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July 27th, 2011

Fleeing war and famine, fighting off attacks from bandits and lions, thousands of refugees are flooding out of Somalia on foot each week. Busted Halo contributor Laura Sheahen, a communications officer with the humanitarian aid group Catholic Relief Services, looks back on her first days in some of the refugee camps that are receiving them. Let us remember our sisters and brothers in East Africa in our prayers.

Day one

Small plane to airstrip in Dadaab, a tiny, broken-down town in northeast Kenya. Blinding clouds of dust billow from the car in front of us as we make our way to our local partner’s compound. Dust instantly coats everything we carry. The same dust has swallowed up any hope of growing crops or raising livestock across the border in Somalia, where the drought and famine are worst.

July 22nd, 2011

“When our first child was born, my husband said, ‘Now I have a son to avenge my family.’ He named our baby boy Rambo.”

I usually associate the birth of a baby with fuzzy booties, not machine guns. But I was in a southern area of the Philippines called Mindanao, where vendettas out of Sylvester Stallone movies happen — a lot.

I was talking to a woman named May; she’d married into a family that was haunted by the years-old murder of a grandfather. May’s mother-in-law couldn’t read or write, but would send audiotapes to her son when the couple lived outside the country. “She’d say they needed money for guns. She’d say, ‘Come back to the Philippines and kill these people!’”

In Mindanao, three groups — Christians, Muslims, and indigenous people — have suffered for decades at each other’s hands. All three groups have valid grievances rooted in the area’s seriously troubled history. But at this point, learning to get along — to stop the massacres, abductions, bombs, and hijackings — is pretty much the only option.

July 20th, 2011
Hare Krishna old-timers keep the faith

Kusha Devidasi gaped in horror as her cat moved in for another kill. A vegetarian, Devidasi had tried everything to get him to stop devouring God’s feathered creatures, even putting a bell around his neck. Nothing worked.

As the latest victim struggled in her cat’s jaws, Devidasi — a recent Hare Krishna convert — turned to her budding faith for a miracle. She chanted, “Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna; Krishna Krishna…”

Suddenly, her cat let the bird go. “And he just flew away,” she says. “My cat never freed a bird before. Never.” Two months later, when she turned 18, Devidasi moved into the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) ashram in Hawaii.

That was 1969. Wearing a colorful sari and swaying with the music at a recent festival at the Los Angeles ISKCON center, this self-described former “motley hippie” with nose ring says she still hasn’t lost her ’60s groove and passion for Krishna. “My body may be older, but my soul is still adventurous and young in Krishna.”

July 18th, 2011
Meet Busted Halo’s new editor-in-chief

I remember my first post-college work experience, which took me from my hometown in rural Pennsylvania to Jackson, Mississippi. I was a full-time volunteer in a faith-based service learning and social justice program. Through that experience I began to encounter a new side to my faith, seeing distinct links between my personal spiritual growth and social justice, which turned into service and action.
Working at a community center, I did everything from coordinate volunteers to publish the donor newsletter to teach an after-school class of kindergarten and first graders. The community center was in a low-income neighborhood. Poverty and economic hardships were all around. I led an assistance program at…

July 15th, 2011

Today brings the final book of the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows…, to a close as the last 250 pages will come to life on the big screen. Millions will wait in never-ending lines — with much enthusiasm and outlandish costumes — to enjoy the conclusion of one of the biggest movie series ever ($6.3 billion worldwide). Early reviews have come in and the reception is highly positive (popular websites Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes scored it in the 90 range). Looks like the film series will end on a high note.
Now that the saga has finished (for now), we can start to look at the core values stemming over the last 14 years: including seven books, eight movies, tons of merchandise and, yes,

July 14th, 2011

One of the things I notice whenever I spend time on retreat at a monastery (as I did a few weeks ago) is how much I enjoy the regular meal times, with some of the same food choices day after day. This is not… the way I live my life. Which makes me wonder: Why don’t I do the same thing at home?
At the monastery, breakfast is one hour after I wake up — 1 hard-boiled egg, 2 slices of toast with orange marmalade. Lunch is four hours later; dinner, five hours after that. The food for lunch and dinner varies, but it is what it is. You eat what you are offered.
Here’s how I eat at home a lot of days: I’m running late in the morning, so I leave the house without breakfast. Sometimes I eat a fruit and nut bar on the way to work,

July 13th, 2011

When I came into the Catholic Church nine years ago, the farthest thing from my mind was how its rituals and liturgy might mesh so stunningly with my random-thoughts-a-flying mind. I was just attracted to the beauty of the rituals, the reassuring repetition of ancient prayers, the words rising to the rafters of the great church, and the profound meaning in the Eucharist.
But when I look at the special accommodations that were made during elementary school for my two ADHD kids, I see how Catholicism is perfect for us folks. To wit: both my kids had “movement breaks” as part of their education plans. My daughter used to invent various ailments so she could march down the hall to visit the school nurse, thus…

July 11th, 2011

I have J.K. Rowling to thank for much of my literary upbringing. Without the Harry Potter series, I am not sure that I would have ever loved reading as much as I do now. I was in the third grade when I was introduced to the first book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. My grandmother gave it to me as a gift, but I put it on the shelf and didn’t think much of it. Then, when a friend of mine brought in her copy for Sunday school show-and-tell and raved about it, I reconsidered. I went home and found Harry Potter… sitting on my bookshelf, just where I had put it a few months before.
Looking at the cover (and since at age 8, every book I read was judged by its cover), I was skeptical. There was a goofy bespectacled kid on a

July 8th, 2011

I never really knew what the word Catholic meant until I went to Stanford. In my previous Catholic school life it was never a label, never anything I would be judged for. It was just what everybody was.
The “college me” came ready for changes, wanting to learn from new perspectives and walks of life. So I made tons of friends, raging with the best of them. Just in my own undercover Catholic way.
When friends shared post-hookup details that made me incredibly uncomfortable at brunch, I’d get up and get more food. When people vehemently put down religion in class, I busied myself with an important text. I toed a fine line between staying true to my personal boundaries and being like any other Stanford…

July 7th, 2011

As a girl growing up in Alabama, I thought I knew tornadoes. Drills in the school hallway were routine. Standard protocol at the sound of sirens was to grab a pillow before huddling in the hall bathroom at my family’s home. I have seen their devastating damage firsthand, but witnessing the aftermath of the destruction that swept through Joplin, Missouri, in late May was utterly unfamiliar.

Leveled neighborhoods as far as you could see were indescribable. Trees stripped of their familiar bark now had steel contortioned among their limbs like pipe cleaners. There was the occasional semblance of “what once was” among the destruction — kitchen tables still poised without kitchen walls, children’s toys strewn on debris-cluttered lawns, the nativity set salvaged from the vestry. These are the physical marks that comingle with the grief and mourning for the shared loss of the tornado’s death toll, the stories of miraculous survival, and the superhuman acts of rescue.

July 6th, 2011
Letting go of projections and negative judgments

A friend told me she’d given up negative thinking for Lent this year. “How hard could that be?” I thought. “Way easier than giving up caffeine.” I adopted the practice as well, and found almost immediately that, just as with meditation, I cannot do it anywhere close to perfectly. Or even 25 percent of the time. But, again like meditation, the practice is actually in the noticing that you are not doing it perfectly and gently steering back to friendlier turf. You do this over and over and over, in the way, as Jack Kornfield says, you train a puppy to pee on the newspaper instead of the rug.
And while I didn’t have a single day that was truly free from negative thinking, let alone complaining…

June 29th, 2011

Get in Touch with Nature:

Go for a hike
It doesn’t matter if you live near the mountains — going for a hike, or a long walk through nature, is a great way to get outdoors and get away close to home. Find a state or national park, pack a picnic, bring your friends, and have a great day trip. The best part? The only thing you’ll pay for is gas.
Go on a bike tour
If you live near the shore, this is an especially great idea. Bike paths and easy-to-manage terrain make beach biking relaxing and fun, with beautiful views and cool ocean breezes. Make a few pit stops for ice cream or cold drinks along the way.
Go boating…
Whatever body of water you live near — lake, river, ocean, bay — take advantage of the aquatic

June 27th, 2011

I am lucky to have intelligent friends. They help edit my prose and engage me in witty conversation. And while I value them greatly, I lament there is one thing of which I am envious of them: their realm of education. Many of my friends attended impressive houses of learning — Rutgers, NYU, Columbia and even fair Harvard! I covet their diplomas and access to the college networks they belong to on Facebook, for my alma mater — humble Saint Bonaventure — has neither the prestige of the Ivies nor big time college football like Rutgers.
We are a small Franciscan school in the snowy mountains of Western New York, and our school colors are even demure brown and white. The school numbers around 2,000 undergrads…

June 22nd, 2011
The downside of all the non-consumption advice

Blogs on “minimalist living” clutter the internet these days with suggestions on how to pare down one’s possessions, work commitments and daily routines. The minimalist motto? Thoreau’s famous quip: “Simplify, simplify.” Like the 19th-century American minimalist, these bloggers praise a life stripped to its essentials — but in a kind of modernized, Mac-friendly fashion. From Leo Babauta’s blog Zen Habits, one of Time Magazine’s Best Blogs of 2010, to Miss Minimalist, whose owner boasts an eBook ranked among Best Books of 2010 by Amazon.com’s editors, minimalist bloggers often scoff at collections of fancy cars and cavernous homes…

June 19th, 2011
A Father's Day Reflection

In that cosmically complex and fun butterfly effect way of looking at the world, we may never have been born if it wasn’t for Thomas Merton, the world’s most prominent Catholic monk and prolific author. Besides being a father himself before entering the monastery and Catholic priesthood (thank God Catholics and spiritual seekers everywhere have such a wild and real role model to look to), Merton has always played a huge role in the mythology and background story of our own father and was always the subject of many memories shared in the evenings over family dinners.

In the early 1960s, inspired by The Seven Storey Mountain, our dad decided to follow what he thought was his calling and go join the Trappist monks at the Abbey of Gethsemani, the Kentucky monastery made famous by Merton.

June 10th, 2011
Why doesn't the Church sell this?

Trying to explain Confession (the Sacrament of Reconciliation) to non-Catholics reminds me of that old cartoon by James Thurber where a woman is in the middle of a room, nervously expecting electricity to leak out of the sockets. She knows it’s there — she realizes it “works” — but she can’t explain it, and it is also a tad frightening.
Before my conversion I heard vague rumors about confessing with a priest. I wondered, “What an odd thing! What do they do? What do they say…?” (Those strange Catholic people…) I didn’t experience Reconciliation until just before the Easter Vigil on the year I was officially welcomed into the church.
All of my old sins

June 6th, 2011
Taken from The Freshman Survival Guide

So you’ve just graduated high school. Congratulations! When people ask you, “So what are you doing in the fall?” you know the answer. Maybe you’ve chosen a major already. You might even know who your roommate is. You’ve got the world by the tail. Right? Or maybe you’ve already started to lie awake at night wondering and worrying about life at college. What if you get homesick (you probably will) or have a hard time making friends (you probably won’t)? What if the work is too hard or the food is lousy or your professors are mean (they might be)?
We have just the thing to keep you worry-free and sleeping peacefully during this beautiful golden season between the end of high school…

June 2nd, 2011
Reviving an abstinence tradition that never really went away

A few weeks ago, when the bishops of England and Wales decided to reestablish the practice of abstaining from meat on Fridays, I had been thinking about the issue already after seeing friends struggle with the few Fridays of Lent. I have abstained from “meat” on Fridays since becoming Catholic. (I put meat in quotes because seafood is allowed.) Since Vatican II, this practice hasn’t been required — one well-meaning friend even suggested I was being disobedient by doing it — but when I discovered during my conversion that the tradition was not eliminated but just made non-mandatory, I said to myself, “I think I’d like to do that anyway.”

Meat-free Fridays were a given from at least the ninth century, but it seems that when things were loosened in the 1960s, Catholics said a collective sigh of, “Well, glad that nuisance is over,” and started eating meat seven days a week. The Church never removed the requirement that one do something penitential every Friday (abstinence being one option), but many Catholics I talk to don’t even know this. I’d like to join with the English and Welsh bishops in suggesting a return to the tradition of meat-free Fridays.

May 31st, 2011
The tragedy of trapping religious art

First there’s lights out, then there’s lock up.
Masterpieces serving maximum sentences;
It’s their own fault for being timeless.
There’s a price you pay and a consequence.
All the galleries, the museums;
They will stay there forever and a day.
All the rowboats in the oil paintings
They keep trying to row away, row away……

– Regina Spektor
Have you ever been lost in a work of art? I count among my biggest hobbies imagining life inside of a painting. Fortunate enough to live in Manhattan, I often wander over to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to observe the works of the masters and stroll through the halls taking in the human accomplishments that line the galleries. However, there

May 26th, 2011
Spending time outside is nurturing for you spiritually and physically

Making sure to fit nature into my life, and encouraging others to do to the same, is a passion of mine. As a writer, it’s easy enough to stay holed up indoors in a room in front of my computer all day, but my encounters with the divine in nature helped form — and, it would be the right word choice to say, nurture — my spiritual path. Nature continues to ground me in my connection to the spiritual dimension of reality.

The fact that I live in a city, without any outdoor space of my own — no backyard or balcony — doesn’t mean it’s difficult to make this happen. There are parks all around, and just a walk in the sun down city streets can be enriching. For example, after working in the office, I often go to a park and spent a little time birdwatching or just strolling.

And contrary to all the neo-Luddite moaning out there, technology is now making it easier to stay connected with the non-technological world. Many of the advances in recent years have focused on untethering people from their desks. I am writing this column on my iPad; not only can I write it but even file it while sitting on a log in the middle of the woods, or on the grass in a city park. (OK, well, as long as there’s an AT&T signal.)

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