November remembrances: Guided from darkness to light by those who have gone before us

My November column for The Catholic Free Press and Catholicmom:

With November comes the descent into the cold and darkness of the forthcoming winter. After an extended period of warmth and sunshine it is difficult to see the barren trees and lifeless gardens. Birds are flying south and chipmunks are scurrying about, gathering nuts for the winter before setting into hibernation. Nighttime exceeds the daylight hours; many of us will only see the morning sun as we head into work only to be greeted by darkness when we go home. The world around us is preparing for winter sleep. November feels like death.

Artur Rydzewski, “Cranes migration,” Flickr Creative Commons

Darkness into light

Yet, come December 21, the trend changes. After the shortest day of the year, daylight begins to increase. Ice, snow and cold engulf us and yet, each day is a little longer. The silence of January is replaced by birdsong in February. By March 21, we are celebrating the coming of spring.

Nature is a sign of God’s promise to those who believe in Him. Each year the seasonal cycle reminds us that even as we descend into darkness, we emerge again into the light.

Du Ende, “Dusk,” Flickr Creative Commons

Pondering heaven

The Church has designated this month of November as a time to pray for our beloved dead. It can be a difficult and somber time as we are reminded of our grief. Yet at the same time, it is a time of hope, the recent Feast of All Saints being the perfect example. We celebrate those saints, known and unknown, who have gone before us and who intercede for us. The readings from the day’s liturgy help us to focus on the glory that awaits us if we continue to persevere. Although no living person has seen heaven, still, it is enjoyable to ponder on the mystery even as a clear picture eludes us. Our hope is based upon the promise that we will rise, as did Christ, in a glorified body, freed forever from suffering and sorrow. Sainthood is the eventual end, and beginning, for all believers.

Moving through our season of darkness

November reminds us that all must pass through the winter of suffering and death first, along with the purification of Purgatory. There is no way to avoid these winters even if we are fortunate enough to die in our sleep. We are aware of the aging of our bodies with all its aches and pains. The mind becomes dulled and emotions are magnified. Disease exacts great suffering. We lose family and friends to death and feel increasingly isolated as our world becomes smaller. Those who care for aging loved ones suffer as well, often feeling powerless in the relentless march towards the inevitable. Clinging to the hope given to us by God becomes the existential challenge. Truly there is martyrdom in aging.

Billie Greenwood,
“In the Winter of My Life, I Bloomed,” Flickr Creative Commons

It is a journey from death to life even as Christ suffered on the cross and died. He endured the agonies of mind, heart and body. He also rose to life again in a glorified body. While many of us will need to go through a period of purification after we die in order to prepare for sainthood, we can find comfort in the fact that many living souls are praying for us and holding us close to their hearts. Springtime will come.

Remembering those who have gone before us

November reminds us of the importance of remembering loved ones who have died. We can actively pray for them and help them through their journey of Purgatory. They can know the comfort of our companionship through their suffering.

Remembering those in our midst

November also reminds us of the need to draw close to our suffering elderly. As difficult as it can be to confront aging and the dying process, there is a profound sacredness in offering our love and care. They are going before us, acting as our guides. Those who cling to the hope of God’s love demonstrate how to let go of life while remaining engaged in it, entering into the unknown of death with courage and grace. No lesson is more important.

November is a month of grey skies and blustery winds. It is also a month to ponder the greatest of all mysteries – life, death, and resurrection. As we pray for those living and those gone on before us, let us embrace these mysteries in all that we do.

Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, MA; photo by Susan Bailey

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Book Recommendation: Holy Rover: Journeys in Search of Mystery, Miracles and God

Note: I was sent an advance copy by the author for review purposes.

I am so pleased to recommend the debut book by a blogger whom I have come to regard as a friend – Lori Erickson’s Holy Rover: Journeys in Search of Mystery, Miracles and God.

Erickson describes herself as a seeker and a pilgrim:

In my search for the holy, I’ve wandered down many paths. I’ve been a Lutheran, a Wiccan, a Unitarian Universalist, a Buddhist, an Episcopalian, and an admirer of Native American traditions. I’ve been spiritual-but-not-religious and religious-but-not-spiritual. I can read tarot cards and balance chakras. My spirit animal is a bear, which is a great relief because for years I thought it was a raccoon, an animal that while perfectly fine lacks a certain gravitas.

After many years of spiritual wandering, I’m now a committed Christian, but one who frequently flirts with other religious traditions.

Nature of the spiritual journey

The way to God is always a crooked path; it’s up to us to approach that path with an open mind: with eyes ready for new vision; with ears that will hear a something different and absorb it; and with a heart ready to accept, listening to the prompting of God’s Holy Spirit to help us understand. This is how I see my spiritual journey; I recognize that same spirit of pilgrimage in Holy Rover.

Pilgrimages across the globe

I discovered Erickson’s blog right around the time I created Be as One. She wrote the way I wished to write, creating a sense of longing for God while at times evoking strong emotions. She and her husband Bob are experienced world travelers, having taken numerous pilgrimages and documenting them in words and pictures.

Sharing her travels

I am a decided homebody, being most happy in familiar territory. There are times however when I know I need to emerge from the cocoon. Lori’s writing about her pilgrimages have enabled me to where I would never have normally gone; exotic places that have been home to saints and spiritual guides from all over. I found myself frequently engaging in discussion on her blog with both her and her readers, all of whom struck me as fellow travelers.

Now I have all that beauty and wisdom packed away in a lovely book (complete with an autographed name plate, thank you!). It is something I can turn to when I need to “get out of the house” whether it be my physical home or just out of myself. When I find the need to expand my horizons, I can turn to Holy Rover and never be disappointed.

Lori Erickson writes with refreshing honesty about the spiritual journey, free from judgment and dogma. Whether your wanderings take you around the world or into your backyard, far from the religion of your youth or just a few steps away, you will find a fascinating, wise and compassionate guide in Lori. I have. Thank you, Lori.

You can read a sample from the book here.

Order Holy Rover: Journeys in Search of Mystery, Miracles and God from Amazon.

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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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The Feast of All Souls — a sense of “Going Home”

Do you believe that life ends here …

mt-auburn-05-2011

or perhaps, somewhere else?

libera-going-home2-featured

Today’s Feast of All Souls gives me pause; I wonder …

  • My mom and dad are gone, but are they? Where are they?
  • Where will I be going? Where do I want to do?
  • Do I believe there is something beyond this life?

For some reason I have always had a strong belief in the afterlife; it’s what got me through the deaths of my parents. I remember looking at my mother’s casket covered in beautiful purple and white flowers and feeling a strong sense that she was safe and free from pain. It was because she was well loved whether she knew it or not. Her beautiful memorial service showed that love to the capacity crowd that was present.

I believe that love never dies.

Whether our loved ones live on in our memories or actually “live” someplace, perhaps today is a good day to think about such things. Let go of fear and allow the imagination to fly higher and deeper, to that place where we truly live forever with our Creator.

We are loved. And love never dies.

This video of one my favorite pieces from Dvorak’s “New World Symphony” performed by Libera can perhaps lead you to such a place. The video provides the beautiful lyrics to this hymn.

May your reflection fill you with hope of things to come.

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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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My special deck of cards means companions for the journey

My morning prayer begins with a deck of cards. Not playing cards but prayer cards with pictures of my favorite saints. I have amassed quite a collection—seventeen to be exact. Each day I begin my walk with God by inviting each saint to walk with me.

cards

In the beginning …

It began thirty years ago with St. Anthony of Padua. He was a must-have saint when it came to our baby boy losing his pacifier. Our son preferred the old-fashioned kind, the kind that was hard to replace. St. Anthony became a good friend in short order, always finding that pacifier (whether it was the old one or a new one at the store).

For many years St. Anthony was the only one. I had trouble figuring out how to talk to God and also make room for other heavenly friends in the conversation. It made the room feel crowded.

Growing the list

Then, a few years ago, an improbable event occurred in my life: I was asked to write a book. Having never done anything like that before and having no formal education in writing, I knew I needed help. And that’s when my list of saintly friends began to grow.

saints2

Teresa, Therese, Bernadette …

Saints Teresa of Avila and Therese of Lisieux were the first to make the list. Both were reluctant writers and both relied heavily on God. I even used some of St. Therese’s own words in River of Grace.

Next I saw “The Song of Bernadette” and became enamored with her. In reading her biography I was intrigued by her ability to be absorbed in thoughts of God even when surrounded by large crowds. I wanted that ability. Now I ask her for it every day.

Paul and Cecilia

I clearly remember the time and place where I first encountered St. Paul—it was in the middle of an emergency (stuck in traffic and desperate for a rest room!). St. Paul the marathon runner came to mind and I asked him to run with me and help me endure the pain. He did. Now I always ask him to run with me.

St. Cecilia is restoring my love of music. There was a time not so long ago when I wanted nothing more to do with music having been a performer for many years. But then, God invited me to join the choir at church and I turned to St. Cecilia. She has been working overtime for me, securing blessings which fill my heart up again with the sounds of music.

saints
Meet my saintly friends: Top row, L to R: St. Teresa of Avila, Venerable Bruno Lanteri Row 2: St. Therese of Lisiuex, St. Francis de Sales, St. Lawrence, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Francis of Assisi Row 3: St. John the Evangelist, St. Paul, The Blessed Mother, St. Martin de Porres, St. Cecilia Row 4: Sts. Monica and Augustine, St. Nicholas, St. Anthony of Padua, St. Bernadette, St. Christopher

Bruno, Nicholas and Francis

Last year I had the pleasure of meeting Venerable Bruno Lanteri, the founder of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. Through author Father Timothy Gallagher, I met the man who would do anything to hear a person’s confession. He sought out the discouraged, helping them to rise and begin again.

St. Nicholas has become one of my favorites. While searching for a patron saint of finances, I was delighted to find that the man who inspired Santa Claus was that saint. His wisdom and generosity could inspire me to seek guidance in the handling of money, and healing for a heart made stingy by past financial troubles.

And finally there is Francis of Assisi. I am a crazy cat lady with many friends who love animals. And each day I ask St. Francis to remember them all.

Making room

Each day as I take a few moments to flip through my prayer cards I realize how rich my life is with all my saintly friends, all because I opened my heart and made room for them. Doing that reminds me to the same with my earthly friends, especially those in need.

It will be wonderful traveling through Lent this year with so many helpers.

Meet my seventeen special friends

SAINT PATRON SAINT OF WHY I PRAY TO THIS SAINT

1a-cropped st teresaSt. Teresa of Avila

 

Writers She was a reluctant writer and attributed all to God – helps me keep my perspective. She led me through River of Grace. Doctor of the church
1b-cropped TheresePrayerCard-730St. Therese of Lisieux Writers Also a reluctant writer and master of insight into the sacredness of the everyday. She also led me through River of Grace. Doctor of the church
1c-cropped st francis de salesSt. Francis de Sales writers and journalists, because he made extensive use of broadsheets and books both in spiritual direction and in his efforts to convert the Calvinists of the region His gentle face inspired me
1d-cropped st. lawrenceSt. Lawrence librarians, archivists, cooks, and tanners
(and comedians!)
Inspired by his literal trial by fire, I ask him to put his fire into my writing; as I make use of libraries and archives, I ask for his help
1f-cropped st. thomas aquinasSt. Thomas Aquinas Writers (students) I turn to him for knowledge and understanding as I write – particularly clinging to him because of my Alcott biography
1e-cropped st john the evangelistSt. John the Evangelist Writers St. John was eloquent and mystical in his writing – asking for that in mine.
2a-cropped st. paulSt. Paul missionaries, evangelists, writers, journalists, authors, public workers, rope and saddle makers, and tent makers My marathon runner partner! He runs next to me when I need endurance.
2b-cropped venerable bruno lanteriVenerable Bruno Lanteri The confessor—encouraging the discouraged to make peace with their failing, get up and start again I turn to him whenever I have fallen and feel discouraged. His caring demeanor attracted me.
3a-blessed virgin maryMary, the Mother of God Bringing God’s children home to the sacred heart of Jesus through her own immaculate heart I ask Mary our Mother to bring all of us home to her Son Jesus.
3b-cropped st_martinSt. Martin de Porres Mixed Race, Barbers, Public Health Workers, Innkeepers private intention
3c-cropped st monicaSt. Monica
and St. Augustine
Mothers—praying their children home private intention
4-cropped st. nickSt. Nicholas those in financial need For wisdom in handling our money and for healing of stinginess (after all, he is the model for Santa Claus!)
5-cropped st. anthonySt. Anthony of Padua lost and stolen articles For finding anything, from lost objects to lost thoughts!
6-cropped st. bernadetteSt. Bernadette illness, people ridiculed for their piety, poverty, shepherds, shepherdesses, and Lourdes, France For humility and holy absorption
7-cropped st. ceciliaSt. Cecilia musicians Offering my music through her
8-cropped st. christopherSt. Christopher travelers and of children For help with driving, especially at night
St. Francis of AssisiStFrancis animals and the ecology For all animal lovers, especially my kitten cam friends

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Great reading for all ages, and you can win a copy! The Chime Travelers series by bestselling author Lisa M. Hendey

You could win a copy of both books in the Chime Travelers series!

Find out how at the end of this post … great gift for the child in your life (even if it’s you!).

When’s the last time you treated yourself to a good children’s book?

How did reading it make you feel?

As an almost-60 adult with no small children in my life at the moment, it feels like a guilty (and secret) pleasure. I mean, shouldn’t I be reading more challenging books? It was after a conversation with a distinguished professor of children’s literature that I realized reading children’s literature is totally acceptable at any age. And besides, it’s fun!

That said I couldn’t resist reading my friend Lisa Hendey’s new Chime Travelers series. Initially I was drawn in by the imaginative and vibrant illustrations by Jenn Bower. This is Hendey’s first foray into juvenile fiction. As a writer myself I was curious as to how she made that transition; I’m happy to say that she has done it quite well.

chime travelers both books

The premise

I read the first two books, The Secret of the Shamrock and The Sign of the Carved Cross and fell in love with the series. The premise revolves around twins Patrick and Katie who are mysteriously sent back in time whenever the bells of St. Anne’s chime (thus Chime Travelers). In each case they meet a saint with a name similar to theirs and embark on an adventure. As they come to know and love the saint, they are inspired by the faith and life of that saint which in turn, draws them closer to God. Their lives are never the same again. Patrick meets St. Patrick, the great saint of Ireland, and Katie meets Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American to be canonized.

jaqian St. Patrick, and Raymond Bucko, Saint Kateri Tekakwitha in front of Santa Fe Cathedral, Flickr Creative Commons
jaqian St. Patrick, and Raymond Bucko, Saint Kateri Tekakwitha in front of Santa Fe Cathedral, Flickr Creative Commons

Kid-friendly

Episcopal Diocese Common-wafers, Flickr Creative Commons
Episcopal Diocese Common-wafers, Flickr Creative Commons

The series is geared for children in grades 2-5 with the very typical problems that kids face such as not fitting in, making fun of other kids, being unkind to newcomers, trying to please the popular crowd, jealousy, being bored with church, guilt over past actions and so forth. By being exposed to these great saints, Patrick and Katie come to love their faith especially through the sacraments (Patrick with Reconciliation; Katie with Baptism and Holy Communion). I found myself becoming attached to St. Patrick and St. Kateri as I grew to know them and almost felt sad when the children were transported back home.

Empowering young people to change

Hendey does not make the twins change instantaneously but rather slowly, over time. In the second book, The Sign of the Carved Cross, we can see Katie noticing and wondering how her brother has changed since he experienced his time-traveling adventure, unaware that the same would soon happen to her. By being changed from within, both children begin treat others with more kindness, patience and understanding.

Saints are real people

Children love exciting stories about real people and our Church has so many of them to offer through the Saints. The Chime Travelers series does a great service in exposing our young people to people who lived their faith authentically and boldly while dealing with their own weaknesses and sins.

Great for adults too!

And since reading children’s literature acts a vacation for my overworked and weary mind, this adult loved them too. I highly recommend the Chime Travelers series for all ages. I’m keeping my copies for the future grandchildren.

You could win a copy of both books in the Chime Travelers series!

Find out how at the end of this post … great gift for the child in your life (even if it’s you!).

Come and meet Lisa Hendey, author of the Chime Travelers series:

How did you come to write the stories? Did you choose the Saints that you wrote about?

lisa hendey
lisahendey.com

I had been in conversation with the publisher, Servant, about potential book projects. At one of our meetings, I humorously shared with them an idea that I had for a children’s book. The concept for Chime Travelers was “born” during a fun backyard chat with my nephew Patrick one day. We daydreamed about a little boy who traveled in time to meet his patron saint. In our family, the name “Patrick” is quite common and we have a true devotion to the “apostle of Ireland”! When I shared the idea, Claudia Volkman and Louise Pare were able to see the vision for the story and we began to conceptualize what has since become an entire series of books. I chose the initial two saints (St. Patrick and St. Kateri Tekakwitha) and campaigned to have the first two books released simultaneously. Children who read these types of books want to have them quickly if they love them. The upcoming books, based on the lives of St. Francis of Assisi and St. Clare of Assisi, will be coming this spring and the fifth book is planned for release in the summer.

How were you able to make the transition from writing nonfiction to fiction?
Did doing the research help you to get into the mindset?

The transition was such a joy but also much more challenging than I had predicted. We have an excellent editor, Lindsay Olson, who is a true children’s literature specialist. And I must also rave about our illustrator Jenn Bower who has truly brought the series to life with her art. Making the transition to fiction involved relying on the research skills I’ve honed as a non-fiction author, but also setting loose my imagination. The challenges related to helping the characters truly come to life, capturing the senses and attention of our young readers, and also building upon the stories of the saints while being very respectful of their true life legacies. Even though the books are short, we want them to be educational and also close in detail to the real facts of the saints histories.

How different is it writing for children than for writing for adults? Are the rules you need to follow?

I’ve learned so much! One big difference is that it’s important to help the kids enter into the action of the scene rather than simply describing it to them. This was a huge challenge for me initially and something I’m still learning about. I’ll also share that I’m quite verbose (note my answers here for an example of that!) These books need to be tight, concise but also full of rich imagery. One “rule” I’m still learning about is giving our characters “agency” – that is to give them a voice or power over their situations. This is why you’ll find our main characters Patrick and Katie at the center of the action in the Chime Travelers series. We want the children who read these books to understand that they too have power and that their actions matter–especially within our Church and in their own families. I believe that our children can make our Church and our world better. I hope that with these books, we’ve given them role models to see that they too can emulate the saints in living lives of great courage, valor and import.

How does it feel to be carried away to a distant land in a distant time with a special Saint? Do you have a favorite?

Many have heard me say that I often write in my sons’ old tree house, a space my husband built for them years ago. I have a rocking chair and desk there, and I truly love to go into that space to “Chime Travel”. To be “carried away” in time and to dwell in the lives of the saints is somewhat like the beautiful form of Lectio Divina. I often do my historical research and then simply pray and begin writing. I find so often that I become caught up in the scenes I’m writing, as if I see the action or hear the dialogue in my head. I’m afraid that probably sounds a bit crazy! But in truth, these books are a gift of love for the Church and our saints. For that reason, I feel strongly that the Holy Spirit is often at work in my tree house, guiding me along a path to the stories we are creating.

Where the magic happens ... used by permission lisahendey.com
Where the magic happens … used by permission lisahendey.com

I have scores of favorite saints – the first two books tell two of their stories. My “favorite” saint probably varies every day, depending upon whose spiritual friendship I most need! My “go to” is my personal patroness, St. Therese of Lisieux, but I also have a deep love for Venerable Fulton Sheen, for St. Damien and St. Marianne Cope of Molokai, and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. I love St. Therese of Lisieux because as she did in her own life, I greatly desire to be a missionary in our world. Like St. Therese, I will likely never travel extensively to foreign mission fields. But her Little Way, her life and legacy have taught me that my own mission field can be a vast and beautiful “love letter” to God in its own unique way. In general, I love the saints and working on this project has been a great way to share that love with children everywhere.

How can you win both books in the Chime Travelers series?

Be the first to leave a comment and the books are yours! Comment away …

Find The Secret of the Shamrock and The Sign of the Carved Cross on Amazon.

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Find Susan’s books here on AmazonPurchase Susan’s CD.