Hearing God’s invitation in the silence

My latest Catholic Free Press column, September 14, 2018

I gave myself a birthday gift back in March by registering for  a weekend silent retreat at St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, MA. A month after, the blessings are still unfolding.

As an introvert, I seek solitude. I prefer a quiet rhythm in my life that allows me time to think. Stepping away from my noisy world, I knew that a weekend of silence would be a challenge. I never dreamed that my first reaction would be intense loneliness.

There were eight other women on the retreat but we were instructed not to speak in the hallways or during meals. I felt separated from them, and from God. I knew it was because I had no idea how to depend upon Him alone for companionship. My loneliness was akin to how I feel in the middle of the night when He seems farthest away and all my fears are magnified. Yet I know I have to rely on faith, not feeling, to tell me He is near, so near that I cannot perceive Him.

Silence forced me to confront the wall that separated me from God, creating the loneliness. The surface nature of my spiritual life sharpened in clarity; I could no longer ignore those persistent invitations from God to go deeper with him.

There was another feeling besides loneliness – that of oppression. It was not a negative feeling but rather one that further imposed the silence. It was the reaction I experienced each time I entered the massive abbey chapel. We were permitted to attend Vespers, Lauds, and to celebrate mass with the monks, sitting in the back half while they occupied the front. To my delight and surprise we were permitted to walk through their area to the altar to receive communion; I considered that to be a privilege.

If anything reduced me to silence it was being inside that chapel. The power of God’s presence was overwhelming. The mystery, the awe, the majesty. Words failed me yet I sensed that my prayer was deeper as a result.

The monks too were mysterious: What were their lives all about? How did they come to discern their vocation when it is the very antithesis of life in the world today? How could they pray the same sort of prayers day after day and keep it fresh? How strong was the temptation to feel boredom or contempt at the familiarity of the rituals? How did they transcend that familiarity? After years of praying in that magnificent chapel, did the monks still feel that oppressive sense of God’s presence? Or was it better than that?

Openness to grace was the answer; soon God would show me how.

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During the weekend we gathered to listen to Father Timothy share some teachings; time was provided as well for one-on-one spiritual counsel. It was after that counsel that I began to notice openings in the wall.  While taking a walk around the magnificent grounds after an afternoon rain, I observed the clouds parting, allowing the clear blue sky to show through. I knew then it was an image provided by God, inviting me to remain open to His love. Now I can look at the sky every day and be reminded of that invitation.

This silent retreat was the best gift I could have given myself. I listen to Gregorian chant every day now to evoke memories of the monks in prayer. And the sky is a constant reminder of His call.

Silence no longer makes me feel lonely.

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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Rocky Mountain High

One of my favorite songs, it beautifully describes the essence of the spiritual life — connection with Someone far greater than ourselves, a connection that helps us to see the vistas beyond our own limited vision. In harmony with creation, the beautiful evidence of the One who is unseen. Being part of the community of humankind and yet taking the time to enjoy the solitude that is the gift of grace.

Rocky Mountains image: “Bo Insogna, TheLightningMan.com Rocky Mountain Cloud Layers” courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons.

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Click to Tweet & Share: Rocky Mountain High http://wp.me/p2D9hg-1Xb

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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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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!”

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?”

Sharing our colored pictures from the Harmony Coloring Book

Have you gotten your free copy of the Harmony Coloring book yet?

It’s easy to get one. Simply sign up for my email list and I’ll send you the link to download your free copy. There are other surprises too! You can sign up here. I send out only one email per week to let you know about new posts and other news.

Here are some sample pages.

I created the drawings from my photographs:

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I invite you to share your colored-in pages.

My friend Val send me these. She wrote to me, “I love the pages! Thank you again for offering this to us.”

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I colored in the cover:

front page

Do you have pictures to share?

Take a photo with your phone and send it to me. I’d love to share.

Do you have friends that like to color? Share this post with them:

Click to Tweet & Share: Love nature and animals? Love to color? Come get your free copy of the Harmony Coloring Book! http://tinyurl.com/jnb3d9l

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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

 

 

 

The rewards of silence–Sneaking up on turtles

My first kayak trip of the spring and my camera surprises me!

I realized the stillness I want to practice works out perfectly in a kayak when it comes to sneaking up on unsuspecting wildlife.

It paid off big time with a close-up view of a beaver (my first one – wish I’d gotten a picture of him) and these three painted turtles: Continue reading “The rewards of silence–Sneaking up on turtles”

On the journey to harmony–Thoreau, the Sound Map and opening up the inner eye

In my quest for a harmonious life I understand the need to be still. Certain tools help in that effort:

  • Reading, to organize my thoughts.
  • Praying, to tap into my soul, drawing me closer to God.
  • Time spent outdoors, especially in the Spring, to quiet myself.

Achieving mindfulness

The landscape is slowly coming to life here in New England and when I see signs of Spring, I think of Henry David Thoreau. His intimate knowledge of the outdoors came from a sense of mindfulness–no detail missed his watchful eye. He took the time to be still and observe. And in following that simple maxim, the world revealed itself to him.

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New book on Thoreau

I recently reviewed a book on my Louisa May Alcott blog by Corinne Hosfeld Smith (certified tour guide of the Thoreau birthplace and author of Westward I Go Free: Tracing Thoreau’s Last Journey) called Henry David Thoreau for Kids:

thoreau for kids

Demanding writer

I welcomed this book because while I have always appreciated Thoreau’s message, I find his his works difficult to get through. The writing is dense, demanding your full attention. Many of us suffered through high school and college English classes with his classic Walden. And yet, that message of a different way of living got through to me even though I could not begin to digest all the words.

Making Thoreau concrete

What I loved about Henry David Thoreau for Kids were the twenty-one activities geared for middle school students that help you live out his ideas. Many of these activities are just as engaging for adults.

I was intrigued by the exercise which encouraged the participant to sit outdoors for thirty minutes in total silence, waiting for wildlife to appear. Sure enough, after a few moments birds and other creatures come close for observation. I was eager to try this exercise in my quest to be still.

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Helpful tool

Stillness, however, does not come easily in this busy world so I was grateful that Smith recommended another exercise to help me focus–creating a sound map.

Sitting in my lawn chair, I sketched the area you see here in my notebook and every time I heard a sound from nature, I drew an “x” where I thought I heard it and wrote down what it was. As you can see, I heard quite a bit!

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From listening to observing

In the listening, I began to appreciate the visual imagery around me.

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Stillness opens the inner eye

Stillness and mindfulness are hard to achieve in this high tech, multi-tasking, noisy world. Patience and due diligence are rewarded however with the opening of the inner eye, that which sees beauty and truth around us and eventually, within us. It’s a simple truth really: the wonder of life and how it was created, and how we are lucky to be alive despite all the challenges.

Houghton MS Am 1506 (4)-Cranch
Houghton MS Am 1506 (4)-Cranch

A compatriot of Thoreau’s, Ralph Waldo Emerson, once wrote of the transparent eyeball, an expression for which he was mocked. Wikipedia explains it this way:

 “The transparent eyeball is a philosophical metaphor originated by Ralph Waldo Emerson. The transparent eyeball is a representation of an eye that is absorbent rather than reflective, and therefore takes in all that nature has to offer.”

Emerson experienced an epiphany that day–the discovery of the ability to read between the lines in the world around him, and come to an understanding of a deeper existence within him.

Once that eye is opened …

… you never want it to close. All of a sudden, the smallest things become lovely, compelling, even exciting. Once I became mindful of what surrounded me in the natural world, I couldn’t get enough of it, especially when it came to bird watching and kayaking.

And once I made a commitment to pay attention to what was there inside of me, allowing myself to to be drawn closer to my Creator, I find I can’t get enough of that either.

Silence is becoming an elixir.

I understand from the great mystics that you can learn to be quiet and still even in the midst of noise and chaos. Wouldn’t that be something! Somehow I think a bunch of people with that kind of inner harmony could truly change the world for the good. Think about it.

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Your time of stillness

Try spending thirty minutes in the woods, in a field or by a pond this Spring. Create your own sound map and share it here. Let’s compare notes and find out how we are doing on our journey to harmony.

You can find out more about Henry David Thoreau for Kids here, and read about the author, Corinne Hosfeld Smith, here.

Click to Tweet & ShareOn the journey to harmony–Thoreau, the Sound Map and opening up the inner eye http://wp.me/p2D9hg-1IH

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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

 

 

 

Fun Facts Friday: Dr. Seuss and historical women books; feral cat success story; fun in the mud; kayak adventures; singing for the Pope

Books

This book cover image released by Random House shows "What Pet Should I Get," by Dr. Seuss. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP Photo/Random House
This book cover image released by Random House shows “What Pet Should I Get,” by Dr. Seuss. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP Photo/Random House

“What Pet Should I Get?”, a recently discovered Dr. Seuss work, is on sale starting July 28.

Apparently. Dr. Seuss’ wife discovered a carton with manuscripts in the attic. AND, this book is just the beginning!

How cool is that???

historical novels

Novels About Real-Life Women Are Saving Forgotten History

Some fascinating women in history are explored through these interesting historical fiction novels.

Cats

people for happier cats

People for Happier Cats – Compassionate Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) Pilot for Feral Cats

This is an amazing initiative by Tinykittens.com with a feral colony of cats. The first experiment, that of trapping a pregnant feral so that she could give birth in in a warm and safe place resulted in her four kittens being totally socialized and adopted out to loving families while the mother cat was returned to the colony where she would be the happiest.

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Nature/Education

fun in the mud

Fun in the mud: Children benefit from exposure to nature

How many of us remember making mud pies? Hiking in the woods? Splashing in a stream? Observing birds and butterflies? Every kid needs to experience the outdoors and this program offers some amazing options.

Kayaking

kayaking through the caves

Kayaking Through the Apostle Island Sea Caves

Check out this video of a kayak trip through the Sea Caves of Apostle Island – heavenly!

veterans kayaking

War veterans say kayaking helps them cope with combat trauma

As an avid kayaker familiar with its therapeutic benefits, I can see how this would be a tremendous benefit to our vets.

Music

As you all seemed to enjoy the video I posted of Sarah Hart singing “Praying from a Broken Heart” so I thought I’d share this:
October 26, 2013 – Sarah Hart singing in St. Peter’s Square for Pope Francis and a crowd of 150,000; Sarah meeting the Pope at the end of the video

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Keep up with news and free giveaways regarding Susan’s new book, River of Grace!
Susan Bailey, Author, Speaker, Musician on Facebook and Twitter
Read Susan’s blog, Louisa May Alcott is My Passion

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 …”

Fun Facts Friday: Nature from an app, powerful women, movie gotta-see, circus cats and more!

Ever wanted to bring the outdoors in, especially to your office?

USA, New York City, Central Park, Scenic waterfall
USA, New York City, Central Park, Scenic waterfall

Listening To Nature Sounds At Work Can Boost Your Mood And Productivity: Listening to the sound of crashing waves or a babbling brook isn’t just useful for helping you fall asleep — it may also help you to focus at work. Continue reading “Fun Facts Friday: Nature from an app, powerful women, movie gotta-see, circus cats and more!”