Heart Talks with Mother God

Mother’s Day is approaching–and this makes me think about how dedicated mothers mirror something profound about the Creator. Everything good thing about us comes from God above, including anything positive about our sexuality. Because of this, I believe mothers–and all women and men–have the potential to reflect something of the “maternal” side of God.

Heart Talks with Mother God--book coverWe often think of God as Father–hopefully, a loving, strong, yet merciful Father–but for many people it’s still new to think of God as Mother. Truly, God’s inner essence is beyond gender (as the old Baltimore Catechism taught). However, we can use many different comparisons to explain something about the nature of the indescribable Mystery we call God.

Many are afraid to talk about God using “new” images. They forget that when Jesus called God “Abba,“he was actually doing something new, something incredibly innovative and unusual for his own culture. (Abba is a word we translate as “Father” in English, but the word actually means something closer to the word “Daddy.”) Names were even more significant in Jesus’ culture, and to call God Abba, was to imply that Jesus, the Son, would one day be equal to the Father. It must have amazed some people he would dare to do that. Others may have thought him outright blasphemous.  

During his earthly life, Jesus did not view the Scripture (the “Old Testament”) as a limiting force, something that would prevent him from calling God “Abba.” Jesus called God “Abba” because that is how he viewed God. No place does Jesus put limitations on the ways people talk about God. (Does He? Seriously, let me know if you find words of Jesus silencing new ways of describing God!)

If you are curious about images of God that relate to a motherly side of God, you might like the book Heart Talks with Mother God by Bridget Mary Meehan and Regina Madonna Oliver (Liturgical Press). This book is intended for parents and teachers to use with children, but I find it also expands my understanding as an adult. Why not view God, who is beyond all human imagination, as having motherly qualities?

(By the way, at the time of writing this post, Heart Talks with Mother God is on sale on the publisher’s website.) 

[If you would like to know more about Christians who spoke of God using motherly images, check this post I wrote a while back:  God as Mother? Famous Christians Who Compared the Two  . ]

Will you pray with me?

Mother God, you give us life and nurture our souls. You fight for what is right like a mother bear defending her cubs. You work hard, like a woman on fire with spring housecleaning or running for public office. You open your hands to give to the poor and your arms to comfort the suffering. Help us to remember your great love for us–and help us to be instruments of your love to all others we meet. We ask this in the name of Jesus and in the communion of the Holy Spirit.

Until next time, Amen!

God Makes All Things New

And the one who was seated on the throne said,
“See, I am making all things new.” 
— Revelation 21:5 (NRSV)

This is one of my favorite bible verses, although I often forget about it altogether.

Butterfly--photo Julie McCarty--All rights reserved.In Chapter 21 of Revelation, the writer has a vision of a new heaven and a new earth. God reveals a “new Jerusalem” and the one seated on the throne says “Behold, I make all things new” (RSV). It is easy to dismiss this bible verse from our lives, viewing it only as a vision applying to either the past (Jesus’ ministry on earth) or the future (some day, in heaven).

However, Jesus taught us that the kingdom of God is already within our midst, in our lives, our hearts, and our communities (Luke 17:21). Sure, it’s not perfectly complete or fully expressed the way it will be after death, in heavenly glory when we behold the face of God. Even so, the spiritual kingdom of Christ has already begun, both in the life of Jesus and in those who follow his way.  

Jesus also said something else quite astonishing: that his followers would do even greater things than he did (John 14:12). Personally, I have trouble believing this is really so, but that’s what it says, right there in the bible. Christ did not come to earth just so we could maintain the status quo. God wants us to do great things–the kind of great things that Jesus did.

Is there some new work or service that God is inviting you to take up? Perhaps there is a fresh way to approach the work you already are doing, a way that would be more Christ-like?

Is there some new life the Holy Spirit wants to breathe into our faith communities? Our neighborhoods or schools? To improve how we serve others in need? To care for God’s creation around us in the environment? To spread the good news of God’s great compassion and mercy?

Will you pray with me?

Lord, sometimes it can be difficult to try new things. We may feel uncertain about what is the best choice for our future. We may be pushed to move beyond our “comfort zone.” Show us the path you desire for us, and give us the courage to follow you always, with humility, mercy, and love.

Until next time, Amen!

Experiencing God’s Artwork at Lake Superior

Praise God, sun and moon,
Praise God, all you shining stars!
Praise God, you highest heavens,
   and you waters above the heavens!
Praise the Lord from the earth,
   you sea monsters and all deeps,
fire and hail, snow and frost, 
   stormy wind fulfilling God’s command! *

Minnesotans have many ways of dealing with long winters, and one of them is to bundle up, get out of the house, and just ENJOY the weather. There is skiing, sledding, ice skating, snowshoeing, ice fishing, snowmobiling, and pond hockey. 

On a recent weekend, my husband Terry and I drove north to Duluth for a long weekend, with the hope of doing a little outdoor activity. We brought all our gear for winter hiking and our cameras to practice our new hobby, nature photography. On a bright sunny day, we headed out for a drive along the lake shore.

A Lake Superior Morning

Little did we realize the awesome sight we were about to see. While hiking in a state park overlooking the frozen Lake Superior, we heard a sound we could not  comprehend. It reminded us a little of rain, but not quite.

Following the unusual sound, we hiked about a quarter-mile, up a little hill and along an icy cliff. Peering carefully over the edge, we saw it:  large, clear ice pieces, shaped like panes of glass, floating and bumping against the rocky shoreline. Some pieces were even piled against the shore, their jagged edges pointing to the sky.

(click to enlarge)

You can see and hear this sparkling ice for yourself, by clicking on this video Terry posted on YouTube, “North Shore Superior – March 2013”:

I often feel God’s presence in a special way in nature. It’s not that I hear words or see a vision. The beauty of God’s creation sometimes exhilarates me, and other times hushes my soul. I feel awe walking in the midst of God’s creation. I delight in the vast beauty of places such as Lake Superior. 

And that awe or delight is often a prayer without words–at least that’s how I experience it. It feels like a special type of prayer that glorifies God deep within.  

Ice like glass panes--Lake Superior

It’s not so easy to explain this kind of prayer in words. But perhaps if you have experienced a similar feeling in the great outdoors, you will understand.

Until next time, Amen!

*From Psalm 148:3-4, 7-8.

Holden Evening Prayer

Last night, I attended the Wednesday Lenten evening prayer service at Easter Lutheran Church in Eagan (“on the Hill” location). The music we sang is called the Holden Evening Prayer, music written by composer Marty Haugen. (The name comes from Holden Village, a Lutheran retreat center in Washington State, where Marty Haugen was musician-in-residence when he composed the music.)

The Holden Evening Prayer music can be sung anytime, but is especially appropriate during Lent, when praying is a special focus. The candles were lovely in the dark winter night, the music was soothing, and the short message by the pastor was inspiring–a great boost for the middle of the work week. If you’re not much of a singer, don’t worry. It’s pretty simple music, and I’m convinced that even if you just sit and listen,  your soul will soak up the beauty of prayer.

Want to hear a sample? Here’s one of many clips from YouTube of the Holden Evening Prayer. This one was filmed at University Lutheran Church of the Epiphany (ELCA) in St. Cloud, MN (with a child singing one of the leads!):

After the service last night, I felt so relaxed. That’s the kind of music it was–very consoling and calming.

Whatever you do this Lent, keep on prayin’

A New Serenity Prayer by James Martin

Thinking of all my cyberspace friends this week, as we begin celebrating various holidays/holy days… Below is a prayer from priest and author James Martin  I hope you will enjoy as much as I do.

A New Serenity Prayer 

God, grant me the serenity
to accept the people I cannot change,
which is pretty much everyone,
since I’m clearly not you, God.

At least not the last time I checked.

And while you’re at it, God,
please give me the courage
to change what I need to change about myself,
which is frankly a lot, since, once again,
I’m not you, which means I’m not perfect.

It’s better for me to focus on changing myself
than to worry about changing other people,
who, as you’ll no doubt remember me saying,
I can’t change anyway.

Finally, give me the wisdom to just shut up
whenever I think that I’m clearly smarter
than everyone else in the room,
that no one knows what they’re talking about except me,
or that I alone have all the answers.

Basically, God,
grant me the wisdom
to remember that I’m
not you.

Amen.

(“A New Serenity Prayer” used with permission from the author.)

 

Spiritual Drawing Board Page now on Facebook

Looking for a short spiritual nugget to brighten your day? A reminder that God’s divine presence is with you, even on a “bad day”? Something motivational, thought-provoking, or creative?

ImageSpiritual Drawing Board now has a Facebook page of its own. I’ll be continuing to write here, on this WordPress blog, but now you can also receive little spiritual nuggets on the Facebook page “Spiritual Drawing Board by Julie McCarty”. 

Expect to find encouragement to pray or meditate, to love others, to seek wisdom, to go beyond politics and “group think,” and to learn from famous spiritual figures.

To find the link, log on to your Facebook account and search for this:

“Spiritual Drawing Board by Julie McCarty”
(click on “like” to start receiving in your news feed on FB)

And, while you are there, I hope you will share your own inspiring thoughts or questions you wrestle with. The spiritual journey includes community focus–and I would love to hear from you, on the FB page, in the comments on the blog, or via e-mail (see contact page for e-mail).

Please, do spread the word. Share what I post on SDB on FB all you like. The world has enough sin and hate. It is up to Spirit-filled people to spread the message of  compassion in whatever ways they can.

Until next time, Amen.

P.S. For those new to Facebook:  If you “like” Spiritual Drawing Board FB page, you will receive “news” from the page, but your personal posts will not come to me unless you choose to put something on my page or message me directly. I will not see the messages you send your FB friends unless I’m already one of your friends on FB.

Coming soon to Easter Lutheran Church in Eagan: Sacred Rhythms

Sneak preview:

When Lent begins later this month, Easter Lutheran Church in Eagan, MN will be using the program Sacred Rhythms by Ruth Haley Barton. Based on gospel stories and ancient Christian practices, this program includes such topics as longing for more, praying with Scripture, making space for God, finding God in everyday experiences, and cultivating our own sacred rhythms.

“Sacred Rhythms” will be offered at various times beginning mid-Feb:

  • Wednesday afternoons  with Pastor Paul,
  • Sunday evenings with Pastors Kris, Kevin, & Sarah,
  • Monday evenings or Thursday mornings at Chick Talk women’s group with Julie McCarty (yep, that’s me). 

For details on exact times, dates, locations, visit easter.org (click on Lenten worship), or call the parish office,651-452-3680.

If you cannot attend, the Sacred Rhythms book, participant’s guide, and DVD make for great discussions in small groups or as springboard for Lenten journaling.  

More Info (FAQ’s):

  • Want to preview the sessions? Visit YouTube and search “ruth haley barton sacred rhythms.”
  • Which book do I buy? Easter Lutheran will be selling the main text for $15, or you can order from major booksellers online. If you are in a small group that hates reading, you could watch the DVD segments together and do the participant’s guides with your bibles.
  • What if I’m not a member at Easter, or not even Lutheran? Come anyway! All are welcome. No fee except for buying the book if you want.
  • What if I can’t make all the sessions? Slip into one of the other discussion groups that week, or just come whenever you can.
  • Can I bring a friend? Is it for both men and women? Yes! All are welcome! That includes interested teens, too. (Chick Talk, as the title suggests, is a women’s group…)

Elizabeth of Hungary: Patroness of “Juggling”

Rising very early before dawn, [Jesus] left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed. (Mark 1:35)

St. Elizabeth–Spinning to make clothes for the poor–Marianne Stokes

In my Catholic upbringing, I got the impression that the only path to sainthood would be priesthood for men and religious life (becoming a nun) for women. I rarely heard about married women saints, and when I did, they were described to me as holy because of becoming nuns or founding convents after their husbands died.

Because of this, I have a special place in my heart for St. Elizabeth of Hungary, the medieval wife and mother who didn’t merely “tolerate” marriage (after all, the marriage was arranged by one’s parents) but rather genuinely liked her husband.

In her short lifespan of 24 years, Elizabeth integrated many callings: queen, wife, mother, woman of prayer, personal service to the poor and sick, etc. Elizabeth’s example appeals to people of many walks of life for many reasons, but I like to think of her as the patroness of “juggling:”

When I feel overwhelmed with balancing the pieces of my life, I think of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, the thirteenth-century queen who could be called “the patroness of juggling.” This young woman not only devoted herself to raising her children and spending time with her husband Ludwig (whom she adored), but she also attended church frequently, managed the castle while Ludwig was away on extended business, developed a rich prayer life, and personally ministered to the poor and sick of the kingdom (something the elite found rather revolting). 

Apparently Elizabeth couldn’t find enough prayer time to satisfy her, so she instructed her maid to sneak into the royal bedroom each night, reach under the bed covers, and pull on her toes to wake her. Elizabeth would slip away without disturbing Ludwig’s sleep to pray in secret. This clever plan worked well for a time, until one night, when the servant girl reached between the sheets, the king suddenly bolted upright in bed. Apparently she had found the wrong toes.

Jesus, too, often had to find ways of stealing away from his busy ministry to catch his breath. [In Mark 1:35-39], it appears that the disciples do not know where he has gone. When they find him, Peter sounds exasperated: “Where have you been? Everyone is looking for you!” It’s as if he thinks Jesus is missing a photo-op and the chance to work the crowd. But Jesus knows his priorities: his work must be grounded in a healthy, personal relationship with his heavenly Father.  

from The Pearl of Great Price: Gospel Wisdom for Christian Marriage (by yours truly, Julie McCarty; published by Liturgical Press)


When we feel pulled in many directions, unsure which task to do next, whether to say yes or no to this or that, or how much time to devote to prayer, we can take heart that others before us (including Jesus!) certainly faced similar human challenges–yet ultimately found their true Christian fulfillment.

St. Elizabeth of Hungary’s feast day is Nov. 17. For more about her read here  or view a slide show here .

Until next time, Amen! 

Prayer book offer still good

Remember the special offer, back a few posts, about how to win a daily prayer book ? Weeelll, um, we do not yet have a winner, but we are getting closer. If you know anyone who might like this blog, please let them know they might win the book if they sign up for e-mail subscription.

DEADLINE is June 30, 2011. See May 4th post for details.

P.S. If we don’t have a winner by June 30, I’m going to award the book to whoever comes closest. 🙂  Look for an announcement of the winner in early July.

Behind the Boss’ Back: Prayer in the Workplace

Pray during the workday without disturbing others

Is there a way to pray in the workplace, without neglecting your job or infringing on the rights of others? A way to keep in touch with God while running a grocery store checkout, managing a daycare, answering phones, or meeting with clients? Or is prayer something restricted to that little Sunday box on your calendar?

A lot depends on how you define prayer. Praying the rosary while interviewing a new hire or meditating in a lotus position while running a backhoe certainly won’t work. Your boss won’t be a happy camper if you tell him or her that you missed a critical staff meeting because you were in a deep mystical ecstasy.

I suspect that few of us have ever thought about taking God with us to the workplace—but God is already there. After all, God is everywhere. Merely recalling God’s presence is itself one type of prayer. Simple? Yes, but difficult to remember to do. Here are some ways to prompt yourself to pray inwardly during your work day:

1. Place little reminders of God around your work area. If your office doesn’t allow religious symbols, use ordinary objects, like family photos, a personal book with a spiritual cover, or notes posted inside your briefcase to remind you of the spiritual dimension of your work, writes Gregory F. A. Pierce in  Spirituality at Work (Loyola Press). Writing a Scripture verse in your planner or selecting a gorgeous nature scene for your computer’s desktop wallpaper are other examples of unobtrusive ways to draw your heart to God without forcing your views on others.

2. Use your coffee break for a rendezvous with God. Reading little reflection booklets with lectionary readings or other devotions takes only a few minutes, but helps one enter into God’s presence.

3. Group with others for prayer time. In New York City, Muslims, committed to praying five times a day, meet in small groups during lunch or break times to recite the opening of the Koran and pray with bows, kneeling, and prostrations, writes Joseph Berger in the New York Times. He also reports that observant Jews similarly gather for minyan (prayer group of at least ten) in at least 180 places in busy Manhattan. People of other faiths might consider forming a small prayer group to meet at a nearby food court or coffee shop during a weekly lunch.

4. Set aside distracting thoughts. Just as you set aside distracting thoughts during prayer time, gently let go of distracting thoughts when a co-worker is speaking to you. Listen carefully to him or her—you might just hear the Spirit of God in something that is said.

5. Bring more silence into the work environment. God speaks to us in silence. You can invite a higher intelligence into your office meeting without saying it in so many words, suggests Dr. Deborah Savage, adjunct faculty of theology and business at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota [now Clinical Faculty member at the Saint Paul Seminary at St. Thomas]. Prof. Savage says God’s grace is constantly present to us, but we need to slow down in order to notice it. For example, one business she heard about instituted a company-wide policy that allotted one specific hour each day for sacred work time: no meetings, no phoning, no interaction, just sitting at your desk to do your work.

6. Practice awareness of the present moment. Prof. Savage also observes that we often mistakenly imagine the soul as one little compartment of who we are, when really our soul is “larger” than our body and connects us to God. You can’t very well leave your soul at home when you drive to work in the morning—it’s the spiritual thread that runs through every moment of our lives, she says.

Prayer is really more about be-ing, than do-ing, Dr. Savage reminds us, so it’s good to practice being attune to everything in the present moment: our feelings, our sensory perceptions, our thoughts, etc. Everything we are actually exists within the presence of God. As chapter 17 of the Acts of the Apostles declares, in God “we live and move and have our being.” God is always with us—even in the busy workplace.

Note: This article is a slightly revised version of a column I wrote that appeared in several Catholic diocesan newspapers around the country a few years ago. It is reprinted here because it is one of the most requested articles on my author website.

Copyright 2011 — Julie McCarty, Eagan, Minnesota.