Halloween happenings

That’s my crew before trick or treating. I should have taken an after shot. They were completely soaked. A very soggy Halloween night.

Mindful eating update: I crashed and burned with a Kit Kat, a Reese’s peanut butter cup and an entire bowl of popcorn. For my dinner. Oy.

Friday Flare: Blog posts too good not to share

I am starting a new weekly (I hope) blog event where I’ll use every Friday to link to an outstanding post on someone else’s blog. So often I read great stuff on other blogs but don’t always have the opportunity to write about it. So, instead, I’ll let the other bloggers speak for themselves.

Brian Caulfield over at Fathers For Good offers some food for thought in his excellent post “My (Brief) Brush with Death.” Click HERE to read it.

Finding serenity in a bowl of oatmeal

In the last year or so I have become very much aware, perhaps painfully aware, of the things that hinder my spiritual life. And, as I mentioned in my last post about my laundry stand-off, many of those things appear minor on the surface. Taken individually, any one of them would be considered fairly insignificant, but when I look at them all together, I start to get the feeling that maybe I’m overlooking something much bigger, something that lies at the heart of all those little obstacles I throw in my own way.

What kind of “minor” stuff am I talking about? Mindless eating, mindless chatter, mindless multi-tasking, mindless computer time, mindless busyness in general. I complain, complain, complain that I don’t have time to pray, don’t have time for God, don’t have time for myself, and then I proceed to fill up any free minute that does come along with time-wasting, energy-depleting activities that don’t really improve anyone’s life — mine or my family’s. Just looking at the time I spend checking email and Facebook alone is enough to make me cringe.

It really dawned on me in a big way yesterday morning, when I made myself my usual bowl of oatmeal and, as I set it on the table, immediately began looking for a newspaper or magazine or laptop or phone. No sense wasting valuable eating time not getting something else done, right? And then I stopped. And listened. Quiet. Something that is so rare at our house. I could hear the tap tapping of rain on the fallen leaves. I could hear the cats batting a toy around the basement. I could hear myself think. And I wondered, what exactly am I trying to drown out when I insist on multi-tasking even while eating a meal in peace. It’s one thing if the kids are home and I’ve got my mommy hat on. But when I have time to eat breakfast alone, why would I want to clutter it up with meaningless stuff? Because eating mindlessly is one of the ways I avoid thinking, one of the ways I avoid listening to God, one of the ways I get out of living in the moment. I’m much better at living in the next moment or the next year.

So I put away the newspapers. In fact, I removed them from sight. I cleared the space around my seat of any clutter. I put the phone in the other room. And I sat down and slowly and quietly ate my oatmeal with walnuts and dried cranberries, tasting every bite. I found, as I did on my silent retreat last year, that eating in silence is a lot like praying in silence. I had to keep bringing myself back to that spoon of oatmeal every time my mind wanted to work on an imaginary blog post or think about what’s up next on our family calendar.

Of course, the mindless eating is certainly not limited to those times when I’m home alone with my work. It’s everywhere. I often find myself standing at the counter simultaneously answering emails, helping with homework, prepping for dinner and scarfing down Cheez-It Party Mix without even tasting it. It’s no longer enough for me to do one or two things at a time; now I need all of the senses firing at once. It’s all just too much. And I firmly believe that for me it is a way to avoid the thing I most want to work on: my spiritual life.

I’ve been aware of the connection between mindless eating and mindless living for a while. Again, it goes back to my silent retreat where I ate all my meals in silence even as I sat across the table from someone else. There, peering into my soup bowl in silence, I began to realize the fact that the way to God is paved, at least in part, with more mindful eating, more mindful talking, more mindful living. Of course, that lovely idea didn’t last long after I returned to the real world and the insanity of home life where even Grace Before Meals is fit for a circus tent.

On and off I struggle with this desire to bring a sense of the spiritual to my daily meals, not just the ones eaten in silence but even the ones eaten in between jumping up and down for milk and paper towels and whatever else the kids need. When Dennis and Noah went away for a Scout weekend recently, I tried my hand at more mindful eating by making a big pot of “Hermit Soup” from the From a Monastery Kitchen cookbook. I tried to chop the vegetables mindfully. I tried to stir my soup and attend to my children with a monastic sense of serenity. But when all was said and done, the soup had nothing to do with my ability or inability to maintain my spiritual composure. Yes, eating simply can certainly aid the spiritual journey, but it’s not about the ingredients.

So, as you can see, I’m still struggling with this, the first of many minor obstacles we will explore in the coming days and weeks. My plan is to make myself much more aware of how I eat, when I eat, why I eat. Not because I want to lose weight but because I want to gain peace. I want to be come more aware of the connection between the fast-paced, non-thinking eating that I do and the fast-paced non-thinking living that I do — and the praying that I don’t do. If I want to pray, why not just stop and pray? Because it’s easier to do a dozen other things at once than sit down and just wait for God. Sure, a quiet mealtime could be a kind of meditation in and of itself, but it’s far less messy to battle the New York Times crossword puzzle than it is to battle my personal demons.

I’ll keep you posted on how my experiment goes and whether I am able to make any real change from mindless to mindful eating. I’m two days in and counting on the bowl of oatmeal with a side of peace and quiet.

Learning to let go, starting with the laundry

A lot of things — big and small — get in the way of my spiritual growth. And although I typically tend to focus on the large-scale obstacles — pride, envy and other deadly sin type stuff — I recently discovered a small but vexing thorn in my spiritual side. Laundry. I know, I know. Everyone has laundry. Why is my laundry so special that it could cause me spiritual angst? Well, it’s not and it can’t. It’s how I responded to my laundry that was causing me problems. That is, until I took a long, hard look into my laundry basket and saw the light.

I do laundry for an active family of five, so mixed in with the regular socks and towels, jeans and pjs are soccer uniforms, school uniforms, dance leotards and more. It’s constant, never-ending, relentless. You get the picture. But it wasn’t really the washing and drying that always got to me in the past. It wasn’t even the folding that took its toll. It was the putting away. Don’t ask me why I drew the line at putting away. I would sort and wash and dry and fold. Then I would cart the baskets up to my bedroom and wait. And wait. And wait. And the longer I waited, the more the tension and resentment would rise up in me.

Why won’t anyone put away their clothes, I would wonder. What would happen if I disappeared? Would they all go naked? It became a silent battle of wills, although I was the only one aware of the battle. I’m not going to empty that basket, I’d threaten in the dark, quiet recesses of my stony heart.

The funny thing is that in the midst of my laundry loathing, I would be reading various spiritual books on doing small acts of kindness with love, of looking at my daily tasks as opportunities to fulfill my vocation not with a chip on my shoulder but with a smile on my face. And so I decided to let go of the laundry, to stop fighting the piles of underwear and socks that mocked me from their stronghold across the room as I tried to block them from view with a book of reflections by Christian mystics.

I decided about six weeks ago to win this war not in a battle to the death but by bending toward the thing I most dreaded. I started a new routine. As soon as I fold the laundry now, I take it upstairs and immediately put it away. All of it. I hang shirts with a smile. I put pants away as I hum a tune. I am a veritable Snow White these days. I am this close to whistling while I work. And what has happened is amazing. I have gone from screaming and steaming about the piled up laundry to trying to surprise everyone by putting it all away before they realize it’s even missing. I imagine my brood opening their dresser drawers and realizing that the pile of underwear is never depleted.

I have turned an obligation into an act of love. Really. And it surprises me. I find myself putting away clothes without resentment or annoyance, without feeling unappreciated. And all the while I am aware that I have been able to do this only by seeing it as a spiritual act, not a household chore. I am not putting away socks for the thousandth time; I am loving my children and husband as they deserve to be loved. I’ve read about this sort of thing from the likes of saints and sages but I never thought I could make it happen in my own stressed-out, frustration-filled life.

Who’d have thought that I’d find God at the bottom of a laundry basket? I wonder if He’s hiding in the ironing board as well.

Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you.

I have to admit that today’s Gospel about blind Bartimaeus has never been one that registered on my radar screen. When it came to Jesus giving sight to the blind, I was pretty much in the Man Born Blind camp. But now that I teach fourth-grade faith formation, I not only spend a lot of advance time thinking about the Gospel each week, I also have to figure out how to explain it in a way that makes sense to a 9-year-old. And that, in turn, ends up forcing me to dive into readings I might otherwise overlook. (My faith formation teaching experience is a post in itself for another day.)

So this past week I spent some quality time with Bartimaeus. On Wednesday, I read the Gospel to my class and talked to the kids about how this story is meant to remind us that if we have faith, God will light the way for us and give us what we need to see things clearly. It was a quicker-than-usual discussion of the Gospel because we were due in the school gym for the recitation of the Rosary. As I hurried my class and our second-grade buddies down the hall toward the gym, the school principal saw me walk by. Quite unexpectedly (in fact I wasn’t even sure I’d heard him right at first), he called out, “Take courage. Get up, Jesus is calling you.” And suddenly, in an instant, the story of Bartimaeus became mine in a totally new way.

For the first time since I’d begun reading that Gospel over and over, I really heard that line as it relates to me: “Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you. ” It turns out that I am very much like blind Bartimaeus, begging again and again for God to have pity on me and to help me see. My eyes are clouded by things of the external world — the busyness of life, the responsibilities of work and family, the pull of all the addictive time-drains (Twitter and Facebook and email and more) that get too much of my attention each day. But unlike Bartimaeus, I don’t always hear the God’s call, drop everything and run to Jesus. Sometimes I can’t hear him over the din of everyday life. Other times I’ve got my fingers in my ears because I’m afraid of what I might hear. And still other times I’m sure that my prayer life is too neglected and too erratic to warrant a response from God.

But Bartimaeus reminds us that we just have to keep praying and asking, not because we are worthy and not because we’ve mastered our prayers, but because we believe. A while back I posted (HERE) about the fact that God doesn’t answer our prayers because we say them perfectly but because we are “shameless” in our persistence. Like Bartimaeus, we have to keep yelling out, ” Jesus, have pity on me.” We have to have faith and trust that he is listening and that if we make the time to slow down and be quiet, we will get the answer and the sight we’ve been begging for. The question is, will we be ready and willing to take the call?

“Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you.”

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