Triduum Reflections 2016

Everywhere across the globe Christian communities are participating in Holy Week traditions. Here in “mission country” St. Francis of Assisi School in Lumberton has a highly visible tradition: The Stations Walk. At first I wasn’t sure what to expect, but having just returned from this 3-mile walk with Jesus I must say that I was moved and inspired.

Jesus may not have walked 3 miles to Calvary (it was less than a mile by some accounts, and just a fraction of a mile by others), but this 3 miles is significant to this community.  It became significant to me today.  St. Francis Church is in Lumberton, off the Reservation, while our sister parish, St. Patrick’s, in on the Reservation in Dulce.  The praying of the Stations of the Cross begins inside St. Francis Church and ends inside St. Patrick’s with a 15th Station, The Empty Tomb.  Between the two Catholic churches we stop along the way to reflect on each of the 14 Stations.

Along the way I tried to help keep people off the road and kids out of arroyos and ditches.  I also tried to remain reflective and prayerful.  Difficult!  I was reminded of the marches with the CIW that I participated in while in Florida; walk at a slow pace, three-by-three, and pass out water and snacks along the way.  God bless the wise elders in our  Dulce community for the donated water, juice & oranges at Stations 4 & 8!

Our Jesus was rather fit this year.  By the 3rd station many of us were lagging far behind, huffing and puffing, and ready to jump in the “rescue Jeep” leading our procession.  At Jesus’ pace we would have reached St. Patrick’s by 10:30 instead of the estimated noon-time arrival!  With a gentle suggestion, a bit of pace-correction, and a firm teacher gaze, we soon settled into a more prayerful pace that suited the older participants, one pregnant mother, and several families pushing strollers.

Once I was able to breath again, relax, and observe (I’m getting over a severe sinus infection this week), I noticed amazing things on this journey.  First I found myself toward the end of the 130+ procession imagining myself actually following Jesus on his way to Calvary.  That made me want to cry.  Then, just as we began to climb a slight incline, I realized that I couldn’t see Jesus, but I could see the tip of the cross.  I found myself calling to children who were straying off the path “Keep your eyes on Jesus!  Stay on the path!”  Soon I found that I couldn’t see Jesus or the cross.  At first I felt a sense of loss and even fear, but then I realized something amazing.  We were all moving forward and following Jesus.  I reflected on my own life and what happens so often in everyone’s life.  How often do we lose sight of Jesus?  How often do we lose our way?  How often do we feel lost and alone?  The best thing to do is to find people who are on the path following Jesus, and follow them.  When I feel lost and struggling with my faith and hope, I should always look to those whose faith is strong for help.  Eventually I will find Jesus again and be given strength for the journey.

Another gift I found on this Stations Walk is a woman named Dulley!  She subbed for me so that I could be with my family when my grandmother died in late January.  I love this Apache woman!  What an amazing spirit!  She walked the whole way & brought the oranges earlier on our walk today.  When nature called, she stopped at a gas station in Dulce and picked up a mother and her two young girls from Boulder, CO who were just passing through.  Several others in Dulce joined our procession around the 12th Station.  Again I imagined what Jesus’ actual journey must have been like.  I imagined those who knew Jesus and who had followed him for the last three years following him on this last journey.  Then I imagined people who didn’t know Jesus asking “What’s happening here?”  During the last 3 Stations I saw several faces that I had not seen before; rather like the workers in the vineyards.  It doesn’t matter when we arrive to help, we all are called to do the Father’s work, and we are all invited to share in God’s love.

So, in the end I thoroughly enjoyed the 3-mile Stations Walk followed by this evening’s Holy Thursday Mass.  I think the key to any of the Triduum traditions is to cast yourself in the role of someone who may have actually been there.  Mary Magdalene is my patron saint.  At the end of mass this evening I found myself in church, almost alone, feeling very much like Mary Magdalene at the tomb; lost and uncertain.  As the Gomez family was locking the Sacristy and getting ready to leave, I asked if they were locking up the church or coming back later to lock up.  I said that I would go home if they were locking up, but if nobody was staying with Jesus, I didn’t want to leave.  This was a new feeling.  It was decided to lock up the church, go home and prepare for Good Friday.  I truly felt like Mary Magdalene without her Lord.

This was by far one of the richest Holy Thursday I have ever experienced.

Thank God!

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Discerning Again: How I’ve Come to Dread “Discernment”

I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted, but I’ve been otherwise occupied by a number of things. To say the least.

The first semester here at school was extremely busy and the work spilled over into my “free time” all the time. If we volunteers weren’t teaching, grading, or getting lesson plans together, we were busy helping with fundraisers, sitting in meetings, or conducting parent-teacher conferences. All part of teaching, but a little over the top.  So, Christmas break was indeed a welcome break.  And then there was the depression that set in somewhere around Thanksgiving, followed by feelings of regret, stupidity, and the usual self-pity party (I haven’t thrown a party like that in years!).  Then my grandmother died January 19th.  So I went home to mourn with my family, clear my head and do some discerning.

Discernment.  I’ve developed a distinct distaste for that word.  I’m not too crazy about the process, either.  It’s hard work, it takes time, and it requires that I examine my inner self, accept it, and then make choices that will change my life.

In 2008 I entered a period of religious discernment.  It led me to the Adrian Dominicans and, after a year of formation, I became an Associate in November of 2009.  This process was emotional, but in the end I enjoyed the process and learned a lot about myself.  It also helped me to deepen my prayer-life, and in turn, my trust in God’s will for me.  In the fall of 2014 I once again entered a period of discernment.  This time the process was not what I would call enjoyable; in fact it was pretty painful.  In the end I totally uprooted myself and moved to New Mexico to serve the Jicarilla Apache children of Dulce.  The kids are great!  The people, the mountains, the environment, and even the snow are all wonderful, but in the end this mission is not a good fit for me.  It isn’t what I’ve found or experienced here, but what is missing here that has caused me to begin the process of discernment once again.

What’s missing at my current stop are not the material things like a local Starbuck’s, high-speed internet, or the beach.  I am missing time for the things that keep my spirituality healthy like regular mass with a priest and access to the sacraments, time for reflection and contemplation, time for my artwork, time for inspirational reading, time for online & on-pavement activism, and time to spend with my Creator.

Is it possible that the more I go through the process of discernment, the more painful it becomes?  Or is it that my past discernments have been false?  Perhaps I’m simply on a journey that requires a series of stops along the way.

Discernment:  It’s a bitch, and she’s biting my butt again.

Discerning and Answering A Call

I’ve been a very silent blogger for these last few months, and I am sorry for that. Hopefully what I share here will explain my silence and provide a little something to look forward to. I have been busy at school (nothing new this time of year), and also busy with CIW and TCFF actions. Just last month I organized and helped lead a Prayer Vigil at a new Publix store opening in my area, and also created a little “Fair Food performance piece” for a Chautauqua at the Ground Floor Farm’s Spring Festival. All that writing & organizing was time consuming, but that’s not why I’ve been absent from blogging.  I’ve been away from blogging because I’ve been discerning a new path for my life.

Discernment is relatively new for me. In 2008 I was in discernment, but was unfamiliar with what discernment truly meant.  I had often heard God calling me to serve in one way or another, but usually found some way to ignore the call, always feeling unfulfilled in the end.  So, after a year of prayer and study with my mentor Sr. Helen Dompierre, OP, in 2009 I became an Associate of the Adrian Dominican Sisters.  For the last several years I’ve been feeling angry, overwhelmed, unsupported, and unfulfilled at my job.  Although I know I make a difference in the lives of so many children, the pace, the stress, and the politics has been killing me physically, emotionally, and (most importantly) spiritually.  In August of 2014 I again entered a period of discernment triggered by a series of disappointments, new road-blocks, and a few possibilities.  This time, however, I was having difficulty hearing God’s voice. I thought I had it figured out, but when I didn’t get the job that I thought God was leading me to, I felt depressed and defeated.  After a week of feeling sorry for myself, I regrouped and started to search for a bolder, more adventurous social justice path.  That’s when I discovered St. Francis School in New Mexico.  Quite literally, I searched for and found “a road less traveled” (Frost and Peck).

The more I looked, the more I prayed, the more I contemplated, the more I realized that this school and these children where calling me to come to NM!  So, I inquired with the principal, sent in my resume, and had my first phone interview in over 20 years.  She loved me!  My future boss, Madeline (I love her, too!), asked me what was giving me pause, so we talked a while more.  She said that she was going to send me an acceptance letter immediately.  I said I had some more praying to do.  [I also had to talk to my mother!]  After 3 days I sent in my letter of acceptance.  So, at the end of July I will be leaving for Lumberton, New Mexico to teach art, and (probably) language arts, and social studies at St. Francis School.

The school is 3 miles off the Jicarilla Apache Nation lands, and the majority of the students are Apache.  There are many Hispanic children, too, so I am brushing up on my Spanish!  I don’t know if this is where I am meant to be for the next 20 years, or if this is just a stepping stone toward something else.  What I do know is that I am excited to truly follow the Gospel message, and serve among the poorest of the poor.  I look forward to sharing my gifts with the children, and I look forward to learning even more from them.

I got a new computer that will serve me well in the coming years.  I hope to be able to post pictures from the “Land of Enchantment,” and blog about my experiences once or twice a month.  I will be in the middle of nowhere, and I am told that internet, cell phone service, electricity, and H2O are “sketchy” at times (OMGosh!!!!!), so keep me in your thoughts & prayers even if I occasionally go “off the grid!”

I want to give a nod to Skywalker Storyteller.  Over three months ago she began a series called “100 Days of Gratitude.”  I decided to participate, downloaded the journal and began receiving daily gratitude questions.  I never commented on any of the questions, but always read them and thought about them.  As I was discerning my new path in life, Skywalker, your questions became a kind of life-line to what really matters in life.  Here’s my comment on this experience:  I am grateful to you for your commitment to fulfillment, happiness, and balance in life!  In the final days of “100 Days of Gratitude” I realized how grateful I am for the many gifts I have, and how grateful I am for my trust in God to take this leap of faith.  Questions #94 (thinking creatively/outside the box) and #96 (helping others/acts of service/helping others be happy) were especially timely as I made the decision to sell my belongings and go to serve the children at St. Francis School.  Thank you!

It’s time to pack now!

Detachment; Translation, please!

Long ago I learned about AA, NA, Al-Anon & the 12-Step Program.  My younger brother was doing drugs, my mother and I did a family intervention, and soon we all found ourselves thrown in the deep end of an unfamiliar pool called “recovery.”  Scary times for all of us, and stories to last a lifetime.  Most of those stories have been told & shared among the family; some stories have yet to be told I’m sure.  Thankfully my brother survived, is married, and has two beautiful daughters!

I learned a lot from the many Al-Anon meetings I attended (both while trying to understand my part in my brother’s addiction, and later my ex-husband’s alcoholism).  One thing I still struggle with is this term:  Detachment.  What does it really mean?  Every time I think about this word I get a visual of my childhood Barbie and how I could easily detach her limbs.  No blood.  No pain.  And I could just as easily re-attach the limbs if one of my siblings happened to dismember her in an effort to upset me.  I was not usually so easily upset.  I knew how to perform “Barbie Surgery” and save her!  Twelve Step Programs talk about “detachment,” and recently I’ve been thinking about this practice again.  Unfortunately, this kind of detachment can be painful.

I found a very inspiring article called “The Art of Detachment” by Eknath Easwaren where he talks about detachment in a variety of relationships.  His insight into this thing that I have always found to be an annoying paradox, suddenly clicked with me and made sense.  I think my misunderstanding of “detachment” is why I’ve always cringed whenever my mother tells me I have to “detach” from things & people that totally frustrate, anger, and upset me so.  “I’m an emotional artist; I can’t just turn my feelings on & off,” I would say to her.  That’s where I’ve been mistaken all along.  Detachment has less to do with my feelings, and more to do with “withdrawing desire from lesser things, letting them fall away, so as to harness their power to reach the heights of what a human being can attain.”  Easwaren creates a beautiful analogy to the rocket boosters used to launch ships into space.  The space ship uses the energy from the heavy rockets, but then dumps the weight so it can achieve orbit!

One of the things I learned from my week spent in family therapy at the re-hab center my brother finally entered, is that detachment from the disease of addiction was what I needed to do in order to find serenity. Well, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”  An excellent prayer for anyone who finds themselves neck-deep in just about anything life throws at us!  Well, I’m up to my eyeballs in life, and yet another period of discernment, and I find myself in need of a little detachment.  Detachment from my job, my possessions, and my self-doubt.  I wonder though, could it be that the act of detaching is also linked to the act of connecting?

My mother often said that change in life is like what the trapeze artist has to do.  He or she has to let go of one bar & be air-born and detached for a brief moment before catching the next bar.  It’s scary, but you can’t get from one side of the Big Top to the other without letting go.  Sooner or later you just have to trust that the other trapeze bar will be there when you let go of the one you’re hanging on to.  HA!  Just when I thought my mother couldn’t possibly teach me anything more, I go and recall this trapeze analogy from my twenties!  Some lessons we keep learning over & over again, I guess.

So here’s what’s been on my mind:

Working for peace and justice has always been a big part of my life, and for the last few years it has become the major driving force of my life.  So, what now?  It’s not in my wiring to learn about social injustices & then just go about my daily life; business as usual.  In his article Easwaren quotes Buckminster Fuller, “We are not nouns,” he says pointedly; “we are verbs.”  Easwaren explains, “Those who keep trying to get closer to others, to understand and appreciate them more all the time, are verbs: active, creative, dynamic, able to change themselves and to make changes in the world they live in.

I need to be more actively, creatively, and dynamically engaged in being (as Gandhi so famously stated) “the change I want to see in the world.”  I’m trying to figure out what form this will take on and in what direction I am being drawn.  As Fr. Richard Rohr explains in so many of his writings and talks, this “second half of life” stuff can be painful.  Not exactly “Barbie surgery.”  Grrrrr!  Fr. Rohr says that people who become transformed and begin the journey of the second half of life tend to lose friends.  Funny, that’s what 12-step programs say, too.  You cannot engage in recovery while still associating with those who are still actively engaged in addictive behavior.  You’ll never leave the launch pad, let alone achieve orbit!

As I work on learning the art of detachment, and withdrawing from lesser things, I will keep my heart open to other possibilities.  There’s another deep and unfamiliar pool up ahead; God, grant me the courage to take the plunge!

Easter Reflection

Happy Easter!

To some this is just another consumer driven holiday that includes spending money on cute gifts & flowers, a big family dinner with a Ham, dying Easter eggs, and taking your children to a nearby Easter Egg Hunt “Egg-stravaganza.”  To many, however, it is truly a Holy Day, and for me & Catholics everywhere, this is the third day of the three holiest days of the liturgical calendar, the Triduum.

For the last several years (since quitting my weekend waitressing job) I’ve been attending the famous Easter Vigil Mass.  What a joyful celebration!  The two-hour Vigil is full of rich history, symbolism, and sacrament.  After many long months of preparation, prayer, classes, and discussions catechumens are fully welcomed and initiated into the Catholic Church through the reception of the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Communion.  I did indeed say two hours!  Every year all over the world Catholics who only attend mass at Easter get “trapped” by the Easter Vigil Mass.  They look up their local Catholic Church, see the mass times & opt for the Vigil so their plans for Sunday aren’t hurried.  I can remember once when I was an unsuspecting parishioner at a Vigil Mass.  The funny thing was that I attended mass regularly and had gone to Catholic schools my whole life, so I should’ve known.  I remember being caught off guard, first by the Deacon processing in with the Paschal Candle instead of the usual Opening Hymn, and then by the countless readings & Psalms.  And then a light bulb went off in my head.  I remembered something from a long forgotten religion class… Oh, yeah!  This is that “special” mass for Easter!  Then, instead of feeling irritated or impatient, I found myself fully engaged and enjoying the celebration.  I don’t think I had ever been to a Vigil Mass until that night.  I felt connected to a very long faith tradition, and connected to the story of salvation, what some people call Salvation History.

This morning as I opened my online source of the Liturgy of the Hours, the Divine Office, I had to pause and reflect on what was written about today:

Today is Easter Sunday, the Day of Resurrection. Through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, life-giving waters, like the four rivers that flowed from Paradise, flow toward all of us. Those who are thirsty are invited to drink and be reborn into a renewed life, one aligned with the eternal covenant. In this way, nourished by the sacraments, we become a wellspring of life for others and can go forth proclaiming joy and peace. [1][2][3]

As Pope Francis says, “Let each one of us think: “Am I really willing, willing to serve, to help others?” Let us think about this, just this.” [4]

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Easter decor at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church; 19 April 2014.

“Life-giving waters, like the four rivers that flowed from Paradise, flow toward all of us.”  I am responsible for decorating the sanctuary at our church, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.  Easter is a time that I look forward to because of the symbolism I am able to incorporate into the decor.  We have this sheer blue fabric that I pin under the altar linen.  I place lava rocks around like a mini pond on the steps and then “spill” the fabric/water so it looks like life-giving waters flowing from the altar of sacrifice out toward the congregation.  I’m not sure how many of our parishioners understand this symbolism, or if they make the connection to the Vigil’s Fifth Reading from Isaiah (55:1-11) and the Vigil Epistle reading from Paul to the Romans (6:3-11), but I do it every year.  The reading from Paul is one of my favorites.  It sums up for me what Easter and the Resurrection are all about, but more importantly, it sums up what our lives should be about because of the Resurrection.  I believe that in “living for God in Christ Jesus” I can be for others a “wellspring of life, joy and peace.”  But this is a daily struggle throughout the year, not just a “feel-good,” “mountaintop” experience for today only.

Easter is not just one day.  Easter is the culmination of the Triduum.  On Holy Thursday we remember how Jesus instituted the new priesthood and the Eucharist.  He washed the feet of his Apostles and demonstrated through his actions how, if we want to truly be servants of Christ, we must serve others.  Good Friday has always been a time of quiet reflection for me.  Participation in the Stations of the Cross at 3:00, and the evening celebration of the Passion of the Lord with Solemn Prayer and Adoration of the Holy Cross is a way for me to reflect on my Lenten journey.  It is also a time to contemplate what it means to be obedient to the will of God.  In his article “The Sacred Triduum,” Michael Sean Winters describes these holiest days as a connected, ongoing event; one continuous prayer rooted in history.  He says,

We do not so much profess an understanding of this paschal mystery, as if it were a bit of knowledge we can manipulate as we do other discrete bits of knowledge. No, the Church sets forth on a way of life from this event. We embrace a new attitude towards death and therefore towards life. The teachings of Jesus, which got Him killed, are confirmed for us as true. And, because of the eucharist and the abiding Spirit at work in the community of faith, we know that on this way of life, we do not walk alone, we accompany each other and are accompanied by the Spirit of Christ.

The Paschal Mystery, if we are willing to be changed by it, demands that we change our attitudes towards death and life.  Pope Francis’ words pose the ultimate question for us all, “Am I really willing, willing to serve, to help others?”  I will be thinking about this in the coming days and months.  How will my life be transformed this year by the Paschal Mystery?  What new ways will God lead me to serve my brothers & sisters?

PS:  Last night I had the special privilege of being a sponsor for a former student and cancer survivor who was Confirmed at the Easter Vigil. I got to not only enjoy again the richness of this liturgy, but share it with a beautiful young woman of great faith and love. Truly a blessed evening with her and her family; another memorable Vigil!

Archbishop Romero’s Call to Serve

This week marks the 34th anniversary of the martyrdom/assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero. I find that the more I read and learn about horrific wars, massacres, and violence in places like El Salvador, Colombia, Syria, Venezuela, the Middle East, and the many other places both in the news and those suffering silently beyond the media spotlight, the more I doubt myself. I doubt that I can have any affect on any of it. I feel hopeless some days, and frustrated at the complacency of the people around me. I also feel a great sense of sadness and shame for being a citizen of a nation in the grip of a culture of violence and whose government is obsessed with war: The United States of America.

In a post by Pax Christi, this quote by Romero hits home for me:

“There is no doubt whatsoever that here there is no room for neutrality. We are either at the service of the life of Salvadorans or we are accomplices in their death. And it is here that we are faced with the most fundamental reality of the historical mediation of faith: either we believe in a God of life or we serve the idols of death.”

There is no room for “neutrality.”  I like Paul’s description of the church as the “body of Christ” (1 Cor. 12:12-31), and I believe we are all indeed parts of the one body, but with different gifts and functions, yet I struggle within myself on what God has planned for me.  I have been blessed with many gifts, but I still struggle with how best to use them.  As Paul continues in 1 Cor. 13 (the famous “love is patient, love is kind” discourse), I do not want to be just another “resounding gong,” and yet, so often, I feel like a voice in the wilderness that no one hears.  So how can I help end violence & injustice in the world?  How can I help & be of service to my brothers & sisters in need?

Perhaps it all boils down to that pesky thing we call “free-will.”  What do I choose for myself?  If, as Romero put it, I believe in a “God of life” (and I do!), then I choose life.  I choose life, love, and compassion!  I know that I can only change myself, and I think that’s how nonviolent leaders like Romero help bring about systemic changes.  By changing my response to the “idols of death,” I pray that my life may be an affirmation of nonviolence and love, too.  As Paul’s letter to the Corinthians sums it up, “So faith, hope, and love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:13).

World Day of Peace: A Call to Fraternity

In Pope Francis’ message for January 1st, World Day of Peace, his Holiness calls “Fraternity the foundation & pathway to peace.”  His message begins with our original call to be brothers & sisters in the story of Cain & Abel (Gn. 4:1-16), and then the Pope touches on the many examples in society where we have opportunities to form relationships, yet often fail to do so.  He asks the questions we all ask from time to time, “Can the men and women of this world ever fully respond to the longing for fraternity placed within them by God the Father? Will they ever manage by their power alone to overcome indifference, egoism and hatred, and to accept the legitimate differences typical of brothers and sisters?”

If fraternity is the foundation & pathway to peace, then Pope Francis also rightly names fraternity as “a prerequisite to fighting poverty,” and further states that “fraternity extinguishes war.”  If we, as individuals or as nations, see others as anything less than a brother or sister, then we will find no difficulty in treated them as a commodity to be exploited; and isn’t that exactly what has happened the world over?  We exploit people, animals, and nature because we fail to enter into relationship.

As I read the Pope’s message, not only did I begin to see connections that I hadn’t considered before, but I also felt a little embarrassed.  As a Catholic I am aware of the teachings on Social Justice and I do my best to work for justice, but I often feel like I should be doing more, and that I should be doing a better job at promoting peace & justice.  Here’s the line under point #7 of the Pope’s message that gets me:   “The Church also speaks out in order to make leaders hear the cry of pain of the suffering and to put an end to every form of hostility, abuse and the violation of fundamental human rights.”  Well, does “the Church” also speak out?  Do I?  God asked Cain, “Where is your brother?”  God is still asking that same question of us.  It’s a tough question.  How am I speaking out for my brothers & sisters in need, and am I doing all I can to lead others to fraternity?

Under #8 Pope Francis addresses corruption, governments, and organized crime (funny he lumped them all together!).  “Fraternity generates social peace because it creates a balance between freedom and justice, between personal responsibility and solidarity, between the good of individuals and the common good. And so a political community must act in a transparent and responsible way to favour all this. Citizens must feel themselves represented by the public authorities in respect for their freedom. Yet frequently a wedge is driven between citizens and institutions by partisan interests which disfigure that relationship, fostering the creation of an enduring climate of conflict.”

He closes with this:  “Service is the soul of that fraternity that builds up peace.”

Enough said.  Pope Francis says it best in his message of peace, so I encourage you to read it.   I, like Pope Francis, offer my “best wishes for a life filled with joy and hope.”  Happy New Year, my brothers & sisters!  Peace.