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.

Movies for Grown-Ups: Room

People will tell you that this or that deplorable book or show or song requires depraved content in order to explore “mature” themes.

So here’s a tip: Watch the film Room.  (Wikipedia has the full plot synopsis here.)  It’s the story of a teenage girl whose kidnapper keeps her in a storage shed for years, and visits nightly to rape her.  We meet her as the twenty-something mother of a five-year-old son, still locked in that shed and now raising her child in captivity.  Movie topics don’t get a whole lot darker than that.

Do not watch this film when your little kids are home.  (Do watch it with your teenagers – parental guidance required).

But guess what?  In the hands of a good director, you can swim deep into some very nasty, brutal crimes without anything of the gratuitous voyeurism that so many lazy producers lather on like cupcake frosting.   You can have your (plot-essential) rape scene without actually having to watch someone get raped.  You can show terror, desperation, and suicidal depression without morbid violence. The very light touch on the use of foul language is a textbook case study in when and how such words might properly belong in a script.

***

In addition to being a study in How to Handle Extremely Dark Topics, the film is also, as any good film should be, about the true, beautiful and good.  If you are a writer, you should watch this film for its genius use of the breadth of the English language.  For any human, the very last lines of the film are stunning in their ability to sum up one of the greatest struggles of the human heart with piercing simplicity.

FYI – It was streaming for free on Amazon Prime when we watched it.

Room Poster.jpg

Film poster via Wikimedia, used per fair use guidelines.

Six Things I Needed to Hear – In the Catholic Mom’s Prayer Companion

So this is what it’s like to be a devotional-writer:

I got home from Portland in the middle of the night East Coast time, wide awake because {Coffee + Jet Lag}.  But look! Things came in the mail for me!  No need to be bored.

Box #1 was a stack of these: The Catholic Mom’s Prayer Companion. It’s a collection of reusable devotionals for every day of the year, contributed by such a massive collection of Catholic writers that I think they were hard-pressed to find non-co-authors left for the endorsements.  (But they did find a few.)

So I got a beer and flipped through to find my entries, just to see what they looked like and all that.  One gets self-absorbed late at night.  There’s not an index-by-author, so I had to do a combination of trying to remember what days I wrote on and just flipping through.  Three lessons I learned:

1. Goodness gracious I can’t believe who else is in there!  A lot of the co-authors are people I know from the Catholic writing community, some of them famous, some of them up-and-coming.  At the risk of sounding cliche, when you’ve actually met and worked with so many interesting and talented and devoted Catholics? It’s a tremendous honor to be sharing a book with them.

(My favorite part of being involved with the Catholic Writers Guild?  Finding out who the new talent is before the rest of the world gets in on the secret.)

2. Editors are your friend.  When I wrote this post at Patheos, I was in the middle of overhauling a couple of my submissions for this book.  So let’s cut to the chase: We are all very, very glad that my first attempts at the feasts of St. Mary Magdalene and of the Immaculate Conception did not make it into the book.  The revised versions are far better.

3.  I have a predictable soul.  I think I found all my entries (Six? Did I count right?), and there was a consistent theme: The same things I was writing about a year ago are the things I needed to hear just this week.

–> Shout out to my brother-in-law: Why yes, I did get to be the person who wrote on the feast of St. Maximilian Kolbe.  I was stoked. But reader, if you want to know what I’ve been particularly thinking about the past two days, take a look at what I had to say on the feast of St. Rita.

Contents of Box #2 to be revealed in the next post.

1-59471-661-7
Cover art courtesy of CatholicMom.com and Ave Maria Press.

Culture, Evangelization, and a Free E-Book: Getting Along with Traditionalists

In a conversation on a private forum, the topic of culture and evangelization came up.  The discussion question was whether the concept of “Engaging the Culture” is relevant in a society as diverse as our own.  Can we even say that there exists “a culture” to engage?

Excerpts from my response:

I spent a year of my undergrad work in International Studies sitting in a classroom on another continent with a 100 classmates from around the world, all expats using a second language for their coursework. Did my thesis on a question of “cultural exports” in international trade. Since that time I’ve been living immersed in one of the most diverse and misunderstood American subcultures on this continent (to which I am bi-cultural, or probably more accurately quad-cultural), at a time of tremendous demographic change in the region where I live . . .

Trust me: There is an American Culture, there is a “Western” Culture, and there are myriad national cultures, ethnic cultures, religious cultures, and social-sub-cultures within all the different lumped-up mega-cultures.

Knowing where someone is “coming from,” by which I mean knowing all the forces that form and shape them, is very helpful in being able to connect with them. It doesn’t shortcut the process of listening and learning from the individual, but to the extent that you are fluent in the culture of the person you are evangelizing or discipling, you have way more ability to recognize and address unspoken needs and concerns, and way more ability to understand what the person is trying to say.

Being aware of cultural gulfs — even if you’re only aware that there is a possibility of one, but don’t know where it lies — is a great help in avoiding disastrous misunderstandings.

All that was one train of thought. For a nice book recommendation (not mine) concerning culture and thus indirectly the question of evangelization, see my review of The Culture Map over at New Evanglizers.

Then I concluded with a remark in the other direction, because you can really trip yourself up by leaning too heavily on cultural assumptions:

. . . interestingly, every single inter-personal disaster I have seen in church work over the past decade or so stemmed from watching one person assume all sorts of crazy things about another person based on the fact that the second person came from or identified with this or that ethnic or social sub-culture.

 

Which reminded me there was a book I’ve been meaning to write.  I hear so many times about how difficult is to get along with Traditionalists and other foreign-types.  I’m sure someone else has the Getting Along With People From Other Countries That Speak Spanish segment sufficiently covered, but what about the much more pervasive and feared Radical Traditionalist?  Not everything in a mantilla is a sweet little immigrant grandmother just doing her special immigrant customs, you know.  So I had to write a new book.

I thought it would fit on an index card, but it’s a little bit longer.  Here’s the galley of the first in the series, which is my free gift to you, my loyal readers:

How to Get Along with Traditionalists

Click the title-link to immediately download the PDF, no ads, no shopping cart, no mailing list.  It’s yours for the clicking.

Be sure to the check the last page for more titles in the series, because rad-trads aren’t the only dangerous beasts in parish life.

Enjoy!

File:President and Mrs. Reagan meet Pope John Paul II 1982.jpg
President and Mrs. Reagan meet Pope John Paul II, The Vatican, Rome, 1982. [Public Domain] via Wikimedia. Listening is important, because not every person in a mantilla is the spouse of the President of the United States, either.

How to Find Me

This is a quick note for people who land here and want to find the treasure-trove of interesting:

All my current writing (Catholic punditry, mostly) is going on at my Patheos blog, “Sticking the Corners”.

Here are the archives of my columns at:

I’m still holding down the 16th of the Month Gospel reflections at CatholicMom.com through the end of 2015, so look for those.  Or read them all in the 2015 devotional collection, which you can find by checking out my publications page.

***

I check my e-mail sporadically and don’t open anything that looks like spam, so if you write (see sidebar), make that subject line a good one.  Ditto friend requests on Facebook, if yours is languishing, it’s because I don’t know who you are, and either didn’t have time to check out your profile and determine we have something in common, or I checked out your profile and couldn’t tell you apart from Sir Spam-a-lot.

I am a hermit, I live in a cave, but I like people.  So don’t be shy, just be patient and forthcoming.

I’ve got a new book out! Me and thirty of my favorite co-authors, that is.

The general update on me is that I’m holding steady.  No particular news to report, and I’m still keeping up the torrent of punditry at Patheos.

But look .  . I accidentally went and got published again!  Here’s the scoop:

Now out from CatholicMom.com: As Morning Breaks, Daily Gospel Reflections.  It’s available as a Kindle book (very affordable – $2.99), but FYI if you want to get this as a gift for someone, it’s not necessary to own a dedicated device in order to read it. Any PC, tablet, whatever, can read Kindle books, just download the free software from Amazon.

 

What’s in the book?  A reflection on the daily Gospel reading for every day of 2015.  This is from the team at CatholicMom.com, so if you’ve been reading those Gospel reflections online, it’s that.  You can preview the first month, which lets you get a taste of each contributor’s style and the kinds of ideas that will be coming your way each day.  If you just want to see my name in print, scroll down to the 16th.

Why is this book better than a bake sale?  Because you can support a good cause without your kids whining over who got the bigger brownie.  All the proceeds from the sale of the book go to help underwrite the cost of keeping CatholicMom.com up and running.  FYI if you weren’t aware, CatholicMom.com is basically the largest womens’ mag in the faithfully Catholic world, brought to you free everyday thanks to the contributions of dozens upon dozens of volunteers who give their time and labor to make it happen.

It’s the place where aspiring Catholic writers are incubated, and it’s the place where established Catholic writers who get paid for everything else they publish still turn up to contribute their work pro bono.

It’s a good cause, and you get more than your money’s worth for what you buy.  Check it out.

Cat Photos & Other Reputable Pursuits

A kitten found us, which means we can finally use the internet properly.

I persist, of course, in my incorrigible habit of crowding perfectly good bandwidth with religion, public policy, and other punditry.  My hope is that by wielding the cat as a feline shield, the internet police will be stymied in their efforts to purify the web of non-cat bloggers.

Like the Internet Except in 3-D

1. My screen porch.  YouTube viewing has plummeted now that we have our hyperactive dancing cat.

2. Midlands Homeschool Convention.  Of interest to southeasterners.  Huge regional event, piles of top notch speakers, and also me.  Catholic writers guild will have a table, and there’ll be a rocking “Look at the Book” display of Catholic textbooks & materials from all the major players, hosted by Catholic homeschoolers in SC.  Also free stuff and some drawings for prizes. The teepee in the corner, dear parents, is for your children.  You sit on the chairs.  July 24-26.

3. Catholic Writers Conference. Following week up in Chicago, smart people will be turning out at the writers’ wonderland that is the combination Catholic Writers Conference & Catholic Marketing Network’s trade show.  This is the place where all the publishers and vendors of Catholic trinkets (games, art, music, etc) turn out so the Catholic book & gift shops can stock up for the season.  Most interesting bit is seeing what famous internet Catholics look like when rendered in 3-D.

(I will be rendered in 2D for that one.  Visit the Liguori booth if you go, and you can see my book.  The me-traveling-to-Chicago part is not quite back on the program.)

Since last I wrote, Patheos has been fixing things, which means you have to go here to get the July archives.

June still copies and pastes nicely:

 

Enjoy!

Update: What is wrong with people?

The answer to, “How’s it going, Jen?” remains, “Pretty well, thanks!”  I resurrected the Nine Annoying Things Novena over at the blorg last week, and the pray-ers did well.  Hence today’s story:

So I go see Dr. Maybe yesterday, and they did the dreaded Six Minute Walk.  And here is the very, very, What is wrong with people? situation: I did almost as well as predicted.

Seriously?  Is this really all they expect out of pleasantly-plump 40-somethings?  You’re kidding me.

You do the walk with a pulse oximeter, which means you can cheat and watch your heart rate.  This is handy if you are the kind of person who knows at about what heart rate the gasping kicks in (see archives below for the secret), and thus you can maximize your distance by walking right at that special speed where you’re coughing a bit and your head feels like you just tossed back two glasses of champagne on an empty stomach, but hey, you aren’t going to faint, and even though death feels like the perfect next step, you can do it for six minutes.  Or at least, you can do it that long if a stern nurse in pink scrubs gives you a face like she’ll spank you if you quit early.

It appears the pulmonologists aren’t big believers in pedestrian transportation.

***

Anyhow, I like the new guy, whose brain jumps around so much I finally pulled out a notebook and made a list of all the tests and appointments he was rattling off, because I had a feeling one or two might get lost in the shuffle if no one wrote them down, stat.

Ruled out again this morning — for good, this time? — pulmonary embolisms.  Sent away three vials of blood — I’m not sure he’s quite to the point of looking for tropical diseases (I’ve never been to the tropics), but he’s almost there.  More interesting tests coming along soon, looking for weird variants on regular asthma and exercise-induced asthma, and also he’s going to see if he can get my heart rate up high enough (on a treadmill, not with those evil chemicals) that the O2 levels drop, or something else interesting happens that gives us a clue.

We’re having real problems with finding clues.  The trouble we’re having is that I’m dreadfully healthy for someone who’s sucking wind and coughing while ambling at grocery-store pace, minus the cart.

***

Blorging over the past couple weeks, for those who don’t subscribe:

May 7, 2014 Religion is about Reality – and so is the Black Mass  In which someone in the combox accuses me of “shooting off my mouth”.  What exactly is a blog for, if not that?

May 6, 2014 It’s Not Friendship if it Can’t Withstand Disagreement Because I have the coolest friends.  Yes I do.

May 5, 2014 What I Write, Why I Write, How I Write . . . #mywritingprocess  This is the truth, but I’m going to reveal more details at CWG later this month.

May 5, 2014 Tell Me About Your Favorite Homeschooling Conference @CatholicMom.com  Listen, if you know about a good homeschooling conference, go over the link in this post and leave a comment.  I can’t believe no one did this, even after I bumped the CMom post to two different conference-hosts that I knew about.  Sheesh.

May 5, 2014 Inside the Glamorous World of Religion Blogging – Parody for the 5th Blorgiversary, featuring a video of me making everyone else seem as glamorous as Jen Fulwiler.

May 3, 2014 Guns in Church: The Divide Boils Down to Subsidiarity – I don’t much write about gun stuff.  But when the Archbishop of Gunlandia does something to tick off all his redneck parishioners, someone has to get out some catechism quotes, right?  FYI – post includes a link to my A/C article where I say there, concisely, what I’ve said here, verbosely: This is a topic on which Catholics of good will can disagree, and catechists need to leave their agendas at home.

May 2, 2014 Pomp without Vanity: A True Story from a Parish Photo Directory – My kid is as cool as Fr. Longenecker, and much, much prettier.

May 1, 2014 Fun Stuff: Beautification Claws From the Case Files of DragonEye, PI – Free short story. Catholic dragon.

May 1, 2014 Tried and True Ways to Eliminate People With Disabilities #BADD2014 – Review of what I blogged for BADD here last year.  Because it’s still true.  Quit trying to kill the people who bother you.

April 30, 2014 Something Fun: Armored Combat League World Championship May 1 – 3 – Because I have the coolest friends.  Have I mentioned that?

April 30, 2014 Just Say No to Needy Busybodies

April 29, 2014 Heart Rate Training for Fitness in Chronic Illness – This is actually a useful post.  It’s how I managed to nearly pass the 6-minute walk, despite being seriously seriously not well.  And if I’d taken the walk two days earlier, I would’ve aced it out of sheer racing-preparation common sense.

April 29, 2014 Mid-Easter Evangelization: Time for an Egg Hunt! – Link to my column at NE, which got picked up as a reprint by at least one parish bulletin.  I can die happy now.  I have succeeded as a Catholic writer.

April 28, 2014 Trusting God When Life Isn’t Easy – Link to Pauline Media’s brand new, free, digital magazine.  I wrote one of the articles in it.

April 28, 2014 Midlands Homeschool Convention – Last Day for Discounted Registration – Your one and only chance to see me speak in 2014.  Turn out.  It’s going to be cool.

April 28, 2014 Classroom Management for Catechists – Spanish Edition for Fall 2014 – I do a happy dance.

April 26, 2014 Why is Obedience a Virtue?

April 25, 2014 Real Life Prayer Gardening  A picture of the dog who keeps my prayer life going.  And my garden.

April 24, 2014 A Deadly Faith – Gospel Reflection @CatholicMom.com – I had forgotten all about writing this, but then I read it, and it was really good.  Surprisingly good.  Follow this to get the link to the CMom piece, and yes pastors, you may run it as a reprint in your bulletin next time Holy Week comes around.  Or whenever.

April 23, 2014 Divine Mercy Sunday – What’s it all about??  – Relevant every day at 3pm.  Or other times you have 7 minutes to spare and your prayer life needs a little something.

Click to read my blog at Patheos

Up-ish Again. Yay!

Spent about a week feeling way, way worse.  As in: Light-headed verging on headache-y if a sat upright.  At all.  So I watched movies, because writing flat on your back is not so fun.  Interestingly (disturbingly?) the one thing I didn’t do was pray any better.  But SuperHusband & I did do some contingency pre-planning, and discuss funeral music, because, well, we’re picky about music.  Last night I pointed him to the Dies Irae, and he was alarmed no one had ever played it in church before. Makes you feel cheated.  I’ve never heard it myself, I just look at in the hymnal and know that I love it.

So whichever one of us dies first, the other one gets to hear good funeral music live, and the early-departer gets the remote version.  (Or, if we’re bad . . . let’s not think about that.  I know there’s suffering in purgatory, but our Lord wouldn’t stoop so low as to open The Gather and . . . we’re not talking about that now.  I’m going with those lines about pleading for mercy.)

So my kids have this weird notion that the way one faces serious illness is to give your spouse dating advice and watch movies all day.

And then I started feeling better again.  I won’t say I feel *normal* sitting upright, but at least I feel normal enough that I keep doing it, because: More interesting.

And definitely not feeling all funeral-planny this week, so that’s good.

Follow-up appt with cardiologist next week, in which we figure out where I should go next.

***

I started back writing stuff, and if you don’t subscribe to the blorg, you can periodically check the archives and click on the interesting stuff.  I’m trying to use titles that more or less tell you what the post is about.  Here you go, I think this is all the interesting bits since last I posted here:

  • March 28, 2014 Students Angry at Catholic School for Teaching Catholic Faith – UPDATED  News item out of Charlotte, NC, w/ prayer request for you to pray for Bishop Jugis, and also I rant a little.
  • March 28, 2014 Do the Ends Justify the Means? Blog catechism class, because some of my readers were unclear on how double-effect and don’t-do-evil-that-good-may-come-of-it work.  Also, now my all time favorite intro to theology book can be purchased on Amazon — that is, there were six copies, used, when earlier I wrote.  They might all be sold now.
  • March 27, 2014 How Can the Spirtually Flabby Be Helped? Link to my New Evangelizers column.  I was irritated by the people who say, “Lent is So Easy! Quit Whining!”, so I wrote about how they could quite whining about the whiners (me), and make themselves useful around their parish.
  • March 27, 2014 How’s that Religious Freedom Thing Working Out These Days? The Constitution.  I’m partial to it.  Blame my upbringing.  Interesting weird arguments going on in the combox.  Someone brought Rastafarians into it, as people will.
  • March 26, 2014 What Makes a Catholic Book Catholic?  Link to my column at the CWG.  Because the day before I said I really really liked Funeral Kings (movie), and I do like it, and you should be briefly scandalized by that that assertion, but I have reasons.  But no, it’s not Catholic  — at least, not the kind of Catholic that gets a CWG Seal of Approval.
  • March 25, 2014 St. Dismas Day, and a Movie to go with: Funeral Kings  More f-bombs in that movie than I think I have ever heard anywhere anytime, and that’s saying something.  And yet weirdly, it’s a good movie, in it’s way.
  • March 23, 2014 On Evangelization: Even People Like You are Missionary Material  Reprint from a few years ago, column from Amazing Catechists that coincided with the day’s Gospel, which was the Samaritan woman at the well.  You may remember it’s the one where we see how she evangelized despite herself.
  • March 21, 2014 Radio Silence = Please Pray  See.  I was sick.  Sick-Er.  Proof.

***

That’s all I know.  Some real life friends and I were thinking we ought to pick a reputable Servant of God (a “venerable”) who’s angling for a promotion to be our next invoked-saint.  Any suggestions?  Favorites?

psst . . . Jen . . . quit mixin’ up your holy-people terms.  “Servant of God” is the step before “Venerable.”  See more here, Thank You, Wikipedia!