Attempting the impossible: describing my longing for God

How can I describe a longing for God? The scriptures describe it as a deer “panting” for streams of water (Psalm 42). The dictionary defines panting as a longing with breathless or intense eagerness; to yearn. Synonyms for panting include an ache, a craving, a desire. Hunger. Thirst.

Longing has equivalents in music: The sound of an oboe playing the “Going Home” theme from the second movement of Dvorak’s New World Symphony. A trumpet playing taps over a grave. Monks chanting, their voices in perfect unison stretching out the notes like a violin, back and forth, the voices swelling and then pulling back. The final note sung, hanging in mid air until it fades away.

Hernán Piñera Thanks for the music, mysterious form of time Flickr Creative Commons

Longing can be a pleasant feeling as it is for something good. My longing increases when God grants me the ability to sense and feel His presence; it is pure gift. It’s like the glow after a glass of wine. It’s the lightheaded peace I feel when swimming, moving slowly through the water and then floating, letting my body go limp. It’s that leftover warmth I feel when I visit my special friend after we have shared laughter, hopes and dreams, thoughts about God and our lives, occasional tears, and the Eucharist.

Longing can also hurt. It pulls inside of me causing a painful sensation. It is loneliness when the wall between God and myself becomes hard and thick due to apathy, pride and sin. It’s a constant sensation, often in the background but lately, more in the forefront. There is no concrete feeling or thought associated with my longing that can be sufficiently expressed in words; I only know that I yearn for God’s presence.

Sometimes God is so close to me that I cannot perceive him. I feel empty inside, alone and afraid. Frequently I wake in the middle of the night and try to reach out to him and feel no consolation. Yet my scant knowledge of God reminds me that He is near. Often that has to be enough, just to believe.

A seed was planted this summer after the silent weekend retreat with the Trappist Monks at St. Joseph’s Abbey. A tiny seed of longing. The seed has not yet matured enough to poke through the ground so it needs a great deal of care. My Catholic faith has supplied me with what I need to nourish it: prayers, hymns, the Word, the liturgy, the Eucharist and the community. And new tools and reminders: Gregorian chant, looking up at the sky, and swimming at the local health club. Beautiful, simple and concrete reminders of that which is beyond words to describe.

Winam Morning Swim Flickr Creative Commons

Perhaps the psalmist says it best:

As an antelope pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When may I come and appear in God’s presence?

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Today’s the day to try “River of Grace”

Ave Maria Press is offering River of Grace Creative Passages Through Difficult Times at a deep discount for a limited time. If you’ve always wanted to read it, now’s the time to take the plunge!

Be sure and purchase it directly from Ave Maria Press — here’s the link.

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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.

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Read my other blog, Louisa May Alcott is My Passion

 

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“Do you want to be healed?” is a tricky question.

father-steven-labaireI am pleased to present this guest post from
Father Steven LaBaire, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Worcester, MA.

Today’s gospel reading (John 5:1-16) at the Pool of Bethesda where Jesus heals the man who had been lame for over thirty years struck a familiar chord. In that reading, Jesus asks a most obvious question: “Do you want to be healed?” He sensed that the man having been ill for so long, was stuck in that mode.

pool-of-bethesda-949739-print
The Pool of Bethesda

I remember hearing that question in my head when I had my throat blessed two years ago on the Feast of St. Blaise--that blessing healed my singing voice. Actually my answer to the question at that point was “No!”

Why the heck not??

I no longer wanted the responsibility associated with being a singer. It sounds ridiculous even as I write this but leading the singing at mass each week had become a grind. That’s what happens when you do it too long without a break. It was time to step aside and I used my lack of singing voice to do that. I sure as heck didn’t want my voice to come back–it would take away my excuse!

cantering

Eventually I came to understand that it was perfectly okay to take time away. I have only just returned to singing in church but this time as a member of the choir, without the leadership responsibility.

Get that elephant off of me!

Then there was the feeling of being stuck when it came to my weight. I felt like I had an elephant sitting on top of me–loosing weight seemed like an impossibility.

elephant on chest

A rare hour spent in church in front of the monstrance changed everything. The grace I received from that time of prayer helped me to gently prod the elephant to move away. He did and I was able to embrace my diet (which is now a chosen lifestyle). I’ve lost 22 of the 27 pounds that I wish to lose. That elephant will not visit me again.

Praying at home

As I wrote in my spiritual journal, “Is My Day Your Day,”  Even though I felt the insistent call again and again to stop, be still and pray, I could not get myself to do it. Again, it was time spent in adoration that caused that elephant to move away as well.

prayer corner4 smaller

True healing

I was healed: my voice came back, I lost the weight, I’ve started praying in my corner each morning and each night.

Healing removes burdens, not just of the physical ailment or stubborn mindset, but of the guilt and attachment associated with those things.

Sometimes it is there for so long that it becomes your identity. It can be a excuse to avoid doing something that is difficult. It definitely requires a truthful assessment of yourself and that can be painful.

All of that was true. But in each case, I experienced transformation. SO worth it!

Not such a simple question is it: “Do you want to be healed?”

For aids to your Lenten journey, visit the Lenten Resources page for posts, podcasts, music and videos.

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Great reading for all ages, and you can win a copy! The Chime Travelers series by bestselling author Lisa M. Hendey

You could win a copy of both books in the Chime Travelers series!

Find out how at the end of this post … great gift for the child in your life (even if it’s you!).

When’s the last time you treated yourself to a good children’s book?

How did reading it make you feel?

As an almost-60 adult with no small children in my life at the moment, it feels like a guilty (and secret) pleasure. I mean, shouldn’t I be reading more challenging books? It was after a conversation with a distinguished professor of children’s literature that I realized reading children’s literature is totally acceptable at any age. And besides, it’s fun!

That said I couldn’t resist reading my friend Lisa Hendey’s new Chime Travelers series. Initially I was drawn in by the imaginative and vibrant illustrations by Jenn Bower. This is Hendey’s first foray into juvenile fiction. As a writer myself I was curious as to how she made that transition; I’m happy to say that she has done it quite well.

chime travelers both books

The premise

I read the first two books, The Secret of the Shamrock and The Sign of the Carved Cross and fell in love with the series. The premise revolves around twins Patrick and Katie who are mysteriously sent back in time whenever the bells of St. Anne’s chime (thus Chime Travelers). In each case they meet a saint with a name similar to theirs and embark on an adventure. As they come to know and love the saint, they are inspired by the faith and life of that saint which in turn, draws them closer to God. Their lives are never the same again. Patrick meets St. Patrick, the great saint of Ireland, and Katie meets Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American to be canonized.

jaqian St. Patrick, and Raymond Bucko, Saint Kateri Tekakwitha in front of Santa Fe Cathedral, Flickr Creative Commons
jaqian St. Patrick, and Raymond Bucko, Saint Kateri Tekakwitha in front of Santa Fe Cathedral, Flickr Creative Commons

Kid-friendly

Episcopal Diocese Common-wafers, Flickr Creative Commons
Episcopal Diocese Common-wafers, Flickr Creative Commons

The series is geared for children in grades 2-5 with the very typical problems that kids face such as not fitting in, making fun of other kids, being unkind to newcomers, trying to please the popular crowd, jealousy, being bored with church, guilt over past actions and so forth. By being exposed to these great saints, Patrick and Katie come to love their faith especially through the sacraments (Patrick with Reconciliation; Katie with Baptism and Holy Communion). I found myself becoming attached to St. Patrick and St. Kateri as I grew to know them and almost felt sad when the children were transported back home.

Empowering young people to change

Hendey does not make the twins change instantaneously but rather slowly, over time. In the second book, The Sign of the Carved Cross, we can see Katie noticing and wondering how her brother has changed since he experienced his time-traveling adventure, unaware that the same would soon happen to her. By being changed from within, both children begin treat others with more kindness, patience and understanding.

Saints are real people

Children love exciting stories about real people and our Church has so many of them to offer through the Saints. The Chime Travelers series does a great service in exposing our young people to people who lived their faith authentically and boldly while dealing with their own weaknesses and sins.

Great for adults too!

And since reading children’s literature acts a vacation for my overworked and weary mind, this adult loved them too. I highly recommend the Chime Travelers series for all ages. I’m keeping my copies for the future grandchildren.

You could win a copy of both books in the Chime Travelers series!

Find out how at the end of this post … great gift for the child in your life (even if it’s you!).

Come and meet Lisa Hendey, author of the Chime Travelers series:

How did you come to write the stories? Did you choose the Saints that you wrote about?

lisa hendey
lisahendey.com

I had been in conversation with the publisher, Servant, about potential book projects. At one of our meetings, I humorously shared with them an idea that I had for a children’s book. The concept for Chime Travelers was “born” during a fun backyard chat with my nephew Patrick one day. We daydreamed about a little boy who traveled in time to meet his patron saint. In our family, the name “Patrick” is quite common and we have a true devotion to the “apostle of Ireland”! When I shared the idea, Claudia Volkman and Louise Pare were able to see the vision for the story and we began to conceptualize what has since become an entire series of books. I chose the initial two saints (St. Patrick and St. Kateri Tekakwitha) and campaigned to have the first two books released simultaneously. Children who read these types of books want to have them quickly if they love them. The upcoming books, based on the lives of St. Francis of Assisi and St. Clare of Assisi, will be coming this spring and the fifth book is planned for release in the summer.

How were you able to make the transition from writing nonfiction to fiction?
Did doing the research help you to get into the mindset?

The transition was such a joy but also much more challenging than I had predicted. We have an excellent editor, Lindsay Olson, who is a true children’s literature specialist. And I must also rave about our illustrator Jenn Bower who has truly brought the series to life with her art. Making the transition to fiction involved relying on the research skills I’ve honed as a non-fiction author, but also setting loose my imagination. The challenges related to helping the characters truly come to life, capturing the senses and attention of our young readers, and also building upon the stories of the saints while being very respectful of their true life legacies. Even though the books are short, we want them to be educational and also close in detail to the real facts of the saints histories.

How different is it writing for children than for writing for adults? Are the rules you need to follow?

I’ve learned so much! One big difference is that it’s important to help the kids enter into the action of the scene rather than simply describing it to them. This was a huge challenge for me initially and something I’m still learning about. I’ll also share that I’m quite verbose (note my answers here for an example of that!) These books need to be tight, concise but also full of rich imagery. One “rule” I’m still learning about is giving our characters “agency” – that is to give them a voice or power over their situations. This is why you’ll find our main characters Patrick and Katie at the center of the action in the Chime Travelers series. We want the children who read these books to understand that they too have power and that their actions matter–especially within our Church and in their own families. I believe that our children can make our Church and our world better. I hope that with these books, we’ve given them role models to see that they too can emulate the saints in living lives of great courage, valor and import.

How does it feel to be carried away to a distant land in a distant time with a special Saint? Do you have a favorite?

Many have heard me say that I often write in my sons’ old tree house, a space my husband built for them years ago. I have a rocking chair and desk there, and I truly love to go into that space to “Chime Travel”. To be “carried away” in time and to dwell in the lives of the saints is somewhat like the beautiful form of Lectio Divina. I often do my historical research and then simply pray and begin writing. I find so often that I become caught up in the scenes I’m writing, as if I see the action or hear the dialogue in my head. I’m afraid that probably sounds a bit crazy! But in truth, these books are a gift of love for the Church and our saints. For that reason, I feel strongly that the Holy Spirit is often at work in my tree house, guiding me along a path to the stories we are creating.

Where the magic happens ... used by permission lisahendey.com
Where the magic happens … used by permission lisahendey.com

I have scores of favorite saints – the first two books tell two of their stories. My “favorite” saint probably varies every day, depending upon whose spiritual friendship I most need! My “go to” is my personal patroness, St. Therese of Lisieux, but I also have a deep love for Venerable Fulton Sheen, for St. Damien and St. Marianne Cope of Molokai, and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. I love St. Therese of Lisieux because as she did in her own life, I greatly desire to be a missionary in our world. Like St. Therese, I will likely never travel extensively to foreign mission fields. But her Little Way, her life and legacy have taught me that my own mission field can be a vast and beautiful “love letter” to God in its own unique way. In general, I love the saints and working on this project has been a great way to share that love with children everywhere.

How can you win both books in the Chime Travelers series?

Be the first to leave a comment and the books are yours! Comment away …

Find The Secret of the Shamrock and The Sign of the Carved Cross on Amazon.

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The food of wisdom: Reflections on the Sunday Gospel (John 6:51-58) by Father Steven LaBaire

I am pleased to present this guest post from Father Steven LaBaire, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Worcester, MA.

In preparation for mass this Sunday:

While driving along route 140 North in Grafton this morning, I spotted a cluster of maple trees whose leaves were turning orange and red.

A few minutes later, a radio commercial boldly proclaimed “back-to school-savings.”

While the warmth of summer still embraces our days and nights, the signs of an impending change of season and routine are around us as the days grow shorter. Continue reading “The food of wisdom: Reflections on the Sunday Gospel (John 6:51-58) by Father Steven LaBaire”

Introducing Flow Lessons from my book, River of Grace – prayerful exercises connecting practical every day life with the Divine

One of the unique features of my upcoming book, River of Grace: Creative Passages Through Difficult Times are its Flow Lessons: prayerful exercises using concrete elements from our every day lives to reveal spiritual truths. They combine prayer with action, creating a practical life application.

Here is the first Flow Lesson from the introduction to my book. Did this exercise change the way you look at receiving the Eucharist? Please share in the comments section.

I hope this blesses you. I did it a couple of weeks ago when I received communion and it made for a wonderful, lingering meditation that lasted long after mass was over.

 

flow lesson logo-640

Materials needed: pen or pencil and paper, food, and your imagination.

 

 

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

Be still

To begin, take a moment to be still with God. If you are having trouble with noise in your mind from the cares of the day, close your eyes and imagine a tree in winter filled with screeching birds. The tree is dense with these birds and the noise is unbearable. Now watch as each bird flies away. Attach a thought or care to that flying bird and bid it adieu. Do this until the tree is entirely empty of birds and it is quiet.

Bo Insogna, TheLightningMan.com "Bird Land," Flickr Creative Commons
Bo Insogna, TheLightningMan.com “Bird Land,” Flickr Creative Commons

Choosing some food

After a few moments of quiet, go to the kitchen and fix yourself something to eat that is both nutritious and something you really like. As you prepare your food, say a prayer of thanksgiving to God for that food and for the privilege of eating it in his presence.

Describe your food

Return with your food to the place you had designated for this exercise and examine it carefully. Write down a few descriptive phrases about the food, noting its color, smell and texture. Now take a bite and chew slowly, thinking about how the food tastes, what it feels like in your mouth and what you enjoy about that food. Write down phrases that pop into your mind.

Michael Stern Wall_Food_10171, Flickr Creative Commons
Michael Stern Wall_Food_10171, Flickr Creative Commons

Think about where your food is going

When you finish your meal, think about where food goes after you eat it, how it goes to your stomach, is digested and then circulated throughout your body via your bloodstream. As you are thinking about that, consider how you are feeling: do you feel energized and satisfied after eating? Does it give you what you need to carry on with your day?

Meditate

Write down your impressions and then put your piece of paper in a prominent place so you will remember to take it with you the next time you go to mass. Ask God to take what you have written and plant it on your heart for when you receive communion.

Receive …

Episcopal Diocese Common-wafers
Episcopal Diocese Common-wafers, Flickr Creative Commons

During mass take out that piece of paper and read it before you receive the Eucharist. Now consider the Eucharist in the same way you considered the food you ate during your meditation. Be mindful of the texture of the wafer as you receive it and notice how you eat it:

  • Do you chew it or let it dissolve?
  • Think about why you eat it in that way and how it makes you feel. If you also receive the wine, do you hold the wafer in your mouth and wait to consume it until you drink the wine?
  • How does the wine add to the experience?

Pray and Ponder …

When you get back to your place, think about the wafer and the wine being digested, soon to be coursing through your veins.

  • What symbols come to mind, if any?
  • How will the Eucharist nourish you, both spiritually and physically?
  • Thinking about the Eucharist being the body and blood of Christ, how does it make you feel to know it is now present within your body?

When you get home from mass, take a few moments and write down your impressions of receiving communion on your piece of paper and compare notes. Ask God to continue to offer insight, opening the eyes of your mind to new ideas and possibilities.

00 cover drop shadowcopyright 2015 Susan W. Bailey;
from the preface of River of Grace: Creative Passages Through Difficult Times,
published by Ave Maria Press
You can read the back story of this exercise in the preface of River of Grace by subscribing to my email list.

 

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