Let’s admit it: the most important shift during this pandemic for us will be the shift within

My heart is still quietly denying this is all happening at all. Coronavirus, pandemic, COVID-19, lockdown, quarantine, social distancing. There is a tiny place in me that is still shutting the door to it all and hoping that when I wake up tomorrow everything will be back the way it was before Christmas….

I still haven’t exactly come to terms within myself that something irreversible has happened to us all. Like other world-wide, life-changing struggles through which humanity has emerged throughout history, this too will change everything about our lives. We will mourn the loss of much. Eventually we will rejoice at positive inventions and policy changes that will see us into what will be. We are already seeing a touch of that in the new ways we are discovering we can use the internet for education, work and telemedicine. But the most important shift for each of us, will be what shifts within.

In these lockdown months I’ve found myself craving chocolate. More significantly, I’ve been more sensitive. I’ve fallen back into issues that have circled through my life periodically in the past 50 years. With boundaries gone I’ve felt unsafe and insecure. The larger questions of life have been surfacing: What do I need? Who am I? Do I like who I have become?

It isn’t just the pandemic or the lockdown that affects us. It’s all the unexpected and almost random divestment in our life that we have borne because of the lockdown. If I lose my job or my role, I lose the cluster of behaviors, friends, responsibilities, perks, schedules that were associated with it. I lose my sense of “me” that that job helped create, the meaning that I or my life had in that position. Overnight. At times with nothing to replace it. Other situations have arisen like knots in our days. I may be discouraged if I can’t keep the family happy in this new situation. If I’m not great at homeschooling, entertaining, encouraging, working from home, providing for my kids in social isolation. Who am I as a daughter or son when I can’t take care of my parents because I can’t get to them when they most need me? What if a project I worked on all last year has now been scrapped in this post-coronavirus world? How do I find the energy to go forward? The purpose? To begin again. Or change careers. How do I make the best decision in the face of an unknown future?

The anxiety that has bubbled just below the surface capsizing my frightened heart through all the experiences I’ve had during the lockdown has brought me in touch with anxiety issues that are nothing new. They have been woven through my life and have affected me spiritually and emotionally. This may be happening to you. Perhaps you are touching more keenly the wounds of  PTSD, OCD, scrupulosity, midlife losses as sands are shifting. Emotional struggles. Grief. Depression. Fear.

I’m reminded of what I was once told by a wise mentor: What is important is not the situation itself, but how we are with these situations that are calling us to doubt, question, and fear ourselves and sometimes life itself.

The realities that we live through can bring on headaches, sleeplessness, dissociation, emotional distress. Sometimes these can last for weeks, months, years. At times we are aware of how all this is wearing on us physically, psychologically, and spiritually. At other times it remains a secret even from ourselves.

Mindful practices, awareness exercises, contemplative presence can help us come home to who we are, as we are, in whatever space we are in.

Here’s an exercise in awareness you may find helpful:

Take a moment to close your eyes and take a few deep breath. Drop any expectations, plans, ideals, memories, anyone or anything outside of this moment. And relax.

Notice the sensations of touch, sound, taste, and smell.

Notice where you are sitting and the weight of your body.

Be aware of any feelings that you are experiencing.

Become aware of what manifests itself within you as you say slowly:

I am feeling something. I am aware of my body. (Pause)

I am experiencing something. I am aware of my emotions (Pause)

I am resisting something. I am aware of my thoughts and beliefs. (Pause)

I am more than this.

Drop down deeper into your heart. Into the center of your soul. Into that place where God has made his home within you. Where he reigns as King. Where he teaches, and leads, and comforts as Shepherd.

Quietly bow your head to the ground. And adore.

I ask only that I may love: A prayer as I contemplate Covid-19

I do not ask that my life be spared,
I only pray that in life and in death I may give all I am to others.

I do not ask that my things be spared,
I only pray that I might share what I have left with others.

I do not pray that I may escape the broken heart’s anguish,
I only pray that I may never lose You.

I do not pray that I may live.
I only pray that through all darkness, poverty and death,
I may truly love… and thus

truly

live.

Image credit: Apostolado de la Palabra; cathopic

Surviving Depression – A Marian Devotional (Wedding at Cana)

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-fdpac-d47a94

We are continuing a series of six Podcasts looking at Light and Darkness – Courage and Faith – Healing and Hope through a Marian Lens. Each episode features an event in Mary’s life and a particular image we have chosen to prayerfully reflect on together. This Podcast Series accompanies the launching of the Third Edition of my book: Surviving Depression: A Catholic Approach. In today’s episode we explore how to make joy even in our darker moments and the valleys of life as well as how to build joy with others. We are leaning into the Marian lens of the wedding at Cana.

This is today’s image:

Bartolome_Esteban_Murillo_Public_Domain_Barber_Institute_of_Fine_Arts.jpg

 

Image Credit: Bartolomé Esteban Murillo [Public domain]  1617-1682  The Marriage Feast of Cana
Image is in the public domain.

Surviving Depression: A Catholic Approach (Third Edition) available at www.paulinestore.org

 

ENJOYED THIS PODCAST? HERE ARE 4 WAYS TO GO DEEPER…

God has amazing ways of knocking on people’s hearts, awakening desires, arousing questions, provoking an unexpected spiritual fire. If you have enjoyed this article, and are ready to embark on a sustained spiritual journey, here are 4 ways you can join me on the journey. You can learn more about them at touchingthesunrise.com.

Join my private Facebook Group and walk the road of healing with a great group of people. I offer a half-hour live spiritual conference here Tuesday evenings at 7pm EST.

Sign-up for my letter Touching the Sunrise. I write a letter a couple times a month from my heart to yours to support you along the way.

Explore my books: Surviving Depression: A Catholic Approach; Reclaim Regret: How God Heals Life’s Disappointments; Just a Minute Meditations Deeper Trust and Inner Peace.

Become a part of the HeartWork Community, A blend of spiritual guidance, mentorship, and counseling, the HeartWork community is a place where you learn to explore, love, open and nourish your heart, your deep heart where God is dwelling within you.

Breathing Peace. Breathing Fire. Having Courage to Take in the Pandemic

Before COVID-19 I was living my life unaware of my nothingness. As if I were the center. As if I made things happen. As if my efforts would make a difference. As if there was something in me to fix. A world to improve. Holiness to develop.

Breathing peace was about finding calm. Inner stillness. Making me more me, a better me.

But after one month of sheltering inside our convent as everyone else does the same, I realize that breathing peace is about accepting everything that is, as it is. About being okay with the pain. The uncertainty. The not-knowing what the new-normal will be. About not resisting unpleasantness. About not judging what is happening. Rejecting it. Refusing it. Resisting it.

Breathing peace is about breathing fire. It is to have the courage to take in the evil that surrounds me and is within me.

As Simone Weil stated in her First and Last Notebooks, the way to make use of pain, sorrow, disappointment, when almost the entire soul is crying out with one great refusal to receive what is transpiring, is to consent that this should be as it is until our death, even forever. She describes how when we do this the physically sentient part of our soul is split in two. The soul is divided by a “two-edged sword.” A deeper more intentionally grounded decisiveness appears which is free to soar above the sorrow, no longer chained by resistance, no longer captive to a wrestling match with what cannot be changed.

As the poet Rilke has written: “Let everything happen to you, beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final.”

Here is a simple practice to help you do something that is so contrary to the way we normally run from pain and hunger after pleasure.

Breathing in, breathing in your own evil, sickness, disappointment, not measuring-up, anxiety, disordered passions, thoughts and feelings. Imagine all this as darkness or a lost homeless child. Feel sympathy for yourself, sweet affection, loving kindness, gratitude.

Breathing out, bless the darkness with Jesus: “The Lord’s peace be with you.”

You can do this exercise when you find yourself anxious and you don’t know why, when you’re in a situation and you feel out of control, when you are afraid of the future or threatened in the present or regretful about the past.

You can do this exercise for your family, the world, the Church, all those suffering from COVID-19, all the health care workers who are putting their lives at risk, all those who are dying. Breathe in all their fear, all their love, all their worry… Bless them with the peace of Christ.

Do the same for events in the past: people, losses, abuse, the consequences of decisions made by you or others. Do it for everything you reject about your life, appearance, character, health, opportunities, personality, holiness. Do it also for everything that overwhelms you, for the way you feel irrelevant, uncertain, bewildered, fearful of dying, of death, of disappearing.

I love Nan Merrill’s paraphrase of Psalm 40 found in her book Psalms for Praying:

In your mercy, O Beloved deliver me!
O Love, make haste to help me!
Let my fears be put to rest,
fears that separate me from You.

Let all that keeps me from love,
from peace and gratitude,
be transformed within me. (page 78)

I have learned this month that there is nothing to fix, everything to love. Even in this pandemic when the world’s order is now turned to dust, there is everything to love, to be grateful for. Because Jesus is here. There is mystery in all that is happening, a mystery that is beyond the mind’s comprehension. Breathing peace is breathing the fire of choosing what is good for all, for the whole, before I claim what is good for me. Mystery is about putting God first. The other first. About remaining in silent wonder at what is being brought about before our very eyes. Yes. Let all that keeps me from this wonder be transformed within me that I might truly be de-centered, and re-centered around God’s glory in whatever way he desires that to be manifested in my blessedly insignificant life.

Amen

Color When You’re Too Scared to Pray

“Prayer is not asking. Prayer is putting oneself in the hands of God, at his disposition, and listening to his voice in the depth of our hearts.” (Mother Teresa)

Words like these bring my heart to a screeching halt. We have a lot we need in these frightening times. We need money. We need health. We need job security. Or a new job. We need help caring for kids. We need someone to check in on loved ones that live hundreds or thousands of miles away. We need to build our business again or figure out a new way to live a meaningful life. We need someone to understand what we are going through trying to homeschool kids, meet deadlines, and keep a family calm. We need someone to understand our broken heart if we have lost someone to COVID-19. We need someone to care.

Sure, you might say, a saint can say prayer is not asking, prayer is putting oneself in the hands of God. Saints must not have been in such precarious situations as we are today! We feel responsible for making things work, for fixing problems, for building a future, for laying plans.

The weight of our pain is exhausting. It is unfair that we’ve been duped into thinking that it’s all up to us. That if we just work harder… no, not harder, smarter… and put in long enough hours it will all work out…. Hopefully.

And yet this pandemic shows us that we aren’t ultimately able to plan anything for sure. The only sure and certain thing is God and his promise to be with us in the valleys of tears and the mountaintops of glory.

When we’re scared, it’s hard to sit still. When we’re worried, we can’t keep our mind focused on the words of a prayer. When we’ve lost it all, or said goodbye to a loved one over a cell phone, unable to hold their hand at their last breath, we don’t have the energy to kneel and read the comfort of Psalm 23.

If, for whatever reason, you’re finding it hard to pray, I invite you to color. Coloring moves us into a different mental and emotional space, where we can find ourselves stepping back from the push-and-pull of feverishly frantic thoughts. The present moment comes into the foreground. Our hearts settle, and our brains enter a meditative state. Our breathing and heartrate slow down. We begin to rest as we experience the loosening of muscles. Our anxiety begins to fade from our awareness.

Coloring bypasses the rational part of the brain and accesses, instead, that “imaginal” part of us. Negative thoughts begin to dissipate as we focus on creating something beautiful. In fact, coloring has been shown to significantly lower the symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Besides coloring yourself calm, coloring can also lead to prayer. I personally love the coloring book Our Lady’s Garden because I feel like I am in Mary’s garden myself while I’m coloring. I re-experience myself as her child, the one she loves and cares for. Coloring books used for prayer and meditation are made to lead your soul to God’s presence and light after you have relaxed your mind, heart, and body.

Here in this calm and translucent space where God’s presence is more powerful than what we fear, we can—as Mother Teresa says—listen to God’s voice in the depth of our hearts. And in these days of world crisis how much we need his voice to soothe our spirits and open up a future that God alone can provide for us!

ENJOYED THIS ARTICLE? HERE ARE 5 WAYS TO GO DEEPER…

God has amazing ways of knocking on people’s hearts, awakening desires, arousing questions, provoking an unexpected spiritual fire. If you have enjoyed this article, and are ready to embark on a sustained spiritual journey, here are 6 ways you can join me on the journey:
  1. Join my private Facebook Group and walk the road of healing with a great group of people. I offer a half-hour live spiritual conference here Tuesday evenings at 7pm EST
  2. Sign-up for my letter Touching the Sunrise. I write a letter a couple times a month from my heart to yours to support you along the way.
  3. Explore my books: Surviving Depression: A Catholic Approach; Reclaim Regret: How God Heals Life’s Disappointments; Just a Minute Meditations Deeper Trust and Inner Peace. Enroll in the free 5-day email series introducing Reclaim Regret.
  4. Enroll in courses on Midlife, Contemplative Prayer, and a do-it-yourself downloadable Surviving Depression retreat
  5. Become a part of the HeartWork Community, a place where you can ask the hard questions and find a path to a life that is free, fulfilling and fruitful.

Surviving Depression – A Marian Devotional (The Nativity)

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-fj4th-d47a76

We are continuing a series of six Podcasts looking at Light and Darkness – Courage and Faith – Healing and Hope through a Marian Lens. Each episode features an event in Mary’s life and a particular image we have chosen to prayerfully reflect on together. This Podcast Series accompanies the launching of the Third Edition of my book: Surviving Depression: A Catholic Approach. In today’s episode we explore the first things you’ll want to do to survive depression, what the journey is like, and how the Church and your faith can assist and support your search for healing. We are leaning into our Marian gaze by reflecting on the Nativity.

This is today’s image:

Eleanor_Fortescue-Brickdale_-_The_Nativity.jpg

Image Credit: Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale [Public domain] 1872 – 1945 – The_Nativity
Image is in the public domain.

Surviving Depression: A Catholic Approach (Third Edition) available at www.paulinestore.org

 

ENJOYED THIS PODCAST? HERE ARE 4 WAYS TO GO DEEPER…

God has amazing ways of knocking on people’s hearts, awakening desires, arousing questions, provoking an unexpected spiritual fire. If you have enjoyed this article, and are ready to embark on a sustained spiritual journey, here are 4 ways you can join me on the journey. You can learn more about them at touchingthesunrise.com.

Join my private Facebook Group and walk the road of healing with a great group of people. I offer a half-hour live spiritual conference here Tuesday evenings at 7pm EST.

Sign-up for my letter Touching the Sunrise. I write a letter a couple times a month from my heart to yours to support you along the way.

Explore my books: Surviving Depression: A Catholic Approach; Reclaim Regret: How God Heals Life’s Disappointments; Just a Minute Meditations Deeper Trust and Inner Peace.

Become a part of the HeartWork Community, A blend of spiritual guidance, mentorship, and counseling, the HeartWork community is a place where you learn to explore, love, open and nourish your heart, your deep heart where God is dwelling within you.

Just keep taking one step at a time: an Easter path through the Pandemic

I’ve known Sr Martha for many years as a sister and personal friend. She has always had this marvelous way of pointing out what is true in a clear way. Her joy makes me want to be near her as she travels the way of the spirit. It’s a grace to welcome Sr Martha to Touching the Sunrise today.

Help children to get through this confusing time…one step at a time.
Let Sr Martha help you introduce them to the story of God’s love for them and the ever-sure foundation of God’s Word.


This warmly-illustrated collection of Bible stories brings the Scriptures to life and helps instill in children a love for God’s word. Each story engages the child in both reading and praying with scripture. 

Includes a section with some of the most beloved Catholic prayers, including the Rosary!

We are pleased to offerMy Bible: God’s Word for Me at a 10% discount online through Friday evening April 17.

Celebrating Easter when the world is turned upside-down – Easter in a pandemic

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-qt3te-d8e8b9

I’m so happy to bring to you an Easter reflection from Sr Marie Paul Curley. She’s such a great writer and has so much experience living through difficult times. Happy Easter! Sr Kathryn

“Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb” (John 20:1). 

Our experience of Lent this year has been intensified by the distress and restrictions caused by the worldwide pandemic, resulting in a situation many of us would not have imagined six months ago. At the same time, since mid- Lent we have been distanced from Mass and the immersive liturgies for Holy Week. How do we celebrate Easter when our world has turned upside down and we know that the global dark days are not over?

 

This spring: a long Holy Saturday

This year we are all looking for reasons to hope. Certainly, any bit of news that life might return to normalcy is a reason to hope while we are in the middle of a pandemic and remain isolated in our homes. Holy Saturday, however, invites us into the mystery of waiting, of not knowing, of uncertainty….all things that lead to anguish and anxiety and worry. On the first Holy Saturday, many were hiding, anxious, uncertain about what their lives would be like now that Jesus had died.

But… and this is a great big BUT… God was acting while the earth waited, already beginning to lead all to resurrection and light in the radiance of the glory of the resurrection. We offer this meditation based on an ancient homily on Holy Saturday found in the Office of Readings for Holy Saturday. The first video is a reading of the homily. The second is a reflection in the light of the Exultet which is sung at the Easter Vigil in the evening.

Image by Domenico Beccafumi

Celebrating Easter in a World Turned Upside-Down

Guest Post by Sr. Marie Paul Curley, FSP

“Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb” (John 20:1). 

Our experience of Lent this year has been intensified by the distress and restrictions caused by the worldwide pandemic, resulting in a situation many of us would not have imagined six months ago. At the same time, since mid- Lent we have been distanced from Mass and the immersive liturgies for Holy Week. How do we celebrate Easter when our world has turned upside down and we know that the global dark days are not over? 

Sharing in the sufferings of the world certainly makes this Easter unique for me, but this is not the first Easter where joyful celebrations felt out of place or even impossible. Several years ago, my Easter was a time of grief and loss: a close friend had just died of a devastating illness and two family members became seriously ill. Something inspired me to take Saint Mary Magdalene as my guide that Easter, and she has accompanied me through my Lents and Easters ever since. Initially, I chose her because of her immense grief at Jesus’ Crucifixion, but the more I prayed with her, the more I was moved by her relationship with Christ. 

Saint Mary Magdalene is the perfect guide through Holy Week and Easter because, even before she met Jesus, she knew darkness and grief on a level that most of us can only imagine: Jesus healed her from seven demons. The Gospels don’t provide any details so we don’t know much about it, but it must have been a terrible experience of darkness. 

When Jesus healed her, her desperate soul must have seen the first glimmer of hope—a hope that blossomed as she became Jesus’ follower. We don’t know how long Mary accompanied Jesus during his public life—a month? a year? Maybe long enough for that new, fragile hope to begin to take root in her heart. Nonetheless, her overwhelming sorrow at Jesus’ Crucifixion hints that her Lord’s suffering and death crushed her tender, newfound hope. She comes to visit Jesus’ tomb not because she has hope, but because she carries immense grief.

Mary’s anguish at witnessing her beloved Master’s tortuous execution left such a profound mark on her that she is the first to come to visit Jesus’ tomb—“while it was still dark.” Interiorly, her soul, too, must have been in the dark. Matthew’s Gospel tells us plainly that Mary Magdalene came to see the tomb. She came to grieve, to mourn, perhaps to try to begin to come to terms with such a great loss.

Mary is focused on his tomb: a place of death, darkness, loss. Her eyes and her heart are so darkened that initially, she doesn’t care about the extraordinary message of the angels, and she will not even recognize Jesus when she sees him. 

This Easter is for us. Easter is not a time for cute bunnies and jelly beans, sunny days and new bonnets. Easter is especially for those of us who, like Mary Magdalene, are burdened by disillusionment, grief, anxiety, suffering, and despair. 

In visiting Jesus’ tomb, Mary Magdalene discovers that even in death, the Lord has not abandoned her. Though she cannot see him yet, Jesus is there in the dark with her, and he brings the dawn with him. Let us, too, approach the darkness in our lives, the “tombs” where hope has died, where joy has been shattered, where faith is so shaky we don’t think we can lean on it anymore. That first Easter morning, it took time for Mary Magdalene to recognize her Beloved Master in the garden; it may take time for us to recognize how Jesus is present today, in our lives and in our world.

This Easter is for us. In Mary’s visit to Jesus’ tomb, she clings to the Source of her hope in the only way she knows. His tomb may be the only place where she feels she can treasure her memories and feel some closeness to the Lord she thinks she has lost. In coming to the tomb, Mary is still clinging to the Lord as best she can. And it is as this loving, persevering seeker of the Lord that Mary Magdalene can inspire us. Her love for Jesus wins out, even over her hopelessness. Her showing up at the tomb enables her to receive the very first hints of the great mystery of Jesus’ Resurrection: the stone has been rolled away, his precious Body is missing. 

This Easter is for us. That first Easter morning, without knowing it, Mary Magdalene engages with mystery—discovering the empty tomb and running to impart the news to Peter and the beloved disciple, even though she doesn’t know what that news means. A few verses later in John’s Gospel (Monday’s reading), Mary is back outside Jesus’ tomb, still weeping for her missing Lord. And it is at that moment that Jesus appears to her, and his tomb is transformed from a place of death into a garden brimming over with Life. Upon finally recognizing Jesus, Mary discovers that Jesus’ love—a love he died to prove to us—conquers all sadness, all grief, all sorrow, even death itself. 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church calls Jesus’ Resurrection “the crowning truth of our faith in Christ” (#638). Christ’s Resurrection is God’s dramatic promise of God’s faithful love, that this world is not the final fulfillment of God’s saving plan for us. Eternal joy awaits us, and that conviction transforms our earthly experiences, not just giving us hope, but also giving us the courage to continue to act lovingly, even amid great sacrifice and suffering. 

In 2020, Easter is the celebration we most need. It is an important reminder to us to become today’s Magdalenes:

  • to seek the Lord, to look for him both at our tombs and in our newly blossoming gardens;
  • to recognize the presence of the Risen Lord, who has not abandoned us, and to allow him to transform us so that we can bring Jesus with us wherever we are; 
  • and to cling to the love of the Lord, allowing the joyful promise of his eternal loving embrace to become always more the anchor of each day, enabling us to live even dark days with serenity and hope. 

Image Credit: Adam Elsheimer – Die drei Marien am Grab Christi

To develop a deeper devotion to Mary Magdalene in your own spiritual life, you may want to learn about the Novena to Mary Magdalene: Saint Mary Magdalene – Novena and Prayers