Category Archives: Praying with the senses

When all else fails, try nature


Marin Headlands, Marin County, CA

Like many of you, I’ve been spending the last two weeks looking desperately for peace and a quiet mind.  I’ve found a few things that help. Writing is one; wine is another. And getting outdoors into the beauty of creation has a healing power like nothing else.

I’d like to share with you two places I’ve found God lately.

One is a county park not far from where I work.  It’s the place where Scott proposed to me lo these fifteen (!) years ago.   And while the hillsides are light brown most of the year, we’ve been fortunate enough to have rain this fall, and everything is a brilliant spring green.


There are oaks here, and bay trees which give out a wonderful fragrance.  There is poison oak turning a beautiful red and lots of deer, who graze unconcernedly as you walk by.  Off in the distance you can see Silicon Valley and the bay.


It’s a place so dear to my heart, and on a crystal-blue day like this, with the earth still soft from the recent rain and the air smelling so sweetly of oak and bay, it’s much easier to breathe here than anywhere else.


The next place is in the Marin Headlands, north of San Francisco.  The boys went there on a Cub Scout Hike, and it was the kind of day where rain gave way to wonderfully dramatic skies, with clouds over the ocean and fog hugging the hills.



We hiked from the estuary to the coast, then up a rather significant hill to a WWII bunker up on the top (a hit with the Scouts).  Along the way we passed an honest-to-goodness cove far, far down below, in which water was churning and roiling about and moving a log as if it were a toothpick.  The whole setting was all very Poldark. I half expected to see Cornish smugglers unloading a ship down below.


Channeling my inner Demelza

Channeling my inner Demelza

It was balm for the spirit: being out by the water, seeing impossibly large waves form and crash onto the beach, smelling salt and soil and the cleanness that only comes from a good rain, seeing the birds wheel and glide over the estuary and the hills.  At every turn there was a view that makes you think about the Being that made all this, in its glorious splendor, for the rest of us to live on and with.

I’m home now, with sore legs and good memories and a renewed conviction that time outside is always the best choice.


Orange is the new prayer


Getting ready for my son’s 8 AM Saturday soccer game may seem like an odd context for a spiritual experience.  I can tell you that when I went to bed the night before and set the alarm for 6:15, I sure wasn’t expecting a prayerful, mindful morning.  I wasn’t expecting to feel anything other than nostalgia for the warm bed I’d just left or the usual pre-game rush of panic (“Is his uniform clean?Where the heck are the shinguards?”).

But as I stood at the kitchen counter around 6:50, yawning and cutting navel oranges into slices for my little player and his teammates, I had a moment’s mindfulness.  I have my senses to thank for it.

First of all, the scent: oh my, those oranges smelled like heaven. They smelled almost as good as the coffee my husband made, and that’s saying a lot. With something so fragrant right before me, my nose was awake before the rest of me was.

And once I’d sliced them all, I realized that there were a few more than could comfortably fit into my Tupperware.  I decided that was my cue to eat one.  So I did.

I rarely ever eat oranges anymore; I’m not sure why. But that taste showed me what I’d been missing.  The little triangular segments peeling off the rind and feeling all wonderfully pulpy and sweet in my mouth: it was positively marvelous.  I can’t remember when something tasted so good, or when a food made me so instantly happy.   It was a gratitude prayer of the most simple and delicious kind.

That’s why it’s good to have our antennae tuned to the spirituality of the senses.  If we do, then any moment — even the dreaded 8 AM Saturday game — can be a little bit of God, when you need it most.

P.S. If you’re interested in cultivating your own awareness of the senses in your prayer life, check out the “Experiencing God with Our Senses” retreat on  Starting Monday and continuing throughout October, you’ll find reflections and prayer prompts to help you taste and see (and smell, hear, and touch) God’s goodness.

Beauty upon beauty

Back home in California after a wonderful week visiting family in upstate New York.  Everytime I’m there, I marvel at the landscape: the lush, green hills; the deciduous forests; the profusion of wildflowers; the calm stillness of Otsego Lake (called “Glimmerglass Lake” by the novelist James Fenimore Cooper).  It’s so different from the ochre summer hills of California.

And as if the usual natural beauty weren’t enough, on Saturday night around dinnertime, we were treated to this:


When a rainbow like that appears, you just have to stop what you are doing and gaze.  It spanned the lake, brilliant and vibrant, a perfect arch.  And then as we watched, the faint image of a twin rainbow appeared around it (not captured on film, alas).  The colors were so distinct and vivid, so much moreso than in this photo.

It stayed for at least ten minutes, maybe more; I sort of lost track of time.  I looked out from the balcony and drank it in,  not wanting to leave as long as it was there.  And I actually found myself grinning and saying, “Okay, God, now you’re just showing off.”

Not that there’s anything wrong with that, mind you.


Where are you seeing beauty today?

Starting July 1: 31 Days with one of my favorite saints


On my fridge, along with pictures of family members and friends, is a magnet of one of my favorite saints, St. Ignatius of Loyola.

Why do I love him?  Well, primarily because he gave the world Ignatian spirituality, which is a terrific framework for understanding God.  He also founded the Jesuit order of priests, which gave us Pope Francis.  He is also indirectly responsible for the existence of my favorite publishing house, Loyola Press.

And Loyola’s website celebrates this saint every July, with a month-long roundup of blog posts encouraging us to explore the spiritual practices and ideas that Ignatius helped to bring to the world. From their press release:

Loyola Press kicks off its seventh-annual 31 Days with St. Ignatius on July 1, 2016. This popular month-long celebration of Ignatian spirituality leads up to the feast day of its namesake on July 31.

 Hosted at, 31 Days with St. Ignatius features a calendar of inspirational Ignatian articles by authors such as Vinita Hampton Wright, Jim Manney, Becky Eldredge, Andy Otto, and Mark Thibodeaux, SJ. Topics include the Examen prayer, gratitude, and finding God in all things.

 Readers can continue to explore the rich, 500-year-old tradition of the Ignatian way through complementary posts at the dotMagis blog of Bloggers this summer will explore ways of encountering God through using the five senses, inspired by the new book Taste and See by Ginny Kubitz Moyer. Featured blog contributors include Moyer; James Martin, SJ; Joseph Tetlow, SJ; Tim Muldoon; Gary Jansen; and Casey Beaumier, SJ.

 Ignatian spirituality is a practical spirituality for everyday life. It insists that God is active, personal, and above all, present to us. Visit

Sound good?  Check it out!  I’ll be there!


The senses of summer


What do you love about summer?  I love how it means the return of all sorts of welcome sights and sounds and smells and feels and flavors, all the things that make summer a very sweet season indeed.  Here they are, one sense at a time.


*Blue hydrangeas

*Roses … from my own garden:



And from other gardens:


*A big pile of library books on my desk (and the chance that I may actually have the time to read them)


*Birdsong in the mornings  (usually I am rushing too much to notice it)

*The soundtrack to my kids’ favorite TV shows (including “Phineas and Ferb,” which — I must admit — I also find hilarious).

*The sound of neighbors through the open screens at night:  good sounds, like kids playing and people having backyard barbecues


*The privet tree in my backyard, which unleashes my allergies but is still oddly comforting, reminding me of childhood

*The smoky delicious smell of a barbecue

*The scent of lavender blooming in my front yard


*The feel of cold water on hot skin


*The soft breeze of a ceiling fan

*The cool loveliness of sheets on a hot night


*Water infused with orange and mint (highly recommended)


*Perfectly ripe strawberries

*Cannoli and champagne, our preferred way of celebrating the last day of school

Now it’s your turn!  What would you add to the list?