Why I Need to Kayak

I went kayaking today. This time of year I don’t get to go as often as I would like. It’s not the cold that bothers me so much, it’s the wind speeds that I have to watch. It’s notoriously windy in these parts during the fall and winter and a strong westerly wind makes it almost impossible for me to get very far on the lake and it can be dangerous. I kayak alone most of the time, so my husband also watches windspeed and keeps me prudent in my desire to get on the water.

It’s taken sometime, but my husband now seems to understand that I need to kayak. I exercise regularly to maintain better health, but I kayak to relax, work through spiritual and daily struggles, and to commune with God. I will literally take my struggles out on the lake. It can handle my hard, frustrated paddling. No matter how hard or how gently I paddle, the lake continues to let me glide across the water. Taking my stress out on the lake doesn’t hurt anyone or anything.

I have had paddles where I am paddling with all of my might as tears stream down my face and I try to work through a problem I’m facing. Interiorly I will be venting whatever I’m trying to work through. It’s not really the lake I’m talking to. It’s God. I commune with Him outdoors more than anywhere except before the Tabernacle containing His Real Presence. When I look out over the mountains I see Him. I hear Him in the breeze and the birdsong and He is the one pushing me onward as I figure out what I’m supposed to do next. He is the one who tells me to be still when it’s time to stop fighting.

Kayaking is where I find great stillness both within myself and in creation. The seasons teach me a lot about life, especially the spiritual life. It’s winter, so the trees and mountainside are still and laid bare. There’s very little wildlife except for an occasional bird. I’m largely alone on the lake with the exception of the occasional fisherman. During late-fall and winter, most of my kayaking is done in the afternoon when it’s slightly warmer. In the spring and summer, I am out at dawn so that I can watch the sun come up over the mountains and pray Lauds.

When I was younger my outdoor sports were usually spent with friends. We raced down Class V rapids, learned how to snowboard together (if you make it past the first day then you’re golden!), climbed, rappelled, hiked, camped, and biked. A lot of it was the adrenaline rush, but most of the time it was how my friends and I spent time together. I’ve always been enraptured by sunrise and sunset and I’d make my friends stop and take it in with me.

These days I spend my time on the water mostly alone. My friends are mothers like me with all of the demands of that vocation. And now that I’m married, I only hang out with my male friends in groups. Two of my friends come out with me when they can. I’m also the mother of one child rather than many and now that she’s older, I’m able to head to the lake on my own more or bike or run on the local Greenway while she’s at school. My husband prefers canoeing to kayaking, so we canoe as a family in summer months, but by-in-large it’s just my kayak, me, the lake, any wildlife I see, and God.

I’ve come to see how much I need this time on the water by myself. There is a deeply spiritual dimension to it for me, but I also need to work through struggles or simply be at rest in the sunshine and on the glassy water. My deep connection to beauty means that being outside refreshes, rejuvenates, and heals those broken places within my soul that are a part of being human and in relationships with other people. It’s the one place outside of the Mass where I feel free to give everything up to God.

This is not some New Age nonsense, rather, it is an encounter with the Living God through His creation who is present to me as I make my way across the lake. Each moment on the water is one He ordained for me to be there with Him. I can hand Him my pain, frustration, stress, and anger. I can simply be with Him: good day or bad day. This life isn’t easy and He finds ways to reach each one of us in our particular nature and this is one of the main ways He reaches me.

I’m also never lonely while I’m out on the lake by myself. In fact, being outside often makes any sense of loneliness disappear. All of us struggle with being understood at a deeper level than most people understand us at. Our relationships tend to remain surface level, which is safe and easy, but can be unfulfilling. Our closest relationships–those with our spouses–with all of their great joys and blessings show us that even they cannot understand the depths within our souls. God is the only one who can understand us, even better than we understand ourselves. There are times when I’m kayaking that I feel understood at the deepest levels of my being. So being alone in these moments helps me to find that deeper connection that I long for that only comes from Him.

When I sit in awe and wonder as the sun moves above the mountains at sunrise or the water shimmers like diamonds in the afternoon light I can feel the tension being released from my body. Looking out over the beauty before me is a reminder that whatever I’m working through in the present will pass and be made right if not in this life then in the next life. Through beauty, He draws me close. If this was simply about relieving stress then I’d go for a run, but it’s much more than that.

I don’t always leave the lake with the answers I am seeking. In fact, a lot of the time the same issues are waiting for me on shore, but I find new strength to face them or new insight God has given me through prayer. We often make prayer complicated or overthink it. Other than praying Lauds or Vespers–depending on when I’m on the lake–I simply pour myself out to God. Sometimes I yell a great deal internally when things have gotten particularly difficult. I don’t yell audibly lest I startle the wildlife and the fishermen on the lake with me. While I don’t think my life is harder than anyone else’s, experiencing four miscarriages, a chronically ill husband, a chronically ill father, an intense spiritual life, and the difficulties we all face in our relationships with other people, means that I tend to have plenty to work through on each new paddle. Beauty and being outside is how God brings me solace especially during spiritually intense periods.

There are times when I simply look up and look out so that I can take it all in. My mind finally quiets–this is hard for me–and I can simply enter into the moment and the splendor around me. And there are times I simply paddle across the lake and that’s that. I’ve even had days when I get out on the water and realize I don’t really want to be there for some reason, but I push past it. Being on the lake is a reflection of what it is to live in this Fallen world.

So, yes, I do in fact need to kayak.

Catholic Exchange: When Advent Feels More Like Lent

This time of year can present challenges to all of us as we approach the Christmas season. More and more Catholics are trying to slow down and enter into the period of waiting and preparation in the Advent season. As the secular Christmas season continues to spiral out of control, a lot of people are seeing the wisdom of this season of stillness and waiting.

The problem is that, for many of us, Advent can begin to feel more like Lent than Advent. We may find ourselves wrestling in the desert rather than waiting silently by an empty manger. The state of the Church in the past few months in the United States, and in many other countries, has resulted in a Lenten period all its own due to the abominable crimes that have come to light. So it isn’t all that surprising that many Catholics are feeling like they are in Lent rather than Advent at present.

What do we do when Advent feels more like Lent? 

If you, like me, entered into Advent and woke up in Lent, don’t worry. God is working in us to bring about much needed healing and growth that will be necessary for growing in holiness. There will be times in our lives, even as we prepare for the joy of Christmas, when we will have to wage interior battles. These intense periods often feel like a wrestling match because it is in these times when God is asking us to give something up or to give something over to Him that only He can heal or resolve. We desperately want to do it ourselves, but in reality Our Triune God is the only one who can resolve these areas of our lives. We are called to trust in Him and relinquish our grip.

The stresses of daily life, health issues, grief from the loss of a loved one, habitual sin, damaged relationships, the scandals rocking the Church, marital struggles, and a whole host of other situations can lead us to a period of aridity and struggle in the desert. The long nights of late fall, the frenetic energy of this time of year, and the suffering we carry means that this time of year can be particularly difficult for many of us. For those with no family or friends to celebrate the holidays with, the loneliness can become unbearable.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Come Christmas, Don’t Shoot the Messenger

Sacred Scripture is filled with unlikely messengers. Men and women who are never the “right” messenger. They are too old, too young, too male, too female, not from the right town, not a priest, they are a priest, not a king, they are a king. There’s always something wrong with them according to their listeners. As we work our way through this final week of Advent towards the great feast of Christmas, we see many of God’s messengers who were simply cast aside or ignored because they didn’t fit the mold the listeners wanted. God works through those who are willing and often those are the people we least expect, but the people we need the most in that given moment. St. John the Baptist paved the way for us this past Sunday, but many did not like the message and he met with a prophet’s death.

Come Christmas it will be rough and tough shepherds in the field who will see and hear the heavenly hosts and “make haste.” It is the King of the Universe made flesh who will be placed in a food trough in a town that means House of Bread who will become our heavenly food. He is a king with no palace and no visible army. He is the prophet whose message is too difficult to bear and the priest who sacrifices Himself. Like the prophets before Him, He will not be the right messenger for many. When we focus too much on the messenger and not the message, when we allow ourselves to be blinded by our own fears and prejudices, we fail to see how God is working and we promptly ignore or get rid of the messenger and the message.

God works most efficaciously through the Sacraments and the prayers of the Church, but He works most prevalently in our daily lives through the people around us. It is in our neighbor that we see the light of Christ dwelling within. It is often our neighbor who is a messenger carrying a message that we need to hear, but they aren’t the messenger we want from God. We want God to operate on our pre-defined terms, which is the exact opposite of how He typically works in our lives.

Parents, for instance, often know that God uses our children to speak to us. There have been many times when I have made a mistake as a mother and God will use my daughter to remind me to do better. In our busy and distracted age it is often children who remind us to look up and look out at the beauty around us. God works through our spouses, our parents, brothers, sisters, friends, priests, and complete strangers. He seeks to reach us, but often we do not pay attention or we ignore it because we don’t like the messenger He chose in a given situation. How can he or she be the one God chose to deliver this message? Why her or him? It doesn’t matter. God chose them.

I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot because God asked me to be one of His messengers in a situation that is rather extraordinary. In fact, I still don’t understand why He chose me other than the fact that I was willing to do what needed to be done at all costs. That seems to be the requirement of doing God’s will and delivering a much needed message to someone. I am a fighter by nature and I’m willing to do what is necessary for charity when God asks it of me. That is all His doing. My willingness is the only reason I can somewhat understand why I was asked, but as is often the case, I wasn’t the “right” messenger. In fact, I’ve seldom been the “right” messenger. Most of us are never the “right” messenger in the moment we are asked to share what God wants us to share and so we can only hope that we’ve planted the seeds we were supposed to and pray and wait.

There is so much division in the Church right now that all we focus on is the messenger. They are too much of a bishop, too much of a priest, not a priest, not a member of the laity, too much a member of the laity, a woman, a man, a young woman, an old woman, a young man, an old man, and this goes on and on. We do not truly see one another as brothers and sisters. We see one another as “other” and so we continue to push one another away in fear, anger, blindness, and we allow the Enemy to create greater division between all of us. We allow the communion we share to be damaged or destroyed. We allow fear to destroy charity, forgetting that “perfect love casts out all fear” (1 John 4:18).

When are we going to stop and start listening to the message? Will we be able to hear the message come this Christmas if we are too focused on the message bearer? Do we focus so much on the message bearer themselves that we cannot see how and why God is using them to bring His love to us? Why do we not see the messenger as our brother or sister in Christ? We all do it. We all ignore the message because we don’t like the messenger or the message.

We don’t want the Divine Love to break in too much into our lives. We only want it to be just enough, but God never works with just enough. He pours Himself infinitely out upon us. We have to open ourselves up to Him. We have to turn the faucet on so the Divine Love can flow both within us and out towards others. Yes, He works with what we are able to handle, but often we don’t think we can handle as much as God knows we can handle. He seeks to stretch and challenge us in ways that are needed for us to progress in holiness. It hurts because we fight it. We think we can’t do it because we lack faith and trust.

When we come to celebrate the Christmas Liturgy together in a week’s time, let us open up our hearts, minds, and souls to the great Messenger, the Son of God, who came to dwell among us in order to unite us to Himself, the Father, and the Holy Spirit. The one who draws us into the Triune Love where our ultimate joy, peace, and fulfillment lies. Let’s see His messengers with the eyes of faith and charity rather than focusing on whether or not the priest is gifted in homiletics, the homily is well written, or the delivery is subpar. Let’s look at our neighbor who bears the imago Dei and allow God to show us His great love in a time of great pain, fear, and division. God loves us through our neighbor.

It is not us versus them. We should not assume or think the absolute worst in our neighbor. We need to remember that any division in our hearts comes from the Fall and from the Enemy. God does not seek to scatter. He seeks to draw us into deep, abiding communion with Him and with one another. God is not the God of fear. He is the God of peace. He will challenge us, but in ways that invite us to go deeper into His mystery and to go deeper into the Divine Love and love of neighbor.

Let’s pray for the fortitude to answer God’s call when He asks us to be one of His messengers. There’s usually a cost involved for us, some are small and some are much larger. Being a messenger requires sacrifice, especially since we will often be reviled, ignored, or cast out. We are all in good company when we look to Sacred Scripture and the saints. More than anything, we have Christ who was betrayed, abandoned, and crucified for us.

This Christmas let’s begin to work towards our neighbor rather than discarding or ignoring the messengers God places in our own lives. From one messenger to another let’s seek to open ourselves up to what God wants to show us through the people around us. Let’s take off our blinders, turn from fear, and bask in the glorious light God radiates to us through others. It is through the glorious message of Christmas that God reaches down to us, so that we can reach up towards Him and out towards one another.


The Answer to Division is Charity, Forgiveness, and Communion

Image taken from Wiki Commons

I’ve been spending this Advent trying to enter into stillness and waiting. I am very bad at both. I’m a person of action, so being told that I’m to sit still and wait for God’s mission for me has been difficult. It’s felt more like a wrestling match than stillness.

A lot has happened within my vocation and spiritually for me this year. In the last few months everything I thought I would be doing crumbled in front of me. My daughter is now in Catholic school, so I’m not homeschooling her any longer. She’s really happy in school, so it was the right move for her. I’m no longer serving in ministry and all projects I had in the works ceased except for one in February. Everything I thought I was supposed to be doing or would be doing collapsed and I’ve been in a period of trying to figure out what God’s will and mission is for me now. Given the intensity of my spiritual life this year, there is clearly a mission, but I’m not ready for it yet. All I know is this: “Communion is the thing.”

This period came with a lot of turmoil, confusion, and pain for a whole host of reasons. In it all I’ve found myself meditating on how Christ forgives and how He moves past the horror we inflicted upon Him on the Cross and how we move past the pain we inflict upon one another. He doesn’t forget. When He appears in the Upper Room after the Resurrection He shows His disciples the wounds He received on the Cross, but He says Shalom, twice. Peace be with you.

He does not dwell at length on what transpired. He acknowledges it to them by showing them His wounds, but He extends His peace and then He gives His Apostles the ability to extend that very same peace and forgiveness through the Sacrament of Confession by the power of the office of Holy Orders. There is no vengeance. He knows they’ve betrayed and abandoned Him, but He extends His peace to them. He makes the healing move necessary back towards them even though He is the injured party. He seeks to forgive before forgiveness is even sought. He is quite literally the injured party as the Son of God and He in turn shows that He is forgiveness Itself.

This isn’t easy for us in our Fallen state. We want justice. We want people to actually care that they’ve hurt us. We want understanding. We want the charity we are entitled to as human beings. In reality, a lot of times, even in marriage, we don’t get it. We can’t make people care about the things they’ve done or even care about us as people. Since we are made imago Dei, we know at the deepest level that this is not how it is supposed to be, so we wrestle and fight back against those people who hurt us. Unfortunately, we also struggle with the urge to placate our wounded pride and ego. We battle the desire for vengeance, which comes from our sinful selves not the glory within.

The only way to stop this cycle is to move outwards. St. John of the Cross– whose feast day we celebrate today–said: “Where there is no love, put love, and you will find love.” The answer to how we learn to forgive and still commune with others is self-emptying love. After one person hurt me considerably a few weeks ago, God immediately presented me with an opportunity to serve this person, to sacrifice for this person, and to share a gift with this person during a difficult time for them. I had a choice. Hold onto my pain and anger or give. Thanks be to God I chose to give. I chose to love. I don’t always, but all glory to God for any goodness within me!

It wasn’t easy at first, but it was precisely in my choosing to simply act in love towards this person that peace was restored and I no longer simply saw them as a person who had inflicted pain on me. The blindness that pain causes was lifted and I could see the person in front of me, not only my pain. It was my Shalom exhaled out and given to them. It didn’t fix what happened. Everything that has been done is done, but it halted the cycle of anger and division that erupted because of it. It healed the division that destroys communion. Yes, I still get twinges of pain from it, but because I chose to serve this person in love, it is much easier to accept that hurt when it arises and move past it in acceptance. Resentment towards others harms us and it harms others through our interactions with them.

We live in a time of great division in the Church. People are rightly hurting and angry about the sex abuse scandals, but the solution is not more division. The answer is communion grounded in charity. It means forgiving one another, even the horrific events that have transpired. Not because we turn a blind eye and not because we shouldn’t seek justice and truth, we must, but because the more we allow sinful anger, resentment, and fear to take the lead the more injustices will occur. If we aren’t careful we will run the risk innocent people getting hurt. If we aren’t careful, the division that the Enemy seeks to place between the clergy and the laity, the clergy and the clergy, and the laity and the laity will widen. This is about communion. How we respond together is going to shape the path forward.

We must demand the light be let into the dark places within the Church, but then we must be ready to work towards forgiveness. That blinding light will come with deep suffering for all of us as we confront those dark places, but it is a healing light. We must look to Our Lord’s example of how we are to forgive even the most egregious of sins. We murdered God and He came back in forgiveness. There is nothing another human being can commit that can pale in comparison to the horror and evil of this fact. Reform, justice, transparency, conversion, etc. are all needed, but we must be willing to come together in deeper communion in order to get there. These horrors should not cause us to scatter from one another. They must help bind us closer together in love of God and love of one another. 

There is a great temptation to resort to an “us versus them” mentality. This happens when the laity places itself in opposition with the clergy and views them with suspicion and paints all priests with broad unjust strokes. It happens when priests treat the laity as the enemy or as clueless about the realities and demands of the ministerial priesthood. This is exactly the same thing as when the laity argues we shouldn’t listen to priests about marriage and sexuality because Latin Rite priests are celibate. This type of thinking by all parties is destructive and causes division within the Church.

The laity and the clergy are complimentary and an integral part of the Mystical Body. There are no Sacraments without the ministerial priesthood and there are no members offering sacrifice and praise with and through them without the laity. There is no bringing the world into conformation with the Holy Trinity without both the clergy and the laity working together. There is no us and them. We are one body in Christ. We are all on the path to holiness together. We need to stop making assumptions and judgments about one another and draw more closely together. We need to move outwards in charity towards one another. Authentic charity, not sentimentality, superficiality, or banality. Rugged individualism or entrenching will only make things worse. We need one another.

Christ has given us the answer in the communion we share with one another. That communion will require sacrifice, forgiveness, and true charity of all of us. It will mean setting aside our pain so that we can move towards one another. It’s not only what God requires of us, it is the very answer we are seeking. Our pain is healed by acting in self-emptying love and forgiveness. It is healed by choosing caritas over and over again. This isn’t sentimentality that makes us feel good about ourselves. This is the nitty gritty difficult path that we are actually called to. It requires everything from us. The darkness we are descending into as the Mystical Body will mean that we need to stay bound to one another guided by the healing Light of Christ. Communion is the very thing that God will use to strengthen, guide, and purify His Church during these dark days, but we must be willing to come together regardless of the costs.

Advent Talk: Preparing for the Comings of Christ Through Charity and Mercy

I recently presented an Advent talk to my parish on preparing for the comings of Christ by growing in charity and mercy. I will be adding more video content as time goes on. I hope you have a very blessed Advent!

P.S. I know some of my thoughts only apply to those of us in the Northern Hemisphere. ;o)

Catholic Exchange: Our Need for Stillness in Advent

The liturgical year, in union with creation, often shows us what we need most throughout the year. We begin Advent and the new liturgical year in late fall. It is a time when those of us in the northern hemisphere experience stillness, quiet, and a sense of waiting in creation.

The trees are bare and have shed their autumnal splendor. They now stand dormant, waiting for spring. The flowers are no longer blooming. The bird song is is much softer and only heard on occasion. Many animals have gone into hibernation for a “long winter’s nap.” The earth has entered into a period of waiting and expectancy. Even the long darkness of night that grows until the Winter Solstice points to a waiting upon the dawn.

During Advent, the Church is inviting us into a period of stillness, quiet, and peace as we wait on the comings of Christ both in the Parousia and as the Messiah at Christmas. Even though we are a redeemed people, we still wait upon the Lord and His triumphant return at the end of time, which could happen at any hour. Paragraph 678 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church states that His Second Coming is viewed as “imminent.”

We are to prepare for His coming through leading holy lives and growing in love and communion with the Most Holy Trinity and one another. All of us are also preparing to celebrate the great feast of Christmas when the Second Person of the Trinity, the Son of God, took on human flesh and dwelt among us, but there are also other ways we are waiting on the Lord right now.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.