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Blog 9/12/13

Here we go again, back into the cave…..


School bells all over the country have been ringing, calling students and teachers back to the classrooms.  In Plato’s Republic, Socrates describes his dreams for education of the polis in terms of his allegory of the cave.  The uneducated citizens are dwelling in a cave, chained to the wall, seeing only shadows from the outside world.  It is up to those who live outside the cave in the sunlight and have some knowledge to go back down into the cave and shed some light on the world for yet another generation.  It is their task to pull them up into the light.  The educated were once cave dwellers themselves, so they may remember how difficult it was to come out of the dark and to leave the security of the shadow life.  The realities of the world, however, are illuminated by the sun, so it is a necessary journey.
This weekend, too, all across the country, Catholic parishes are gearing up for another year of faith formation.  Catechetical Sunday is celebrated this weekend and all catechists will be commissioned to go forth and teach.  They all have their books and school supplies, and are eager to share the Good News with their young charges.  Adult faith formation programs are also being scheduled and Bible Study classes are continuing once more.  The theme this year is “Open the Doors of Faith” during this “Year of Faith”.  The “Year of Faith” was set aside in order to revisit the teachings and documents of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65).  That council brought such renewal and excitement to the Church fifty years ago, on this anniversary year, the faithful are being invited once again to plumb its riches.   
Maple leaves.400
 Children’s flute lessons and guitar lessons and tap and ballet classes are revving up again as well.  Choirs are reforming after a summer hiatus and pulling out some of their old favorites and some new scores.  Soccer teams are forming, football teams and rowing teams are out there every day now practicing their skills.  Horseback riding  aficionados are back in the saddle learning how to canter and follow their drills.  Fall is here.  The learning has begun.  Every year, I stand back and just take in all the learning that begins at this time of year.  One can almost hear the growing, see the transformations.  Students are doing their reading and their assignments.  At the beginning of a new year, everyone is excited about that cave journey.  
brown leaves.400
At this time of year, one of my favorite philosophers often gets my attention, for he points out how we sometimes miss out on meeting a fabulous teacher if we are not attentive.  Jean Jacques Rousseau would tell us that “nature” is one of our best teachers.  In his classic text on pedagogy, Emile, he recommended that students learn outside, that they do so even through the elements of hot and cold and snow and rain, that they learn with a “hands-on” approach and that each student shape his own curriculum by what interests him the most (his ideas about women’s education leave a bit to be desired, but we get his drift).  Rather radical for 18th century France, but educators have been listening to him ever since. 
fall leaves.300
Nature is a powerful teacher.  All we have to do, though, is consider the source.  God is the one who fashioned all we see and know of nature, so when we pay attention to it, sometimes we can get small glimpses of its Creator.  There is such beauty and design in a plant growing from a tiny seedling to a full grown flower or vegetable or tree.  This spring, Bill planted just three winter squash plants, grown from just three simple seeds, which are each a little bit larger than a cucumber seed, and last week we harvested 35 large winter squashes and there are still another dozen on the vine still growing!  If God can do that for a simple squash pant, imagine what God can do with us if we let him.  In New England, this time of year is breath-taking.  The colors are beginning to dazzle us as we take in the changes of the trees as they react from the cooler weather and prepare for the colder weather to come with a fantastic splash of autumn hues.
Animals sense the cooler weather is not far off, too.  The goats will soon begin to grow their winter coats, and it will soon be breeding time in order to have baby goats next spring.  The days are getting shorter, so the ducks and chickens are acting accordingly.  The chickens lay eggs according to hours of sunlight, so as the days become shorter, they begin to conserve energy by slowing down their laying.  They may even begin to molt, or lose some of their feathers, which is a signal to them to slow up a bit and take a rest. Some animals even head for hibernation, that quiet period when they try to conserve energy in the colder weather.  Bill is already stacking wood and looking at the piles of wood yet to be split.  It won’t be long before we start up the woodstove upon rising to take the chill out of the air.   There is a rhythm to the four seasons for those of us who live in these special places.  We move in a kind of dance from one season to another.  May our loving God be praised!

Blog 8/29/2013

Summer sharing – a gift of our Creator to his creatures…..
Summer at Mystical Ventures seems to be a time for sharing.  We have lots of fresh produce, so it is easy to offer guests some of this and some of that when they come to visit.  Yesterday, however, I had a special treat with a different type of sharing.  I got to share with an old friend that I haven’t seen in quite a few years, since she had moved to Florida, but recently moved back to New England.  
best friends
We had a nice visit for a couple hours, and we got caught up on all the news and the grandchildren and who was living where with our children, how her husband was doing and how she was doing after they both moved from health concerns to new jobs and back.  She got a mini-tour of MV and got to see the goats just as I finished milking Julian yesterday morning. We talked about old friends and who was doing what.  I learned about some mutual friends and how they were doing after retirement, who else was retiring and who was not, who was passing the reigns to a younger crew and who was still working in the trenches.   I also learned a surprise that two of our mutual  acquaintances in town who had been quietly sharing with others by offering spiritual retreats and giving “time apart for others” were now transitioning to a quieter time of life for themselves and instead had invited some good sisters to pick up the retreat work they had begun. The sisters should be arriving next week.   They will truly be welcome, for in our country outpost here in God’s country, there are very few religious sisters.
Last week, our parish book club continued reading and sharing with a local synagogue group the pope’s new book that he co-wrote with an Argentinean rabbi, On Heaven and Earth.  All of us got to share a lot of our questions and insights to the text, and we had some interesting discussions.  We also got to share a little about who we were as people of G_d, too.  We talked about some of our similarities and some of our differences.
We learned that the women were getting ready to learn how to make Challah bread for the high holidays and I mentioned that we sometimes make the same bread at Easter to remember our Jewish roots.   We were given a short tour of the beautiful synagogue and learned a bit more about how others pray and learn. They gave us two copies of a book as a gift that they had published as a congregation, and several said, “Let’s do this again!” as we were leaving.   It was a good sharing.
Bill spent time again yesterday morning as he has been doing every Tuesday morning helping the local food pantry stock shelves and unload the St. Vincent de Paul truck when it comes from the “Boston Food Bank” loaded with meats and fresh produce and numerous packaged goods.  
Nearly 500 people pass through that pantry every month in our area.  My friend who visited yesterday saw similar efforts being made in the next town over, and they are serving over 400 people per month there.  So many people are in need, but there are also so many volunteers, that freely give of their time and share with those who have less. They are such a blessing.
This past week, Bill and I went to a birthday party of our two year old beautiful granddaughter.  Our gift to her, even though it was a bit tardy and took a while to assemble, was a memory quilt.  That is a quilt of squares from various family members and friends from both sides of the family.  We started this practice a while back, so when a new child was born, all the women and sometimes the young girls would each make a quilt square and share our ideas or expertise in fashioning a memory for her or him.  I sew them together, and quilt them, but the most fun has often been in seeing all the different ways each family member shares something of themselves with this new family member.  
abby quilt
Some are embroidered; some are silk-screened or appliquéd; some are iron-on patches with fabric paint or fabric pens.  Some are little animals, or princesses, or story time characters, or sports symbols or Bible verses.  If there are enough squares, sometimes a matching pillow accompanies the quilt.  It is a great way to share one’s love and to create a memory of all those who love this new child.  Happy Birthday, Abby!
I had a new rather modern experience of sharing today.  I attended a webinar.  A “web-a-what” you say?  A webinar is an online class given by someone or some team to folks on line.  This one was how to utilize parish or religious websites more effectively and to begin to take seriously how to spread the Good News in a digital age.  Our hosts were a man and his wife from the Midwest who gave up their careers two years ago and have been sharing with others their expertise in helping parishes and those who want to share their faith through the internet to do so.  
on line friends
I have to admit, it was a bit different, but if evangelizing in the future is going to include going to Bible study or theology class in one’s pajamas in front of one’s laptop or Ipad in the comfort of one’s one home, who are we to question? In some ways we have to trust the Spirit will blow where the Spirit wishes.  We need only to follow.  Again, this week, we are graced with the blessings of summer.  The slower, warmer season affords us extra reflective time to recognize all the different ways in which we are called to share with others.  May we who are made in the image and likeness of the Almighty come in some small way to appreciate the immense sharing God is already doing with us.  May our God be always praised!

Blog 8/11/13

There is a time for everything under the heavens.....
August reminds me of anniversaries and weddings and birthdays and ways of marking time.  We’ve turned that seasonal corner since the end of June, and every day now the days are getting just a little shorter in terms of daylight.  Almost a minute per day, the light is ebbing away and we all know that crisp autumn air cannot be far behind.  Here in New England, this last week has ushered in beautiful almost fall-like days, albeit a little early.  Parents are out school shopping, children are reluctantly getting those pens and pencils ready once more, and those new college bound young adults are busy stocking up on what they think they will need in their new homes away from home.
Minney Mouse.resized
In August, Bill and I marked our 43rd wedding anniversary and one of our sons recently marked his third.  A very precious granddaughter of ours just sent us an invitation to her Minney Mouse birthday party in a few weeks when she will turn two.  Our eldest daughter celebrates her birthday this month as does my youngest brother.   We have begun the harvesting, for the vegetables and fruits and berries are all beginning to ripen or need picking.  Tomatoes are being canned, green beans cleaned chopped and frozen, vinegars made with fresh herbs, and some wonderful salads enjoyed.  What was started in April or May is now coming to fruition.  The plants and berries took time to get where they are.  The elderberries that were amass with flowers just a few weeks ago are now turning into berries.  If we leave that grass alone with a little water and sun, it continues to grow and grow and grow.  Growing takes time.  The baby ducks, chickens and goats are no longer babies.  
anniversary box
When we marked our 40th wedding anniversary a few years ago, our seven children gave us the most amazing gift.  It was a huge red and white shoebox, decorated with red ribbons and plastic rubies (40th is ruby, I guess), and filled with 365 cards of memories they had growing up.  Complete with pictures and illustrations, some were hilarious, some were very thoughtful, some we had forgotten, but all were made with a great deal of love.  We were supposed to “mark the time” for the coming year by pulling one card per day to remind us of all the memories.  We did so, taking turns each day to pick those cards, and it was a lot of fun.  In one shoebox, we saw our children being born, taking their first step, getting on that school bus for the first time, the ballet recitals, school concerts, baseball games, special dinners and holidays, graduations, marriage proposals and weddings, the birth of grandchildren, and many, many more events that occurred throughout those forty years of time.  
Sometimes, people remark that the older one gets, the faster time seems to move.  I’m sure time moves just the same today as it did thousands of years ago, but it seems to accelerate I think when we’ve seen so much of it.  Time is usually a little more relaxed during the summer.  Summer helps us to de-accelerate, to slow up.  We have more time to read or reflect or simply listen to the ducks quacking to each other, or a tiny little wren that’s only 4-5 inches big absolutely sing her heart out and mesmerize all of us with her songs.  
sun dial.resized
Autumn has long been one of my favorite seasons, since I love the climate and the colors, but also because everyone is usually back in school and back into routines, and I’ve often thought if you listen carefully, you can almost hear people grow.  But summer has its place, too, in our growing and learning and understanding.  It’s the season when time affords us those opportunities to let it all sink in.  We can study oceanography all we want, spend years exploring  the ins and outs of tides and timetables, but eating stuffed quahogs or fried clams while wiggling your toes on a sandy beach next to that same ocean can fill in all the blanks.  Or, we can spend hours and hours planning menus, clipping coupons, and running to grocery stores and the garden for food supplies, but sitting in our own backyard with the smell of a charcoal grill wafting through the air lets the work of all those hours sink in.
We can also reflect on the time it took to meet and get to know our spouse: the dating, the special times together, the first kiss, first argument, first making up, first time for meeting the in-laws, etc., and then to realize that the two of you wanted to be partners for the rest of your life.  Relationships take time.  We can recall the time we took trying to discern what we were going to be when we grew up, whether to take this job or that, and when the decision was made, all the people we met and who crossed our path because of that decision.   We can recall all the time it took to raise our children, how time for each one of them was necessary is some way.  I remember in our home when the children were small, we had special times that we used to call “nights up,” a practice in which we gave each child one special night a week they could stay up late with mom and dad and just get some one on one attention (with seven, it worked out pretty well).  Or, there were other times, when we all enjoyed omelets for breakfast on Sunday mornings before we all went to Church to spend some of our time with the Lord.  Getting to know Our Lord takes time.   
Time is a human construct though.  God is eternal and has no need of it.  For God, everything is that eternal now.  But we do need the time, the time to plant and the time to grow and the time to harvest, but most especially we need the time to devote to our Lord God.  That relationship more than any other needs our time.  Isn’t it wonderful that God has given us summer for that to sink in?!

Blog 7/25/2013

Announcing a new adventure this summer… online store to the website…..
What are you doing with your summer?  Most folks I know try to relax a bit more during the summer.  There are more family get-togethers, more trips to the beach, some trips to camp or to visit Grandma and Grandpa, more time for prayer and reflection.  If one is fortunate enough to have some time off from one’s regular job, summer means more time to sleep in a little, not to get up at the crack of dawn, and to even give one’s watch a well deserved rest.  It means longer days, hotter weather, moonlit nights, more activities outdoors, more barbeques, cook-outs and corn on a cob.  A lot of people I know enjoy summer reading, too, whether that is on a beach or in a backyard or simply in one’s favorite chair.
summer books
 Summer here has meant a lot of growing.  The ducks and chicks and baby goats are all getting bigger.  The vegetables, fruits and berries are all growing and we are now in the midst of harvesting them one at a time, and probably will be until the first frost.  We had a nasty heat wave that seemed to linger for weeks.  When it finally broke, just a few days ago, we lost one of our goat kids to the heat (Francis) and that was sad.  
One of our outside guard dogs, Sophie, is challenging us in new un-thought of ways with her expertise in escaping.   She even got out the other night with a cloth choke collar attached to a 20 foot lead, lead and all.  She was wet and smelled swampy when she got home, but as soon as we went out in the morning, there she was sitting next to the ducks, looking like nothing was wrong.  How she got her lead off a 2 X 4 beam in one of the goat sheds is beyond us.
Sophie.cropped and two
We were blessed with having our 6-year old granddaughter come to visit for a few weeks and she got to feed all the animals, milk the goat, gather the eggs and pick blueberries as well as play with some of our other grandchildren around here and meet some of the local kitties.  I got to see “Despicable Me II” and I found out I’ve been out of the loop for a while in terms of childhood films.  But when we reintroduced “Heidi” who raised the same kind of goats that we have with her grandfather, and “Oliver Twist,” which was a little scary, but full of good messages, some of the classics made a comeback.  
girls and kities.401
I marveled at my granddaughter’s comfort with navigating an I Pad better than her grandmother and we learned strange new ways of playing games electronically.   I Pad or no, a favorite is still playing checkers on the floor checker game rug.  One of our cousins from New Hampshire went home to God this month (May God grant rest to Gerry’s soul), and another one was born to our cousins on the Cape (Welcome, little Connor!), so the circle of life is continuing.
Here at MV, we are also embarking a couple new adventures.  This week, you may notice that we have added an “online store” to the website.  When Bill retired last December, some friends gave him a couple classes at a local pottery school and he discovered he loves it!  Since Julian is also freely giving us milk at this time, too, I have decided to try my hand at making goat’s milk soap, though even the soaps I may make today will need six weeks to cure.  So we opened an online store to sell some of our wares and added a few apparel items with our logo embroidered on each.  Hopefully, the income from these items will pay to keep the website up and running smoothly and take a dent out of the feed costs for the animals.  So, today, we are launching Bill’s pottery and Karen’s goat milk soaps.  Down the line, we may add Karen’s quilting and Bill’s photography as well, but for now, this is plenty to keep us busy.
While summer appears to be a quiet time on the parish and prayer front, it is really not so.  A lot of planning is going on during these quieter times, and these quieter times afford us more space and time to reflect and to pray.  We are not as hurried as we are during the school year, so we can as Aquinas would say, “take delight in the Lord”!  I met with a wonderful group of young parents who are trying to think of new ways to better bring the Gospel message into their homes.  Our parish book club met with a local synagogue group and we read together the pope’s new book that he co-wrote with an Argentinean rabbi.   We met some wonderful faith filled people there as we got to know “the other” just a bit more.   Different groups are planning various adult faith formation opportunities for the fall and academic year, and school teachers, curriculum designers and superintendents are exploring many avenues to see how to better communicate knowledge and God’s loving messages to students.
summer lillies
So, enjoy some of your favorite books this summer.  Take a walk with a friend after dinner some evening while the daylight hours still grace us.  Play a game or two with a child to rediscover wonder.   Care for an animal in some small way, for they give so much back to us.  Eat a few more meals outside and take in the beauty of the season.  Go for a swim and feel the buoyancy of the water and as the water holds you, pray that God hold you and all you love in the palm of his hand.  Thank you God, for the gift of summer!    

Blog 7/15/2013

The Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel will soon be here.  Carmelites nuns, friars and secular members worldwide are in the midst of a nine-day novena to prepare for the feast.  Our Lady of Mt. Carmel is the Marian title that the Carmelites have used to address Our Lady and to recall their origins.  A Christian order that was technically founded in the 12th - 13th centuries and reformed in the 16th - 17th centuries by St.  Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, it is the only order I know that traces its earliest origins back to a figure from the Hebrew Scriptures, Elijah.  Mt. Carmel is also a place in the Holy Land in Palestine.  In ancient times, it was a barrier to traffic along the coastline near the Jezreel Valley.  It is a 1500 foot limestone edifice that is also a symbol of beauty and fertility.  Today, there is a Carmelite monastery near Mt. Carmel that has a statue of Elijah celebrating God’s victory over the prophets of Baal.  The mount is mentioned in Scripture in the Book of Isaiah (35:2): the “splendor of Mt. Carmel” and again in Solomon’s Song of Songs (7:5): “your head crowns you like Mt. Carmel”.  Tradition tells us that Elijah left this earth in a fiery chariot up to heaven, and one of his boldest claims was “with zeal I have been zealous for the Lord, God of Hosts” (1 Kings 19:14).  Those words have become the motto of the Carmelite order, and it is this mystical chariot ride with his zestful proclamation that has drawn Carmelites to him.  Both he and they have a passion for God.
Zion mount carmel highway view
Rev. Eamon Carroll, O.Carm. tells us that in the Church’s calendar three of Our Lady’s days are named for places sacred to the memory of Mary.  One is Lourdes (Feb. 11), another is St. Mary Major (Aug. 5th, dedication of the principle Roman church in the Blessed Virgin’s honor), and the third is Carmel, the site in the Holy Land forever associated with Our Lady of Mt. Carmel (July 16). Carroll continues to tell us that Carmel was a place sanctified by the memory of Elijah and his followers, men of prayer who fought for the rights of the true God nine hundred years before Christ.  Christian writers would later interpret Elijah’s vision of the cloud rising from the Mediterranean sea, presage of a terrible drought, as a symbol of the Blessed Virgin Mary, whose Son would be the messiah and savior (I Kings 18:42-45), and the first reading of the Carmelite proper for Mass on the feast, July 16th.  Holy hermits living solitary lives have lived along the slopes of Mt. Carmel ever since.  During the second crusade (1147-49 C.E.), a group of Latin Westerners began to do the same.  St. Albert, the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem at the time, gave them a rule to follow, including a command to build an oratory within each hermit's cell.  The hermits began to turn not only to Elijah, but to Our Lady as well for their inspiration, and initially called her "Our Lady of the Place, referring to the oratories.  They began to associate and focus on Mary’s presence with the Incarnation, but also with Joseph, and Joachim and Ann, Mary’s parents.  “From the initial oratory of Mount Carmel dedicated to the Virgin Mary, Mother of God, Carmelites derived the custom of dedicating their chapels and churches to Our Lady.” (Welcome to Carmel, 117-118).
Our Lady of Mt. Carmel
So, from ancient times, “men of prayer” have lived quiet solitary lives along this mount dedicating themselves to the Lord and to Our Lady.  Men and women of prayer have assumed this particular charism in the Church today, praying and teaching others how to pray.  Even though many of the women are still cloistered and many of the men hold retreats and preach missions and help out in parishes, both act as spiritual directors for many, showing them the ways to pray and grow closer to the Lord, God of Hosts.  They often take their cues from giants in our communion of saints, like Elijah and Elisha, St. Albert of Jerusalem, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Therese of Lisieux, Elizabeth of the Trinity, Edith Stein or St. Teresia Benedicta of the Cross, and many more.
On July 16, 1251, Our Lady appeared to St. Simon Stock, a Carmelite, and gave him the brown scapular, telling him: "This shall be a privilege for you and all Carmelites that anyone dying in this habit shall not suffer eternal fire."  The Church later extended this privilege to all laity who are willing to be invested (to receive it) and who perpetually wear it.  Originally a scapular was a long straight garment that one would wear front and back over one's clothing; those who wear religious habits today still wear them.  Today, the long scapular has been abbreviated to a small brown piece of fabric to symbolize that one is covered by our Lady's protection and is worn around the neck with some religius artwork sewn on top of it.  Since Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross, and numerous other Carmelites came from Sapin, in many Spanish and Hispanic cultures, people are invited to receive the scapular on the feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel.  The scapular is a silent prayer and is a small tradition to remind us of Our Lady's protection and concern for us. 
As we prepare for the feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, whether we are associated with any Carmelites or not, it is good for us to embrace some moments of solitude and silent prayer, to embrace the quiet and to listen for that still small voice.  May Our Lady prepare our hearts to do so.

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