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

Finding light and life in the midst of January stillness and cold

My January column for the Catholic Free Press

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

The long Christmas break (along with the mild weather) is over and reality comes back with a thud. The prospect of a long winter ahead is daunting especially with memories of the epic snowfall amounts of last year still haunting many of us.

I once anticipated January with dread. Winter can be dark, oppressive and confining: the arctic air and biting winds… the deep snows burying the landscape … ice covering the streets and sidewalks … darkness that greets us when we rise and meets us at the end of each work day.

January is a quiet month. Birds don’t come to the feeder; their songs no longer greet me in the morning. Crickets and locusts have gone silent at night.

January was a month without life.

outermost-houseThen I read Henry Beston’s classic, The Outermost House. Beston chronicles a year of his life spent in solitude in an isolated one bedroom cottage which he built and christened the Fo’castle. Built in 1925, the 20 ft. x 16 ft. cottage was located at the edge of Coast Guard Beach in Eastham (now part of the Cape Cod National Seashore). Named a National Literary Landmark in 1964, it was washed out to sea by the Blizzard of ’78.

Originally planning to spent two weeks at the cottage, Beston was so taken with the “beauty and mystery of this earth and outer sea … that [he] could not go.” During that year he wrote of the change of seasons and its effect upon his surroundings: the birds, animals, and insects; vegetation; the sand and the waves; the stars in the night sky. His prose is poetic, painting vivid pictures of color and texture. He describes the chaos and despair aroused by a devastating blizzard which nearly washed away his cottage, putting his life in peril. Yet even in the bleakest of settings, Beston’s writing inspires wonder and awe.

The Outermost House changed my perception of January because of Beston’s descriptions of arctic birds migrating down from the north, resting on the beach in the dead of winter. That description lifted me out of my own small circumstance and reminded me that life still goes on around me.

Brian Gratwicke Arctic tern, Flickr Creative Commons
Brian Gratwicke Arctic tern, Flickr Creative Commons

There was not only life, but light in the darkness: “Light came slowly into the world, coming not so much from the east as from some vague, general nowhere – a light that did not grow brighter but only increased in quantity.” It reminded me that by the end of January, the sky becomes pink again by the time I leave the office. The days are growing longer and the light, brighter.

January is not unlike time spent in the womb, waiting to be born. The caterpillar metamorphoses into a butterfly within the confines of the cocoon and breaks through into the sunlight. The baby, its delicate features forming nine months inside the dark, protective womb of its mother, emerges into the light at birth.

We just celebrated the coming of such a baby who brought his eternal Light into the world. His Light pierces the darkness and brings new life.

Ivan Saracino Christ's nativity, Flickr Creative Commons
Ivan Saracino Christ’s nativity, Flickr Creative Commons

So, rather than give in to the melancholy that can come with the conclusion of Christmas and the reality of winter, I seek instead to embrace this Light. It may be cold, snowy and dark outside but within, that Light will increase in brightness and quantity as I take advantage of the quiet of January to bask in it.

The arctic birds are returning to the Outer Cape. The days are growing longer. In the repose of January it is time to partake of the Light of Christ.

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The Feast of the Epiphany–offering our gifts to the Light of the World

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

For those who wish to deepen their understanding of the significance of this Sunday—The Solemnity of the Epiphany—the following is offered in preparation for Mass this weekend:

1—This weekend’s celebration ranks among the most important celebrations on our Catholic calendar, with only Easter, Christmas Day and Pentecost taking precedence.

2—The word “Epiphany” is a Greek word meaning “revelation” or “manifestation.” The word “epiphany” may be used in non-religious ways. An “epiphany” can refer to a sudden perception or insight about something. For example: “Then, one day, I had an epiphany, “Why not email my friends back home?”

3—On the Solemnity of the Epiphany we celebrate that the child born in the darkness of night in a lowly manger is revealed as the manifestation of God. Christ is revealed in many ways: as Lord, as King, as the one in whom God is present and acts. All of these manifestations (epiphanies) are “lights” that shine on Christ, revealing a deeper understanding of who he is. Notice that all the readings for today reveal, in a way, a different manifestation of who Christ is and what God is doing through him.

Waiting For The Word Shepherds 10, Flickr Creative Commons
Waiting For The Word Shepherds 10, Flickr Creative Commons

4—The First Reading from Isaiah will speak of a reversal of fortunes for the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Jerusalem will no longer be an insignificant city. A light will beckon peoples from many nations.

  • The Second Reading from Saint Paul speaks of Christ as the one who gathers all to share the same promise, the same inheritance, making them members of the same body.
  • The Gospel Reading recounts the wise men following the star and offering their gifts. Of course, the story represents the life of every Christian: we are guided by the light of faith to offer our gifts of service to Christ.
Thomas Hawk The Adoration of the Magi, Flickr Creative Commons
Thomas Hawk The Adoration of the Magi, Flickr Creative Commons

5—Notice that all of the prayers of the day all refer to light as well.

JHG Hendriks Three Kings
JHG Hendriks Three Kings, Flickr Creative Commons

6—Because the liturgy refers to light, splendor, shining and appearance, the Roman Missal directs that the sanctuary should be decorated with more candles than usual. (Reminder: In Catholic worship, an age-old basic principle is that symbols often communicate truths of the faith better than just words.)

7—Epiphany is another moment in the Church’s celebration of the Christmas Season Actually, our celebration of Christmas will continue for another week, until the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. From a Christian perspective, there are so many angles, so many perspectives, so much to “take in,” that it takes weeks to “digest” the many different meanings to Christ’s birth. The “secular” celebration of Christmas is now over: trees are coming down, decorations are being put away because the ‘holiday parties” are over and the money-making of the gift giving business is ending. Christians, however, are called to be different. We continue to celebrate and reflect on “the light of the world.” For Christians the primary meaning of Christmas is not gift-giving or parties. (Although gift-giving and parties are wonderful things we should all enjoy!) The meaning of Christmas is Christ-the light.  We pray that by our celebrating that our minds and hearts would be transformed by that light. Why? Because there is always darkness to dispel. And that’s what Christ calls us to do.

Happy Epiphany!

A Blessed Christmas to You, and a New Year full of promise!

nativity

“When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.'” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.” Luke 2:15-20

Thank you to all my dear readers for an amazing year! I look forward to many wonderful times with you in 2016 and all the new friends we will meet.

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Fighting to live, daring to love: The odyssey of Cassidy, the kitten with two legs

When is it too much trouble to care for someone in need? For those in the habit of generous living, it is never too much. And their example lights a way that we can all follow.

Two hard luck kittens

Recently a woman named Shelly took in two nine-week old feral kittens. One of them was deformed. Cassidy had no back paws and one leg was shorter than the other. Yet somehow he managed to survive along with his brother Topper in the forest without any assistance. Their luck was about to change. Continue reading “Fighting to live, daring to love: The odyssey of Cassidy, the kitten with two legs”

Taking a moment to just … be …

Last Sunday was a stressful day. It was one of many.

Sometimes life travels too fast. The plate becomes full to overflowing. Carrying a load of worry and frustration can become oppressive.

Time to off load my burden … time to take out the kayak. Continue reading “Taking a moment to just … be …”

God weaves His tales through the natural world

I believe in God. And I can see evidence of His existence and care for humanity, told through the stories He has left for me to find.

The more I immerse myself in God, the more these stories come to life. I’d like to show you what I saw yesterday during my lunchtime walk.

It’s October. Cool air and gray rainy days are becoming more frequent. Today a soft rain fell, covering the land in a shimmering mist.

The leaves are peaking here in Massachusetts, turning vivid shades of red, orange and yellow. They flash their colors for all to see only to fall to the ground.

Off in the distance I saw a tree, its fallen leaves creating a colorful circle around the trunk.

I started to think: leaves derive their sustenance
from the tree. Once the leaves fall, they will shrivel
up and die.

God was telling me a story.

“I am the tree,” He says, “and each of you are leaves. If you remain connected to the tree, you will flourish. If you decide to fall away, you will die.”

Reflecting on that thought (not unlike John 15:5 when Jesus calls Himself the vine and we the branches), I began examining the leaves on the ground.

Some were still supple and beautifully adorned, just waiting to be admired. Others were brown and dry despite the mist.

And it occurred to me: we, like these leaves, may fall away from our Source of Life and flourish for a time but eventually, the color will fade and life will ebb away until we too are brown and dry.

Even a leaf covered with raindrops cannot survive forever on its own.  The drops will evaporate and the leaf will wither. It needs the tree to live.

Thus the story of the vital relationship between God and humanity, told through His creation.

And there is more to this story.

No healthy tree bears only one leaf. Healthy trees are covered with leaves providing the traveler with relief from the heat under shady branches.

God did not intend for us to be alone. Without each other, we also wither and die.

He means for us to be a community, just like He as a Trinitarian God, forms the perfect community of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

A seamless circle of love, continuous and unbroken for all eternity. Perfect love, perfect harmony and we are invited to join.

And unlike leaves which are temporal, dressed in their best colors for a brief moment before fading and dying, we can become perfected as the image of God we were meant to be.

So long as we stay connected to the tree.

What story is God sharing with you today?

Click to Tweet & Share: God weaves His tales through the natural world. He told me one today, how about you? http://wp.me/p2D9hg-fU

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