My Christmas wish for you–from Julie

Christmas bear--photo Julie McCarty--Eagan MNChristmas/New Year message

Dear readers:

Thank you so much for your encouragement and support over the past couple of years. I’m looking forward to more blogging and writing in 2014!

I want to wish each of you a very happy holiday season. Whatever your religious beliefs (or lack of them), you are welcome here. My heart prays and wishes all sorts of good gifts for each and everyone one of you–especially the kinds of inward blessings only God can give.

Below is a quote I found that expresses my wish for you this Christmas & New Year 2014. Most of the readers of this blog are Christ-followers, and I hope that those of you who are not Christians will understand that I am not trying in any way to trample on your personal beliefs. If you believe in the Divine One or Transcendent Being, perhaps you can translate the message below into your own religious imagery or spiritual language.

So, here it is:

What shall I wish you for Christmas? I think the best Christmas wish is that some holy and lovely thought may come to your heart with your Christmas Communion, and make its home with you and stay to strengthen you and help you to “walk forty days and forty nights” like the heavenly bread of Elias. God only knows the bread to give [God’s] creatures, and when [God] says one word it makes the impossible possible and the unlovely lovely, and the unmeaning become a revelation. (Janet Erskine Stuart*)

Communion bread and wine--photo Julie McCarty

May God bless YOU with whatever “bread” you need most.

Until next time, Amen!

*Note: Quote seen in “People’s Companion to the Breviary,” vol. 1 (Carmelites of Indianapolis, 1997)–from “Life and Letters of Janet Erskine Stuart” by Maud Monahan.

Planting Spiritual Seeds

We often think of spring as the season of planting. When the snow melts, little green shoots begin popping out of the ground. Farmers sow their fields and suburban growers visit the garden center.

However, if wild plants could talk, many of them would tell a different story. In nature, autumn is the time when seeds are sown. The fruit of the plant matures, and whatever is not eaten by animals, falls to the ground. Other seeds are carried away by the wind or attached to animal fur for relocation.  (In my neighborhood, squirrels are dashing about, digging holes everywhere in our lawn, storing food for the winter–and some of those seed nuts will emerge as plants come spring.)

Milkweed in autumn 2 -- photo by Julie McCarty

At this point in autumn, the seeds appear tiny and lifeless–they seem to be “dead.” Gradually, colorful dancing leaves come to rest on them, and snow blankets them in for the winter months. They disappear from view.

Dead and buried, the seeds wait. . .  And wait . . .   And wait some more. . . .

 If we did not know better, we might think the seeds were dead and gone forever, buried beneath the howling winds and snowy skies. 

But the seeds are not dead, they are merely “gone to sleep.”  Months later–many months in Minnesota!–the melting snow and warming sun will nurture these tiny, inanimate objects into life again.

Jesus used the image of planting seeds as a way to talk about spiritual principles and the kingdom of God (for example, in Matthew 13). Spreading the good news of God’s love and mercy is a lot like planting seeds. Serving others, listening with compassion, offering encouragement or comfort, building a safe and nurturing home for our children, doing our jobs in an ethical manner, praying for those who suffer, and inviting others to worship with us on Sunday are all ways we “scatter the seeds” of Christ’s kingdom of love.

At times, these spiritual seeds may appear to have no effect– but we ought not to lose heart. After all, seeds lie dormant in the winter, waiting for the warmth of springtime.  Some seeds we plant now may even mature in future generations, long after we are gone.  We do not really understand how or when all this sprouting of spiritual seeds happens–that is all in God’s hands.

For discussion or reflection:

  • What spiritual seeds do you think God is sowing within your soul at this stage of your life?
  • What spiritual seeds do you think God wants to plant in others through you today?  this week?   this autumn?

Single milkweed seed 2--photo Julie McCartyThink about it. Pray about it.

I will.

Until next time, Amen! 

Gray hair, wisdom, and following Christ

My child, from your youth choose discipline;
and when you have gray hair you will find wisdom.
–Sirach 6:18

Gray hair connected with wisdom?

I don’t dye my graying hair, so I experienced a kind of delight in this reading this verse today in Give Us This Day (Liturgical Press). I don’t consider hair coloring to be sinful or anything–so please don’t be offended if you, well, improve your hair color. I just find it freeing and natural to be true to who I really am before God, by letting my hair “be itself,” the color God gave me. (My husband likes it that way, too.)

Of course this bible verse isn’t really about gray hair, but rather the search for wisdom– genuine wisdom, not just memorizing facts or getting a passing grade in school. Youth can be extremely insightful about certain things, but there is a special wisdom that some people receive through lived experience and years of spiritual attentiveness.

Being of an older age is no guarantee that one will be wise, of course. The book of Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) tells us that if you want to have wisdom in later years, you need to have discipline in your life. Our culture often thinks of discipline as punishment, but that is not what is meant here. Sirach is talking about self-control, dedication, and hard work, like a farmer who works at plowing and planting a field, and then must wait for the harvest.

Growing corn plants--photo by Julie McCarty

If you are like me, you have self-control in some ways but not in others. I can finish a college course, but waste time on Facebook when I should be writing. I can eat a healthy breakfast yet pig out in the evening. I can control cussing in public only to say something hurtful to a friend. You get the idea.

The roots of the words discipline and disciple are connected with learning. A professor teaches an academic discipline, such as chemistry. One who is learning from a spiritual master or guru is called his follower or disciple. The followers of Jesus were not called disciples just because they walked down the road with him, but because they were his spiritual apprentices, learning Christ’s spiritual teachings.

To be a disciple (follower) of Jesus Christ in our own day is to follow his spiritual teachings. Occasionally I get the feeling that some who call themselves Christian in this country are losing sight of this fact. Yes, our profession of belief in Christ might be the minimal requirements, on our death-bed, for God to take us to heaven out of his infinite mercy and love (like the good thief on the cross).  Yes, it is true we cannot “earn” our salvation by our own good works.

Good Shepherd stained glass window--photo by Julie McCartyHowever, if we are really disciples of Christ, that is, believers in the “Jesus way,” then we will seek to live as he taught us. That takes courage, self-control, effort, and many gifts of grace and the Holy Spirit. Jesus taught us that not everyone who cries out “Lord, Lord” (believing in God) will be saved, but rather those who actually do the will of God (see Matt. 7:21).

I want to be that kind of follower of Jesus, someone who not only intellectually believes in Christ or goes to church on Sunday, but also one who lives her life according to the teachings of Christ. Yes, I am a sinner. I cannot live as Christ taught without the help of grace and the Holy Spirit. But I have to do what I can, put forth a little effort to truly love God with my whole heart, mind, soul, and body, and to love others as myself.

For me, living that way would be the Ultimate Wisdom.

Until next time, Amen!

More on branching out–25 ways to deepen your spiritual life

In my last post, I wrote about branching out, trying new things. I mentioned exploring ways to expand your spiritual life.

Christ the Pantocrator by Marian Zidaru--2002
Christ the Pantocrator by Marian Zidaru–2002

I believe God (your Higher Power, the Divine One, however you describe God) wants to be close to each one of us. I believe this God is full of compassion and mercy–and that God calls out to us, like a passionate lover longing for quality time with his or her beloved.

Various ways of praying do not earn us “extra credit” with God. God loves us immensely no matter what. However, if you love God, you will want to spend some quality time together. There are various ways of being together, and some specific ways of praying that will enable you to be more present to God, more aware of God’s presence in your life.

There are many ways to build a deeper relationship with God or a more developed prayer life. Looking for some ideas? Here is a list of 25 ideas of ways to expand your own spiritual time with God:

  1. Say grace–before breakfast. I don’t know why, but I don’t recall doing this even once. Why do I thank God for dinner but not for  breakfast?
  2. Copy a sentence or two from sacred texts (such as the Bible or the Koran). Place it where you will see it everyday, such as on the bathroom mirror, refrigerator, or screen saver.
  3. Walk a labyrinth, reflecting on key points in your life as you make the turns. (Read more:  Labyrinth: The Walking PrayerPrayer labyrinth--photo by Julie McCarty
  4. Sign up for a retreat and mark it as high priority on your calendar.
  5. Read a spiritual classic. (Suggestions at Good Reads )
  6. Look for websites that help you learn about prayer–or actually guide you in prayer. For example, the “Daily Disconnect” offers a guided prayer reflection which includes an online timer to allow for some silent time at the end of your reflection.
  7. Visit a different house of worship. Been to a church or temple lately? Use the web to look at places of worship in your area, and then just experiment–visit a few in person.
  8. Take a prayer walk–drop everything and walk outside with God. (For more info, visit my post or other Prayer Walking Tips  )
  9. Look for your “spiritual type.”Just for fun, try the “spiritual type” quiz on Beliefnet 
  10. Attend a bible study, women’s group, or other event offered at your place of worship. Don’t just read about it online. Get in touch with real people.
  11. Deal with your anger. Angry at your church institution? Try talking with a counselor or spiritual director about your confusion. Find a neutral person who will help you sort out the complicated, perhaps mixed feelings about religion, faith, God, and what is best for your life.
  12. Serve the poor at a soup kitchen and think about Jesus being in the midst of that soup line as you hand out the bowls.
  13. Set your alarm for 15 minutes earlier each morning, sit up in bed and read the bible or devotional for those 15 minutes before getting dressed.
  14. Find a spiritual director and visit with him or her once a month, exploring your own spiritual dimension in a friendly, confidential, prayerful setting.
  15. Try coffee break prayer. Once a week, during your coffee break or lunch hour, slip into a church or quiet park bench for a few minutes alone with God.
  16. Make a gratefulness list. Write a list of 25 things for which you give thanks–and don’t forget to tell God about it.
  17. Sing a prayerful song. So what if you voice isn’t that great? Sing when you are alone–or play spiritual music during your morning commute. 
  18. Keep a prayer journal. Write your thoughts about your religious beliefs, your feelings, your experiences, etc. in prayer form. Write letters to God about your life.
  19. Pray ahead of time. When you look at your calendar each morning, pray about the upcoming day’s events, asking the Holy Spirit to guide your every word and deed, to bless those you will see that day.
  20. Grow your spiritual mind. Want to understand your religion’s teachings at an adult level? Bring your questions to your minister, priest, rabbi, or other spiritual leader–or audit a class at a college (many religious colleges allow auditing for inexpensive rates, and/or special rates for seniors).
  21. Examine your conscience. During the past week, when were you especially alive to God’s presence? When did you “miss the mark”? Thank God for all that is good, and ask for forgiveness for your sins.
  22. Learn yoga as a way of quieting yourself in the presence of God. If you don’t feel comfortable with ancient yoga foundations, try a “devotional yoga” that combines the healthy body movements with Christian attitudes towards God.
  23. Ask God what things need a new home. Clean out your closet or garage in a prayerful way, seeking to give to others in a Christ-like manner. Pray for those who will receive your gifts.
  24. Common Prayer book coverDo your normal prayer with a different body posture. For example, try reading the psalms in standing position, facing east (place of the sunrise). Or, try kneeling when you ask God to forgive your sins.
  25. Let the last thing you think about before going to sleep be God. Not the news, not Facebook, not your problems, but rather God. How to do this? Start a routine of prayer or spiritual reading just before you nod off at night. (Don’t worry if you fall asleep holding the prayer-book in bed. What better way to sleep, than in the arms of God?)

These are just ideas to get your creative spiritual juices going. Pick one and run with it. I’d love to hear how it goes.

Until next time, Amen!  

P.S. Want little spiritual nuggets in-between blog posts? Visit the Facebook page “Spiritual Drawing Board by Julie McCarty” and click on “receive notifications” on the “like” button. 

Branching out–expanding your spiritual life

Jesus said to them, “Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?”
          –Matthew 8: 26

Branching out--photo by Julie McCarty

As it was growing, how did this tree know when it was time for the trunk to become two major life lines to the rest of the branches?

I could answer, the DNA in the cells tell it how to grow–but then, how does the DNA know? 

Growth is a mysterious process, highly individualized. God calls us to keep growing in our spiritual lives, no matter what our chronological age.

Is there something in your life that God wants to expand? A new experiment with prayer? A different service to others? A fresh way of looking at life in general?

What stops you from “branching out” in this new way? Is it fear? Exhaustion? Laziness? Something else blocking your path?

Will you pray with me?

Come, Holy Spirit, help us to listen for your voice, leading us along the path of discipleship. Please give us the courage to put aside all fear and to bravely try whatever new things God may desire of us. Help us to grow strong in faith, like this tree that bravely stands through all kinds of weather. 

Until next time, Amen! 

Attentiveness: A Spiritual Word for 2013

During 2013, I hope to learn some new layouts and methods for posting on my blog. (This one is called “image” for a shorter post with a single image.)

Remember the blog post about choosing a word for your spiritual theme for the new year?  Here’s my word, sprawled out on a whiteboard design I created:

Whiteboard art by Julie McCarty (click to enlarge)
Whiteboard art by Julie McCarty (click to enlarge)

Yup, that’s my word for this year, “attentiveness”… I want to ponder the meaning of the word, how to live more attentively, and most of all, how to be more attentive to the presence and action of God in my life.

Thought question of the day: What or who in your life captures the most of your attention each day?  Your job? Your family? Sports? Facebook? Shopping? Or ??

How does your daily focus coordinate with the quality desires of your deepest, truest self?

Please think about it. I plan to!

Until next time, Amen!

P.S. Looking for daily spiritual inspiration? Read short spiritual nuggets and updates at Spiritual Drawing Board by Julie McCarty” on Facebook.

Creating things anew with God’s help–a look back, and forward

Some of you may remember that I selected the word “co-create” for my spiritual word for 2012. The spiritual word provides a theme or focus for one’s mind and heart over the course of time, an idea I learned from Christine Valters Paintner, the “online abbess” at the website Abbey of the Arts.

For me, “co-create” means to cooperate with God’s grace in making the world a better place. I found the word helped me to focus on trying new creative things, such as practicing nature photography and learning watercolor painting.

Downy Woodpecker underneath branch--photo by Julie McCarty, Eagan MN USA.
Downy Woodpecker underneath branch–photo by Julie McCarty, Eagan MN USA.

However, as so often happens when one takes up a spiritual practice, I was surprised at how many other, often deeper, meanings and ap-

Julie with her "Campfire" watercolor painting at Instructor-Student Art Exhibit --BTAC
 Julie with her “Campfire” watercolor painting (above) at the Instructor-Student Art Exhibit –BTAC
 

plications to “co-create” arose in my mind over time. These new understandings came to me through reading, talking with others, and thinking about my life experiences in journaling.

For example, when grieving the loss of my dad, the creative activities often consoled me as something new being “born” in my life. When waking up in the morning, I would find myself asking God, “What will we co-create together today?” As I did housework (something I dislike), I began seeing chores in a fresh light, as something that re-creates a beautiful, wholesome environment. While weeding the garden, it occurred to me that growing vegetables is also creating something good with God–good for me and good for others. 

From this year's garden
From this year’s garden

The year 2012 will be over soon. In fact, for Christians at least, the new liturgical year has already begun with Advent. I find myself wondering… hmm… what will be my “spiritual word” for 2013? What does God have in mind for me?

I invite you to ponder the same question with me. Is there one word or short phrase you would like to be your spiritual focus for 2013? Let us pray, asking the Holy Spirit to reveal a wise word to each of us for the good of our spiritual growth and service to others.

May the Good Lord bless you this holy season.

Until next time, Amen!

For more pictures from Julie’s watercolor class and other spiritual nuggets, visit Facebook’s  Spiritual Drawing Board by Julie McCarty.