A novel gift idea this Christmas: just let each other BE

Note: this is my Catholic Free Press column for December; it is also running on Catholicmom.com.

Here’s an except:

Pressure!

By Eric Mueller (2003) via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

There is a lot of pressure applied to people during the holiday season to conform to some artificial standard. Society tells us to behave in one way while the opposite is preached by our Church. Newlyweds are expected to be present at all the family gatherings despite the impossible logistics. The financially strapped are supposed to spend, spend, spend. The domestically challenged must entertain and cook up a storm. Those still licking wounds from Christmases past are supposed to act like they were never wounded. The lonely should not be lonely and the grieving should stop mourning and put it behind them.

So how can we be of help? And what if we fit one of these categories — can we be kind to ourselves?

Read on …

Continue reading “A novel gift idea this Christmas: just let each other BE”

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Book Review: My Brother’s Keeper A Novel about the Family of Jesus by Bill Kassel

I am pleased to present this review of a wonderful and epic novel by Bill Kassel called My Brother’s Keeper A Novel about the Family of Jesus. A work of speculative fiction, Kassel imagines the life of Christ through family members, supported by exhaustive research. This book would make  wonderful Christmas gift!

Here is my review, published on Catholicmom.com:
http://catholicmom.com/2017/11/28/book-review-brothers-keeper-novel-family-jesus-bill-kassel/

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November remembrances: Guided from darkness to light by those who have gone before us

My November column for The Catholic Free Press and Catholicmom:

With November comes the descent into the cold and darkness of the forthcoming winter. After an extended period of warmth and sunshine it is difficult to see the barren trees and lifeless gardens. Birds are flying south and chipmunks are scurrying about, gathering nuts for the winter before setting into hibernation. Nighttime exceeds the daylight hours; many of us will only see the morning sun as we head into work only to be greeted by darkness when we go home. The world around us is preparing for winter sleep. November feels like death.

Artur Rydzewski, “Cranes migration,” Flickr Creative Commons

Darkness into light

Yet, come December 21, the trend changes. After the shortest day of the year, daylight begins to increase. Ice, snow and cold engulf us and yet, each day is a little longer. The silence of January is replaced by birdsong in February. By March 21, we are celebrating the coming of spring.

Nature is a sign of God’s promise to those who believe in Him. Each year the seasonal cycle reminds us that even as we descend into darkness, we emerge again into the light.

Du Ende, “Dusk,” Flickr Creative Commons

Pondering heaven

The Church has designated this month of November as a time to pray for our beloved dead. It can be a difficult and somber time as we are reminded of our grief. Yet at the same time, it is a time of hope, the recent Feast of All Saints being the perfect example. We celebrate those saints, known and unknown, who have gone before us and who intercede for us. The readings from the day’s liturgy help us to focus on the glory that awaits us if we continue to persevere. Although no living person has seen heaven, still, it is enjoyable to ponder on the mystery even as a clear picture eludes us. Our hope is based upon the promise that we will rise, as did Christ, in a glorified body, freed forever from suffering and sorrow. Sainthood is the eventual end, and beginning, for all believers.

Moving through our season of darkness

November reminds us that all must pass through the winter of suffering and death first, along with the purification of Purgatory. There is no way to avoid these winters even if we are fortunate enough to die in our sleep. We are aware of the aging of our bodies with all its aches and pains. The mind becomes dulled and emotions are magnified. Disease exacts great suffering. We lose family and friends to death and feel increasingly isolated as our world becomes smaller. Those who care for aging loved ones suffer as well, often feeling powerless in the relentless march towards the inevitable. Clinging to the hope given to us by God becomes the existential challenge. Truly there is martyrdom in aging.

Billie Greenwood,
“In the Winter of My Life, I Bloomed,” Flickr Creative Commons

It is a journey from death to life even as Christ suffered on the cross and died. He endured the agonies of mind, heart and body. He also rose to life again in a glorified body. While many of us will need to go through a period of purification after we die in order to prepare for sainthood, we can find comfort in the fact that many living souls are praying for us and holding us close to their hearts. Springtime will come.

Remembering those who have gone before us

November reminds us of the importance of remembering loved ones who have died. We can actively pray for them and help them through their journey of Purgatory. They can know the comfort of our companionship through their suffering.

Remembering those in our midst

November also reminds us of the need to draw close to our suffering elderly. As difficult as it can be to confront aging and the dying process, there is a profound sacredness in offering our love and care. They are going before us, acting as our guides. Those who cling to the hope of God’s love demonstrate how to let go of life while remaining engaged in it, entering into the unknown of death with courage and grace. No lesson is more important.

November is a month of grey skies and blustery winds. It is also a month to ponder the greatest of all mysteries – life, death, and resurrection. As we pray for those living and those gone on before us, let us embrace these mysteries in all that we do.

Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, MA; photo by Susan Bailey

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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

 

When faith is tested: He’s got this.

My monthly Catholic Free Press/Catholic mom column.

When I awoke to the news of the massacre in Las Vegas, I felt numb inside. It was all too much. First the hurricanes in Texas and Florida. Then the devastation in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. And now this. (And after initially writing this, the fires in Northern California). I had not been directly affected by any of these events and yet a heavy sense of dread lay on my heart as I began to pray for those who had been affected. In reciting words that praised God and spoke of his protection, I felt a thud inside my heart saying, “no, they had not been protected.”

Where is God?

Later in the day I had a short conversation with a good friend on Twitter. She had written, “Las Vegas makes us ask God: where are you? The answer: God is here, asking the same question of us: ‘Where are you?’ Seek and let him find you.” I answered, “Got to admit, this one is shaking my faith a bit. I will never abandon my faith and I will always love God, but it did give me pause.” She answered, “I understand. What God permits is always jarring, but He sees the whole picture. That doesn’t make it any easier to trust Him.”

She thought her reply had not helped but in fact, it did. I felt the burden lift just a bit at the thought of God alone knowing the whole picture. I answered, “Actually, in a way, it does. He’s got this. Thank you; your words brought me comfort.”

He’s got this.

It’s not for me or for any of us to know the entire picture. He sees the world in its entirety from the beginning until the end of time. I don’t know why that comforts me, but it does. It is not within my ability to be omnipotent and therefore, not my responsibility to know it all. I am only asked to know enough to offer prayers and supplication, to lend a hand, to offer some words of comfort.

All I ever have to be …

This all reminds me of a song written by Gary Chapman and sung by Amy Grant,

“And all I ever have to be is what
You’ve made me
Any more or less would be a step out of Your plan
As you daily recreate me help me always keep in mind
That I only have to do what I can find
… all I ever have to be is what You made me.”

One day at a time

It’s the same idea. None of us were made with the capacity to carry the whole world on our shoulders. And that is a comfort to me. Somebody Else is in charge of that. All I have to do each day is to do what I am supposed to do. I can’t physically be in Houston or the Keys or San Juan or Las Vegas. But I can pray. I can carry these people in my thoughts and in my heart. I can choose a favorite charity and donate. I can give blood even though it may not be of help in Las Vegas; it will, however, help someone in my own backyard.

The suffering in our world is overwhelming; it’s impossible for me to wrap my head around it. Thankfully I am not asked to do that. I can leave it to the Lord; He’s got this.

A prayer

“Lord, guide me in your wisdom to those little things I can do to help ease some of the suffering of this world. Chase away my dread and those nagging doubts and show me what I can do in this moment to be of help. And please, keep reminding me that all I ever have to be what is You made me.”

Listen to Amy Grant singing the song:

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

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Recognizing the creative person within

I manage a blog for a dear friend with a beautiful heart. I just had to share her latest post with you. It reflects what I wrote in chapter 5 of my book, River of Grace, which describes a similar idea — that we are all called to create with what we have been given. To find that storehouse of creative energy, we must get in touch with our Creator who fuels that energy. My friend Brunhilde uses her creativity to inspire us to come closer to God. The beauty of her paintings and her words is a great way to start that movement towards the One who created our vast world, and us, out of nothing. We in turn, have all of his creation at our disposal to use towards bettering our world and drawing closer to each other in love.

Brunhilde has recommended a book that I will be ordering for myself soon.

I hope you enjoy this lovely reflection.

Psalm 42:2-3, “As the deer longs for streams of water, so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, the living God. When can I enter and see the face of God.” When I created this painting I truly cried out to the Lord, not in sadness but in love to […]

via In Prayer and Meditation — Brunhilde Luken, artist and writer

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Book Recommendation: Holy Rover: Journeys in Search of Mystery, Miracles and God

Note: I was sent an advance copy by the author for review purposes.

I am so pleased to recommend the debut book by a blogger whom I have come to regard as a friend – Lori Erickson’s Holy Rover: Journeys in Search of Mystery, Miracles and God.

Erickson describes herself as a seeker and a pilgrim:

In my search for the holy, I’ve wandered down many paths. I’ve been a Lutheran, a Wiccan, a Unitarian Universalist, a Buddhist, an Episcopalian, and an admirer of Native American traditions. I’ve been spiritual-but-not-religious and religious-but-not-spiritual. I can read tarot cards and balance chakras. My spirit animal is a bear, which is a great relief because for years I thought it was a raccoon, an animal that while perfectly fine lacks a certain gravitas.

After many years of spiritual wandering, I’m now a committed Christian, but one who frequently flirts with other religious traditions.

Nature of the spiritual journey

The way to God is always a crooked path; it’s up to us to approach that path with an open mind: with eyes ready for new vision; with ears that will hear a something different and absorb it; and with a heart ready to accept, listening to the prompting of God’s Holy Spirit to help us understand. This is how I see my spiritual journey; I recognize that same spirit of pilgrimage in Holy Rover.

Pilgrimages across the globe

I discovered Erickson’s blog right around the time I created Be as One. She wrote the way I wished to write, creating a sense of longing for God while at times evoking strong emotions. She and her husband Bob are experienced world travelers, having taken numerous pilgrimages and documenting them in words and pictures.

Sharing her travels

I am a decided homebody, being most happy in familiar territory. There are times however when I know I need to emerge from the cocoon. Lori’s writing about her pilgrimages have enabled me to where I would never have normally gone; exotic places that have been home to saints and spiritual guides from all over. I found myself frequently engaging in discussion on her blog with both her and her readers, all of whom struck me as fellow travelers.

Now I have all that beauty and wisdom packed away in a lovely book (complete with an autographed name plate, thank you!). It is something I can turn to when I need to “get out of the house” whether it be my physical home or just out of myself. When I find the need to expand my horizons, I can turn to Holy Rover and never be disappointed.

Lori Erickson writes with refreshing honesty about the spiritual journey, free from judgment and dogma. Whether your wanderings take you around the world or into your backyard, far from the religion of your youth or just a few steps away, you will find a fascinating, wise and compassionate guide in Lori. I have. Thank you, Lori.

You can read a sample from the book here.

Order Holy Rover: Journeys in Search of Mystery, Miracles and God from Amazon.

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Susan’s latest CD, “Mater Dei” is now available!
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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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All the comforts of home

It feels like home to me
It feels like home to me
It feels like I’m all the way back where
I come from
It feels like home to me
It feels like home to me
Feels like I’m all the way back where I belong

Chantal Kreviazuk

This was the song (sung by Linda Ronstadt) that played in my head when I attended St. Elizabeth of Hungary church in Seabrook, NH for mass while on vacation at Hampton Beach. It was the same song that had come to mind years ago when a friend said she felt at home after I had invited her to a recitation of the rosary at our parish.

“Familiarity breeds contempt.”

This common saying plays out over and over when I attend mass, whether it’s hearing 1 Corinthians 13 proclaimed for the umpteenth time, or witnessing the bread and wine blessed and broken before communion. I always feel guilty when that contempt creeps into my worship but it’s hard to ignore. Repetition does that. I can only imagine how the priest must feel with that temptation to tune out because the words and rituals are so familiar.

Copyright 2009 Carmen Zuniga. Via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

Being away from all that was familiar taught me that such sameness has an upside; one that I need to recall whenever the temptation to tune out comes to mind.

At home while away

A change of scenery is a healthy thing in that it refreshes the spirit; one is relieved of the monotony of the daily routine. Yet, at the same time, there is that feeling of being at home, that comfort and security of familiarity that I miss when I’m away. One of the reasons why I loved our motel room was because it had a full kitchen making it possible to enjoy the pleasant aspects of our morning routine. The motel was nestled in a neighborhood so that when I went outside, I saw homes rather than tourist attractions. I talked to the neighbors. I felt like I belonged there.

I had that same feeling of security and comfort upon entering St. Elizabeth’s. It was one of the highlights of the vacation for me to worship there. I even recognized the same lector and cantor from the previous year when we had attended. It made me smile.

The Church as home

Copyright 2011 Dave Emerson. Via Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

This is the beauty of the Catholic Church to me. No matter where you are in the world, no matter what church you enter, you will have the mass. The language may be foreign and the hymns unfamiliar, but the Word of God is still proclaimed. I can still receive the Holy Eucharist. The congregation is there to worship the one God.  I can count on that routine and participate as if I were in my home parish. I have an immediate connection to the community.

In its wisdom the Church established such rituals and routines not to add a burden but rather, to address our needs. Those familiar hymns and readings along with the Eucharist deepen the beauty of a wedding and offer comfort during the funeral mass. Notice that when Jesus taught the people, he used common everyday moments and elements in his parables; those who were truly listening would connect those concrete symbols to the deeper spiritual meaning. Our Lord understood how the familiar can open up the heart and soul to his message of love.

Coming prepared

It is these things I will remember the next time I am tempted to tune out at the liturgy because I am hearing 1 Corinthians 13 yet again. To remain mindful of that temptation, I will need to prepare beforehand by asking God to open my heart and keep it supple. Then perhaps I will know enough to whisper a quick prayer to the Holy Spirit as I enter the church so that I can be enveloped in the beauty of those familiar words and rituals.

Here is “Feels Like Home to Me” sung by Linda Ronstadt. Listen and think about the Masses you’ve attended while away from home. How did you feel?

From the Catholic Free Press, August 11, 2017, and Catholicmom.com.

Susan’s latest CD, “Mater Dei” is now available!
Purchase here.

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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Living with thorns in my side

This is my latest column in the Catholic Free Press, also running on Catholicmom.com.

Why is it that some wounds remain even when one has been healed? Several years ago I lost my singing voice due to acid reflux. I gave up singing thinking I would never do it again but after three years of rest, my singing voice returned (and I am sure St. Blaise had something to do with it). I happily joined the adult choir at my parish and took on cantering duties. I feel deep gratitude that God restored his gift back to me.

Accepting fear

Yet I had a new and most unwelcome guest with me whenever I sang—fear. I had never experienced stage fright before I lost my voice and now it is my constant companion. It causes me to break out in a cold sweat and I become tremendously self-conscious. Sometimes when my head and heart feel confident, my body still responds with that fear welling up deep inside of me.

One day while leading a song for the congregation I felt a sense from God that I was to walk side by side with this new companion for the rest of my singing days.

Does this mean my healing which I believe I received through the intercession of St. Blaise was somehow incomplete? No. There’s a reason why the fear is present. And it relates back to St. Paul.

Running side by side with a marathoner

Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P. St Paul the Apostle, Flickr Creative Commons

I love St. Paul; he is a part of the entourage of saints to whom I pray for intercession each day. On my holy card he stands tall, a long sword by his side. Paul was fearless because of the armor provided to him by the Lord. His wisdom and clarity guide me on my spiritual journey. At times he has run beside me, urging me on through this marathon. He will be with me at the finish line.

Paul however had a thorn in his side. While he never revealed the nature of this thorn, still he tells us in 2 Corinthians 12 that the thorn remained despite his pleas to the Lord to remove it. God’s reply to his prayer was, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Thus St. Paul declared, “I am weak, then I am strong.”

Reflecting on these verses, I accept my companion of fear and use it as a reminder that God is in control of all things and that through our difficulties he works out his plan for the good.

More than one thorn

Andreina Schoeberlein Thorn in my side, Flickr Creative Commons

How nice it would be if there were only one thorn but there are others. One thorn in particular has me running to the Cross every morning asking for forgiveness for a particular sin. If only I could live with this thorn and not sin, but thankfully, forgiveness is just a prayer away. With God’s grace, someday that thorn will not lead to sin.

A friend’s thorn

I think of the thorn my friend Jackie must endure. It is deep and heavy, a true cross to bear. Her thorn requires her to lean on Jesus every step of the way. Someday I may have to endure such a thorn. It frightens me until I am reminded to stay rooted to the present moment and cling to Jesus.

I must remember to invoke St. Paul the next time one of my thorns trouble me. I can’t think of a more capable and understanding companion.

Sing about grace

If you want to be reminded of God’s promise that his grace is sufficient, listen to Matt Maher’s wonderful song, “Your Grace is Enough,” found on YouTube. The melody will stick in your mind in an instance. And in singing that line “Your grace is enough, your grace is enough, your grace is enough for me,” perhaps your thorns will become easier to live with too.

 

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Susan’s latest CD, “Mater Dei” is now available!
Purchase here.

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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Book Review: “Emily Dickinson and the Art of Belief” by Roger Lundin

Emily Dickinson and the Art of BeliefEmily Dickinson and the Art of Belief by Roger Lundin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I knew nothing about Emily Dickinson before reading this book. Now I feel like I have a good running start. As the title suggests, Roger Lundin sets the book against the backdrop of the religious, political and social events of the times and the extraordinary changes that took place in all those areas throughout the 19th century. Despite the fact that Dickinson was an avowed recluse, she was profoundly affected. Despite seeing people on very rare occasions, she read voraciously, kept up with current events and most importantly, carried on many intimate correspondences by letters with dear friends over years, both men and women. Considered an enigma by many, she left behind an incredible legacy of words through her poetry and letters.

Admittedly I am completely dense when it comes to poetry. Despite the fact that I have written song lyrics, I just don’t understand poetry. And here I choose the most difficult of them all to read! But Emily Dickinson is also considered one of the greatest.

Lundin’s book was a page turner for me. I knew I was hooked the moment I whipped out my pencil and started my customary conversation with this book. Many underscores and notes later, I am sad that my read is over.

As I had hoped, he devoted a chapter to examining some of the poetry she wrote during her most prolific period which aided greatly in my understanding. Against the backdrop of the Civil War for which she had little first-hand contact save the death of friends and neighbors who fought, she fought her own war within herself, a great turmoil that produced her most brilliant work.

I was most fascinated by her seclusion and how many in her own family accepted it as normal to her character. Her sister-in-law Susan wrote in her obituary the following which I think sums it up perfectly:

“Like a magician she caught the shadowy apparitions of her brain and tossed them in startling picturesqueness to her friends … who fretted that she had so easily made palpable the tantalizing fancies forever eluding their bungling, fettered grasp.” (pg. 265)

From Lundin’s description of Dickinson I got the impression that she fashioned her life exactly as she wanted it. She saw her limited options as a mid-19th century woman and made her choices. She was indeed fortunately to have family members, especially Lavinia (“Vinnie”) protecting that choice and allowing her to live it even if they did not begin to comprehend Emily’s genius.

I can’t say that I can now go and read Dickinson’s poetry and “get it.” But I can certainly try. I can also visit her home in Amherst which is only an hour or so away from me.

How I do love living in New England!

View all my reviews

Susan’s latest CD, “Mater Dei” is now available!
Purchase here.

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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Interview with Pat Gohn on the Discerning Hearts website about my book, River of Grace

In this wonderful podcast known as Among Women, Pat Gohn and I discuss the themes of my book, River of Grace, now available on the Discerning Hearts website. We talk about loss, grief and the wonderful transformation possible through suffering.

This episode Pat Gohn talks about finding a way through grief, loss, and tribulation. She speaks with Catholic author and singer-songwriter Susan Bailey. Together they talk about the recovery from loss or grief and how to deal with it creatively and with the help of prayer and the sacraments. You’ll enjoy her talk about her kayaking experiences and the spiritual lessons she learned from it, as captured in her book, River of Grace.

LISTEN TO “AMONG WOMEN: RIDING THE RIVER OF GRACE”

River of Grace along with my other books is available through Amazon.

Susan’s latest CD, “Mater Dei” is now available!
Purchase here.

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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