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Manic Monday: Oh, wait. It’s Twisted Tuesday.

Headline says it all. It’s going to be one of THOSE weeks. Between my out-of-town travel for a weekend retreat and the holiday for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I am totally thrown off. I’d like to put out a blanket apology for any appointments or events I miss today — or this week — because it’s going to happen. I will be one day off until next Monday. So here’s how things stand on this Twisted Tuesday.

Bookshelf: I finally have my own hardcover copy of Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, which kept surfacing and resurfacing in my life until I finally figured I should borrow it from the library. After one renewal and lots of notes, I decided that this was one to have on my shelf for handy reference and so Dennis can read it when I’m done. Good book about doing what’s most important in life, not setting a long list of priorities that make everything equally important but picking the ONE thing at that moment that is MOST important. Hard to do because it always means a trade-off or a sacrifice.

GPS: I was blessed to be the leader/speaker of the 22nd annual Christian Mothers’ Retreat at Christ the King Retreat House in Syracuse this weekend. Our topic was my favorite: “Broken, Beautiful, and Beloved: Learning to See Ourselves through God’s Eyes,” and, as always, I got more than I gave. At least from my perspective. What a wonderful group of women and so inspiring. They started this retreat on their own 22 years ago with no parish or diocesan or organizing group as a sponsor. Just a bunch of moms who wanted spiritual nourishment and community. They are like one big family — godparents to each other’s children, best friends, encouragers, supporters, Syracuse collagelisteners, pray-ers. We talked about our brokenness and our belovedness and how to fit prayer into our very busy lives. And we made collages, my new favorite activity. Here are some of the ladies at work in the dining room.

Menu: Last night we made a Turkey dinner with all the trimmings. All of the yumminess of Thanksgiving with none of the stress. And we have enough leftovers for another mini-Thanksgiving during the week. I highly recommend doing this some time during the year if you love Thanksgiving but never feel like you get to relax during the meal. And we always have something to be thankful for, right?

Spiritual Signs: Although I love to pray and write a lot about different prayers devoted to the saints, I am not one to go to the saints very often. In particular, I never pray to St. Therese of Lisieux. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love her and her story and her Little Way, but I’ve just never felt compelled to call on her intercession. Then on Friday, I was reading about Pope Francis and his penchant for calling on St. Therese to take up his prayer needs and give him a sign. And the sign St. Therese is said to leave is roses. Again, it’s just never been part of my prayer life. But on this day, as I headed to Syracuse with some special prayer needs, I decided syracuse rosesto call on St. Therese, hoping for a sign but not expecting one. I got to my retreat house room, put my bags down and looked for someplace to hang my clothes. I slowly opened the only door that could be a closet in the beautiful old room with a fireplace and enormous old-fashioned bathtub. I was worried I might be going somewhere I shouldn’t, like another person’s room. As the door swung open I could see hangers and stepped in all the way, and when I did, I was floored. There to my left, in what amounted to a big storage closet, were four giant vases filled with red roses. Velvet ones, mind you, but roses nonetheless. I have to say, she got my attention and I will not be so quick to ignore her in the future. To top it off, the next morning, when I told two of the women sitting in the conference room about the experience, one woman pointed to the wall behind where I was sitting, and there was a picture of St. Therese. Okay, I got it. You’re listening. I may have to go back and re-read her Story of a Soul.

Viewfinder: Two spontaneous shots to share with you, and by spontaneous I mean not quite in focus or thought out in advance.

Here’s the gorgeous sunset from the driver’s seat as I returned from Syracuse on Saturday evening. It was so jaw-droppingly beautiful I couldn’t help it. I just picked up the iPhone that was in the cupholder next to me, aimed it out the window and hoped I managed to capture even some of the magnificent sky. Here you go. Sunset at 65 MPH:

syracuse sunset

Meanwhile back at home…Olivia took out the garage-sale guitar we picked up for her a few years ago and decided to give it a try. So I tuned it up and showed her a few chords. I love this photo of Olivia playing and Chiara in the background in our living room. I have to admit that this photo of Olivia reminds me of myself when I was her age and played guitar day and night. Makes me smile:

Olivia guitar

Soundtrack: A little music for your Tuesday. This one is a new (to me) favorite: “Shelter” by The Strange Familiar.

Butterflies in winter: the soul clings to life

It’s amazing how the soul finds what the soul needs.

When I was on silent retreat last month, I sat in the dining room on our final morning, staring out the window at the peaceful, frozen landscape. In the front yard of the Dominican Retreat and Conference Center in Niskayuna (yes, this place is becoming a perennial favorite in my posts) amid the many barren trees and evergreens was one lone tree still covered entirely in leaves — dead, brown leaves hanging ever-so-delicately yet ever-so-resiliently from its sprawling limbs.  Read more

Collage as prayer: cutting and pasting my way to God

Sometimes losing our serious adult demeanor for a bit and doing childlike things can take us deeper into our spiritual center than any book on prayer ever could. Case in point: I spent Saturday armed with scissors and a glue stick, cutting and pasting — and praying. Although I’d done collages before on my own, back when I was working my way through The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, I had never used the art form as a way to deepen my spiritual life. Until this past weekend when I headed back to the Dominican Retreat and Conference Center in Niskayuna, my new favorite spiritual place, for a six-hour workshop called “Collage as Prayer.” I convinced one friend to join me and then met up by chance with another once I got there. We had a great group of women, probably about a dozen of us or so, led by Sister Ethel. The result? Two collages and a whole lot of insights into myself and my spiritual journey.  Read more

Lessons on letting go from a laptop labyrinth

My latest Life Lines column:

I was at the tail end of a silent weekend retreat a few weeks ago when I began reaching my silent prayer saturation point. Although the Dominican Retreat Center in Niskayuna, N.Y., was the perfect place for a spiritual respite, I’m used to taking my doses of silence in the summer when long walks on quiet paths or the rhythmic paddling of a kayak across a perfectly still lake help ease the what-should-I-do-now syndrome that sometimes sets in for me. Silence is not my natural habitat, so I need all the outside help I can get. Read more

We are all broken, beautiful, and beloved

For all those who heard me talking about our brokenness on the Morning Air Show on Relevant Radio this morning, here’s the original column that sparked this as a retreat and workshop topic for me. We are all “broken, beautiful, and beloved.”

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

April 2 Connecticut event: “You Can’t Fail Lent”

“You Can’t Fail Lent: Learning to see these 40 days as  journey, not a test.” That’s what I’ll be talking about on Wednesday, April 2, when I head to Darien, Conn., to speak to the Women’s Circle of St. Thomas More Parish. The event, which is open to the public, includes a brunch and will be held at the beautiful Convent of St. Birgitta, 4 Runkenhage Road, Darien.

I’m especially looking forward to this event because I get to spend the night at the convent, which overlooks the inlets of the Long Island Sound. I’ll try to post some pictures and spiritual reflections once I’m back.

If you would like to attend the event, please call Patty at St. Thomas More Parish at 203-655-3303. Tickets for the brunch are $40 per person.


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

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

Sacred spaces, liminal places

When I first arrived at Pyramid Life Center, I carted my sleep bag and backpack up to my room in the main lodge, and, I have to admit, felt a flutter of disappointment when I realized my little room did not have a view of the lake. The last time I was at Pyramid I had a corner room with a lake view from both windows. I even slept with my head at the foot of the bed so the lake would be the last thing I saw at night and the first thing I saw in the morning. So I had to fight the urge to let disappointment be the first feeling I felt on my weekend retreat, especially since I wasn’t planning on spending that much time in my room and this might actually encourage me to spend more time sitting right next to the lake rather than looking at it from afar. Read more