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Bethany Hang Out

Catholic contemplative life and devotion

Author

Shawn Rain Chapman

Shawn Chapman is the mother of two young adult daughters, enthusiastic grandmother of three small children, a Discalced Secular Carmelite and writer. She is the Catholic Columnist for Bryan-College Station Eagle Newspaper and a Care Giver and author of the book Come to Mary's House, spending time with Our Blessed Mother from Our Sunday Visitor, available anywhere books are sold. She likes hanging out with friends, reading, and cooking awesome vegan food.

Prayers and reflections for the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary

Bethany Hang Out

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Lessons in Prayer of the Heart

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 I went to see Fr. Cassian Sibley to discuss  Prayer of the Heart in the Eastern Orthodox tradition. The sign on the house read, Theotokos of the Life-Giving Spring Russian Orthodox Church. That has to be the coolest church name I have ever heard in my life.  I told Fr. Cassian so when he opened the door. He is a cheerful man with a kind face and a big bushy beard. He offered me coffee and showed me an assortment of beautiful prayer ropes, or “chotki” used for the meditative repetition of the “Jesus Prayer,” (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”) which is at the core of Prayer of the Heart. Some of the chotkis were made with beads, some with knots in the shape of crosses. Some were quite long, and some were tiny, designed to fit on a baby’s wrist. 

He explains that the simple repetition of the Jesus Prayer is the most common use for lay people, in order to pray without ceasing as they go about their busy lives. I am familiar with this because of one of my favorite spiritual books, The Way of the Pilgrim/The Pilgrim Continues His Way. The pilgrim wanders across Russia praying the Jesus Prayer until his heart prays it continually without effort. The book charts his travel, conversations and spiritual growth in the prayer. 

Fr. Cassian points out that by replacing the “me” in the prayer with the name of someone else, one can use the prayer as an intercessory prayer – while warning that one does not use the phrase “a sinner” while doing so, since a Christian has no authority or right to judge another.

I had brought a rose for Mother Mary which he put in the chapel.  Then I followed him into a pleasant sitting room filled with morning light, and comfortable furniture, lined with books. A parrotlet sang from a nearby cage. I got out my notebook but the conversation was so interesting and lively that I hardly took any notes. I couldn’t have been more content. I was sitting in a cozy chair conversing with an extremely intelligent and deeply spiritual person in a relaxed and friendly way, neither of us hurried. Priests are busy people so I was aware of what a gift his time was.   

Fr. Cassian grew up Southern Baptist but was, as an early teen drawn to the Anglican Church and was preparing to be ordained as an Episcopal priest. As he studied theology though, he became more and more sympathetic to the Orthodox Church, and as a teen, he had read the J.D. Salinger novella, Franny and Zooey, and been introduced to the Jesus Prayer and The Way of the Pilgrim. Eventually he converted to Eastern Orthodoxy and ultimately was ordained as an Orthodox priest. 

I told him my story of being tricked by Mother Mary into falling for Jesus and the Catholic Church after having grown up without religion. He chuckled knowingly and we talked about Mary in both our traditions. I really like the Orthodox title for her, “The Theotokos,” meaning “God-bearer.” 

Our discussion turned to the life of prayer as experienced and expressed in each of our faiths’ contemplative traditions. We have so much in common. There are some interesting differences in our mystical theology, and in our ideas about the experience of Heaven. The Orthodox regard heaven as a continuous free growth of divinization -as an “ever moving rest” – which the Orthodox feel is in contradiction to the experience of what the Western Church calls the Beatific Vision. I said that St. Therese is busy “spending [her] Heaven doing good on earth,”  so maybe we’re not so different there after all. 

We discussed Confession, local events and world news, Church history, the degrees of union with God, the differences between praying with the chotki and the rosary, (for instance we use imaginative prayer and the Orthodox strongly caution against it). 

We talked about the importance of being willing to know Jesus as he is, being ready to shed our own ideas and misconceptions and our lamentable tendency to only accept the aspects of the Lord that we are comfortable with. 

I learned some Greek words and heard a few Russian ones I would be unable to reproduce. 

Eventually we came to the point of my visit, the practice of Hesychasm (the path of deep prayer and living the life of prayer in the Orthodox tradition) and the practice of Prayer of the Heart.  

Before Fr. Cassian gives me practical instructions, he cautions that if one desires to enter into this practice, a spiritual guide, teacher or spiritual director is extremely helpful – which is why the more mystical and non-verbal use of the Jesus prayer is more common, in Orthodoxy, amongst monastics and those with a monastic spiritual father or mother. 

He goes on to say that today in Western Society we think of ourselves as centered in the brain, the mind, and that we tend to pray from there. Biblically, however, the heart is seen as the center of the person where both thoughts and spiritual movements occur. In Orthodox prayer, the pray-er seeks to redirect his or her awareness from the head down into the heart. Fr. Cassian touches his heart often as he speaks, seemingly unconsciously, closing his eyes when he does so. It seems to me that when he does this, a switch is flipped somewhere, a “peace switch” that visibly changes his entire demeanor. Maybe it is a breaker switch because I feel it too! 

Practical Instructions for Prayer of the Heart

Stand or sit comfortably with your back relatively straight, in silence, solitude and stillness. 

Breathe in, and allow one’s conscious awareness to follow that breath as one prays, silently, “Lord Jesus Christ”

Exhale slowly, maintaining, if possible, one’s conscious awareness in the heart, as one prays silently, “Son of God,” 

Inhale, as before, while silently praying “have mercy on me”

Breathe out slowly and prayerfully acknowledge that one is “a sinner.” 

Slowly repeat this cycle again and again. 

Continually bring your awareness into your heart, bringing Jesus’ Name, his presence into it. Eventually it will be the heart that keeps time, so to speak, and the heart that speaks. After that, everything is up to God, and God alone.

The true Prayer of the Heart as he describes it sounds like what a Carmelite would call the grace of infused contemplation, where it is God who acts within us, and we are drawn into union with him. 

We talk about the traditional understanding  of the progress of the soul through the Purgative Way (purification), the Illuminative Way (the growing knowledge of God and his ways) and finally the Unitive Way (one-ness with God).  

Before I leave, Fr. gives me a copy of his wife’s new book of poetry, Zoom and the Neanderthal Girl by Olympia Sibley, (I highly recommend it!) and I give him a copy of my book, Come to Mary’s House; Spending Time with Our Blessed Mother. (Release date September 26)

He invites me to come again, perhaps for dinner with his wife and him. I say that would be great. 

I had set out today to write about the Prayer of the Heart but I can’t help but feel that perhaps Fr. Cassian and I have begun to do our part in healing the Great Schism one conversation, one prayer, one friendship at a time. 

*My thanks to Fr. Cassian Sibley for his assistance with this piece.

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Let Mary be real to you in the Rosary

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An aspect of the rosary I love is that praying the mysteries, the stories of the lives of Jesus and Mary helps us remember that the Virgin Mary was and is a real human being. Her life, entwined with her Son’s was an actual earthly life just as ours is. That seems like an obvious thing to say about her but do we really think of her as a real person? Sometimes, though our stylized and symbolic depictions of her are pretty, I wish at least sometimes her Immaculate Heart would be drawn or painted more anatomically, like a Frieda Kahlo heart perhaps. I think this type of image would bring us closer to the everyday very real Mary who had a beating human heart in her chest.

Or maybe we could see her represented working hard with sweat under her arms for once!

Don’t you feel closer to her if you imagine her feet in the dirt of her garden or the weave of the rough fibers of her homespun dress, or when you imagine her laughing? I do. I always do. 

I want her to be a sister and a friend to me as well as my teacher of prayer, mystical queen and holy mother. 

I love the way Our Lady is presented in all of those gorgeous poetic prayers. But I need a hug. I want to put my face on her shoulder and smell that Mary smell. 

I want to love Jesus as completely as she does. I want to see everything and everyone through God’s heart as she sees all of us. 

I want to pray simply as clear morning light, pondering Jesus in my heart and the law of love continually in all I do, in all Mary and I do together. I want her always with me and I want myself always with her. 

I want to practice Marian mindfulness, being always aware of the presence of the Lord and his beauty.  

I want to be ready for anything God gives or calls me to, and to “arise with haste” and joy to go and act on it, share it with people and all of life as Mary did and still does from Heaven. I want to help her with her work for the kingdom, wherever she wants to take me. She is always reminding me to listen and to do whatever Jesus tells me. 

I want to come home to Mary and cook dinner with her. I want to listen to her concerns for her children and I want to be able to comfort her. I want to walk with her, hear her stories and share her happiness. 

I hope to plant more roses in her garden. I’d like to pick some too, and sprinkle the petals over her head and watch her laugh. 

It’s so easy to make her smile. 

When you think of Mary, when you pray the rosary and let her guide you through the mysteries of Jesus, let her be real to you. It will make all the difference. It will make you smile too. 

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Mary at the foot of the Cross; a reading from my book Come to Mary’s House; spending time with Our Blessed Mother


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A reading on spiritual childhood from my book, Come to Mary’s House

A Reading from my book, Come to Mary’s House

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Available now for preorder on Amazon, Barnes and Nobles, Target Books and Our Sunday Visitor Book Store (and other places too)

Release date September 26

How to pray Lectio Divina

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Lectio Divina is an ancient prayer form developed by the Benedictines in the 6th century, a way to deeply pray with Scripture. One read attentively, pondered, as Mary did, the word of God, responded back to God, and rested in simple contact with him. In the 12th century a monk called Guigo decided to divide it into more definite steps. For me over time this prayer became less formal and more of a flow that happens naturally in the Spirit. In fact with long practice it is just the way I hear and respond to Scripture when I am really paying attention. Maybe that is how this prayer arose before it had a set of concrete steps to follow. The pray-er experienced a natural, Holy Spirit guided progression between attentive reading, deep prayerful pondering and simple rest in loving awareness and receptivity to God’s presence.

It was cool of Guigo to organize this into steps however. The steps helped me a lot when I was new to it and still do sometimes especially when I am upset and can’t focus. Also everyone is different. Some people pray more freely with a sense of order and clarity. Others do best with spontaneity and receptivity. God loves both of these and can work with equal grace with every soul, no matter the preference.

Here are the steps.

Step One Lectio: First, slowly and reflectively read a passage of the Bible three times, paying special attention to any word or phrase that catches your attention. 

Step Two Meditatio: Quietly ponder the word or phrase that stands out to you slowly repeating it in silence. Ask the Lord what he is saying to you in this Word, brought to your attention by the Holy Spirit.   

Step Three Oratio:  When you receive light on what God is saying in your soul through that word or phrase, respond back to God in prayer, perhaps asking for all that you need to carry out his will, or maybe in praise and thanksgiving; whatever is appropriate. Have a conversation with him.

Step Four Contemplatio:  Rest now in simple love, in communion with him for a time.   

Some people will add: 

Step Five Actio: Like Mary after the Annunciation, arise with haste and act on what you have received in prayer! (Luke 1:39)

Encounters with God don’t always lead us into immediate service but if they do go with it!

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General advice:

If I don’t have a particular Biblical passage in mind I choose from the mass reading of the day. I consider the readings of the day to be chosen by the Holy Spirit. If none of these particularly catch my attention I pick the Gospel reading. 🙂

You can find the daily readings here https://bible.usccb.org

The number of minutes you pray Lectio Divina is up to you. God will definitely be there throughout regardless. He is unlimited by time. 5, 10, 15 or 30 minutes will all work. I tend to set a a quiet alarm so I am not tempted to worry about time. I know the sound will call me back at the right moment and I can relax into prayer.

If you are new to silent interior prayer, I suggest you start with 5 or 10 minutes at first. You are more likely to make a habit of prayer when you feel you can succeed and are less likely to feel overwhelmed and avoid it. Baby steps!

Some people say to pray at the same hour in the same place every day. You may find this helpful in creating the habit and sticking with it. At times I have found that helpful too.

To me any quiet and solitude I can find will work. And anyway I like to change things up now and then.

Always remember that God responds to any good faith approach. He doesn’t get all weird, scrupulous or worried about things the way we do. He just wants to be with us.

“All I need is Jesus, His will, and silence.” – St. Miriam of Jesus Crucified

See? That’s pretty simple.

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What I did this summer plus a surprise!

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I know I’ve been quiet this Summer. It’s been a busy, hot and stressful summer so far. I feel like I’ve either been busy or tired. I’m certainly not one of those writers that sits down at a desk and writes all day the way I have read that some do. I tend to write obsessively for a while and then not write for a while. I am always writing in my head though. So maybe I should be one of those writers who writes all the time. I will have to work on that. Whenever I have an “all the time” to do that in. 🙂

We took in a cat who is a great cat (Annie) but she turned out to be pregnant. She had six lovely kittens April 30. We live in a little apartment so when they began running around and then reached that really obnoxious age where they seem totally crazy and become destructive little gymnasts, it was a bit much even for us. However we had no trouble finding wonderful homes for all but one, the most hapless one who we decided may as well stay on. We love her. My granddaughter named her Princess Buttercup.

I’ve been helping to found a new non profit in my community. That’s been exciting. I will write more about it when we are closer to getting all the way off the ground. It will have to do with helping those in need, helping connect the dots for them and staying with them through the process of finding help until they have actually gotten the help they need. It will be a community center, a food pantry, and a hub for local available services (with comprehensive case management for people in crisis.) We already have an office too! We will have a community garden and oh my goodness we are doing so much stuff! So that’s the gist of it. We have lots of ideas and I am so delighted that more than we even expected is happening, really happening.

I’ve been watching grandchildren on the days I am not working. Those are some stellar little kids. They kill me! My granddaughter I live with is getting ready to begin school again. (First grade!) This is a relief to her and to us as she has been so bored and driving us nuts!

My youngest daughter (who lives with me) started performing in public again. She is a singer/song writer/guitarist. It’s been years since she has done so and we are so proud of her for getting back out there. She heads back to college in a couple days.

My eldest has been into archery and modeling and painting cow skulls she sells at a store called “Cowboy Up.” Also she works as a secretary at an appliance installation place. Both girls are raising their children admirably though, there sure have been a lot of struggles in their lives this summer. Good thing they are both so tough.

I spend most of my work day outside and it’s been a crazy hot summer here in Texas! I can hardly keep my plants alive either!

My friend Molly flew me up to Duluth to see her for a few days. What a beautiful town and a wonderful escape from our weather! We had a blast. She is one of those friends that you end up having four hour conversations with. We talked and laughed our heads off!

So that’s my “What I did this summer” run down.

Most of all, however, I checked on my book today and was utterly astonished to see that it’s already available on Amazon Kindle. I can’t believe it! I wanted to let you know about this crazy surprise, reader!

The print version can be pre-ordered and will be released September 26th. But if you want to you can already read it! WHAT?!

Here it is! Yay!

Christian Widowhood

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The widow’s place in the Church in our times seems a bit vague. We are not exactly single. We are alone without our spouses, but they do exist in the next life. Often we are single moms, whose place in the Church seems elusive as well.   

The eventual death of a spouse is not spoken of in our marriage preparation. I think it should be talked about. One partner is sure to experience it. 

I have come to think of my widowhood as “part two” of my vocation as a wife. I just discovered that the Church agrees with me. “Widowhood, accepted bravely as a continuation of the marriage vocation, should be esteemed by all” ( Gaudium et spes, 48) 

I am profoundly altered both by the love I knew and the suffering I lived through.  

We widows have a lot to give. We have learned to be co-redeemers with Our Lady. Our hearts are wells of a unique compassion for all in mourning or sorrow. We have learned the depths of love. 

If you find yourself on the widow’s path, here are my own discoveries I hope will help. 

Your husband was unique and unrepeatable, containing a universe of his own, and in whom God dwelled.God remembers and cherishes everything about him. He is alive in God and he continues his journey. 

Your relationship with your husband was unique and unrepeatable, containing a universe of its own, cherished and remembered by God. It is alive in God and still accessible to you spiritually.  

As St. Teresa of Avila said, God lives within us, enthroned in the center of our hearts. This means that all of Heaven is there in our souls as well. We share spiritual goods with those in Purgatory, and we are all  one in the Lord. 

In the depths of my agony I would ask my husband in spirit, “How could you go somewhere I could not go? How can you be happy in Heaven when I am going through hell? Do you still love me? Are you still my husband?” 

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Of course death was not his choice. But these were the cries of my heart. I came to understand that he was a compassionate witness to my suffering. I received a strong sense of his continued love for me.

That last burning question, “Are you still my husband,”  caused me a lot of unnecessary pain. On the surface it does sound like the answer is no. “There will be no marriage or giving in marriage in the world to come” (Matt.22:30.) This verse has been historically  emphasized in favor of virginity by Catholic writers. This idea was extremely upsetting to me. Why would every other relationship pass through heaven’s gates but not this one in which I became one with my husband? When I was widowed for the second time, this came up again for me because of a homily I heard at mass on this verse. A visiting priest said that husbands and wives always say they want to know their spouses in Heaven but that we needed to let that go. It just freaked me out. I went outside and cried. Priests, when you preach on this verse, please remember me and every other grieving widow in your audience. Say a word of comfort for us to mitigate the sorrow we feel when you imply our profound loss will not be restored to us as the other ones will be. 

The resolution to this question of whether my late husband is still my husband is this:

 Love is stronger than death. (Sngs 6:8) 

Love is the greatest of the “three that remain” (1 Cor.13.) Love is eternal whatever happens on earth or Heaven, and even though all things pass away. I know both my late husbands are very much with me. Not only that but they will be with me in Heaven as well, and God treasures the love we share. St. Joseph is still Our Lady’s husband. He is still right next to her, even though her ultimate Spouse is the Holy Spirit. What we will be in Heaven individually is not clear to us now (1Jn. 3:2.)  However we will be more not less. I believe our relationships will be more and not less in Heaven. God will wipe every tear from our eyes and there will be no more death or separation. (Rev.21:4)

Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.

In the meantime I have discovered Jesus as my ultimate spouse just as the widowed Saints have done. 

No longer will they call you Deserted,
    or name your land Desolate.
But you will be called Hephzibah,
    and your land Beulah;
for the Lord will take delight in you,
    and you will be called espoused.
As a young man marries a young woman,
    so will your Builder marry you;
as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride,
    so will your God rejoice over you.
Isaiah 62:4-5

A whole new kind of love has opened up to me. I feel as if I am a mother and sister to everyone with a free and expansive heart. The love I had with my husbands and our journeys  together have made me who I am. Grief, intense loss and suffering have made me who I am. Taking all of that burning love and sorrow before the throne of God constantly continues to transform it into a greater depth of prayer and service in this world. 

This growth required surrender. I had to be able to tell God that for love of him I gave my consent to this way of life I had not wanted, and that I would stay in this world as long as he wanted me to, in the way he wanted me to. I begged him that this experience would purify my heart and draw me closer to him. 

My first husband, Marc, was killed in a car accident when he was only twenty-eight. We had a three month old and an almost five year old. I kissed Marc goodbye in the morning and never saw him again.  

His death and our loss felt brutal and senseless. 

I prayed all the time, “Increase the strength of my soul” (Ps. 138:3.) And God did. 

Nobody tells you how hard it is not to kill yourself when you are suddenly widowed like that. Only the love of God and of my children kept me from it.  

The Eucharist kept me alive as well. It is a gift from God that my husband had a premonition of his death and  said, “No matter what happens we will always be together in the Eucharist.” He had wanted to renew our wedding vows there and then, which we did.  A friend called this “a preparatory gift of the Holy Spirit.”

My kids and I went to mass every day. I needed Jesus more than ever. 

I didn’t see how I could ever be OK without Marc. It seemed being OK without him would be a betrayal. A kindly widower gave me peace about this. He said, “If your arm is amputated you learn to live without that arm. But that arm never grows back.” 

And so it was. I never stopped loving Marc. At fifty-four I love him as much as I ever did. But I have learned to live without him in this world. 

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In spite of my sorrow I was able to raise my kids joyfully. Our house was like a cross between Pippy Longstocking’s house and a little monastery; a fun, quirky place where we also prayed a lot. We took in many animals, and always had the neighborhood kids running in and out. We were that house on our street where most of the kids hung out. Our family and friends were often there just to be there, have some iced tea, pray in our little oratory. 

I never wanted to marry again. When I found myself falling in love with Bob ten years after the death of my first husband, I had to pray a lot to be able to accept it. I learned that Bob was not replacing Marc. My daughters and I were only setting another place at the table.  

 Bob wrote to my brother-in-law Frank before our wedding,  “Marc’s stories will always be told around our table, his picture will always hang on our wall, and his ring will always be on her finger.” This is how it was. 

Walking with Bob through his journey with Brain Cancer was the most amazing thing the kids and I have ever done. We fought a beautiful fight and we lived and loved every minute. When the time came, my heart had to expand exponentially to be able let him go with love and even joy amidst the pain. I realized I could not deny Jesus anything, not even Bob. His death was beautiful, loving, and in my arms. Ten years later I still carry that great love. 

A  help to me both times I have been widowed was Ronda Chervin’s book on the widowed saints, A Widow’s Walk. She introduced me to Our Lady as a widow, which has meant a lot to me.  

Saints come to us at different times in our lives. These days I feel close to St. Elizabeth Anne Seton, who has never appealed to me especially before. 

She loved her husband deeply. His death was traumatic for her. She was left with five children as well as seven more, her brother-in-law’s children who had been orphaned. After her conversion to Catholicism, she identified profoundly with Our Lady’s sorrow. 

Through faith and prayer, her suffering love was transformed into a powerful and fruitful love for others, especially those in need. She was a spiritual mother of many, founding Catholic Schools in our country and doing every kind of good work for the poor. 

 I’ve been helping to form a new nonprofit in our town even though I feel unequal in every way. St. Elizabeth seems to be praying for me and helping me be brave. As widows we have an understanding.

Something Bob said as we tried to process his terrifying diagnosis of Glioblastoma multiforme (stage 4- terrible news!) has continued to guide my life. 

As we held each other I asked, “What do we do?” “Well,” he said, “We love, we walk on.” 

“Miracle” by my husband Bob Chapman

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