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Silent Battle

A recent Dynamic Catholic reflection focused on a Gospel reading from Mark 9. The disciples are sent out to do ministry. Their final task is to exorcise a demon inside of a boy. They fail. They go back to Jesus and ask him why they were not able to succeed, despite the power Jesus has shared with them. Jesus tells them, “There are some demons that can only be cast out through prayer and fasting.” Matthew Kelly went on to point out that fasting is not about giving up chocolate but about looking at behaviors that keep us from being the best version of ourselves. In other words, we need to fast from and against demons. I’ve done work in the last few years in casting out demons, not only my own, but also protecting others from being harmed.

In popular culture, confrontation is the way to face challenges. This has been a growth area for me; I’ve been forced to develop these skills and have made progress. Confrontation is only one way to deal with difficult people or internal challenges.  Prayer and fasting cultivate discipline and faith; I consider these strengths though I could continue to grow.

The last few weeks have been better because I was more disciplined and reflective. I made the time to pray more and do spiritual reading. I completed my Dynamic Catholic exercises daily. It has made a difference. In revisiting this passage from Mark 9, I can continue to deepen my reflection.

This also reminded me of a character from the TV series, The Exorcist. (Yes, I know I’m obsessed. This has been going on for most of my life. Deal!) There is a group of contemplative nuns including the Mother Superior who keep silent hours. These women also strive to exorcise demons but go about differently than the priests.  Their silence strengthens them for their difficult tasks.

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Mother Bernadette, sometimes the real MVP against demons

Silence is not simply being mute.  As someone who was drawn to contemplative life in the past, I understand that silence is a time to commune with God in prayer, to commune with nature or yourself, and offering those hours for others. While we may perceive this practice as being non-communicative, it is work to pray for the world and for strength.When I was single, a nun came to our parish to sell arts and crafts for her convent and to share her experiences as a contemplative. They lived in rural Mexico. Their mission was to pray for the world. 24 hours a day, these women took shifts praying for those who had asked for intercession and praying for everyone.  I was moved by their beautiful vocation.

Yes, you should tap into your #innermongoose and fight enemies. However, silence, prayer, and fasting can be battle strategies too. I’m a person of words. I may come across as introverted but I’m certainly writing and thinking about what I could say. When I refrain from speaking, that silence is powerful.  I have committed to helping others as my life’s work. That work requires me to be both confrontational and reflective.

Wayward shepherd

 

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“’And I’m the tyranny of evil men. But I’m tryin’. I’m tryin’ real hard to be a shepherd.’”  Pulp Fiction, Quentin Tarantino

As I did exactly a year ago(An Advent first), I began my Advent fast after evening Mass. The morning has been one of silence: the silence of a smartphone used merely as phone and not social media device, the silence involved with a nutritional cleanse, and as hoped annually, the silence of prayer. I prayed the Liturgy of the Hours for the first time in months.   It felt wonderful to be grateful and to be still.  However, soy realista and I own who I am.  This will be a struggle as it was last year(Ruining Advent.)  It’s possible that by tomorrow, my emotions will get the best of me and my thoughts will run ragged.  Como decia Cantinflas, ahi esta el detalle.

My biggest challenge isn’t my compulsion to be online.  It is my propensity for negative emotions and thoughts.
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Gossip, sarcasm, and shade throwing may be humorous and entertaining but they also allow me to give voice and free reign to anger, resentment, and meanness. As evidenced by this year’s Kermit meme of the moment(and I do love me some Kermit, My love of Kermit memes), everyone struggles with their dark side.
73291699 I’m not the only one who feels that the f@#*ery is too much at times.  But I’m the only person who can control how I act and think given the situations and people around me.

Recently, within hours of declaring myself unwilling to deal with negative online conversations about the election(Holding the door open,) I became engaged in an online debate about immigration with someone I’ve known since the eighth grade. In the past, we’ve been able to respectfully disagree.  This time, I couldn’t believe the angry tone that was taken. While I pointed out facts, my acquaintance responded with vitriolic statements. When I realized I couldn’t argue with logic and reason, I took the step of silencing the discussion by blocking my account.

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I flirted with the idea of sharing screen shots of the conversation or of composing a blog about the situation.  I’m glad I didn’t follow through on those actions. I would have gained nothing other than temporary satisfaction.  While I’m hilarious when I’m petty,  I do more good when I keep those cruel thoughts quiet.

The daily struggle will be one mostly within me.  I will have to be mindful and purposeful.  Every day, I will have the opportunity to be my best self.   Every day will be another day to sustain the peace offered by silence and compassion. May I fast from the noise of anger.

An Advent first

For some people, the idea of fasting is that of un castigo, that you only do so out of obligation or guilt. But others have held that fasting helps prepare the mind and body for more focus and stillness.  Coupled with meditation or any other form of contemplative practice, it can serve as a retreat or recharge.  With Lent months away, I have long pondered the possibility of an Advent fast.  As happened last year, the folks at Dynamic Catholic are launching a daily routine of spiritual exercises in honor of Advent.  So, in addition to taking part in that four-week series, I will be fasting from my smartphone/social media habit for Advent.

I have discussed my problematic phone use in the past (http://mujerevolving.blogspot.com/2012/01/smartphones-killed-personal-bond.html)What used to be entertainment is now a compulsion.  Like emotional eating, it kills time but ultimately provides no real positive results.  Both Rambo and M have expressed their frustration with this fourth family member.  If my phone is in hand, chances are I’m not engaged in what is happening around me.  

Now I can leave my phone on my charger at home. I can leave it locked up in the car. I can turn off the data and only use wi-fi. These are temporary fixes.  I enjoy learning more about my friends’ personal experiences and political views. I love reading interesting articles shared by like-minded people. I find communicating with many of my friends via Facebook and Instagram easier. But I need a break.
From Antoine Geiger’s “Sur-Fake” 
The next few weeks at work will bring challenges I have never confronted. I will need to be strong, patient, and thoughtful. More than ever, my family, my passions, and my faith will empower me during this experience. In the quiet of my retreat, I will contemplate all good things.  

A mile in the right direction

I left the serenity of my Lenten desert for the raucous alegria of Carnaval and the subsequent busyness of a school year’s end. I have missed the silence that comes when I cut back on social media and television. I have missed books. I have missed the freedom of an empty schedule and calendar. Summer begins and with it, an opportunity to truly rest.
I began my summer by going for a run. It is the first run I have completed since I finished my half-marathon in February. It is the last run I will do before my surgery Monday.
Running has always been my time to unwind and to reconnect.  I reconnect with the outdoors, the air, the sounds I miss because I’m always in conversation.  I reconnect with my body, with my muscles and lungs.  I reconnect with my running partners, those who went before me, with whom I run every training run and every half-marathon since last year. Running helps me to be grateful and strong. 
With that mere mile, another season begins. I will embrace the weeks that follow the way I do Lent.  I will reconnect with all that nurtures my soul. 

My answer

“All I ever wanted
All I ever needed
Is here in my arms
Words are very unnecessary…” Enjoy the Silence, Depeche Mode
In my experience, New Year’s resolutions have nothing on Lent. Lent, at least in the last three years, has been about rediscovering my passion for silence. My busy life of motherhood, work, and self-care is often boisterous with the sounds of hectic greetings and good nights, shopping and to-do lists, emails, texts and phone calls, the television or car radio playing.  More frequently than I prefer, part of the soundtrack includes my complaints. I yearn for more time, more space, and yes, fellow parents I will admit it, more freedom.  This need to escape that which gives me meaning and purpose further lets me know that a return to basics is always good. 
I used to ponder becoming a contemplative. A bonafide, live in a cloistered monastery and pray nonstop, contemplative. Inspired by Thomas Merton but especially by Kathleen Norris, I wondered if I couldn’t somehow have the best of both worlds. Witty singleton teacher during the school year, desert mother in training during the summer. Working with young people and passing on my passion for literature and writing. Praying the Liturgy of the Hours as much as possible.  Praying the rosary daily instead of weekly. I planned to do a silent retreat at a desert monastery, to see if I was called to join the order.  While I made decisions to take my life in a completely different direction, I have always cherished my love for contemplation. I simply don’t make the time or space or freedom.  But Lent is that opportunity.
In the first few weeks of this Lenten season, I have done a lot with my increased free time. I have read three novels, only one of which was for teaching purposes.  I have lost seven pounds and recommitted myself to healthy eating and exercise. I hosted my tenth annual Oscar party and, as usually happens despite my worries, fed a houseful of old friends. I have rediscovered my patience with my beautiful M and we have embarked on new mother-daughter adventures. And I have prayed a lot more. 

Waiting on a different kind of silence

“Have the lambs stopped screaming?” Silence of the Lambs

I don’t like the quiet. Silence is different. It is peaceful, contemplative, calming. The quiet is just that: too still, too empty, too eerie. The quiet could be when you don’t hear from someone for days, their phone disconnected or voicemail brimming over. The quiet can occur in a crowded high school hallway, kids talking and laughing, iPods blasting, games being played, while underneath the current of violence moves forward.

A pretty girl lies in the street, her face a bloody mess. Her mother joins her in the ambulance as police cars surround the scene.

This morning, one of my favorite students came to see me. Dressed in one of her typical trendy 80s retro outfits, she earnestly described her fears. She’s had bad blood with two notorious sisters, typical girl drama over a boy. Her so-called brother(I believe he’s her “friend with benefits” though she denies such a connection) told her that the sisters would jump her this week, even today. She assured me she’d keep walking away because she’s trying to change. Her applications for class officer and cheerleader prove that she has an interest in being more than just another hoodrat. She was scared. And now she’s at the hospital.

Why didn’t I do anything? My colleagues say I had no power in this situation. One of the sisters had been dropped from school to independent study. The other wouldn’t have listened to any warnings or threats from us. I can’t help but feel that my silence helped hurt her. I want so badly to help people, whether it’s my kids or my loved ones. Whenever I can’t, I feel lost.

I miss Soldier. His voice and his words always soothe me. But he’s unreachable.

The quiet hurts. Right now, I don’t feel sad or hopeless. I’m scared, nervous, on edge. The quiet stretches on.