Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Advent, Week 1: Spirituality in shades of indigo

As we move through this first week of Advent, I feel immersed in indigo-tinged prayers. Not literally, since the candles in our Advent wreath and the paper links on our Advent chain are clearly purple. No hints of midnight blue there. But inside, when I settle into prayer, I bask in the deep, dark, blue-purple shades that are meant for this season.

My pastor described it last weekend as the shade of the night sky just before dawn. Perfect imagery, I think. Imagine that dark mixture of black and purple and blue that suddenly transforms into bright oranges and yellows and reds with the appearance of the sun. Or, for those of us following the color chart of Advent spirituality, the appearance of the Son.

We are waiting for the Son-rise of Christmas, the moment when Light enters the world in a totally transforming way, the moment when we open our own lives up to that Light and allow it to cast out the shadows that lurk in our souls.

"...What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." -- John 1:5

The infancy narratives are lovely to read during this season leading up to Christmas, but no Scripture speaks to my heart better than the poetry of John's prologue. If those words had a color, they'd be indigo, don't you think? Even the readings of this season have an indigo feel to them -- the anticipation of Christ's birth balanced by the anticipation of the second coming and our willingness to be ready for it at any time. Maybe it's just me, but, boy, that's as indigo as it gets.

"Stay awake!" Jesus tells us this week. We are on guard for what is to come, but we know enough to be not afraid because just when the night seems to reach its darkest hour comes the Light, and our world is reborn, our indigo souls flushed with the bright white of Christ's love.

For at least a few minutes each day, soak up the indigo shades of Advent. Prayerfully (and figuratively, if you're not a morning person) sit in the pre-dawn darkness and feel the anticipation of the sunrise that is to come. Get away from the reds and greens that bombard us during this season and settle into a peaceful, prayerful, joyful, expectant indigo spirituality.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Thanksgiving Day to remember

With Thanksgiving right around the corner, I got to thinking back to the first Thanksgiving Dennis and I spent as a married couple. We had moved to Austin just a few months before and decided to give thanks in a different way that year. So today, I am rerunning a favorite Life Lines column in honor of the holiday and in recognition of all those folks who will not sit down to a feast of food on Thursday. Here it is:

In the past, whenever the dolls and Legos would overflow our kids’ toy bins, we’d give things away to charity. We figured it was a good way to do something nice, clean our closets, and teach our kids the importance of giving to others all at the same time.

Ever since Noah turned 2, he knew that many of his toys would eventually go to “the poor.” We never really put a face on “the poor,” but whenever a toy was conspicuous by its absence, Noah would ask if they had it.

We thought we were teaching him a valuable lesson in Christian charity. Then one night he took the globe off the coffee table, spun it around and randomly put his finger on Egypt. “Is this where the poor live?” he asked.

I tried to imagine what was going through his head. I had visions of hungry children on the other side of the world opening boxes filled with Teletubbies and beeping plastic steering wheels.

And so began our quest to teach our kids just how many people are desperately poor, not just on the other side of the globe, but on the other side of town. We tried to find ways to drive the point home: a brown bag full of cans from our pantry at Thanksgiving, a gift for the Giving Tree at Christmas, an Easter basket for a needy child. They were all lovely sentiments – and important in their own ways -- but hardly enough to convey what the Gospel challenges us to do.

The first Thanksgiving after Dennis and I were married we volunteered to serve breakfast to hungry men and women who didn’t have plans for a home-cooked meal, or a home for that matter. A woman who ran the Catholic Worker House was happy for the extra hands and told us to be at the day labor corner at 7:30 a.m. to hand out hard-boiled eggs, tortillas and hot coffee.

The woman was known around town as “The Egg Lady” because she was out there with her eggs not just on Thanksgiving but every day. She drove homeless people to AA meetings, let them shower at her house, gave them clothes and offered them prayers. She reached out a hand where many would recoil in fear. She told us how one man she’d been helping stole her car. She said it without a hint of anger, without an ounce of regret. Then she boiled more eggs and went back out to the streets.

Now that is a lesson in Christian charity. Talk about living the Gospel. It’s not nearly as neat and easy as throwing some canned corn in a paper bag. In fact it’s the kind of charity that I find downright scary. But it’s exactly the kind of charity we need to embrace if we’re going to teach our kids about compassion and our duty to make sure people have eggs and coffee and a generous serving of dignity and respect.

Maybe this year we’ll hold onto the extra Elmos and try a different approach – like talking about the fact that there are poor people right here, that they’re just like us except they don’t have a way to pay for food or doctor visits or heat during the winter. Bags of food and boxes of toys are a good start, but they won’t end poverty. We end poverty, and not just with a checkbook but with a change of heart. Maybe that’s a na├»ve idea, but people like The Egg Lady put it to the test every day.

Unfortunately there are plenty of opportunities to test our mettle. Spin the globe. Put your finger down. Anywhere. That’s where the poor live.

Originally published in Catholic New York, November 2001. If you would like to learn more about the real "Egg Lady," click HERE.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Get a free hug to start your weekend


Here's a great video (with awesome music) to send you into the weekend with a smile. Give someone an unexpected free hug today.

Celebrating with my soul sisters

Thank you to all my Cornerstone sisters, friends from St. Thomas the Apostle, and friends from Delmar in general who gave up a night at home with their families to attend my talk and signing at Christ the King Church in Albany. I had a great time. I hope you did too. I felt so lifted up and blessed by your support. Your being there really meant the world to me, so thank you from the bottom of my heart.

And related to the book stuff, here's a new Amazon review of my book, posted by another Diocese of Albany friend. Thanks, Fran. What a wonderful review:

5.0 out of 5 stars A Walk - and a Gift - For One and All, November 19, 2010
By FranReadsALot "Fran Rossi Szpylczyn" (Albany, NY United States)

This review is from: Walking Together: Discovering the Catholic Tradition of Spiritual Friendship (Paperback)

Looking for the perfect Christmas gift for your friends and family? Look no further, Walking Together will fit the bill for so many, because friendship is the gift.

Using examples from many sources, Mary DeTurris Poust puts forth a beautiful little volume that is a gift to read. She is intellectual but completely accessible, she is filled with great warmth but never saccharine. Her words about people as diverse as St. Francis de Sales, Bishop Howard Hubbard, her mother and her husband and more will inspire you.

I love books like this, written in a way that allows you to flip from chapter to chapter, not necessarily in order. Each chapter invites you to look at friendship that is spiritual but very real. And if being Roman Catholic is about anything, it is about being in our bodies and being part of The Body that is all very real. That said, this is not a book for Catholics alone, but rather a way for anyone to reframe their view of friendship and faith in a new light.

And while you are buying gifts for all of your friends, please - make sure you buy one for yourself!

Click HERE for the Amazon link, HERE for the Barnes and Noble link, and HERE for the Ave Maria Press link. I'm hoping to get a Pay Pal link up on my own website soon so you can order signed copies directly from me in time for Christmas. If you want a book signed before that's up and running, email me privately and we'll work something out. Once you've had a chance to read the book, please consider posting a review at Amazon or B&N. Thank you, one and all!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Soul to Soul Conversations

Check out my latest column on spiritual friendship, Soul to Soul Conversations, up on Faith & Family Live! this week. I'll be taping a podcast for Faith & Family today, so stay tuned for more on when you can download that.

Soul to Soul Conversations
The importance of spiritual friendship
by Mary DeTurris Poust

We live in age when we can strike up a new friendship with the click of a mouse, when our “friends,” many of whom we’ve never even met, can number into the hundreds, or even thousands, thanks to social networking. Yet despite all the connections and links and “likes” about everything from what we cooked for dinner last night to our latest work project, most people are hungry for something more.
We can have 395 Facebook friends and still feel lonely. We can “talk” to people all day in an almost constant stream of e-mail, telephone and online chats and never have a conversation that dips below the surface to touch the soul. We can surround ourselves around the clock with co-workers and neighbors, parishioners and family members and still wonder at times if we’re flying solo.

Continue reading...

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A potential convert tests the waters - UPDATED


If you think Facebook is just for superficial commentary on the silly and sundry things that happen throughout the day, think again. Sometimes Facebook gets serious. And spiritual. Yesterday a Facebook friend posted the following status update:

“Ok, all you Catholics out there - what words of advice, encouragement or warning would you share with someone who is thinking of converting to Catholicism?”

Wow. It takes a lot of courage to send that message out there into the universe, or at least the world of Facebook. I promised, in my OSV Daily Take post yesterday (where you can read what others have to say on this subject), that I would respond with my own answers to that question today. It's a good question for any Catholic to ponder every once in a while, I think. So here we go...

Advice: Follow your heart, or, more accurately, follow the Spirit. If you're being drawn to the Catholic faith and feel the stirrings of something deep within your soul, don't ignore it. Embrace it. Revel in it. Sometimes, as a lifelong Catholic, I'm envious of those who have had a "conversion experience," those people who aren't just born into the faith but are called to seek out the Catholic faith in an active way. What a tremendous gift!

When I hear about someone considering the Catholic faith, I am filled with awe and excitement. Awe because it's a reminder that God is still calling people; excitement because I know that grace will flow from your conversion, and your life will be transformed.

Encouragement: Ours is a rich and beautiful tradition, filled with ancient rituals that connect us back to our beginnings but also feed us where we are right now. Take the time to explore and appreciate the many diverse spiritual practices that will strengthen your faith, starting with Mass, of course. But don't stop there. You can find spiritual nourishment in so many wonderful places -- private devotions, like the Rosary; silent meditation or contemplation; the lives and examples of saints and holy men and women from throughout our history; the Liturgy of the Hours (although I have to admit that I still struggle with this one in a big way).

As you continue on this journey, know that you are surrounded by countless others -- the Communion of Saints -- who walk the same path. We are a family, and you are never alone.

Warning: Unfortunately, every family has its issues. Many of us born into the Catholic faith take it for granted. We forget, sometimes, just how amazing this gift of faith really is. We sit in church and look bored. We forget to pray at home. We complain about this priest or that parish. You will come to the faith with a zeal that many of us cradle Catholics have never known, so you may look around and wonder why you're the only one who seems to be on fire with the faith. Be patient with us.

Being Catholic isn't always popular. In fact, it's often not popular. People are likely to tell you you're crazy for wanting to join us. People will decide at dinner parties and summer picnics that it is the perfect time to confront you about every single thing they hate or don't understand about the Catholic Church. Don't be afraid. Although it can get annoying to be grilled about things over which you have no control or misconceptions that many people cling to, it's all part of the package. Jesus never said it was going to be easy. He often said it was going to be really, really difficult. Those moments are likely to be the times that reaffirm your faith and force you to put into words what you normally just keep hidden in your heart. It' s a beautiful faith, a Church that stretches back in an unbroken chain to Jesus Christ. You can't get that anywhere else.

Finally, our Church is not perfect. It is made up of human beings, and while I'll be the first one to stand up and say that I find that excuse rather lame when monumental sins and scandals come to light, the reality is that it is true. God gave us free will, and some of us will not use that freedom for good. Given the history of our Church and the enormity of our world, it is inevitable that sometimes someone with less-than-pure intentions is going to enter the picture and do things to hurt the rest of us. Keep the faith. They are not the Church. We are the Church. We are the Body of Christ on earth, and if Christ is for us, who can be against us?

UPDATE: I'll be talking about this on the Son Rise Morning Show with Brian Patrick tomorrow, Nov. 12, at 6:50 a.m. Eastern time. If you're not in Cincinnati, you can listen live online by clicking HERE.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Friendship under a spiritual microscope

This review really captured the heart and soul of my new book. My favorite review of any book I've ever written. It appeared in this week's Evangelist of the Diocese of Albany. Check it out, if you have a few minutes.

BY FRAN ROSSI SZPYLCZYN

A recent piece in the LA Times newspaper left me stunned. Citing one study of Americans, the article stated that most people "had one-third fewer non-family confidants than they had 20 years earlier, and 25 percent had no one in whom to confide whatsoever."

It continued, "Another study of 3,000 Americans found that, on average, they had only four close social contacts."

We are a pilgrim people and, as Catholics, we are "covenantal" people, so those numbers startled me. That may be one reason I enjoyed "Walking Together: Discovering the Catholic Tradition of Spiritual Friendship" by Mary DeTurris Poust.

With friendship frequently defined as being a mouse-click away, this book shines with the potential of what relationship can actually mean.

Continue reading HERE.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

More Mary than you know what to do with...



Sorry I've been absent from the blog for a while. Book promotion in other arenas is burning up a lot of hours. In a good way. So...if you'd like to see what I've been doing while I've been away, here we go:

Tonight I'll be on Currents, the nightly public affairs show of The NET, at 7:30 p.m. If you're not in Manhattan or Brooklyn, you want watch it live via streaming by clicking HERE. It will repeat at 11:30 p.m. tonight and 6:30 a.m. tomorrow. And after that it will be up on YouTube.

You can also click on the video link above and watch my interview via Skype with the folks of Everyday Faith Live! on Telecare-TV. I'm at the 15 minute mark.

If you click HERE, you can see the recent review of my book in U.S. Catholic.

And today a wonderful review by my Facebook friend Fran Rossi Szpylczyn is running in The Evangelist (of the Diocese of Albany). Page six for those with print editions. An online version is coming soon. Don't worry, I'll post the link. As if you ever doubted.

On Saturday, watch the Albany Times Union for my Voices of Faith column on spiritual friendship. And don't forget, I'll be selling books after all Masses at St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Delmar on Nov. 13-14 and speaking about spiritual friendship at Christ the King Church, Albany, on Thursday, Nov. 18, at 7 p.m.

There have actually been numerous other radio shows and articles (for which I am so grateful), but I think you get the idea. I'll be heading to NJ tomorrow for a Saturday workshop in the Diocese of Metuchen. If you're going to be in the area, check my website for details and stop by and say hello. God is good. Life is good. I am blest.