Busted Halo
Features : Religion & Spirituality
July 5th, 2012

A June 30 NY Times Opinionator blog post by Tim Kreider called “The Busy Trap” created a lot of buzz among my friends, shared on Facebook with comments like, “If you read only one thing, ever, read this.” (Sorry, Emily.) A thread of professional jealousy made me want to respond to each friend’s enthusiastic share with the snarky comment, “I refer you to my 2009 column ‘How Sweet To Do Nothing,’” but I resisted. And I wanted to find fault with the post, but I could not. Its main themes are ones I touch on regularly, and it addresses them well…

June 27th, 2012

Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had grown up, and went according to his custom into the synagogue on the Sabbath day. He stood up to read and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring glad tidings to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”
Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him. He said to them, “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”…

June 21st, 2012

The pope has made several comments concerning vacations, which were highlighted in a piece on the Vatican Radio website. Whether he’s your spiritual leader or not, he touches on some powerful ideas, so let’s take a look.

Pope Benedict offers two basic goals for our vacation besides relaxation:

  • spending time with others
  • spending time with God

It’s one thing to spend an hour or two with a person, or to be with family or a partner all the time in the daily routines of life, but there’s something special (and sometimes challenging) about travelling together. Quality time is a great thing, but the hours of non-quality time during a vacation — in cars, waiting at airports, between events — create a different kind of intimacy.

And as far as what vacation to choose, are you challenged by the pope’s suggestion to spend time with others? Is there a visit to family that you could do instead of that beach vacation which will yield greater fruit in the long run? Maybe not. And not every vacation should be about visiting family. Getaways are valuable too. But it’s worth asking yourself.

It’s obvious how to spend time with other people — bring them along or go to them — but how do we spend time with God while on vacation? The pope offers three ideas, and we’ll explore each one a little…

June 12th, 2012
A story of conversion and lessons learned from living in a suffering community

This year I am a full-time volunteer. I work at a soup kitchen in Scranton, Pennsylvania, as part of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC), a program that allows recent college graduates to live together in spiritual communities and explore the broken spaces of our society. A woman was sitting outside the soup kitchen once. I knew her; she was a regular client, a drug addict, and chronically homeless. She was also educated, with a searching vocabulary, and — a mark of a certain kind of intelligence — a capacity for sarcasm. This time her eye was cut and bleeding, and she had a bruise over her cheekbone. I said, “Should I call somebody, or can I get you something?”
She looked at me and threw out her arm theatrically,…

June 7th, 2012
Nourishing your soul with regular creative outings

In my column about nonnegotiables, I talked about Julia Cameron’s concept from The Artist’s Way… of the “artist date” — where you make a playdate with yourself to do something creatively enriching. While she was suggesting it specifically for people in creative professions, this is a powerful spiritual tool for everyone. I want you to consider making a weekly date with yourself to do something creatively stimulating — two hours a week for a museum, show, or hike in nature, a stroll in a new neighborhood, a subscription to a local concert series.
It can be so easy to go from home to work to gym to home, dividing time between job and chores and other people, looking after the maintenance

June 5th, 2012

I have a few images of God. I’ve imagined God as a parent or a friend. I’ve thought of God the Artist when I see the beauty around me or a sky painted with the setting sun. I’ve also considered Jesus the Traveller when I’m on the road or the rails, imagining Jesus by my side as I travel from place to place. It’s kind of nice to think of him keeping me company as I explore new places and encounter new situations. Not a bad travel companion, I say.
But my favorite image of God is Jesus the Bartender. Have you forgotten the wedding at Cana? Jesus made the drinks! It was his first miracle.
Mary: They’re just about out of wine.
Jesus: Is that any of our business, Mother — yours or mine? This…

May 30th, 2012

I learned how to pray the rosary with the help of a nun. A Zen Buddhist nun. During my final year at seminary I was privileged to take a class in Zen Meditation. We gathered early every morning to sit in complete silence and stillness on the floor of the Social Hall.

May 24th, 2012

The beginning of Acts 2 reads like a breathless passage from a Hollywood screenplay:
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.
Like so many well-known passages from scripture, I thought I knew this one until I read it closely and repeatedly, and with a group. What emerged in the reading and was clarified for me is that this Pentecost story has a perspective distinct from the passages in John and 1 Corinthians that also talk about the Holy Spirit.
While other passages offer long or short lists of spiritual gifts, the focus here and in some other places in Acts is…

May 10th, 2012
Why we do it and the harm it does

Gossip seems like the main form of entertainment these days. We’re bombarded with the ups and downs, the personal embarrassments, of entertainers, politicians, and a whole swath of people on pseudo-reality shows whose only reason for fame seems to be self-promotion. People have always been attracted to lurid news. In the Middle Ages, instead of Perez Hilton, its purveyors were roving minstrels — the medieval French term for a minstrel, jongleur…, actually means “gossip.” I think it’s worse now because of the information age — the obsessive focus on information to create an illusion of control. We substitute having an opinion about Kim Kardashian’s swimsuit

May 9th, 2012

For many Catholics, the mystery involved with receiving Holy Communion remains a distant reality. The language that the Church uses to define the mystery of the Eucharist is heavily philosophic, thus making it perhaps even more difficult to understand. Yet, we cannot ignore the fact that the Eucharist is at the heart of the Catholic Church.
Understanding bread, wine and community
The reality of this Sacrament can be unlocked for us if we allow the bread and wine to communicate to us what is actually taking place. These sacramental signs,… or the “stuff” that is transformed into Christ’s body and blood, don’t just appear out of nowhere. In every Mass, the bread and wine are the gifts presented

May 4th, 2012
A month of lessons in doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly in her footsteps

The first time my now husband came to lunch in my tiny studio apartment he looked with puzzled amusement at the statues and icons of the Blessed Virgin Mary that dotted my closet-sized dwelling and noted that I was “a very strange sort of Protestant.” Long before I became Catholic I loved Our Lady. Her strength and beauty have endeared her to me ever since my grandmother (an ardent and lifelong Presbyterian) gave me a holy card with a picture of Our Lady of Grace on the front and the Hail Mary printed on the back as a souvenir from our visit to a church in Niagara Falls. When I asked her what it was, she said, without so much as a pause, “a Catholic baseball card.” It has survived my downright legendary ability to misplace…

May 1st, 2012

For two and a half years I was a Jesuit, living religious life and experiencing what it was like to be part of the Church in more of a public capacity. I had many opportunities to serve people from all walks of life in different places. I had to get used to people calling me brother or father, though I was neither. It was kind of nice to be an “official” representative of the Catholic Church as a religious.

April 26th, 2012

In preparing to give a presentation on the structures of faith communities, I was just reading 1 Corinthians 12-14. You may, like me, be familiar with chapters 12 and 13 separately as two of the best-known passages from the Pauline letters. But I’d never put them together along with the following chapter. As a set, they say something very powerful, something which is already a guiding spiritual principle in my life: the essentialness of being of service, of being, at least some of the time, other-directed.
Chapter 12 contains the famous analogy between a community of believers and a body (the Body of Christ.) The word “member” previously referred only to a body part. Using it to mean a person…

April 17th, 2012
Appreciating faith’s unscripted moments

These days, my spiritual life unfolds like it might on an improv stage. Both improv and spirituality have organic qualities, great depth and playfulness, too. And looking at my faith life through the lens of improv comedy helps me reclaim unscripted moments in new ways.
I began attending improv classes in Chicago as a new hobby. Some of the most basic rules of improv are that you have to listen, you have to be able to become a “yes and” person, and you celebrate your mistakes. In both my prayer life and improv, there are moments of uncertainty and a little bit of fear of what will unfold. I must listen to God, trust in what will unfold before me, and sometimes celebrate my mistakes.
I’m not Second City worthy yet or…

April 12th, 2012

One of the most popular columns I’ve ever written is about struggling with being on time. It led to a TV interview and over two years later people still regularly bring it up in conversation. But working on your own on-timeness can lead to an interesting new issue: being on time when others are not.
It’s one thing to be on time and have everything go smoothly. You can point to your on-timeness and feel a sense of self-satisfaction at having contributed to the proper flow of the universe by having aligned yourself with the way things are meant to be. Call it spiritual pride or call it enjoying the fruits of “skillful means,” we all enjoy it when we do the right thing and things go our way. But what about…

April 10th, 2012
A look at the women at Jesus' tomb and the Resurrection Women of today

We are tired. We feel it is now time to rise up and speak … You are asking, “Who are these women?” I will say we are ordinary mothers, grandmothers, aunts, sisters. For us, this is just the beginning.
– Leymah Gbowee, winner of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize…

In almost every corner of this world and in almost every epoch of recorded history, women have been entrusted with the care of bodies. We birth them. We feed them. We wash them. We mend them. We comfort them. We fret over them. So it is nothing short of utterly unremarkable that it is women who arrive at the tomb of Jesus to anoint him for burial. It is obvious. It is commonplace. The women who fed him and washed him and looked after him in life come to care for his

March 29th, 2012

I wasn’t going to write about The Hunger Games movie – I’m a huge fan of the books and had no advance screening, so I just went to the theater with everyone else on opening night as a consumer. But I have to share my reaction to concern expressed about The Hunger Games…‘ violence which I’ve read in the days following the movie’s release. I was certainly very interested to see how the makers of the movie would deal with translating the book’s extreme brutality against and among children into a movie that children could watch. I am surprised they went as far as they did and think they came very close to the edge. There’s lots of blood, and a few of the children are killed onscreen

March 28th, 2012
Giving up something extreme, like your car, provides spiritual benefits

Since I was a teenager, I’d always been a heroic sacrificer of chocolate, candy, or sweets come Lent. I heart sugar, so it was genuinely hard. But looking back, I was probably doing it as much for my looks as for God.
In 2010, I took a slice out of my vanity by giving up Facebook. Robbed of the chance to check my profile and see how great I looked on the outside, and how much everyone wanted to post messages to me, I soon realized how little those things had to do with the person I was made to be.
Well, the next year I hit upon the idea of sacrificing something even tougher: my car. Giving up driving isn’t possible for everyone — not with the way our cities and small towns are designed — but a JustFaith course on social…

March 27th, 2012

When I started writing for Busted Halo, the first piece I wrote, “What Sticks To Our Fingers,” was about death and what is left to us after a loved one passes on. It was pretty intense. And sad. I’ve been told, also moving. My editor suggested that for my first Busted Halo post I might want to write something a tad less saddening. (Is that a word? Is it theological?) We ended up running “What Sticks to Our Fingers” after all, but here’s the other piece I came up with:
We are in the run-up to Easter, and it always makes the hair on the nape of my neck stand up. It is so definitely not fun.… I’m one of those people for whom saying the Stations of the Cross is the equivalent to getting a root

March 21st, 2012
Why giving up an unexpected but targeted trapping of modern life -- like Facebook -- could be the best thing you do spiritually all year

My boyfriend and I were in Mass last month when an announcement reminded me: Lent was coming. I nudged him, stage-whispering, “Oh no — what am I going to give up? I have two weeks to figure it out!”
He gave me The Eye. “Don’t you dare try to give up something even more extreme,” he said.
For the past few years I’d been on a path I nicknamed “Lent This Year: Extreme Edition.” I started out as a teenager by giving up a little bit more each round: candy, then chocolate, then all sweets. In 2010, I took it to another level, dropping out of Facebook completely for six weeks.
Yes, I know the “Giving-Up-X-for-Lent” model has been looked down upon in recent years by some earnest Catholics. Instead of sacrificing…

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