Bloggerhood Etc. 10/27/14

Rhythm clock

Image: John Varney/TED-ED

Best Profile.The Crisis That Changed Pope Francis” by Paul Vallely at Newsweek. 

Best Dad Post. Should You Travel With Young Kids?” by Jeff Bogle at OWTK.

Bravest.Ten Minutes of Bravery” by Aaron J. Smith at Cultural Savage.

Best List.10 Traits My Tween and Teen Acquired From Participating in Live Theater” by Andee Zomerman at Nature of a Servant.

Best Call to Rebellion.A Benedictine on the Benedict Option” by Rod Dreher at The American Conservative.

Best Special Needs Post.Does Guilt Lace Your Dreams” by Kara Dedert at Not Alone.

Best Commentary.TED Talks are Lying to You” by Thomas Frank at Salon.

Best Question.Is St. Peter a Bouncer?” by Joshua Ryan Butler at A Deeper Story.

Best Answer.Why Every Newborn You See on Facebook is Wrapped in the Same Baby Blanket” by Lisa Selin Davis at Quartz.

Best Easy Recipe.Incredibly Simple Applesauce” by Evelyn Shoop at Momsicle. 

Best Free Resource.NASA Posts a Huge Library of Space Sounds, And You’re Free To Use Them” by Peter Kirn at Create Digital Music.

Best Mom Post.Flutters and Faith” by Sarah Bessey.

Best Essay.Daughter of the Dragon” by Hilary Oliva Faxon at SB Nation.

Best Educational Video.A Different Way to Visualize Rhythm” by John Varney at TED-ED (via YouTube)

The Crowd of Witnesses

Crowd in St. Peter's Square

Pope Francis’ first Angelus blessing March 17. (Photo: Joshua J. McElwee/NCR)

I hate crowds.

I hate being in the middle of a mass of people. I hate standing in long lines. I hate traffic jams. And I hate elevators most of all.

Maybe it’s because I’m claustrophobic. Or because I’ve lived in big cities most of my life. But I would rather be in a big, open space, either by myself or with a few people, with room to stretch out and breathe.

I hate crowds. With one exception.

As much as I love praying alone in a beautiful old church, I love it even more when I’m surrounded by people at Mass. I love joining my prayers with others and I love seeing the long lines leading up to the altar as each member of the Body of Christ takes a turn receiving the Body of Christ.

And in my imagination I can see all the people in all the churches in the world united with Christ. One Bread, One Body.

And that unity goes beyond the Mass. When I say the familiar prayers with my family or I pray the Liturgy of the Hours, trying to time my prayers to coincide with the monks at Mt. Angel Abbey (as much as my schedule allows) I know that I am part of that great cloud of witnesses.

That great crowd of witnesses. In heaven and on earth. The Communion of Saints.

That’s the one crowd I want to be in.

Five Minute Friday

Note: This Five Minute Friday post was delayed one day due to circumstances beyond my control, but since I usually take longer than five minutes to write these posts, consider it a Six-Minute Saturday.

Balance (one word 2013)

A Continuing Quest for Balance

Pope Francis, in his Sunday Angelus message, eloquently describes the “balance” that has been my elusive goal this year.

The reading of the 10th chapter of the evangelist Luke continues this Sunday too. Today’s passage is the one about Martha and Mary. Who are these two women? Martha and Mary, sisters of Lazarus, are relatives and faithful disciples of the Lord, who lived in Bethany. St. Luke described them in this way: Mary, at Jesus’ feet, “listened to his word,” while Martha was busy with a lot serving (cf. Luke 10:39-40). Both offer welcome to the Lord as he is traveling, but in different ways. Mary sits at Jesus’ feet, listening. But Martha lets herself be absorbed by the things that need to be prepared and in so busy that she turns to Jesus saying: “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me” (7:40). And Jesus responds rebuking her with sweetness. “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her” (10:41).

What does Jesus wish to say? What is this one thing that we need? Above all it is important to understand that it is not a matter of contrasting two attitudes: listening to the Lord’s word, contemplation, and concrete service to our neighbor. They are not two opposed attitudes but, on the contrary, they are two aspects that are both essential for our Christian life; aspects that must never be separated but lived in profound unity and harmony. So why does Martha receive the rebuke even if it is done with sweetness? Because she took only what she was doing to be essential, she was too absorbed and worried about things to “do.” For a Christian, the works of service and charity are never detached from the principle source of our action: that is, listening to the Word of the Lord, sitting – like Mary – at Jesus’ feet in the attitude of a disciple. And for this reason (Martha) is rebuked.

In our Christian life too prayer and action are always profoundly united. Prayer that does not lead to concrete action toward a brother who is poor, sick, in need of help, the brother in difficulty, is a sterile and incomplete prayer. But, in the same way, when in ecclesial service we are only concerned with doing, we give greater weight to things, functions, structures, and we forget the centrality of Christ; we do not set aside time for dialogue with him in prayer, we are in risk of serving ourselves and not God present in our needy brother. St. Benedict took up the way of life that he summed up for his monks in two words: “ora et labora,” pray and work. It is from contemplation, from a strong relationship of friendship with the Lord that there is borne in us the capacity to live and bear God’s love, his mercy, his tenderness to others. It is also our work with our needy brother, our labor of charity in works of mercy, that brings us to the Lord because we see the Lord in our needy brother and sister.

(Unofficial translation: Joseph Trabbic of the ZENIT News Service, via  Thomas Rosica of Salt & Light TV and Father James Martin, SJ.)

Each day, I will get up and try again. And each day I will fail a little bit less until I finally succeed. At least for one day. And then I’ll try for two.

Video via the Vatican’s YouTube Channel.


Anna and I sitting on a bench and chatting

Photo: Julia Ozab

Listen, Child of God, to the guidance of your teacher. Attend the message you hear and make sure that it pierces to your heart.

—The Rule of St. Benedict, Prologue.

Saint Benedict taught me the importance of listening, but my daughter Anna taught me how to listen. I didn’t have a choice.

Anna has childhood apraxia of speech. She’s mostly understandable now, but when she was first diagnosed she was all but indecipherable. I had to listen carefully, not just to the sounds she made but to the context of what she was saying. And I had to listen and watch for clues.

Any clue, to have any idea what she was trying to communicate. Tone, facial expressions, and body language—any signs I could decipher to help me figure out what she was saying.

She is my child, and I teach her many things. About the world and the way it works, about life, and most importantly about God. But she teaches me too.

How to love and how to listen, both more deeply than I thought was possible.

Five Minute Friday

A New Year, a New Word

Last year, in place of a long list of resolutions that I had no chance of keeping, I tried something different:

Forget New Year’s Resolutions. Scrap that long list of goals you won’t remember three weeks from now anyway. Choose just one word.

One word that sums up who you want to be or how you want to live. One word that you can focus on every day, all year long.

One Word, 365 days (really 366, but who’s counting?). And the word I chose?

“Pray.” Not just in the morning or before bed, but constantly. Not just every day—one of the four parts of my ongoing New Year’s resolution—but all day. As St. Paul said: “Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” —1 Thessalonians 5: 17-18 (NAB)

How did I do? It was hit and miss. I know in retrospect that I took on too much too soon in the beginning and set myself up to falter. But, despite my far less than perfect attempt, I learned two important lessons. By setting the specific goal to pray I was more likely to accomplish it, and on the days I slacked off I really missed it. Over the course of the year, I found myself in a more prayerful place and I grew spiritually as a result. I’ve established a habit of prayer that I can stick to, even if it isn’t quite what I set out to accomplish a year ago.

So now I need to pick a new word for the next 365 days (really 364, but who’s counting?) and I’ve been thinking through some options.

I’m working on a guest post right now on the Benedictine motto of ora et labora (prayer and work), and since “pray” was my word last year, I thought I might try the other half this year. I am a writer—a struggling one, of course—so I could be practical and chose the word “write.”

But I realized that part of my struggle last year was due to my own frustration. I tried to force things that weren’t there, and when I lost control I got resentful and angry. I forgot that so many things in life are out of my hands, and to trust God to open new doors for me, and to look for those new doors, rather than trying to pry the old ones back open with a crowbar. So I could choose the word “trust.” When it comes to God, at least, we could all stand to trust more. But with the rest of the world? Not so much.

A third option—which is also the theme of my ora et labora post—is “balance.” In studying the Rule, and specifically the way St. Benedict structures a monastic schedule, I discovered that the basis of his approach is balance. Every aspect of the rule is a quest for balance.

I also like that balance is both a verb and a noun (that’s the writer in me again) and it seems to be what’s most lacking in my life right now, which might be while I’m so strongly drawn to the Rule. I see in it something I find missing in my own Sturm und Drang existence. Yes, drama is great for art, but it’s not so good for real life, and we all deal with enough uncertainty in life.

So “balance” it is. My word and my goal for 2013.

If you want to try this out for yourself, go to One Word 365 and pick your own word for 2013. There’s over 500,000 to chose from!

One Word, One Hundred and Eighty-Three Days

As of midnight this morning, we’re officially halfway through the year. One hundred and eighty-three days down and one hundred and eighty-three days to go. It was one hundred and eighty-three days ago—on January 1—that I chose my One Word for 2012: “Pray.”

Without prayer, I’m more likely to have a bad day. To get impatient, to lose my temper, and to be more disagreeable in general. I suffer, my family suffers, and my work suffers because of it. Prayer anchors me.

So I set out with the goal of praying everyday. After one week, I was doing great. After one month, I found myself struggling with it a bit. After one hundred days, I seemed to be in a rhythm. Lent certainly helped. Then came Easter and the inevitable post-Easter letdown.

The whole thing fell apart around the beginning of May.

But, as I told myself at the beginning of the year, I knew it would be a struggle at times: that I would find myself in the spiritual desert in which the very act of prayer would become too much. I would slip, falter, and fail.

And then I would get up and keep going.

Mt. Angel Abbey Church

Mt. Angel Abbey Church (Photo: Mt. Angel Abbey)

The monks of Mount Angel came to my rescue at Pentecost. I travelled to the Abbey for a weekend retreat; normally, the Retreat House would be closed over Memorial Day weekend, but the end of a seminar and a large family reunion kept the doors open and provided an opportunity for me to attend. A weekend in the rhythm of the Liturgy of the Hours brought me out of the desert and back to a spring of spiritual refreshment.

The last month I’ve gotten back on track again, not missing a single day of prayer. I know it won’t last—that I’ll stumble again at some point over the next 183 days—but I also know that when I stumble I’ll get back up again.

The one thing I won’t do is quit. And in not quitting, I will succeed.

It’s never too late to start (really, even with the year half over). If you want to try this out for yourself, go to One Word 365 and pick your own word for 2012. There’s over 500,000 to chose from!