Can Goodness Fix Abuse?

In conversation surrounding Simcha Fisher’s piece on why the Fr. Luke Reese criminal trial is something the community needs to know about, a related topic came up: What role do victims play in their abuse?

For some perspective, Fr. Reese is charged with carrying out an 18-hour ordeal in which, at its peak, he dragged his wife in front of the altar (Fr. Reese is a married priest, yes the Catholic Church has them) and beat her there.

There are no counter-charges that Mrs. Reese was in some way abusing her husband and he was merely physically defending himself.  This is not a case of brawling.  This is assault and battery.

And yet — and the argument is even more deeply entrenched in cases of emotional abuse — some people labor under the idea that abusive behavior is “provoked” by the victim.

This is false.

Why the confusion?

We know a few things about healthy relationships:

  • You can make your relationship stronger by being kind, considerate, and generous.
  • You can help each other grow in virtue and avoid sin by making an effort to avoid tempting yourself and others.

So, for example, if you want to get along better with your workmates, greeting them cheerfully and completely your work promptly can help you all form a better team.

If you and your date are determined to remain chaste, choosing to avoid actions the other finds alluring can make it easier to abstain.

If you and your neighbor want to live on good terms, observing quiet hours can make it easier to get along.

These things work when everyone involved wants a healthy relationship.

It is the nature of abuse to try to pretend there is a “good reason” for the abuser’s behavior.  But there isn’t.

It is normal to get a little frustrated at other people’s faults.  A normal married couple might argue over who should do the dishes.  A normal married couple will not physically assault each other over who should do the dishes.

That’s what makes abuse different from normal behavior: The action or reaction in no way matches the circumstances.

How to Have a Better Marriage

If you and your spouse are both desiring a happier, more joyful marriage, there are things you can do to help with that.  You can pay attention to your spouse’s preferences, and find little ways to show consideration.  Maybe that is by taking on a chore your spouse finds tedious, or by giving attention to some detail that other people might not care about, but which especially pleases your spouse.

She likes tulips not roses, so you bring her tulips.  He hates cilantro, so you serve it on the side.  Of course you do these things, because you love each other and you want to please each other.  You might go so far as to choose an outfit that your spouse particularly admires (and which you agree is becoming on you and fitted to the occasion), even though left to your own devices you yourself wouldn’t spend so much time on your appearance.

An abusive person is not abusive because you brought the wrong flower or served the wrong meal.  An abusive person isn’t going to be “cured” by your selecting a nicer outfit next time.   Healthy people don’t beat their spouse over failing to coordinate the day’s plans, or failing to keep the house clean, or failing to make the children settle down.  Healthy people don’t kidnap, rape, and beat their spouse even over suspected infidelity.

Healthy Responses to Very Bad Behavior

If you thought your spouse was cheating on you, healthy, proportionate reactions might include:

  • Asking your spouse to explain his or her behavior.
  • Attending counseling, with or without your spouse (or both).
  • Asking your spouse to cut ties with a specific person he or she committed adultery with previously.
  • Refraining from intercourse if there is reason to be concerned about sexually transmitted diseases.
  • Insisting your spouse be transparent about internet and social media use.
  • Considering whether a civil divorce or other legal action is a necessary way to handle the fallout from marital infidelity.

Some of these actions are very serious responses to very serious concerns.  None of them involve assaulting your spouse.

 

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Image courtesy of Wikimedia, CC 4.0.

The Disconnect After You Realize Abuse is Happening

There are two extra torments after you realize you’ve been party to an abusive relationship:

  • You wonder why it took you so long to realize what was happening.
  • You wonder why other people can’t see what is now so obvious to you.

When you realize that you’d been duped for so long, you can end up blaming yourself.  Surely you should have seen the warning signs. Surely you should have been smarter than to get pulled along with all this.

When you experience the frustration of seeing so clearly what others are still denying, all sorts of other, complicated dynamics ensue.

You might second guess yourself: Are you the crazy one?  Are you blowing this out of proportion?  You’ll no doubt hear from others that yes, you’re just “being dramatic” or “making a mountain out of a molehill.”

You might feel betrayed by friends or family members who should be supporting you, but instead are loyal to the abuser and are denying anything significantly wrong has happened.

Unless your friends on the other side of the divide are truly magnanimous, you will probably lose friendships.  Even if you are still civil to each other, it won’t be the same as before.

It is quite likely that you who have called out the abuse, or who have merely refused to cooperate with it, are suddenly under attack.

***

All these things are the fallout of the nature of abusive relationships.

By definition, the abuser has sought to normalize his or her behavior.  The only way abuse gets perpetrated in the first place is by the abuser somehow convincing people the behavior is acceptable.  One of the reasons we don’t recognize abuse when it happens is that the abuser has done his or her best to make sure we don’t recognize it.

Another reason is that abusive behavior falls on a continuum.  Just how far over the line someone has strayed is not always easy to discern.  It can be hard to judge where on the continuum you’re sitting.  We all sin. We all have our weaknesses.  We have to live with one another, and it’s normal to show mercy and give the benefit of the doubt.

And finally, false accusations do happen.  We who are honest rightly want to avoid jumping to conclusions and criminalizing imperfect but not predatory behavior.  Those who are dishonest will in turn exploit every weak spot to cultivate doubt about the seriousness of the abusive behavior, and to cast the critics in the worst possible light.

Oh and then there’s the fact that those who have recognized the abusive behavior are themselves flawed persons who don’t necessarily know the best way to handle the situation.

***

So all this stuff happens.

It is horrible.

But it’s not something you can blame yourself for.  It’s just part of wrestling with the beast.

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Artwork via Wikimedia, Public Domain

March for Life 2018

Between the Metro & the March and a museum visit, we walked 7.5 miles today.

Turnout was enormous.  The column of marchers extended as far as you could see, filling the streets.

One of the things people do is come in groups with matching hats, or scarves, or t-shirts, or sweatshirts — and in one case, yellow ponchos. Many of them are very memorable.  The March is so big that you’ll see thousands upon thousands of people, and then when you are walking to a Metro station afterwards, you’ll see groups gathered waiting for their tour bus that you never saw the entire day until you passed each other post-March.

 

There were a couple marching bands along the route.  (Sound quality is my phone, not the band – they were super.)

The atmosphere varies as you go, but it’s always friendly and peaceful.  We prayed along with part or all of various Rosaries and Chaplets of Divine Mercy being led by participants:

As the roads widen and narrow, and people walk at different paces, you end up here and there, walking alongside all kinds of different people.

We ended up stopped for a bit next to this group in blue sweatshirts:

The baby on the back of the sweatshirt was actually on last year’s March, in-utero, then born prematurely, and now doing great.  The adult hand in the picture is the father’s hand:

The caption at the bottom is: No hand is too small that it cannot leave an imprint on this world.

 

***

And something amusing . . .

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All dogs go to Heaven.  All youth groups go to Air & Space.  US History gets its share, too.

Somehow the first time I went to DC for the March I imagined we wouldn’t be allowed into the museums during the March.  I guess I figured we were the rabble that had to be kept away from the innocent visitors.

Actually: As long as you comply with the rules & regulations for the museum of your choice, you are welcome to come inside.

And hence this year I confirmed that if you want tranquility, and a surprising number of Dominicans, go to the National Gallery.   You’ll spend $40,000 on lunch in the cafeteria (but it’s decent food).  But maybe also you will be able to personally identify the person in art who looks most like yourself.

This is me & my kids a few years ago:


It’s not so much the precise physical resemblance as the Oh my gosh, someone has painted a picture of my life.  And yes, we’re as tired as we look.  Here’s a version not from my phone:

The kids are little taller now.

 

 

All photos & video by Jen Fitz except that one you can find on Wikimedia, Public Domain.

Solemnity on a Friday!

December 8th is the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. In addition to being a holy day of obligation (translation: Go to Mass!), its status as a solemnity means that on years when the day falls on a Friday, the usual obligation to do penance on Fridays is lifted:

Can.  1249 The divine law binds all the Christian faithful to do penance each in his or her own way. In order for all to be united among themselves by some common observance of penance, however, penitential days are prescribed on which the Christian faithful devote themselves in a special way to prayer, perform works of piety and charity, and deny themselves by fulfilling their own obligations more faithfully and especially by observing fast and abstinence, according to the norm of the following canons.

Can.  1250 The penitential days and times in the universal Church are every Friday of the whole year and the season of Lent.

Can.  1251 Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday. Abstinence and fasting are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

Let the bacon be served.

If you live in the US, your bishops already gave you the bacon-option, but it’s penitential bacon:

Can.  1253 The conference of bishops can determine more precisely the observance of fast and abstinence as well as substitute other forms of penance, especially works of charity and exercises of piety, in whole or in part, for abstinence and fast.

Way back in 1966, the US bishops determined that if abstaining from meat isn’t penitential enough for you, outside of Lent you are free to substitute some other penance:

28. In summary, let it not be said that by this action, implementing the spirit of renewal coming out of the Council, we have abolished Friday, repudiated the holy traditions of our fathers, or diminished the insistence of the Church on the fact of sin and the need for penance. Rather, let it be proved by the spirit in which we enter upon prayer and penance, not excluding fast and abstinence freely chosen, that these present decisions and recommendations of this conference of bishops will herald a new birth of loving faith and more profound penitential conversion, by both of which we become one with Christ, mature sons of God, and servants of God’s people.

The whole document is worth reading.  But not tomorrow!  On solemnities, we feast.

Other Immaculate Conception Links

In 2015 I wrote What My Dog Knows About the Immaculate Conception.  Get the whole story at the original post, including the bit about why my dog, when she wants to go outside, comes to the one person who is not going to get up and let her outside.  But here’s the thing:

My dog and I, therefore, are no typological figures of Marian intercession, get that idea out of your head right now.  Yes, Jesus would let the dog out if Mary told Him to.  But no, Jesus isn’t too busy showing St. Joseph the Russian Priests with Cats Calendar that he fails to notice the dog needs to pee, that’s not what it’s about.  There are other reasons asking Mary to intercede for you is a good, noble, worthwhile part of a healthy Christian lifestyle, and we’ll leave it at that for now.

The Immaculate Conception, which we commemorate today, is about this:

“We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful.”

Ineffabilis Deus, Apostolic Constitution issued by Pope Pius IX on December 8, 1854

The Immaculate Conceptions is about the order of things.  It is about the re-ordering of broken humanity.  For the new Adam we have a new Eve.  Curiously, the new Eve isn’t the wife of the man about to fall, but the mother of God-made-man who’s going to save you from your fall.

Humans, fallen as we are, tend to overlook the order of things.  We have a picture in our heads of how things stand, and when reality doesn’t match that picture, we tend to elbow aside reality and stick with our imaginary world, the one we made, not the one God made.  The one we prefer, because we’re at the center of it, little gods with our little fake worlds.

The dog, in contrast, lives in no such imaginary world.  She needs to be let out at night, so she has a pressing interest in understanding the real order of things.

I’ve written about the Immaculate Conception at least one other place: The Catholic Mom’s Prayer Companion.  At this writing, Google Books is including what I have to say in the preview-pages for that book.

When I was searching for “Jennifer Fitz Immaculate Conception” two other links came up that caught my attention:

If you know a catechist who’s about to quit in despair, you might consider investing a few dollars in my purple book of how not to die in agonies teaching religious ed to a room full of hooligans.  The publisher gave it a more formal title, but you can call it that.

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Our Lady of Visible Forebearance is my preferred image for this week’s feast. Via Wikimedia, Public Domain. Her whole life she never ate bacon, and now she rejoices in heaven with many crowns, and presumably also all the bacon she wants.

What Genre is Genesis?

So we’re at ladies’ Bible study the other morning, and the topic of literary genres in the Bible comes up.  Not everything is a scientific treatise (this blog post is not, for example), and we aren’t obliged to read Genesis as if it were one.

Which got me thinking: What genre is Genesis?

It’s not exactly poetry, though it has plenty of poetry in it.

I’ve seen arguments for calling it “myth,” but those arguments always involve long explanations of why the word “myth” doesn’t mean what everyone thinks it means.  I’m not sure that’s what is anyway, even after all the explanations.

A romance, maybe?

It is one, but it isn’t just that.

The defining feature of Genesis, it seems to me after two hours of new discoveries in just chapters 1-3 — and I was pretty sure I’d already gotten the bulk of the discoveries out of Genesis on the previous seven zillion readings — the defining feature is that you just keep learning more, and more, and more about God and His relationship with man.

Which leads me to my new name for the genre: Theological Concentrate.

Related: Julie Davis at the always-excellent Happy Catholic blog has some good notes on Genesis today re: Joseph, Potiphar’s wife, and avoiding temptation.

The book we’re studying is Courgageous Women: A Study on the Heroines of Biblical History by Stacy Mitch.  So far so good. Doesn’t play around in going right to the thorny topics in Genesis 1-3.   Cover art courtesy of Amazon.com.

Anti-Racist Jesus Visits Canaan

Today the encounter between Jesus and the Canaanite woman came around in the readings again.  I once heard a deacon preach that this incident just shows that Jesus was “human” like the rest of us, where “human” is code for “sinful.”

I don’t think so, sir.

Back in 2014, I wrote a bit of Gospel fan fiction, taking the words of Scripture verbatim, but filling out the details Scripture doesn’t supply.  Everyone does this when they read, and sometimes our fill-in-the-blanks interpretations are justified and sometimes they are not.  I wrote a follow-up post on why I hold with the Jesus is Not a Jerk Thesis.  I still hold with that reasoning:

Thus when the infamous quote comes around full circle in conversation with the Canaanite woman and his disciples, we have a Jesus who:

  • Is master of the Law, not slave of it.
  • Has praised the faith of pagans.
  • Has spoken of the redemption of the very region they are now standing in.
  • Has willingly and freely healed non-Jews.
  • And has said that perseverance in prayer is desirable.

And then He pulls out a pun in his dialog, turning the meaning of the expression on its head.

Were I writing that same story today, I wouldn’t write it the way I wrote it back then.   Today my mind is on the idea of racism, and for the reasons I summarize above (see the original post for more details), I tend to view this encounter between Jesus and the Canaanite woman as the counterpart to what today we would call an anti-racist moment.  Jesus has been attempting, through word and action, to teach his disciples that salvation is for the whole world.

They will eventually get that message (“neither Jew nor Greek”), but they haven’t got it yet.

Here they are being asked to heal someone’s daughter of a demon.  A demon, guys!  This is serious, serious trouble, and it’s the kind of trouble that elite religious healing-commando people ought to be on the job taking care of.  Instead they say: Send her away. She’s bugging us.

What exactly do you do with people whose hearts are so hardened?

Give them another talk?   You can only give so many talks.

Our Lord, being fully God, had the ability to know this Canaanite woman.  He had the ability to know how she would react under pressure, and what sorts of things would wound her and which would not.

People are cured of their bigotry only when they get to see the world through the eyes of the person they’ve pushed off and objectified.  The disciples would have happily dismissed the woman as some noisy, intrusive, undeserving gentile.  Jesus says what needs to be said — he verbalizes what they are thinking — so they can see how unjust it is, and they can see in her response how deserving of their respect she is.

 

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Artwork: The Canaanite Woman, via Wikimedia [Public Domain]

 

On Being a Catholic Woman Writer

While I was out on the Epic Vacation, Mrs. Darwin came back from the Trying to Say God conference and put me on the list of “interesting Catholic women out there, who could not be described as liturgical cupcakes, who don’t need to take antagonism with the Church as an essential starting place.”  She has a good list, and I could add to it, all of them ladies I’d buy a cup of coffee any day, just to be able to sit down and hear what they have to say.

Mrs. D. writes:

Throughout the talk, I wondered if the new standard to which Catholic Women’s Writing was being held was any less restrictive than the old one, whatever that is. Edginess and Pain has replaced Mommy Blogging, but if you don’t prefer to be either edgy and painful or to write about the The Three Graces I Obtained In The Grocery Aisle, what is there? Can women, even boring women who have a lot of kids, write about ideas, or just life? Is it necessary to prove our woman bona fides by talking about our clitoris and our orgasms and our vaginas, as some panelists seemed to think was a biological imperative?

. . .  Writing the truth about pain, or fear, or brokenness is valid because the human experience encompasses these states. Writing about our bodies is valid because every human life is shaped by the body and its glories and its limitations. But these aren’t the only ways to write, even for Catholic women, and they’re not even always the most interesting ways to write. It’s okay to just write about a topic unrelated to sex (or not-sex) or relationship (or not-relationship). It’s okay to be a woman and write without referencing being a woman. The category of womanhood is bigger than any one box, even once all the liturgical cupcakes have been consumed.

I agree.

In the combox, a reader writes:

This is what I aspire to. I wonder if anyone touched on the marketability factor. There’s a lot of pressure, for bloggers on paid platforms, to be Pinnable, Perennial, or Controversial. That pressure doesn’t mean there’s no audience for other kinds of writing, but other kinds of writing don’t multiply clicks the same way.

There’s some truth to this.  There are a variety of strategies for successful blogging and other types of publishing, but ultimately neither servers nor paper pay for themselves.  If you write for a publisher of any kind, your work has to draw enough readers to keep the publisher alive.  If you are writing independently, you’ve got to pay the bills and feed yourself.

That said, pull a writer from Mrs. D’s list: Amy Welborn.  Professional female Catholic writer whose work covers a whole lot of interesting stuff, and none of it falls into the false dichotomy concerning our supposed slots as Tigers or Cupcakes.

Adding to the list: Kathy Schiffer and Elizabeth Scalia are both accomplished journalists who will take on who needs taking on, but don’t need to wimper about The Patriarchy in order to do it.  (Scalia haunts the whole spectrum — Aleteia runs both cupcake and tiger work as slivers of their massive Catholic pizza.  She, personally, is closest to Peggy Noonan in her essays, and something like if Knox took his gloves off in her books.)

Simcha Fisher, I guess she’s her own special category in Catholic publishing, but she’s support-a-family-doing-this marketable, and yes she writes on controversial topics, we all do, but she doesn’t write off anyone else’s script.  She writes what she sees.

Like Mrs. Darwin, I’m just throwing out a few names who’ve been in front of my face today.  The point is this: Being marketable as a writer doesn’t require you to fit a particular mold.  If you take a look at any given mold, you see a few people excelling and a lot of copycats spewing miserable drivel that no one really reads.  It makes the category seem larger than it really is.  The single common factor among writers who make a living at writing is that they all put in the work it takes to do this as a career.

What is it you hope to get out of being published?

I think sometimes when people go to a conference and complain about how All The Big Writers Are XYZ, what they mean is, “I can’t get famous enough because people don’t appreciate my greatness.”  That’s a good way of thinking if you’d like to make yourself obnoxious or suicidal, but it’s no way to be a Catholic.

There are loads of reasons not to write.  I practice those reasons with unsettling skill.

“Because I don’t fit the mold” is not one of the reasons.  If you actually don’t fit the mold, maybe you have something original to say for a change.

 

The Blessings of Being Flipped Off

by: Vincent Weaver

Something a lot of people involved in the pro-life movement do is to stand up for the unborn by praying outside of abortion clinics. Happily, this effort has gone in a much more positive, loving direction over the last 15 years. It’s not even accurate, in most cases, to call these “protests” anymore. Make no mistake, this presence is intended to bring attention to the defense of the most vulnerable in our society. To take an innocent human life is objectively wrong. To take the most innocent of all human lives is unacceptable. There should be no minced words about that. To be silent is false compassion – it’s spiritual and emotional euthanasia.

However, it is incredibly important to heed that ancient axiom to ‘hate the sin, but love the sinner’. We all have an obligation to point out injustice and wrongdoing. However, none of us has any right to condemn the person carrying out that act, as only God knows their heart. So, if you see or hear someone telling a woman considering an abortion that she’s going to Hell, then they clearly don’t understand the point here, nor do they understand Christ-like love.

The much more common scenario these days is people calmly and quietly standing outside abortion clinics praying. Sometimes they hold signs with slogans like, “Pray to End Abortion”, or “Adoption: The Loving Option”. We’re there to provide women in unplanned pregnancies real choices (having literature on alternatives to abortion available) and to let them know how much they (and their babies) are loved.

This reality makes it that much more bewildering when you’re standing there peacefully praying and someone drives by and gives you the finger.  Admittedly, there was a time when such actions irritated me. They fed a desire deep down in my heart to give that person “what for”. While I knew that wasn’t the proper reaction, it seemed instinctive.

Then, I read Abby Johnson’s book, “Unplanned” a few years ago. For those who don’t know Abby, she was a former director of a Planned Parenthood clinic. Then, one day (through some fluky circumstances), she ended up witnessing an actual abortion at her clinic. (This was the first time she saw the product of the business she was running.) She had a visceral reaction and knew she had to quit. And she did. Since then, she’s been an outspoken voice for life, and she wrote this book.

What “Unplanned” showed me (much to my surprise) was the humanity of abortion clinic workers. Honestly, I had never given these people much thought, other than as some kind of faceless monsters. That caused my praying for a culture of life to take on a much broader focus. Only then did a human face start to appear on these folks for me. These are real human beings who deserve our love, who deserve MY love, because to cast them aside would mean I just don’t get what it means to be a Christian.

That realization also helped my attitude towards the bird flippers driving by. (You know who you are!) J All of a sudden, my immediate response when being flipped off was to have compassion. I’d immediately think to myself, “What kind of pain must that person have suffered to feel this way?” “What is the source of that anger?” And by making that pain and anger clear to me, therein lay the ‘blessing’. By having a reaction – of any sort – that person gave my prayer a target. I would launch into a ‘Hail Mary’ or a Divine Mercy chaplet asking God to rain down His love and mercy on that person. I’d pray that they find healing, peace, and the presence of God.

So, if you see me (or any of the 1000s of other regulars) standing outside an abortion clinic praying and encouraging others to choose life, it’s okay if you feel the need to tell us we’re #1 with your middle finger. But know that prayer is powerful, and that I’m calling for all God’s truth, mercy, and love to come showering down on you very soon. And I thank you for giving me that blessing – that reminder of your humanity. Please pray for me, as well. I need all I can get.

And for all you awesome pro-life prayer warriors out there, please consider this unsolicited advice. Arguments don’t help. Love, prayer, and genuine compassion (and the willingness to listen) do.

Vincent married up more than a quarter century ago and is a proud father of 5 wonderful daughters. He teaches business classes at a college in Greenville, SC, but thrives on discussing controversial topics, especially as they relate to Church teachings on sexual morality.

Emergency Confirmation Class Reboot

So next up on the dashboard is a post sharing parents’ confirmation class experiences from around the country.  But meanwhile, Margaret Rose Realy — yes, this Margaret Rose Realy — let me in on the secret about The Lake of Beer.

No one told me about this.

We have a Lake of Beer.

Catholics get a Lake of Beer.

People: Christian Mysticism –> Lake of Beer.

I don’t understand why we’re not taking advantage of this situation.

I mean, yes, “Infinity Mercy” is a fine theme for Confirmation class.  Sure sure sure.  But there outta be an asterix and fine print on the bottom of the t-shirt that says and also a Lake of Beer.

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Catholic mystics do it right.

Artwork: Stained Glass of St. Brigid of Ireland via Wikimedia [Public Domain]

On Prayer and Coloring: At Play in God’s Creation

Cover Art courtesy of Franciscan Media. Click through to go to the ordering page.

I accepted a review copy of At Play in God’s Creation because I wanted a coloring book.  That’s my real reason.  I’m going to talk about some controversial topics, but here’s a two-sentence review for those who are short on time:

  1. I love this book.
  2. Sr. Patricia would also love this book.

When Sr. Patricia and I are having a meeting of the minds? That tells you we’re in some heady waters indeed.

What’s in this book?

At Play in God’s Creation is an adult coloring book with a prayerful twist to it.  Amid the pictures, there are quotes from mystics and prayer-questions.  I’ve scanned a few portions of pages of my work-to-date so you can get a feel for what kinds of quotes and pictures we’ve got, see below.  There are a couple pages of suggestions for how to pray-while-you-color at the opening of the book.

Is it namby-pamby wishy-washy 1970’s nonsense?

Ha.  That’s the question of the day.  Here’s a nice short article from Catholic Stand, “Christian Mysticism and Its Counterfeit,” that lays out the problem.

My reading of the text of the coloring book is that it stays within the bounds of Catholic thought.  There are references to “finding your center,” which can be dicey, and there are plenty of Gather-hymnal word choices and grammatical devices.  So the book is operating at the hairy edge of the narrow road, yes — but I don’t think the author goes over the cliff.  If you are reading the text with a well-catechized Catholic lens, and you’ve waded through authors like Bl. Julian of Norwich and come to shore edified, it works.

Likewise, if you were drawn to the book because you do color but you don’t pray and don’t know a thing about prayer and this is your first baby step into some kind of spiritual life, I think it could be a comfortable starting point rather than a hindrance to more formal and informed Catholic prayer as you moved forward.

Also, the author of the text reminds you not to pass judgement on the thoughts that enter your mind as you’re prayerfully coloring, so when you get to this page and think to yourself, “One of these flowers is a ninja throwing star!” that’s okay.  No judging, guys.

ninja-star-flower

Is Coloring Praying?

Coloring could be helpful just because it is good for a busy person to quiet down and do something calm and relaxing for a change.

I think this is a bit like the old joke about smoking-while-you-pray vs. praying-while-you-smoke.  I advise you not to smoke, but I can attest from my proto-hipster days that actually, yes, a moonlit night, silence, and a decent cigar make for good spontaneous prayer, if you’re so inclined.  But that sort of prayer is not the same thing as praying the Rosary or the Divine Office or the Mass for serious.  It’s not the same thing as actually carrying out Ignatian Exercises with your whole heart and mind focused on prayer.  It’s a good thing, and you should try it frequently — not smoking, but spontaneous prayer as you are engaged in quiet activity — but you’re cheating yourself if you never go deeper.

Still, we aren’t tube worms.  We don’t live in the depths all the time.  When we’re trolling the shallow waters of ordinary activity, we don’t therefore stuff our souls in the closet. It is in fact good, wholesome prayerful activity to take a little R&R by coloring a Celtic knot while letting your mind range over a St. John of the Cross quote, and your life, and how the two intersect.

"Where there is no love, put love -- and then you will find love."

Why Does Jen Like the Book?

Here’s a page I work on when I’m sitting in the car waiting for a teenager to come out after volleyball practice:

labrynth

Come on guys, color my hopes?  My hope is that said child will notice I’ve shown up before I have to reach for the bridge-of-the-support and phone her to let her know someone’s waiting, thanks.   Not every single phrase and picture in this book is a perfect match for me personally; I trust that there is someone out there who needs and will benefit from a cute version of the Four Creatures of the Apocalypse, and that we two must share an artist.

But hey, here’s an impending bloody-shipwreck . . .

ship

. . . and on the facing page when you make it to fair land, there’s a not-friendly dragon reared up ready to scorch you.

dragon

I like this book because I get the ordinary benefits of coloring (relaxation, art-for-non-artists, etc.) combined with a keen sensitivity to the reality of spiritual struggle.  Not every single prayer-prompt in the text is my cup of tea, but most of them have their moments when they are spot-on.

Verdict: If this is the kind of book you would like, you will like it.

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Related:  I got this lovely Christmas card from someone at Ave Maria press, featuring artwork from Daniel Mitsui’s adult coloring book The Mysteries of the Rosary.  That might better suit the taste of some of my readers.  (Hey, Ave! – I will totally review that coloring book if you mail it to me.)

Related to Related: But why am I on someone at Ave Maria’s mailing list?! Oh, that’s right, there’s this book! Today’s the feast of the Immaculate Conception, and if you want to know my fit-for-print thoughts on that topic, and a few others, get the book.

Funny Story: There was some brouhaha a little bit ago that I decline to link to, in which a group of ostensibly-Catholic women were recording themselves preaching on the Gospels, with the goal of proving that hey! Girls can read the Bible and talk about it too!  Put a cassock on it!

And I was like, No duh. CatholicMom.com does have some male voices on the Gospel Reflection Team roster, but the group is definitely mom-heavy, as we’d expect.

But you know what’s really super cool, and has nothing to do with boys and girls and everything to do with the grace of God?  Showing up at Mass and your pastor preaches a sermon, and you’re like, “Yeah.  That’s way better than anything I would have said.”  Coloring book or no coloring book, pray for your priests.