Catholics Do What?, Contraception, Evangelization, Marriage, NFP

What do you want/need from the church in order to “live” NFP? (A reader survey)

May 22, 2017

Last week’s guest post struck quite a nerve for many of my readers (something to the tune of 30,000 views on Facebook, which is a substantial nerve!) As I read through the dozens and dozens of thoughtful, sometimes heartbreaking comments, I wanted to reach through the screen and ask every single one of you:

What do you need?

What do you need to help you continue in this radical, counter cultural, often thankless and frequently ridiculed but oh-so-worth it lifestyle?

What do you need to get started, if you’re fresh off the birth control patch and hoping to get your body healthy again?

What are you hoping to learn during your marriage prep classes that you hope will prepare you to live NFP as a couple?

What do you need from the Church right now, while you’re drowning (maybe in debt, maybe in post partum hormones, maybe in tears over a positive pregnancy test) and really, really close to throwing in the towel?

I’m wondering what it would look like, on a practical level, if there were more support for actually living NFP.

Not just ticking the box for marriage prep and daydreaming through half a dozen classes while you mentally arrange table seatings for your wedding, but real, ongoing and substantial formation in this critically important and, let’s be honest, make-it-or-break-it area of intimacy?

I think it would look like real pastoral support. Resources for continuing education. A parish position or at least diocesan position dedicated solely to walking alongside struggling couples – which any of us at any moment in our marriages are likely to be – and saying, hey, the Church is here. You’re not alone. You’re living this lofty call out in a secular culture that holds you in actual contempt in the grocery store, some days, but you won’t get that here. What do you need? To learn a new method? A scholarship to cover the cost of instruction? Help connecting with a licensed instructor? A referral to an NFP trained physician? A voucher for medical care at their clinic? A babysitter so you can attend the freaking classes and pay attention? A recommendation to a good Catholic therapist?

And how about a homily once in a while about the call to Christian marriage? A call on/smack down from the pulpit reminding us – and encouraging us – that this thing we all signed up for? It’s a cross.

And it is meant to sanctify and break down and consume and resurrect us into something more beautiful and more real than we could have imagined when we made our vows.

I’ve said before that I think it odd that priests and religious have ongoing formation and married couples have…what, emergency intervention? When I think of what most parishes do to minister to marriages, I think of the kind of last ditch effort big guns meant to help a couple on the brink of divorce. But what about the ongoing formation? The day to day, year after year encouragement and instruction as a couple grows and matures and encounters different stages of parenting and different seasons of married life?

My parish is an unusually dynamic and family-focused place. I know it is the shining exception to the rule. And yet, I’m not sure even we have concrete resources for couples struggling to live out NFP, or that I’ve heard many homilies going into detail about why the Church calls us continually to take up this cross of rejecting contraception and living out a different path in a world that says “you’re crazy.”

And I think that would be awfully good to hear. (Especially if you’re hearing lots of other places, like from your parents, your in laws, your friends, and your siblings that “you’re crazy.”)

So I’m asking you, lovely and heroic and generous and hurting and hopeful readers, what would it look like? What do you wish we had that doesn’t exist yet, and how do we go about building it?

Let it rip in the comments, or email me directly at [email protected] Or chime in on Facebook with your ideas/suggestions/frustrations/dreams.

I’m really glad we’re having the conversation.

Catholics Do What?, Contraception, Culture of Death, Evangelization, guest post, infertility, Marriage, motherhood, NFP, reality check, Sex

Waving my white flag {guest post}

May 19, 2017

A dear friend wrote something so important, so beautiful, and so honest for me, and it is my privilege to share it with you here today.  A wife of 10 years, a mother to 4 on earth and 1 little saint, and a Catholic convert, I’m so grateful for her transparency and her humility.

Because NFP? It ain’t no bed of roses. But the thorns can be wonderfully refining.

I’m 4 kids deep into this motherhood thing, 5 if you count our sweet guy in Heaven. We count him, and wish it was PC for the world to count him too.

I am open to life. Not because I always want to be. Not because I can handle it. Not because it’s the cool thing to do.

But because God calls me to be. 

Now that doesn’t mean that I don’t come into it most days kicking and screaming. I mean yes, in theory I can list all the incredible, awesome, fantastic ways that being open to life is God’s plan and even the theology behind it, but putting it into practice is a totally different matter.

So here I am, ready to waive my white flag and say that sometimes I wish I didn’t have to be open to life.


It’s hard to say and even harder to admit the hardness of my heart that wishes sometimes that I could say that I am “done”.

But just like I know better then my six year old (even though he doesn’t think so), praise the Lord, God knows better for me, too. 

But y’all, that does not mean that this is easy.

And it does not mean that just because God wants this for us that the world, our communities, our churches, our friends or even our own families will support us.

And that is tough. How are we to live this “call” out alone, with no one cheering us on?

Maybe I’m wishing for too much. But doesn’t it seem like this journey would be a heck of a lot easier if more of us shared the “hard”, the “it’s not easy”, the “I feel like I can’t do this” with each other?  We need each other, y’all. We need others there to say “I understand”, “I’ve been there” instead of saying or thinking “well then why are you having more kids???”

Because to be honest, I could use some cheering on right now.

If I get asked one more time “are you done?” and I have to politely smile and say “probably not!” all the while secretly wishing sometimes that I could be, I’m not sure how I’ll handle it. It might come out more of a grimace.

Sometimes I don’t want to put on a fake smile and convince people that I’m not done and I am JUST TOTALLY HAPPY ABOUT IT. Because sometimes? I’m really not.

Because being open to life sometimes does. not. make. sense. I mean why in the world would I not be “done” if it is so hard? That’s what the rest of the world is doing, after all. And sometimes I want to have a temper tantrum and say “I want that too!”  

And it feels like if I don’t put on a happy smile and say “probably not, we’ll see!” I’m some kind of a fraud. Or am at least setting myself up for more comment along the lines of “don’t you know what causes that?/why don’t you stop?/he should get “fixed.”

And deep down…I do know that God knows better. I really do trust Him. I really do know that his plans are perfect. I believe that. Well, I try.

And I also know that fertility is a gift. I know some of you reading this may have a pit in your stomachs and wishing you were on my end of the fertility spectrum, and would maybe give anything to be in my shoes. And for any pain reading these words causes you, I am truly sorry. It’s not far off from my memory when we lost our first little one and tried to get pregnant for what felt like a life time. It’s also not far from my memory having surgery for endometriosis and enduring HCG shots to regulate my hormones to help us get pregnant. Or having countless progesterone shots to help me keep my baby.  So I understand, even as I sound  I know I sound like an ungrateful you know what.  This isn’t exactly my proudest moment.

But if I’m honest, I’m just here trying to live out the call to being open to life and it is hard.

Hard because I want to determine the number of kids I have. I want to have sex with my husband and not worry about getting pregnant.  I want to not gain and then (have to try so hard!) to lose 50lbs (again!).  And I know all of those are selfish reasons. (And listen, I know a thing or two about good reasons to avoid too…I have had my hands full of health problems, children with behavioral issues and really rocky times in our marriage).

But maybe we could all use a bigger dose of honesty with this open to life thing??

Maybe my words will make one of you not feel so crazy or alone.  Sometimes I have the feeling like everyone else is doing this open to life/NFP thing with JOY and LOVE and a SMILE and I’m over here wondering if I missed something. Can we all take a deep breath and let it out? I mean, c’mon I’m not the only selfish, prideful sinner, right??

So here I am 33 years old and I’m staring down who knows how many *more* years (I know it’s a blessing!) of fertility and the possibility (again a blessing!) of a few more babies, but I’m lonely in a world where being “done” is the norm. 

Don’t get me wrong… I ADORE my kids!  And I look forward to a Thanksgiving table in 20 years that is bursting at the seams.  But some days I need to let my guard down and admit that if I had it *my* way I would like to just throw myself on the floor like my 3 year old before God and scream “ I don’t want to”.

But here’s the thing. When I sift through all my sin and my pride in this area, I come upon a startling truth: I truly am grateful for the boundaries of the call of being open to life, because I have a God that knows me and desires what is best for me: To be with him for eternity. 

And He knows in order to get there my soul needs (daily!) refining, and that my path that is most particularly refining is motherhood (and marriage, but that is another blog entirely 😉 ).

Thank God – He knows me better.

Thank God – He wants more for me.

Thank God – He gave me the boundaries of NFP and the call to openness to life that gives me the opportunity to practice examining my conscience and my heart daily – hourly – to root out selfishness and pride.

Because if I said I was “done,” I wouldn’t be giving Him room to stretch me. 

And stretch me He will – and you too for that matter, if you let Him.

So here I am sitting here before you, waving my white flag. Wishing I was “done” but  knowing that I’m not and grateful for a God who gives me the opportunity to wearily lay down my white flag and pick up my cross and follow Him.

About Me, reading

Slumpish and bookish

May 17, 2017

As in, slumped on the couch, writing slump, summer not in any hurry to arrive and weather still rainy and 50 ish degrees out. Just slumping, all around.

I’ve been a bit absent the past couple weeks, between kid wrangling and house hunting and a quick little jaunt out to California where I got to hug thee Blythe Fike in person (and Michaela and Jenna and Erica and an entire assembly of their lovely local crew. But my favorite new friend is definitely Augustine Darr.)

It was a lovely, short weekend and the first time we’ve successfully left the kids for longer than a quick overnight in the mountains AND I didn’t freak out. Didn’t allow a single freak-accident-leads-to-death scenario to play out in my brain. Just slept (but not enough), read on the beach (but it was cold. Whimper.) and rode cruiser bikes by the ocean like the fine tourists that we were. Already dreaming of doing something similar next year, but maybe in Florida because I like my beaches to sizzle. Though Ventura, where we spent most of our time, is beautiful.

Aside from that though, I haven’t actually been all that busy. At least with anything I can show for the effort put in, but I feel as if I’m standing on the cusp of that mysterious season where great mom bloggers disappear into a 10 year vortex of homework assignments and late nights with wakeful kids who need to talk and endless loads of laundry and suddenly the hours that were available to write each day are sucked away into the absence of nap time and the presence of phonograms.

Not that I’m down for the count, yet, but just that I really (ha) expected the pace to slacken as the kids get older and instead it’s exponentially intensifying. Dave calls the dinner to bedtime shift “the treadmill” because once you get on, the pace doesn’t ease up until the program is complete.

He’s not wrong.

I have also just felt so blah about writing lately. It seems that there’s someone already saying everything there is to say, and my desire to add to the conversation has vanished. Maybe it’s the reduced amount of social media I’m consuming or the absence of adult conversation most days but I just feel like a battle wearied dullard with no further comment.

I just want to hug my babies and take a nap. And find a house to live in. We’re closing in on month 3 of what I naively believed to be a temporary (super temporary!) and extremely generous arrangement, living in a friend’s home while they work overseas. Their house is lovely and the kids are happy to have a new set of toys to play with and we’re so fortunate to not be in the insane rental market, but we’ve seen 20 houses in the last week and a half alone, and it’s just a depressing and grueling process. That we, um, did last summer. Determined not to panic myself into a case of shingles this go round. But it is unpleasant. Speaking of unpleasant, Luke just unscrewed and harvested several peppercorns from the grinder and is now dragging his tongue  across the floor soooo…we’re firing on all cylinders this morning.

What are your plans for the summer? My kids are out in 2 weeks and I’ve got a wide open calendar absent of even a single swim lesson. Do you plan things meticulously and schedule out month by month, or just kinda roll with it? Last year the 2 oldest had swim lessons for a month and it was great (for them) and kind of a pain (for the rest of us) so I’m a little wary of repeating the experience. I’ve also let my fantastic and beloved mother’s helper go, since she’s about 45 minutes away and doesn’t drive. So call me Ma Ingalls, but I’ve got to get on the ball and get some summer scheduled up in here.

I have read some great books the past month or so. My favorite fiction of the bunch was “Within the walled city” which I devoured in 36 hours, thanks to time on the plane. I’m also loving “The family that overtook Christ” (thanks, Julie!) which was preceded by the excellent “Three religious rebels.” I had to sign up for Kindle unlimited to access them, because they’re out of print and I didn’t want to pay a million bucks for the e version. (But both were free with unlimited!) I’m working through a great (albeit disturbing) novel right now about a doctor falling on the wrong side of the euthanasia issue, “Do no harm” by Fiorella de Maria. It’s tightly written and engaging but disturbing because it’s a little too true to life. I also enjoyed a light, quick little read by a new author, Carolyn Astfalk, who reached out to me and said based on my blog bio, I might just be her target audience. Dave Matthews Band + Theology of the Body. If you can believe it, she managed to weave both those concepts into a sweet, readable love story called “Stay with me” (spoiler alert: every chapter is also the name of a Dave Matthews single. Loved it.)

Right now I’m delving into “The highly sensitive child” and learning all about my little melancholic weirdo who memorizes life in all it’s exquisite detail, while concurrently reading the 2 mentioned above plus “Hannah Coulter” (my pathetic suburban library finally coughed up a copy 8 months after I first started asking). Any good titles caught your attention lately? I’m all eyes. For all my plaintive cries of “no time” I do seem to have enough to read a lot more now that the phone is out of commission. Especially in carline.

benedict option, Catholic Spirituality, Catholics Do What?, Culture of Death, Evangelization, Family Life, feast days, liturgical living

The Franciscan Option

May 8, 2017

(By Franciscan I’m referring to Franciscan University of Steubenville and not the venerable religious order, about which I know less.)

It looks a little like the Benedict Option, actually. Could also probably be called “The FOCUS option” or “The Christendom Option” or “The TAC option.”

But, in reading the endless criticisms and assessments of Rod Dreher’s book, I’ve had a nagging thought just at the back of my brain that only came to the forefront last night while reading Fr. Dwight Longnecker’s astute take on the matter.

And the thought suddenly crystalized in a laughably obvious realization: we’re already living this.

While I’m not participating in any kind of urban gardening or cow sharing scheme (though one can never predict the future. Okay yes, in this case, one can: I will never raise chickens.) we’ve already made a lot of the choices he outlines, very organically and with little fanfare.

We have a vibrant community of other Catholic families with whom we regularly celebrate the liturgical year, feasting and fasting as the season proscribes. We support each other spiritually, rejoicing over baptisms and new births, and we grieve over losses and illnesses. There is financial support when a job is lost or a medical bill is insurmountable. Childcare offered and received in times of need. There is fellowship and community united not by geographic proximity but by common love and shared belief. So we drive from all over the city and from our vastly different places of employment and we share our lives together, and it looks less like withdrawing form the world and more like building a solid, enduring edifice against worldliness and loneliness and faithlessness.

And it is not insular. This community, organic and widely spread as it is, is constantly welcoming in new members. New families moving in from out of state, singles and just marrieds and those with kids starting college. The common thread is a desire to grow in holiness, to present our children with an attractive and living Catholicism to fall in love with, and a desire to transform the culture from the inside out.

And the other common thread? Many of us, at least in this community of several dozens of families, went to FUS. Most of us are also tied into the life of a religious order founded there and now thriving here in Denver, and are able to partake in the beauty of the liturgical year as lived out by an active/contemplative religious community.

I know of many more communities like ours, sprinkled across the city and the state and around the country. Some are gathered in actual proximity to Catholic colleges; others are bulwarked by a strong alumni presence from one of those schools in cities nationwide. Some are centered around a thriving parish or school, and others are built around places of employment, whether a parish or an apostolate, where a healthy integration of work and faith are encouraged and nourished.

But what none of these communities have in common, at least in my experience, is withdrawal from society. 

Not, at least, in the sense that most BenOp critics seem to mean. In our own community there are those of us who work for the Church or various Catholic apostolates, but there are probably 4 times as many who work in IT. Who are school teachers and physical therapists, nurses and physicians assistants, CPAs and engineers and stay at home moms and photographers and every other occupation in between.

In short, there are families who are living and making a living very much in the world, but who are striving to raise their families and foster their marriages in a way that is not of the world.

My husband and I are a hybrid product of FOCUS, FUS, and the Augustine Institute, a veritable trifecta of Catholic culture shapers in the New Evangelization. And our work and studies in all three cultures was shot through with a common thread: be salt and light. Carry this out into the world. Form and protect and inspire your families to become witnesses to the Gospel.

Be not afraid, but also be not stupid.

This means we don’t send our kids to schools where our values are going to be confounded or our parental authority dismantled by what they hear in the classroom. We don’t accept media carte blanche as a benign or neutral presence in our home. We don’t adhere to the broader culture’s standards for what constitutes appropriate technology use or sexual ethics.

And that’s where Fr. Longnecker’s assessment comes in. That the conversation has already ceased, to a certain extent, and that no further dialogue is possible in terms of changing minds with logic, reasoning, or sound arguments. The only compelling argument we have left is a lived example.

So in that sense there is a “withdrawal,” an opting out even while continuing to live in the midst of. There is no self sustaining monastery and WiFi free zone where we hoe rows of non GMO corn, but neither is there an unchallenged going with the flow of the larger culture of which we are a part.

And if that looks radical, it’s only because the larger culture is deteriorating at a rapid clip and too many parents are ceding their God-given responsibilities to be disciple makers and to become disciples themselves.

And I happen to think that discipleship is at the heart of the message of the Benedict Option.

A call for Christians to arise from our worldly slumber, take a look at the surrounding culture, and have a literal come to Jesus as we realize that we are living in a post Christian era and under an increasingly aggressive threat of secularization, and our response can only and always be love.

We can’t live out that love if we are not first being nourished by His love.

We can’t answer the culture’s questions about the meaning of life without discovering it first for ourselves, and deeply.

And we can’t hope to become effective witnesses for joy if we are not deeply rooted in a faith that is living and active and sustained and, yes, removed from the world around us.

But not for the sake of escape. For the sake of helping others escape.

Not for the sake of insular rejection, but for joyful inclusion.

Not for the sake of fear, but for the great hope we have in Christ.

As Christians we have always been asked by our God to be fools for His sake, to live in the world but not of it. And to let our lives – broken and complicated and imperfect as they are – reflect the beauty of His redemptive love to a broken and weary world.

We don’t reject the culture because it is broken, we beckon the culture into the effervescent freshness of the Gospel.

And we can’t live what we do not first posses.

That is the heart of the Benedict Option, from what I can tell. That the goodness and beauty of the faith is worth persevering precisely so that the doors can be flung open wide, so that something worth possessing can be offered to a world in desperate need.

Find your community. Build your community. And let’s help each other get to Heaven. It’s not enough to ride along on autopilot any more, hoping the ambient culture or the parochial school you’re shelling out for will do the trick. It won’t. It can’t.

We have to fight for our families, for our marriages, and for our own identities in Christ. We have to be willing to do radical, inconvenient and perhaps incomprehensible things, to the outside observer.

It’s time to stop criticizing and and intellectually dissecting the thing and to start living it. Call up a family you know and invite them over for a bbq this weekend. Pray a rosary after dinner and then let the kids play in the backyard while the grownups drink beer around the fire pit and talk theology and philosophy. Find a parent in your circle of friends with a background in sacred music and ask if they’d be willing to give an informal presentation or a performance at a party you organize for your kids and their group of friends. Find a few couples who you trust to discuss the finer points of living out the Church’s teachings on sex and marriage. Agree to meet every other month with wine and dessert, and split up by sexes once in a while to enable more frank discussion. Ask your priest to go hiking with you and group of kids this summer ala Karol Wojtyla, if he can spare a couple hours on a Tuesday. Ask a local seminarian if he can’t.

Do something.

The time is now. Whether or not the Lord returns during our lifetimes or a thousand years from now, we have one job as Christians, and it is to live out the gospel in the circumstances of our actual lives.

We have various options. Failure is not one of them.

Franciscan University

Catholic Spirituality, deliverance, Evangelization, yoga

I would be remiss …

May 3, 2017

If I failed to address the enormous response that last week’s piece on yoga generated. Thank you to every single person who shared, commented, and contributed to the conversation. It has quickly been climbing the charts and is on track to become my most read piece of all time. In almost 10 years of blogging. So, that’s saying something.

I know that for many people it resonated in a positive way. As scared as I was to hit “publish,” the Holy Spirit kept nudging and encouraging and eventually gave me the shove I needed to fire away.

I also know that for some of my readers (and welcome to any new faces!) it was deeply challenging and even disturbing.

I want to reaffirm my position of compassion and education. Meaning, I put this information out there in a spirit of nonjudgment of persons (but not of ideas) with a desire to raise awareness.

I still have friends who practice yoga, and we are free to disagree on the particulars. But I couldn’t continue to remain silent and not share my story, not with what I’ve learned in the past several years.

I encourage any of you who are still struggling with the concept to read the Vatican document “Jesus Christ, Bearer of the Water of Life” in it’s entirety, and to take the matter to prayer. Find a priest you trust who is well versed in this stuff (and unfortunately, not all of them are), or a spiritual director who is familiar with New Age stuff.

And, it should be noted that just because your parish priest doesn’t have an opinion on the matter doesn’t necessarily mean there’s nothing to worry about. I joked with one reader that exorcists are like the oncologists of the clergy: they see the worst cases and they have the most firsthand experience with evil. And if the oncologists are warning about something being carcinogenic and my general practitioner brushes it off as something he doesn’t see much of, well, I’m probably gonna go with the guys who specialize in it, if I’m worried about my cancer risk.

I also wanted to congratulate the vast majority of commenters – even those with whom I was in disagreement – on being so classy and charitable! With a couple exceptions, the discussion was lively, respectful, and relatively calm.

I really do have the best readers on the whole internet.

Catholic Spirituality, Evangelization, Family Life, feast days, guest post

A father’s anger, a father’s love {guest post}

May 1, 2017

On this feast of St. Joseph the worker, I wanted to feature something written by another Joseph, a friend and father whom I admire greatly. He shepherds his growing little flock on the domestic front, and he also helps keep our streets safe in his heroic line of duty. St. Joseph, patron of fathers, workers, and the universal Church, pray for us! 

Recently I spoke with my spiritual director about a movement in my heart to discern how I could suffer with and for the Lord, out of love for Him and to increase my love for all mankind.  Many great saints have made victims of themselves in order to not only love the Lord, but to Love with Him. To not just love Him but to also love those whom He loves for His and their sake.  So I told Fr. John how I desired to suffer greatly and silently for sinners, in order to know the Lord more intimately and to be perfected by it.

Sounds good right?

Well, less than 48 hours later, I found myself running late, on my knees at the bottom of our shoe closet with far too many pairs of shoes inside, It is also filled with other things that don’t belong in it.

I reached in with a single blind hand to inefficiently search for one shoe, and then the other. It is actually a sick game of patience testing because the odds of actually finding two shoes of your choosing in the timeframe allotted for someone running late are worse than those faced by people who play the lottery. For those who like fishing, it can sometimes turn into a sport of shoe catch and release.

As the anger boiled up in me, my son was nearby and he asked a simple question, a legitimate question and he got a rude, distracted, and uninterested answer.

In prayer sometime after that. It struck me how hypocritical I was. I first had spoken in spiritual direction about wanting to love the Lord at any cost, and then the Lord invited me to Love my son and be patient at the bottom of a shoe closet, and I failed.

I had professed a jump in front of a bullet type of love, and the Lord was calling me to a patient, gentle, like the dewfall, type of sacrifice and love.

Like Peter, I professed that I loved the Lord heroically and that I would die for Him, but I denied even knowing Him at the bottom of that shoe closet, I denied letting His love convert me by the way I communicated with my son.

So what did I do? I stepped into the domestic confessional and asked forgiveness of my son like we all find need to do.

I have learned learned that especially in domestic family life, God gives us countless little and gentle opportunities of grace and conversion. Barely even recognizable, like the dew fall, but if we let it, it can saturate us, and keep us alive. We all face great, and significant challenges where God certainly knocks us off a horse or two, but a bulk of God’s invitations to love Him and with Him come like the dew fall.

Now that we have talked my imperfect anger, let’s talk about God’s anger. We speak of God as Father and us as His sons and daughters, for indeed we are. But in describing our relationship with Him in human ways, we can at times attribute fallen human behavior to God. I believe this can become unhealthy with regard to a traditional understanding of anger. We do not face an angry Father, at least not as the world understands anger. Bishop Robert Barron speaks of God’s love as a force for correction, a force that brings us back into right relationship with God.

It is not an un-tempered emotional response of indignation. We, His children in need of conversion, do face an angry Father, but because God is immutable, His love and anger must not just co-exist, but co-exist in harmony.

So God’s anger is at work for our conversion.

My fellow fathers, I wonder if our children will say the same for us?  Will they say, “My father’s anger and his love worked for my good, to bring me into and keep me in right relationship.” I hope so.

Since we are not perfect, we will certainly experience both God’s sanctifying love and anger in our lifetimes. One of my favorite passages in the Gospels is when Christ saw, and did something about, the unjust use of the temple that got in the way of the daily conversion he intended for His people by getting in the way of their right worship – their right relationship with Him and His Father.

Since our bodies and souls  are temples where right worship should take place, we need to feel the Lord’s anger when we have gone astray.

He seeks to overturn the tables of our worldly affections, correct our empty sacrifice and transform it into right worship.

Let us contemplate the ways the Lord sanctifies us through His unique love language to us.

Let this contemplation lead to conversion, which is right relationship manifested in right worship. Let us begin living right worship today. This action will draw us in line with the perfection of our beginning as well as the life we will live in eternity.

This is an evil time in our country and world. But where sin increases, grace hyper-abounds. Let us beg God to convert us into great saints, our world and our children need it.

Praised be Jesus Christ – now and forever.

About Me, Catholic Spirituality, deliverance, spiritual warfare, yoga

Yoga: a cautionary tale

April 25, 2017

(If you’re reading in a feed reader, you may need to click through to the actual site to access links)

A caveat and a bit of a personal anecdote to kick things off in what I am certain will be a robust discussion about the activity behind suburban America’s favorite eponymous pants: I used to practice yoga, probably just as casually and non-spiritually as the next girl, and while I never had a punchcard or a regular spot in a studio class, I’ve participated in various classes over the years at rec centers, gyms, and from the relative discomfort of my own neck-craning laptop perched on couch in living room.

So I write this coming from a place of personal experience. And more on that at the end. But I wanted to introduce myself as someone who very innocently and very typically encountered yoga in a Seventeen magazine pullout as a teenager and dabbled in various iterations of it in the ensuing years.

And also, please please hear this: I am not writing this out of a desire to condemn anyone. I have plenty of friends who practice yoga, and I offer this piece as an examination of the concerns and potential dangers inherent within. I am not sitting here clutching my pearls and scanning through my friends list to see who was doing the devil’s stretches at Lifetime Fitness last weekend. This is meant to inform and spark conversation and deeper thought, not to start a brawl. If you had asked me a few years ago what my opinions on yoga were, I would have been confused. Was it necessary to have an opinion? (The priest I spoke with while I was preparing this piece told me yoga hadn’t even been on his radar until he was called by his bishop to begin working in healing and deliverance ministry five years ago. He got interested pretty quickly after seeing firsthand some of the effects.)

So I know it’s a process, and that some of you are going to read this and eye roll me hard, or slam your laptop closed in disgust or amusement.

And that’s okay.

I’m not on a crusade to change anybody’s mind here today. I’m just here to tell my story.

I knew I wanted to dig deeper and get some authoritative answers on the matter (at least as far as that’s possible in our skeptical internet age) because few topics are more divisive or more fraught with crazy online (and offline), and any time there’s such a kerfuffle of feeling I can’t help but wonder, why exactly is this such a thing?

Why the strong feelings? I’ve met plenty of people who don’t care for golf, but I’ve yet to see any kind of case being mounted against the potential evils of the putting green. And I’ve yet to hear anyone warning against the potential spiritual dangers of Pilates or kickboxing.

So what is it about yoga?

First, a little backstory. Historically, Yoga is considered to be a Hindu spiritual discipline (though some scholars debate whether it predates Hinduism. Nevertheless, Hinduism popularized the practice and considers it theirs) and an expression of worship of various deities. (In the Hindu sacred texts, scholars identify thirty three million different gods, some of whom are represented and worshiped in the various yoga positions.)

There are some fundamental differences between Hinduism and Christianity. Let’s focus on the big ones. The most basic differences are polytheism (many gods) vs. monotheism (one God), and annihilation of self for the pursuit of oneness with creation vs. a God who annihilated Himself to give Himself fully to His creatures.

The big question that always marks the yoga debate is, of course, if yoga has historically been a spiritual practice from another religion, can it be adopted and adapted in a way that strips the spiritual meaning and leaves behind only the physical exercises?

For that question, I turned to a priest who spends a good portion of his time doing deliverance ministry (and occasionally assisting on exorcism cases. Did you know every diocese has an actual exorcist assigned to serve the faithful?) and some real life testimonies from people who have practiced yoga, including yours truly.

I hope you will prayerfully and critically consider what you read here today, and that you’ll allow yourself to be challenged – perhaps to an uncomfortable level – by the idea that things may not always be what they seem. And I trust that we will all behave ourselves in the combox and on social media, even if we come to different conclusions. It took me several years to come to my own conclusions on yoga, and I respect that we are all in different places and on different timelines.

I lobbed my first question to Fr. Michael wanting to start at the beginning. Namely, does the Catholic Church have anything to say about yoga? He directed me first to a pontifical document born from a joint effort of the Pontifical Council for Culture and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue: Jesus Christ the Bearer of the Water of Life. It came to be under then Cardinal Ratzinger’s (now Papa B) watch, and I’d never heard of it, and it is absolutely fascinating. From section 2.1:

“Some of the traditions which flow into New Age are: ancient Egyptian occult practices, Cabbalism, early Christian gnosticism, Sufism, the lore of the Druids, Celtic Christianity, mediaeval alchemy, Renaissance hermeticism, Zen Buddhism, Yoga and so on.”

And again in section 2.134:

“Yoga, zen, transcendental meditation and tantric exercises are thought to lead to an experience of self-fulfilment or enlightenment.”

Okay, so it would appear that the Church lumps yoga in with New Age spirituality. But what about my kind of yoga? You know, the benign kind practiced at 24 Hour Lifestyle or my kid’s school? Fr. Michael asked if I really believed that my intentions could strip the inherent meaning away from a thing. He made the analogy of going to Mass as a nonbeliever, mimicking the poses of genuflecting, making the sign of the cross, and perhaps even doing so out of a desire to mock the Mass. “Would it change what was happening on the altar? Isn’t there some spiritual reality taking place there, whether or not the nonbeliever admits to it?”

Well, yeah. Yeah, I suppose there is. I had to admit he had a point. But I have a lot of friends who practice decidedly non-spiritual yoga, sweating it out in studios where not a hint of Hinduism exists, whether in their fellow classmates or the instructor.

Okay, I get it, there’s some controversy about the more spiritual side of yoga – I can imagine some of you thinking – but if you’d ever been in that class I take at my gym, you’d see that it was 100% about stretching, about sweating, about relaxing, about stress relief and a cleared mind.

Which brought me to a second question: So what about a purely physical form of yoga, when all parties involved are truly seeking and practicing exercise alone? 

His answer remained firm. That you can’t alter the intrinsic meaning of something simply by willing it to be different. Our physical bodies express spiritual realities, which is at the heart of St. John Paul II’s message of the Theology of the Body. You can’t lovingly punch someone in the face, no matter how earnestly you believe that you are punching out of love and gentleness.

I knew his take wasn’t going to be a popular one, so I asked a follow up question: could someone practicing yoga with absolutely zero intention of worshiping a false god or engaging in any alternative non-Christian spirituality still be negatively affected by practicing?

The answer was, unequivocally, “yes.”

I knew from my own experience that it would be, but I was curious to hear his accounts of other people who had experienced ill effects of completely benign participation in non-spiritual yoga.

He reminded me that in his opinion, there was no such thing as non-spiritual yoga.

Okay, next question then: What makes yoga different from other cultural practices or arts that the Church has adopted and “baptized.” like certain holiday traditions and music forms?

“It’s different because it’s Hinduism.” It’s not a Christmas tree. It’s not a matter of integrating a beautiful cultural tradition or art form into Christian worship, it is worship. Of other gods. And there is one God, and He is the God of Isaac and Abraham and His only begotten Son is Jesus Christ. To practice another form of worship is to break the First Commandment.

Heavy stuff, right? And if it’s true, then why have I never heard it from my pastor?

I asked Father Michael that same question, and he told me that if I’d asked him about yoga 5 years ago, he probably wouldn’t have had an opinion on it. It wasn’t until he started practicing deliverance ministry that he realized the impact of yoga on people’s souls, and the dangers that it was introducing into their lives. “It wasn’t even on my radar, as a priest, five years ago. And I’d bet it isn’t on most priest’s radars, if they’ve never seen stuff like this.”

At this point I feel that it might be helpful to include a bit of my own story, since what we’re getting into is perhaps unfamiliar territory for much of my audience. Deliverance ministry is a kind of catch all term for anything from attending an Unbound retreat to working in a one-on-one capacity with a priest and a prayer team to address deeper spiritual affliction, up to and even including demonic oppression.

Most people are familiar with exorcisms and demonic harassment, if only on a pop cultural level. What is less well known is that demonic harassment and oppression – not possession – are also afflictions which people can suffer from, whether from the result of past involvement in the occult or from being cursed. I’m sure this is verging on the fantastical for some of you, but yes, in the 21st century the Catholic Church still very much affirms the reality of our Enemy – the Devil – and his capacity to inflict injury on human beings.

But where does yoga fit into this?

Well, in my own story, it fit in almost as an afterthought, a forgotten experience from the ancient past (college days, precisely) only coming to light after months of praying with a priest and team of prayer ministers through some heavy stuff in my family history. (I won’t go into all that detail here, but perhaps at another time.) I hadn’t practiced yoga in years. The last time I did was during my second pregnancy, using a prenatal yoga DVD at home for workouts. I don’t remember having any strong reaction or “aha” moment indicating that I needed to stop. I just started to notice more and more chatter in the news and in books I was reading that made me start to wonder if maybe something about it was off, and then I decided, eh, better safe than sorry. So I tossed the DVD and switched to Pilates. (Though of course, stretching in a way that resembles some yoga poses out of the context of yoga is a different matter entirely. I stretch before bed most nights in a position that looks very much like child’s pose, but it’s just me, stretching my body. Context is key here.)

Now in the ensuing years, I’ve read a lot about yoga. I’ve read various commentary (some more reliable than others) attributed to Fr. Gabriele Amorth, the now deceased former chief exorcist of the Diocese of Rome, where he is explicit in identifying yoga with demonic activity. I’ve read the aforementioned Vatican document and have discovered a handful of other sources, including this 1989 Vatican document: Letter to the Bishops on some aspects of Christian Meditation, which mentions yoga in an endnote.

But I still feel a hesitation, a sheepishness in putting this out there. I mean, the Church doesn’t seem to have spoken super clearly and with one voice on the matter. Go to a different priest and you’ll get a different answer. Plenty of people practice yoga every week and are doing just fine…

And yet. I can’t help but think that perhaps there are other people out there who, like me, never had any intention of worshiping false gods or putting anything into their hearts other than Jesus, and have still been – are still being – harmed by this.

So I’m going to tell you my story.

When I was a sophomore at CU Boulder, I took a yoga class at the rec center there. It may have even been a single class, if my memory serves me. And though I’d taken various classes before, both in person and by video, there was something a little different about this one. The instructor was into it. There was a tangible spiritual presence in the room, detectable even to a borderline pagan like 19-year-old me. I distinctly remember him beginning to chant towards the end of the class and immediately starting to pray Hail Mary’s in my mind. I may have been a falling away Catholic at that point in my life, but I was still aware enough to perceive that there was a malevolent element present in that class, and that when the instructor was calling out poses and chanting meditations, he was worshipping something. And it wasn’t God.

I never went back to that class and to be honest, I haven’t thought about it for more than a decade. But during one of our last prayer sessions with the priest who was leading us through deliverance prayers, he looked at me and asked if I had ever practiced yoga. I was a little surprised, but I figured it was a lucky guess since I was a 34 year old white girl living in Denver, and I said yes.

There is a spirit afflicting you that has some kind of affiliation with eastern spirituality, some kind of curse associated with yoga. Does anything come to mind when you think back on times when you’ve practiced yoga in the past?

Immediately my mind flashed back to the rec center at CU, to the instructor chanting, and to my visceral reaction of interior defensive Hail Marys. I offered Father my recollections and he nodded, “yep, that’s it. Let’s break that attachment.”

(Now, if you’ve no familiarity with spiritual warfare, deliverance prayer, or healing ministry, I’ll link to some resources at the end of this ever-lengthening piece. But hang with me for a minute longer.)

And so, in Jesus’ name, we did. We renounced any attachment and broke any curse surrounding that encounter, and there was an immediate and perceptive lightness in the atmosphere of the church where we were praying. Even my husband, sitting beside me, and the members of the prayer team sitting in chairs to either side of us, could perceive it. Father smiled at me and nodded, “that was something big.”

Something big, and yet something that I had scarcely remembered, had never thought about since the day it happened, and had not consented to in any way. How could this be?

I asked Father as we were walking to the parking lot afterwards about that, how I could be negatively influenced by something that I hadn’t agreed to in any way, hadn’t entered into with any intention of participation.

He said that when there are spiritual dangers present, there is always a risk of becoming afflicted through some kind of opening, the enemy prowling about like a roaring lion and all that. He asked me “would you say you were in a state of grace that day, or was there an opening in your life where the Enemy could have gained a foothold?

I blushed, because, well, college. Where to even begin? Sufficient to say no, I was not in a state of grace. Far from it. And that would prove, in my case, to be the danger.

The months since this experience have been marked by a new lightness of heart, a deeper awareness of the movements of the Holy Spirit, and a much larger appetite for prayer and spiritual reading. It’s almost as if I was fighting a persistent, mild allergy to prayer before, to reading the Scriptures, even to the Mass. I had to force myself, drag myself. I didn’t hear the Lord, and I was angry about it.

Well, I can hear Him, now. And it’s making all the difference in the world. And I want that for every person on this planet.

If sharing this story can be helpful to even one person, then it will have been worth it. Even if I look like a total idiot.

I’ll leave it at this for today: Pray about it on your own. Speak with a trusted spiritual director or your pastor. Read the documents I linked to and spend some time in Adoration. Ask Him what His thoughts are on the matter. And maintain your spiritual defenses. A battle rages around us, whether we realize it or not.

I heard a priest say at the end of a talk on spiritual warfare and defense: “Jesus wants your whole heart. If there’s a chance that something else has a piece of it – even a small piece – wouldn’t you want to take that territory back for Him? Jesus wants your whole heart.”

(Some people have emailed saying they’re having trouble with the links throughout this piece, so I’ve included them all here in order of appearance:)

About Me, coffee clicks, reading, technology

Weekend clickbait + a few good books (and seeking reading recommendations)

April 21, 2017

Working on some far more interesting stuff to regale you with next week, but for now the combination of nap-boycotting babies and a few extra nephews running around has my writing brain turned into mush for the day. Plus, did I mention I went off coffee to experiment with getting a better handle on energy levels/insomnia? Color me sheepish. As one intrepid reader pointed out on Facebook, #mamaneedsdecaf. Which is accurate. (and which is also gross. High hopes for some of the recommendations you guys left me this morning.)

Anyway, I’ve read a couple great pieces this week that I wanted to pass along, and one interview that YOU ALL MUST WATCH – play it in another browser if it doesn’t open in Safari for you. Thanks to Hallie (who was also kind enough to invite me onto her Sirius XM show yesterday – link coming soon) for bringing it to my faltering attention.

And this one. Okay, yeah, I know it’s an ad campaign (and those granola bars, from what I recall from my swim team days, are terrible. Not a hint of chocolate) but it is a poignant truth they hit upon. I am always wracking my brain for ways to get my kids to do stuff outside, even when the weather isn’t great, and I realize that a lot of what keeps me turning to PBS Kids is that I don’t want them to mess up the house or get dirty. Which is sick. I’m really trying to be more intentional about giving them direction to play messily, independently, and boisterously outside, and not clenching my cheeks in terror when they scramble up a tree or jump a fence to grab a ball. Or jump into the wading pool filled with melting ice and mud. With shoes on. I will say that as I detach more and more from my phone and from the endless consumption of entertainment (even if, as is often the case for us grown ups, we cleverly disguise it from ourselves as “news” or “research”) I have more authority to refer them back outside, or down to the basement. Or … you get the picture. Because I also am reading something or mopping something or prepping dinner or helping another kid, so I don’t lack all credibility in their eyes, waving them off with my eyes glued to my phone, telling them and myself that mommy needs a break.

I’ve been reading more these past 3 weeks because, sorry dead horse, gonna hit you one more time, I HAVE TIME. It just still feels kind of miraculous. I have time to read, to write for pleasure, to write for deadlines, and to make dinner. Okay the last one is a lie, but that’s just because cooking is not my favorite. Give me all the laundry and vacuuming and take all my meal prep and dishes.

A few good titles:

The Year of Living Danishly. I’m a huuuuuge sucker for cultural immersion memoirs. Heck, I might write one myself one day. And this one did not disappoint. There are some nasty details about the sexual habits of the author’s new countrymen, but if you can skim past the grosser parts (mostly in one chapter, you’ll know it when you get there) this book was a fascinating look at a part of the world I know very little about. It was also a sobering glimpse into a completely secularized state, and the ensuing effects on the family, mental health, and child development. Without meaning to, the author painted a fairly grim picture of Scandinavia in those regards. But a really enjoyable book overall. Made me want to go to IKEA and start fresh with white walls and bleached pine floors and so many candles.

Waking the Dead. This is one of John Eldridge’s lesser known titles (at least I’d never heard of it) but it is spectacular. I would put it on a must read list of modern Christian writing, along with Unbound and Be Healed.

The Benedict Option. You know the one – that book that everyone is talking about without having read it first? Yeah, you’re gonna want to read this one for yourself, and then form your own opinions. I found Dreher to be surgically precise in his assessment of the cultural climate, and it was not at all what I was expecting from him. Plus, he interviews one of my all time favorite bloggers in it, and spends a good deal of time talking about Italy and Italians. What’s not to like?

The Magnolia Story. Hi, I’m a sucker for the Gainses. Can’t stop, won’t stop. It’s a sweet book, and Jojo was, at one time, more neurotic than I’d ever imagined. Which gives me hope. 4 stars.

Okay, so apparently I don’t read fiction. Haha. I just have the hardest time finding something that doesn’t blow up in my face with a gruesome murder plot or lascivious sex scene a quarter of the way into the book. I’ve learned that there’s actually a thing for what I am, I’m an HSP, and therefore, I can’t handle violence (especially sexual violence) or intense sex scenes or anything – definitely anything – involving a child’s death/kidnapping/torture.

So, at least I know I’m not alone in my crazy. But I am rather alone in my pickings from modern fiction. I’ve read pretty much everything on the best seller’s lists that fits into my scrawny little acceptable category, at least I think, but if you’d got something besides the past two year’s glut of WWII bestsellers or Miss Prim, I’m all ears.

Have a great weekend!

And hey, we’re still within the Octave, so Happy Easter!

About Me, ditching my smartphone, mental health, mindfulness, reality check, social media, technology

Smartphone detox: the first fortnight

April 17, 2017

Today marks 2 weeks since my dramatic public breakup with my littlest mother’s helper and I wanted to do a little post op, as much for my future self as for any curious readers as to how it’s going.

So how’s it going?

In a word, swell. But it is incomplete yet. I haven’t bitten the bullet and grabbed the flip phone yet, because its actually costs money, as some of you intrepid souls pointed out, to reinvest in a new device and find a plan that isn’t crazy expensive. The problem I’m running up against is that the providers who do carry dumb phones (and I’m leaning towards Charity Mobile at this point) seem to assume that if you want one, you don’t also want a lot of minutes or texting data. However, in my case, I vv much do want those things. Especially now that Voxer is relegated to an awkward to use desktop app, I’m finding myself using more minutes than before, not fewer.

So, in the meantime, I’ve made do by stripping down my already basic Samsung Galaxy J7 (a cut-rate Galaxy iteration compatible with my current carrier, Boost Mobile, which runs on the Sprint network. Coverage is so-so, phone itself does get a bit hot (but not anymore as there are no apps running! The battery life isn’t great. Or, rather, wasn’t. Now that I’m not using it for anything but talking and texting, I’m only plugging it in every 3 days or so. What?! I used to struggle to make it to 8 pm without draining the battery to zero. Crazy, I tell you.) which was $80 at Best Buy during a Black Friday sale, and is $30/month with unlimited talk and text. Which is hard to beat.

So how do you make a smartphone dumb? Well, I’m not the most tech literate person, but I was able to delete or uninstall almost all of the factory-installed apps, plus those I’d added myself. Then I untethered my email and delated the gmail app, turned off location and wifi, and, voila, a fairly dumb phone.

Of course, the big caveat being that at any moment, I can undo all these things and endow myself once again with phenomenal cosmic powers, which, in a moment of poor planning and weakness last week en route to a doctor’s appointment in an unfamiliar town, I did, for the sake of using google maps to guide me in for a smooth landing.

I think that if I were a better moderator and not a dyed in the wool abstainer, this intentionally stripped down still secretly smart phone would actually be a decent long term solution for me, but I know me, and I know that 4 months or 4 weeks from now, whether checking in late for a flight and in search of a boarding pass or simply passing the time in car line, I may very well cave and go back to using the internet on it.

But, for you more more temperate folk out there, I think that stripping down your existing phone could be a valuable exercise in detachment and time-reclamation and a good half measure towards getting away from the addiction to the device. Plus, super cost effective.

So, what have I learned in 2 weeks without tapping, scrolling, browsing? A couple things, the first of which has been most surprising.

And that is? I have a lot more time than I realized. I have enough time to make meals at home. I have enough time to keep mostly on top of my housework. I have enough time to write those articles, make those deadlines, pay those bills, and, yes, read you one more story.

I don’t work a 9-5 job outside the home, but I do work about 20 hours we week writing, reading, researching and planning for the blog and related content for CNA. Outside of that, I do a bit of freelance work, including regular gigs for Endow and Blessed is She. I also have 4 kids, only one of whom is in school full time, so they’re, you know, around a bit. And in need of cuddles, cut up avocados, bike-riding supervision and bathing. Add in a husband, a school commute that currently hovers around 2 hours roundtrip, and a house that we’ve spent the last 8 months fixing up and now selling, and there is a lot going on. But the past 2 weeks have felt like vacation.

Granted, a pretty unexciting and not terribly exotic vacation, but a vacation nonetheless. A break form the ordinary. A respite from the rat race. A change of pace that has me looking around the house and wondering, should I be doing something right now? 

Because there are suddenly these pockets of…I guess I’ll call them opportunity…in my days lately.

A half hour here or there where it’s too early to leave for school pickup but somebody is still napping, so I guess I can curl up on the couch and pray a rosary or read a little bit from whatever spiritual reading I’d been slogging through towards the end of Lent. So not exactly party party vacation-y, more like restful retreat vacation-y. Which is…not my favorite.

I like to be busy. I thrive on adrenaline and scooting in just under deadline and cramming it all in as efficiently as possible.

But I also struggle with anxiety and insomnia and a general sense of the world is on my shoulders…and I wonder now, could it all possibly be connected?

I don’t want to oversimplify this for the sake of painting a pretty clickbaity picture that “DITCHING YOUR SMARTPHONE WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE,” because there’s more to it than that, as there is in every case. I’ve been changing the way I’m eating, what and whether I’m drinking, habits of prayer and intentional cultivation of virtues that I am sorely lacking. And also, there have not been 14 perfect days of good behavior and effortless mothering on my part. I have yelled and lost my mind and then rediscovered it around 9:33 pm, a solid hour after everyone is in bed.

But overall, there has been a marked difference.

I am still grabbing for my phone like a phantom limb now and then, but even that behavior has yielded to a 90% reduction. I carry just my keys and wallet into the store. I don’t bring my phone when I leave the house half the time, because it’s just not that interesting without the dozens of little notifications going off throughout the day. When I do walk by the counter where it’s plugged in and look at it, it’s boring.

Stripped of all it’s attention-grabbing apps, it will show a handful of text messages and maybe a missed call, but nothing nearly as exciting an Instagram notification. (I do miss being able to post there though. But, it’s an acceptable price to pay, for me.)

I can attend to the messages every 4 or 6 or even 12 hours, and nothing bad happens. (Given, I am no emergency medicine doc. Nobody will die if I don’t check my phone. But I think a lot of us – looks meaningfully into mirror – live that level of availability out of a sense of obligation or FOMO or just plain force of habit, because this is what everyone does in 2017, and if I miss a call/email, all hell will break loose”

But most every piece of career advice I’ve read lately says otherwise, emphasizes the critical (and rapidly disappearing) skill of “deep work,” the necessity of attending to one’s own present and pressing tasks, ordained as such by self (and God, if you include Him in your calculations) because otherwise – otherwise – we risk living most of our lives responding to other people’s requests for and demands on our time. And we don’t get our own work done.

And that’s all well and good to read these things and skim those books and then roll your eyes and think, yeah, must be nice, to be able to go off and be a hermit or be single again with no relational responsibilities or to be independently wealthy and mobile and, and, and…but what I’m realizing is that I, a simple stay at home/work from home mom of 4 little kids, actually have a hell of a lot more free time than I know what to do with. And am going to have to render an account one day for how I’ve spent it.

(I think I can make a good case for 2-3 hours a week of Netflix. Anything more than that, I get a little nervous.)

So without the apps, without the notifications, without the constant influx of data and Very Important Beepings, it turns out I am neither that essential nor am I all that important to most anyone outside of the 5 people I do life with.

I do not mean to devalue my friendships or disrespect my coworkers or downplay the connections I’ve forged with internet peeps over the years. These are truly valuable relationships. But it is perhaps not ideal for me to be continuously attending to all of them at any given time, on any given day.

I realize this is not a perfectly-transferrable parable I’m spinning for you. Some people are more connected to their phones for work than I am, and I concede that this is a luxury which I possess. But. A big, big but: I think more of us have more flexibility than we realize, and we’re trading away a good deal of peace out of a need to look busy and seem available and feel important.

I am not actually that important. The people who need my attention are right here with me, occasionally barfing onto floor beside me and tugging on the hem of my shorts, asking for another popsicle. And it turns out that even when I’m running on all cylinders getting all their needs met, I still have a little margin left over at the edges and even in the very middle of my day for meditation, exercise, writing, reading, sitting vacantly on the front steps blinking in the sunlight…and also for being bored. I have been bored at least once a day since this little experiment began, and it has proven to be glorious and painful fodder for ideas. Books have been outlined and titled (at least, in my mind). Relationship difficulties have been identified and considered. Plot lines for bedtime stories have been refined. Elaborate backstories to the person driving beside me in traffic have been concocted. And, most essentially of all, conversations with God have ensued.

I have plenty of time for prayer, it turns out. And with fewer attractive options to distract, I’m finding myself resignedly surrendering to it more and more frequently.

So, those are my initial takeaways from this foray into what I believe will become a lifestyle for me. I miss my Instagram peeps. I miss being able to shoot a Vox to my best friend in another time zone. I miss being able to easily send or receive a link to something on my phone. But that all pales in comparison to the new spaces that have been opened up in my head and in my soul.

What do you think? Would you ever consider ditching your smartphone? Or, if you’re an adult who can actually moderate your behavior in a responsible fashion, would you consider putting firm boundaries around how and when and whether you use it?

It seems the conversation is becoming increasingly common. (<— language warning: all the f bombs.)

Catholic Spirituality, feast days, liturgical living, prayer

Let him wash your feet

April 13, 2017

Today Lent is over, but Easter has not yet arrived. We enter into the Triduum, the holiest part of the Christian year, the 3 day climax of the liturgical season that bridges the impossible gap between Lent and Easter, between humanity and divinity.

I am ill prepared.

Oh, the ingredients for the easter baskets are stuffed into grocery bags on a shelf in the garage. (Beef jerky, root beer, Peeps and tic tacs. Gonna find myself cast in an offseason reenactment of Home Alone any day now. also, #GF/DF problems) The outfits are accounted for and awaiting the 3.5 minutes of coordinated wear for pictures, tiny fedoras included. (Because my 1,4, and 6 year old boys are going to be delighted by the prospect of 3 matching fedoras?)

But I? I am not ready. I have kept Lent in fits and starts, one step forward and two steps back for these long – but short – 40 days. A flush of fervor and resolve to kick things off, then some derailing by general life circumstances, viral illnesses, real estate quandaries, stressors of various sorts personal and global, etc.

In the quiet of my heart and in the relative silence of a mini van without the radio turned on, I have felt Him speaking, heard His invitation: let me carry this.

And so I have. Some days for a stretch of a few hours, other days for a minute-by-minute tug of war.

God: I’ve got this.

Me: okaaaaay. Here. (10 minutes pass, grabs problem back for more ruminating and scheming)

God: …

Me: Oh, oops, okay here, take it again, please?

God: I’ve got this.

And so it goes. Over and over again. He never gets tired of taking it back, whatever “it” might be: an illness, a relational issue, a problem at work, a financial burden. And I, apparently, never get tired of snatching it up again.

Getting off my phone has helped tremendously in terms of opening up little pockets of solitude throughout the day where otherwise I’d normally be texting, tapping, scrolling, Voxing. And you know what? It’s uncomfortable as hell sometimes. I have become accustomed to taking my problems elsewhere – anywhere else, most of the time – before turning to God in a literal pile of melted drama and fatigue, crying out for a last resort kind of intervention. (And full disclosure, I’m still texting.)

So why not go to Him first?

Well, for one, I’m out of practice. Calling a friend or putting out an SOS on social media is way easier and more apparently effective than 20 minutes of meditative prayer or curling up with my Bible. It’s easier to call my mom than to pray a Rosary.

But, I’m finding it’s not nearly as effective, long term, to take every little cut and scrape and even the bigger, more concussive issues to mere mortals. Not because they can’t and won’t offer wise counsel and comfort and a little ray of hope in the dark tumult of whatever storm is presently encompassing me, but because a lot of the time, when I go to someone else before I go to Jesus, I forget to go to Him, period.

It’ll feel like I’ve “handled it,” the immediate crisis of emotion and feeling fading with relief at having gotten it off one’s chest, so to speak. But a lot of the time – maybe even most of the time – that won’t be the case at all. Nothing will have been handled. But the relief of having talked about it will lend the appearance of “handled” to whatever the situation may be.

God wants us to come to Him first. He longs to be our first line of defense against everything the world – and the Enemy – throws our way.

I’ve spent a lot of this Lent trying to wriggle away from His patient, quiet (so much more quiet than the noise and chaos of daily life) voice asking me over and over again to let Him help, to stay with Him for an hour. But I am stubborn and I am busy and I have responsibilities, Lord. You can understand, can’t You?

But He keeps asking.

Today, on this holy threshold of the holiest season, I want to answer Him fully. I want to look back on this Easter season and marvel at the peace, the stillness (internal stillness, mind you. Because 4 kids + Peeps) and the otherworldliness that marked our days.

Not because we traveled to Rome or Jerusalem and celebrated with the Holy Father or walked in Jesus’ actual footsteps.

Not because we will make it to every Mass or service the Church offers these next 3 days (all that is required is Easter Mass. She is a generous and patient mother. Maybe one day we’ll make it to every one of them.)

But because we stilled our hearts, closed our browsers (she writes on the internet), turned off our phones, looked away from the news, our fears, our biggest worries and deepest concerns, and sat with Him instead. The only one who can really fix any of it.

Because we let Him kneel in the dust and the chaos of our present condition, whatever burdens we may be carrying and whatever condition our hearts may be in, and we accepted His tender invitation to give it over. To take off our sandals and bare our humiliatingly dirty and calloused feet. To not worry about unshaven legs or unpolished toes or That Big Problem we can’t seem to get out from underneath, and we simply let Him bathe us.

Once Peter figured out the offer was more about God’s radical generosity and less about our own worthiness, he got onboard with the enviable enthusiasm only a holy sanguine can muster: “Then, Lord, not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

Wash us, Jesus. Meet us here and kneel with us in our present misery and make us like you. We are at your mercy.

A blessed Triduum to you and yours. May it be nothing like you planned and exactly what He has in mind.

(photo credit: Plinio Lepri/AP)