Making the space

Some of my favorite pages on Facebook are ones that remind me to keep it simple and focus on what’s important. Pages like Simplify Days, Imperfectly Simple or Simplicity Habit remind me that I don’t need to buy the things I used to years ago for the house or to decorate. First of all, I would like to get rid of things before I buy more and if I store the items downstairs, it’s a bigger project to bring them up and down. I seem to have less energy for the decorating changes that I used to do. Lately, it takes me longer to decorate for each new season and I am happier leaving items up all year instead of swapping them for a seasonal adornment.

Saturday morning I read another beautiful reflection from Franciscan Media’s Pause and Pray, the prayer email and blog I mentioned last week, reminding us to not be “possessed by our possessions” and to take things off our calendars so we have more time for rest, prayer and reflection. As we declutter things, from our calendar and our life, we make room for what’s important. It was a lovely consideration, and prayer, regarding many of the things I have talked about in this blog. But still, it was a welcome reminder for me this weekend, after a very busy week, and an inappropriate level of worry because the Easter bunnies haven’t made their way up the stairs yet and a multitude of other projects on my to do list.

So here we are on the threshold of Holy Week, today celebrating Palm Sunday and about to enter the holiest of weeks in the liturgical year, as we look ahead to the Triduum; Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigil and Easter. I am amazed at how quickly we journeyed through Lent this year!

During Lent we reflected on making space for prayer, or to rest, and to simply be with ourselves and our thoughts. Perhaps you, like me, selected things to “give up” this Lent. Maybe you chose to add things that you desired to make time for, like a special retreat, volunteer work or devoting more time in prayer. Whichever way you opted to observe Lent the point of our choice is sacrifice, yes, but also to focus our attention on God instead of the desires that consume us. When we want to reach for a favorite treat or indulgence, but choose not to as our Lenten observance of fasting, we turn our attention to those who have less than we have, or to God, with a request to fill that space with something more meaningful.

As I reflect back on the past week I consider the number of times I let personal or national news impact my sense of well-being and focus. I can be easily derailed by a comment someone makes or the events in a given moment. My Lenten Rice Bowl is filled with dollar bills as a result of giving in to frustration and using language I prefer to eliminate. However, I am finding that, as a result of my attention to prayer and spiritual study, those moments are more short-lived than they used to be. I can get back on track quicker than I have in the past.

If you started Lent with an intention and gave up mid-stream as a result of a momentary lapse, or perhaps never really started a Lenten practice, there is still time to enter into this grace-filled season of the year with a renewed attention on what is important. Our new practices don’t have to be limited to the 40 days of Lent, Easter is a time of renewal and resurrection! We can choose activities and attitudes that bring us more joy.

I loved a statement made by Abbot John Klassen, St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, MN, as part of his reflection in Give Us This Day for Saturday, April 1, “On the Cusp of Holy Week”. Abbot Klassen said “The profound events of this holy time give us space to reflect on where we are spiritually and emotionally – to reflect on how we might open ourselves to the liberating, transformative message of the dying and rising of Jesus.”

Let us journey through this Holy Week, with prayerful attention, immersed in the solemn beauty and ritual of these holy days, with eyes on Easter and the life, with God, we are meant to live.

Peace, may you experience many graces this Holy Week! Deena

p.s. If you desire to enter more deeply into a contemplative prayer practice but are searching for new ideas or methods, you may want to consider a new course that is being offered by Ignatian Ministries and our founder, Becky Eldredge. If you are not familiar with Ignatian spirituality and prayer methods I believe you will find it an interesting and refreshing addition to your prayer practice. It is called Going Past the Shallows and begins this Weds, April 5, meeting once a month for 6 months. There is more information on the link. If you have questions, just let me know.

Photo from my photo library – Holy Family Church, Oglesby IL


A Golden Ribbon of Compassion

I had planned to write about grief, faith and the Gospel for the Fifth Sunday of Lent, the death of Lazarus and Jesus weeping for his friends. We have been looking at grief and letting go of strength, instead replacing holding on with tenderness and vulnerability in my Lenten Retreat – A Different Kind of Fast. It’s been a hard week for that study so I had been contemplating what to write about. But compassion took hold of me in a different way this weekend. I receive a daily email from Franciscan Media called Pause and Pray. Saturday’s prayer inspired me to take a different direction for this weekend. I will share the prayer at the end of this blog post.

It seems like it has been at least a few years that we have heard of an increasing number of natural disasters and changes in our weather. This week we have continued to see California bombarded with snow, rain, flooding and then a tornado! Just this weekend there were devastating, and fatal, storms in Texas and Mississippi. We can disagree what we call it or the reasons for it, but our weather is changing.

I attended a celebration of life the summer after my cousin died in 2019, and spoke with her husband, a retired geologist, and asked him what he thought of the changes we were all experiencing and if we had time to turn “it” around. He advised that climate change was real, talked about ways he experienced it in his studies and that while there was time, it was more urgent than people supposed. I was already a student of Laudato Si’, the first papal encyclical, written by Pope Francis, to focus on care for creation as a moral obligation. So that conversation renewed my personal passion to stay informed and attempt to make a difference.

This week, on March 22, we celebrated World Water Day to promote awareness about the water crisis in the world. There are approximately 2 billion people (numbers vary by source) living on our planet without access to safe, clean drinking water. The concept of World Water Day was proposed in 1992 by the United Nations and in 1993, the first World Water Day was promoted. It may seem like this is only a problem that impacts countries like Africa or areas impacted by disasters like Turkey during the recent earthquakes, but recent issues with the Flint, Michigan municipal drinking water crisis have shown us that issues can occur even in the U.S. Eight years later they are still dealing with the situation! Eight years in the United States; how can we not have the expertise to resolve this, which occurred as a result of switching the water source from a Detroit source to the Flint River? Unconscionable! I switch out and provide clean drinking water to my cats more than people in this world are able to obtain clean water. Sometimes we have to put things in perspective of our use of the resource to realize how fragile it is.

I know it seems overwhelming. It’s hard to make changes when is easier to do one thing instead of another. Then to rationalize it, we pause and ask how a little change in our daily use of resources, like water, can make a difference. It does and it can!

The environment is a common good according to Pope Francis’ teaching. He says there is an interdependence in our relationships with God, our neighbor and our planet. We have a moral responsibility to have concern for our neighbor and the planet we are passing along to future generations. Picking up a six-pack ring (and cutting them open if we discard them) so that it doesn’t end up as a hazard to fish and seagulls in the ocean can make a difference. Every year countless wildlife die due to water pollution. Reducing single-use plastics and disposable products that will end up in landfills and water sources can make a difference. Reducing our water use at home can make a difference. I was astounded to read that an average shower uses 17 gallons of water and a single toilet flush uses 7 gallons. It’s staggering. Maybe we can’t change all the ways we use water each day but perhaps our awareness can prompt us to make small changes. I paused as I grabbed for a small water bottle at a recent meeting, chastising myself for not being better prepared and bringing water in one of my stainless water bottles. I could have passed from taking the bottle, replacing consumption with sacrifice, as Laudato Si’ calls us to do. Seriously, one little bottle Deena? Yes, one little bottle is one less being used. Lent is certainly a great time to ask ourselves to consider how we consume things.

I am going to challenge myself to be more aware, reignite my involvement in Care for Creation and remind us, occasionally, of our impact on the planet. There is a Lenten action calendar on the Laudato Si’ Lent website and there are great suggestions, and an abundance of information, on the World Water Day link, please check them out and consider how you might make small changes in the use of the resources of our common home.

The prayer from Franciscan Media’s Pause and Pray on March 25:

In meditation,
imagine our threatened,
blue-green planet and its people,
with their hungers, wars, joys.
Then see this globe wrapped 
in the gold of compassion,
brought by you and millions of others like you.
From horizon to horizon, it shimmers.
Humanity heals. 

Peace, Deena

Image from Resources for World Water Day 2023


All You Holy Men and Women

It’s a busy weekend and week for honoring the Saints. We all celebrated St. Patrick on Friday, his persistence in faith and bringing the Gospel message and Christianity to Ireland. Today we celebrate St. Joseph’s Day. The Solemnity in the Church is actually tomorrow due to March 19 2023 being the Fourth Sunday of Lent. As a member of Holy Family Church and an Italian, some of us are celebrating his feast day for two days. I look forward to a St. Joseph’s Table meal tonight at neighboring St. Joseph parish, part of the Peru Catholic Parishes. As part of my Lent Retreat, A Different Kind of Fast, we did a reflection of Joseph as sleeping Joseph in art. I posted that I found an increase in devotion to this representation of Joseph, sleeping and as the Dreamer, after Pope Francis shared in 2015, his devotion and a statue that he keeps to remind him that even while sleeping Joseph cares for the Church. As our commentator for that day’s reflection, Amanda Dillon, so wisely said, perhaps this art reflects “a call to put down our tools, rest, to allow God to hover over us and refresh us to new insights about out lives.” Profound!

Some saints, like St. Benedict, have two feast days, we celebrate his actual feast day on July 11 but on Tuesday, March 21, he, like St. Francis, also have a memorial day of their “transitus”, the day he entered Eternal Life. So it was appropriate this weekend to have our monthly Oblate gathering, as Oblates of St. Mary Monastery in Rock Island, as well as a study of St. Benedict as part of the The Mystical Heart Retreat Series with Abbey of the Arts.

Later this week, on Saturday, we celebrate the Annunciation of the Lord, the visit of the Archangel Gabriel to Mary and her “yes”, or fiat, to be Christ-bearer to the world. We celebrate Mary under several titles throughout the year or in our prayer; Christ-Bearer, Mystical Rose, Greenest Branch, Untier of Knots, Star of the Sea, Mother of Sorrows, Mother of Good Counsel, Queen of Heaven, and of course the more popular, Our Lady of Fatima, Lourdes and Guadalupe. There are so many titles for Mary that we can reflect upon to give us guidance in our lives.

I have an endless list of favorite saints, some for specific reasons like St. Nicholas, for charity and generosity, or St. Fiacre, patron of gardeners, and I often turn to St. Anthony, patron of lost items, to help me find something I put in a safe place! St. Hildegard in all things; she is a paragon of all the virtues I treasure and admire, mystic, writer and teacher, artist, musician, herbalist, Benedictine Abbess, and so much more. My mother loved her patron saint, St. Therese of Lisieux, for her “little way” while I love the passion, depth of spirituality and desire for reform of St. Teresa of Avila. Both, along with St. Hildegard, were mystics and are female Doctors of the Church.

I have been turning to both St. Teresa of Avila and St. Catherine of Siena during Lent for assistance with my contemplation of the immense love and mercy of Jesus for us. I recalled during another Lent virtual retreat of the contemplation of Jesus’ love for us and desire for our love, as consolation to Jesus, as St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta reflected on a Lenten letter written by St. Pope John Paul II. She wrote, “the closer you come to Jesus, the better you will know His thirst…Whenever we come close to Him – we become partners of Our Lady, St John, Magdalen. Hear Him. Hear your own name.” (excerpt from 33 Days to Morning Glory by Fr. Michael Gaitley). The interesting thing is that reviewing that excerpt, and another book by Fr. Gaitley, Consoling the Heart of Jesus, I was reminded of the role of Ignatian spirituality and the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius that began for me in the 1990’s, and again with these books in 2016, and now that I am a part-time team member of Ignatian Ministries. St. Ignatius and others have guided my vocation through the years.

In today’s second reading for the Fourth Sunday of Lent, St. Paul, writing to the Ephesians, reminds us that we now live in the light of Christ. He appeals to us “Live as children of light, now light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth. Try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.” One of my favorite tasks as administrator of the Facebook page for our parish is to share stories of saints on their feast days. We can learn so much from how they lived their lives. We can turn to them for their intercession and assistance in our own lives. We look to them as models and guides. They offer a treasury of examples of ways to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Spend some time reflecting on your own favorite saints and spend some time with their writings or prayers as part of your Lenten journey.

Blessed be God in His Angels and in His Saints. (final line of the Divine Praises)

All you Holy Men and Women, Saints of God, pray for us. (Included in The Litany of Saints)

Peace, Deena

Image: Two Saints by 20th century Russian artist, Mikhail Nesterov, on The Sacred Art Page on Facebook


Dealing with change

I suspect I am in the same boat as many of you this morning trying to adjust to our Spring Forward time change. The cats are confused, we are trying to figure out our routine this morning. Sometimes change is as mundane as moving the hands of a clock forward. Sometimes it is more monumental like loss and heartbreak.

This morning I got a text from a friend who is struggling with the realization that her sweet dog might be in her final days. I have suffered through that specific change three times in my life. It is so hard! My heart breaks for her today. I have another friend preparing to go out of state for a funeral for the death of her friend’s son, who died in an accident while out of country on a vacation. Two other friends face different struggles each day with their mothers in nursing homes. Another dealing with family addiction issues. Last night when I got home from a fun evening with friends I learned that the Chicago firefighter lost the last two children after his family was trapped in their home in a fire. While working, he arrived on the scene and had to try to resuscitate one of his own children. His entire family, wife and children, gone. All of those situations are tragic, how do we make sense of it? Can we make sense of it?

I just turned toward the window to contemplate the answer to that question – the snow is lightly falling again and a squirrel is happily bouncing around looking for things he buried, probably confiscated from my garden. A saying, part of a famous Zen koan, came to mind, “Chop wood, carry water”. We live life each and every day, the best we can, with as much love as we can give to each other. I can’t offer answers but I can and do offer my prayers.

I don’t mean that as a casual response of acceptance and resignation to the ups and downs of life. We don’t just shrug our shoulders and go on. I think we passionately embrace those moments of sorrow and grief, just as we do the wondrous occasions. As friends, we offer care and love to the other who is experiencing those tumultuous feelings. We understand that we will all go through those trying times and we must love the other as they travel through theirs. This week I read a blog post by Diane Butler Bass, an author and speaker, sharing the Lenten joy of her new puppy and a link to the blog post during the final Advent days of her previous beloved dog. I am sure at the writing of her Advent post she could not imagine the joy that her new puppy would bring. We can’t see it in the moment, we can only experience where we are.

I would recommend listening to Bishop Robert Barron’s homily for the Third Sunday of Lent this week. As Bishop Barron reflects on the Exodus scripture of the Israelites grumbling at Moses on their journey through the desert and the poetic gospel of John recounting the Samaritan woman’s encounter with Jesus at the well, he reminds us that a central paradox of the spiritual life is that grace is a gift, we can’t grasp at it. He summarizes that we grasp at so many things in life to try to be happy and satisfy our longings. A true way to find happiness is to share the graces we have received with one another.

As I again, try to contemplate meaning to each of those situations I shared at the start, I conclude that we can’t grasp at freedom from the difficult moments. Well, we can but it will be futile. They will be part of each of our journeys through life. But, just like our Lenten journey, aware that even the desert blooms in bright flowers after the rain, we look forward to Easter joy.

Peace, Deena

Image by Zack Dowdy on Unsplash


Embracing the Unexpected

On Friday my brother texted to see if I would be free on Saturday night for a visit. He and my sister-in-law would drive from the Quad Cities (4 cities that border the Mississippi River between Illinois and Iowa) for Mass and dinner. It was a lovely and unexpected surprise.

We had a delightful conversation with our parish priest after Mass. Then my other brother joined us and we celebrated family time together with bottles of wine at a local winery tasting room and then dinner. By the time we got home I reminded myself that I usually write this blog on Saturday evenings. Instead of shifting gears and putting pressure on myself to sit down and write, I embraced the theme of my Abbey of the Arts retreat, A Different Kind of Fasting. Our theme was fasting from multi-tasking and in-attention and embracing full presence to the moment. I opted to write this in the morning, this Sunday morning. When you are used to making sure every deadline and commitment is met, that no one is disappointed, or that I don’t disappoint myself by not following through on a plan, that my friends, was a big step for me!

In another mini-retreat I participated in this week, 5 days of reflection on Life as a Sacred Pilgrimage with Grateful Living, we were introduced to a poem by Maya Stein “in praise of I don’t know“. All week this verse has danced and repeated in my mind and soul “What if we could let ourselves rest for a little while in this halo of I don’t know, feel its soft touch against our urgent skin.” Perhaps that was the invitation I needed to allow change and flexibility in my routine. To be present to the unexpected adventure in my journey through the weekend. We begin journeys with a map but the memorable ones are those when we veer from the path to explore something new.

I woke up early this a.m. to very heavy fog. Everything was still and quiet. I read a morning prayer from the book of Kings, where after walking forty days and forty nights, Elijah encounters God not in the strong wind, earthquake or fire but the “light silent sound”. I let gratefulness for my family, for a lovely evening, for my faith and our parish overflow into a blessing of the day. Then I thought about today’s Gospel reading of The Transfiguration. I am so much like Peter! Jesus, knowing what lies ahead and the despair the apostles are going to experience during his arrest, crucifixion and death, gives three of the apostles a glimpse of heaven and his Divine Presence. Peter immediately wants to organize and put up tents. God’s voice interrupts the planning and reminds them, be here right now, listen.

What would happen in our daily lives if we just paused and listened more? Maybe it’s a poem that you read or a foggy morning that provides some insight for a situation in your life or decision you have to make. Perhaps it will be an unexpected invitation to break from the endless list of “have to’s” and accept the proposition to embrace something more life-giving. It is in those moments that we have to opportunity to listen to Spirit, to embrace activities that will nourish and sustain us.

I think John O’Donohue’s “For The Traveler” conveys this perfectly:

When you travel,
A new silence 
Goes with you
And if you listen,
You will hear
What your heart would
Love to say.

Listen a bit more closely this week.

Peace, Deena

Image: A pillar on the Camino heading towards Santiago de Compostela.

I have had a longing to walk the Camino before and after my visit to Spain and seeing pilgrims end their journeys at the Cathedral. So, last year I walked a virtual Camino and this was one of the lovely images shared on the app as we walked towards Santiago de Compostela.


The slow drip of Lent

Here we are, the First Sunday of Lent. I hope it has been a fruitful time for you so far. Between all the Lenten studies, books, devotionals and the retreat I am taking, I have enough content to reflect on for the entire season, without reading anything new. I have been so inspired by all the things I have been reading and reflecting on. My hope is that my sharing my experience of some of them will be helpful to you as well.

This past week I saw a print by a favorite artist, Kreg Yingst (WorkingArts on Etsy) of Abba Poemen, 4th Century Desert Father. The desert fathers and mothers (Abbas and Ammas) were Christians who walked away from their lives in order to intentionally listen to the call of God in a more radical way. Many people went to the desert to seek out these wise teachers for guidance in their own spiritual lives. The print is based on a quote by Abba Poemen where he states that water is soft and stones are hard but allowing water to drip on a stone, slowly it will wear it away. So it is with the word on God on our hearts. Kreg Yingst’s print says “dripping water pierces rock, God’s repeated word penetrates the heart.” This is my theme for this week, perhaps all of Lent, to let the slow drip of my Lenten fasting and prayer practices to wear away the many layers of resistance and avoidance within.

On Wednesday one of the meditations, part of my Abbey of the Arts Retreat, A Different Type of Fast, was with Abba Arsenius, another of the Desert Fathers. We sat in a cave and called upon Abba Arsenius to share his wisdom with us for our Lenten journey. He told me to sit, don’t act (or reach) so quickly. Slowly the desire I am trying to fill will leave and peace will fill the space. As I sat with Abba Arsenius and the wisdom he shared with me an image quickly came to me. It was a boat with holes in the bottom and water rushing in the holes. I saw all the habits I seek to be free of this Lent as my frantic attempts to prevent the water from rushing in, to prevent the feelings from rushing in. Rather than filling the holes it occurred to me to create an open space, with no resistance, and see what happens.

Another source of inspiration for Lent has been Ignatian Solidarity Network’s daily reflection of the theme Finding God in the Chaos. On Ash Wednesday, Sr. Norma Pimentel asked us to reflect on how we might be more attentive to God’s presence in the chaos of our world. The series is focused on finding hope and God’s presence in the chaos of our global landscape. As we do we are challenged to find ways to be part of a solution. That can feel difficult most days, but can I resist the temptation to say that the problems in our world are too big and that I can’t even make a dent in solving the problems? It might be as simple as using fewer paper towels or disposable items in the kitchen or saving money that would be spent on a drive-through coffee and over the course of Lent save those dollars to make a donation to a favorite cause. I believe that as we find more internal peace, calm, compassion and understanding we are more capable of bringing those qualities into the world. That alone can make a huge difference in our families, our work environments and our communities.

During Lent the Hallow app is doing a study of the classic The Imitation of Christ, believed to be written by Thomas a Kempis. If any of the things you are reading or hearing from others feel overwhelming or too hard, I offer the words from The Imitation of Christ, “do not be deterred, nor quickly cast down when you hear about the way of the perfect. Rather be inspired to reach great heights or at least aspire to attain them.” All of our internal efforts will, like water dripping on a stone, result in greater charity and concern for others. We can be assured that there will be outward signs of our inward journey of renewal.

Peace, Deena

Photo from PicMonkey