Flannery O’Connor, the American Catholic southern gothic writer,
once said, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.”
That line has always resonated with me, but never more so than
when I sit down to write reflections on Scripture readings, verses that can
feel so familiar there seems nothing new to uncover. My latest book of
reflections, Not by Bread Alone 2021: Daily Reflections for Lent (Liturgical
Press), is my third book of Lenten meditations and prayers, and so the
challenge is real — but realer still is the truth that lives within Scripture.
Old passages can speak new hope to us at any particular moment of our lives if
we are willing to open ourselves up to the work and words of the Spirit. Even the
familiarity of Lent itself can turn a season of growth into a rote spiritual
exercise if we are not prepared to be surprised by God, sometimes in
The column originally ran on Huffington Post in 2015, but it’s a favorite so here it is one more time, just in time:
Lent is one of those seasons that always begins with the best of intentions and rapidly goes downhill, at least that’s how it usually plays out for me. I plan to pray more, eat less, and find creative ways to make my favorite time in the Church year more meaningful. Unfortunately, the ashes hardly have time to settle into the wrinkles on my forehead before I’m feeling like I’ve already failed.
With 2020 in our rearview mirror, most of us are hoping for a new year that looks nothing like the old year. As we struggled through past 10 months of pandemic, with one hit after another leaving us hanging on the ropes now and then, we set our eyes on the day when the clock would strike midnight, the calendar would flip, and we would have the chance to level the playing field.
Advent in our modern world has long been behind the cultural eight ball. It’s a season of waiting in a world of instant gratification, a season of quiet anticipation in a world of noisy commercialism. But this year, in the midst of pandemic challenges and political worries the likes of which we have never experienced in our lifetime, it might just be a season of joyful opportunity in a world of stressful chaos.
When I was leaving my gynecologist’s office recently, I exited the building with a younger couple leaving the same practice. I guessed that they likely were there for a pregnancy checkup and smiled at the memories of those days in my own life. As we all crossed the road, we arrived at the door to the parking garage simultaneous to a woman in a wheelchair who was being pushed by an aide. The woman, who had severe disabilities, was trying to communicate, or maybe she was in pain, and her cries were anguished and loud and continuous.
When I arrived at Pyramid Life Center in the Adirondack Mountains last month to lead a retreat, I was excited but nervous. As is always the case when I lead a group, I want to be sure I give participants what they need, the spiritual nourishment they’re craving. Most times when I wrap up, I’m a bit depleted from putting out so much spiritual energy over the course of a few days, but this time I was energized and uplifted, riding a spiritual high that was fed by the 30+ people who engaged in the retreat so fully they left me awed and humbled and inspired.
An upstate New York church recently asked me if I would do a Zoom talk for their parish book club, which had just finished reading “Walking Together,” my 2010 book on spiritual friendship. They sent me some questions in advance — challenging questions that forced me to sit in silent reflection and struggle with answers that would not be easy. I emailed the moderator and asked if the group was likely to be disappointed if my answers were very different from what they might expect. No, she said. Fire away.
A little more than five years ago, I stood on land owned by distant DeTurris relatives in Massa Lubrense, Italy, the birthplace of my paternal grandfather, and looked out at the Isle of Capri in the distance. (Seen in the photo here.) To say it was breathtaking is the understatement of the century. On a boat ride across the Bay of Naples, I imagined my grandfather and his family leaving that same port on a steamer headed toward New York. All the while I kept wondering how difficult their lives must have been to make them leave behind that picture-postcard scene and head into the frightening unknown.
So, last week I was supposed to be on the Morning Air Show on Relevant Radio. (I used to be a monthly contributor to this wonderful program back in the days when I worked from home.) Anyway, my interview time came and went last week without me remembering. I left the hosts hanging! Mortified is an understatement. But, they graciously offered a rematch. So this Monday I joined John Harper and Glen Lewerenz for a brief conversation about the way spiritual truth and the Holy Spirit always find a way to speak to us, no matter where we are in life. IF we’re willing to listen…