Introducing Flow Lessons from my book, River of Grace – prayerful exercises connecting practical every day life with the Divine

One of the unique features of my upcoming book, River of Grace: Creative Passages Through Difficult Times are its Flow Lessons: prayerful exercises using concrete elements from our every day lives to reveal spiritual truths. They combine prayer with action, creating a practical life application.

Here is the first Flow Lesson from the introduction to my book. Did this exercise change the way you look at receiving the Eucharist? Please share in the comments section.

I hope this blesses you. I did it a couple of weeks ago when I received communion and it made for a wonderful, lingering meditation that lasted long after mass was over.


flow lesson logo-640

Materials needed: pen or pencil and paper, food, and your imagination.



Pick a quiet place in your home to do this exercise and make sure you can sit still comfortably for several minutes.

Be still

To begin, take a moment to be still with God. If you are having trouble with noise in your mind from the cares of the day, close your eyes and imagine a tree in winter filled with screeching birds. The tree is dense with these birds and the noise is unbearable. Now watch as each bird flies away. Attach a thought or care to that flying bird and bid it adieu. Do this until the tree is entirely empty of birds and it is quiet.

Bo Insogna, "Bird Land," Flickr Creative Commons
Bo Insogna, “Bird Land,” Flickr Creative Commons

Choosing some food

After a few moments of quiet, go to the kitchen and fix yourself something to eat that is both nutritious and something you really like. As you prepare your food, say a prayer of thanksgiving to God for that food and for the privilege of eating it in his presence.

Describe your food

Return with your food to the place you had designated for this exercise and examine it carefully. Write down a few descriptive phrases about the food, noting its color, smell and texture. Now take a bite and chew slowly, thinking about how the food tastes, what it feels like in your mouth and what you enjoy about that food. Write down phrases that pop into your mind.

Michael Stern Wall_Food_10171, Flickr Creative Commons
Michael Stern Wall_Food_10171, Flickr Creative Commons

Think about where your food is going

When you finish your meal, think about where food goes after you eat it, how it goes to your stomach, is digested and then circulated throughout your body via your bloodstream. As you are thinking about that, consider how you are feeling: do you feel energized and satisfied after eating? Does it give you what you need to carry on with your day?


Write down your impressions and then put your piece of paper in a prominent place so you will remember to take it with you the next time you go to mass. Ask God to take what you have written and plant it on your heart for when you receive communion.

Receive …

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

During mass take out that piece of paper and read it before you receive the Eucharist. Now consider the Eucharist in the same way you considered the food you ate during your meditation. Be mindful of the texture of the wafer as you receive it and notice how you eat it:

  • Do you chew it or let it dissolve?
  • Think about why you eat it in that way and how it makes you feel. If you also receive the wine, do you hold the wafer in your mouth and wait to consume it until you drink the wine?
  • How does the wine add to the experience?

Pray and Ponder …

When you get back to your place, think about the wafer and the wine being digested, soon to be coursing through your veins.

  • What symbols come to mind, if any?
  • How will the Eucharist nourish you, both spiritually and physically?
  • Thinking about the Eucharist being the body and blood of Christ, how does it make you feel to know it is now present within your body?

When you get home from mass, take a few moments and write down your impressions of receiving communion on your piece of paper and compare notes. Ask God to continue to offer insight, opening the eyes of your mind to new ideas and possibilities.

00 cover drop shadowcopyright 2015 Susan W. Bailey;
from the preface of River of Grace: Creative Passages Through Difficult Times,
published by Ave Maria Press
You can read the back story of this exercise in the preface of River of Grace by subscribing to my email list.


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Living with deliberate intent: lessons from a loss and a blessing

donna marie downing anderson mdYesterday reminded me of how suddenly life can end. Rich and I attended the funeral of his cousin Donna who was killed suddenly in a car crash. Gone, just like that. She had just returned to Minnesota from Connecticut, having spent the weekend with her parents. Her mother was brought home from rehab after several weeks away; Donna and her sisters helped to settle their mother back into her routine.

Donna was a doctor, having first served in a pediatric practice for fifteen years, followed by time spent in an army hospital and then in clinics on Indian reservations. She was well aware of all that was going on with her parents and was able to contribute her expertise. She also contributed her special brand of humor and consolation to her mother, father and sisters. Donna was a healer who was very passionate about life. Her spirit was adventurous and free, her life lived with deliberate intent.

It therefore seemed exceedingly unfair that this woman in her prime should suddenly be taken from this life while traveling home from the airport after having called her mother to tell her she was “alright.” Unfair to her mother who is still quite frail. Unfair to her father, devastated at the loss of his little girl, the youngest of the sisters. Unfair to her sisters who depended upon Donna’s gift of life.

Like all of us who attended yesterday’s funeral, I was in need of consolation. Whenever I feel that need, I attend mass at Holy Family Parish in Worcester, MA. While I love my own parish of St. Luke the Evangelist in Westboro, there is something special about Holy Family; being there consoles me. It was where I received my healing of my singing voice. St. Luke’s former pastoral associate, Fr. Steven LaBaire, is pastor of this magnificent cathedral:


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This morning at mass, I saw something else that reminded me of the need to live with deliberate intent. I remembered clearly the first time I witnessed it; I wept openly because I was so moved. I now want to share it with you:

Father Steve is breaking the bread which Catholics believe is the body of Christ. He then takes a piece and drops it in the chalice containing the wine which is the blood of Christ.

This is what I mean by deliberate intent.

Notice how the ritual and each little motion is done slowly, reverently, with love. By the deliberate intent of his motions, Father Steve allows us time to contemplate the mystery of the bread and wine. The breaking of that bread reminds us of Christ’s broken body on the cross and the mingling of the body with the blood which Catholics then receive as the eucharist during communion.

Christ shares himself with us through such humble means as bread and wine and in the most intimate way possible: by entering our bodies as food. This is what Catholics believe; it is what I believe.

Father Steve demonstrates living with deliberate intent by the way he celebrates this ritual which he has done endless times but never without thought.

Donna lived with deliberate intent, chasing her passions for medicine, helping others and wildlife photography while never forgetting her family. I’m told by my mother-in-law that Donna called her mother three days each day to check in.

Now she is gone but she leaves behind a legacy, not just of her love or her good works or her beautiful pictures. She leaves behind a legacy of living life with deliberate intent.

Father Steve reminded me of that today in his celebration of the mass, the most sacred of rituals.

Do we think about what we are doing? Do we pour every bit of ourselves into the present moment or do we waste time living in the past or anticipating the future?

What is our intention as we life each day?

Obituary for Donna Marie  Downing Anderson, M. D.

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