“We like it here”

I’ve always had an interest in architectural oddities, so when news of the Metrodome roof collapse hit the airwaves in 2010, I became obsessed with finding out all about this unusual building.  One of the articles that I stumbled across, part of an old ESPN review of every stadium in baseball, mentioned a sign that used to hang there that said “METRODOME – Minneapolis ‘We like it here.'”  The article goes on to express the true meaning:

Yeah, you people from New York, California and Florida might think our weather is cold and miserable and that our stadium sucks, but we don’t care — WE like it and that’s all that matters. And is it loud enough in here for you, then?

metrodome_with_new_roofIn thinking about why I stay Catholic, I think some of the same logic applies.  Those who have left the church or who are proud of their own faith tradition will see the “cold and miserable weather” that we’ve gone through as Catholics (the sexual abuse scandal, bishops and Cardinals getting in the news for being unwilling to welcome LGBTQ Catholics, etc.) and ask us, “why stay Catholic?”  And the best answer I can give them is that “we like it here.”  If that’s the case, I thought, I’d better seek to understand why I like it here.  This lead me to decide that what I should “give up” for Lent this year was negativity.  In other words, I sought to focus on the positive this Lent.  And it turned out that my pastor was right there with me — part of his prescription for Lent was to spend ten minutes a day counting our blessings.

I consider myself to be a fairly positive person, but I found that the goal of “giving up” negativity demanded effort.  It is easy to get sucked in with others when they talk about shortcomings of religious leaders or the undeniable mess that is politics in the United States.  I kept coming back to the question of “What good can I say?”  What good can I say of Pope Francis when my progressive Catholic friends point out that he doesn’t seem to be acknowledging LGBT Catholics as much as we had hoped?  What good can I say of President Obama when I am confronted with a list of things that he has failed to accomplish?

Fr. Tim’s wish that I count my blessings didn’t prove as easy as I would have thought, either.  My thought process often went something like family, good weather … gotta finish that report at work, gotta talk to my boyfriend about Easter plans … people that love me ….  I couldn’t even list 10 things without being distracted by everything I “needed” to get done.

But if I can count one big blessing, it’s that I feel that this Lent really has been different.  I have made progress in my Lenten goals, if imperfect.  And I have gotten to take advantage of three Sacraments: Eucharist, of course, but also Healing and Confession.  I didn’t get the opportunity to go to much of our parish mission in person, but I’m taking advantage of the YouTube recordings to slowly experience it on my own.

As you head into Holy week, I invite you to consider the blessing that this week and this season is for you.

About the author: Francis Beaumier is on the leadership team for the Dignity Young Adult Caucus and an active member of the Our Lady of Lourdes Parish Family as well as Angels of Hope Metropolitan Community Church.  He currently works for Brown County Library as an IT Specialist and is pursuing a Master’s in Liberal Studies at St. Norbert College.

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“A Bruised Reed He Shall not Break”

Who was I to blog about peace?  All the peace that I sought seemed to disappear on Friday as I learned that a good friend of mine (my first college voice teacher, an important mentor, and an all around inspiration) had a terrible car accident between Green Bay and Milwaukee and is now lying unconscious and on a breathing machine at the hospital.  “The whole world was at peace”?  Certainly not here, not in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  This situation has haunted me this weekend as I struggled to go about my business.  “And what about my blog post?  How can I think of anything else?”, I thought.  Thus, I’ve decided to share with you honestly my journey this weekend, hoping that it will be of some help to you and me.

Upon hearing the news on Friday, I asked my parents to pray with me and then I prayed with my boyfriend.  My contributions both times were not very elegant — I’m not so good at praying extemporaneously with others — but I needed to do something, anything.  Eventually, I had to sleep — the general busyness of the week and the emotions of the moment caught up with me and left me drained.

Yesterday, I turned to the readings for today for inspiration.  One of the advantages of being a member of both the MCC and Catholic churches is that I often get two sets of readings for Sunday.  Today’s first reading in the Revised Common Lectionary is Isaiah 43:1-7.  Verse 5 jumped out at me:

Do not be afraid, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine. (The Inclusive Bible)

This reading is obviously what David Haas used as a basis of “You Are Mine.”  Here’s the chorus:

Do not be afraid, I am with you
I have called you each by name
Come and follow Me
I will bring you home
I love you and you are mine

Being a church choir nerd, I must have sung this a million times, many of those being funerals.  Thus, the song filled me with a mix of emotions.  It’s beautiful music.  And yet we often sing it when someone passes away.  It speaks of bringing someone home.  “Oh dear Lord, are you going to bring my friend home?”

At Mass at my Catholic parish this morning, Fr. Tim unlocked for me the power in the first reading in the Roman Catholic lectionary.  In this reading, a chapter earlier in Isaiah, we find:

A bruised reed he will not break (42:3, NAB)

Fr. Tim used the image of a broken stem on a poinsettia, which instead of being chopped off and thrown out, is propped up with a stick and given the best chance at healing.  So my friend is lying in the hospital incredibly broken, and God, through the ministry of the doctors and nurses, is doing everything possible to heal this “bruised reed.”  Wow.

I don’t know what happens next, but it won’t be easy.  I’ve learned not to ask why; I still need to learn how to deal with the feeling of powerlessness.  I’m grateful for my virtual and physical communities that are willing to set aside religious differences and come together in prayer.

About the author: Francis Beaumier is on the leadership team for the Dignity Young Adult Caucus and an active member of the Our Lady of Lourdes Parish Family as well as Angels of Hope Metropolitan Community Church.  He currently works for Brown County Library as an IT Specialist and is pursuing a Master’s in Liberal Studies at St. Norbert College.

“How God loves us through our bad theology”: A guest post

14051_10206246260419240_3924350429838097717_nCults are on my mind lately. For one thing, I’ve developed an addiction to the new Netflix series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. It’s a Tina Fey/Robert Carlock comedy about an Indiana woman who escapes a doomsday cult and remakes her life in New York City. Much wackiness ensues.

But also, and more seriously, one of my college friends recently shared a reflection on Facebook. Theresa related how she was “raised with antiquated theology in a pre-Vatican II cult,” and the term “cult” was no exaggeration. I thought her analysis of that experience, and what it means to her today, was remarkable.

Therefore, I am doing something unusual. I am hosting a guest post, and the guest post is Theresa’s reflection. I share it below, and use Theresa’s real name, with her express permission. Continue reading

The Rosary in New Jersey

rosaryTwo weeks ago, my husband and I took a trip to the East Coast, beginning in New York City and ending up in Boston. Because of hotel prices outside our Midwestern budget, we decided to try our first experience with an AirBNB house. On AirBNB, regular folks offer up anything from a couch or air mattress to a fully furnished apartment to guests. We rented a bedroom with a single woman in New Jersey. When it was time to go, we carefully checked the dressers, closet, and bathroom to make sure we were leaving nothing behind.

I was waiting for the Amtrak at Penn Station when I reached into my pocket an realized my rosary wasn’t there. In the habit of saying it before bed, I often find it somewhere under the covers or on the floor the next day. Continue reading

Don’t just do something – sit there! Reflections on a weekly practice of silence

 

magnificat chapel sunshine

The Magnificat Chapel at Villa Maria

During my two month working retreat this past summer with the Sisters of the Humility of Mary, Wednesday was my day in silence. Silence defined as not only no in-person conversations but also no cell phone, no iPod, and no laptop. Each Tuesday night, I turned off my devices (which, as a typical member of my generation, I generally treat as extensions of myself) and stuck them in a drawer.  I unplugged from my normal way of being in the world with the hope I would plug into that larger Voice which is so easily drowned out by noise and activity. Knowing my own tendency to binge-read, I made the rule of no books during my days in silence – since I know I could spend a day reading about prayer…and not actually pray.

So what exactly did I do on those Wednesdays?

Mostly, I prayed.  That is to say, I listened.  I felt my mind slowly unwind and my soul slowly expand. I prayer-walked the Sisters’ cemetery. I swam laps. I sat in the meditation attic, my hands open on my lap.  I journalled. I walked – sans earbuds – among the blue heron by the pond, the geese by the labyrinth, the yellow finches back in Billy’s field. I painted and drew in the art house – aware of but not heeding the nagging inner voice that told me this whole endeavor was ridiculous, self-indulgent and a waste of time.

You see, I’m a US North American, a life-long social activist, as well solidly extroverted according to the Myers Briggs Type Indicator. None of these traits make me a natural fit for a day of contemplative silence and solitude. The thought of going more than an hour or two without a to-do list makes me a little nervous. Moreover, I was conscious of what a privilege it is to take a day in silence.  Given years of ministry on the margins – in rural Latin America and among the working poor here in the US – I am acutely aware of how much of humanity lives in works sixty or seventy hours a week to just scrape by. In light of that, how could I justify the “luxury” of a day each week given over to silence?

Of course, a practical case can be made for silence, prayer and contemplative practice. There are numerous studies that show that prayer is good for our health – lowers blood pressure, reduces inflammation, boosts the immune system, and lots of other things that will win you praise from your doctor. But the practice of a day in silence can’t – or shouldn’t – be on par with eating leafy greens or climbing on the Stairmaster for half an hour of cardio.

Nor is the practice of a day in contemplative silence simply about charging one’s battery to go out and do more apostolic work. Of course, it is true that our service to the world is nourished by our spiritual practice. This is the model we see over and over in Scripture – Jesus going off on his own to prayer, and then preaching and healing. But contemplative silence is not the spiritual equivalent of plugging in one’s laptop or filling one’s car with gas.

After practicing a weekly day in silence for a summer, I believe that the only way the counter-intuitive and counter-cultural practice of  contemplative silence makes sense is if it is based in both Scripture’s exhortation to pray (both the Christian Scriptures as well as sacred texts from other great traditions), in addition to science with its wild and wonderful theories of quantum entanglement, strange attractors, and the like.  Both Scriptures and science use their own language to point to the same reality: that our thoughts and intentions and energy are real and make an impact.

The motivation for contemplation is trust that somehow mysteriously God can take our “wasting time” and “doing nothing” in contemplative silence as an offering for those most in need, for the transformation of the pain of the world.  It takes a leap of faith to believe that my silent, open-hearted hours logged in the chapel, on the cushion in the meditation attic, and on the land can mean something for this beleaguered, beautiful planet and the seven billion human beings residing here.  It takes trust that being – mirroring that ground of Being – can mean as much if not more than doing.

After a summer of this practice, it seems to me that contemplation is an end in itself and not a means to something else.  Contemplative silence through/with/in God is not to be undertaken as part of a health or self-improvement regime.  Nor is it an obligatory battery-charging pit-stop on the road of apostolic work. It is – or at least aspires to be – uniting one’s own heart with the heart of God. Sandra Schneiders, IHM, reflecting on the words monk-and-activist Thomas Merton, puts it beautifully:  “in contemplative prayer, according to Merton, we pass through the center of our own being into the very being of God, where we see ourselves and our world with a clarity, a simplicity, a truthfulness that are not available in any other way.”

Of course, I will not give up seeking to practice the works of mercy and resist the acts of war and encouraging others to do the same.  Action and contemplation certainly relate as both/and, not either/or.  I invite you, dear reader – especially if you identify as an activist or are a super-plugged-in Millennial like me – to take the leap of faith into a moment, an hour, or even a day of contemplative silence.  Not as an escape from this beleaguered, beautiful world but as a way of diving more fully and deeply into it – through/with/in our awesome and mysterious Creator.

About the author: Rhonda Miska is a partner in mission with the Sisters of the Humility of Mary, a former Jesuit Volunteer (Nicaragua, 2002-2004) and a graduate of the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry. Originally from Wisconsin, her ministries have included accompaniment of the Spanish-speaking immigrant community, Muslim-Christian dialogue, social justice education, direct outreach to people who are homeless, congregation-based community organizing, and coordination of a community with adults with intellectual disabilities.  She is based in Villa Maria, PA and will attend CTA’s conference next week in Nashville, TN.

Our prayers at work

Did anybody else notice that secretary of state John Kerry’s “slip of the tongue” suggestion that Syria give up its chemical weapons took place on the Monday after Pope Francis’ prayer vigil for peace? After a week of negotiations, the U.S. and Russia reached an agreement on Saturday to remove and destroy Syria’s chemical weapons. Suddenly, we have gone from gearing up for an escalation to potentially capping the scope of the conflict in Syria.

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Mary, Queen of Peace

I don’t believe that it was a coincidence. Led by the pope, millions of people asked for the intercession of Mary, Queen of Peace, and there appeared to be an answer. Any believer in the power of prayer would acknowledge the likelihood that Kerry did not accidentally think of a solution on his own. He has a lot of people praying for him to make the right decisions, and

Though this agreement is good news, let’s not be naive. It still has to be implemented. The Obama administration still has military action on the table. The war in Syria still rages on. Other conflicts, such as those in Afghanistan, Egypt, Israel, Iraq, Palestine and the Philippines, still plague God’s people.

We need to keep praying.

Six months of Pope Francis has shown that the Catholic Church is truly led by a man of God. This was a palpable reminder. Let us continue to follow his lead in praying for a resolution to this conflict and all wars around the world.

Confession and forgiveness (even when you don’t “need” it)

“No one ought to consider himself a true servant of God who is not tried by many temptations and trials. Temptations overcome are a sort of betrothal ring God gives the soul.” – St. Francis of Assisi

Going through rough patches, it becomes easy to descend into a lazy prayer life, if prayer doesn’t halt altogether. In one such recent trough of emotional health, I caught myself heading in that direction. I missed daily mass.

Continue reading