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The After Holiday Blues

By Sister Sallie Latkovich

The “after holiday blues” is what many of us experience after the hustle and bustle of the holidays: the various celebrations with family and friends, time off of work, and the fun of it all. There is a time of withdrawal from all of that, as we resume something of a normal life and schedule. That transition may be accompanied by feelings of some sadness—the after holiday blues.

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What can we do to beat the blues?  I’d suggest following all of the good advice we hear on ever so many TV Commercials, promoting physical health. These same suggestions can promote inner and spiritual health as well.

 

EAT RIGHT

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What nourishes your soul?  What might you be allergic to, that makes you “soul sick?”

My soul is nourished by good conversations with friends—not just a quick “Hi, how are you?” but a real sharing of hearts. I am also nourished by a good concert of an orchestra or a singer I enjoy.  Then there are good movies. All of these “nourishers” are food for the soul, taken to heart. It is so important to eat good, nourishing food for the body; and it is equally important that our souls are well nourished.

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Just as some of us have food allergies, there might be activities that make us “soul sick.”  I find I am allergic to negativity and complaining, to violence that is provided for entertainment. Sometimes, the evening news is “soul-sickening.” Trying to avoid these activities can help keep my soul nourished.

 

EXERCISE

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What stretches your soul, and builds “spiritual muscle?”

Often, my soul is stretched by reading books and articles that are outside of my penchant for theology and spirituality. Thus, biographies of people who have accomplished great things, reflections on historical events, and accounts of organizations that serve various groups of people in need.

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A few of Sister Sallie’s recent soul-stretching reads

Even moreso, my soul is stretched by conversation, even with people with whom I do not agree. Sometimes the conclusion of those conversations is simply to agree to disagree.

 

REST

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What is truly restful for your soul?

Here we might hear the words of Jesus in the Gospel saying “Come to me all of you who labor and are heavy burdened, and I will give you rest.” It is interesting to me that Jesus did not say: I’ll do your work, I’ll pay your bills, I’ll step in for you. His best promise is simply rest.

Perhaps that rest comes in “peace and quiet.”  And, in that peace and quiet, we might be given to prayer—to remembering the presence of God in our lives. A gentle walk in a place of beauty is very restful.

I recently discovered that holding a baby who is sleeping is equally restful for the one holding the baby.

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So, if you find yourself experiencing the after holiday blues, I hope that these simple suggestions will be a way for you to restore hope and goodness as we await the new life of springtime.

About the Author

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After nine years at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, Sister Sallie Latkovich was elected to and currently serves on the Leadership Team of the Congregation of St. Joseph.

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Living With Intention in 2020

By Sister Judith Minear

I was a scrupulous little kid. Nothing pleased me more than a meticulously scheduled day. I fell in love with making lists in grade school, and soon became a big fan of the joy one feels when crossing off a list item. DONE! I became so enamored of that delicious sensation that if I did anything not on my list, I quickly added it just so I could cross it off. I was officially an organization geek by age 10!

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My very favorite moments in life have always been beginnings. Fresh starts, whether it be a new school year, a new journal, or turning a new age on a birthday. And the best beginning of them all? NEW YEAR’S DAY! I delighted in plotting and planning for perfection every time the calendar turned from December to January. THIS would be the year in which I would keep every resolution, crossing off every hope and accomplishment I had carefully mapped out, complete with timeline.

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Things never worked out as I planned, of course. What was I doing wrong?

I continued to maneuver my New Year’s resolutions. I calculated time available versus resolution and motivation. I streamlined. Still, I seldom made it past February before my resolve failed.

A number of years ago, I began attending A New Year’s Yoga retreat offered by Carol Williams, an amazing yoga instructor (and Congregation of St. Joseph Associate) at Rivers Edge. At her retreats, Carol offers a new way of thinking about how to welcome the new year.

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Carol Williams

Resolutions, she points out, are firm decisions to do or not do something. They are predetermined, close-fisted decisions that you either DO (win) or you DON’T (lose).

Intentions, on the other hand, are things intended; an aim, or a plan. They are open-handed. They might shift and change. They are lived out differently on a day to day basis. They do not have one right answer. Why not set intentions?

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Since that first retreat, I have relished not just setting New Year’s intentions, but living with intention. And for me, as a Sister of St. Joseph, this means living intentionally in ways that help me to better live our mission and charism of unity and oneness in my relationships. Intentional living helps me to remember that I am a human being, not a human doing. Embracing intentional living helps me to remember who I am and who I want to be in this world…and then act accordingly. The best part? When I fail to live with intention (and I do, too frequently), I don’t chastise myself (much) or give up. I simply set a new intention.

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Of course, I still make my “things to do” lists, and relish crossing off my accomplishments. We all have tasks and projects we need to undertake. But the broad strokes of my daily actions and relationships are driven by dipping into the intentions that focus how I live the mission. And this makes me a much better Sister of St. Joseph as well as a better human.

My intentions for 2020 include the following:

  • My consideration of consumerism calls me to rethink (if I really need to purchase), reduce, reuse, repair, replenish, reconnect, and, as a last resort, recycle.
  • The quality of my presence makes a difference in every kind of relationship I encounter. Notice and be present.
  • The mission can be and is accomplished every ordinary moment of every ordinary day. It starts with the dear neighbor right next to me. Be awake.

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What are your 2020 intentions?

About the Author

16-judyminear-copySister Judith Minear currently serves as part of a 3-member team for CSJ Ministries as Coordinator for Mission Integration. CSJ Ministries is the umbrella organization that works with ministries that are members of our Mission Network. In her free time, she loves drawing zentangles, stalking birds and savoring poetry.

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Still Time

By Sister Christine Parks

Already we are midway through another Advent, and I find myself at this same point, of wondering where the days have gone so quickly, every year. There’s an old saying that ‘time flies when you’re having fun’. Well I have to take issue with the dubious truism of this. At this point in my life (further past the midpoint than I like to think about) it seems that time flies  whether one is having fun or not—Advent being my case in point at the moment.

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It is my favorite of the liturgical seasons (although if the “season of creation” ever takes off as a truly recognized annual liturgical season, as Pope Francis and many of us hope, I will have two favorites) but back to Advent, this season of expectant waiting and preparation for Christ’s coming, that I would like to have linger a bit.

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Now I know most of us experience Advent as the time of waiting and preparing for Christmas with its celebration of the birth of Jesus. And, perhaps like you, I do enjoy all the festive decorating—beginning with the Advent wreath and its four candles, then on to the Christmas tree (and for me that means a real tree, which is more environmentally sustainable), ornaments, lights, garlands, and of course the crèche—usually with the manger empty until Christmas Eve. I also have to confess I enjoy the presents—both receiving and giving them.

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However the real coming I await each year is the coming of the risen Christ, not the baby Jesus. Every year I promise myself to slow down, breathe more deeply and contemplatively, appreciate the growing time of dark. My longing is to be more open to the inspiring readings of scripture—how Isaiah describes the wonder of this God who loves us so completely and intimately—to listen for how they will speak to my heart, and for where I am being called to follow. And each year I reach this mid-point and realize I’ve drifted through the first two weeks, consumed by the usual accumulation of daily “stuff” that can drown out the whisper of the Holy voice. And this being the year before another national election, those voices are becoming even louder and more strident than the usual pervasive and ubiquitous Christmas buying hype.

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But the hopeful thing about a midpoint is that there’s still time, still half the time left, to reclaim the advent journey. So today I’ll put up the crèche, brew a cup of tea, sit wrapped in an afghan in front of the window, watch the snow and look for the tracks of the One whose coming has been foretold, ready to follow……Why don’t you join me? There’s enough tea for two and waiting is always more sustainable with a companion. Let’s wait quietly together for the One who has already come.

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About the Author

Christine Parks

Sister Christine Parks formerly served as a member of the Congregation of St. Joseph Leadership Team. She currently serves as a Spiritual Director, and occasional program presenter, with Transformations Spirituality Center in Kalamazoo. Her leisure activities include gardening, long walks in nature, reading, writing, attending plays and concerts, as well as museums.

 

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An Amazon Advent

By Sister Jean McGrath

It is time for a true confession.

Having been in education for my entire professional career, I confess I tried hard to remind myself and the students with whom I worked that one should never rush Christmas. Instead, one should enjoy the beautiful austerity of Advent with its dark winter nights and beautiful Old Testament readings.

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I tried but I often failed.

When the infamous Elf on the Shelf is omnipresent in every classroom and the car radio has been playing Christmas music since the Monday BEFORE Thanksgiving, it is difficult not to think about Christmas shopping, decorating, and long lines at Target. I confess, I secretly enjoyed the contagious though commercial anticipation of Christmas. Now, having been barraged by Black Friday deals that began three weeks ago, I have had a revelation, Advent and Amazon do have some things in common.

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My new theory: Amazon does know something about anticipation (especially if you are a PRIME member). Like the prophets of old, Amazon has been telling us for months about great things to come. Amazon invites me to check the daily deal, not unlike the prophets remind me to be vigilant and watchful. Amazon sends tracking reminders so that I know something very special is on the way. The daily Advent readings remind me to “prepare the way” and track the wonder and mystery of Advent anticipation.

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Yes, this new way of thinking may be a dramatic stretch of the imagination and poor theology, but, so often our busy lives compartmentalize the season and I fear, make us a bit guilty. I want my heart to be still and peace-filled, but when will I shop for the ones I love? I want to experience the stillness of the Advent season, but waiting to put up the tree until Christmas Eve is impossible. I should be thinking about “the reason for the season” but I am also thinking about the ingredients needed for the Christmas cookies I love to bake.

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Before you judge me too harshly, please realize I do know that Amazon has been criticized for various reasons. However, let’s give the Amazon elves a break this season. They are people, like you and me, doing the best they can this holiday. Maybe a simple thank you to the weary driver or the offer of a thermos of coffee and a Christmas cookie would be a grateful Advent gesture worth thinking about.

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The Black Friday sales have filled my inbox and I admit to scrolling a few retail sites for a unique gift for the special people in my life. But I am also watching and waiting on this cold winter night grateful for the persons, opportunities and grace filled days that mark this special season of the year. I am also waiting for the blue Amazon truck to arrive as promised.

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I think there is room in my heart for both this season.

About the Author

JeanMcGrathAfter years as a Catholic School Principal, Sister Jean McGrath is looking forward to volunteer service now that she has retired. She loves a good book, a good conversation and a good bargain!

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Ten Tips for Pray-ers

By Sister Jeanne Cmolik

You should pray always. To help you get the hang of it, here are my 10 tips for pray-ers!

  1. Keep it simple

You don’t have to be good at it, just do it! Start now and for five minutes, turn to God in your heart. Author Anne Lamott says the three essential prayers are “Help, Thanks, and Wow.”

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  1. Use your own words

You don’t talk with a friend using words from a book, do you? Put aside the prayers written by someone else—beautiful as they may be—and speak from your heart. God wants to hear your voice!

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  1. You don’t always have to use words

Sometimes the most precious time with a friend is sitting together in silence, looking at the autumn leaves or at a sunset. You’re enjoying a deep connection; you’re just not using words. Sit with God like that. You can go to a beautiful place, but you don’t have to. Just be with God.

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  1. Stay with it

So you’re tired; you’re not in the mood to pray. You have a thousand things to do. If this is important to you, make time to do it, even if you just sit and wait for God to show up.

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  1. Put your heart in it

Tell God why you have come. Tell your Friend that more than anything you want to be there, fully present, growing in love.

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  1. Be honest

It’s okay to tell God you’re having a bad day (God knows it without you saying so, anyway.) Tell God what’s going on, and what you would like to change. Ask for help.

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  1. Sing, dance, or walk your prayer

God doesn’t mind if you fall asleep while you’re praying. (I call it “resting in the Lord.”) I think God actually enjoys seeing us dozing peacefully in our prayer like little children, but if you’d like to rouse yourself and be more active in your prayer, sing a favorite song or hymn to God; use your body and do a dance for God; take a walk in God’s creation, aware of the holy presence.

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  1. Say “thank you” before you say “please”

I think it’s a good strategy to thank God for gifts you’ve already been given before you ask for more. Begin your prayer with a list of daily blessings. (It puts God in a good mood.) If you really get into this, you may even forget what you were going to ask for, or decide you don’t really need it.

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  1. Remember, God wants this relationship even more than you do.

Spiritual writer Joan Chittister reminds us “the God we are seeking is also seeking us.” I find this comforting, because for me it means even if I get tired of trying to find God, God never gives up finding me.

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  1. Don’t waste time and energy evaluating the quality of your prayer.

That’s God’s business, and God doesn’t do report cards. God’s just so happy when you take the time to deepen your friendship!

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Bonus Tip: Expect God to show up!

God always shows up—we just don’t know where or when.  Believe this. Watch for it.

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About the Author

Cmolik.Jeanne.webSister Jeanne Cmolik, CSJ, has served in various leadership positions including being a member of the Congregation Leadership Team from 2008-2013. She has also ministered in elementary schools, high schools, and parishes in the Cleveland area, and served in vocations working with new members. She enjoys reading, travel, music and writing blog posts!

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When the Road Rises to Meet You

By Gina Sullivan

I recently returned from a trip to Ireland where I was blessed to spend two weeks traveling the Irish countryside and getting to know the locals in small to mid-size towns with names like Whitegate, Mountshannon, Kenmare, and Kilaloe. This trip, which I had dreamed about since, well, as long as I can remember, checked a fairly sizeable box on my personal bucket list. It was everything I pictured Ireland would be but more beautiful – rolling, emerald green hills, stone houses and thatch-roofed cottages, ancient castles and churches, colorful streetscapes, and inviting pubs filled with music. What I could not have imagined, however, was how lovely and warm the Irish people would be, and how the many interactions and conversations I had would change me.

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Because I work in the field of communications, it is my job to transmit information, stories and narratives about the Congregation and our work outward to the world. The transmitting part I know, it’s the receiving part that can be tricky, mainly when the feedback is from those who do not agree with us. It’s a microcosm of what is going on in this country. Civil discourse, defined as “an engagement in conversation intended to enhance understanding,” has been replaced with vitriol in social media conversations where consequences are absent, and perhaps more concerning, avoidance and silence in our interpersonal conversations – even with family and close friends. Not so in Ireland.

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One of the commitments of the Congregation of St. Joseph is to “Respectfully engage people who may hold different values or worldviews to bring about personal and cultural transformation.” I held this intention as I engaged in conversation with the Irish. Because we stayed in a very small town, we got to know the townspeople personally. They were curious about us and asked many questions about what was going on in the U.S. They listened, rather than simply waiting to speak, and were never sarcastic or disrespectful. When we spoke about their concerns -Brexit being foremost currently – even when one disagreed with another about whether it was a good idea for England to withdraw from the European Union and how it would affect Ireland, they were still cordial and respected the other’s views. Civil discourse demonstrated, I thought, although they would not define it as such. To the Irish, it is simply being polite.

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I came away from my trip with a renewed value on listening and civility; on relationships over opinion; on people over politics. Like the Sisters for whom I work, this does not mean I don’t have issues I care deeply about or that I won’t express my views. But it does mean the way in which I communicate and conduct myself with those who hold different views than I do, both at work and at home, sets an example and matters. A return to civil discourse begins with me.

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Someone once said, “The best things in life are the people we love, the places we have been and the memories we have made along the way.” My journey to the Emerald Isle was all that but much more. It was a road I needed to travel…and it definitely rose to meet me.

About the Author

Street.webGina Sullivan is the Director of Communications for the Congregation of St. Joseph and is also an Associate. She is the mother of two daughters ages 21 and 18 and step-mother to another daughter age 17 and son age 19. She enjoys cooking, walking, reading, playing with her three mischievous cats, and experiencing new places and people

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Dancing Back to Humanity

By Elizabeth Powers

I have a confession to make – I love watching Dancing with the Stars. For those of you who aren’t familiar, Dancing with the Stars is a reality television program where famous people are matched up with professional dancers and, over the course of several weeks, learn how to waltz, samba, and quickstep, competing against each other in the hopes of winning the coveted “mirror ball trophy”.

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I know, it sounds incredibly silly. But it’s my guilty pleasure.

I’m not sure what it is about this show that is so appealing. Maybe it’s because everyone starts on equal footing (no pun intended), trying to learn a new skill. Maybe it’s my love of dance, the upbeat nature of the music, the fun costumes. Maybe it’s just an easy way to escape from the heaviness of life that we are all inundated with every day.

Regardless of why I watch, I was excited this September when I realized that a new season would be starting soon. When the show announced the list of “stars” who would be taking part, the usual suspects were present– actors and actresses from old television shows, former athletes, musicians. But this year, there was also someone signed on who I found personally divisive: a politician.

“It’s so frustrating,” I said to my mother. “I just want a little bit of time each week where I’m not focused on all the terrible things going on in the world. Why do they have to put someone from the political arena on the show? Regardless of your political leanings, it just seems wrong.”

My mother, of course, offered her wisdom.

“He’s probably not a very good dancer,” she said. “Get some popcorn, watch the show with us, and just hope he gets sent home early.”

I followed her advice, and I have been enjoying the season (who doesn’t secretly want to learn how to ballroom dance?) Still, every time this particular figure was on screen, it irked me.

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Then, last week, I had an unexpected change of heart. It was this person’s turn to dance and as I was about to roll my eyes at my mother, they started his introduction.

Usually, the introduction clip offers a glimpse into the star trying to learn the dance they’re about to perform, the difficulties of the dance style, and to share some humor and heartfelt moments. This week however, this individual talked about losing his father, how his family had shaped his life, and the memories he held onto when his father passed.

By the end of the clip, I was near tears. Here was a man with whom I disagreed with about nearly everything, and yet this silly, reality TV show had reminded me of our shared humanity.

One of the things the Congregation of St. Joseph is committed to is to “respectfully engage people who may hold different values or worldviews to bring about personal and cultural transformation.” While I obviously don’t personally know this political figure and hadn’t engaged with him on a personal level, how had I been treating even the idea of him? Hadn’t I been making assumptions about his life, about this family, about his very being? Hadn’t I forgotten that even though we disagree, we are all human?

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Sometimes, in this world of the minute by minute news cycle and social media, it’s far too easy to see someone as “other.” To look at them as a one dimensional being, who represents something we disagree with, whether it be a social issue, politics, or even some aspect of the church. This is what I had been doing to this politician – looking at him only as a person I disagreed with rather than looking at him as a whole person. A person who has a family. A person who has a full, interior life that I know nothing about. It took a reality television program to remind me that whether we know each other personally or not, we are all God’s children, all deserving of empathy and understanding, even when we disagree.

And maybe that’s at the heart of why I love watching Dancing with the Stars. We are all just people. We are all just living our lives, trying to learn new things, the best we can. Maybe, if we can remember our shared humanity, we can work towards building a more caring world, and help one another through this dance we call life.

About the Author

Elizabeth-Powers,-WebElizabeth Powers is the Electronic Communications Manager for the Congregation of St. Joseph and manages the blog, Beyond the Habit. She sometimes acts as a contributing writer. She loves reading, writing, Harry Potter, and Dancing with the Stars. She is a new mom, and working to figure it out!