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Bethany Hang Out

Christian contemplative life and devotion

An open window for the outflow of God’s grace: Contemplative prayer is for the Church and the whole world

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“Our Lord has so many enemies and so few friends, I was determined the friends he had should be trusty ones.”

When St. Teresa of Avila wrote those words, she was in great distress for the Church, for the schism happening within it, for the attacks against it, and she wanted to defend it. So she banded together a few like minded women, and they lived in a little convent together and prayed, living outstandingly holy lives of deep prayer and transforming love.

Why would that help the Church? Maybe direct prayers for the defense of the Church would be helpful. But what difference does hidden holiness make? How does it help anyone to go someplace quiet, enter into deep prayer and friendship with Christ, and to grow in silent sanctity?

By today’s individualistic way of thinking, it may tend to the self realization of the one who prays, but little else.  “What a waste,” people might say. How can that be of much use to society or the Church to live a hidden life of devotion?

Everyone who gives herself or himself to prayer becomes a channel for the outflow of the Divine will into this world.* Every heart transfigured in the love of God lifts up the whole Body of Christ.

By the principle of the Communion of Saints, our unity as Church, all that each of us does or experiences has its effect on everyone else, and on the Body as a whole. This is why after we make our confession and are absolved, we also are given a penance. The penance is not just for us, it is for the entire family of Jesus.

It is one thing to say we are sorry, and another to make amends and to repair what has been harmed. We pray our penance to make amends for the spiritual harm we have done to the whole Church by our sins.

In the same way, the contemplative, giving his life to prayer, heals the whole church and brings the rest of us that much closer to perfection and a life of transforming love; for all the Church, and even the whole world.

“Sanctify yourself and you will sanctify society” ~ St. Francis of Assisi

We are here to help each other. When I made my promises in the Teresian Carmel (Secular,) I promised to tend toward perfection in the spirit of the Beatitudes, among other things, and I promised to do this for the glory of God and the good of the Church.

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Entering into prayer, deep prayer of the heart, not only allows us to become channels of grace, it empowers us to do good works, and in our growing intuition of the guidance of the Holy Spirit in prayer, we become better at discerning what good works God wants us to do, and where we are being led.

“Prayer must lead us to good works, my daughters, good works.” ~ St. Teresa of Jesus

To pray is to tap into the full potential of our reason for existing, which, according to the Baltimore Catechism, is “to know, love and serve God, and thereby our neighbor.”

To pray is to come to know God through direct experience, to love Him as He is, to serve Him by the gift of self, and by helping His people with the love and energy God gives in prayer.

That is why St. Teresa founded the convent of St. Joseph’s in Avila, and why she began the Reform that she did within the Order of Carmel. She did it for the glory of God and for the good of the Church. That’s us.

You may be alive today because of a nun in an out of the way convent nearby, praying for you. Maybe you got through a dark time in your life because of an elderly man in a nursing home who takes all day to finish one rosary, but his heart is in Heaven. Nobody knows that he accomplishes more than anyone would dream.

And what about you? Who knows what you might accomplish in prayer?

“Whoever has not begun the practice of prayer, I beg for the love of the Lord, not to go without so great a good. There is nothing to fear, but only something to desire.”~ St. Teresa of Jesus”

Pray pray pray! Until prayer becomes your joy. It is your core gift to the Church and the world.

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* “Make of me a smooth channel for the outflow of Your Divine Will into this world.” Fr. Adrian van Kaam                                          

Spiritual Combat

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I remember coming away from a conversation with a very holy person years ago, feeling thoughtful. I was much inspired to pray. At the same time I felt like cranking up the Led Zepplin in the car for some relief from too much holy.

The friend I was with asked, “What did you think?”
I said, “He talks about Satan too much,”
This cracked my friend up. Her laughter mystified me.
“What?”
“It’s just so funny to hear you say that!”

I do dislike hearing about Satan too much. Who doesn’t?

However, it’s hard to tune in to the news and not think about that guy these days. He seems to be in the world’s face, challenging all people of good will in our very faith in good will.

Be not afraid. (Dt, 31:8) We come from a long line of prophets and saints, and Jesus is present in us as individuals, and in community, and He has already won the spiritual combat. With Him we can do anything, and, since we are all connected, the good we do has its effect in the world. The indulgent encouragement of God makes our little victories BIG with His endless grace, and gives us power to reign with Him both now and forever, because of His great love. We are the light of the world. (Mt. 5:14)

“The gates of hell shall not prevail against the Church,” Jesus said. (Mt. 16:18)

I heard it pointed out once that if you really think about that sentence, it sounds more like it is hell that is on the defensive. Hell’s gates can’t stand against the Church. That’s us. We’re winning. And we will keep on winning.

The Lord is my strength and my shield. Whom shall I fear? (Ps. 27:1)

“[In] a dream I had [as a child.] … I saw … two hideous little devils dancing with surprising agility … in spite of the heavy irons attached to their feet. At first they cast fiery glances at me; then, as though suddenly terrified, [they… threw] themselves down … only to run and hide themselves in the laundry… overcoming my fears, I went to the window. The wretched little creatures were there, running about, …not knowing how to hide themselves from my gaze. From time to time they came nearer, peering through the windows with an uneasy air, then, seeing that I was still there, they began to run about again looking quite desperate. Of course this dream was nothing extraordinary; yet I think Our Lord made use of it to show me that a soul in the state of grace has nothing to fear from the devil, who is a coward, and will even fly from the gaze of a little child.
~St. Therese of Lisieux

Pope Francis calls this present time a “piecemeal World War III.” Every material reality has a spiritual reality. We are also at war spiritually.

“‘Spiritual combat’ is [an] element of life which needs to be taught anew and proposed once more to all Christians today. It is a secret and interior art, an invisible struggle in which (we) engage every day…” ~ Pope St. John Paul II
And we should be clear about who our real enemy is.

” For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly realms.” (Eph 6:12)
The Traditional weapons of the Church against evil in the world are unconventional. But they are the ones Jesus used to ultimately conquer, also we can put to good use the weapons the Church has been given by Our Lord, and artillery the saints used before us. We have quite an arsenal. Here are just a few of these things to help you fight like a soul soldier in the spiritual combat.

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Prayer

“You have only to be still: I myself will fight for you.” (Ex. 4:14) Prayer of the heart, sitting in silent trust, praying the rosary, any way you want to pray and connect with God within you, all these things make your soul a channel for the loving will of God into all that goes unhealed and wretched. Prayer fills us and encloses us with God, purifies our souls, and pours Heavenly grace into the world like an ocean of light.

“…you have found praise to foil the enemy.” (Ps. 8:2b)

Fasting

This is an old fashioned spiritual remedy too often forgotten.

“This kind [of demon] only comes out with prayer and fasting.” (Mt. 17:21)

Bread and water are customary for fasting, and Friday is a traditional day to fast. You can also fast from noise, the Internet, harsh words, even very small things like sugar in your coffee or ketchup on your fries. The fight against evil in the world is mysteriously amplified by fasting and self denial, and it draws the whole person to be centered in God.

Humility

Satan’s great sin is pride. Humility is anathema to him. God, St. Therese used to say, cannot resist a humble soul. Satan can’t face such a person. There is nothing he can do. “Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, and He will lift you up!” (1 Pt. 5:6, Jm 4:10) St. Teresa of Avila said “He who possesses [humility and detachment from self] can safely go out and fight all the united forces of hell… let him fear none for his is the Kingdom of Heaven.”

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Reading the Bible

Reading Scripture every day, assimilating the Word of God, applying it to our lives, arms us with the knowledge of God and the interior grace we need to live a holy life. Even if you don’t understand something, you can be sure the demons understand it fine, and tremble. ( Here I am referring to a passage in The Way of the Pilgrim) The word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two edged sword. (Hb. 4:12) We should always be growing in our understanding and prayer of the Bible.

The Sacraments

A sacramental life in the Church keeps us always in a state of grace, and helps us grow in holiness, especially the reception of the Eucharist, which is to receive Jesus Himself. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. (Jn. 6:56) The Church is the bulwark and the pillar of truth. (1Tim 3:15)

Confession

Monthly confession is advised by most spiritual directors, and not only helps us to the grace won for us by Jesus and given to the Church, it also helps us heal the world as well. Since we are all connected, …in Christ we, though many, form one body and each member belongs to all the others. (Rom. 12:5,) our sins spiritually harm everyone in the Body of Christ In the same way, our confession and penance bring healing, not only to ourselves, but our repentance strengthens the Church in her fight against evil in the world.

Obedience

Satan’s other great sin is disobedience and that was the sin of Adam and Eve. Trust, loving obedience and faithfulness to God, to His Church, to rightful authority makes the enemy flee in disgust. “Submit to God, resist the devil and he will take flight.” (Jm.4:7)

Mercy

Only God knows the heart. (Rom. 2:2) It is so easy to demonize the human opponent, especially a distant, unknown enemy, when we are in conflict. Scripture says this is not what God wants of us. Mercy is God’s greatest attribute. We should practice mercy constantly, keeping our eyes on God, praying for our enemies from the heart.

Forgiveness

“Father forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Lk. 23:34) is probably one of the most confusing things the evil one ever heard. Our regard for those who harm or threaten us, is to be redemptive and transformative, rather than punitive. It destroys the work of Satan, and wins hearts to love. It disarms Satan and all his retinue to forgive our enemies.

Union with God

Jesus is within us. He really truly is. This is why we can say, “Get thee behind me, Satan!” (Mat 16:23) It is His presence in us that gives us this ability, His grace that gives us that authority. “Whoever hears you, hears me.” (Luke 10:16 )

The Holy Name of Jesus

… at the Name of Jesus, every knee must bow, in Heaven, on earth, and under the earth…(Philip. 2:10) Pray it. Say it. Every day. All the time. Clearly it’s a good thing to do, as the Scriptures and the teachings of so many of the saints also show.

Devotion to Mary

Mary, the new Eve, is in enmity with Satan on the side of her Son as the mother of all who follow Jesus and obey the commandments. (Rev 12:17 ) Even the most cursory glance at the accounts of the approved apparitions of the Mother God, such as those at Fatima and Lourdes, show that this is so to this day. Walk with Mary, pray with Mary, for work the she does. Join her in battle. Ask her to pray for you. Let her be your spiritual mother. At Fatima she said, “In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph.”

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Offer it up

When you are suffering, offer your suffering with that of Christ on the cross. Doing this is a powerful and redemptive prayer. I am glad when I suffer for you … for I am participating in the sufferings of Christ that continue for His Body, the Church. (Col. 1:24) Offer your suffering in intercessory prayer or in reparation for the horrors and blasphemies committed in the world and in our our own hearts.

Good deeds and helping the poor

The corporal works of mercy, done from the heart, confuse the spiritual forces of darkness, by upending greed and selfishness, injustice and lukewarm-ness. This is part of dethroning the one who is all haughtiness by lifting up the lowly. This is the work of God. (Lk. 1:52)

Speak the truth and live the truth

Don’t cooperate with the Father of Lies by lying. (Jn. 8:44) Don’t give the murderer from the beginning any foot hold by hating- which is murder committed in the heart. Avoid sin. Don’t give the enemy of Christ any ammunition. Whoever hates his brother or sister is a murderer. (1Jn. 3:15)

Love

Put on the armor of light, but especially that of love. Pray with love, serve with love. Do everything with love. Love covers a multitude of sins. (1Pt. 4:8) There is nothing more powerful, for God is love. (1 Jn. 4:8)

The Prayer of St. Francis

“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy. O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love; for it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.”
If we prayed and lived this prayer, there would be no place left for Satan to plant weeds.

The prayer of St. Michael

“St. Michael, the Archangel, defend us in battle, be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Hosts,by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan, and all the evil spirits who roam the world, seeking the ruin of souls.”
This prayer is by Pope Leo XIII, and is traditionally prayed after mass, or put in at the end of the rosary. But it can be prayed any time, of course. It comes highly recommended for our purpose.

In the spiritual life we are the standard bearers for Christ, our Holy Captain, as St. Teresa of Avila said.

“… [the person of prayer] is carrying the standard, which he must not allow to leave his hands, even if he is cut to pieces. Just so [those who live the life of prayer] have to bear aloft the standard of humility and must suffer all the blows which are aimed at them without striking any themselves. Their duty is to suffer as Christ did, to raise the Cross on high, not to allow it to leave their hands, whatever the perils in which they find themselves, and not to let themselves be found backward in suffering…”

I hope I did not talk about Satan too much.
I would really rather talk about God.

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“May the knowledge of God fill the earth as water fills the sea.” (Hbk. 2:14)

Jesus in the parking lot

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I saw Jesus in the parking lot after mass this evening. He was homeless and schizophrenic.

We had a good conversation.

I gave him my late husbands’ old pancho that I had in the car with me. I don’t think he really wanted it. I think he took it to be kind.

He was lonely and worried. He was elderly with faded blue eyes.

“What’s schizophrenic?” He asked me. “Do you think maybe Jesus was schizophrenic?”

He said, “I bet Jesus had a lot of good jokes.”

His name was John Wilkinson.

He knew the Hail Mary and we prayed it together.

He asked if maybe homeless people were God’s chosen ones. I said I bet they are.

He was tired.

He kept talking I think because he was lonely. He cried when I left. I did too.

Some things I will never understand.

We should do better. We should do better than this.

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Lenten seeds

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I love Lent.I am always happy to hear that I am dust, and that to dust I shall return.When I close my eyes to pray, I can really tell I am dust. In here where I live, it’s quiet and dark. Simple. Nothing to it.  Who am I?

Dust.
Clay.
Nothing.
Everything.
Inwardly quiet and dark,yet full of exploding light in the cave of my heart,just like you.

As St. John of the Cross points out, sometimes what seems like darkness is the over-whelming brilliance of God’s light.Maybe that is why we close our eyes when we pray. Outside what we can see with our senses is wonderful, but only a reflection of the invisible God. When we close our eyes, we are alone in God’s luminous dark within us.

We know there is light in us by faith. We know our being is created in the image of Him who is light.  Even though we rightly experience ourselves as dust, our hearts are secretly bright because of Who lives there.

At this time of year, roots, bulbs, and seeds under the soil that have “fallen to the ground and died,”  all winter have been nourished by the Lord of mystery and love, though we the farmers are unaware.

How did Jesus rise from the dead? We don’t know. We know it happened, and Scripture says we also will rise, “through the power of his spirit dwelling in us.” And this is so real it is a physical truth as well as a spiritual one.In the dark secret of the tomb Jesus physically and spiritually, in divine mystery, rose again.

I want to follow Jesus into the desert and recommit my life to the Father. I want to share the Passover with Him and the family of the Church, I want to accompany the Lord on the Way of the Cross. I want to wait quietly in the dark simplicity and trust of the grave.

I am dust returning to dust, but my Christian soul is empowered by Him to do and be all these Christly mysteries.

So let us return to be fearlessly this dust in desert wind, this Way of the Cross, this dark quiet of faith, this soil seeded with mystery.

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At the same time as we traditionally renew our commitment to Jesus and his mission, to His Church, to the poor and marginalized, to fasting, penance, and to prayer as we know it, let us also re-consecrate ourselves in silence, and holy solitude, resting in the starry night of expectation.

As children of God we know that darkness also brings forth love, unfurls light, and floods our souls with renewed grace during this sacred time we are given that is Lent.We surrender to this Lord of mysterious rising. We consecrate our souls to His purposes in ourselves and what He wants us to bloom into for Him, for this world, for the sake of His Kingdom. We step into this night of Lent consciously.

We can remember this intention in our moments of stillness and waiting. We can take a little time each day also to purposely  rest in quiet love and allow ourselves to be prepared for Spring in secret. Let us make Lent a secret retreat into our hearts. It only takes faith, hope, and love and God will pour over us the brightness of his invisible light.

Let this Lent be a time for seeds, for dark, shining mysteries at work in we who believe… until the morning star rises in our hearts.

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Warning: God is a creative genius and anything can happen when we surrender to Him completely. We might emerge from Lent new creatures in the power of His Resurrection. Let’s expect it!

Inspiration here: https://youtu.be/eDA8rmUP5ZM

An interview with Sister Celestina Menin about spiritual direction

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I asked Sister Celestina if enthusiasm for spirituality in young adult Catholics is the norm she experiences in her work at St. Mary’s Student Center.She says, “Yes! These kids have a great thirst!”That is why so many spiritual directors are needed at St. Mary’s. The three Sister Apostles of the Interior Life are here, three lay spiritual directors, several priests, deacons, as well as the priests and religious who come in and do spiritual direction every week, and at other times. “It is still not enough!”She explains to me, for those who don’t know, what spiritual direction is. Here she begins to speak passionately.

She tells me that the “Gospel icon, if you will,” of the charism of her order, The Apostles of the Interior Life, is the encounter of Jesus with the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus seeks her out, though she has gone to draw water at a time nobody would be expected to be there, as if she were avoiding others. But Jesus finds her. “She is shown her truth as a daughter, and she goes out to share with others.”

“Jesus is very determined and also tender. He comes very close to her wounds.” He shows our identity is not a sum total of our sins or wounds, but in our belonging to Him as children of God.

“Jesus comes close to [people’s] wounds in a very determined way, but not like a moralistic teacher. He is tender.”

To Sister Celestina, this describes the goal of spiritual direction and evangelization. “We bring people to encounter.God did not send down a book. He sent His Son- into relationship, and that is what we do.”

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One must not “think of the other person as an empty container that you have to fill with truth, but as a brother or sister. So you take interest in their lives.Every human being you encounter thirsts for more because they are each made in the image of God. They thirst. There is a thirst in these students. I think it is important to allow the Holy Spirit to awaken their desires.” That is the approach she takes as a spiritual director.

For spiritual direction, “there are a lot of requests.” There is an intake form on the Aggie Catholic website and the requests for spiritual direction are coordinated by a campus ministry intern at the Student Center.

The goal of spiritual direction is for the directee to grow in holiness, she says. The real spiritual director is the Holy Spirit. She often tells her directees, “It is not just you and me, it is you and me and the Holy Spirit.

“The goal is to discover God’s will and inspirations, to learn how to listen, to discern what is coming from the Holy Spirit and what is not. Another goal is helping to remove obstacles to growth, learning to pray or growing in prayer. Guidance and support are needed “to know what to do with the consolations and desolations of the spiritual life.”

She says  that it is very important to develop what she calls a “double channel of listening”. She tries to listen deeply to the person talking to her and to pay close attention to the Holy Spirit speaking in her heart at the same time. “If we are relaxed and open, and not too worried about what we need to respond, the Holy Spirit will help us see how we can help that person.”

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“Every topic is welcome,” she says, “because all of life must be penetrated by the Holy Spirit, and God is part of all that we do. ”

“The more open you are in spiritual direction the more fruitful it will be. When you are open, you are humble, but this is a freeing experience that you are loved as you are. The moment you bring things to the light, they are already being healed.”

I asked her if she works with non Catholics also. She said she can and she has. “I would need to be attentive and delicate, but still be transparent about who I am.” Her goal would be to “simply place them more and more under the influence of the Holy Spirit.”

She tells me about some of the other things the sisters do at St. Mary’s.They sponsor Samuel’s Group, a program about discernment. She calls discernment, “making decisions with God in the picture.”  

By discernment she also means “the discernment of spirits.” This tradition of discernment of spirits goes back to the desert fathers. It is very important, she says, to “become aware of your interior movements, since God speaks to us in our thoughts and feelings and desires.” It is important to learn to distinguish the authentic inner voice that is the leading of God, from other influences inside us and outside us that can be misleading or harmful.

A spiritual director  can help one learn and refine that skill of discernment.

“You come to recognize the movement of God through your soul like the vibration of guitar strings after they have been touched.”

“Jesus himself had to practice this discernment of spirits in the desert,” she points out. “Discernment of spirits is a fundamental teaching of the spiritual life.It isn’t just do it yourself. It is always with God; with God, and the people God places in our lives. Always, it is in the context of relationship,” that we listen for God.

“The work we do is relational.” She says.

The sisters open their house for what they call, “A night at the convent,” and also for a movie night a few times a semester, just to share their life with the students. They like to cook for the students. “Sharing food is such an important part of loving.”

They have had up to forty people in their living room, and they see new faces all the time, Catholics and non Catholics alike. They also hold Holy Hours at the convent, and these are always crowded.

“It’s a beautiful time in their life for formation,” she says, “because of the particular gifts of that age group; the enthusiasm, flexibility, the energy, the dreams, the ability to take risks, the capacity of jumping, leaping into new things.”

She says that what they do at St. Mary’s is facilitate encounter with Christ which forms disciples, and then disciples “automatically become Apostles, and they go out,” bringing with them the tender and determined love of Christ and the truth of their experience with His transforming love- “into the lunch line, into the class room, into the whole world.”

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*”We, the Apostles of the Interior Life… testify … that the interior life is the real and transforming source of joy for the world. We are a community of consecrated women… reaching out to men and women through evangelization and friendship with a family-like style and a spirit of initiative and of personal relationship that can foster spiritual generation and growth. We accomplish this mission specifically through spiritual direction and formation in the area of prayer. “~  from Recipes for the Interior Life by the Apostles of the Interior Life

Nostra Aetate over shisha: a conversation about inter-religious experience

We are sitting on cushions at a low table, enjoying shisha from a shared hookah in the corner of a light, airy building in a shopping center in Central Texas. There is country music on the radio, and a minty, fruity smoke rising around us in the late afternoon sun.

Frank, (or as I call him,”Frankly,”) is my first late husband’s oldest brother. Our families have remained close over the years. He and his wife, Karin, are visiting from their home in Oak Creek, Wisconsin (Milwaukee area.)

Today, I have set out to interview Frank about his experiences of inter-religious dialogue. I have been reflecting on Nostra Aetate, the Vatican II document on the relationship of the Catholic Church with non-Christian religions. It seems to me that our own Frank is a living example of what respectful friendship between the faiths could look like if taken seriously and personally, lived out in individual relationships and respectful, curious overtures, even shared prayer.

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Frank agreed to talk about his journey, though his natural state is somewhat taciturn. It takes him a while to warm up sometimes… so I’ll wait.

Right now Frank is not sure what he thinks of this hookah business, a hobby that I and his son, Hans have taken up from time to time. He stares at the plastic sanitary tip of the hose we have handed him, unsure of what to do with it.

“?”

While he figures this hookah thing out, I will give you some details to confuse you about Frank. (I say confuse because some of the facts about him are not usually found together in one person.)

Introducing Francis K. Pauc, West Point graduate, Army veteran (helicopter pilot) peace activist, father of an Iraq war veteran (Hans, mentioned above.) He is also a volunteer at the local V.A. hospital, an avid defender of immigrants’ rights, friend of Dominican Sisters, assister of people in the Catholic Worker movement (which was founded by Dorothy Day), and writer of many letters to the editor on issues of import.

He has written a book, available on Amazon Kindle, and in paper back, called Father at War. He is a recently retired dock foreman of a shipping company, a devout cradle Catholic with a long and distinguished history of being active in his parish, St. Stephen’s.  He has been twenty years a lector, a past RCIA teacher, and past parish council member, among other activities.

He is also the token Catholic at the Buddhist Sangha at Milwaukee Zen Center, frequent attender of the Orthodox Jewish synagogue in his area, and he now and then hangs out at the local mosque. He is a regular pray-er/visitor at the Sikh temple in his neighborhood.

Frank is the father of three adult children, long time husband to Karin, who he met and married while stationed in Germany as a young man.

He is of Slovenian heritage but is sometimes mistaken to be Turkish. Lately he has grown a long beard and looks very Orthodox Jewish. On that last long peace walk his beard became a bit dred-lock-ish.

I have known Frank since the late eighties when I started dating brother # 6 in the Pauc family of seven boys, Marc Blaze.

Frank is starting to be amused with the hookah experience. I can tell he is comfortable enough I can ask him questions now.

Fortunately, besides his big, German village wedding, his journey learning about other faiths is his favorite subject.

His habitually taciturn, crabby look becomes a warm, soft- eyed lucidity now as I begin to ask how all this started for him. When did he first learn about other religions, I ask, blowing out my delicious smoke.

Frank says his first real look at another religion was learning about Islam in the Army, since he had to learn Arabic. Then he took a refresher course in Arabic with someone from work, years later, at a Muslim culture center. He made more friends there. They didn’t necessarily talk about faith all of the time. They moved from learning Arabic to talking about their kids, their wives, their work, their daily lives.

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After 9/11, Frank wanted to do something personal to cross the widening divide in our country between non-Muslim Americans and Muslim Americans. He ended up going by the mosque. He found the front locked so he went around back to the kitchen. “I thought you guys might need friends.”

“Are you Muslim?”

“No. I am a Catholic.”

Frank is the only person I know who would show up to an unfamiliar place of worship and ask, “Anybody want to talk about God?”

Frank observes that the prohibition on images in Muslim art has created a very masculine looking art form of geometric shapes and calligraphy, which is beautiful, but, to him, missing something. He thinks it’s a conception of the feminine side of the Divine that is absent. This gave him a new appreciation of our knowledge of the the Holy Spirit, the Giver of Life, “Creator Blessed,” and of our Mother Mary exemplifying and reflecting this to us. He thinks our ability to be spoken to by God through images is related to conscious contact with the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary through whom the Incarnation was accomplished. The Incarnation puts us in touch with how God communicates through what we can see and touch. It’s why, he theorizes, Catholic art is so glorious. It’s because we have Mary, and we are very in touch with that creative motherly energy and imagery.

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He talks about how sad it is that so many Christians have lost their mother. Their art is not as cool as ours, either, he thinks. “There’s got to be a connection here.”

He really did love the Dome of the Rock, though when he went to the Holy Land. “That was awesome.”

But we digress. We smoke in silence a while… listening to the pleasant bubbling sound of the water in the hookah’s base. 

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Years ago, Frank says, he became curious about the Sikh Temple in his neighborhood. He smiles when he remembers his visits there. “You have to eat. They always feed you. You never leave without eating.”

He adds that the music is great. Like a cross between our best praise and worship, and the coolest Indian music ever. Frank likes to find someone and ask them questions like, “Do you think God loves you?” and go from there.

The Sikh Temple he liked to visit was the same one where there was a shooting in 2012 . Frank knew one of the people who was killed. He was among those who offered support. He still likes to drop by and pray.

Sometimes he meets interesting people of other religions in his work as a peace activist. He met a Buddhist monk named Senji on a long peace walk he went on to protest drone warfare. The next year, he, his wife Karin, and his son, Stefan, went to visit Senji in his monastery in Oregon. They had a great time, and found a lot in common, especially in the social justice work the monks engaged in, and their quiet, dedicated life.

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The desire for contemplative prayer was what got Frank to visit the Zen Center in the first place. He and Karin had tried to find a place to learn forms of Christian contemplative prayer and practice in a group and had not found one. (They have now.) So Frank and Karin went and sat with the Buddhists. Karin always took her rosary and prayed that. Frank started hanging around all the time and being part of the life of the Sangha, even though there are some things that as a Catholic he can’t do, of course.

He decided to learn more, and he loved hanging around. They appreciated his thoughts. When he thought something was stupid, he always said so, (he always does, regardless of the company,) and he also gave his thoughts as a Christian. They came to appreciate this.  He liked sitting in silence with them.

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Going to “Zen practice” regularly brought visible changes to Frank.

I remember seeing these changes in him. He became much more playful and open and calm. Less “‘onry.” I think he really did find peace. I could see it in his face and hear it in his speech. I could tell by  his kinder  attitude, and even the way he carried himself. He still can be found at the Milwaukee Zen Center on a Saturday morning if he’s not volunteering, or traveling somewhere.

He says getting to know his friends at the Zen Center helped him delve into his own faith and prayer traditions all the more.

“It’s made me a better Catholic.”

Learning to sit quietly in what was consciously a form of trusting, un-knowing prayer, for him, brought him nearer to God, and God blessed him with a sense of open-ness and peace. It seems the Lord continued to lead Frank on his unique travels through the spiritual world and to teach him that learning about how other people love and understand God is an act of love.

It is worth remembering that Thomas Merton, a great American Catholic admired by Pope Francis, also got to know Buddhism very well, made friends with Buddhist monks, and found ways to share silence and spiritual practice with them that enriched his own faith.

I asked him what lead him to choose to start showing up at the Orthodox synagogue, rather than Reformed. “Is it because of being Catholic and therefore more into deep, rooted, more ritualistic and mystical worship? ” He said no, that it was because that was the closest synagogue to his house. “What made you want to learn more about Judaism?” One of his more rare expressions crosses his face; an innocent, child like look. “Because I wanted to understand.”

He says he became very close with the Rabbi there and began to take Hebrew lessons. He was often invited to dinner at the Rabbi’s house, and even to Passover. He says he doesn’t think anyone can have the fullest appreciation for their Christianity if they don’t get to know Judaism. He said attending their liturgies changed him as a lector. He grew in his appreciation of the Scripture and reading the Old Testament at mass was a more profound experience for him after seeing the very solemn and reverent way it is read in the synagogue.

He remembers a funny conversation he had with he Rabbi who said, “Oh, you Christians, always forgetting Satan isn’t anything close to equal with God,” when Frank was worried about something.

He still likes going to the Synagogue regularly.

Frank remarks that Jesus was a good Jew, and that he thinks of Jesus as his older brother. I smile, remembering that is what John Paul II said about the Jewish people and the Church. They are our older brother.

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I say that it strikes me that his inter-religious ministry and journey seems to be about making personal connections, about being a friend. He agrees with that, though he says he is less conscious of that than just wanting to understand others and share with them. He feels compelled about this.

He says he is most impressed by the people who are deeply and “completely sold” on their religion. He respects the most those who have “their faith woven into he fabric of their every day life. When it’s just who they are.” Those are the people it’s easiest to talk to, and who return the interest he gives to them about their faith.

At times he has wondered if he should stop hanging around Buddhists and the Orthodox Jews.  They were quick to say they needed him around, and enjoyed what he had to say. They felt spiritually up lifted by their token Catholic.

At one time in his life, following a series of crises and being simultaneously very wounded by some in his own parish,  he actually struggled about whether to remain Catholic or not.  It was his friends at the Zen Center and the synagogue, who said, “Whatever you do, don’t leave the Catholic Church.” They cared more than anyone else, he said.

Now that he is newly retired, he can spend more time volunteering, working for peace, and walking into temples, synagogues and mosques asking about God and giving the gift of a listening heart to anyone willing to share their faith.

Frank seems to have been aptly named after the great St. Francis of Assisi, who said, “Preach he Gospel at all times. Use words when necessary.”

Frank and Karin are off to their next stop on their summer adventures; a Catholic Worker farm, then a Youth Hostel, a Benedictine guest house, and then on to Mt. Bly in Oregon to visit my off the grid daughter, Maire, and her little family.

I mention, as we get up to leave the cafe, that we’ve actually been talking Nostra Aetate over our shisha. Frank says, “Yeah. That pretty much rocks.”

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Read Nostra Aetate

Hookah: a waterpipe
Mu‘assel, or shisha tobacco: the molasses-based tobacco concoction smoked in a hookah; often comes in various flavors such as rose, lemon, mint, etc.
Hookah lounge, or shisha bar: an establishment where patrons share shisha

Travel by heart

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness…  wholesome, charitable views… cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner …”
~Mark Twain

This is true. However,  one can travel without leaving town.  Consider the borders of social and economic boundaries,  roles we occupy that keep us from knowing one another, our self protective measures in the face of suffering.  To brush aside convention and fear in favor of love and adventure; this is travel by heart. I don’t know about you, but without it, I tend to create my own world and risk losing sight of the Gospel.

The rule of this travel is: Anything that softens your heart is a good thing. Anything that hardens the heart should be avoided. Cultivate a receptive heart to be a well -rounded traveler. Learn to ignore what doesn’t matter to go places no one has ever been before.

Get to know a “Welfare Mom.”

Be friends with an “illegal” human being.

Hold someone who is dying.

Breath deeply of another’s world.  

Sometimes I am still embarrassed, scared or don’t know what to say, but I have tried walking through the doors when I see them,  making a pilgrimage to the holy shrine of human encounter.

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It’s kind of a crazy place.

Once, an elderly lady I was obediently and routinely spoon- feeding,  smiled, picked up her spoon, and started feeding me! We looked at each other and laughed.

Moments like this happen all the time in life. What if you made a habit of paying attention to their opportunities every day? You would be a seasoned back packer through worlds unknown. Maybe you already are.

Sometimes you will not want to make the trip.

Tradition dictated I invite “all” my “friends, neighbors and family” to my house blessing. I thought, “Not the druggie guys next door.” But I did invite them. They looked great, all smiles, clean and dressed up, obviously totally honored to have been invited. That was humbling. Being humbled feels great.

Make the trip.

 I met a young mom who had to scramble to find a house to clean or a lawn to mow to get dinner on the table for her kids at times when her meager supply of food stamps ran out. LeAnn became a good friend. I would have missed knowing a true poet, missed a beautiful friendship, if she and I had maintained the customary boundaries between “helper and helped.” She would have missed me too.

An elderly man I met during my CNA training enchanted me with his serene playfulness, his big blue eyes. We had fun together while I changed his sheets. “I’ve never met anyone like you before!” he exclaimed. “I’ve never met anybody like you either!” I said. “I think I want to marry you!” “I want to marry you too!” We didn’t get married. But we remain good friends years later. Jim is an extraordinary and inspiring person. To think I could have changed the sheets and walked out of his life!

The mother of one of my daughter’s friends, who is very ill, allowed me to do a few, small acts of service for her. Her courage, humor and kindness have inspired me. She has put a human face on the term, “Illegal immigrant,” for me. Coming to know her has taught me that only what God sees matters. Only His will, His law, which is always, love, matters at all.

Early in my care giving job, talking to my boss, Gretchen, suddenly it seemed I was seeing how lovely she is to God. It was magical, a holy moment, a total gift.  Now I know by experience that she really is lovely, and, fortunately for me, she is a world class traveler! She saw past my brokenness, past the employer-employee relationship, to let me try even when it was scary for her to do.  Her trust helped me grow.

A tendency to travel by heart can help you stay close to someone you love very much even when his journey becomes painful and frightening.

I held my husband, Bob, as he died. I went with him as far as I could until he was gone. All I or anyone else there felt was the overpowering presence of Love. As anyone who has done this can tell you, you can experience love and joy even when death comes, if you just let your heart be there. All that is left is love and you’re not scared anymore.

Habitual focus on what is human and real made me able to connect with my mom in new ways and walk with her through her dementia. It sounds crazy but we had a really good time. It was grace.

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Love is its own wisdom, and God Himself IS love. Love covers all the territory. By love, you learn that the universe resides in each human heart, even your own, and that the journey never ends.

That is the kind of trip I love most, because of the peace, transformation, and joy it brings- a trip across borders God does not acknowledge, to that place where the last is first and the first is last and neither even thinks about it because only one thing matters.

So don’t be afraid to cross the borders. Explore, and love. The fence is imaginary and God is on the other side.

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Lectio for lovers; praying Lectio Divina as a couple

In silent open-ness to God, we set aside our own agendas and open ourselves to God’s agenda, which is always love, love, and more love. What could be better than that?

Lectio Divina (Holy Reading) is an ancient Christian way to pray the Scriptures. It involves reading a passage of the Bible, listening to God in silence, responding back to God in prayer, and then resting in silent prayer for a time.

To pray this couple’s method of Lectio Divina, you will need:

Some quiet, private time.
A comfortable place to sit.
A Bible
A note book and something to write with
A quiet timer
Your romantic partner
An open, receptive heart

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Make yourselves comfortable in whatever way you can best

pay attention,

relax deeply,

be near one another.

You might begin, after the sign of the cross, with a vocal prayer to the Holy Spirit. I like this one:

Come, Holy Spirit,

come by means

of the powerful intercession

of the Immaculate Heart of Mary,

Thy well beloved spouse.”

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Step 1: Lectio

Have a passage chosen ahead of time that you both agree on. We usually choose something from the mass readings of the day.

Passing the Bible back and forth to take turns reading, read the passage aloud, slowly and reflectively.

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Of course you could each have your own Bible. But I like the reciprocation in the giving of the Bible to one another, and in taking turns; one listening, one reading.

As you hear the Scripture passage, listen for a word, phrase or sentence that stands out to you. (Don’t worry, one will.)

After the third time reading the passage through, write your word (s) into the note book you have between you.

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The Benedictine monks, who most developed this prayer form, called this note book a “florilegium,” meaning, “book of flowers.” Writing your verse or phrase down will help you focus as you pray, and be fruitful for later perusal, discussion, or future prayer.

This word or passage that stands out as you hear the Word of God, is considered to be the Holy Spirit speaking to you.

He laughs.

“What?”

“It’s just that each of these verses fit each of us so well.”

She laughs, too.

“Yeah, God thinks he’s pretty clever.”

Step 2: Meditatio

You may want to set a timer for this section of the prayer. Try to make it a light, non- jarring sound. I have an app on my kindle with a nice Tibetan bell sound for this purpose.

As to the time duration, agree on it beforehand. Ten to twenty minutes should do it. But even five is OK if that is all the time you have.

This time will be silent. You may want to hold hands, or put your feet together, and close your eyes.

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• Inwardly repeat your word or phrase with expectation. As you ponder it, apply it to your life and relationship with God. Let yourself be guided by the Holy Spirit, allowing Him to make clear His message to you.

When your mind wanders, gently bring it back to your word or phrase, placing yourself once more in God’s presence.
• Ask the Lord, “What are you saying to me in this word or phrase?”

Sometimes you will want to stop here and discuss, briefly, the fruit of your meditatio together.

Step 3 Oratio

After the timer goes off, take a moment or maybe a few moments to respond with a prayer back to God about what He has lead you to understand or given to you during meditatio.

You might wish to write your prayer response into the notebook and to pray it aloud with your partner.

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Step 4 Contemplatio

This usually means to rest in God’s Heart in silence. I think when praying as a couple, it is good to rest also in one another’s hearts at the same time.

God is love,

and whoever lives in love,

lives in God,

and God in him.

(1John 4:16)

Again, set the timer, perhaps for 10-20 minutes as during the meditatio, and maybe hold hands, close your eyes, place yourselves in the presence of God, and rest lovingly there together.

If it is hard for you to do this, you might choose a prayer word like the Name of Jesus, Mary, or the word, “God,” “love” or “peace,” for your mind to hold onto like a walking stick as it travels in quiet over the next few minutes.

When the time is up, you may wish to pray aloud together the Our Father.

End with the sign of the cross and the kiss of peace.

Blessed are those who hear the word of God

– and cherish it in their hearts

(a responsory from the Liturgy of the Hours)

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*We have found that sometimes adjustments to this method must be made because of time, distance, kids, etc. It can be spread out over days, or sometimes reflections can be e-mailed or discussed in the car. Remember that God cannot be limited by the things we are limited by. He only wants us to be willing, and to try, and He will respond by working His wonders in us. However, I hope you can try praying in the above way sometimes. It is very rewarding and intimate; not to be missed.

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly… (Colossians 3:16a)

The soul power of chastity through all life’s changes

A good book I am reading* begins by saying that the legend of the long, winding history of the Indian Koohinoor diamond began when Krishna gave it to one of his disciples in response to his meditations. I tried to imagine Jesus giving me a diamond. “Have you ever given me a diamond, Jesus?”

“If so, what was this diamond,” I thought.

I know Jesus has given me everything, grace upon grace. But I was surprised when the first thing that crossed my mind was that he has given me the diamond of chastity, and it is of eternal value, and that it is my consolation now.

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Not too long ago, I ran across a secular video about celibacy. It was odd to watch because I am used to hearing about celibacy in religious terms, and this video’s attitude seemed to be, “Hey, look, people actually do this, and on purpose!” There were about five people presented with their various reasons for being celibate permanently or temporarily. The last person featured was a religious sister, who gave an explanation about Jesus being her spouse, and so her love in service was his love, broad, deep and available.

I thought about my journeys as a wife and mother, then a widowed single mom, and the evolution of chastity’s meaning for me. We are all called to chastity according to our state in life. My state in life has changed in ways that have been confusing. What is my vocation now? I don’t think of myself as a single person, really. Being a widow is different. I am someone who lived and fulfilled marriage vows. However, I am alone. At the same time, I am much aware of a deep spiritual connection with my spouses, so in that way I am not alone. I am forever changed by marriage, in all the best ways, and I feel its beautiful seal on my soul.

After the death of my first husband, Blaze, in a car accident at the age of twenty-eight, I didn’t understand what my life was- I lost that much of myself. I slept fitfully with the light on for years.

It felt imperative to me to understand my vocation, to understand what I was supposed to build on and be. I was still a mother. I still loved my husband. Just because he was dead, I did not stop feeling like his wife. I didn’t even consider dating. I had some very intense little girls to raise, and challenges that were hard to accept were mine.

Over the years my ideas about celibacy evolved as I moved from the chastity of a wife to the chastity of a widow. I was surprised to realize that I felt an expansiveness of love, of my womanhood, of my motherhood, as I developed in this new life I did not ask for, but slowly embraced. When I turned the light off at night, I felt enveloped in love and peace.

“Through the silent watches of the night, bless the Lord.” (Ps. 134:2b)

I wondered, during the quiet mutations happening in my soul, if this was how priests and religious felt- like they were half in love with everyone, like their hearts were available to people, and to God in a special way.

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My marriages were beautiful and life giving. I was a very happy, totally in love, fulfilled wife, both times, in every way. My present choice of celibacy is not a repudiation of married love in the least.

One woman on the video I mentioned said that she had always felt “asexual.” I wondered if she used that word only because she didn’t have the language to describe herself as a sexual being who is celibate in expression. In this present culture it would be hard to find any such language in every day public discourse.

I have come to recognize sexuality as a spiritual energy, so to speak. It is like a power current and a connection, body and soul, to and through God. This was so when I was with each of my husbands, and it is so now. It is just directed differently. The proper direction of the spiritual energy of sexuality is what chastity is.

Eventually I felt very happy and whole in my new life. I missed (and still do miss) my husband every single day. But more and more I felt that he was with me and part of me. I loved him as much as I ever did. And it was OK.

My reasons for remaining celibate were changing. It wasn’t because I was broken in that area anymore, or that I still felt I needed to be faithful to Blaze (though some of that has always remained.)

It was because I felt married to Jesus.

As my girls began to be interested in boys and have their teenaged heart breaks, I would tell them just to let Jesus be their boyfriend for a while. “He’s the best,” I would tell them.

I was so perfectly at peace with this idea, that God is the husband of the widow and the father of the orphan, that it was a very difficult adjustment for me when I felt I was being asked to consider loving Bob, ten years after Blaze’s death. It took a lot of prayer, a few “burning bushes,” and a couple of little miracles to help me see that loving Bob was now my way. I came to understand that Christ and I were going to love Bob together. Slowly this began to make sense, and I was able to let that love happen.

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I was very, very happy as Bob’s wife. I was more happy and unified with him than I can say. He said we were each other’s priests one time and I laughed because that is not so far from the Catholic idea of marriage. Truly, we formed Christ in one another and experienced Him living in our relationship. In an ineffable way, though changed, it seems to me that we still experience that.

Now the diamond of chastity is given to me again in different setting, with a new cut. I didn’t think this would happen again. But I cherish this beautiful gift. It is powerful and affirming.

Truly, it is a wonderful consolation. I am still growing to understand it and let it be a fullness in my life. Widowhood is to live with a bottomless loss. But it is also a very special kind of love, and celibate chastity can be one of its expressions. It is less an expression of emptiness, in time, than a different kind of wholeness. This love, this diamond, is the gift left to me.

I heard that a wife said to her dying husband, “I love you so much, what will I do without you?” He said, “Take the love you have for me and spread it around.” That is beautiful and I identify with it deeply, especially since that is something Bob would have said for sure. I think I have started to do this again now, and I recognize it as a sign of life. As Bob and I loved each other, and that love went out to others, this is what is happening in the relationship I am developing with God, in my life as a widow.

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As a daughter of the Church, I have the richness of Carmelite spirituality to draw on, and other Catholic spiritual traditions, too, that speak of the soul as a bride of God. Ronda Chervin, who has written about the spirituality of widowhood, calls this, “Jesus [as] the second Bridegroom.” * (In my case this would be “third Bridegroom,” of course.)

This understanding of my present form of chastity is profoundly healing for me. I feel filled, enclosed, and loved, carried and protected every day, in spite of my still very present loss. Celibate chastity is a positive, liberating presence in me, peaceful and meaningful.

To me, the virtue of chastity is a beautiful diamond, a true One Love that puts all other loves in their proper perspectives, making them even more vivid. Chastity is a vessel and an expression of love according to my state in life. But it is the same effulgence of brilliancy; a faithful, steadfast and complete love.

The more I learn about it, the more I am dazzled.

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“From His fulness, we have all received, grace flowing upon grace.” John 1:16

* Mountain of Light by Indu Sundaresan.

* For more on Ronda Chervin http://www.rondachervin.com/