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I’m a guest at the WINE blog today… talking about wine and music and wisdom

I’m a guest at the WINE blog today… talking about wine and music and wisdom

A little proverb in the book of Sirach gets me started…

“Wine and music gladden the heart, but the love of wisdom is better than both.”
—Sirach 40:20

Ah, wine and music! Two of my favorite things! Yet the proverb from Sirach offers much to consider as we examine the love of wisdom.

The sound of a cork pop remains a signal to my heart that life is good. The influence from the French side of my family taught me the beauty of wine on the table. I grew up a wine drinker and to this day, it is a joy to shop for wine, to taste new labels, to pair a special vintage with a good meal. Even the delicate nature of wine glasses signals to us that we must handle wine with care, savor its bouquet, and drink temperately. Every glass of wine was years in the making. It ought be respected and consumed with gratitude.

Wine is an occasion waiting to happen; through it we toast the gift of family, we honor friends, and celebrate milestones. For Catholics, we intuit the wisdom of Jesus in bringing us together for the Eucharistic meal whereby he shares his very self under the guise of bread and wine. That knowledge alone elevates our notion of wine as a gift that must be shared with love.

I also grew up a music lover and a musician. For me, music is a way to sing, to dance, and to pray. Music moves us, not only to sing and dance, but it moves the heart.

I’ve seen the right choice of music change someone’s day. I’ve been privileged to choose and sing music at weddings where the memories of those songs will last a lifetime. Music offers a soundtrack to some of the most important moments of our lives. Music is the language of the heart.

Wine plus music equals a celebration! From simplest gathering to the more elaborate events—whether an intimate gathering for two, a party with friends, or a wedding reception—wine and music are complementary sensory gifts that make life better, joyous even!

Yet, Sirach reminds us, even as we find the gifts of wine and music enjoyable and inspiring … “the love of wisdom is better than both.” Why might this be?

Read the rest at the WINE blog.

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(WINE = Women In the New Evangelization)

WINE has many events throughout the year, mostly in Minnesota, although its mission is growing.

The 2016 Women’s Conference Feb 6th

The Italy tour – June 2016

“Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:12 (a journal entry plus photos)

“Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:12 (a journal entry plus photos)

“So teach us to number our days
that we may get a heart of wisdom.”
– Ps 90:12-

That’s what I want. A heart of wisdom.

I’ve desired that since giving my heart to Jesus Christ as a young teen. That was probably the first wise thing I’ve ever done. I’m a middle aged woman now and over 14K days have passed since.  I’m still seeking wisdom, and catch glimpses of it now and then. It’s, mostly, a holy struggle.

Lately, I am numbering my days. I am taking stock before the Lord. There are two ways to do that, just as there are ultimately two ways for just about all things. We can count up the woes, and the waste, and the worries. Some of us do that temperamentally. The second and more profitable way is by counting our blessings and, more importantly, making good use of the time God gives us. Not just in the “make every day count” kind of way, but in living our days in light of eternity. When we do that, course corrections become a regularity, not something to eschew.

The midlife years tend to be where most people bump into the reality of their mortality. That happened somewhat prematurely for me, in my thirties. Eighteen  years ago this week, as the joy of a new spring was upon me, I found a lump in my breast. It was unmistakable. Time stood still; that moment a mental snapshot forever. From the first I knew it was cancer, and the first words that came to my heart were Lord have mercy. That challenging time imbued a ‘numbering of days’ like no other. Thankfully, I don’t think about cancer every day anymore. Yet, the last few days I’ve been dealing with what I call background noise… the buzzing of that long ago memory found its way again into my consciousness. It’s like the soul alerts the psychic part of the body with a disquieting anniversary alarm… Oh yes, I remember now. The specter of death lurks despite the new life you see.  And that fear grows silently. Sure, you look fine on the outside, but…

But, that was then. That’s when I learned that Someone else was in charge of the actual numbering of my days.

My very self you know…
When I was being made in secret…
Your eyes saw me unformed;
in your book all are written down;
my days were shaped, before one came to be.

-Ps 139: 14b-16-

The biggest course correction for me in those days was the mortality reality check to deepen my faith: to embrace grace radically. Embrace Christ fully. Thereby you can embrace the ones you love with abandon. Kiss all the boo boos. Laugh at every opportunity. Pack as much life as you can into a day. Number every day without regret. Embrace life.

Fast forward to today. As spring finally breaks on New England, I find myself dealing with after effects of a hard winter… both seasonally and interiorly. It’s another time of course correction for me.

Spring is seven weeks old, and I’m examining things, inside and out. Outside, there’s been a lot of damage.

Foraging deer this winter ate all of our euonymus hedge along the front of the house.

Foraging deer this winter ate our euonymus hedge.

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The mountain laurel, and we have much of that, has what I call freezer burn.

On the inside, since Advent, I have felt a little like that frozen bush. The harsh winter has brought sadness, death, extreme illness, and want and need, to those I love. The prayer needs have been mounting. Those closest to me know what’s going on, and for the sake of other’s privacy I cannot spill it all here. (I can tell you that I am healthy and well.) Yet the profound numbering of days in the lives of those I love has jolted my own heart. Praying and keeping close to the sacraments — for their sake and mine — helps a lot. But I am wearying. The demands of love are beginning to pinch.

Bob researched the mountain laurels’ leaf situation. In almost twenty years here we’ve never seen such leaf damage: it comes from the plant thirsting in the cold. Yes, there can even be a drought under the earth in winter, even when its covered in snow.

Thirsting.

That describes me.

Thirsting to pray more. I need to re-set the morning pace. My fatigue from recent travels for ministry and family obligations has been cumulative. It’s been too easy to ignore the alarm in what must be the most heroic moment of the day. I must renew the luxury necessity of getting up with the dawn, like I did not so long ago. Very soon, I will also be on a bit of a retreat, and bit of intense learning as I travel to take a few courses in spiritual direction. These will be full days with Jesus. And I am both happy and appropriately nervous to be going.

Thirsting to return to the page. My writing time has suffered a lot in the last few months. I tend to focus on one thing at a time. I know this about myself. If I’m with you, I’m fully with you. If I’m working, I’m fully engaged. Writing in snippets, well, shoot me, please. Maybe its the menopause. My writing only flourishes when I have watered it well with solitude. And a lot of my recent time of has not been my own, it has been shared. Oh, its all holy distractions. I’d gladly trade my hours at the page for the time needed for family and friends and ministry. Yet I hear it calling. The writing, that is. I sometimes think I need a cave — but then I’m afraid I’d likely imitate a cranky Jerome. But maybe I already am. *sigh* Being cranky, I mean.

Thirsting to be outdoors. Here in Massachusetts we are just starting to get the real bloom. I’m taking the allergy meds to prove it. We’ve already let the MGB out of hibernation in search of nesting Great Blue Herons. Marvelous!

I will be walking more. Bob and I discussed that we both need more of this.

The first buds to open were the magnolia trees. So today I decided to walk around and take some photos on our property with my iPhone 4S. It was a rejuvenating few minutes with God in the middle of my day.

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(I like playing with the zoom/macro setting on the iPhone.) The way the zoom carried this off in the sunlight makes this look like a painting.

(I like playing with the zoom/macro setting on the iPhone.) The way the zoom carried this off in the sunlight makes this look like a painting.

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This is one of our weeping cherry trees.

I love those delicate buds.

I love those delicate buds.

The forsythia is out too.

The forsythia is out too.

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And the azaleas…

again with the macro

again with the macro

Look who flew into my shot

Look who flew into my shot

And he stayed around to pose...

And he stayed around to pose…

His wings beating too fast for the camera.

His wings beating too fast for the camera.

This shot lets you see his wing, but a bit out of focus

This shot lets you see his wings, but a bit out of focus.

I think God was trying to put a new kind of buzzing in my brain. The kind that reminds me to see Him in all things. The natural and the supernatural. The good and the bad. The busy and the solitude. He knows and he sees all of it.

All of me.

Always.

Here's some of my favorite… flowering pear blooms.

Here’s one of my favorites… flowering pear blooms.

Again…

Again…

And the flowering pear at a distance...

And the flowering pear at a distance…

As I was walking the property I felt like God was showing me something of the measure of my days, and of the wisdom in my own heart, and He used that pear tree in particular.

That pear tree is probably one of the finest specimens we have — there are several flowering trees, and I bless the previous homeowner who planted them when they were tiny when she owned the home over twenty years ago.

If you look at the trunk of that pear tree, a closer inspection reveals that it is a casualty of our weather. There is a gash in the trunk and about 25% of the tree’s foliage was lost. A major branch broke off in that freak October snow storm in ’12.

ouch!

ouch!

That large branch that came down with such force it took out our Japanese Maple with it.

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All that is left of the Japanese Maple’s demise.

I have lamented the loss of that part of the wounded pear tree ever since it happened. But God gave me such joy is seeing the grandeur of its blossoms today, I’d almost forgot its deforming injury.

I love how its branches keep reaching to the heavens.

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Pear blossoms in the sun

I walked across the yard to get another full picture of the pear…

Beautious!

Beautious!

And then I heard Father God say in my heart: That’s how I see you, kid.

Reach for heaven. 

Don’t worry about the scars.

Don’t lament what’s been lost from the past season. 

You’re planted right where I need you now… and you’re beautiful.

That’s enough wisdom for this day and for many other days to come.

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As a theology geek I read a lot of books. One that made a great impact on my soul was St Louis de Montfort’s Love of Eternal Wisdom. His description of the gentleness of Jesus in revealing the Father’s love to us reminds me of my experience out in the yard today. God’s providence offered me a gentle way of seeing myself, and the gouged-out pear tree, with new eyes.

 If we consider him in his origin he is everything that is good and gentle. He is a gift sent by the love of the eternal Father and a product of the love of the Holy Spirit. He was given out of love and fashioned by love (Jn. 3:16). He is therefore all love, or rather the very love of the Father and the Holy Spirit. He was born of the sweetest, tenderest and the most beautiful of all mothers, Mary, the divinely favoured Virgin. To appreciate the gentleness of Jesus we must first consider the gentleness of Mary, his Mother, whom he resembles by his pleasing nature. Jesus is Mary’s child; consequently there is no haughtiness, or harshness, or unpleasantness in him and even less, infinitely less, in him than in his Mother, since he is the eternal Wisdom and therefore pure gentleness and beauty. 

-St Louis de Montfort-
Love of Eternal Wisdom, Chapter 10

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This shot captures almost all of it… the magnolia, the cherry, the azalea, the pear tree, even the bumble bee!

 

All photos by Pat Gohn.

On writing, keeping God first, and Elizabeth Scalia’s new book: Strange Gods

On writing, keeping God first, and Elizabeth Scalia’s new book: Strange Gods

There’s a simple line from the Book of Wisdom, that comes from Solomon’s prayer for wisdom…

“For both we and our words are in his Hand.” (Wisdom 7:16 rsv)

One of the things I love about God is that He is a Creator, and very much, a writer. The Bible is his book. He wrote laws, prose, prophecy, and poetry. And He gets writers. And he is pleased when writers words inspire and point to him. He not only chose to use human writers to pass on his divine revelation when He breathed his life into the Scriptures, but he shares his divine life still today — in the Spirit — for “in him, we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28). This doesn’t mean that what we modern Catholic writers are writing is scripture, but if we are writing anything worthwhile, it had better be based on the truths of scripture.

As a member of the Catholic Writers Guild, and as a writer at many Catholic websites and periodicals, I’ve been blessed to meet several writers who strive to be agents of the new evangelization, to write, as it were, in a certain sense, for God, and for making his words and his ways better known throughout the earth in whatever genre or media we may be using. As a spiritual and writing practice  each day, as we take up our pens and keyboards, I suggest it would be good for us to recognize this simple truth from Solomon, one of the great biblical writers, that both we, and our words are in God’s hands. That God is, really, our all in all. And we should let nothing, nothing, get between God and us.

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Elizabeth Scalia is a writer I’ve long admired. Her posts at The Anchoress, Our Sunday Visitor, and her weekly column on Tuesdays at First Things, have been staples in my weekly reading for several years.

In recent years, when I’ve been asked to give talks to new media newbies for the Catholic Writers Guild, and elsewhere, The Anchoress’s blog would be one of the few that I would cite for new would-be bloggers as one of the premier blogs that we might all hope to emulate. Good writing. Crisp analysis. Witty. Engaging. And more good writing.Screen Shot 2013-05-23 at 11.02.57 PM

One summer day in 2010, when I was giving that same new media talk to a gathering of Catholic writers in New York, much to my surprise, Elizabeth Scalia was in the audience. We had never met before, and we later struck up a little conversation after her very constructive comments were given from the floor to the group in an open Q&A. I believe the subject matter at that moment was that I was exhorting future and present writers to be of service to one another — to help form a community for the cause of Christ, and to view one another with charity, not as competition within the same media, but as potential allies and friends, where friendly “iron sharpening iron” could take place without tearing down the other, knowing that we are called to call each other forward in this great endeavor. In this way, we’d foster the new evangelization by first being evangelized ourselves by the law of love… remembering that we and our words are in His hand.

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Elizabeth Scalia and me, Catholic New Media Conference, 2012.

In the three years since that day, I can say that I truly have been a personal recipient of that kind of generosity of spirit in the blog space that is offered by The Anchoress. Plus, I’m privileged to serve as one of the column writers at Patheos and grateful for my piece of real estate over there that came after Elizabeth asked me to write a short piece for Patheos after our first meeting back in 2010. From there came Elizabeth’s first guest appearance on Among Women, and a whole lot more that I never really expected. Yet like her surprise appearance in my audience that summer afternoon, she has remained someone that has contributed a great deal to the conversation that is my life, both as a writer, and in person, including her kind endorsement and support of my book, and now it is my happy thrill to share a publisher with her in Ave Maria Press.

Elizabeth wrote one heck of book in Strange Gods: Unmasking the Idols in Everyday Life. There are amazing people who have endorsed it. Frankly, it would be easy for me to say, just go read it and be done. I’ve reviewed it over at the Patheos Book Club, let me tell you why you need to read this: This woman’s words are in God’s hands. This book is one very thought-provoking meditation on just one line from Sacred Scripture… the first commandment: “I am the LORD your God… You shall have no other gods before me.” (Ex 20: 2-3 rsv) Yep, that’s it. That’s the text and thesis of the whole book. And its one we need to recall and bring to mind, and contemplate in a daily way, because for many of us the words in that commandment have grown dull. Or maybe, we’ve never really given them much thought at all.

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Here’s part of my review of Strange Gods at Patheos…

The Ten Commandments first declare, “I am the LORD your God… You shall have no other gods before me.” (Ex 20: 2-3 rsv). And yet, we do. This thoughtful and thought-provoking book, Strange Gods: Unmasking the Idols in Everyday Life, exposes to our chagrin, yet ultimately to our benefit, that this premiere command of the Decalogue cannot be overlooked if we are to ever dare to live the other nine. Armed with faith in the graces that that sustain us in our failures, plus witty sensibilities regarding the nature of fortitude and wisdom, author and blogger extraordinaireElizabeth Scalia, offers us mortals in search of grace, a thorough reality check:

“We dismiss the golden calf story and its lessons at our peril. It’s true we are no longer literally flinging our precious metals into a crucible and buffing up stolid beasts of burden to worship. In some ways matters are worse, for we do not know the idols we bow down to. Our present-day idols are much less obvious, but they are also less distant and more ingrained within us. Idols begin with ideas. From there we shape them in the psyche, grow them in the ego, and then engage with them intimately, throughout our lives, in our families, our culture, our entertainments, and our political discourse. We create idols out of our norms of behavior, our material possessions, and social status. We even create them out of our faith.”

Who among us has not bowed down to something we have really wanted?  Or maybe we’ve used different language for it — we might be flinging ourselves toward someone or something, or actively achieving something that consumes us — even the seemingly good things in life? Or what about all the trophies we line up for ourselves — the way we make plans, use time, or even play or work with technology? Whatever captivates or demands our attention has the distinct potential to become an idol standing between the verity that is our true life with God — an encounter we may miss, delay, or betray in favor of our strange gods. Ouch! Do you really what to read this book? Yes and yes.

1-59471-342-1Yes, open this book, and prepare to feel, perhaps momentarily, panicked that all of your life is an unexposed idol minefield, fraught with spiritual missteps that you can never avoid. But, YES, take courage! Like an experienced special ops mission commander unlocking the mysteries of night vision goggles and other tactics to detect the presence of The Enemy at close range, Scalia teaches plebes and veterans alike how to see more clearly so they can wisely navigate the previously unseen dangers of modern idolatry.

A particular strength of this book, and why it will be successful in furthering the new evangelization, is that Scalia offers a self-effacing demeanor and candor in describing her own idol worship. But more than that, Scalia affirms, ultimately, that Christianity as a yes — at its heart is a benevolent and loving God Who really is worthy of all attempts at idol smashing.

The rest is here.

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Among Women listeners can look forward to a guest appearance from Elizabeth Scalia, coming in June.