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Features : Religion & Spirituality
October 5th, 2012
Reflections on the Rosary

I’m not sure about you, but I’ve had a love-hate relationship with the rosary.
It stems from long road trips with my very Catholic family, where the CD I had been playing through the car speakers was suddenly turned off, my parents’ rosaries pulled out from the glove compartment and for the next 15-20 minutes I was forced to endure an incessant babble of words repeated over and over. I understood the importance of prayer, I just didn’t see why we had to make an already long and tedious drive all the more so by becoming quiet and serious, with the same two or three prayers recited in a nearly mindless chant. I was at a loss so I sat quietly while my parents prayed, waiting until I could turn the…

September 19th, 2012

For some time now I have been faithfully following the little blurbs on the “Saint of the Day” in my various religious readings and Internet sites. These seem to include very young and virtuous girls in Italy who fend off rapists and then forgive them in the end; women who married young, had a gazillion children, forgave their husbands their infidelities and then founded orders of nuns who cared for the poor and the sick; holy men who became doorkeepers at monasteries and blew people away with their advice and wisdom.
This is not to knock these saints! By no means. It’s just to say — I cannot see myself in them. I wasn’t a virgin for very long; I am not humble and generous; I don’t…

September 18th, 2012

In my late 20s, I began manifesting symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I had been attacked twice at knifepoint as a child and was able to keep the memories pretty well tucked into my unconscious, but at a certain point my unconscious won. As I began sifting through the memories and the pain, I also began experiencing tremendous anger toward God. How could he ever let something like that happen to me?
‘God, where were you?’
Many people have confronted this same dilemma. We call it the problem of evil. How can an all-loving, completely good God allow evil to happen to his children? The response that I had heard repeatedly was, unfortunately, only a portion of St. Thomas Aquinas’ treatment…

August 27th, 2012

It is a constant struggle to try to find God and peace of mind in a city of almost 3 million people. Living in Chicago for two years has meant discovering unique ways to escape the rumbling elevated trains outside my apartment window and the bustle of foot traffic along Michigan Avenue heading to work.
I rely on public transportation to take me from point A to point B to point C and back to point A. When I lived in California I owned a car and getting away from the noise was much simpler. Finding God oftentimes meant taking a short drive with the windows open, blasting Coldplay through the car speakers, and gazing at the Pacific Ocean mile after endless mile. I inhaled fresh air and hit pause on my life during those drives. There…

August 16th, 2012

I’m honored and excited to tell my longtime column readers here that I’ve been invited to start a blog on Patheos. This column isn’t going anywhere, but I want to share what’s happening in the blog.
Over three years ago I started writing this column about personal spirituality, with an emphasis on useful tools and tips. In the new blog I’ll continue that theme, but it will be much broader and with near daily posts. The name of the blog is “On the Way” and the Way has many meanings. Each touches on part of what I’ll be covering:
The path
Many spiritual traditions speak of a way or path or road — staying on it, straying from it, turning back in the right direction.…

July 19th, 2012

Very few things are actually important to know in real time. Some things are fun… to know in real time, like watching live sports or reality show results episodes, but it is rare that our knowing something sooner makes a difference. There’s a very long but fascinating post on SCOTUSblog about CNN’s fumbling of reporting on the Supreme Court decision concerning the Affordable Care Act. In it, SCOTUSblog publisher Tom Goldstein says CNN (and for a shorter time, Fox) got the result exactly wrong, stating definitively that the mandate and bill were dead, because of three things. Two — lack emergency procedures and not trusting reliable sources — involve process, but the third is interesting:

July 16th, 2012

Oftentimes, when I wear one of my sorority sweatshirts or T-shirts, friends say, “You were in a sorority? I didn’t know that,” with a look of surprise. “Why are you surprised?” I ask. They reply, “You just don’t seem like that type.”
Fight it though we try, it’s hard to escape life without having stereotypes or preconceived notions about the groups we belong to. I am certainly not exempt, myself. Living in a large metropolis like Chicago, it’s easy to see someone on the train, learn where someone lives — or even what baseball team they cheer for — and not register some sort of thought. Everyone is, consciously or otherwise, asserting some piece of his or her identity, which is being…

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…

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