I’ve been following Leticia Ochoa Adams, one of my favorite Catholic writers, for years on social media and I’ve loved reading her blog posts. She has always said what I wished someone would say even though I didn’t know I wished that until she made me laugh out loud or feel totally seen by a Catholic writer in a way I had not felt before. I admire her fearless and thorough self assessments, her frank story telling. There is a freedom that inspires in the way she manages to be rigorously honest about herself without sounding self absorbed or over dramatic. Reading her writing feels like sitting at The Kettle late at night with a comfortable friend who still surprises with her stories and insights.
So when I saw she had a book coming out I couldn’t wait to read it. It’s called Our Lady of Hot Messes from Ave Maria Press. It is the author’s spiritual memoir; the story of her life, a record of her conversion, an experience of her spirituality, the lessons she has learned, her observations about the world, her commentary on the times we are living through.
Leticia Ochoa Adams is not shy. Thank goodness because the world needs her voice, the voice of a Tejano daughter of a single mother who has endured more than her share of trauma and tragedy. Most recently she has survived the suicide of her son, Anthony. She is able to talk about this and the abuse she experienced as a child without being either lurid or glib. She makes it easy to learn from what she has been through and in sharing these things she lights the way for others.
She writes about the ways she, and we, numb ourselves, attaching ourselves to activities and material things that keep us from being with God as fully as we could be like “doom scrolling,” on social media and even more innocent things we become inordinately attached to. She examines the mixed motivations she and we often have with a disarming simplicity and clarity.
She reminds us we should just be ourselves. The most important thing to her is being real. I think she has accomplished that with a strength and self possession that might make you raise your eyebrows a little as you read.
One of her chapters is called “Cussing is Normal” in which she challenges us to consider if it’s really enough to use words like “dumb bunny” instead of cuss words when we have the same amount of malice in our hearts when we say them to someone.
I enjoyed her passages about finding God among people. She saw how Christ-like bar flies can be when they care for one another having witnessed the lives and friendships of the men who hung out in the dive bar where she was once a bartender. She learned the Ten Commandments and honorable conduct as part of a community from the “G Code” at the majority black high school she attended long before she learned these things in church. God had been teaching her all along through the events and people in her life. Jesus had been there.
Jesus is real and immediate to her. He’s watching TV with her on the couch. He’s funny, he makes her laugh sometimes and he loves her. She tells him everything. I appreciate the way she shares how that relationship has grown throughout her life, through grief and love and her search for truth.
She wants us to know she doesn’t have it all together, that we are at home in the Church whether we feel we have the perfect Catholic life or not.
It’s funny that she asked such hostile questions at the first RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) class she went to, she got kicked out. She only went to get her boyfriend to marry her, she says. She had been taught at a different church growing up that Catholics were idol worshipers and that the rosary was witchcraft. She was ready to be hostile again on her second try at the class but she was so blown away by the explanation of John chapter 6 she forgot to be mad when they got to the Virgin Mary and the rosary because she was still thinking about the Eucharist.
“The thing I love most about being Catholic is that I have found a place that hasn’t gotten tired of my questions. I can ask them without fear of being kicked out. Having a relationship with God and his mother does not mean that I know everything. It does not mean that I do not question why things are the way they are. But it does mean that I get to show up as me, even if that means I fall asleep when I try to pray my rosary at bed time.”
Her chapter on the rosary is my favorite one. “Praying the Rosary Like a Loser.”
“I also consider that Hail Marys are what make up the Rosary and each one is a rose laid at her feet. So when I don’t have time to pray the Rosary I just try to lay spiritual roses at her feet like not cussing out a coworker or not flipping off someone in traffic or paying for someone’s lunch. Those are all just as valid as roses to her. And that, my friends, is how to pray the Rosary like a loser when you do not have your life together. You just try not to be a jerk to others, and you think about those moments as roses laid at the feet of Our Lady. And you know that you are loved.”
The feast of the Presentation, February 2, also celebrates in a quieter way Mary’s purification. In fact from the 7th century The Purification of Mary was the name of this feast. These days the focus is on the Presentation of little Jesus in the Temple. That Mary was “purified” used to puzzle me as a new Catholic and maybe it puzzles you too. Why would she need purification and what did that entail?
Leviticus Chapter 12
The Lord said to Moses, 2 “Say to the Israelites: ‘A woman who becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son will be ceremonially unclean for seven days, just as she is unclean during her monthly period. 3 On the eighth day the boy is to be circumcised. 4 Then the woman must wait thirty-three days to be purified from her bleeding. She must not touch anything sacred or go to the sanctuary until the days of her purification are over. 5 If she gives birth to a daughter, for two weeks the woman will be unclean, as during her period. Then she must wait sixty-six days to be purified from her bleeding.
6 “‘When the days of her purification for a son or daughter are over, she is to bring to the priest at the entrance to the tent of meeting a year-old lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or a dove for a sin offering.7 He shall offer them before the Lord to make atonement for her, and then she will be ceremonially clean from her flow of blood.
“‘These are the regulations for the woman who gives birth to a boy or a girl. 8 But if she cannot afford a lamb, she is to bring two doves or two young pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering. In this way the priest will make atonement for her, and she will be clean.’” NIV
As Catholics we know Mary was free from both original sin and personal sin. She was the the Ark of the New Covenant. She was never unclean for even a second. Her womb is sacred and pure in a way we can hardly fathom. She had just born the Son of God. So what’s going on here?
“As with Jesus, so with Mary.” Jesus was baptized though he was divine and free from sin. So maybe Mary’s purification isn’t anymore puzzling than his baptism. Jesus’ baptism inaugurated in a beautiful ritual way the beginning of his ministry like a dedication, an intentional acceptance of who he was and what he was brought into the world to do. The Father responds in a wondrous way, and the Spirit descends on him as John the Baptist tells us.
Mary fulfilled the requirements of her religion in this purification regardless of her personal lack of need for it. God renewed its meaning and made it what he wanted it to be. Like much of Mary’s life how she would have experienced this requirement is hidden. We can however, learn more about the process she would have undergone.
After a woman’s period ended and the days of her ritual impurity (Niddah) were completed, during which no one could eat what she cooked or use what she touched and definitely not touch her at all, or become ritually impure themselves, she would have gone to the mikveh (pronounced MIK-vah). This was a special pool of naturally occurring water such as a spring or a well or collected rain water, enclosed for a ritual bath for the purpose of purification. All married women would have done this monthly and also after childbirth. Many Jewish women still do. She would have gone the night before the Presentation.
Mary would have bathed beforehand, to make sure there was nothing on her skin or hair or under her nails so that as much of her could be exposed to the water as possible. She would have brushed out her hair to get rid of any loose hairs and she would have clipped her nails. Once there she would have undressed privately and wrapped in a towel or loose robe around herself. A female attendant would have checked her nails and hair for cleanliness. Mary would have taken off the towel and walked down the seven steps ( representing the seven days of creation) into the water. The attendant would have made sure she was completely submerged including every bit of her hair. She would have come up and sank back into the water three times, praying:
Barukh ata Adonai Elohenu melekh ha’olam asher kideshanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu al ha’tevillah.
Blessed are You, O Lord, our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with Your commandments and commanded us concerning the immersion.
After this the attendant would give her the towel and Mary would have gone aside and prayed. We can imagine she had so much to pray about with all that was before her.
Maybe God used this ritual to open her heart even more and strengthen her before the presentation of Jesus. Maybe she recommitted herself to her mission, and to her family and to her love of God. I bet she was glad she would be able to hug Joseph again.
I loved learning about the mikveh because I love Mary and I want to understand as much about her life as I can. As Christians we no longer immerse in a mikveh. Instead we believe in “one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.”
Maybe now in the depths of winter we could use renewal and rededication too. We have the Sacrament of Reconciliation for that. And with Lent fast approaching this is a good time to begin our preparations and our intentions for it so we can come to Lent with a free heart ready for whatever God wants to communicate to us during this special time of grace.
We submit ourselves to the requirements of our faith with joy as Mary did, knowing that God will respond to us and grant us the graces we need to follow Jesus.
29 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss[a] your servant in peace. 30 For my eyes have seen your salvation, 31 which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.” (NIV)
It’s a bit of a struggle. Some days are better than others. I noticed this summer that I was more emotionally fragile than I normally am. The anniversary of my brother’s death causes me grief but it hit me harder than usual this August. After it was over I didn’t feel all that much better. I had days I wondered what was going on with me this summer. When I start to feel alienated, withdrawn and broken I have to stop and sort out what it could be.
It could be regular old depression. It could be a stressor in my life. Or ten stressors. It could be that weird wiring I have from my Complex PTSS (formerly called PTSD). It could be grief issues coming up again for some reason. It could be more traumatic memories trying to surface – a process I particularly hate.
In any case I try to accept myself as God accepts me. Someone I like asked on social media whether God is with us in depression. It’s one thing to know the truth of his presence intellectually and quite another for our hearts, for our souls to know it. Of course he is with us.
Over the years when I am in this state that sometimes feels like a darkness and exhaustion, sometimes like broken-ness, sometimes like a crushing weight, I know he is with me, taking care of me, helping me bear this little cross of mine until I feel better.
It’s hard not to feel guilty when I’m depressed. Sometimes I need a walk or to pray. Other times I just need to hide in my room with a book. That last feels like I am being lazy and I feel bad. Jesus doesn’t want me to feel bad about what I need to do to get through depression. It’s hard for me to take care of myself when I am like this. It’s something I have to do for Jesus. “Eat a sandwich for me. Drink some water.” I tend to not only forget to eat when I am running rough, sometimes I feel angry about having to eat. So he says sweetly, “Eat something for me because I love you and I want you to.” And I will for him.
I’m so tired. I have this feeling of wanting to go home but I don’t know where I’m supposed to go. Even Heaven sounds exhausting.
Some afternoons are crushingly tough. Depression can be gray and tiring. Other times it can be a ferocious attack tearing me apart.
I’m impatient with my family, or irritable and I have to apologize.
This time around my depression seems like an agitated depression I have never had before. That scares me because my brother got like that before his suicide, though his was certainly more extreme. I think of this as a mild depression in comparison to what I saw my brother go through and not make it out of.
I am doing all the things I need to do. That in itself is a good sign. I even talked to my doctor; something I tend to avoid if at all possible. I try everything else first that I know to try. I look at my diet, stress, circumstances. I start taking B-Complex at my hardest time of day which tends to be the afternoon.
I look at the roses in the catalog. (I love looking at roses). I blow bubbles. I pet my cat.
I tell God, “I am depressed right now and I’m not sure what to do anymore. I’m so glad you are with me.”
Always I know it is temporary. I will get better. I imagine feeling better, sun on my face, feeling peaceful.
Now it is the holidays which are hard for my family and me, and maybe for you too. However I also know we will get through it, we all will.
If you are wondering if you should be “too blessed to be stressed” or something, (what nonsense), or if you are like me during depression and feel guilty about everything all the time every day, if you don’t know why your heart feels like it’s bleeding, and why you don’t have more faith, (you have plenty!) well I welcome you, and God does too.
Every second, love surrounds you, helping you along. This too shall pass, and once you have done all you can, and gotten the help you need, (I did, please don’t be ashamed about that) the rest is up to the Lord. Your job is to get through the day with his help.
Another thing I do is offer up my anguish to God with Mary, as she asked at Fatima, for the souls of others.
Oh Jesus, it is for love of you, for the conversion of sinners, and in reparation for the sins committed against your Sacred Heart and against the Immaculate Heart of Mary and, (I add), for everyone who suffers sorrow anywhere in the world today.”
I say to Jesus and Mary at the end of the day that I made it and thank you and also I add that I love sleeping and I’m comfortable and thank you for sleep.
The message of my book, Come to Mary’s House; Spending Time with Our Blessed Mother, is that Mary is real, accessible, and relatable. She is our companion in the life of prayer and in our whole life with Jesus.
I filled this little book with reflections on Mary and her life to help you form a connection with a Mary you can be themselves with and feel seen by. At the end of each reflection are brief imaginative sequences. Come to Mary’s House invites you to imagine you are with the Blessed Virgin – hanging out in her living room, working in her garden, or catching up over coffee. The goal is to encourage your encounter Mary as a friend, sister, and mother – in a comfortable, gentle way. By developing a personal relationship with her, you’ll let her lead you closer to Jesus. No one knows him better!
So come to Mary’s house. Help her with her housework, travel with her to hear the cries of the world, fold laundry, make bread, and enter into deepest prayer in her presence and with her help. She will even let you pick the roses in her garden. She makes the most amazing soup!
This book is for all who long for Mary and want to live in spiritual companionship with her. If you want to pray more deeply, love Jesus profoundly, and serve authentically from the heart, you couldn’t choose a better master of the spiritual life than Our Lady.
Here are some reviews from readers so far.
What a gem! The author provides a unique perspective into the life of Mary and how she may be looked upon not only as a mother, but as a sister and friend. Each chapter invites the reader to an intimate encounter with Mary while weaving in humor and personal storytelling.
If you are interested in furthering your relationship with Mary, read this. If you have difficulty understanding Mary, read this. If you know nothing about Mary, read this. If you know all there is to know about Mary, read this. Whatever your history with Mary is, this book will be sure to draw you closer to Mary in a new and unique way. – “M”
This book is extremely well-written. The author uses her own experiences to bring the reader closer to the Blessed Virgin. The writer skillfully balances Mary’s humanity with her spiritual uniqueness. This is an excellent book to give the reader a better understanding of who Mary was during her life, and who she is to us now. – Francis
Just last week I was really struggling with prayer and this morning I had tears in my eyes while “ruffling the little Jesus’ curls”. Since starting this book I have taken Mary everywhere. It’s really full of love. I highly recommend it to anyone. – Latisha
This is a beautiful book reminding each of us of the beauty of having a relationship with the Holy Mother, and how that relationship deepens our relationship with her son. I highly recommend it , it’s very beautiful book. -Anne
This book represents such a warm invitation to build a relationship with Mary, the mother of Jesus. Inventive and imaginative, this work soothes the soul and encourages greater mental prayer. Reading this book has helped me to grow in my love and appreciation for the Holy Family. -Maria
First of all, I do not come from the Catholic tradition. I didn’t learn a lot about Mother Mary, either good or bad. She was just the mother of Jesus, but she held no particularly high place. I always seemed to, from my many Catholic friends, get the sense that she was almost untouchable, unreachable, and certainly from my standpoint, unrelatable. It likely was my lack of understanding or experience of her than it was about the Catholic faith.
Over the years that has for many reasons changed and evolved. One of them was reading the beautiful writings of the author of this fine book.
Her unique style and vision puts real flesh, bone, humanity, and yes, humor to her Catholic faith. It breathes. And I find myself feeling I am walking amongst humans that I can not only learn from but truly relate.
This book does all of that to Mary- we revere her, but also walk beside her, she is our mother, but also our friend.
I recommend this book not only for lifetime Catholics but for converts and Protestants who may yet to experience the richness and yes, tragic loss and challenges of her life.
You will likely leave sensing you have gotten to know someone who you can have a cup of coffee with and perhaps see in a whole new way, or this book may re-affirm the way you’ve always known her.
I found it best to read it a little at a time, and go about your day and sit with it. It will stay with you. Shawn’s vivid stories and various ways of offering encounters with Mary will feed your soul. And make you laugh. Or perhaps cry. But chances are it will move you. – Mark
Come to Mary’s House; Spending Time with Our Blessed Mother is available wherever books are sold.
This novena is intended for the nine days leading up to the memorial of the Presentation of the Child Mary in the temple, celebrated November 21. Of course you can pray this any time you like or leading to any of the feasts of Mary’s girlhood.
We don’t usually think of Mary as a little girl in our country though devotion to little Mary is more common in Mexico, Italy and Spain.
To me she represents the way of spiritual childhood, or as St. Therese coined it, The Little Way. We can also consider this Little Way of St. Therese as simply the way Mary lived, with a pure and open heart free for God, a boldness of trust and childlike faith, a spirit of offering and the practice of the presence of God, all rooted in the most free and generous love ever known before that of her Son. Following the Little Way in Mary’s footsteps could be called the Marian Little Way.
So let us spend these nine days with little Mary and let us pray.
Day One: Mary in the Mind of God
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you. And before you were born I consecrated you.” Jeremiah 1:5a
Before God made Adam, he held Eve hidden in his heart where she lay curled in hidden beauty until the time came for her to be part of life, the mother of life on his beautiful garden planet newly created. After the fall of Adam and Eve God already knew he would bring us the New Eve and Mother of Life. She would be the dawn of our salvation. Until that future sunrise she remained in the depths of the Divine Consciousness like a hidden jewel.
Let us spend some time in her quiet radiance there.
Little Mary, deep in God’s Heart, invite us into those silent depths of Divine Love where we can rest with you.
Pray with Mary a slow, reflective Our Father imagining yourself with her in God.
Day Two: Mary’s Immaculate Conception and Immaculate Heart
Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God. Matthew 5:8
A fond memory of mine is of teaching my children to meditate. They sat quietly on the floor, little legs crossed, eyes closed. Closing my own eyes I told them to imagine their hearts opening to God’s love like a flower opening to the sun petal by petal. They were silent for a surprising amount of time. I opened my eyes and they were sitting very still in prayer concentrating with peaceful faces. My two little girls were also holding their shirts up. It was hilarious!
As we ponder the child Mary’s profound innocence of heart we can remember too, the simplicity of childhood, it’s freedom and clarity. A pure heart is a simple heart. A simple heart is clear enough for God to shine right into. A heart full of the sunshine of God’s face is also open to God’s light everywhere and in everyone. Mary’s pure and open, simple heart really sees us and she sees us with joy.
Take a moment now and join little Mary in opening your heart petal by petal to let the sunshine of God’s love in to light up every part of it. Then take some time to look at the child Mary and let her look at you.
Little Mary, pure and simple of heart, help us to see the smile of God in all things.
Say to her, “O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.”
Day Three Birth of Mary
“Who is she who comes forth like the dawn; radiant as the sun, as awe inspiring as an army in battle array?- Song of Songs 6:10
She will crush your head alleluia – Little Office of the Blessed Virgin
A baby girl is born just before sunrise. She comes at the thinnest edge of dawn when stars retain their glitter for a few brief moments and the moon begins its transition to translucence. She is washed by the women of the family helping at the birth, rubbed with salt to protect her from infection, and wrapped snugly. She is handed to her mother and breast fed in flickering lamp light. The women neighbors take up bedding to be cleaned and straighten the house. Every room is full of the love and wonder that attends the birth of a new life. Everyone goes home. The father of the baby meets his child he never thought he would be able to have. He crawls onto the sleeping mat next to his wife and the family sleeps. But God can’t stop smiling about his secret surprise for the world and every soul he created, past present and future a surprise unfurling in and through the baby now lying between her parents, rooting sleepily for her mother’s breast. Heaven holds it breath. Rose petals drop gently down over the family even as the new father begins to snore.
And God said, “It is good, “ as a ribbon of brightness graced the horizon and the sun began to rise for everyone.
Take a moment now to love and be grateful for the gift of Mary in your life and to everyone everywhere. Feel her baby breath on your face. Smile with Heaven.
Little Mary, you are our life, our sweetness and our hope. I hold you close in my heart.
Day Four: Holy Name of Mary
Your name is ointment poured forth Song of Songs 1:3
I’ve read that in Jewish culture the name of a person is the key to their souls. The naming of a child is prophetic and represents their destiny. We know the Name of Jesus means “Yahweh saves,” which makes perfect sense. We know saying his Name or doing something in His Name has the effect of making him more present. We pray in the Name of Jesus. His is the only Name by which we may be saved. (Acts 4:12)
As Mary is not divine but 100% human, her name is given gracious power is relation to her Son’s. There are several interpretations of Mary’s holy name. “Bitter” is most common which makes sense because of her bitter suffering during the torture and death of Jesus, and her three days of desolate sorrow. “Star of the Sea” is a popular interpretation. It seems to be based on the Latin word for sea which is “mar. ” Mary spoke Aramaic so she would have been called Maryam. This name in Egyptian of the time meant “love,” which is how I have experienced Mary the most so that one is my favorite. What meaning of the name of Mary do you like best?
A spiritual practice of mine that is profoundly helpful to me is repetition of the Names of Jesus and Mary. I do believe saying Mary’s name brings her closer to me and keeps me connected to her. I mentally repeat it during the day, when I wake up and as I am going to sleep; any time I think of it. When I am upset it has a great effect on my state of mind. It helps me come into deeper prayer when I am distracted.
Your name, O Mary, is a precious ointment, which breathes forth the odor of Divine grace. Let this ointment of salvation enter the inmost recesses of our souls. [St. Ambrose +397]
Mary would have been named quietly at home and most likely without ceremony although I’m sure with love. She was most likely named after a relative as was customary. I like to think though that she was named after the prophetess Miriam, sister of Moses. This would have made sense since names are prophetic and Jewish parents are seen as cooperating with God in bestowing names on their children. Jesus was the new Moses, leading and freeing his people, and Mary was a new Miriam at his side as his support, raising her voice in praise of God after their deliverance from Egypt much as Mary did in her Magnificat, her song of praise in Luke 1:46-45.
Little Mary, we honor your holy name. Inspire us to pray it many times today with love, staying close to you. May your name be a precious ointment poured into the hidden recesses of our souls. Ave Ave Ave little Maria.
Day Five: As a child has rest
Truly I have set my soul in silence and in peace as a child has rest in [her] mother's arms, even so my soul. - Psalm 131:2
You have been invited to dinner at Joachim and Anne’s house. When you come in, you see their little girl playing in the courtyard where her mother says she has been all afternoon with the other kids. She runs into the house with a gaggle of them screaming and laughing and you can’t help but smile. Mary is filthy and her dress is frayed. Mother Anne dismisses the other children, washes her little girl’s face, hands and feet carefully and has her help to serve dinner.
All of you smile at Mary’s childish patter and even more as she grows sleepy, speaking more and more hapharzardly and slowly until she crawls into her mother’s lap, almost asleep.
As Joachim recites a Psalm, Little Mary gazes at you contentedly from her mother’s arms. Maybe you were worried about something or burdened with some sorrow. Somehow you can’t remember what it was and are happy just to sit peacefully and look back at Mary.
Let’s settle in and listen to Joachim’s voice as we smile at his little girl.
O Lord, my heart is not proud,
Nor haughty my eyes.
I have not gone after things too great
Nor marvels beyond me.
Truly I have set my soul
In silence and in peace,
As a child has rest in [her] mother’s arms,
Even so my soul.
O Israel, hope in the Lord forever.
In the prayerful silence that follows, Mary’s eyes gently close. You feel her little hand in yours and close your eyes too, to pray.
Day 6 Learning to Pray with Little Mary
But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you. Matthew 6:6
She wants you to hold her and when you do, she messes up your hair. “You need to pray,” she says. She waits. “Go ahead. Pray.” Maybe you ask her, “What do you want me to pray?” To this she asks to be put down. “Stand like this by me.” When you do, she pulls your head down to her level, making you crouch. She becomes very solemn and and you can’t help but smile. Mary puts your hands over your eyes, telling you, “Don’t look on the outside, look on the inside.”
She says, in her sweet child’s voice, “Shema Yisrael Adonai eloheinu Adonai ehad.” She gives you a shove. “You’re not looking in!”
So now try, really try to turn within yourself where the Lord truly lives and try again.
Say with her,
Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One
She goes over the rest with you, nudging you any time you start to open your eyes. She tells you she prays this daily with her family, that everyone does. “But you have to be quiet in your heart and look inside.” Once she knows you have paid close attention to the words you are saying and to Whom you are saying them, she throws her arms around you, kissing your face.
Day 7: Being Little
Let the children come to me for the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these. Matthew 19:14
We forget to be little before God. Remembering brings a joyful peace because it really is that simple. We complicate things and create obstacles for ourselves that aren’t true. Spending time with the child Mary and adopting her approach to life and the love of God gives us a clarity we lacked before. When the archangel Gabriel spoke to Mary she needed only to understand what was being asked of her to embrace it. God was everything to her and all she wanted. She trusted completely, bold and brave and sweet before God as the Holy Spirit ruffled her hair and Jesus stole her heart. She was glad to be small and humble; seeing herself as God’s littlest. She didn’t change at the Annunciation. She had always been this way from childhood.
Let’s remember that we are God’s littlest children so we can find the clearest sweetest peace by living in his heart letting ourselves be loved.
Child Mary help me to understand myself as little and dear that I may love God with bold trust and complete freedom.
Day 8 The Way of Spiritual Childhood with Mary
Day 9 Consecration
At this writing today we celebrate the memorial of the Presentation of the Child Mary in the Temple. This was Mary’s consecration.
Let’s consecrate ourselves to God through and with her.
Find some quiet time you can spend with the child Mary. Let her throw her arms around you. Say to her, “O Mary I give you my heart, my hands, all of me, my whole life is yours. Do with me and build with me what you will, that I may run up the steps of the Temple with you into the arms of God.
Today is All Soul’s Day, the day we remember and pray for our beloved dead on their journey. It is a day to light candles for them, wash their head stones in the cemetery, to bring flowers. There will be masses and rosaries prayed for them in Catholic cemeteries all over the world today and every country has its own additional customs as well. Around here in some churches people bring pictures of their dead to leave there during the month of November. There will be a Book of the Dead placed near the door at church today so we can write their names in it and we will all pray for them during November at every mass.
Everyone is alive in God and we are still in communion with those who have gone before. I remember my husbands, my grandparents, my mother and my step father, my brother, and my friends who have died every day and I know they are with me. Love is stronger than death. And God is the God of both the living and the dead. All things are alive to him and therefor to me as one who loves him, and to you.
“… the world or life or death, or the present or the future: all belong to you, and you to Christ, and Christ to God. 1 Corinthians 3:22b-23
And Christ is all in all.
God bless you today and all of your loved ones who have died. May the tears you have cried for them be blessed. God holds every one of them close to his heart.
“You have stored my tears in your bottle and counted each of them. ” Psalm 56:8b
*The reason it says God keeps your tears in a bottle is because of the custom at that time to wear a small bottle around your neck when you were in mourning in which you stored your tears.
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 theHeart. 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.
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!
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. 🙂
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
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