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A saint for all seasons

In honor of the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, I thought I’d re-run a column I wrote about one of my favorite saints a while back. I hope to be back here later with a reflection on the pope’s homily while in Assisi on this feast day.

Out in my perennial garden, nestled among the stonecrop and candytuft, stands a well-worn clay statue of St. Francis of Assisi made by an artisan in Mexico. The unusual characteristics of the statue make it a conversation piece as well as a spiritual touchstone that helps keep me centered as I dig and weed and plant. Read more

Keeping my balance in an off-kilter world

The deacon who preached the homily at Mass this weekend used a story told by the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin to make his point. It was the story of a prophet who, of course, preached what people needed to hear but what they didn’t always like to hear — repentance and reformation and righteousness — and little by little his audience disappeared. Some even turned on him.

One day someone asked the prophet why he continued to preach when it was clear that no one was listening. He replied that although at first he preached in hopes that he would change others, now he preached in hopes that others would not change him.

Whammo! That got my attention. That’s exactly where I feel I am these days. Much of my “preaching” feels like nothing more than the conversations I have with myself in my own head or, on many occasions, in my own office or kitchen as I’m padding around checking emails or washing dishes.

I try to share my journey here whenever I can. Sometimes that means photos of kids doing silly things or close-ups of my latest cooking creations, but often it means divulging a little piece of my soul, which is never easy and always scary. I feel a bit like that fuzzy caterpillar in the photo at the top of this post, inching his way along the gravel road of a horse farm. Talk about putting yourself out there. But sometimes that’s what you’ve got to do.

Like over the past two weeks. Several times I inched my way out into a sometimes-hostile world to talk about my political position of “independent” and what it means to me, to discuss the obvious connection between vegetarianism and being pro-life, and to “let my pro-life freak flag fly,” the most scary of all my posts because I knew how much some would hate it. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. Squish.

And I have to admit there was part of me that wondered why I would do that to myself. Why open myself up for the inevitable backlash — whether through nasty comments or the silent treatment? What’s the point?

When I heard our deacon tell the story about the the prophet (And, trust me, I know full well I’m not a prophet, so, please, no nasty comments about that!), it really hit me like a ton of bricks because I think that’s exactly what I’ve been doing lately. I’ve been preaching my message, letting my freak flag fly in order to keep myself from being changed by the world around me. Even if I am preaching for no one but myself, I guess that’s enough.

So I’m willing to take the occasional criticism, silence, or outright unfriending if that’s what it means to be true to myself and to remember what it is that guides my core and keeps me centered in a world increasingly off balance.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” — John 1:5

‘Never be in a hurry…’

Many of you know that I am a huge St. Francis de Sales fan. I am continually amazed by the way this 17th century bishop speaks so profoundly and relevantly to our modern times. I thought I’d share a quote that speaks to me in a particular way these days.

Ponder these words:

“Never be in a hurry; do everything quietly and in a calm spirit. Do not lose your inner peace for anything whatsoever, even if your whole world seems upset.” — St. Francis de Sales


Now, take a deep breath, close your eyes, and simply be for just two minutes. It will bring a sense of calm to whatever it is you’re doing right now. 

Picking up scattered fragments of peace

When I returned from my wonderful weekend retreat almost three weeks ago, the sense of peace surrounding my heart and penetrating my soul was almost palpable…

unflappable…

Kids did dopey things. I didn’t yell. Work deadlines went from bad to worse. I didn’t melt. The car bumper was bashed in by a hit-and-run meanie. I didn’t explode.

It was clear evidence, at least in my mind, of the power of deep and intense prayer practiced over days, rather than short bursts of desperate cries shouted heavenward while sitting at stoplights or wiping the counter.

In the initial days after my retreat, I kept up some semblance of deep prayer and deep peace. I cleared the decks and sat down in silent meditation in my sacred space. I did yoga followed by more prayer. I got up early and prayed the Liturgy of the Hours in the twinkling glow of the Christmas tree set against a backdrop of winter darkness. I was on a holy roll.

But then bit by bit, day by day, the peace started to fragment…

I could almost see it happening.

Sharp shards of silence breaking off and flying away from me in every direction.

I knew enough to realize it was an unhappy development but felt powerless to stop it. The tension of the season, coupled with the crush of work, compounded by the frenzy of family life made me — as it often does — feel as if I should just wave my spiritual white flag and give up my quest for inner peace. Add my voice to the din.

Then I remembered something our teacher said on retreat, something that really jumped out at me as I sat cross-legged on the floor of the yoga studio at Kripalu. So often, when we think of Jesus in prayer, we think of him in the desert, in the garden, in silent solitude. But the truth is, Father Tom reminded us, that Jesus was more often than not surrounded by chaos — people clamoring to get near him, touch his robe, lower a friend through a roof, climb a tree.

Follow, follow, follow. Ask, ask, ask.

And yet we see the way his peace and prayerfulness emerge amid the chaos. The quiet compassion given to the woman caught in adultery, the feeding of the 5,000, the healing of a soldier’s servant, the forgiveness of a thief from the cross. Jesus did not become unloving, harsh and impatient because the conditions around him went from good to bad to abominable. He stayed true to his center, his Truth, bringing his peace into the noise and glare of an often unkind world.

Rather than letting it happen the other way around…

So as we wait just two more days to celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace, as I look at the absolute insanity that is sure to ensue in the coming hours, I’m picking up the scattered fragments of peace and fashioning them into something usable, something new. I imagine my peace looks a bit like a kaleidoscope now.

Pieces of peace…artfully arranged into something that will cast a brilliant and warm light on everything its shooting and darting rays touch as I turn it gently in my hands.

Chaos into calm. Panic into peace. Fragments into fullness.

All through him, who was…and is…and is to come.

9/11: A look back 10 years later

Here’s the Life Lines column I wrote 10 years ago, in the days following 9/11. So much has changed in the past decade. Our world has changed. My family has changed. And yet, for me, this column still resonates with things that feel very much in tune with our world right now. Here’s wishing all of you, all of us a future of peace — peace in our hearts, peace in our homes, peace on our planet.

By Mary DeTurris Poust

Noah plopped down on the floor next to me the other day and asked me to read one of his favorite books, “There’s an Alligator Under My Bed,” by Mercer Mayer. As we turned the pages and followed the little boy on his quest to capture the elusive alligator that kept him up at night, I had an eerie feeling that the story was an allegory for what I’d been feeling since that terrible morning a few days before.

The night after the World Trade Center attack, I lay awake in my bed staring at the ceiling, filled with a sense of dread that I could not quite put my finger on. I was scared, but not by the images of horror that had flashed before my eyes for hours that day. Instead my fears seemed frivolous, not at all unlike the little boy’s alligator: Had I left the dryer on in the basement? Was the window over the kitchen sink still open? Were the kids’ pajamas warm enough? I felt a childlike fear of the dark, of things no one else can see, things we parents usually try to hush with a goodnight kiss and a night-light.

When morning finally arrived, I realized that my sleeplessness wasn’t really about what might go wrong within my four walls. It was about what had gone wrong in our world. Long after I had wiped away the tears of sadness that fell as I watched the World Trade Center collapse over and over again on television’s seemingly endless loop of horror, I fought back tears of a different kind — as I rocked Olivia to sleep for her nap, as I kissed Noah good-bye at preschool, as I hugged my husband, Dennis, at the end of a long day. Those were tears borne of fear, tears for tomorrow, tears for a world we don’t yet know. And I didn’t like how they felt.

Despite the fact that I have spent almost two years writing a book on how to help children deal with grief, the events of the past weeks left me in the unusual position of struggling for words. On the day of the attack, when Noah, asked if “bad people” might knock down our house, I reassured him that they would not. When he made a logical leap – at least for a 4-year-old – and worried that they might knock down his grandmother’s apartment building in New York City, I told him he was safe, that no one was going to hurt him or the people he loved. All the while I found myself wondering if I was telling him a lie.

But that kind of thinking leads to hopelessness, and when we lose hope, we leave a void just waiting to be filled by fear and despair and alligators of every kind. Through stories on television and in newspapers, I had seen unbelievable hopefulness in the face of utter destruction. How could I not believe in the power of the human spirit and the ultimate goodness of humanity and a better world for our children?

That night, as a soft rain fell, our house seemed wrapped in a comforting quiet that was interrupted only by the reassuring hum of the dishwasher. With Noah and Olivia asleep in their rooms, I lay down and looked up. For the first time in days I didn’t notice the enveloping darkness but saw instead the tiny glowing stars that dot our bedroom ceiling, a “gift” left behind by the previous owners. As I finally closed my eyes to sleep, I whispered a prayer of hope, a prayer for a world where the only thing our children have to fear are the imaginary monsters hiding under their beds.

Copyright 2001, Mary DeTurris Poust

Finding calm amid the chaos

I have heard from so many friends telling me that my previous post about my difficult third week of Advent rang true for them. Apparently a lot of us are feeling the same joylessness, the same darkness and confusion at a time that is supposed to be filled with light and hope.

Then today a Facebook friend in Italy posted a beautiful reflection on this very topic. I guess some things translate across oceans and continents.

The post is from a certain simplicity* (uncomplicated creative living) and it’s just what I needed to hear, read, think about, absorb. I’ll get you started here and then link to the blog, because you should go there today — and any day you need a lift — to hear lots of positive things with servings of Italy on the side.

From Diana Baur’s post today:


The clutter, the discord and the difficulty are what produce the fertile ground of creativity.

On the day you decide to follow a creative path, you will have lesson after lesson handed to you. You will feel beaten, humbled, and alive. You will be aware of large churnings under the surface that no one can see or feel but you. You might smile at friends and family, talking to them about things you have always talked about, but inside you will be jumping hurdles, slaying dragons, praying for answers.

You will feel like you are running as hard as you can – in a bowl of mashed potatoes.

Your advances will be small, your badges earned. You will be a student for a very, very long time. You will wonder whether it was worth it. If you should not have just stayed where you were, in the land of mediocrity and perpetual indecision.

Continue reading…

Thank you, Diana, for giving me food for thought when I most needed to know I am not alone and I will move forward. Peace to everyone out there today who feels like they’re running hard but standing still.