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Brokenness lets us see where true beauty lies

My “Soul Seeing” column, running in the current issue of the National Catholic Reporter:

If you look around my office prayer space or on my bedroom dresser, you’ll notice one constant: broken conch and whelk shells everywhere. Small and blue-gray, large and sun-bleached, twisting, turning, spiraling in that gorgeous and mysterious way that seashells do. Although I have one perfect channeled whelk shell that I purchased in Cape May, N.J., years ago, my prized possessions are broken shells of every shape and size because, as far as I’m concerned, they are far more beautiful than the ones that are perfectly intact and so lovely on the outside. Read more

Moving Meditation: the sacred rhythm of raking

I love to rake. I love everything about it — the sound of the rake scratching against the earth, the smell of the autumn air, the pre-winter peacefulness that seems to be settling into all of nature at this time of year, the crispy brown oak leaves swirling against a steely gray November sky and filling my path as fast as I try to clear it. Read more

I think I met Jesus this morning

I walked down to the Mission District in San Francisco today to visit the original Mision San Francisco de Asis, more commonly known as Mission Dolores because it’s near the Creek of Sorrows, Arroyo de los Dolores. After wandering through a beautiful old cemetery and the newer basilica, built in the early 1900s, I found my way to the chapel (first building erected in San Francisco) just as people were leaving daily Mass.

I waited for everyone to clear out and then went closer to the altar to get some photos. That’s when I noticed an old woman sitting in a pew, skull cap pulled far down on her head, raggedy oversized clothes, big bag full of something at her side. She had all the markings of a homeless woman and our eyes met and we both smiled and I said hello and walked on by. But for some reason, just as I was about to leave, something — perhaps the echo of “Whatsoever you do…” that was running through my head at that moment — ¬†told me to go back. And so I did. Read more

Angel of God, my guardian dear…

Angel of God,

my guardian dear,

to whom God’s love

commits me here, Read more

Receiving unexpected grace via the U.S. mail

Grace can be hard to put your finger on, like trying to grab at fog or hold onto a breeze. I remember even back when I was writing The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Catholic Catechism¬†that I struggled to define it in a way that would make sense to people, especially people who maybe had never really contemplated that word before and what it might mean in their lives. Read more

For people who spend so much time in prison, they sure are fun — and inspiring

I had the honor of addressing 50 Catholic prison chaplains on retreat at Notre Dame Retreat House in Canandaigua, N.Y., this week. And while my presentation was meant to give them a spiritual lift and maybe a little levity — I am totally goofy when I get up there in front of an audience. Go figure. — the truth is that they were the ones who did just that for me. The Spirit works in amazing ways, and there is no doubt in my mind that I was meant to be exactly in that place at that moment this week. And I need to thank them for welcoming me so graciously but also for teaching me and sharing with me and laughing with me and reminding me what is so wonderful and beautiful about the individual Catholics who make up the Body of Christ. Read more

Creating Calm Amid Life’s Chaos

Well, I didn’t plan for this confluence of events, but, as is often the case, the Spirit took care of that for me. Today I’ll be out in Canandaigua, New York, talking to 70 Catholic prison chaplains about “Creating Calm Amid Life’s Chaos.” Couldn’t have come at a better time, what with this week getting off to a somewhat chaotic start here at Not Strictly Spiritual. Read more

God’s weird sense of silent humor

When I was packing for retreat, I seriously debated bringing my new salmon-colored Wildwood hoodie because I didn’t want to ruin it. I know. If I think my Jersey Shore hoodie is too nice for my Adirondack silent retreat I’ve got some fashion issues that need to be dealt with, but that’s a post for another day. Anyway, first day on retreat I put on my pretty new hoodie and headed to the dining hall for a cup of coffee, which I planned to sip lakeside in silence. Sounds perfect, right? Read more

Convergence, coincidence, and cosmic connections

If you go on silent retreat, or spend any serious amount of time in deep and quiet prayer, you’re likely to find that some new synapses are firing. Suddenly it’s as if you’ve discovered a previously dormant channel in your brain. Read more

Broken and beautiful

If you look around my office prayer space or on my bedroom dresser, you’ll notice one constant: broken conch and whelk shells everywhere. Small and blue-grey, large and sun-bleached white, twisting, turning, spiraling in that gorgeous and mysterious way that sea shells do. Although I do have one perfect channeled whelk shell, which I purchased in Cape May years ago, my prized possessions are the broken shells because, as far as I’m concerned, they are far more beautiful than the ones that are perfectly intact and so lovely on the outside. Read more