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Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Catholic Mom's Prayer Companion: A Book of Daily Reflections

My 2017 morning routine typically includes reading the daily reflection from The Catholic Mom's Prayer Companion: A Book of Daily Reflections edited by Lisa Hendey and Sarah Reinhard. After reading the daily readings, I often reach for my prayer companion.

Typically around a page or less, the reflections are realistic to read before getting ready for the day. Aside from the length, I also appreciate the consistent format of having a quote, the reflection, a prayer and something to ponder. Further, each month has a theme, such as Resolutions in January and Calm in the Chaos in May. Often I feel a sense of connection to validate feelings I have been having or my thinking is pushed by the authors.

I began reading the first weeks of the book alongside others as part of the St. Teresa's Online Book Club on Facebook. Though I often did not discuss online (I'm finding that the books we discuss weekly vs. daily are more realistic for me to regularly participate in), I appreciated the sense of community.

I look forward to continuing to read this book for the rest of 2017 and then decide whether to keep it in order to re-read in a future year or to think of someone to pass it on to for 2018.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Curveball Homilies


I noticed my attention shift as I sat in the pew. I took note of my surprise prompting me to listen more closely. It wasn't what I expected at all. Not by a long shot.

These days, my alarm goes off at 5 am. If my baby is still sleeping, I slip quietly into the living room to read the daily readings. I reflect on what stands out to me and consider implications for my daily life. 

I noticed a significant shift in my understanding of The Bible when I started to attend daily Mass and benefit from the homilies. I have gotten used to the rhythm and flow of the structure of my priest's homilies. They provide comfort at the start of my days.

As my familiarity with the readings have increased, I have noticed that when I reflect in the quiet of the morning, I often anticipate what I think my priest might say. At times I remember something he said about the same reading previously or I notice one of those common threads recently explored and expect to hear a similar message. 

At times my expectations align; however, lately I have been reflecting on the impact of what I refer to in my mind as curveball homilies, those homilies where I am peaceful and relaxed as the words start flowing from his mouth and then I am caught off guard. 

While perhaps not noticeable from the outside, on the inside I notice a sudden physical change. My heart beats faster. I am more alert. There's that sense of wanting to capture and retain every word in order to ponder it and turn it over in my mind, working to accommodate this new lens into my existing schema. The element of the unexpected can evoke a range of emotions, but there is a consistent sense of awe towards the gift of this new depth.  

I am still in a state of shock during the silence our priest provides following the homily, and as a result, it is harder to pull myself out of reflection and continue on with Prayers of the Faithful, shifting my focus. Throughout the day my thinking shifts back to the homily as I carry on with my tasks.

Not every homily will be a curveball of course, and I would not necessarily want that. Cognitively it would be harder to process and it would likely feel less special since I would be expecting the unexpected, removing that curveball effect. Instead, the Holy Spirit appears to work through priests to give comfort through familiarity at times, while shaking things up at others.

Friday, February 17, 2017

The Way of Prayer


Last summer I bought two of St. Teresa of Avila's books at the recommendation of my priest mentioning I might like her writing. He had previously loaned me Dark Night of the Soul by St. John of the Cross who was doing similar work related to reforming the Carmelite order. Starting The Way of Prayer in January, two thoughts immediately came to mind. I was relieved that her voice and style was overall easier for me to understand than St. John of the Cross' book, while still giving me a lot to think about and that I loved it so much I knew I would eventually want to read the full book, The Way of Perfection.

This excerpt from the larger book is short at 178 pages and has chapters divided by concepts from the Our Father after an overall introduction to provide context to this excerpt. Some lines from the prayer span multiple chapters. Though I could have read through the book quickly, I instead lingered while taking notes most of the book. Several aspects about the book stood out to me, and it is a book that I would want to read again over time, knowing that as my prayer life changes her ideas will resonate in different ways. 

One aspect that I especially appreciate is her voice as a mentor. She frequently provides encouragement and assurances to persevere in a life of prayer and to emphasize that it is worth investing our time in. Her confidence on the power of prayer is a reflection of her deep faith in the goodness of God who loves us and seeks relationship with us. The narration shifts between praise directed toward God (reading as an intimate prayer) and addressing her intended audience, her Carmelite sisters. I appreciated that woven throughout the book were suggestions that encompassed both what we should do and cautions. 

After I started reading the book, there has been more depth into the significance while praying the Our Father. Nonetheless, I am fully aware that because her rich work developed each line of the prayer with multiple ideas, it is probably just the tip of the iceberg that sticks with me, another good reason to reread again and again in order to retain more of the concepts.

I was also surprised that while it was all centered on the Our Father, it was much bigger in scope than I would have imagined. At times I would forget that all the ideas were linked back to specific lines until she would weave it back toward the prayer. This surprise is likely an indication that I have always underestimated the power and depth of one the basic prayers of our faith.

While reading I also noticed there were numerous ideas that were not necessarily new but that made more sense based on her explanation. I could especially think of multiple instances where concepts my priest had mentioned to me more than once and that have been lingering with me over the months now came into sharper focus, including an understanding of the connection between trials and a relationship with God. My priest's guidance over the last year and a half positioned me well for her words to resonate. It makes sense that there would be connections between her ideas and his guidance as the Carmelite spirituality links to his faith formation through his congregation.

Then, of course, there were also concepts that did feel new or that while I must have been exposed to them before had not quite gotten it and the recognition that bringing the concept to my surface of conscience will make me a better person. 

The Way of Prayer was a good entry point for me into St. Teresa's writing. The editor's note at the start refers to the overall work from which it was excerpted as her "most accessible work" (p. vii) and as being directed toward beginners. Now I have continued into her Interior Castle with an edition that includes commentary, something that has been beneficial as I transition into her last writing. 

Based on these two books, I would eventually like to read more of her works and writing about her. Aside from the full The Way of Perfection (and a commentary on the work), I would like to read her autobiography. I am also interested in My Sisters the Saints, a contemporary memoir focusing on multiple Saints that have been influential for me, with the exception of one with which I am currently unfamiliar. 

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Divine Mercy in My Soul: Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska


I have been receiving the Divine Mercy Daily emails for a little over a year and have heard about St. Faustina in multiple books, such as Divine Mercy for Moms; however, I had not yet read St. Faustina's full diary. Being familiar with the diary through quick glimpses each day vs. reading the full diary beginning to end felt similar to reading the daily readings vs. reading the full Bible.

While I read it in January, for the first part I was taking notes in a journal, but part way through I started marking pages that I wanted to revisit later because it wasn't always convenient to take notes when I wanted to read and the constant stopping was interrupting the flow. As the picture shows, there were aspects that stood out frequently. The qualitative researcher in me noticed trends in what was standing out. While I have not yet gone back through all of my markings and it is hard to capture thinking in a blog post, here is a glimpse... 

I was surprised that I could relate to St. Faustina so much. While of course all of the Saints were real people just like us, sometimes it is easy to forget how relatable they can be. Perhaps that is because we often read about them, rather than their vulnerable, inner thinking that diaries provide - the challenges, the confusions, the joys... 

One of my biggest areas of growth over the last year has been a desire to align my life to God's will but sometimes being confused about which path to take. My priest has helped me to sift through some of those thoughts, especially with the first step of recognizing these confusions and tensions are to be expected. Nonetheless, I would still often pray something along the lines of - just let me know which of these options you want me to do, and I will do it; I want to align to your will for me, but I am confused about which you want me to do. I thought if God would just tell me, it would be so much easier. Then, I noticed in the diary that even though St. Faustina did hear directly from Jesus, it was still a struggle to follow through with some aspects. There were still doubts, confusions, and contradictions. 

I was especially interested in the recurring concept of obedience. St. Faustina felt strongly that she was supposed to start a new congregation but she was also supposed to be obedient, and the two were in direct opposition of each other. Over the last year or so, I have been thinking a lot about letting go and patiently surrendering to the concept that things will unfold when and as they should according to God's will. St. Faustina's diary captured how this can be challenging but that we just need to be reminded again and again to trust, not to worry and to strive to just do the next thing as faithfully as we can. 

My understanding of the word humility has expanded lately, and I am realizing that obedience goes hand in hand. Both are areas of continual growth and both can be challenging, yet I can notice how keeping both in mind are transforming me.

While the focus on mercy was to be anticipated, I enjoyed reading more in depth about the concept in order to better understand and reflect on implications for my day to day life. Last summer I was able to attend a screening of the Divine Mercy film and purchased an image. Having a deeper foundation in the significance makes it all the more meaningful.

As with any resource, concepts in St. Faustina's Diary have connected to other ideas and concepts before, extending my understanding and giving me more to ponder.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Catholic Mom Daily Gospel Reflection Team

I participated in the 2017 Catholic Mom Daily Gospel Reflections this year. Today was the first of three reflections for the year. 

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Today’s Gospel: Mark 6:30-34
At one point St. Teresa of Calcutta’s life made me question the concept of self-care. I pondered whether self-care was just something of this world that I should try to minimize in order to focus on her concept of “giving until it hurts.” I couldn’t picture her having time for self-care. However, during the coverage of her canonization, someone mentioned how she found her strength in the Eucharist and I instantly made the connection to the source of her self-care.
A recurring thread in the Gospels is Jesus’ modelling and encouragement of self-care. In today’s we see renewal linked to service. There is an emphasis to come away, find someplace deserted, and rest. The verb “come” vs. “go away” helps us remember the importance of Jesus calling us to self-care with Him. In the midst of the rest in this Gospel passage, there is action on the outside. People in need are in movement toward them. Once Jesus disembarks, he serves.
The world around us will not stop, so we need to find ways to intentionally pull away and rest. As moms fulfilling multiple roles, it is necessary for renewal to come in varied ways. Sometimes we have the luxury of more sustained rest. Other times, we need to remember that small bursts of rest are also beneficial – something to pause, break the sense of rising chaos and then continue on. Being intentional about the types of self-care that I can use in different scenarios, as well as recognizing when I need to shift my focus to renewal even if just for a few moments, have been essential when it comes to attempting to love and serve in the ways I would like. That intentionality centers on knowing the most powerful forms of self-care keep God at the core.
Ponder:
Reflecting on your current context, is God already present in your layers of self-care or do you need to shift something in order to accept the invitation to come away and rest? In which ways could you grow to be more intentional?

Pray:

Dear Lord Jesus, Please help me to prioritize the self-care I need in order to align my life to Your will for me. Call me away to the rest I need in order to glorify You by my life.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Puzzles

I love examining puzzle pieces and seeing how it all comes together; however, it had been quite some time since I had put together a puzzle other than simple ones with my toddler. Based on childhood puzzle strategies learned from my mom, I always start with the border. On many it is easy to find the straight edges, and once in place, the border gives a sense of the shape and place for which the rest of the puzzle will be contained, a feeling of structure.

For this Advent I bought a 1,000 piece puzzle with a stained glass nativity scene. I wanted to work on it with my girls, knowing that a puzzle can link to anticipation and waiting as it doesn't just come together in an instant. While my girls were initially interested, it was perhaps more challenging than they anticipated and eventually they lost interest. Then I needed to take it down when we needed to clear the space while hosting a novena leading up to the Virgen of Guadalupe in our house. 

Eventually, I got started again rebuilding. The holiday season was busy, busy, busy, as can be expected, so for quite a while it felt like it was slow going. Christmas day passed and at the end of December, the puzzle was still spread out on the end of our kitchen table. However, as I dedicated more time and it started to come together, I started to reflect on life implications. There was that pull to be impatient or frustrated, to just want to know how it will all fit together (especially when I wanted to clear off the table!). However, instead I thought about how...
  • Just like my dissertation and other similar life experiences, it is about enjoying the process, rather than just marching forward to the finish line, always focusing too much on getting there. 
  • Some pieces stump us or don't make sense. We keep looking at them and considering what they might be a part of and where they might go until we get more of the surrounding pieces in place and then where they fit is suddenly obvious.
  • There are multiple ways to approach puzzles, no one right way to go about it when strategizing. After starting with the border strategy, I adjusted my strategy over time, seeing what seemed like a natural next step. Often the sequence of steps emerged naturally in the process, rather than being able to anticipate how it would unfold from the beginning.
  • I had to be patient and trust in the process.
  • The more that was complete, the faster things click into place, but this goes both for sections and the whole puzzle, so there was a sense of click-click-click and then slow down to step back and consider new areas to focus on. At which there was a slower start followed by an increasing pace. 



Can you think of how revisiting any childhood hobbies or engaging in creative activities have provided insight into life lessons? 

Lead me, Lord. Help me to be patient and trust in the process. Remind me that you will reveal the next steps to me when and how I should know. Support me in being able to embrace the rhythms and routines of life - the times when everything seems to be clicking in place, alongside the phases when I am stumped and need to slow down and wait. Among it all, help me to be grateful for the abundant blessings in my life.