Busted Halo
Features : Religion & Spirituality
March 15th, 2012

It seems that every year around this time I’m inspired to write about renewal and fresh starts. That’s not surprising, of course. The vernal equinox (March 20) is just days away and where I live in the American Northeast, the annual cycle of natural rebirth is starting to Spring into high gear. Last Tuesday, I saw my first snowdrops on the ground, on Saturday I came across an apple tree covered in buds, and now suddenly there are day lilies everywhere. This is the time of Easter (April 8), Passover (April 6-14), and the Persian/Iranian New Year (March 20). (I realize not all my readers are in a temperate climate, so forgive that I’m talking about it now. It’s my experience.)

Christianity is full of messages of rebirth, most notably the semi-comical exchange between Jesus and the Pharisee Nicodemus in John 3, from which comes the term “born again.” The whole thing centers on the fact that the Greek word anothen can mean “again” or “from above” depending on context. After Jesus says we must be born again/from above, Nicodemus is confused and says,”How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus patiently explains that he doesn’t mean being born again physically, but rather born “of the Spirit.”

I wrote once before about former Intel CEO Andy Grove’s ideas concerning inflection points. Grove says that much of the harm is done not by wrong decisions but by people’s unwillingness later to change direction. Even though they may know in their heart that they’re on the wrong track, they stick to their course rather than admit error. Yet, Christianity offers us — demands of us! — the opportunity to do exactly that. Whether its a full blown conversion, an annual renewal along with the rest of the church community at Easter, or an individual act of confession and rededication at any time, Christians have many ways to turn around (con-vert) and get back on the path at any time.

My own life has been shaped by several conversions. My turning from addiction to recovery not only physically saved my life but, more significantly, set me on a new path of growth and harmony. My baptism, after having been raised atheist, was the result of a spiritual conversion that in many ways grew from that earlier “turning.” And my decision to devote my work life to spiritual projects was another change of direction.

March 1st, 2012
Go easy on yourself this Lent

I broke my Lenten commitment on day one. On Ash Wednesday, after a difficult day, I trudged right past two people asking for change on my way home, remembering my commitment but in my aggravation willfully denying it. I felt entitled to do the wrong thing because I’d had a hard day. I’m not proud of this, but does it mean I’m a bad person? Does it mean I failed at Lent? No, it means I’m human. The next day, I recommitted and haven’t slipped since.

February 22nd, 2012
Asking young adults why they attend church on Ash Wednesday

Every year on Ash Wednesday, Catholic churches are filled with people receiving ashes. More people attend church on this day than on any other throughout the year.
We hit the steps outside of New York City’s St. Paul the Apostle Church to ask young adults why they made the effort to get out of bed early and receive their ashes before their work and school days began.
Care to find out more about Ash Wednesday? Check out our video: Ash Wednesday in Two Minutes.
If you need help this Lent with your fasting, praying and almsgiving, visit our Fast Pray Give Calendar every day. And check out Phil Fox Rose’s latest column, What Are You Giving Up for Lent?, for a serious challenge to consider.
Originally published…

February 22nd, 2012

“What are you giving up for Lent?” is not a question I heard growing up in my atheist home. It’s second nature for most Catholics, though — to give up some favorite thing (like chocolate or ice cream) for Lent. But if you have an addiction to alcohol, a drug or cigarettes, I want you to consider using this Lent as a turning point. If you don’t have a dependence on a physically addictive substance like those, then broaden the definition a bit: How about something nonessential like caffeine or sleeping pills? (I’m not talking about prescribed medicines that balance you.) Consider seeing if you can live without it of the next 40 days. If you want to broaden the term addiction further in the now-trendy way for things like the internet and pornography, that’s OK too.

But understand that something isn’t an addiction just because you use it a lot. For it to be an addiction, it should be that your use interferes with your life, you wish if didn’t, and you can’t stop. If you have an addiction problem, odds are you already have a suspicion, though you may refuse to accept it. Or maybe friends or family have been telling you that you do.

Make a commitment to abstain from something you have a problem with — alcohol, smoking, gambling — starting Ash Wednesday and continuing for the duration of Lent. Not the rest of your life. Just about seven weeks.

It might become a turning point. You might discover you like your life better without it and gain a real willingness to let it go. And if you don’t manage to stay stopped, you will have learned an important lesson — that this “habit” is maybe something more; that it has some measure of control over you…

February 14th, 2012
Busted Halo's Lenten Calendar

Traditionally, Lent was a time for personal conversion leading up to Easter, during which Christians practiced the spiritual disciplines of fasting, praying and almsgiving to strip away all that is unnecessary and become more mindful of their ultimate dependence on God. Let’s recapture the true meaning of Lent in ways that are actually relevant to your life. Each day throughout Lent, starting on Ash Wednesday, the calendar’s link for that day will become active, revealing a Daily Jolt for spiritual contemplation relating to Lent, and new and practical ideas for fasting, prayer and almsgiving.

Oh, and we’ll have weekly prizes and a grand prize. By filling out a brief survey and sharing your contact info with us, you will be entered into random drawings for the weekly and grand prizes. (You can enter once a week, which also increases your chances of winning the grand prize.

Busted Halo’s® Fast Pray Give Calendar is completely unflunkable, entirely relevant and totally inspiring. The idea isn’t to be perfect but to continue on our path, so if you slip up one day, don’t give up; simply begin again the next day. We hope you’ll join Busted Halo this year with our Fast Pray Give Lent calendar.

January 23rd, 2012

We all know the drill. We should go to Mass on Sunday. We should go to Mass on Holy Days. And really, in general, we should worship God more in our daily lives.
Now, consider this: stop “shoulding on yourself.” In a recent column Fr. Jim Martin, SJ, wrote that if we are too busy focusing on what we “should” do, then we miss out. When we are too busy worrying about whether we should be in the pew — we are actually missing out on engaging in the worship experience. So skip the “shoulds” and get right to worship. Don’t just think you should go to Mass more. Don’t just try to go to Mass more, be more involved in the worship experience.
Ways to worship well
Here are three ways to help you stick to worship:
Find your…

January 19th, 2012

It was all of 13 minutes after midnight on Tuesday night when I went to look up something in Wikipedia… even though I knew the blackout protest was coming and had posted about it. If you didn’t know what was going on or would like to learn a little more about SOPA and PIPA, with hopefully a slightly spiritual angle, read on. But I want to stress, this is not a partisan issue. As I’ll explain later, the line between supporters and opponents has little to do with party affiliation. As Wikipedia said, in its message about participating in the blackout:
It is the opinion of the English Wikipedia community that both of these bills, if passed, would be devastating to the free and open web… although Wikipedia’s…

January 18th, 2012
Hearing God's call and trusting where it leads

Let’s talk about the New Year. If you’re like me, you picked up a few magazines with promising headlines like “Finding the New You in 2012: Your Easy Guide to a Physical and Emotional Makeover!” at the grocery store, wrote some resolutions on a piece of paper you might be lucky enough to find if you happen to be moving, and checked out the “Year in Photos” feature of a news website for good measure. If you’re really serious, you might have even gone… to the gym. Twice.
But now that all the newness has worn off, it’s time to revisit the New Year. What makes it so attractive, anyway?
Can’t explain? It’s probably God
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about new things, particularly new beginnings. There

January 16th, 2012

Since I wrote for Busted Halo about Mitt Romney’s first run for president in 2008, much has changed in the public landscape regarding knowledge and perceptions of Mormonism. Americans today find themselves swept up in a “Mormon Moment,” thanks to Romney’s second run, Jon Huntsman Jr.’s candidacy, and popular media coverage of The Book of Mormon musical. Rather than depending on Big Love for their (inaccurate) understanding of this world religion, Americans can now find informed reports in sources from the Washington Post… to NPR. Still, persistent myths and misperceptions blight even the most well-intentioned reporters’ pieces. The following will help give Busted

January 1st, 2012
(1915-2011)

“Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.” (Matthew 5:9)
Lately I’ve been thinking about the Beatitudes, as well as the Corporal Works of Mercy, thinking that if I could just grasp and follow these fundamentals of the faith, I could actually live the Christian life and truly do what Jesus asks of us. It should be simple enough to care for those less fortunate, but it always seems so difficult when you get down to the practicalities of it: I work 40 hours a week, my commute to and from work takes a lot of time, I need to keep up my social life, friend and family time, my movie watching, and I should probably try and fit exercise somewhere in there — so where’s the time to try to take

December 23rd, 2011
A closer look at how several women break the pattern of male ancestors in the Gospel's account of Jesus' genealogy

A defining Gospel passage during Advent is the genealogy text from Matthew’s Gospel (1:1-17). At first glance, these verses simply appear to be a collection of names, and therefore incapable of producing any meaning other than the obvious — this is Jesus’ family tree. After a closer look at this passage, it became apparent to me that these verses, like Mary, are pregnant with hidden treasure.
The list of names produces a pattern: one man fathers another; one generation follows another; and every 14 generations an event important to the history of the chosen people takes place. Not only does the pattern create an expectation, it also becomes predictable. This pattern, however, is randomly…

December 20th, 2011
For families divided by politics or religion, gathering on the holidays provides both challenges and opportunities

My relatives are an eclectic bunch, pretty evenly split — to use crude and somewhat useless political labels — between Left and Right; our religious diversity includes Catholics, Mormons, evangelicals, United Church of Christ members and a few who are unaffiliated. Throw in my surrogate family (that’s a story for another time) and you add Presbyterians, Jews and Buddhists. As we gather around our family table and share letters and cards this holiday season, I will be looking for opportunities to be a healing force.

My family is like millions of others in the United States who come together this time of year for the holidays and struggle to put their passionate differences aside for a few hours. Of course, these divides always existed, but recent years have been different for two reasons. First, major shifts — generationally and ideologically — have left many feeling left out of the party, so to speak. Second, politics is the ugliest it’s been in modern history. There are plenty of hurt feelings all around. A lot of fear gets stirred up.

In couples counseling, it’s an axiom that the most toxic thing to a relationship is not when the partners disagree, or even fight, but when they stop respecting each other. For several generations now, there has been little trust and respect in the political sphere. Both sides have demonized the other, have assumed ill motives on their opponents’ parts.

But of all relationships, the deepest and oldest, next to our relationship with God, is family. So, how sad when distrust and lack of respect attacks relationships with literal brothers and sisters.

December 14th, 2011

In the back pew of the adoration chapel, I folded my arms and slouched before the God who wouldn’t talk to me. It was Advent, and I was wrenching in the throes of undergraduate existentialist angst. Prayer had once suffused my days with joy and meaning; the time I spent in the chapel had gone by quickly and pleasantly, and when I left I felt full to bursting with quiet elation. Now prayer was a process I dreaded: grueling, tedious, utterly devoid of consolation. I was in agony. I resented God’s silence and inactivity, and I told Him so. Repeatedly.
I glanced back at the clock on the wall. I’d been sitting in that chapel for three unproductive, spiritually arid quarters of an hour. I shifted in my seat,…

December 8th, 2011

Many “alternative” gift articles suggest non-gifts — things like giving to charity in the person’s name, or giving service rather than a thing — but choosing a present specifically for another person, wrapping it playfully and offering it to them can tap into love, charity, selflessness and hospitality. I refuse to let consumerism win by equating gift giving with money and greed. I want you to buy gifts, real physical gifts. So how do we choose gifts in a mass consumer culture?

There isn’t just one approach. You might choose items made locally; or by individuals; or from small manufacturers that treat their employees well. If you’re not buying directly from the supplier, you will be considering the retailer too. Let’s call it “conscious” gift shopping. The spiritual principle here is to consider the whole gift: what it will mean to the recipient; what it’s made of; how it was made; who made it; how it got to your hands. I think everyone can embrace supporting individual craftspeople and small businesses over multinational corporations. At least for Christmas.

December 7th, 2011
Grieving infertility and miscarriage in the season of Advent

O Holy Night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining.
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
– Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure, O, Holy Night
Wanting to be a parent is perhaps the greatest human desire. The desire to love another soul unconditionally — to teach, guide and nurture — is profoundly exciting. Being willing to impact the life of another in such an intimate way is overwhelmingly selfless. The yearning to share one’s own DNA, body, family traditions, home and life with a new creation is a dream many experience years prior…

November 22nd, 2011
A helpful tool to encourage a more grateful attitude towards life

This is the last column to run before Thanksgiving, so I want to talk to you about gratitude. I could write a dozen columns about gratitude in various forms; for this column, I’m going to focus on one simple tool: the gratitude list.

When you find yourself feeling particularly ungrateful about your life — or your spiritual director or friend points out to you that you are — you can stop and remind yourself of all the things for which you can be grateful.

There are some obvious things. You often hear people say, “at least I’ve got my health.” That might sound trite, but if you have ever experienced a serious loss of your own good health and then gotten it back, or if you or to someone close to you is deprived permanently of good health, you will know that good health is a great blessing. Another common item is family — partners, parents, children: whoever loves you unconditionally and gives you sustenance and support.

Not half full or half empty — just half full

Gratitude list items can also be seemingly trivial things — or at least things that might seem so to someone else. And many things can be seen as blessings or negatives. For example, I do not live with anyone else. I could focus on and feed feelings of loneliness. But I can also be grateful for the control I have over my environment and how easy it is to meditate and have silence when I want it. (Ask anyone with a big family about how precious that is!)

It’s important, even though this is a list, to not fall into thinking of it as a two-sided ledger. It’s not “I’m alone but at least I have peace and quiet.”  It’s, “I can have peace and quiet whenever I want in my home.”

It’s not about seeing our world’s cup as half full rather than half empty. Because the truth is everyone, and I mean everyone, has things they can be grateful for and things they can be ungrateful for. It’s about paying attention to the part that’s full. Who cares about what you don’t have? Seriously. Think about that for a moment.

Focusing on what we don’t have, on expectations of things that have not materialized for us, only leads to anxiety and self-pity. I’m not saying there is no place for wanting to create a more abundant life, but that’s not the way. Paradoxically — as are most great spiritual principles — it is by being content with what we have that we are open to seeing clearly what is around us, and seeing new opportunities.

November 18th, 2011

I’m a proud alumnus of a Jesuit school — Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California. One thing the Jesuits are very good at doing is talking about themselves, especially when it comes to their founder, Ignatius of Loyola. Because of this, I think I’ve forgotten more about Ignatian spirituality in the past four years than many people will learn in their entire life. The Jesuits would be so proud.
There were a few things I latched on to, though. One of those was the Jesuits’ vow of poverty, which, from what I saw in my interactions with them, must have some awesome loopholes. Another, more important one was the deep value the Ignatian spiritual tradition places on gratitude.
While I was in college,…

November 16th, 2011
The new translation of the Mass is coming to a parish near you. Here are the changes you need to know about.

If you’re headed to Mass during the upcoming Advent and Christmas seasons, you’re going to notice some changes. Starting November 27 the Roman Catholic Church will be using a new set of instructions for celebrating Mass — all part of the newly revised Roman Missal (the 3rd Edition, in fact!). This new translation contains revised prayers for both the priest and the assembly. Don’t worry, not all the prayers are changing, but there are some significant changes you should know about.
#1: “And with your Spirit!”
At the beginning of Mass, the priest makes the Sign of the Cross and greets the people by saying, “The Lord be with you.” In the new translation, the assembly…

November 15th, 2011
How the practice of writing in a gratitude journal has become a 10-year spiritual practice

I’ve only kept one New Year’s resolution.
Well, maybe I’ve kept more, but the fact that I can’t remember any others I’ve made makes me think that they weren’t kept.
When I was 16 years old, on our first day back after winter break, my English teacher asked us what our New Year’s resolutions were. I remember one classmate saying that she had decided to keep a gratitude journal, an idea she heard about on the Oprah Winfrey show.
Being an Oprah fanatic, my interest was piqued.
It seems odd to admit that I love writing but hate journaling. It’s the type of feeling I get from hand writing a letter, too. My handwriting and thoughts start out all nice and beautiful, and by the end, I am scribbling indiscernibly…

November 10th, 2011

We are told it is natural to thirst for fulfillment in aligning our life with God’s plan for us and to thirst for the kingdom of heaven on earth to be made manifest around us. So how is this compatible with the idea of accepting everything exactly as it is? This tension is expressed in the Serenity Prayer, which I’ve written about here before. In one line we ask for the courage to change what we can; in another the serenity to accept what we can’t. The prayer’s author then adds a request for the wisdom to know the difference. Well, that’s easier said than done, isn’t it?
Usually in this column, I at least take a stab at giving some advice. But here all I can do is acknowledge the tension.…

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