Book of the Dead

When I met Ben’s family, one of the stories that I heard about was his grandfather’s “Book of the Dead.” If he had a bad experience at a restaurant, gas station, you name it, often it went into the Book of the Dead. Meaning he would not go back. There was one restaurant that he didn’t go back to for something like 30 or 40 years because of the poor service he had experienced all those years earlier. When I asked Ben what the name of the restaurant was, his response was, “Which one?”

Ben’s mom still jokes about this and has her own version of the book of the dead. When we move to Kansas this winter it will be the first time she and his dad have driven in the state since the Ice/Wind Storm of one of his childhood trips to Colorado. Fingers crossed Kansas doesn’t get a double entry!

I have recently begun using the Hallow app. The app is full of Catholic prayers, resources and meditations. It’s very peaceful and has a multitude of ways to engage in prayer. There are psalms, homilies, guided silence, and Lectio Divina. I have been trying to do the guided Lectio Divina each day as well as a Divine Mercy Chaplet. I will be honest, one of the things I really like is the timer feature. For nearly every experience you can choose how long you want it to be. If I know I have time, I can do my Lectio for 30 minutes (I haven’t actually gotten to do this yet, but it’s nice to know the option is there for someday!) Or, if I know the kids will be awake soon, I can set it for only 5 or 10 (what usually happens).

The Lectio passage from a few days ago had some interesting words to say about life and death. It was a short Gospel, and to be honest it isn’t one I’ve really noticed before. The meditation was on Luke 20:37-38. This passage is part of a longer story where the Sadducees are trying to trick Jesus into making judgments about what happens after people die. Jesus, of course, answers their question in a way they don’t expect and wins the day.

Part of His answer was to point out that God is the God of the living, not the dead, for “to Him all are alive.” I had to stop and really think about that for a minute. No one is dead to God, for even the dead on earth are still living souls in eternity. Their bodies may be gone, but their soul remains forever.

This, I believe, is big news for the past year. How often have we heard people (ahem, and maybe our selves?) exclaiming that they want this year over, that it’s time to move one, that it’s dead to them, or in Ben’s grandpa’s words, ought to be put in the Book of the Dead? But no, this isn’t what Jesus wants us to do with the year we have been given!

There has been pain, suffering and death in this year. Fact. We cannot sugar coat the tragedies, the sorrow and the large sacrifices that have taken place all over the world. Many, if not most, people have personally encountered the pandemic’s devastating effects on their families, friends and workplaces. It has been a hugely difficult year. But that doesn’t mean it should be written off, left for dead or abandoned.

Jeff Cavins has an excellent book, When You Suffer: Biblical Keys for Hope and Understanding, which I highly recommend (I posted a review of it a while back if you’re interested in checking that out). Cavins fully acknowledges that suffering is painful, challenging and a universal truth of human existence. Everyone suffers. But, as Christians and especially as Catholics, suffering is much more than this. It is also an “immense treasure” because of what we can choose to do with our suffering (pg 157). Quoting Fr. Mike Schmitz, Cavins asserts: “Suffering without Christ just hurts. But suffering with Christ can transform the world” (ibid).

Many of us have experienced suffering of a new level than we have previously. We have suffered isolation, loss, loneliness, sacrifice and more. But do not let that be the end of the story for 2020. Suffering united with Christ’s passion, using the power of our suffering to grow beyond ourselves and offer it for the suffering of others, and other tools Cavins explores in his book are all ways to discover the transformative potential this year has given to us.

With Advent at our doorstep, a new liturgical year is dawning. Advent is an excellent opportunity for focused spiritual reading, intentional prayer time, and closeness with the Holy Family. If you are able to find a copy of Jeff Cavins’ book, I very much recommend it to everyone. Don’t forget about the free Advent journals I have created for your personal use as well. They are still available and will always be free to print.

I hope that you had a joyful Thanksgiving, even if it was a smaller one. If you haven’t already, this weekend is a beautiful opportunity to take some time to write down what you are grateful for this past year. It’s easy to think of negative things first. Give yourself time to really dig into the year. Go back through your planner, your Facebook or Instagram accounts. What brings a smile to your face? When did you have a sense of peace, of happiness, or contentment? This is also an excellent way to begin preparing for the Advent season.

Wishing you and yours a Happy Thanksgiving weekend and a blessed First Sunday of Advent.

Daily Graces. kktaliaferro.wordpress.com

Book Review: Rejoice! Advent Meditations with Mary

I’m a sucker for beautiful pictures of Mary. Especially when she is pregnant or while Jesus is young. As a youngish mom with four kids I connect very strongly with this image. The hopeful expectation, the waiting, the she-totally-gets-how-it-feels-when-I-can’t-roll-over feeling, all of it. It’s probably why Advent is one of my favorite liturgical seasons. I’m surrounded by these images of Mary and the Holy Family and it brings my heart so much joy. The new Advent meditation journal Rejoice! by Fr. Mark Toups is full of beautiful reflection and gorgeous paintings. And I mean gorgeous! So gorgeous if anyone wanted to give me the set to hang in my house I would be overjoyed…hint hint.

Rejoice! is published by Ascension Press, so you know it’s solid in its theology, wisdom and direction. I have gone through the entire book and used so many book darts! The book encourages imaginative prayer, which is a prayer form that I think our culture is uniquely suited for but no one talks about much. Imaginative prayer comes to us as a formal prayer from from St. Ignatius. Fr. Toups explains that “we imaginatively see the persons in the Bible passage, we hear the words they speak, and we observe the actions they accomplish in the event.” It’s taking the time to slow down enough to be in the scene. 

Then, after spending time within the passage, you move onto a method called A.R.R.R. – Acknowledge, Relate, Receive, Respond. You acknowledge how God is stirring within you, you relate to God (this means talking straight to God, not thinking about what you think God thinks or wants you to think, but real and deep sharing of everything that was brought to your mind), receive what God is sharing with you and lastly, respond to what you’ve received. You are also encouraged to journal about your experience so you can look back and see how you’ve grown and how God has shaped you during this Advent. 

What is so cool, and I didn’t pick up on until reflecting back on the meditations as a whole, is that Fr. Toups very gently leads you through this A.R.R.R. process over the four weeks of Advent. The first week is spent looking deeply at where God is in our life. The second is about relating with God in a vulnerable and authentic way. The third is about our receptivity, how open and empty are we so that we might receive God more fully. And the fourth, though short this year, challenges us to respond proactively to what we have experienced over the four weeks. It’s so brilliant.

Ascension, has carefully thought through the whole package. Their ideal for the meditations as stated in the very beginning, is for this to be a community walk with Mary. There are additional videos that offer fresh and expanded insights on each of the four weeks of Advent. They have free videos online right now, plus there is an Advent Mission Kick-off video which is about thirty minutes to help your small group or parish get things going. You can also sign up to have the weekly videos sent straight to your email if you are hosting a gathering in your home, or if you are simply journeying as a family. Community is an integral part of holiness and I love how it is gently and thoughtfully woven into this journal experience. 

If your parish is looking for something to do together this Advent season, it’s not too late to get your journals in bulk. Be brave, if this review has inspired you bring it to your priest or parish coordinator. You could be the spark that begins a wonderful Advent experience for your whole community.

I can totally see our family using this journal around the dinner table, and sharing in a joint imaginative prayer experience with our children – aren’t they the best at it? As I was writing this review, my seven year old came up and asked what I was doing. After I explained and we went through the pictures, he said “That’s cool,” and walked away. Later that day, he was sitting with his four year old sister and I overheard him saying,

“Clare, we have to get ready for Advent. Mommy has a book and it has pictures of Mary in it. It helps her get ready for Advent. What comes after Advent?”

“Christmas!” she shouted.

“Right,” he said, “So we all have to get ready for Jesus.”

How precious, and that’s just from looking at the pictures! Also, p.s., the pictures are all free and available right now to download for your phone or computer to use throughout Advent. Check them out here. You know I already have them downloaded. I hope you check this journal out, maybe even share it with a friend or two or twenty!

Daily Graces. kktaliaferro.wordpress.com

Book Review: It’s OK to Start with You (Read to the end for a chance to win a free copy!)

Which present would you rather receive? Option A: The beautifully packaged, well thought out, carefully selected exactly for you or Option B: The hastily wrapped in a paper bag regifted white elephant oh shoot I forgot to get a present present? Which gift would you rather give? Option A: The present you spent time creating, or thoughtfully selecting, presented in a manner that is pleasing both to you and the recipient or Option B: The last card in your card drawer with a half hearted IOU promise for a lunch treat at an undisclosed later date?

I think we all know that in both cases, Option A is the preferred choice. There is something about giving and receiving gifts that fills both the gift-giver and the gift-receiver with joy. In Julia Marie Hogan’s new book It’s OK to Start With You, Julia explores how the care of self is actually a form of gift giving:

When we aren’t our best selves, it shows. Think about it: When you’re exhausted and overwhelmed, you simply can’t be the friend, family member, significant other, coworker, or boss you want to be. Even worse, neglecting our well-being makes it nearly impossible to live life as authentic Christians, because we aren’t caring for ourselves the way God calls us to. After all, Jesus tells us to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt 22:39, emphasis added). page 11-12

its ok to start with youJulia introduces her reader to authentic self care, which is actually quite challenging and requires a dedicated level of discipline. But don’t let that hold you up. Julia is gentle with her instruction. This book is full of examples of what to look for in your life that would indicate you are in need of a little TLC. As a licensed clinical professional counselor and psychotherapist, Julia has helped many people identify and adjust their habits in order to lead more authentic lives. She is also very honest with her reader about how she is not perfect and has had to take the time to step back and reassess her choices regarding self-care.

What is so great in this book is that she breaks things down into 5 main categories of self care:

  1. Taking care of your body
  2. Prioritizing mental health
  3. Managing emotions
  4. Nurturing relationships
  5. Making time for prayer

This book is mean to be worked with, and you can bounce around if you wish. In the middle, after establishing what self care is and what self-care isn’t (I’ll give you a hint, self-care isn’t eating 5 snickers bars while binge watching Netflix. Nor is it depriving yourself of adequate sleep because you are helping a friend a work who always needs last minute help), Julia offers a self assessment quiz. By simply answering “Agree” or “Disagree” to a series of questions, you are able to see what areas of your life you have self-care figured out, and what areas you need to pay more attention to.

Julia then walks through each area with its own chapter, making it easy to jump to what you need, since you’re sure to be excited to dive right in! Within each chapter are some questions to answer to help guide you in thinking about self-care and making a plan for the way forward. The book concludes with space and guidance for building your own self-care plan as well as some sample plans from hypothetical case studies to serve as inspiration.

It’s OK to Start with You is a multi-function book. Each chapter concludes with some reflection or discussion questions making it perfect for a group study. It also is written with both men and women in mind, so anyone can use it. A student just starting college would benefit from this book just as much as a business executive or stay at home mom.

We all, regardless of gender, situation, or location, are made in the image of God. We are called to love one another as we love ourselves, and we cannot love others as God wishes us to if we aren’t taking care of the selves we have been given. God gave us the gift of life, so that we could share it with others. We need to care for that gift, not for selfish purposes, but for selfless purposes. A common saying is that you can’t give what you don’t have. If you aren’t caring for yourself, you would be able to give of your self in your relationships, home, work, or any area of your life.

I really liked this imagery that Julia used to describe self-care.

It can also be helpful to think of yourself as an instrument for God’s purposes, like a paintbrush. When you are unkind to yourself, all you have to offer him is a worn, tired, sparse paintbrush. But when you care for yourself, you are a shiny, sleek, full paint brush that can be used to create great works of art. (p 40)

If you enjoyed this review, check back next week! From Sept. 10-14 there is going to be a blog tour that I’m involved in to promote this book, and the important topic of self-care. Be sure to see my post on Sept. 14, looking at the spiritual dimension of self-care.

To learn more about Julia, be sure to visit her website: https://www.juliamariehogan.com/

• Julia’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/juliahoganlpc/

• Julia’s Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/juliahoganlcpc/

• Book Listing: https://www.osvcatholicbookstore.com/product/it-s-ok-to-start-with-you

• Blog tour post on Julia’s website: juliamariehogan.com/blog/blog-tour (the post will be live on Sept. 10)

• Check out Julia’s contest details!: We’ll also be hosting a chance to win a copy of the book, It’s Ok to Start with You! To enter, visit Julia’s Instagram blog tour post and comment with the new self-care practice you will try. Contest ends Friday, September 14th, 2018 and the winner will be chosen at random on Monday, September 17th, 2018.

Daily Graces. kktaliaferro.wordpress.com