Tuesday, June 30, 2009

One more reason to love U2

I'm already a big fan of U2, but here's one more reason to like the group, at least as far as I'm concerned. Bono says that U2's recent song Magnificent was inspired by the Blessed Mother.
“Magnificent was inspired by the Magnificat, a passage from the Gospel of Luke in the voice of the Virgin Mary that was previously set to music by Bach,” says Bono. “There’s this theme running through the album of surrender and devotion and all the things I find really difficult," Bono said in Rolling Stone.
Read more at NCRegister.com, or read the full interview in Rolling Stone HERE.

Friday, June 26, 2009

7 Quick Takes Friday


I am just back from my 5:45 a.m. yoga class. Great way to start the day. Too bad my teacher is away for the next two weeks. Will I get out of this good habit and fall back into my sleepy morning ways? Well, in an attempt to ward off that possibility, I have borrowed a gazillion yoga CDs from the wonderful woman who gently but firmly makes us bend and stretch into places and positions we would not otherwise go. I'm downloading them now. Stay tuned to see if I can actually motivate myself to do this at home. If Deanna is not standing in front of me, reminding me to tuck my chin and lift my tailbone and BREATHE, will I take the easy way out and allow my shoulders to round and the crown of my head to tilt in all the wrong directions? We'll see. If you're interested in trying out a yoga class, check your local YMCA or classes offered through your town. Kripalu is a gentle form of yoga, especially good for beginnings. Ashtanga will get your blood moving since it is a progressive series of postures. Bikram, also known as "hot" yoga, will really make you sweat since they turn the heat up to 105 degrees. Iyengar uses more props -- blocks and belts -- to get you in perfect alignment. That one was never one of my favorites. And yoga does not have to be contradictory to whatever faith you profess. It can be spiritual, if that's what you're looking for, but you can adapt it to your own spiritual practice. For example, when we were doing breathing exercises at class this morning, my inhalation was focused on "Be still" and the exhalation on "and know that I am God." Then the next breath in was "I am with you always" and the out breath was "until the end of time." Ever since I started yoga 20 years ago, I have woven those Scripture quotes into my practice.


In case you didn't see my post yesterday on our summer 'to do' list, here it is again. We can already check off "water slide," "play games," and, after tonight, "sleepover," although I expect we will be doing all of these things again throughout the summer, so I'm not crossing them off our list just yet. Sit down with your kids and see what you can come up with. Even if you're not sure you can get to something, write it down. Maybe seeing it there day after day will inspire you. "Family camping" is that item on our list.


If you are a regular or long-time reader of this blog, you know that I am constantly moaning about how I just can't connect with the Psalms. (HERE and HERE, for example.) I try to pray the Liturgy of the Hours -- out loud, in silence, sitting, kneeling, with incense, with candles. No matter what I do, the Psalms remain off in the distance, just out of my reach. Well, it turns out I'm not the only one who feels this way. What a relief! Conversion Diary posted about this same topic this week and there are lots of suggestions in the comment section to help the Psalm-challenged. Take a look by clicking HERE.


On a completely unrelated and unspiritual note, I cut off all my hair this week. I kind of knew going in that I wanted/needed a change. Part of it is that I just like to mix things up every once in a while. But part of it actually might be somewhat spiritual if you really stretch the definition. I think it's part of this urge as I get older to simplify and strip away the unnecessary stuff. My hair, being about as curly as curly gets, has to be left to dry on its own -- at least that's the only way I can handle it, which means, when it gets long, I'm sitting around for 90 minutes before I can touch or style it. It started getting more than a little ridiculous, and I was never really happy after all that waiting anyway. I can't say I'll keep it this way forever because eventually I'll get bored and start looking for something else. Unless it really is part of my inner efforts to find a simpler, more peaceful me. Maybe I'll realize that the ease of this cut should make it a permanent fixture for me. Here's what it looks like:


Donna Cooper O'Boyle has a great post on incorporating prayer into our busy and fun summers. It's easy for prayer time to get lost in the packing and driving and swimming and camping. Head over to Donna's newest blog, View from the Domestic Church, for some tips by clicking HERE. And check out one of her new books, The Domestic Church: Room by Room. (You can see the cover, designed by her daughter, over on the left.) And yours truly wrote the foreword, which was an honor.

Here's a snippet from what I had to say about this lovely book:

"Through stories from her own life, including the personal friendship she shared with Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Donna demystifies the domestic church, offering concrete ways to find joy and spiritual fulfillment in the 'nitty gritty humble work' of our daily lives."


About a week ago I noticed a big, fat woodchuck near the end of our deck, nibbling on a weeping mulberry tree. (That's him in the somewhat blurry photo to the left.) I've seen him running here and there over the past few days and noticed a big hole dug out near the base of our deck, so I'm guessing he's living underneath. I found it all kind of cute and back-to-nature-ish until I went outside and realized that the little beast ate all of my green leaf lettuce, even the thin, pale stuff, and my parsley and the tops of my beautiful red astilbes. I'm guessing it's him because no other animal has been brazen enough to come up on our deck for grub and astible are deer resistant, which is why I planted it in our deer-infested yard. Now what? This thing is too big to trap in the Have-a-Heart box we have. Any suggestions?


Although the wicked woodchuck (notice how the adjectives are getting progressively worse) is eating some of my plants, he has not eaten everything. Here are some shots of the stuff he hasn't snacked on -- yet. Marsh marigolds, spirea, lamb's ear, day lilies and more spirea.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Our ambitious but fun summer 'to do' list

I found this fun approach to summer on Whatever, a blog that has become a new favorite of mine. That's our list in orange above. My kids liked the idea so much they sat right down and got to work. And trust me, I did not come up with the one that says, "Paint the kids' bathroom." Olivia chimed in with that, which gives you some idea just how ugly the kids' bathroom is.

Click HERE to see the Whatever post on this and the list that started it all. I actually did something similar to this with the kids a few summers ago, but on loose leaf paper. I'm sad to say, we never really made it through much of the list. I think I'll give it another shot this year. Maybe if it's poster size it will be harder to ignore. It's now hanging on the basement door, where it will be in plain sight all summer.

And when you have a minute, go visit Whatever. The photos are amazing.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A new summer strategy

OK, you know things are crazy here when it's Tuesday and I've still got a Friday blog post up. Could have something to do with summer vacation, which began on Friday at 3 p.m. I am up to my ears in work and kids at this point and realizing that if I don't come up with a plan, I might not survive the next two months.

So how to juggle three kids and blog jobs, direct mail writing, feature stories, columns and revisions to my third book? I'm not completely sure, but I think it's going to require restructuring the hours of my day. As I mentioned in my last post, I've managed to find the motivation to get up twice a week for 5:45 a.m. yoga class. Maybe I could set the alarm and get up at that hour two other days each week and work until Dennis leaves for the office. I could get more done before 8:30 a.m. than most office workers get done in several days. (Working from home with kids around makes you very efficient -- and crazy. Have I mentioned crazy?)

One reason I hate to make this move is because it means I can no longer keep up my favorite morning ritual: Dennis and I have our coffee at the kitchen table while he reads the New York Times and I read the Times Union, each of us alerting the other to interesting stories to check out later. The kids eat breakfast while this is going on. When my day doesn't start like this, I feel deprived and disconnected. But something's gotta give and I think it may be this routine. By taking my coffee down to my basement office cave, I can squeeze in time to work while the kids are otherwise occupied.

Maybe giving up the routine on weekdays will make it that much sweeter on weekends. You'll know it's working if you see more frequent blog posts. If I disappear for a few days here and there, you'll know I'm treading water here in the deep end.

Friday, June 19, 2009

7 Quick Takes Friday

This is the first week I'm participating in something known as "7 Quick Takes Friday," started and hosted by Jen at Conversion Diary. The idea is that on Friday I'll post seven short items that might not make it into a full post but deserve some space. Let's see how you like it...


My favorite bring-home item at the end of the school year has to be the kids' classroom journals. I love the hand prints and paintings, the stories and homemade books, but nothing can compare to reading my kids' thoughts on a day-by-day basis. I find myself laughing, sighing, crying and, yes, sometimes cringing. This year Noah didn't do a journal, which makes sense even if it's disappointing. I can't imagine the junior high kids would be too keen on sharing their innermost thoughts for their teachers and parents to read. Olivia brought home her journal yesterday, and as I waited for dinner to cook, I stood there reading and smiling, wanting to read entries aloud to Dennis but knowing that he will want to sit down and read the journal for himself. I love the honesty, the imagination, the innocence and the really deep thought that is obvious in so many of the entries. It is that little glimpse into what's going on in my daughter's head. Those journals are like treasures to me. I have saved every one over the years, and some day, when the kids have passed through the self-conscious stage, I'll pull them out and let them revisit their own childhood memories. I so wish I had journals from my own childhood.


Ever since I read the book My Cousin the Saint: A Search for Faith, Family, and Miracles by Justin Catanoso, I have been meaning to blog about it. Now that the book came out in paperback this week, it seems like an appropriate time to tell you to GO GET THIS BOOK TODAY. It is a wonderful book that will make you want to get on the next plane to Italy to find your long lost relatives. At least that's how I felt. It is like a tour of Italy and a spiritual pilgrimage rolled into one amazing book. You will feel like you can taste the food and feel the heat. You will wonder how it is possible that Padre Gaetano, the saint the book celebrates, was not known worldwide long before this book was published. From the scenes set in Wildwood, where my family vacations every summer, to the scenes around the table in Italy, where my grandfather was born, I felt a deep connection to this book. Here's one snippet that I just loved:

"There were now more than twenty of us in this kitchen, standing and sitting, in a space that would have been overcrowded with less than half as many. No one cared. Through the fish, the bread, the calamari, the bottles of red and white wine, and the baskets of fresh peaches, pears, and nectarines all picked on Catanoso land outside Chioro, the hand-waving and chattering din around the table, now completely in Italian, escalated to a pleasant roar. The words flowed over and around me in a comforting rush and I felt on the very edge of understanding everything that was said, like I was just a half-step away from fluency. But I wasn't. So I sat back and relaxed and listened one last time as if it were opera, the most beautiful opera imaginable on a stage filled with the liveliest characters."
See, you need to read this book.


I am completely off track in my efforts to pray at least Morning Prayer every morning. I had been in a nice rhythm for a couples of weeks there, but now? Nothing. And I can feel the disconnect. Somehow, even with the three kids home for the summer and my work deadlines breathing down my neck, I need to make regular time for prayer. In fact, I need that time more than ever. Anyone have any pointers they can share for squeezing regular and meaningful prayer time in between the household chaos?


Somewhat related to that is my renewed commitment to yoga, something I first started twenty years ago but let go over the years -- except for the occasional class during pregnancy and such. Now I have found the energy to get up for 5:45 a.m. class twice a week with a third class on Monday nights. What a difference it is making, and it really is a natural segue into prayer. I need to harness that peace and serenity in my physical being and allow it to permeate my prayer life once I get home. Baby steps, baby steps. I'm trying to accept where I am in all of this without frustration or disappointment.


I am so proud of all three of my kids as the school year finishes today. Chiara, of course, has been off from school for a couple of weeks at this point, but she had a great first year of preschool and was amazing in her first dance recital. Noah and Olivia can make me crazy with their bickering and their inability to put away a pair of shoes or empty a lunchbox. But the reality is that they've accomplished so much over the past 10 months. Both have achieved high honors, meaning their overall averages are above 94. I haven't seen the final numbers yet, but they are usually well above that number. (Update: One got a 95+ and the other a 96+ overall.) On top of that, they juggled soccer and baseball, dance class and piano lessons, Boy Scouts and Brownies, flute lessons and service projects. We ran ourselves ragged this past month as everything wrapped up, but, overall, it was a great year.


Every spring into summer I buy soil and fertilizer, seeds and seedlings, pots and planters so that I can get back to the earth and grow some of my own food, despite a yard that is almost entirely in shade. I think this year is my agricultural swan song. Nothing grows. Except my basil, which, as far as I'm concerned is most important because otherwise how will I have homemade pesto in February when the snow is as high as an elephant's eye. I think with all the money I spent on supplies, I could have joined a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), as we have done in years past, and had fresh, organic vegetables delivered to a nearby porch. Next year I think my money and effort will be spent on filling out my perennial beds, which are really my favorite parts of my yard anyway.


As we head into Father's Day weekend, I am at a complete loss as to what to get for Dennis. I know he usually feels the same way when Mother's Day rolls around. We have been so blessed. We have so much already. It almost feels silly to scrounge around for ideas just to have something to wrap up. Still, I'll head out to the store with the kids later today to do just that. Really, there is nothing I could buy that could adequately show my gratitude to Dennis for all that he does as a husband and a dad. He is truly my partner. Our relationship is a constant give-and-take, and no grill accessory or shirt or Apple gift card could show him how much he means to me, to us. OK, maybe the Apple gift card. Happy Father's Day!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Standing up for vocations

On Sunday, I was at the first Mass of a friend who was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Albany last weekend. In all my years of covering events for various Catholic publications -- 25 years and counting -- I have never attended any priest's first Mass, and I have to say I was moved and inspired and humbled by this one. It was a beautiful Mass, especially because Father James seemed so at ease as presider, so comfortable in his new role as shepherd.

Before the end of the Mass, Father James talked a lot about the people in his life who had had the courage at one time or another to ask him if he had ever considered being a priest. In addition to a couple of other priests, which didn't seem so out of the ordinary, he singled out a woman who once came up to him after he had served as an acolyte and his two Confirmation teachers. All three had asked him, "Have you ever considered becoming a priest?" I thought about this and about the fact that Father James said no one -- not his family members or friends, not teachers or classmates -- had ever spoken negatively about his desire to become a priest. Yes, he had felt a calling to the priesthood from an early age (fifth grade, he said in the Mass program), but what if all those people hadn't noticed something in him? What if no one had encouraged him by posing that simple question? What if, even worse, someone had discouraged him?

It's very possible we would have one fewer priest in our Church, and, from everything I know about Father James already, a very special priest at that. I know of one priest -- my current pastor -- who has asked my son, Noah, directly if he has ever thought about being a priest and has on other occasions casually mentioned, in a light-hearted, unintimidating way, that it might be something for him to consider. I value that. I don't know what the future holds for Noah or if he will ever feel called to the priesthood, but I like the fact that someone is willing to remind him that he should keep the door open on a noble vocation that doesn't get a lot of good press these days.

Father James stood before the congregation on Sunday and asked if anyone who had ever considered the priesthood would stand up. It was surprising -- and hopeful -- to see how many people were willing to get up before a crowd of strangers and bear witness to the fact that God does still whisper to us and that maybe we all need to listen a little more closely. No, we're not all called to the priesthood or religious life, but we are called to follow God's path, wherever it may lead us.

Listening to this enthusiastic young priest remind others that God may be calling them, talk about his own struggles along the way, share personal stories about his family and his decision to follow God's call was the best and most honest advertisement for the priesthood that I have ever heard. Maybe others will consider the priesthood now because he asked them to stand up and be counted. Maybe young men afraid to follow that still, small voice speaking to their hearts will have the courage to do so because they heard first-hand that while the road to the priesthood isn't always easy it can be happy and fulfilling. Maybe the rest of us will now consider walking up to someone we know who seems to have that certain something and asking, "Have you ever considered becoming a priest?"

Not everyone is called to the priesthood, but we are all called to encourage and support those who choose the road less traveled on behalf of the rest of us.

Monday, June 15, 2009

When your kids are driving you crazy...

I'm in a bad way this week. Too much work, not enough time. The usual thing. I'm doing a lot of feeling sorry for myself as I sulk about my incredibly difficult life. (I'm rolling my eyes now.) Then this afternoon, because I hadn't really checked up on my usual favorite bloggers, I headed over to Mom's Night Out and was immediately humbled by what I read there. Kathy of Mom's Night Out is a foster mom, and, as if that doesn't sound difficult enough, she's the kind of foster mom who takes especially troubled kids, kids who are in crisis or just released from the hospital, kids who fall through the cracks because they're not the right age to receive government funding for behavioral support.

From today's post:
"So, here comes Andrew. At four years old, he's my youngest yet in the program. He'd been in seven placements already. The previous placements were all family members and he'd been abused and neglected in each of them.

"He came into our house one ANGRY little guy. Huge behaviors, spitting, kicking, throwing things, hitting, crying, CUSSING like a serious longshoreman. His tantrums - and I use that term loosely, because they were really rages - lasted up to three hours. For real.

"This went on for weeks. Every single day, at least once a day. Sometimes, two or three times. It was a bumpy ride for us all. We went past the ninety days, and I changed the classification of my home so that he would not have to move again."

Four years old, seven placements, abuse, neglect. Wow. To willingly take on a child with all the issues that go with that kind of mistreatment is heroic. I complain when my kids bicker, when they forget to put their uniforms in the wash, when they whistle constantly while I'm trying to write. I am so in awe of someone who has the strength and generosity and compassion to parent a little boy like this to a place where he finally feels safe and relaxed.

Well, Kathy had to say good-bye to Andrew, who is returning to his mother. He hasn't lived with his mother for three of the last four years. Imagine the heartbreak for Kathy. Here is some of what she said about it:
"What matters is that Andrew got under my "professional" foster mom skin. What matters is I love that little boy. What matters is that, when I tried to pack his little plastic forks and spoons that he got for having good table manners, he said, "No, leave them here for when I come back". What matters is how hard he hugged my neck when he left, and how hard I cried after I closed the door."
Head over to Mom's Night Out by clicking HERE and read the full post. My kids are still bickering and the cats are literally climbing the curtains and life feels overloaded, but after reading this I realize that there are other people out there who really have every right to complain and yet they quietly go about doing God's work here on earth -- shouldering another's burden, bringing a smile to the face of a little boy who has known far too much sorrow for someone of his tender age.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Celebrating the beauty of the Eucharist

Today is the Feast of Corpus Christi -- or, as it is more popularly known now, the Feast of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. In the United States, this feast will be celebrated on Sunday, but the Universal Church celebrates it the Thursday after Trinity Sunday. That's today. But enough about the logistics of this feast, let's get down to the meaning of this feast.

Corpus Christi. Sounds simple enough, even in Latin, but the reality is that this is anything but simple. It is about faith. It is about a gift so incredible that it is sometimes hard for us to wrap our little human minds around the greatness of God's goodness.

My grandfather was truly devoted to the Eucharist. He sat for hours before the tabernacle, attended several Masses every day, was visibly affected by Holy Communion. In the church where I was baptized, St. Margaret of Antioch in Pearl River, there is a beautiful mosaic over the tabernacle. It was given by my family in honor of my grandparents. When it came time to think of something that could be given to the church in their name, the pastor was the one who suggested it be something related to the Eucharist because he had recognized my grandfather's deep, deep devotion.

I wish I could latch onto that devotion in a tangible way. Even when I sit before Jesus on those rare occasions when I make time to stop by the chapel, I am like a fidgety child -- not sure what I should be doing, but knowing that whatever I am doing is certainly not worthy of what is before me. And what is before me? Nothing less than Jesus himself. That is what we believe as Catholics. That Jesus absolutely meant exactly what he said at the Last Supper:

"While they were eating, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, and said, 'Take it; this is my body.' Then he took the cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them, 'This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.'" (Mk 14:22-24)

Yes, Lord, we believe, but even in our belief, even on our best days, are we living up to our end of the bargain? If we could fully comprehend the gift of the Eucharist, how could we not drop to both knees or prostrate ourselves before the altar every time we approached to receive Communion? Why would we want to be anywhere else other than there with Jesus every spare minute we had? I guess that would be the ideal, and we humans are often less than ideal. Even with the best intentions, even with the deepest belief, we often cannot rise to the level of what the Eucharist deserves.

The good news is that our God wants us to receive Him in Communion, even with our human imperfections. If we truly believe in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist and we are free from serious sin, we are welcome at the table -- even when we recognize that the details of our devotion could use some work.

Last year, right around the time Olivia was receiving her First Communion, I saw something at church that stopped me cold and made me want to write more about this subject. Here's a snippet from that Life Lines column:

"One week, as we were sitting in church, we saw a teenager walk away from the priest with the host in her hand, carrying it back toward her pew instead of consuming it on the spot. She dropped it on the floor and just kept walking. Another woman went over, picked it up and brought it to the pastor. For me, that moment, where the Eucharist seemed to be worth less than a penny dropped on a sidewalk, was a stark and sad reminder of just how far we have to go in truly understanding this teaching that is the absolute core of our faith. Maybe we all need to go back to square one and learn the lesson like a 7-year-old: This is not like Jesus; this is Jesus. We hear it, we know it, but do we get it?"

We need to talk more about the Eucharist. We need to ensure that Catholics, young and old, understand the truth of this teaching, even if they struggle to grasp its significance fully. If we allow the Eucharist to become just one of many teachings and do not focus on it as the core teaching that it is, we have failed.

When I wrote The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Catholic Catechism, I spent a lot of time on the subject of Eucharist. Here is a small sample of what my translation of the Catechism says on this matter:

"Everything in the life of the Church flows from the Eucharist and is directed toward it. 'The Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life.' (1324)...The Catechism calls the Eucharist a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, and a paschal banquet, at which believers who consume Christ are filled with grace and receive a pledge of future glory. (1323)

"So to be sure you are clear on the depth of the Eucharist, Catholics believe the bread and wine offered at Mass truly become the body and blood of Jesus Christ through transubstantiation. They do not believe it is a symbol of the body and blood but that through the prayer of consecration prayed by the priest-celebrant, the bread and wine become Jesus." (p. 128)

Today is the Feast of Corpus Christi. Celebrate the gift of Jesus himself that is yours each and every time you walk into church. Share the good news with someone you know. (And, if you'd like to read the rest of my Life Lines column on this subject, click HERE.)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

My beautiful dancers

Sometimes I forget that not all of my Not Strictly Spiritual readers see my Facebook feed as well. I post updates there, but you don't get them here. We've been super busy at the Poust house between Noah's baseball, Olivia's soccer, school plays, spring concerts, dance recitals, preschool picnics and more. Last weekend was jam packed with activities. Here are photos of the girls before their performances at The Egg last weekend.

Olivia danced with her hip hop class -- front and center of the group -- at two different shows.

Chiara danced with her creative movement class at the evening performance.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Severe disabilities, inspiring strength

My post from OSV Daily Take today:

Jennifer over at Conversion Diary has posted a moving interview with the parents of Sunni, a severely disabled little girl who cannot do anything for herself. Their love for her, their acceptance of their role as parents, and their conversion from pro-choice to pro-life in the face of such suffering is inspiring.

"When asked how he created such stunning works of art, a famous sculptor once said that he instills in his mind a clear image of the form and then removes everything that is not a part of it. In a way, God has shorn from Sunni nearly all of the adornments that would be considered part of a basic human life. She cannot act on her own, communicate, or possibly understand even simple concepts. She is left as a nearly pure example of human life without anything to distract us from its elegant beauty."

Click HERE to read Jennifer's full interview with Sunni's parents about what it means to raise a severely disabled daughter in a society that often looks at her and thinks abortion would have been the better choice.

Another mom blogger to visit

I found this cool blog today -- Mom's Night Out -- thanks to Michelle over at Bleeding Espresso. I'm already hooked. This blogger mom sounds like an amazing woman, who is, like many of the rest of us, trying to live a good and spiritual life while wrestling with the earthly muck we often find ourselves in.

Go check it out by clicking HERE.

And while you're hopping around, click HERE and stop by Bleeding Espresso, where you will find amazing photos, book reviews, recipes and all sorts of wonderful stories about Italy -- the place I most want to visit in the world. Some day...

Monday, June 8, 2009

A difficult balancing act

Lately I've been obsessed with balance, or my inability to achieve balance in my life. Something about my interior conversation sounded all too familiar, and then I remembered this blog post from almost exactly one year ago. Maybe it's just the time of year...

Here's a "best of" from Not Strictly Spiritual:

Why, you may ask, is someone who writes about Christian spirituality using a Taoist Yin Yang symbol as art? (I also happen to wear a little yin-yang in my right ear lobe -- right next to my cross earring.) Well, the easy answer is that it’s all part of the Tao of Mary. My years of dabbling in Eastern philosophy still cling to the periphery of my spiritual life. Not because I’m looking for something outside the Christian Way, but because I find so many elements of Eastern spirituality to be a beautiful supplement to our own practices. The whole notion of Yin Yang -- that opposing but complementary aspects of our lives can happily co-exist -- is something so basic and, well, Christian, to me. We cannot separate our lives into individual and isolated boxes. Spirituality here, work there, exercise here. They have to overlap and exist in a kind of healthy tension. If they don’t, we end up with everything slipping to one side, figuratively speaking, and suddenly our Yin is left without a Yang, and that’s never good.

I first discovered the ability of Eastern practices to further my Western prayer when I learned Hatha yoga many years ago. Hatha is another Yin Yang sort of philosophy, focusing on the opposing energies of hot and cold, sun and moon. Hatha yoga is about preparing the physical body for a spiritual experience. Not necessarily something mystical but something beyond the norm, whether our “norm” is sitting in a chair with a remote control in hand or driving a car down the highway at 65 MPH with the radio blaring.

Try sitting in one spot -- without moving -- for just 15 minutes right now and you’ll quickly realize that your body does not want to sit still, and your mind wants to sit still even less. Suddenly you have an urge to move your foot, scratch your ear, stretch your neck. At the same time, your mind is reliving every event it can conjure up from preschool to the present. No wonder it’s so hard to pray. We need to learn to quiet our bodies if we can ever hope to quiet our minds and hear God.

But I digress. Wasn’t this post supposed to be about balancing the secular and spiritual? The point of this rambling monologue is that our lives have to be about balance. We cannot expect, unless we plan to enter a cloister or become a hermit, to go through life without the pull of the secular world inserting itself into our attempts to be more spiritually centered. The key, I think, is to learn to find a way to balance those two vital elements of our lives, to allow the Yin of contemplation and meditation to sidle up to the Yang of work and socializing and whatever else we find vying for our attention.

I wish I could learn to integrate the two in a healthier way. I find that when I’m working on prayer, I want everything to be spiritual -- my reading, my podcasts, my conversations, my music. But then, when I realize that my spiritual quest has left the garden overrun with weeds and my treadmill covered in dust, I shift gears and focus on those things. The problem is that the prayer part recedes to the point of disappearing.

So where to begin? I think the first thing we need to do is be gentle with ourselves and realize that this back and forth, two steps forward and one step back, is all part of our human journey through life. It would be completely unreasonable for me, the mother of three active young children, to think that my spiritual life could rival that of someone who lives her life in full-time contemplation. We have all been called to different vocations, and our job is to live that vocation as prayerfully as possible, not to live according to someone else’s calling.

On that note, I’ve decided at the spur of the moment to link to a favorite old column of mine, one that talks a lot about this very subject. If you haven’t already dozed off, click HERE and see what else I have to say. Can you believe I’m still talking? Don’t answer that.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Prayer for Universal Peace

All three of my children have attended a wonderful Montessori preschool program in town, run by a Catholic couple who really bring a sense of joy and wonder and respect and peace to the little school. I missed the school's closing picnic last night because I was off attending a Girl Scout training session. And one of the things I missed most is the closing circle, when all the parents and kids and teachers stand side by side and sing songs before closing with the Universal Prayer for Peace by Mahatma Ghandi.

So I want to share that prayer with you today. (Try to imagine two classes of fidgety 3- and 4- year-olds saying these words accompanied by gently flowing hand motions. Just precious.) May your Friday be filled with blessings.

I offer you peace. I offer you love.
I offer you friendship.
I hear your cry. I see your beauty.
I feel your pain.
My wisdom flows from a higher source.
I salute that source in you.
Let us work together.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Send me a sign

I was driving Chiara to school the other morning when I noticed a thought for the day on the message board at the local Episcopal church. It said:

What if God is waiting for you to send Him a sign?

The first time I drove by, I smiled at the cleverness of the message and thought about how often we humans demand visible signs of God's love, interest, attention, existence. I don't know what we expect -- perhaps flashes of light, sky writing, rose petals falling from the clouds -- but we expect something. Instead we get quiet, silence, what seems like nothing to our finite minds, even if there are subtle signs present all around us in the ordinary details of our lives.

When I drove by the same sign later in the day, the message started to sink in a little deeper. I found myself pondering it as I drove home, turning it around in my mind. I liked it and I wanted to explore exactly why I liked it, especially since I usually don't have much use for church message boards, no matter how clever the quote.

I liked it because as soon as I read the message I knew that, despite being clever, it was also true. God is always patiently waiting -- for us to pray, for us to trust, for us to listen, for us to believe so deeply that our very lives become a sign of His love.

Unlike the human demand for a sign -- I'll believe if you...get me this job, cure my illness, give me a baby, sell my house -- God's waiting has no conditions attached. He waits. Has waited since before time began. Has waited since before we began. Will wait until after we are long gone.

Just the other day, Chiara was crying because she thought she had done something that would upset me. After a difficult few minutes, I hugged her and said, "There is nothing you could ever do that will make me love you less. I will love you for all time, no matter what."

And as soon as I said it I knew that the kind of love I was talking about is the kind of love the Father has for each one of us. There is nothing we can do that will make Him love us more or less than He already does. Unconditional love. Unconditional acceptance. Still, I'm sure he'd appreciate a sign now and then.