My First Mass Mob

Last year, I read with interest that a few people had organized the first Mass Mob in Detroit. They got the idea from a similar effort in Buffalo. It’s not what you might think…it’s a flash mob at a chosen church. The intent is to fill up the pews, and the coffers, in support of a parish in need of a boost. There are so many beautiful, historic churches in the city and keeping them open is a mission to some.

This past Sunday was the first Mass Mob of 2015 in Detroit. It was held at Old Saint Mary’s in Greektown. Two of my friends and I decided to go, and we left before 10 for a noon Mass. Upon arrival, we were directed to a nearby parking garage at Greektown Casino. The casino had donated the parking for the event. We had to wait outside for the 10 a.m. service to let out and then had to sit for almost an hour waiting for the start of the Mass Mob. It was exhilarating.Old Saint Mary's

The event was very well orchestrated which made it seem spontaneous even though it was planned. As more and more people poured into the church, we all “squeezed in” to make room. Estimates are that 1600 to 1700 people shared the experience.

We chatted with the visitors around us. In front of me was a couple coming from 50 miles away. They had been married in this very church three decades prior. Other stories were told around us as we awaited the start of Mass. The Knights of Columbus led the procession of the celebrants into the church.

We were blessed to have the Archbishop preside, and I warmed to him right away. He told us that some of us might be there as a sort of Catholic tourism…but he was okay with that. His deeper hope was that we were part of a new evangelism in spreading our Faith.

When the time came to take up the collection, I noticed that a security firm had been hired to watch over the process. They wore black jackets with a discrete logo and plain khaki pants. As the ushers moved down the aisle, one came with a large, medicine-bag-style briefcase, collecting the money and moving it off to one of the guards as the ushers worked their way back through the church. When the offering was brought up, rest assured that the money had already been secreted away and the focus was on the bread, water, and wine.

Inside Old Saint Mary'sAfter Mass, my friends and I wandered out into the sunshine and past quite a few drunken Millennials in green T-shirts. They were coming from the St. Patrick’s day parade…such an odd juxtaposition of events that day. It reminded me of Thomas Cahill’s book, How The Irish Saved Civilization. Much of it is focused on St. Patrick. It is a delightful and educational telling of a part of world history that is often neglected. St. Patrick wasn’t much for green beer and corned beef, but he was an integral part of saving the Western World’s culture, and with it the Catholic church. Now, modern believers are offered the opportunity through these Mass Mob, grass-roots efforts to save some of the cultural touchstones of our Faith for the next generation.

Find the Joy in the Journey…

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Holding Still Long Enough To Feel The Blessings

I sit here on a Sunday night, swamped with papers. I want to write a post to my blog…something that I’ve neglected for months. I just missed the official deadline to file the FAFSA…but I haven’t filed my taxes yet and they are substantially different from last  year.

Credit card statements, lawyer bills, receipts from the last month, interesting newspaper articles, research for blog posts on diet and exercise, books on environmentalism, economics, and eating local, also litter my space.

TEDx podcasts on biomimicry, and other interesting YouTube offerings are spinning their way through my cerebral cortex thanks to my son who “gets” where I am at these days. I’m here, I’m there, I’m everywhere!

A crisis brews at work. My youngest is finishing Freshman basketball, squeezing in driver training, and gearing up for softball…and I am cringing at the chaufering involved. I’m halfway through a 500-level geology class, where I’m treading water without the benefit of prerequisites.

My middle child is studying abroad on Madrid and traveling every weekend. Meanwhile, her debit card keeps getting frozen and she’s off to places unknown (to me…the one trying to keep her solvent). She’s also suffering from a stomach virus…or worse. At the moment, she is somewhere in Morocco with a flight back to Madrid in the morning.

Reading, writing, and running? Off the table.  Weight control? Ugh…why bring that up? Networking with the environmentalist folks at work…equal parts feeling supported and feeling ridiculous.

So, I turn to the season at hand…to my Church and the blessings of Lent to help me focus on what is truly important. I’ve found it hard to go to church by myself. I have a plan, starting mid-March to “flash mob” the quintessential, classic churches, with my friends…but back to  Lent. I hate going on my own, but my younger daughter decided that going to church during Lent was important to her. She normally sasses me, saying that since she goes to church once a week during school, she doesn’t have to go on Sunday…she *just* got Confirmed, so you know this is major sass.

So, to church I go. I pray for an open heart, for guidance. And, to my surprise (can’t I be a believer?) the blessings started to flow. First of all, my son got a job. He’s a wonderful, brilliant, man who hasn’t figured out yet where he fits in the world. He is a boomerang kid and I am committed to helping him get to independence. He doesn’t take advantage of that, he wants it as much as I do. Even so, it took a lot of encouragement (shall we admit nagging?) to get him to this point and the look on his face when he told me he was hired warmed this mother’s heart. I feel so blessed!

Another major concern in my life has been getting my ex-husband off of my mortgage.  This has required hundreds of hours dealing with my mortgage company, providing reams of documents, explaining every single check I’ve deposited. The bank threw every obstacle in the book in my way. Eventually I got a closing date, but with under 24 hours to go, they canceled it due to a bank error. I regrouped and pursued a new date. Ultimately, the bank closed my account to protect their internal metrics. Say what? Yes, they made me re-apply so that their internal metrics would reflect that they were customer friendly. But this last week, a miracle happened. They fired my loan processor and the new one got my loan approved and gave me a new closing date.

Find the Joy in the Journey…and the Blessings all around you!

 

 

My Lenten Path: To Examine My Life To Become A More Integrated Person

Lately I seem to come up with new words, or at least new meanings or nuances for existing words, to articulate my ideas. So, it is that I want to write about becoming a more integrated person and yet I can’t find any definition that exactly reflects what I mean. The closest is the first definition in dictionary.com of self-integration:

1. an act or instance of combining into an integral whole.

This is an idea that I want to explore during Lent. Instead of giving something up or doing something more to make a sacrifice, I want to instead focus on making myself a more integrated person. The traditional purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer through prayer, penance, repentance of sins, alms-giving, atonement and self-denial. I am not intending to stray from that purpose, however those are things which should be done without public fanfare. So, as I move through Lent with this, semi-public, record of my life, I want to focus my writing on the other things I am doing to be a better person through self-integration.

I have a great deal of material to work with…the over 500 posts in this blog written within the last three years of my life. I have waxed poetic about many things. I have started, failed, started again, given up or succeeded at many, many things. Now is the time to review all of those things, reflect on whether they should be a part of me, integrated into who I am, or to let them go. I am a woman of much passion and enthusiasm, so I’m afraid I often declare that I am starting a whole new path, when in the end I am just not ready to forge that particular path.

When I review my posts, I see many themes. I’ve categorized, as best I could, each post into one narrow space, but often they cover many. I write about family, faith, fitness, love, life, celebrations, learning, parenting, working, and many, many other things. How do all of these things help me to be an integrated, whole person? This is the question that I want to pursue over the next 6+ weeks.

I plan to look at each element to see if it makes sense to integrate it into my life right now, to discard it as not part of who I am anymore, or to set it aside for later. I have written about the concept of a second adulthood and also of a second adolescence. This is part of my second adolescence, that time when we question and dream and try to figure out who we are and who we want to be when we “grow up”.

I feel that I am in a safe place right now, as I did the first time around. Back then, this sense of safety came from  my parents, who kept a roof over my head and food on my plate so that I could focus on preparing my way to leaving home. This time around, that sense of safety comes from my corporate career. My job pays the bills to keep the roof over my head and food on my plate so that I can focus on preparing my way to leaving corporate life.

Find the Joy in the Journey…and the courage to Journey within!

Confirmations

In raising my children, I have striven to demonstrate how to live a life guided by God. As an imperfect person, I have failed many times; we all do. I try to be honest with my children and show them that we always have another chance to be a better person. I hoped that each of my children would decide to make their Confirmation with their classmates, that they would be prepared and would want to do so. Now that my youngest has decided to be Confirmed, I am filled with joy that I helped each of my children to make it to this point.

Christians, and some Jews, have a tradition of Confirmation of their faith during adolescence. In my faith, the Catholic Christian faith, Confirmation is one of our Sacraments. It is the Confirmation of our Baptismal vows. Being Baptized as an infant means that you are not capable of speaking for yourself about your commitment to God…so Confirmation is the time to confirm those Baptismal vows originally spoken by your Godparents.

My younger daughter spent nine months preparing. She went to monthly classes in addition to her weekly religion classes. She had many discussion sessions with her sponsor over the phone to better understand her faith and to be comfortable articulating her own views. She did community service and wrote reflections about them. She also went on retreat and one Sunday we went with the other families to the Cathedral in Detroit, which I wrote about in, Is It Wrong To Kill A Spider In Church? Finally, she met with the Religious Education Director at church for an interview to discern her readiness for Confirmation.

The week prior to my daughter’s Confirmation, there was a Confirmation commitment at church. I was impressed by the group of 30+ thirteen and fourteen year old young adults standing in front of the congregation making their commitment to becoming Confirmed. One of the children announced was the classmate who died two years prior. I was touched to know that this child was held closely by the congregation and would not be forgotten. I teared up during the commitment which helped me to keep my composure during the actual Confirmation.

The weather did not cooperate for the Confirmation. The Polar Vortex shot out yet another storm system and with family traveling from Chicago and Cleveland to us in Detroit, conditions were not favorable. But at the end of the day, my daughter was surrounded by love.

Her sponsor, her lovely older sister, came home from college to participate. Her older brother, likewise, came home to help her celebrate. Her Godparents and their children joined in the celebration. Some relatives who brave bad weather heroically, also shared the experience. All family and friends, near and far, present or not, participated through their prayers.

She wore her special dress, which I wrote about in Saying Yes to the Confirmation Dress, and a new pair of black sneakers with white rubber soles and laces. She refused to wear her dress shoes, but I’m ok with that…she shone in her own way. When the moment came, my two daughters stood up and walked toward the Bishop together, sharing a new bond.

Find the Joy in the Journey…and the Joy in the Journey’s of others!

Is it Wrong to Kill a Spider in Church?

As part of my younger daughter’s Confirmation preparation, we went to Mass at Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrement in downtown Detroit on Sunday. I didn’t know much about the cathedral or even that they held regular services there. It is a beautiful Gothic church much like our own Parish church and several I’ve seen in Europe.  It wasn’t built to be a cathedral. It was adopted as a cathedral during the Great Depression since it wasn’t feasible to build the planned cathedral.

We walked in and found a place to sit. About halfway through the service, a large house spider sidled along the back of the pew two rows ahead of us. We both noticed it at the same time, as did two young women a row ahead of us. It was quite distracting seeing it moving silently along the pew…we were all mesmerized. I tried to watch it and listen to the Homily. The basic story was something about Michelangelo getting into a nasty argument with friends and then not being able to paint the face of Jesus on The Last Supper. He had to put his brushes down and go back to his friends and reconcile with them before doing anything else. When he returned to the canvas, then he found he could paint the face of Jesus again.

Fortunately, I was able to absorb the meaning of the Homily while so distracted. My brain was running all around on the issue of the spider. Was there another one, perhaps behind me or beside me? I sat up straighter and glanced around. I looked back at the spider. It was traveling to the left and when it got close to someone sitting in the pew facing it, it reversed course. Fortunately, there weren’t many people near it. It made its way back to the right and kept going further. Eventually, it crawled right over the top of the pew, about a foot from a woman sitting there.

No one near the spider saw it, or if they did, they didn’t react at all. I wondered, what would I do if it had crawled near me? Is it wrong to kill a spider in church? I think I would have gotten up quickly and moved to another pew, far away from the spider. I don’t like killing spiders and I am afraid to be near them. At home I do kill them, because I live there and if I don’t, I’ll always wonder where they are. At church, though…perhaps it is bad Karma to kill even a spider.

Cathedra of VigneronAfter the service, we got a tour and history lesson about the cathedral. It was renovated in recent years and the architect’s vision was of a mountain at the Baptismal font in the rear of the church which had toppled over. I really didn’t “get” the architectural vision behind this, but it explained the other six points in the church made of white marble. The main one was the cathedra…the bishop’s chair. Each bishop has a unique coat of arms, the left side represents their region, in this case, Michigan. The right side represents their family or heritage. The Archbishop grew up in Swan Creek, Michigan represented by the swan on a creek on the lower right. His name, Vigneron, which means vine tender, is represented by the grape vine at the upper right. Then there is an old-fashioned bishop’s hat on top with tassles down the side. This hat is green and shows four levels of tassles to represent that he is an archbishop.Cardinal's Hat

This next photo is of a real bishop’s hat, that of Cardinal Mooney. Superstition says that until the rope holding it up to the ceiling rots and the hat falls to the cathedral floor, the bishop’s soul won’t rise to heaven. This one has been hanging there for 55 years, but I have a feeling the Bishop isn’t haunting the Cathedral still. And I suppose, if in a moment of fright, I killed a spider in church, I’d be forgiven. We learned much more, and I took many other pictures, but I suppose I’ll most recall this visit by the spider.

Find the Joy in the Journey…and the humor in every situation!

Is It Wrong To Use Lent To Reach My Goals?

I managed to make it through Fat Tuesday with nary a paczki, or other sweets, and even lost a pound. I am hoping this is the start of breaking my 6+ week weight-loss plateau. Surely, if I give up empty calories, which in my diet are primarily found in red wine, won’t I lose weight? I have given up alcohol for Lent before, with no weight loss at all, so we’ll see.

I find myself contemplating what to give up, or what to do, for Lent that will help me with what I am already trying to do. Frankly, I am overwhelmed these days with work and personal problems and adding something new would not be helpful. Instead, I am looking over my 50 by 50 and looking for things I have started to work on that will support my physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental health.

Giving up Wine without Whining About It

Ok, maybe a little whining! This supports my physical health, although detracts from it too as red wine is heart-healthy. I suppose I could substitute pistachios and blueberries to get the same supposed benefit (I’m allergic to red grapes, so they are out). To the extent that drinking wine is an emotional crutch, I’m out of luck. I suppose this is where exercise is the correct answer. Back to my physical health, I could look at this as a win/win…as long as I can stop whining about all the exercise.

Going Back to a Regular Spiritual Practice

This is a common Lenten promise, one that in the past I’ve not even needed to make. Recent events and crazy weekend schedules, combined with a bit of turning away on my part have interrupted my spiritual practice. So, going to church tonight and back to my regular weekend schedule are in order. The rewards are better spiritual and emotional health. If I can learn to give my worries over to God, I will find much peace.

Tending to the Nutritional Needs of My Family

With our crazy schedules, my girls and I have resorted to too many nights of unbalanced meals. It’s time to be more thoughtful about what we eat for dinner. This will take some time and gradual changes, but I promise to work on this over Lent and come up with more healthful dinners that my kids will actually eat. My physical and mental health can benefit from this change.

So, I am setting up my Lenten promises to align with my existing goals. Is that wrong? I’m too tired to answer that question, so I’m going to say no. It is a wonderful way to get closer to God and benefit myself and my family in the process.

Last year, in Someday Maybe I’ll Go To Carnival—Meanwhile There Are Always Paczkis, I made the statement:

“I am a very uneven Lent practitioner, so for this year I intend to be more intentional. I intend to make a personal sacrifice, to be observant of the fasting days, and to figure out how to quiet my own mind so that I can be open to the path that is meant for me.”

This year I am being more specific. Let’s see how it goes. In the same words I used last year:

Find the Joy in the Journey and even though “thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return”, in quiet reflection may we find that Joy is always there.

The Faith Club

As the wind gusts outside, I feel chilled to the bone. It’s been in the low forties all day, but I inadvertently sat under an air conditioning vent at an off-site work event all day and ended up stiff and achy. The wind makes the temperature outside feel so much colder that I’m glad to be home. I’ve turned up the temperature, put on my Lanz flannel pajamas, and I’m still chilled. I am over a thousand miles away from Super Storm Sandy, and I feel bad for those in her way.

I’ve been contemplating my 50 by 50 project and realized that I am over halfway through my 30-month journey which I started when I turned 47 and a half on May 29, 2011. In one month I will turn 49 and will be officially in my 50th year. One of my goals was to go through this journey with joy and although joy is an elusive thing, I have found that by pushing myself to try new things and reach harder for my goals, it seems to stop by more frequently.

One of my “50’s” is to read 50 books for pleasure. I just finished number 27…yes, I’m a bit behind but I find that I read in spurts and when traveling and I know I’ll easily meet this goal. The book I read is called The Faith Club: A Muslim, A Christian, A Jew—Three Women Search for Understanding. It has been setting on my bookshelf, in a stack of about 30 books that I am always meaning to get to “someday”. I bought it when it came out in paperback, over 5 years ago. It has been top of mind on many days, and yet I never took it down and opened it up until a few days ago. In some ways I’m glad I saved it until now, although I’m sorry that it took me so long to read this treasure.

I had some preconceived notions about what I would learn in this book. I knew it would be an engaging book for me, touching on two genres that attract me. It is a book about religion and I do love to learn about different religions. It is, in a way, a triple memoir by women and I love memoir, especially by women. It was so much more than I expected, though, as I went along for the ride as these three women, strangers to one another, met with a purpose after 9/11 to understand each other’s religions.

The surprising thing to me is not that they each learned about the other two religions, but that they also learned so much more about their own faith and its importance in their lives. They met as strangers and challenged each other. They shared their beliefs, their doubts, and revealed their prejudices. They broke down barriers and became friends at a level that they probably will never have with anyone else.

I was also surprised to learn that as they opened their hearts to learn how their religions were alike and came to accept them, they each went through a crisis of faith. They grappled with how all three religions could be legitimate and yet vary on important points. In the end, they all accepted that while there were differences, at the heart all three religions were compatible, springing from the same source.

So, what did I learn? Well, on a purely technical plane, I learned that Jews are not taught that there is a heaven. This drives a very different view of life; one that can be scary, but one that can make you appreciate every day you are alive. I also learned that Muslims talk about “the people of the book”, those people who are with them in God. These people are all Muslims, all Jews, and all Christians. How strange that so many people fear Islam, when Islam embraces them. (I also found a better way to speak up for religion in general by separating the politicization of religion from the religion itself.)

Each of these women started out hesitant to talk about their religion, to defend their beliefs. In the end, each was not only comfortable and confident to speak up about their beliefs, but also comfortable and confident to speak out on behalf of the other two religions.

Warm and safe in my home as the winds of Super Storm Sandy gust around me, I pray for those in harm’s way. My prayers join with those of people all over the world, regardless of their religion or lack thereof.

Find the Joy in the Journey and open your mind and heart to those with different beliefs than your own…you may be surprised by what you find!

Finding Joy With A Wriggling Toddler-in-Arms

My recent post, Finding Joy, about realizing that when I let my spiritual practice lapse I lost one of my paths to joy, struck a note with some of my friends. One reason that can keep us away from our religious services is having a spouse with a different schedule and practice from our own. When you also have a toddler, things can get very complicated. I’ve mostly been lucky along these lines in that although my husband does not share my spiritual practice, he worked with me when the kids were little so that I could go to church.

When our third child was an infant, our oldest started his First Communion preparation and it was a priority for me to take him to church every week. He wasn’t particularly interested, making it a chore for me too. My older daughter was pretty good about it, and by leaving the baby home, we managed. When my youngest was old enough to attend the pre-school Sunday School program while I was in church, things got better. My son was perking up a bit, getting intellectually interested in the readings and sermons, so all around I was able to be present in all ways during the services.

One day, however, I got to church with all three kids and walked up to the school door to take my littlest to the pre-school. The door was locked. I tried it a few more times, in growing panic, before hanging my head and turning around. I thought about going home, but decided to tough it out in church. In hindsight, this was a big mistake, albeit one I made with the best of intentions.

You have to know my younger daughter to appreciate my problem. She is turning out to be an unapologetically independent person. She is a participant and a leader…she is up for everything and is open and welcoming with her peer group to bring them along for the fun. But at 2 and a half, she was an extremely energetic, independent-minded, firecracker! Church was not the ideal venue for her…

So, we headed into church and I chose a pew half-way back and to the side. Normally, from my background as an extremely near-sighted nerd, I like to sit up front and center. I knew better on that particular day. I had not prepared for this situation…I had no quiet toys in my purse, no coloring book and crayons…so I dug out a pen and a scrap of paper. This didn’t last very long. Before I knew it, she’d crawled under the pew in front of us and escaped to the aisle…her hard-soled shoes banged loudly as she ran away.

Recaptured, with me red-faced, we returned to the pew. More pen and paper…then she crawled behind the back of one of her siblings and proceeded to lay on her back and bang her feet against the pew. I recaptured her and tried to hold onto her wriggling self. Pretty soon I set her down again and she tried once again to crawl under the seats in front of us. I dragged her back and she seemed ok with the pen and paper…until she started singing. Do You Know The Muffin Man?  Well, I do…and so do all the people who were at services in my church that day. Sigh.

I survived that day, but I came away with no spiritual growth. I was embarrassed by my daughter’s disruptive behavior and I was completely stressed out the entire time I was there and had a heightened level of stress for the rest of the day. But the real kicker, was finding out after church that the pre-school had been open…I’d just arrived when no one was at the door to let us in. This was two years post 9/11…the sense of security, even in a small city church, meant that the school door was locked at all times.

Sometimes the journey is hard, and the joy is elusive…try to find the Joy in the Journey anyway!

Finding Joy

Recently, I’ve had trouble finding the joy in my life; life has been getting me down lately. Just this past week, however, I came across two things online reminding me about how to find joy.  The first was in reference to a speech that Stephen Colbert made at Fordham, a Jesuit university, on September 14th. The second was about a book on running for children. Seeing two references to joy in one week made me start thinking about my own effort to live a joyful journey and how I’ve gotten off track lately.

I’m not a star gazer, a reader of People Magazine, nor a watcher of Entertainment Tonight…and since I had my first baby 19 years ago, I don’t catch much of the movie buzz, catching up on DVD when I can. Which is to say, I wouldn’t know a celebrity if they stepped on my foot. So, I can’t say that I know much about Colbert accept that he’s a comedian. But what I read in the article about his talk at Fordham, makes me appreciate that he loves the Church but isn’t afraid to poke fun at its weaknesses.

The article, “Stephen Colbert, NY Cardinal Dolan tell Fordham students Catholic life should be about joy “, in The Washington Post, doesn’t give a direct quote, but here is what it says about the church and joy:

…he [Stephen Colbert] said he views the church as teaching joy, which he called the “infallible sign of the presence of God.”

When I read that, I knew I was creating part of my own problem because I haven’t been to church for much of the summer. Now, I put going to church on my objectives for the year…I considered it a “gimme”, because I am a regular church-goer. Summer threw me off. There were many small trips late in spring and early in summer followed by my great vacation to Ecuador. Then there were the many coming and goings of my children.

Our Sundays were disrupted. When I did go back, it was to strangers in the pulpit. My pastor is on leave and I miss him terribly. He could speak directly to our community, relating the Gospel and readings to our everyday lives and leaving us with things to think about and work on in the weeks ahead. The first Sunday that he was gone, a Bishop filled in. He probably hadn’t said a regular Mass in decades…I think he pulled his homily off of a website for priests…it was, well, theologically well written…but it didn’t touch us directly. He read it off of some sheets printed off of the computer.

Our Pastor would have been in front of the dais, walking in front of the front pews, looking us in the eyes as he shared his perspective and a personal story or two, to help us see the relevance of ancient texts to our lives. It’s unclear if and when he’ll be back and we’ve been assigned a senior priest to be our interim pastor. You have to admire the administrative efficiency of the Church…and he seems very likeable and intent on doing a great job until a permanent solution is reached.

So, I decided to make it a priority to start going to church regularly as the new school year sets in. Then I had a challenge…my younger daughter invited a friend over for the night and she lives quite far away. I agreed to take her to meet her dad half-way between our homes at a time that made it impossible to go to the late service. So, I decided, that even if my daughters weren’t ready for the early service, I would go. I hate going alone, but so be it…they aren’t always going to be around to attend with me anyway…

So, I’m back. I’ve learned that finding joy is a journey and the way to find joy in the journey is to treat joy as a practice. Just like my running and my writing, there is hard work involved upfront. The joy comes when you are prepared, yet when you least expect it.

Find the Joy in the Journey!