SPIRIT: Pope Francis Makes Me Want to Be a Catholic (almost…)

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VATICAN RADIO REPORTS IN AN INTERVIEW WITH POPE FRANCIS:

“It is an ugly thing, when you see a Christian who doesn’t want to humble himself, who doesn’t want to serve, a Christian who struts about everywhere: it’s ugly, eh? That is not a Christian: that’s a pagan!”

He warned Christians against placing themselves above others and called on the faithful to be in solidarity with the poor.

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I’m almost ready to become Catholic. But I’m Episcopalian, so I’m already “Catholic Lite.”

Source: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2013/12/19/1263815/-YES-YES-YES-Pope-Francis-trashes-the-prosperity-gospel?detail=email1

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AT THE HOMESTEAD: MY ALTAR

I keep a personal altar in my bedroom at SCH, a place where I pause each morning for reflection and light candles as an act of ritual to help me focus on the various aspects of my spiritual awareness and practice. Ritual is a very powerful thing. And we all perform rituals in our lives, even though we don’t always recognize them as such. As Joseph Campbell wrote in Transformations of Myth Through Time (Harper & Row, NY 1990) “People sometimes ask me, ‘what ritual do we have?’ You’ve got rituals, only you’re not meditating on them. When you eat a meal, that’s a ritual. Just realize what you’re doing.”

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I have several candles of the type found in botanicas and at the grocery store, cylindrical clear class holders with paper images applied to the outside. To avoid overconsumption (many people burn these candles, toss them, then buy replacements), I have burned the original wax down inside each candle and then replaced it with a votive. That way I am only buying more wax and wick, which lowers my waste output and saves me money.

I like these botanica candles because of their paper imagery pasted on them. They aid my focus and center my thought as I begin my day in prayer and contemplation. As I light each one, I reflect on its theme or message.

There’s the “Holy Spirit,” and the “Guardian Angel.” This one is especially important for me because I believe my maternal grandmother, who passed in 2009, watches over me and protects me. I’ve felt her spirit particularly close to me through the struggles of this past year. Another candle, the “Sacred Heart of Jesus,” keeps me in touch with the central figure in my faith tradition, and the values that he embodies. There is the “Virgin of Guadalupe” to remind me of the feminine in God, of the “mothering” as well as “fathering” aspects of the God of my own understanding. I also use the “Virgin” candle to remind me that we each have a part to play (Mary was a human being who played her part in bringing God into the world in the person of Jesus Christ – and when I live according to the values of my faith tradition I can also bring God into the world each day in a similar kind of way). The Virgin reminds me of the great country and people to the south, and of the ways in which growing up and living in Southern California is an experience as rich with Mexican traditions as the prevailing American ones. She reminds me of the possibility of miracles, and of the ways in which the Divine reveals itself to the common man as Mary revealed herself to Juan Diego in 1531 (my favorite telling of the story is found in the children’s book THE LADY OF GUADALUPE by Tomie de Paola ).

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I keep one botanica candle which is clear, without any image affixed to it, and I light this one each day for a different person or persons. I might light it as I pray for my mother, or a friend, or the memory of Nelson Mandela, or the people of the Phillipines after the terrible storm last month. I keep a second candle on my altar which rises on a stem and is encased in a hurricane of green glass. This candle I light for peace and justice in the world, and to remind me that I have a part to play in the advancement of each.

I have two vases – one a bud vase for a single flower, and a larger vase for a small bouquet. These provide fragrance and beauty and remind me of life and its passing.

I have two items on my altar that were gifts – a small hand-painted image on wood of Saint John, the patron saint of writers and a small laminated card with the image of Jesus on it which was a gift from my Cuban friend Agustin.

Finally, I have a special oil candle made of stone which has a “step” in it. This was given to me by my friend Rafael as a reminder of the importance of my sobriety and the power of the 12 steps in my life.

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Behind my altar hangs a calendar, which reads in Spanish, “?ES EL FIN DEL MUNDO, O APENAS OTRO DIA?” (Is it the end of the world, or just another day?”). This great find came to me at a garage sale in Silver Lake years ago for just one dollar. It has dials on either side that allow me to change the day of the week, date, and month. Making the change each morning centers me in the here and now, and reminds me that yesterday has passed, and tomorrow will be “dialed up” another day so what about THIS day here and now? The calendar helps me keep things in perspective, and with it’s humorous text and illustrations it really amuses me. I don’t have to take myself or life too seriously. And it’s never the end of the world.

When I was 18 years old I wrote a song to explain the power of faith in my life, and it took as its main image a lit candle.  The lyrics are as follows:

I light a candle

I let it burn

In the hope

That one would see

 

This light that’s burning

Fire eternal

The only life for me

 

Though the world

Grows dark I know

My light won’t dim

 

Nothing can darken

My heart

My light is Him

 

I light a candle.

PICTURE BOOKS: ON MY ISLAND, HOW ROCKET LEARNED TO READ, and PENGUIN’S HIDDEN TALENT

As part of my daily routine this last year, I’ve incorporated the reading of a children’s picture book. It’s become one of the most enjoyable parts of my day – it helps me drift into a world where my adult cares are replaced by a childlike wonder and innocence. I believe we all have that buried away inside us somewhere, and it’s a good thing to make contact with. In my faith tradition, the words of Jesus command as much:

“At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of Heaven?’ He called a child, set him in front of them, and said, ‘Truly I tell you: unless you turn round and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of Heaven.'”- Matthew 18:1-4, The Revised English Bible

I think Jesus must have been talking about that wonder and innocence and sincerity that children have – and challenging us to cultivate that in our adult lives. So that’s one way I do it. By heading to the library and checking out a stack of children’s picture books for my daily read.

Here are some recent titles which have really pleased my childlike side:

HOW ROCKET LEARNED TO READ by Tad Hills, Schwartz and Wade Books, 2010.

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Working in oil paint and colored pencil, Tad Hills creates the most endearing story of a dog and his slow to come interest in learning to read. Taught by a little yellow bird who is almost a dead ringer for the Looney Tunes Tweety, Rocket masters the alphabet and reading and spelling, and practices all winter long when his bird teacher has flown south with the promise to return in the Spring. The story is as much about the love of reading as it is about the caring and intimate relationship that develops between our most beloved teachers and ourselves. Sweet and tender, with illustrations that bring repeated smiles to the face.

For more on the book, visit the author’s website at http://tadhills.com/rocket/how-rocket-learned-to-read

PENGUIN’S HIDDEN TALENT by Alex Latimer, Peachtree Publishers, 2012.

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Written by South African author and illustrator Alex Latimer and first published in Britain, this charming book explores the journey of fits and starts each of us must take experimenting until we find out what we are good at. Penguin knows what he isn’t good at: burping the alphabet, swallowing large fish, juggling appliances, and performing magic tricks. But what IS he able to do with grace and aplomb? Along the way there are fireworks, jets and special appearances by the King of Norway and the musical group the Jolly Llamas. The illustrations have a digital feel that leans toward comic book, but were originally created as pencil drawings, then digitized and finished with color and texture to make for a fresh and vibrant look. The pictures are as fun as the story itself, and both work together seamlessly.

For more on the book visit the author’s blog at http://alexlatimer.blogspot.com/2011/09/penguins-hidden-talent.html

ON MY ISLAND (Sur Mon île) by Marie-Louise Gay,Groundwork Books, 2000.

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Originally published in French, this collage like work by French-Canadian author and illustrator Marie-Louise Gay is an exploration of state of mind, revealing that boredom is all a matter of perspective and also reinforcing the idea that no man is an island (or no man who wants to be happy should try to be). I agree with the Publishers Weekly reviewer who pointed out that the deeper meaning of the story might only be apparent to adult readers, and prove more puzzling for kids. But that’s the mark of many a great work for children, including fairy tales, Disney movies, and Looney Tunes cartoons, which all have two layers of meaning, one perceivable with maturity and sophistication, and the other just accessible and entertaining on the surface.

For more information on the book and/or to look inside visit http://www.amazon.com/On-My-Island-Marie-Louise-Gay/dp/088899396X

For more information on Marie-Louise Gay visit her blog at http://marielouisegay.com/