Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Downward Trend Continues

Just popping in to say that THE DOWNWARD TREND CONTINUES!!!!  After struggling, what with the weird "is it or isn't it" menopausal stuff going on, I lost another 2 pounds last week.  Huzzah!   I didn't run, unfortunately, and I'm kind of mad at myself about that, but all in all, I am pleased!  I'm only one pound above where Sparkpeople says that I should be at this point to be "on track".  This is exciting news!

Happy happy dance.

Don't forget, today is the feast day of St. John Paul the Second.

Some favorite quotes:

"Family, become what you are....  And since in God's plan it has been established as an "intimate community of life and love,"(44) the family has the mission to become more and more what it is, that is to say, a community of life and love, in an effort that will find fulfillment, as will everything created and redeemed, in the Kingdom of God. Looking at it in such a way as to reach its very roots, we must say that the essence and role of the family are in the final analysis specified by love. Hence the family has the mission to guard, reveal and communicate love, and this is a living reflection of and a real sharing in God's love for humanity and the love of Christ the Lord for the Church His bride."  (Familiaris Consortio)

"Do not be afraid. Do not be satisfied with mediocrity. Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”

And for more lovely quotes:  Click here.  

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Switch

Years ago, I was a smoker.  I mean, a real smoker, not just one or two puffs here or there, or only when I was out, although that's how it started.  No, I was one of those people who woke up in the morning, made a cuppa, and had a cigarette.  I smoked while driving (blech), while talking on the phone, while reading, during work breaks. It was ingrained into my daily living.  And it was crazy.  For someone like me, who started life with serious health issues, including multiple bouts of pneumonia and chronic bronchitis, to smoke, that is cray-cray, as Chickadee #1 would say.

And then, one day, I wasn't a smoker.  It's not just that I stopped smoking, although I did.  What I mean is that, something had to happen mentally before I could think of myself as a nonsmoker, rather than a former smoker who struggles against a tobacco addiction and is in danger of falling back into the clutches of the demon weed.

I've described that smoker/non-smoker mental magic as a "switch" to people who ask me how I quit.  I can honestly say that I didn't really quit -- I just stopped.  I never had a craving that I can remember (other than one particular day when someone was driving me crazy) and only twice since then have I put a cigarette to my lips -- throwing it away after one or two puffs in disgust.  So, what happened?  It really was like a switch had been thrown.  What had seemed so impossible was possible.  What had seemed so unlikely was reality.  I wasn't a smoker.  I didn't want cigarettes.  I didn't have cravings.  I wasn't in a bad mood.  I was just a non-smoker, living my non-smoking life.

I bring this up because I went to bed yesterday, praying that the way I am currently feeling means that "the switch" has been thrown.
I feel happy, y'all.
I feel powerful.
I am doing fairly easily staying well within the caloric limits that are outlined on Sparkpeople (1400 to 1700 calories per day).
I'm drinking my water.  All of it.  Every day.
I'm even eating the right kinds of foods, as you can see in the charts below (this is one of my favorite Sparkpeople features -- a daily nutrition report that shows how you are doing along a number of parameters).

I've signed up for The Color Run in November in Charm City and enlisted my lovely sister and some cousins to join me. Training for that, I started Couch to 5K (podcasts courtesy of the National Health Service in England) and, although it nearly killed me, I completed Day One (Day Two is today).

Before the run
After the run.  LOL

I even didn't react in disgust when the scale this week showed that I'd regained 3 of the 4 pounds I lost last week.  I know that I did everything and more that was required of me last week and that, if I truly have gained weight, it's only from retaining water (cue "I Enjoy Being a Girl,"  a song my college roommate would sing ironically every 28 days or so), if you know what I mean.  Prior to "the switch" having been thrown, I would have been really depressed and angry about the gain and would most likely have accompanied my morning coffee with a cinnamon roll or a danish, rather than a nice healthy bowl of oatmeal.

Of course, I have to bring in U2 to this discussion.  I know they are publicity hounds and annoying to a lot of people.  But, heavens, they speak to me sometimes -- I can't think it's coincidence.  They recently released a new album, "Songs Of Innocence".  Immediately, the standout track for me was "Every Breaking Wave".  This video from rai3 (Italian tv) has a live performance with just Bono and The Edge.  If you can ignore the really annoying moving graphics in the background, the lyrics are just breathtaking.  The parts that really speak to me are the refrain and the bridge.  

The refrain says, in part:

Baby every dog on the street
Knows that we're in love with defeat
Are we ready to be swept off our feet
And stop chasing 
Every breaking wave.

The bridge says, 

The sea knows where are the rocks 
And drowning is no sin.
You know where my heart is
The same place that yours has been
We know that we fear to win
And so we end before we begin...

This time, I'm not going to end before I begin.  I'm not -- Bono tells me, and I must obey, LOL.  
So, I'm still hopeful.  I'm still liking SparkPeople.  I'm still drinking water.  And I'm going to do my podcast run thing tonight.  

Go me.  


Thursday, October 9, 2014

Pep Talks and Iconic Clothing.

So, I've been logging onto SparkPeople, which is a really comprehensive and helpful resource.

I lost 4 pounds last week.  Amazing.  I don't really trust it, but WAY TO GO ME!

I'm also working on the "head" piece of all of this.  And, yesterday, I gave myself a pep talk.  I was partly inspired by something I'd heard on the radio in the morning, part of an ongoing series on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.  Called "Why Saying Is Believing", it was really interesting, and you should go the the link and listen to it.  But what really struck me was two notions.  The first was that positive self-talk is more than just being nice to yourself.  It's actually kind of "internal remodeling," according to the story.  The second thing that stood out to me was that it is important to achieve some kind of distance from oneself when doing this -- for example, instead of saying "I can't or can do x", you would say "Colleen, you can do x".  This provides some psychological distance that is very effective in getting people to be less emotional, more rational, and even kinder to the people they are naming -- even when those people are actually themselves.  It's really fascinating.

So, I tried it.  Right that morning.  I went up to my bedroom, undressed, and actually looked at myself in the mirror.  Before I started, I was emphatic that I couldn't be mean to myself -- no name-calling, no hatred.  But I was also adamant that I would spend only 5 minutes and that I would be truthful and positive.

I would be lying if I said it was easy.  It was one of the longest five minutes of my life -- I really can't believe what I see in the mirror (I avoid them at all costs) and it's so difficult not to be hateful towards myself.  But I promised myself, and I followed through.  I thought about what a gift my body is -- to me and to others, and of all the wonderful things I've been able to do with this body.  And how there is no other -- it's like the little life raft for the seed of my soul, and it has to carry me forward until the next phase of my life.  It's going to be with me through eternity.  God made this body for me, so there has to be a reason.  It's assuredly not perfect, but it's mine and I have to love it.

At the end, I felt really good about that exercise and I'm glad that I did it.  So, WAY TO GO ME! (again).

The mirror I was using was a full-length mirror on the inside of my closet (where I put it so that I don't come across it unexpectedly).  It's the only full-length mirror in the house.  Because the mirror is inside my closet, the door was open, naturally, which led me to look at the clothes inside my closet (the ones I don't usually wear -- my daily outfits are mostly the folding kind). I pulled these two dresses out of the closet:

They don't look like much on the hanger, but boy did they look good on me.  And what I love about them is not only are they several sizes smaller than I am now, but that they are associated with such great memories.

The blue dress is the one I wore on my first date with my husband.  I was so excited that day -- floating on air.  I walked into the Humphrey Building with such as spring in my step that the security guard stopped me to ask if I had a hot date that night.  I was very happy to be able to say "Why yes, I do" and even happier at the smile of appreciation he had for me as I left the building 8 hours later, all dolled up.

The green dress is the one that I wore to a family wedding 4 weeks after Chickadee #1 was born.  It was the first time I'd been away from her, and I remember feeling like a million bucks in that dress.  My husband's aunt, the mother of the groom, kept introducing me to people by saying, "can you believe she just had a baby a few weeks ago?"  It doesn't hurt that that is my favorite color of green.  Can I just say, though, that wearing a dress that zips up the back to a wedding where you are going to have to use a breast pump regularly is NOT the world's most splendid idea.

So,  I loved those dresses, but most of all, I loved how happy I was at the time I was wearing them.  I could have been dressed in a paper sack and I would have been beautiful, because I was so so happy.
It's a good thing to remember.


Monday, October 6, 2014

Future Fast Forward

You know those Weight Loss Success stories that appear in women's magazines, on CNN, and sometimes in newspapers?  They follow a typical pattern,
  • First, the introduction to the subject with special emphasis on the dire condition he or she was in prior to losing weight.  
  • Then, a list of past sins (never liked to exercise, diet consisted of soda and ice cream, in denial)
  • Next, there is a "life changing moment" -- the turning point when the subject decided. through dint of will, that things were going to change this time, for good.
  • Now, the payoff -- the moment we crave  -- the moment we crave.  We see the before and after photos. We hear about all the great things the subject can now do.
  • At the conclusion, we may be treated to some advice and motivation, mostly centering on "don't give up" (with the silent (or not so silent) corollary of continuing to buy whatever product or lifestyle is being promoted.   
I used to read those stories  -- I'm a firm believer in the power of words.  I'm a writer after all.  I have written myself into college and into graduate school, into job after job after job.  I take consolation from the written word.  I find my worldview (weltenschauung -- see I can't even help it -- learned that in Lit. Trad. IV) is interpenetrated by things I learned in books.  So, it's no wonder that I really believe that words can transform us.

Except, they kinda can't.

There was a fantastic lecture I once attended in an epistemology class in college given by one of the 20th century's preeminent Thomist philosophers -- Dr. Frederick Wilhelmsen.  In it, he discussed the differences between the scientific way of thinking and the magical way of thinking.  I remember being so shocked when he asserted that both science and magic spring from the same root -- both attempt to affect change in the material realm through the use of formulas.  He talked about alchemical roots of science and how the assumption in science is that, if you can understand nature through experimentation which you record and duplicate, then (ultimately) you can change nature, just as the alchemists were doing when they tried to turn lead to gold.  It completely blew my mind, and still does.

What I'm learning, though is that words are not enough to transform.  All the knowledge in the world is not going to affect change unless it is put into action.  And so, I start again, with the basics.  8 glasses of water.  Salads.  Movement.  Determination.

And I'm doing pretty well, so huzzah for me.

I thought again of joining Weight Watchers but, really, I don't want to go to meetings and I didn't want to pay for the online plan.  Luckily, I (re)discovered SparkPeople, which is very similar in a lot of ways to WeightWatchers, but which is free (they just subject you to a lot of advertising -- okay with me because I just ignore it).  So far, I believe I've been doing very well. Tomorrow is day 7, so I will do a weight at the beginning of the day and see whether my intuition is correct.

Oh -- also -- for my goal setting.  I did do something scary.  I signed up for the Color Run.  That is terrifying.  November 15.  AAGH!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Setting goals

Getting back on the horse.

I was inspired by the lovely Brooke of Brooke:  Not on a Diet to set some goals for myself for this month.  I spent a bunch of time the other day and used Brooke's Goal Digging printable to articulate what I want for myself this month.

I like the structure of the printable because it helps to visualize daily, weekly, and monthly goals, and provides a space to list a reward that you will do or buy yourself at the end of a successful month.

So, what are my goals?

15 minutes of intentional movement
Drink your water every day
Take your vitamins
Make your plate half veggies and fruit 2 times per day

Walk 10 miles
Stick to food plan
Put on makeup and do hair 3 times per week
Get up early to meditate and pray 4 times per week

Do something scary
Get rid of old, unattractive clothes that make you feel frumpy

I liked this Alex & Ani Moss Winding Road Beaded Bangle.

So, how have I done so far?


Goals have been lacking since I hurt my back somehow.  (Okay, I'll be honest -- I hurt it while SLEEPING.  Getting old really is awful, isn't it?) so

  • movement, intentional or otherwise, has been problematic this week.  It's getting better, and I'm contemplating setting up my living room as a dance hall tomorrow -- I've been listening to some old beloved music tonight and really enjoyed the memories of all those dance clubs of my youth. 
  • Drinking water -- I'd say I have a 50 percent success rate.  Working on it.
  • Take your vitamins.  Fail.
  • Make your plate half veggies/fruit 2x a day.  I've been more successful with this.  Good thing I love vegetables.


  • Walk 10 miles.  I'm not going to do this this week.
  • Stick to food plan:  I've been trying hard this week, but I'm feeling confused and paralyzed.  I haven't been really draconian about it, and I am struggling this week with not eating for hours and hours.  For example, yesterday, I ate a bagel with butter in the morning, then a bowl of soup in the at lunch and another at dinner and that was it.  The soup was chicken tortilla soup and I did have some tortilla chips with it both times, but I don't know, is that a normal thing?  On Monday I didn't eat anything at all between breakfast (a power sandwich at Panera) until dinner -- I was really busy grocery shopping, doing laundry, and cooking.  Today I had a bagel and a banana for breakfast, a bowl of Chicken Tortilla soup for lunch with a handful of tortilla chips, a pumpkin spice latte (no whipped cream and smallest size and a cheese danish from Starbucks), a banana, and a cup of whole wheat pasta with broccoli and white sauce.  
  • Put on make up and do hair three times this week:.  Well, I took my makeup out of the drawer in which it usually hides and put it in my purse.  But not on my face.  And I did do my hair this morning.  I have a few more days to do this though.  
  • Get up and pray 4 x per week.  Well, since I have not gone to bed yet and it's 12:52 am, I don't think tomorrow is going to be the morning either.  But, we are saying a decade of the rosary or two on the way to school in the morning.  It keeps me calm(er) in traffic, prevents the chickadees from listening to the trash on radio, and helps to start the day intentionally.  I went to prayer group this morning and did some Lectio Divina on the Gospel for Sunday and I am going to teach Children's Church this Sunday, so I will get some prayer time in this week.  It just won't be early.


  • Do something scary.  Hell, getting up every morning is scary -- I've got that covered.  Really, I'm thinking.  I would like to do something adventurous.  Maybe I will sign up for this?  I wonder if I could walk it.  Running it would be scary and probably impossible.  
  • Throw away or give away old, unattractive clothes.  I am thinking of which ones to give away, but am worried about not having anything to wear.  Seriously.

Thursday, September 11, 2014


I'm sitting at my computer, waiting for a repairman and trying to get my mind into work mode.  In the background, I am listening to relatives of those lost on 9/11 in New York read the list of names of those murdered by members of an Islamic death cult.  Every year, I listen to the names and feel such empathy for the relatives standing there, naming strangers in alphabetical order.  All the while, they know that, at the end of their portion of the list, they will have to acknowledge in speech the gaping hole that was torn in their lives by people who looked at their precious loved one as just part of a hated group.

This reading of names, this insistence on the particularity of each person who was murdered, is the kernel of my philosophy.  People are not groups.  They aren't "liberals" or "conservatives" or "men" or "women" or "black" or "white" or "Christian" or "Hindu" or "Muslim" or "American" or "alien" or "the 99 percent" or "the 1 percent".  Those are labels that the political cynics and the race baiters and the haters use to divide people from one another in order to accrue power, prestige, and wealth to themselves.  It's time that we stop playing into this tactic.

The news from this past summer has been unrelentingly bad, both internationally and domestically.  In April, 276 Christian schoolgirls were kidnapped in Nigeria, presumably to be sold into slavery or kept as sexual chattel by a branch of the Islamic death cult, Boko Haram.  Another branch of the Islamic death cult, the Islamic State (ISIS) spent the summer cutting a swath of destruction through northern Iraq, beheading soldiers and sticking their heads on spikes, raping women and children, cutting the heads off little Christian boys and girls, driving people from cities and villages that had had a Christian presence for 1,700 years, murdering, raping, and displacing members of the Yazidi ethnic and religious minority, driving them to utter ruin,starvation, and dehydration on Mt. Sinjar in Northern Iraq.  I defy anyone to watch the YouTube video of Vian Dakhil, the Yazidi representative to the Iraqi Parliament, beg for help without weeping.  Meanwhile, it was revealed that gangs of men in Rotherham, England had spent the past fifteen years raping and prostituting English girls without being hindered in any way by police and social service authorities who, while aware of what was going on, were reluctant to intervene because the perpetrators were Asian (i.e. Pakistani) Muslims and the victims were white Christian English girls.  Instead of addressing the crimes being committed, they sent social workers off to "diversity training" and threatened them with firing if they ever again referred to the criminals as "Asian" (i.e., Pakistani Muslim).

On the home front, we spent weeks watching riots in Ferguson, Missouri over a racially-tinged fatal shooting of a black man who may, or may not, have been threatening a white police officer who may, or may not, have been responding to reports of a suspect fitting the man's description who had just committed a strong-arm robbery.  Businesses, homes, and the city itself were well-nigh destroyed.  Respected civil-rights leaders were calling for the police officer to be arrested, indicted, and convicted before an investigation was completed, thus demonstrating their utter lack of interest in due process on national television.  Politicians who are facing tough elections in their districts are distancing themselves from a President who appears ever more disengaged and uninterested in leading, even from behind. The economy sputters along, cost of living rises every week (for example, my grocery bill at Aldi, the cheapest grocery store I can find, has risen from an average of just below $100 per week at the end of last school year to between $110 and $140 per week at the beginning of this school year), and I recognize that I live in a boom-town in comparison to most other places in the country.

This is where my mind has been this summer, caught up in all sorts of dark places.  It's hard to concentrate on the goodness in my life, which is undoubtedly more than I deserve, when, emotionally, I feel that it is teetering on the brink of chaos.  And so, I find it tempting to retreat into the make-believe certainty of a world with labels, of us vs. them.  It feels good.  It feels right.  I have even done it, to a certain extent, in this very post.

Yet, all the while, in the back of my mind, I hear those names.  Those particular people:

Emmanuel Akwasi Afuakwah,
Angela Reed Kyte,
Philip D. Miller,
Rhondelle Cheri Tankard,
Ching Wang, and
Christopher Rudolph Zarba, Jr.,

among so many others.

Each one a gift from God.
Each one precious in the sight of God.
Each one willed into existence by the Lord.
Each one taken from this world by an "us vs. them" mentality, ripped from existence by those who had succumbed to what we used to call "Evil" with a capital E.

How are we to function then, in the world, without our labels for others?  Empathy.  Compassion. Humility.  An understanding that we ourselves don't have all the answers or a lock on the truth.  And, always, with the words of a very wise Person in our ears:  "By their fruits shall you know them." From what I can see on the television screen, many of those who were killed on 9/11 bore the fruits of love in this world.  This is a day when we should ask, "What are the fruits that can be harvested from our own lives?"  I hope the fruits of mine are compassion, love, and kindness.  

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Middle of the Night Musings

Last night, I was sad and went to bed early (at nine).  I woke up at 2 am and started to think.  It's now 4 am and here I am, writing.  I finished one post on JPII and Feminism, being vs. doing, and Martha and Mary which had been sitting in my list of unfinished posts for a few weeks.  But THIS post is why I was awake in the middle of the night.

I spent a lot of time yesterday reading a weird book called The Tapping Solution by Jessica Ortner.  Not that I'm totally sold on the whole concept, but I am reading it as a way to try to understand my own motivations and beliefs, and it's been pretty helpful... and painful.

So, anyway, I was depressed yesterday because the scale has ticked up again and is stuck.  I'm tired and frustrated.  In one of the meditations she offers, Ortner talks about the scale and how we allow it to be the thing that tells us whether we are going to have a good day.  She explains that the scale was not something that anyone even had access to a hundred years ago.  Bathroom scales didn't come into wide usage until the middle of the 20th century.  And here they are, these petty dictators that dominate our bathrooms and our imaginations.  This led to a discussion of the beliefs we allow to limit us.

So, that's the background.  When I woke up in the middle of the night, I started to think about my own limiting beliefs.  Several things popped into my drowsy mind and electrified me.  One of my beliefs was "I don't feel safe in my body."  And another one was "My body is not a prison."  This led me to think about my earliest experiences of my body --  THE BODY CAST.   I've written about it here and here.   Even though I don't remember it, how frustrating must it have been for a baby, at a crucial stage of motor development, to be completely encased in plaster from mid-chest to mid-calf.  I remember my own children at that stage and their constant movement. I look at my niece and nephew who are about 18 months old now -- they are constantly in motion. Could this be why frustration seems to be my base emotional state?  Really interesting.

While I would say that most of my childhood and adulthood was pretty normal, given the way things started, there are several things that have stuck in my mind and maybe have played too prominent a role in setting me up for all the "I Can't" stuff.
  • When I was sort of mid-childhood, I "caught a virus" in my hip.  I have no idea what that means, if it's possible, or if I am misremembering what actually happened.  (What do you know.)  What I DO remember is that I was not allowed to walk for what felt like forever (probably a week or ten days).  I could come down the stairs (on my backside) in the morning, go to the couch and lie down, and stay there all day.  In the evening, I could go up to bed.  I could get up to use the bathroom.  That's it.  Incredibly boring.  I mean, really awful.  I remember it so clearly because I was allowed to eat in the living room, something that was off limits in our house, and because my beloved godmother took pity on me and brought my older cousin, B., up to our house in the middle of the day one day (I don't know whether she took him out of school or whether he was off anyway), and he played Scrabble with me.  And let me win.  He was so sweet -- playing board games with a 9 or 10 year old cousin when you are a pre-teen boy is probably not high on your list of "want-to-do's", but he was so nice to me.  And I appreciate it to this day!
  • On our road, an older girl lived in an old farmhouse.  There was a root cellar built into the earth -- on the back, it was low to the ground, while it was high off the ground in front.  One day, all the kids took turns jumping off the front of the root cellar, a drop of probably 8 or 10 feet.  It was so much fun -- thrilling, even.  I remember how angry my mother was that I had done that -- not angry at my sisters -- just angry at me.  I couldn't understand why I was in trouble and they weren't.  There was a similar incident with our middle school bus stop.  Funny -- what's with country kids and jumping off of structures?
There are a couple of other things similar, but that's pretty interesting to me.  

When I was thinking, "I don't feel safe in my body," that was pretty interesting too.  I was thinking in particular of the terrible fall I took a few years ago when I dislocated my knee so painfully.  It was really scary because my body just sort of turned against me and it took me so long to recover and get strong.  It has made me really fearful of common things, although I was so happy to find myself stepping into and out of the baby pool easily and without fear, so I guess that is progress.

As I was thinking about these things, I thought also about how I could reframe these issues:

-- instead of "my body is not a prison," I considered all the amazing things that this body has allowed me to experience.  I've looked at the Sistine Chapel, smelled the salt off the Irish Sea, heard the Poor Clares singing in Assisi, tasted food so good I wanted to lick the plate, felt my babies moving inside me.  I've spent hours walking in cities that I loved.  I've heard music that has made my heart sing.  I've seen beautiful works of art and natural scenes that bring peace to my heart.  I have felt my husband's touch and heard his laughter and seen his smile.  So this body isn't so bad at all, is it?  Thank God for it.  
-- instead of "I don't feel safe in my body," I could try a little tenderness.  For that baby encased in plaster.  For that child stuck on a couch while her sisters got to run around and play.  For the young girl who never felt good enough.  For the young woman who had so dissociated her brain from her body that it was kind of pathetic.  For the middle-aged woman who just won't give up already.  For the old woman who I'll become who needs me to be healthy now.  So have some frickin' compassion already.  

It's a start.  

Be Not Afraid

This is, in his own handwriting, Saint John Paul II's famous charge, echoing Christ's words to us:  Be Not Afraid!  I think it's especially appropriate given the title of my last post, "What's Your Greatest Fear?"  God smack, anyone?

I think of Saint John Paul II every day.  He was such a huge figure in my life.  I loved him so much and I bless the day I actually encountered him in person -- it's something I always treasured.

And today, in reading a column by Pia de Solleni, JP2 on the New Feminism, I was struck by her discussion of "being vs. doing" as the basis for feminism.  This is the crux, I think, of the whole debate over the role of women in the Church -- what we are allowed to DO versus what we are called to BE. Women's roles are not what define us -- no matter what those roles are. The priesthood isn't a job with an educational and vocational path to entry, duties and responsibilities, and a path to preferment and promotion.  If it were, then people who believe that it's unfair that women are not priests would be right.  Instead, the priesthood is not something that some men DO as a job, it's something they ARE.  Priests are sign of contradiction,
to use another phrase of Saint John Paul II.  They are in the world but not of it.  It's a lonely and difficult life, I think, and not one I'd choose, even if I could.  But I am glad that we have priests to be our signs of contradiction.

Back to doing vs. being -- maybe the whole women as priests thing gets back to Martha and Mary.  In the story, Jesus comes to visit the family of Lazarus, Martha, and Mary.  Imagine, a whole group of tired, dusty, hungry men -- at least thirteen of them and probably many more -- one of whom just happens to be the Son of God -- show up on your doorstep.  There are no phones, email, or even postcards, so you had no idea they were coming.  Maybe for dinner tonight, you were just planning on reheating last night's spaghetti in the microwave or allowing everyone to eat peanut butter and jelly (oh, that's my house), but now you have to pull a decent meal out of your hat.  Hospitality in this culture was one of the most important things, AND YOU ARE GOING TO FAIL.  No wonder Martha was pissed off that her sister, Mary, WHO SHOULD BE HELPING HER GET DINNER READY, was just sitting around at Jesus's feet listening to the words that were falling like pearls from his mouth (the same mouth that would be eating cold spaghetti or PB&J on wheat if Mary didn't get her butt in gear).  No wonder she complained.

Jesus's answer has always kind of angered me -- because I'm a Martha too, and feel like my DOING is what defines my WORTH.  Rather than telling Mary to get off her ass and help her sister, Jesus tells Martha that Mary has chosen the better part and that she won't be deprived of it.

The Gospel of Luke says:

Jesus Visits Martha and Mary
38 Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40 But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42 there is need of only one thing.[a] Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

If I were Martha, I would be angry and troubled by this.  Jesus didn't stick up for me -- he didn't take my part.  In fact, he gently chided me.  And, in fact, he IS chiding me.  Now.  "Colleen, Colleen, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing."

That thing is BEING, not doing.  BEING in the presence of the Lord, all day, every day.  Not whether the laundry is done.  Not whether the to-do list is finished.  Not whether my husband is happy.  Not whether the children are growing up decent.  No.  Just being in the presence of the Lord.  All else follows.  It's the better part.

How did I get here from women priests and feminism?  LOL.  #rambling, #uptoolate

Thursday, May 22, 2014

"What's your greatest fear?"

I heard those words from the back room as I slipped out the front door in the middle of my regular Wednesday prayer group.  I had to leave just as the discussion was getting personal so that I could meet my mother and two of my aunts, whom I was taking to visit the Saint John Paul II Shrine in Washington, D.C.  Kathryn Ferguson, a prayer group member and a friend, was talking to us about her faith journey in the light of being diagnosed with a chronic disease.  Kathryn writes about her experiences at the funny and moving blog, PilgrimageGal, but today she brought me to tears.  

Even though Kathryn's circumstances are particular to her, she so clearly and lovingly showed us that all of us have things against which we struggle. All of us have walls and pretenses that we put up and facades that we build to project the images we want others to see. In a very real way, she called me on my bullshit today, without even knowing that she was doing it. And so I was happy to have a reason to flee -- that's what it felt like -- flight.  

Kathryn said something that really resonated with me.  She was talking about our desire to control our own stories.  We are the writer, director, and lead actor in those stories and we'd like to know that, as the ending credits scroll, the story is the one we want others to see.  We've accomplished all our goals and have lived a successful and happy life.  Back before I met my wonderful husband, I used to bemoan my uncertain and single state over the phone to one good friend.  I'd cry, "What is wrong with me?  I'm smart, I'm kind, I'm reasonably attractive!  Do I have cooties?  Do I emanate invisible "touch me not" vibes?"  After a little while of this, I'd end by saying something like, "you know, Neen, I sometimes just wish that my life was over.  That I was 85 years old and looking back on a happy life.  If I could get one glimpse of myself rocking on a porch somewhere with a contented smile on my face surrounded by my children and grandchildren, this loneliness would be so much easier to stand."  

Well, here I am, fifteen years later, and I can't say that I'm lonely anymore.  With a husband who loves me with his whole heart and two children who are unabashedly THERE and ON all the time, now I sometimes lock myself in the bathroom to get a minute or two of peace.  And still they talk to me and knock on the door and need me so desperately RIGHT THAT SECOND.  And I love it.  

And yet, speaking of facades -- last week when it was my day to host prayer group at 9:30 am on a Wednesday, I was almost in tears at 8:45, looking at my wreck of a kitchen, with a sink full of last night's dirty dishes, a countertop covered in ick, and two different baked goods in various stages of completion.  Yet, when everyone walked in, the kitchen was clean, the floor had been mopped, the bathroom was cleaned and things were generally in order.  The facade had been maintained.  No one heard my four-letter-word curses or was here to see the self-pitying and angry body language as I slammed last night's dishes into the washer, muttering, "what, am I everybody's SLAVE now?  Why does no one ever HELP me?"  etc. etc. whine whine whine.  When in fact, housework and I are NOT friends, I am easily distracted, and I have a million other things I'd rather do than clean.  So when it comes time to stress and strain because people are coming over, it's my own damn fault that it's stressful and a strain.  I want both/and.  I want to be able to do the other things I'd rather do AND have a clean house.  I want the facade but not the substance, in other words.

And that brings me around to, you guessed it, my biggest fear, which, pitiably, is that I will never ever ever lose weight.  That I will be stuck at this weight forever and that I will get to my elderly years without having really lived a healthy middle-aged and older adult life.  That my life from now until the end will be constricted by my own damn fault, just like my house is a mess because of my own damn fault.  

It makes me ashamed that this is my biggest fear.  It's so superficial.  I don't really care all that much that I'm not beautiful.  I've never ever been a fashion victim and I've hated clothes shopping since I was a size 10.  So the fact that I'm deeply ashamed because my facade is not what I want people to see is really galling.  I'm working through a lot of my understanding of the body right now in the light of the Incarnation, and that is making it worse.  How can I be so jazzed up about the Incarnation, and so sure that God becoming man has all of these wonderful implications for our own physicality and for the physicalness of the world itself, and still hate my own body so much?  So much that I won't even look at myself in the mirror?  So now I have hypocrisy to add to the list of reasons to beat up on myself, along with:
  • being unhealthy and shortening my own life because of indiscipline
  • being a poor role model for my daughters when it comes to body image and food
  • being so shallow that this really bothers me
  • being ineffectual in changing my behavior enough to really make a difference
  • being unable to do all the things we want to do as a family (for example, we want to go out West to Yellowstone, but I can't be a good hiker under these circumstances.)  
and the list goes on. 

So that's my biggest fear.  It's kind of strange when your biggest fear -- being seen as not perfect -- is also the same thing you advertise each time you walk out the door. No wonder I'm so screwed up.  

Anyway, I'm off to meet a friend for lunch.  I'm getting a salad.  I swear.

Friday, May 9, 2014

What I did with my University of Dallas education yesterday

While websurfing yesterday, I came across a lovely little story about a Black Mass "reenactment" that is being performed as part of a "cultural events" series at Harvard.  Yes, Harvard.  The premier academic institution in the United States, founded in 1636 as a school to train Unitarian and Congregationalist ministers.  I couldn't begin to describe how much the entire thing disgusts me.  So, instead, I wrote to the Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club and the President of Harvard.  While I would note that my argument against this disgusting piece of work calls out these people for their bigotry and intolerance, that's not my primary argument against it -- of course, I think it's blasphemous and evil.  But, an argument on those grounds would only serve to encourage and affirm the prejudices of these people, so I wrote:

Dear Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club:
One does not have to have attended Harvard to see that the "reenactment" of a "Black Mass" planned for May 12 by the Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club is a terrible display of bigotry and racism towards the majority of Roman Catholics. I am sure you are aware, with your Harvard education and everything, that, of the world's Roman Catholics in 2004 (the latest year for which numbers are available), 725,823,970 were from Africa, Latin America, Asia, and Oceania while 352,765,647 were from Europe and North America. By mocking the beliefs and rituals of Roman Catholics, you directly attack brown and black people all over the world. One need hardly mention that people living in these regions are among the most economically disadvantaged in the world, while Cambridge, Massachusetts is one of the wealthiest areas in the wealthiest nation in the world. One could reasonably conclude that a bunch of privileged white kids with a surfeit of time and a dearth of sense have deliberately decided to denigrate the belief system of the world's poor black and brown peoples. The cognitive dissonance must be deafening.
One notes that, in an attempt to justify its support of this event, the University has said, "In this case, we understand that this independent student organization, the Cultural Studies Club, is hosting a series of events -- including a Shinto tea ceremony, a Shaker exhibition, and a Buddhist presentation on meditation -- as part of a student-led effort to explore different cultures." Although I did not attend Harvard, even I can see multiple logical holes in this justification of bigotry. First, Harvard attempts to distance itself from the event by claiming that it is planned and executed by an "independent", "student-led" group. After throwing its own students to the wolves, Harvard then likens the "Black Mass" to a Shinto tea ceremony, a Shaker exhibition, and a Buddhist event. This violent yoking of disparate ideas, which the Metaphysical poets called a "conceit," is unsuccessful. The Shinto ceremony, the Shaker ceremony, and the Buddhist event are straightforward presentations of different cultural artifacts. A "Black Mass" is, by its nature, a parody and perversion of a religious and cultural event. Finally, the assertion that the "Black Mass" is an artifact of a culture is simply false. The Roman Catholic Mass is a cultural artifact which has inspired art, architecture, literature, music, philosophy, theology, and (for some) reverence, joy, and a reformed heart and mind for over two millenia. The Black Mass is a desecration of the same.
Shame on you for your bigotry and shame on Harvard for its support of this display.
Colleen Monaghan Zarzecki
Class of 1988, the University of Dallas

I wanted to put in parentheses after University of Dallas something snarky like "a university where people learn something other than how to be idiots" or "a university where people learn to love logic" or "a university that knows what education really means," but I thought that it would be unproductive and unkind.  

Disgusting prats.  Pray for them anyway -- they are so confused and lost, they really need it.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Good news at last!

I had a busy morning, medically speaking.  I had two doctor's appointments -- one with my GP and one with a gastroenterologist whom I'd seen in October because my liver enzymes were elevated.  I have a sinus infection (which is NOT the good news) and was prescribed antibiotics (which WILL be good news in a couple of days).  But the real, here-and-now good news is that I asked my GP how my weight this time compared to my weight last time I saw her -- I've lost 20 pounds!  Shocking, I know.  But hooray for me!  The gastroenterologist also had good news -- my liver enzymes, while still higher than they should be, have come down significantly.  They still have a way to go before they are in the normal range, but he said that he was proud of me and that he is not worried about the numbers.

And, something I just kind of realized over the last week -- I've gone down a pants size (hooray, except that I bought a pair of pants last week in the larger size and now have to constantly hitch them up) and I realized when I was at Great Wolf that my bathing suit from last year is now a little roomy on me.  

Hooray!  Calloo Callay!  

We have to take these little victories as they come.  Onward!

On a completely different note -- last week, on a cold and rainy day, I was led through the rabbit-hole of the internet to a YouTube video of a 1933 movie called The Story of Temple Drake.  I watched the whole thing, in eight parts, and it was really very interesting. And I was SURE that this story was familiar to me.  Imagine my surprise when a little further research revealed that this film is based on William Faulkner's novel, Sanctuary.  The movie is a pot-boiler but, then again, so is the novel, which I promptly checked out of the library.  I haven't read Faulkner in 20-odd years.  I just love the first paragraph:

From beyond the screen of bushes which surrounded the stream, Popeye watched the man drinking.  A faint path led from the road to the spring.  Popeye watched the man -- a tall, thin man, hatless, in worn gray flannel trousers and carrying a tweed coat over his arm -- emerge from the path and kneel to drink from the spring.

Who is Popeye?  What's he doing in the woods?  Who is the man.  Why is he hatless?  Where is he going?  

Love it, love it, love it, especially on the heels of Faulkner's fantastic introduction, in which he says, 

This book was written three years ago.  To me, it is a cheap idea, because it was deliberately conceived to make money.  I had been writing books for about five years, which got published and not bought.  But that was all right.  I was young then and hard-bellied.  I had never lived among nor known people who wrote novels and stories and I suppose I did not know people got money for them.  I was not very much annoyed when publishers refused the mss. now and then.  Because I was hard-gutted then.  I could do a lot of things that could earn what little money I needed, thanks to my father's unfailing kindness which supplied me with bread at need despite the outrage to his principles at having been of a bum progenitive.  

Oh my gosh, I love it so much:  "of a bum progentive."  Faulkner protests a bit too much, I think -- the Introduction seems to me to be a way that he can disavow the unsavory subject matter and still tell a good story.  I'm in the early pages yet -- I can't remember if I read this during my class with Dr. Bradford on Faulkner.  But I'm reading it now.  Hooray, again!

Some successes, some failures...

So, the successes --

  • At the beginning of the week last week, I weighed in at the lowest weight I've seen in a long time.  That was good.  
  • We went with the Chickadees to the really fun, really kid-centric Great Wolf Lodge in Williamsburg, VA.  
  • We were upgraded to a Majestic Bear Suite™ (FOR FREE -- so exciting, I never get anything for free!) and, after the Chickadees were safely asleep in the master bedroom with a closed door between them and us, my husband and I looked at each other and asserted that we could definitely learn to live that way.  No more lying still as statues in a dark, unfamiliar hotel room, willing the children to even out their breathing to the rhythmic "I Am Asleep" mode that every parent so longs for at the end of a stressful day of driving.  It was GLORIOUS.  
  • This is our third time at Great Wolf Lodge, and it's a lot of fun.  But it's a lot more fun when you can actually participate in the fun things.  This is part of message I sent to my yoga instructor earlier today explaining why I wouldn't be at yoga for the second week in a row:
Last week I was speeding down a water slide, this week I'm taking Chickadee #2 to the doctor. So from the sublime to the mundane in one easy week. I also wanted to tell you how absolutely grateful I am to you and to yoga. My experience of Great Wolf this time was so different than the previous times that I went it can't even be compared.  I had so much more flexibility  and mobility, it was wonderful. I was actually able to play with my children and do some really fun things, so thank you very much.
And the failures --

  • Instead of dinner one night, I had a cup of coffee and a piece of coconut cream pie from Silver Diner (this was on our way to Williamsburg -- it was snowing and I was stressed out to the nth degree, but still -- ridiculous).
  • I still haven't gotten my husband to adjust the bolt on the bike I bought so I haven't been able to ride it.  I'll have to make that job number one now that IT'S STOPPED SNOWING (we had snow last night, on March 30th).

Friday, March 7, 2014

Lunch with Friends

Fried fish. Yum.  But I had the salad instead of the fries.  happy day.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014


After Easter and Christmas, Ash Wednesday is my favorite religious holiday.  There is just something so beautiful about all the people who come and allow themselves to be publicly signed as sinners in need of God's abundant grace.  The solemn procession of quiet souls proclaims their need for God's healing; together they are embarking on journey of grace.  I watch the faces, the downcast eyes, the clasped hands, and I wonder what they are seeking.  I wonder why they bother to come at all, because aren't we told repeatedly that there are no real sins -- just 'misunderstandings' and 'not living up to our potential' and 'unrealistic expectations'.  

Today, I had a great opportunity to observe the flow of penitents as I was seated behind the altar rail after having proclaimed the second reading at mass.  It's from St. Paul's second letter to the Corinthians.  It says, in part, that now is a very acceptable time [to turn to the Lord].  Now is the day of salvation.  Fr. Michael's sermon really touched me.  He was teaching about the meaning of Lent as a time of preparation, a time to turn to the Lord and give him your burdens, especially your burdens of grudges and anger and sinfulness.  He said we should think of Lent as spring training for the soul, but the habits we practice should be carried forth throughout the year  -- we need to persevere in holiness, not just try it on for six weeks or so.

That really hit home for me -- both my reading and Fr. Michael's sermon.  Not an hour earlier, I'd sent this slightly duplicitous email to my nutritionist's office: 

I need to cancel this appointment for now.  Something has come up for work.  I will call to reschedule.

Followed by the second slightly duplicitous email:

Thank you so much!  Sorry about that -- just need to take care of something sooner rather than later.  :-)

It's slightly duplicitous in that, yes, I do have tasks I need to take care of for work, but this is not the overwhelming reason I cancelled.

I cancelled because I wanted to give up.  I cancelled because I'm frustrated.  I cancelled because I'm ashamed.  I'm treading water.  I'm not losing weight.  I don't feel well.  And in this great ball of goo and angry feelings, I just couldn't face my lovely nutritionist, whose good opinion I want and who is so SURE that, if I do all the things I'm supposed to do, I'll get healthy, lose weight, be happier with myself.  

My experience over the past several years with this weight loss thing is not one of success, it's one of failure.  It's one of sadness, frustration, and excuses.  It's one of half-hearted mad schemes and the decision to not decide.  It's one of hopes dashed and self-hatred. It's one of joining the gym and feeling really good, and then just stopping because life is just too complicated for one reason or another.  It's one of following Weight Watchers, Made to Crave, Curves Complete, Medifast, but always with the underlying, a priori belief that this is not going to 'work', that I can't 'do it right'.  It's one of fear and a semi-acknowledged dread that, no matter what, this is the body I'm burdened with, this is what it's going to be like forever.  And, given my natural proclivities, I then seem to "check out" of my body altogether.   I stop paying attention to basic things like hydration, like exercise, like sleep, like diet, and I live in my head, where it's much more pleasant and where I actually like what I experience.  I'm happy with the thoughts I think; I'm happy with the feelings I have for other people; I'm happy with my imagination.  And then I get resentful when reality crashes in and I start the cycle again.

And into all this bad feeling, comes the Lord, telling me that NOW is an acceptable time.  NOW is the day of salvation.  In other words, get off your ass.  What the hell are you waiting for?  Are you like the Pharisees who won't believe in what I'm saying until they see me coming on a cloud?  Are you waiting for the Second Coming to perfect you?  Remember, God helps those who help themselves.

And into all this bad feeling, comes Fr. Michael, telling me to persevere.  I'm a great attempter.  I try hard, but I don't have staying power.  Fr. Michael is telling me that this is not good enough.  Bodily discipline is like spiritual discipline.  No amount of imagination is going to remove the necessity of actually DOING the right things and making the right choices.  

Recently, on another matter entirely, I had a breakthrough realization.  For years, I'd been trying to fit my behavior in a particular area into the expectations of someone else.  For years, I'd have strong starts, fallings away and half-executed tasks, then fits of guilt, followed by renewed attempts at following the path laid down by someone else. All it left me feeling was inadequate, and angry, and like a failure.  So, I would avoid, avoid, avoid.  Through a lot of work, this other person and I developed a new modus operandi where both of us were able to do what we needed to do and get what we needed out of the situation.  And it's so much better, and it's working for both of us.

I see so clearly that THIS is exactly the issue I'm having with weight loss.  It's the same pattern. The same feelings of inadequacy and anger and the same behaviors of avoidance and resentment.  But I don't know what to do to get in touch with the new modus operandi in this case.  I need something that works FOR ME, not for anyone else. I need something that honors my ways of doing things, as idiosyncratic as they are.  

I know that, whatever this way of doing things turns into, it will start with love, because that is what motivates me.  

For example, I LOVE going to yoga.  I LOVE feeling strong.  I LOVE the improvement I've seen over the past year in almost every aspect of the pain I feel and the flexibility and strength that I have.  

For example, I LOVE planning meals for my family.  It's an expression of love and creativity.  I love cooking and sitting down to dinner with them.  So I need to make sure that my cooking can be done in an optimal way, not just shoved in between helping with homework and doing the supper dishes.  

So, this is where I am right now.  It's not good, but there is a lot of 'head work' and 'heart work' going on right now.  The forty days of Lent are upon us.  

Please note that I've forsworn Facebook during Lent, which is normally the way I signal that I have a new post up.  Be sure to check back directly here, rather than FB, between now and Easter to see if I've made any progress in figuring this all out :-).  And please do leave me comments.  Many prayers for a spiritually-enriched Lenten practice and a blessed Easter to everyone.  

Monday, February 24, 2014

Showing My Disney Side

I have LOTS to catch up on, but I'll start with the fun stuff first...

Yesterday, I hosted my Disney Side @ Home party. We had a blast.  I used the table coverings, mobiles,and balloons provided in the kit Disney sent to decorate.  And not having to worry about remembering plates, cups, and napkins was really a good thing.  (I usually forget at least one of those plus something else -- yesterday, it was just the ice that I forgot!)

Chickadee #1 had a great time helping me create scrolls which outlined our menu and our activities:

We had a great time using the cookie cutters in the party kit to make Jello Jigglers and gluten free chocolate chip cookie bars (thanks, Betty Crocker, for the mix).

My mom suggested that the perfect '70s party food was pigs in a blanket, so I made a heap of those, which were a big hit with the younger crowd.

Once everyone had arrived, we started right in on our activities.  While I'm not a huge fan of the more conventional, princess-colored side of Disney, I recognize that there is something that Disney does better than anyone else in the current entertainment culture:  understanding narrative and telling good stories.  Walt Disney really celebrated imagination and ingenuity as well, so those are the elements that I wanted to emphasize in my Disney Side party.

Disney Loves Good Stories:  
From the Hamlet-like elements in The Lion King to the magic of Peter Pan or the wonderful delicacy of Bambi, Disney recognizes what moves a story forward.  The rides at Walt Disney World are another great example of this.  When we went with the Chickadees a few years ago, #1 and I waited in line for a long time at Kali River Rapids. It was hard for a six year old to wait.  But the way the Imagineers had staged the waiting area made it fun. There so much to see and talk about, and as you walked along, you began to imagine ever more strongly that you were somewhere in the Himalayas, getting ready for an adventure.

In homage to this storytelling genius,  I decided to choose a really important, really good, and very visual story -- Dante Alighere's The Divine Comedy. My version for kids is here.

Afterwards, I unfurled a roll of paper that I'd marked into blocks and worked with the kids to figure out what happened in the story sequentially.  I labeled each block and then the kids started to draw the scene.  It was amazing how much detail even the little kids remembered.  And I got to indulge my literature loving self and make kids listen to a classic story, all at the same time.  A win-win situation.

Disney Builds Cool Stuff:

That soon descended into chaos, so we moved on to the next activity.  I'd had the chickadees separate into categories all our building toys -- Legos, Tinkertoys, and GoldieBlox components.  I explained to the kids what Disney Imagineers do and asked them to build a prototype ride that you might find at Walt Disney World.  Then I let them have at it -- some of the contraptions owed more to Rube Goldberg than Walt Disney, but the kids had a blast.

And then we ate creatively presented food*:

Finally, we repaired upstairs for some yummy refreshments.

I'd have to say that, hands down, the favorite item was made of Jello.

*This is supposed to be a fish with bubbles swimming through a bunch of coral.  Supposed to be.

All in all, it was a really fun and exciting day for everyone.  Thanks to Disney for providing such a great opportunity and all the great "party-in-a-box" items.  Everyone loved their prints and their photo cards, too, which I gave away as people were leaving.

This picture is too cute not to include.

But, for my family, perhaps the most loved part of a day filled with loved activities and friends came after everyone had left and we had cleaned up and had dinner.  One of my favorite things as a child was "The Wonderful World of Walt Disney," a Sunday fixture in our home.  I loved the way each program was introduced by Walt Disney himself, from his extremely 60s office.  I had rented from Amazon Prime The Best of Walt Disney's True Life Adventures with the idea that the crowd could watch part of it if things got boring.  Of course, we ran out of time, so our little family repaired downstairs and watched it.  The best part?  Chickadee #1 entranced, laughing at all the right parts, flinching when called for, completely engrossed.

And Chickadee #2, turning to us and saying, "Mommy and Daddy.  I LOVE our family.  This is what all decent families should do -- spend time together."

Joy, oh joy.

NOTE:  I received free products in order to host the Disney Side @Home Celebration.  Nevertheless, all the opinions expressed here are my own.

Divine Comedy for Kids

One of the first steps in making any movie is to create a storyboard.  Do you know what that is?  No?  It’s a way that Disney storytellers figure out how to tell their story.  It’s kind of like an outline made with pictures – a map of the story. 

So, in this activity, we are going to make a storyboard. The first step is to know the story you want to tell.  For Disney storytellers, they use a lot of different sources for their stories. For example, Mulan is based on a Chinese legend.  Cinderella is based on a story called Cendrillon. Pocohontas is loosely based on real people from history.

Do you want to know the story you guys are going to base your storyboard on? 

It’s a very famous story that was written as a poem.  It is called The Divine Comedy and it was written in the Middle Ages by a man named Dante Aligheri.

In the story, Dante tells about a dream he had about what happens after we die.  You guys all know that God wants us to be good so that we can be with him forever in heaven, right?  Well, Dante tells the story of what happens to people who are super bad on purpose, people who tried hard to be good but didn’t always succeed 100%, and people who were so good in this life that they went straight to heaven. 

It’s important to remember that this story is just made up – it talks about real places like heaven, hell, and purgatory, but no one really knows what those places are like.  So this is just story, not like a newspaper account.  

So, are you ready to hear?  As I’m telling you this story, I want to you use your imaginations to figure out what the different scenes might look like and try to remember what you imagine for later… Okay?

A long time ago, a man named Dante fell asleep and had a wonderful but mysterious dream.  Dante was very sad because he had been sent away from his home as a punishment for not supporting the king.  He was very lonely and poor and he missed his family.  He also really missed a girl that he used to love.  Her name was Beatrice and she had died at a young age.  Dante thought about her a lot and missed her very much. 

In his dream, Dante was walking in a dark and scary forest. There was no path for him to follow.  Finally, after struggling and pushing his way through thorns and tripping over roots and stones, Dante finally came to the edge of the forest. He was at the bottom of a high mountain and the sun was shining down.  He wanted to climb to the top very badly so he started to climb. 
But, uh oh, guess what?  He had not climbed very far when he saw a beautiful leopard.  No matter which way he turned, the leopard was there, preventing him from climbing up any higher.  Once again he tried.  This time, a scary lion was blocking his path and stopping him from going forward.  Next, he saw a thin grey mother wolf  right behind the lion. Together, the animals forced Dante back to the edge of the woods.  He was very sad.  he didn’t think he’d ever reach the sunlight.

All of a sudden, Dante saw a man walking toward him.  He said his name was Virgil, a famous poet from ancient Rome.  Dante was very happy because he had read and loved Virgil’s poetry so he was not afraid.  Virgil would be his guide out of the dark woods on a path that led through Inferno (hell), Purgatorio (purgatory), and finally to Paradiso (heaven).

Dante followed Virgil to a huge gate, the gate of hell.  It had words written at the top, “Abandon hope, all you who enter here.”  Dante was afraid and didn’t want to go through, but Virgil told him that, no matter what he saw, nothing there could hurt him and that he just had to trust in God  So, Dante had courage and followed Virgil.  He saw many sad things there, people who had done things which told God that they didn’t want to be with him – things like hurting other people or themselves, being greedy or violent, or being liars or traitors to their country.  The worst was at the very center of hell, which Dante described as being covered in ice. Here were the two most terrible traitors – Judas who betrayed Jesus with a kiss, and Lucifer, who rebelled against God and was cast out of heaven.  Dante saw that they were covered in ice because they were so far away from God’s love.  And boy, was he happy to get out of there!

Next, Virgil took Dante to the bottom of a very tall mountain.  The mountain spiraled up and up, wide at the bottom, narrow at the top.  Dante saw a large group of people walking around the mountain from one level to another.  The mountain was the mount of Purgatory, where the souls who had tried very hard in their lives to follow God’s laws and to love him, one another, and themselves were journeying closer and closer to God.  Remember that the gates of hell had the words “Abandon hope, all you who enter here”?  Well, in Purgatory, it was the exact opposite.  Purgatory was all about hope – because everyone was getting closer and closer to God.  As they moved through Purgatory, they would be cleansed of everything that was not good or beautiful, everything that was not like God.    

In all the spirits of people moving up the mountain, Dante recognized kings, noblemen, artists, and poor people. The thing they all had in common was that, as they made their way up the mountain, they were cleansed of all the sins like pride, or jealousy, or rage, or greed.  The two friends made their way up and up and up to the very top of Mount Purgatory.

Finally, they came to the very edge of Paradiso, or heaven.  Here, Dante met his beloved lady, Beatrice, and she was so beautiful and good that he cried with happiness.  But his tears soon changed because he remembered that, after she had died, he had not always been a good person.  As he remembered the bad things he had done, he was ashamed.  Beatrice told him to go and wash himself in the waters of the river Lethe.  He had already been cleansed of these bad things in Purgatory, the river would make him forget about his sins like God forgets ours when we repent.  Then he washed in the river Eunce and could only remember the good things he had done on earth.  Now Dante was ready to enter Paradiso.

Paradiso was really hard for Dante to describe – it was so beautiful and wonderful that human words are not really enough to talk about it.  But, the important thing to remember is that everything pointed toward God.  Everyone who was there was totally focused on God and his wonderful beauty and goodness.  That’s all they could think about, so that even when Dante was talking to them, they were kind of looking past him, looking towards God who is the center of everything.  Dante, with Beatrice leading him now, moved closer and closer to God, until finally he reached the very center of Paradiso. 

And here, it got really hard for Dante to describe what he saw because it was so wonderful.  So, he used a metaphor (or a comparison) to try to tell what he had seen.  He said that he saw three different colored circles deep in the center of a beautiful light.  Beams of different colored light shined out from them just like light shines through a prism.  And that light was God.  It was love, the Love that moves the Sun and the other stars.

The End.