Why is fasting so difficult? Looking for answers.

Note: This is my latest column for the Catholic Free Press. I also invite you to read my feature article in found on the Catholic Free Press website: St. Gabriel Lenten project to spread peace and joy

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Lent is upon us. In our household this means an extended period of fasting. My husband is a deacon in the Eastern Catholic Church (Melkite) and thus is required to fast for the entire season. That means that as his wife and support, I must too.

Fasting challenge

Fasting in the Eastern Church is rigorous — no meat, no dairy; fish is limited to shell fish. If we were in our twenties with no health issues this would still be difficult to follow. In our early sixties, we both observe diets that benefit our health. This diet eliminates most starch from our meals (pasta, beans, rice, etc.). Watching our cholesterol precludes eating shell fish regularly. There is not much left to eat, especially if you are not a good cook.

Heather Cheese straws Flickr Creative Commons

Even as I write this it sounds like a pathetic lament. But I confess that I find fasting very difficult. The reason is because after doing this for several years, it is still an empty obligation. I have yet to find the spiritual benefit from the fast.

Body as well as spirit

I am well aware of the arguments. Bishop Kallistos Ware of the Orthodox faith has written a helpful pamphlet, “When You Fast” which I have read many times and annotated. He says never to treat fasting in a legalistic way, as an end in itself. At the same time, fasting reminds us that man is both body and spirit; St. Paul states that, “Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit,” (1 Corinthians 6:19) urging us to glorify God with our bodies. Bishop Kallistos writes of our willingness to fast in order to lose weight; “cannot we as Christians do as much for the sake of the heavenly Kingdom?” That pricked at my conscience as one who fasts year round to keep my weight in check. I admit that it’s easier to do that because I get the instant gratification of stepping on the scale and seeing that I am successful. Lenten fasting lacks such earthly reward.

Getting beneath the surface

I know that the purpose of fasting is not for payback. But I long for it to be something more than counting down the days until it is finished. It is painful to admit that the sameness of the meals and the added complications when it comes to shopping bother me a great deal. How I wish I had some inner understanding of why all of this is good and necessary for me to draw closer to God.

The arguments for fasting

Intellectually I am aware of the arguments for fasting. Bishop Kallistos writes that, “The primary aim of fasting is to make us conscious of our dependence upon God.” Our discomfort (hunger pangs, tiredness) reminds us of our “inward brokenness and contrition; to bring us … to the point where we appreciate the full force of Christ’s statement ‘Without Me you can do nothing.’ (John 15:5)”

Leading to prayer

Fasting is supposed to lead to prayer but for me it is still an empty exercise. How can I make my knowledge of fasting penetrate my stone cold heart?

Oméga * Femme priant – Woman praying Flickr Creative Commons

In one sense it is leading me to a simple prayer: “Lord, please show me how to fast such that it makes me more aware of You.” Remembering from St. Paul that we are to pray always, this will be my consistent daily prayer.

What is your experience?

I’d now like to ask: What does fasting mean to you? How do you make it work? What spiritual lessons have you learned from your fasting? Please share your experience in a comment. Perhaps through our community I and others like me can figure out the mystery of fasting through our mutual sharing.

In the meantime let us keep each other in prayer that we may fast in a more worthy manner.

I look forward to hearing from you.

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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January promises of silence and stillness

My January 2018 column for The Catholic Free Press and Catholicmom.

The month of January promises many things:

  • The emotional letdown after Christmas.
  • The return to work after a long vacation.
  • The loneliness of an empty house after the children have gone to theirs.
  • Hunkering down with the cold and snow.
  • New beginnings with the new year.
  • Silence, and emptiness.
By Denis Collette (2011) via Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

All during the busyness and noise of the holidays I longed for what January would bring. While I’m no fan of winter weather I appreciate the permission it grants to curl up in front of the fire with a good book, a steaming cup of coffee and a purring cat.

The silence is a welcomed guest whom I wish would stay with me always; it is elusive, fleeing at the slightest distraction. Emptiness signals a time to be filled.

What will I fill it with?

My emptiness is not just because of children I miss. It is certainly not due to lack of activity (for this I accept with gladness). It’s not because it is cold and gray outside rather than warm and green.

There is something else I miss far more.

It manifests itself in a gnawing feeling, a sense of arms reaching out for something, for someone. It’s that longing described in the scriptures as the deer panting for water.

By Jun Aoyama (2005) via Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0

An empty spirit that is sorry for prayers not said, for people neglected, for preferring worldly idols, for being consumed with self rather than with others. Longing for my Beloved who seems so far away and yet is so close to me that I cannot perceive Him.

January is a month of silence.

The birds not only do not sing but don’t even come to the feeder. The cold keeps people inside of their houses. Nighttime activities abate. It’s a time of promise, a gift, an invitation to draw near to my Beloved. Silence issues an invitation to hear His whisper in my heart. The quiet permits me to see those small signs that will lead me home.

By Luigi Alesi (2008) via Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0

What will those signs be?

What will He whisper to me? How long must I wait in silence?

Drawing upon past experience I know that the quiet will yield its reward no matter how long I have to wait. God works best in silence and often He will remain the background, revealing Himself in His time, at the best possible moment.

So I will wait, confident of His presence even if I may not feel it just yet. I will return to being faithful to my prayers, read his Word and ask for the grace to turn from myself to others. In the proper time, when my heart is truly silent, my Beloved will make Himself known.

January will fulfill her promise.

 

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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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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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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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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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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Good Friday multi-media meditations to fit your schedule

I wish to offer to you a couple of Good Friday meditations.

Short meditation

If you only  have a few minutes today, here is a short meditation on the Stations of the Cross:

Longer meditation

If you have 45 minutes to meditate, try this meditation on the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Holy Rosary with scripture and sung prayers:

May you have a meaningful, blessed day today and a Happy Easter. Remember that with God, we can overcome anything and come out transformed.

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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: A Gathering of Larks: Letters to Saint Francis from a Modern-Day Pilgrim

When asked by Eerdmans Publishing Company to review A Gathering of Larks by Abigail Carroll I hesitated at first. I am dense when it comes to poetry. Unless the language is plain, the meaning escapes me. I don’t know how to read it nor can I write it, despite the fact that I have written a plethora of song lyrics.

The cover and the title won me over. I am a bird lover yearning for Spring when scores of birds will fill my yard again with song. It seemed like a good way to prepare for that eventuality.

I cannot judge Abigail Carroll as a poet as I have no point of reference. What I can say is that her lines moved me. More than half the book has turned-down page corners to mark poems that struck a nerve. Her writing is accessible to anyone whether or not you are a poetry connoisseur. She addresses her poems as letters to someone who is on the minds of many because of his namesake, Pope Francis.

Carroll offers a brief biography of the life of St. Francis of Assisi which is helpful when reading the letters that follow. He was born around 1181, the son of a wealthy Italian cloth merchant. He was expected to follow his father into the family business but instead became a French troubadour. Eventually he chose to become a knight and joined the Fourth Crusade. That plan was thwarted the very first night by a disturbing dream which drove him back to Assisi in shame. Over the course of time he abandoned his wealth and adopted a life of poverty, caring for lepers and rebuilding the church (sometimes literally). An order of friars grew around him along with a sister community led by St. Clare of Assisi.

St. Francis is affectionately remembered for his love of nature and animals along with canticles and poems he wrote in his later years while afflicted by poor eyesight and chronic illness. He never lost his ability to lift up the spirits of those around him with his creative skills.

Carroll’s letters to St. Francis are deeply personal without falling into sentimentality or lament. Her intimate knowledge of Francis aids her in building a bridge between his world and hers. That bridge extends to the reader who is brought along on the journey through her use of everyday cares and concerns.

Randy St. Francis of Assisi, Flickr Creation Commons

During her course of writing the book, Carroll suffered a foot injury which left her totally dependent on others to take care of her needs. She weaves this experience into her letters discovering through her correspondence with Francis that ability to let go of control over her life and revel in the unexpected freedom her injury brings.

Illustrated with drawings by John James Audubon, A Gathering of Larks is an easy read filled with wonderful messages. Read to get the overview, and then prayerfully study with pencil in hand to ponder the many messages within.

A Gathering of Larks by Abigail Carroll
Published by William B. Eerdsmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan

 

 

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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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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.

Susan Bailey, Author, Speaker, Musician on Facebook and Twitter
Read my other blog, Louisa May Alcott is My Passion

 

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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”