Busted Halo

Busted Halo contributors reflect on the spiritual moments they’ve experienced on vacation — finding God in all sorts of destinations.

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August 7th, 2014

It started as an inspirational speech in my living room. My close friends were seated on our couch, the victimized listeners. Sam was in town from Peru, and we were discussing our plan to visit him in six months. We all agreed that if we were spending a paycheck and a half to fly down there, we might as well see one of the Seven Wonders of the World, Machu Picchu. After making the case for the four-day hike to the ruins, as opposed to the train, I ended by exclaiming, “In the name of adventure!” punching my fist in the air for dramatic effect.

Looking back, I am mildly surprised I was such a rabble rouser. I love adventure and traveling; don’t get me wrong. I love the outdoors but wouldn’t say I do the outdoors. I also don’t do heavy things. If a friend asks me to help him/her move, I think of what else I might possibly have to do that day. Carry my stuff up a mountain? Was this my quarter-life crisis?

Months later, the first day of the hike began. I vividly remember the opening speech of one of our guides: “We are going …

August 4th, 2014

arewethereyet-5“Are we there yet?”

Anyone who’s been on a long enough car ride (especially with a little kid) is certainly more than familiar with the oft-repeated phrase. After a while, taking a trip ends up taking its toll on the people who are traveling. Yet along with the monotony a long journey can bring, surely there is some value in the voyage itself (other than just getting us to our destinations, of course!).

Allow me to paint a scene for you. It begins with a long road, stretching miles between two cities. Along this dusty road walk two travelers, keeping up a strong and steady pace in hope of reaching their destination on time. Like anyone else who travels, these two begin to get bored. The “Are we there yet?” phase starts to settle in. They talk with one another, discussing current events.

Suddenly they are joined by a third party, a fellow journeyman walking down the road in the same direction as them. Our two travelers welcome this man, and invite him to be part of their conversation. They speak to him about a friend of theirs who recently died, among other matters. As it starts to get late, …

July 31st, 2014
A personal take on playing “God Bless America” at Major League Baseball games

Players stand on the field for the national anthem before an opening day game between the Washington Nationals and the Atlanta Braves in Washington, D.C. (CNS photo/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters)

Players stand on the field for the national anthem before an opening day game between the Washington Nationals and the Atlanta Braves in Washington, D.C. (CNS photo/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters)

I have been a fan of the New York Yankees for just about my entire life. For as long as I can remember, I have spent countless hours watching games in the only chair that directly faces the TV in my kitchen. In 2003, when I was 9 years old, my parents took me to my first Yankees game. Out of everything that went on at the game, one particular moment has stuck in my mind: the seventh inning stretch.

Just as it did when the Yankees took on the Seattle Mariners that night, Kate Smith’s rendition of “God Bless America” blares over the PA system at every game played in Yankee Stadium. I can recall vividly the way the entire stadium stood up (some silently, some über-patriotically belting out the words) to honor America and the military personnel serving both at home and abroad. I remember the overwhelming sense of patriotism and pride I felt being a part of the crowd of more than 30,000 people that stood up to …

July 29th, 2014

A photo from Rebecca's trip to new Mexico.

A photo from Rebecca’s trip to new Mexico.

The summer before last, I took a trip — a pilgrimage, if you will — to a little town in New Mexico called Las Cruces. Though the raison d’être of the journey was purely medical (and that was not at all exciting for me), I was excited to finally be going to a place that wasn’t on the East Coast. So, when I boarded the plane, my mental plans firmly included not letting the doctor’s office completely encompass my time and thoughts.

I succeeded in that respect. I spent plenty of time in restaurants, tasting the local cuisine, and outdoors, enjoying the radically different desert climate and the bizarre (since I’m used to the deciduous and coniferous types) flora and fauna. On various hikes, including trails such as the Dripping Springs Natural Area and the Pine Tree Loop, as well as the White Sands National Monument, I had the chance to meet with all new kinds of life, greatly broadening my knowledge of God’s creation. At some points, I experienced nature a bit more closely than I would have liked — as per my terrifying encounter with a Tarantula Hawk

July 28th, 2014
When communion bread started to taste as challenging as a vanilla wafer, we refreshed our faith with a different kind of vacation service

Young girls carry the World Youth Day cross upon its arrival in the South African province of Eastern Cape. (CNS photo/Koadi Mathibedi)

Young girls carry the World Youth Day cross upon its arrival in the South African province of Eastern Cape. (CNS photo/Koadi Mathibedi)

We hopped into a little Nissan Almera and started off around Table Mountain. The South African landmark stood, flat-topped, above Cape Town. The city we knew flowed down to the harbor from there. We were headed to the other side, one that most visitors don’t see.

The car was steered by Matsepane Morare, a Jesuit priest in denim and fringe. Matsepane was going to take my husband and me to Mass in a township behind the mountain, where a large percentage of Cape Town’s 3.7 million residents live.

For years, I’d attended local churches while on vacation. Even when conducted in another language, the familiar ceremony reassured me. The communion bread went down like a vanilla wafer. I always got the comforting, if slightly bland, sense that we share the same Christian faith worldwide.

Typically, these churches were just the closest ones to my hotel. What I’d never done was seek one out more deliberately, by finding out which local parishes were known for their strong faith or great music. This time I’d made an effort, asking local …

August 30th, 2013
Hang on for a roller coaster ride that will leave you blessed

let go and screamMy first ride on a roller coaster was on The Comet at Hershey Park. I think I was about 10. I remember my mother yelling worriedly at my uncle, who was riding with me, to hold on to me tightly. The experience was frightening, reckless, erratic, stomach churning and… phenomenal! It began a 35-year love affair that is as fresh now as it was then. Not so for many of my friends who had their fling with thrill-seeking rides and called it quits because of age or doubts about keeping down lunch.

So, here I am, a man of a certain age. I’ve gained more than a bit of weight and lost more than a bit of naiveté. I’ve had my first major surgery and enough health issues to remind me that I’m not as supple as I used to be. I have a wiser view of who I am. And who I am is looking better and better to me — better than the man I once thought I should be. Through it all, the experience of the roller coaster has always attracted me.

Anyone who knows me knows that I love adventurous rides about as much as …

August 8th, 2013

traintracksBack in 2009 I took a cross-country train from Boston to San Diego just because it had always been a dream of mine. This summer, I fulfilled the dream again with a trip by rail to the Northwest via the Empire Builder. Like most travel for me, it was spiritual — not a pilgrimage, but a more “focused realness” of God’s presence on my journey. I was not going to a sacred place. The journey itself was what was sacred.

My favorite image of God is “God the Traveller.” He’s the God of accompaniment, the one who journeyed with the 16th and 17th Century missionaries into uncharted lands, meeting strange new people, learning of God’s might and God’s personal love for each person they encountered. He’s the God journeying with pilgrims to World Youth Day, to Lourdes, France, and to the Holy Land. But the Traveller is also on family car trips to grandma’s and in the trucker’s passenger seat on a long haul across the country. Indeed, God was with me on my two summer rail journeys, four years apart.

My discovery of this God-image first happened on one of my rail legs in 2009 when my sleeping car …

August 7th, 2013

cosmic coke machineNothing thrills quite like finding out that you’ve been acting like a crazy person. I had that experience two summers ago, when I spent eight days at the Manresa House of Retreats in Convent, Louisiana. Manresa is a cluster of old white buildings right beside the Mississippi River. I went there in June. White crepe myrtles snowed blossoms all over the winding garden pathways, and in every chapel doorway were spindly spiders I could consider fascinating from a distance. Most striking of all were the oak trees, mile-high and dripping with Spanish moss. But Manresa wasn’t remarkable for me just because of its beauty, just because it gave me the first hummingbird I had seen all summer and the first red velvet ants I’d seen, well, ever. I’ll always remember the eight days I spent at Manresa as the time I learned where to find my self-worth.

Not that I went to the retreat house expressly for that reason. I’d never done a retreat before, and when my Jesuit friend suggested that we try it out, I expected I would spend the eight days of prayer and contemplation figuring out where my life was headed and invigorating my perfunctory spiritual …

August 6th, 2013

crowds and concreteI harbor not-so-subtle feelings of dislike for nature. Because I cannot plug my hair straightener into a tree nor can I convince any surrounding wildlife to wax my eyebrows, I think nature is best left to admire. From afar. As in, I would love to look at the photos from your 40-mile hike but no, I will not be accompanying you on your next insane, nature-filled funfest. I have fossil fuels to burn through.

All this being said, I have realized that the places where I find God are not where many people find him. While I understand the immense beauty of a sunset or a waterfall, I have trouble finding spirituality in them. For me, I see God in much different places. I see him in the face of the homeless man I pass on my way to work, and on the dirty streets of New York City. I realize that my idea of beauty is vastly different from those around me. But I love crowds and concrete.

During my sophomore year of high school I went on a trip with my drama club to see The 39 Steps (which is utterly fantastic by the way) on Broadway. After …

August 5th, 2013

backseat12I’m sitting in the back seat… again. It’s been a while since I’ve sat back here, looking on over miles and hours at the moving portraits of pine trees, cherry orchards and clear water. I haven’t gone on a vacation with my parents since I was 17, which was a weeks-long trek to Disney World via minivan. I was on the brink of college then and, like any self-respecting adolescent, brimming with impatience and disdain.

Back then my parents seemed almost rooted to their positions in the front of our Dodge Caravan. My dad, firmly secured in the driver’s seat, my mom entrenched at his side, in command of the radio dial to say nothing of our lives. My two sisters losing the unwinnable battle of sitting next to their big brother and his dual obsessions: music and getting into the college of his choice — with little to no interest in the forthcoming sojourn to the “happiest place on earth.” We would intermittently fight over Travel Yahtzee and the last of the Sour Patch Kids as my mother made half-hearted attempts from her perch to divert us from our combat with the license plate game, a contest consisting of …

August 2nd, 2013

nyc-busy-streetsMy old faithful hunter green suitcase trailed behind me as I emerged from the terminal at LaGuardia Airport in New York City in April.

Although I had been planning my first trip to the Big Apple for months, my excitement completely disappeared when I ascended from the terminal to be greeted by scowling, impatient faces and noise that buzzed in my eardrums.

My sister met me as I exited the baggage claim area and escorted me to the bus that would take me to the chic Harlem apartment I’d be staying in with a friend.

Instead of being thrilled and excited, waiting for the skyline to appear as I rode the bus for nearly two hours, I concentrated on the frigid air that tickled my feet, whizzed up my legs, and enveloped my upper body.

I was cold. And if anything, the freezing temperatures (unintentionally) acted as a barometer for my overall experience of the city I’d always imagined I’d escape to in order to live out my Carrie Bradshaw dreams — just like every other writing woman with an obsession for Sex and the City.

My weekend in New York was a blur of catching trains named with …

August 1st, 2013

waiting in line 1Warmer temperatures and longer days mean that summer exploration possibilities are endless. Adventure abounds each weekend with local festivals, picnics and trips to the lake. My inner child fondly recalls trips to the amusement park during the summer months. These particular adventures were rewards for good grades, or volunteering as a crossing guard or altar server all school year long.

As a teenager, my friends and I would get dropped off at the park and spend the entire day slurping down sugary drinks and riding rides. We would run from one ride to the next not thinking about the hours we waited in line to get our 90-second adrenaline fix. At the end of the day we would be exhausted, and our parents would ferry us home only to have us recount our adventures at high volume.

Fast-forward 15 years and that same trip to the amusement park looks a bit different. A recent visit to Disneyland brought back some of the aforementioned childhood memories, but the waiting-in-line part took on a different quality. Now, as an over-scheduled young adult, these lines tested my patience.

The adult version of me remembers what it was like experiencing the rush of roller …

July 31st, 2013

london7“Anger is seldom without reason, but never a good one.” — Benjamin Franklin

The lights of Piccadilly Circus whirled by at a steady pace as I led the small group of choir students down the side streets of a post-midnight London. I was appointed leader out of everyone in the group since I had already lived in the city for six months. Because the choir was only there for a few days, I thought that a low-key evening of clubbing would be a nice way to get exposure to a more accurate picture of London, beyond postcards of Big Ben and Buckingham Palace. While we had fun over the course of the night, there was one major problem.

One of the members of the group was particularly convinced that his prowess exceeded mine, despite the fact that he had only visited for a few weeks a few years ago.

“That cab’s available, you know,” he squawked as an empty cab passed by.

“Jack, the yellow light’s off — he’s off duty,” I replied.

“Oh.” He ardently searched for some way home as I led the small battalion through the web of fluorescent-lit streets.

During the next 45 minutes, he …

July 30th, 2013

vacation-sneakupSince my move to Boston from Chicago, people often ask me what’s different about living in the Northeast versus the Midwest. Are people unfriendly? Are they more liberal? Is the traffic worse?

I politely answer all of their queries and usually dispel some stereotypes in the process. However, I have to admit, I have asked myself those same questions: What is different about where I live now versus the Midwest? What do or don’t I like about my new home?

I’ve found an overwhelming number of things that I like, and few that I don’t. One of those things that I like I discovered, somewhat unexpectedly, on a weekend in early June.

I was delighted to receive an invitation to the ordination and Mass of Thanksgiving of a college friend, who was in the final stages of Jesuit formation. Having a slight obsession with the Jesuits and eager to support my friend, I looked forward to the occasion. Also, having been city-grounded for months, I was anxious to get out of Boston to attend the events near Watch Hill, Rhode Island, almost two hours away.

The two hour difference

In the Midwest, there are such things as day …

July 26th, 2013
Returning from college after graduation to a new place and making it home

home-with-parents2Now that I have graduated from college (woot woot) without yet landing a solid job, I don’t know what to do with myself. It makes me dread these summer months. To add an even greater degree of difficulty, I am dealing with all these feelings of unemployment and uncertainty in a new home, in a new city, in a new state. While this might have the makings of a great and exciting summer adventure, when my dad and mom picked me up from the airport in Austin, I was not ready to embrace those positive feelings. I only experienced feelings of strangeness. I was on some sort of vacation at my parents’ new house, which just felt uncomfortable.

Beaming, they took my twin brother — who had already been home for a week — and me to one of their favorite restaurants on Lake Travis. It was beautiful and the food was delicious, but it still did not feel like home. Of course my dad was eager to show me around the place he so easily and genuinely calls home. The next morning he took me to Mount Bonnell, a beautiful mountain with breathtaking views of the Austin …

July 23rd, 2013

music-inthe-moment3
“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination
and life to everything.” — Plato

Live music has always been an important part of our summers. It began when my wife and I were college students in Nashville. We would throw our bags in the car and head up Interstate 65 at a moment’s notice to see an Over the Rhine concert in Clifton, head north to Chicago for a U2 show, travel south to Atlanta to see Pearl Jam, Oasis or REM, and follow our friend Bill Mallonee and his Vigilantes of Love just about anywhere within a 500-mile radius.

I have always found a sense of freedom and wonder in chasing the horizon over open roads; it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I wrote a book about God’s nomadic nature called Holy Nomad.

Today, even with four kids and a world of responsibility, summer means we head out like Jack Kerouac and friends (er, ok, so, maybe more like Clark Griswold and company), en route to sonic bliss. Some of the details are different — our road trip soundtracks that used to begin with John Cusack-High Fidelity-style …

July 18th, 2013
My visit to a cathedral in Toledo, Spain, didn’t inspire admiration so much as a crisis of faith.

toledocathedral-12For Americans, visiting Europe has been a rite of passage since well before even Mark Twain’s Innocents Abroad. And given the number of significant old cathedrals on the continent, Eurotours inevitably include churches we visit more as museums than as places of faith.

Ten years ago, I found myself on such a tour in Toledo, Spain. At Toledo’s very center is an enormous cathedral that was once a true seat of power for the Catholic Church. Begun in 1227, it took 250 years to finish this temple of Spain’s establishment religion.

I read about it in James Michener’s 795-page Iberia and went to visit with the book in hand. I went in part as a tourist, but also as an actual (if slightly disenchanted) twentysomething Catholic.

Walking in, I felt the Spanish sunlight immediately shut off behind me. The ceiling loomed nearly 150 feet above. The far wall stretched almost 500 feet away.

The space intimidated. Its massive size figured in, but so did its contents: joyless Christian iconography, battle and conquest depictions, and marble tombs. I kneeled in a pew but found I couldn’t pray.

Michener used terms like noble, tasteful, rich, beautiful and rewarding to …
July 16th, 2013
Hiking in Grand Teton National Park with all God's creatures

A view from Elizabeth's hike in Grand Teton National Park

A view from Elizabeth’s hike in Grand Teton National Park

It was never on my to-do list or my hope-to-do list, but I did it.

A friend and I visited Grand Teton National Park over Memorial Day weekend. I’d never been there before but I have to say it has some of the most beautiful views I have ever encountered. The Grand Teton mountain range stands 7,000 feet above the valley of Jackson Hole, Wyoming. A hidden waterfall was running powerfully after a snowy winter season and scenic drives allowed us to see the Grand Tetons from different angles. If you are looking for a vacation destination, I’d recommend this one.

This year has brought a lot of firsts to my life. June 1 marked the first anniversary of my mom’s death. I walked in my first ever half-marathon. Walking 13.1 miles, for someone who is not so physically active, was a challenge but I finished in just under four hours. (My original goal was to be standing after I crossed the finish line — I was!)

I have never been too keen on the idea of getting up close and personal with God’s beautiful creatures (especially bears). Given …
August 28th, 2012

I have a morbid fear of the ocean. I am not now nor have I ever been (nor, in all probability, will I ever be) a strong swimmer. Also, I am unilaterally opposed to entering any body of water the murkiness of which prevents me from seeing my own feet or the subaquatic creatures most likely poised to wreak all sorts of mischief on my unshod, obscured tootsies. I do, however, love being near the ocean. I love the sound, the smell, the vastness, the mystery, the treasures it reveals as it lifts the veil of the tide again and again. When it came time for us to embark on our first family vacation, we headed to the Delaware shore.

I will take the liberty of assuming that you have never travelled close to five hours in a four-door sedan with three children under 4 years of age. To surmount such a journey without major difficulty, meltdown or severe psychological and physical harm to any party involved requires the following: Snacks. You must have an overabundance of snacks to throw at the people in the back seat. Put even more snacks in the trunk. In prolonged car seat captivity …

August 15th, 2012

At the beginning of the summer I took a one-week cruise with my family to Bermuda. There’s nothing like it. Not only are your meals, entertainment and accommodations included in the deal; you get to see other parts of the world. Holland America Line, the cruise line we were sailing with, always has a priest on board, which meant my brother and I had the chance to go to daily Mass. Priests are scheduled through the Apostleship of the Sea, an official ministry of the Church. They enjoy free passage but act as the on-board chaplain, leading both Catholic and non-denominational services and providing the sacraments to the passengers.

It was nice to find the comfort of the ritual of Mass in the middle of the ocean. Each day Mass had about 25 people and had the feel of a typical parish daily Mass. It was like I was back home! Our cruise ended on a Sunday so the ship offered a Saturday evening vigil, which was attended by more than 100 passengers. My brother and I were asked by the priest to be Eucharistic ministers. It was a privilege for me to bring Jesus to people who still desired …

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