by Mary | Mar 7, 2023 | Life Lines
As I was wrapping up a Lenten retreat recently, someone in attendance approached me afterward and asked if it’s appropriate or even possible to wish someone “Happy Lent!” The funny thing is, I had said those exact words to Father Bob Longobucco as he walked into the church earlier that evening, even though it’s not something I would usually say seriously to anyone. But if you know Father Bob, you know a little levity is always allowed amid the spiritual seriousness.
But this person’s question made me take a closer look at the topic, and I promised I would ponder it and maybe even write about it. So here we are. What I said off the top of my head that Wednesday evening was that I think we hear “happy” with our secularized ears and what we really mean is “joyful.” But does “Have a joyful Lent” ring any truer in a season where sacrifice and the road to Calvary are in view?
I would offer a resounding YES! And here’s why. Look at some of the readings of this season so far. On Ash Wednesday, in the first reading from the Book of Joel, we were urged: “Return to me with your whole heart … return to the Lord, your God. For gracious and merciful is he, and slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment.” What could be more joyful than a God like that? So often we focus on what is wrong with us and how unworthy we think we are, but God reminds us that we are beloved exactly as we are right now. And that should make us both happy and joyful, no matter what the season.
Last week, one of the Gospel acclamations, quoted Psalm 51, saying: “A clean heart create for me, O God; give me back the joy of your salvation.” I used this exact line of Scripture as a breath prayer for my retreat group precisely because of the words “the joy of your salvation.” I wanted to remind people that ours is a faith of joy, even on the road to Calvary, because we know what lies beyond it.
Famed Trappist monk Thomas Merton, in his book “Seasons of Celebration: Meditations on the Cycle of the Liturgical Feasts,” wrote: “Even the darkest moments of the liturgy are filled with joy, and Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten fast, is a day of happiness, a Christian feast. It cannot be otherwise, as it forms part of the great Easter cycle.”
He goes on to say, “There is joy in the salutary fasting and abstinence of the Christian who eats and drinks less in order that his mind may be more clear and receptive to receive the sacred nourishment of God’s word, which the whole Church announces and meditates upon in each day’s liturgy throughout Lent.”
Notice the word he uses there: joy. For many of us, the word “happy” is where we get hung up, because happy in our secular world’s view is about those surface feelings we get when we go on vacation or get a promotion or eat a good meal. There is a big difference between happy and joyful, and we are called to be joyful in our faith, not just when things are going according to plan but even when they feel terribly off course, maybe especially in that case. No easy task, to be sure.
Even if you’re not comfortable wishing your neighbor at church a “happy” Lent, can you spend some time thinking about where the joy lives in this season? When we discover the joy bubbling up amid the sacrifices we’re making, like a purple crocus pushing up from beneath the snow in our yard, we begin to realize that there is far more to this season than what we see on the surface.
Happy, joyful, blessed Lent!
Mary DeTurris Poust will be offering a Lenten retreat at St. Patrick’s Church in Ravena on Saturday, March 11, at 10 a.m. and via Zoom on Wednesday, March 15, at 7 p.m. For more information, visit: https://notstrictlyspiritual.com/events.
Photo by Mohamed Nohassi on Unsplash
by Mary | Dec 8, 2022
“Make My Joy Complete” — Philippians 2:2
You know that February feeling… The holidays are behind us, and spring is SO far away (at least here in the northeast). We just need a little something to get us through. Well, here’s it is — a weekend away to focus on joy, love, community, and prayer at the comfortable, cozy, and caring Dominican Retreat and Conference Center in Niskayuna, New York. This retreat will be offered in person and via Zoom and will include several conferences (by yours truly), morning and evening prayer as well as other worship services, an opportunity for private consultation/companioning with me or any of the staff, and plenty of free time for rest, quiet, reflection, inner healing, growth, prayer, and sharing. In addition, this retreat will include an option for collage-as-prayer, a beautiful and creative way to explore your relationship with God through images and words on paper. (I provide all the supplies, although you can bring along some favorite old magazines if you’d like.) This women’s weekend is open to people of all faiths and all ages (18 and older). The building is wheelchair accessible with private bedrooms. Meals, snacks, and linens are provided. Special diets can be accommodated.
The fee for the weekend is $225.00; $210, ages 65 & over; $90.00 for virtual retreat. Register HERE.
by Mary | Jun 2, 2022 | Life Lines
When I left my office job four months ago to return to my home-based writing and retreat business, I was mainly focused on doing the work I love most on a full-time basis and expanding my ability to help people walk the spiritual path. And to be certain, I wake up every day giving thanks that I am able to do what I do, feeling a sense of joy and contentment in my heart.
But there’s been a side benefit that has proven to be even more joy-inspiring than the work aspect of home office life: time with my teenage daughter. I knew when I quit my job to change career paths that I’d have a little more time with Chiara, who has only one more year at home before she heads off to college, but I underestimated the impact of those afternoon hours together that I’d been missing for the past six years.
When I decided to go back to work in an office full time in 2015, I figured I’d gotten my three children through the most important parts. Chiara, our youngest, was in fifth grade and had an amazing neighbor to care for her in the afternoons. Eventually, Olivia was old enough to watch her after school. The tough part was done, right? We imagine our pre-teens and teens are fairly self-sufficient and that they prefer time alone to time with parents. But what I’m finding is that I’m not the only one basking in our mother-daughter time; Chiara and I spend many afternoons side by side, whether we are running errands or quietly doing work on our computers, separate-but-together.
As I wait in the car line outside the high school each day, I am grateful for the opportunity to be there to pick her up and hear about the happenings of her day. It’s an added bonus when a friend needs a ride home, giving me the chance to get to know some children who were faceless names up until now. Every day when I arrive at school, I text: “I’m here in my usual spot.” One day the text came back: “See you soon. Bestie 4 L,” which translates in grown-up talk as “best friend for life.” Be still my heart.
At home, as I work in my upstairs office, Chiara often plops herself down on the meditation cushion behind my desk chair — usually with our black cat, Fred, in tow — and hangs out there, both of us doing our thing and stopping to chat now and then. She has no idea how happy it makes me, but I feel joy bubbling up inside, and I say a silent, “thank you,” for the gift of this time together that I really never saw coming.
It has made me aware of the many other things I’d been missing when I was moving at the warp speed of a stressful job that occupied my mind 24/7, which is no exaggeration despite the overused cliché. So many daily joys were buried under never-ending work emails and texts. So many fleeting opportunities had passed me by while I was convincing myself that a job should be more important than the everyday miracles occurring all around me, often unseen because my eyes were glued to a computer or phone.
Don’t get me wrong. My decision to work for myself was a huge sacrifice for my family and one that I know many people cannot make because of the financial implications, so I am blessed. And although my choice certainly comes with daily challenges as I try to rebuild a business, the trade-off — less money and “prestige” for more joy and contentment — is one I would make again in a heartbeat.
What treasure is hidden in plain sight in your life? Stop for a moment today and bask in the simple things that fill your heart with joy. Step away from the computer, put down the phone, lift your gaze, and take it all in.
This column originally appeared in the June 2, 2022, issue of The Evangelist.
by Mary | May 4, 2022 | Life Lines
I recently did a search of my past Life Lines columns to find something I wrote here six years ago: “Sometimes happiness isn’t a choice.” I remembered how deep and dark that feeling had been when I penned those lines, and I wanted to see what I was thinking. My search was prompted by a book I had just finished on Audible, The Untethered Soul: The Journey beyond Yourself, by Michael A. Singer. In that book, the author says again and again that happiness is, in fact, a choice. Our choice. Every day.
Although there were times throughout the book when I talked back to the narrator, disagreeing with this or that, I was surprised to see how much of it resonated with me and how much had changed since 2016 when I referred to myself (and others like me) as “darkness-dwellers” who drain the life out of everything, like the soul-sucking “dementors” from the Harry Potter series. That was some serious darkness. It’s not hard for me to tap into where I was, but to be honest, that definition of myself feels somewhat foreign — and more than a little sad and frightening.
When I found the column, I found something else: a long comment left by Jack, a complete stranger who had the guts to disagree with me and remind me that “the stuff about ‘darkness-dwellers’ and being soul/energy sucking vampires has nothing do with God or the Divine, but with ‘something else’ that is not so nice.”
“It is a choice of happiness, of going down the spiritual path where the roadside is littered with baggage, garbage, and tears…and to keep moving forward to God’s Love and Light,” he wrote. I smiled as I read those words six years later and marveled at where I am now and how far away that unhappy place seems.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m still not all sunshine and roses every day, but there is a difference. The darkness which arrives on my doorstep — as it does for each one of us in different measures — does not cling to me anymore, at least not for long. The light is always there, edging its way in and reminding me that, while I may not be happy all the time, I can know joy in my heart no matter what.
Happiness and joy are two different things. We say we want to be happy, but what we really want is a pervading joy that stays with us, even when times are downright disastrous. Will we be happy in those painful moments? Probably not, no matter how far down the spiritual path we have gone. But can we know the abiding joy that lives within us because we are called, chosen, saved, and beloved by God? Yes.
What changed for me over the past few years that could transform a darkness dweller into a joy seeker? A lot. No one thing made all the difference, but I can look at the choices I made that allowed me to loosen my own vise grip on my heart so that it could open enough to let God do what God wanted to do for and with me.
My path has included talk therapy, medication (which changed and possibly saved my life), meditation and yoga, regular retreats, a daily gratitude practice (which also changed and possibly saved my life as much as anti-depressants), and a growing wisdom that has come with the last third of life and has made me realize how precious every day is. We do not have time to waste. We know not the day nor the hour.
If you are in darkness, if you feel like you cannot “choose” happiness, reach out to those who can guide you out of that place. You deserve joy. You deserve light. You are called, chosen, saved, and beloved. Own it. Live it.
This column originally appeared in the May 5, 2022, editions of Catholic New York and The Evangelist.
by Mary | Apr 26, 2020 | Life Lines
The past month has been a dance of gratitude and fear. Gratitude that, so far, my family is healthy and together under one roof — all five of us around the dinner table each night, favorite movies flickering on the TV in the evenings, coffee sipped on the deck on those warmer sunny mornings that feel like a gift. But then, often as the sun goes down or the skies cloud over, fear creeps in and, with it, an element of despair. All the “what if….” worries start to clamor for attention, pounding on the door to my heart and racing through my mind in an endless relay. Suddenly the fear of what could be overpowers the gratitude for what is.