Friday’s Beauty Theme: Birds

Beauty is one of my favorite topics and it has a profound impact on my Catholic faith, so I have decided to keep the Beauty Theme going on Mondays and Fridays unless I am being published at Catholic Exchange or another website. In a world marred by suffering, chaos, and confusion, I enjoy looking over sites that showcase the beauty of Creation amidst the brokenness of the world. I’ll come up with a catchy title eventually, but for now I will stick with “Monday’s and Friday’s Beauty Theme”.

The older I get the more I enjoy watching the birds in my yard. It’s 5am here and I can hear them singing to the soon-to-be rising sun. Every year Red-Headed Finches move into my hanging baskets to have babies. There are eggs waiting to hatch in one of the baskets of geraniums now. So for for some beauty and wonder today, I scoured the Interwebs for images of beautiful birds. I hope seeing images of the beauty of God’s Creation brings you closer to Him. There were so many beautiful options that these are just a few that I found. I think that hummingbirds are my favorite. God bless.

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Mumma duck leading the family. Nikon D1x file
Mumma duck leading the family. Nikon D1x file

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Pine Warbler (Dendroica pinus) adult, perched on stem beside flowering dogwood, U.S.A.
Pine Warbler (Dendroica pinus) adult, perched on stem beside flowering dogwood, U.S.A.

yellow-bird-blair-wainman

GIVEAWAY: The Little Book of the Blessed Virgin Mary-2 Copies

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It’s the month of Mary, so I am going to give away two copies of the book I am reading right now. It is called The Little Book of the Blessed Virgin Mary by Raoul Plus, S.J. I am really enjoying the book and want to share it with you. Here is a description of the book from the publisher, Sophia Institute Press:

“Watching Jesus grow daily in wisdom and grace, the Blessed Virgin Mary pondered in her heart the secrets of her divine Son.

Because Our Lady watched Christ grow each and every day, she created the most valuable manual of Christian perfection that can be had: her own heart.

When from the Cross Jesus said, “Behold your mother,” He invited us to read that manual — the book of the heart of Mary — wherein are found the secrets of the King.

Unfortunately, few of Mary’s words have come down to us, so we must read her heart as she read the heart of Jesus. We must ponder not only her words, but also the events of her life — her attitudes, her actions, and even her silence.

By imitating Our Lady, our lives — like hers — may also come to be full of grace.

In The Little Book of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Fr. Raoul Plus helps us do just that, opening for us the book of the heart of Mary in the simplest yet most vivid ways.

In pages filled with great devotion and penetrating wisdom, he moves us past modern misunderstandings and clichés about Mary into an encounter with the woman who was so remarkable that God Himself made her His spouse!

The Little Book of the Blessed Virgin Mary will awaken in you the thoughts and emotions that lead to deeper union with Mary and with her beloved son, Jesus.”

I can’t use Rafflecopter on WordPress, but I will be able to keep track of entries. Don’t worry!

HOW TO ENTER:

Share in the comments section below how the Blessed Virgin Mary has helped you in your faith journey.
Follow me on Twitter: @swimmingdepths
Like my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/swimmingthedepths?fref=ts
Share this giveaway on Twitter or Facebook.
If you have a WordPress blog, then like this post.

You will receive one entry for each action you do from the list above.

The winners will be announced next Thursday, May 28, 2015. This is a *private* giveaway and not sponsored by Sophia Institute Press. It’s just me wanting to share a beautiful book with my readers.Thanks!

Confessions of a Post-Ideologue: Why I am Now Anti-Ideology

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I grew up in a firmly Republican household. We were also a family of debaters. My parents were debate partners in college and despite the fact that most debate partners loathe each other, they got married. They then had two of their three daughters enjoy and excel at competitive debate, myself being one of them. I also coached high school debate for a while when I was in undergrad. The art of argumentation and conservative politics was normative growing up; however, I joined the Navy at 18 and became politically apathetic. Most active duty folks know that it is the Republicans who give them a bigger paycheck, so that is how most of us voted, not all. Political activism is pretty much forbidden while on active duty and it wasn’t an issue when I was serving, like it is now. We worked long hours and fought wars. That was our focus.

I did absorb some military ideology that took me years to shake out and discard. Much to my shame, I supported the use of torture. Since I had personally witnessed the aftermaths of terrorism I felt that it was perfectly acceptable to use whatever means necessary to save lives. In all honesty it was tinged with a bit of vengeance for the family members I had served in 9-11’s wake. I worked in a field that demanded total allegiance and in my youth and naivete, I gave over willingly. While my particular job was not unethical, I had friends who worked in questionable missions. It didn’t matter. It was for God and country, right?

I did my 6 years in the Navy and got out when my first contract ended. I was burned out and sick of the politics. Plus, the whole point of my military service was to go to college, so that is what I did. While in undergrad I discovered my love of politics and current affairs once again. A good friend of mine volunteered and worked in various capacities for Montana Republican candidates. I got involved. I started to remember that abortion is the supreme human rights issue of my generation and I believed the lie that Republicans would follow through on their promises. I finished undergrad and was given a prestigious internship at The Heritage Foundation in Washington, DC. This was a dream internship that would launch my career in politics. I was the National Defense Intern because of my job in the Navy. I understood the military, budgets, and the need for a strong national defense. I was willing to do what had to be done. That was in 2009.

While I was in my internship, something began to change. I remember when the scales fell from my eyes. I was sitting in a roundtable discussion with the Policy Analyst I interned for, Mackenzie Eaglen, high ranking Marines from the Pentagon, and a couple of Congressional Aides. We were discussing linguistics and the need for linguists on the ground. I knew this topic well. I had been a military linguist. We were carrying on an interesting discussion when the Congressional Aide began asking questions solely from the view point of statistics. I could see very quickly, he was also a Veteran, that people on the ground were merely numbers to him and whoever he worked for. He had no concern for their welfare. He had lost sight of his own service. It did not matter if people died. I left sick to my stomach.

Things went downhill from there. As I sat in Senate and House hearings I could see that nobody actually cared about people. It was all an abstraction, while I still remembered the faces of my friends who had been blown apart in Iraq. The friends I had wheeled around or walked with who had endured IEDs and gunshot wounds. I remembered my Marine friends at National Naval Medical Center, now Walter Reed, who had given everything only to be shoved in a broken down barracks with apathetic doctors. And now I was sitting in Congressional buildings looking at the same apathy. An apathy that had trickled down into the ranks. I couldn’t do it. People I loved, family and friends of mine, were still on active duty.

I knew that I was pigeon-holed into defense policy by virtue of my intelligence background. I would have to start from scratch if I wanted to shift into religion or education policy. I realized very quick that I wasn’t cut out for politics. I don’t have the patience or stomach for it. I was also starting to question the talking points that I had ingested so willingly.

I can say that my Heritage internship was a great blessing and amazing experience. I was a bit old for it at 27, but I made the most of every opportunity and did find a niche for myself in attending the Tocqueville Forum at Georgetown University; the only vestige of orthodox Catholicism on that campus these days. I also came back to the Catholic Church during that internship after experiencing the Sacred Triduum at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception on Catholic University of America’s campus. Thankfully the Basilica is right off the red line on the Metro, so I could easily attend Mass there on Sundays. Much to my own surprise, I left politics for good when I left DC after that internship.

In the last few years an even greater shift has taken place in me. Yes, I got married and began living my faith seriously, but I also became distanced enough from my military service and my time in politics to begin analyzing what I had accepted. I started to shift to a Catholic perspective and realized that much of what I believed was because of my anger following my 9-11 relief work experience. I had wanted justice and retribution for the people I had served, but it really was vengeance I wanted. I had accepted the vast expanses of government in the wake of 9-11 and now realize that who I worked for has taken those policies to frightening extremes. I also now see that the greatest threat to my family is the attack on religious liberty in this country.

In changing my opinion and heart on these matters, I began to dislike ideology. I started seeing how divisive it is within the Church at a time when we must come together to face the growing threat of persecution in this country and the very real persecution going on overseas. This has been reinforced by my graduate studies. Our faith is not contingent upon our political leanings or preferences. Our faith rests in Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church that he established 2000 years ago. What I believe comes from Him, not me. What the Church teaches comes from Christ, not me. In the end the only choice I have is to follow Him or follow myself. When we choose ideology over the faith, we choose ourselves. We choose division. I know. I used to put my politics above my faith.

I still agree with many things that The Heritage Foundation works on. They are doing great work on religious freedom, education policy, and traditional marriage. Many of these shifts occurred after my internship. I just don’t agree with the rugged individualism that they espouse. I am also firmly opposed to socialism in all forms. What this means is that I hold a thoroughly Catholic belief on economic and social issues. I have an obligation to help the poor. I must fight for the end of abortion that has taken 1 billion lives on this planet. If I want to see change then I must raise my family and serve my community. The lowest level is the best solution and pure capitalism uses people just like socialism. I am also proud of my military service and the friends of mine who still serve. All four of us who served in my family got out before doing 20 years. We all got out for the same reason: We hated the politics within the ranks.

Politics are important for bringing about change, but politics are inherently flawed and fallen by nature of the people involved. Politics can never supersede theology. I say this time and time again and many days feel like I am whistling into the wind. Our theology is supreme. We must usher in change and the Gospels through our faith first. Our beliefs, political and otherwise, must be shaped and formed by our Catholic faith FIRST. That means saying no to torture, unjust wars, pure capitalism, rugged individualism, expansive government, socialism, redefinition of marriage, abortion, embryonic stem cell research, etc. You will notice that these issues cross party lines precisely because whatever political party we are a member of is doing one or more things immorally. Yes, abortion is the supreme issue of our day and we must vote accordingly, but we cannot delude ourselves into thinking that our political party is the one of the Catholic Church. Quite frankly, the GOP will drop social conservatives on marriage and then we really will not have anyone to vote for in the coming years. That is the issue that will lead to our open persecution, in fact, persecution of Christians is already happening in this country because of our views on marriage. Both parties are corrupt and we must choose the lesser of two evils, if there is one. More than anything, though, we must start living devoutly Catholic lives in our communities.

The reality is that persecution is here, as Christ promised. People will hate us, call us bigots, and push us out of public life because of our views on marriage.Read the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus constantly warns that we will be hated, reviled, and treated as the enemy. It is already happening. We need to be focused on holiness, not ideology. Our ideology isn’t going to help us wait out this storm. Our ideology is more likely to force us to abandon our Catholic faith. That is why I am anti-ideology. It lessens our Catholic faith. It takes away from the Gospel and it weakens our position. I went from anything goes Veteran (I am not anti-Veteran), to hardcore Republican, to Roman Catholic. The latter is the only thing that matters now. To change the world we must grow in holiness. We must give ourselves completely to Christ and His Church. Then we know that we are on the right path.

Catholic Exchange: Cultivating Wonder in Our Daily Lives

Today I am happy to be writing for Catholic Exchange on one of my favorite topics: Wonder.

Wonder is something that children do quite naturally. The world is new, so every new, and even old, discovery leads a child to excitement, joy, and wonder. As adults we can have a tendency to look at a child’s wonder in apathy. We may scoff internally that it is only a rock, flower, worm, or tree that they have seen. It is something that we have seen numerous times and so it bores us. It is tied to monotony. But, who has it right? I say the child.

In Fundamental Theology we learn that the theologian uses a variety of things to study God. It is described as three concentric circles. The outer layer is everything. Yes, everything. Anything in the universe can provoke theological study, insight, and a greater understanding of God. Catholicism marries natural theology (that God can be known through reason in a limited capacity) and Revelation (what God has revealed about Himself through Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition). The contemplation of a tree, for instance, can lead to a deeper understanding and love of God. The next circle is Sacred History (or Tradition). The Church has been around nearly 2000 years, so there is a deep pool of knowledge that can be used to grow in a deeper understanding of God. In the very center is Sacred Scripture. The Word of God to us. It is in Scripture that God can be heard most clearly, most specifically in Jesus Christ. Throughout our lives we will travel between all three of the circles as we search for truth.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Struggling in Prayer

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I have a confession to make: I really struggle in my prayer life. It tends to wax and wane. The minute I think that I have a steady rhythm going, I stumble and get out of the habit. I am amazed at how quickly it can fall by the wayside. I can slump quite easily into sloth and then I really do begin to feel like I am battling “the noon-day devil”. I am in a period of struggle right now.

I just spent six weeks traveling and visiting with family. I made an emergency drive across the country to my home-state of Montana because it appeared that my only remaining grandparent, my dad’s mom, was going to die. It was dire when we set out, but by the time we hit South Dakota, she had stabilized and amazingly she has made a full recovery. Since I seldom make it to Montana these days, I decided to spend a month there with my parents. My husband left our daughter and me and flew back to Virginia. He later flew back out and we made the return trek by car.

You would think with all of my free time in MT that I would have made plenty of time for prayer, but the opposite happened. I crammed for my Theology of the Sacraments final that I had to take late due to the family emergency, but other than that I fell into a malaise. I didn’t have a house to take care of for a month and I fell completely out of my routine. It has been a bear getting back into it, especially since my daughter and I have been battling a chest cold. Routine really is the key to prayer.

I will confess that some of my struggles in my prayer life are due to pain. I made the difficult and painful decision to step away from being a Lay Dominican at this time. It was a complicated situation and is a source of deep pain for me. I had gotten into the habit of praying Lauds, Vespers, and the Rosary each day for two years. I occasionally faltered, but tried hard to maintain the prayer requirements. I sloughed off when I left the 3rd Order and much of it was because of the painful reminder that I had to leave, at least for now.

My daughter and I got up at 5am this morning. She is now asleep on the couch and I am blogging. I did manage to grab a cup of coffee and pray Lauds this morning. It was the best decision that I could have made for starting my day. My day begins with purpose and a centering force when I begin with prayer. It never goes well if I begin my day with my iPhone or computer, which tends to be the norm. Whatever is going on in the world or with my schooling can wait until I have spent a few moments with my Lord.

I also tend to write more when I pray regularly. Since I write about my Catholicism, it is important that I pray. If I am focused on everything except God it is really hard to write about Someone who is distant to me. It is also crucial for me as a student theologian. Every professor that I have studied under in graduate school begins by telling us that our theology must begin “on our knees in prayer”. It is impossible for a theologian to truly understand and share God with others if they do not have an intimate relationship with Him. After a while the theology becomes robotic and lacks insight. I know this from personal experience. I love to study theology. It gives me great joy, but when I don’t pray it can become a burden. It turns into forcing myself to complete assignments in order to keep up with the requirements of my courses. It loses the wonder, beauty, and joy that drove me into the Master’s program in the first place.

Prayer is also essential for living in a Fallen world. I read the news each day and I feel like I live in the Twilight Zone. The world is a mess. It is broken, violent, and incoherent without prayer. I have been an avid news follower since 2nd grade. Yes, 2nd grade. I was the first one to get up each morning and I would watch the news. In retrospect, my parents probably shouldn’t have let me do that. I remember seeing some pretty gruesome stuff, like the Somali Blackhawk down incident. I can still see in my rather young memory those soldiers’ bodies being dragged through the streets. I have been following terrorism and plane crashes for decades. The most ironic twist was that I found myself at 20 standing before the wreckage of a terrorist attack with hundreds of family members following 9-11. I guess God had a plan for my interest in current affairs….

The point is that I cannot watch the world unless I understand it through the lens of prayer and my Catholic faith. The world is Fallen, which is why I understand the reason for the chaos and pain. Even with that knowledge I still want to beat my head against my desk some days, and on others, tears pour down my face for the suffering of others. I have found that social media is a good place for prayer. I find myself praying for the dead and the suffering as I read various news stories throughout the day. It is usually a simple “Eternal rest grant unto them” or a “Lord have mercy” followed by a “Mary wrap your loving mantel around them and bring them to your Son”. Prayer doesn’t necessarily need to be complicated and at times that is all that can escape my lips in the face of overwhelming evil.

Do you struggle in prayer too? If so, figure out what part of the day is best for prayer in your life. I am not a night person, so morning is the best time for me to give my focus entirely over to God. He should not get our leftovers after a spent day. Prayer should be at a time when we are alert. We can also pray small prayers throughout the day. I always ask for St. Christopher’s intercession and my Guardian Angel’s protection when I get in my car. I pray whenever people come to mind. I have been blessed and cursed with a very long memory. Random people will come to mind at times and I use that as an opportunity to pray for them even if I have not seen them since childhood. The point is that the majority of us are beginners at prayer. All we can do is take small steps each day to pray and open ourselves to God. We just have to will it because God is already calling us to Himself.

Today’s Beauty Theme: Lavender Fields for My Daughter

I have not been able to write much in the last few days. My daughter and I have been battling a chest cold and when she is sick she wants me to snuggle with her 24/7. Since I won’t be able to write today I wanted to share some more beauty. I am a firm believer that beauty helps us to see the world properly and to see God. I love that beauty stops me on a daily basis whether it is the sun shining in my daughter’s hair, or the way my husband smiles, the bird tending to her eggs in my hanging basket, or my roses beginning to bloom. Since my daughter is sick, I wanted to find something that she would love. Her favorite color is purple, so I scoured Google for pictures of Provence, France and England when the lavender fields are in bloom.

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