Sunday Dinners, the Grinch, and Keeping Sabbath  

I recently walked past a grocery store display that sparked the idea for today’s blog.  The sign posted near the product suggests one can simply cook this item and have that Sunday dinner feeling ANYTIME.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not a hater…in fact I love the idea of people gathering around the dinner table.  I am skeptical, however, of the premise that any food can re-create Sunday.  Allow me to use the Grinch analogy to explain.

If you’ve ever read How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss (Random House, 1957), you know that the Grinch learned an important lesson when his plan to prevent Christmas failed miserably:

“Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.” 

The Grinch discovered that the members of Whoville still gathered together and gave thanks despite their losses. The true wealth and strength of the community had not been broken, just changed, perhaps even strengthened in these moments of adversity.

As Catholic Christians, we are familiar with The Fourth Commandment, Keep Holy the Sabbath.  On Saturdays instead of Sundays, our Jewish brothers and sisters also honor the sabbath in their faith tradition. An important part of keeping sabbath begins long before Sunday (or Saturday) dinner.  It’s the gathering as a faith community for Mass (or synagogue).  Sunday dinner for many of us is the endcap on a day that begins with prayer and thanksgiving.

Here’s a little Merciful Moments assignment for you.  Think back to your Sunday traditions as a child and compare them to your traditions now.  Are you doing something to make Sunday special?  It doesn’t have to be “Pinterest special,” but is there anything you do differently on Sunday to honor the sacredness of the sabbath?  I challenge you this fall to re-set your Sundays if necessary, to re-connect with sabbath.

This blogger has some fond memories of Sunday “family day” as a child.  I’ll bet others may remember Sundays beginning with church, an early Sunday dinner and Sunday drives often just for the scenery and nothing else.  The meals may or may not have been fancy, but there was some undisclosed ingredient baked right in that somehow made Sundays special.  Maybe that ingredient was love, or time, or hope?  I don’t know.  But what I do know is that I want to keep our Sundays special so that I never take sabbath for granted.  I don’t want to buy into an instant-gratification culture of having Sunday dinner when I want it and where I want it. I want Sunday just as it comes every seven days, gathered with our faith community at the start of the day and ending with family, together.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Morning News

I went to bed early last night and got up with the intention of sitting down to do some writing over the first cup of morning coffee.  After taking our dog outside and feeding him his breakfast, I ground the coffee beans as usual, filled the reservoir with clean cold water and then listened to the comforting drip drip drip sound that meant hot coffee was only moments away.  I settled onto the family room couch which is worn out, lumpy and covered with quilts and dog fur but still my favorite place on cold mornings to savor coffee, prayer time and the morning news.

The cozy feeling ended abruptly once I learned of yet another shooting, this time in Las Vegas, at a country music festival.  I waited until after I drove my teen to school before I had the energy to turn on the television for updates.  My husband texted from work, “Love you.  So sad about Las Vegas.”  I agreed, yes, so sad.  But my emotions are so much stronger than sadness as I write this today.  How can we, as humans created in God’s own image and likeness, inflict such pain and suffering on other human beings?  I was prepared to just post a photo on the blog of a single tear drop instead of an essay because I just don’t feel very hopeful or joyful this morning.

I proceeded to make meatballs for this week’s dinners and vegan-bread and fry some fairy tale eggplants that I’d picked up at a local farm stand a week ago.  With no early morning meetings scheduled today, I had the luxury of time this morning to seek refuge in our home kitchen, wiping tears away as I flipped the eggplant slices and watched the continuing news coverage on the little kitchen TV.  After everything cooled, and I packed the items away in the fridge, I knew I cannot hide in the safety of home all day.  I’ll have to go to work and put together a peace prayer for our teenagers who will meet for weekly faith formation classes later this evening.

The sad part is, none of this is new to me or you.   I remember putting together a peace prayer after the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012 as if it were yesterday.  A year later, I was at the Boston Marathon celebrating our son’s Army team’s completion of a ruck march one hour earlier when we learned of the bombings there and were filled with fear and shock.  With all public transportation shut down as a safety precaution, we had to rely on the kindness of others to get back to our car parked miles away at a train station.  In 2015, a San Bernardino shooting occurred during a  Christmas event at a workplace. We remember the Pulse Nightclub shooting in 2016 and the Ariana Grande concert shooting last spring…too many shootings.  Senseless, horrible violence.

Yesterday our sixth and seventh graders prayed The Prayer of St. Francis, which begins, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace…”  Today, and every day, Lord, help me seek to understand the people I encounter.  In learning about who they are and what they are about, help me to learn to love them, embracing not just our similarities but our differences as well.  Help me to lead others to peace and love and not to intensify hatred and ignorance and divisiveness.  We are better than this, Lord.  Please watch over us and guide us.  Pray for peace, friends.  Pray for peace.

 

Soft Touch

Recently a long-time friend of our family referred to me as a “soft touch” and I immediately took offense at this characterization.  While I joked about it at the time and fired back some sarcastic comment with a smile, I have been pondering that phrase.  After all, nobody likes to be called a wimp, right? This morning I had to look up the definition of “soft touch” and based on what I’ve come to learn about mercy and understanding, I think I can live with this label after all.  The Oxford Online Dictionary defines “soft touch” as:  A person who readily gives or does something if asked.  While that is not true one hundred percent of the time, that description sums up what I ask for daily in prayer when I say, “Lead Me, Lord.”  I often turn to God in prayer and just ask for guidance, nothing more and nothing less.  Do you ever just want to know that you are headed in the right direction?  That’s a major part of where I am in my current post-age-fifty prayer life.

 

As a child, our mom said a prayer with us every morning at the breakfast table called The Morning Offering.  I haven’t thought about it for years, but today it is a vibrant memory.   You may be familiar with it:

 

O Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer you my prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of this day for all the intentions of your Sacred Heart, in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world, for the salvation of souls, the reparation of sins, the reunion of all Christians, and in particular for the intentions of the Holy Father this month. Amen.

 

I don’t want to be jaded and if that means putting myself out there for others and occasionally getting burned, so be it.  Most of the times when I hold back from helping another, it’s due to fear or my own insecurities, but I will keep plugging away at them, doing whatever I can in my own simple way to bring about the Kingdom here on earth.  I have a long way to go, but if I am a “soft touch” already, that means my heart has not been hardened, and in Christian terms, that’s a good thing, right?

Fog

The last few weeks of summer seem so precious.  Warm, sunny days give way to often much cooler evenings and perfect sleeping conditions.  But a side effect of those comfortable evenings can be fog.  When commuting, fog causes one to stay focused and in tune to the road conditions and surrounding drivers with a much greater intensity than ordinary weather conditions.  To me, the most unsettling thing about fog is the inability to see very far in front of me.  Driving through fog forces me to use faith and trust to keep moving ahead. Fog requires patience and perseverance.

Perhaps you have experienced a time in your life where things seemed a little unclear, almost fog-like.  Were you concerned about a decision you had to make or unsure about a career change or a geographic change?   Maybe you turned to God in prayer on your own and when you gathered with your faith community on Sundays.  Perhaps you called a friend who you knew would listen and calm your nerves.  Just like when driving in fog, I suspect you had to be a little more deliberate in your actions, fully awake and aware of your surroundings.  Driving through fog and trusting in God are not for the faint of heart, but we always make our way through.  If life is currently feeling a little foggy for you, I hope you will know that you don’t have to go it alone.

“When I am afraid, in you I place my trust.  I praise the word of God; I trust in God, I do not fear.” (Psalm 56: 4-5)

Early Morning Coffee Thoughts

It felt like a fall morning when I awoke and took our dog outside in the backyard.  There was dew on the grass and the air was crisp, not cold but chilly enough to warrant a sweater or jacket.  The brewing coffee made the kitchen feel cozy and I looked forward to reflecting on the daily readings with my favorite purple mug in hand, wondering just what wisdom might be waiting to be discovered.

It’s the gospel reading that touched my heart today.  Jesus gathered his disciples and selected from them his twelve apostles, those who would be sent to deliver his message to others.  While the selection process itself was not carefully detailed for us in scripture, one thing was made perfectly clear: “Jesus went out to the mountain to pray and he spent the night in prayer to God.” (Luke 6:12)

Nothing was mentioned about anyone having character references or a well-prepared resume, but the fact that Jesus took some time to pray before making such a monumental decision was made abundantly clear.

I think that reminder resonated with me this morning not because I don’t pray enough but because I don’t always remember to STOP, slow down and pray.  I’ve turned into a praying multi-tasker, if there is such a term, in other words praying while driving or praying while walking or praying while pushing a shopping cart through the frozen foods aisle.  Seems like I’ve been doing a whole lot of talking to a God who patiently listens but I’ve kind of been neglecting the listening for God’s response part.  That’s my take-away from today’s readings.  What’s yours?  I’d love to hear!

Labor Day Thoughts

 

 

A conversation with a young man yesterday has me feeling a little bit blue on this Labor Day.  Maybe it’s because what he said I have heard before from other people, young and old.  It’s a phrase that begins with, “I just…” or “I’m only…”  In this case, the young man was speaking of his employment and he was putting himself down for working in a fast-food restaurant.  (I’ll bet anything that he is working today, on Labor Day, while I sit at home enjoying a longer weekend than usual with my family.)  I was quick to tell him how much I respected the work he does, and that there is no shame in making an honest living.  What saddens me, though, is I don’t think he really knows how sincerely I believe this.

What makes people feel “less than” others, and what can we do to lift people’s spirits up?  I don’t begin to have a lot of answers to this question, but yesterday’s conversation reminds me that everyone needs to feel affirmed and appreciated.  When someone goes out of their way to say, “thank you” to me, those simple words captivate me and inspire me to share that same appreciation with others.

So, this Labor Day, let us enjoy our families and the last dregs of summer.  But let’s also remember to thank all workers for the services they provide.  Let’s start a chain reaction of gratitude that will flow right into Thanksgiving.  “Prosper the work of our hands, Lord.  Prosper the work of our hands!”

 

Souvenirs

Webster’s Dictionary defines the word “souvenir” as something that serves as a reminder.  Have you ever noticed that while you are traveling, there tends to be a greater expectation that you “buy something so that you can remember the trip?” Visit a museum, amusement park, zoo, state park or restaurant and you will be seduced by an endless array of coffee mugs, refrigerator magnets, shot glasses, t-shirts and key chains.  Sometimes we buy Salt Water Taffy with a town’s name on the box even though we go the other fifty-one weeks of the year without ever craving a piece of it.  Anyone who knows me can attest to the fact that the words, “Boy, I sure could go for a piece of salt water taffy right now!” have never been uttered out of my mouth.  So, what’s up with that?

I’d be a hypocrite if I told you that I avoid the gift shops. I rather like purchasing those car magnets and stickers because they dress up my otherwise ordinary car and lifestyle.  Cookbooks from other towns’ cafes and restaurants captivate me and sometimes I just cannot resist.  There has been a shift in my focus through the years, though.  The older and wiser I get, I tend to lean toward celebrating the moments that have happened rather than the loot we’ve accumulated along the way.  A picture postcard from a museum gift shop, a smooth shell collected from a walk on the beach, a pottery plate I painted myself with my family in an art studio—these all become my treasures because of the moments we shared, not because of any dollar value.

The young man in Matthew’s gospel this morning (Matt 19: 16-22) goes away sad when Jesus tells him the key to eternal life with God requires great sacrifice and sharing our abundant wealth with others.  Our kids’ kindergarten teacher taught them a song years ago for Valentine’s Day about how “Love isn’t love until you give it away, give it away, give it away…”  My guess is that the young man hadn’t lived long enough to experience difficult times where reliance on God becomes humbling and necessary.  I know for myself it has been in some of the more challenging moments of life that God’s love and the love of others has been made abundantly present.  It has been through the example of others that I have learned to be more generous and less reliant on material goods for happiness.

What are your souvenirs?  Look around at the things you have accumulated.  Pick something up off a dusty shelf or coffee table and try to close your eyes and think about the moment, the people, the memory. That’s where the treasure just may be found, my friends.

Summer Porch Prayers

In the summertime and early fall, I spend a fair amount of time inside our screened-in front porch in the mornings with a cup of coffee and the daily readings.  The air temperature has cooled overnight and I usually catch a light breeze.  It’s not exactly quiet, but a good deal of the sounds at least in the early morning hours are birds or squirrels.  Eventually more and more cars drive by and it’s not quite as peaceful, but porch time is still the most reflective part of the day for me.

On our street this summer, one family has moved away and now another house has a dumpster nearby and I’m wondering if they, too, will be leaving or perhaps they are cleaning or remodeling.  The neighbors’ house on the other side of the dumpster has had some landscaping done and there’s a vivid pink flowering plant in full bloom this morning, with that dumpster just a few feet away on the driveway behind it.  Maybe the coffee just hasn’t kicked in yet, but that image of beauty and growth (pink plant) in contrast with that green dumpster (used to get rid of garbage) resonates with me this morning.

I am thankful for my husband who has spent far more time than me this summer in the garden and attending to the weeds. The back patch of garden once again has color and life and new growth, as if it were just waiting to be uncovered and set free from all that was holding it back from really growing.

What am I willing to cast off in the dumpsters or weed piles of my life today?  Are there grudges or fears or insecurities weighing me down?  What kind of new growth do I hope for, dream of, desire?  These, my friends, are the questions that I ponder while my little city street awakens to yet another day.  I share these thoughts with you and rest assured that THE Master Gardener of All hears my prayers.

Elusive Rainbows and Other Such Things

Can I just say that this has been the weirdest summer ever?  I cannot really articulate too much on this statement but I assure you, dear reader, what I write is true.  I entered the month of June with great hopes for some summer enlightenment and as July prepares to bid us adieu, I have yet to glean anything that is transformative or even remotely helpful.

I am convinced, however, that life provides plenty of teachable moments and while the big questions of the universe have not been revealed to me so far, this summer, I have been graced with wonder and awe in little snippets, always just enough to remind me that God’s grace is all I need.

In my carefully scheduled, over-planned daily calendar of events, God has revealed beauty, humor, persistence and a reminder to me to remain humble.

“‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,’ declares the LORD.”
(Isaiah 55:8) 

 When I start taking myself way too seriously, which is often, that’s when I notice a little chipmunk racing across the road or a mother deer splashing in a puddle with her two babies.  As I lament my unfinished daily “to do” list, I think of two other moms whose lives were cut far too short by cancer.  Suddenly my “problems” seem rather insignificant in the greater scheme of things.   As I fret about upcoming transitions in our family life, I am comforted by the many ways God has intervened over the past fifty-one years and has never given me more than I can truly handle.  Why would it be any different now or in the days ahead?

Not every day is a rainbow day or a good hair day or a low-stress day.  Some days ARE better than others.  But just the promise of an occasional rainbow or little snippets of wonder and awe sustain this determined disciple.  Your grace IS enough, LORD.

Shiny Blue Portapotties on a Flatbed Trailer

I was recently driving to the local post office and found myself behind a large truck that was transporting two portapotties on a large trailer.  They were probably on their way to a weekend graduation event or an outdoor venue of some type but as soon as I saw them, I knew I had to reflect on this image just a little bit more.

You see, when I saw those portapotties, I was reminded that even the most wonderful life events must allow for a little bit of a mess.  Just think about the arrival of a newborn infant and the number of diapers used in those early days or the process of housebreaking a furry canine family member.  In a roundabout way, I am talking about hospitality here, friends.  Planning for a houseguest or planning a party for a large group entails carefully anticipating what the other person(s) will need to be comfortable.  Every little detail matters, not just the ones that we find easy or pleasing or exciting.

Am I going out on a limb if I say that the same can be true of practicing my faith?  It’s easy for me to fall into that “same old, same old” routine of praying or even to put aside my morning Scripture reading now that summer is here and the living is easy.  Maybe I find myself in a prayer “rut” or becoming increasingly negative, even “judgy” at times.  Those subtle changes inside prompt me to delve a little deeper, and, above all, face the mess.  Just like securing enough portapotties for an outdoor event, it’s up to me to keep being present to God and others in prayer and relationships.

In a general audience on May 15, 2013, Pope Francis shared the following words: “This is a prayer we must pray every day: ‘Holy Spirit, make my heart open to the word of God, make my heart open to goodness, make my heart open to the beauty of God every day.’”

I’m waiting for a daily devotional that I ordered from our local bookstore to come in today and once it does, I’m back into the routine.  You see, part of my “mess” is that what I was reading daily to accompany the daily readings just wasn’t touching my heart or reaching me anymore.  I needed something more and turned to prayer, and re-committed to “showing up” for God and the people in my lives this summer, to truly be PRESENT.  I’ll let you know how it goes.