Another great discovery right under my nose!

Remember when I posted about discovering a little piece of heaven across the street from my house? After living there for twelve years?

Looks like I’ve found another treasure in my town. Continue reading “Another great discovery right under my nose!”

Nice, Baton Rouge, Dallas, Orlando, and your own life: When you can’t find the words during desperate times

There is no doubt that we are in the midst of a violent storm, in the world around us, and in our own private spheres.

lightning storm Benjamin Benson Flickr Creative Commons
lightning storm Benjamin Benson Flickr Creative Commons

We wake up to another terrorist attack or senseless shooting. We face a crisis of trust in our leaders.

Our faith is under siege. Believers face ridicule and rejection, and for some, martyrdom.

Sickness and death surround us. We witness children in poverty dying of starvation around the world. We encounter suffering, death and grief among our own families and friends.

In the midst of these storms,
do you find it difficult to pray?

I find these words from Romans 8:26 helpful:

“In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”

It no longer matters that I can’t find my own words–
God provides.

Word by Word, edited by Sarah Reinhard

We can begin with prayers we learned from childhood. Praying the Lord’s Prayer and the Hail Mary, word for word, and contemplating their meaning, does much to take our groanings to a deeper level. There is, in fact a book that does just that for the Hail Mary called Word by Word, edited by Sarah A. Reinhard. It literally provides a brief meditation for each word of the prayer. You’d be surprised how much you can learn from the word “the.”

The Divine Office, prayed each day by our clergy, is a wealth of words, mostly taken from scripture. If you find the format hard to master, you can listen to it at http://divineoffice.org.

For a time I prayed a psalm each morning until I had worked my way through the entire book. They addressed so many of my feelings. I imagined Jesus praying these psalms and often I could see his story within the words.

The singing of sacred hymns is especially consoling. I have an old hymnal and sing songs to myself, offering them as prayer. Singing truly is praying twice.

And during those times when the groanings pour over me in billows, God still provides through the prayers of family and friends. All I need do is ask.

It is true that familiarity breeds contempt, even with prayer. Maybe especially with prayer. How can something we’ve recited so many times still stir the heart and fill the soul? Can the meaning be restored?

I love praying Psalm 104 (which celebrates God's creation) while kayaking.
I love praying Psalm 104 (which celebrates God’s creation) while kayaking.

My husband, a deacon, recites the same prayers every morning from the Divine Office (from the Eastern Catholic Church). He has been doing this for seven years. I marveled at how he found meaning in this repetitive action.

On the surface it appeared to be a monotonous chore. To him it was sublime. But I had reached a point in my life where I could no longer come up with my own words and I decided to give it a try.

I proceeded to create my own prayer corner, a sacred space in our bedroom, decorated with icons and a candle. Using a prayer book that my husband’s bishop had created for lay people, I began the daily practice of chanting the Orthros (Morning Prayer) from the Eastern Catholic Church. Sometimes I do Vespers or the Compline at the end of the day.

There was something comforting about praying texts, many from scripture, or written by people recognized as saints. I knew the prayers would be centered on God rather than on me. They would lead me to a place of truth and humility with regards to my failings. And I would pray for others, even for those who had passed on before me.

And yes, keeping up with this routine proved to be challenging. But I was to discover that faithfulness to duty can bear a rich fruit. Just ask Mother Teresa–she dealt with spiritual desolation for over fifty years and yet she never wavered in her devotion to prayer and her work. I lean on her when I don’t feel like being faithful.

I started this regimen back in March and it is still going strong. Each time I recite the now familiar prayers, some word or phrase will touch my mind or heart and I will pause for a moment and think on it.

My cat, Jenny, insists on sitting in my lap each time I pray. She loves hearing me sing (along with the warm lap), and settles right in. I stroke her, and I pray. And it puts me in the eye of the storm.

And I no longer concern myself with my own words.
God provides.

silver lake-640

Note: This is my July column for the Catholic Free Press

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Many people find coloring to be a wonderful way to relax and experience harmony in their lives. Is that you? Join my Email List to subscribe to this blog and receive your free Harmony coloring book (and more).

River of Grace Audio book with soundtrack music available now on Bandcamp. Listen to the preface of the book, and all the songs.

Susan Bailey, Author, Speaker, Musician on Facebook and Twitter
Read my other blog, Louisa May Alcott is My Passion

What makes you think of spiritual things? Here’s an exercise to help you identify them.

flow lesson logo-640
Materials needed: pen or pencil and paper, and your memories

Pick a quiet place in your home to do this exercise and make sure you can sit still comfortably for several minutes.

Be still

Take a moment to be still with God, taking several long and deep breaths and listening as you breathe. In and out, in and out. Be conscious of the rhythm of the breathing. As you breathe in, whisper the name of Jesus; as you breathe out whisper, “Be with me.” Do this for several moments until you feel quiet and still.

Shawn Rossi Breathe
Shawn Rossi Breathe, Flickr Creative Commons

Recalling a happy memory

Take a piece of paper and fold it vertically in half so that you have two columns. Next recall one memory, object or smell that makes you feel especially good. In thinking of it, what words pop into your mind? Write them down in the left hand column. What feelings come to mind? Why do you feel that way? Write those down too in the same column.

Brainstorm with these ideas:

Look at your list. Are there any words on that list that you could equate with your relationship with God? Can you match up any of those impressions with how you feel when you spend time with God, either in a formal setting, such as attending Mass or a worship service, or on your own, praying for yourself or others, or simply meditating? In the right hand column, write down any words that pop into your head when you think of your experience with God.

Once your list is done, see if there are any similarities between the list in the left hand column and the list in the right. If you see similarities, draw a line from the word or words in the left hand column to the one in the right. Is there a possibility that in the future, your favorite memory, object, or aroma could prompt a pleasant memory about attending church or simply being in the presence of God?

Matthew Doyle Incense and Sunlight
Matthew Doyle Incense and Sunlight, Flickr Creative Commons

Pray and Ponder …

Do not be disturbed if you can’t see an immediate connection; it can take some practice. Ask God to reveal it to you over the course of several days and then look at your notes again to see if a connection becomes more evident.

00 cover drop shadowcopyright 2015 Susan W. Bailey;
from Chapter 1 of River of Grace: Creative Passages Through Difficult Times,
published by Ave Maria Press

 

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Many people find coloring to be a wonderful way to relax and experience harmony in their lives. Is that you? Join my Email List to subscribe to this blog and receive your free Harmony coloring book (and more).

River of Grace Audio book with soundtrack music available now on Bandcamp. Listen to the preface of the book, and all the songs.

Susan Bailey, Author, Speaker, Musician on Facebook and Twitter
Read my other blog, Louisa May Alcott is My Passion

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Reaching my weight loss goal through the toolbox of Grace

My latest Catholic Free Press column (June 17, 2016)

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Grace is invisible.

We feel its power pushing us forward, carrying us as does a river’s current. It takes us many places both serene and chaotic. It molds and shapes us. Yet there’s nothing concrete to grasp onto. We cannot dip our hands into its waters nor physically feel that current.

Or can we?

It is a mystery of our faith as demonstrated through the incarnation—God is spirit, grace invisible, and yet, God provides us with a toolbox to go along with that grace. As Jesus once came to Earth as man, and comes to us now through the bread and wine of the Holy Eucharist which we consume, so God’s grace comes to us through concrete and very human tools.

Recently I declared a personal victory.

After ten months of hard work, I had reached my weight loss goal. It wasn’t an enormous amount (just twenty seven pounds) but that did not diminish the glow of achievement. I discovered that the rewards of those lost pounds were far greater than favorite clothes regained. I was reminded again of the toolbox God provided me when He first infused me with the grace to begin this journey.

before and after1

Getting the elephant to move!

It had been fifteen years since I had been successful losing weight. At sixty I found it far easier to gain! The very idea of trying seemed impossible—it was like an elephant was sitting on top of me. I had given it permission to stay even as I longed for it to leave.

elephant on chest

An invitation

One day last August, after hearing the invitation over and over in my heart, I went to adoration. Bringing my tablet, I watched a video of a musical rosary and spent the hour meditating on the sorrowful mysteries. It was a powerful time of prayer, a rare time of undistracted quiet in front of the Blessed Sacrament.

An image as metaphor

A few days later I noticed a photograph of my sister-in-law on Facebook. She had been out picking blueberries with her one-year-old son strapped in a carrier on her chest. I had seen her and Nate a few days earlier and knew he weighted some twenty pounds. I was immediately struck with the idea of her carrying twenty pounds on her chest and thought of the back pain I would feel carrying that weight. And then, all of a sudden, I realized I was carrying that weight! As we older women know, most weight gain occurs in the stomach and abdomen areas.

Memories unfold . . .

unfolding will montague-640
Unfolding by Will Montague, Flickr Creative Commons

I then recalled the last time I lost weight with the Atkins diet. It had been a great success. Old memories began to unfold, first of how I liked the food on that diet, and then, of all the strategies I had employed to make that diet work. Once-dormant thoughts began to awaken and reveal themselves to me.

… and the elephant leaves.

As I decided to proceed a laser-like focus steeled my will and I was on my way. The elephant on me got up and left quickly.

Sweet discipline

Over the next ten months I employed a specific strategy that would keep my focus and shed those unwanted pounds. In the course of the diet, I was changed from a gluttonous to a disciplined and healthy eater.

Tools of grace

a tool filled weekend wicked little cake company-640
a tool filled weekend by wicked little cake company, Flickr Creative Commons

I knew God had provided me with that image of my sister-in-law as the concrete motivator. He then revealed his toolbox through the infusion of grace received from Him in adoration. Tools of memories, ideas, plans and specific actions continued unfolding week to week until today I can say that I have reached my goal. Dieting has been completed; the discipline is engrained in me forever. The elephant will not return.

Just be, and let it happen

All I had to do was answer a simple invitation to spend time alone with God without any other agenda than to just be. He knew my need long before I knew it and He provided generously and in many concrete forms.

We may not be able to touch grace. But grace most certainly touches us.

Click to Tweet & ShareI reached my weight loss goal through the toolbox of Grace http://wp.me/p2D9hg-1Lq

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Many people find coloring to be a wonderful way to relax and experience harmony in their lives. Is that you? Join my Email List to subscribe to this blog and receive your free Harmony coloring book (and more).

River of Grace Audio book with soundtrack music available now on Bandcamp. Listen to the preface of the book, and all the songs.

Susan Bailey, Author, Speaker, Musician on Facebook and Twitter
Read my other blog, Louisa May Alcott is My Passion

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How can I release regrets in my life? Try this spiritual exercise.

NOTE: I have a bunch of these spiritual exercises in River of Grace called Flow Lessons and I thought I would share them with you. Give it a try and see what happens!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

flow lesson logo-640

Materials needed: pen or pencil and paper; a large sink or bathtub; a small, empty Tupperware; various small objects that will not be harmed should they get wet


Note: If you belong to a faith tradition that practices the sacraments (such as the Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Episcopal or Orthodox faiths), making use of the Sacrament of  Reconciliation/Confession/Absolution is the best place to start when dealing with regrets. The kind counsel of the priest coupled with the reception of sanctifying grace provides true spiritual healing. The value of this exercise is for any leftover regrets you were unable to release after reception of the sacrament.

Be still

This may be a difficult exercise so you will want to take some extra time to be in the presence of God. Use previous practices such as slow breathing, birds flying away from a tree or placing objects in a bag to clear your mind of cares and anxieties.

David Stanley Sunset Over the Rupununi, Flickr Creative Commons

Recalling regrets

There are times in our lives when we feel we have fallen short in our actions, failing to do our best for someone we love or even doing something that caused harm to that person. This can cause a tremendous burden of guilt and regret. Even if others disagree with our assessment of our actions, our own perception is what is real to us. We may have even already confessed our shortfall but still feel burdened with regret. With all this in mind, take a moment to recall any regrets in your life with regards to failing someone you loved (just as I regretted not being more present to my mother’s immediate needs). Write them down.

Preparing to release your regrets

Regrets are burdens that need to be off loaded and released; this exercise will provide a concrete means to do so. Taking your list, go to the sink or bathtub and fill it with water (consider using the bathtub as it will make the exercise more effective). Take a small Tupperware and place it in the water. Have your objects in a pile next to your paper. Pick up an object and assign it something from your list, speaking that something out loud. For example: “I would not kiss my mother.” Place the object in the Tupperware. Do this for every item on your list. After doing so, place your list in the Tupperware as well.

Push them away …

Pull the Tupperware towards the edge of the sink or bathtub (in essence, anchoring it). Closing your eyes, imagine yourself sitting on a dock next to Jesus, leaning in to him. You and he are swinging your feet over a large barge filled to the brim with heavy rubble. Imagine looking into Jesus’ eyes and saying the following prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Say this prayer out loud several times. As you say the prayer, imagine the Lord pointing to your feet and instructing you to place them on the rim of the barge; he is doing the same. Imagine yourself pushing the barge away with the Lord and watching it float downstream and out of site.

Mark Morgan 0522 Rust Barge, Flickr Creative Commons

… and give thanks

Open your eyes and release your Tupperware, pushing it slowly away; in effect releasing all of those objects labeled with your regrets. As you watch it float away, say, “Thank you Jesus for releasing my burden” for each object in that Tupperware (even if that thank you does not yet feel genuine).

Pray and ponder …

Take a moment to be still with God, and reflect upon what has just occurred. If you feel so inclined, write down your impressions. Thank God for forgiving you and for taking from you the burden of your regrets.

00 cover drop shadowcopyright 2015 Susan W. Bailey;
from Chapter 2 of River of Grace: Creative Passages Through Difficult Times,
published by Ave Maria Press

Click to Tweet & Share: Got a barge load of regrets you want to get rid of? Try this spiritual exercise http://wp.me/p2D9hg-1Lg #riverofgrace

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Many people find coloring to be a wonderful way to relax and experience harmony in their lives. Is that you? Join my Email List to subscribe to this blog and receive your free Harmony coloring book (and more).

River of Grace Audio book with soundtrack music available now on Bandcamp. Listen to the preface of the book, and all the songs.

Susan Bailey, Author, Speaker, Musician on Facebook and Twitter
Read my other blog, Louisa May Alcott is My Passion

 

Got cold feet? I have a cheap, easy and quick solution for you!

I did say I would write about anything on this blog.:-)

When I figure out a solution to a problem, I love to tell people about it. And this solution worked so well and is so easy to execute that I just had to share. And it regards–feet! Continue reading “Got cold feet? I have a cheap, easy and quick solution for you!”

River of Grace Soundtrack Album and Audio Book now available for only $15 from Bandcamp

Audio books make great traveling companions as does music.  I am pleased to announce that River of Grace is now available as an audio book with the music included, all on a USB Flash drive with smart phone-ready files ready for you to load up.

Take this story of grace with you on your next long trip or listen to it during your morning commute. Continue reading “River of Grace Soundtrack Album and Audio Book now available for only $15 from Bandcamp”

New book to announce! The Catholic Mom’s Prayer Companion: A Book of Daily Reflections

I have an exciting announcement!

Last year I was asked by Ave Maria Press (the publisher of River of Grace) to be a contributor to a wonderful devotional project that will be part of the Catholicmom.com book series. I am privileged to be one of eighty distinguished writers for this work known as The Catholic Mom’s Prayer Companion: A Book of Daily Reflections. Continue reading “New book to announce! The Catholic Mom’s Prayer Companion: A Book of Daily Reflections”

Can’t see the forest for the trees–literally! What have we been missing?

I have a favorite saying:

“I’m slow but I get it eventually.”

But twelve years? Seriously?:-)

That’s how long it took me to discover this little paradise just across the street and down the hill from my house (which is both on a busy street and near railroad tracks): Continue reading “Can’t see the forest for the trees–literally! What have we been missing?”

Come Holy Spirit! In anticipation of Pentecost

This is my column for this month’s Catholic Free Press. May the Holy Spirit give you strength and consolation as he fills you with God’s love and leads you to new life.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Towards sanctity: the Spirit’s call from fear to love

Sometimes I think I should have been born a house cat. Indoor cats crave comfort and security above all else and this is my priority too.  Have you ever noticed the lengths cats will go to find that perfect spot to sleep? It’s always on the softest pillow, the coziest quilt, the laundry basket full of clothes just drawn from a hot dryer.

jenny and rameses

That pursuit of comfort drives my actions. I will choose to look frumpy rather than wear clothes that bind me in any way. I opted out of going to a favorite spot to watch the spring bird migration because it was cold and rainy. Making comfort my top priority has turned me into a notorious homebody. I’ve become complacent and rigid.

This makes it all the more difficult for the Holy Spirit to affect change in me. How can I grow in sanctity if I am unwilling to give up comfort and security in favor of challenge and growth?

come holy spirit

The apostles were fishermen. Before Jesus came their sphere was small, their lives parochial and secure. They were fearful, illiterate, not well-traveled—hardly the makings of a group of men who would change the world. And yet they change it they did, not on their own power but through acceptance of the Holy Spirit into their lives. Once infused with the Spirit, their lives were transformed and so were the lives of all whom they encountered. Being faithful to the Spirit sanctified their lives, established the Church and made it possible for countless millions to achieve salvation.

st. paul preaching in athensComfort and security were not priorities for St. Paul once he came to know Jesus Christ. He recounts in 2 Corinthians 11:23–28 all which he willingly suffered for the sake of the Gospel: shipwrecks, beatings and dangers of many sorts (even from his own people), all the while anguishing over the churches he had helped establish. It eventually led to his martyrdom as it did for many of the apostles. Yet he writes in Acts 20:24, “I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me–the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.”

00 cover drop shadowAs I contemplate the coming Pentecost, I must examine my own life: is my top priority allowing the Holy Spirit to work in me? Or is it comfort and security? God gave me a call to become an author and despite the many difficulties (especially my doubts), I answered it, but only up to a point. When the call became uncomfortable, I resisted. Writing in the comfort and privacy of my home was easy; sharing it with others is another matter. The Spirit is challenging me: will I step out, pushing through doubts, shyness and fears of rejection and failure in order to share my work to others? Will I forsake comfort to travel to faraway places? Am I willing to push myself physically? Am I allowing the Spirit to lead me or am I thwarting him with excuses? It is ironic that I wrote River of Grace to share about a life transformed after great loss and yet now I resist the Spirit’s prompting to share that message.

We are all called to share the Gospel through whatever means we have been granted by God. And we are all afraid. The apostles overcame their fear by allowing the Spirit to fill them with a love of Christ so firm that they would risk death to spread his Word. Love indeed conquers fear. Complacency, smallness and rigidity are signs of fear whereas largeness, flexibility and growth towards God are fruits of love. Only through love can we be changed and thus, change the world.

Therefore, we must allow Love to have His way. And so we pray, “Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful. And kindle in them the fire of your love.”

Come, Holy Spirit
(based on reading #521 of To the Priests, Our Lady’s Beloved Sons, compiled by Don Stefano Gobbi)

Come, Holy Spirit
Come fill our hearts
And kindle in us the fire of Your everlasting love
Oh breathe on us, dear Lord
Come breathe on us (now)

Oh, Holy Spirit
Soften our hardened hearts
Help us this day to recall
The love of our Savior
Oh precious Jesus
Suffering servant of all
Taking upon Him the wounds
Inflicted by all our sins

Come Holy Spirit
Rain down your fire from heaven
Purify every heart
And show us our poverty
Shower your rain on us
Filling each thirsty heart
That we may go forth refreshed and renewed
Singing praise to God

Come Holy Spirit
Fill us with praise
That we may proclaim the greatness of the saving heart of God
Sing praises to His Name
Sing praise to Him (His Name)

©1999 Susan W. Bailey

“Come Holy Spirit” is available on iTunes and on my CD, Teach Me to Love.

Click to Tweet & ShareBecause of Pentecost we all can receive the Holy Spirit. So let’s sing together: “Come Holy Spirit!” http://wp.me/p2D9hg-1K8

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Many people find coloring to be a wonderful way to relax and experience harmony in their lives. Is that you? Join my Email List to subscribe to this blog and receive your free Harmony coloring book (and more).

Susan Bailey, Author, Speaker, Musician on Facebook and Twitter
Read my other blog, Louisa May Alcott is My Passion