Wordsworth isn’t the only poet who wrote about daffodils

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I came across this lovely poem on the blog Everything to Someone a few days ago.   I simply had to borrow it for today’s post.  Happy first day of spring!

By the way, the photo above is a picture of the little phone nook in my hallway. (Why use it as a phone nook when it can be a shrine to beauty?)

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She wore her yellow sun-bonnet,
She wore her greenest gown;
She turned to the south wind
And curtsied up and down.
She turned to the sunlight
And shook her yellow head,
And whispered to her neighbour:
“Winter is dead.”

-- A. A. Milne

 

My exhausting, exhilarating weekend at L.A. Congress


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From Thursday to Saturday, I — along with approximately 40,000 other Catholics — was at the Anaheim Convention Center for L.A. Congress.  It was, to put it simply, a blast.

L.A. Congress (official name: Los Angeles Religious Education Congress) is a yearly conference that pulls together speakers on all kinds of topics of interest to Catholics.  Are you curious about social justice issues, education, religious music, multicultural ministry, or tips to deepen your prayer life? You’ll find all of it and more in palm-lined, sun-drenched Anaheim.

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If you want to get a feel for the crowds, check out this view of the convention center:

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In addition to over 300 workshops, L.A. Congress offers an exhibit hall selling everything from  books to T-shirts to rosaries to magazine subscriptions.  It also has  liturgies like you’ve never seen before.  Want to attend a Jazz Mass, a Mayan Mass, a Celtic Mass?   You can find them all under the roof of the Anaheim Convention Center.

Have I sold you?  I hope so.  If I haven’t, let me share a few more specifics about why this past weekend was, as a friend of mine would say, awesome with awesome sauce.

1.  The speakers.  That was only a cardboard cutout of the Pope, much to my seven-year-old’s disappointment.  But L.A. Congress routinely pulls together lots of terrific speakers.  James Martin was there  (if you’ve never read any of his bestselling books, you’ve probably seen him in his role as “Official Chaplain” of The Colbert Report.   Fr. Robert Barron, who did the gorgeous “Catholicism” series a few years ago, gave the Saturday keynote to a packed arena.

And I got to attend a workshop led by two of my favorite Catholic mom bloggers: Lisa Hendey, founder of CatholicMom.com, and Sarah Reinhard of SnoringScholar.com.

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I’ve gotten to know Lisa well over the years and she always inspires me with her generosity and vision.  She has two sons currently in college, which proves that one actually can raise two boys and keep one’s sanity intact (sometimes I wonder).  I got to know Sarah shortly after I started blogging in 2008, one of the very first bloggers I connected with online.  This was actually my very first time meeting her in person, which was super-fun because she is both super-energetic and hilarious.  Love those ladies!

2.  Re-connecting with the good folks of Loyola Press.   I met a bunch of them last year, and hanging out with them again was a highlight of the weekend.  It’s hard to imagine a more talented and just plain terrific  group of people.

And — this shows you how awesome Loyola is — they had  a photo booth. Take a photo and you get a free Pope Francis poster! (or “popester.”)   Here I am with Becca from marketing (with whom I’ve exchanged about a zillion emails) and Vinita Hampton Wright, who edited Random MOMents of Grace and who wrote the “Fall” section of Daily Inspirations for Women (along with lots of other terrific books that you really should check out sometime).

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Later that day, at dinner with Becca, Vinita, and the social media manager Rosemary, I laughed so hard I cried.  Twice. It was that kind of good time.

Oh, and it was a thrill to see my books in their display.  Sometimes I still have this “pinch me” feeling about the whole writing thing.  I guess this picture will help with that.  (Random MOMents is middle of the middle aisle, Daily Inspiration is far left of second-to-last aisle.  Shameless product plug!)

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3. Celebrating how global this Church really is.  ”Diversity” is the name of the game at L.A. Congress, and it’s beautiful. Every year, the different cultural and ethnic groups of the Archdiocese of L.A. do displays.  Here is the Vietnamese community’s table:

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And the table from the Lithuanian community:

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A few tables down, I was drawn to this beautiful statue of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha.

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I started talking to one of the two Native American women behind the table. She invited me to the Native American liturgy on Saturday night (we left Saturday afternoon, alas).   I was captivated by their gorgeous crucifix.

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I was taking a photo of it when the woman told me it was actually a first-class relic of Saint Kateri (there’s a tiny piece of her bone in the little square window you see at the bottom of the photo).  The relic tradition of Catholicism is something I’ve always found sort of odd and medieval, but standing face-to-face with it (or face-to-bone, I guess), I was suddenly extremely moved.  The woman’s obvious love for the saint touched me.

“I sort of want to touch it, but I shouldn’t,” I told her.  ”But then again, I guess that’s the whole point of a relic?”

“Go ahead!” she said.  ”Touch it.  Say a prayer.”

I did.  It was uncanny: me, this forty-one-year-old woman in a glass-paned convention center with a Smartphone in one hand, making a tangible connection to a Mohawk woman who lived in the seventeenth century.   It was meaningful in ways I didn’t expect.  I’m still processing it.

4.  The liturgies.  Scott and I attended the Urban Fusion Mass, which featured liturgical dancers in jeans and T-shirts (it totally worked) and a tinge of hip-hop in the music and a great homily.  It was in the arena, and there were probably about ten thousand people there.  The music was wildly different from what you usually hear on Sundays, and the whole experience was energizing and profoundly moving. This was the view from our perch:

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“I could so do this every week,” said Scott.

5.  Some alone time with my guy.  I say “alone time” with a certain irony, because we were with 40,000 of our closest Catholic friends.  But  it was great to know that all the fabulous things I was seeing, he was seeing too.

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6.  Lunch on Saturday.   Lunch on Friday was a hastily-grabbed bite among the hordes at the convention center café.  They actually ran out of clam chowder  (don’t they know their audience?).

But on Saturday, I got to meet up with my sister Amy, who lives not far from Anaheim.  We had a great time at P.F. Chang’s before catching the plane home.  My visits with her are simply never long enough.  (Why did we waste all that time arguing over the bathroom when we were teenagers?  I’d love to have that time back just to hang out.)

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7.  Getting inspired.  It’s exhausting, this weekend, because there are crowds everywhere and so much to do and see and hear and process.  But it’s exhilarating, too, because it’s a celebration of the thousand faces of Catholicism.  Everywhere you see people who are full of  joy, energy, a desire to learn more and share more.  And that’s what faith is really all about, when you get right down to it.

I think L.A. Congress is going to have to be a yearly thing for me.  It’s just too dang much fun not to do as often as I can.

 

Tulips = too beautiful

No time to blog at the moment — my next post will explain why — but I wanted to share this gorgeous ode to spring.

Enjoy!

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A look into their souls

 

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My kids’ spiritual lives feel somewhat mysterious to me.   Unlike most things, it’s a part of  their development that I can’t measure or quantify.  I can easily find out how much they weigh or how tall they are; I can gauge their understanding of letters and numbers when we read books together or do worksheets at the table.

But what is happening inside them on a spiritual level?  That’s harder to see.

I suppose I could grill them about their religious knowledge, 1950s Baltimore-Catechism style.  But that wouldn’t give me the answers I really want, like how much they think about God or Jesus, or whether they see them as beautiful positive attractive forces in their lives.  That’s what matters to me, when all is said and done.

To find out, I can only really create the opportunity for conversation and see what happens.  Or I can take them somewhere that invites contemplation and sharing, like  the labyrinth.

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I wrote about this labyrinth back in January.  It’s at a beautiful retreat center, and we spent an afternoon there as a family right before Christmas.  It took the boys a while to realize that it was not a racetrack, but once they did, we had a lovely experience together.

So for my birthday a few weeks ago, I felt a desire to return to the retreat center.  This time, it was a warm day with signs of spring all around in the flowering daffodils, in the little snowdrops lining the paths.

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And this time, with a little bit of experience under their belts, the boys moved slowly through the labyrinth.  We all walked it together, in a line, moving toward the rock in the center.  There was blue sky and the scent of damp earth and all the things I associate with springtime.

As we got near the rock in the center, Scott asked the boys, “So who is your rock?”

“Jesus,” said Matthew promptly.  “And God.”

“Mary,” said little brother Luke.

And once we reached the rock, Matthew did something I hadn’t expected.  He took a small stick and began to write in the sand.

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As we watched, he added more names.  (Luke, inspired by his brother, started writing his own name on the other side of the circle and decorating it with smiley faces.)

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I stood there watching my little boys kneeling in the sand, earnestly writing with their sticks.  It was a moment of grace for me because I was witnessing their prayer, even if they themselves wouldn’t have called it that.  I was glimpsing the spiritual lives of my kids, seeing their mindfulness and gratitude, even though they themselves wouldn’t use those terms.  And in those minutes that they scratched the names of their rocks into the sand, the labyrinth felt like holy ground.

It was a birthday present I didn’t expect, this sudden peek into their little souls.  And it’s one I’ll cherish for a very long time.

Summer of the Socks

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So in five and a half years of blogging, I’m doing something I’ve never done before: I’m guest-blogging on a fashion blog.   It’s called Do I Look Typical?, and it’s a blast.

Here’s the start of my post, called “Ginny’s Summer of the Socks”:

Fashion trendsetting is not my thing.  I’m basically your wear-black-pants-at-least-three-days-a-week kind of gal, occasionally rummaging in my closet for a scarf when I want to get really edgy.

But there was a summer in my life when I was on the cutting edge of fashion.  I was ten, and I can safely say that no one else was wearing what I was wearing.  At least, that’s what my older sister Amy used to tell me, but she didn’t say it like it was a good thing.

You can read the rest over at  Do I Look Typical?    Have a happy weekend!

“Hamlet” could have been a MUCH better play


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Recently, Scott and I were talking about Hamlet at the dinner table (I’m teaching it this year) when my first-grader suddenly  entered the conversation.

“What’s Hamlet?”  he asked.

“It’s a play,” I said.  “A play by William Shakespeare.”

“Is it about a  hammer that gets totally out-of-control and smashes everything in sight and nothing will stop it?”  he asked.

I love seven-year-olds.

How to ditch the grading and take a French vacation

Maybe it’s because of the Oscars, or  because our local classical station has been playing listeners’ favorite soundtracks, but movie music has been on my mind a lot lately.

Grading has been on my mind too, alas.  This past weekend, I was like the Wonder Woman of essay-grading, and the sad fact is that I’m still not done.  Piles  of papers await my attention, and more will be added to those piles this week.  It’s enough to make one count the days until summer vacation.

And since it’s only March, darnit, I’m going to channel the spirit of vacation with a gorgeous two-and-a-half-minutes of movie music.  This is “Les Vacances,” one of the themes from the 1962 movie “Jules and Jim.”  Georges Delerue wrote the score, and it’s wonderfully evocative of carefree summer days.  I was playing it on my computer just yesterday, in fact, when the boys suddenly trotted into the room, drawn by the tune.  “It sounds like an ice cream truck!” said my five-year-old.

So if you want a two-minute escape into a vacation frame of mind, take a listen above. Guaranteed to do you good.

Rain, rain, don’t go away

 

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Rain is a morning full of slick highways and traffic snarls.  It’s leaving five minutes earlier for work and still arriving five minutes late.

And yet rain is also the blissful feeling of being warm and dry inside.  It’s an invitation to get cozy with a cup of tea and a good book, a book that is somehow even better  when read to the sound of drops drumming on the roof.

Rain is small boys in fireman slickers and boots.  It’s a chance to marvel at the fact that puddles and boys seem to have a magnetic attraction to each other.  It’s learning that — boots notwithstanding —  those boys will get their jeans soaked,  and that a change of clothes is a small price to pay for a half-hour’s joyful slosh through the sidewalk gutters.

Rain is the promise of color. It  turns the hills of drought-stricken California from an eerie moonscape gray-brown  into a beautifully vivid green.  It makes the commute look like a drive through England, inviting memories of long-ago travels and dreams of future itineraries.

Rain is hope for the future.  It waters the thirsty crops in the Central Valley and the flowers in my front-yard beds.  It makes California water experts breathe a little more easily.

Most of all, rain is a teacher.  It reminds us that there are many things in nature that we can’t control.  It tells us to slow down and scale back our to-do lists while inviting us to channel the puddle-jumping spirit of childhood.  It teaches us patience, and gratitude.   And I’m very, very glad it’s here.

What do you love about the rain?

February spring

 

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Don’t hate me, hardy and intrepid folks who live in snow country, but it felt like spring around here this weekend.  And it was nice.

I hasten to add that the only reason that I can enjoy this warm weather without guilt is because rain (lots of rain) is predicted for later in the week.  I hope it’s true, because California is thirsty.  But it was lovely to have balmy temperatures and sun and blue skies, and to have the following spring-y experiences.

1.  The tapestry of color at the nursery.  I wanted to buy it all, but I contented myself with three six-packs (I sound like a frat boy, don’t I?) and one large multi-colored snapdragon.

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2. Memorable little-boy observations.   There was a flowering pussy willow tree at the nursery, and  I called the boys over and had them touch it.  ”Doesn’t it feel like a cat?”  I asked.

“It feels more like a dog,” said my younger son.

“I’m glad it’s not a real cat,” said my first-grader, “because I’m allergic to cats.”

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3.  Dirt therapy.  The boys and I weeded, I pulled out an old dead straggly penstamon, and it just felt so good to be digging again.  Bringing color and prettiness to a tiny corner of the planet does a lot for one’s mood.

4.  Spreading the gardening love.  The boys helped me plant the tiny blue and purple violas and raspberry-pink bellis.   “Pat the dirt down around the plants,” I told them, “and tuck them in tight.”  Luke was quite taken with the experience and called his little section of flowers a “family.”  I looked over at one point to see him holding a tiny plant to his cheek and smiling.

I know just how he feels.

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Blog tour: Rooted in Love by Margaret Blackie

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Need some spiritual food for thought?  Check out these quotations:

“It is impossible to engage seriously in deepening your relationship with God without deepening your relationship with others.  It is also impossible to do either of those things without coming to know yourself better in the process.”

“Faith, if it is to have any impact on our lives, cannot just be intellectual; it must be visceral.”

“The whole purpose of faith is to know God’s presence right now, in and through whatever it is that we are doing.”

All of these bits of wisdom are from one terrific book. The book is Rooted in Love: Integrating Ignatian Spirituality Into Daily Life by Margaret (Mags) Blackie.  Remember that name, because if you are looking for a book to rejuvenate your spiritual and/or prayer life, this is one of the best ones to cross my path in quite a while.

Blackie’s background is fascinating; she’s a scientist and a spiritual director (more on that later) who has spent years walking with others as they work on deepening their relationship with God.  As she explains early on in the book, she has found the spirituality of St. Ignatius of Loyola (founder of the Jesuit order of priests) to be particularly helpful in her own life, thus leading her to write this book to share the insights with others.

If you’ve never heard of Ignatian spirituality, that’s no barrier to reading this book. Blackie explains it in such a way that both novices and those with more experience can benefit from her insights.  Through her book you see how prayer doesn’t have to involve leaving it all behind and withdrawing from the world.  As Blackie writes, “Ignatius expected that we would find God in all of our daily activities, not just in the ones that appear to be ‘holy’ or intentionally directed towards God … Ignatian spirituality is then a spirituality designed to be lived in the midst of life.”  (On a personal note, this is what I’ve come to love about Ignatian spirituality: it trains you to recognize the touch of God in all aspects of life, not just the “churchy” moments).

I read this book slowly over the course of about a month, and my engagement with it was strong the entire time.  Blackie has a clear and elegant way of writing about spirituality.  She shares helpful personal anecdotes to illustrate the spiritual insights, with the result that nothing is airy or abstract.     I found that the book invited me to think about how I spend my time, where I find my truest joy, and which things I hold onto a little bit too tightly.    It challenged me to realize what lies underneath the things I want, and to recognize which things in my life are pulling me away from my most authentic self, and which aren’t.  It’s hard to think of any adult who wouldn’t benefit from an accessible, wise book like this one.

I had the chance to ask Mags a few follow-up questions about herself and about her recommendations on jump-starting one’s prayer life.  You can also find out more about her and her book on her blog.

DSC_0076-199x300Ginny:  You are both a scientist and a spiritual director.  Some would say that those two fields are wildly different from each other.  How does the scientific part of your life feed the spiritual, and vice-versa?

Mags: This is a question I find difficult to answer. There is no straight line to be drawn between the two, no direct causal effect. Nonetheless I have tried to live as purely scientist or purely spiritual director and neither has worked well. Somehow to be fully myself I need both. I see evidence of the glory of God deeply embedded in both, but quite why it necessary for me to straddle these two worlds remains a mystery to me.

 

Ginny:   Lots of my readers are moms.  What would you say to a mom who says, “Ignatian spirituality sounds interesting, but I just can’t think of adding one more thing to my busy life?”

 

Mags: Having just spent two months with my sister and my two sweet nephews I do understand this. Firstly, don’t feel guilty for not being able to give a chunk of time when you have little children. That phase will pass. I would suggest taking mental time while you perform a task you do every day to just ask yourself three simple questions.

1) How am I?

2) What am I most grateful for in this moment?

3) How is God looking at me?

That exercise can be done in 5 min while you are doing the dishes, or brushing your teeth. Just take a few moments to ground the whirlwind busyness by paying attention to where you are, looking for something to be grateful for and holding that before God.

That mini prayer practice will give you a tether through the years of small children and will be manageable most days.

Ginny:  What would you say to someone who says, “I try to sit down and pray, but I don’t feel like anything is happening when I do?”

Mags: Don’t worry too much about how you ‘feel’ in the time of prayer. Pay attention to the fruit. Do you have a sense that God is present and active in your life? If so, where. Take time to be consciously grateful to God for that. Having said that, it may be time to try a different prayer practice. And I would strongly recommend talking with a spiritual director or a prayer partner.

If you want to know more about Mags, check out her blog.  Rooted in Love is available on Amazon.com.  Read it!   — you’ll be glad you did.