How brush and paint revealed the freeing power of the Holy Spirit

Recently I was asked by The Catholic Free Press to cover a painting class at St. John the Baptist in East Brookfield, MA (see Artwork unveils many colors of God)

Paint and prayer

It was not the usual “Paint with a Twist” class where there is wine served in a party atmosphere. Instead, we would be praying with words, song, brush and paint.

Reluctant to participate

The teacher had to cajole me to participate as I was concerned about covering the story and taking photographs.

I had not painted since high school and had long since forgotten how to create art in that fashion. My memories consisted mainly of my frustration at painting because I micromanaged the process rather than allowing that process to direct my brush strokes. By the end of high school I had given up on it.

As I found myself in front of that blank, black canvas, I wondered how I could ever be able to paint again. In the end, the distraction of covering the story proved to be a blessing. Continue reading “How brush and paint revealed the freeing power of the Holy Spirit”

Groundhog Day – reliving the same challenge again and again

groundhog-day-chris-piascik-flickr-creative-commons
Groundhog Day Chris Piascik, Flickr Creative Commons

I never could sit through “Groundhog Day” starring Bill Murray. Relive the same day over and over? No thank you. And yet, I can’t get away from my own Groundhog Day – the weakness in my life that haunts me, again and again.

What’s yours?

How many of us have those physical “weak spots” in our bodies that constantly succumb? The sore throat that signals a cold. The leg once broken, now chronically stiff. The back that aches simply by standing in place too long.

Spiritual weak spots

st. nicholas ted, Flickr Creative Commons
st. nicholas ted, Flickr Creative Commons

There are spiritual “weak spots” too, brought back to life again and again by circumstance. Mine is managing money – we always seem to be short. The same financial problems repeat themselves endlessly. Right now we’re going through a season of endless hits – dental bills, medical bills, car repairs. I climb two steps up the slippery slope only to slide back down another ten. It is death by a thousand cuts, wearing me down, making me tired and discouraged. Frankly it’s boring, eating away at any desire to approach God and ask again for the grace to continue in the battle.

St. Nicholas, patron saint of finances, must be sick of hearing from me.

The scars of repetition

It’s not like I don’t know why these things happen. We are poor money managers because making lots of it has never been a priority. We accept that. Decisions were made to favor other aspects of our lives rather than money. But the security of having enough would be nice!

Once upon a time my husband and I were polar opposites – he, the spender; me, the penny-pincher. The last major financial challenge forced us to meet in the middle and come together as partners. Learning to work as a team surely helps and I am grateful for that lesson learned, but it didn’t come without scars. Scars of shame at my own stupidity. Scars of loss when we’ve fallen short of meeting our obligations. Scars from feeling the need to keep our money problems a secret. Those scars make it hard to trust; I am stuck.

Injured Piggy Bank With Crutches Ken Teegardin, Flickr Creative Commons
Injured Piggy Bank With Crutches Ken Teegardin, Flickr Creative Commons

These periodic problems with money only fuel the desire to penny pinch and that’s the deepest wound of them all. I am small-hearted when it comes to giving money because I just don’t trust that God will provide what we need. I can trust the Lord in so many areas of my life but when it comes to finances, the well runs dry.

I am guessing this is why the cycle repeats itself — God still has something to teach me. Along with the lesson of learning to work in tandem with my husband, I have also learned not to ask God for money to “fall from the sky.” Instead I ask for fortitude, wisdom and patience. I’m guessing I also need to ask just as diligently for healing. And I’m learning to ask others to pray for me.

paul writing--featuredAs St. Paul was not freed from his “thorn in the flesh” after petitioning the Lord, I doubt I will be freed from mine of the spirit. But I can take a lesson from this favored saint who accompanies me on my marathon journey to God each day: accept it and rejoice in it. To paraphrase 2 Corinthians 12:10, when I am weak, I am strong. Because I depend on God’s grace, not my own strength, to get through each challenge no matter how often it repeats. God’s strength never fails.

It could be Groundhog Day every day but God’s grace will prevail. He will test me, prune me, yank up the weeds, teach me. And I will grow stronger through him and closer to him.

Originally published in The Catholic Free Press, October 14. 2016
copyright 2016 Susan W. Bailey

 

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Susan’s latest CD, “Mater Dei” is now available! Purchase here.
Join her at St. Luke the Evangelist in Westborough, MA on Monday, October 17 from 8 to 9 for a Marian concert to benefit Haiti. Free admission, free will offering to be taken up. Songs from “Mater Dei” will be featured.

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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Introducing The Catholic Mom’s Prayer Companion A Book of Daily Reflections

I am excited about a new daily devotional coming out from Ave Maria Press called The Catholic Mom’s Prayer Companion A Book of Daily Reflections, edited by Lisa M. Hendey and Sarah A. Reinhard. I was asked to contribute 4 devotions to this wonderful book and am honored to be included in this distinguished group of over 80 leading Catholic authors.

I just got my advance copies and I can now share with you one of my reflections:

inside book-640

Continue reading “Introducing The Catholic Mom’s Prayer Companion A Book of Daily Reflections”

A little grace from a BIG God

old poolRecently I lost something I truly loved.

It was a minuscule loss when compared with the suffering of so many around me and across the world. Embarrassed at how much it upset me, I turned to God in prayer and asked for detachment. The prayer was swiftly answered in a way only God could imagine.

So what did I lose? Continue reading “A little grace from a BIG God”

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.

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?

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

Lifted up and out—breaking free from dejection

jenny on my lapJUNE 20, 2016 — We all go through spells where we feel blue, even downright dejected. I know lately I’ve been waking up in the morning and feeling a sense of dread about facing a new day. Those fears and anxieties that lie just below the surface tend to be magnified in the wee hours of the morning before the alarm goes off. A quick cup of coffee, some time in prayer with Jenny on my lap purring, and those feelings begin to dissipate. Lately however, I’ve had a harder time getting them to leave me.

One of the psalms that I pray each morning describes dejection to the point of despair:

You have put me in the lowest pit,
in the darkest depths.
Your wrath lies heavily on me;
you have overwhelmed me with all your waves.
You have taken from me my closest friends
and have made me repulsive to them.
I am confined and cannot escape;
my eyes are dim with grief.

Psalm 88, 6-9 NIV

Most days I think of those I have known who have experienced that kind of despair. I think too of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, overcome by the knowledge of the suffering he would experience. But some days, I think of me.

I pride myself with knowing why I feel the way I do—I am introspective by nature, and to a fault. But lately I am not clear as to why I feel the way I do. Perhaps it’s the cycle of days seeming to go by faster and faster. It could be those small aches and pains of age reminding me that youth is long over. Maybe I need to stop paying attention to the news because the world no longer makes sense. Maybe I need to stop being so introspective!

I prayed to God today during that psalm and I prayed again during the one o’clock hour when I lift up petitions of healing for family and friends. I rarely include myself but today I did. I asked for grace to come up out of myself, to be lifted up and out. And my prayer was answered.

pedlar's progressI am reading an antique book printed in 1937 about an historical figure, Amos Bronson Alcott. The book is large, its pages browning, the paper soft to the touch. The spine is such that that the book stays open by itself. The cover is exquisite, vintage 1930s art in earth tones. The biographer is totally immersed in his subject, revealing to me the mind and the heart of one of recent histories’ biggest conundrums. Alcott was a man of extremes—at once brilliant, original, insightful while at the same time blind to the physical needs of his family, unable, unwilling at times to work to support them. He drew amazing creativity out of his daughters but inflicted great scars through his demands for perfection and virtue, causing one to become a workaholic to support the family while constantly striving to prove her virtue (Louisa) while another found that virtue perfectly in death rather than life (Lizzie).

peddlar's progressWith all his fatal flaws, Amos Bronson Alcott is a fascinating figure and Odell Shepherd, the biographer, writes about the man with incredible beauty and insight. Some call it “old-fashioned” but I say that Shepherd, because he wrote the book only forty-nine years after Alcott’s death, was closer to him that current biographers could ever hope to be. Perhaps the writing style is “dated;” the fact that there are no footnotes proves to be frustrating for scholars. But there is general agreement that the work is authentic. And that’s why it speaks to me.

And today during my lunch break as I read, scribbling notes in the margins, I found myself being lifted out of my dejection by the sheer beauty of the words and the tactile experience of holding that magnificent old book.

God answered my prayer. Through the experience of reading, I could be lifted out of the prison of myself, my eyes no longer dimmed with grief, my spirit no longer overcome with waves. Because I could get lost in the life of another through the exquisite writing of his biographer, I could receive a gift of grace.

We all have tools we use to help ourselves feel better when we are blue. Some like to listen to music, go for a walk, take a swim or see friends. These are all gifts of grace from God who knows our every need. In my case, rather late in life, I was given the grace to lose myself in a book and in the lives of fascinating historical figures.

Thank you Lord.

 

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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).

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Read my other blog, Louisa May Alcott is My Passion

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With prayer book in hand (and cat on my lap): achieving harmony through chanted prayer

the lord's prayerFamiliarity breeds contempt. It’s true, even with prayer. Maybe especially with prayer.

  • Do the prayers taught to you as a child still mean anything to you?
  • How can something we’ve recited so many times still stir the heart and fill the soul?

Hailmaryweb2Most of us have been reciting The Lord’s Prayer since we were children. In my Roman Catholic tradition, I was also taught the “Hail Mary,” a prayer to my guardian angel, and the “Act of Contrition,” said when I confessed my sins to the priest. I’ve said those many, many times.

In nursery school my children were taught a simple prayer before meals that is familiar to most everyone:

“God is great, God is good. Let us thank him for our food. Amen”

It was the prayer we said as a family before meals for many years.

When do prayers such as these lose their meaning? Can it be restored, and how? Continue reading “With prayer book in hand (and cat on my lap): achieving harmony through chanted prayer”

“Is My Day Your Day”: Meditations on the wounds of Christ

MARCH 31, 2016–Today’s meditation from The Word Among Us (based upon Luke 24:35-48) reflects upon the wounds Christ received at his death–wounds that remained on his glorified body after the resurrection:

“Jesus’ victory looked so different from what the disciples had expected. Instead of arriving with a king’s crown or a huge army, he returned bearing the wounds of a brutal death. Even though he is now risen in glory, his body remains marred. He isn’t just restored to his former state—he is transformed in a way that reflects the price he paid for our salvation. God didn’t just press a reset button. He took Jesus through death into a new and eternal life.

Jesus’ scars are the marks of his love for us—a love unto death. Every day, he invites us to gaze at these wounds and to see in them the proof of his victory. What’s more, he wants to convince us that he can turn our own wounds into marks of triumph. There is no situation too desperate for him to overcome.”

It may seem morbid to focus on such graphic wounds. But then I am reminded of the love behind those wounds, the love that gave Jesus the courage to follow through with his suffering so that we might know hope in this life and paradise beyond this life.

When I put together my sung rosary book (Mary, Queen of Peace Meditation Guide & Sung Rosary) I included a special meditation on those wounds, based upon a simple practice in Eastern Catholic prayer–that of repeating “Lord, have mercy!”

I invite you try this meditation and see where it leads. It’s led me to some pretty amazing spiritual places.

Meditations on the Wounds of Christ

5th sorrowful betania II full smallA prayer frequently chanted during the Divine Office in the Eastern Catholic Church is “Lord, have mercy.” Often this prayer is chanted 40 times in succession.

I formulated a method with this repetition that turned into a meaningful devotion focusing on the wounds of Christ:

  1. Gazing upon the crucifix, begin by reciting or chanting “Lord, have mercy” 5 times. Each time it is recited, focus on a wound on Christ’s body. For example, recite “Lord, have mercy” and meditate on Christ’s feet. Recite it again and focus on the left hand. Recite it a third time and meditate on the right hand. Recite it again and gaze on the wound in his side. Then recite it a fifth time and focus on the head.
  2. Repeat this cycle 8 times, thus reciting or chanting the prayer 40 times in total.I found, for example, that as I focused on the nail marks in His feet, I thought about where those feet had traveled. I studied the wounded hands and wondered whom they had healed. I thought about his heart, pierced and yet so full of love. I thought about the head and the emotional and mental agony he went through, and yet also marveled at all the wisdom and knowledge that resided in that head. I recalled his teachings, exhortations, and words of comfort.

These are just some of the places where this devotion can take you. May the Spirit of the Living Lord guide you as you gaze upon His wounds and contemplate His love.

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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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Susan Bailey, Author, Speaker, Musician on Facebook and Twitter
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The Prodigal Son–the rest of story: reflections by Father Steven LaBaire

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

This Sunday’s gospel is the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:1-3, 11-32). Most folks are familiar will this parable about a Father and his two sons.

OZinOH Prodigal Son IMG_0599, Flickr Creative Commons
OZinOH Prodigal Son IMG_0599, Flickr Creative Commons

The younger son asks for his inheritance and then wastes the money to the point of starvation. The Father compassionately welcomes him back. The “dutiful” stay-at-home elder son protests the welcome given to the younger son. At the end of the story, one wonders whether the older brother will be reconciled with the merciful Father.

Jesus addressed this parable to religious people who disliked Jesus’ table fellowship with “sinners.”

Here are some details about the story
that might help to hear it with ‘new ears”
this coming Sunday. *

  • In Jesus’ time, fathers were discouraged from distributing inheritance during their lifetime. But if he did , a father was still entitled to live off the proceeds while he lived. The younger son acts shamefully, effectively wishing the father were dead. That the father did not explode and discipline on the spot testifies to the depth of his love. The elder son is no better. Instead of protesting the inappropriate property division and refusing his share, he accepts it (v. 12). And he makes no effort to reconcile his father and brother as culture demanded he should. His behavior is equally shameful.
  • pastorfergus.wordpress.com
    pastorfergus.wordpress.com

    The younger brother sinks deeper into shame. Losing his money to non-Judeans through wasteful spending makes things worse. He begins to starve. He tries to leech on to a wealthy patron who assigns him a repulsive job of feeding pigs. (Remember, pigs are considered unclean animals in the Jewish tradition.)

  • Still he starves. The carob pods fed to the pigs were the wild variety with bitter berries, nauseating and insufficiently nourishing to humans.
  • Coming to his senses, the younger son resolves return home to become a “hired servant” of his father.  He is willing to accept the shameful fact that the village will disown, reject and physically abuse him for taking his dad’s inheritance and before his death and then losing it to Gentiles. Nonetheless, the younger son judges this a small price to pay for life and food.
  • Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P. Return of the Prodigal Son
    Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P. Return of the Prodigal Son, Flickr Creative Commons

    The father acts in a way that is shocking for the culture of the time. He runs (very inappropriate for an elder) the gauntlet the village has prepared for the returning wayward son. He publicly forgives the son by kissing him on the cheeks, and heals the broken relationship between them. The best robe is certainly the Father’s. It will guarantee the son’s acceptance by the community at the banquet. The signet ring indicates enormous trust. The sandals are a sign of being a free man in the house, not a servant. (Servants and slaves did not wear sandals.) Killing the calf means the entire village will be invited and prodded toward forgiveness. This size animal can feed over 100 people.

  • Instead of honoring his father by accepting his  brother and playing his appropriate role as chief host at the meal, the elder son publicly insults and humiliates his father (vv. 28-30). The insults are jarring: he addresses his father without a respectful title; he speaks of himself as a “slave” and not a son (v29); he accuses the father of favoritism (him a calf, me not even a goat!); he refuses to acknowledge his brother (“this son of yours”; he invents the claim that his brother lived with prostitutes.
  • In effect, this elder son’s heart has always been elsewhere. He too wishes his Father were already dead.
  • Once again the father replies to the wayward son with love and acts of self-humiliation. He returns insult with an endearing “my child…” He assures him that his inheritance remains intact, and he invites the elder son to join the festivities.

Here the parable ends rather abruptly. What will the elder son do? That is the question the Pharisees and scribes and the modern believer must answer. This is really the story of two lost sons. One was lost, but found. The other… well, we just don’t know…

So, what would you do?

*Much of the background for the remarks in this reflection was found in The Cultural World of Jesus by John J. Pilch and in the Jerome Biblical Commentary.

Liturgical notes for Sunday:

This Sunday is called LAETARE SUNDAY. It is the Fourth Sunday of Lent, we reach the mid-point of the Lenten season. The Mass vestments this Sunday are rose colored, rather than the usual Lenten purple.

catholichotdish.com
catholichotdish.com

The custom dates back to the Middle Ages when the Pope carried a single rose in his right hand when returning from Mass on this Sunday. At the time, the rose was a symbol of Christ due to both its being beautiful and yet being covered with thorns. The Pope’s carrying a rose was a visual reminder that the celebration of Christ’s Passion is not far off. Soon we will experience the beauty and the suffering (thorns) of Christ’s love for us.

While the Pope’s custom was abandoned, the symbolism continues through the rose colored vestments worn at Mass.

Holy Week and Easter are not far off. But it isn’t too late to make this Lenten season a time of personal renewal. Remember, the word “Lent” comes from the old English word for” springtime.” During this season, the liturgy invites us to experience a “springtime” from within, a new beginning within our souls. How will your spirit be renewed to embrace the joys and challenges of 2016?

For more aids to your Lenten journey, visit the Lenten Resources page for posts, podcasts, music and videos, plus a stay-at-home mini retreat.

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