Do You Have a “Word” for 2018?

2018 has been filled with the unexpected so far—from new projects to my catching the flu. Because of this, I took a couple hours to brainstorm for a way to re-balance my writing life (and a couple other aspects of my life that I have ignored or not given enough time to). I was delighted to figure out a way to slow down and get back to a regular writing schedule.

One creative way of starting off a new year is to pick a word as a theme for the year. Every new year, I see more people picking their “word” for the year–have you? It’s better yet to notice a word that has “picked you,” especially when the word is from the Scriptures. I have never done this for a whole year, but during every monthly retreat, I try to pick a verse or phrase from the Bible that will inspire me for the whole month.

This year, however, a word “picked me,” as I was praying with the Gospel of John and I thought that I would share it with you. The word is: “Behold.”

According to an online site hosting the RSV translation, “behold” is used in the Bible over 1000 times (1134), and in the NABRE, “behold” is in that translation 104 times. Behold is a wonderful word for the spiritual life and for art, because it encourages us to really look, to see below the surface, to notice those telling details that allow us to appreciate more fully the sacred in our life. (And isn’t that what art is all about—helping us to see?)

The Gospel of John takes its use of the word a step further, encouraging us to go even deeper. The author of John uses “Behold” specifically to invite us to perceive the upside-down-ness of God at work in the world: this Gospel uses “behold” only when speaking of something that upsets human expectations.

“Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1) is the context in which the word first “picked” me. And what is more of a paradox than this image of the Lamb of God? The Son of God who is perfect, pure, sinless, innocent, almighty, infinitely good and beautiful, being called a lamb in reference to being offered in sacrifice? We know that many of the Israelites assumed that the Messiah would be a powerful earthly leader but the calls him “the Lamb of God.”

In John 17, Jesus uses this term to speak about his glory, which will be his offering of himself on Calvary in order to save humanity.

In John 19, Pilate tells the crowd to behold their “King,” as a way to mock Jesus—but unknowingly he speaks the truth about the King of all humanity, the King of love who will give his life for us. Also in John 19, Jesus gives Mary and John new identities: Mary becomes the mother of John, and John becomes Mary’s son. We know that here, too, we need to look deeper. Jesus is doing more than entrusting his widowed mother to the care of a young man. He is asking Mary to become the Mother of the Church, and he sees in John the beginning of the Church.

In giving me this word, I feel Jesus inviting me to be more attentive to him in my daily life, to let go of my own agenda and assumptions that are blocking my vision or preventing me from hearing his gentle invitations to do his will.

Long walks has always been a cherished form of exercise for me. At one point, I decided to take up jogging: I could fit more exercise into less time; it was even better for my health than walking, etc. I never became very good at it, but stuck with it for a couple of years. Then one day I went for a long walk. And I realized how much I missed walking. When I jogged, I went too fast to notice everything around me—the flowers, the birds, the color of the sky, etc.—all those things that I enjoyed so much when I walked.

This year, I plan to walk—not jog—through each day. I want to pay attention to the things both great and small in my life that I often ignore or forget about. For me, first of all this means that I need to pay attention to what is going on inside of me—my thoughts and feelings—and then, the people and circumstances around me. For some insight, I am reading a lovely small new book by Frederich Buechner entitled, The Remarkable Ordinary.

My desire to live more contemplatively has been unexpectedly reinforced by  one of our sisters—who is also a dear friend—who spent these first days of 2018 in the hospital and is now in hospice. The smallest details become so significant in these precious days with her—making sure she is comfortable, offering her both the closeness of accompaniment but also the spiritual “space” to prepare herself for heaven. This sister is teaching me how to “behold” God’s presence and blessing in a deeper way, both throughout her life and the years that I have known her, and in these cherished days of her journey to her heavenly homeland.

If you’d like, please share your “word for 2018” in the comments below, or on Facebook!


Discerning Our Use of Media

06U pexelsI’m re-posting this from my blog-to-book, Co-Author Your Life with God Blog.

Another obstacle to deeper listening that is particular to our times is the constant blitz of media messages that is almost impossible to avoid. Cell phones that are always on mean that anyone with our number (such as our boss) always has a way to reach us; having a smart phone or computer means that we can check our email not just twice but twenty or thirty times a day; engaging with social media like twitter or instagram means that constant interruptions in our day, our lives, and even our conversations, has become the norm; advertisements, which serve not our needs but the greed of unbridled capitalism, continue to deceive, invade, and intrude into our every day life. Media are widely misused in ways that undercut the dignity of its viewers and listeners, presenting people as commodities to be used, rather than as sacred persons created in the image of God. Many media messages today promote revenge, violence, hatred, lust, materialism, prejudice, error, illusions about happiness, and sensationalism. The constant availability of entertainment online, and the growth of tablets, wi-fi, and internet access, means we can constantly gratify our desire to be entertained because we are not limited to reading the books on our bookshelf. Even music on our cell phones can limit our connection to self by filling our walking silence or daily drives with music. Digital media “fill the cracks” or spaces in our lives that used to be free for reflection, silence, or just being present to one’s self.

As a Daughter of Saint Paul who is blogging a book about discernment and occasionally tweets about it, I don’t just enjoy digital technology and the possibilities that the internet offer for connection. I value the media in general and digital media in particular for the ways they help us to connect with one another, build up the solidarity of the human community, and for their potential for evangelization. The media are awesome avenues where God’s grace can reach people in ways both new and old! But for me personally, the key to how I choose to use the media is being mindful about it—in a way that assists my prayer life,  discernment, and relationships, rather than becoming obstacles to them.

Especially as an introvert, I easily become scattered or distracted if I have constant “noise” in my life. I couldn’t possibly make the time to use every form of media available to me. Every form of media, and each social network I join, is for a specific purpose that I have prayed about. I really to regularly discern my use of media, which is an integrated part of my day and often part of my relationships. But I’m also not afraid to disconnect: I turn off my cell phone when I enter the chapel for adoration or Mass, and keep it off during my retreats, whether they’re monthly one-day retreats or annual eight-day retreats.

Here are a few questions that I ask myself about daily priorities that are helpful in thinking about my use of media from within the context of daily life:

  • Am I always “online” or “connected” all day long, every day? Every evening? Seven days a week? How often do I give myself breaks from the frequent interruption or stimulation provided by the smartphone?
  • How much silence do I need or want every day or every week to be able to pray, to remain aware of my own thoughts and feelings, to be “at my best”? (This answer varies widely according to individuals.)
    • Do I feel my life is in balance, that I give the most attention to the most important people and parts of my life?
    • Where (and with whom) do I want to spend more time?
    • Where (or with whom) do I want to spend less time?
  • How do I choose to spend my time: with God, with family and loved ones, with work, with myself (including silent time taken to nurture myself and to relax).
  • How do I use various media at home, at work, in my relationships and throughout my day? What purpose does each form of media serve in my life? What purpose do I want each form to serve?
  • Smart phone
    • Calls
    • Texts
    • Messages
    • Retrieving information
    • Apps
    • Podcasts
  • Social media (go through each platform I use, whether on my computer and/or smartphone)
  • Music
  • TV/internet streaming/movies
  • Video games
  • Any other computer use: surfing, chat, research, etc.
  • How can I see using each form of media to help me grow in my relationship with God, with myself, and with others? Do I need to make changes, set limits, or add media to my life in order to live God’s invitations? (e.g. How often do I check my Twitter feed? Two of my favorite podcasts help me to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, or reflect on or pray with Sunday’s Scripture readings. Two of my  most-used apps is the Catholic News Agency and the Pope App, which keep me informed about religious issues, and also give me endless prayer intentions. Or, in my love for film, do I balance what I watch: occasionally a popcorn flick, often an independent film that is spiritually enriching or helps me understand certain issues. Some people give up Facebook or movies for Lent. Others don’t check their email over the weekend or in the evenings.)

How do you use media to assist you in your spiritual life? I’d love to hear your thoughts about how using the media and technology in your daily life affects your spiritual life, and how your relationship with God affects your use of media.

Twitter share of quote from Soul of Christ

Sharing from my new book, Soul of Christ: Meditations on a Timeless Prayer

Kicking off new discernment blog-to-book tomorrow!

CoAuthorBannerOriginalOn Tuesday, November 25th, I’m kicking off the new blog-to-book: CoAuthor Your Life with GodThis blog is a joint collaboration between two departments within the Pauline Books & Media publishing house to celebrate the Year of Consecrated Life, which runs from the First Sunday of Advent, the weekend of November 29th, to February 2, 2016, the World Day of Consecrated Life. Our goal in creating a new blog (and eventually a book, God willing!) is to support anyone interested in growing in the spiritual art of discernment–in other words, letting the Holy Spirit take the lead in our lives! In a special way for this YCL (Year of Consecrated Life), we want to support those who are discerning their vocations to religious life. 

At the new, those who are discerning will be able to find resources to help them grow in the spiritual art of discernment, have their questions answered, and even learn about discernment from some mainstream movies!

DiscernItCroppedAdIn addition to, the Pauline Sisters are also releasing a free app for discernment for both iPhones and Android phones. The new Discern It! App encourages young people to pray about all the states in life, including religious life, as part of their vocational discernment, and to take a step forward during in trusting the Lord during the Novena, as they continue to discern God’s will for their lives. The Discern It! App also has some lovely audio reflections on how to discern by Sr. Margaret Michael Gillis.

Blogging a Book: Challenges

Photo: Irene Robert Wright, fsp. © Daughters of St. Paul

Photo: Irene R. Wright, fsp © Daughters of St. Paul

Three-day weekends when we can take two days in a row to really relax are rare in convent life. Often Saturdays, Sundays, or holidays are times when we participate in special events or pastoral projects. However, since I’ve been assigned as a writer for digital media at our publishing house in Boston, I’ve had two three-day weekends (July 4th and Labor Day), and both have allowed me to move forward with my newest writing adventure: blogging a book!

With the news just days old that my book has been accepted for publication both as a blog and as a book, I was especially excited to dive in. I want to complete blogging the book within a year. Usually with that kind of a deadline, I’d be worried about finding the time to write it. But this time I face other challenges:

  • Keeping to the overall length. Initially I proposed that the book be about 52,000 words. (About 1,000 words a week, give or take!) But I’ve been asked to keep it to 40,000 words. I’m not sure how to do that and still cover most of the approved table of contents in sufficient breadth and depth.
  • Writing about spiritual topics in byte-size posts. The publishing team also told me that short entries are better, even in print form. I imagined 250-500 words an entry; they are recommending closer to 250 words. How do I deal with spiritual topics in only 250 words? And when I revise the blog into a book, do I really want to keep each blog post separate? The “experts” recommend weaving it together, but the publishing team is recommending keeping the book in “byte size” chunks.
  • Engaging readers so that the blog is truly interactive. This is by far the most exciting part of blogging my book. To do it, the blog needs lots of readers–readers who are really engaged and who comment, share, etc. I have lots of ideas for how to make the blog engaging, but I have no clue which ideas will work. I suspect that marketing the blog and making it truly interactive will be harder than writing the book. But it will be amazingly fun if I can connect with readers as I’m writing the book, and allow them to shape the content. For me, this seems the ideal way to communicate Christ–not a one-way communication, but a true dialogue so that the readers actually become co-creators of the book, and so that what I write about is truly helpful, and really resonates with the readers.

If any readers have successfully blogged a book, or developed a book from a website, or are thinking of doing it, I’d love to hear any questions or advice you’d like to share! (From the number of people reading and following my entries on this topic, I think a lot of the readers would be eager to hear further advice as well.) 

Adventures in Blogging a Book Continue!

IMG_0047On July 9th, I posted about a possible new writing adventure that I was quite excited about: blogging a book! In that post, I talked about the resources I used in developing my ideas (especially How To Blog a Book by Nina Amir), and my first “baby steps” in this new venture. Several of you let me know that you shared my excitement and that you were praying for this new initiative. Thank you!

In the past two months I’ve taken quite a few steps in moving this project forward from idea to reality:

  • developed a complete table of contents, and then revised it; and then revised it again;
  • wrote half a dozen blog posts to play around with length, tone, and topic;
  • wrote a proposal for the editor;
  • discussed the project in a fair amount of depth with the editor;
  • shared the proposal and four blog posts with a small group of the target audience for feedback;
  • researched recent books that have developed from blogs or websites;
  • met with the Editorial and Marketing teams at Pauline Books & Media to explore what blogging a book means: benefits, risks, issues to keep in mind, etc.

And during that meeting, they decided right then and there to accept the project!

As the author, I don’t usually meet with the Editorial and Marketing teams at a decision-making meeting for a project that I’m proposing to write–and normally, I wouldn’t recommend it. But this meeting was so much fun, with about 15 people in the room who were all interested in helping this book be the best it can. I left the meeting totally energized and excited.

The name of the blog is still being researched (titles are not a strength for me, but I think I came up with several good suggestions). Hopefully a name will be decided upon in the next few weeks, which is when I’ll put up the blog page. I can give you a clue about the topic, though: I’ll begin the new blog on November 30, the first Sunday of Advent and the opening of the Year of Consecrated Life (November 30, 2014-February 2, 2016). (Feel free to guess in the comments!)

I will still continue blogging at Windows to the Soul, but instead of posting more often as I’d been planning to do, I’ll continue posting here once a week during the next year. However, I’m delving deeper into my studies and reflections on the theology of communication, so I may not be able to help posting here a little more often!

Amazing Week

Praying for the needs of humanity at Yorkdale Mall

This has been an amazing week. First, we had our Discernment Come and See Retreat Weekend here in Toronto. I think all the participants felt the presence of God’s hand guiding them. I found the weekend beautiful and inspiring, as I witnessed the generosity and openness of these young women.

Then Wednesday, I started to slide back into writing projects:

  •  I started editing the manuscript of my new book on the saints. (Title and release date to be announced.)
  • As I mentioned earlier, I’ve started writing for The Catholic Register, and I start with this week’s issue (Sept. 23). I’d love some comments and feedback–the article is already online! 
  • Finally, I’m back to my usual film commentaries with Salt + Light Radio. This week, I had the privilege of reviewing two Catholic films: October Baby and For Greater Glory. 

I’m really racing to complete the various projects and deadlines before I leave for my 30 days of Spiritual Exercises. That’s right, I’ll be offline and silent for an entire month–this may be my last post until early November! But I’ll be keeping all of my blog readers in my prayers. If you send in your intentions by Wed., Sept. 26th, I’ll bring them with me and pray for you by name.