Popular Catholic speaker Matthew Kelly often begins his presentations with this phrase: “There’s genius in Catholicism.” That couldn’t be truer.
There are so many things about the Church that make perfect sense and one of them is the calendar. The feasts of the year reflect the environment and encourage us to tangible hope as we move from the dark to the light realizing that the light is never gone forever.
The pinnacle of that cycle is, of course, Lent. We know that the Church teaches that Lent is a time to anticipate the return of the light while we, together, examine and work on the presence of the light within. We know the practices: prayer, almsgiving and fasting. These are time-honored habits and each can be of great benefit spiritually. However, repetition can also be an enemy in its sameness.
My parish is lucky enough to have a Pulitzer-nominated journalist, Judith Valente, as a member. She has recently published a new book. The other day we had the joy of attending a presentation with some readings and thoughts by the author herself.
Atchison Blue is a thoughtful narrative about how she decided to recuperate a spirituality that was not working in her busy journalism steeped life. Through a set of circumstances that came directly from work responsibilities she wound up frequenting a monastery of Benedictine nuns. One would have to do some searching to find a better “school” to teach about the core of spirituality.
There are many honest lessons about how the experience unfolded in all the areas of her life but I was impressed by some basic points that I would like to share with the readers.
First of all, when one is thinking about spirituality that sustains us there is no such thing as cordoning off a time, location, or place. When you understand the Benedictine concept of spirituality you quickly come to understand that spirituality is an all or nothing proposition.
The struggle to know and sharpen our awareness of God and how he manifests himself is a 24/7 reality. Gives us plenty of time to practice! If one is willing, though, this can literally be a life altering opportunity.
Next, it’s not a matter or achieving a point where one can say: “I have achieved the pinnacle of success. I am a spiritual master.” Rather it is about developing a heightened awareness and always being engaged in the “conversation” as we struggle to reveal God in all aspects of our life. There are many ways to work on this goal but Judy provided one practice that might be a great project for Lent if you haven’t thought about your journey this year.
On a particularly frustrating day that included a fight with her husband and disappointment that spirituality outside of the monastery is not as easy as it is inside the monastery, Judy called her Benedictine advisor. Sister Terrasita pointed out that lack of success at achieving “outside” spirituality is really success! The struggle and willingness to pursue spirituality really is spirituality in practice!
But here’s a discipline you can use that will help: When someone says something that stirs ire, temper, or retaliation in you, pause for a brief moment and ask yourself the following three questions before you speak a syllable:
- Is it true?
- Is it kind?
- Is it necessary?
This simple act takes less than a minute and has the potential to change everything about you. Could you become kinder, more patient, more loving, and different in the eyes of those who know you? Yes, yes, yes, and yes!
The real “trick” of growing spirituality is not a grand gesture that suddenly blows up the old you and creates a new you, but rather a set of tiny steps that add up to a change that you didn’t even notice. Maybe we could all use Sister Terrasita’s phone number?
If you are overwhelmed by the idea of reading an entire book there is another Lenten choice that might work for you. We also have the privilege of experiencing Judy’s wisdom in a second venue that displays her spirituality as a gifted poet. Within the same time frame as Atchison Blue Judy has published a second book: “The Art of Pausing: Meditations for the Overworked and Overwhelmed.” Her friendship with Brother Paul Quenon, Trappist, created this collaboration. This book is a series of haiku that the two exchanged on a daily basis. Along with each poem is a photo taken by Brother Paul and then a commentary.
It is no less profound than Blue. It’s simply spirituality in the form of smaller bites. Brother Paul was a novice under Thomas Merton so make no mistake about the spirituality and teaching that you can find in this gem of book. Don’t miss p.83. Did you realize that there’s even a dimension of spirituality to skunks?
Copyright 2014, Kathryn M. Cunningham