. Writing workshop teachers recognize that it is about the writing process and willingness to explore and experiment with writing, even if the outcome is not as we hoped it would turn out. They also encourage writers to have a blend of their favorite genres, as well as expanding their writing territories and having a willingness to try something new with support.

In my faith life over time, I also have goals and areas where I want to stretch myself. Previously I have wanted to learn how to pray in a certain way, to memorize prayers, or to better understand how to meaningfully read and pray with Sacred Scripture. One of my current goals is that I want to learn more of the Mass responses in Latin. From time to time as I travel, some parishes or retreat/conference experiences will incorporate some Latin into the Mass, and if it is not projected on a screen, I am unable to participate unless it is a call and repeat of something relatively short, such as, "Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy" at the start of Mass because the missals I have seen do not include the Latin versions.

When we make a decision to be lifelong disciples in love with our Catholic faith and recognizing the power of how Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture can draw us closer to God, we are then able to reflect on our own foundations, growth and goals and then share that with others in order to encourage them to also be lifelong disciples with a commitment to learn and grow over time.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Embrace: One Little Word 2011

Then:
From simplicity in 2010, I flowed into embrace in 2011. I knew that like typical years, I could anticipate a range of experiences and wanted to embrace everything that came my way - the fun, the easy, and the challenging alike, moving forward with confidence and optimism. I was anticipating different experiences that would pull me out of my comfort zone, and I wanted to remind myself to approach them by embracing the unknown. Among the challenges, I would continue to work on my doctoral degree and was especially nervous about statistics after not taking any math classes since high school. I also wanted to embrace exercise to focus on my health. I signed up for a 12K along with my sister. Like math, I had not participated in any official runs since high school cross country 8 1/2 years prior, and even at that, those were just 5Ks. This year ended up being the year that I exercised more than any other year in my adult life before or after. I also started to explore digital scrapbooking.

During this year I continued to experiment with juggling different priorities - family, career, school, and exercise. I thought about how self-care was vital - that along with exercise, I needed to be able to put down a good book in order to get proper rest. I recognized that after a demanding, condensed summer session for my doctoral classes, I needed to prioritize slowing down and enjoying the time with my girls before summer vacation slipped by.

Now:
Embrace was all about mindset and attitude. It still guides my thinking, trying to enjoy and see value in all of life's experiences, rather than simply enjoying the easy and fun, while complaining about or dreading the difficult and emotionally draining. Having a mindset of embracing helped power me through my dissertation the year after, and still helps me to have endurance during longer writing projects, intimidating reports, or situations in which I am vulnerable. It helped me to approach my 3rd and 4th labors with greater appreciation for the process, even though I was always oh so relieved when it was all over and my baby was in my arms. Embracing has also helped me to be willing to take risks and be vulnerable.

Before I mentioned that my words have been like whispers leading me closer to God - drawn to concepts before I really understood how deeply they connected to my faith. In the last couple of years I have thought a lot more about suffering and the value of bearing our sufferings with joy. Though I would have grown up hearing key Gospel verses in which Jesus talks about the importance of taking up our crosses and following him (i.e. Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23), I did not ponder deeply what that would mean in my life until recently. Once having this shift in perspective, there is of course much to consider over time as God continues to reveal areas in which we are called to carry our cross and how we are being tested (Psalm 17:3) and probed (Psalm 139:1). Without embrace, it would be hard to live a life seeking to align to the mission at the end of Mass - Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Ministry Through the Workshop Lens 2: Making the Process Visible

With workshop philosophy, teachers intentionally make the process visible. Reading workshop teachers give glimpses into what is happening in their mind while they read, and writing workshop teachers write in front of their students in order to serve as what Penny Kittle refers to as mentors of process.

When applying the workshop concept to the parenting and youth ministry context, this means that we intentionally show our children and youth glimpses into how we live out our faith in different scenarios in life. Recently when I had the opportunity to go to diocesan summer camps with my daughters, nieces, and some of their friends two weekends in a row, I thought about the rhythms and routines of my own trips to the retreat center. Then I patterned our two weekends to camp after that model.

I had parents drop their kids off at the church in time to attend the Rosary and daily Mass together. Our priest recognized the youth's presence and gave them a blessing. I had the girls say a prayer before we left for our day of driving (about 5-6 hours away depending on the amount of stops). While driving, we were listening to Christian Contemporary music. At one point, one of my nieces asked whether I had a rap station, but I let her know I only listened to Christian Contemporary music. I did not fully maximize the opportunity by explaining why as I have with my own daughters - that I can enjoy both the rhythms and the words based on previous experiences of loving songs until focusing more on the lyrics and being disappointed. Nonetheless, it was still an opportunity for her to see a glimpse into something that I value.

Upon arrival, before checking in, I had the girls go into the chapel - one of my favorite places at the retreat center. With my own students (middle school - college), sometimes if we are working on an assignment, I tell them to do some type of a quiet signal, such as put their pencil down, when they are ready to move on in order to facilitate knowing when they are ready to transition from one activity to the next, while maintaining an overall quiet atmosphere for those who are still working. With this in mind, prior to entering the chapel, I told the youth to spread out and kneel down in prayer thinking about their hopes for the weekend and that when they were finished praying, they could quietly sit back in the pew. I sat behind them so that I could visually watch for when they were ready to transition to registration.

For the rest of the camp experience, we went with the flow of how the experience was designed. Prior to leaving to go back home, we once again went for brief individual prayers to say thank you in the Chapel and then upon arrival back home, we went into the church and prayed as a group. About a month later when my husband was coming along with me for a diocesan symposium for adults for the first time, I also invited him into my prayer routines.

By being comfortable enough to show glimpses into our Christ-centered routines and not worrying about whether or not the youth will instantly think it is cool, such as my own daughter's "seriously mom" at one point, we are able to show routines that can nurture our relationships with God and provide access for youth to practice those routines. They are able to see how they can layer in small elements here and there and that it does not take that long to pause and say a prayer of gratitude, to share our hopes or to ask God for his support. Over time providing these glimpses with invitations for them to experience living those elements, we are able to provide scaffolding to help connect them to God. While we never fully know the long-term impact, there is hope that it will be part of an anchor experience, something that they will remember at different points in their lives, whispers back to strategies they can use to turn their attention back to God at different points of their days and experiences.

Monday, August 14, 2017

On Your Voyage

On Your Voyage by Fr. Jose Kariamadam, CMI is a collection of 74 brief reflections - each of about two pages long. With decades of experience as a priest, teacher and administrator in India and the United States, Fr. Jose has a range of experiences from which to draw.

He introduces the book with a preface, in which he begins, "This is a medley of thoughts, borrowed and personal. You will find in it some of the best I have long been pondering and cherishing in terms of practical wisdom and spirituality [...] this is an attempt to think over and walk with the thoughts of others and mine to ponder and provoke, as we all continue our spiritual journey" (p. ix). The book encompasses a wide range of topics, including: parenting, education, liturgical seasons, common perceptions, cultural similarities and differences, and navigating different phases of life. As noted in the preface, he weaves together his own words and thoughts with those of others, both religious and secular from throughout different historical periods. The selections are united by common trends though, such as pondering what is most important in life related to mindsets, character, and values.

As an educator, I especially enjoyed reading his philosophy and thoughts relevant to education, noting the extent to which our thoughts aligned and pondering differences. As someone less advanced in my spiritual journey, I appreciated glimpses into his wisdom related to spiritual growth with insight into his personal journey, those who have mentored him and those he has shepherded over the years. Some of his thoughts on himself as a writer also encouraged me in my own writing.

The reflections were written for different audiences and purposes and then drawn together in a common collection. For example, some address his parishioners in the United States, others are directed towards an Indian audience, and others are more general in their angle. Yet, all have enough context to understand from any of those perspectives.

When I first received the book, I flipped through skimming those with titles that most captured my interest but then went back and read it cover to cover. The nature of the book lends itself to reading either way.