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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The She-Shed–your dream sacred space? Definitely mine!

How many of you are love in tiny houses? Do you want Tiny House Hunters on HG-TV, secretly wishing you could buy one too?

What makes you want a tiny house?

I know what it is for me–I love how cute they are. And the innovation employed by designers to incorporate storage and privacy along with functionality just knocks my socks off.

And now it’s gone to another level.

Men have their man caves. And now women have their she-sheds!

I saw these two the other day on Facebook and honestly, I couldn’t choose …

Do I pick this one …

she-sheds-garden-man-caves-rustic contemporary
from http://www.boredpanda.com/she-sheds-garden-man-caves/

or this one?

she-sheds-garden-man-caves-gingerbread
from http://www.boredpanda.com/she-sheds-garden-man-caves/

Once I saw the inside though, I made my choice.

she-sheds-garden-man-caves-gingerbread
from http://www.boredpanda.com/she-sheds-garden-man-caves/

It reminded me of the Gingerbread houses in Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard. I got to do a gig at The Tabernacle there once and stay in one of those adorable houses. I gave a quick tour in this video on my performance:

But I have to say, the rustic house appealed to me too, giving the illusion of living outdoors.

How about you?

What’s your preference? Check out this sampling of she-sheds and pick your favorite. Let me know what you pick and why.

Such fun to dream … maybe someday .. I have a big enough backyard …

Click to Tweet & ShareThe She-Shed–your dream sacred space? Definitely mine! http://wp.me/p2D9hg-1Is

em space

 

 

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

 

 

Diving deep into River of Grace with Elizabeth Reardon, host of “An Engaging Faith”

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In this in-depth hour-long interview: we dive deep into River of Grace – gratitude in the midst of difficult times – obedience as a joyful “yes” to new adventures, new life after loss and restoring the joy of living, life metaphors for grace … Also, a quick sneak peak at Louisa May Alcott: Illuminated by The Message! Elizabeth Reardon really did her homework! Check it out.

Visit An Engaging Faith on Facebook.

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

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A room of one’s own: what if your “room” could be portable?

What happens when you get the urge to create?

  • Do you retreat to a music studio to write a song?
  • Do you go to your specially designated study to write?
  • Do you paint your latest masterpiece in a light-filled studio?
  • Do you shut the door when you enter your room?

Why do secret hideaway places draw us like magnets?

I wanted a room of my own when I first discovered Louisa May Alcott as a kid. There was an illustration of Louisa in her special room where it was quiet and she could think. When she had finished writing her latest poem or story, she could indulge in her other favorite passion, running, by racing out the door to her room that led outside.

drawing by Flora Smith from The Story of Louisa May Alcott by Joan Howard
drawing by Flora Smith from The Story of Louisa May Alcott by Joan Howard

Getting away from the noise

Louisa’s family was noisy; quiet and privacy were hard to come by. Journals were a community affair with the parents writing notes in the margins. Louisa’s father Bronson often encouraged the children to read from their journals during the evening meal. Louisa was criticized by her father for writing too much about herself.

No wonder then that Louisa spent much of her life seeking out rooms of her own.

Finding a separate space

I used to think that a separate space away from everyone was necessary in order to create. A busy household with younger children makes finding quiet time difficult. It’s even more difficult when your home is too small to afford a separate space.

This was when I began to learn that any space could be a room of my own.
The physical space was not the key; it was the rituals you established that created that space.

512 louisa writing in the appletree
illustration by Flora Smith, from The Story of Louisa May Alcott by Joan Howard

With that kind of mindset, a room of one’s own can be portable.

You might think it’s a waste of time to explore tools and work routines.

It is time well-invested. In the end, it saves time.

Why?

It took me hours, days, weeks, even months to figure out what worked for me. I searched diligently for those t00ls, those routines that would catapult me away from the world into my creative “zone” in an instant.

Now I snap into my “zone” with no effort at all, wherever I happen to be, so long as I have my tools (which for me are the Nook and my iPhone – see previous post) and routines.

My room is portable.

I can set up anywhere, anytime, in quiet spaces and noisy ones too. The rituals and tools I use act as a trip wire, sending me into my head for a delicious time of writing.

ADDENDUM: I just found this post about other writers and their own “rooms” – check it out at www.penheaven.co.uk/blog/getting-down-to-writing/

What tools do you use to create? What are your rituals that help you to create?
Where is your room?

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Creating sacred spaces

I am a big fan of sacred spaces.

My car is a sacred space.

The dashboard contains various pictures and icons that I can gaze upon. God has gifted me with a long commute – two hours each day of time alone. Here I can pray, reflect and sing. And often I end up brainstorming as well. It’s not only a prayer space but a creative space.

My writing corner is a sacred space.

On my small desk is a picture of my favorite author, Louisa May Alcott, plus 2 paintings by her younger sister May. Sitting at the desk and working from my laptop, I can see my bookcase dedicated to all things Alcott plus the birds at the feeder outside the large window. Lots of writing has been done in that space.

The entrance to our home is a sacred space.

Here my husband, a deacon in the Melkite church, has set up his icon corner. Each morning he faithfully prays the First Hour of the Office, also known as the Liturgy of the Hours. I marvel at how he prays the same prayers every morning and frequently experiences new insight. He’s been praying those same prayers for close to ten years.

Physical sacred spaces prompt the mind and heart to enter the spiritual sacred space in the soul.

I am pleased to offer a guest post by Lori Erickson of the Spiritual Travels blog on sacred spaces. Here’s a tease:

There seems to be something instinctual about the human desire to create sacred space. We set St. Francis amid our garden flowers and tuck the Virgin Mary under the shelter of an overturned bathtub. Many of us do even more inside our homes, creating private altars that seem to grow of their own accord on a shelf in our bedroom or on top of a dresser, spots that gradually accrue photographs, stones, sea shells, candles, holy water, and prayer cards. Each seemingly inconsequential item carries a deep weight of memory, prayer, or hope.

You can read the rest here.

And finally, here’s a beautiful and simple song to get you in the mood. The words are:

Silent, surrendered, calm and still,
open to the word of God.
Heart humbled to his will,
offered is the servant of God.

Words by Pamela Hayes; music by Margaret Rizza

Share with us your sacred space. Where is it and what do you do there?

Click to Tweet & Share: Physical sacred spaces prompt the mind and heart to enter the spiritual sacred space in the soul. http://wp.me/p2D9hg-fD

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