Busted Halo

Our writers invite you along on their journeys through Lent. Follow the play-by-play of their personal spiritual practices and share your own.

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

AP Photo

AP Photo

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 time with people all day at work and with friends on nights and weekends. But since leaving JVC, faith-based community has not really been part of my life. I generally do not go home after mass to reflect on the Gospel with my fellow attendees, whereas I had done this while living in Peru.

Volunteering this …

March 23rd, 2014
Saying "No" to Snacks, Soda, and Sweets this Lent

7918597228_5a899ab261_oAs another week of Lent rolls by, surprisingly I’ m still discovering new perils and pitfalls along my Lenten journey. One such danger that’s been lurking in the background and particularly plaguing me is the dreaded midnight snack.

Now I don’t know how you operate, but I am without a doubt a night owl. I always have been, from the time I’m little, and despite trying to change my habits from time to time, I always end up reverting to a stay-up-late sort of schedule. Unfortunately for both my Lenten sacrifice and my eating habits in general, my late nights tend to be accompanied by a desire to add an extra trip to the kitchen to my day. Whether it’s for something smallish like some cookies or crackers (saltines with peanut butter will never cease to satisfy) or a bit more, shall we say elaborate, solution to my hunger, there’s usually something that I end up craving between dinner and bedtime.

Thankfully, though, I’ve managed to keep myself at bay thus far. That’s not to say I’ve been 100% slip-up free this Lent (more on that later in the week, I promise), but at the very least I’ve done a …

March 22nd, 2014
Pope John XXIII

Pope John XXIII

“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 to light a candle and face a window for his prayer to have any chance at carrying some significance. He has a few ideas as to why this is the case, but he is ultimately resigned to this simply being the way it is. It was a discovery he made on a day when, for whatever reason, he was not looking out a window during his prayer. A small …

March 21st, 2014
40 notes to 40 people in 40 days

bellagio fountainsI’ve know a lot of people who have gone to seminary. Some become ordained ministers or go on to get Ph.D.s and teach. Others are lay leaders in their denominations or counselors or writers or even artists.

Since working at Busted Halo, I’ve met another category to add to the list above — Catholic priests! And in addition to meeting priests (usually Paulist priests), I’ve also had the opportunity to meet and get to know several Paulist seminarians. They come from different places in the United States and Canada, have different professional backgrounds and interests, and many are drawn to the type of contemporary media outreach and evangelism that the Paulist Fathers are known for.

These seminarians have heard and answered a distinct call from God in their lives — and are giving their lives to God’s service in the Church. That kind of gift and all it entails is remarkable to me. Years of study and training and taking vows to serve the Church, the Paulists, to be obedient, and to practice celibacy, etc. — all VERY BIG STUFF.

I know God calls each one of us to some kind of service or vocation. Maybe it’s the BIG …

March 21st, 2014
Lenten Facebook Fast
Stations of the Cross on retreat in the Midwest

Stations of the Cross on retreat in the Midwest

When I was in grade school, I thought the season of Lent was there to make everyone miserable. We would sing these morose songs at Mass, like “Ashes,” and I remember sitting at the dinner table and imitating the sullen, deep voice of our organist singing the “depressing” (as I deemed them) lyrics: “gifts not fully given”… “dreams not fully dreamt” … “spring has turned to winter” … “sunshine turned to rain”… and so on. I remember weeks upon weeks of going to the Stations of the Cross and chanting and repeating the prayers over and over again. Some kid would inevitably faint from all the kneeling and being continually engulfed in incense. No one liked going to Stations of the Cross. We were told to give up sweets. Was there anything uplifting about all of this?!

Now, I imagine my teacher tried to tell us the uplifting message at the end of all of this spiritual preparation — Christ died for our sins and rose from the dead — but when you’re a kid, all you can hear is “Ashes” and all you can see are people fainting …

March 20th, 2014
Lenten Gratitude: 5x40

“Silver Linings (Orton)” image by ICK9S [M. H. Stephens] licensed under Creative Commons “Attribution 2.0” http://www.flickr.com/photos/ick9s/

“Silver Linings (Orton)” image by ICK9S [M. H. Stephens] licensed under Creative Commons “Attribution 2.0” http://www.flickr.com/photos/ick9s/

So, as I’ve been writing my daily list of 5 things for which I’m grateful, I’ve come to notice a bit of a mechanism that helps me find gratitude amidst cacophony. Silver Linings.

Let me take a step back. Here are a few of the items I’ve included in my daily gratitude lists over the past few days:…

Looking forward to the day that the scaffolding comes down at http://bustedhalo.com/blogs/jill-day-1-ash-wednesday-gratitude
. It feels a bit like Hogwarts at daily mass, in that the entrances and throughways are changing on what seems to be a hourly basis as they reposition the scaffolding. The construction makes getting into and out of the church feel like a bit of a maze! And, I can barely hear the priest sometimes. Nonetheless, what a pretty sight the newly renovated cathedral will be. If it’s anything like what I can see peeking out from behind the scaffolds now — it’ll be amazing!
Can’t wait to be done with this project at work. It’s been absolutely ridiculous! But, it’s really come together and everyone has worked so hard — I am

March 20th, 2014
40 notes to 40 people in 40 days

barbara-day-16Tuesday nights at my church, a member teaches a pilates class. It’s wonderful. And after a long day of work sitting (sometimes slouching) at a desk, my body is begging to stretch and move. Thus my affection for the pilates class.

Anyway, after the pilates class there’s a knitting circle of women from the church and community in the same room.

This week — who should walk in for the knitting circle? None other than Frances Helen! Who you might remember was recipient of my “DAY 1” note of this Lenten challenge.

Frances Helen is up and about this week for the first time after breaking her arm in January. Her arm is healing (praise God). And she was her usual warm and smiling self, making jokes about needing to take a break from climbing trees. Ha ha ha. It was so good to see her! …

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

Photo: Jonathan Dyer, AP

Photo: Jonathan Dyer, AP

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 running through my head, all competing for my ever-so-brief attention span. Like the vacationer who struggles to escape her work and “real life” commitments, I cannot simply turn off every question, problem or to-do list item’s petition for scrutiny. It takes time to ease into my breathing, to slow my thoughts and quiet myself into something resembling peacefulness.

By the time I am approaching …

March 19th, 2014
40 notes to 40 people in 40 days

lenten-oppositionAt the two-week mark I’m facing the toughest “opposition” to my Lenten challenge of writing 40 notes to 40 people in 40 days. It’s me v. the clock. In other words, my opposition is time.

Work. Volunteering. Writing — three pages every day, I hope. Church. Social life. Pilates. Being a wife, daughter, sister, “aunt”/godparent, and friend. Housework — yes, that most thankless of tasks, but definitely takes up time. Cooking/meal prep — because it’s healthier if I make my own meals and skip take-out, right? Maybe a little more work or volunteering or church.

These things all take time. And there’s not a whole lot more time left when they are all done. So, you can see how sending handwritten notes might quickly (or in two weeks) turn from spiritual practice into “chore.”

I was hovering somewhere between those two after waking up Monday morning with some serious jet lag from travel to the West Coast. The chore mentality was creeping in.

Then, I began another spiritual practice to avoid the complete and total demise of what I want to be a meaningful Lenten discipline. I took a deep breath. I started breathing — really breathing and noticing my …

March 19th, 2014
Lenten Facebook Fast

social-network-76532_150I’ve been writing a lot about how Facebook can negatively affect my life. Giving something up, it’s easy to notice the negative effects that dissipate. This week, I’ve been thinking about the good things that Facebook brings to my life.

One format that has been going viral on Facebook is lists. There’s a list for everything: “10 Rules for a Great Marriage,” “7 Things We Won’t Miss from 2013,” “32 Reasons My Child is Crying Right Now.” Buzzfeeds are aplenty (“44 Facts About U.S Presidents That Will Blow Your Mind”). We like lists. I like lists.

Because I like lists, I decided to write a short list of the good things Facebook has brought to my life that I’m more aware of, now that I’ve given up Facebook for Lent:

Staying in touch with people I never see.… Some people might not value this, but I always have. In my parents’ generation, everyone gathered in the old high school gym with streamers and balloons and fruit punch and caught up on the last 10 years at a reunion. My high school still has reunions, but when I saw people at my last reunion, I actually felt like I

March 18th, 2014
Saying "No" to Snacks, Soda, and Sweets this Lent
7351448284_f391c69c52_o

Not the movie theater I went to, I promise. This is the inside of the Ziegfeld, where the few occasions I’ve been lucky enough to visit have made me excited enough to take pictures like this one.

If you’ve read almost anything else I’ve written for Busted Halo, you know I’m quite the moviegoer. As such, I’ve got some pretty fixed rituals for my average trip — big ol’ cup of soda, similarly oversized container of popcorn, buttered and salted just so — not healthy rituals by a long shot, but a pattern nonetheless, and one that is almost irrevocably linked to my cinematic experience. (Stephen King shares my sentiment, if you’re curious, in an old Entertainment Weekly piece that has stuck in my mind since 2008.) So with my popcorn and soda mentality at its standard operating level, that is to say quite ingrained, I headed off to the movies the other day unaware of the trial that stood ahead of me.

You see, it had slipped my mind entirely that it’s Lent. (If you’re wondering what movie I was seeing, by the way, Muppets: Most Wanted. It was a screening, and it was a pretty …

March 17th, 2014

Pillow

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.

God, I hope it warms up soon. This winter is grinding my gears.

What’s that Cream album called? Disraeli Gears? I should really give it a listen.

Who came up with the expression “cream of the crop”? Most crops aren’t creamy at all.

What caused the Irish Potato Famine? Bad weather?

I bet there was an early heavy metal band called Bad Weather.

Can you believe Paul Ryan listens to

March 17th, 2014

20140316_142710As the so-called “Luck of the Irish” would have it, I would pick this week to limit myself even further for Lent. With St. Patrick’s Day today, and my Irish family (Sullivan? Irish? Who’d have thought?!?) pulling out the stops to celebrate, it’s the not so perfect time to have imposed some extra restrictions on my already pretty restricting Lenten decision. Nonetheless, challenge though it was to my Lenten mantra of “no snacks, soda, or sweets” (before you ask, soda bread doesn’t count– we’re just talking liquid soda here!) I think I did pretty well. I say “was,” by the way, because with my little brother and sister still in school, we celebrated St. Pat’s lastnight so the festivities wouldn’t get in the way of their homework and sleep schedule and such, so for us, the party is pretty much all said and done by now.

Anyway, I managed to not eat too much (though I must admit I was pretty full by the end of things), which is certainly a personal victory. However, I also experienced somewhat of a defeat at the hands of St. Patrick’s Day, as I ended up with quite a bit of dessert– nothing …

March 17th, 2014
40 notes to 40 people in 40 days

st-patricks-dayI’ve been sending handwritten notes and cards for almost two weeks. Today I’m using the St. Patrick’s holiday as inspiration and sending cards in bulk (if you can count four as “bulk”) to my little cousins. They are my pseudo nieces and nephews because my sister and brother don’t have any children.

These four — Emma, Mollie, Grant, Drew — are great joys in my life. They are full of energy, and my visits with them generally include activities such as soccer games, baking cookies, playing board games, and building things with Legos. We talk on FaceTime occasionally and this year I was diligent about sending each one of them a birthday card. Unfortunately, they don’t have birthdays during Lent! So, #LentChallenge cards for:

Emma — She was the most calm and content infant, and those traits are still evident at age 11. Emma is thoughtful, introspective, warm, and friendly. She loves to read about women leaders heroes.

Mollie — (Formerly Molly.) She has a mind of her own, exemplified by the self-directed change in the spelling of her name at age 7. She won’t smile for photos and is the owner of the iPod Touch that we use for …

March 16th, 2014
Lenten Facebook Fast

rotary phoneI was sitting at a party this weekend, and the topic of my giving up Facebook came up. This launched a discussion about each person’s experience with Facebook and how it has affected his or her life.

One friend shared a lament her parents shared with her: no one ever calls anymore. She told a story about how during one of the recent holidays, her parents noted that no one called anymore to wish their family a happy holidays. “They used to think it was a big deal that no one came over or stopped by to wish them happy holidays, and now, it’s no longer a big deal that no one comes over. No one even calls,” she said.

How true.

With each mode of new communication, we’ve put more and more distance between ourselves and others. What was once a shock is no longer a second thought. What is now a shock might no longer be a second thought a decade from now. It’s almost ironic that we call our phones “phones,” when we do so little actual calling on them. Really, they’re our smaller computers.

A couple weeks ago, I needed help from someone. I looked her …

March 16th, 2014

8700135389_7bf55b3a82_oNow, before I get going on this I want to say that I’ve heard it go both ways, and I’m definitely not saying that mine is 100% right. Ok? Here goes: I don’t take Sundays off in Lent. I’m sure some of you already know exactly what I’m talking about, but for those who don’t, basically what I mean is this: if you take a simply mathematical look at the span of time between Ash Wednesday and Easter, you come up with 46 days, not 40 (maybe 47, depending on how you count days, but either way, definitely not 40.) This has been frequently treated as a reason to take Sundays “off” from your Lenten sacrifice, as Sunday is typically a day of feasting rather than fasting.

But I don’t do that. “Why?” you ask… well, the short answer is I was raised that way (which may be the short answer for why many of us practice the way we do, but that’s an issue for another day.) The longer, though still somewhat short, answer basically boils down to the following– I feel that if you’ve committed to doing something special for Lent, you shouldn’t just ditch that because you …

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

WeightsI 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 other challenges. Though these other sentiments can be painful, they are dynamic, passionate feelings, whereas indifference is often lukewarm.

Imagine any broken relationship. What hurts more: the other person feeling bitter toward you or the other person not caring at all? Disinterestedness or a lack of enthusiasm about the idea of God tends to bother me more than feeling upset with God.

So what is the solution? The older I get, the more I value discipline. To …

March 14th, 2014
40 notes to 40 people in 40 days

Friends (left to right) Darlene, Kim, and Emily in a photo from my wedding. (Photo credit: Nylagray Photography)

Friends (left to right) Darlene, Kim, and Emily in a photo from my wedding. (Photo credit: Nylagray Photography)

Continuing on the family theme this week I’ve sent out two notes to two former co-workers who have become the best of friends over the past several years.

I’ve spent much of my time since college working. And most of that “working” time has been spent in an office with other people. Workplace friendships are interesting. Work is a place where you can really get to know people — collaborating on projects, eating lunch together, finding common interests, going out for a drink after work hours. Work has been a place where I’ve met and made some of the most wonderful friends!

When I used to work for the United Methodist Church, I would travel a good deal. And generally travel with coworkers, which meant having coworkers as roommates, too.

It was on one of those trips to Washington D.C. that I got to know Kim. We were not only “roommates” with one another, but shared a large room of bunk beds with about a dozen college students who were on a leadership/social justice education trip. We were “chaperones” in a sense …

March 14th, 2014
Lenten Facebook Fast
Morning has broken

Morning has broken

I have this list. Everything on it gets its own gold star. This list lives in my email inbox, and every day, I add to it. Every day, I get emails with articles that are fascinating and intriguing. I open them in the morning, star them, think I really need to read that, and close my computer and catch the bus outside.

This list has become quite long. They’re articles I’ve found, as well as articles people have sent me. Most of the time, I get these articles in the morning. Before I gave up Facebook for Lent, my morning usually consisted of eating cereal (a must), checking email, and going on Facebook. Sometimes I’d be late to catching the bus because I’d spend too much time on Facebook or get roped into some sort of gun law debate below someone’s status, etc. Facebook took up much of my mornings.

Nowadays, I wake up, eat cereal (a must), check emails, and then, guess what: I read articles. I’m slowly making it through my star list. I’m watching videos on Oprah’s Lifeclass that I’ve always meant to watch. I’m catching up on TED Talks that I swore I’d …

March 12th, 2014
40 notes to 40 people in 40 days

“image_4500” image by marynbtol licensed under Creative Commons “Attribution 2.0” http://www.flickr.com/photos/tsakshaug/

“image_4500” image by marynbtol licensed under Creative Commons “Attribution 2.0” http://www.flickr.com/photos/tsakshaug/

So far, this week’s notes have been sent to my mom, my sister, and my husband. All notes to family.

Today, I’m thinking about a different kind of family: The friends who become like family through shared experience.

In a recent post I mentioned a friend I made when I was part of a young adult volunteer program after college. Honestly, I actually made many amazing friends during that time. Specifically, my fellow volunteers became a very special family for me. We were sent out across the United States with a common mission and shared similar ideas about putting our faith into action to help those living on the margins of society. We challenged one another to grow spiritually and supported one another through difficult times. Sounds like a family to me.

When my dad died at home in Pennsylvania while I was volunteering in Mississippi, my new family reached out across the miles. Some who were living and serving in Philadelphia drove to the funeral to be with me.

We have prayed together, laughed together, and grown closer as people called to make a difference in today’s world. …

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