Funniest Parish Rumor Ever

This morning after Bible study one of the ladies asks me, “What are your degrees in?”

It’s a good question, and one I occasionally have to clarify.   I studied economics and I have a degree in economics are two different things; in my case the former is true but not the latter.  Every now and then an author blurb goes to print without my clearing it, and I cringe at the odd inaccuracies.

So I answered, “I have a BA in international studies, with a not-quite-a-minor in economics.  My master’s degree is in business administration, with the bulk of my coursework in accounting with a little bit of finance.”  Again, I don’t have an accounting degree, though I did graduate with enough upper-level courses to work professionally in accounting.  But I’m not a CPA, which people ask me whenever they hear I studied accounting.

“Oh,” the lady at Bible study says.  “So do you have a PhD in theology?”

Pardon me?  “No.”

“Oh.  Someone said you had a PhD in theology.”

No.  No no no.  “Nope.  Business.  Master’s degree in business, no PhD in anything.”

“Sometimes Father Whippersnapper seems to defer to you during Bible study.”

“That’s because he has a graduate degree in theology, which I do not, but I am more experienced with arguments among non-academics bickering on the internet.”

***

As parish grapevine experiences go, it was more amusing than horrifying, so it worked out.

–> I got to share a little bit of mine and my husband’s conversion stories (answer to the follow-up question of “How come you seem to know so much?”), and I conceded I do write a bit of Catholic non-fiction

More better: I got a few minutes of living vicariously through one of the other Bible study ladies, who overheard the conversation and shared with me about her experience in internal audit and fraud detection, which is one of the coolest things accountants get to do and I’d be totally looking into that if I were looking for an accounting job.

It was a good day.  And to my credit, I read just far enough into Love and Responsibility to know, as any good Junior Moral Theologian who happens to be married should know, the answers to these sex questions over at the Aggie Catholic blog,* which topics I alluded to in the rough cut of my most recent NCRegister post, now up: “What Do Priests Know About Marriage?”  My very smart editor removed the explicit references (which the Aggie post answers succinctly, so you’re set if you have those questions) to keep it PG rated.

*I do not write for the Aggie Catholic blog.  I have been to Texas three times, though, so it’s practically the same, for parish rumor-mill purposes.

File:Young Nun at Prayer by Sergei Gribkov 1852.jpg

Artwork: Young Nun at Prayer by Sergei Gribkov.  I’m not a nun either, in case anyone is asking.

PS: Parents, this is a grown-up blog.  I teach children in regular life, but on the internet I cover adult topics.

Talking Privileges for Converts vs. Cradle Catholics

Fr. Matthew Schneider has an article up at Crux, weighing in on the Should Converts Just Shut Up debate (which Crux started).  Fr. Schneider probably says something very nice and that readers here would be okay with, because he’s good for that.  I don’t recall we’ve ever disagreed before.  Fr. Longenecker said something nice, for example.  But I couldn’t read Fr. Schneider because I’ve started breaking out in the blogger-version of hives (BVH) every time I even see this discussion.

BVH reaction: WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE??

Kids.  We have a way of evaluating people’s opinions on any topic, religious or otherwise.

We ask: Is it true?

It doesn’t matter whether the opinion comes from a cradle catholic, a convert, a heretic, or a rank atheist.  What matters is whether it is true.

It is normal to take an interest in a person’s credentials.  Sometimes, perhaps laying in the ER with your brain bleeding, you have nothing but credentials to rely on in making decisions.  But if you’ve gone so far as to become a Catholic writer, then it is my hope that no matter how incompetent you are at medical or financial or engineering decisions, you have the ability to weed out the Catholic Faith from Not the Catholic Faith.

Those of us who have half an hour’s experience comparing what credentialed Catholics say to what the Church says can let you in on a secret: It is neither the number of years being Catholic, nor the sorts of degrees acquired, nor the kinds of sacraments received that determine whether someone is writing the truth.  It is whether the person sufficiently desires to tell the truth that they make the effort.

Earnest people make honest mistakes, and dishonest people foment errors, and both categories of people are the reason we keep our thinking caps on.

I think if I were, therefore, to provide a useful bit of ad hominen caution for the unwashed masses about whom everyone is so concerned, it would be this:  If your betters are telling you it is the type of person and not their ideas that need evaluating in order to discover the truth, you should stop reading those betters.

 

 

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.

 

File:Folio 164r - The Canaanite Woman.jpg

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.

 

Is the Catholic Writers Guild Worth Your Time?

In the next few months the Catholic Writers Guild has some super good events coming up.  In July there’s the annual Catholic Writers’ Conference, meeting in Chicago this year (it moves around), held in conjunction with the giant annual trade show for Catholic bookstores.  In October is the Catholic Writers’ Retreat, held at a beautifully gardened retreat center outside of Lansing, Michigan.  All year long, members of the CWG confer online (and sometimes in person), helping each other in the quest to get our work into readers’ hands.

It might be a good organization for you.  Here’s the inside scoop, coming from a former VP of the CWG and now not-very-active member who has basically nothing to gain, at all, from your decision to participate or not.

Who Would Benefit from Membership in the Catholic Writers’ Guild?

Some people join the CWG and quickly realize it’s not a good fit for them.  If CWG membership isn’t for you, you might still enjoy our public events, more on that below.  Assuming you are a faithful-to-the-magisterium Catholic who is interested in some aspect of publishing (writing, editing, illustrating, graphic design, running a publishing company, etc.), here are the other things that seem to be most important in determining whether you’ll benefit from belonging to the CWG:

#1 You’re serious about your decision to write or publish.

Some people join the CWG for a year or two while they explore the possibilities, and that’s fine.  But the goal of the Catholic Writers Guild is to cultivate strong Catholic writers and other publishing professionals, in order to bring good literature to the world.  Our members are involved in every aspect of the business and every genre and venue, but we all have one thing in common: We are actually doing the thing.

You can be a rank beginner (indeed, that’s a great place to start). You can be uncertain what your future publishing career looks like.  You can be someone mostly interested in writing for a private audience.  But you won’t really be satisfied with belonging to the guild unless you are eager to keep moving forward in your craft.

#2 You are ready to take an active part in making the mission of the Guild happen.

The CWG is 100% member-run.  We aren’t one of these prestigious press associations with crazy-expensive dues and a staff to field phone calls all day.  We are a network of writers and other professionals helping each other with career advice, honest evaluations, contacts in the industry, moral support, and feedback on all the weird things that come into your head when you’re a Catholic writer.  You won’t benefit from CWG membership if you are planning to sit back and have other people infuse career help into your life.  You will find your support team and get the help you need through the process of engaging with other members and volunteering for projects that put you in the place you need to be.

#3 You are looking for help.

Some people don’t need this.  If you already know your craft, already have a strong support team, and already have the professional connections you need in order to get your work to your readers, then you should probably be focusing on getting your next project finished, or feeding the poor, or spending another hour at Adoration.  People who aren’t looking for some kind of help or social support in their publishing efforts usually only enjoy membership in the guild if they derive particular pleasure from helping others.   Many non-members satisfy the itch to mentor other Catholic writers by volunteering to give presentations at the CWG’s in-person and online conferences, or quietly providing other kinds of assistance to growing writers.

The Catholic Writers Guild is above all a way for Catholic writers to help each other learn how to improve their craft and get their work in front of readers.  If that is the kind of help you’re looking for, check out the CWG.

For everyone else?  Even if membership isn’t for you, the upcoming events might still be of interest.

The Catholic Writers’ Conference

The CWG’s annual conference is a chance to spend time with other writers, attend classes, meet editors and publishers, and find out what’s going on in Catholic publishing.  If you like books and Catholic stuff, walking the floor of the CMN’s trade show is Catholic fairyland.  The whole event is friendly and exciting and more or less one long festival of all things Catholic writing geek.

I try to go when I can, though honestly?  I come away with so many ideas for projects that in the years that I can’t go, it’s probably just as well.  If you like to be with people, and you get energized by seeing what others are doing and by spending time with people who are passionate about the things you care about, this is the place.

Registration is still open for July 2017, so take a look if Chicago is within striking distance for you.

The Catholic Writers’ Retreat

This is a picture of my perfect weekend:

Easy chair with computer keyboard by sunny window with a view.

I took my daughter to the coast, and while she played ball and then went out to the beach with her friends, I spent a whole day with a gorgeous view and a computer and knocked out a bunch of writing.

The writer’s retreat is a combination of that — quiet time to get writing done in a beautiful location — and a comfortable amount of time with other Catholic writers.  It’s organized by Margaret Rose Realy and this year’s speaker is Elizabeth Scalia, two fabulous Catholics who are definitely more retreat-personality than conference-personality.  If quiet time is something you need, these women know deep in their bones the ache that you feel when you say that.  I will you tell you very frankly that Margaret doesn’t skimp where prayer is concerned, and Elizabeth (no slouch on the Catholic herself) will tell it like it is when she has something to say.  You’ll be in good hands.

Both of these events are open to non-members.  If either one (or both) sounds like your happy place, take a look at what the  Catholic Writers Guild is up to this year.

Home

When You Can’t Shut Up About Evangelization & Discipleship

It turns out I have a lot to say on certain topics.

The start of my index of posts on Evangelization and Discipleship is now up here on this blog. I put it together because I happen to need to be reminded of things I kinda know but always forget.

The index is still in progress. I started by going through my posts at NewEvangelizers.com, then went through everything in the “Evangelization” category at my Patheos blog.  There’ll be more later, but for now we’ve got plenty.  The topmost section contains the basics, and I think I’ve managed to find all the posts I definitely wanted for the 101 pile.

Head’s up for the unaware: I can be a bit pointed.  The especially acerbic bits are down at the bottom of the page in a clearly-marked category of their own.  Don’t say you weren’t warned.  

Samaritan womans meets Jesus at the Well, by Annibate Carracci

Artwork: Annibale Carracci [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Evangelization and the Case for Catholic Fiction

Convergence of two happy things: The Catholic Writers Conference is coming around again, and I’m putting together an index of my writing on discipleship and evangelization.  In trolling my posts at New Evangelizers, I came across this one that is apropos of the conference season.  And yes, if you’re a Catholic who likes to write (fiction or otherwise), you should give the Catholic Writers Guild a good looking over.  More on that soon.

Evangelization and the Case for Catholic Fiction

Why bother with Catholic fiction?  As I write this, I’ve just returned from the Catholic Writers Guild’s annual live conference (our online conference is held in early spring), and once again I’ve met dozens of great Catholic authors eager to reach a Catholic audience.

I’ve also had a few discouraging conversations with publishers.  “We’re really only able to sell retellings of saints stories. We’d like to do other fiction, but we can’t.”  “We love that children’s fiction series, but we can’t break even on it, so we had to cancel further installments.”   “We want to do fiction, but . . .”

It’s a hard market. Over the past 50 years, Catholics in the pew have taken the notion that anything true, good, and beautiful is indeed “Catholic”, and run with it . . . right out of the Catholic market, and into the secular bookshelves.

And there’s something to that.  After all, we Catholics don’t need to decorate every story we read with a crucifix and a Hail Mary in order to be edified.  Reviewers like Julie Davis at Happy Catholic mine the treasures to be found in all kinds of strange corners.  The Catholic faith truly is universal, and so it’s no surprise that all good literature evangelizes, regardless of the label that goes with it.

Still, there’s a place for explicitly Catholic stories of every genre.  Why?

Catholic identity

Our faith is not just a cultural identity, but yes, we’re human, so it does matter to us that we aren’t the only Catholics out there.  My daughter is a big fan of the Anna Mei series from Pauline Books & Media.  These stories are your basic middle school coming-of-age stuff, and the Catholic faith is part of the fabric, but not the crux of the plot.  Still, I love that my daughter can see a Catholic character turn out for Mass on Sundays, or say grace with her family.  We all need to know we aren’t the only ones doing this religion thing.

Solid answers to hard questions

John McNichol is a house favorite at our place, since we have that middle school boy sci-fi / alien-attack demographic sewn up tight.  McNichol gets criticized for putting  religious conversations in his dialog.

Well, guess what?  That’s what teens really talk about.  McNichol is a veteran middle school teacher and father of 10 bazillion teens, so he knows that, and he puts real questions teens ponder into the mouths of his teen characters.

But here’s the rub: unless it’s Catholic fiction, those questions aren’t going to get a Catholic answer.

Catholicism is not generic

You know what irritates me on Facebook?  Vague “spiritual” feel-good platitudes being spouted by people who should know better.

Oh, I know, I need to lighten up a little.  And I’m the first in line to be ecumenical when ecumenical is possible.  But sooner or later we need for Catholics to claim their faith as the one and only.

Catholic fiction lays down the gauntlet: our faith is not one choice among many.  It’s not just a “flavor” or a “style” of religion.  A sincere faith means we’re going to have an awful lot of explicitly Catholic stories to tell, because our faith offers something you can’t find anywhere else.

Are you with me on this?  If so, here’s what I propose we do next:

1. Talk about it.  

There are lots of folks in the pews for whom this idea is absolutely radical.  It’s just not on their brain.  At all.  So mention it.  Drop a line in conversation like, “I love being able to find good Catholic novels for my kids.”  Or, “It’s so refreshing to read something that isn’t trashy for a change.”

2. Start buying Catholic fiction.

If you have a local Catholic bookstore, ask them to stock it. Print out the book info for the title that interests you, and ask them to order it.  If you have a parish library, donate good Catholic fiction to their collection.

3. When you read a good Catholic book, leave a review . . .

. . . at Goodreads, Amazon, and the publisher’s website. Then mention it to your friends – online and in real life.

People want to be able to practice their faith.  Reading good Catholic fiction is a way that many people can be encouraged,  inspired, and yes, even catechized at times, in a way that comes so naturally to story-loving humans.

***

Read any good books lately?

What titles would you recommend for the Catholic reader looking for a good story to curl up with on a lazy Sunday afternoon?

(Psst!  FYI for new readers – the blog discussion forum is here.)

 

Catholic Writers Conference Live! Logo.

 

Book Review: Seeking Jesus in Everyday Life by Julie Davis

Julie Davis sent me a preview copy of her new book, Seeking Jesus in Everyday Life, and I am very thankful to have read it. I’m mildly abashed to find myself in it, but I’ll take it.

What is this book?

When people talk about “having a relationship with Jesus” other people are left a tad lost.  A friend had a relative who’d just turned to God for the first time in the midst of a serious end-of-life crisis, but now what?  How do you help someone who’s ignored God for a lifetime to even know how to pray?  I recommended this book.

Starting with “Beginning to Pray” as the zero point, Julie walks the reader from I’ve-got-nothing all the way into the depths of the Christian life.  Each page has a quote from Julie’s epic quote journal, and then her reflection on what we weak-kneed penitents might do with that idea.  You can see sample pages on Amazon to get the idea.

Who would like this book?

Because it is such a true and grounded and approachable way to learn, or re-learn, to relate to God, I’d consider it a go-to for most new Christians.

As someone who knows and practices a whole pile of Catholicism, but often poorly, I found it helpful to start from the beginning and pray through the book a bit at a time.

I suppose the answer is: Are you ready to hit the reset button on your practice of the faith? Here it is.

Is it true Julie lets just about anybody into her quote journal?

Yeah, I think so.  She seems to follow the Adam’s Ale “Finding the Truth Wherever it May be Found” rule.

In contrast to her first book of quotes from films and other pop-culture sources, which I recommend for different reasons, this one is a collection of quotes from spiritual writers.  The contributors include some ordinary people like me, some super-big names from all the centuries, and a fair bit of God Himself.   It’s just whatever she’s read and found helpful, so there will be runs of this or that author.

The book doesn’t attempt to be a representative tour of the Greatest Hits of All Time; rather, it’s a tour of the human soul, and the quotes are ones that shine a light on this or that experience common to most ordinary Jesus-seeking Christians.

I’m quite certain, giving my presence there, that to be quoted is not an endorsement of every single thing a given author ever wrote (God excepted), it just means she found that particular quote helpful in some way.

Two Final Fun Things:

#1: Fellow Conspirator Will Duquette’s review of Seeking Jesus in Everday Life is here.

#2: My favorite quote from the book, from Fr. James Libone and stuck in my head since the moment I read it:

“Everyone wants the key to finding God.  But there is no lock!”

Cover art courtesy of Niggle Publishing.

Learning to Appreciate the Big Things in Life

So the reason I vanished from the internet like I’d been kidnapped in broad daylight is that I had to quick plan a massive trip to Europe.  (I know!)  A different day, I will write more about the how-to’s of pulling off that feat; for now just know that yes, it consumed my every free minute from the moment the opportunity opened up until the transport, lodging, and insurance were firmly established.

You understand, because you, too, have something you want to do that, if you were suddenly given the chance, you’d drop everything and make it happen.  I want to talk about what it takes to make that thing happen for you.

The One Big Thing

I think “bucket lists” are nonsense.  Life isn’t like that.  My list of priorities looks like this:

  1. God.
  2. My vocation as a wife and mother.
  3. Everything else.

#1 and #2 are inseparably intertwined — doing one means doing the other, always.  #3 is composed of all the other things that might be important, but that when push comes to shove you can pout all you want, I’m not available to do that thing you think I should be doing, if it interferes with #1 and #2.

Still, there’s a pile of good stuff behind door #3, including a long list of, “It would sure be nice if . . .” items.  It would sure be nice to have a bigger, prettier house.  It would sure be nice to visit New England.  It would sure be nice to take the kids to Mount Vernon (God-willing, that’s next summer).  The One Big Thing also sits behind door #3, but in a different corner of the Everything Else room.

We have a friend whose One Big Thing was to invest in a large, well-appointed home for his eventual wife and children.  It was so important to him that he started saving up for that house while he was still in college.   It’s not that he would have felt like he’d failed in life, or “missed out,” or that his happiness depended on having that house.  It was just important enough to him that he was willing to sacrifice a lot of other good things in order to make it happen if he could.  (And he did.)

You have some things like that.  Things that maybe are achievable or maybe they aren’t, but if you do get the chance, you’d be willing to set aside a lot of other good stuff in order to make your One Big Thing happen.

The Things We Set Aside

So I’ve been thinking about taking my kids on this trip since I was sixteen years old.

(Yes, that’s right: I wasn’t dating anybody, I hadn’t yet met the man I’d eventually marry, it would be another decade before the first child was even born.  I was sixteen years old and walking along a misty tree-lined alley leading up to a historic French chateau, and I knew that one day I wanted to share that moment’s experience with my future children.)

Everybody has a different financial picture, so this isn’t a talk about how if you just do what I do you can have your big thing.  But I want to make it clear that there’s a long list of good, worthwhile things we’re forgoing to make the One Big Thing happen.  On that list:

  • All superfluous purchases.  I was going to bring home flowers for Valentine’s day, but I need that $2.99 to be in the bank this summer.
  • A laptop that works.  My trusty Surface Pro has given it up, and thus one of the reasons I don’t write as much lately is that I don’t have a computer I can take to another room when the family’s all home, and I do have to jockey for time on the shared machines.  So basically I’ve made the decision that something I really love, writing, is just not going to happen as much as I’d like, for a while.
  • A new-used car.  Our minivan has 170,000 miles on it.  The doors either don’t lock or don’t open or sometimes both.  The paint job is Green and Black Cheetah because we’ve filled in with primer where the original finish is rusting out.  There is no interior carpet anymore, just bare metal with strategically-placed rubber mats.  We’d been planning to upgrade to something conceived this millennium, but my mechanical engineer tells me we can get that baby to 200K, no problem.  So that’s what we’ll be doing.
  • Living room furniture.  When we updated the circa-1985 paint in the living room and hallways this Christmas, we donated our couch and recliner, from the same era and in the same general condition, to other worthy recipients.  What’s there instead?  Lawn chairs.  Really nice ones, yes: They’re the ones we got from Lowe’s on clearance and had previously been using to kit the screen porch.  They just got promoted to a full-time, permanent gig as Chief Living Room Furniture.
  • More house space.  Eventually that minivan is going to need to be replaced.  Good thing we just painted, because this family of six is going to be squeezed into the three-bedroom ranch for a long time to come.

I mention that last one not because it’s a big deal (I know larger families living in smaller houses), but because to a lot of people, a spacious home is their One Big Thing.

You just have to know yourself and know what trade-offs fit the kind of person you are.  No matter how rich you are, you can’t have everything you’re able to want.  We all have to prioritize, and give up some good things in order to have other good things that are more important to us.

Seizing the Day

I’m not omnipotent nor omniscient, and neither are you.  There’s no telling what will happen between now and the end of June.  Perhaps our plans all come to naught.  One of the ways you know you’ve hit your One Big Thing is because you can honestly say to yourself: Even if this doesn’t work out, I have to try it, because I will always regret not having taken my chance when it came.

[Tip: If you are making a significant financial investment in anything, get that investment insured.  You can insure a house, a car, a boat, a musical instrument, and yes, even a trip.]

In our case, what happened is that we were thinking about taking a much more reasonable, but still-ambitious, stateside family trip.  That was another thing we’ve always wanted to do and here we were: The kids were at the ideal age, my health was finally decent again, there was a slot when we could take the time off and make it happen.

So we talked about a variety of other, much more sane choices.  Then one day I came to my senses.  I told my husband: I would rather not go anywhere this summer, and save up for as long as it takes to make my One Big Thing happen.

And he briefly set aside all reason and scruples and determined that he really, really loves me, and that maybe we should talk about this.  I pointed out that I’ve been talking about doing this trip since as long as he’s known me, and also there has not been a single time in the past decade when I was physically able to make it happen.  Our son graduates high school next year.  If I wanted to do it, now was literally the only time.

So I did it.  Trip is booked.

File:1138357639 3c5c483074 o Haut Koenigsbourg CC by Fr Antunes.jpg

This is where we’re going.  Photo by Fr_Antunes (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons. And no I won’t be live-blogging it, because: I don’t have a working laptop.  That’s fine.  My One Big Thing wasn’t “taking the internet on this trip,” it was, “taking my kids on this trip.”  I don’t recall ever giving birth to a computer, thanks.

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.

***

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.