Thursday, February 27, 2014

Daybook, February 27

The Daybook is a networking linkup hosted by Jenny at Plain Grace. It is a way of sharing the small, simple things of our lives. If you would like to participate or see what others are saying, click here.

PRAYING FOR..Christie at Everything to Someone who is moving to Wales next week to join her husband there; Jen at ::Meditatio:: who is going through a difficult time of testing; Maia at From Little Hands who is starting a new business to help her family save money for their own place to live (right now the family is living with her parents-in-law); Laura at Laura Elizabeth's Corner that God would work a miracle in her family.

PONDERING..the many things I have been learning about myself as a result of praying that God would let me see myself as I really am.

READING.. An Unexciting Life by Michael Casey, a trappist monk and scholar. I've done a couple of posts based on passages from this book, which is an amazingly rich read.

LISTENING TO..nothing right now, but the last thing I listened to was Ofra Harnoy playing Vivaldi cello concertos.

PREPARING FOR..our trip to the U.S. in two weeks. We're going to see the family and prepare our cabin for our son and his wife to move into while they remodel their house.

FROM THE's nightime so nothing's happening right now, but for dinner we had polenta with chicharrones in a tomato-tequila sauce, and green beans with garlic. The beans were fresh picked from our vegetable garden.

LOOK WHAT I excellent commentary on the what's ailing American culture by Monsignor Charles Pope, who always has something thoughtful to share on his blog.

And to give your eyes something to feast on, here's a photo of some passion fruit from our passion fruit arbor. We have 2 vines which cover an arbor that is 20 feet long and 5 feet wide, and they give us passion fruits all year long.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Reflections on an Unexciting Life: stability of mind

This is the second in a series of posts on the book shown above. This book is full of passages that have deepened my awareness of the landscape through which the path of fulfillment lies - the path that leads to God's presence. Today I want to share a passage that speaks directly to our culture. The emphases are mine:

"Benedict did not desire his monks to be anything else but 'unworldly'…He wanted them to breathe the atmosphere of the Kingdom of God rather than be the playthings of human opinion and desire. To make progress along this way, stability was of the utmost importance. This was…a solidity or steadiness of mind. It was the opposite of mobility of mind. Separation from the world is thus seen to be more a matter of working toward an evenness of life in which prayer becomes possible. It is in the avoidance of meaningless mental stimulation rather than a question of bodily location…To advance in prayer, inner quiet is needed."

Now, I am well aware that God does not require us to have a quiet spirit before He'll hear our prayers. If that were true we'd all be sunk! But this passage, for me, reminds me of how valuable quietude is. By quietude I am not referring to outward quiet, but to that stability of the soul that doesn't seek continual distractions, that is content when not engaged in activity to fill the spaces in one's life.

When I was newly married and we had recently moved to the forest to homestead, we had chickens. The Pirate could sit for long periods of time just watching them, while I would be in the house, looking for ways to be distracted from my discomfort at being a city girl in a country environment and from my own sense of inadequacy. I wished then that I had the inner peace that he had, to be able to sit quietly without feeling as though I were wasting time or that my lack of activity showed dullness of mind or that our life was too uninteresting.

Thankfully, at least in that characteristic I have grown more like my husband over the years, and I am perfectly happy now to just sit and look at chickens, to create the quiet inner environment which invites God to speak directly to my spirit. That's the part from the passage about "advancing in prayer" that my own experience confirms. Yes, God stoops close to hear us when we're surrounded by noise; He's intent on being in conversation with us. As the Catechism tells us, He is the initiator of prayer, we only respond to His tugs at our heart. But, Oh, He yearns for us to yearn for Him! How patiently He waits for us to put aside all our distractions so He can hold us tenderly!

Here is a photo of the view from our last home in Alta California, in an enchanting place called La Honda. We thought that we would live out our lives there. The deep peace that seemed to rise out of the ground; the quiet - so quiet that quail lived all around us (they like the deep country). I spent many hours just sitting, basking in the quiet. And it wasn't because we had an amazing view - we've had amazing views almost everyplace we've lived.

This was the place where I learned to be quiet enough on the inside that I could actually soak in the view. Despite going through the most painful trial of my life there; despite being without the anchor of a faith community; despite having a very challenging professional practice to run. Inner quiet isn't dependent on outer stability, or everything going smoothly. We give our attention to whatever we value, and inner quiet is the result of valuing the "air of heaven"…I want to breathe that calm, pure air that sustains me regardless of outward circumstances. Now THAT is a treasure worth seeking!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Pirate Post - Ode to an Eskimo Pie

It's been awhile since I did a Pirate Post. I love my husband's poetry, and I'm sure that others would love it too if they had the opportunity to read it. I've recently been reflecting on how much there is for me to learn from him (after 45 years!) and this poem does a good job of communicating his great delight in everything and everyone that I want to have as well.


Somewhere inside me is the love of Jesus, a machine gun, and an Eskimo Pie.

Somewhere in this wonderful clutter is an undeveloped librarian
Knowledgeably arranging endless facts so others may apply them.
Also a logger: plaid, sweaty, getting things razor sharp
For a good day's work. Sometimes the teacher, sometimes the grandfather,
Sometimes a novice sailor. Some kind of
Mark Twain, Steve Wozniak, Ewell Gibbons kind of guy
Who preaches Ezekiel to the neighborhood dogs,
Though they seldom repent.

Going somewhere, almost certainly important
To be interested and involved with characters who aren't.
So let his music blare; let the ice cream melt, there on the floor.
Keep that machine gun welded and by all means
Let the love of Jesus flow.

Friday, February 14, 2014

St. Valentine's Day celebration, Mexican style

We just got back from our regular Friday night mass and charismatic asamblea, and I'm so blown away I have to do a quick post on it. We have a charismatic asamblea (in the U.S. we used to call them "prayer and praise") every Friday after mass, but since it was the "dia de amor" today, the lay leaders had decided to have a special time of eucharistic adoration instead of the regular asamblea, to show Jesus our love for Him.

Well, in all my years as a charismatic christian - more than 40, and most of those in communities who understood how to do things decently and in order, with reverence and joy - I have NEVER experienced anything like this! At the end of the mass, Padre brought out Jesus in the monstrance, and then the lay leaders of the group led us in about 1/2 hour of prayer interspersed with songs of praise to Him, with much reverence. And of course, they were facing Jesus, not the congregation. Then Padre came back and gave a short message before the monstrance. He asked us, seriously, if our community were in great danger, would any of us be willing to sacrifice our child to save the community. You could have heard a pin drop as he let us think about that for awhile before going on to underscore the unfathomable love of God. What tenderness was manifested, what gratitude for each other!

Then two of the lay teachers read scriptures on love to us (from Isaiah and 1 John) - while facing Jesus, of course - and addressed prayers to Jesus rather than doing teachings on the scriptures they read. At the end we sang a number of joyful songs about the love of God, and it was marvellous to see the whole congregation standing before the monstrance with their hands raised in praise. I wish you could have seen it.

After tonight, I can't imagine any more perfect way of observing St. Valentine's Day that this. It was a taste of heaven, for sure!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Low energy doings

I've had la gripa (a cold) for the past week so I've been pretty fuzzy-headed, not up to thinking in a straight line. I've been saving what little energy I've got for the necessary chores: water the plants, feed the dogs, cook dinner.

But I'm starting to feel the lack of being "in the conversation" with other people, and perhaps my family is wondering whether I dropped off the map, so here's a quick update on what's been happening here at Casa Dulce the past week.

KNITTING. I've been doing the "Follow your Arrow" knit-along that Ginny told us about, but I paused at the end of the 3rd clue because I wanted to see whether I should try to increase the size of the shawl in section 4, or whether section (clue) 5 would offer a version for those of us who like LARGE shawls. So instead I started working on an afghan for the daybed on the terraza upstairs (shown in the photo above).

READING. As I mentioned last week, I'm kind of startled at how many markers I've put in the book I've been reading, "An Unexciting Life". So until I can work some of them out of a job by putting down my thoughts on blog posts, I don't want to continue with that book. Instead, I've been reading our priest's doctoral thesis which I had asked him for. The topic is spiritual direction for those who are experiencing suffering, and it's really a great read. Even though it's in spanish, he writes very clearly and I'm having no problem following what he says.

I also just downloaded a book on sayings of the Desert Mothers, including those of Syncletica, who I wrote about last week.

COOKING. We just cut down a large bunch of plantains from one of our plants, so I decided to cook some of them while they were still green. Plantains (and bananas) are weird - they only ripen once they've been cut down.

And green (unripe) plantains are used in cooking as a carbohydrate. There are numerous recipes for green plantains, and the one that I tried this week is called "aranitas" (little spiders):

But by the evenings my mind has been so spaced out that I can't focus on reading, so I've been watching:
1. videos from Franciscan University on various subjects
2. Wimp (this is the ultimate feel-good source of short videos on random subjects)
3. Bored Shorts (these are addictive!)

And finally, here are some photos of the little house across the road that we bought, and the current state of the remodel that we're doing on it. We added a third room, which will be another bedroom. The guys are currently putting up rafters of pine logs, which is typical for old ranch houses around here.


NEW ROOM (on the other side of the house):

And that's all she wrote! (for today, anyway).

Friday, February 7, 2014

3 Reasons: Three Role Models

So, my non-Catholic family and friends might ask, what's with giving all this attention to dead saints, anyway? After all, all God's people are saints [definition: those who have been set apart]. Well, yeah, but I personally don't find that all God's people make good role models. The people that the Catholic Church has officially declared as saints are held up as role models for the rest of us who need real-life examples of how to be disciples.

As an aside, the Catholic Church does NOT consider only those who have been named as saints to BE saints. The Church's assumption is that there are MANY people who have been extraordinarily good role models of what it means to be a disciple, but the mechanism for having official recognition is cumbersome and expensive, so not everyone who deserves that official recognition gets it…not because the Church doesn't think they're worth it, but every cause for official sainthood needs a group of people committed to the investment of time and energy into advocating for that cause.

So anyway, who are the saints that I have found most helpful as role models? Since I already did one linkup on my favorite saints here, I'll reach a bit further to saints that I'm intrigued by but haven't really bonded to yet.

SAINT FRANCES OF ROME. I'm really attracted to her because she had a long and happy marriage (40 years!) and also was able to serve the poor of that large city in a substantial way through the wars and pestilences of the 15th century, to the point where she was mourned by the whole city at her death. What struck me the most in her biography is what her husband told her on his deathbed: "I feel as if my whole life has been one beautiful dream of purest happiness. God has given me so much in your love." That is my heart's greatest desire - to be a wife like that. For a more detailed bio, click here.

SAINT SYNCLETICA. She is the best known of the Desert Mothers - women who withdrew from the corruption of the contemporary culture in order to focus on living solely for God. They, like the Desert Fathers, lived primarily the 3rd and 4th centuries and the communities that grew up around them were the first expressions of monasticism. For me she is a model of the older woman of faith who can - and does - teach the younger. Many of her wise sayings have been preserved, such as this one: "There is an ascetism that is determined by the enemy and his disciples practice it. So how are we to distinguish between the divine and royal asceticism and the demonic tyranny? Clearly through the quality of balance." For more of her wisdom, click here.

ST. JOHN KOLOBUS. One of the desert hermits who lived in the 4th century. 'Kolobus' apparently means 'dwarf', which he was. Through much experience he learned to be gentle and humble. To test him in his humility, his spiritual director ordered him to water a walking staff stuck in the sand, which he did faithfully. It blossomed and John Kolobus called it "the tree of obedience". I love that his physical stature reflected the inward state of smallness that is so important for those who want to enter the kingdom of God. There was nothing flashy or important or special about him, except that he is a great example of one who learned humility. for more info, click here.

And for more stories about great role models for us as we stumble forward toward God, click here to get to Micaela's blog, California to Korea and back again.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Theme Thursday: Church Windows

I'm not a Theme Thursday player, although I read many of the posts that participate in that linkup over at Clan Donaldson (including Cari's of course, even though I'm sure I'd be on her "out" list if she knew about me, since I live in sunny Mexico!).

However, with Church Windows being the theme this week, and one of my favorite things in life being the Window behind the altar at our church, I have to share it with you all.

(click on the photo to get an enlarged image). It's got 12 stars (from the image in Revelation 12) - one at the end of each tongue of fire - and rosary beads encircling the niche. There are roses and lilies at the bottom, and over all, the most wonderful depiction of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, hovering over the "M" from the Miraculous medal and overshadowing all these references to Mary. At night the window is lit from behind, so attendants at the daily mass (held in the evenings) receive the special gift of seeing this window in a glorious burst of color, illuminating the whole area around the tabernacle.

The statue in the niche is Our Lady of the Pilar/Nuestra Senora del Pilar, which is the name of this church (although the parish is Santa Rosa de las Palmas).

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Small steps

I've been pondering what a great gap there is between what God wants from us and what we believe He wants from us. For instance, for decades I have understood "suffering" to mean big things, like getting cancer, or having a family member die, or being a war refugee. Although these things can happen God isn't just waiting for us to give ourselves unconditionally to Him so He can put us through the trials of Job. What He does wants is for us to bear our sufferings with a greater concern for those around us than for our own comfort. And the things that present themselves as opportunities to learn how to do this are pretty mundane. Having a sore throat; being misunderstood by your spouse; being stuck in the house with grumpy toddlers.

Same thing with sacrifice. God isn't expecting us to go to a foreign country and suffer martyrdom. He's hoping that we'll sacrifice our TV time to play with our kids; that we'll sacrifice the latte we're on the way to buy so we can give the money to a homeless person; that we'll sacrifice our much-desired cozy afternoon of reading to visit someone who can't get out much.

This also applies to prayer. "Pray without ceasing" seems way too big to ever accomplish. But as has been pointed out by many wise people, prayer is attending to God. It's (figuratively) turning your face toward Him. Another way of saying that is that it's orienting your life toward Him. That doesn't require conscious awareness every moment of the day. If your heart is oriented toward Him, whatever you do is prayer: cleaning the house, answering email, grocery shopping, etc. You wouldn't deliberately do these things in a way that displeases God, which indicates that your heart is oriented toward Him, your life is a prayer, you are offering yourself to Him, even subconsciously, every moment.

Or how about gratitude and thanksgiving? "Give thanks in all things for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you". This also doesn't require us to consciously and continuously be thinking "thanks, God, for the air; thanks for cars; thanks for coffee; thanks for music", etc. We've all experienced a full heart that needs no words; we can aim to cultivate that wordless gratitude that doesn't require heroic effort to sustain. It can be a background sense, a thanksgiving that is easily stirred up.

I suspect that we have been too easily dismayed by the seeming impossibility of ever attaining to the holiness that we see in the lives of people like Mother Teresa or Saint Francis or [name your favorite saint here]. But as Terese of Lisieux reminds us, it's our trusting love that God wants; not heroism. As I learn to look for small ways that I can please God I'm finding that the opportunities are limitless, and within my capabilities. I don't need to reach for the stars; all I need to do is reach for God's hand: trust that He loves me always and will help me always.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Reflections on an unexciting life, 02/02/14

I've been reading a book called An Unexciting Life by Michael Casey, who is a Trappist monk in Australia. It is a very thick book, a compendium of many scholarly essays he has written over the years about the Rule of St. Benedict. At this point I have so many post-it arrows pointing to passages that in self-defense I decided to write posts on as many of them as I can in order to process my thoughts and get rid of the post-its without compunction (Wow! I used the word compunction in an actual sentence!)

The name of the book is taken from the reality that the monastic life is deliberately unexciting in its physical consistency, so that the focus can be on the richness of the inner life. His point is that those of us who seek quiet lives based on regularity of activities, lacking in diversity and distractions, aren't necessarily boring people. On the contrary, a quiet, regular life is the perfect soil for creativity and imagination if you nurture them.

The first quote that struck me from Casey's book is "The monk's center of gravity is not susceptible to exterior pressures so that he is not easily bowled over. Gravitas [in the monk] suggests a certain removal from real or manufactured storms that move life in the direction of soap opera. There is a tendency to develop a spirit of calmness, a certain imperturbability and a sage sense of proportion that transcends temperament and has its source in a firm faith in God."

I have always been attracted to the monastic lifestyle, maybe because I am, like Jen Fulwiler, an INTJ, a personality which can be quite comfortable living life totally inside the head. In fact, when I first became a christian, in a classic 'I got saved' situation after reading the first paragraph of the Gospel of John and realizing that it was LIVING TRUTH like nothing else ever written, my first thought was, "Oh no, what do I do now? I can't be a nun because I'm married and have a baby!" Happily, my neighbors across the road, a wonderful christian couple, took me under their wing and showed me how to aim for holiness as a wife and mother.

The primary sign of holiness that I have aimed for in my life is that spirit of calmness. No wonder my 'life verse' is 1 Timothy 6:6, "Godliness with contentment is great gain". I am deeply grateful to God that He has led me on a path that has brought me to this place, where I have the privilege of living according to Benedictine principles. I doubt that this path seems attractive to you extroverts out there, but for my introvert sisters in Christ, it holds great satisfaction and richness. And of course, since there are more extroverts than introverts in the world, that probably holds true for monastic communities as well, so an unexciting life must be attractive to some extroverts as well!

And for those of you who aren't particularly interested in having an unexciting life, no se preocupen (don't worry), this is not the only topic I plan to write about this year. But I do plan to have it be a recurring theme for awhile, interspersed with other things in my life here in paradise!