topics

simplicity, Charlotte Mason homeschooling, Old World inspiration, Oriental dance, style & beauty

Monday, December 30, 2013

Winter 2014 Belly Dance



BACK TO BASICS TRIBAL BELLY DANCE CLASS WITH RITA HELENA!





Start 2014 off right with some groovy new moves.  Rita Helena's Moonfire Tribal Style is a group improvisational format based on traditional Middle Eastern and North African dance, but with a vintage-modern flair and presentation. This multi-level class is perfect for beginners as well as more advanced dancers wishing to learn a new style or refine their skills.

Classes will be held at the Community Center in Bryan, Ohio, upstairs. Please wear fitted (not baggy), comfortable clothing and a scarf tied at the hips. You may dance barefoot or in socks or ballet slippers. All classes will include a full body warm up and yoga cool down. Yoga mats and props are welcome.

The first session will begin on Sunday, January 12 and will run for 5 consecutive weeks, from 4:00 to 5:00 p.m. Please call Cindy at 419-633-6030 to register. Early registration and pre-payment is highly recommended to reserve your space and to confirm that there are enough students to hold the class.

Must be at least 15 years of age to participate, and the cost is $40.00.

This is the perfect opportunity to get into shape, strengthen your core, and stretch your muscles, all while enhancing grace, rhythm and beauty. More than just an aerobic exercise, belly dance is a timeless art form unlike any other. Come and discover the dancer in you!!

My Joie de Vivre Christmas and Birthday Gifts!

Since becoming Catholic, I have found the Christmas season to be so much more fun and meaningful than ever before. First of all, there are actually 12 days of Christmas (like the song goes!), but they do not lead up to Christmas, as most people think. December 25 is actually the first day of Christmas, which means that today is the 6th. We are only half way through!

At church Saturday evening, we sang several traditional Christmas hymns. Christmas the Catholic way is a more relaxing experience, beginning with the season of Advent, a month-long time of contemplation and preparation leading up to Christmas Eve. Yes, Christmas Day is the apex of the season, but everything doesn't ride on this one day. I am not feeling the "let down" typical of the days following Christmas Day. In fact, my birthday, which was yesterday, is on the 5th day of Christmas (five golden rings...), and well as being the Feast of the Holy Family! How's that for the supposedly bummer of a birthday that falls close to Christmas?

Anyway, I was positively showered with love, attention, and awesome gifts for both Christmas and my birthday. With a new year just around the corner, I have plenty of new wardrobe, personal care, and home products to add to my joie de vivre lifestyle. I promised pictures before but did not deliver. So I hereby make a New Year's resolution to give you visual images and a lot of great ideas to make our lives even more simple, joyful, and elegant, every single day.

Let me begin with one of my favorite presents, a new pair of pajamas from my sister. This was especially wonderful, because she didn't even know that pajamas were on my wish list, and my husband had no luck finding 100% cotton ones where we live. Here they are:



Gillian & O'Malley flannel toile pajamas, available at target.com


These PJs are superbly comfortable and warm without being too heavy. They are a classic style and would surely get Jennifer L. Scott's stamp of approval for "presentable pajamas" (see her blog, The Daily Connoisseur). You should have sleepwear that you can't wait to crawl into. I had these back on my body by 7:00 last night!

I hope you all are having a very merry Christmas. Have fun and stay safe for the New Year! Oh, and don't forget that the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God is a Holy Day of Obligation, so Catholics make sure you get to Church! It just keeps getting better, doesn't it?

Monday, December 16, 2013

New Age Deception: "Christ" in the New Age

http://notunlikelee.wordpress.com/2011/05/09/christ-in-the-new-age/


While I am taking a break from recounting my experience in the New Age religion, I strongly encourage you to read the article linked above, "Christ" in the New Age, at the Crosswise website. This is very long, so perhaps read it in small phases, and read it carefully. Craig, the author, has painstakingly articulated the "New Spirituality" which is being marketed as a form of Christianity, with a made-over Jesus Christ.

As you read my narrative, keep in mind some of the key words and phrases used by the New Age, which often bear a striking resemblance to Christianity, but in a twisted form, including: Inner Christ; the Christ Within; Ascended Masters; Master Jesus; As Above, So Below; Christ Consciousness; overshadowing; initiation; born again; Kingdom of God; and Cosmic Christ.

As comprehensive as this article is, it is only the tip of the iceberg. Craig alludes to connections between the New Age and Eastern religion, as well as what he refers to as "hyper-charismatic" Christianity. This infiltration of the New Age is so everywhere that I can't emphasize enough the spiritual danger and its proximity to all corners of the Christian Church. It has unknowingly touched the lives of both Catholics and "Bible" Protestants that I personally know. I want you to see as many of the connections as I can present to you before I drop what was, for me, a shocking bomb when I discovered it.

So just read Craig's article and continue to follow the breadcrumbs which inevitably lead to the candy-encrusted house of the wicked witch...


Hansel and Gretel

Sunday, December 15, 2013

New Age Deception: Jungian Psychology & The Goddess Within



At some point in the 1990s I read The Goddess Within by Jennifer and Roger Woolger. Both authors are Gestalt and Jungian psychologists. Carl Jung was a Swiss psychiatrist and psychotherapist who founded analytical psychology. He gave us the concepts of introversion and extroversion; archetypes; and the collective unconscious. His theories have been influential in the study of religion, philosophy, archeology, anthropology, literature, and related fields.

The Goddess Within is a treatise on feminine archetypes based on six goddesses of the Greek pantheon: Aphrodite, Demeter, Artemis, Athena, Persephone, and Hera. Contained within is a multiple choice quiz which helps you to pinpoint the most prominent archetype in your personality. As with other personality type tests, each person is a combination of types, but you will usually score highest in one particular area.

My last quarter in college, I took a personality test to help point me in the direction of compatible career options. It was most likely the Meyers-Briggs test. Of the six types, I scored highest on the "social", followed by the "creative" and the "entrepreneur" categories. Your top 3, in that particular order, head a list of jobs for which you will be well-suited. My category had the shortest list, and absolutely none of the careers sounded interesting to me!

Before I got married, my husband and I were counseled by the minister who married us. We took personality tests together, so that we would have a better understanding of one another in our marriage. I was "sanguine", followed by "melancholic". According to the minister, my personality type did not exist--one could not be both happy and sad, he insisted. Of course, that was oversimplifying the types, but I was secretly proud to have an "impossible" personality!

My goddess type, you are wondering? Keep in mind that I was single at the time. Aphrodite, followed by Persephone and Artemis. The social, sanguine goddess of love, the melancholic, creative goddess of the underworld, and the independent huntress (which I think would correlate with the entrepreneur). So yes, these tests can be quite accurate. But aren't people, and maybe especially women, more complicated than what shows up on a multiple choice test? I think my impossible personality quite proves the point. And really, there are only 6 basic personality types?

I just remembered that personality can also be influenced by birth order (according to another psychology book). But what if you are not an oldest, middle, only, or youngest child? What if you are 3rd to the last in a family of 15 children? And how does all of this relate to New Age religion, anyway? Let's get back to the archetypes. In Jungian psychology, an archetype is "an inherited pattern of thought or symbolic imagery derived from the past collective experience and present in the individual consciousness" (dictionary.search.yahoo.com).

In other words, I don't have the literal goddess, Aphrodite, living inside of me, but I am a certain type of woman who has the Aphrodite qualities foremost in my personality, if you believe the theory. There is a collective unconscious memory (and some archeological evidence) of worship of the Great Goddess from which the lesser Greek and Roman goddesses derived. The Great Goddess was fractured by patriarchal invaders who worshiped a male "sky" god. The wisdom of women and their close connection to the Earth was trampled under the feet of the conquerors. Gone was an egalitarian, peaceful society of men and women who were equals. In came male dominance and the plundering of the planet. Or so one possible version of history goes, and likely there is at least some truth to be found in it. And as we are seeing, a little truth mixed into a carefully woven web of lies can be exceedingly effective.

Women, according to this Jungian interpretation, represent these fractured goddess figures, and men also contain them in the "feminine" aspect of their personalities. The pantheon of deities is given as a way of uncovering the dignity of our divine nature. From what I recall, The Goddess Within doesn't make a blatant statement that human beings are by nature divine. Yet the title might be making this implication, don't you think?

Is this collective unconscious real? Do individuals really have the collective memories of our species somehow stored inside of us? I don't know the answers to many of these questions. What I do know is that it isn't a far leap from "the goddess within" to "the Christ within", or from the "collective unconscious" to "Christ consciousness". If you have been following this topic of the New Age deception, perhaps you are beginning to see why I didn't want to tackle such a major project.

This whole personality typing thing is not much different from astrology and reading one's horoscope. It is merely more "scientific" in its presentation.  Perhaps it would be more useful if we were all encouraged to understand ourselves first and foremost as beloved children of the one, true Creator God, who is our Abba, and as brothers and sisters of Christ Jesus, with Mary as our spiritual Mother. If we were to see ourselves in the communion of saints rather than in a mythological pantheon. Wouldn't such a worldview have vast potential for helping us to discover our vocation in life and for healing our wounds? Ah, but that is the very last worldview that the New Age wants us to see.

I'm going to take a hiatus now, until after Christmas. So keep doing your own research. And most of all, have a happy, joyous holiday season with your family. Let auld acquaintance be forgot, and have a Merry Christmas!!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

New Age Deception: Self-Help & Spirituality




Concurrent with the popularity of New Age religion in the '90s was the explosion of the self-help literary genre. My favorite self-help book was Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy by Sarah Ban Breathnach. Published in 1995, I consider this book a classic. Walk into any used book store today, and you will likely find a copy on the shelves. This is one of those books that seemed to serendipitously come into my life when I needed it. I can still remember turning around in the Barnes & Noble in Columbus and seeing a sea of these pinkish books on display. It was calling to me.

Simple Abundance contains a series of daily meditations revolving around the tenets of gratitude, simplicity, order, harmony, beauty and joy. It's the perfect example of combining the psychology of self-help with a personal, spiritual journey. A book written by a woman specifically for women. Full of practical advice on such matters as finding your personal style and clearing clutter, it is scattered with quotes from famous poets, actresses, writers, spiritual teachers and sages, from Colette to Bette Davis, from E.E. Cummings to Louisa May Alcott. The ultimate goal is to fuse style with Spirit and to unearth your "authentic self."

In Ban Breathnach's book, The authentic self is the Soul made visible. The pearls of wisdom contained in this book hit a chord with women everywhere, as the New York Times best seller list can attest. Her message, that you already have everything you really need, and the encouragement to pare down material possessions and discover true abundance in life through her six principles, was by and large a good and positive message. I recently discovered that poor financial choices (and marrying the wrong man) lead to Sarah losing everything. This woman who had earned millions with her message of simplicity had squandered her fortune and ended up sleeping on her sister's couch.

The problem with a book and plan like Sarah's is that it reflects the trend of the times toward a rejection of traditional religion and the embracing of "spirituality." People in the '90s were fond of saying, "I'm not religious, but I'm spiritual." (And they still are.) Everyone was obsessed with trying to figure out who they authentically were, but this quest was typically set upon without the centrality of Christ and without seeking God's will for your life. "Spirit" was not the Holy Spirit, but was similar to the idea of the "Universe", and you could place an order with the Universe or Spirit and manifest the life you desired. This idea has increasingly become more popular.

There was an innocence in this, and by and far the intentions of these self-help authors and the people who followed their ideas were good. The truth is the truth wherever it is found, and the Catholic Church teaches that Christians can learn from the good in other faiths. Yet after taking the path of Simple Abundance, Sarah herself wasn't satisfied, and so she wrote a sequel, Something More. I agreed with her that there was still something missing that needed to be found, but this 2nd book didn't have the appeal for me that the first one did, and the question of what that "something more" was never got answered. That is, until one day when someone very special invited me to the Catholic Church. But that's later on in the story...

Simple Abundance, in my opinion, isn't expressly New Age. But it contains that quality of sounding Christian but not quite. It's this not quite Christian, "universal spirituality" that has lead to dangerously leading souls astray.

Monday, December 9, 2013

New Age Deception: Conversations with God, Channeling, & Reiki

Conversations with God is a series of books by Neale Donald Walsch, the first of which was published in 1995. I want to pause here and say that New Age religion was not just a fad that exploded in the '90s and then went out of style. It existed before then, and it is alive and well today; it has merely changed its name. Now it is called, among other things, the "New Spirituality" and the "New World View" and has successfully infiltrated the Christian Church. I'm giving you my personal experience, so please bear with me. These dots will all connect.

Conversations with God was marketed as a channeled message. The author claimed that God himself spoke directly through him, and Walsch wrote down everything God had to say. It might sound surprising that anyone would take a book seriously that was advertised as delivering a channeled message from the Almighty, yet the first book stayed on the New York Times best seller list for 137 weeks. The succeeding 8 volumes appeared prominently (stats courtesy of Wikipedia). In other words, millions of copies sold, and Walsch made a lot of money. People really believed this was the voice of God.

I knew one young woman in particular, who had underlined various passages throughout the book. She had read and reread until the pages were worn. She had absorbed these teachings. When I expressed doubt, her response was a cheerful, "We need to work on you!" I don't actually remember who this woman was or how I knew her, but I think she was a friend of a friend, because I remember someone else being at her house. At any rate, I think I got a copy of the book from the library. I never finished it. The one thing that stands out in my mind is the supposed God's comment that he doesn't care who, or how many people, we have sex with.

You might think that would be enough to tip off anyone who had been raised Christian to the fact that this book was a phoney. But if you were, say, a young, unmarried, sexually active person, you might be tempted to believe this nonsense. Maybe sex outside of marriage wasn't a sin after all! What actually made me draw the conclusion that these were not God's words was the writing style. Sometimes God was using the "thees and thous" of the King James version of the Bible, and other times he was speaking in modern English. I decided that the old English was being used to sound authentic, but the author wasn't smart enough to be consistent. Being an English nerd was clearly in my favor that time. Bullet dodged.

That's not to say that these books were not authentic channelings. What do I mean by that? Simply this. When you open the door to the occult, you never know what sort of spirits you are letting in. Spiritual warfare is real. The devil is real, and demons are real. And they can and do speak through people. The great New Age achievement is to make us believe that there is no such thing as evil, no such thing as hell. Certainly no such thing as sin. There is no duality. We are all one, and there is no separation between us and God. Everything is God. This is the message of Conversations with God.

Incidentally, the young woman who hung on every word of this book also introduced me to Reiki. She held her hands closely over my body. My eyes were closed, and suddenly I could feel a strong heat coming from my chest. It didn't hurt; I just felt an intense warmth. Right as I was having this experience, the woman told me that she could feel a lot of heat coming from my heart chakra. Chakras are "energy centers" of the body. Reiki is supposed to heal you by balancing these energies. I was an immediate believer. We had both felt the same thing!

I will cover Reiki more extensively later, but since this experience is linked in my mind with Conversations with God, it makes sense to introduce the topic now. I only very recently learned that Reiki is considered by many to be part of the New Age movement. I couldn't see what could be wrong with it, because this idea of spiritual "energy" had become so entrenched in my mind that I had for years just assumed it to be true. The Reiki practioner channels (there's that word again!) universal energy (the Universe again!) to balance the body's energy centers and promote healing. But where does this power of healing really come from? Ah, dear Watson, that is the question.

New Age Deception: The Celestine Prophesy

In 1993 author James Redfield published The Celestine Prophesy. This book is a page turner, the exciting adventure of a man searching for the spiritual truths found in an ancient manuscript from Peru. I actually thought it was a true story when I read it. It turned out to be a spiritual allegory. Basically the protagonist follows a series of "signs", one coincidence after another that leads him on his destined path. The theme is that mankind is evolving toward a new spiritual awakening, the end result being that we will no longer have bodies but will be pure spirits.

This sounds hokey, yes? No one bought this premise, right? At the time that I read it, probably the year it was published or soon after, my dad told me it was New Age. Well, I didn't want to hear that. The story was so exciting, and I honestly believed that these types of books were really teaching "universal spiritual truths." When I thought of New Age, Shirley MacLaine, crystals, and reincarnation came to mind. I was never interested in crystals and didn't believe in reincarnation. I did feel uncomfortable with the whole idea that people will evolve to no longer have bodies, and I had forgotten all about that until I started retracing my New Age/occult path in my mind.




Surely after 20 years all of this nonsense has been forgotten, with no lasting, harmful effects? It was a silly phase of youth, and I am over it. Um, no. In fact, just a few posts back (Nov. 6, Belief.), I used the word synchronicity and asserted that "There are no coincidences." What I was talking about in this article was a "Holy Spirit moment", but I used lingo and philosophy directly from A Celestine Prophesy!

This idea of there being no coincidences, of everything and everyone being related, literally being one, is a core teaching of New Age philosophy. If you keep your eyes and ears and intuition open, you will be given signs on your journey to spiritual awakening. The right people, circumstances, and things you need will all fall into place, as if by magic. The Universe will conspire to get you exactly what you want. And truly, book after book crossed my path, each feeding my spiritual hunger. But what I was being fed was a doctrine of lies. I thought I was reading about "universal spiritual truths", those truths common to all of the world's religions. And that is precisely the goal of the New Age: one world religion.

A few years ago I danced to a song, "Gypsy" by Khan Nal, with these lyrics: We don't need your lost religion to tell us who we are. We're all...one! One people, one spirit, one earth...  And who does New Age religion say we really are? It says we are God.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

New Age Deception: A Witch Hunt Begins

http://www.womenofgrace.com/blog/?cat=6482

 
I was driving in my car a couple of weeks ago, listening to Catholic Radio, and a woman was talking about the "New Age deception".  My ears pricked, because since early in the fall I had been feeling tempted to practice magic. This is something I once did back in the 1990s. It's a long story. In fact, it's turning out to be much longer than I would have anticipated, and I really don't want to write about this.

But here's the thing I have discovered. New Age spirituality is literally everywhere.  Blatant witchcraft is not even the most dangerous threat, because it is what it claims to be. That's not to minimize the spiritual dangers of casting spells. But the biggest threats are the wolves in sheep's clothing, and they have infiltrated the entire culture, right down to the churches. That's your church and mine. Catholic, mainline Protestant, evangelical, nondenominational--New Age/New Thought religion is the Old Religion in disguise. Like the song goes, "It's witchcraft."  Worst of all, it's being advertised as Christianity, as the "New Reformation."

This is going to be a long conversation. I'm not looking forward to it. Many of you will not believe me. What I want you to do is just begin by clicking on the link at the top and start reading. Anywhere. You will be fascinated, trust me. It's the EWTN Women of Grace blog, the New Age section. (If the link doesn't work, just google "EWTN Women of Grace blog"). There is an alphabetical index, and you can start with anything that catches your interest. The more you dig, the deeper it goes. Join me on a witch hunt. No pitchfork necessary; just pick up your brooms and clean house! Here is clue #1:






Saturday, December 7, 2013

Make a List!

It is easy to get overwhelmed during the holiday season. You can end up feeling like you have so much to do that nothing gets done. So let me share a tip I learned when I was a Mary Kay Beauty Consultant. Make a list of the six most important things that you need to accomplish each day. Why 6? I don't really know! But I think it's because it isn't so long that it is never-ending, but it is long enough to determine your priorities and make significant inroads to your tasks.

Yesterday I was wiped out from my "monthly visitor", but I had made myself a list the night before. Without realizing it, I had written down exactly six items. Despite my fatigue, I did five of those things. I had my list, so I didn't have to stop and think about what I had intended to do. You think you will remember, but if you're like me, you won't. I put homeschooling on the list, even though it was an obvious thing to do. You could make an additional list of the 6 most important learning activities you want to do each day as well.

The item I didn't get done was to make a gift list. My husband and I always write down who we are shopping for at Christmastime, and we note what we have gotten for them as we go along. It works pretty well, though the list is his idea, and I dread making it for some reason. Put any unfinished tasks on a fresh list for the next day, rather than just crossing out and adding to the current list. You need a fresh start each day.

Make sure before you venture out that you have eaten a good breakfast. Take some coffee with you if you drink it. Pack some healthy snacks, and bring water in the car for the children. Happy shopping, and as Mary Kay was fond of saying, "You can do it!"


Friday, November 22, 2013

Simply Catholic.

I have changed the description of this blog to Simply Catholic. This was inspired by the topic of cafeteria Catholicism written about in the last post. I left a Catholic homeschooling Facebook group recently because of the division and extremism that I witnessed there. Early in my journey to the Catholic Church, I became aware of the controversy around the interpretation and implementation of Vatican II, and the split among Catholics who consider themselves "traditional" or "progressive", or who have adopted the political monikers of "liberal" and "conservative" to describe their brand of Catholicism.

The thing is, Catholicism doesn't come in brands. There are Rites, the major groupings being the Roman, Antiochian, Alexandrian, and Byzantine, each representing an ecclesiastical tradition about how the sacraments are to be celebrated. That's right, not all Catholics are Roman Catholics! And there are various religious orders, such as the Dominicans and the Franciscans. The Mass can be validly celebrated in either Latin or in the vernacular language. There is Sunday Mass and daily Mass, high Mass and low Mass. But it is all one, unified religion. Catholic literally means, universal. "Catholic" refers to the universal Christian Church. Catholic is Catholic.

So why isn't it simple? I suppose it's because the Church is made up of many good but flawed and sinful people. In the cacophony of conflicting opinions, some find it easiest to cling to the rules, laws, and doctrines in the most literal way possible, resulting in a joyless, white-glove-test scrupulousness. Others have decided to just chuck the whole thing and leave the Church. Still others stay and make the best of it, striving to be loyal to Jesus and his Church while keeping their hearts open to the leading of the Spirit and a deeper development of faith that is unique and personal. Among those are advocates for change, which manifests in myriad ways, all wishing for the real Church to please stand up.

A woman in another FB group warned me not to romanticize the Church. "But why not?" I wondered. It all seemed to make so much sense, lovely as a perfect day in May. And I do believe that in Catholicism the fulness of the Christian faith is found. The in-fighting, however, is all too real. I witnessed and participated in a heated FB argument on the before-mentioned Catholic homeschooling forum about whether or not yoga is a permissible practice for Catholics. Come to find out that EWTN, a Catholic TV station, has warned against not only yoga, but aromatherapy, hot stone massage, reiki, and herbal remedies. I also learned that there is even something called a sede vacantist, who is a person that believes that the Chair of Peter is currently empty; in fact, some believe that there hasn't been a valid pope since Vatican II!! But these people still go to Mass. ?????

It's enough to occasionally make me want to run away screaming. But among the thorns I have heard voices of those roses who say, "I am simply Catholic." No divisive labeling, no holier than thou high horse prancing. The hope, for me, lies in determining what about the faith is most important to me and relevant to my life today. I am not suggesting a "take what you like and leave the rest" attitude in terms of Church teaching. I simply want to look at what drew me to the Church in the first place, and what made me decide that it was imperative to become Catholic. Not every doctrine is of equal importance, and not every bit of the Catechism has to be near and dear to my heart.

If you too are a Catholic, or any Christian, who feels disillusioned and discouraged, let's take a few quiet moments to write down what matters to us most. Brew a nice, hot cup of tea, put on some soothing music, light a candle or incense, and meditate upon what the Spirit is trying to tell you. This will not be the same for every person, but for each of us there burns a holy light.


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Cafeteria Catholics

http://www.uscatholic.org/church/2008/07/cafeteria-catholics


I often write in order to sort something out in my own mind. Bringing what's tumbling around in my head in an irritating way to the page can bring clarity. So I hope it to be with this issue of "cafeteria Catholics". What does this mean? It is typically used as a derogatory term for those who claim to be Catholic yet do not believe or practice everything the Church teaches. Right away, the use of this term toward others puts one into a "holier than thou" position, which brings about the sin of pride. The remedy to pride is humility. That's why I liked the "Cafeteria Catholics" article from U.S. Catholic linked above. It encouraged in me the impulse to lighten up, to not take myself so seriously, and to detach from the scrupulousness I have been witnessing among certain Catholics and have noticed in myself.

It is understandable that as a recent convert to Catholicism, I would be disturbed by the memory of statements made by RCIA staff members that they do not believe everything the Church teaches, and especially by the claim of one of them that neither does our priest. Maybe people in a leadership position would serve newcomers to the faith best if they did not openly express their doubts. Then again, maybe knowing that even devout Catholics can have a crisis of faith, or experience periods of questioning certain teachings, provides an important role model. It is human, and a natural part of the faith journey, to go through various stages of maturity. I do think that if a leader does express disbelief that he or she should do so with caution, and with a specific explanation given and particular purpose for sharing it.

The priest who authored the article speaks a lot about the diversity of Church members. This makes me think of something my grandpa once said: "Everyone sitting in church believes a little bit differently. The important thing is that we go."  I think that stuck with me because of its simple but profound truth. Everyone sitting in Mass is there to worship God to the best of his or her ability, and no one does it perfectly. They are there to receive Jesus in the Eucharist, whether or not they have a complete understanding of, or belief in, the Church's teachings. One parishioner may have theologically or historically valid reasons in mind for why she thinks the Church should allow the ordination of women. Another might be struggling with why the Church thinks contraception is intrinsically evil and may not entirely agree.

When the priest in the article talks about the teaching of transubstantiation being a difficult one for answering a definitive "yes" or "no" in regard to belief, he comes across as potentially heretical. Yet I think he is trying to say that he believes in the Real Presence of Jesus in the consecrated bread and wine, but that how this miracle takes place could be explained and understood in a number of ways. In the Bread of Life Discourse in John 6: 47-59, in tandem with the events of the Last Supper in the synoptic Gospels, the truth of what the Church calls transubstantiation is clear.

Jesus talks graphically about the necessity of eating of his flesh and drinking his blood, and at the Last Supper he establishes the sacrament of Communion, which explicates how exactly we will be able to partake of his body and blood. But this is still a great mystery of the faith, and theologians have used various metaphors for how the bread and wine still looks and tastes the same but has somehow become the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus, which he gives us for spiritual nourishment and to conform us to himself in one Mystical Body. Transubstantiation is the official Church teaching, but that does not exclude other notions of the Real Presence, as long as they do not conflict with Church doctrine. Being overly scrupulous can have the effect of taking the awe and beauty out of the great Mystery of Faith.




When it comes to faith, not everyone has to be in the same place, on the same page. Faith is a state of being which lives, breathes, and grows. It can even have its dark nights of the soul. The key here is that we don't judge one another's spiritual path. That we seek to understand another person's view, find the common ground, and engage in compassionate, meaningful dialogue. Yes, I believe everything the Church teaches and submit to her authority in matters of faith and morals. At the same time, I endeavor toward a faith that is personal, that is unique to me.

For example, I believe in the Trinity, the teaching established by the authority of the Catholic Church that there is one God in three divine persons--the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This is Church dogma, which all of the faithful are compelled to believe. My personal theology is that in the relationship of the three persons of the Trinity there exists a "feminine" dimension, though of course God is pure spirit, neither male nor female. That God contains the perfection of the qualities of both a father and a mother is official Church teaching. The way I understand the feminine principle of the Trinity doesn't contradict Church doctrine as far as I am aware.

Basically I believe that the biblical character of Wisdom reveals the feminine nature of God, and most expressly the bridal-maternal qualities of the Holy Spirit. It is also Church teaching that the Virgin Mary is the "dwelling" of the Holy Spirit. Likewise, I perceive that Mary is a personal manifestation and especial sanctuary of Wisdom. There have been and are orthodox Catholics who believe in a similar way, such as Thomas Merton and St. Maximilian Kolbe, while there are others who decidedly don't.

The Church does not demand a blind obedience to her doctrines. She does, in fact, encourage intellectual discernment in regard to religious beliefs and the application of the informed conscience in moral considerations.

We do not all need to believe in exactly the same way. The notion that everyone should be the same is actually part of the heresy of modernism, which the U.S. seems especially prone toward, and from whence "political correctness" is derived. Perhaps most damaging is that our sins of pride and our rigid, judgmental scruples will be reflected in our children. We need to accept our differences, even if we strongly disagree. We must try to see Christ in every face; but I'm not there yet, and that's okay. I just need to do my best to follow our Lord. And that's all we can ask of one another. If we truly need to correct a brother or sister in a matter of grave importance, let us do so with humility and lovingkindness.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Contemplative Prayer & Lectio Divina



http://www.beliefnet.com/Faiths/Catholic/2000/08/How-To-Practice-Lectio-Divina.aspx

This link provides a step by step method for practicing lectio divina. In this post I'd like to continue the conversation regarding the married contemplative vocation. Prayer is at the heart of Christian contemplative practice. On my journey to the Catholic faith, I discovered this idea of praying the scriptures. Last year, as Advent was upon us, I asked a Catholic friend what we do especially in this season as we prepare for Christmas. She told me that the Church provides a booklet of daily readings. These little books for particular seasons in the liturgical year give interesting information on Church history on one side, and on the facing page a verse from Sacred Scripture with a reflection.

The practice of praying the scriptures is much different than the more well-known study of the Bible. Verses are not chosen as proof texts to back up one's particular beliefs, or for memorization. It is not done to explore a religious theme or to gain scholarly knowledge, though any of these things may be an indirect result. Rather, lectio divina is a direct communication with God through the Word of God. My understanding is that one opens oneself to the divine Wisdom of the Holy Spirit. The passage is meditated upon, and perhaps a particular sentence will stand out. This is a personal message to carry throughout the day, so certainly it might be memorized as you repeat it over and over again. I am often inspired to journal my response as part of the process. Lectio divina allows a space for private revelation, which if it is truly from God, will not contradict the teachings of the Church. This interior experience of the divine through Sacred Scripture is then followed by spontaneous prayer.

The Rosary is the contemplative prayer par excellence. It was through the Rosary that I not only developed a personal relationship with Mary, but was led to a renewed relationship with Jesus. I felt a little uncomfortable in the presence of my Lord, understanding him with a greater reverence as I experienced the fullness of the Christian faith in Catholicism. Coming before him in the Rosary was facilitated through the maternal intersession of his Blessed Mother. Now I saw Jesus' life through the eyes of Mary, and my faith deepened with each encounter of the Mysteries, which are the stories of his birth and childhood, his saving mission, and his death and resurrection. When I was initially learning to pray the Rosary, I would read the entire Bible passage related to each Mystery, until I knew the story by heart. I still revisit those stories to keep them fresh in my mind, and I always use at least one piece of scripture for each meditation.

As a Protestant I had known Jesus as a friend and a savior, but not as Lord and King. I did not have the awe proper and necessary to worship of him. I was penitent in having been away from him for so long, and in treating him more like a genie that grants my wishes and solves my problems than with the honor that he deserves. That is not necessarily the fault of the Protestant churches I attended; it is simply my experience.

Another traditionally Catholic type of prayer is the Novena, a prayer said for 9 consecutive days, which may invoke the help of God directly (ie. Jesus, the Father, or the Holy Spirit) or through the intercession of Mary or one of the saints. Novenas often reflect a particular devotion, such as praying to Our Lady of Consolation in a time of great sorrow. If I am remembering correctly, the tradition of 9 days comes from the story of Pentecost in the Book of Acts, when St. Peter led 120 disciples of Jesus in prayer for 9 days, leading up to the coming of the Holy Spirit.

Having all of these modes of prayer available to me has enriched my prayer life inestimably. I have never before been such a prayerful, scripture reading person. Prayer is centering and comforting, it can be meditative, and it is ultimately transforming. Prayer defines relationship with God. There is no one, right way to pray, and in the Catholic Church I have found mediated such gifts and blessings as go beyond words. For those moments when I don't have the words, I can rely upon Sacred Scripture and those prayers of holy people of God whose inspiration echoes throughout the ages.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Belief.

Upon pondering the vocation of the contemplative mother, it seems that the subject of belief is a natural place to start. As Catholics, it is our duty to know our faith. Here is the Apostles' Creed:

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
Creator of heaven and earth;
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son,
our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
He descended into hell.
On the third day He rose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand
of God the Father Almighty; from there he shall
come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and life everlasting. Amen.

I typed that from memory. I prefer this over the Nicene Creed, because it is much shorter and easier to memorize. The Apostles' Creed is also recited at the beginning of the Rosary. Either creed is a simple statement of faith from which all of the Church's teachings flow.

Recently I have been looking for a definite answer to the question, Must we believe everything the Church teaches? Certain experiences I had in RCIA were nagging at the back of my mind, perhaps because I was aware this fall of the beginning of the new class of students interested in becoming Catholic. I had heard from a couple of staff members the statement, "I don't believe everything the Church teaches." This was even said of our priest, but he never said such a thing himself. I did take the question to another priest, because I was concerned about what seemed to be a case of the "cafeteria Catholic", who picks and chooses which teachings he will follow from the buffet. To my surprise, I was assured that there aren't that many teachings that we must believe, so in that respect it would be okay to be a cafeteria Catholic!

Still not satisfied, I sought clarification from our priest on the particular point of birth control, and from the RCIA director regarding the general statements made about not believing everything the Church teaches. I was assured that the program was completely in line with the Church's Magisterium. Some small "t" traditions, which are changeable by the Church to best serve the current needs of the laity at whatever point in history we are at, were cited. Also referred to were the "levels of faith" that one may progress through on one's faith journey, with the result at higher levels of a lesser need for rules and regulations. I was left wondering if the only teachings which Catholics are absolutely required to believe are those items labeled as definitive dogma.

Through this whole experience I felt like I wasn't being given a straight answer. Fortunately, the Holy Spirit will often help us get to the truth in an indirect way, through what is sometimes called synchronicity. In other words, there are no coincidences. Everything is connected, and sometimes we see with uncommon clarity a solution to a problem, or we are led in a particular direction, by a series of events or encounters with people. This is what happened in this case.

I called another homeschooling mother whose child was visiting at my house to get directions to bring her child home. One landmark given was a Catholic church the location of which I had not previously known. I told her how happy I was that I would now know how to get there, so I could visit that church for Mass. It turned out that the other mother had grown up Catholic and was even confirmed, but she is now Protestant. As you can imagine, this conversation was very interesting, and she asked me an unexpected question. Very simply, "Do you believe all of it?" For a brief moment it seemed like a funny question. After all, why would I have converted if I didn't believe everything the Church teaches? So my answer was, without reservation, "Yes".

The subject of the transubstantiation of the Eucharistic bread and wine into the real body and blood of Christ came up, and I shared that it was the Bible that actually led me to believe this was true. I cited the Bread of Life Discourse in John 6. I think that this was the first time since I've become Catholic that I have been a witness of my faith to a non-Catholic. I am certain that it was the Holy Spirit, speaking through my friend, who was asking me point blank, "Woman, do you believe?" Wow, what an amazing experience!

Sure, there are those things about which the Church allows varying opinions. And certainly our faith will deepen, our understanding will grow, and we will have doubts along the way. But even if we don't understand or fully agree with an official teaching, as Catholics we are bound to accept the authority of the Church. Must we believe everything she teaches? The answer is yes. It isn't a question of some arbitrary "levels" of faith, which by the way, is not a teaching of the Church. It's a matter of obedience to Christ through obedience to his Church. Is this the Church which Jesus built upon the rock named Peter--to whom he gave the keys to the Kingdom--against which he said the gates of hell would not prevail (Matt. 16:18)? Is this indeed the Church that Jesus called "the pillar and ground of the truth" (1Tim. 3:15), to which any disputes about the Christian faith must be taken?

When I came to believe that the Catholic Church is the Church that Jesus founded, the Church which traces its history (and it is a matter of history) back to the 12 apostles, then there was no other Church to which I could belong. And if I can't answer, Yes, I believe everything she teaches, then I know I've got some serious soul searching to do.


St. Peter



Monday, November 4, 2013

The Contemplative Mother

St. Anne and the Virgin Mary
 


I have at times half joked that if my husband ever died, I wouldn't remarry. I'd become a nun. The funny thing is, I wasn't Catholic at the time! I still don't think I would become a nun, because of the hours they keep (very early risers, prayers in the middle of the night) and the wardrobe. Of course I would do it if God called me to it, but he would have to call really, really loudly.

When most people think of contemplatives, they imagine a cloistered religious life. Having read Ordinary People as Monks and Mystics by Marsha Sinetar, I know that one can receive a similar calling without being a monk or a nun, or even a hermit. Married women raising children, such as myself, can have mystical experiences and be drawn to a sacred silence and solitude. If I am being called to a contemplative vocation within my marital vocation, a lot of things would make sense. Experiences like spiritual restlessness, dark nights of the soul, a desire to withdraw from the world, a highly developed empathic sense, and sensitivity to Beauty. I think that this blog came into being as a result of a deep need for contemplation combined with the calling to write.

For about nine years before I got married, I lived by myself in the same apartment. I spent hours journaling and writing poetry, and reading spiritual books. I always worked, and I kept thinking that I just had to find the right career in order to feel fulfilled, and for everything to fall into place. I knew that there was something that I was created to do. Unfortunately, it can take a long time to earn a living as a writer, if it ever happens. At the age of 30 I went back to school and became an esthetician. I finally had the lucrative career I wanted, making more money than I needed and using many creative skills. Then I got married at 33, had my baby at 35, and became a Mother. This has been my highest calling so far.

The urge to simplify life as a wife and mother, to live organically and authentically, and to find deeper meaning in everyday routines has underpinned our goal as a family to live life by our own lights. Every small choice contributes to a more abundant life: not having television; being vegetarian; eating locally grown and organic food, and growing some of our own; learning to bake bread and pizza dough; homeschooling; having only one (very small) car; buying much of our clothing from thrift stores; using safe, natural personal care products; recycling and composting, etc... What if all of these things are directly related to my being undeniably drawn toward contemplation? I always felt most like myself when I was reading those spiritual books, journaling, and creating religious ritual.

Today I once again unsubscribed to various websites, blogs, and advertisements. I simply can't keep up with reading everything in my inbox. I am even considering deactivating my FB account, or at least hiding it. I find myself spending too much time wrapped up in group conversations with people I don't personally know. While there are blessings to be found in belonging to an online group of people with shared lifestyles and interests, I want to concentrate more of my time on my own family and friends, and keeping in touch with people via the telephone (not texting, but actually talking) and letter writing. It is crazy to imagine that some day soon younger people will no longer be able to read and write in cursive, so it will be like a secret code!

My joie de vivre project certainly stemmed from this longing for the contemplative life, and I want to re-concentrate my efforts in that direction, being brutal in cutting out all nonessential elements in my daily round, not just in my wardrobe. For now I am contemplating of what the married contemplative life would consist for me and how I will order my days in light of that spiritual focus.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Dark Night of the Soul

I think that I may be in the midst of what St. John of the Cross, and in more modern times, spiritual writer Caroline Myss, called the "dark night of the soul." I don't feel cut off from God's presence, which has happened to many devout Christian people, even Mother Teresa, who experienced this spiritual state for something like 30 years. For this I am grateful. But perhaps I am cutting myself off from God's healing and comforting love when I allow the weight of the world to fall on my heart.

Lately the news all seems to conspire toward hopelessness and despair. I watched a Nightline video of school children, particularly those with severe behavior disorders and autism, being subjected to barbaric measures such as electric shock therapy. The use of padded "quiet" cells children are locked into is becoming more prevalent. A mother was interviewed whose son died of cardiac arrest after suffering brutality at the hands of adults at his school. He is not the only child to die such an unthinkable death. Unthinkable especially in America, the land of the free. I wondered to myself, what is next, the return of the lobotomy? The night I viewed this news report, I had a nightmare that freaked me out so badly I woke up, frozen in my bed, and didn't shut my eyes again until the sun shined through my windows. The dream involved axes and people's heads. I still haven't quite shaken it. Maybe because it seems like it wasn't just a dream. Here is the link to the video:

http://www.upworthy.com/something-sickening-is-happening-to-some-of-our-schoolchildren-and-you-probably-have-no-idea?c=ufb1

Daily it seems we hear of more government violations of our freedoms. The latest I have learned about is the use of drone planes coming back from the Middle East being trained to fly over the U.S. to spy on citizens. Obamacare, the Common Core Curriculum in our schools, rampant government tracking of private information, and now the drones--it all points to increasing control over our everyday lives. I have even read that mandatory micro-chipping of humans will be legal under the Affordable Care Act. The government shut down and yet another school shooting recently, and I feel like seriously leaving the country. If something drastic isn't done soon, we will no longer be living in a free society. I think we are reaching a tipping point, and a revolution is coming.

Yesterday I signed a petition to stop Common Core in Ohio. I have signed petitions and sent money to the Pro-Life Alliance to overturn Roe vs. Wade by passing a Life at Conception Act. Today I signed a petition against the use of drone planes in the U.S. and other violations of liberty. I'm prepared to march, to sit in protest, to do what must be done to save my country. It isn't just me falling into a dark night of the soul. It's Lady Liberty.

Don't forget that Our Lady has told us that the Rosary is our strongest weapon against evil. This simple prayer and meditation has won battles and saved countless souls. What we are witnessing in this country, today, is spiritual warfare. But we are distracted into not seeing the forest for the trees. In the name of Jesus, demons flee. Say His name out loud, and they will leave. Invoke the protection of our Blessed Mother, and she will hear your cries. Our Lord and Our Lady of Victory will win the day, but we must do our part.

If you are aware of anything at all that can be done to save our country from going to hell in a hand basket, please leave the information in the comment box rather than on Facebook, so that everyone, and not just those groups in which I post this blog, can read it. As Rafiki said in "The Lion King" when Simba was destined to reclaim his rightful throne from the evil Scar, "It is time!"




Thursday, October 24, 2013

The New Me, Who Is the Old Me, and What I Have to Say

The vast majority of my readers are lovely people, and I appreciate you so much for reading. The problem I'm experiencing now is my gradual awakening to the fact that I have watered down my own soul to suit other people, and I resolve now to be done with this. If you didn't like me before because I openly express my opinion and value my own experience over some so-called "empirical evidence" to the contrary, beware. Just don't read this blog anymore, and go ahead and unfriend me on Facebook. I may be a lady, but I'm not going to coddle the whiners, haters, meanies, gossips, and censors anymore. I'm sick of being diplomatic and editing my words so that someone isn't offended. No more, "Please understand me! That isn't what I meant. Let me change my words so you won't be angry." Either you understand or you don't. I DON'T CARE. You can thank Matt Walsh's blog for this. He isn't unkind. He simply calls a spade a spade. So here is what is bugging me right now.

I am a religious education teacher at a Catholic church. My eight year old cousin was expressing to me that the security cameras all over her school, as well as the armed janitors, give her the creeps. She is deeply disturbed by this prison-like atmosphere. When I was discussing this with a group of the CCD children, another adult was quick to stress that if you aren't doing anything wrong, why should it bother you? She also suggested that parents make children have these ideas. As an administrator, she condones this madness. So many things are wrong with this picture! First of all, the insinuation that kids can't think for themselves, and that their honest feelings aren't valid. Second, that it's those darned parents causing all the trouble. And the further implication that parents shouldn't have such undue influence on their own children.

As a parent, and as a former classroom teacher, and as a person who is trying to remove my head from decades of brainwashing sand, and as I told this woman, the security cameras are a violation of privacy, and I wouldn't like it, regardless of whether or not I was being "good" or "bad".  Armed security guards don't stop school shootings, and neither do cameras. Ask the students at Columbine. She suggested that at least the cameras would catch the identity of the shooter. Um, isn't the shooter usually dead at the end and therefore easily identifiable? He usually commits suicide. So tell me again the reason for the cameras? So that the school knows which kids are picking their noses and how many squares of toilet tissue they use? Granted, security cameras aren't usually placed in restrooms, but the issue of privacy is still at stake, especially considering the overall threat to freedom in America that seems to grow more menacing every day.

As a parent, I don't want the government videotaping or otherwise tracking my kid. I don't want the government usurping my God-given right as the primary educator of my child. I don't want the daughter of my womb to value the opinion of her peers and strangers at school over that of her parents. If my kid was freaked out by cameras and a man with a mop in one hand and a gun in his pocket, I would care. I would care even if it wasn't my own kid. I do care, and I do pay taxes for this government imprisonment of our children's souls. And as a concerned, tax paying citizen, I object!  Administrators do not know better than parents. Being an administrator doesn't make you smarter or more qualified in regard to the welfare and education of children than anyone else. I will not have my opinion invalidated by "professional" educators.

At least I told my fellow Catholic woman, politely but firmly, what I thought. I stood up for those who cannot stand up for themselves. At least maybe I bothered her enough that she went home and thought about what I said. Maybe I planted a little seed, and she adjusted her attitude more toward one of champion of children, and supporter of the work of loving parents. Maybe she saw a bit of light shining through the sand.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Boyfriend Jeans & Dark Days

We have had some gorgeous fall weather here in NW Ohio, and also some chilly, rainy days. I even heard talk of s**w for this week on Facebook, but my friend was posting from Michigan, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it will stay north of us! Today it is growing darker and blusterier as I write this, in the middle of the afternoon. At my daughter's request, I turned on the gas log fireplace and can feel its warmth as I sit and type, with a Sacred Heart of Jesus jar candle lit on the coffee table. We also have an orange string of lights decorating the limestone mantle. It is these little touches that will get you through the dark days ahead.

I have fallen off the joie de vivre wagon lately. I share this because maybe you have too, and I want to tell you that it's okay! My laundry got behind, and I stopped eating breakfast again and wasn't eating enough for lunch. I don't even want to tell you about my snacking. Old habits die hard! However, I ate breakfast this morning and had a hearty bowl of chile for lunch. I am catching up on the laundry, which I did not allow to achieve the mountain status in my basement that it had reached before! And progress has still been made.

I was feeling like we were focusing too much on revolving our day around homeschooling academics, so one day last week I taught Beezy to bake French baguettes, which she had asked to learn the previous time that I made bread. And I found my perfect boyfriend jeans, Gap brand from Ebay. These were less than $20 including shipping! Still on my list for my essential wardrobe are 2 pairs of lounge pants and 2 cashmere sweaters. I have continued to work on perfecting my "le no makeup" look and most days have looked presentable and pulled together. I still have to go through hundreds of pictures on my camera to delete unwanted photos before my husband will transfer them to the computer.

Soon I will show you my fall outfits and bread baking pleasures. Sometimes it seems like procrastination rules the day, the house will never be perfectly in order, I lose sight of my priorities, and I feel just plain out of sorts. But you can start fresh at any moment of each day, or if the whole day seems to be a failure, there is always tomorrow. Just get out for a walk, even in the rain. Put on some lipstick and a great CD. Make a big pot of soup and get a fire going. You might be surprised to find that you are only a little off track, and just a few, slight adjustments will get things running smoothly again. Today, do one thing that you love and one thing that you don't want to do that needs to be done. Before you go to bed, write down 5 things for which you are grateful this day.

In fact, I'll start right now, and you can put yours in the comments!

1. My aunt who had a stroke Friday night survived and is starting therapy today.
2. My daughter is enjoying visiting a new friend at our house, so I can get things done!
3. I have a roof over my head and a gas log fireplace.
4. Many people are praying for my aunt and have asked how she is doing.
5. My husband provides an income for our family so I can homeschool!

Okay, now I am going to clean the bathroom sink, which I don't feel like doing, and then sometime this evening I will watch one of the many movies I have checked out from the library, such as one of my favorites for this time of year, "Practical Magic." Have a magical day!!







Wednesday, October 16, 2013

How to Be Chic in Sweats



Once again Cara Loren shows us how it's done! You may remember my mentioning how I am on the look out for replacement lounge pants. I've been wearing the same velour drawstring pants during the winter for many years. Sure, they are comfortable, but their colors are faded and I simply want something more stylish. Like Cara, when it gets cold, comfort becomes a top priority. I often don't leave the house in winter except to walk the dog, unless we have somewhere to go, such as church, homeschool co-op, or to visit grandparents. The way Cara is wearing them, lounge pants could even work for church!

Anthropologie is showing a lot of fun, stylish lounge pants right now. But of course I am waiting for a sale (and Christmas)! This pair from Windsor is less than $13. I love this style with banded cuffs. Reminds me of harem pants! If you like wearing heels, you can dress up pants like these, but booties or ballet flats would look just as great and be a lot more practical. I am terribly averse to sweat pants, by which I mean the old-fashioned variety worn by Sylvester Stalone in "Rocky". Do not ever, even when exercising, wear those, ladies!! But can you be chic and comfortable at the same time? Absolutely.

What is your go-to style for comfort in fall and winter?






Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Morning Star

Morning Star

As the Mother of Christ, Mary is the morning star announcing the rising of the Sun of Righteousness. Like the moon at the dawn of a new day, she is wholly bathed in the glory of the sun that is to come after her. Her beauty is a reflection of his.

— from Catholic Update Guide to Mary


I have been enjoying seeing the moon in the autumn sky during the day lately, watching the progression of fullness and thinking about how her cycles reflect the monthly cycles of womanhood, and also the growing belly of pregnancy. For some reason it is the season of fall that most heightens my awareness of the Presence of God in nature, of the crisp aliveness of creation during this last, great flourishing of Beauty.

The moon is associated with our Blessed Mother, as she reflects the pure Love of Jesus, just as the moon reflects the sun. She is the Woman of Revelation, the great sign which appears in heaven, clothed with the sun, with the moon beneath her feet, and upon her head a crown of 12 stars. Mary's fertility as a maiden, her Divine Motherhood, and her sorrow in later years at the foot of the cross echo the cycles of life of all women from the beginning of time. I feel a kinship with Mary and with our Earth, both of whom God has given to nurture and mother us with her bounteous gifts.

The Virgin is a radiant reflection of Beauty, purity, patience, perseverance, generosity, faith, compassion, and Love. When I see the moon in the daytime sky, it reminds me that the Mother Love of God, God's immanent Presence among us, is beheld in nature and in the arms of Jesus' Mother, Our Lady, Mediatrix of Grace, the Morning Star.

How are you honoring our spiritual Mother this month of October, a traditional time to remember her in a special way?



Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Full-On Fall

Well, I think it's official. Summer is gone, though I'm sure we will still have some warm days before winter comes. We've had some very chilly days lately in NW Ohio, and sweater season is upon us! I am currently working on sorting through my cold weather clothing that has been stored in the attic. I am keeping the tub of summer clothes that I am preparing to store away in my bedroom closet right now, while I make sure I have everything that will go in there clean from the laundry, and in case I need to pull out a pair of shorts at some point (we can always hope)! I'm also carefully considering whether some items may work with creative layering for year round. But I'm also keeping in mind that thin fabrics really won't suffice when the air is frigid. It's still hard to let go, even when I am simply storing things away, not making permanent decisions. The key is to be practical and honest with myself. And I want to make room for new pieces that will make getting dressed a joy and a breeze!

Since I've had so much bad luck finding belts, I asked my grandma when I visited her house today if she had any that she no longer wears. She immediately pulled several out of a spare bedroom closet, and I brought home half a dozen of them! Now I have 8 belts, which I think is more than plenty.

I have some photo shoots waiting on my camera that my daughter did for me, so I can post some of my own fashion looks. I'll get them on here soon. In the meantime, here are some great Paris street looks from Anthropologie. I especially love the one with the green skirt!


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Online Shopping Success!

Last week I received my online purchases, which were things I decided that I needed now rather than later. My new bras from Macy's are the Lilyette "Enchantment" full figured minimizer, which I got in two colors. This bra is comfortable and fits true to size. And as I hoped, I do look less busty and not at all squished down, as can happen sometimes with minimizers. I am small around the under bust in comparison to my ample cup size, so it's really important to be able to see my tiny empire waist! I feel like my figure now looks more balanced rather than top heavy. Do hand launder your bras, especially if you are wearing the same ones often, so that they will hold their shape.

The classic white Ann Taylor Loft blouse I ordered from Ebay fits perfectly! With a curvy figure, a fitted top is actually best. If you wear something too loose and formless, you will just look fat, or as if your bust is a shelf with a table cloth hanging from it. So not chic! The other top that arrived is a French terry baseball style sweatshirt that hits below the hips. This is a flattering length on me, and I've always favored the baseball style shirt. The fabric is so soft on this Style & Company top from Macy's.

My Style & Company chambray blouse with small polka dots is also a great shirt that fits nicely, and my Old Navy sweater coat in a soft brown color from Ebay is so warm and pretty! The only thing that didn't work out was the black belt I ordered from Macy's, which was the wrong length. Why is it so hard to find a good black belt that fits?!

I am actually excited about this fashion season for once, because there are many lovely, wearable options. Every conceivable pants length and style is being offered. With the continuing popularity of leggings and skinny jeans, the tunic or hip length top is a must have, and Anthropologie has some pretty choices, such as this one in chambray:


 
 
 
Hip or tunic length tops looks great with a skinny bottom, but you will also find trousers perfect for tucking in your shirt, and a whole host of pant lengths and widths, from ankle jeans to cropped/capris, to long, wide bottomed pants, with or without cuffs. Harem style, slouchy, fitted, patterned, dressy, or casual--you name it, and it's yours!  
 
 

Anthropologie jeans, fall 2013

 
I've also been noticing a trend toward pairing a casual tee with dressier pants or skirts, such as these combos on Cara Loren and her friend Amber. (Love Amber's pattern mixing here, too!):
 
 
caraloren.com
 
 
Pieces I don't love continue to leave my wardrobe, and new items work their way in, so that hopefully by the time winter is in full swing, I will have a minimal, essential wardrobe that works with my life and personal style. It is a one-piece-at-a-time venture, and patience is key. 


Sunday, September 22, 2013

Confession.

Today I'm not referring to the sacrament of Reconciliation, but about the fact that I went ahead and did some shopping after all... Even if I lose my target weight, I will still be the same size in shirts, so I went ahead and ordered two from Macys.com, because I had coupons to use! Remember I had to send back the blouses I bought from Ebay, so I still needed tops. I also got the quintessential white, collared, button up shirt, an Ann Taylor Loft from Ebay, because that is one of those classic pieces that every wardrobe should really have. I am concerned it might actually be too big, so fingers crossed. I can always have it tailored, right? Oh, and I almost forgot the Old Navy sweater coat I also won on Ebay. In a neutral color, a classic to wear for years to come!

The other thing all women must keep in mind is that properly fitting bras are imperative. I usually shop for them at Macy's in Ft. Wayne, but I went online this time, so again, wish me luck! You really need to be fitted professionally, so go to a department store or Victoria's Secret and make sure you are in the right size. And when the elastic is shot and your bosom starts to look lumpy and/or saggy, you need new bras! Even if you are petite in this area, it looks better to have some shape and maybe just a little padding. This is not an item on which to skimp. French women spend most of their money on lingerie and skin care. I have a feeling I will look 5 to 10 pounds lighter when I am once again wearing an uplifting bra, if you know what I mean. (And wow, this would so not be something to discuss with a priest!)

I should be getting some of my items in the mail tomorrow, including a black belt, which I haven't had for years and really do need for practical reasons. I'll keep you posted on how everything turns out with these online orders, hopefully including some chic mom photos. I lost a bid for Calvin Klein boyfriend jeans, but I'm still on the hunt...

Hope you're having a prayerful, restful Sunday! (And let's all get to Confession soon...)

Friday, September 20, 2013

Cara Loren's Chic Mom Blog

http://www.caraloren.com/

Cara Loren

I just had to introduce you to Cara Loren's namesake blog today. I found her while searching for chic mom blogs. Sometimes I get really great ideas and inspiration from these. Usually Cara is wearing high heels, but happily today she is in Birkenstock sandals. This look, with a white tee shirt, cardigan sweater, and distressed boyfriend jeans is so easy to duplicate. Even wearing such a casual look, this mom is glamorous!

I have also been searching for the perfect pair of boyfriend jeans. I remember being in my early 20s when my younger sister came to visit me in Columbus. My boyfriend at the time really liked her look. She was actually wearing men's jeans, which sat on the hips rather than at the waist like women's jeans all did at that time (the '90s). There were no low cut pants for women then like there are now. Honestly, I was annoyed when he suggested that I wear this style! Well, now you don't have to borrow jeans from a guy to get the look, and I would call it a classic.

Cara often links to her friend Amber's blog ("barefoot blonde"), another gorgeous, young blonde. The style of these women reminds me of the vintage glam looks I used to wear in my younger days. While cleaning last evening, I came across photos from my time working as a model. Oh, the nostalgia! I got a little teary-eyed, being taken back to my single life. I think we women often lose a part of ourselves when we get married, have children, and grow older. But she's still there, that essential part of yourself who is ageless and beautifully unique. Get back in touch with her. That is what this joie de vivre exploration is all about!!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Fall Essentials, Pared Down

(Image: Anthropologie, fall 2013)
 

A few chilly days have thrown me into a minor style panic. Will I be warm enough for the coming seasons?! This says a lot about me. My primary concern is warmth over style. Thinking ahead to long winter days in front of the fireplace leads me to pondering how I will manage to be comfortable and cozy. Yet of course, I don't want to fall into frumpiness. I have a couple of pairs of drawstring pants in a velour fabric that I usually rely upon, but I've been wearing them for years. I think I may keep them for morning walks, when I want to be able to just throw something on, before I actually get dressed for the day. Therefore, they will go into my exercise clothing cubby, rather than into my dresser drawer. I have plenty of time to search for replacements.

I have begun to collect my strictly-for-summer clothing to put into storage. I think I will head to the dollar store today for a couple of bins, since we seem to need at least one more. This week, my plan is to begin to sort through the winter clothes I have stored away. I already brought a few pieces down from the attic to incorporate into my essential wardrobe for fall. Then I started to worry about my dresser drawers and closet becoming too full! Imagine such a problem. You probably can. After spending all that time purging our wardrobes, we don't want to fall back into patterns of having too much clothing yet nothing to wear.

Is it time to shop yet? I have been fighting the urge. The thing is, I have a plan to lose about 12 pounds by Halloween. If I buy new items, they may not fit soon. I'd rather wait until closer to Christmas and then gift myself with a few high quality pieces that I absolutely adore. Doesn't that sound like a better plan?


(Image: Anthropologie, fall 2013)


So first things first. Pare down what I already own, including accessories and outerwear. Then, and only then, make a list of specific pieces to fill in the gaps. Begin to source where I will look for these needed items, and whether it is something to purchase now, or to wait until the inches are lost and/or Christmas is coming. Finally, be merciless in my choices! I want future pieces to be only those things that I will look forward to wearing for years to come.

In this transitional phase, you can have fun combining warmer and cooler weather items. You can wear lightweight trousers in a capri length that translate into fall if you wear socks (or not) and booties, loafers, or ballet flats, rather than sandals, with them. Put a sleeveless or short-sleeved blouse on top and add a cardigan, blazer or jean jacket. The same thing can be done with skirts and dresses. Simply pare them with tights or leggings and closed toe shoes or boots, throwing on a sweater or jacket to keep out the chill. Peep toe shoes can also work, especially with feminine socks. A chic scarf and a cute hat add instant flair when you're out and about and are quintessentially French!


(Image: Anthropologie, fall 2013)
 

The key is to avoid wearing anything that screams summer, either because of the colors, style, or fabric of the item. Keep in mind that it will warm up as the day progresses, so you want to be able to add or remove layers. Some pairs of sandals will still work for fall. I will do my best to begin posting some of my own fall looks next week, now that I have a new camera. So far I have been able to hit the right note for this transitional period by keeping it simple. The other key is to apply the rotating wardrobe aesthetic. This means that you can wear the same clothing, either changing things up or duplicating the exact same outfit, from week to week. If an outfit looks great today, it may also look perfect for church next Sunday. Especially if you are not seeing the same people every day, no one will know that you just wore those jeans with that blouse 5 days ago.

This is how the French manage to look pulled together always. They don't worry about repeating a certain look or wearing the same pieces often, even to the office twice in the same week. Besides, if you tweak the look with different extras and accessories, most likely no one will notice that you wore your black pencil skirt on both Monday and Friday. The more classic pieces in solid, neutral colors do not stand out as much as trendy shapes, patterns, and loud colors, so you can get away with rotating them frequently. Just wear the flashier pieces a little less often, or wear them when you go places where you are not seeing the same people. Keep most of your look neutral, but add a shot of color with your shoes, a statement necklace, or a handbag.

(Lydia cut out loafers by Anthropologie)
 

So how is your closet purging going? Are you feeling more free and less stressed about what to wear? I would love for you to share what is in your essential wardrobe and how it is working for you. Have a lovely week!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Natural Learning Updates

Over on The Sparkling Martins blog today, Dayna has written about how her oldest two children learned to read naturally, without phonics training, direct teaching, or tests. It's food for thought, the idea that people will want to learn this wonderful and useful skill, and therefore internal motivation will lead to the acquiring of it, when a child is interested and ready.

At my house we do "natural" reading lessons, using a Montessori inspired approach you can read about in the Aug. 31 post. Reading is not so far an activity that takes priority in Beezy's life, though occasionally I find her reading of her own accord, not only because it is part of "school". Still, she likes to read, and it isn't being forced upon her. Reading is also a part of other activities, such as the Pictureka! board game we played today. Being read to is still one of Beezy's greatest joys, and her comprehension skills are strong. Some days I feel content with her reading progress, while other days I find myself feeling a little frustrated. Then I know that I have to step back and refocus.

Keeping track of daily activities in my small leather notebook helps me to see that learning happens all day long, in a variety of ways. Learning is simply life. And for children, play is the primary and most effective method of education. Just now, Beezy brought a bug in that she found in our birdbath and said, "I'm studying it." I noticed it had wings and so was likely to die in the cup of water she had put it in, so she took it out and set it in the shade. So much can be learned simply through observation and conversation.

I do still need to have some formal learning time and a basic system to follow in order to feel comfortable with our homeschooling life. My foray into unschooling, however, has taught me that having a rhythm to our days, rather than a set schedule, provides for a relaxed flow and an openness to spontaneous choices. I do feel more joyful with a natural learning mindset. I think it is the unschooling attitude that sets it apart from other methods more so than the actual things done throughout the course of the day. Reading, math, writing, science, history, religion and other "subjects" happen in every homeschooling situation, and many of the same resources are being used. The difference is in why a topic or skill is being pursued, in what context, and in what form.

A common concern I come across in my reading are the so called "gaps" that may occur with homeschooling, and especially in the case of unschooling. This seems like a lapse in common sense. Regardless of how one is educated, no person will have learned everything there possibly is to learn, even if he lives to be 100. I know nothing about statistics, robotics, calculus, or accounting. Nor, at this time, do I care to. Even in my strongest areas, such as literature, there is still much to be learned. I was recently turned on to the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins, an English Jesuit priest from the Victorian era, who I somehow missed in college. I suppose Hopkins has come into my life at the time that we were meant to be introduced. What a happy surprise! I'm grateful for the gap in my education.

There is much deconditioning to do in our understanding of what it means to be educated. The U.S. is possibly on the verge of military action in Syria. Are we to embark on yet another war in the Middle East? All of the knowledge in the world will not help our leaders make the best decisions if they lack wisdom. Sadly, our youth is growing up in a culture in which wisdom is rarely considered, and even knowledge has taken a back seat to "information." The Common Core Curriculum being implemented this school year seeks to replace much of classic literature with "informational textbooks." The written word will be dissected until anything alive and inspiring has been gutted from it like a fish.

Education as information must be cognitively understood and memorized, within a limited context, whereas an emphasis on culture--symbol, story, nuance, philosophy, art, history, religion, language, ethics, and experience--results in greater understanding, in a relational context. Culture is not easily measured by multiple choice and true and false tests. Test taking skills are measured by tests. Only a small fraction of the learning styles and intelligences natural to humanity fit into the public schooling model of education. The "smart" people are the ones who best fit into that limited fraction and who are the most obedient and compliant to outside authority.

Despite my sometimes negative impressions of radical unschooling, I am continuing to open my mind, little by little, to its potential goodness. Yes, I believe that it sometimes goes too far in the name of "freedom" and veers into the perils of unparenting and neglect. But within the peaceful borders of what I believe to be the truth of the Catholic faith, I see the promise of a beautiful, thriving garden of limitless possibility for a better future for humanity. A sea change, one mindful family at a time.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Contemplating a Protective Bubble

Father's homily today was a message I really needed to hear. Unfortunately, my ability to hear was hindered by unhappy young children behind me. But fortunately, Father is plugged in, and his normal speaking voice is very strong. It occurs to me just now that my experience at Mass this morning is a metaphor for being distracted from my spiritual path. There is dissonance all around us, and sometimes it is a strain to hear God's voice. We have to focus very hard, or we might miss something crucial.

In the Gospel reading today we find Jesus' enigmatic insistence that Christians must be willing to hate their families and relinquish worldly possessions to follow him. Is the word "hate" what he really meant, or is this a case of inadequate translation from Greek into English? Father's interpretation, as well as I could hear, was that we are not necessarily being called to give up everything we own or to forsake all of our relatives, but that we may be required to give up some of our possessions, or certain people in our lives.

Being a disciple of Jesus comes first, before anything or anyone else. That is the crux of the message. The question is, what are we willing to do, or to do without, in order to follow him? In a book I am reading by an American woman who has been living in Paris with her French husband for 30 years, the author says that the French have the ability to experience joie de vivre even in suffering. They live life fully and passionately, not shying away from controversy, pain, or uncomfortable events or feelings. I imagine that this has something to do with the fact that France is a traditionally Catholic country.

On my own journey to the Church, I learned that suffering is not an experience to be avoided. We don't go out and look for trouble, but if trouble comes into our lives, we are provided a way to work through it. We can offer our suffering up for a blessing on another who is in need, and we can unite our own suffering to Jesus' on the cross. My suffering can help someone else, and if I allow it to, it can purify me. But I must also welcome God's healing graces into my life and not wallow in grief. Jesus didn't stay on the cross forever, and neither should we.

All Christians are called to die to ourselves, but we aren't all called to be literal martyrs. I would also argue that figurative martyrdom isn't always necessary. In fact, if my ability to do the work God has called me, and only me, to do, is hindered by a person, an object, an institution, or an activity, then that "offending arm" needs to be cut off. Saying no to the invitation to walk on hot coals can be more difficult than walking barefoot across the fire. The devil does tempt us, every day. If we take our eyes off the ball even for a moment, the whole game could be lost.

It is my duty as a Christian parent to do everything in my power to get my child to heaven. The Church teaches that the education of a child is primarily the responsibility of his parents. Not his school teacher, Sunday school teacher, or religious education teacher, but his mother and father. Furthermore, a curriculum that is not permeated with the faith is not considered to be a valid education. At one point in history, public schooling did not separate children from their families for such long periods of time or conflict so acutely with Christian values as it does today. As it now stands, my husband pointed out, sending children to school is destabilizing to family life. Homeschooling is one remedy for these social and spiritual ills.

Being a homeschooling parent is a divine calling. It is something I am willing to defend with bared fangs if necessary. But mostly I wish to evangelize through my own example, with information for anyone who is genuinely interested in learning more about it, and by spreading positive messages to the community about this overwhelmingly successful educational option. In every area, I want to evangelize with passion and respect, not worrying over what anyone else thinks or says. Sometimes I fail to give myself permission to live in a Catholic bubble when that is what is necessary to keep my eyes on the prize.

Our children may not always understand when we have to say "no" in order to protect them. We have to teach them good and appropriate values, attitudes, and conduct. Each Christian parent is on his or her own leg of the journey. In order to protect our children, we may need to be vigilant in protecting ourselves from debilitating outside influences. One mom is tough as nails and criticism slides off her like water off a duck's back. Another is very sensitive, whether it be to words, images, negative energy, or loud noises. We have to know ourselves well, be very familiar with our strengths and weaknesses. One dad can invite a bear into his home, feed him honey, and send him on his way. Another will wrestle the bear and lose, or walk away alive but severely injured. Also, where we're at on the path changes over time. As I grow spiritually, I am hopeful that I will be able to detach with more finesse. Right now, however, it seems that I need to learn to pull that Catholic bubble around me and not allow anyone to pop it. Life is too short, and it's too exhausting to fight when it isn't absolutely necessary. As the saying goes, choose your battles wisely.

Prayer to Our Lady of Victory

O sweet and gentle Lady, Immaculate Mother of God, we beg you to be our Mother now and all the days of our life. Shield us Mother Mary with your holy mantle that nothing of the enemy could harm or molest us. Ask your Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, to spare us from any calamities that will cause our life misery. Pray for us that we may lead a life pleasing to Him, and when our end comes present us to Him, and may we live in His kingdom forever and ever, Amen. Our Lady of Victory, please pray for us.