How Long Does it Take to Change?

This season, I am loving Ann Garrido‘s Lenten devotional “The Living Gospel” from Ave Maria Press.  We’re only five days in, of course, but so far each pithy, insightful observation by the author of Redeeming Conflict and Redeeming Administration has kept me ruminating all day.

On this first Sunday of Lent, Ann wrote about the fact that “These Forty Days of Lent” aren’t actually forty days (go ahead, do the math).  Forty is more of a symbolic number.  I knew that the biblical forty generally stands for “a really long time” (think of the Israelites’ forty years in the desert, or Jesus’ forty days in the desert, or the forty days from Easter to Ascension).  But Ann took it a step farther, explaining that the number forty in the Bible represents “the length of time it takes for a change to be complete and something new to begin.”

Wow.

Then, at St. Vincent’s this morning, Fr. Tom McKenna preached about “disruption” as a necessary ingredient in change.  When the Spirit drove Jesus into the desert, he suggested, it was more of a “divine shove” than a gentle invitation.

This makes sense to me.  Change does not come easily to most of us.  Often we are pushed into circumstances not of our choosing: the disruption of illness, or trauma, or other external life change.  The internal change (spiritual growth) follows after, if we can open ourselves to the invitation buried in the disruption.  Only then can something new begin.

For many years now, I’ve been encouraging people to “lean into life” during Lent.  “Choose your sacrifices” I say, “but draw close to God in the sacrifices life chooses for you.”  This year, I want to pay attention to disruption: the things that break in and get my attention against my will.  What is God inviting me to through them?   How am I being called to change?  And how long will my forty days be?

The concept of change is something I am itching to explore in a next book (#2 or #3, I’m still not sure). How have I changed over the years?  What made lasting change possible?  Now that I’m less than two weeks out from my editing deadline for Finding God in Ordinary Time, I have this fantasy of having time to re-read the dozens of journals I’ve kept over the years, tracing the origins of what eventually became my firmly held spiritual beliefs.  We shall see.

For now, I just want to keep leaning into life, being present to the demands and disruptions of each day, and marveling at the goodness of God–and other people–in the midst of it all.


And speaking of the goodness of other people . . . thank you to everyone who weighed in last week on my chapter title.  I chose “Finding God in an Outstretched Hand,” in part for the ambiguity of it.  Whose hand are we talking about here?  That of a beggar at the Basilica, or my own?  Or the reader’s?  Thank you to Ann-Therese Ortiz (old friend, spiritual director, and generally wise woman) for the suggestion.  I can’t wait to inscribe your book!

Blessings to all in this holy season.  May each of your ordinary days be extraordinarily blessed!

– Christine

 

 

On Valentine’s (Ash Wednes)day

You know I love Ordinary Time, but Lent’s nice too!  Here are my musings from today’s services at Gwynedd Mercy University.

Well here it is, Valentine’s (Ash Wednes)day.

Valentine’s Day, of course, is always February 14, but there are 35 possible dates on which Ash Wednesday can fall (36 in a leap year): anywhere from February 4 to March 10.

And yet the last time it fell on February 14th was 73 years ago, in 1945. (But get used to it; it’s going to happen twice more in the next eleven years.  Maybe God’s trying to send us a message!)

I’m not sure what the percentage of overlap is between people who care about Ash Wednesday and people who care about Valentine’s Day. Probably not as much as the Internet would have us believe. But if you Google “Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day,” the search results are pretty alarmist:

  • Feast or Fast?!?
  • Ash Wednesday falls on Valentine’s Day, but meat ban still in effect, Catholics told!
  • Valentine’s Day falls on Ash Wednesday, but you still have to practice the faith, religious leaders say!  (Thanks for that, Chicago Tribune.)

But the more I think about it, the more I think it’s actually not a conflict. And those who would make us believe it is are probably misunderstanding both days, and selling us—literally—on a very artificial, commercial understanding of love.

Every February, we’re told that we should “say it with flowers,” and the price of roses shoots up. Grocery stores’ seasonal aisles fill—on the day after Christmas—with giant heart-shaped boxes of chocolate.  Jewelry stores run commercials featuring gifts in the the “now I know you love me” price range.

But real love – romantic or otherwise – has never been about that stuff.  If you think about it, real love is much more akin to the three disciplines of Lent—prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Hang in there with me while I look at the three traditional practices of Valentine’s Day, and compare them with those of Lent.

Practice #1) Saying it with Flowers.
Whatever the “it” is that needs to be said, I’d rather have the words. Sincere words / meaningful conversation / shared vulnerability—things that don’t wither up and die by next Wednesday. It’s what we need in our personal relationships, romantic or otherwise, and it’s what we need in our relationship with God. Showing up. Saying what we feel. Listening for the response. Being vulnerable before the One we love.  That’s a pretty good description of prayer; what a wonderful way to spend a little extra time with God this season!

Practice #2) Buying Giant Boxes of Chocolate.
I do not understand why chocolate is invested with so much power—THE symbol of Valentine’s Day and THE thing to give up on Ash Wednesday for the rest of Lent. Real love is always more about sacrifice than consumption. And by sacrifice I don’t mean “Oh no, I can’t eat that; it’s Lent!”  I mean that we give up stuff for each other all the time. Parents give up sleep for their infants; teachers give up weekends for grading their students’ papers; housemates give up five minutes on the couch to actually do the dinner dishes; students give up whatever they were going to be doing when a friend needs a ride or a shoulder or a study partner. That’s the spirit in which we can frame our Lenten sacrifices, too . . . not setting up some sort of Olympic hurdle for ourselves, but simply asking what we can “give up” for a time in order to create more space in our hearts / minds / lives / schedules, so that we can be less self-indulgent, more responsive to the needs of those we love and, more importantly, those God loves (which is everyone).

Practice #3) Giving Expensive Jewelry.
TV commercials would have us believe that love is best expressed with a jaw-dropping price tag. We know that’s not true. But real love is generous. Love is open-eyed and openhearted. Love sees the need. The need of the person right in front of us, and the needs of people we will never meet. Love sees the need and responds—sometimes with money, other times with attention or service or time. Lent invites us to that kind of generosity, and calls it almsgiving.

So as we move into the season of Lent, go ahead and let this Valentine’s Ash Wednesday set the tone.

  • Carve out quality time with the God you love.
  • Give up something that gets in the way of your freedom to love.
  • And let that love overflow with generosity.

What could be more appropriate?

Who Can Help Me Name This Chapter?

Friends, I have a dilemma.  It has come to my attention that the working title for Chapter 16 of Finding God in Ordinary Time is problematic.  To those who get it, it makes perfect sense.  To those who do not, it’s baffling.  (This is not what I’m shooting for.)

Here’s the chapter, which I originally intended to share on this last Sunday of Winter Ordinary Time simply as a nice segue to Lent, with its invitation to almsgiving.  At the end I will tell you what I called it, and ask for your suggestion.  Obviously, a free signed copy is yours if you come up with the winning chapter title!


Chapter 16:  Finding God in . . . ?

How do we decide what to give?

In my years as a campus minister I’ve been fortunate to travel to Mexico City with students many times. One of the problems for the tourist there (as for urban pedestrians just about anywhere) is how to respond to people who are begging. So often in Mexico City I encountered tiny crones sitting on the sidewalk, wrapped in dirty blankets, heads down in sleep or shame, one calloused hand extended for passersby to see. They gave no accusing stare to those who passed them by; they didn’t confront us with a fast-talking pitch or a conscience-prodding sign. They simply sat immobile for hours, murmuring  heart-wrenching blessings to strangers who paused to press a coin into their palm.

On my first visit I often found myself unprepared to give: the airport currency exchange had doled out maddeningly large bills, difficult to break even at small local shops. And so, the next time, I secured a supply of ten-peso coins. Each was worth about a dollar; they were easy to carry in my pocket (unlike bills that had to be fished from my travel wallet) and satisfying to bestow. A nice solid coin. I roamed about the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe like a trippy fairy godmother, never passing one of those dear old souls without giving a coin and receiving a blessing in return.

But was that praiseworthy? If I compare giving to not giving, sure. But if I compare what I had, even on my person, to what those ladies needed . . . ugh. The logical part of me protests that even had I emptied my bank account to help those women (that is, sold everything I had and given to the poor), I might have had treasure in heaven, but there would still be an awful lot of poor widows in Mexico City. Yet that observation, however true, does nothing to uncomplicate my feelings about my peso-giving choices.

Nor should it.

Whenever students and I talk about this, I first make sure they understand that the systemic and sociological factors at work in poverty are vast and complicated, but can be addressed. (Perhaps one of them will graduate and do just that.) Then I explain the concept of tithing, and encourage them to commit to supporting charities that address underlying causes as well as immediate needs. I let them know that, whatever they decide, the important thing is that they respond thoughtfully.

And finally I take away any tidy bow they were hoping to tie on the lesson by telling them this: From a spiritual perspective, we should never grow comfortable with the discomfort of others—even when we feel like we’re down to our last two coins.


Well there you have it.  My original title?  Finding God in the Widow’s Mite.

It you can think of a title that captures the message of this chapter more clearly, please leave it in the comment section below.  The only “rule” is that it has to start with the words “Finding God” and then the preposition of your choice.

That’s the end of my sneak peeks for a while; liturgical Ordinary Time returns in fifteen weeks.  I am going to try to keep up with the Sunday blog posts, though; this has been fun!  I anticipate some significant book announcements in the next few weeks, so stay tuned, and do follow this site if you’re not already.

May each of your ordinary days be extraordinarily blessed!

 – Christine

Finding God in the Cafeteria

How did you get started in public speaking?

The question came at the end of a presentation I had just given in a parish cafeteria in front of almost a hundred women. I chuckled as I realized that the answer began when I was a tongue-tied teenager in another cafeteria almost 40 years earlier.

It was the first day of high school, and my family had just moved into the neighborhood. I was terribly shy and didn’t know a soul, whereas most students had arrived with classmates from their grade schools. I was assigned to third-period lunch but had no idea where to sit, so I just stood there, lost amid a chattering mass of ponytails and perms.

Suddenly a face came into focus right in front of me. I noticed you were in my first two classes, the girl said. Would you like to sit together?

Kathy—still one of my dearest friends—does not remember that moment, though I’ve retold the story countless times in her presence. But for me our encounter was a pivot; it altered my path dramatically, in more ways than one. Kath was joining the speech and debate team because her big sister was on it. I was happy to follow my new friend anywhere, so I joined, too, and this formerly tongue-tied teenager spent the next four years honing her speaking skills in competition and on stage. I located my voice, and now I preach, perform, even sing in front of crowds. Where would the road-not-taken have led? I don’t know, and I don’t want to. I do know that I will never stop thanking my friend for her moment of spontaneous generosity. I am writing this on Kathy’s 52nd birthday, praying that joy will continue to come her way in as much measure as her kindness brought me.


This story is an excerpt from Chapter 12 of Finding God in Ordinary Time.  This had to be my post this week, since I wrote it on Kathy’s birthday exactly one year ago today.  My dear, beautiful, accomplished friend is now the Executive Director of The ARC / Baltimore.  We may be Kathleen and Christine to the rest of the world, but between us we will always be just Kath and Chris.  Love you, chickie!

Kathleen-Durkin-full-headshot-for-web.jpg

Kathleen Durkin

May each of your ordinary days be extraordinarily blessed.

– Christine

Next Week:  Finding God in the Widow’s Mite