I love home.
During the throes of the pandemic, I was unbothered by the experience of being home day after day. I always imagine Saturday mornings going to a coffee shop, but I would generally rather just be home after a long week. It isn’t luxurious or perennially tidy, but it is a place I love to be.
So it probably isn’t too surprising that it is natural for me to find that prayer brings me to a home. While not physically a replica of my home, it is nonetheless an image of home. Sometimes, it happens that surprising, amazing things transpire in prayer while I’m “home”–yet so often it is a source of the ordinary, the seemingly mundane and yet the achingly beautiful. Recently, prayer which includes Our Lady has found me at a large kitchen island, watching her fingers expertly knead the dough, crafting loaves of bread, reminding me that waiting for it to rise is important, and delightfully covered in a dusting of flour.
My mom didn’t make homemade bread all of the time, but it wasn’t an unusual occurrence. It didn’t take too much imagination to find myself watching my heavenly mother do the same thing. In fact, the first time it came up in prayer, it seemed almost too easy, too natural, and thus a little surprising. A simple task, completed numerous times, and yet a joy to watch unfold. Leaning on the counter or helping spread melted butter on a soon-to-be spiral of cinnamon rolls, my prayer was taking me to an encounter with Our Lady which was simple and ordinary. I found myself posing questions to her, pondering the significance of Our Lady creating bread while the Bread of Life had been nourished in her womb, and entering into the life of the Holy Family as St. Joseph and Jesus would casually stop by to speak with Our Lady.
Continue reading “Being Home”
The plane hit a patch of turbulence and shook.
Not wanting to overreact, I clenched my fists, trying not to grab the armrests and betray my worry. But then we soared into another current in the atmosphere and the plane was shaking and I was bracing myself on the seat in front of me, praying under my breath so as not to alarm my fellow passengers.
Despite the fearfulness I was experiencing, I also chuckled a little interiorly. The seat in front of me couldn’t save me. Clinging to the armrest won’t do much good. If the plane was going down, it was going down. How foolish it seemed to grab onto the material things that surrounded me, expecting them to pull me to safety.
Yet it is what I felt compelled to do. I had to actively think about not grabbing onto something in order to remain steadfast, but it took no thought to latch onto anything close at hand in a moment of chaos. It was an impulse, illogical though it may have been in the larger scheme of things. The actions I took weren’t helpful, but they were something.
As the plane continued the flight uneventfully, I knew that the reason I clutched something was because I wanted to hold onto someone. If I was married and flying with my husband, I would have unthinkingly grabbed onto him. If I was with my sister, I probably would have reached for her arm. And while the bumpy flight did leave me longing for a husband to comfort me, it also reminded me that my fictional husband wouldn’t have been able to change the course of that plane. Like the seatback and the armrest, we would have been going down together.
Continue reading “Turbulent Prayer”
Do you choose a saint for each year? I do. There are varying degrees of success regarding how much I learn about this saint or how often I ask for the saint’s particular intercession, but I like to try to pick a saint as a patron for the year.
For the past couple of years I have used Jennifer Fulwiler’s saint name generator. Whenever a saint comes up and I am completely unfamiliar with them, there is always the desire to pick a new one, a better one. Sometimes I do, especially if there is nearly nothing known about the saint. However, during a good year, I pick up a book about my new saint for the year and try to learn something about them.
The website gave me the name “St. Rose Philippine Duchesne” as my saint for the year. I looked up a short biography online to see if she made the cut and would really be my patron. As I read about her desire to be a missionary and living through the French Revolution and then journeying to the Americas, I was struck by a particular section near the end of the article.
Continue reading “Woman-Who-Prays-Always”
Lent is fast approaching.
Even though I’ve been consistently thinking about Lent over the past few weeks and prepping my students and small group for it, I still haven’t fully decided what I will be giving up/adding to my life for the next 40 days. Many ideas are swirling around, but I haven’t landed on specifics yet. This morning, I was talking with one of the prisoners and after I explained a little about Lent, he asked what I would be doing for it. Great question, friend, I thought, I’m not quite certain yet.
However, there is still time to decide. Time to prayerfully consider how we can draw nearer to the Lord’s heart as we wander into the desert so that He may speak to our hearts more intentionally.
To that end, I created a Lenten devotional for you (and me)! I’m excited about this little project and I hope that it will enable us to have a more fruitful Lent. (Click picture below for the pdf)
Continue reading “From My Heart to Yours: A Lenten Devotional”
“Do you mind if we stop at the church for a couple of minutes?” I asked my nephew.
“To say hi to Jesus.” He said nothing. “Do you?” I said as I turned on my blinker. I asked again as I pulled into the parking lot. He remained silent.
We walked into the sanctuary, the heavy fragrance of incense making me close my eyes and breath deeply. For a few minutes, we knelt and then sat back in the pew. It was completely quiet and empty. The stillness in striking contrast with the usual full bustle of a Sunday morning Mass.
I turned to say something to my nephew and saw that he sat there with eyes closed and hands folded. And so I waited in the weight of silence until he suddenly turned to me and asked if we could go.
We spoke for a little bit about the silence, spent some time reading about St. John the Beloved on his feast day, and then I asked if we could pray for a friend of mine who was suffering from an illness that was lasting years. It was her birthday and she was on my heart and mind throughout the day. So I offered a brief intention for her and my sister before asking if he had anything to add.
Continue reading “The Beauty of a Child’s Prayer”
It seems keeping the heart one of flesh, instead of being one of stone, is the continual work of a lifetime. Softening, rather than hardening, requires a strength and intentionality that doesn’t come naturally to me. In the wake of my defensiveness and desire for self-preservation, I repeatedly need to engage in the work of letting my heart be real. The simple act of believing in the goodness of others (and living in that truth) is one that requires me to be soft-hearted over and over again.
As I’ve gone into the prison, I have grown in seeing the goodness in people who have made many mistakes. Many of the men I interact with are easy to find goodness in because they are seeking the Lord, too. Their zeal for the Lord or their desire to love Him or find Him invites me to see how God is moving in their hearts. Others are a little more difficult since they make me feel uncomfortable or continually lie to me. But as a whole, I am able to look at men who have raped, murdered, and committed all sorts of crimes and proclaim their inherent goodness.
For whatever reason, we often look up what crimes the men are in for and how long of a sentence they received. At times, it helps to understand their position: are they in for life or a few years or simply back after breaking parole? We decided to look up one man I’ve talked with several times and see his crime. It was surprising because the kindness and gentleness I’ve experienced from him ran contrary to the crime he was sentenced to serve. Yet, despite the surprise, it didn’t really change how I felt toward him. The goodness and kindness I’ve experienced are real and he is far more than the crimes of his past.
Continue reading “Break Our Hearts of Stone”
I promise, I promise that I will not forever be talking about prison on here. At some point, the students will make an appearance again. It simply seems that the most striking things are happening in prison.
The other night, we were following a winding conversation that started from Sunday’s Gospel. We discussed being the one sheep that wanders away and how the generous love of the Father always seeks us out. One of the inmates reflected on how God’s love sometimes doesn’t seem gentle, as He protects us from worse things. He compared it to an experience he had as a father where he had to stop his child from running into traffic but that action made the child cry. Yet it was necessary in order to save the child from greater danger or even death. It was likened to prison, a place I’ve frequently heard them refer to as a place that saved them while also grumbling against it.
Another inmate listened to this and then quoted from memory, “The Father disciplines the one He loves.”
And that other inmate just nodded his head and said, “Thank God.”
Continue reading “He Disciplines the One He Loves”
I was expecting a lot of things for my retreat, but I wasn’t expecting that not wearing eyeliner would be one of them.
By most standards, I don’t wear much makeup. Despite the fact that my mother has sold it for my entire life, I don’t like even really talking about it or experimenting with it or purchasing it. I utilize it, but I don’t really care about it. On retreat, I eliminated it from my morning routine for a few practical reasons: I wasn’t going “out” anywhere and it seemed it would only look worse when I would inevitably cry as the Lord worked through different matters within me.
The second or third day of not wearing eyeliner, I found myself looking in the mirror, slightly bewildered. That is what my eyes actually look like? My fair complexion and light hair is exactly why someone created eyeliner and mascara. Without it, my eyes aren’t as emphasized and everything looks a little paler.
Since I was on a silent retreat, I leaned into the discomfort rather than away from it. It wasn’t about vanity so much. I would look in the mirror and I would remind myself: these are your eyes. This is what they actually look like. And as the days passed, they seemed more mine. It stopped seeming like I was missing something that ought to be there, but rather that I was seeing reality. When I left retreat, I found that I wanted to keep seeing those eyes that are really mine and in the way they actually are.
(Stick with me, guys, I promise this is not an entire post about makeup!)
I’m not swearing off eyeliner: it does what it is supposed to do–it makes my eyes stand out. But I realized on retreat that I never want to forget what my eyes actually look like. It was a perfect physical takeaway from the tremendous interior work that the Lord was doing during that time of silence. The entire retreat was one of re-crafting my eyes to see me how the Lord actually sees me.
Continue reading “Eyeliner and Reality”
I have a feeling that for the rest of my life when I return from a retreat, I will only be able to speak of graces and revelations that are profound in their magnitude but elementary in their complexity. This doesn’t bother me, but it was a bit surprising when I came to this conclusion a few years ago. While I’m not saying the Lord can’t reveal anything new to me, I think the revelations will primarily be a deepened understanding and solidifying of truths I already know, albeit superficially.
This understanding came about when I returned from a beautiful retreat. It was enlightening and life giving. Yet the main take-away was nothing new: God loves me. In fact, it seemed laughably basic. Didn’t I already know God loved me? Yes, of course. But after that retreat, I knew it in a deeper, more significant way. I experienced the love of God and it left behind a smattering of old truths seen with new eyes.
Sometimes, the students insist we all keep teaching them the same things. Sometimes, it is true that unnecessary repetition happens. But, it is also true that learning something as a child is quite different than learning about it as a high schooler or an adult. They believe that since they have heard the words before, they know it. Knowledge, however, is something that can be known with the head yet not known with the heart. It is often important to repeat well-known truths because they haven’t journeyed yet from words the mind understands to a reality the heart lives from.
High school students are far from the only ones to do this. The familiar sometimes seems uninteresting when actually we just haven’t plumbed the depths of it yet.
Jesus loves me.
God became man.
The Lord is faithful.
Trust in the Lord.
Jesus rose from the dead.
All of these truths have been heard by Christians innumerable times. Yet how many of these truths have fully penetrated our hearts? How deep of an understanding of the Lord’s love do we actually have? Do we really know and experience the faithfulness of the Lord or do we simply parrot the words? We can stay on the surface with these realities or we can bore down deep and imprint these words on our hearts. Like the circles within a tree, each experience with a particular truth can be packed in deeper and deeper, each additional layer increasing the beauty and profundity of the simple reality.
Continue reading “Basic, but Beautiful”
The Catholic faith, with all of the elaborate liturgies and rich traditions, is a testament to the incarnational reality of Christ. Rather than simply receiving Christ spiritually, we consume what looks like bread and tastes like wine but which we profess is the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ. Rather than simply believing that we are forgiven, we profess our sins aloud and then hear the words of absolution extended as we are reconciled to God. Though not dogma, we profess to have the crown of thorns, nails from the cross, pieces of the true cross, and even the cloth wrapped around Jesus before He was laid in the tomb. The physical realities of the God-man are brimming in the Catholic churches around the world.
On a recent pilgrimage to Rome with some students, I was able to climb the Scala Santa or Holy Stairs. These twenty-eight steps of marble are believed to be the stairs Christ ascended as the Jewish authorities turned Him over to Pilate. Transported from the Holy Land to Rome at the request of Constantine’s mother, St. Helena, pilgrims have come for centuries to climb these steps on their knees as they recall the Passion of Jesus Christ. The ardent devotion of thousands upon thousands of pilgrims began to wear away at the stones and it was a desire of the Church to preserve them for future Christians. Around three hundred years ago, the steps were covered with wood to prevent their further deterioration.
A restoration process that has unfolded over the past few years led to the uncovering of the steps. As the restoration neared its end, for a few weeks during May and June, the Church allowed pilgrims to ascend the uncovered steps on their knees. The pilgrimage I was on happened to fall during the final week of the steps being uncovered.
Nine years ago, I climbed the steps during my first trip to Rome. Knowing the steps would be uncovered this time, I didn’t really consider how that would alter the experience of climbing them. The deep grooves in the marble, formed by thousands upon thousands of knees before me, made the ascent a bit more complicated than when it was on planks of wood. How many knees had been on these same steps? How many kisses had been placed on these marble slabs that formed the path Jesus took to condemnation? How many saints had made this same pilgrimage?
Continue reading “Crawling On Our Knees To Heaven”