Saturday, January 31, 2009

So what's with the "25 Random Things"

Not to belabor the Facebook point, but this week there has been an exercise making its way through various friend networks. It's called "25 Random Things," and the point is to write down 25 things about yourself that might surprise or interest your friends and acquaintances. I received two "tags," which is how the thing gets passed from one person to another, and just said, No way! Then I started reading lists that were being posted, and I gotta tell ya, I was impressed and inspired and just generally uplifted by what I read. Most lists are combinations of serious insights and funny asides. All of them were so worth reading. Mine cannot come close to many of the others I've read so far, but in case you're not in my Facebook network, here is my list of 25 Random Things:

1. I am fully aware that there are very few people who would want to read 25 random things about me.

2. I read magazines from the back. Don't know why. But every time I get a magazine, I flip it over, open the back cover and begin.

3. I lived in Austin, Texas, two different times, in the 80s and again in the 90s. Very different experiences, but both were great. Sometimes I just miss being in Austin.

4. But, when I lived in Austin, I just missed being in New York. I think that no matter where I lived I would miss New York.

5. One of the reasons I missed NY is because I absolutely, positively love the fall. I love the smell of the air when it turns crispy. I love apple picking. I love the changing leaves, especially now with mountains all around us. I love wearing a big sweater. I even love the end of fall when the trees are almost bare. There is something so powerful and peaceful about the landscape.

6. In keeping with my love of fall, one of my only "vices," if we can call it that, is a penchant for nice coats, particularly leather coats. I have a kick-butt distressed leather coat and an awesome hand-stitched suede coat that I adore. I even have the black leather fringed jacket I bought in college. I will hand it down like a family Bible.

7. I am contradictory. Case in point, I love suede and leather coats, and, yet, I am a vegetarian. I eschew meat mainly for health reasons, although I can see my 8-year-old daughter's point about not hurting animals. (She's a vegetarian too.) Can't give up the coats. At least not yet.

8. I have a love-hate relationship with camping. Part of me desperately wants to be a real camper, and the other part of me has flashbacks to that Girl Scout camping trip where our tent was raided and I had to cook French toast on a coffee can. Perhaps PTSD counseling would help.

9. I love, love, love the fact that I get to do my job from home with my kids around, even though they often make it very difficult for me to do my job. Still, I wouldn't trade this for anything. I get up, get my coffee, putter down to my basement office and hit the keys. I hope to never, ever, ever work in an office again.

10. I can talk, and I mean, TALK. Most of you probably know that though. Sometimes I wish I didn't talk so much, but it's who I am. Can't help it. I've been talking a blue streak for 46 years, and I don't think I'm going to stop any time soon. Just don't ask me about a book or a movie if you have any intention of reading or seeing it.

11. I gave birth to all three of my children naturally and without any anesthesia, not even so much as an Advil. I am very proud of that, and I loved it. Some people question the sanity of those of us who choose this, but feeling the pain is a mighty and powerful thing.

12. And I nursed all three of those babies, even when it was difficult and I thought I might give up. I'm so glad I didn't.

13. My mother died of colon cancer when she was only 47 and I was 25. It was the hardest thing I've ever faced. She was a great woman and my best friend.

14. Because my mother died of colon cancer, I am a huge proponent of getting regular colonscopies beginning as early as you can. For obvious reasons, I believe that fifty is too late even for those with no family history.

15. If I was fearless, I would drive a motorcycle -- Harley only.

16. And I would hang glide.

17. But I am not fearless, although I try to face my fears head on. I have an Eleanor Roosevelt quote hanging near my desk that says, "Do one thing every day that scares you."

18. I am on a spiritual quest. I have always had a deep need for God in my life. Now, however, as I get older, that need is getting stronger. I feel as though I am on an incredible journey, and I am being pulled along to a deeper place, despite my fears and doubts and confusion. It's pretty amazing, actually.

19. Despite the fact that I love to talk, I find that more and more I crave silence. I went on my first silent retreat this fall and fell in love with quiet. I'm trying to build some silent times into my not-so-silent life.

20. I was the manager of a yoga center in Austin for a while and was halfway through training to become a yoga instructor when I up and moved back to NY.

21. I am curious and want to keep trying new things even as I get older -- like when I took belly dancing last year. Very fun. I want to learn to speak Italian and to ride a horse.

22. I desperately want to go to Italy for many reasons, the first being that my grandfather DeTurris was born in Massalubrense and I am very proud of that fact. But I also want to go because I work for the Catholic Church and feel like it's crazy I haven't been there yet, and because I feel drawn to Assisi.

23. I have worked for the Catholic Church for 25 years, something I consider a vocation more than a job.

24. Sometimes I feel like I'm living in the movie Groundhog's Day. Every morning, without fail, I stand at the front door and yell to my children as they attempt to leave the house without lunch boxes, without hats, without instruments, without backpacks, sometimes even without shoes. I may talk a lot, but, clearly, no one is listening.

25. I am sarcastic, and I enjoy other people who are sarcastic because I can bust their chops and they don't take me seriously.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Facebook nation

About three weeks ago I finally caved and joined Facebook after much prodding and pressure from Dennis. It's not that I had anything against Facebook. I just figured it would be a huge time drain, which it is, and I didn't know if I could handle that on top of all my other time drains. But I joined. Now, 112 friends later, I am a super fan of Facebook. Not only have I reconnected with colleagues from the Catholic press, but I've reconnected with distant cousins in Brooklyn and friends in Texas and even some folks just across town. I'm talking to them more now than I have in years. It's been a huge surprise for me, this whole Facebook phenomenon. But Dennis recognized it early on. In fact, he just wrote a great story on how Facebook is even changing the way Catholics spread the Good News. It's true. Even Pope Benedict XVI is touting the benefits of social networking and recently set up a Vatican YouTube site. Who'd a thunk?

So go check out Dennis' cover story in this week's issue of Our Sunday Visitor by clicking HERE. While you're clicking around, be sure to click on my Facebook icon to the left and friend me if you haven't already. See you on Facebook.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A prayer even I can fit into my schedule

Last night, when I was standing at the counter chopping vegetables for pasta primavera and listening to Chiara torture her big sister, I went back to my thoughts about how difficult it is to fit prayer, especially Evening Prayer, into a busy family life. Before I knew it, Chiara was hanging from my leg, crying that Olivia wouldn't play with her, and I couldn't help but laugh at the absurd notion that I might stop all the madness and sit down in silence to listen to God. The only thing I could hear at that moment was crying and whining from what seemed like every corner of the house. And then I remembered what a friend, Father Mike, said in a recent email. He reminded me that my prayer IS the chopping of vegetables, the drying of tears, the kneeling down to hug a 3-year-old who is working through her drama queen stage and requires a little extra attention these days.

And I tried, maybe for the very first time, to see my dinner time rush that way, as an opportunity for prayer. No, it was not a beautiful and peaceful moment shrouded in spiritual silence, but that's because I don't live in a monastery. I live in a house filled with children and noises and plastic toys strewn from one end of the room to the other. And God is here, in the midst of that, just as surely as He is in the quiet isolation of a cloister.

St. Francis de Sales, in his Introduction to the Devout Life, talks about the fact that while we are all called to devotion, we are not all called to the same methods or ways of devotion. He may have lived and preached in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, but the sentiments surely hold true for us today. In the particular section I'm going to quote, he asks whether it would be fitting for a bishop to want to live a solitary life like a Carthusian monk or for a family man to seek a life of poverty like a Capuchin or for an artisan to spend his life in church like a religious. When we find a way to incorporate devotion into our own vocations (not someone else's definition of vocation), that devotion begins to color every aspect of our lives.

"Throw precious stones into honey, and each will grow more brilliant according to its several colors -- and in like manner everybody fulfills his special calling better when subject to the influence of devotion: family duties are lighter, married love truer, service to our king more faithful, every kind of occupation more acceptable and better performed where that is the guide," St. Francis wrote.

So rather than regret that I cannot find quiet time away from my true vocation, I have to find a way to incorporate devotion into my everyday responsibilities. When I finally do that, my vocation will actually become a pathway to the kind of inner quiet that I'm longing for, the kind of calm that remains steady even when the children are howling and the deadlines are pounding at my door. Well, that won't be easy, will it? Maybe that's why I keep reaching for quiet contemplation; it's easier to complain that I can't have prayer time than it is to make my every action a living prayer. Still, that is what we are called to do.

You've probably had enough of my endless spiritual chatter today. If you, like me, find it hard to work regular prayer into the day, here are a couple websites that offer brief but inspiring quotes.

The first is a site devoted to daily reflections from St. Francis de Sales (Thanks to Karen Edmiston for the heads up on this one.) Click HERE for a daily dose of de Sales.

The second choice offers super brief Scripture reflections -- one line -- with a short quote from a saint or other spiritual great. It's waiting in my email inbox every morning when I sit down to work. A quick and easy way to start the day with a spiritual boost. Click HERE for Word of God Every Day.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Look, I'm in two places at once!

As of today, I will be a guest blogger over at Our Sunday Visitor's blog, OSV Daily Take, which you can visit by clicking HERE. In this amazing feat of bilocation, I will be blogging both there and here almost daily. You may remember that I blogged for OSV during the papal visit last April, and, of course, I was a contributing editor and senior correspondent for OSV newspaper for years and years.

I know you can read only so many blogs, but I'm hoping that sometimes you'll pop over to OSV after stopping in at Not Strictly Spiritual. I will put the OSV Daily Take link in my list of blog favorites on the left-hand side of this page in case you need the prompt. And be sure to visit some of the other sites on that list.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Happy one-year anniversary to me!

Today is the first anniversary of my blog. I launched it one year ago on the Feast of St. Francis de Sales, patron of writers, not really knowing what would happen. I was more than a little intimidated by the notion of trying to come up with something interesting and spiritual and sometimes humorous on a daily basis. But what has happened in the past year on this blog has been nothing short of inspiring. Thank you to all of you who read this blog regularly, and thank you, too, to those of you who stop by on occasion or even by accident. I am grateful to all of you. Here is the Life Lines column I wrote about my blogging experience and how all of you have impacted me. Enjoy. And happy Feast of St. Francis de Sales. If you don't know much about him, learn more. He's one of my favorites.

Blogging My Way Down a Spiritual Path

It was just about one year ago that I decided to jump head first into the wonderful world of blogging, something that both excited and scared me since it meant being willing to delve into a much more deeply personal style of writing – and doing so on an almost-daily basis. Still, I was intrigued by the idea of “talking” about spiritual issues that I might otherwise keep to myself.

I launched my blog, “Not Strictly Spiritual,” on Jan. 24, the Feast of St. Francis de Sales, not only because St. Francis is the patron saint of writers but because the 17th-century bishop’s writings on spirituality and its inherent struggles remain remarkably relevant to those us stumbling along the spiritual path today. What has happened in the 12 months since has been inspiring, gratifying and immensely uplifting. In truth, the blog has been an unexpected blessing.

I have been so touched by my readers’ willingness to share their own faith stories and to talk openly about their struggles, their accomplishments and their moments of crisis. My community of blog regulars might be small, but they are mighty and devoted little band of followers. They constantly remind me that being willing and able to share the secrets of my soul is not only a great opportunity for evangelization but a great boon to my own spiritual transformation.

The posts on my blog that garner the most responses are those that focus on the toughest parts of living a Gospel-centered life. When I talk about my own difficulties, whether it’s trying to fit prayer into an overcrowded schedule or trying to live simply in the midst of plenty, my comment board and email inbox lights up with comments and confessions.

We’re all in the same proverbial boat it seems, trying to keep up with our family and professional responsibilities while working to incorporate the truths of our faith into our daily lives. It isn’t always easy; in fact, most of the time it’s near impossible, and yet we keep on keeping on. Before I began blogging, I often felt alone in that struggle, but now I feel surrounded by friends, seen and unseen, who are battling the same demons.

In a world where we are often far from family and cut off from daily interactions with friends, this virtual community can serve as touchstone, buoying us up when we are starting to list. Every once in a while when I start to wonder if I am just spewing my spiritual insecurities to no one in particular, a virtual version of talking to myself, I inevitably receive a comment or email telling me how something on the blog struck a chord or gave someone a feeling of peace. I can assure you that when I started this last year, I never imagined that I would be granted such access to other people’s spiritual thoughts and lives.

Some say that the negative side of the blogosphere is so damaging it outweighs the benefits. People don’t censor themselves. They can be brutality honest, sometimes cruelly so, with a veil of anonymity to protect them. And yet the very same thing that can make the blog world so harmful and mean is what can make it so wonderful and vibrant. It is precisely because of brutal honesty – the spiritual kind -- and complete anonymity that a community of believers is able to come together so powerfully out in the ether of the Internet. There, in a faceless crowd, a spiritual kinship is born, and we realize and revel in the fact that we are most certainly not alone.

Copyright 2009, Mary DeTurris Poust

Friday, January 23, 2009

He's got a point

It's Friday afternoon. Take a break and watch this. You need a laugh.

Tip of the hat to Happy Catholic for the heads up on this one.

Pope weighs in on benefits of Internet

Pope Benedict XVI cast his net out into the deep and high-speed seas of the Internet today, when he launched the Vatican's YouTube site, which you can see by clicking HERE. He also touted the potential benefits of the Internet in fostering respect, dialogue and friendship among people of all cultures.

"So that the Church and its message continue to be present in the great aeropagus of social communications as defined by John Paul II and so that it is not a stranger to those spaces where numerous young people search for answers and meaning in their lives, you must find new ways to spread voices and images of hope through the ever-evolving communications system that surrounds our planet," the Pope said in a clip now posted on YouTube.

But he threw the full weight of his office behind the Google generation when he issued his Message for the 43rd World Day of Communications, which is celebrated on Jan. 24, the Feast of St. Francis de Sales, patron saint of journalists.

Speaking to young people in particular, the pope said in his message: "I ask you to introduce into the culture of this new environment of communications and information technology the values on which you have built your lives. In the early life of the Church, the great Apostles and their disciples brought the Good News of Jesus to the Greek and Roman world. Just as, at that time, a fruitful evangelization required that careful attention be given to understanding the culture and customs of those pagan peoples so that the truth of the gospel would touch their hearts and minds, so also today, the proclamation of Christ in the world of new technologies requires a profound knowledge of this world if the technologies are to serve our mission adequately. It falls, in particular, to young people, who have an almost spontaneous affinity for the new means of communication, to take on the responsibility for the evangelization of this "digital continent". Be sure to announce the Gospel to your contemporaries with enthusiasm. You know their fears and their hopes, their aspirations and their disappointments: the greatest gift you can give to them is to share with them the 'Good News' of a God who became man, who suffered, died and rose again to save all people."

You can read Pope Benedict's full message by clicking HERE.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Marching for life

It's been a very long time since I've boarded a bus and headed to Washington, D.C., for the annual March for Life. Time was, back when I was in high school, that was a regular -- and always powerful -- event for me. Despite motion sickness from the long drive and often freezing temperatures with snow or rain thrown in for good measure, that quiet and prayerful walk along the streets of our nation's capital with thousands and thousands of other like-minded people left a deep and lasting impression. I guess back then I never imagined that all these years later the march would still be needed. In fact, needed more than ever.

What is sure to come -- promised by an ardently pro-abortion administration -- in the months and years ahead does not bode well for the millions of unborn children who will never get the right to life that is guaranteed them not only by God but by our constitution. Nor does it bode well for the millions of women who will be told that abortion is the only option or the best option, leaving them with a gaping hole in their souls that is too often never healed or even acknowledged.

Back when I was in college, when I would take every opportunity given to stand up in a class -- speech, philosophy, English, religion -- and talk about the evils of abortion, I would often fall back on something that Americans understand -- burden of proof. And I would tell my classmates and my obviously pro-choice professors that if they could not prove that a child in the womb was not a person, then they had to give the baby the benefit of the doubt or risk becoming complicit in murder. Today, as science continues to give us deeper and clearer glimpses into life within the womb, it has become undeniable that the little person sucking her thumb or grabbing his toes or kicking her mother's belly is very much alive. And so the debate has shifted, with abortion advocates now trying to make this not about whether it's a life (because they know they can't win that one) but about whose life is worth more. In the end, we all know you can never take one life to benefit another. But for reasons beyond comprehension, abortion has been given a pass in that department. Where people will rise to defend the killing of abused or near extinct animals, murderers sitting on death row, even trees in our rapidly vanishing rain forest, they remain oddly silent on babies at risk in their mothers' wombs.

The people who are marching in Washington today -- the 36th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade -- recognize the horror of abortion, and they refuse to sit back and do nothing. They go out into the cold year after year, willing to walk quietly past the angry stares and even angrier rhetoric of the opposition. They pray, they carry their signs in silence, they take comfort in the knowledge that they are defending the defenseless even when the media ignores them or tries to paint them as extremists for standing up for the vulnerable little lives that deserve the same chance that every one of us was given. And so today we honor those marchers for being willing to put a cause before comfort, for speaking out through their presence, for representing all of us who cannot be with them on the streets but are very much with them in spirit.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Changing perspective

Since about a year ago or so, I've been somewhat obsessed with the idea of getting to Italy in the not-too-distant future. "Italy by 50" has been my motto, giving me about four years to make my dream come true. I read books about Italy, watch movies set in Italy, looking longingly at photos of anything to do with Italy -- landscape, art, food, you name it and, if it's Italian, I'm interested.

Part of my desire to go to Italy has to do with the fact that I've worked for the Church for so long and have yet to visit the home office. Part of it has to do with my more recent fascination with all things Franciscan and the urge to experience Assisi for myself, and part of it has to do with my Italian ancestors and my need to walk where they once walked and to witness my heritage first hand.

I was going merrily along with my "Italy by 50" plan, when all of a sudden, without warning, I did a 180 for reasons I still can't put my finger on. What if getting to Italy doesn't really matter? What if I just take Italy off the table? Does that make my life here less than it is now? No. Does it mean the rest of my life won't be full enough? No. I'm not sure where this new perspective is coming from. The best way to describe it is a feeling of folding in. I don't mean that in a negative, self-defeatist sort of way but in an unencumbered, realistic way. Rather than feel disappointed by the fact that I will most likely never get to Italy, I feel a sense of quiet neutrality, acceptance, even peace. I don't know what to make of it, really. I find it all kind of curious.

Now, if someone handed me tickets and told me I could go to Italy tomorrow, would I go? You bet. But I don't feel a driving need to figure out how to make it happen anymore. If I'm meant to get there, I guess it will happen some day. I just don't think it's likely and, for the first time in a while, I don't really mind. I think it's called detachment. Wish I could put that into play in some are areas of my life.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Five for five on Friday

OK, for those of you who regularly pray the Liturgy of the Hours, this is not going to sound like anything special, but for me it is a really big deal. I managed to pray Morning Prayer every day this week. First time ever that I've said any hour for that many days consecutively. I even managed to get Night Prayer in there three times. Evening Prayer continues to be a conundrum. That's just a really tough time of day for families, I think. Dinner is in the works, homework is ready for checking, preschoolers are overtired and in need of attention. It's just not a great hour for prayer, so I'm taking suggestions from those of you busy moms and dad who still manage to work it in.

Directly related to all this is my new-found interest in the Psalms. Before I got on the Liturgy of the Hours kick, I was whining about how the Psalms -- other than a few that are real stand-outs for me personally -- just don't do much for me. Well, I'm finding that, after only five days of this, I'm already starting to connect with the Psalms in a new way. Maybe it's where I am in my life right now, but the Psalms are really speaking to me, making me realize that I've been missing out on quite a lot by giving them such short shrift in the past.

I'm still trying to find a way to balance LOH with other prayer and reflection. I like to read spiritual books and reflect on particular passages by certain saints or authors. When I'm making time for the Divine Office, it means I don't have as much time for other spiritual reading or contemplation. So I still haven't figured out how all of this will work for me, but I do have to say that I'm really liking the LOH routine. I go to my prayer space (in my office section of the basement -- see photo above), click on the battery powered candle on my book shelf (I love real candles but I just don't think fire and books and basements go that well together), I burn some incense, and I'm on my prayerful way. I have to remember to turn the volume off on my computer, however, or I get distracted every time an email comes in with a "bling."

Will I keep it up over the weekend? Will I eventually add in other hours? Will I some day graduate from the single volume to the full four-volume set (a move that one emailer told me caused her to fall off the LOH wagon)? Will I be able to get the flipping of pages once Lent begins? Stay tuned. And, again, please share you secrets for working this into your busy lives.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Mixed messages

Did you ever have one of those days? Well, I'm having one of those months. It's been an endless string of things not going according to plan, and, to tell you the truth, it's wearing me down. Normally I go to God with a laundry list of things I need, but these days I'm so mentally and spiritually exhausted that I just sit there, saying, What? What? WHAT?!?!? I keep waiting for a sign, an answer, something to let me know I'm not veering off course, but I have to admit that I'm starting to think that maybe I am, in fact, off course, way off course.

How do we know if we're following God's plan? What if we think we're doing His will, but we're completely off base and don't even know it. What if we're misinterpreting the messages, misreading the signs? I mean, most of the time God is pretty subtle. I have yet to be knocked off my horse or even my kitchen chair. I keep thinking that I'm moving in the right direction with my spiritual writing, with my prayer life, with my effort to try to do the right thing on a day-to-day basis. But when I run into brick walls at just about every turn, it makes me stop and think about whether God and I are using the same game plan.

Does any of that make sense? Do you ever just pause and think, Wow, what if I'm not meant to be in this particular place in my life, what if I'm missing something big. I guess I'll never know. I guess I'll just keep sitting before God and shouting my eternal, WHAT?!?! But it would we be nice to at least get a clue.

It's good sometimes to realize that even the greatest spiritual masters felt confused or unsure of their path at times. Here, again, is Thomas Merton, who provides me with endless comfort because he was so willing to put his human weakness out there for all to see. He reminds me that even the saints stood before God and asked, What? What? What?

Read and reflect and, please, share your insights:

"MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. - Thomas Merton, "Thoughts in Solitude"

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Counting my blessings

Last night, when I made my nightly rounds to each child's bedroom before going to sleep, I found myself lingering longer than usual. Instead of quickly fixing Chiara's covers or snapping off the light on Olivia's fish tank or picking up the clothes that Noah had dropped on his floor, I just watched and listened and soaked up the innocence and beauty and wonder of the little lives entrusted to my care. And I imagined what Ross' parents were going through at that same moment, maybe looking at their own little boy in a hospital bed and wishing that their biggest worry was a messy bedroom or an overdue library book. It's amazing how a thought like that can put things into perspective and make you realize how fleeting life can be and how quickly it can change.

Sometimes, when I'm caught up in the day-to-day circus-like atmosphere of life at home with three busy and active children, it's easy to miss those brief shining moments that sparkle like diamonds amid the dullness of the daily drudgery: the hug from Noah for no particular reason while I'm in the middle of making dinner, the "I love you" whispered into my ear when Chiara climbs into bed in the morning to snuggle before the day begins, the smile on Olivia's face when I say I'm going to polish her nails or braid her hair or give her even just a few minutes of undivided girly-girl time. Back when Noah was younger, I would write down those special moments, as well as the funny things he would say and do, so that I could always go back and relive the moment, but now it seems I'm always too busy just trying to get through the day to sit down and ruminate on all the things that need recording. Even now, as I write this, Chiara is begging me to play with her, and I keep putting her off. Would I do that if I could see into the future?

At dinner last night, after grace, we told the kids about Ross and prayed together. Noah said, "I hope I never get cancer." The immediate parent reaction is to want to reassure, to say, "We'll never let that happen to you." But it happens to people when they least expect it, doesn't it, and we can't make it stop and we can't ward it off and we can't make promises that we don't know if we can keep. And so I told Noah, "We never know what life is going to hand us," and even as I said it I quietly prayed that we would never be asked to bear the cross that Ross' family is carrying right now.

Record the moments, even if only in the scrapbook of your heart, and tonight linger at a bedside and be thankful for what you have not been asked to bear.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Ross needs your prayers -- now!

Ross, the almost-12-year-old cousin of a good friend of mine (and a good friend of this blog) is in round two of a battle with leukemia. He needs your prayers and lots of them, so please take some time today to send some blessings Ross' way. In fact, you have my permission to stop reading this blog so that you can pray instead.

Monday, January 12, 2009

A lesson in Liturgy of the Hours

I have mentioned in this space before -- perhaps so often that you are all sick of hearing about it -- that I have an incredibly hard time praying the Liturgy of the Hours. Truth be told, I just can't get it. I can handle the Magnificat version, which is extremely abbreviated and requires no flipping of pages, but the real deal, the version that you would pray if you lived in a monastery, well, that's like a spiritual Rubik's Cube as far as I'm concerned. I flip back and forth, try to find the right place in Ordinary Time, and get thrown off course by feast days for saints I know nothing about or, heaven forbid, special seasons, like Lent and Advent. Prayer, at least for me, simply cannot be that complicated, so what I've done in the past is simply close up my book of Christian Prayer, say something familiar, like an Our Father, and call it a day.

Until now. I had vowed to make 2009 the year I finally learned to pray LOH the right way and without fear. So my friend Bill, who is up visiting our family, sat down with me today and showed me how to run the gauntlet. Then we said Morning Prayer together. I'm not convinced that if I try to say Evening Prayer on my own later today I won't just get frustrated and default to an old standard instead, but at least now I feel like I've got a fighting chance. It would be easy, I think, if I had an opportunity to pray LOH in a community for even one week, to figure it all out, but when you're on your own and you're trying to do all the Psalms and antiphons and canticles amid the chaos of family life, it can all get to be a little overwhelming.

So I feel pretty good. We're only a couple of weeks into 2009 and already I'm chipping away at my plan to learn to pray the Prayer of the Church. Anyone else out there praying the Liturgy of the Hours regularly and at home? Please, tell me how you stay committed and make regular time for this. I can imagine Evening Prayer will be a bit tricky, what with it falling some time around kids finishing homework and me making dinner.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Eyes Wide Shut

So I've been up since about 3 a.m. It feels like it's dinner time and it's just a few minutes after 9 a.m. now. Since I couldn't sleep last night, I was showered and dressed and downstairs before 5:30 a.m. I wandered around the kitchen for a few minutes before it finally dawned on me. I had no excuses. This was my opportunity to sit in silence and just listen. The house was completely quiet, the sky was still dark, and I had about 90 minutes stretching out in front of me before the kids had to be up for school.

So I made a pot of coffee (Mystic Monk -- how appropriate -- thanks to the generosity of A.L. from our comment section, who sent me Christmas Blend a few weeks ago) and I lit the Peace Pot candle I bought when I was on retreat in the Adirondack Mountains in September. The little hand-thrown pot with the hand-dipped bees wax candle (see photo above), which I purchased directly from the potter, for me symbolizes the silence and serenity and solitude and simplicity that I experienced on my contemplative retreat. Just lighting it makes my shoulders relax. And then, after those things were done and I had poured a cup of coffee, I sat. And, as is the case when you don't allow yourself to sit in silence very often, I watched the acrobatics of monkey mind ensue. My particular monkey is my inability to stop writing, even in my head, whenever I try to be quiet. So I did what I was taught on retreat and brought myself back to a centered place, thinking the name "Jesus" in my head if not on my lips, and I allowed the thoughts to float on by without getting aggravated or caught up in them. And I sat and I listened and I waited.

I have to admit that despite the fact that I feel really tired right now, I loved, loved, LOVED my hour of silence. Mind you I did not just sit and wait for the Spirit for the whole hour, but I probably made it a good 20 or 30 minutes, which is a lot for me. I spent the rest of the time reading my favorite St. Francis book and just reflecting. It was one of the best mornings I've had in a long time and it made me wonder why I can't drag myself out of bed for this kind of thing more often. I felt a sense of peace come over me and a realization that somehow things are going to be OK with a particularly difficult business situation that has been weighing on my heart and soul like a giant stone. I found myself saying to God, "OK, let's try it your way." I can't promise the peace will last or that I won't revert to the state of fear and and anger and frustration I've been living in for weeks, but it's a start.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Death of Father Neuhaus

Father Richard John Neuhaus, a convert to Catholicism whose name became synonymous with religion in the public square, died today at the age of 72 due to the "side effects" of cancer. There will be lots of news coverage of the death of this notable Catholic, but I think Gary Stern at Blogging Religiously succinctly and effectively captured the significance of Father Neuhaus' work, his vision, his legacy and his personality. Read his post by clicking HERE.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Speaking of books and Italy...

This book is perpetually on my nightstand, my kitchen table, my desk, my coffee table. Really, it seems I'm almost never without it. I read it constantly -- and over and over. The Sun & Moon Over Assisi: A Personal Encounter with Francis and Clare by Gerard Thomas Straub is not only the story of St. Francis and St. Clare of Assisi but the story of Straub's own spiritual transformation. This book is so full of spiritual gems that I use it more like a prayer book, often reading a passage just before bed so I have something to ponder as I drift off to sleep.

Interspersed with Straub's personal history and the lives of the two great saints of Assisi are journal entries and personal reflections on the experiences in Italy that led Straub from atheism to faith, from a secular world view to a decidedly Franciscan perspective on life. I find his writing and his observations inspiring and deeply touching, as if he is peering into my own soul and reminding me of what I need to hear.

Scattered throughout the 6oo-plus page tome are quotes from so many of the spiritual greats -- Thomas Merton, Francis de Sales, Teresa of Avila, Henri Nouwen, John of the Cross, Mother Teresa, and, of course, Francis and Clare. I picked up this book in hopes of gleaning some new information about the saints from Assisi, and I certainly have done that, but, even more importantly, I continue to uncover insights and inspirations that are aiding me in my own faith journey.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

A good read for the new year

A few months back, a colleague put me in email contact with Justin Catanoso, author of My Cousin the Saint: A Search for Faith, Family, and Miracles. Justin was kind enough to send me a review copy of his book, but with three kids, work and all the books I have to read as research for my own writing, I rarely get to read anything for fun. So the book sat on my shelf, waiting for a moment when I had some "down" time. Aside from the fact that the book is about a spiritual search, which always interests me, the book is also about Italians and Italy, which is a hidden passion of mine. My grandfather DeTurris was born in Massa Lubrense, and my grandmother DeTurris (nee Picarelli) was the only one of her family not born in Avellino but in Brooklyn. Up until recently my motto has been: Italy by 50, giving me less than four years to make it to the land of my ancestors. Now I'm starting to settle for the idea of traveling there vicariously, like through Justin's book.

So I took the book off the shelf recently, suggesting that Dennis (whose family also happens to hail from Avellino) read it, but in the process I opened it up and read the first three pages. That was it. I was hooked. Not only is the story great, but the writing is amazing. I'll post a full review once I'm done with the book, but I can tell you right now that this book will be worth your time. Check it out if you're looking for a good read to start off the new year.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

My birthday boy

Twelve years ago this morning, I was in labor and waiting to head to the hospital to give birth to my first baby. I knew I was in labor at about 1:30 a.m. and called my midwife around 5:30 a.m., something I'm sure she really appreciated on New Year's Day, but we stayed at home until noon, taking down our Christmas tree and paying bills and cleaning the house. I even scarfed down an egg breakfast, knowing that I'd need my strength for the hours ahead. Things moved along pretty nicely until 4 p.m., when the pushing started and Noah got stuck. Three hours later -- yes, three hours of pushing -- at 7:11 p.m., Noah made his way into the world.

I didn't officially know I was having a boy ahead of time; I wanted to be surprised. But I always believed I was having a boy, and when I saw that baby, I knew without a doubt that Noah was the only name that would do. My Noah. And nothing has ever been the same. When we brought him home from the hospital, and I was in the throes of the "baby blues," I would dance around our living room with Noah to John Lennon's "Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)," crying the whole time. That song can still bring me back to those unforgettable days filled with once-in-a-lifetime moments. It feels like yesterday and it feels like a lifetime ago. How is it possible that the little boy who used to sleep scrunched up on my chest is the same boy who now stands as tall as my shoulders and can take my breath away with the strength of a hug? Life sure does speed by when we're not looking.

So, happy birthday, baby boy. (Noah is a big fan of this blog, so I know he'll be reading today.) As I always tell you, no matter how old you get, you will always be my baby. Thank you for coming into my life and allowing me to be your mom. My mother used to tell me that her children's birthdays were her favorite days of the year. I never understood that until New Year's Day 1997. Then, of course, it made perfect sense. Thanks for giving me one of my three favorite days of the year.

"Before you cross the street,
Take my hand,
Life is just what happens to you,
While your busy making other plans,

Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful
beautiful boy." -- John Lennon