Busted Halo
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Brian Harper :
42 article(s)

Brian Harper is a communications specialist for the Midwest Jesuits. He has lived in Peru, South Africa, and Italy, and his writing has been featured in America magazine, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and various other print and online publications. You can find his work at www.brianharper.net.
April 17th, 2014

For all of Lent, I wanted to rise early and meditate before going to work. And for all of Lent, I failed.
The idea sounds wise when you are trying to squeeze in your day’s prayers at 10 p.m.
‘This will be the first thing I do tomorrow,’ I often thought to myself.
But when the rubber met the road, an extra 15 minutes of sleep always trumped waking early.
I finally managed to do a weekday morning reflection this week, which is ironically the last week of Lent. Not surprisingly, it was a most pleasant way to start the day. It certainly beat rolling out of bed and cursing fate, the universe and whatever other forces had conspired to end my time of rest. It was so nice that I was kind of annoyed with myself for not having…

April 16th, 2014

If I am being honest with myself — which is probably a good thing to be during Lent — there have been a good many days when I have simply cashed in on my commitment. Yes, my desire was to complete the simple task of sitting in silent meditation for 10-15 minutes each day. How could I fail unless I spoke or simply did not put in the time?
The fact of the matter, however, is that I sometimes plopped down on my bed, closed my eyes and waited for my 10 minutes to pass, making little to no effort to quiet my mind, focus on my breathing or recharge for the remainder of my day.
It is not that I feel guilty about this; that really is not the point. But the days in which I stayed engaged with my goal and actually attempted to simply be…

April 12th, 2014

When I attended my Jesuit Volunteer Corps orientation about two and a half years ago, my fellow volunteers and I were presented with all kinds of guides and articles on different forms of prayer: quiet meditation, reciting a mantra, praying with the saints…there was probably enough information to schedule a different style each day of the week and then some.
For whatever reason, Ignatian Prayer, which involves using the imagination to place oneself in Gospel scenes, was the one I struggled most to adopt. I think it felt a little too close to playing pretend. This was fine when I was 5 and donning Batman’s cape to fight my brother, but to a 22 year-old seeking communion with God through prayer, it felt a little…

April 10th, 2014

“Why do we fall, sir?” “So that we can learn to pick ourselves up.” — Alfred to Bruce Wayne…
I failed to pray for 10-15 minutes both yesterday and the day before.
I could say I have a good excuse. When it comes to excuses, I always do.
On Monday, I attended a funeral, so technically, I was in a prayerful atmosphere for 15+ minutes. Yesterday, I just flat-out did not make my mark.
This is something that really would have bothered me in the past. Lent can be a legalist’s paradise; 40 days of abstaining from or performing an activity is just the thing to whet a rule-lover’s appetite. And my spiritual journey has certainly included long forays into scrupulosity. The idea that I must

April 8th, 2014

I have intentionally tried to plan my prayer time this Lent; each day, I sit down for a set 10-15 minutes of quiet reflection.
This has been helpful for a number of reasons, the most evident being that the discipline of actually designating a time to pray is the surest way to make sure I will actually do it. If I only meditated when I was in the mood or otherwise felt moved to do so … well, I would probably be able to count my “higher power” exchanges on one hand.
While visiting my grandparents’ house yesterday, I was browsing one of their guest bedrooms when I felt a sudden urge to pray. I only had a few moments before I would rejoin my family, but I swiftly knelt, said a few words and left the room.

April 5th, 2014

In C.S. Lewis’s classic The Screwtape Letters,… an elder demon advising a younger devil talks about the importance of one’s position during prayer.
As Father Robert Barron recounted in a blog this week, “[T]he veteran orders his young charge to encourage his ‘client,’ a budding Christian, to envision prayer as something very ‘interior’ and ‘mystical,’ having little to do with posture or the position of the body. He wants the poor Christian to think that whether he stands, slouches, sits, or kneels is irrelevant to the quality of his communication with God. This, of course, is the Cartesian voice, the belief that our bodies and souls are independent

April 4th, 2014
40 Days Searching for the Sound of Silence

My decision to commit to praying in silence for 10-15 minutes each day seemed pretty simple. In the weeks leading up to Lent, I was overwhelmed by words, both others’ and my own. I felt like I was surrounding myself in noise almost all the time, and I knew I needed to do something deliberate, however insignificant, to address it. No matter how inconsequential or small the stretch of time was, I felt it was a first step in hopefully bringing some peace to the rest of my day and, even more hopefully, going deeper in my spiritual life.
I have been operating under the assumption that this is not a luxury, that it is really not too much to ask in life. In a sense, I still feel that way. I think we all need an occasional moment’s

March 31st, 2014
40 Days Searching for the Sound of Silence

Prayer is dynamic and fluid. Like everything, it is always changing, so much so that the words I say today might feel entirely different tomorrow. Though forming habits, common practices and routines can be helpful in developing and deepening one’s prayer life, I have also found it important to introduce new elements into my daily meditations.
My spiritual director recently suggested praying with scripture. I have tried this in the past on a limited basis and without strong feelings as to its success or lack thereof. I decided to give it another go on Friday.
Adding to the “newness” of the experience was the location. Having gotten out of work early, I swung by a small, university chapel instead…

March 28th, 2014
40 Days Searching for the Sound of Silence

My meditation time has been abnormally silent this week.
This is probably an odd claim to make. Silence, after all, is one of the principal goals of my Lenten enterprise. Acknowledging silent prayer as being quiet is a little like recognizing a sunny day for being bright.
I am beginning to learn, however, that no matter how calm I manage to become on the interior, I have only so much control over the racket around me.
I — we all — have to reckon with noise pollution. It really is extraordinary how much sound there is in each of our little pockets of life. It is a rare moment there is not something humming in the air. I have personally become so accustomed to a world dense with sound that I do not actively notice…

March 27th, 2014
40 Days Searching for the Sound of Silence

I am never so aware of my mind’s busyness as when I am trying to clear it. So much of my day is spent thinking, processing, judging, analyzing…using and abusing my head to no end. I am so accustomed to this way of being that it is no simple task to simply turn off for a few minutes.
Some of these thoughts are easy enough to ignore. A funny memory or recollection of something I read demands no action from me.
But often, the thoughts that come to me during my designated time of prayer command attention, calling out that I notice them immediately.
Sometimes, I think of something I need to remember to do later. Frequently, I mull over a problem that, for whatever reason, seems to have a pressing need to be solved.
I have found…

March 24th, 2014
40 Days Searching for the Sound of Silence

At the beginning of Lent, I was convinced the best way for me to feel close to God was in silent, contemplative solitude.
I still feel that way…to a degree. Over the course of the last two and a half weeks, however, I have also come to realize how crucial other forms of prayer and interaction are to making my time alone worthwhile.
Yesterday I made my first visit to a food pantry run by Catholics in my neighborhood. Though I have done some volunteering since the end of my time with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC), this felt new.
I am sure some guilt drove me to get up and work at 8:30 on a Saturday morning, but the desire ran deeper. On some level, I had begun to feel disconnected from others and, in turn, the divine. Sure, I spend…

March 22nd, 2014

“See everything. Overlook a great deal. Correct a little.”
-Pope John XXIII
I do not know much about the soon-to-be canonized Pope John XXIII, but the above quotation has been one of my favorites ever since encountering it a few years ago.
It lends itself to all corners of life. So often, I think our very human inclination is to feel the need to address problems with radical change. If something is not working, best to throw it out and rebuild or take on something new.
What the Good Pope’s reminder indicates to me, however, is that we can meddle in a way that is ultimately counterproductive. What needs to be fixed is often only a minor detail.
Yesterday I was speaking with a Jesuit priest who needs

March 19th, 2014
40 Days Searching for the Sound of Silence

I remember reading someone say they were usually ready for their vacation just as it was ending.
I know what they mean. So often we crave a moment’s relaxation, pine for an opportunity to catch our breath amidst the hustle and bustle of modern life and wonder aloud what it would be like to occasionally have time for a midday snooze.
The irony is that when these moments come my way, I either fail to realize their arrival or simply choose not to use them as my better, wiser self hoped I would. Though it hardly makes sense to measure downtime by one’s productivity whilst using it, I do think there is an art to conscientiously seeking stillness.
Each day as I sit down for my meditation, I have thousands of thoughts…

March 17th, 2014

Sometimes I think I dream more when I am awake than when my head is on the pillow.
This might not be true; I have never been a great one for remembering my dreams. But as I journey through my Lenten practice of meditating at least 10-15 minutes a day – which is in truth also a striving for heightened mindfulness – I am becoming increasingly aware of how often my thoughts wander throughout the day.
This is especially noticeable during my designated prayer time. My seemingly simple goal thus far has been to focus on little more than my breathing. Generally, I am good for an inhale and half an exhale before my attention turns elsewhere.
This mattress is pretty comfortable, but the room’s a little cold.

March 15th, 2014
40 Days Searching for the Sound of Silence

I was not so naive as to think I would make it through Lent without a few bumps in the road to cosmic enlightenment. But I was surprised such a seemingly simple goal – praying 10-15 minutes a day – became a struggle so soon.
After the initial excitement and sense of satisfaction that came with allotting time to meditate each day (not to mention the joy of discovering some good, old-fashioned spiritual nourishment as a result), I have slipped into an unexpected state of apathy.
There have been a number of factors that have disrupted my prayer life over the years – anger, disappointment, sadness, stress and busy-ness being a few. For me, however, indifference can be far more problematic than these…

March 11th, 2014
40 Days Searching for the Sound of Silence

I am beginning to see a recurring theme in my Lenten meditations and reflections: interruption.
Steve pounding on the door could be seen as an interruption. So could a friend arriving at my home and calling my name as I prepared to begin my meditation yesterday.
Disturbances of the peace have happened in a number of small ways. As I indicated in a previous post, I do not take kindly to intrusion. In the past, I have been “that guy” who sends rude social cues to express a desire to leave a conversation I did not want to enter in the first place. Watch out if someone tries to talk to me while I am trying to read, even if I am in a public place where conversing is part and parcel of the territory.
The more I think about…

March 9th, 2014
40 Days Searching for the Sound of Silence

The renowned Jesuit priest Father James Martin, S.J. once said, “[T]here’s no best, or only way to pray. Whatever works best for you-imagining yourself with God, quietly meditating on a favorite Scripture passage, or reciting an old prayer that comforts you-is what’s best for you.”
Discovering the “best way” to pray tends to involve finding the right environment for prayer. Inside or outdoors? Alone or with others? Speaking out loud or keeping silent?
The possibilities are infinite. I entered this year’s Lent with the assumption that silent meditation in a quiet room is the best scenario for me to find some degree of inner peace. Perhaps it is better to say this…

March 8th, 2014
40 Days Searching for the Sound of Silence

If the title of this blog post made you think of the African American spiritual, click here. If it reminded you of the Paul McCartney and Wings classic, click here. And if I’m an idiot for wasting your time with this stuff, click here.
Now, on to Lent.
My  practice of spending 10-15 minutes a day in intentional silence has begun swimmingly enough, which is really to say I have not missed any of Lent’s three days. God must be overwhelmed by my heroic efforts.
So far, I have done  all my meditations in my bedroom. I live on the first floor of a beautiful house in Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood. The building is more than 100 years old and has many fine qualities. Thick, sound-proof walls…

March 5th, 2014
40 Days Searching for the Sound of Silence

Ah, Lent. At no time of year is the discrepancy between my ambition and ability more evident.
In years past, I have generally seen Lent as an opportunity to accomplish personal goals and address shortcomings. Tired of eating so much chocolate? Give it up for Lent. Want to write an epic one-man musical about the life of Theodore Roosevelt? Set up a strict schedule, and do it for Lent.
In years when I was feeling particularly industrious, I even came up with two or  three Lenten practices! Inevitably, I failed and probably did so for a number of reasons. Some of my Lenten ideas were dumb, e.g. the Teddy Roosevelt musical. Others were overly-zealous, e.g. the Teddy Roosevelt musical. Others had nothing to do with the…

February 21st, 2014

A life of faith does not mean a life free of suffering. Whether through the lessons of the Cross or the hard knocks that are an inevitable part of existence, it is a given that often we must pass through dark valleys to reach green pastures.
St. Lidwina is an overwhelming example of this. Born in 1380 in Schiedam, a town in what is today the Netherlands, the Dutch saint had a Marian devotion from a young age. She often prayed before her town’s shrine to the Holy Mother for entire nights. On one such evening, she is said to have had a divine revelation of the pain that would become one of the defining characteristics of her life.
Around the time she was 15, Lidwina fell while ice skating with friends. In the process, she broke…

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