Anna Bonnema

At the beginning of a 2-year Spiritual Direction Practicum, I was asked to select a “spiritual giant” to walk with during our time.  This would be someone I would reflect on, whose words and teachings I would immerse myself in, making connections to our classwork and my life.  I immediately decided I needed a ‘modern’ woman. I assumed I would need someone as current as possible if I was going to incorporate them in to my life and find relevance in their teachings.   I started looking, and considering. But what I did not imagine, was that my spiritual giant had already chosen me, if I’m being honest, a couple of years before. So, I like to say that my spiritual giant chose me, and to this day Saint Benedict and I are walking through life together.  

Saint Benedict is neither modern nor a woman.  Born in Italy in 480,Benedict is believed to have been born to a well-off family, and had a twin sister named Scholastica.  He grew up and was educated in a time of much political chaos and ended up seeking solitude in the mountains of Subiaco. His time of solitude and simplicity paved the way for the monastery he founded at Monte Cassino, which, along with his ‘Rule’ became the foundation of the monastic tradition.  My first personal connection to Saint Benedict may have been in his escape to solitude, leaving chaos and retreating to nature.  

As an introvert with high sensitivity, sometimes the noise and clatter of the world can be overwhelming. Political rhetoric can be grating-and I too appreciate times of silence and solitude.  I experienced my first silent retreat several years ago, 4 days in total silence except an hour each day with a spiritual director. It was the first time I have achieved total silence. I often tell people, silencing my mouth was no problem, but silencing my mind–that was difficult.  It actually took a couple of days to stop the natural ‘scrolling’ of my brain, searching for a to-do list, or things to accomplish. I found myself wondering how long it took Saint Benedict to reach this true silence. True, he did not have the electronic connections that we have today, but the unrest of his time was real, and he sought silence–true silence.  

The next way I found myself connecting personally to this wise and ancient man was the very first word of his ‘Rule,’ which is “Listen.”  This one word opened up a world to me. And while I did read on, and have fallen in love with so many of his words, this word was the first.  Coming off his time in solitude, listening well to God and to those who might come close to him,he learned the value of listening. He knew the need to escape distraction and chaos to be able to do this well.  And this one word would set the tone for the type of monastic community he wanted to create. I too find myself in awe of how difficult listening well actually is. How easily I am distracted by external forces (my phone, my computer, a beep or ding) or internal (planning out my response, thinking about dinner).  How challenging it is to truly be present in a society that values business, accomplishment and motion.  

Saint Benedict knew that what he would share in The Rule was important to the community, and he set the tone by asking his brothers to listen.  Not distractedly, but to settle, clear their minds and listen. An amazing model for this kind of listening is Jesus. If we search scripture, we never see reference to Jesus ignoring someone who wanted his ear, or exhaling with annoyance when someone interrupted his plans, or half listening while he planned the words he would share at the next gathering.  What we do see, is Him stopping, turning to face the person, perhaps bending low. He models how to listen. If we take it a step further, Jesus also models to whom we are to listen. Again, searching scripture, we do not see Him listening only to people who look like him, or belong to his same “social class.” In a time today full of hurry and busy, noise and rhetoric, the result is people feeling unheard.  In a time today when certain groups of people are ignored because of the color of their skin or the place of their birth, people are feeling unloved. Listening well makes people not only feel heard, but loved.  

One of the ways that I practice silence during lent is through centering prayer, which for me involves spending 20 minutes a day alone with Jesus.  I often describe centering prayer to my students and spiritual directees in this way: “Imagine a friend or family member that you are so comfortable with that you can sit shoulder to shoulder with them on the couch without needing to fill the space with words.  Now imagine that person is Jesus and that is what centering prayer is.” It is a time of silence, where no words are needed. By practicing this discipline my heart becomes attuned to the still small voice in my daily life, to the nudging. It truly is centering.  I find that not only do I become more aware of the movements of the spirit in my life after practicing centering prayer, but I am also a better listener to those in my community. More present. More connected. My soul rests. My pace slows. My heart and my hands open.  Sitting in silence is truly counter cultural, actually “different from the world’s way,” but so important in my life both during lent and throughout the year.  

I recently had the opportunity to travel to a migrant shelter in Juarez, Mexico and heard the stories of two asylum seekers from South America.  Both of them shared tales of unimaginable horror at the hands of their home countries. And more unimaginable horror followed in the journey north. Both of them shared unwavering faith like nothing I have ever heard.  One young woman said, “I have faith that God will reunite me with my mom (who has been in the US for 20 years).” One said, “I believe God will continue to protect me.” In the face of trauma and horror, their faith remained strong.  And because I took the time to listen, mine was strengthened as well. When asked what message these two faithful people wanted us to share with our friends and family in the US, they said, “listen to the stories, hear us.”  

When visiting a non-profit in Athens, Greece last spring a woman working with refugees told us, “these women have stories, but no one to listen to them.”  Again, a call to listen. To set aside rhetoric and distraction and truly listen well. This might involve stepping outside of your comfort zone or striking up a conversation with someone who looks different from you while waiting in line at the market-but truly listen well.  This is counter cultural, slowing down to listen well is not how our fast paced world operates. But, Saint Benedict knew that, and in Chapter 4 of his Rule, “The tools for good works,” he says, “your way of acting should be different from the world’s way.” (RB 4:20) He continues by saying, “never give a hollow greeting of peace or turn away when someone needs your love.”  (RB: 25-26).  

We are called to step outside of the world’s way, to follow the example set by Jesus by listening well and listening to all.  I love the phrase, “hollow greeting of peace,” and have spent a good deal of time considering what that means. Is it a quick greeting as we pass?  Is it not even stopping to hear the answer to the question, “how are you?” If we don’t stop and listen well, how will we even know if this person needs love?  Who might we be turning away that we don’t even realize it? This consideration holds true when thinking about all of our neighbors, the ones we are called to love well, such as our immigrant neighbor. I was recently told that 85% of immigrants have never been in an American’s home.  Our neighbor struggling with mental health issues that may not be visible from the surface. The neighbor who does not look like us deserves to be listened to, as well.  

The list goes on and on,but the message from my ancient companion is as true today as it was in the early 500’s.  Saint Benedict walks with me in my town, at my coffee shop, at my market reminding me to listen. Nudging me to live apart from the world’s way-to put away my phone, to be present.  Urging me to never give a hollow greeting of peace lest I might miss giving love to someone who needs it more than anything today.  

Saint Benedict chose me to walk with and he is teaching me how to live and love, how to follow Jesus more than I ever imagined.  

Anna Bonnema: is an open-armed Catholic,  a lover of words and nature, fueled by tea, lattes, and dog snuggles. She is a wife to a man with a contagious laugh, a mom to amazing teenage triplets, an introvert, and always up for  gathering around the table or around the fire, or small celebrations and glitter. You can find her on Instagram at @annabonnema.

Becca Crooks

We had waited for months and driven for hours for this appointment. Our journey in infertility and doctoring had taken us on some ups and downs but we both had a sense of finality with this appointment. We felt like we’d finally, maybe, get some answers.

We had been trying to have children for years. As time went on, our hope for conceiving naturally grew smaller and smaller. The weight of infertility lies in its cyclical nature. Just like a woman’s body, the cycle fluctuates between times of hope and times of disappointment, times of trying and times of letting go.

My husband and I found out we couldn’t have children at that appointment. It was a cold, snowy day in February, now two years ago. As we left the Twin Cities it was already dark. We weaved and circled on the freeway. It was snowing and the traffic traveled slowly. 

The freeway felt how our journey in infertility had felt: slow and circling. We weaved and watched until we found our exit. Our turn off the freeway was via the “can’t have children” exit.  

When we found out, Lent had just started and I remember bitterly abandoning any resolutions I had made, thinking to myself, “I’m giving up having children this Lent – isn’t that enough?”

I had always been the type of person where things worked out for me. I had quit jobs before having another job lined up multiple times and it always had worked out. I learned woodworking to build my own furniture and décor when I couldn’t find exactly what I wanted. I leaned in the direction I wanted to go and usually landed on my feet.

But infertility did something to me: it showed me how little control I have over every  outcome in my life. It showed me how little control we have. 

I had run into marriage the way I had run into the rest of my life: with this idea that I could lean and just land on my feet. I never considered the call of being a wife as something separated from the call of being a mother. To me, they were always tied together in one dream – to be a wife and mother. 

During our years of infertility and doctoring, we had been asked by many people, close and not so close, about starting a family, our plans to have children, and so on. We were sure many people assumed our lack of children was by choice and because we weren’t ready to stop being selfish. 

Each pregnancy announcement during this time was not only a cause of happiness for others but also a reminder of our sorrow for ourselves. In the months surrounding our final doctor appointment where we received the news that we couldn’t have children naturally, two of my husband’s sisters and two of my sisters announced their news of expecting babies. It seemed that not only did we have to give up children, but we also had to endure watching others live the life we wanted, from a front row seat. 

Watching their lives from the audience made me realize that while infertility can prevent us from having children naturally, it can’t control who I become because of it. 

When we experience suffering, even as Catholics, it’s easy, to subtly think, “Maybe this is what I needed, to make me better.” We want to believe that everything happens for a reason that we can understand. We want an explanation for our suffering where everything adds up. 

But the truth is that we all experience suffering. We each have a cross and most of the time, the cross doesn’t make sense to us. One person doesn’t need infertility while another needs a crisis pregnancy. And once we recognize that the cross isn’t about us, it allows us to recognize God’s presence in our suffering. 

Our experience of infertility has allowed me to experience both a deep empathy for others as well as the temptation to bitterness. And this is the cross: a splitting of the heart; but also, a widening, making room for others bearing the same cross, and the deep question that rises up, “Why me?!”  

There is a bitter sweetness to the cross. When I see or hear others’ stories, the ones where expectations have been dashed or they’re realizing their lack of control, my heart is with them. 

I think this is part of what it means to love your neighbor as yourself. It means that we sit with others in their suffering not trying to fix or make their problem go away. We help each other carry our crosses by remaining present with them through the struggle. It means that when others struggle, we resist imagining that we could handle that cross better than the cross we’ve been given or that crosses are something we deserve or earn.  

I can’t call infertility a gift, but for as much as it has opened our hearts to grief and sadness, it has also opened our hearts just as deeply to gratitude and a joy that comes only from recognizing God’s nearness  as we suffer. This is how it is with the crosses we are given. We each have one to bear, and as we experience the pain and suffering that it brings, we realize that it is there to stay.

This is how it is with the crosses we are given. The pain of each cross is unique to the one who bears it, but the experience opens us up to help others with their own. And even when we receive help in carrying our own cross, its weight leaves a mark on our lives. By its doing so, we become united with Christ in a particular way, joining our suffering to his as an offering of love.

Becca Crooks likes to ask questions, wrestle with words, and drink good coffee. She lives with her husband and two dogs in North Dakota where they spend as much time as they can outside. She shares her thoughts online at www.becwrites.com and can be found on Instagram under @beccrooks

Alina De La Torre

Standing by the ocean is where I encounter the Creator of the Universe in the most real of ways. Something about the vastness, the surety of the next wave, the raw power, the wild wind that carries with it the history of nations, the hope of adventure, the majestic mystery and a force to be reckoned with. God reaches my soul through the poetry He’s hidden in creation. As a child building forts in His forests and gazing upon Lake Erie’s hazel waves, I’ve been romanced into his heart through His world. It gives ink to my pen and awe to my thirsty heart. 

We wrote “Ocean Wild” through experiences of trust that my husband Nick and I have encountered in our time together. Tied to that our love for the ocean. And It basically wrote itself (I love when songs do that)! 

One line in the song repeats as a mantra “I lay my heart, into your tide…” I think that’s my favorite line in the whole song. It’s about laying our hearts into HIS tide, HIS direction, even when we’re scared or confused or lost. Trust is a precious gift we can choose to give to our Maker and those we love. It’s also something extremely fragile – which is what makes it such a beautiful gift to give. 

Trust has always eluded me. From a very young age, I learned that things were not as they appeared. I approached the world guarded, but still hopeful in seeing the best in humanity. It was a grace, I think, that I saw beauty and poetry around me despite my naturally cynical side. God kept my heart from hardening too much. He kept the magic in a world where far too easily the mystery and reverence of things could have been squelched. But trust has always been something I’ve struggled to fully embrace. Like, how do we DO it? I can say I trust, but how do I know where I stop and God begins? I’m still trying to figure out the answers. Especially now that my husband and I are self-employed musicians. Every day is a new ocean of trust we’re stepping into. But I’m getting ahead of myself. If you had told me 10 years ago that I would be a Catholic musician, married to the man of my dreams with 3 amazing kids, I would have laughed you off the face of the planet. Cuz that would NEVER happen in a million years. 

I accepted Christ when I was 6 and was baptised when I was 12. The protestant church was where I first fell in love with Jesus. The hymns, the Sunday services, Sunday school lessons, I loved it all. And I loved the God I was taught about. He was a central part in my life growing up and I’m forever grateful to my parents for introducing me to my Savior during such formative years. I was content and rather sheltered, growing up. Because of that, I hadn’t truly been given a lot of opportunities to flex my “trust” muscles. I was incredibly proud and sure of myself. Sure of my faith. Sure of being right, and quite prejudiced against other denominations, specifically Catholics. My family had taught me that Catholics were not Christian. I remember in 4th grade, there was a boy I liked a lot, but when I found out he was Catholic, I instantly concluded I could not like him anymore because I would never be able to marry him. Oh my gosh, does God have a sense of humor or what! 

Fast forward to me at 16. Nick and I met our Junior year of high school at a talent show. He was singing Josh Groban’s “si volvieras” (uh, swoon!) and I was playing fiddle in my bluegrass band. Needless to say, when I first shook his hand I basically fell in love. He was captivating! His talent was extraordinary. And he was easy to talk to and genuinely a beautiful soul inside and out. But then I found out that he was Catholic. Nominally Catholic, at least. He professed to me early on that he wasn’t really sure what he believed. So, I assumed he’d be easy to convert and thus safe to date. God’s plan was unfolding. God knew it would take an excessive amount of charm to overcome my years of good sense and prejudice. Oh And did I mention that Nick is Cuban-American and can speak fluent Spanish? #Dreamy! So, I succumbed to dating this not-so-catholic boy, who I quickly had attending my protestant church. 

We had a starry, story-book yet tumultuous dating relationship from our senior year of highschool and for the following 7 years after that. It was riddled with movie-esque moments of beauty, but also those tragic break-ups that leave you totally decimated. Much of the time our breakups were caused by disagreements on religion. Nick swayed from protestant to atheist to protestant. And I kept breaking up with him as he tried to sort out the truth. 

Finally, God reached out to Nick through Theology of Body at a Christopher West talk in college. That was NOT what I had bargained for! God was bringing Nick back to the Catholic church? The one place I truly could not go? To me, Atheism was even preferable to that! 

And so we broke up again. This time for a whole year. I’ve never cried more in my life. Not just because of our breakup, but because the doctrines of my protestant faith were shaken to the core. They were not enough to argue Nick back from Catholic church. How could that be? He chose this heathen Church over me – the one he had wanted to marry. Devastated, I spent that year researching and arguing and vowing to prove the Catholic church wrong. I didn’t know who to trust, what to trust, or where to turn to for truth. I was completely lost at sea and the dark clouds of an existential crisis were breaking on my horizon. What WAS the truth, then? (Suddenly Pontius Pilot and I could’ve been best friends). I thought I’d known truth all my life with surety. I remember weeping to God, feeling completely abandoned. It was a paradigm shift I never saw coming. What would I trust if all I thought I’d known was not true? 

My boat was capsized and I thought for certain I’d drown. But It turns out that I fell into a riptide. If you know anything about riptides, it’s commonly told that to survive them it’s important NOT to fight against them, but to let the tide carry you along until you reach shore eventually. 

One of the lines in the song says:

“You’ve carried me Into your wide open seas Where freedom sings” 

When we fully rest in God’s direction and cooperate with His grace, a new freedom breaks over us. The tides of His love were leading me deeper and to a brighter shore. I had to lose my SELF to find God. I had to trust his tide. Trust His goodness. Let go of my own understanding and my own strength Because it was not enough to fight the waves. 

After that year, I realized Catholics were not the anti-christ. Nick and I started dating again. I still wasn’t willing to convert, but at least my openness to raise children in the Catholic faith allowed us to consider marriage again. Gradually, I started seeing the shore. I learned that I could trust this Catholic Church. I learned I could trust God even when my own abilities and understanding failed me. I was a VERY stubborn convert though and I refused to go down without a really long and arduous fight. It took me entering and dropping out of 2 different RCIA classes before the third one stuck and I officially joined the Catholic Church in 2011. Nick and I were married in 2012 and with marriage and raising 3 children has come a whole new ocean of trust to swim in. This last April, Nick and I were called to pursue music together full-time . Nick left his secure full-time job (with benefits) at the Diocese of Toledo and we’ve been riding the tides of God’s providence like never before. It’s both awesome and terrifying. Kind of Like what I imagine surfing would be like (which I’m certain would kill me if I ever tried it). But God has proven himself over and over again. Every month when I’m terrified we won’t make ends meet, God works, He provides. And he’s brought me personally to life in ways I never thought possible. 

God has taken the things that bring the most passion and purpose in my life–my faith, my husband, and our music– and has healed them to the extreme. They say that the things that often bring us the most trials also bring us the most joy. And that’s so, so true. I was drowning and God resurrected me. He took dreams I’ve harbored in my heart since childhood of becoming a musician, and ushered me into living that out after years of believing I’d never do music again. The crushing weight of not knowing who God was anymore has turned into knowing Him deeper than I ever thought possible. The lost boy I met in highschool fell in love with Jesus and changed into the man of my dreams – a man of great virtue and strength. Every river we go down leads us to where God’s trying to take us. To His wild Ocean. It’s untamed. It’s dangerous. But it’s oh so worth the breathtaking experiences He has in store. 

The song “Ocean Wild” is our  proclamation of trust in the One who loved us into existence. We just have to let go of the wreckage… Lay back into the riptide of His grace and His love…And be led into a beautiful horizon where new freedom awaits.

Alina has been playing fiddle/violin since she was 7 and has been singing and songwriting since before she can remember. Her performance experiences range from worship conferences, Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, sacred liturgies, bluegrass and country music on national stages, and in-studio work for all genres. Alina is a convert to Catholicism, having come from a staunch anti-catholic evangelical background, and is passionate about uniting the Body of Christ. Nick and Alina are a husband and wife duo who have been performing together for over 14 years. They are parents to 3 beautiful kiddos and are also full-time evangelists and musicians with a mission to point hearts to Truth through Beauty. For more about Nick and Alina’s music, please visit NickandAlina.com.

“When Love Came to Call” by Tara Brelinsky

Tap, tap.

“Who is there?” I asked.

“I Am Love,” came the reply.

“Come in. Do come in,” I begged in earnest. For it had been a long time since anyone had come to call and I was intrigued that such an honored One as This should come to me.

Rattle, rattle went the doorknob as it was twisted back and forth.

“You have locked your door,” came the Voice from outside.

“I shall unlock it at once,” I replied.

But I could not. For at the moment I decided to let Love in, I discovered that the pathway to my entrance was barricaded. In fact, my room was so filled up with things that I could not even begin to clear an open space through which to reach the threshold.

“Please, come back tomorrow,” I instructed. “Tomorrow I’ll have an unlocked door.”

So, Love retreated.

And I set about the task of clearing a path for His return. Engaging all of my strength, I shoved this and that aside. The endeavor was taxing, but my resolve was strengthened by the prospect that Love would come again. Then having succeeded in pushing to the sides my most cumbersome belongings, I turned my attention to the nests of long-forgotten treasures that were now laid bare. I cast out the obvious rubbish and stacked the seemingly useful bits. I made a channel through which to pass and, reaching the doorway, I unlatched the chains.

Knock, knock.

“Who is there?” I inquired as the light of morning crept under my door.

“I Am Love,” was His answer.

“Come in. Do come in,” I bayed in anticipation.

Creak, creak went the rusty hinges as they carried the great oak door through.

Love’s shadow cast long into my room as He stood in wait.

“Oh dear,” I cried, looking about. “There’s no chair for You to sit. Do come back tomorrow. For tomorrow I will have a place made ready for You.”

So, Love went away.

And I busied myself with rearranging all that had been placed to the left and right on the day prior. However, not wishing to impede Love’s path again, since I had so very many objects in my possession, I made the decision to let go of some of my lesser goods. I stuffed my wheelbarrow full of those things for which I no longer had a pressing use and carried them to the marketplace. I traded all that I could and returned with a lightened load. Then, I positioned two sturdy chairs in the center of my room and stood back in satisfaction with the progress I had made.

Rap, rap.

“Who is there?” I asked in excitement as bright rays of sunlight poured through the cracks in my door.

“I Am Love,” He responded.

“Come in. Do come in,” I instructed, while unchaining the latch and pulling open the heavy door. “Sit down. Do sit down,” I petitioned, pointing to the two seats, side-by-side.

Love entered in and reclined.

I sat beside Him for a minute, but then I leapt up and set about the job of entertaining.

“Look here,” I said, motioning to the pretty adornments on my walls. “See these,” I instructed, arraying all my earthly treasures before Him. I babbled on and on for a long while. I told Love all about my accomplishments. I shared with Him my dreams. I revealed to Him my blueprints. He sat for hours in silent stillness while I flitted about the room. Before I knew it the day had slipped by and Love stood to go.

“Do come back again tomorrow,” I invited. “Tomorrow I will have more to offer.”

Love stepped out of the door and down the lane.

“I should sleep,” I thought to myself, but I was too enlivened to lay my head on a pillow. Instead, I exhausted myself redecorating. I dragged a round table into the center of the room and nestled our chairs around it. I laid a starched, white cloth upon the table and displayed an antique vase on top. Then, I dug into the depths of my closet and retrieved my best frock. I worked through the night preparing my cell and myself. Having exposed all of my tales, plans and achievements during Love’s last visit, I looked for novel sources of entertainment. I fished an old vinyl record from its dusty sleeve and set it on the long-unused player. Once satisfied with all my new arrangements, tomorrow couldn’t come fast enough.

Tap, tap.

“Who is there?” I called, rushing about the room touching up the last details as morning broke anew.

“I Am Love,” came the reply.

“Come in. Do come in,” I insisted flinging the door wide open. “Come and sit at my table.”

Love entered and took His place.

“Listen to this,” I cooed, setting the needle on the vinyl grooves. The space filled with noise as the record spun and a new energy swirled. For the next hours I swayed and whirled about in my fashionable attire. I danced before Love with seemingly endless enthusiasm. I sang the parts of the songs that I knew and hummed the tune when the lyrics eluded my memory. My heart was invigorated in my role as entertainer and I let go of my inhibitions, fancying myself an impressive hostess. And again the day was too quickly spent, such that as Love stood to go, I realized that He’d had no chance for Himself. I’d filled two days with my voice: speaking and singing. And I’d failed to hear Love’s response.

“Oh, please, do come again tomorrow,” I pleaded. “Come tomorrow and tell me all about Yourself: Your delights, Your stories, Your plans. Tomorrow I’ll be prepared to listen.”

In silence, Love exited.

Rap, rap.

“Who is there?” I queried, as the warm glowing light of daybreak seeped through the entryway’s crevices.

“I Am Love,” came the now familiar answer in the dawn.

“Come in. Do come in,” I said, “today I wish to hear Your voice.” In truth, having worn myself out in the previous days, I was only too glad to be able to sit and allow Love to work.

Love came in and reclined in His chair at my table, but no sound crossed His lips. He remained in silent stillness. I sat in silence, too, though I was not altogether comfortable with it. Several times I considered drawing upon my last reserves of energy, attempting to woo Him with some new tricks or trinkets. But then I remembered my promise and I continued to wait on His voice. Seconds turned into minutes. Minutes turned into hours. The clock seemed to have stopped, or at least to have hesitated now and then, which led me to check it often. And in searching to hear Love’s voice my ears attuned to all manner of other sounds: crowing…chirping…ticking…creaking…shifting…breathing… The silence was, at times, deafening. Wearied from my works and lulled by my anxious listening, I drifted in and out of sleep in the seat beside my Guest. Then, Love finally stood to leave.

However, after this long day I wasn’t quite sure what to expect of tomorrow. Love’s silence had confused my understanding of the roles of friendship. I was losing confidence in my ability to be a good hostess. “Perhaps, He ought to find a more suitable companion,” I considered in my mind. My heart in desolation, it seemed easier to allow Love to leave on this day.

So, rather than bid Him return to me, I simply said, “Goodbye.”

Love left.

I latched the door behind Him.

Thoroughly spent, I kicked my shoes under the table, dropped my dress into a heap on the floor and made ready for bed. Then, I crawled beneath the patchwork quilt on my bed and heaved a sigh. I might have devoted some time to deciphering all that had come to pass between Love and me, but I hadn’t the inclination at that moment. I was weary and dejected. Sleep grasped for me and I readily consented.

At 3:33am there was a gentle sound stirring on the other side of my latched door. Though it was barely more than a whisper, it called me from the depths of my slumber. Eyes wide open, I lie paralyzed for a minute while my mind worked to arouse; seeking to make sense of the hour and the circumstance.

“Who is there? I yelled, half fearing the reply.

“I Am Love,” was the answer.

“Love?” I asked. For though Love had been the only guest Who’d come to call on me, I was surprised by His arrival at such an hour. “I am not prepared to entertain you just now,” I said. “Come again tomorrow when I have had time to plan for your arrival.”

Love spoke not another word, but instead stood waiting.

For half a minute I remained buried under the patchwork quilt, wrestling between exhaustion and curiosity. The latter won the battle so I rose from my bed and fumbled in the darkness until I reached the latch. Standing inside, in the blackness, I paused. For it occurred to me that this time Love’s entrance would be different. I couldn’t understand how I knew this, but it was clear in my mind that I would never be the same if I invited Love in on His own terms. So, I drew in a long breath, unlocked the chains and pulled the door in with great care.

Love entered.

As His foot crossed the threshold, my cell was awash in soft Light, though He carried no lantern. The Light exposed even the remotest of corners in my room, leaving nothing unseen. Ashamed, I began to offer my apologies for my ragged appearance and ill-kept room, but He only tenderly touched my shoulder and absolved me of my anxieties. Then, He silently led me to my chair and I sat.

Love made no speech, yet His Words filled my ears and instructed my intellect. Unlike the previous day, the outward silence now freed me from all distractions, allowing me to rest wholly in His Presence. Unattached to my plans and devoid of power, I discovered the security and serenity of being vulnerable to Love. He made no pretense nor accepted any. Love simply wrapped me in His embrace and all that had been before fell away.

Love’s hands had appeared empty when He entered, but from unseen resources He produced Bread and Wine upon the table. These He blessed and said, “Take and eat.”

Unaccustomed to dining at such an hour, I was strangely drawn to the meal. Something deep inside of me experienced a hunger for It like none I had ever felt before. This desire penetrated deeply within. So, I ate and I drank. Together, the sweet Bread and velvety Wine satiated the hunger, and yet they left me with a new thirst, a thirst for which no earthly remedy could suffice.

I never wanted Love to depart from me again, so I made the decision to keep my door open and the pathway free.

Like Solomon I implored, “Set me as a seal upon Your heart.”

Love smiled, for He already had.

Tara K. E. Brelinsky is a home schooling mother of 8 living children, with 6 more heavenly ones.Married to her childhood sweetheart, they make their home in NC where they own/operate a restaurant, and raise a small menagerie of critters (in addition to all those wonderful kids). In her spare time, Tara freelances a writer and speaker. She’;s been published in various settings, including Wind & Flame Blog, Catholic Online, Shalom magazine, Seton magazine and others. She is a speaker for IHM Conferences. You can read her musings and inspirations on her personal blog Blessings In Brelinskyville

“Vigils” by Catherine Barnwell

When I had flown back to Montreal from Rome four days ago, my phone had stopped working.

I had spent the last months in Italy studying art history. I spent my days stepping out of the heat into cool art galleries with my blank notebooks and pencils. I had bought a new pair of leather shoes that I wore without socks on warm days, and the heels made neat, dull sounds on marble and tile. I wore long cotton skirts; they made me feel older, and like I belonged in Europe.

It had become clear in the last two weeks that I perhaps should not wait until Christmas to come home from Italy for a visit, that it might be urgent. I had gotten a call from my dad. My grandmother’s health was rapidly — irreparably — declining. For as long as I had known her she had kept out of any medical trouble, but she had had a mild stroke. This had led doctors to find a cancer that had already metastasized to her liver. The day after I landed home, my mother drove us to the hospice care center 45 minutes outside of the city. When we walked into the room my grandmother was asleep. I had not seen her in months, and she looked like a sliver of herself under the hospital bedsheet.

My aunt, who had been sitting in the chair near the bed, got up to greet us. “Look at those bare ankles,” she whispered as she gave me a hug. I had hoped she would admire my new shoes. We sat, the three of us, making small talk; we filled each other in on how much she had eaten, on the small regressions in her ability to talk and her disposition. We watched my grandmother’s eyes open slowly.

She saw me, and smiled, and said, “Hello Laura.”

My next visit to the hospice center was three days later. My mother’s workload had been piling up in recent weeks, and she lent me her car to go spend a few hours with my grandmother. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to find my way there on my own. My phone was still not working, so I wouldn’t be able to rely on Google Maps to dictate directions to me from the cupholder. I wrote down the directions to the hospice center in a lined notepad and chucked the notepad onto the passenger seat. It was November. My woollen coat and woollen scarf felt heavy on my shoulders and I slouched as I drove.

It was nearly dinner time when I arrived, and a volunteer came to the room with a tray of food. Just about old enough — and chirpy enough — to be recently retired, I thought. She asked if I felt comfortable feeding my grandmother myself. I hesitated long enough that she offered to do it herself, if I preferred. I nodded. I had fed patients at a geriatric hospital as a teenager, fulfilling the required hours of volunteering for my high school curriculum. On the volunteer training day at the geriatric hospital, I had sat in the meeting room keen and eager to please. I took the patients to activities around the building in their wheelchairs, and made small talk with them, and delighted when they remembered me from week to week. Now I was mute, and holding up a spoonful of ice cream to my grandmother’s lips seemed an impossible task.

“Are you from around here?” The volunteer had had no luck feeding my grandmother any soup, and was moving on to the little tubs of pudding and ice cream on the tray.

“I’m from Montreal,” I said. “45 minutes west of here.”

“You must’ve gotten a lift out here then.”

“Oh, I drove,” I said.

“You drove?” she asked. “How old are you?”

“Twenty-three,” I said.

“Gosh, I thought you were much younger than that.”

After a few spoonfuls my grandmother turned her head away from the little tub of ice cream, closed her eyes and drifted back into sleep. Until today, in my memories of her, I often pictured her standing in her kitchen. Her cheeks were full, and always flushed, as if she had just walked in out of the cold. I sat with her now. I had brought a book but could not read. The lights were dimmed, and my grandmother slept, but I couldn’t bring myself to close my eyes for a nap. At eight, I slid out the door and crossed paths with my aunt in the hallway. It was her turn to keep vigil for a few hours.

On the way home, I tried to follow my own hand-written instructions in reverse order, but made a wrong turn off the road just as I had made it back onto the island of Montreal. It was dark, and I couldn’t read street names, and I really wasn’t sure what direction I was heading in anymore. I pulled into a Tim Hortons parking lot. I ordered a coffee, even though it was well into the evening, and a donut. I sat by a darkened window and ate the donut, bite after bite, not tasting anything.

All the things I remembered my grandmother doing for me when I was little, she must have done for my mother and my aunt too. She picked carrots for us from her garden and cooked them for our dinners. She poured cold water in our bowls of soup when it was hot enough to burn our tongues. She gave us flat soda when our stomachs ached. If we couldn’t sleep she’d appear in bedroom doorways
to offer cures for our restlessness — say your Hail Marys now until you go to sleep.

My coffee was still hot. I wiped sugar off my fingers with a napkin, and wrapped my woollen scarf around me again, and walked up to the counter, my boots shuffling across the tile. “Excuse me,” I said, “would you be able to give me directions?”

Catherine Barnwell is a historian living and working in Montreal. She spent the last two years studying in Ireland, where she earned her master’s degree in 2019. She is now back in her home parish in Montreal, and reacclimating to Canadian winters. You can reach her onInstagram at @dearflannery.

“Fold and Press” by Rebecca Slocum

The warm smell of the bubbly yeast and sweet scent of wildflower honey filled my nose as I helped my grandmother slowly add flour, one cup at a time, to the whirring mixer. The individual ingredients of yeast, water, honey, flour, and salt slowly melded together to form a sticky dough. As we continued to add the freshly ground flour, the spongy blob became recognizable as bread dough. Grandma continued to mix it for a few more minutes, until the dough pulled easily away from the sides of the mixer bowl. She turned the mixer off, threw the dough onto the floured counter with a dull thunk, and proceeded to knead the dough into submission. 

“But Grandma, I thought the mixer did all of the kneading for us,” I said, a little confused. After all, that’s how I’d seen my mom make bread. 

“Hmmm,” Grandma made a humming noise between her lips, as she continued to work the dough with her palms methodically. Fold, press. Fold, press. “Yes, the dough hook cando the work for us, but God gave me two strong hands to make my bread. I like to use those hands as thanks to Him, whenever I make a loaf of bread.” Fold, press. Fold, press.

I watched, fascinated, as the dough began to spring back with each fold and press. “Can I try?” I asked. My grandma moved aside to let me stand in front of the dough. She guided my hands as I began to fold and press, as I’d seen her do. Only, my small, eight-year-old hands didn’t quite match her quiet strength and rhythm. The dough seemed to just roll around on the counter. 

“I can’t do it!” I cried, huffing out a frustrated breath. Flour puffed up in a white dust cloud, and I giggled as I watched it settle back onto the counter. My grandma smiled and slid her hands in the flour, leaving snowy trails over the countertop. She wiggled her floury fingers at me, and I laughed as she swiped a streak across my nose. 

“Bread making,” she explained, “is a process. We cannot step into the kitchen one day and expect to produce the flakiest croissants, shape the smoothest rolls, or cut the fluffiest biscuits.” As she spoke, she picked up my hands and covered them in her own flour dusted hands. “We must step into the kitchen each day, as if it is our first day of baking. Each step is a chance to master your craft. You select each ingredient with care and attention, because they are the elements to produce a desired result. You mix and add with attention; rushing these steps might affect the rising and baking process. You knead with patience, using your hands to create as God patiently created you. And you wait with anticipation for that final risen loaf, knowing that you have put your heart and soul into caring for yourself and your family.”

She lifted our joined hands and pressed them into the warm, soft dough. I marveled at my small hands, smooth and inexperienced, in her larger hands, wrinkled with age and practice. I watched as she curled my fingers into the ball, gently pressing down with my palm. I closed my eyes and felt the squish and sigh of the dough under my fingertips. Slowly, my hands seemed to find the rhythm, and as her hands expertly turned mine with the dough, folding and pressing, molding and shaping, the cracks started to smooth. After each press of my palm, the dough sprang back from my touch. The dough was taking the form it needed to make the perfect loaf of bread, under our careful, guiding attention. 

Once we had finished kneading the soft dough, we gently coated it in oil and set it into a warm bowl. I covered it with my favorite blue and white towel and set it on the counter next to the stove to rise. 

“How much longer?” I asked Grandma, bouncing eagerly on my toes. I was excited to keep working and more importantly, excited to dig into a steaming slice of bread, warm and fresh from the oven. 

Grandma smiled as she wiped the sticky dough from the countertop. “You are like me, child, always anticipating the next step, the next loaf. You must learn to appreciate each creation as it comes. To savor the work even as much as you anticipate savoring that first bite. This is a lesson I’ve learned over many years and many loaves of bread.” 

I flopped into a chair at the low bar on the other side of the counter and stuck out my tongue. “That doesn’t sound very fun.”

This time, Grandma laughed out loud, bright and cheerful. “Ha! Indeed, oftentimes it isn’t fun. Over the years, I’ve made hundreds of loaves of bread, thousands of rolls. They did not always turn out as I planned. Some felt flat from old yeast. Some were hard and dense, as if I’d placed rocks in the oven, rather than bread dough. Some lacked the delicate balance of sweetness from too much or not enough honey. I learned to love the process of creating, even when it didn’t perform as I would have wished. Each day of baking is a day to master my skill.”

“We always want to jump ahead,” she continued, placing her familiar red ceramic loaf pans onto the counter. As she spoke, she walked about the kitchen, turning and gathering her tools in practiced movements. I closed my eyes and leaned back in my chair as her comforting voice washed over me. “Even as I gather the cinnamon and raisins for my sweet rolls, I can already taste that caramelized brown sugar melting on my tongue, and I want to be finished. But it takes time and practice to spread that gooey filling you love so much into each nook and corner of my dough; it takes precision to roll the dough such that each bun will fill the recipient with love and nourishment.”

My eyes popped open and my brows wrinkled in confusion. “How can you fill the person eating the roll with love? I mean, you can hug them and tell them you love them, but it’s not like the bun has love in it,” I said, filled with the confidence of an eight-year-old. 

“It doesn’t?” Grandma turned to look at me, her brown eyes twinkling with warmth and wisdom. I hesitated. I felt sure there was a lesson to be learned here, a Charlotte and Wilbur moment where I was supposed to understand something important. It was as if my eyes could see it, spun into the silvery web and tucked up into the rafters, but my brain couldn’t quite read it. 

Ding!The timer by the oven chimed; the first rise was finished. Grandma dutifully turned her attention to the risen dough, sprinkling the counter with flour and thumping the ball of dough onto it. The rest of the afternoon passed in the simplicity of creating something with your own hands; of working quietly, side by side, with someone you love.

The lesson carried me far….

I hung up the phone, quietly setting it back onto the flour covered counter. My hands restlessly smoothed down the front of my apron, leaving floury streaks behind. The words my mother had just spoken echoed in my ear. 

“Honey, Grandma passed in her sleep last night.”

My eyes itched with unshed tears. Grandma had been 97 years old; she lived a full, beautiful life, with a husband of 60 years, ten children, and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren, including 3 of my own. She lived each day with a fierce, quiet strength, guiding her family as she had gently guided my hands that day so long ago. I thought about that day often, remembering how she’d asked me, “It doesn’t?” when I’d inquired how bread could fill someone with love. As a child, I hadn’t understood. As an adult, and especially as a mother, I finally did. The care with which I selected my ingredients; the attention with which I added and mixed, kneaded and shaped; the patience that I practiced as I waited for the bread to rise. Each step, though seemingly small and insignificant, was a chance to express my love for those around me. Each press of my hand, each roll of my palm, each squeeze of my fingers, was an opportunity to praise God for the ability to create such nutrition and warmth for my family. 

I looked down at the mass of dough on the counter in front of me, appropriately destined to become my grandmother’s famous sweet buns. My array of ingredients- brown sugar, cinnamon, softened butter, raisins- lined the counter behind the dough, like soldiers waiting to be called into battle. I breathed in the warm scent of bubbly yeast and wildflower honey, and I patiently began to knead, as my grandmother had once taught me. Fold and press. Fold and press.

Rebecca Slocum is a lifelong Catholic, a wife, and a mother of 3: one on earth, one on the way, and one saint in Heaven. She is a former teacher, turned stay at home mom, who happily spends most of her day playing cars and trucks, fetching snacks, and repeating herself. In her free time, Rebecca likes to read, write, run, and roam the world. While her roots are firmly planted in Texas, she takes every available opportunity to go on an adventure and explore historic cities, hike and run new trails, and, of course, try beers from every country.

“Looking for Her Light” by Nicole Bazis

It was the fourth hour after sunset. 

A child, no older than the age of nine, watched in silence as her mother stitched rows of a scarf. Her mother worked robotically, illuminated only by the light of a single flame. 

They were a poor family, and poor families kept close. 

Especially at night. 

Barricaded together in small rooms, mothers and children would huddle together for warmth and safety. Their men, who wouldn’t be seen until sunrise, would station themselves outside, taking watch. Little ones, like this child, were told to sleep. Sleep and enjoy sweet, peaceful dreams that carried them into the light of a new day. Sleep and escape the darkness. Sleep and do not wander off. Sleep, for adults cannot protect their young from what they cannot see. Sleep and remain close, because a mother’s worst fear was to awaken alone. 

Children understood what their parents dared not to speak. Children, even as young as nine, sensed that terrible things happened in the dark.

 The nights were cold, and this child’s mother made what little pocket money she could by selling blankets and warm clothing. She worked diligently. Allowing herself, every night, to fall into the rhythm of her knitting needles and to get lost in her thoughts.

She was a happy woman; a kind woman. Level-headed and even-tempered. Though she suffered a great deal, she never let her daughter see her struggle. Even in the dead of winter, when her fingers went numb and the hours stretched on, she’d smile to herself, pick up her work, and softly hum. 

Tonight, she hummed a triumphant tune. She rocked in her chair and tapped her stockinged foot to the beat.

It was some time before she noticed her child watching her. 

The humming stopped, but she continued to smile, rocking ever-so slowly in her chair. “Did I wake you?”

“I’m not tired.”

Her motherlooked at her disbelievingly. “It’s not good to focus in the dark, you’ll damage your sight.”

“You do it.”

“I’m your mother.” 

The child didn’t dare argue. The humming started again.

“Mom, what song is this? I don’t know it.”

Her mother started on the scarf’s next row. “It is a song your grandfather taught me when I was about your age. When I would watch him prepare for The Watch, and start to cry. It is a song of courage, and of hope.”

Hope? 

The child did not understand. 

“There will be a time, my daughter, when life will not be this way. When we will be saved from the great sadness that we bear. When we won’t be afraid, cold, or separated. When the light of the earth will be restored.”

Could her mother’s words be true? This was fantastic news! The child could hardly contain her excitement. She threw off her covers and crawled to the foot of the bed. 

“Really?! WHEN?”

For a moment her mother’s smile faltered. She recalled her own excitement when her father told her these words. She looked into her daughter’s eyes, full of love and trust, and regained her composure. She couldn’t help it. Her greatest reminder of life and prosperity was staring so intently at her. 

“One day.”

There was no missing her daughter’s disappointment. “It is time that I tell you a story. It is a story beyond your imagination. So unbelievable, that no human could author it. So imaginative, that it must be true. It is a story that keeps the people of our village going, even when we feel like giving up. It is our lullaby and our hope.” The mother waited for her daughter to settle herself back into the bed. “You must think of a night similar to this. Close your eyes and picture this land, many, many years ago.”

The daughter laid back and did as she was told. Her mother continued.

“People, like you and I, mothers and children, walked freely. The darkness did not overwhelm them, for they were guided by the lights of the sky. In those days, the stars were friends of the people. Often, they would come close. Brighter than you ever could imagine, so to hear the words of the humans below. The greatest of the night’s sky came to visit regularly. The people looked upon her affectionately, relying on her presence for sight. They called her the Moon.

            “It was a wonderful coexistence. Life bound together in a great harmony. But on the night in question, a night no different than any other, tragic events unfolded. 

“There was chaos above the earth. People everywhere stopped to listen. The stars were in an uproar, and there was no consoling the terrible anguish of the Moon.

“Her trembling unsettled the waters; her wailing disturbed the silence of the sky. Those who had been settled into the warmth of their beds awoke in fear. The shepherds and grave attendants, who were accustomed to the tranquility of midnight, promptly fell to their knees. 

“No one dared do anything that would provoke her inevitable wrath. No one spoke. Hardly anyone moved an inch. Rather, all watched in apprehension as the Moon continued to alert the galaxy of her great disbelief and unbearable sadness. 

“Her friend, her most beloved human, laid face down in the muds of a river bank. His movements frozen, and his breath stilled. His body was soaked from prolonged exposure to the water, but the scene reeked of foul play. This was no accident; but investigators of the scene agreed that it was staged to appear as one.”

“’Murder!’, the stars hissed. Their whispers echoedto each corner of the earth.

“Yet, the man’s attackers were long gone. They had skillfully maneuvered their attack in the safety of the shadows and wisely fled into the cover of night. 

“’Cowards!’

“It had been obvious to the Moon that the heinous act hadn’t been premeditated. The assailants did not know her favorite. 

“Her friend kept no enemies. 

“No, this was an encounter driven by selfishness, fear, and greed. 

“’Thieves!’

“Through her tears, the Moon made several observations. Though distraught, she made an educated guess as to how the murder played out. Her Council of Stars carefully took note as she spoke those observations out loud.

“Life below could do nothing but listen.

“’The monsters did not spill his blood. How fortunate for them. They hadn’t been coated with evidence; they hadn’t left a trail. It is fortunate for them, because if my last image were to have been of his golden hair matted, or his blemish-free skin stained in red, I would have flung myself into the unforgiving blazes of this world’s Morningstar. I would have ended my suffering indefinitely. And in extinguishing my life, gladly would have destroyed all else as well. My sympathy is limited. My sadness is quickly dissolving, and within my core I am vibrating with rage. 

“’Oh, mercy me! 

“’I hear the reports of my celestial court. My eyes affirm their findings. 

“’How heartless! How brutal!”

The woman paused. She looked toward the flame of the candle, seemingly lost in thought. The daughter stared up at her mother with wide, excited eyes. She grew impatient. “Well?! What happened to him?”

“You must close your eyes and let the Moon tell her story. Relax. That’s it. Now picture this scene. The Moon is unnerved. Seemingly talking to no-one, and yet crying out to everyone.” 

“’These monsters – they overpowered him, three against one. My sweet friend was misled into thinking that the smallest of the trio had been hurt by an animal of the wood. The other two were asking for provisions. But my friend, my loving friend, only carried a bejeweled carcanet around his neck and a sleeping babe in his arms. 

“He came here, to our sacred meeting place, to introduce me to his firstborn; his new daughter. He couldn’t offer them currency or weaponry. He was surrounded, and his most valuable possession had been swaddled and defenseless. 

“’Heavens above!

“’They forced themselves upon him. 

“’He tried to run, but they had blocked his path. He couldn’t fight his attackers off and he refused to abandon the child. 

“’The one who had pretended to be limp wrestled the babe away from him. He flailed helplessly as the other two restrained his arms behind his back. In fear that his screams would gather unwanted attention, the two dragged him to the river and mercilessly dunked his head. He fought – oh did he fight – to save his life and to rescue his child. He twisted and he kicked, but my friend could not free himself from the strength of these brutes’ grip. 

“’They drowned him.

“’They deposited his body on the shore, but not before snatching the carcanet, the precious jewel,from his defenseless corpse. The two who committed this final act advanced on the child. They wished to leave no survivors; even a survivor who hadn’t been more than a month old. But the kidnapper refused to surrender her. Their arguing woke the baby, and she began to stir. It is lucky that she had! When she reached out for the comforting grasp of her father, but wasn’t met with the green of his eyes or the softness of his voice, she whimpered. 

“’They began to worry. Surely, someone would investigate the distinctive sound of a disturbed infant?

“’The kidnapper got his way, and together the three of them ran. 

“’With the child.

“’With the necklace.

“’With innocent blood on their hands!’ With that sentence, the moon moaned. The truth was almost too much for her to bear. The stars murmured their agreement. 

“She collected herself. 

“’Life has been lost, tonight. Tears have been shed. I cannot bring my friend back by causing more destruction. I will not destroy the people and the things that my beloved had cherished. But heed my words, justice will be done! My friend will be avenged!’ She directed these words to the human listeners. ‘Hear me, mortals. Until the day when I can rightly decree that justice had been brought, the world will suffer. Suffer as my friend did, suffer as I do. I cannot descend. I cannot capture these criminals myself. It will be your task to right this wrong. You will be vigilant in your pursuit of these men. They will live out the rest of their freedom unnerved, paranoid, and fleeing for their life. They shall trust no one, and never again will they peacefully rest. 

“’When you locate the criminals, concern yourselves with only rescuing the child. Retrieve the pendant from the stolen carcanet. Call the Council of Stars so that they can present it to me. Without this evidence, I have no proof that justice had been done. This pendant is the only way to end the suffering. You cannot fool me mortals. Do not bother me with fakes. I chose the stone; I know it intimately. The pendant had been my gift to the lost child. There is no other like it on your land. 

“’Attempt to deceive me at your own peril.’

“Every living body shuttered. No one could guess as to what she meant by this threat. The people began to search the land, checking on the welfare of their loved ones.

“But when the people looked back up toward the sky, the reality of the situation mortified them.

“The Moon had left.

“That night had come to be known as The First Blackout. 

“It was only when all life on the land had been accounted for, when the people received confirmation that the Moon kept her word about the fatal consequence of the lost child, that chaos ensued.

“The first noticeable consequence of the Moon’s absence disturbed even the naivest of children: the world had gone dark.

“In comparison to the intensity of daylight from the Morningstar, all nights are dim. However, the people of the land were unprepared to navigate such poorly-lit terrain. 

“A night without the illumination of the moon is not-unlike the vision of one who rests their eyelids. Eventually, the person must decide to either embrace the light or succumb to sleep. It is unsettling to remain in a perpetual state of conscious darkness. To do nothing but feel around, lost, and without a guide. 

“On the night of The First Blackout, people across the land huddled together in panic. Yet, the Morningstar rose and relief came with it. For nearly fourteen hours, all was as it should have been. For most, the Moon’s threat was quickly forgotten. Some went about their day choosing to believe that the events of the previous evening had been nothing more than a nightmare. “Around eight o’clock that evening, the Morningstar began to set. As hues of pink, purple, and orange slashed across the horizon, dark clouds rolled in from the east.

“After a slow progression, an impenetrable blackness succeeded in engulfing the sky. It appeared that even the Council of Stars, siding with the moon, retreated further from the planet’s presence. The people had never before known a night to be so life-draining.

“On that night after The First Blackout, the earth’s clans rallied together. Within the hour, a motion had been secured. It was agreed that the elders would keep public consciousness of the lost child alive. For even if the darkness were to be prolonged, a promise from the Moon was an assurance of hope. 

 “Our elders have passed on this knowledge to us. My father to me, as I to you. That no matter how dreadful the world appears, hope lives in the existence of a baby. For this baby, so beloved by the Moon, has in her possession a flame that is inextinguishable. Her father died so that she may live.  And we may live because that baby lives. One must simply seek out the source of her flame to understand how we too can keep fighting to live.

“Sleep now, my child, and remember my song. My song is a song to this baby. My song is a song of life. As long as we are alive, we have every reason to have hope that we will come to know an endless light.”

Nicole Bazis is the Coordinator of Parish Services at St. Margaret of Antioch Parish, a suburbanparish within the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. As a staff member in full-time parish ministry, she wears many varied and unique hats. Her days are spent as an RCIA instructor, youth minister, committee leader, communications specialist, pastoral caregiver, and event organizer. Before employment, she received her masters of theological studies from Princeton Theological Seminary and a bachelors studying theology at Fordham University. Apart from her work place, she finds joy being in formation with the Secular Franciscan Order, spending time with her newly rescued tabby cat, Coral, and writing about the intersection between faith and mentalhealth. You can follow her thoughts on rubyandteal.home.blog


“Ordinary Time” by Maria Morea Johnson

Ordinary Times

By Maria Morera Johnson

Nora’s alarm went off at 5:53 AM just as it had for years. She carefully mashed the button on top of the plastic clock with the glow-in-the-dark dial and shut off the annoying ring. Then, she put on her glasses, slid into her house slippers, and made her way to the bathroom.

Five minutes later, Nora was in her kitchen preparing a quarter pot of coffee. She pressed the on button and sat down at the small kitchen table to wait for it to brew.

At 6:00 AM on the dot, Nora prayed the Angelus, finishing just as the last sputtering of the coffeemaker announced the coffee was ready.

She had perfected this morning routine while she was still working at the bank and saw no reason to adjust it since it worked just fine. Nora was a big fan of not fixing things that didn’t need fixing.

She did, however, fix herself a cup of coffee with one splash of half ’n half and a teaspoon of sugarcoffee. She wanted to taste the flavor of coffee, after all. Satisfied that her coffee was just right, Nora turned on the radio for the early morning news and drank her first cup of coffee.

A small lined pad of paper and a ballpoint pen with some arbitrary promotional design sat next to the salt and pepper shakers on the table. Nora served herself a second cup of coffee, black this time, turned off the warmer, and sat back down at the table, making room for the writing pad.

She carefully printed the date on the top of the paper, and after pondering some deep thoughts, proceeded to make a list:

morning ablutions

make coffee

pray

plan day

Nora stared at her list for a long moment. She then carefully added:

buy stamps

buy birthday card for Tiger

mail card

She took a long draught of the coffee. It had been cooling while she compiled her list. She smiled, thinking of Tiger, her great-nephew. His real name was Anthony but he picked up the nickname Tiger because he chuffed like a tiger when he slept. He’s such a sweet boy.

Nora went back to her list. She thought a little more and added numbers to the items. Then, she got up and poured what was left of the coffee into her mug and went back to thinking and planning. She added:

8 change the sheets and towels

And then, as an afterthought:

9 get gas

Quite satisfied with herself, she studied the list and then carefully crossed out those items she had already accomplished for the day:

morning ablutions

make coffee

pray

plan day[1] 

5 buy stamps

6 buy birthday card for Tiger

7 mail card

8 change the sheets and towels

9 get gas

Nora was indeed quite satisfied as she set aside her list and went to her bedroom to get dressed.

The radio stayed on. If bad news is reported and no one hears it, did it really happen? Nora would never know. She returned, dressed for her errands, and turned off the radio. Then she turned her attention to her cozy kitchen.

Nora liked order. She cleaned up after her morning coffee and set about making a small breakfast of instant oatmeal with cinnamon and brown sugar. She carefully placed her blood pressure pill and her multivitamin next to a small glass of water and then she sat down to eat her oatmeal. She was done in five or six spoonfuls, took her pills, and finished her water. She made a mental note of her first glass of water for the day.

Nora’s days were ordinary. Regimented. Predictable.

And, she sometimes thought, numbered.

It was a dramatic thought against a backdrop of ordinariness, but it wasn’t a cry for help. It was, after all, a reality. She was getting on in years. She had certainly lived more years than what were left to live. Like her lists and sense of order, Nora was a very practical woman.

At the moment, she was focused on her list of chores and errands for the day. It was merely 7:38 AM. Ooof. Time moved slowly, even if the days were numbered. She laughed to herself. It put her in a good mood. She could tidy up the kitchen and get the laundry started on those sheets and towels. It didn’t take her more than 10 minutes to get the beds made and the laundry started.

Nora returned to her list and crossed off item number eight:

change the sheets and towels

Then she neatly added:

10 wash sheets and towels

11 put away laundry

Because she didn’t like to leave the house with the appliances running, Nora sat down in her work nook in the den. She put on a morning news show for the company, paid some bills, balanced her checkbook, wrote a letter to her sister in Rochester (they both enjoyed snail mail correspondence), and sent a text to her daughter to check on her (Nora knew it was really to let her daughter know all was well).

The washer buzzed and Nora moved the wash to the dryer. The talking heads were going on about the most recent political crisis, so she changed the channel to an ancient episode of a sitcom she’d enjoyed as a young woman.

Nora watched for a moment, amused, and then walked off to survey the backyard. She was not pleased with the pruning job done by the County when they did their weather prep last Fall to protect the power lines. She made a mental note to call her lawn guy to see if he could clean up the butcher job left behind.

The dryer was buzzing when she went back inside, so she moved the sheets to her bed where she could fold them before they wrinkled. The work was done in a flash, freeing Nora for her errands.

It was lunchtime when she got back home. Nora made a simple lunch, a ham sandwich and a can of vegetable soup. She jazzed it[2] up with a can of Sprite leftover from the Christmas holidays. When she finished, she cleaned up, put everything away, and clapped her hands as if to announce, “All done!”

In fact, she wasall done for the day. It was another ordinary day in a string of ordinary days. Ordinary in its plain, no frills, comfortable status quo way. Ordinary because it lacked the excitement of the Christmas holidays that had just passed and before the solemn days of Lent begin and she finds herself in a different kind of busy that disrupts her order.

Nora liked order. She liked the daily grind of small goals accomplished. She liked doing the sometimes-monotonous work of the everyday. She liked to know that when she sat down for an afternoon cup of decaffeinated tea that all was well. The last items on her list were crossed out with a feeling of satisfaction. Just another ordinary day.

Nora sat by the window in the late afternoon with her journal in her lap, and her pen still capped in her hand. She liked to pray again at the end of the day, another leftover habit from her working years. She reflected on the events of the day and thought about the next day. It wasn’t a formal examination of conscience, but she did always ask herself if she had done her best. If her work was completed to the best of her ability. If she worked with love and consideration for those around her. If her day had been pleasing to the Lord. It’s why she likes to keep lists and cross off items though she often forgets an item or two.

Satisfied with her recollection of the day, Nora watches the steam rise from her cup and it reminds her of incense lifting prayers up to heaven. She chuckled to herself. Incense that smells like bergamot not frankincense. She drank her tea.

A perfectly ordinary ending to this most ordinary day.


Maria Morera Johnson is the author of the award-winning books Super Girls and Halos and My Badass Book of Saints. Her new book Our Lady of Charity, a spiritual memoir, shares stories of how Our Lady of Charity helped her deepen her faith and led her to Jesus after she moved to the United States. Find links to her social media and other writing on the web at mariamjohnson.com

“If Today You Hear His Voice” by Lindsay Schlegel

Nora’s watch buzzed rhythmically at noon. With a groan, she reached one hand over the other on her car’s steering wheel to snooze it like she had been every day for . . . she couldn’t remember how long. She was barely out of her office’s parking garage and already disastrously late for her dentist appointment. 

She pulled onto the street, considering how many things her watch suggested she do that she couldn’t find the time for. Pray the Angelus, for one. She also wasn’t getting enough sleep, getting enough steps in, or even getting up to stretch her legs often enough, according to this painfully expensive guilt trip. 

Who cares? she told herself, vowing for the umpteenth time to just take the watch off and swap it for a simpler timepiece that did only the job it was originally created for. Not that it would help her get anywhere on time, but at least she’d remove the pressure of someone else’s algorithm from a life that already felt out of control. 

Traffic slowed to a near halt. Nora glanced down at the garbage bag stuffed with empty to-go cups she’d been meaning to take out. A faint smell of coffee lingered in the front seat. She imagined she could will herself to inhale the vestiges of caffeine. Maybe that would get her through the rest of this day. She ignored the voice in the back of her mind that wondered what would get her through the next.

The clock on the dashboard read twelve ten, but she quickly did the mental math to account for the eight minutes she’d set it ahead, hoping to trick herself into timeliness. At this rate, she’d be too late to be seen, which meant she’d have to take time off work another day, her intermittent toothache would stick around until she made yet another appointment, andshe’d have to pay the office’s $35 fee for missing her slot in the doctor’s schedule.

She might as well just turn around now and use the extra office time to make her way through her inbox. But traffic slowed still further, and she was forced to come to a complete stop. Fabulous. Note to self: Add late fees as line item to monthly budget.

“Ugh, why is this happening to me? God!” She let herself nearly scream the words.

Yes?

She was alone in the car, but the voice was as clear as if someone were sitting next to her. She tapped her phone to see if it had randomly decided to play a podcast for a millisecond. When that proved impossible as an explanation for the sound, she looked to the car stopped beside her on the right. The driver was nodding along to some kind of slow-paced music and was totally uninterested in what was happening in Nora’s car. Traffic was flowing on the other side of the road, so the voice certainly hadn’t come from that direction.

She shook her head and turned on the radio, thinking to make a game of finding the station her fellow driver was grooving to. But every station was static. She shifted the car forward a few inches and tried again. All still static. Weird. Normally this section of highway wasn’t a problem. 

Nora switched the radio off and reached for her phone to intentionally load a podcast. She scrolled through her subscriptions, but nothing felt right. In fact, some of her favorites felt somehow wrong, and she nearly deleted them on the spot. It didn’t make sense, but she figured she was just overtired. She hadn’t slept well in months. She tossed her phone back onto the passenger seat and leaned back to shut her eyes.

The silence in which she found herself was uncomfortable. Very uncomfortable. 

Her eyes snapped back open. She thought there must be some kind of exercise she was supposed to do in this in-between moment, squeezing her upper thighs or something. She squeezed, but it felt weird and unproductive.

She could use this time to make a list of the friends (or maybe more honestly, acquaintances) she’d been meaning to get together with. But again, something blocked her. Her mind veered away from each of these tasks, things that had seemed so important this morning when she was brushing her teeth and running out of her apartment, bags dangling from her arms, toast crumbling in her hand, too many things to do. 

Her mind was a sieve, her to-do lists slipping through her mental space like the backyard dirt when she was little and pretended to be panning for gold. Worries fell away like that soil, tumbling back to the earth. Something in her bubbled up, burning for this silence, even though she didn’t know what to do with it. She couldn’t even sit still with it.

Honnnkkk!

Nora jerked her head around, searching. In the lane to her right, traffic had started to move, but the driver next to her was bent over his passenger seat, looking for something. He straightened up, made a gesture in his rear-view mirror and pulled up. The driver behind him, seemingly the one who’d honked his horn, moved forward to be even with Nora, his hands flailing as he yelled inaudibly at the guy in front of him. 

How contained we all are, Nora thought. Her world seemed so big when she was the main character. But when she thought how she must be in the scheme of even just this highway, never mind the city, state, county, world, universe, she felt very small. Was this all her life was? Missed appointments and a bag of trash in a cluttered little sedan? 

She imagined she was watching a day-in-the-life movie about these strangers who were traveling in her direction. This would be the opening scene, when everything is falling apart and all seems to be lost. The set-up for the change of heart and the rediscovery of all that really matters. 

What was this man on her right late for? What happened to him this morning that set him off? Or was he just hangry, seeing as it was lunchtime? 

Nora wish she hadn’t finished the granola bars she usually kept in the glove compartment. She made a mental note to restock, and her stomach growled in response. She reached over, thinking maybe she still had one left. 

She rifled through expired insurance cards and extra garbage bags—she’d never once stored gloves in one of these things—and her fingers found what felt like jewelry. She couldn’t remember leaving a necklace or bracelet in there. When she pulled it out, she recognized it as a set of rosary beads her father had given her when she bought the car. Just in case, he’d said. She never asked, “in case of what?” He was sick then, and she’d teared up thinking he was preparing her for his death. He was doing so much better now, and she wondered if it was never really about him. 

She reached into the glove box again and pulled out a granola bar—the chewy oatmeal raisin kind, her favorite. The guy next to her was still shaking his head, angling the car to the side to try to see what was holding them up.

With a glance ahead of her, Nora shifted to park, unbuckled, and got out of the car. She jogged around to his driver’s side and knocked on the window. 

He rolled it down a few inches.  

“Yeah?”

“Just thought you might be hungry.” She handed him the granola bar and made her way quickly back to her own vehicle. 

Please let us start moving. Please let us start moving!

She didn’t want to see the look on his face. The odds were he’d tossed the bar to the side and was silently cursing her brashness. 

In what she considered not only an answer to her first real prayer in ages, but also a bona fide miracle, traffic did start to move right as she closed her door behind her. 

Nora’s curiosity was too much for her. She glanced over, and found the man looking back at her, granola bar unwrapped, his mouth moving as he chewed. 

Thank you, he mouthed, nodding. 

Nora smiled, her eyes mysteriously filling with tears. 

Deep inside that same voice came to her again, echoing the man’s words. Thank you.


Lindsay Schlegel is a daughter of God, wife, mother, and believer in the life-giving power ofwords. She’s the author of “Don’t Forget to Say Thank You: And Other Parenting Lessons That Brought Me Closer to God” and the host of the weekly podcast, Quote Me. She has alsocontributed to a number of other Catholic and secular publications, including Verily, Ever Eden,Aleteia, CatholicMom.com, Natural Womanhood, and Blessed Is She. You can learn more abouther work and her speaking ministry at LindsaySchlegel.com or on Instagram, @lindsayschlegs and @quoteme_podcast.

“The Eye of the Beholder” by Amanda Martinez Beck

The Eye of the Beholder

Her eyes were closed, but she could feel the light of dawn pushing the corners of the tent. She furrowed her brow and squeezed her eyelids together. She wasn’t ready to open them yet. 

She took a deep breath, inhaling the scent of her…husband. One night. She had gotten him for one night, all to herself, his whole body, his whole heart. A night of no comparison, regret, or return. But once she opened her eyes, it would all be over. 

For seven years, Leah had watched him. Watched him with those eyes, those eyes that defined her. She had watched him with the sheep. He was so playful with them. He loved them like children. She knew what a good father he would be. 

She watched him speak with kindness to the people around him, young and old. She watched him in his kindness to her, and she loved him for it. No one had ever engaged her like he had. No one had ever taken the time to find out her mind, to ask her the things of her heart. And she loved him for it. 

But he didn’t love her like she wanted him to. He didn’t watch her with delight as she watered the sheep the way he watched her sister, Rachel. 

They looked so much alike they were practically twins. She was older by less than a year, and they had been raised inseparably. It was nearly impossible to tell them apart unless you looked into their eyes. They had the same dark hair, the same unblemished skin, the same laugh. They walked the same way, looked up at the sun and smiled the same way, even slept the same way–on their side with their knees drawn up toward their chest and one arm under their head for support. 

But Rachel was beautiful of form and appearance, the one with steady eyes that could give and receive a pure and unadulterated gaze. When Jacob looked at Rachel, she looked back at him and gave him her whole self through two eyes, two wonderfully focused and perfectly synchronized eyes. 

Leah lay there in the early morning and squeezed her eyes tightly together. She could hear the words of her mother echoing in her head. “You’re not trying hard enough, Leah. Look at me with all you are.” 

“I am, Mama!” she responded as she struggled to bring her eyes into unison. Her left eye was steady and true, but her right eye was disobedient and impossible to control. 

“Tender eyes,” her mother called them. “An attitude like yours and God gave you tender eyes.”

Leah knew that if her eyes would only cooperate–work together!–she would be impossibly beautiful. She had heard the chatter of the servants, and she knew they were right. To compensate, she had developed the practice of looking away when she spoke to someone. It prevented them from having to concentrate on which eye to look at when they talked with her. 

She had also developed a wonderful sense of comedic timing. She and Rachel would stay up late with the other girls in their tent, giggling and telling stories, but the best were the stories that Leah could tell. She had a gift for seeing into your soul even if she never looked directly into your eyes. Rachel was a nice girl, beautiful and kind, but she could be self-absorbed like any pretty girl is tempted to be. Leah could feel when you were sad or lonely, and she would bring you a bouquet of spring flowers or sing you the perfect song, just what you needed to cheer you up. 

Too bad about those eyes, you would find yourself thinking. She could have been such a catch!

When Jacob arrived and saw Rachel at the well, it was love at first sight. It wasn’t the first time this had happened, you know. Her beauty was truly inspiring. Their father Laban leveraged it to his advantage. It was just the way he did things, scheming, scheming, always scheming, looking for the edge. Rachel had been engaged before, the seal on a deal that Laban worked out with the young man’s father. But a few days before the wedding, Laban had pushed too hard for an extra tenth on top of her dowry, and her fiance’s father called the whole thing off. Laban didn’t return the whole dowry, only part of it, so he considered the deal a success, even if two hearts were broken in the process. 

Rachel was Laban’s asset, Leah his liability. How was Laban going to unload her from his list of responsibilities? It wasn’t that he minded her–she kept him laughing–but she and her retinue of servants were a slow drain on his profits. Rachel he could marry off no problem (he reminded himself not to be so ambitious the next time), but Leah was a challenge. 

When Jacob arrived on the scene, Laban watched him. As he watched him for seven years, a plan slowly grew in his mind. Laban saw his tenderness toward Rachel and the love she inspired in him. He saw how kind Jacob was to Leah and how shrewd he was to any other person he met. Laban knew exactly what he needed to do. 

Leah had looked off in the distance when Laban told her his plan. They walked side by side in the field near the family’s tents. Laban knew Leah would cooperate; no man had ever been as kind to her as Jacob, especially not Laban. But Laban didn’t see the concurrent delight and pain that this plan caused Leah. Nor did he actually care. Women were goods to be traded, employed, and enjoyed. It was a wonderful plan. Caught up in the excitement of his schemes, he wheeled Leah around and took her by the shoulders. 

“You’re going to be married, Leah!” he said, searching out her gaze for the first time in years. It was uncomfortable, but he forced himself to do it. He had not expected the tears that he found. He wrote them off as tears of relief. 

“Yes, Papa,” she mustered. 

Her father continued on to check his flocks and Leah slowly walked back to the settlement. There were not many trees in the area that caught her eye, but she passed the one that made her smile. It was twisted into a strange form–almost like an aged hand. She liked to think of it as the earth offering up its hand for a bird to perch on. 

Her eyes were downcast as she neared the tree, but as she approached, she noticed a white bird in its warped branches. It was a dove, and it was looking at her. 

She had encountered doves before. They could be skittish creatures. This one, however, made no movement as she moved closer to it. It gazed at her boldly, almost as if it were daring her to come even closer. She accepted the challenge. 

They were nearly nose to beak, less than a foot between them, and this dove looked into Leah’s eyes. It looked into her eyes with no hesitation, no confusion, and–most amazingly of all–no judgment. Her heart could not handle the fullness of its gaze. She inhaled suddenly, and then she ran away as fast as she could. 

Back in her tent alone, sobs shook Leah’s body. How she loved Jacob! How she had longed for this moment! She was to be his. She hated to deceive him, but she knew there was no other way; it was out of her hands. She would have him to herself for a night, one night. One night when he would hold her and love her and speak tenderly to her, as she had always longed for him to do. One night.  

All these memories flooded her as she lay there in the dawnlight, Jacob stroking her hair, her eyes firmly shut. Jacob drifted off to sleep again. She had a few more precious moments with her beloved. But she would not risk it to watch him sleep. Once he looked into her eyes, it would all be over. 

“Rachel,” he said, touching her cheek. She smiled a sad smile, a smile filled with pain and longing, and she opened her eyes. “Leah,” she said. 

It happened just as she thought. Her heart was ripped into shreds.  

The rest of the week was misery. He couldn’t look at her fully the way he once had, in friendship. The one her soul loved would not look at her. She spent her wedding week alone.  Her eyes were weak with tears and she didn’t know if she would ever recover. If it was possible to truly live again, she knew it would take years. Years. 

She was desperate for children to fill the void inside her heart. Three sons later and the pain had abated but a little. Her fourth child came, and it was a complicated delivery. When she thought she might lose the child, fear gripped her heart and she thought she heard the sounds of loss, like she did that One Night years before. She gasped when she heard the baby cry, and the midwife finally laid the little baby, squirming and crying, on her. A boy. She nursed him, and when he finally quieted, she looked down, expecting to see him asleep at her chest. But his eyes were open. She looked down at him, and he looked up at her. Their eyes met. Their hearts met. His infant eye wandered a little. And suddenly, she was at peace. 

“Now I will praise the Lord,” she whispered. And she called him Judah. 

Amanda Martinez Beck is a storyteller and fat activist on a mission to help people embrace the goodness of their bodies. She is the co-founder of the Ruah Storytellers Podcast. In addition to cohosting the Fat & Faithful Podcast, she is the author of Lovely: How I Learned to Embrace the Body God Gave Me. Follow her on Instagram(@your_body_is_good) and visit her website to learn more about the Good Body Initiative.