To Slow the Decline


I wrote about how both God and Satan work incrementally.

Not so long ago I came upon this quote in the book, Song of the Sparrow by Murray Bodo, OFM:

We drift away from God so easily; not fast but easily. And before we know it, we are far downstream from God trying desperately to break our acceleration and reverse our direction.

As a Benedictine, we are called to be pray-ers in the world. And I do pray — for people by name, for groups and their causes, for our near-sighted government, and for our world where the infection of evil is spreading, seemingly at an exponential rate.

I don’t know that I can pray hard enough, fast long enough, offer up suffering deep enough to even slow the momentum of decline. I am but a beggar.

I can only hope that the Lord hears us, and helps us. I’m assured He hears us, even when we fail to listen.

Image from

Vibrancy and Dormancy


I’d driven to an area where Sandhill Cranes often stop to rest during their winter migration. Not too far away was an open and dry fen dressed in its autumn blonde and gold. At its lowest point a small brook meanders past poplars, scrubby shrubs, and wild grasses. This little tributary turns into a full sized creek when rains are heavy. Creek or brook, it eventually meets up with a larger river several miles downstream.

Large tussocks of grass grew on the banks. I’d decided to rest awhile, and pushed aside the fronds of a nearby tuft and sat on the leafy mound. The water was cold and clear, and glistened in the bright October afternoon. Through the knee-deep water the algae coated stones and pebbles on the stream bed were easy to see.

A lemon-yellow lance-shaped leaf from a locust tree, with tips upturned like a tiny canoe, floated and bobbed in rhythm with the current’s ripples. The leaf sped around an oxbow and spun in the little rapids created by stones and sticks. As it came to the next bend it was caught in an eddy and stopped its forward progression. There it sat nearly motionless as other leaves passed. Eventually something in the water’s movement lifted the golden leaf from the calm and back into the current.

Rapid movement…then stillness…

My thoughts drifted to my journey as a Benedictine Oblate and I remembered reading a quote by Fr. Gabriel, OCD, about the “double movement of charity.”[i] As an Oblate I am called to action and service in the busy flow of the world, with all its turbulence and determined forward movement. I am also called to the quiet eddy of prayer where I can rest in silence. In either situation the goal is to unite my efforts to God’s will “…fusing the love of God and the love of neighbor into one and the same love…”[ii]

I am a beginner, a novice at this work of action and contemplation. The balance of these two loves—of God and neighbor—is not yet easily attained. I prefer peeking around the window sash of my cloistered rooms to stepping through the door of the shelter in town—where all its noises, smells, and emotions overwhelm my senses. My nature is toward a quiet salvation of souls rather than to overt evangelization.

Sitting on the bank, my attention was drawn back to the brook as a bright red maple leaf got caught in the eddy—and surprisingly one of its winged seeds with it. The leaf was a glorious vibrant red in the mid-day sun and the spinner dull, dried and wrinkled. There they rested, side by side—vibrancy and dormancy.

Soon enough an unseen movement lifted them back into the flow. The leaf, with its unmistakable color shouting the glory of God, went ahead. Soon to follow was the unremarkable seed.

As I walked up the bank and across the field to the car I was comforted by, or rather, comfortable in my plainness. It is the unadorned seed that may eventually bear fruit.

[i] Divine Intimacy, Father Gabriel of Saint Mary Magdalen, OCD, p. 999.

[ii] Ibid, p.1000.

Image by Jerzy Gorecki at

A Skin Thin Upon the Soul


It was an early autumn morning at the retreat center and I was walking through the back meadow in the pre-dawn light. Even with the hood of my bright-blue sweatshirt scrunched up around my neck, I felt a slight chill and shivered; my pant legs and shoes were wet from the morning dew.

The sky was clear. To the west the heavens were a dark navy and still reflected a few stars. Eastward it transitioned to a luminous blue-gray. A thin fog filtered the emerging coral light. I was reminded of the skies in Maxfield Parrish paintings.

To say that I was praying feels inaccurate, even shallow. As written by a friend, “the Presence feels touchable at those moments, when the world falls still and angels have time to catch their breath.”

Silence is a defining portion of my life…welcomed and practiced.

I work diligently to be concise with words, and many times am confounded trying to find a language that expresses holy awe, love, and assurance. I read in Magnificat, from Fr. Donald Haggerty, that “The soul can only wait in a poverty of speech.”

This poverty was made more pronounced at a Catholic writers’ retreat when I was asked, more than once, what made me so joyous — jokingly teasing me about being on drugs. It felt odd to have these new friends ask where my peace came from. I thought…we are Catholics, we have Mass, Eucharist, the True Presence…it just exists.

I continued my walk through meadows and woodlands and realized that to describe the love of the Creator is like trying to describe skin. It is simply there, intimately and uniquely formed, expanding and contracting, sensitive to damage, and without it we would die.

But to write about how skin feels against the veins and tendons of my hands, or the sensation as it sets upon my cheek or toes is an awareness that words cannot describe. I am rarely conscious of it unless it is damaged. Skin is there—simply, purposefully, essentially.

This is how I experience our God and the love that envelops. I cannot tell you of its existence, but I can tell you of the sense of absence when I have damaged that relationship.

There are times — when exposed to disrespect of others, when hearing of violence, or when I am insecure or self-centered and have my feelings hurt — that the outward expression of happiness may recede. But that is an emotion and emotions change. Joy always remains — it is the very skin of God intact upon the soul.

Image by Pasja1000 at


Winged Invasion of Crows


A murder of crows swooped loud and large into the back yard. Their boisterous cawing drowned out the traffic noise from the other side of the house. The littler song birds flew away — in fear or possibly annoyance. Whatever morning peace existed departed with the winged invasion.

The crows, and there were maybe twenty, landed heavily in the top branches of trees. They hopped and cawed, spread their expansive wings, and bobbed their heads while raising a ruckus. Usually I’d smile at their arrival; they made me think of the rowdy laughter from a gaggle of adolescent boys.

Of late it sounded like mockery. The dark feathered devils seemed to call me out on my regrets and mistakes. They reminded me with each caw what I cannot forget.

By our very nature, regrets surface when mortality lands heavy on the branches of our maturing life. I’ve matured to the age where having a few health issues is not a surprise, nor am I filled with fear by the implications. What disconcerts me is the awareness of regrets that still darken my soul. Mistakes I’ve made that wounded others, for which I have apologized, ask for or give forgiveness, and when needed, confessed before a priest. I assumed I had moved on from those mistakes, forgiving myself for what God had forgiven. Apparently not.

The gang of crows reflects their and my coarse behaviors. They evoked unwanted memories, and flew away — leaving me to my own questioning.

The black birds have gone for awhile. They will return — the brutes.  And I will welcome them, sad and grateful. Saddened by the realization that I still have not fully forgiven myself and grateful for the knowledge of where the work of my soul still lies. I welcome those dark devils that lead me to turn toward God.

Have mercy on me, God…wash me more and more from my guilt
and cleanse me from my sin…My offenses truly I know them;
my sin is always before me…you love truth in the heart;
then in the secret of my heart teach me wisdom…purify me O God.
(Psalms 51)

Image by Capri 23 Auto at

(September, 2013)

A Birthday Gift to the Blessed Virgin Mary


We gather insights to our faith through several Liturgical events in September. In my book, A Catholic Gardener’s Spiritual Almanac, I shared a story about the Mother Mary.

On September 8 is the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary—her birthday. For me a sweet memory celebrating this day took place several years ago.

Directly across the street from my house lived a loving (and growing) Catholic family. I remember the day when they moved into the brown-stone ranch — at that time they were only a family of three, and the mother was pregnant. After many years of the single story house being vacant it would once more become a home. I was delighted when the young couple asked if I was Catholic and what churches were in the area. They decided to become parishioners at my home parish, and we became good neighbors as their family grew.

One pleasant September day I was in the front yard gardening and heard the laughter of children. Looking up I saw the small crowd across the road with the oldest daughter carrying a birthday cake. They were headed for the picnic table under the big oak tree.

I stared at the gaggle of kids and for the life of me couldn’t recall which of the children’s birthday it was. I also wondered if I had a card in the desk drawer that I could sign and hurry over to the appropriate child—once I remembered which one it was. I headed for the house, but before I even got across the lawn, the mother waved me to come join them.

I was delighted by the children’s boisterous greeting and amazed at the vivid-blue frosted cake. The children excitedly told me it was the Blessed Mother’s birthday. Now this was a cause for celebration!

Before the cake was cut each child offered the Blessed Virgin a gift…a sincere and heartfelt prayer of gratitude. What a lovely birthday bouquet our Mother Mary received!

Image by Nannica at