The moment I stepped off the bus in Madrid I was surrounded by a whirlwind of languages. There were people from every country dressed in bright colors, proudly waving their nation’s flag while singing at the top of their lungs. It was unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed before.
I flew to Madrid by myself and wasn’t really sure what to expect. Sure, I knew there would be many religious but I never fathomed seeing hundreds of priests and nuns all in one place. The excitement level in the air was at an all time high and it was hard not to pick up the energetic vibe of the pilgrims while walking around the city.
Wednesday morning, Joe and I headed to the big Carmelite event where I met many of the Carmelite United pilgrims from New Jersey and automatically felt right at home.
Prayers were recited in English, Spanish and Italian before everyone separated into their respective language groups for smaller group sessions. I headed to one of the English speaking groups where passages about “look,” “contemplate,” and “love” were read. The whole process reminded me of my CCD classes growing up and that dreaded moment when the teacher calls on you for your interpretation.
While it took a while for everyone to open up, once we started talking about beauty it all hit me. At the core, we all have the same concerns and insecurities. We don’t want to be judged and we try our hardest not to judge others but there is so much noise and so many distractions in this world.
In a world where the media tells us who to be and advertising tells us what to look like, we’re all struggling with our identities. Why are we always so concerned about what others think of us? God’s opinion is the only one that truly matters and not what classmates, co-workers, or the opposite sex think.
One of the priests present in my small group, Fr. Emiel Abalahin, O. Carm, said it best. “We don’t have to do anything for God to love us. He loves …
You have just enough time left if you act now to join me in the Million PALA Challenge — a national campaign to get people active. (Sign up and join us at “Team Busted Halo” or group #935845.) This challenge has been going on for a year, and I’m sorry about the last minute notice, but you still have time. I learned about it just recently from Kevin Sorbo, whose organization, A World Fit For Kids, is an official partner of the presidential program responsible for the challenge, and signed up myself.
To complete the Presidential Active Lifestyle Award (PALA) challenge and receive an (emailed) PALA certificate “signed” by co-chairs Drew Brees and Dominique Dawes, you have until the end of September to log six weeks in which you are active for at least half an hour each day for five of the seven days. (Or one hour per day for those under 18.) You register on the website and log and track your activities there. The Million PALA Challenge is a campaign to get one million Americans to complete this plan.
Make the commitment to be just a little more active for the next six weeks. Sign up for the Million PALA Challenge, then join me in our group. Once you’re logged in, this link will take you to the Busted Halo page, or you can find us by searching for “Team Busted Halo” or group #935845.
I’ve created a group you can participate through. (After you sign up, search for “Team Busted Halo” or group #935845 and join us.) You can just sign up on your own, but I figured I might as well make it a little easier for you, and maybe a little more fun to see our cumulative numbers of our group. If no one does this, that’s OK, but I hope it’s the motivation a few of you need to get moving.
If you’re already pretty active, then this isn’t very difficult. There’s nothing
“Why don’t you go and rest by the pool?” my spiritual director Elizabeth Anne suggested. I was floored. The pool? Was it really okay to sit by a pool? This wasn’t spring break in Cancun or an episode of The Love Boat after all. Ninety degree heat or not, this was a serious week of making a serious commitment to begin the very serious Spiritual Exercises.
Didn’t Ignatius suffer in the desert of Manresa for a month in order to grow worthy of hearing the voice of God? It had to have been hotter in the desert than here in upstate New York. Hadn’t every underlying theme of 17 years of Catholic education been to fear pleasure in each and every one of its forms? To my surprise, more than half of the retreatants were there, swimming or lying in the sun. Unlike me, they did not seem to be obsessing over the antiquated notion of “You can’t have fun and still be Catholic.”
I tried to swim a few laps, though every fiber of my being wanted to shout out “Marco?” knowing instinctively that hearing a response of “Polo!” was not an option here. Would I even make it to the end of the week?
Today I was supposed to leave the retreat for a few hours for a meeting. I found myself not wanting to leave the grounds. The thought of engaging in real-world conversation seemed burdensome; plus, it would threaten any progress toward surrendering to the silence. I decided to stay. The meeting could wait; so could Walgreens. Who needs Burt’s Bees when you have the Lord? Maybe it’s taken me five days to accept the silence, but I can’t deny that it is working. I’m becoming aware that there is a world beyond the …
Ever since the Oslo attacks my heart has started racing a little faster every time I board the U-Bahn in the morning. It races even faster when I disembark and make the 10-minute walk through the incredibly tourist-dense section of Berlin where I work. Pushing past Gypsies, I scan German, American, and British tourists’ faces checking out the remains of the Berlin Wall and can’t help but wonder, could something like that ever happen here? Oslo is such a sleepy European city; surely Berlin has to be an even bigger target. Quite frankly, it scares me.
I try to quiet my racing thoughts when they start circling irrationally. I hate that when I am afraid I feel like I am letting the terrorists win.
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.
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.
“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.
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.”
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 the center that prepared community members’ income taxes for free. In our first year, community members claimed tens of thousands of dollars in tax benefits they were owed, but could have gone unclaimed or been lost to advertised “instant rebates,” otherwise known as short-term, high-interest loans. I began seeing Jesus’ teaching of economic justice and working with the poor lived out before me.
My time in the volunteer program also brought with it a changing circle of friends. I found myself drawn closer to fellow volunteers I’d known for only a couple months than to the friends I’d known back home and in college for years. And the idea of home — a place I lived in for the previous 23 years — expanded into a broader, bigger place. Home became something inside of me and not rooted in a location.
‘The Road Not Taken’
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
(from “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost)
While it might not be an exact metaphor, those lines from Robert Frost crossed my mind often at that time. I was beginning to see two paths — stay home and start a “career” or move away, taking more time to figure out what I wanted out of life. And the decision wasn’t easy. It always takes me an incredibly …
Today brings the final book of the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter andThe 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, a theme park. You have to be living under a rock to not know J.K. Rowling’s magical world. The billionaire author has captured the hearts of millions and influenced a tech-obsessed generation to read. But beyond the typical thrills, are there any real truths or morals to Harry Potter? Several scholars have claimed the series to be fundamentally Christian and now universities hold seminars on Harry Potter in the religion department. But is it Christian?
Is there a Christ figure?
Harry is the obvious answer here. His legacy as the chosen one throughout the series is a direct correlation, but the one scene that best symbolizes Jesus Christ is when Harry sacrifices himself to Lord Voldemort:
“Finally, the truth. Lying with his face pressed into the dusty carpet of the office where he had once thought he was learning the secrets of victory, Harry understood at last that he was not supposed to survive. His job was to walk calmly into Death’s welcoming arms. Along the way, he was to dispose of Voldemort’s remaining links to life, so that when at last he flung himself, the end would be clean, and the job that ought to have been done in Godric’s Hollow would be finished: Neither would
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, sometimes not. I have lunch about four hours after I wake up, sometimes at my desk. I don’t eat dinner till after I get home, so that is six to eight hours after that. If it’s on the late side, I don’t want to spend another hour preparing something, so I get take-out on the way home. There are at least a dozen choices I can pick up easily, and each time, I debate which to get and usually go with what feels like the most fun in that moment.
There are a few different factors here — regularity of timing, simplicity, and a de-emphasis of food as entertainment.
If anyone knows about regularity, it’s monks. Their entire life is routinized to a level ours never will be, framed by the Divine Office, which breaks the day into three-hour chunks between prayer services. But even if we have no interest in a life so regular, we can learn something from their example. As I discussed in my column Freedom From Choice (which I wrote after another retreat), much of the clutter in our day and in our mind is the result of
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 gaining some needed motion. An accommodation for my son was a tilting stool, which he could keep in balance only by slightly moving his body. Visual aids were written into their ed. plans to help cement their learning.
We won’t spend too much time discussing how their mama is famous for having spent many family meals as a child beneath the table instead of sitting at it, for I found sitting quietly impossible. It remains a challenge. And we won’t draw a comparison between me and the water shrew which, when whiskering its way along a known path, if anything new is put in its way, must go back to the beginning and start again. The sure repetition of known prayers is perfect for this Catholic who sometimes resembles a water shrew.
When I attend a wonderful Protestant church — as I do with my Protestant husband (who also attends “my” church and can genuflect and cross himself with the best of them) — I sometimes find my mind wandering. My eyes stray to the long glass windows with… nothing on them. No color, no figures of Mary or the saints, no Latin words. No Stations of the Cross on the walls to snag my whirling thoughts and bring me back to Jesus. And sitting! After an
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 broomstick — how could this possibly be good? But when I read the first sentence — “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much” — I knew that this book was not what I expected. Curious to learn more, I kept reading. And I didn’t put it down until I was finished, much to my parents’ chagrin. I read it at dinner, in the car, while the rest of my family was watching TV. I stayed up late until I reached the end.
Having nowhere I felt I could really belong, I could relate to Harry Potter — he was an unusual boy in both the muggle world and the wizarding world. Being a weird kid with few friends, I wanted to actually live the world of Hogwarts. I wanted the friendship that Harry, Ron and Hermione had. I wanted to be amongst my own kind, to be recognized as special, but not in the way that made me such an outcast at school and on the playground. I wanted to be loved and respected
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 student. But I felt myself breaking under the pressure.
Sophomore year I jumped into Catholic community involvement. I wanted to reground myself, maybe even find some friends like me who liked to have fun but had certain limits. But quite honestly, Catholic community life felt like my other life in reverse. I was only showing one side of myself. The other hid quietly in a shadowed corner in the back of my mind, waiting until it was safe to reveal itself again.
I couldn’t see my Catholic friends ever understanding my non-Catholic friends and vice versa, and I was terrified of being judged by either. Maybe that makes me a coward.
But all I knew was that I needed both. I needed an outlet for my religion. I needed drinking and going-out buddies. And most of all, I needed good friends who would listen to me and be there for me in their own ways. So I fought to keep both the only way I knew how.
“In one world, I had wonderful friends and sorority sisters who weren’t Catholic and didn’t really understand how key it was in my life, while in the other I went to church every Sunday by myself. In one world, I was an incredibly active Stanford student;
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.
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 — which is the audible version of negative thinking — I have to say I was never happier in my life. I didn’t feel as compelled to make everyone do what I wanted them to do. I seemed to be happy just observing and participating when called upon. People delighted me.
Jesus said, famously, “Judge not, that you be not judged.” He didn’t say this in a wagging-a-finger, Law-of-Congress kind of way. He said it as the Law-of-Physics kind of fact that it is. When we decide what’s better and worse, what should happen and when, the opinions… are like little arrows stabbing us constantly. Judgments create pain. The Buddha, a tad less famously, said, “Opinions just go around bothering people.”
Best of all, I stopped beating myself up. I didn’t waste my time being annoyed with myself for failing so miserably at the task of thinking positively. I just said, “Oh, well. I am learning. Nice trying!”
The screened-in porch
The difference might be that because I have to drop the thought, I don’t get to fondle it, nurture it, explore all the intricate nuances of how right I am and how wronged I have been — how things really would have been so much better if they’d gone the way I’d wanted them to
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 opportunities! Go kayaking, tubing or canoeing down a placid stream with some friends, take a sightseeing cruise, or just rent a rowboat to take out for a few hours. Who knows — maybe you’ll find a hidden island to explore! Picnic in the park
Take a stroll in your local park and enjoy the performers and street vendor fare. People watching is always fun, too.
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 and is the heart of the economically depressed Rust Belt that stretches from Syracuse, New York, to Gary, Indiana. When I compare my alma mater to my friends’, I always feel a bit intimidated. Yet recently, the lives of two Franciscans and the words of a fellow alumnus have renewed my pride for my school and its simple beauty.
Two weeks ago fellow SBU alumnus Dan Barry wrote an article for the New York Times about Franciscan twin brothers who died on the same day at the age of 92. They worked at the Saint Bonaventure Campus Friary doing simple tasks, living an understated yet dignified life. I will not comment on Barry’s article nor the life of the Franciscan twins; Barry has done a remarkable job and it would be foolish to add on. But I will reflect on the spirit the school holds. I know many colleges trumpet that they are a “special” place, but when you get down to the dining hall food and library books: most college experiences are the same. I like to think of college as a blank slate that YOU write on.
Obviously some people who went to my college might not have soaked up the Franciscan flavor or escaped into religion. Yet the story …
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 filled with unused pool tables, wine aerators, and fantastic walk-in closets overflowing with barely-worn shoes. Instead, they extol the ease of clothes that all pair well together, the freedom of less on their to-do lists, and the functionality of clean desks and coffee tables. In a Zen Habits post, “Simple Living Manifesto: 72 Ideas to Simplify Your Life,” Babauta offers suggestions like “create a simple mail & paperwork system,” “learn to say no,” and “create morning and evening routines.” In true minimalist fashion, he also offers a shorter version: “1. Identify what’s most important to you. 2. Eliminate everything else.” Bloggers like Babauta claim that minimalism contains the answer to the effects of conspicuous consumption that plague our modern lives: conspicuous non-consumption, or a careful consumption of only the most essential–whatever that means to each of us.
In addition to defensive, self-congratulatory arguments, Minimalists can recapitulate the very one-upmanship life they originally sought to avoid; instead, it becomes a “one-lowmanship.” Implicitly or explicitly, some bloggers praise the person with the fewest shoes, the least collector’s items or the simplest accessories. A few even feel a palpable guilt about, or at least a need to apologize for, their less “extreme” minimalism, for owning more than 100 things or driving a minivan.
This idea is deeply appealing, of course, especially to those already intrigued by one, if not more, of the other movements minimalism often claims to contain within itself. Browse these blogs and you will
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.